Ghosts Of Christmas Past
Vincent & Nala
The hazy winter fog descended upon downtown Portland without any warning. But such was the weather in a city that boasted sunshine one minute and a downpour of hail the next.
Vincent was used to it by now. Spending the last few years in Portland as opposed to his sunny hometown in California had made him immune to the rain and fog that constantly blanketed the PNW landscape. In fact, he preferred it to constant, year-round sunshine. Especially since the death of his fiancée and child not so long ago.
He stopped drumming his fingers on the arm of his office chair. See? This was why he didn’t want to see so much sunshine. It reminded him of California. It reminded him of Desirée and the life they were supposed to build after graduating and spearheading their careers.
The fog was better. The rain was better. A cloudy, drizzly Christmas was better than the warm sunshine of a Californian Christmas. Stanford. Fresno. It didn’t matter. It was all the same to him at the age of thirty.
His high-rise office was one of his least favorite places in town, but it was December, and he was wont to finish up the year’s work as quickly as possible so he could focus on personal pursuits and prepare his “vacation.” Some vacation it will be. Christmas in Fresno, because he loved those sunny holidays so much.
But it was the one time a year he saw his mother and old friends from another life. It was a small price to pay for his freedom the rest of the year.
Lane Technological Solutions boomed with more business than he could have ever imagined. The connections he had made over the past couple of years meant he now commanded a little niche empire that made billionaires richer and his own bank account quite happy. He could afford all of the electronic toys his heart desired. Take all the exotic and not-so-exotic trips he wanted. Invest his money into local charities and international wonders that promised to do better with his money than he ever could. Two months ago he had been swayed by a children’s charity to part with two million dollars he wouldn’t miss. When the female representative genuinely teared up about the loss of her niece to cancer, Vincent couldn’t get his checkbook opened quickly enough.
Otherwise, he was a Scrooge, wasn’t he? Oh, he put on a happy holiday face for his employees, and he offered the same good-natured ribbing his male friends gave, but inside his closed-off heart he did it with the understanding that he had met his quota for the day. What quota? Didn’t matter. Quota met. He could go home and play Dragon Age for the umpteenth time or sit in front of his personal machine, writing up meaningless computer code well into the night. The only things that gave him any peace of mind were programming, gaming, and escapist sex. Sometimes in that order, sometimes in reverse order.
If he didn’t have work or play to distract him, he would linger on the ghosts that haunted him. It didn’t help that the building next to his had a lively rooftop garden tended to by a woman who looked unmistakably like Desirée from this distance. No amount of screentime in his life had ruined Vincent’s eyes to the point he couldn’t see the fine details of the woman’s hair and the way she carried herself as she watered, weeded, and talked to the plants she coaxed to life on top of a condominium. If Vincent stared off into space long enough in between his innumerable meetings and answering emails on his thirty-inch desktop monitor, he became lost in the memories he was never able to shake.
Do you remember our last Christmas together, Desiree? She must have been pregnant by then, although Vincent hadn’t found out about it until long after her death. Had Desiree known yet? Or was she blissfully unaware that everything was about to change? We went to bed laughing about the horrible presents you got from your extended family. You told me I was the only present you really needed.
Had she known that she was the only one he had needed?
Vincent turned around in his seat. The phone on his desk lit up with messages on hold. His receptionist Andrew knew to not directly patch anything through when Vincent was in one of his moods. The potential clients and advisers trying to likewise finish up their 2017 work would have to wait. Like they wanted to deal with a moody Millennial when he got like this, anyway.
He was barely acknowledging the phone, anyway. For on the other side of his office, sprawled out across the leather couch he sometimes used for a small change in scenery, was the new love of his life pretending to study for her finals. She’s asleep. Nala had her earbuds plugged into her head and her laptop open, but her mouth hung open and the hood of her PCC sweatshirt bumped up against the back of the couch. God only knew how long she had been passed out in her boyfriend’s office.
She often spent the late afternoons there, since her classes ended shortly after lunch, and it was a short bus ride between Sylvania and Vincent’s downtown office. They would usually get dinner afterward and head home to their converted loft in the Pearl. With any luck, Nala would finish her homework in time to have the evening to share with her boyfriend.
(Unless it was programming homework. Then Vincent looked forward to tutoring all night.)
This term was quite special for Nala. It was her last one at PCC before transferring to Portland State University to major in computer programming. She had declared her goal was to be good enough to be hired in her boyfriend’s company. She was stubborn enough to make it happen.
And clever enough. And certainly driven enough.
Vincent didn’t get up from his chair. He instead slowly rolled it toward Nala, who didn’t move as she continued to drool on her chin and precariously keep her math textbook near the edge of the couch.
Aw, she looks so dorky. Vincent contained his laughter, lest he wake Nala up from her afternoon slumber. No wonder my mother thinks she less than Desirée. Another reason Vincent hated going back home. His mother had plenty of opinions that he had no desire to hear about, particularly if they had to do with his personal life. The woman had loved Desirée for some of the same reasons Vincent had. She did not see the same qualities in Nala, and that included being a viable mother of future Lane children.
It is rather strange to think. When they first hooked up, it was because of stress and convenience. Now that they were well beyond their honeymoon phase – and Nala could be just as insufferable as Vincent on certain manners, because no relationship was perfect – Vincent still couldn’t think of someone he would rather be with. In the living world, anyway.
Nala had once called him out about that. The fact he would always be in love with a ghost, and she refused to compete with a dead woman for his love.
She had been right. Vincent would always be in love with a ghost. What he had with Desirée was real and eternal. But she was gone, and he had moved on. Just because he had loved her more than anyone else didn’t mean his life stopped when she drew her last breath.
Vincent wasn’t much of a crier. The only time had cried in Nala’s presence was when he discovered that Desirée had been pregnant when she died, and when Nala accused him of having no room in his heart for her. Too many times, as far as he was concerned. He was a logical man who preferred to take his emotions out in other ways. Honestly, Nala didn’t cry much either. They had no use for tears in their relationship.
How much would that change in the future, though? Would they get married? Have kids? Have grandkids? He couldn’t fathom Nala being pregnant, let alone taking care of one kid or five. The most sentimental she got about it was mentioning that she always preferred having boys to girls. “I’m a tomboy, you know? So it would be terrible if I had a daughter who wasn’t like me. I’d relate to a boy who didn’t like ‘boy things’ more than a girl who wanted to be a princess.”
Vincent didn’t care what they had. Or when. He planned on proposing when Nala graduated from PSU, so in about two years. But when an actual wedding would happen? Let alone what kind of wedding? That was best to dream about some other day, when the possibility was realer.
You’d be a good mother. Vincent was the one who had to worry about having enough love to go around.
Nala stirred on the couch. One earbud fell out of her head, and her math book took its unceremonious tumble toward the floor. As her eyes fluttered opened, she said, “You’re a creep.”
“Watching girls sleep.” A huge yawn overtook Nala’s face. She sat up and set her things aside. Her sweatshirt may have been her size, but it still swallowed her up in its folds. “Total creep.”
“You were adorable until now.” Vincent scoffed, pushing his chair back toward his desk. “Then you ruined it.”
“I felt your creeper rays on me. Were you undressing me with your eyes?”
“Typical.” She yawned again. “Is it time to go home yet?”
“The sun is still barely up, so no. You know it’s the time of year where everyone goes home in the cold darkness of the city’s shallow soul.”
“The fuck is with you?” Laughing, Nala then said, “You’re such weirdo. It’s because you’re a nerd.”
“And you’re a dork. So we’re even.”
“Who you calling a dork?”
Vincent knew exactly what he was doing when he incited her like that. Nala tossed her belongings aside and jumped toward him, landing in his lap hard enough to slide the sturdy chair back up against the window. Nala laid a sleepy kiss on his lips before slumping down against his chest.
“I can’t work under these conditions,” Vincent said with a heavy sigh. “You’re gonna have to leave, Ms. Nazarov.”
That could be arranged. An early Christmas present, as it were.
“You know what?” Vincent slammed his hands against the arms of his chair. “I think we should tell my parents to screw off this Christmas and go do whatever the hell we want. I’m thinking cottage on the coast. What about you?”
Nala raised her eyebrows. “Fireplace?”
“Sugar cookies, ugly sweaters, the works. Everything but the family.”
“If it means pissing off your mom and staying away from her, you know I’m down.”
“Think of all the sex we could have!”
“Way more than if we’re in your mom’s house!”
“I love this Christmas already.”
Nala pressed two fingers against both of his cheeks. “As much as you love meeee?”
He grinned. “You know most of my heart is reserved for you and you alone.”
The exasperated look on her face implied she had not been fishing for sentimentality. She got a load of it, anyway, because it was the season in which Vincent was his most introspective, self-critical… and most in love with the life he continued to live.
|Vincent and Nala