Connie Cox

Christmas Eve Delivery

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her backpack and wriggling her arms through the straps, she breathed deeply to gather her strength for wrestling her rolling suitcase from the back seat.

      “Since Jordan has hired you sans interview, Nancy said to bring you here and she would get everything sorted out later.” Sissy swept her hand to indicate the house before her. “Home, sweet home.”

      Deseré felt like Sissy was waiting for a reply.

      “It’s large,” she answered politely, reserving judgment until she saw the inside of the house.

      Sissy nudged her aside and pulled the suitcase out for her, handling it like it was full of popcorn. “I’ll carry this one for you.”

      Normally, Deseré would have protested, but she didn’t have it in her. Instead, she muttered a tired “Thanks” and pulled her purse and smaller duffel bag from the front seat of the car.

      On autopilot, she followed Sissy up the three steps to the front porch then through the wooden and etched-glass front door.

      Sissy paused as she looked down the short wing to the left then up to the second floor. She bit her lower lip and her brow creased as she seemed to be puzzling out a dilemma. “I’m not sure where to put you.”

      “Anywhere is fine.” Deseré mustered up a polite smile, wondering how many other tenants shared the boarding house.

      Sissy quit deliberating and nodded her head. “Okay, then. This way.” She headed up a staircase lit with just enough wall sconces to cast shadows on the floral patterned carpet runner covering each oak-plank step, dragging Deseré’s large suitcase over each one.

      Deseré didn’t need to respond. She would only have been talking to Sissy’s back. Instead, she meekly followed the diminutive woman hefting the large suitcase to the end of the hallway to the left.

      Sissy swung open the last door to reveal a bedroom. The room was enormous, bigger than the whole living room and den combination in Deseré’s old apartment.

      The sight of that luxurious bed put the rest of the room into the background. A huge queen-size bed held a half-dozen big pillows propped against the headboard and the promise of sweet dreams.

      A calming lavender color scheme and trophies and blue ribbons displayed on every inch of shelf space gave the room a mixed attitude of super-girly but highly competitive.

      “This was my room before I moved out. I should probably pack up some of this stuff, huh? But the closet’s cleared out so at least you can unpack.” She pointed to a closed door next to a substantial desk. “The bathroom’s through that door.”

      Sissy dumped the suitcase outside the bifold louvered doors of a closet then shoved aside a group of trophies on a wide chest of drawers, took Deserés duffel bag from her and plopped it onto the cleared space.

      An unexpected expression of doubt crossed Sissy’s eyes. “I hope this will do.”

      “It’s great.” Deseré didn’t need to dredge up a fake smile. It came quite naturally as she emphasized her answer. “Really. It’s wonderful.”

      “Well, okay, then.” Sissy looked out into the hallway, obviously ready to make her exit. “I’m sure Jordan will straighten out any questions you might have in the morning.”

      Absently, Deseré nodded, wishing Sissy would leave. Falling into that lovely bed and stretching out her back was the only thing she wanted to straighten out right now.

      “Good night, then.” Sissy didn’t wait for a reply. Her duty done, she started out the bedroom door.

      “Good night,” Deseré said to Sissy’s retreating backside, then closed the door as soon as she thought it polite to do so.

      Her first inclination was to fall into that bed and sleep for a week. But her mouth had a sour taste that couldn’t be ignored and grit coated her face and hands.

      Cleanliness warred with exhaustion. A quick wash-up would be worth the extra time and energy.

      Opening the solid door next to the desk, Deseré was sure she’d opened the door to bathroom heaven.

      The modernized bathroom was the size of a normal bedroom, with two basins and a huge vanity. The size of each of the basins put the discount store’s basins she’d been spot-bathing in to shame. A wall-to-wall mirror hung over the vanity, reflecting the light from nickel-plated fixtures that caught the atmosphere of farmhouse yet produced enough light for professional make-up application.

      An alcove held the toilet separately from the frosted glass doors, which must hide the shower enclosure.

      Immediately, every inch of skin on Deseré’s body wanted scrubbing. She couldn’t stop herself from wondering where Jordan would be showering tonight. Would anyone be washing his back?

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