This story is by Kristin Rivers and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Hollywood was supposed to be the land of dreams and hope for those who wanted a better future, but come the holiday season, it was bleaker than anyone could imagine.
John squeezes his nose with a sniffle, a chill crawling up his back and the snow slush slopping against his faux fur boots. His coat had sewn patches holding on for dear life against the material, his fingerless gloves rubbing against one another constantly to keep warm.
It has been depressing for him for the past five years. No family to go home to, at least that’s what he’d like to tell himself. The holidays were stressful no matter what you did and all one would get were hurt feelings and exhaustion from dealing with so many people.
He stops in front of a store closed down for the night, a digital counter marking down two days left until Christmas. Looking ahead, he sees the flashing lights of the fancier homes: Hollywood starlets and their eye candies celebrating the holidays. The endless amounts of drinks and merriment that would later cultivate in hangovers and migraines.
Even more things John could do without. Sirens blare as he crosses the street to the little restaurant in the corner.
He prayed to himself that the celebrities in their ritzy homes were having a better time than he was.
“I can’t believe I’m even going to this party,” Carla Simmons mumbles to herself stepping out of her luxury limo wearing a light blue coat with white faux fur over a dark red dress. Her tight auburn haired updo was accessorized with a diamond hairclip from her mother; an early Christmas gift for her upcoming album release getting such rave reviews.
“Nothing’s too expensive for my Carly,” her mother cooed when she opened the box.
Carla shivers at the memory. As the butler shows her inside Oliver Blanchard’s house, she sees Hollywood’s latest IT girl, Melody, scream at a caterer.
“I told Oliver I was allergic to peanuts! Clearly, you missed the memo and tried to poison me!” she screams. “Take that back and fix it!!”
“Yes ma’am,” the caterer shudders.
Carla’s eyes narrow in disgust. “Hey, that’s not how you speak to a caterer.”
Melody spun on her heels. “Oh Carla Simmons!” she claps gleefully as the caterer slips away. “I didn’t see you there! You should have seen—”
“How dare you speak to a man that way. Next time show a little class and humility before you crash and burn like everyone before you.”
The crowd gasped at the exchange. The butler standing beside Carla smiled to himself, impressed. Melody attempted to sputter out some words.
“Carla was that necessary?” Oliver Blanchard says. “Carry on folks more champagne and Christmas cookies to go around!”
The crowd went back to crowing about their co-stars and co-writers while Oliver tries to console Melody. She kept wailing as Carla rolls her eyes from annoyance. “The caterer was so mean to me, Mr. Blanchard! I had to speak up when I found out! I’m so glad I had my inhaler or I could have died in this very room!!”
“Oh give me a break,” she mutters.
“It’s alright, Melody. I’ll make sure he pays for the mistake.”
“Really, Oliver? You’re that arrogant to see that maybe you were the one who made the almost fatal error and not the caterer?”
“Carla, please,” Oliver says, “It was a minor error that thankfully was caught just in time! Melody was making it known!”
“But she didn’t have to be so rude,” Carla argues. “Really, would you treat your own mother like that?”
“My mother is smart enough not to make a mistake like that!”
“Where’s the caterer? I would like to speak with him.”
“Out back,” Oliver said over his shoulder. “Now Melody where were we?”
With a scoff, Carla walks through the crowd of merrymakers, saying hello to “friends” in the industry and other various guests. An actor cheating on his second wife with another woman, two basketball players showing off their championship rings and telling stories about their playoff wins and child stars and musicians strumming their latest hits on their guitars or a nearby piano. Some of these folks would later retreat to guest rooms to have “a good time” they would never forget.
She spots him then, sitting in a porch chair with his head in his hands. Carla walks over. “Excuse me?” He looks up in fright. “It’s OK I’m not going to hurt you. I know Melody won’t apologize, but please accept mine.”
“You have nothing to be sorry about ma’am,” the man looks over at the nearby Jacuzzi where ten people were jumping around and doing things most people would not want to see. “I was wrong—”
“—She was wrong,” Carla replies. “I understand an allergic reaction, but did she take the time to ask you before biting the food?”
“No miss she did not.”
“Heh, assumption is a terrible thing sometimes. Some people just think they know everything when, in reality, they don’t have a clue.”
“You are very kind Mrs. Simmons.”
“Ms., actually. I divorced him two years ago. What’s your name, sir?”
“Lucas. I’m trying to make extra money; my wife is recovering from a car accident a few weeks back. Mr. Blanchard knows my boss at the Humble Eatery and offered me a part-time job catering his holiday parties. That Melody will crash and burn, I truly believe it.”
“I told her that myself.”
“Really?” Lucas arches an eyebrow, pleased. “Thank you.”
“She deserved it. I’m only here to make myself look good for the music people. I never liked these parties.”
“I don’t blame you one bit Ms. Simmons. These parties don’t feel ‘festive’, just an act to show off and feel important. Not exactly family-like either.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Carla sighs. “Is the Humble Eatery open now?”
“Actually, it is. We actually help the homeless twice a week by giving them a good meal and put together a few holiday parties. It’s not as fancy as these extravagant parties Mr. Blanchard does, but they’re more fulfilling.”
“You help bring joy when they feel it least.”
“Yes,” Lucas nods. “I was actually going to help tonight but because of this party I had to decline. My friend, John, comes around once or twice. He could really use the cheer and companionship right now.”
Carla smiles compassionately at Lucas. “Well, who says we can’t bring that to him and the others?”
John looked down at his plate of various Christmas cookies and mug of coffee with a sigh. Ten more people came in right after he did: the annual holiday party for those who didn’t have a home or place to go this holiday season.
“Little Drummer Boy” from 98 Degrees was playing from the speakers above the restaurant as the group served and conversed with their guests. There were old and new faces, and even those who managed to get back on their feet came with families and friends, not forgetting the kindness that was there for them at their lowest point.
Carla and Lucas came then, making the crowd gasp from shock.
“Lucas?!” Marta, the waitress, gasps. “Carla Simmons?!”
“Haha it’s alright Marta,” Lucas replies. “This refreshing woman here wanted to join us this evening. She also stood up for me. She’s also single!” Some of the men chuckled and wanted to ask for Carla’s number, but she politely declined.
“Let me guess that Melody what’s her name was at that party?” a guest with a Santa hat asks.
“She was,” Carla responds.
“Bring that girl next year if you can Ms. Simmons,” The cook, Roberto says. “She could use a slice of humble pie.”
“I’ll try. But I can’t make any promises.”
“What brings a ritzy young lass like you here anyway?” a patron asks.
“Just a grown woman tired of the pretending and fakery of Hollywood.” Carla slips the diamond clip from her updo and hands it to another hostess. “Feel free to pawn that I don’t need it. Places like this who care for others could always use an extra hand financially.”
“Here here!” The patrons cheer.
John looked up from his meal at the commotion. He froze seeing the beautiful woman with Lucas take off her coat and put a Santa hat on her head. Lucas winked upon seeing his reaction. He blushes and rubs his hands together to keep them warm.
“How about I buy you some warmer gloves tomorrow?”
John froze seeing Carla sit beside him. Some of the patrons encourage him without looking. “Sure?”
Carla smiles. “Maybe, a coffee too?”
“OK.” John slowly smiles back.
It was the beginning of a wonderful friendship.