Lost at ChristmasbyTx Tall Tales©
This story is a little different from most I've written. It seems in the past while writing a lot of my stories, I've tried to keep in mind what people are looking for, what feedback I've gotten, etc. I try to make sure that when splitting stories into sections, each one has a nice 'scene' to it. I've also often sanitized the setting, to make it less obvious exactly where and when it occurred. This time out of the chute, I'm writing this one for me. Just recounting one of the most memorable occasions in my life. I hope you like it. If you don't, that's alright too. It's probably too late for the contest, and not quite titillating enough for most, but it's my favorite Christmas memory of all. (And for anyone keeping track, it's the same Mike from my Road-Trip series.) Thanks for reading.
After my first semester in College, I was eager to go home for the holidays. I was going to school in Rochester, NY, and anybody who'd experienced the lake-effect winters on the Great Lakes would understand my desire to get to somewhere warmer.
For me, that somewhere warmer was a long ways away. As a military brat, home was often a moving target, and that winter it was Santiago, Chile, where my father was stationed and where I'd graduated high-school. It was summer in Santiago, and I was looking forward to a pool-party with my old school mates for the Holidays.
We didn't have a lot of money, but I was allowed to travel space available on a military flight as a Navy ROTC student. I had to get down to Charleston, South Carolina, and catch an international C-141 flight that made a loop through Latin America.
After finagling a ride to Virginia followed by a very long bus trip down the coast, I finally made it to Charleston AFB. ROTC travel orders in hand, I checked in at the desk, and verified I was on the standby list for the flight leaving on the 23rd. I wouldn't get home until Christmas Day, but better late than never.
With pockets nearly empty, a hotel room was out of the question so I slept in the terminal and snacked on the cheapest eats I could get away with. There was a festive mood in the terminal, so many people rushing to get home for the holidays, and I was getting caught up in the feeling, eagerly looking forward to that very long plane ride, first to Panama, then Lima, and finally Santiago.
After what seemed an interminable wait, we were an hour away from boarding when I got bumped off the flight by a group of Marines headed to Panama on Active Duty travel orders. I was devastated. The next flight left early the morning of the 26th. At least that one was a huge plane, and nearly empty so I was virtually guaranteed to get aboard, but what was I going to do for Christmas?
Looking up at the outgoing flight schedules, I saw a flight listed for Tyndall AFB, Panama City, Florida.
"When is the flight to Tyndall headed out?" I asked the airman behind the desk.
"In an hour-and-a-half, and it's all but empty. You want on?" He asked, offering some recompense for my last minute bump.
I'd lived in Panama City during 9th and 10th grade, and still had some close friends there, many I still kept in touch with. Maybe I could find someone to spend Christmas with there. It had to be better than sleeping in the terminal for 2 more days.
"Please," I told him, "but hold my space for Santiago. I'll be back for that flight."
I recalled there being a pretty big Greyhound station in Panama City, so I called Greyhound and checked on a bus being able to get me back in time for the flight. They had one, a 7:30 am bus on Christmas morning would get me back before midnight on Christmas. I could easily make the flight the next morning, even if it were delay a few hours. I bought a ticket, using the emergency AmEx card my parents had given me when I headed off to college. I'd explain the $67.00 to my parents.
I called my family in Santiago with the news. It had to be short call because of the expense, so I let them know I had been bumped but would be there on the 28th. I told them I was headed to Panama City, and would be taking a bus back in plenty of time for my flight. My mother cried, and my father told me to go ahead and use the credit card, but to try to keep the expenses reasonable. By the time I hung up I was pretty depressed, but at least I had a plan.
Before I could try to contact anyone in Panama City, an announcement was made and suddenly I was on my way to Florida for Christmas, with no place lined up to stay, and practically broke. I was feeling a bit melancholy, but was determined to make the best of it.
* * *
So there I was, at Tyndall Air Force Base, at 11:20 pm on December 23rd. I was debating who to try first. I had several close friends nearby and I expected they'd all be home for Christmas. After a short internal debate, I had narrowed it down to two. I had always gotten along well with their entire families, and I was still in pretty regular contact with both of them.
Mike lived the nearest to me in the old days. He came from a big family, with 6 siblings, including Peggy, who'd been one of my first real deep infatuations. When I had been in 9th grade she'd been a senior, and was pretty and sophisticated. My yearning for her was unrequited, but I relished the idea of seeing her again after four years. She was a college senior, and would probably be home. I knew they'd welcome me, but I was concerned it would be an inconvenience. They did not have a large house, and it was bound to be crowded, particularly with three college kids home for the holiday. On top of that who knew if they had anyone else in tow?
Tommy on the other hand came from a relatively well-off family who always lived well within their means. He had an older brother, who was working in Japan and unlikely to be home, a sister, Sheri, just a year behind us in school, and two much younger siblings, who I guessed would be around 9 and 10 by now. They had a spacious house, each kid had their own room, and I wouldn't be putting anybody out if I stayed there. I'd always had a crush on Sheri, but although I'd dated her best friend, I'd never gone out with her. Getting a chance to see her again would be an extra bonus.
Feeling nervous and awkward, I dialed Tommy's number from memory, and luckily got him on the first call. If I'd gotten somebody else, I would have really felt uncomfortable.
Tommy's answer was unmistakable. He had a funny way of saying hello when he answered the phone, and the sound of his voice took me straight back down memory lane.
"Hee-ello," he answered.
"Tommy! Guess who?" I asked.
I guess my voice must have been similarly recognizable, since he didn't hesitate a second.
"Steve-o! What are you up to? Where're you at?" He answered eagerly.
It put a smile on my face. Nice to hear a happy, upbeat voice that seemed genuinely pleased to hear from me.
"Funny you should ask. It's a long story, but I'm in a bit of a bind. I'm at Tyndall, and stuck here until Christmas Day." I told him.
"What happened to Chile, and Rochester?" He asked.
"I was on my way home to Chile, when I lost my seat on the plane in Charleston. I couldn't get out again until the 26th, so when I saw an empty plane headed this way, I just hopped on and hoped for the best." I explained.
"That's Great!" He almost shouted. "Not great that you couldn't get home, but great that you're here. You want to stay with us? You can have Greg's room, he won't be here, and I'm sure Sheri and Mom would love to see you. The place is kind of 'down' with Greg canceling his trip home at the last minute. Having you here should cheer things up a bit." He did sound enthused, and I couldn't help grinning in reply.
"Don't you think you should check?" I laughed.
A scream in my ear was the answer, as I heard half of a shouted conversation.
"MOM! GUESS WHO'S IN TOWN."
"NO, NOT GREG."
"NO, GO AHEAD GUESS."
"OK, OK - STEVE."
"YEAH, STEVE PELLAND. HE'S STUCK HERE IN TOWN 'TIL CHRISTMAS DAY."
"OF COURSE I TOLD HIM HE SHOULD COME HERE, I'LL GO GET HIM."
"YES MOM...YES...I WON'T...I WILL."
I was holding the phone a little away from my head, and almost missed it when he came back on.
"Where should I pick you up?" He asked.
"The Main Terminal, you know where that is right?" I answered.
"Sure - be there in about 30 minutes. Man, this is GREAT!"
I hung up with a big smile on my face, feeling 100% better than I had just 10 minutes earlier. I stood outside waiting for him, and about 20 minutes later the strings of Christmas lights shut off one at a time, as the place closed up for the night. It was dark and quiet, and I started to get nervous again, wondering if this had been such a good idea. I was 500 miles from my flight home and completely at the mercy of old friends. But as far as friends go, I couldn't do much better than mine, and figured at the least I wouldn't be sleeping in a lonely terminal in Charleston for two days, slowly eating my way through my meager funds.
When Bob pulled up around midnight, I could see he'd gotten rid of the VW Bug he'd inherited from his mother upon turning 16, and was now driving his brother's old Two-tone Cougar.
We spent a minute saying hi, and loading my gear into the trunk, and then we headed back into town, catching each other up on history.
When I had first moved to Santiago, I used to write about once every couple of months, as well as call a couple of times a year. In the beginning I'd written Sheri a lot as well. She was one of the most prolific writers among my old friends, and would typically write twice to me for every one I wrote to her. Over the years, that had degenerated into holiday cards and a surprise call maybe once a year.
I knew he was attending Florida State, and that Greg had graduated from Georgetown, and had moved to Japan on business. That was about it.
Tommy told me all about the old gang, who was in town, who was going to what schools, what people had been up to. I told him a lot more detail about what I'd been up to.
"So," he asked, "Got a girl?"
"Not now. Thought I had one after the ROTC Christmas ball, but that seems to have been my mistake." I admitted.
"Hard to believe. You always had someone. Every letter, every phone-call, just seems like they didn't stay the same all that long." He teased.
"I don't know. I had several relationships last pretty long. Two were more than 6 months long." I argued.
"Ooooh! Six Months!" He laughed.
"How about you then," I asked in defense.
"Still Erin. Almost two years now." He asked.
"Shit. What does she see in you? She could do so much better." I teased.
"Oh really? Like how?"
"Like me!" I laughed.
"Right, like that would ever happen! Don't even think about it, or you'll be sleeping in the street." He was laughing as well.
"Not if I called Erin I wouldn't," I shot back.
I thought it was a great comeback, but it earned me a sock in the arm.
We pulled up to his house, which still looked exactly the same, and things were pretty quiet. They used the same window lights, same roof lights, same bush trimmings year after year. It was just as I remembered. Who says you can't go back?
"Mom's got to work tomorrow, so I'm sure she's in bed, and you know Dave crashes early, so we better keep it down. We've got lots to do tomorrow anyway."
We entered quietly and put my bag in Greg's old room. Tommy stayed and chatted for a few minutes then bid me good night, telling me to sleep in as long as I wanted, as long as it wasn't past 9:00 am, and left me to get settled.
Past 9:00? Now I remembered, they'd always been an early-bird household. For me 9:00 am WAS the crack of dawn.
Tommy and I had breakfast at about 9:30. He was already chiding me for sleeping in and missing the whole family. We had the house to ourselves. He'd been on the phone arranging our day, and once we'd finished the pancakes, we were off to see Mike and his family.
Entering Mike's house was the same as it had ever been, but more-so. People everywhere, noise, laughter, roughhousing, it was all taken in stride by Mrs. Frey. We spent a few hours visiting, and getting fed again before we could leave. Mike's older sister Peggy still looked cute to me, but not the amazing creature my memory had somehow stored away. I had to tease her about the Christmas gift she'd given me three years earlier. She'd bought me a Richard Pryor tape, thinking it was Bill Cosby. When I played it for her in my car, she exploded, calling me names and accusing me of vile intent. At the time I had felt bad, confused, angry and a host of other feelings, now thankfully we could laugh at it. When I'd been 16 I'd been somewhat in awe of her, now things were comfortable.
Mike's older brother was home as well, with his live-in girlfriend who seemed awfully ill-at-ease, and must have been at least 5 years older than Dan, maybe more. That was a story I'd have to hear more about.
The biggest surprise was Alice. She'd been a few years younger than us. I wasn't sure if she was 16 or 17 now, but she was a bombshell. And she was coming on to me like gangbusters. I was really nervous, with her acting all touchy-feely with her mother and Peggy there. I was suddenly glad I had chosen to stay over with Tommy. With a pretty, stacked girl that seemed so infatuated with me around, I'm afraid I might have gotten into a whole lot more trouble than I needed.
When we left there Mike joined us, and it was off to see Jack and Russ. They were a year apart in age. Russ had been in our class, and we'd been friendly with him, but Jack, although a year younger was our buddy. We played on the basketball team together, and when Tommy and I formed our first band, Jack was our bassist.
At the Chambers house, we once again reminisced, and had to relive our first 'gig'. We had decided to play in the school talent show. With Tommy on piano and Jack on bass, I played guitar. We had a fourth guy on drums we'd all lost contact with. We had played Elton John, Deep Purple, The Eagles, and The Beatles. We had opened with the opening riff of "Smoke on the Water", and had been a hit. We were pretty lousy, but the audience was our friends, our parents and the parents of our friends, and at the end the parents even took up a collection for us. Pretty heady stuff. We'd called ourselves Bronze Myth, and had already designed our first three album covers before we had our first birthday party gig.
Jack had been tall then, and had not stopped growing; he was now 6'7" and was attending University of Florida, playing basketball. He reminded me of the time when we went on our first dates together. I had gone with Kathryn Best, easily the most lusted after girl in the whole school, who was in Jack's class a year behind me. Jack, on the other hand, had gone out with our "Valentine's Day Queen", Anne, who was in my class and almost two full years older than Jack. He was always precocious. There had been a third couple with us, Dennis and Suzanne, and Jack broke the news that Suzanne had gotten knocked up, just before I left to go overseas, and she and Dennis had gotten married. There was a huge scandal, but they stuck together, and had the baby. They lived with Suzanne's parents. Dennis was doing alright, working for Suzanne's father.
While we were visiting, several friends dropped in, including the aforementioned Kathryn who lived one street over. Kathryn, the stunning brunette who had the body of a 20 year old when she was 15, and had a beautiful face with features that just slayed me. Kathryn, the very first girl I had gotten to Third Base with. She was as pretty as I remembered, and I found out she was going to be attending Mt. Holyoke the following year, which was an odd coincidence since my girlfriend from High School was a sophomore there.
Going out with Kathryn, a year younger than me had been a total fiasco. We'd sat together on an out-of-town bus trip and ranked high enough in the pecking order that we got the right hand seat second from the back. These trips were our biggest dates back then. Ours was a small parochial school, and on the bus trips, the athletes, cheerleaders and student fans all rode the same bug. The 30-90 minute trips were like pep rallies on the way out, and like the back of movie theatres on the way back. There were frequent "hand-checks" and the lights would come one as our coaches would walk the aisle, but it seemed like after our wins, the checks would be a little less frequent. Our win at Pensacola was my first real 'make-out' session, as we cuddled and kissed the whole trip home. I even got a chance to play with her breast through her sweater.
Less than a week later I asked her to the movies, and we sat in the back with the two other couples, probably both scared spitless and nervous as goldfish in a blender. We'd started necking, which got more and more intense, and my hands boldly went where no hands had gone before. An hour into the movie I was almost out of control, and feverish with desire, and it seemed she was willing to let me do whatever I wanted. If I'd had a little more confidence, or a little more knowledge, who knows what might have happened?
As it is, I went pretty far, probably too far, and I was scared to death afterwards. She was the first girl whose flesh I'd touched underneath her clothing. I didn't call her for several days, and even avoided her at school, not knowing what to say. In short I was a total jerk. Everyone thought we should be together, she was the pretty captain of the cheerleaders, with the big boobs, and I was the Big Jock, playing all the sports, while at the same time excelling in school. She was voted "Most Popular." I was "Most Likely to Succeed." However, in this case it turned out she was "Most Slighted", and I was definitely "Most Inept." After waiting several days, amazingly patient in retrospect, she had tasked her best friend Sheri, Tommy's sister, with letting me know that she thought we shouldn't go out. Next thing you know, she was going out with some geeky looking kid, and she dated him for the rest of the school year. I'd changed schools at the end of that year, and had seen her only infrequently the following year, before moving to Santiago.
Outside in the backyard, Kathryn and I walked off together and finally had a few minutes alone.
"You know Kat, I don't think I ever apologized for being such an idiot, after our first date. I really am sorry."
She was quiet for a while. She had a sad little look. "You know, I waited by that phone night after night, crying myself to sleep. I saw you dodging me at school and it broke my heart."
"I was young and stupid. I'd never done ANYTHING with a girl before, and could hardly even believe I was with the hottest girl in school. After all the stuff I did, God, I was so embarrassed that I'd overstepped the boundaries, and I had no idea what to say." She sat down underneath the big tree in the backyard and I sat beside her on the circular bench around it.
"You could have said something to Jack maybe, or Tommy, and let them tell me. At least let me know that you liked me, or had fun. Something." She looked on the verge of tears, even 3 years later, and I felt even worse.
"I know. I kept kicking myself over it. I was so angry with myself and jealous when you went out with Ricky." I admitted.
"He was nice to me when I needed it."
"But it seemed such an odd fit. He was a nobody; the only thing he ever did noteworthy was date you." I told her.
"He lived two houses down. We'd grown up together, and when my heart was broken he picked up the pieces. He could tell something was wrong, and really made me feel a lot better." She confessed.
That brought on a short period of silence. It did let me think better of Ricky, who wasn't just lucky or an opportunist.