Read Purely Unconditional: A Romantic Tale of Snow Days and Second Chances Online

Authors: Bethany Hensel

Tags: #holiday short story, #christmas short story, #free holiday romance, #free christmas book, #free christmas short story, #free holiday short story

Purely Unconditional: A Romantic Tale of Snow Days and Second Chances

PURELY UNCONDITIONAL

BY: BETHANY HENSEL

 

Copyright © 2015 by Bethany Hensel

 

Purely Unconditional

 

Smashwords Edition

 

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the
express written permission of the author except for the use of
brief quotations in a book review.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products
of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any
resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is
purely coincidental.

Table of Contents

 

Dedication

Chapter One: The List

Chapter Two: Make Up, Shake Up, and Jack
Brandes

Chapter Three: Lunch Time Challenges

Chapter Four: Snow Globe and Saxophone

Chapter Five: Snow Day

Chapter Six: A New List

Acknowledgments

A
Note from the Author

Sweetly Irresistible Sneak Peek

For Mom and
Dad, always

 

And Heather Stewart

You’ve talked me down from the ledge again!

Chapter One

The List

 

There are certain things in life that are a constant:
Hugh Jackman will never not be hot, sleeping in will never not be
awesome, and Layla Ellison will never not bring over cupcakes
whenever someone is feeling down.

“And look,” she says, popping off the lid on her
plastic container, “I even made them with green sprinkles, your
favorite.”

“That’s sweet, but I’m not over here crying my eyes
out.”

She unwinds herself from her coat, two scarves,
gloves and her winter boots. I notice she’s wearing
three
shirts.

“Cold?”

She gives me a look as we head to the couch. She sets
her container on my coffee table. She says, “Okay, one is just a
spaghetti-strap, the other is a t-shirt, and then I have my
sweater. It’s freezing out.”

“You want me to turn up the heat?”

“No. I want you to tell me why you sounded so upset
on the phone yesterday.”

I sigh. It’s not like I was about to throw myself off
a bridge or lock myself in my room and never get out of bed. It was
just a particularly long day at work and I was in a shitty mood. No
more, no less. I tell Layla this and she gives me a look. I give
her a look. After we trade our patented looks several more times
back and forth, I finally give in.

“Alright,” I say. I turn of the D.R. Gibbs Christmas
special on TV, then I pick up an ornament of a small polar bear
holding a present and hand it to Layla. “But you can help me
decorate the tree while we talk.”

“With pleasure.” Layla accepts the ornament and
together, we tackle the huge box of decorations. My fatso gray cat,
Denny Crane, hops on the table and starts digging around. I put him
on the floor. He hops up again. I repeat. He hops up and when I try
to lift him, he swats my hand.

Layla laughs and scratches him on the head. “You are
so cute. You are the cutest thing ever, besides my two fur babies.
Such a sweet little guy. I’d love to have a cat like you in the
house.”

“Don’t get any ideas. Between those two dogs of
yours, I don’t think a cat would stand a chance. And by the way, my
sweet little guy
drew blood.” I cradle my hand.

Layla just grins. She puts on a red flower. “Talk,”
she says. “I’ve got all day.”

I grab a small cat ornament—spitting image of my
little Denny Crane. “I guess I was feeling in a funk yesterday. I
don’t know. Maybe it was work or something.”

“What happened?”

I shrug. “I just...everyone is getting ready for
Christmas break and they were all talking about their plans. And I
just felt”—another shrug—“I don’t know…left out.”

Layla places a silver ball on a branch. She glances
at me but not for long. And for that, I’m grateful. It’s harder to
confess stuff when you have to look someone square in the eyes.

I continue, “I tried to chime in. Really. But then I
thought about it and was like, wow, I sound like a loser.”

“You are not.”

I place the cat ornament on the tree. “Well, it
doesn’t exactly make me sound like a winner to say I’m spending
Christmas break at home, in pj’s, with my cat, binge-watching
Netflix and eating too much candy.” I make a face. “Everyone was
talking about their vacations and all these plans. I had no thing
to contribute.”

“That’s why you were feeling shitty?”

“Partly.” I glance at Layla. The lights from the tree
reflect off her vanilla-blond hair and her perfect peach-toned
cheeks. I think the only thing peachy about me is the shape of my
body—round and a bit fuzzy. (It’s winter. I don’t shave a lot in
winter.)

“So what’s the other part of that partly?”

I take a breath. I open my mouth, but just like at
work, I think about the words I’m about to say and it all sounds so
stupid. I pick up another ornament. I hang it on the tree. I pick
up another and another.

“Do you think I’m putting too many red balls next to
the candy canes?”

Layla doesn’t even glance at the spot on the tree I’m
looking at. She faces me square, hands on hips. “Stop trying to
change the subject. As the reigning queen of a land called Changing
the Subject When You’re Uncomfortable, I know a loyal subject when
I see one. So stop feeling self-conscious, because I know you are
right now, and just tell me. Do you want me to look away? Will that
make you feel better?”

My shoulders droop. “You know what? A cupcake will
make me feel better.”

“Don’t need to tell me twice.”

Layla and I sit on the couch and each grab a sugary
confection. I almost moan aloud at the burst of flavors.

“Oh my God,” I say, “you really need to bake these
all the time for me. Or open a bakery so I can visit all the
time.”

“Trust me, I’m trying.”

All too soon, my slice of heaven is gone. Time to
face the music. “Do you think my life is empty?”

Layla doesn’t hesitate. “No. Do you?”

I don’t hesitate. “Yes. I mean, I think. I mean, I
don’t know. I’d like to think that I live a very fulfilling and
meaningful life. But lately, I am looking at the facts of what I do
and, while I’m not saying I’m dirt around a toilet or
anything—”

“Ew.”

”—I can honestly say that I wake up, I eat, I work, I
watch TV, and then I sleep. That’s it. Not much variation. And…” I
trail off. I look at my pretty Christmas tree, coming along but
still needs finished; my cozy living room, full of second-hand
furniture but tidy and neat. It’s all okay, very livable, but
there’s just something missing.

“What?” Layla asks.

My breath leaves me on a long sigh. I feel deflated.
“I’m wondering if I’m wasting my life.”

For the first time since she walked in, her face
scrunches and her eyes are filled with concern. “So what are you
saying? You want to…move? Change jobs?”

“No. Nothing that drastic. I mean, whether I live in
Silver Lake or Chicago won’t change that I feel lonely. Or, maybe
that’s not the right word. I just feel like I need to shake things
up a bit. I need to do more, experience more.” I give her a flat
look. “It’s the weekend and I’m wearing beige. Who does that? Who
owns beige casual-wear?”

She grins.

“Furthermore, who, at twenty-nine, has never been out
of the country? Or out of the state? Because I haven’t done either,
and that’s weird.”

“It’s not weird.”

“It’s weird.”

She shrugs. “Maybe a bit unconventional. But there’s
nothing wrong with your life—”

“No, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong. I’m just
saying that maybe there’s something
more.
And I feel like
I’m missing it.”

Denny Crane hops up. His purr is as loud as a car
engine, which is surprising considering how fat he is. You’d think
all that blubber would muffle the sound. He looks at me with wide
eyes. I reach out to pet him and snuggles down on Layla’s lap.

“Thanks,” I mumble.

Layla chuckles. “Alright. I get what you’re saying, I
do. And trust me, I’ve been there.”

“Yeah, but you’re not there anymore.” I think about
what Layla has gone through the past few months—no, the past few
years—and I am once again so in awe of her I feel like a
kindergartner meeting her hero for the first time. “You kicked ass
and made things happen. You changed your life. Maybe it’s time I
changed mine.”

“So what do you want to do?”

That’s the problem and the million dollar question:
what do I want to do? I meant it when I said I don’t want to move.
It’d be the same story in a different location: I’d work, I’d eat,
I’d sleep. No, no. Change of venue wouldn’t change anything. And I
don’t want to switch jobs, either. I actually really love my job. I
work at Silver Lake Community Resource and Aid, a company that
helps people who are down on their luck get back on their feet. We
have the usual offices, but we also have a start of the art
computer lab, legal and financial departments and we offer
counseling. So a person may call because they need food stamps but
they don’t have a computer to apply, or don’t understand how to
apply. Or maybe they need to sign up for health insurance and the
entire website goes beyond them. We have an entire team devoted to
meeting with these people in our computer lab and walking them
through the process. Or another person may call and need legal
counsel. The lawyers at SLCRA offer it either pro bono or at a very
minimal cost.

We do tons more and as a case administrator, I handle
putting the people who call in touch with the best people to help
them. I love my job. I feel like I actually help and matter and get
results.

Yeah, quitting jobs isn’t the answer. I’d be
forfeiting the one thing that actually makes me feel good for a
position most likely in retail. That would not make me feel good.
Cleaning the dressing rooms alone would just send me over the
edge.

“You know what?” I say, reaching for another cupcake.
“I’m not sure what I want to do. But I can tell you what I don’t
want to do. I don’t want to watch while my life passes me by. And
that’s exactly what I feel like is happening.” I peel back the foil
on the cake. I shake my head. “I think back to all the times I
could’ve said yes. That I
should’ve
said yes. In high school
when I had the chance to go to Rome with my senior class but said
no. In college when I had the chance to dorm and experience all
that but instead stayed home. Or when guys were actually interested
in me and calling and flirting and I turned them down.” I growl.
“God, why didn’t I say yes? I should’ve said yes. To it all. I
should’ve just said yes.”

“Well, maybe not yes to every
guy
...”

“And why not? Isn’t that what we should be doing?
Going out, having fun. I mean, I should be talking about the latest
bad date I’ve had and how I’m scared I have an STD. Instead, I sit
and talk about the newest episode of the Flash.” I give Layla a
quick grin. “Thanks for introducing me to that show, by the
way.”

“Isn’t it the best?”

I nod. Then: “So you see? You see my problem?”

“Well, why do you think you’ve always said no?” At my
shrug, she says, “Come on. Think about it. Maybe this will help
you.”

Doing as she says, I try to recall all the
opportunities that have presented themselves. The memories are
hazy, but one thing is clear: the way I felt while I was being
asked. Like my skin was shrinking, like I was being shoved on stage
to sing a song I had know idea what the lyrics were.

“I guess,” I finally say, “I’m just not good around
people. I don’t like being in situations I’m not familiar with. I’m
not shy, but I’m not…open. I’m not extroverted like you.”

“Like me?” She scoffs. “You think I’m extroverted,
let me never introduce you to my friend, Natalie. She’d make Howard
Stern blush.” She quickly adds, “She’s a sweetheart, though. Total
teddy bear.”

I take a bite of the cupcake. “Why can’t my life be
as good as your desserts taste?”

“Why can’t it be?”

“Well, to be honest, while I say that I want to shake
things up, the thought of actually doing it makes me a little
queasy. My life is boring but—

“You’re used to it. I know. Like I said, I’ve been
there. But you can’t stay there. If you feel something is missing,
than it is.”

I make a face and put my hand on my stomach. “I’m
feeling sort of sick just talking about it.”

“I know that feeling. I get it every time I stand in
line to ride the Silver Bullet at the fair grounds. But you know
what? I’m always glad I do it.”

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