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Box Wine Christmas

a guest Dec 22nd, 2018 265 Never
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  1.      Jeremy Graves hated Christmas.  He understood its appeal, broadly.  Family, friends, gifts, decorations and merry songs and feasting until you felt like what you ate, an overstuffed turkey.  He had liked Christmas as a child, even, back when he and his brothers would fight over who got to open their gifts first and Mom and Pops would scold them for leaving new toys and wrapping paper scattered around the living room like a shiny, multicolored tornado.  Christmas had its appeal, sure.
  2.      For other people.  Not for a down-on-his-luck appliance salesman, an ill-fated former art major without real prospects, whose siblings had all scattered after Pops had died and Mom remarried and moved to Florida, mother to a new, mostly-grown family.  His brothers had married as well, started their own families, but he had never really settled down.  Work was his life, it felt like, with demanding bosses and random hours and little chance to go out on the town to find someone to spend evenings with, especially now that all of his wingmen had landed ladies of their own.
  3.      He leaned back in the seat of the employee breakroom, a dingy closet with a TV that certainly hadn’t come from their store, perhaps had been fished out of a museum and put here to pasture.  The screen showed more snow than was in the air outside, as an exasperated weatherwoman broke the bad news to the folks in the area.  She tried, poor dear, but the best smile the white horn could give the camera couldn’t hide the forecast: a wet, dreary Christmas, with temperatures neither too cold nor comfortably warm.
  4.       Jeremy sighed and took a long swig of his energy drink, the best substitute for a meal he would probably have that evening.  For the past few days of harried holiday shopping, he had barely had enough energy to stagger into his bed and collapse, let alone stay conscious for a microwaved dinner.  At least the can was decorated in holiday colors, he noted wryly as he arced it across the breakroom towards the trash can.  It defiantly rebounded off the lid and clattered to the floor, and he sighed in disgust as he forced himself to his aching feet.
  5.      He was bent over fetching the can, his ass towards the door, when he heard someone else enter the room. “Oh, he~llo,” purred a familiar voice, and Jeremy winced as he realized who was in there with him.
  6.      Tira was the star salesperson for his branch, a shark that could smell fat pocketbooks and wavering wills like blood in the water.  She was held up at every team meeting, her totals touted as the goal they all should aspire to.  She beat every other salesperson in every metric, and was not at all shy about broadcasting it.  Jeremy, meanwhile, struggled to pawn product service plans off onto poor old ladies, and the manager called him to carpet for that regularly.
  7.      Perhaps her success had something to do with Tira’s oozing sex appeal.  She was a manticore, with fiery red hair and tanned skin, which she flaunted by leaving her regulation shirt unbuttoned just a little too far, just a little not far enough.  She could flirt with the best of them, and pounced on any male customer that wandered into her lair, finishing her prey with a snap of her wrist as she offered them her personal business card, printed with her own number.  They would fall over themselves just to buy extravagant televisions, or sound systems, or whatever it might take to prove their masculinity via their bulging, throbbing wallets, and Tira was more than happy to drain them dry.
  8.      “Sorry, I was just leaving,” Jeremy said, glancing at the clock.  His boss would be angry if he overstayed his time in the breakroom, the tyrant, but at the same time the last thing Jeremy needed was to be reminded of how insignificant he was compared to the store’s golden girl.
  9.      “Hey, wait up,” Tira growled, placing a paw on his chest as he walked by. “There’s no one out there.  Sit and chat with me a bit.  It’s lonely in here.”
  10.      Jeremy sighed, but he relented.  He really didn’t need to make an enemy of the manager’s pet. “What’s up?”
  11.      “Meh, just curious what your plans were for the holidays,” Tira replied, pulling an energy drink from the wheezing refrigerator.  She pulled the tab with a single claw, and as it hissed its release she upended the can, chugging the fluid with a rapidly-moving throat.  Jeremy watched in mute admiration before replying.
  12.      “Having dinner made by a famous chef.  You may have heard of him: Boyardee.”
  13.      Tira laughed coarsely at that, crunching the can in her paw and throwing it over her shoulder.  It arced neatly and passed directly into the trashcan, not even touching the rim.  Of course. “Hey, you should come out and party with us.  A few of us are getting together, having a few drinks and bringing a few dishes…”
  14.      “Yeah, I don’t really do workplaces parties.  Hard to act chummy when you know the turnover rate we have around here.”
  15.      “Tell me about it,” Tira mumbled. “Feels like I’m the only one that was here when I started, aside from Rashy, and she just works the desk.” Jeremy nodded, thinking of the Anubis girl that handled the phone during the day.  She always seemed to be there; perhaps it was because she was uncommonly efficient and driven, having an almost machine-like work ethic, that the boss gave her extra shifts.  It had always amazed Jeremy that Rashida and Tira were friends, but perhaps that bit of history explained it. “Still, you should come out.  You’ve been here for months, and it hardly feels like I’ve gotten to know you at all.”
  16.      “Maybe next time, eh?” Jeremy smiled at her, almost genuinely, and stood from his chair. “I better get out there before the manager comes in after me again.  He’s still pissed about me messing up the microwave in here, even after I cleaned it.  The last thing I need is to piss him off, with how low my sales have been recently.” Jeremy walked past her to the door, not noticing the way her eyes tracked him deliberately.  He paused, a strange guilt dragging at his feet. “Still… thanks for the offer.”
  17.      Long after the door had closed, Tira stared at it, frowning.  This would not do.
  18.  
  19. ******
  20.  
  21.      Jeremy smiled down at his wristwatch.  He had gotten lucky this time; after a day full of herding parents wanting to buy the latest tech as gift for their teenagers, or families wanting a widescreen Christmas surprise, he got to go home before closing.  That meant it fell to the other poor saps to do the vacuuming and dusting, while he would be home long before they even got to leave.  With luck, he could scarf down something easy and hit the hay before the next hour arrived.  Still, he hadn’t been so lucky with tomorrow’s shift; he would be up early enough that he would be lucky to get dressed and run through a fast food joint for a breakfast burrito before he had to get to work.
  22.      As he made for the door, he passed by the central island, the hub of the store where the receptionist and the registers were located.  As he walked by, he saw the girl at the desk looking at him.  Rashida, the Anubis, waved him over before he could escape. “Hey, Jeremy, a moment?”
  23.      He walked closer, his head tilted in confusion.  The Anubis made him wait for just a second, sending away the last customer with their completed purchase, before she turned to him with an odd expression. “Hey, uhh…” she stammered, and Jeremy’s confusion grew; he had never known the jackal-girl to be anything but efficient and dedicated, but this hesitation made her seem much more relatable, and cute for that matter.  Her next words, however, put an end to such thoughts. “The boss wants to see you.  In his office.” Jeremy’s heart sank, and he nodded blindly, gripped with an uncertain fear.  Whatever this was, he had a feeling it was bad.  Surely that money-wringing bastard didn’t mean to-
  24.      “Wait, before you go,” Rashida called, turning him back towards her. “Tira said that you couldn’t make it to the get-together.” She smiled at him slightly, looking over the edge of her glasses. “Are you sure?  We’d all really like for you to come.  We’re even thinking about renting a cabin for it, since this place will be closed the next day.  Only the people without families are coming.” Jeremy blinked at that.  As far as he knew, only a few people at their branch didn’t have families; mostly him, Tira, and Rashida, now that he thought about it.
  25.      “Yeah, I’ll think about it,” he replied lamely.  He wasn’t being honest, but the smile she gave him stole any heart he had for disappointing her.  Maybe he could come up with an excuse later.
  26.      “Great!” she cheered, clapping her hands. “I’ll let you know what you can bring, and-” She cut off, glancing down at a buzzing phone. “Oh, it’s the boss.”
  27.      Jeremy nodded, turning towards the lonely route that lead towards that ominous locale. “I’d better see what he wants.  I’ll catch up with you later, alright?” Rashida gave him a bright smile that only trembled into frailty as his back was turned.
  28.      As Jeremy took the long walk to the manager’s lair, he didn’t know that Rashida was still watching him, joined by the manticore girl that leaned against the counter, both of them frowning at his retreating figure.
  29.  
  30. ******
  31.  
  32.      Jeremy belched loudly as he finished off another beer, scratching at his chest through his hoodie.  He pitched it vaguely in the direction of his kitchen garbage can, and it clattered to the floor somewhere in the same quarter of the room as the wastebasket, skittering off the hollowed shells of its brothers as it came to a rest.  He wasn’t certain how many of those corpses were scattered there; he had lost count sometime… yesterday?  Tuesday.  Was yesterday Tuesday?  Was today?
  33.      “Dirty bastard,” he grumbled as he dug in his couch cushions for his remote, trying to change the channel from yet another odious Christmas family goodfeeltime movie.  It was halfway over, but he had been so lost in his own putrid thoughts that he hadn’t noticed until it started chiming out with stale jingles as it showed the family tree, smiling people on their way to a happy resolution to their problems before an hour was even out.  At this point, he noted grimly, a happy resolution for him would involve a lot of gasoline, a lighter, and his manager’s new sports car. “The week before Christmas, too.” He had said that to himself a hundred times already, but the bitterness kept it from growing stale.
  34.      He leaned back into his couch; it had been a long time since he had used it, actually.  It felt nice to just kick back and relax, until, like clockwork every five minutes, he remembered he was unemployed.  Still, he had done this song and dance before; applications and interviews and managers frowning at an art degree.  He would have to find his button-up shirts that didn’t have his old company logo, but at least the rest of his usual dress would suffice.  Those thoughts were little comfort to his fatigued mind, and he rested his head back against the top of the couch, looking without seeing at the art he had collected for his apartment back when he still gave a damn.
  35.      A knock at the door made him blink rapidly.  He didn’t move until it repeated, realizing at last that it was, indeed, his door, and not the next apartment down.  He staggered towards it, glancing down at his mostly-clean hoodie and sweatpants; good enough to chase off Girl Scouts, or Chief God proselytizers and pamphlet-mongers, without getting him arrested, he supposed.  Not his usual starched shirt and pressed slacks, but the poor bastard that had worn those had gotten fired days ago, so casual clothes were fine.
  36.      Jeremy’s jaw dropped as his door opened.  On the other side stood two women, dressed for a night on the town, make-up and stylish dresses and bright smiles.  In their hands were grocery bags, though one of them carried a crockpot, which decidedly did not go with their mode of dress. “Merry Christmas, Jeremy!” they both chimed, holding the bags out toward him.
  37.      Jeremy blinked, still stunned speechless as he rubbed at the stubble on his cheeks.  It wasn’t Christmas, yet, for one (he was pretty sure – he hadn’t seen the endless loop of “A Wonderful Life” on any channels).  More than that, he didn’t think that any of his coworkers- former coworkers knew where he lived.  That had been intentional, actually.  Also, he had definitely not been drunk enough to invite Tira and Rashida to his house.  He didn’t even know their numbers, though he did remember Tira putting her card into his breast pocket and patting it… a few times, now that he thought about it.
  38.      “C-can we come in?” asked Rashida hesitantly, shivering as the moist wind tugged at her brief skirt.
  39.      “Y…yeah, of course,” Jeremy said, holding the door open for them. “I’m sorry, my place is a wreck…” That was offering great insult to most wrecks he had seen.
  40.      The two girls did not seem to pay that any mind.  Rashida walked straight to his kitchen table, placing the crockpot atop it and beginning to spread out the groceries, while Tira glanced around his apartment appraisingly. “Badass art,” she mused, allowing Rashida to take one of her armload of grocery bags from her.
  41.      “Thanks,” Jeremy replied, his tone revealing that his confidence tank was sitting on empty. “But, ah… sorry, why are you here?”
  42.      Tira looked away with a blush, and Rashida lowered her head as if he had scolded her. “Is it a problem…?”
  43.     “No, except I look as good as- well, my apartment.  But am I crazy?  How did you find where I lived?”
  44.      “Oh, you can thank Rashy for that one,” Tira purred, her smile showing her fangs.  It was the Anubis’s turn to blush. “She looked you up in the employment registry.”
  45.     “Well, I had to anyways, since we had to mail your last check- sorry.” Rashida winced as she said that.  She gave Jeremy an apologetic glance.
  46.      “Yeah, what the boss did to you was shitty.  And wrong.  You were the one decent person there, and he gets rid of you just because you have enough soul not to want to rip people off.” Tira scowled at the roof, her claws tensing as if imagining rending the chubby manager’s face. “And right at Christmas, too.”
  47.      “I know, right?” Jeremy shrugged. “It’s fine.  I was a poor fit there, anyways.  I’ll find something else soon.  But, why did you go to all this trouble?”
  48.      “Well…” Rashida said, busying herself with his kitchen, kicking cans out of the way en route to his undersized over, “You said that you would think about our offer, and since you left, you never actually told us ‘no’…”
  49.      “You said it would be everyone without families…”
  50.      “Yeah.  Us.” Tira gave Jeremy a fierce smile. “We don’t really have anyone around to hang out with, so it was just going to be me and Rashy, but then we decided, hey, why not?”
  51.     “More like, why me?” Jeremy met her gaze. “I never really stood out there.”
  52.     “Are you kidding?” Tira shook her head in disbelief. “You were the one guy that never tried to grab my ass or tits.  Always pissed me off that I couldn’t spine ‘em without just making things worse.  I caught you looking a few times, sure,” her grin was brilliant, and her eyes dared him to deny it. “But like I said.  You were decent, and that’s rarer than you think.”
  53.     “And you work hard.  You always covered for workers who needed help.  You actually tried to help the people who came in, instead of trying to milk them for their money.” Rashida’s head popped around the corner of his kitchen, and she smiled softly at him. “I always liked that about you.”
  54.      “Well, it got me fired.” Jeremy looked at the floor, rubbing his aching temples. “Listen, I appreciate this, but pity was pretty far down on my Christmas list.” He grunted as he felt Tira’s paw press roughly against his chest, and when he looked up he caught Rashida frowning at him from the kitchen.
  55.      “This isn’t about pity, pal,” Tira growled, leaning close to his face. “We’re here ‘cause we like you, and because you deserve a merrier Christmas than…” She glanced down at the beer cans with a scowl. “Really cheap, nasty beer.  I mean, I brought wine in a box, but damn.”
  56.      Something pleasant was wafting from the kitchen, and Jeremy turned to see Rashida walking to his side. “And having you around will make our Christmas merry, too.  We’re tired of drinking together each Christmas and complaining about all of our friends who are getting married.” Jeremy laughed at that, and she reached out to touch his arm. “So let’s just be as happy as we can, alright?”
  57.      Jeremy sighed, the tension bleeding out of him with the breath. “Well, sure.  I’m in.  But I don’t know how I’m ever going to pay you two back for this.”
  58.     “Oh, I’ve got a few ideas,” Tira purred, shooting a glance to Rashida, who failed to hide her own toothy grin as Jeremy walked past her, pulling a trio of wine glasses from a cabinet. “I’ll do the honors,” the manticore offered, freeing the wine from its containment and pouring the glasses full.
  59.      Jeremy chuckled as he received his glass, and raised it in a ceremonious toast. “Well, here’s to fine boxed wines,” he proclaimed cheerfully.
  60.     Rashida raised her own glass. “And to good people who need friends, and are better together.”
  61.     Tira clanked her own glass against theirs. “And here’s to sturdy beds.” She took a deep drink from her glass as Jeremy blinked at her in confusion. “Let’s eat!”
  62.      As the three sat down at the flimsy table, which had been coated in an impromptu feast, Rashida smiled at Jeremy. “You know, I have a friend who works in an art gallery downtown.  She said they were looking for new workers with a background in the field.  It’s a long way from here, though it is pretty close to the place Tira and I share.”
  63.      “Yeah… you should check our place out.  It’s kinda plain, though.” Tira glanced again at the art around Jeremy’s apartment with approving judgment. “Could use a little help spicing the place up.”
  64.      “Well, I could help sometime,” Jeremy offered hesitantly. “If you don’t mind me stopping by.”
  65.     “Not at all…” Tira growled into her wineglass, staring at him over the rim. “You could stay over a bit, if you wanted.”
  66.      Jeremy’s cheeks flushed at that, but he glanced down to see Rashida’s hand resting on his forearm.  She gave him a gentle smile that sent his heart to racing, and he nodded to both of them, feeling like the ground was crumbling under his feet in the very best of ways. “Well, then,” he managed, raising his glass again for a more serious toast. “Here’s to an even better Christmas next year.”
  67.      They all raised their glasses to that, and began to tear into the food that Rashida had prepared.  As they ate, Jeremy knew it was nothing like the Christmases he had known before.  It wasn’t at all what he had expected, either.  Still, it was the best Christmas he could have had.
  68.      At least, until next year’s.  Maybe Christmas with a family wouldn’t be bad, either.  Maybe he would get a chance to find out.  He smiled again at both girls, and realized for the first time that he was looking forward to Christmas after all.
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