Rudolph The Regular-Nosed Reindeer Falls In Love On Xmas Eve, 2:
“Hey, Rudolph,” someone hollered across the room.
Rudolph spun immediately away from the punch bowl to find whoever it was shouting. He’d learned, long ago, that ignoring people – or even being slightly slow to respond – would result in them calling out his entire name.
I have made my peace with my name, he had started saying to himself, when he was 13 years old. He had stood in front of the hall mirror and stared at himself, in his nice sweater and clean blue jeans, hair combed neatly, and said it aloud:
I have made my peace with my name, quietly, his hand brushing against the heavy velvet curtain that hung at the edge of the stage he was about to walk across to get his college diploma. He imagined it a mantra:
I have made my peace with my name, he’d written on a piece of paper just a few weeks ago, and shoved it into a jar in his house, a jar filled with dozens, if not hundreds, of similar sheets of paper.
He saw Chad bearing his way. “Rudolph. Rudolph! Hey, Rudolph.”
Why don’t you just go by Rudy? A well-meaning guidance counselor had once asked him while helping fill out college applications. Rudolph had just shaken his head. It was impossible. He didn’t tell her that. He just shook his head.
“What is it, Chad?” he asked. Not more than twenty feet away, three people from accounting were starting the karaoke machine. He was glad nobody had asked him to sing. People would inevitably tell him he should do the song about the other Rudolph, and he’d have to smile and humor them because if he started some other song eventually someone – Chad, probably, who wasn’t really a bad guy but was this type of guy – would get over there with him and say We’ll do a duet and there Rudolph would be, singing the straight-man lines to the song while the other person interjected all the good parts (“Like a lightbulb!”).
“Wanted to give you your Secret Santa present,” Chad said.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to tell me you’re my Secret Santa,” Rudolph said back, taking a sip of his punch. The singers had chosen The Little Drummer Boy and were getting all the pa rum pum pum pums wrong.
“Oh, what’s it matter? The point is I got you a present,” he said. He handed Rudolph a slim envelope.
“What is it?” Rudolph asked.
“Can’t tell you. And don’t open it before Xmas Eve,” Chad said.
“Because,” Chad said. “It’s magic and it won’t work unless you open it on Xmas Eve.”
Rudolph tried to chuckle but managed only a slight smile. “Thanks, Chad.” Belatedly he added “I didn’t get you anything.”
“’Course not. You’re not my Secret Santa. Maria is.” Chad patted him on the back. “Gotta go, buddy. Those bee bee q meatballs ain’t gonna eat themselves.” And he was off. Rudolph looked down at the envelope. On the front, Chad had written in big block letters:
For: Rudolph The Regular-Nosed Reindeer.
And underneath that, he’d written, in green felt-tipped marker:
Do not open until Xmas Eve
Rudolph turned the envelope over, and saw that it had a Xmas sticker – a small wreath – holding the flap shut. On this side, too, Chad had written:
Seriously Do Not Open Until Xmas Eve Or The Magic Won’t Work
Rudolph shook his head. Chad had a weird sense of humor. He was about to slip the card into his suitcoat’s inner pocket when it twitched.
He looked down, again, surprised, and held the card up to inspect it more closely. Then he laid it flat on his hand, peering at it carefully. When it did nothing in the nearly-a-minute he watched it, he decided he must have been mistaken. It was probably slipping out of his hand and he’d just fumbled it, he thought. He picked it up and slid it into his coat pocket after all, sipped his punch. After another 30 minutes, in which he didn’t talk to anyone else at the Xmas party, he left.
Outside, the cold air swirled snow, wisping it under the streetlights. The road in front of his office building was empty, with dark parked cars on each side of the street. Up ahead, about a block up, he could see the cross-avenue with traffic flowing by. That was where he had to go to catch his bus. He pulled his overcoat closed and began walking into the wind, squinting against the snow a bit, then putting his head down against the breeze that was picking up.
He wasn’t looking where he was going, and so it was not at all surprising that he bumped into someone. He stumbled and backed up, looking up into a thicker, whirling snowfall that at first caused his eyes to tear up, making his vision blurry.
“I’m very sorry,” he said, brushing his gloves across his eyes and blinking several times. The person he’d run into – a woman – didn’t answer. “I was just… the snow…” Rudolph tried to explain, starting to stammer a bit. The woman was just staring at him. “It was cold,” Rudolph finished lamely. The woman continued to just look at him, long enough that he grew uncomfortable. He shifted uneasily, wondering if he should just go around her, or apologize again.
“What were you looking at yesterday?” the woman asked.
Rudolph looked up from his shoes at her face. “What?”
“Yesterday. By the bus stop. I saw you. You were looking up,” as she said this, the woman pointed her hand up, as if to clear up any confusion in case they did not each have the same definition of up. “I saw you. I was in a car with some friends. Well, not really friends. They’re people I know. I mean they probably think we’re friends but we’re not really. I guess I should tell them that. Anyway, the point is, I saw you and you were looking up at the sky. I looked, too, but I couldn’t figure out what you were looking at so intently.”
“Oh,” Rudolph said.
They stood there for a moment.
Then, the woman said: “So?”
“So, what?” Rudolph asked.
“So what were you looking at?” the woman asked him.
“Oh. Um. I was looking… up,” Rudolph said.
“Yeah, I know. We covered that. We established that,” the woman said. “But at what?”
“At… well, nothing.” Rudolph admitted.
The woman put her hands on her waist.
“Huh.” She said.
“Imagine that,” she added.
She shook her head, and smiled. It dawned on Rudolph that she liked his answer.
“Pretty cool,” she said, finally. “Just looking up.” She rubbed her hands on her cheeks as though trying to warm them.
“So why?” she asked after a moment. Then, before he could answer, she said “Hey, what’s your name, anyway?”
I am at peace with my name, he thought to himself, pulling his arms in and involuntarily drawing his breath in just a bit. That’s when he realized the card Chad had given him was gone. Instead of answering her, then, he first looked down. Nothing. He took a step back, and spun in place, trying to see if the card had dropped around him. He looked along the sidewalk he’d come up, saw nothing there. He turned back to the woman. He looked down at her feet. He wondered, only briefly, if she had pickpocketed him. It didn’t seem likely. She was pretty well-dressed for a pickpocket.
“What’re you doing?” she asked.
“A card. A present. My present. A present a guy gave me,” Rudolph fumbled around. “A guy gave me a present. At my office. My Xmas party. My Secret Santa,” It’s magic, he heard Chad saying and reminded himself that Chad liked dumb jokes, that it was probably just a gift certificate to the sub sandwich shop they sometimes went to. It’s magic Chad kept telling him I his mind. Rudolph patted himself down, reached into the suit pocket, patted himself down again, reached into the suit pocket again, his mind refusing to believe – as minds refuse to believe, often – that the envelope wasn’t where it had last been. He spun around again. “I must’ve dropped it. I had it right here in my pocket,” he told the woman, motioning in the general direction of his breast pocket, “But it’s gone.”
“Is that it?” the woman pointed.
Up above them, in the hazy cone of light from a streetlamp, the yellow-gold of the bulb’s glow flickering off the ever-more-numerous snowflakes blowing diagonally down threw it, fluttered the envelope Chad had given him.
It was December 23rd.