Chapter 7

Happy Christmas

“If you want my advice, I think you should keep her. She looks good on your arm and her ambiguous ethnicity still keeps you in the game,” Penny Dresser illustrated to Jackson then wound her thick blonde hair into a messy bun.

Penny Dresser and Jackson Conlin sat uncomfortably in the Hamburg Airport and waited for their flight out of Germany. Above them, the speakers called out flights in both German and English. Penny looked to Jackson for a reaction. Immersed, Jackson held his iPad on his lap and thumbed through the same photos over and over again, wishing that it wasn’t her. Swiping his screen again, the next image showed Ian holding onto Nora’s black and gold sunglasses, revealing her identity.

In another image, Nora and Ian stood facing one another, quite closely, in the middle of the street, just outside of her studio. Ian’s arm was around the small of her back while Nora looked down into his chest. Jackson noticed that she was still wearing the same dress that she left the house in with Paulie – the day he flew out to Europe, just 5 days before. He swiped with his finger and saw her kissing him on the mouth. Finally shutting off his iPad, he was crushed knowing that his future wife had probably spent the last few days letting that bastard kiss her and do things to her that he could only dream of doing.

“She’s made a goddamn fool out of me and your advice is to keep her?” Jackson finally said to Penny.

“Just hear me out,” Penny tried to convince him, “Nora’s ethnicity is selling your music. Last I checked about 2-3% of the buyers, are either black or Hispanic. A major increase since you were single or dating that other one.”

Jackson looked through her and stayed quiet.

“I thought that would make your liberal ass happy,” she said, “okay, first, I have to ask, have you bothered to take care of your early pearly?”

“What the hell is that?” he asked.

Penny looked at Jackson as if he were stupid, then mimed a man masturbating and ejaculating very quickly. Jackson’s face blushed. He stood, replaced the iPad into his bag and excused himself.

“Jackson c’mon!” Penny said after him, “my god, c’mon.”

London

Sara Stone knocked gently on the guest room door.

“You awake?” she asked peeking her head into the room.

Nora sat up in the bed and smoked out the window. The room was plainly decorated in a drab green with white lights boarding the small windows. It occupied a full bed, an antique sewing desk and chair and a pine armoire. The white cotton ruffled curtains flowed in the cold damp late December breeze. Her laptop lay next to her, glowing with the same images of her and Ian. Sara, having already seen the images in the Guardian, shut the laptop and slid in next to Nora. Nora continued to smoke and stare at the heavy mist and ice weighing on the trees and rose garden in the backyard. Through the condensation on the window, the backyard appeared barren and haunted.

“Since when do you smoke?” Sara asked.

Nora shrugged and continued to smoke.

“I’m an idiot,” she finally said.

“No, no you’re not. You’re just confused or scared,” Sara consoled.

Nora laughed to herself and snubbed out her cigarette. About to light up another, she checked with her hostess. Sara pushed open the window a bit more, then let Nora have at it.

“Is it your plan to stay in bed on Christmas?” Sara tried to tease her.

“What was I thinking, standing in the street like that? Fuckin’ moron!” Nora chastised herself.

She finished her cigarette and shut the window and pulled the fluffy duvet over her. Glancing at Sara, she recognized the infamous disapproving mug. The last time Nora experienced the grave-like-stare, she and Sara were roommates. As students at the London Institute of Fashion, they had shared a flat for over a year, until Sara moved in with Nigel. Nora had stayed out all night and ruined the dress Sara had let her borrow. In a smug tone, Nora had joked that she could make her 1,000 dresses made of a much better quality than the ratty thing that ruined so easily. Sara demanded that she remove the garment, get her things and get out. Confused, Nora finally cajoled from her that the dress had belonged to Sara’s mother, who had died only that past year.

Nora observed, “You’ve got the face on.”

“I want to support you Nora, I do, but…” Sara started to say when Nigel knocked on the door looking for his wife.

Avoiding what might be a moral sermon from Sara, Nora, quickly invited him into the room. Nigel entered the room carrying the Guardian newspaper under his arm and a fresh cup of coffee. Offering the coffee to his guest, he joked that he’d brought a cup of Joe for Ms. Prynne. Nora roared with great laughter and thanked him.

“Nigel, this is not funny!” Sara insisted.

Shrugging, Nigel pulled up to the bed the small sewing chair and sitting down he asked Nora, “What have you gone and done, old girl?”

Sipping her coffee, Nora shook her head and attempted to confess her sins to the happy couple. Stumbling on every word, Nigel assured her that she was not being judged and that she could talk about it when she was ready. After all, he concluded, it wasn’t any of their damn business.

“But you’re wrong, Nigel, this affects all of us,” Sara said.

While Nigel and Sara debated the repercussions of Nora’s actions, she lit another cigarette, flung the window open, and watched Jackson saunter up the foggy walkway. She quickly snubbed out the cigarette and before she could warn her hosts, the doorbell rang. Startled, Sara let out a high-pitched yelp. Nigel jumped to his feet and left the room to let Jackson in from out of the cold.

“It’ll be good for you both to speak in private,” Sara sounded like a mother and left Nora alone.

Nora climbed out of bed and searched her purse for a breath mint. Discovering a lozenge instead, she popped it into her mouth, threw on her kimono and went to meet her fiancé. Jackson stood tall in the small cottage chatting awkwardly with Nigel about music. Sara offered him some coffee and breakfast.

“No, thank you,” Jackson said.

When she appeared in the living room, Jackson noticed that even just out of bed, she was radiant.

“I just came by to let you know that in lieu of what’s happened, I’m going to Texas to spend Christmas with my family. When you get back from London, we will deal with this, but right now, I can’t even be in the same country as you!” he declared.

Despite her protests, Nigel grabbed Sara by the arm and dragged her into the back room. Jackson attempted to leave until he saw Nora’s blood red nails lightly scratch her chest allowing the kimono to open slightly. As she approached him, she noted him leering at her tits poking against the pink and yellow silk. When he realized that she was holding the newspaper, in an instant, he was released from her spell and his thoughts returned to that bastard putting his mouth on his fiancé’s sweet tits – his sweet tits.

Jackson turned to leave when Nora asked, ”Can I at least ask you one question?”

He agreed and stopped but did not turn to face her.

“When you first saw the images, did you want to kill me?”

Confused, he tried to view her over his shoulder, “What? No!”

Pulling her robe closed, she walked away and told him, “That’s what I thought.”

“Would you have preferred if I had said yes?” he asked now facing her back.

Stopping, she turned to Jackson and her phone rang. Jackson crossed to the phone quickly and viewed its caller ID.

“Ian S,” it read.

“Who is this?” he asked into the phone.

“Who the hell is this?” Ian asked.

Jackson hurling the phone at the Christmas tree shattered its face against the wall. Nigel returned to his living room to make sure everything was okay. Jackson apologized to Nigel then left the cottage. Once the door slammed, Nora noticed that Sara had made everyone stockings and had hung them from the fireplace mantel. For each one, she had carefully embroidered her guests’ names into the top.

“Jackson, don’t leave! I’m sorry!” Nora screamed running out of the house.

He climbed into a black cab he had waiting, and ordered it to take him back to the airport. In the cabby’s rear window, the cabby saw a girl, clad only in a pink and yellow robe, chasing the cab.

“You break her heart on Christmas, did ya, mate?” the nosey cabby asked.

Jackson looked over his shoulder and beyond the mist and sleet, she stood at the top of the driveway, “Just go,” he ordered.

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