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Week #2: Creative Writing Challenge – The Five Proposal Christmas

January 19, 2021

Write about someone who gets proposed to five times on Christmas Eve!

7 AM Christmas Eve Day: Tessa woke with a start and slammed her alarm clock so hard that it skittered off her bedside table and onto the floor. She had been dreaming about witches and curses and being torn limb from limb, so that she could be made into a tasty soup. Maybe it was watching House with a Clock in its Walls last night before bed, but then she remembered the weird encounter she had the previous afternoon.

The previous day: Tessa had been walking home from her job at the printing shop downtown. It was cold and drizzly, but not cold enough to snow. There was just enough moisture to make the roads and sidewalks a bit slick, especially where the breeze made it just a bit colder. It was odd weather for Jacksonville. She had been walking along minding her own business when she had heard the scream of a woman. Tessa searched for the noise and saw the most beautiful woman in the middle of the street, positioned in a less-than-beautiful sprawl. The woman was clutching her ankle. Tessa started to walk towards the woman when a taxi came around the corner. The driver was clearly distracted, yelling into his phone and not watching the road. Tessa broke into a run, reaching the woman with enough time to drag her to the curb before the taxi sailed on by, oblivious to the potential homicide charges.

Up close, the woman was even more beautiful than Tessa had originally thought. She was wearing a wide brimmed, cherry red hat that was pinned at a slight angle in her brushed copper colored hair. The cherry red of her hat perfectly matched the tight pencil skirt, blazer and peacoat the woman wore. The woman looked like one giant, sexy, powerful Jessica Rabbit.

“Are you alright?” Tessa had breathlessly asked the woman.

“I imagine i’ll be just fine. Thank you for your quick actions. May I see your palm?” The woman reached out both hands, expecting Tessa to place one of hers within them.

Tessa had hesitated. She didn’t like mystics of any form. They always said something stupid like, “you’ll find love soon,” or “you’ll suffer a great loss” or any other variety of nonsense. But this had felt different and Tessa found herself extending her hand without really willing it to.

The woman, still sitting on the ground, gazed upwards and studied Tessa’s hand, which was now safely nestled into her own. “You are lonely and think that the core of who you are will not be accepted by those around you. You fear to be yourself, yet you seek a love that will allow you to conquer that fear. For your help today, I grant you five proposals. One of them will release you from this fear and give you all your hearts desires. But be warned, the proposals may come from unexpected places. You have one year from tomorrow to choose which proposal to accept or you will never find happiness.”

Tessa had been so focused on the words that when the woman finally fell silent, it took Tessa a moment to realize that the woman had completely vanished. By the time Tessa returned home she had convinced herself that none of it had happened, and that she was just stressed out about all her social obligations the next day.

7:05 AM Christmas Eve Day: Tessa sat up and rubbed her eyes. She was supposed to meet her best friend Caroline at the Beach Hut Cafe at 8 AM to go over their plans for the day, so Tessa stumbled out of bed and into the shower.

7:50 AM Christmas Eve Day, Sunshine Diner: Tessa sat at a booth with a large cup of steaming Earl Grey tea and The Florida Times-Union spread out on the table. Tessa was a religious newspaper reader. She loved the feel of turning the pages and having to snap them a bit to get them to fold properly. She loved the faintest bits of smeared ink the paper left on her fingers. Tessa also firmly believed that the written word should be preserved in print and that she was doing her part in saving the newspaper industry but maintaining her print subscription.

The cafe was bustling with the regulars and the out-of-towners who had come to the beach to vacation for the holidays. To Tessa it was a familiar collection of comforting sounds and smells, so by the time she turned to the classifieds section, she was relaxed and optimistic about the day. She didn’t usually look at the classifieds, but Tessa had been thinking about getting a puppy or kitten for company. Her one bedroom apartment had made sense for a late 20’s single-woman, but it was getting a bit lonely for Tessa’s liking.

As Tessa scanned the page, her eyes fell on a 2×2 inch section that was headed by big block letters reading “Tessa Marie Merchant”. Tessa froze mid sip of tea. That was her name; her full name. Tessa kept reading. “Sitting next to you is like taking a sip of eternity, the sun, the stars, the sky, never tasted so good. -Christy Ann Martine”. Tessa was breathless. Christy Ann Martine was one of her favorite up-and-coming poets and Tessa had discovered her on Etsy of all places. Who would know that about her? Tessa continued to read. “I have loved you since the first day you walked through my door. I love you still. Will you marry me?”

“You look like you just saw a ghost, or at least read about one. What ridiculous news have you been reading today?” Caroline asked as she slid into the booth across from Tessa and grinned. Tessa slid the newspaper toward Caroline’s side of the table and Caroline read, her mouth slowly going from pert smile to gaping maw. “Who?” was all Caroline could sputter. Caroline read the ad again, and again, and finally looked towards Tessa. “Okay, creepy stalker dude or do you have some news that you want to tell me?”

Caroline and Tessa had been friends since grade school and when Caroline took at job at Jacksonville University as a secretary in the registrar’s office, Tessa had decided to tag along. They had decided to live separately because they both needed their space and Caroline’s brother was in and out of rehab and always looking for a place to crash. Tessa couldn’t deal with that and Caroline would never force her to.

Tessa looked Caroline in the eye and said, “I have no idea who took out that ad, or if it’s actually meant for me. I don’t even have a list of potential candidates. Who knows my middle name besides you? That, and, who on earth would know that I like Christy Ann Martine poetry?”

This was a mystery, and not necessarily a good one, thought Tessa. Caroline ordered food while Tessa started making a mental list of candidates. Caroline had pulled out a small notebook to start making a list. This was how they worked; Tessa thought and threw out ideas while Caroline wrote them down and made sense of them. Suddenly Tessa remembered the previous afternoon, and even though she felt silly, she told Caroline the whole thing. Tessa knew Caroline would never judge her, no matter how weird something sounded. It was that kind of friendship.

When Tessa finished Caroline immediately exclaimed, “Holy shit, girl! Do you know what this means?”

“Yeah, that I really am a head case that needs to be locked up somewhere. I’m trusting you to throw away the key and not let any of my crazy rub off on anyone,” Tessa replied in her best sarcastic tone.

“No,” Caroline admonished, “It means that today is going to be the best day you’ve ever had! Or at least that I’ve ever had! Five available men are going to propose to you today and you have a year to decide which one of them is going to make you the happiest woman in the world. It’s a mystery and love story all in one and I get to be in the first row! I’m so excited!”

“Okay okay, don’t get your panties in a twist. Let’s just say that I do believe a random woman whose life I saved granted me five proposals to find my true love… Oh my gosh. I can’t even finish that sentence it’s so ridiculous.” Tessa and Caroline both broke into fits of laughter that lasted long enough other people started glancing in their direction.

10:15 AM Christmas Eve Day, St. John’s Town Center Mall: Tessa, with Caroline in tow, walked straight to the North Pole. That’s what they called the area in the center of the mall that was constructed each year for the month before Christmas. It included dressing rooms for Santa and his elves, a snack table, bathroom, and a board with notes so that everyone could keep track of things because there was so much turnover in the staff every day. It was an extra or part time gig for everyone, so the hours were pretty odd.

Today, Tessa had signed up for a 10:30 -12:30 time slot as an elf, helping herd and make crying kiddos smile. She loved it. Tessa loved Christmas in general. Not the presents, or spending lots of money, or food, but the season to help people in need and show them that people cared. As an elf, she helped parents make their dreams of smiling children on Santa’s lap come true, and she helped those smiling children hang onto some of that childhood magic. Or at least that’s what she wanted to think she was accomplishing.

Caroline had insisted on accompanying Tessa today, just in case she got more proposals. Caroline would be there to take notes and look for patterns. Tessa kept trying to convince her that she needed to switch careers. Caroline’s love of data and discovery would be much better spent in some kind of data analysis career instead of as a secretary. What a waste.

As soon as Tessa got dressed and put on her makeup, she wandered out into the chaos of Santa’s village to figure out where she was needed. Caroline stuck to the shadows and pretended to browse the stores near the village so she could keep an eye out. Tessa knew Caroline loved a good mystery, but this was a bit much, even for her!

Tessa settled into her role greeting parents and kiddos and telling them where to line up to meet Santa. About an hour into her shift, a man came up to her in the line. He looked to be about 30-something, with dirty blonde hair and hazel eyes. He was a head taller than Tessa, with broad shoulders reminiscent of an athlete. He was holding a large foam candy cane. In her mind, Tessa prepared answers to questions like “Where is the bathroom?”, “How much are the picture packages?”, and “where does the line start?”.

But the man just looked at her for a moment, as if trying to figure out how to say what he wanted to say. He let out a deep breath and said awkwardly, “Hi. My name’s Scott. This is going to sound crazy, but my friends and I play this silly game every Christmas Eve where we dare each other to do holiday themed stunts. Whoever completes the most dares gets to choose a charity that we all donate to that year. Would you mind if I took a picture with you?” It all came out in one breath of nerves.

Tessa was stunned, but nodded. People did silly stuff like this all holiday season, but this was the only one she had heard of in the name of a good cause. Of course she would play along. Besides, he seemed harmless. Scott handed his phone to another man behind him in line, presumably one of his friends. As the friend held the phone up and adjusted the angle, Scott grabbed Tessa’s hand and dropped to one knee. “You are the most beautiful elf I’ve ever laid eyes on. Will you marry me?”

There were gasps from the crowd who had heard the proposal. Behind Scott’s head, Tessa could just see Caroline starting to run towards her from the Clarie’s across from Santa’s Village. Before Tessa could react, Scott rose and pressed a piece of paper and the giant foam candy cane into her hand. “Thank you. And the Jacksonville Food Bank will thank you when I win.” Scott whispered in her ear as he leaned in to brush his lips to her fast blushing cheeks.

With that, Scott and his friend jumped over the barrier for the line and sprinted through the trees of Santa’s village and vanished.

Caroline appeared a moment later. “Holy Santa’s balls, Tessa. Did what I think just happen actually happen?” Caroline asked, breathless from her run. Tessa was still too stunned to speak. “Did he give you something?” Caroline demanded. Tessa had totally forgotten about the piece of paper Scott had pushed into her hand. She opened it gently and on it was a phone number.

12:40 PM Christmas Eve Day, Food Court at the St. John’s Town Center Mall: Tessa and Caroline settled into a booth with their Panda Express styrofoam boxes. Both women looked around the food court trying to find their friend Gregor. He was a non-traditional student at the University and had tangled with Caroline in the Registrar’s office trying to file some paperwork related to his green card status. Gregor had been brusque, but so genuinely confused that Caroline had burst out laughing at him and taken him under his wing.

Caroline had introduced Gregor to Tessa at a party a couple of weeks after the paperwork incident and the two had become fast friends. Both loved art and creativity, although Gregor was majoring in mathematics as his aging father wished him to. After a couple of drinks there had been some stolen kisses in a dark corner, but Tessa hadn’t wanted a boyfriend and Gregor had been looking for a wife. The beer-addled honesty of the night had ensured the two stayed friends, which was why Tessa and Caroline had been on the lookout at the food court.

A few minutes later Gregor squeezed into the booth on Caroline’s side with his Subway sandwich. The two women both immediately noticed the dark circles under his bloodshot eyes. Caroline was the first to demand what was wrong. “You look like you stayed up too late playing video games and your favorite character died at dawn,” she tried for humor.

Gregor sighed and said softly, “My green card was denied and they reject my scholarship at university. Unless I find some sponsor other than university, I go home at end of two weeks.” Both Tessa and Caroline were shocked. “They can’t do that! I’m sure there’s some kind of loophole, or rule. We just need to investigate. You have two weeks? No problem. We can fix this, can’t we Tessa?” Caroline looked at Tessa with pleading eyes. Gregor had become one of the few male friends Caroline held onto amongst a long line of suitors that left her dejected and questioning her own sanity.

“Of course we’ll find a way. We can start the day after Christmas. I have a couple of days off and can do some research.” Tessa ensured.

The group ate their fast food in contemplative silence. After Caroline had finished her orange chicken she broached the subject of the next day’s festivities. Tessa and Caroline were putting on a Christmas Day extravaganza for all their friends who couldn’t or wouldn’t go home for the holidays. It turned out they had a lot of friends that didn’t like their families and the planning was quickly becoming overwhelming. Caroline and Gregor were deep in conversation while Tessa finished her fried rice.

“Hold the phone!” Caroline suddenly interrupted, giggling just a bit. “Gregor, tomorrow will be the perfect day to meet some women. Maybe one of them will marry you so you can stay here! It’s a perfect idea. If you’re married to a U.S. citizen there’s no way they could kick you out of the country!” Caroline whipped out her notebook to start making a list of potential brides that were coming to the Christmas Day Extravaganza. Gregor just looked at Tessa.

“Gotta pee. BRB.” Caroline announced 10 minutes later as she slid out of the booth and left Tessa and Gregor discussing last minute changes to the decorations.

Gregor fell silent and glanced shyly at Tessa as he said, “You know Caroline is correct. If I marry I will not have to go. I do not like her idea of finding bride tomorrow. I would rather marry for love and trust person I marry. I would marry you if you would have me.” Gregor met Tessa’s eyes and continued, “You are most wonderful person I know. You honest and caring and smart and very beautiful. I know this from first time I see you at party. I would be most lucky man in world if you would marry me Tessa Merchant.”

Tessa choked on her Dr. Pepper and launched into an embarrassing coughing fit. How was she going to let him down easily? Before Tessa could formulate a response, Caroline slid back into the bench. “What did I miss?”

3 PM Christmas Eve Day, Homeless Shelter and Soup Kitchen: Tessa told Caroline what had happened with Gregor while Caroline had been in the bathroom. Caroline had spent the entire drive from the mall to the Shelter apologizing to Tessa about ruining one of her proposals by putting the idea into Gregor’s head. Caroline didn’t know about the makeout sesh that had happened between Tessa and Gregor the first night they met. For some reason Tessa had wanted to keep it to herself, not because Caroline would judge her harshly, but because it was sweet and had made her feel all warm and gooey inside.

Tessa put all those thoughts into a box in the corner of her mind to pull out later at her leisure. Now it was time for the best part of Christmas Eve Day: The Homeless Shelter’s Annual Christmas Showcase. Many of the regulars visitors to the homeless shelter had hidden talents, and what better way to impart some Christmas cheer and make some much needed money for the Shelter. Tessa and Caroline were regular volunteers, along with several others around their own age.

As the two women walked in they were greeted by volunteers and visitors and patrons. Tessa greeted everyone with a warm handshake and a smile while Caroline made people cackle with laughter from across the room. The were a good team. Today Team Tessa-Caroline were in charge of refreshments along with Blaise who was another regular volunteer.

Tessa had had a crush on Blaise for years. He was a computer programmer who worked from home and claimed that volunteering at the Shelter took care of his social needs. But Tessa had run into him all across town so she knew that was a load of crock. She also knew that he played beach volleyball and kickball in the city leagues. He was tall, like volleyball player tall, with perfect dark brown skin and close cropped hair. His eyes were an expressive dark brown and crinkled at the corners when he laughed. Unfortunately, Tessa had never gotten up the nerve to ask Blaise out on a date. Part of her wondered if it was more fun to just have the fantasy of a crush and that going out on a date would ruin everything.

Tessa finally made her way to the refreshments counter where Blaise was already putting cups out and filling them with Publix sweet tea and lemonade. He smiled at Tessa as she came around the corner and the two chatted about the weather and Christmas plans. Last week Caroline had made sure to invite Blaise to their Christmas extravaganza, but he had declined, saying that his little sister was coming into town to stay with him while their parents went on a cruise to Belize.

“Hey Tessa. Blaise. How are things going?” a regular named Norman asked as he grabbed a cup of lemonade at the counter. “We are doing fantastically. We can’t wait to hear you sing tonight!” Tessa quickly replied. “Yeah, especially because you’ve been bragging about it since October you handsome silver fox,” Caroline cooed as she swept behind the counter and batted her eyes at Norman. “For you lady, I would sing from dawn ’til dusk and then sweep you off your feet to dance the night away before asking you to marry me!” Norman countered, winking at Caroline.

Tessa heaved a deep sigh, glad that that hadn’t ended in a marriage proposal. Norman was nice, but definitely not in her age range and way too full of himself. Another man sauntered up to the refreshments counter, having caught the end of the conversation. “Are we talking about marriage proposals?” he asked.

“Absolutely. Norman here is going to take Caroline dancing all night long before proposing to her.” Blaise responded.

“Well my friend once asked a woman to marry him over a pizza. It was the most awkward thing I’d ever seen. My friend had the pizza in one hand and when he tried to get down on one knee to propose, he slipped. The pizza flew up in the air, like in those slow motion sections of movies. The box opened in the air and that ooey, gooey, cheesy pizza ended up all over her head. It was not a good proposal. Come to think of it, I can’t even remember if she said yes after that.” The newcomer shared.

Tessa had covered her mouth while he was talking and was trying not to spray sweet tea all over everyone as she laughed. She couldn’t stop laughing. It had been such a weird day and she was seriously picturing herself covered in pizza with a stranger on one knee in front of her. Tessa doubled over, trying to catch her breath. Everyone was staring.

Blaise was wide-eyed. He had never seen Tessa laugh so hard. “Well if pizza is all it takes,” Blaise barely got out before Tessa interrupted him. “Just stop right there. Don’t say another word.” She was still trying to get ahold of herself. “I was just going to say, if pizza is all it takes to get you to smile and laugh like that, then I’m bringing pizza every week.” Blaise got in while Tessa continued giggling.

At that moment the lights in the hall dimmed and lights above the makeshift stage burned bright. “Welcome to the 20th Annual Christmas Showcase!” The announcer for the night boomed. There was wild applause. What followed was a unique set of talents from the regular visitors to the Homeless Shelter. There was Chrissy with a Shakespeare monologue. She used to work for the local Shakespeare company before being “let go”. There was Georgie with a perfect rendition of Wynton Marsalis with a borrowed trumpet. And then there was Norman. He sang “Fly me to the moon” and winked in Caroline’s direction at the end.

The refreshments table was hopping during intermission. Tessa was busy shuffling through the cabinets on the opposite side of the small kitchen trying to find extra cups when she heard a woman chatting with Blaise. She tried to ignore them, but then she heard her name.

“Yeah, Tessa designed all the programs tonight. In fact she’s done most of the design work around here including the mural outside. She’s really talented.” Tessa heard Blaise tell the woman.

“Is she around tonight? I’d love to chat with her.” The woman responded.

“She’s the one rifling through the cabinets. Tessa, someone over here wants to chat with you.” Blaise yelled above the background noise in the hall.

Tessa popped up and put her best smile on. “Hey, I’m Tessa. What can I do for you?”

“I’m Virginia Jordan and I work for T&T designs. T&T is a long-time patron of the Shelter.” She explained. “I actually just got promoted to our offices in Spain and need to hire a new team for some big projects. It’s not a time-sensitive thing, just need to get things finalized before next Christmas season. It’s more of finding the right group of people. I’m really impressed with your work and I’ve got a proposal for you. I’d love for you to come to the offices downtown to check us out. Then maybe you could do a couple of things for us, see if your talents match what we are looking for. If everything works out, I’d love to have you join us in Spain next year.”

Tessa’s jaw dropped. “Thanks so much for the offer. That’s an awfully long timeline, but I’m not sure I’m looking for anything new right at the moment.” Tessa replied thoughtfully.

“Well don’t write us off before you come see the offices and meet some people. I think you’d be a great fit. Here’s my card. Call me next week and we can set something up.” Ms. Jordan handed Tessa her card. “Enjoy the rest of the show!” And with that, Ms. Jordan left Tessa at the refreshments counter too stunned to do much other than whisper a thank you under her breath.

“That was totally proposal number four!” Caroline squealed softly into Tessa’s ear.

After the Showcase was over Tessa, Blaise, and Caroline worked on cleaning up the sticky counter and putting the leftover drinks into the fridge so they wouldn’t go bad. “What are y’all up to tonight?” Blaise asked as they were cleaning. Caroline instantly responded, “Pizza from Marco’s and Christmas movies at Tessa’s. It’s tradition!” Tessa smiled at the two of them and nodded in confirmation.

“That sounds great. I’m picking my sis up at the airport and then we’ll probably just catch up. Hope y’all have a great Christmas. See you both next week” Blaise looked to Tessa for confirmation. She nodded again.

6:30 PM Christmas Eve Day, Tessa’s apartment: The doorbell rang. Perfect timing. Tessa and Caroline had just agreed to a double feature of While You Were Sleeping and Die Hard. It was going to be an epic night and finally the pizza was at the door.

Tessa opened the door to see a delivery girl with highlighter pink dyed hair holding a large pizza box. “That’ll be $15.40. Ummm, also,” the delivery girl trailed off looking uncomfortable. “When he called, he told me to tell you to eat the pizza instead of wear the pizza.” She finished. Tessa was confused, but instead of wasting time trying to make sense of one more thing in the weirdest day of her life she just paid the girl and took the pizza.

Caroline tried to grab the pizza box as Tessa locked the door. “What is it?” Caroline asked when she saw the confusion on Tessa’s face. Tessa didn’t say anything. She just took the pizza to the kitchen counter and slowly opened the lid. Facing Tessa was a large cheese pizza with the words “Marry Me” written out in mini pepperoni’s through the middle. Caroline gasped and then both girls started laughing. “I want the piece with the M.” Caroline managed to get out through cackles.

Tessa recounted what the delivery girl had said. “So it had to be someone at the Shelter, and they had to either be a part of our conversation or heard our conversation.” Caroline deduced with her mouth full.

“But how did they know we were ordering from Marco’s? They had to have still been there when we were cleaning up.” Tessa wondered aloud.

Caroline took in a sharp breath. “Only one other person was there for that conversation.” Caroline stared directly at Tessa, as if her eyes could impart knowledge. Tessa, with eyes wide, finally whispered “Blaise”.

As they ate more of the pizza Tessa noticed that there was writing on the greasy box where the pizza had been sitting. She moved the remaining slices around to see the note. It read “Tessa, you are amazing and talented and wonderful, just like I told that woman this afternoon. Sorry if the “Marry Me” message freaked you out, but the way y’all laughed about it this afternoon… I took a chance. How about just dinner for now? – B”

The end of While You Were Sleeping where they ride off on the train was playing in the background. Caroline was passed out on one end of the couch and snoring sweetly. Tessa mulled over her day. So much had happened, and she couldn’t ignore the fact that she had actually gotten five proposals. She didn’t know what the coming year was going to bring, but Caroline’s excitement about the proposals had rubbed off a bit and she was actually looking forward to investigating a bit more. But it could wait until tomorrow. So Tessa turned off the TV, tucked Caroline under the blankets on the couch, left some cookies for Santa that Caroline would surely eat, and headed to bed.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Yael permalink
    January 22, 2021 4:21 am

    Ahhhh what a fun story! I enjoyed this so much – and such great twists and turns! I think these would make a great fun novel – starting with this, covering the year of Tessa checking out the options and making her choice, and ending a few years later when we see she made the right one 😉

  2. Yael Kisel permalink
    January 22, 2021 4:29 am

    Ps there is a website called Manuscript Wish List that is a list of agents and what kind of manuscripts they’re interested in representing- might be interesting!

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