Mary Christmas

Hiring a hooker on Christmas Eve was probably the last thing that Jack Foster ever envisioned himself doing with his life. Yet, here he was, driving along Michigan Avenue in southwest Detroit on Christmas Eve, ready to blow the money his grandmother had sent him on a fucking prostitute.

It was the fulfillment of a vow that Jack had made a year ago to never wake up alone on Christmas morning again. In 32 years of life, Jack never spent Christmas with a woman who wasn’t named Mom or Grandma. It wasn’t that he never dated. He dated plenty. Women found his geeky-golly-gee-innocence equally non-threatening and charming. However, circumstances – or perhaps fate? –  always played out so that Jack would be alone on Christmas. This was a curse he dealt with going all the way back to high school. It would be one thing if he were simply always single going into the season, but there were far too many years when hours of Christmas shopping were already clocked, only to find out that the intended recipient of his gifts had other plans that no longer involved him (including an engagement ring a couple years back). This year, however, things were going to be different. He was not going to be lonely.

Even if it meant having to pay for it. At least he wouldn’t have to spend money on presents.

Following the afternoon Christmas Eve mass, Jack drifted out into the snowy night, as Christmas jazz in flowed from Detroit Public Radio.  His lonely self was headed toward an even lonelier downtown.

Do prostitutes even work on Christmas Eve?

He quickly dismissed that as a stupid question. Holidays were probably prime moneymakers for the average hooker. Like movie theaters, Chinese restaurants and bowling alleys, they would certainly be open and eager for business.

But as Jack entered prime streetwalking territory along Cass Avenue on the edge of downtown, the untouched snow-dusted sidewalks suggested that it was perhaps a day off after all…or, that business was so good that there simply wasn’t enough supply to meet the demand. A couple of desolate blocks further, Jack had more than had his pick of the Christmas litter.

He cautioned himself against picking up the first hooker he spotted. He didn’t want to discriminate, but he owed it to his grandmother to spend her money wisely. So, he continued driving. Down one block. Then two. It was becoming clear that he had passed his best option by.

Maybe he would be alone for another Christmas after all.

He crept along for a couple more blocks. Just when he was about to give up on this enterprise all together, he spotted his Christmas angel of the night.

Up until this moment, Jack’s experience with the world’s oldest profession was limited to what he had seen in movies. Armed with only that knowledge, he decided to do his best to emulate what he remembered from movies by slowing down his car and pulling up near her along the curb.

She appeared to be in her late 20’s. She was dressed in a black leather mini-skirt with a matching long, leather jacket that – upon closer inspection – had seen better days. Though rough around the edges, she had an appealing, vulnerable beauty.

As far as Jack was concerned, she couldn’t be more perfect.

“Excuse me,” Jack asked in a chipper tone. “Are you working?”

“Does Santa have eight tiny reindeer?” she asked.

“That depends,” Jack replied.

“On what?”

“If you believe in Santa at all.”

“I believe,” the prostitute said. “Do you?”

“Of course,” Jack said. “That goes without saying. However, I’m not fully convinced that reindeer really know how to fly.”

She flashed an infectious smile, with teeth as surprisingly white as the fresh fallen snow surrounding them. Jack’s charm had seemingly melted her stone exterior, before reality came roaring back.

“So, are you interested, or just interested in wasting my time?” the prostitute asked.

Jack tried to speak, but nothing came out.

“Look, asshole, I don’t know about you, but I sure as fuck don’t want to spend Christmas behind bars. So, are you buying or not?”

“Come on in,” Jack said, reluctantly.

She entered, without a hint of trepidation. Though he knew he was as harmless as they came, he could have been a serial killer with a naïve charm for all she knew. I guess it was just part of the job.

“Jack,” he said, offering a hand.

She shook his hand. “Mary.”

Jack chuckled.

“What’s so funny?” she asked.

“Mary, the Christmas prostitute.”

“Real fucking funny,” Mary replied.

“How much for the night?” Jack said, changing he subject.

“$250. Basic package.”

“Basic package? What are you, a cable provider? I’m kind of new at this.”

“$250 gets you all the standards. The freak show shit will cost you more. If that’s your style.”

“Okay, here’s the deal. I don’t want sex,” Jack made clear.

“Blow job? I get it,” Mary said.

“No. Nothing sexual. Period.”

“Is this a fucking joke?” Mary said.

“No. Why would it be a joke?”

“Because this seems like a fucking joke he would play,” Mary said, with hurt frustration.

“Who?”

“My pimp.”

“I promise this is no joke. Is this okay? I mean is it allowed?”

“Is what allowed?”
“No sex.”

“Yes. It’s allowed. But it never ends up that way,” she said with a wink.

A smile broke through her steel face. The warm interior beneath her stonewall lasted more than a fleeting moment.

“Miles?” she asked.

“Around 10 or so.”

“No. I mean, Miles. As in Miles Davis. On the radio!”

“I believe so,” Jack laughed. “Jazz fan?”

Love jazz,” Mary replied. “Used to be a jazz pianist. Before the shit hit the fan and landed in my face.”

For the first time, Jack saw a glimpse of the real Mary. She was no longer a hired hooker. She was someone he genuinely wanted to get to know. A potential friend.

“I play sax,” Jack said.

“Best jazz instrument of them all … at least, in my opinion.”

“We should, like, totally duet,” Jack punned.

Mary burst into uproarious laughter.

“Goddamn, I don’t remember the last time I laughed like this. And it wasn’t even that fucking funny.”

“Well, there’s more where that came from. Do you like ice skating?” he added, out of the blue.

Mary laughed again.

“What’s so funny?” Jack asked.

“Are you serious?” Mary asked.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Jack replied.

“I never ice skated before.”

“That’s one less time than me, Jack said. “And it was a long time ago.”

“How did it go?” Mary asked.
“I broke my leg.”

“Well, if that’s what you want to do, you’re the boss.”

“Just don’t call me boss.”

“Whatever you want, Jack.”

“What about you, Mary? What do you want to do?”
“Ice skate,” she said with a coy smile.

With the terms of their transaction negotiated, they headed over to Campus Martius, a small park nestled in the heart of downtown, highlighted by an ice-skating rink, over which loomed a giant Christmas tree, surrounded by a city covered in dark despair. A dozen or so skaters circled around the ice as Christmas music blared out of muffled speakers.

They got their skates from the rental center, then laced up. Jack noticed that Mary’s laces were too loose and tightened them for her. She seemed genuinely touched. Jack wondered how long had it been since a man did anything for her that didn’t involve his penis.

“Thanks,” she said.

            Was she blushing?

            Probably wishful thinking on his part.

“Ready?” Jack asked. She nodded in an unsure manner, then froze in horror upon her first step, clutching onto Jack’s arm for dear life.

“Are you okay?” Jack asked.

“I’m fine,” Mary said. “Just a bit nervous, that’s all.”

Then again, fat, dirty perverts were probably a piece of cake compared to ice-skating.

She continued to use his arm for support as they headed out to the ice as Nat King Cole belted out “O Come all Ye Faithful.” The rink was filed with mostly white suburbanites, making Mary the minority, despite the paradox of being smack dab in the heart of a city that was almost 80% black.

Jack led Mary to the ice. He entered first and offered his hand to help her onto the ice. She wouldn’t budge.

“Just take my hand.”

“I’m scared.”

“You’ll be safe.”

Reluctantly, she took hold of his hand. She used her other hand to hold on to the railing for dear life.  Slowly, but surely, she got the hang of it as snowflakes danced around them. They both fell often, but they were okay.

When they were done, they headed to the nearby Lafayette Coney Island – a Detroit institution trapped in time since the roaring 20’s. To Jack’s surprise, Mary had never been there. And they had the place all to themselves, accompanied by Ella Fitzgerald’s mournful “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.

As they chomped on Coney dogs, they un-spooled both the highlight and lowlight reels of their lives, their cares and their fears. The good. The bad. And everything in-between. Jack couldn’t remember ever being on a date that seemed so effortless.

It was worth every penny.

Mary explained how she stopped dating in “real life” years ago, but the nature of her job required her to always be a good date.

“Fucking is the easy part. Pretending to be interested in the intellect of the rich sleaze ball that I’m accompanying to a dinner party or corporate function is the hard part.”

Jack nodded with compassion.

“But somehow with you …” Mary began, then paused.  “I don’t feel like I have to pretend. Though, I’ve certainly been duped before. So, I don’t even know why I’m telling you this.”

“You don’t have to worry about being duped by me,” Jack said.

“Promise?” she asked.

“I still can’t believe you have never been here,” Jack said, just as she took a giant bite out of her Coney.

Mary waited until she swallowed.

“Well, when most of your dates involve a bed, you miss out on all sorts of shit.”

She elaborated that when it came to motels and hotels, from the seediest, to the swankiest, she had seen them all. Her clients spanned all economic demographics. And even some of the richest clients insisted on taking her to some of the poorest-looking motels, just as some of the poorest somehow managed to scrape up the funds to take her to some of the richest. But aside from that, Mary saw most of life from a horizontal point of view.

Mary proceeded to gobble down her third and final Coney to Jack’s two. She claimed she hadn’t eaten in nearly two days. And judging by the way she scarfed those suckers down, Jack believed her.

When they headed back outside, they were greeted with what had now become a heavy snowstorm. White Christmas overload.

Jack refused to let Mother Nature get in the way of what was shaping up to be a magical evening. In fact, the falling snow only added to the romance, which was beginning to feel less and less like an illusion as the night wore on. The weather didn’t seem to faze Mary, either. After all, she was used to being outside.

As they began to walk, Jack took Mary by her ungloved hand. Jack was surprised by how taken aback she seemed, but then he realized that it was perhaps unusual to take a prostitute by the hand.

“Why aren’t you wearing gloves?” he asked.

“I left mine at a motel a few weeks back. Never had a chance to get new ones.”

“You’re gonna have to get some new ones!” Jack said. “Winter’s barely even begun.”

“If it’s a matter of starving, or having cold hands, I’ll take food any day,” Mary said.

She had a point.

“Would you like to wear mine?” Jack offered.

“No, I’m fine. Thank you.”

She shoved her ungloved hand into her pocket.

“Are you sure?”

“I said I’m fine,” she scolded.

Jack led Mary across street and into the dimly-lit People Mover station.

“Is the train even running tonight?” Jack asked after they waited for several minutes.

“I heard it squealing in the distance earlier when I was on the street. But maybe they shut down early.”

“We’ll wait five more minutes,” Jack said. “Then we’ll Uber it.”

“To where?” Mary asked.

“To be determined,” Jack said with a smile, hoping that he didn’t come across as too undecided – or unintentionally creepy. Mary’s steely, stoic expression didn’t indicate one way or another. Jack figured that compared to a lot of her clients, he must have seemed pretty normal. Then again, how many clients would hire her without the expectation of sex? That alone, might have put him in the creepy category. But if it did, she certainly didn’t show it.

And just as five minutes were up, the train screeched into the station. They climbed aboard the empty train. As would be expected, they had the whole train to themselves.

“The train to nowhere,” Jack said.

“I got raped on this train once,” Mary offered, as the train clobbered along the metallic tracks.

How does one even respond to that?

“I’m so sorry,” Jack finally said.

“Comes with the territory,” Mary said.

“But it shouldn’t.”

“Yeah, well…”

“Did you report it?”

“When you’re a prostitute, do you really think cops take a rape claim seriously?”

She had a point. Being on the other side of the law certainly won’t win one any favors from the law.

After a couple of more stops, they finally reached their destination.

Jack grabbed Mary’s bare hand once again and turned down a seemingly abandoned street.

“Where are you taking me?” Mary asked. Jack sensed a bit of trepidation in her voice.

“We’re almost there. You can hear it,” he said, as distant jazz filled their ears.

A block later, they were standing at the entrance of Cliff Bell’s – an old school jazz club where the tables were round and the jazz was hot.

“Are we going here?” Mary asked.

“Is that okay?” replied Jack.

She smiled. “You have no idea how much I was hoping to be brought here by somebody.”

Jack led Mary to a table in the back. The club was surprisingly full, considering it was Christmas Eve.

Jack ordered his go-to cocktail – a 7 & 7. Mary ordered a Mai-Tai. Between their first drink and last, their topics of conversation knew no limits. It was improvised as the jazz itself.

After they compared their favorite jazz artists, they segued into their childhoods, which couldn’t be more vastly different. Jack was raised in a stable home environment with two loving parents and quarreling siblings.

And white.

Mary, meanwhile, grew up in a single-mother household with siblings that all had different last names.

And mixed.

Jack got in trouble for getting an occasional C.

Mary’s mother gave two shits whether or not her daughter went to school. And because of that, she was going to school part-time by the time she reached the 10th grade and dropped out in 11th. She’d been playing catch-up ever since and quickly abandoned her dream of being an elementary school teacher the moment she slithered down her first pole at the age of 18, which – following a series of unfortunate events – indirectly led her to the wonderful Jack Foster on this particular Christmas Eve.

Jack’s childhood was as stable as they came. His adult life was not much different. His life was a bit too predictable. Too boring. From his house in the suburbs to his vanilla career as a high school teacher, he couldn’t be more conventional. For once, he was doing something about it.

He was well-aware that hiring a prostitute could have negative consequences in regards to his job, but following years of bad luck, loneliness eventually outweighed moral rationality.

Before long, words were no longer necessary, as Jack held Mary snugly against him. As Mary nodded her head to the music, Jack tried to convince himself that this just a “normal” date …not a purchased one. Objectively, once he got past the reality of the situation, he actually saw her as a suitable partner, on so many levels.  The last thing he wanted to do was shatter the illusion.

“Care to dance?” Jack asked.

Mary nodded.

To the casual observer they looked like any other couple madly in love on Christmas Eve. It felt good. And though he couldn’t be sure, he sensed she felt the same way.

Shortly before midnight, they headed back out into the stark reality of a Detroit night, where the only thing they could see before them was a white wall of falling snow. The ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.

They decided to forgo an Uber and walked back to Jack’s car, while most everyone else was probably snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.

“Now, what?” Jack asked.

“I guess we walk.”

Church bells chimed midnight. Christmas had come.

“Merry Christmas,” Jack said.

“Merry Christmas.”

They hugged, then continued walking. They finally reached Jack’s car, covered in a blanket of snow.

Jack opened the door for Mary and started the car, then grabbed his ice-scraper.

“Scraping ice off your windows is the worst,” Jack said, upon entering his car.

“At least you got a car to scrape off,” Mary said, putting things in perspective.

“Sorry. I wasn’t thinking …”

“Actually, I have a car. Newer than yours, actually.”

Mary laughed as they drove off.

The drive back to Jack’s home in the neighboring suburb of Dearborn was about twenty minutes in normal driving conditions. In a blizzard, however, the commute was closer to an hour, as the car slipped and sloshed through the unplowed interstate. The wall of snow made visibility all but zero, but thankfully, they had almost the entire road to themselves, accompanied by the soothing tones of Johnny Mathis walking in a winter wonderland.

Jack couldn’t help but wonder whether Mary had any fear or apprehension each time headed to a stranger’s domicile Or, was she just used to it? And immune from anxiety and fear?

Then again, what was more intimidating than Johnny Mathis?

Jack had every right to be as worried as she was. After all, she was probably more equipped to fight him off, than he was to defend himself against her. Furthermore, he wondered just how wise it was to bring her back to his house. He never even considered gong to a motel. He didn’t want to tarnish the old-fashioned, Thomas Kinkade Christmas-at-home that he was dreaming of. They would both just have to trust each other.

When they crossed over the border separating Detroit from its suburbs, the roads suddenly became clear – and it wasn’t because there was less snow.

Jack finally pulled up into the driveway of his modest ranch, just past one o’clock. A lonely strand of blinking Christmas lights greeted them, along with a vintage plastic snowman and a Santa, led by eight tiny, plastic reindeer.

“You don’t have any kids, do you?” Mary asked.

“Of course not,” Jack said.

“And you live here by yourself?”

“Yeah. Why?” Jack asked.

She nodded toward the reindeer.

“Guess I’m just a kid at heart. And those things belonged to my parents. This used to be their house and …,” Jack trailed off.

“Well, I think it’s great that you keep the tradition alive,” Mary said.

Jack smiled at her compassionate sincerity. This, he did not expect.

When they got out of the car, Jack led Mary by the arm up his sidewalk. He felt her momentarily tense up as she approached the unknown that existed behind his door. However, as soon as he opened it and invited her in, any remaining trepidation melted away.

Mary appeared awestruck by his retro-vintage decorated living room.

“Have a seat,” Jack offered, gesturing toward a worn, but inviting loveseat. As she made herself comfortable, Jack put a Dean Martin vinyl on a hi-fi console turntable, then ignited his gas fireplace, accompanied by Deano’s velvety-smooth vocal stylings.

“It’s like stepping back in time,” Mary said. “Was this all your parents, too?”

“No,” Jack said. “They had all new stuff. I sold it and bought all of this at a few thrift shops downtown.”

“Wine?” Jack asked, placing a tray of mixed nuts and chocolates on the coffee table in front her.

“Sure.”

“Is Boone’s okay?” he asked.
“Fine with me,” Mary said.

“I’m joking.”

“Ain’t nothing wrong with Boone’s,” Mary said.

“White or red?”
“Red,” Mary said. “It is Christmas, you know.”

Jack stepped into his kitchen and considered uncorking the bottle in the kitchen, but then realized he probably shouldn’t leave her alone for too along. As much as he wanted to trust her, he knew that he shouldn’t let his guard down. He assumed she felt no different. The only difference was, she was used to placing herself on safety’s edge. He was probably far more out of his comfort zone than she was his.

He returned with two Christmas-themed wine glasses and a bottle of cheap Merlot. He sat down on the sofa, leaving a comfortable distance between them.

“You can sit closer if you’d like,” Mary said, catching Jack by surprise. “You don’t have to be shy around me.”

“I’m not being shy…just cordial.”

“Well, I appreciate that.”

Jack moved over a bit, then got to work on the cork. But the cork had other plans. It refused to budge. He hoped Mary wasn’t watching this, but her laughter said otherwise.

“I got this,” Jack said, still struggling. Mary began to laugh even more. Tiny cork particles fell into the bottle. Eventually, he succeeded. Mary applauded. Jack took a bow.

“Wait till you see my next act,” Jack said, pouring the wine.

“I can only imagine,” Mary said.

Jack carried the wine glasses over to Mary.

“Sorry about the particles,” Jack said, referring to the floating pieces of cork in the bottle.

“Fiber,” Mary said, taking the glass from him. He sat down next to her and raised his glass for a toast.

“Merry Christmas,” he said.

“Merry Christmas,” Mary said, tearing up. Jack could tell that she was trying to hide it.

“Are you okay?” Jack asked.

“I’m sorry. I’m fine,” Mary said as Jack reached over, wiping away her tears. She took another sip of wine, regaining her composure.

“Are you sure?” Jack asked.

“It’s just that, it’s been so long since somebody wished me Merry Christmas. And meant it.”

“Haven’t you worked on Christmas before?” Jack asked.

“Every year. But do you think most of my customers give a shit that I have a merry Christmas?”

“It just seems like wishing you a merry Christmas on Christmas would be the natural thing to do.”

“In your world,” Mary said. “In my world, nothing’s merry. And certainly not Christmas.”

“I’m sorry,” Jack said.

“It’s not your fault.”

“I know. But I’m still sorry about it. Not that I have fared much better. Obviously.”

Jack raised his glass once again.

“Here’s to learning how to muddle through … somehow.” She clinked his glass. A faint semblance of a smile was on her face.

“What?” Jack asked.

“It’s just that …” she stopped, cutting herself short.

“What?” Jack asked.

“Nevermind,” Mary said.

“You can tell me.”

“I don’t know what it is about you, but I feel so completely safe with you. And it’s fucking creeping me out! I mean, don’t get me wrong. I have misjudged clients before – many times, in fact. But with you, it just feels different. And as much as I try convincing myself that this is exactly why I should be more careful than ever, I know deep down I shouldn’t.”

“Well, I have some good news in store for you,” Jack said. “You are completely right.”

“About needing to be careful?” Mary asked with a wink.

They sat back, taking a couple of sips of win, letting Dean Martin do all the talking until Jack finally interrupted:

“I know it must be tough, but don’t you ever feel the desire to date for real?”

“I used to try,” Mary said. “But I’ve pretty much given up.”

“Why?” Jack asked.

“Because I’m pretty convinced that no decent guy would want me. And I’m through dating any guy who isn’t decent as an excuse not to be lonely.”

“Fair enough. But how long can you live like this?”

“I made it this far. Eventually, the numbness takes over, making reality much easier to live with.”

“Some might see it that way,” Jack responded.

“Do you?” Mary asked.

“No.”

“You’re just saying that.”

“I’m not.”

“If you did what I did for a living, you’d understand,” Mary said.

“You’re much more than that,” Jack said.

“Am I?” Mary asked.

“How could you not be?”

“I’m just a random hooker you picked up in Detroit. There are who knows how many hundreds more just like me?”

“But they’re not you,” Jack said with earnest. “Just like you’re not them. And I wouldn’t trade you for any single one of them.”

“If not me, it would have been somebody else,” Mary said.  “And you would have been saying the same thing to her.”

“There’s no way to really know that for sure, is there?” Jack said.

“Come on,” Mary said. “Just admit it.”

“Not going to,” Jack said. “When you get right down to it, there’s no way to really know anything for sure. I’m sure neither one of us pictured our lives turning out exactly like they have. Do you?”

Mary shook her head.

“Yet look at us,” Jack continued. “This is our life. Right now. In this moment. I guess we can’t really complain, can we?”

“Right now … tonight …  no,” Mary said. “But tomorrow will come again. And it won’t be you. It will be some random dick attached to cash.”

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Jack said.

“But it is,” Mary said.

“Is that the life you want?”

“It’s better than being on the streets.”

“Is it?”

Mary took a long, hard sip of her wine. Jack re-filled her glass and then his, before he lifted it for another toast.

“Here’s to tonight. And nothing else,” Jack said. “Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Not even earlier today. Just this night.”

Mary clinked his glass. And they kept drinking without another word until the bottle was empty and Mary was breaking rule #1 of almost every prostitute: no kissing on the mouth.

“I’m sorry,” Jack said after the first kiss.

“Why are you sorry?”

“Because this wasn’t my intent. But the wine—”

She kissed him back before he could finish his sentence. And he felt something he hadn’t felt in a long time.

And he suddenly began to wonder if he could live up to his promise of no sex. Though she wouldn’t admit it, Mary was probably grateful for a “night off.”

“We should get to bed,” Jack suggested as his antique grandfather clock struck three. “Otherwise, Santa will pass us by.”

Jack stood up, gently offering her his hand, before leading her to the bedroom.

“Oh, shoot!” Jack said, stopping his in his tracks.

“What’s wrong?” asked Mary.

“Forgot the cookies!”

“Cookies in bed?” Mary asked.

“Milk and cookies. For Santa,” Jack explained.

“Seriously?” Mary asked.

“Of course!”

Jack headed into the kitchen and returned with a plate of cookies and a half of glass of milk.

“Are those homemade?” Mary asked.

“Yep. My Grandma sent them. They’re the best,” Jack said, setting the plate and glass on an end table. The same grandma whose money was being spent on Mary’s company.

Jack handed Mary a notepad and a pen.

“What’s this for?” Mark asked.

“A note for Santa. I want you to write it.”

“You’re kidding…” Mary said, laced with curious skepticism.

“As your client, I am requesting it,” Jack said, with a smile, hoping that he didn’t come across as threatening.

Or, just plain crazy.

“Okay,” Mary said. “I’ll give it my best shot.”

She sat down and wrote her note, before sharing it with Jack. It read: “To Santa, From Jack and Mary. Merry Christmas!”

“How’s that?”

“It’s perfect,” Jack said, placing it next to the plate. This was exactly what he envisioned. And though it was finally happening in reality, he tried to ignore the fact that it was a fleeting reality,

Jack led Mary to the bedroom. Jack wondered if Mary was expecting – or even hoping – for something to happen. Would he change his mind? Unlike a “normal” date, there was no mystery as to whether sex was a possibility. The ball was completely in his court. Despite this reality, he continued trying everything in his power to convince himself that this was a “normal” date. And as a rule of thumb, he didn’t fuck on first dates.

Jack pulled back the comforter and sheets of his double bed, which he had made for the first time since he could remember. As though by instinct, Mary quickly removed her clothes, stripping down to her bra and panties, revealing an otherwise flawless body ravaged by scars and bruises. He also caught a glimpse of a bottle of mace strapped around her thigh. Jack looked away, out of respect. She suddenly covered herself, as though she realized that this wasn’t part of Jack’s plan, despite it otherwise always being part of the plan.

Jack was taken a bit aback by how quickly and almost robotically she disrobed. If only they lived in a world where Mary didn’t feel an automatic obligation to remove her clothes the second she entered into a bedroom and where the sex was not expected on a first date.

“Would you like a t-shirt and sweatpants?” Jack asked, realizing that he was probably the first client to ever want her to keep her clothes on.
“That would be nice,” Mary said.

Jack dug out a worn-out Detroit Tigers t-shirt and a pair of paint-stained sweatpants that he had owned since high school.

“Are these okay?” he asked her.

“They’re perfect,” Mary said, as though they were made from the finest silk.

Jack motioned for her to climb into bed. So, she did. And he followed.

“Are you sure you don’t …,” Mary said, trying to hide her pleading tone.

“I’m positive,” Jack said.

“Because it’s okay … “ Mary added. “I just want to make sure you get your money’s worth.”

“I already did,” Jack said in reply. “I just want to hold you.”

They spooned, facing the window as snow continued to fall steadily outside.

“Promise not to laugh if I tell you something?” Mary asked.

“Of course,” Jack asked.

“Do you know what I had been praying for?”

“What’s that?”

“For just once, I spend Christmas with somebody special,” Mary said. “I never thought God heard any of my prayers. Especially that one. But yet, he did. And he gave me you.”

“That makes two of us,” Jack said.

“You’re like an angel or something,” Mary added.

“You’re the angel,” Jack said.

“Hardly…,” Mary said with a sad smile.

Jack held Mary closer to him as they drifted off to sleep, with visions of sugar plum fairies dancing in their heads. And they slept deep into the morning to make sure that Santa wouldn’t pass them by.

Morning came and with it, a blue sky, accompanied by a bright sun that shone on a fresh blanket of white. When Jack awoke, slightly hungover, he wondered if the entire night was a mere dream. But there she was, sleeping soundly beside him, illuminated like an angel. He went back to sleep, feeling Mary’s gentle breath against his skin. If only this moment could last forever.

But, of course, nothing did.

They finally both woke up together, just half past ten.

Mary awoke, confused. He imagined she felt this way often and it made him sad.

“Good morning,” Jack said with a warm smile.

“Good morning,” Mary smiled back.

“Sleep well?” Jack asked.

Mary nodded.

“Would you like breakfast?”

“You don’t have to bother,” Mary insisted. “I’m not your charity case.”

“Not a bother. And not a charity. But if you have to go…”

“I don’t have to go. Unless you ask me to.”

“I would love for you to stay, but only if you want to,” Jack said.

“Breakfast would be lovely,” Mary said.

“Coffee or tea?”

“Coffee is good.”

“I’ll go whip something up. You’re welcome to use the shower if you’d like.”

As Jack prepared breakfast, Mary showered. He hoped the smell of bacon, hash browns, and fresh coffee gave her hope and comfort.

They ate breakfast in comfortable, mutual silence, fighting off reality with all of their might. Jack would soon return to suburban solitude. And Mary would return to the cold, harsh streets of a fallen city.

“This is quite possibly the best breakfast I’ve had in over five years,” Mary said.

“I agree,” Jack said. “And I’m not only talking about the food.”

After the coffee pot was empty, Mary knew the time had come to go. As they awkwardly stood at the door, everything was put into perspective the moment Jack handed Mary her payment.

“I can’t,” Mary refused.

“You earned it,” Jack insisted.

She insisted on not taking it.

“You have already given me so much,” she said.

“Consider it your Christmas present,” Jack said. “Buy yourself something. Like a nice pair of gloves.”

Jack smiled as Mary reluctantly took it from him. It was a transaction neither one of them wanted to make. Yet, circumstances gave them no choice.

An Uber pulled into his driveway.

“Your chariot’s here,” Jack said.

Mary smiled.

“It was nice meeting you,” Jack said, offering his hand. He didn’t intend to come across so formal. She shook it. He sensed that she felt the same way he did.

“I know this might be asking for a lot, but can we do this again?” Jack asked.
“I would love that,” Mary said, appearing genuinely touched. “Anytime. You know where to find me. But only under one circumstance.”

“What’s that?” Jack asked.

“Next time, it’s a real date.”

“What are you doing New Year’s?”

“It depends …” Mary said with flirtatious coyness.

She reached for the same pen and notepad they used for Santa and wrote something down before she handed it to Jack. There was a phone number. And a name he didn’t recognize.

“Elisabeth?”

“It’s my name,” she said. “I’ve never given it to a client before…”

It was perhaps the greatest Christmas present she could have given him. He hugged her tightly, before she stepped out into the freshly fallen Christmas snow. And then she was gone. And Jack was alone once again.

Dreaming about the new year to come.