She wanted twenty-four hundred, but I jewed her down.
Christmas bells rang out, the churchgoers shuffling in for mass. I sat on the bench in the park opposite, watching the shadow of the steeple on the snow. Minutes ticked by, the doors to the vestible closed, and I was alone again. Then there came the familiar crunch of boots.
"Roger?" she said. I nodded. "I'm Kate."
The picture on Craigslist had done her justice: cute face, with just the trace of acne scars to give it character. The snowjacket she was wearing covered her too well, but she moved lightly and didn't have the puffiness of the face I associated with people that could stand to lose a few pounds.
I stood up, and we shook hands. Then I handed her the envelope, and she huddled closer for a minute to count it, and I could smell her perfume. Something musky, just a hint of citrus. She nodded and put it away.
"So." Kate said. "What do you want to do with me?"
Somewhere a church chimed one as Kate quietly opened the door to her apartment. The tree in the corner was a shaggy plastic thing, not even full-sized, but the lights burned and blinked red and green and white. The floor beneath it was empty.
Danny was on the couch, under a blanket, looking out the window. The lights of the passing cars illuminated his face, still awake. He looked up as Kate came in, took off her coat and boots. She couldn't quite supress a wince as she bent down a little. He went back to watching the cars, and she limped over and laid down on her side next to him.
"Hey," she said.
"Hey." he said.
"Did you have a nice day? Get something to eat?"
"Yeah. Where were you?"
"Mommy had to work, sweetheart."
"I thought everything was closed today."
"Mommy had a customer."
They watched a couple black and whites speed by, lights flashing, and an ambulance followed blaring its horn.
"I thought we were going to have Christmas together." he said.
"We are, baby." Kate said. "We're gonna get up early tomorrow and hit the sales, and I'll buy you a bunch of presents."
"It's not the same."
"I know baby."
"Why did you have to work today?"
"Some people don't have anyone else baby. Some people are all alone."
Kate worked her arms around the boy and held him close.
"Not like us?" he said.
"No baby. Not like us."
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