Ray gets lucky
Kate went to her dad’s as soon as school was out, leaving Mary with way too much time on her hands. She worked so hard on her stories that she was issues ahead. Most evenings, Roxanne was out interviewing men to be Captain Marvelous, so Mary had the cleanest oven, refrigerator, and closets in the neighborhood. Stubbornly, she put up a small tree. Each holiday, she bought a few ornaments to remember the year’s events. This year, she had mixed feelings about her purchases; she’d purchased a decoration made from a seashell, a tiny computer to represent her job, and a little forest ranger she’d bought from a Nisqually Jack’s Christmas catalog Ray had at the office. The last ornament tugged at her heart, so she hung it near the bottom of the tree, so it wouldn’t be at eye level whenever she came into the room.
She was looking at paint samples for her bedroom when the phone rang. Distracted by color swatches, she didn’t look at the caller ID before she answered the phone.
“Mary? It’s Mark. Merry Christmas!”
Mary opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She didn’t even know what she wanted it to say. Get lost? Don’t get lost? What?
“Mary, you’re not going to hang up on me, are you?”
“Merry Christmas, Mark,” Mary said coolly.
Mark was ill at ease. Tentatively, he said, “Hey, look, Mary. The reason I’m calling is that all of the rangers that you met on the beach in Hawaii are coming for Christmas, and I was hoping you’d come too.”
“They’d love to see you.” Mark’s voice took on a tone of despair and remorse, “I’d love to see you too.”
“Mary? Mary, I’m sorry. Please come. You don’t even have to worry about getting a ticket. You can ride on the flight that’s bringing the rangers over.”
“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Mary finally said. “Kate and I have plans.”
“Kate is with her father. I just talked to him. Look, I understand that you’re hurt. Maybe we can work this thing out if you come over.”
“Mark, I have to go. Merry Christmas.” After Mary hung up the phone, she collapsed on the couch and pulled a woolen comforter over her head and sobbed. She cried herself to sleep and hours went by.
When she awoke, it was getting dark outside, and snowflakes were beginning to float past her window. Her tiny Christmas tree was gaily blinking; the reflection from its little white lights bounced off the living room walls and landed on the frosty front yard outside the window. While a fresh pot of coffee perked, she fixed her face, did her hair, and pretended she had someplace to go. She was going for her second cup of coffee when there was a tentative knock on the door. The beat-up old pick-up in her driveway didn’t look familiar, but Mary went to the door anyway. Normally, to be safe, she talked to strangers through the living room window that was eight feet off the ground, but how could things get any worse? The way Mary was feeling, she could give any mugger the fight of his life.
“Hi, my name is Jackson,” the friendly face with a Santa hat on his head said. “We haven’t met, but Mark sent me to pick up his rangers at the airport.”
Mary looked at the small truck. There was no way the beach party could fit in that small cab. But who else could know about Mark’s Christmas plans? She opened the storm door and Jackson explained.
“Oh, I don’t have them,” he said, looking at the truck. “All of their planes got snowed in. The whole west coast is shutting down.”
Jackson took out his cell phone and dialed a number. “Mark, she’s here.” He handed the phone to Mary just as she figured out who Jackson was. His cartoon face was on the cover of the Nisqually catalog. That Jackson.
“Mark? What have you done?”
“Mary, pack a few things and fly back with Jackson, will you, please?”
All of a sudden Mary looked at a freezing Jackson, still on her porch, with the first snowflakes of the coming storm sticking to his eyelashes. Quickly, she pulled the man upstairs and pointed him to the big rocking chair by the tree. While she talked to Mark, she pointed to the coffeepot, and Jackson eagerly filled a cup.
Confused, she asked, “How? There are no flights available this close to Christmas.”
“He’s my friend who has his own plane, and he’s a good pilot.”
Jackson interrupted. “Mary, I hate to rush you, but our window for takeoff may not be there much longer. We really need to leave now.”
Jackson brushed against the Christmas tree and Mary saw the little forest ranger ornament dance up and down. The next thing she knew, she had given the phone back to her new friend and was running down the hall. “Ten minutes. Just give me ten minutes!”
“I’ll unplug the tree and coffeepot,” Jackson called down the hall. “Should I leave some food out for the cat?”
“No cat,” Mary called back. “No dog and no bird, but can you make sure the backdoor is locked?”
Before Mary tore out the door, she went by the tree and grabbed the little forest ranger...