The article is by Daniel Grayling and the winner of the 1st Annual Conway Scene Short Story Contest.
In ten minutes, Mia was going to fail her Mass Comm – Broadcast Journalism final. She flipped her phone open for the hundredth time. No new texts. And for the hundredth time, she noticed time crawl against her.
Mia looked up, imagining her crush rounding the big Christmas tree downtown where they had agreed to meet. A forgivable hour late, as long as he showed up. Mia had been too excited when he asked her out to even realize that their date conflicted with one of her finals.
“I’m such an idiot,” Mia concluded sourly. She snapped her phone shut. The bench was freezing. She looked up again, this time really looking up — the Christmas tree was as big as she remembered her family’s Christmas tree being in her earliest memories. Mia suddenly felt like a small child, dazzled and delighted at the promise of Christmas morning.
The final for which she was not present, the would-be-boyfriend who stood her up — Mia’s woes lost their sting, like snowflakes melting into the palm of your hand. Christmas was in a few days.
Christmas was in a few days!
Mia rose from the city bench, excited. Memories of past Christmas mornings played in her mind like Hallmark movie trailers. Her favorite gifts, the holiday decorations, midnight Mass. Mia craved coffee. She and her brothers weren’t allowed to drink caffeine in the house growing up except on Christmas morning. Her parents would make lattes for everyone, stirring the milk in with a peppermint candy cane.
“Hey, excuse me, is there like a place to get coffee downtown?” Mia blurted to a passing woman, surprised by her own eagerness.
The woman paused and replied, “Yeah, down Front Street.” From Mia’s reaction, the woman knew to elaborate. “Walk down until you see the tracks and take a right, like you’re going to Hendrix.”
“Okay! Thanks,” Mia smiled. Hendrix?
“Of course! Hope you find it. It’s called Something Brewing.” The local resumed her stride with a friendly “Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas,” Mia replied. Her cheeks felt rosy forming the words. She followed the woman’s directions and turned right on Front Street. The city’s holiday decorations popped with green and red against the brick and glass storefronts. Christmas music played up ahead. In a few minutes, she could hear music from a CD player outside of a corner pharmacy and paused to listen to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
“Oh my God,” Mia said, noticing a candy cane display through the drug store window. She rushed in and bought one, delicately placing the plastic-wrapped treat in her coat pocket.
Mia reached Something Brewing. The coffeehouse looked nice; a few tables of winter-coated-patrons sat on a patio outside, hands warmed with coffee mugs. Mia went inside and stood in line for a few minutes as an older couple deliberated over pastries at the counter. Mia thought of her grandparents, and it occurred to her that she needed to write to them — they hadn’t spoken since Welcome Week. Where did the semester go?
“Hey! What can we get you?” the barista asked.
“Hey! Can I get a coffee but with milk, please?”
“Sure, like a latte?”
Mia didn’t know how to explain — “Yeah, but like, not together. Can I get the coffee and the milk separately?” The barista nodded, and after a minute, Mia was seated in another room with a large window. Her coffee arrived with a small cup of warm milk.
Mia withdrew the candy cane from its wrapper, careful not to crack the stick. Slowly pouring the milk in and stirring with the candy cane, Mia realized that Christmas wasn’t something that could be given to her anymore. Now that she was in college, Christmas was something she made for herself — but she smiled, thinking about her brothers. Thinking about her parents and grandparents. Christmas couldn’t be given to her, maybe she was too old for that, but she was also old enough to share it with others.
Mia snapped a photo of her latte to send to her parents, candy cane sticking out like a chimney. The pic came out blurry, so she didn’t send it. “That’s okay,” Mia thought. “I’ll make the lattes this year.” She sat there for a while, enjoying the drink and the space. Seated around her were all kinds of people: groups of students playing board games, downtown workers taking a coffee break, old friends catching up over sandwiches.
Mia turned; her Mass Comm professor stood with a group of what looked like faculty, waiting to be seated. He continued.
“You know we just had a final today, right? I hope you didn’t miss it for a cup of coffee.”
“No, I…I should have taken it.”
“Well. I’m glad I ran into you. You’re a good student, and you don’t usually miss class. I’m offering a make-up session to another student tomorrow during my office hours. Think you could make it? I’d hate to see your grade drop.”
“Wow, yes! That would be amazing.”
A server escorted the professor’s group to an empty table. “Okay, great. See you tomorrow. And hey, Merry Christmas, Mia.”
“Thank you. And Merry Christmas.”
Mia finished her coffee and left the cafe, grateful for what felt like a holiday miracle. She stepped back down Front Street, passing the corner pharmacy (“Walking In a Winter Wonderland” was playing now) in the direction of her car. She couldn’t stop smiling. It was almost Christmas break. It was almost Christmas.