Authors: Melody Carlson
“This just came,” Christine said as she handed Mrs. Daniels a box that was marked “Perishable.”
“You can open any packages that come,” Mrs. Daniels instructed. “Make sure you give me the card, then make a note of what's inside.” She shook her head. “Christmas gifts can be such a bother.”
Christine decided not to respond to that.
“Do you drive?” Mrs. Daniels asked suddenly.
“Drive?” Christine removed a fruit basket from the box. “A car, you mean?”
“Well, I wasn't referring to a golf cart.”
Christine nodded. “Yes. My dad taught me to drive, but I don't have a car, if that's what you mean?”
“But you do have a driver's license?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Good. I want you to take me somewhere.”
“Do you want me to fix you some lunch first?”
“No, don't bother. We'll get something along the way.”
Christine wondered what this woman was planning as she helped Mrs. Daniels get her coat and purse. But she knew better than to ask. Mrs. Daniels did not like to be questioned. Particularly by the hired help. Christine followed her out to the large three-car garage and helped her down the step, preparing herself to catch her if she started to fall.
“Wow,” Christine said as she spotted the single car in the large garage. “You have a Jaguar.”
Mrs. Daniels made a “humph” sound. “Not a very sensible choice either. I regret that I didn't keep the Mercedes instead. This car has been nothing but trouble.”
“Trouble?” Christine ran her hand over its sleek silver surface.
“Mechanically speaking.” Mrs. Daniels handed her the keys. “Of course, my mechanic loves me. Why, he even sends me a Christmas card each year. But then he could afford to send me fine jewelry for what he charges to fix this thing.”
Christine opened the door for Mrs. Daniels and waited for the old woman to slowly arrange herself in the passenger seat before she closed the door. As Christine slid into the driver's seat, she noticed the faint smell of stale cigarette smoke. “Do you smoke?” she asked as she slid the key into the ignition. She instantly regretted her question and prepared herself to be chided again. To her surprise, Mrs. Daniels simply answered.
“Once in a while, but only when I'm feeling particularly stressed.” She fumbled to fasten her seat belt. “But I've never smoked in the house. Can't abide the smell of smoke in a house, and it ruins the furniture and carpets.
Unfortunately, I used to smoke in the car. Quite a lot, as a matter of fact. I can't seem to get rid of the smell.” She took a deep breath. “But I actually rather like it.”
Christine thought that was a bit strange, but then a lot about this woman seemed strange. “Where are we going?”
“To the La-Z-Boy store. I want a comfortable chair.”
Christine smiled to herself as she waited for the garage door to go up. It was interesting to imagine how a bulky recliner would fit into Mrs. Daniels's perfectly attired home with its fine Oriental carpets, valuable antiques, and original artwork. But it was plain to see this old woman was craving a little comfort in her old age. So despite what appeared to be Mrs. Daniels's style-dictated ways, Christine wondered if it might actually be possible to teach an old dog new tricks. And, if so, maybe the day would come when Christine could divulge her true identity.
“Where would you stop for a quick bite of lunch?” Mrs. Daniels asked as she peered out at the traffic zipping around town.
“Me?” Christine felt surprised. “Well, that would depend.”
“A lot of things. Like whether I was alone or with a friend, or whether I was feeling flush or almost broke, or what I felt like eating. Remember, I'm a college student. I'm not above getting a buck burger when I'm starving and low on cash.”
“What's a buck burger?”
“You know,” Christine waited for the light to turn, “Whoppers for ninety-nine cents at Burger King. They're not bad, really.”
“I thought you had worked for McDonald's. I'd think you'd be loyal to that establishment.”
“Just because you work someplace doesn't mean you
like it.” Christine hadn't meant it to sound like that. She glanced uneasily at Mrs. Daniels, worried that she'd make the connection, but it seemed to have floated right past her.
“Does this Burger King place have one of those windows where you can place an order without getting out?”
“Well, let's go there, then. I don't want to get out of the car.” She slumped down into the seat.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes. I just don't want anyone I know to recognize me.”
Christine laughed as she turned down the street toward Burger King. It took Mrs. Daniels a while to read the menu and decide on what she wanted, but finally they placed their order.
“That'll be seven forty-eight,” said a grumpy voice through the intercom.
“Seven dollars and forty-eight cents?” Mrs. Daniels peered at Christine. “Can that possibly be right?”
“It sounds about right to me.” Christine pulled the sleek car forward, careful to avoid the sign that seemed to stick right out into their lane. “Is it too much?”
Mrs. Daniels laughed. Only this time it didn't sound quite as cynical as it had yesterday. “Goodness, think of all the money I could've saved over the years if I'd eaten here. Of course, their food probably tastes like cardboard and glue.”
To Christine's relief, Mrs. Daniels seemed to like her lunch. Although, when they were finished, she complained at the amount of cholesterol she'd just consumed.
“Oh, I suppose I shouldn't worry. I'm not long for this world anyway.”
Christine glanced uneasily at the old woman. “Are you having health problems? Besides your ankle, I mean?”
She waved her hand. “Oh, nothing out of the ordinary. It's just that everything starts to go once you begin getting old. Don't know why people have to grow old, anyway. My two husbands certainly didn't bother with it.”
At the La-Z-Boy store they were greeted with Christmas music, and a young blond woman dressed like an elf offered them store-bought cookies.
“Merry Christmas, it's our Holiday Blowout week,” she told them in a chirpy voice. “Everything in the store is marked down, some up to 50 percent off, and ready to be delivered by Christmas.”
“By Christmas?” Mrs. Daniels harped. “I need a chair and I need it now. Can't I have one delivered today?”
“Oh, I don't know,” the woman said. “Iâuhâ”
“Hello, there,” said a man in a khaki suit. “I'm Leon Myers. Now, what can I do for you today, ma'am?”
“I want a recliner chair,” Mrs. Daniels said. “But I want it delivered before Christmas. I'd like it delivered today, if possible, or tomorrow at the latest.”
He smiled. “No problem. If we have it in stock, we can deliver it by tomorrow.”
“Fine, if that's the best you can do.” She adjusted her crutches and moved forward. “Show me what you have.”
“Looks like you've hurt your foot,” the man said.
“Obviously,” she snapped. “Why else would I want a recliner?”
He chuckled. “Oh, some people find our chairs to be
quite comfortable. Now, tell me, ma'am, will this chair be for you or for your husband?”
She rolled her eyes at Christine, as if to say,
This man is a complete idiot
. “It's for me. I need it to keep my foot elevated.”
“Yes, yes, that's just what I thought.” He paused by a pink velvet chair. “Now, how about this little numberâ”
“I can't stand pink,” she snapped. “Show me something in an earth tone, please. And nothing too sleazy.”
He chuckled again. “Oh, don't worry, ma'am. We have some real beauties.” He led them over to a section of better-looking chairs, which also wore some more expensive price tags, Christine noticed.
However, Mrs. Daniels didn't seem to care. She pointed to a nice-looking tan chair by the wall. “I'll take that one,” she said.
The salesman laughed. “Without even trying it out?”
“Why do I need to try it? Aren't they all the same?”
“No, no, they're all different. They're made to fit various body types and needs. I recommend you sit in it before you make up your mind.”
“Fine.” She hobbled around the maze of chairs until she reached the tan one. Then, holding her crutches out to the sides, she slowly leaned back and sat down with an “oomph.” She reached for the small wooden handle on the side and after a bit of pulling finally managed to release the footrest. Then she put her head back and sighed. “This one suits me just fine. I'll take it.”
The salesman grinned, and Christine suspected that, despite Mrs. Daniels's demanding ways, this had been one of his easiest transactions of the season. And Christine
didn't disagree with the choice either. Of all the chairs, this one looked the least like a recliner. In fact, the sand-colored chenille fabric was rather soft and attractive. Christine wished she had enough money to get something like that for her father someday. She could imagine him putting his feet up after a long day. Maybe when he was finished with his missions work and she was done with school and had a real job, maybe then she could get him one.
Mrs. Daniels wrote out a check and inquired again as to the delivery.
“It's our busiest time of year,” the woman behind the counter told her.
“I was promised that I would have it by tomorrow,” she insisted.
The woman checked on the computer again. “We don't have anyone scheduled to deliver in your area until the end of the week.”
“Well, if I can't have it by tomorrow, I simply won't purchase it today,” Mrs. Daniels said firmly. “I'll just go to another store whereâ”
“Something wrong here?” Leon asked as he returned to the counter and looked at the woman who had written up the purchase.
“She wants it delivered by tomorrow,” the woman said in a tired voice. “We don't have a truck goingâ”
“I told her it would be delivered tomorrow,” Leon said, flashing a smile toward Mrs. Daniels. “And we expect it to be delivered tomorrow. Figure out a way to make it happen, Donna.”
The woman scowled at him, then pushed some more
keys on her computer keyboard. “Fine. It'll be delivered by tomorrow. Do you plan to be home all day, ma'am?”
“I'm not exactly gadding about town with this bum foot,” Mrs. Daniels said. “Of course I plan to be home. And if the chair's not delivered by tomorrow, I'll put a stop payment on my check.”
“And a Merry Christmas to you too,” the woman said as she wearily handed Mrs. Daniels the receipt.
Christine couldn't help but feel sorry for the woman as they headed for the exit.
“Happy Holidays!” the elf girl chirped.
“Yeah,” Christine said as she opened the door for Mrs. Daniels. “To you too.”
“Bah humbug,” Mrs. Daniels said when they were out in the parking lot.
Christine glanced at the heavy clouds now filling the sky as she unlocked the car. “Do you think it's going to snow this year?” she asked once they were inside. “I'd love to see a white Christmas.”
“Good grief! I certainly hope not. I already ruined my ankle from slipping on my wet patio. Now all I need is snow on the ground with these crutches and I could probably end up in a body cast for the entire holidays.”
Christine noticed a Christmas tree lot as she pulled into traffic. “Do you plan to get a Christmas tree?”
“Of course not. What on earth would I do with a Christmas tree? Do you expect me to hobble around and decorate it?”
“I could decorate it.”
“I don't put up a tree anymore. I haven't since the kids left. That's when my husband and I began going down to
Palm Springs for the holidays. This will be the first year I've been forced to stay at home.”
“So why don't you have your stepson or grandchildren over for Christmas?”
She harrumphed. “Not if I can help it.”
“What do you do, then?”
Christine could feel Mrs. Daniels glaring at her, and she suspected she'd pushed her too far by asking way too many questions. The old woman cleared her throat, then spoke in a sharp voice. “I plan to do as little as possible for the holidays. I suppose someone like you would think I was a real Ebenezer Scrooge. And maybe I am. But then that's my business.”
Christine nodded and continued driving in silence until they reached Mrs. Daniels's home.
“Furthermore,” Mrs. Daniels remained in the car as she continued speaking, as if they'd still been in the midst of a conversation. “I have hired you to be my housekeeper and errand girl. I do not expect you to be my companion.”
Christine felt tears burning in her eyes, but she was determined not to show this thoughtless woman how her words were able to cut. She opened the passenger door and helped her get out of the low car and then into the house.