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07.03.2019

She picks up the instructions and turns them sideways. Then she holds them upright and tries turning her head sideways.

“Are you kidding me?” she yells at the paper, flinging it to the ground. Then she speaks threateningly to the bike parts as she tries to force them to connect. “Just. Go. In. You. Bastard!”

When that doesn’t work, she takes a breath and a sip of wine. She brushes the wisps of hair that’ve escaped her bun away from her face. Then she picks up a blue metal rod. “You are component A. You need to be inserted into component B’s hole. Work with me, here.”

And now she’s back to shoving.

I squat down next to her. “It looks like rod A is too well endowed for B’s hole. Maybe they need some lube.”

If she could hear me, Kate would chuckle. And she’d look at me like I was the cleverest man in the world.

But she can’t. So she just continues to grit her teeth and struggle with the metal bars.

Until her hand slips.

And her finger gets pinched between two pieces of steel.

With a curse, Kate drops the bike pieces and flaps her hand, trying to shake the pain away. Then she puts her finger in her mouth.

It’s something I would’ve done if I were here. Sucked her finger until it was all better. Then I would’ve gotten her a Band-Aid or ice.

Once her finger is probably just a dull throb, Kate rubs her forehead. She looks tired.

And sad.

And for the first time tonight, I wish I’d chosen differently. It’s not only because I feel guilty—though I do. But if I could go back, I’d be here with her right now. And it would be a shitload more enjoyable for both of us.

Kate picks up her glass of wine, eyes the red liquid, then holds it up unhappily. “Merry Christmas, Kate.”

And I’m done.

I don’t want to watch this anymore. I don’t want to know that my actions have hurt the feelings of the two people who mean the most to me.

Because I’m a guy. And to the great annoyance of women everywhere—guys are doers. We don’t just listen to you babble about your problems; we tell you how to fix them.

And we never understand why you get pissed off about that. Why you just want us to be a “sounding board” or a “good listener.” What the fuck is the point of sounding off if you’re not going to do anything about it?

So I’m going back to my office, and then I’m going to haul ass home to help Kate assemble James’s presents. And I’m going to wake up my son and tell him I’m sorry. That I’ll play Ping-Pong with him every damn day if it makes him happy.

I stand up and look into the eyes of my big sister. Almost like she can read my mind, she says, “Okay. Let’s go, then.”

Alexandra holds my hand and we walk to the elevators outside my apartment door. We step inside and they close behind us. When they reopen, we’re on the fortieth floor of my office building. And all the decorations—the music, the snow—are gone now.

Outside my closed office door, I turn toward my sister.

“Thank you, Alexandra. Really, this time.”

She smiles. “Do you know what life is, Drew?”

“A cosmic joke?”

She snorts. “No. Life is a memory. Sure, we enjoy the moments as they come, but for many, time goes by too fast to truly appreciate those moments as they happen. It’s only later, when we remember them, that they become precious to us. A life well lived is one where the good memories outweigh the bad.”

I rub the back of my neck. “That’s kind of depressing.”

“It doesn’t have to be.” She shakes her head softly. “Never pass up the opportunity to make a beautiful memory, Drew.”

Then she kisses my cheek and disappears.

chapter 5

After Alexandra is gone, I wait.

My guardian angel said there’d be three spirits visiting me, and I have a feeling I’m not going to wake up from this dream until bachelorette number three gets her turn.

When nothing happens, I try to help things along. “Hello? Anybody here? You win—I feel really fucking guilty. I’m going to cancel my conference and go home now. Happy?”

The only answer I receive is silence.

I take one last glance around, then open my office door and step inside.

And I’m blinded by flashing green and red lights. A pounding electric guitar version of “Jingle Bells” pierces my eardrums? while a white foggy mist clouds my vision of the room. Out from behind my desk steps a tall creature whose face is obscured by a flowing red satin hooded robe.

Suddenly, the flashing lights disappear and the music cuts off.

I wouldn’t say I’m scared . . . but intimidated fits nicely. “Are you . . . are you the spirit of Christmas future?”

I don’t expect an answer. In the movie, the last, most frightening spirit never talks. If it pulls the hood back, I suppose it’ll have a black hole where its face should be—maybe a skeleton head. I brace myself as hands with long red nails reach for the hood and reveal the countenance beneath it.

Did I think this was a dream? Nope. It’s a nightmare.

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