veracruz

David stood with the plate tucked under his arm and the glass in his other hand. The box of matches was back in the kitchen, on the counter. For now, the candle was unlit, the side of the table facing the window empty, and the whole room somehow dark and cold.

This last part was probably because David refused to turn the heat above 68ļ in order to save money. Actually, David wouldíve rather had it more around 65ļ, but there was still the possibility that Jack would make it in time for dinner, Jack "Mr. 72ļ" Kelly, and David figured that the least he would do was make a compromise.

When Jack had called at four to tell David that his flight might be delayed, and that David should start cooking without him, David did. So now the rotisserie turkey from the grocer was out and waiting, the bread was cut, the vegetables cooked, the spiked eggnog mixed. And now David stood between the kitchen and the dining room, silverware in hand, debating whether or not to set Jackís place.

"Itíll just remind you of him," he said. "Youíll be thinking about him all through the meal and then you wonít even taste the turkey which, remember, is honey lemon Ė your favorite, not his."

There was a pause in which David reflected on the kinds of companies that sent their employees on business trips on Christmas.

"On the other hand, not setting a place is just depressing. What a loser, eating alone on Christmas. I shouldíve gone home to my family, even if they are all working."

The thing that hurt was that David was doing this, all of it, for Jack. Jack was the Christian, Jack was the one that loved Christmas and spent all December convincing David that it really was the greatest time of the year, and should be celebrated by everyone, even uptight Jewish assholes.

So David did.

And then Jack went off, called away last minute, on his third Ė fourth? Ė business trip in the last two months. David tried to tell himself that he shouldnít complain, considering that Jack did pay half the rent and all, but he couldnít shake that gnawing feeling of doubt and inferiority that he figured every stuck-at-home lover must get, at least if TV shows and movies were to be believed.

The food was going to get cold, and if there was anything worse than eating Christmas dinner alone, it was eating a cold Christmas dinner alone. David finally returned to the kitchen and rested his armload on the counter in a neat pile. Then he took the matchbox and laid it beside the candle. He sat down, smoothed out his napkin on his lap, and, after a momentís thought, fished his cell phone out of his pocket and put that next to the candle, too.

He served himself turkey, and sweet potatoes, and squash, and buttered up a roll. He sat a moment. Then he folded up his napkin very carefully, put it on the table, stood up, pushed his chair in, and went to the bedroom. It was dark here, too. He lied down and closed his eyes. In the dining room, his phone buzzed angrily on the table. After a few seconds, he opened his eyes, and the phone went silent. He almost fell out of the bed in surprise when the phone on the bedside table rang Ė it was loud, obnoxious, and rarely used. It was only around because David insisted that they get a landline, in case of emergencies. This was a bill that Jack refused to help pay. David picked up the phone.

"How was dinner?" asked the voice on the other end.

"I didnít eat it," David said, sitting up.

"Yeah, I know."

Silence.

"Listen, Dave, Iím re-"

"Donít worry about it. No, itís okay, really. You tried. Weíll have leftovers."

"Thatís not good enough, Dave. Thatís not good enough for you. We both know I messed up here, just tell me what I should do."

"Just come home," David said, suddenly tired. His only answer was, once again, silence.

"Shit, I gotta go, Dave," Jack said suddenly, sounded frazzled. "I have to sort out this shit with my hotel, they just called my name. Want me to call later?"

"Whatever you want," David said dully.

"Bye Davey."

"Night."

Click.

David rested the phone gently on its cradle and looked at his hands, which were just barely visible in the dark room. The doorbell rang. His heart leapt and climbed higher and higher in his chest as he approached the door of the apartment. As he walked, he straightened his shirt, cleared his throat, and gave himself a quick once-over in the hall mirror. Decent. He opened the door with equal measures of excitement and trepidation.

The Fed-Ex delivery woman smiled brightly. "Merry Christmas!" she said with cheer that felt only slightly forced. "David Jacobs? Sign here, if you would." She thrust an electronic pad at his disbelieving face and he scribbled on it numbly and exchanged it for a thickly padded envelope. He nodded half-heartedly at the delivery woman and stepped back inside the apartment, closing the door with a foot and leaning against it.

The envelope had no return address and his name and address was printed out on a sticker. The postmark mustíve gotten wet, because it was unreadable.

"Great," thought David, "Jack forgot to pay some bills." The lease was in Davidís name, after all. He opened the envelope and peered inside. Two slips of paper. He slid them out and promptly slid to the ground himself.

Item one: a handwritten note in Jackís familiarly large scrawl. "Merry Christmas. Iím waiting. Love you."

Item two: one ticket to Veracruz.

David checked the time of the flight, checked his watch. He figured he would have time to pack his clothes and even put away the leftovers. Perfect.