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Authors: Richard Paul Evans

Tags: #Nightmare

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BOOK: The Mistletoe Promise
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Often what we see clearest in others is what we most avoid seeing in ourselves.

Elise Dutton’s Diary

The encounter left me a little dazed. I didn’t tell anyone about it. Actually, I didn’t really have anyone to tell. The person at work I spent the most time with was my colleague Zoey, and I definitely wouldn’t be telling her. You don’t know Zoey, but you do. Every company, every school in the world has a Zoey—the kind of girl who attracts male attention like a porch light attracts moths. She was naturally beautiful, skinny without starving or Zumba, born with a body that designers design for. She even looked good without makeup, which I knew for a fact since she usually spent the first hour at work applying it.

Even worse than being beautiful was that she knew it. A few months after I started at ICE, before I really even knew her, she offered to give me some makeup, which sounded like her saying that I could be pretty if I tried. I think what hurt the most about her offer was that, whether she meant to convey that message or not, it was true. I didn’t take care of myself. After Dan, my ex-husband, divorced me, I just sort of let things slide. Not completely, but enough to change. I put on a little weight, and stopped spending time
at the mirror or buying clothes. I guess I was treating myself the way I felt—undesirable.

At the opposite extreme, Zoey was in her prime with a perpetually full roster of men, with someone always up to bat and someone always on deck, ready to fill in when she tired of the current player. She was the one our company’s airline and hotel reps, mostly balding, middle-aged men, would plan their office visits around. I worked a trade show with her once, and the whole time men circled our booth like vultures over carrion. Zoey ate it up. Why wouldn’t she?

What I had said to the lawyer about eating alone at lunch was true, mostly. One of us was supposed to watch the phones, but that’s what voice mail is for, right? The real reason I hated to eat lunch with Zoey was because all I ended up doing was politely listening to her myriad stories of affairs and conquests while I sat there feeling frumpy and old. It’s easy to hate the game when you’re losing.



I can’t believe that I’m actually considering this man’s proposal. Am I crazy, desperate or just really lonely? Probably all of the above.

Elise Dutton’s Diary

That weekend, all I could think about was the proposition.
Who was this guy and what did he want? What was his motive?
I  suppose, on a deeper level, the bigger question (considering how lonely I was) was
Why was I even questioning his motive?
Why couldn’t he be exactly what he claimed to be? Was that really so hard to accept?

My father used to say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—but if it’s already broke, it don’t matter what you do.” My life was definitely broken. So why not? Really, what did I have to lose? I even asked myself,
What would Zoey do?
I knew what she’d do. She’d say, “You only live once, girl,” and she’d buckle up for the ride. I suppose that my mind was probably somewhere in Zoeyland when I decided to say yes.

The next Monday, Nicholas arrived in the food court about a half hour after I’d started eating.

“Hi, Elise,” he said. “How’s your salad?”


“How was your weekend?”

“The usual,” I said, even though it was definitely anything but.

He sat down across from me. “Did you come to a decision?”

“Right to the point,” I said. I set down my plastic fork. “So, hypothetically, let’s say that I said yes. What would this arrangement look like?”

He smiled. “First, we write up a contract.”

“Why, you don’t trust me?”

“Contracts are not always so much a matter of trust as they are a matter of understanding. This way we’ll be more likely to meet each other’s expectations.”

I should have had one of those before my marriage,
I thought.

He leaned in closer. “Let me tell you what I had in mind. I’ll pay for all meals, transportation, and admissions. We’ll have lunch together when possible and, in addition to the social functions, I’ll take you to dinner or some holiday-themed event at least once a week, and I’ll send you something, a gift, each weekday up until the end of the contract. Then, at midnight on Christmas Eve, the agreement terminates and we go back to our lonely, pathetic lives.”

“If I agree, how do we start?”

“We’ll begin by going through each other’s calendars and determining what events we can attend. It’s two-sided, of course. If you’d like, I’ll attend your events as well.”

I thought a moment more, then, with his eyes locked onto mine, said, “All right.”

“All right, let’s do it?” he asked.

I nodded. “Yes. Let’s do it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Why not? Lunch every day?”

“When possible. At least every workday. We’re two days in on that now. It hasn’t been too painful, has it?”

“It’s definitely been interesting. I don’t know about you sending me things.”


I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“You’ll get used to it.”

“Do I have to send you things too?”

“No. I expect nothing but the pleasure of your company.”

I took a deep breath. “Okay. Get me a contract.”

“Great,” he said, standing. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“You’re not having lunch?”

“No. I have a deposition in an hour that I still need to prepare for. I just came down to see you.”

Something about the way he said that pleased me. “All right, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Elise. I don’t think you’ll regret it.”

A minute later, a food court worker said to me, “You have a cute husband.”

“He’s not my husband,” I said. “He’s . . .” I paused. “He’s my boyfriend.”

“Lucky you,” she said.



I’m not sure what I’ve gotten myself into with this contract, but I’m still looking for the fine print.

Elise Dutton’s Diary

The next day Nicholas walked into the food court carrying a leather Coach briefcase. I was sitting at my usual table, waiting for him. He smiled when he saw me. “Shall we eat at Cafe Rio?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said.

We walked together up to the restaurant’s counter. “I’ve never eaten here before,” he said. “What’s good?”

“The sweet pork salad is pretty much my mainstay,” I said.

“Two sweet pork salads,” Nicholas said to the woman who was rolling out tortillas.

“Pinto beans or black beans?” she asked.

Nicholas deferred to me. “I didn’t realize there would be a quiz. I’ll let you take over.”

“Pinto beans,” I said. “With the house dressing. Cheese, no pico.”

“I’ll have the same,” he said.


“The sugar-free lemonade,” I said.

“One sugar-free lemonade and a Coke,” Nicholas said.

He paid for our meals, then, while I got our drinks, he carried our tray over to a table.

“This is pretty good,” he said. “I can see why you have it every day.”

“It may be the most delicious salad ever made,” I replied.

After we had eaten for a few minutes, he reached into his briefcase and brought out some documents. “Here you go,” he said, holding out the papers. “The contract.”

“This looks so

“It’s what I do,” he said.

I looked it over.


“Why mistletoe?”

“You know how, at Christmastime, people show affection under mistletoe to people they’re not necessarily affectionate with?”

“That’s clever,” I said. “Can we change the word
? It sounds too . . . formal.”

“What would you prefer?”

I thought a moment. “How about

“Done,” he said, striking a line through the word
and penning in the rest. “The Mistletoe Promise.”

I looked over the agreement.


This service agreement is made effective as of November 6th by and between

Elise Dutton (Lessor) and Nicholas Derr (Lessee).

“How did you know my last name?”

“I’m a lawyer,” he said, which didn’t really answer my question.

1. DESCRIPTION OF SERVICES. Lessor will exert due effort to provide to Lessee the following services (collectively, the “Services”):

a. Lunch together each weekday as individual schedules permit.

b. At least one evening activity per week through duration of contract.

c. Best effort to demonstrate a caring relationship.

I couldn’t help but think how every relationship would benefit from such an agreement.

2. PAYMENT. In consideration of Lessor’s services, Lessee agrees to pay for all dinners, joint activities, admission fees, travel expenses, etc., for the duration of Contract.

“Travel expenses?” I asked.

“Gas money,” he said. “Mostly.”

If Lessee fails to pay for the Services when due, Lessor has the option to treat such failure to pay as a material breach of this Contract, and may cancel this Contract but not seek legal redress.

3. TERM. This agreement will terminate automatically on December 24, 2012, at 11:59:59

4. LANGUAGE. Lessor and Lessee shall, for the duration of this agreement, refer to each other as
or by any term of endearment including, but not limited to,
sweetie, sweetheart, love, dear, babe, beautiful, cupcake,
and any term found acceptable by both parties.

I looked at him incredulously. “Really?

“I wasn’t planning on using

“Then why did you put it in the contract?”

“In case you were. It’s just an example,” he said. “Granted a poor one. But I don’t know your preferences.”

“I would rather not be called after any food or animal. Actually, avoid any noun.”

“Consider all nouns, especially
stricken from my vocabulary. Does that include

I thought about it. “I guess
is okay. It’s gone mainstream.”

okay,” he said to himself.

I went back to the contract.

5. PLATONIC NATURE OF ARRANGEMENT. This agreement does not constitute, imply, or encourage, directly or indirectly, a physical relationship, other
than what would be considered expected and appropriate public physical contact.

“What does that mean?
physical contact.”

“Nothing exciting,” he said. “Hand-holding in public, that sort of thing.” When I didn’t respond he added, “Things real couples do. For instance, we might hold hands at a company party, at least when walking into the party, but we wouldn’t be holding hands when we are alone, since that obviously wouldn’t be necessary to convince others.”

“I get it,” I said.

6. CONFIDENTIALITY. Lessor and her agents will not at any time or in any manner, either directly or indirectly, divulge, disclose, or communicate in any manner, any information that is proprietary to this agreement and agrees to protect such information and treat it as strictly confidential. This provision will continue to be effective until the termination of this Contract.

7. BREACH OF CONTRACT. If any of the above stipulations are not met, Contract will be considered null and void. No recourse is available.


1. No deep, probing personal questions.

2. No drama.

“Talk to me about these addendums.”

“The first is self-explanatory. We do not ask each other any deep, probing personal questions. It’s irrelevant to our objective and will only cause problems. Do you really want me asking deep personal questions about your life and past?”

I tried to hide the effect the question had on me. “Nope, I’m good.”

“Exactly. This relationship should be so shallow there’s no possibility of drowning.”

“Agreed,” I said. “And the second?”

“No drama. Life’s too short.”


“Then all that’s left is your signature.”

I looked at the signatory line. He had already signed the contract. “Why do I feel like I’m signing away my soul?”

“It’s not an eternity. Just forty-nine days.”

I breathed out. “All right. Do you have a pen?”

“I’m a lawyer. That’s like asking me if I have a lung.”

“As opposed to a heart,” I said.

“Another fan of lawyers,” he said. He extracted a pen from his coat pocket. It was a nice one—a Montblanc. I knew this only because my ex judged a man by the pen he carried. I took the pen from Nicholas and signed the document.

“There are two copies,” he said. “One for your own files. Please sign both.”

“Now you’re really sounding like a lawyer.”

“I am one.”

“So you keep reminding me.” I folded the contract in half and put it in my purse.

When I’d finished eating my salad I said, “I better get back to work.”

“I’ll walk you to the elevator,” he said. As we waited for the elevator he said, “Don’t forget to bring your calendar tomorrow so we can work out our schedule.”

“I’ll be ready.”

As the elevator door opened he leaned forward and kissed my cheek. “Have a good day, dear.”

“Thanks for lunch,” I said. “

He smiled. “This is going to be fun.”

BOOK: The Mistletoe Promise
12.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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