Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A Bittersweet Farewell

By Tim Smith

Since this is my last post for Oh Get a Grip, I wanted to leave you with some seasonal fan fiction featuring one of my series characters, former cop-turned-private-eye Vic Fallon. This is a romantic trifle to get you in the holiday mood, and to say Thank You for allowing me to be a part of this great group of writers. I’ll miss you all!

“One Lonely Christmas Eve”

Late December on northeast Ohio’s Lake Erie coast was consistent from year to year. The winter chills rolled in a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving and hung around until the first of March. Along with the bitter lake effect air came snow, usually measured in feet instead of inches. Great for snowball fights, terrible for driving.

Vic Fallon had lived his entire life in the lakefront town of Sandusky, and knew how to cope with slippery streets. More importantly, he had learned how to avoid those who suddenly forgot how to drive when the snow fell. He recalled a trip he had taken to Dayton one winter. An inch of snow came down, and people acted like it was a blizzard. 

He sat at the counter in Dianna’s Deli on Christmas Eve. The place was decked out in decorations that evoked a sentimental feeling. An old foil-lettered banner that spelled out Happy Holidays was strung over the doorway, wreaths adorned the walls, and a three-foot-high artificial Christmas tree with cheap decorations and tinsel sat on a table just inside the door. Holiday music played in the background, the soothing tones of Como and Crosby adding a touch of nostalgic comfort.  

Vic sipped his coffee then glanced at the clock mounted on the wall behind the cash register in the nearly empty restaurant. 6:45, and it’s pitch-black outside. Not that much traffic, either, especially in here. Guess most people have had their pre-holiday dinner and gone to church, or decided to pack it in for the evening to wait for Santa by the fireplace. I should do the same, but I don’t really want to go home to an empty apartment.

Denise Del Florio approached inside the counter, with a glass coffee pot in hand. “Refill, Vic?”

Vic’s gaze traveled from her head to her feet then back up again, taking in her trim form encased in snug black slacks and a white shirt with a name tag. Her light brown hair was pulled into a ponytail, and a few wisps carelessly hung over her face. Her hazel eyes seemed to take on an extra bit of sparkle when she looked at him.

“Thanks, but I’ve had enough for one night.”

She exhaled a deep breath. “Good decision. We’re getting ready to close, and this stuff would take the paint off your car.” She stretched. “I’m definitely ready to get off my feet after today.”

“I’m surprised you aren’t busier.”

Denise poured herself some coffee then took a sip. “You should’ve been here earlier. It was non-stop from lunchtime on. People stopped in for their holiday pie orders, and decided to eat while they were here.”

“Sounds hectic.”

She shrugged. “I didn’t really mind. It kept me busy, and I made a fortune in tips.”

Vic laughed. “I figured that’s why you volunteered to work the holiday shift.”

Denise gave a shy smile and cast her gaze downward briefly. “I keep forgetting what a good detective you are.”  

He finished his coffee. “It wasn’t hard to figure out, Denise. I suspected you didn’t mind working tonight for the same reason I’m not going home yet.”

She looked into his eyes for a moment. “I’m not ready to face an empty house, especially this holiday.”

“The first one alone is always the hardest.”

She was silent for a few moments. “How long did it take for you to…”

“Still working on it,” he finished. “I’ve been divorced for eight years, and there are some holidays I don’t look forward to. But I know it’s different in your case.”

She drank some coffee. “Yeah, you could say that. Divorce is one thing to adjust to, but losing your life partner in the line of duty is something else.” She paused. “Is that why you’re here tonight?”

“Where else would I be?”

“I heard you’ve been seeing someone. Thought you’d be with them.”

“So happens the young lady is spending the holidays in Louisville with her family. Why do you think I only came here to check up on you?”

“Because I know you, Vic. You and Tony were close friends before you had to leave the police department. Even after you went private, you kept in touch, and you were there for me when he got killed earlier this year.”

He cast his gaze down. “Guilty as charged. Maybe I was worried about you.”

Denise placed her hand on his and squeezed. “I appreciate that, more than you know. You gave me a shoulder to lean on when I needed it, and you’ve been there ever since. That means a lot.”

Vic felt embarrassed. “Come on, Denise. I was just doing the right thing. Tony and I were patrol partners before I became a detective, and we were fishing and drinking buddies.”  

“You might not know this, but he really valued your friendship, and so do I. We both enjoyed all the cookouts and fishing trips we did together.”

Vic suddenly felt nostalgic. “I enjoyed those times, too. I always thought of Tony as one of my best friends.”

“He was.” She flashed a playful smile. “Hey, I’ve got an idea. I’m alone, you’re alone, and neither of us is in a hurry to get home tonight. Think we can find someplace where two good friends can have a drink?”

Vic brought her hand to his lips then kissed it. “I think there must be someplace out there that caters to people with nowhere to go on a lonely night like this.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Vic stood, put on his coat and scarf, then went to the register to pay his bill. Denise rang it up then hesitated for a moment, looking upward. Vic followed her gaze to the sprig of mistletoe hanging above them. Denise took hold of his scarf with both hands, pulled him close then planted her lips on his, giving him a lingering kiss that took him by surprise.

“Wait for me?” she asked.

He palmed her cheek and peered into her soft eyes. “Don’t be too long.”  

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