A Penny For Christmas

A Penny For Christmas Chapter 20: Herbert’s wrath

Chris picked up the call this time and slowly put the phone to his ear, feeling the hairs around his neck rise as he did.

‘BOO!’ he heard before the hall lights went out, and the shooting began.

6:00 a.m

Christopher

A loud beep woke Christopher up before his alarm could.

6:00 a.m. What could be so urgent? It was an invitation to an early dinner that evening with a group of socialites. Chief! Christopher groaned as he fell back on the bed. That man was as clingy as a bug on a carcass.

He shut his eyes again to see if he could catch some sleep, but this time the smell of fresh bagels and coffee filled his nostrils and drew him out of bed like a zombie. Sarah, he groaned inwardly. She was after him too, through his stomach. Nothing he did affected her, but it was like she knew how much she affected him and was waiting for him to crack. He tried to wash those thoughts off his head in the shower. It was the last day of work for the year, which meant two things: meetings and tons of paper-work, and there was the early dinner he was planning to skip. His mind wandered off to the kids. Mrs. Donohue didn’t send a message like she always did when she took time off.

He sighed.

Scratch his initial thoughts about not caring about where Sarah went. He did care; for the kids and well for himself too, so he was going to ask her.

He didn’t. One look at Penny and he swallowed his words because he knew the little one was very protective of her mother. Instead, he rejected Sarah’s breakfast hamper even though his taste buds cried out in anticipation, and he was soon to regret his decision because the mountain of reports waiting for him on his desk would keep him in his office well after his lunch break.

He groaned in frustration because he thought he had most of them done the previous day and blamed Sarah for his wavering mind. If only Mrs. Donohue were home, he would relax, knowing the kids were in safe hands.

After his scheduled meetings, he dialed her number. No answer.

He was such a terrible boss. Why hadn’t he enquired about her health sooner? He tried again.

Same result.

He felt anxious when he dialed the third time but relaxed when her son picked the call and told him she was asleep.

‘Calm down, Chris,’ he told himself, taking a few deep breaths. It was a strange day. Edgy meetings, long reports, maybe that party would take the edge off. He looked at the invitation again.

8:00 pm.

He was down to his last report, and he had an hour to spare. Why not surprise everyone and show up early? A set of perfectly white teeth on an oval-shaped face greeted him when he stepped out of his office.

‘Gina?’ he exclaimed, surprised and confused.

‘Hello Christopher,’ she said, maintaining her smile. ‘Dad asked me to come to get you. He said you weren’t allowed to chicken out on this one.’

He corked his head to one side and watched her blush uncontrollably.

‘How were you going to make me if I said no?’ he teased.

She giggled like a schoolgirl. ‘I was going to hit you on the head with a club and drag you there by the leg!’

He laughed. ‘Did you drive?’

‘No,’ she answered, moving closer. ‘I was hoping we could go together.’

They did, and they got to the Waldorf Astoria in thirty minutes. ‘The organizers booked the hotel in advance. It’s just us,’ Gina explained, as she locked arms with Chris.

Servants greeted them with champagne at the entrance. Chris took the time to marvel at the way the prestigious hotel beamed. There were lights everywhere, perfectly crafted to form Christmas symbols. If only Penny and Daisy could see this, he wished, but there were no minors present. It wasn’t like he wanted them at this function. The place reeked of perfume and artificial personalities, the two things that put him off parties.

‘Christopher!’ called the Chief from behind him. Boy, he looked fulfilled! Christopher thought, shaking his extended hand. Instinctively, he tried to pull away from Gina, who had her arms firmly locked around his elbow like glue.

‘I see you two have reconnected!’ he continued, tapping Christopher on the shoulder. ‘Isn’t it lovely what they did with the place? The organizers outdid themselves. Splendid stuff!’

Christopher gave a weak smile and looked above the Chief to the feminine eyes that were on him. Yeah, he had that effect on them, he admitted, and if not for his tumultuous life, he would have enjoyed the attention. Succumbing to hunger, he helped himself to several canap├ęs as Gina engaged him in what seemed to be a funny conversation because she was grinning a lot, but he wasn’t listening. His eyes examined her features as she spoke. Her blond hair was bone-straight and perfectly cut at the edges. She had a model-like body, untainted by stress or hormones, and her legs were long, smooth, and delicate, and he had a good view because her yellow dress barely covered her knees. She was a sight to behold, 

a true goddess.

‘Gina,’ Chris uttered softly, interrupting her. ‘Yes, Chris?’ she said in response, putting her champagne glass close to her lips to hide how nervous she was.

‘I’m sorry, but I can’t do this.’

Her face turned pale, but she masked her expression quickly with a smile.

‘Do what, Chris?’ she asked, feigning ignorance.

He sighed heavily and continued, ‘I know what you want, and I can’t give it to you. As much as I don’t want to admit this, I still have strong feelings for Sarah, and they frustrate the hell out of me. I thought coming here would help me see things differently, but it has made it all so clear to me now.’

Chris could pick Gina’s jaw off the floor.

Her heels almost gave way as she tried to regain her composure.

‘I can’t believe what you have just said!’ Gina said in a hushed tone. ‘She almost ruined you, Chris! What more does she have to do to prove to you that she’s just a useless street worker that brings nothing but trouble? Kill you?’

He supported her with a hand at her back, drawing gasps from onlookers. ‘Probably,’ he admitted. ‘but even when that happens, my heart won’t listen.’

Gina grew desperate, ‘I don’t believe this. What does she have that I don’t have? Kids? We can have kids of our own, Chris. Don’t do this to me, again!’

He smiled as he held her shoulders. ‘Regina, it was never you. It was always me. You will find someone worthy of you once you set yourself free.’

‘I want you,’ she continued, trying to meet his eyes. ‘She isn’t worthy of you. I made a mistake all those years ago stepping aside for her. I won’t do that again.’

There was no getting through to her, Chris thought. He turned around and headed to the bar to get a stiff drink. Gina didn’t go after him. She stood there, shaking like a leaf before her father rushed to her side.

‘What happened? People are staring,’ he whispered as he scanned the hall for prying eyes.

Gina gave him a steely look. ‘That thing you were going to do, do it!’ she ordered.

The Chief grabbed a whiskey from a waiter passing by and kept his eyes on Christopher.

‘It’s in progress, my dear,’ he said after a sip.

They had their eyes on him, but Christopher had his back to them, sipping on the cocktail the bartender concocted for him while attempting to analyze his feelings. At least, he now understood the source of his frustration. Christopher had to be honest. She was trying to change, and maybe all he needed to do was give her a chance.

He sighed then saw his phone blinking from the corner of his eye.

Unknown number.

These blasted calls were getting too frequent, and they bothered him. They never said anything when he answered. It was like they were listening to him breathe.

He turned around and looked for the Chief, who was now walking towards him with a somber expression. He must have spoken with Gina, Chris concluded. At some point that evening, he was going to square with the man, but this was more pressing. For all he knew, It could be the judge, seeking revenge for the death of his brother. The Chief sat beside Christopher and ordered a drink of his own.

Chief, I need to tell you something,’ he said nervously.
‘Tell me what, my boy?’ the Chief asked, facing him.
The phone rang again, and Chris answered this time and slowly put the phone to his ear, feeling the hairs around his neck rise as he did.
‘BOO!’ he heard before the hall lights went out, and the shooting began.

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