January 15, 2008
By Joshua Albee, Clarkston, MI

The phone was ringing, the low hum much more pleasing than most rings; yet, still interruptive at the time. Malcolm Peterson was struggling to get his tie just right but the new Jerry Garcia kept coming out too long. Nevertheless, it would not matter soon: just one more day.
“Hello?” He sighed.
“Hey did you process those files from Tuesday or what? Because I’m not backing you up this time while you escape to your paradise resort.”
“Relax; I’m way ahead of you. The papers are in Beterman’s lap as we speak, I’m sure of it. There’s now way I was going to let a conflict prevent me from a smooth getaway, so-to-speak. And it’s not a paradise resort, okay? It’s only Chicago. No strutting around in khaki’s there, Jerry.”
“Still, Malcolm, it’s better than a seven hour car trip with your mother to Alabama for a Christmas with Dr. Drunk and Madam Margarita.”
“Ha. Well see ya in a few.”
“Yeah, whatever. Bye.”
With a soft click Malcolm shifted over to the door. A quick double-back to get the coffee thermos and then the house was abandoned for what was looking to be a long, satisfying vacation.
When the clock struck three, Malcolm made his way through the double glass doors to his already packed-full Mercedes. He strolled with his empty coffee thermos shimmering in the sunlight, and his tie blowing in the breeze. He looked back at the sorry old office building, and couldn’t help but picture all the sad saps stuck inside: And what a great picture it was. He flipped on some Oakley’s and eased open the glamorous driver side door. The frosty, fresh air wisped through the window and temporarily extinguished the stuffy, coffee smell. Malcolm sat slouching, and took some of his precious free time to adjust all his mirrors. The radio pumped on from a flick of a button and the engine revved up. The plane was scheduled to take off at five-thirty, so he had planty of time to arrive at the terminal where he could look over and revise his itinerary.
When the plane arrived at O’Hare the snow was blinding. “Well I guess I can plan on getting out the old snow blower,” Malcolm said invitingly to the few feet of air around him. He later rolled up to his familiar abode to find a perfectly unplowed driveway for the blowing. What could have been a frustrating setback was nothing to Malcolm, who had missed the snow all year in Florida. The feeling of accomplishment after the driveway clearing would be the proper setup for a deserved break. He took another gaze around at the peaceful wonderland. Only one strange sensation stood out to Malcolm in his cold driveway. A U-Haul truck next door caught the corner of his eye.
Was someone moving in? His favorite neighbors must have moved while he was gone and didn’t even tell him. He thought about going to greet them, but figured he should get changed and make sure the house was prepared for the stay. When he opened the door he caught the clean carpet smell and the empty atmosphere. He stalked over to the window and drew the blinds. The white light reflected off the empty floor and furniture. He tossed his suitcase on the couch and went to the refrigerator. He opened only to reveal and old bottle of whine. It looked like grocery shopping was a definite objective. He quickly went back and fetched his luggage, as to put it in the proper place before he changed.
As he was changing the doorbell rang. He accidental dropped his shirt and bumped his head going to pick it up. The doorbell rang again.
“I’m coming, geeze!” He announced. But before he got to the foyer the door burst open and in strolled a knee-high woman, who looked to be about sixty, with a pie in one hand and a dog in the other. “Can I help you?” He asked with a bewildered stare.
“My name is Rosa Walters. I’m new to the neighborhood—here I baked you a pie!” She reached out her scrawny left hand, as the Scottie dog barked at Malcolm.
“Well thanks,” he retorted, “but wouldn’t I be the one who’s supposed to bake a welcoming pie?”
“Oh trust me dear, you’ll like my pie better.” She winked behind her strange, movie star framed glasses. Already it seemed to Malcolm that this woman liked her way with things, and loved being the best. “Well, dear, why don’t you come over to my house? I’m having my new neighbors over for a great dinner!”
“Your stuff is already all set up?”
“Oh yes, dear, you’ve got have priority moving. So come on, you don’t want to keep the others waiting.”
“Actually miss…”
“Er..Rosa, I had some plans. I just came up from Florida you know and I have a lot to do to prepare around here.”
“Oh nonsense! You’ve got to have a great dinner. Let’s go.”
“Uh, okay I’ll be right behind you,” and with that she was gone. Malcolm sat down on the chair to his left. He didn’t have time to go eat dinner at some crazy old woman’s house. He felt queasy. His relaxing vacation suddenly began to look like it was going to be a nightmare.
He didn’t reach his front steps again until ten twenty. Rosa had kept him there ton show slide show after slide show of all her trips and accomplishments. He frustratingly jimmied open the door and threw his coat on the floor. He didn’t return to pick it up, and went straight to bed.
The next morning he was making breakfast and enjoying the winter sun, when he got a phone call.
“Hello?” He figured it was someone from work, checking up on him. He couldn’t wait to start gloating. But then a small voice came on…
“Hello Malcolm, it’s your best pal Rosa. I realized my house doesn’t have a Christmas tree and I needed a strong man to come help me get one.”
“Oh, well, uh---”
“So I’ll be over in a few so you can start warming up your car.”
“My car?” And there was a click on the end of the line. Malcolm was furious. How could he be expected to do this? He was in his pajamas. It was nine-thirty in the morning! He didn’t know what to do. Rosa would be there in a few short minutes. Malcolm looked left and right. This vacation had gone terribly so far. He went to go warm his car; his passenger seat was filled with luggage. Before Rosa came he drove off.
Later that night Malcolm pulled back into his driveway, a little tipsy from a day which included an evening at the bar. He stumbled into the empty house to find the kitchen light shining around the corner. He was startled, and jumped back a little when he saw Rosa asleep at the kitchen table with a gift wrapped box beside her head. Could she have been here waiting this whole time? Malcolm got two steps closer before Rosa shot up.
“Well where have you been? I was worried sick.”
“Sorry, I just had an emergency,” Malcolm lied. “Look, I appreciate you trying to be a good neighbor and all, but I really just wanted to have a relaxing vacation from people.”
“It’s Just that…..well, my son, Emmett, he left for Iraq about a month ago. We had been fighting for a few weeks and then he told me the news that he would be leaving. I never got to say goodbye or that I was sorry.”
“I’m deeply sorry about your son, but—”
“He was only around your age, and couldn’t have looked a bit more like you. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I just wished that you could fill that hole in my life and give me reason to want to live as a civilized woman.”
“I’m Sorry,” Malcolm squeaked with an embarrassed frown. “I guess I’ve just been too focused on what I think are problems in my own life. I have felt all along that I can be happiest alone, but as much as I’ve hated to realize it these past few days, it is nice to have someone caring about you out there.” Malcolm helped lift Rosa up from her spot at the table.
“Oh, I almost forgot, your present!” Rosa gleamed.
Malcolm stared at the box. As he wondered what on earth it could be, he realized it didn’t even matter anymore. His life would be better and more relaxing from now on. He took the box in his hands and grinned with a feeling so warm it reminded him of Florida. Malcolm decided that he no longer relied on his old Florida life for warmth, and first thing the next morning he put up a sale on the southern home.

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