Bzzzt. Mariah tried not to look at the phone rattling on the wood-patterned laminate next to the engraved James Robertson nameplate.
Because three years at the same Godforsaken bank and they hadn’t given Mariah her own desk. “Are you James?” random customers would chortle over their free coffee. Bzzzt.
More texts. We just heard, the notification window popped up over her lock screen. Be by soon. Mariah scowled at the phone, glad the branch was closing soon. She hadn’t slept all night, and by now she felt like a stack of wet blankets slumped against James’ padded chair. Maybe they wouldn’t make it in time. She didn’t want to talk anyway; she probably looked even worse than she felt.
Having managed to break up with — ok, get dumped by — C.J. one day before the biggest party of the year, she’d known the news wouldn’t take long to spread. He’d told her she needed something new. But already? Did he Snapchat it or something? Cold.
Bzzzt. “Great,” Mariah muttered, ignoring the accumulating texts as a man shuffled into the branch. Anyone who left their banking for New Year’s Eve, well, Eve-Day, had to be some form of disaster. God bless him; she just wasn’t in the mood.
As she clutched her phone as though taking a call, the man eyed her tired, puffy face and turned to go talk to Dane at the counter. Mariah sank back into her despair.
At least it was a short work day. Not even because of New Year’s Eve — the bank didn’t care about that — but because it was also Saturday. Just her luck. The perfect day for a party and here she was—
Ugh. The song. Christmas was over now, legitimately over. Just because Dane thought change was a swear word shouldn’t mean they had to be the only place in town still dragging it out, pretending their fake desktop tree wasn’t leaning so far over it might topple off the table. She almost hoped it would.
The bubbly voice didn’t want a lot for Christmas, except apparently you. She cringed at every jingling bell.
Mariah’s parents hadn’t spent much time together except their holiday high-school hook-up in December 1994. Now, the song followed her like some paranormal curse, the only song destined never to wane in popularity.
She was convinced Adele could go to heaven and record a duet with an actual angel, and the public would still prefer the jingle bell song. Mariah had even sworn she’d never have sex in December, if only to ensure her first child wasn’t named Donny and stalked by terrible “This Christmas” covers for a hundred years. Turns out, C.J. didn’t honor her December pledge anyway, so that wasn’t the reason he bailed. “You’re too beautiful to hold out on me,” he always said. A pit tightened inside her.
Four round bells on a thick red ribbon rattled against the glass door as her two old friends tromped through.
“Hey,” Sarah called, stomping off her boots on a mat that said, “Need a Holiday Loan?” Alice just nodded. Behind the shoulder-level glass shield, Dane glared. Mariah could see him reaching for the chunky, corded landline; a relic of when banks hired people who gave a shit. People like him. Good. Call whomever you want, Dane. You can’t end this any more than I can.
Sarah pulled up a seat, her eyes resting on James’ nameplate for a short moment. “So, I heard. I’m so sorry.”
“Thanks; it’s fine.” Mariah wondered if telling them to fuck off would be socially acceptable. C.J. wasn’t just some guy to her; he’d been everything. These two wouldn’t understand that.
“Hey, don’t feel bad,” Alice added, staring at the leaning Christmas tree. “He wasn’t right for you; I always thought so.” Well, fuck that, Alice. “You’re going to the party, right?” she continued. “We’re going to Zeke’s. You’re twenty-one now; you can go with.”
Go with us, Mariah corrected.
“Well, think about it.” Sarah said, forcing a smile. “I know how you feel. You two were always together. It’s the only way I can imagine you.”
Without warning, the lights dimmed, Dane lording a satisfied smirk at them from behind the counter. “We’re closed.” As if she cared. Did he think she wanted to stay here? Get a clue, Dane.
“Well, anyway, we’ll see you tonight?”
“Maybe.” She shrugged. For a moment, she thought they’d press, but Dane’s creepy glare across the darkened room was enough to shoo them out. In silence, Mariah gathered her things and slogged out to her old car, shielding her eyes from the reflection of the low sun against the ice. Bzzz.
cj going to zekes w/ashlee – u need to be there
“I didn’t ask you,” she snapped. Turning the key, her engine sputtered, until with a kick, her car spun out of the icy lot and wobbled through the intersection.
Kicking the door closed and leaving a wake of keys and bags through the apartment, Mariah collapsed onto her bed. When she woke, the cable-knit pattern of her scarf was pressed into her face, and moonlight streamed through the window. She dragged an arm over to turn on the radio. Just regular, over-produced music.
She fumbled for her phone, plugging it into the charger. 01 January 2017 greeted her. There. January. She’d missed all the parties. Fine. At least she didn’t have work today.
Rolling onto her back, she thought about the bank. About C.J. Maybe it would all work out. 2016 was over.
Bzzzt. Rolling back over, she tapped the lock screen. A list of texts greeted her, from r u here to girl, call me. She froze, seeing the text at the top. C.J. We need to talk.
With a grin, Mariah turned the phone over on its face and got up to make some coffee. Some very dark coffee. Baby girl, you need something new. “Actually, I believe we already did.”
E.D.E. Bell lives in Ohio, USA. The author of Spireseeker and the Shkode trilogy, she specializes in merging classic fantasy fiction with modern themes, but thinks flash fiction is a fun way to share moments across genres.