So, where did I leave off? Oh, I remember. The Winterfest thing. So, yeah, I told you about how Nalani came by, and we had a little dinner salad and then the kissing started. Then other stuff started. Then that finished, and we fell asleep.
Then came the banging on the door. To be honest, it was probably just your standard run-of-the-mill front door knock, but I was at least three-quarters asleep when it happened and nobody had ever knocked on my door before, so it was completely unexpected. I jumped out of my bed like I was on fire, and took a quick inventory of everything in the shack to see if anything might be usable as a potential self-defense weapon. Don’t ask me why I picked up a salad bowl. I don’t really have a good explanation for that.
I shambled sleepily to the door, my initial fear-produced adrenaline having lasted approximately five seconds. I reached for the doorknob, carefully opened the door, and was greeted by… well, Father Winter. He looked pretty much exactly like he does in the mall: white hair and beard, little gold-rimmed spectacles, big belly, the whole shebang. He looked at me and saw the look of fear and surprise in my face and laughed just like you’d expect, in a low “ho, ho, ho” that could only be described as jolly. Then he asked if he could come inside.
“Sure” escaped my lips before I could form a more rational thought, like “Hell no, old man. Stranger Danger!” Though, to be fair, it was a cold winter night and surely this was just an addled elder wandering the neighborhood until his family could find him and lead him back to his bed, and he was safer inside my shack than outside. Unless he was hiding something deadly under his coat, I didn’t feel like Nalani or I were in any real danger from this fat, jolly old geezer.
Of course, just as I finished thinking that, he reached a hand inside his coat, and pulled out… a gift. A fairly large one, actually. I wouldn’t have thought it would have fit in there with the belly and everything else stuffed inside that blue velvet suit of his, but it had been stashed in there somewhere. Then, somehow, he pulled out a second.
Still, inconceivably, the suit was just as filled out with old man fat as before he pulled out the gifts, leaving me to wonder if he had some kind of trans-spacial wormhole in there. Then I realized with no small amount of embarrassment that I was thinking about Father Winter’s wormhole and quickly put a stop to that before my entire childhood was ruined.
“These are for you and your lady friend,” he explained, smiling at me.
I just stood there staring at the gifts he’d handed me. One was labeled “To Addison,” and the other labeled “To Nalani.” I suppose there are ways he could have known I lived here, but the one for Nalani had me stumped. As far as I knew, nobody else even knew she was here. All I could do was stare at those gift tags and fruitlessly grasp for way someone could have known what names to put on them.
Father Winter, or his rather accurate impersonator, cleared his throat and let out another of his trademark belly laughs. “It’s traditional, you know, to open these gifts before Winterfest is over. I went through no small amount of trouble to make sure they were delivered on time.” He looked around the shack quickly. “You really need to put a chimney on this place before next year.”
“Umm, yeah, OK,” I muttered, and fumbled with the ribbon on the box that was tagged for me. Inside was a book. A children’s book, to be precise. I recognized it because it was exactly like one my mother had raid me to sleep with when I was a small child. It wasn’t a new book, but one worn on the edges, the spine bent and cracked in a few places as if it had been read during many, many bedtimes. It looked exactly like how I remembered the one Mom used to read to me from. Of course it couldn’t be, as I hadn’t seen that book in over 20 years. This “Father Winter” couldn’t possibly know about that book, much less somehow acquire it. It was obviously just a weird coincidence.
At some point while taking in every detail of the book I had received, I guess I must have handed Nalani’s package back to her, though I didn’t remember doing that. She sat on the edge of the bed, the wrapping paper on the floor next to her. She was peering down into the open box on her lap. It was hard to tell in the dim light of the shack but it seemed her eyes were welling up with tears.
“What’s in the package?” I asked.
She held up a hand as if to stop me. Then she turned to face our visitor. “I don’t know what to say.” Her voice was cracking and she was fairly plainly on the edge of tears. “I don’t know how…” Her voice trailed off as she began staring into the box again.
Father Winter smiled. “You’re welcome, child.” Then he turned, opened the door, and walked back out into the cold winter night.
The door now having been opened twice, and there being nothing to provide any source of heat in my shack, the chill of the air late on that winter night made crawling back into bed seem like a really good idea. Soon Nalani was snuggled up next to me. She was asleep within minutes, though I was still very much awake, confused thoughts of what had just happened crashing about madly in my head. It wasn’t until I opened the book I had been given and read a few pages that I could finally feel sleep coming to me. I could still hear my mother’s voice reading the words along with me as I drifted off.
The next morning I tried to talk to Nalani about what had happened, but she seemed to try to dodge any discussion of what we had experienced, or even what her gift had been. “Not now,” she had said, “But some day.”
As I prepared for work, she seemed fixated on her phone, as if she was awaiting a message from someone, or not quite sure if she should send one herself.
She kissed me as she prepared to leave, and I asked her if she was OK.
“Yes, Addy, I’m more than fine,” she said. “I’m better than that.”
“Will I see you again?” I asked. I couldn’t interpret her reaction to what had occurred, and a sense of dread was overtaking me.
She laughed that strange little laugh of hers again, and smiled. “Yes, Addy, you’ll see me again. I can promise you that.”