(This is not an excerpt from my next book, "Small Time". It's just a little story that offers a glimpse into the lives of a few characters. I hope you enjoy it. . . . and you're just gonna have to read Natalie with a little flair!)
Pressing the back of his hand against the window in the town's Explorer, Culley felt the cold of the day seep through. "It's Christmas Eve," he thought to himself, "it's supposed to be cold." It seemed that Culley Ferris knew little of what Christmas was supposed to be like except for the weather.
His mother had tried to make the most of it despite Grady Ferriss' alcohol fueled cruelties. Grady allowed sparse decoration in his home to celebrate the season, not that there was any celebration of Jesus. There was precious little money for gifts. There always was enough, however, for a steady supply of cheap bourbon. One scratchy Andy Williams album on the record player and a table top radio provided Christmas music for as long as Grady would put up with it.
Finally, Delila could stand it no longer. Early in the Fall, she was working concessions at the fair grounds in town for the rodeo that was passing through. A cowboy, too old to be riding bulls and still reckless enough to pursue the local skirts, saw a lingering beauty through Delila's hopelessness.
His mother did just what she had often told young Culley to do. "When you git your chance to git out of here, you take it, son." When the rodeo left, and the cowboy left, Delila left with him. And from the age of eleven McCollough Ferris rarely heard from his mother.
The following December, on the eighteenth, Culley took it upon himself to go onto the neighboring farm and cut down a cedar tree. He brought it into the house and spent the next few hours decorating it and the house in case his mother happened to come home for Christmas. He put the old Andy Williams album on the phonograph . . . and waited.
Grady arrived early in the evening, drunk, of course. Without a word he violently tore down Culley's meager decorations. He took the tree, lights, decorations and all, and drug them out to a trash pile on the back of the property. Coming back in, he raked the needle across the record album and threw Andy Williams into the fire Culley had going in their small fireplace. He walked menacingly to Culley and grabbed him by the front of the shirt nearly lifting him from the floor.
"Don't you never do that again! We're done with Christmas around here," he barked and shoved his son to the floor before leaving the house for the night. He had been there all of five minutes.
It didn't much matter, though. Delila didn't come home. And Culley never saw Christmas the same way again.
He knew Christmas carried great meaning to others. Culley had given his two deputies Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off. "You got families that actually want to spend time with you," he had told them, only half-joking. "Regular shifts start back on the 26th."
"But, Chief," Boybaby protested, "It's Christmas for you, too, ain't it?"
Culley patted the gentle deputy's shoulder. "I got it covered. . . . probably won't have anything but a few domestics and a DUI or two. I'll call if things git out of hand."
"O.K, Chief," Robert Warrington, known as Boybaby, said. "Merry Christmas. Say!" he added quickly, "I could bring you something to eat later on, and you can come eat dinner with us tomorrow. Mama's gon' have enough to feed us for two weeks!"
"Thanks, Boybaby, but I'm good. Go on home now."
The deputy was reluctant to leave, but he did, glancing back at the marshal as he pulled the door closed behind him. He didn't like the thought of leaving anyone alone for Christmas. "Lord, do a little something for the marshal," he whispered.
Driving through town, Culley found himself enjoying the lights and decorations that so many of the residents had put up. Some houses were dark and empty, a single porch light shining as evidence that someone lived there. Others were lit up and their driveways were filled with cars and pickup trucks there for Christmas parties and family get-togethers. He made sure that he was seen enough to hopefully deter certain people from getting behind the wheel later on.
His days as a patrol officer and a detective in Atlanta, only recently behind him, had seen crime of all sorts on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. A remnant of a memory, he supposed, drove the thought that these days should be different. Over the years, though, these two days uniquely celebrated by so many became pretty much like any other day to Culley. Still, there was this feeling . . . this feeling that saddened him just a bit.
Now, as Marshal of his home town, he knew anything would make for a quieter couple of days than what he had known for the past twenty years. By 7:00 the stores were closed and the streets were pretty much empty. He pulled up in front of the Prichett's Crossing City Hall, which also housed the Town Marshal's Office. Standing still for a moment, he looked about him. Main Street and Railroad Street, running parallel to each other on opposites of the track, were dressed in decorations such as would have been seen in the 50's and early 60's. The stores left their window displays on and Christmas music played quietly through the speakers hanging from the light poles.
Pritchett's Crossing was an exaggeration of what it had been in his childhood. After the plant moved in a few years ago and brought people with it, the town worked hard to recreate and maintain its traditional appeal. That's what brought people in from the Jackson area. Enough of them were willing to make the commute to have the lifestyle a small independent town like Prichett's Crossing could offer. All this worked to bring the town back from the brink of the kind of death towns in the delta to the north had suffered. The interstate highway system killed small town America. Pritchett's Crossing, to its credit, had used that same system, in part, to revive itself.
Culley winced as pain shot through his leg. He knew better than to stand in place for too long in this cold weather. The bullet that had helped end his career in Atlanta left him with a near constant reminder that surviving a gun fight was not the end of the battle. He limped a bit through the lobby of Town Hall and into the warmth of the Marshal's Office. He figured he would stay in until 9:00 or so before going back on patrol. He really didn't want to write any tickets or put anyone in jail tonight, but human nature made it inevitable.
The voice startled him. Beautiful in tone and unique in style, it was unmistakable.
"Why am I not surprised to find you alone on Christmas Eve?" Natalie's voice lilted about the room as she walked through the door.
"Somebody's got to be on duty, Nabs," Culley replied. "My deputies have somewhere to go. I don't. So here I am." He doubted that she was surprised at all. Natalie Jean Burton Miller Simpson was rarely caught off guard concerning anything in town.
"Yes, you are." She stood waiting . . . for a reply? . . . an invitation?
"Soooooo, what brings you in, ma'am?"
"Well, sir," she played along, "I find that I share these unfortunate circumstances with you."
"And?" Culley prodded.
"And the preponderance of my thoughts led me to conclude that you and I should perhaps spend the evening alone together. I hope you do not think that somewhat forward of me."
Culley looked into the greenish eyes piercing his own. "I'm surprised that your evening is not filled with parties to attend." Surely Natalie Burton had no shortage of options on this particular evening. There were men yet to conquer, last names to add to her stationery.
The statement seemed to embarrass her. "McCollough," she began fighting to maintain her all-important composure, "I have found that, while I have many cordial acquaintances in this town, I have not one true friend. I . . . I do not recall having experienced true friendship in all of my years." Tears began to form in her eyes.
Instantly, regret over his own thoughts attacked Culley. Before returning to Prichett's Crossing only two months before, he had not seen Natalie since high school. She was always beautiful. Always in high demand by the other boys, and apparently in her adult life. She was always out of his league even though they had dated for a short time in the eleventh grade. Her three strategic marriages had afforded her an enviable lifestyle, but left her among peers who were very protective of their men where she was concerned. As for the men, their attitude toward Natalie was something like "pursue, but don't get caught". With broke men and broken families in her wake it was easy forget that she had problems and feelings of her own.
"I'm sorry," Culley managed to say. "I guess you've been lonely since your aunt died."
"These months have proven to be quite difficult. My dear Aunt Florence loved me unconditionally." A telling statement in itself. "She taught me everything. How to be a lady. How to speak. How to be myself without reservation. I so enjoyed my many years with her and now . . . Oh, listen to me ramble on. It was not my intention to ruin your Christmas."
"My Christmas was ruined a long time ago," Culley mused. "And you had nothing to do with that." He looked at the large basket she had placed on his desk. Hoping to change her mood he cheerily said, "What's in the basket?"
Natalie's eyes brightened. "I predicted that any effort to have you over to my home for a Christmas Eve dinner would be met with failure, so I brought the dinner to you!"
"Well now! That's real nice of you, Nabs!"
"McCollough! Why do you persist with that horrendous nickname for me?" she teased as she cleared an area of Culley's desk. "I have always gone to great lengths to refer to you in your proper given name."
"It's a term of endearment." He helped her remove containers of food from the basket.
"Endearment, you say. Well if that is the case, I will certainly strive to view it in a more favorable light." She smiled at him. "What might you be looking for?" she asked as Culley feigned a search through the empty basket.
Culley smiled mischievously. "I was hopin' you packed a sprig or two of mistletoe in there!"
"Why, sir! I am wondering if perhaps I was a bit hasty and too trusting in pursuing this innocent endeavor unchaperoned!" Natalie smiled slyly. "Shall I call the authorities?"
"Have I ever told you that I love the way you talk?"
"No more often than I love hearing it! You should thank Aunt Florence, for she would have it no other way."
"Well, here's to Aunt Flo!" Culley smiled and pulled two chairs close together so they could sit side by side and eat from the edge of his desk. "I don't say this often, just so you know that it's meant for you."
Natalie probed his eyes for meaning.
"Merry Christmas, Nab . . . Natalie."
"Merry Christmas, McCollough." She cupped his face between her hands and kissed him lightly on the cheek.
PS: I picked this one for your video. The "noise" that comes through from outside at 1:56 screamed "THIS IS IT"!! Enjoy!