Part 3

Nate shook his head. “No, I pop in from time to time to check on Grandpa. He lives in an assisted living facility a few blocks from Shepherd’s. He likes his family to visit, but he doesn’t want us to hover. He enjoys his independence.”

They looked at some of the Christmas displays in store windows. Under her direction, they arrived in front of her apartment building too soon.

“We’re here,” she said, stopping on the sidewalk. She turned to face him. “Thank you for walking me home, Nate. I appreciated your company.”

He looked directly into her eyes and smiled. “It was my pleasure, Miranda. I hope we’ll meet again.” He patted his pockets. “Oh, Grandpa asked me to get your telephone number. He wants to invite you to dinner.”

“That’s nice,” she said, “I’d like that.” She found a wrinkled store receipt in her pocket. Smoothing it against the door of the building, she took the pen Nate offered and wrote down her cell phone number. She handed it to Nate, feeling a shock when their fingers touched. Did he feel it too? Their gazes met.

Clearing his throat, he took a moment to read the number, then stuffed the paper into his coat pocket. She wondered if he would call her, but he didn’t say so.

“Grandpa’s a great cook. He fixes a mean lasagna. His baked chicken is exceptional, and his pot roast melts in your mouth. He likes cooking,” Nate said.

“A man of many talents.” Wishing for an excuse to extend their time together, Miranda pulled her key from her pocket. “Thanks again, Nate.” She reached for the building’s main door.

“Allow me,” he said, opening the door and stepping back. “Good night Miranda. I have to go back. Grandpa’s waiting for me to take him home.” He held the door open longer than necessary.

“Good night, Nate.” She waved as he let the door shut behind her. She felt bereft as he walked out of sight. She climbed the stairs and unlocked her apartment door. A street light shining in her windows illuminated her few furnishings–a futon, a small table with two chairs,  and a dresser. One medium-sized closet held her hanging clothes and some boxes. The kitchenette cupboards and drawers held her few pots and pans and dishes.

She looked out, imagining where Nate might be walking at the moment. Was he thinking about her?

Miranda showered, put on her pajamas and robe, and pulled the box of Christmas decorations from the closet. A tiny table tree for the center of her table, two strings of lights around her windows. a ceramic angel that had been her mother’s, and a stuffed snowman completed her decorations. Tomorrow after work she would begin Christmas shopping for her family. She hoped to find a few Black Friday bargains. She sighed. She missed the Christmas shopping trips with her mom and sisters, a tradition until her mother’s death five years ago.

On the way to work in the morning, Miranda breathed in the cool, fresh air before it became heavy with exhaust fumes from passing vehicles. House sparrows chirped and flitted from sidewalk to  window ledge. Today a staff of single employees ran the public relations office where she worked so employees with families could have the day off. She didn’t mind. As a receptionist with entry-level pay, the promised bonus pay and one less day spent alone attracted her.

The quiet of the break room at break time surprised her. She filled a paper cup with water from the water cooler and sat at the table. Several co-workers joined her there.

“So, did you get stuffed yesterday, Mirandy?” said a young man with red hair and freckles.

Startled, Miranda looked at him. His green eyes smiled, and his lips twitched. Ronnie Clayton, known as the office clown and official tease, had never voluntarily spoken to her before.

She shrugged. “I did something new yesterday, as a matter of fact, Ronnie.”

“Oh, is that so?” He leaned forward. “What new thing did you do?”

Miranda supposed that his condescending tone was better than being a non-person in the office. She said, “I volunteered at The Shepherd’s Kitchen on State Street.”

“Oh, I’ve heard of that. I’m glad there’s a place for street people to get food, especially on the holidays,” said Zoey Canner, who sat a computer with her back to Miranda most of the time. They spoke to each other, but Miranda had never had a real conversation with her.

“So you didn’t get stuffed. You helped stuff a lot of turkeys,” Ronnie quipped. He laughed at his joke.

Zoey and Miranda frowned.

Ronnie’s smile faded. “I think my coffee needs more sugar.” He got up.

“News! News!” called out another co-worker from advertising as he entered the break room.

Grateful for a change of topics the women turned to the newcomer.

“What news?” said Ronnie.

The other man poured his coffee and turned to lean against the counter. “News of the company Christmas party. The date’s been announced.”

As the others discussed the details of the annual event, Miranda decided not to go. The thought of partying with a group of almost strangers, including company executives, gave her butterflies in her stomach.

Zoey leaned against Miranda’s desk after break. “So, are you going?”