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A Merry Little Christmas

Lonely Hearts

Snooping Around

Lonely Hearts
By Amanda Berendt
Copyright February 2004

    It was early February and Hope Keating was sitting in the lounge of TechLabs with her fellow lab assistants. She had taken the job not long after Nan had died. It was something to focus on until she figured things out, plus it paid the bills. She was having lunch with three of her co-workers - Mark, Sarah, and Melanie.
    Hope sat at the far end of the table chewing on the turkey sandwich she had picked up from the deli on her way into work that morning. She half listened in as the others discussed their plans for Valentine's Day. Melanie was going out for dinner and dancing with her boyfriend, Sarah was spending a quiet evening at home with her husband, and Mark was telling the ladies his plans to propose to his girlfriend.
    When he finished, he glanced over at Hope. "So, Hope." He said. "What are you doing?"
    She looked up and swallowed the bite of sandwich she had been chewing on. "Nothing."
    Sarah turned her attention to Hope as well. "Nothing?"
    "What about that guy of yours?" Melanie asked, poking Hope's arm. Suddenly, very interested, the other two scooted closer.
    Hope turned to the group. "What guy?" she asked, bewildered.
    "That guy who always calls and leaves you messages about what time you should come over, or that he'll meet you at your place." Melanie said with a smile. "What's his name again?"
    Then it dawned on Hope. "Nick is just a friend." She paused as the others looked at her disbelieving. "Actually, he was a close friend of my grandmother's. We are just working on a project together."
    "I'll bet you are." Mark said as they got up from the table.
    The trio continued taking jabs at Hope as they threw out their garbage and returned to the lab. She was grateful for the heavy workload that afternoon so she wouldn't have to deal with their comments.
    As she drove home that evening, she wondered if this was what it had been like for Nan. There was something about Nick that drew women to him. It was probably something inherent in the vampire - a way to attract prey. But like her grandmother, Hope knew that a certain distance had to be kept. Nick knew it as well. So the attraction that existed between Nick and any woman could never be acted upon without serious repercussions. No matter what anyone else may think, it would always be 'just friends.'
    She pulled her car into the garage at 101 Gateway and took the elevator up to the loft. Stepping inside, she shrugged off her coat and hung it on the coat rack by the door. She kicked off her sneakers and padded into the kitchen to start dinner - a gourmet frozen dinner cooked in the microwave.
    Five minutes later, she carried her dinner and a glass of iced tea over to the television. She glanced at the clock on the stereo as she set her food down. 5.15pm. Nick would be up and getting ready for his class. He had invited her a couple of times to sit in, but she kept putting it off. She wasn't really that interested in history, although learning from someone who had actually been there might make it more palatable.
    She sat down on the rug in front of the television and turned it on. Sitting alone in the warm glow of the evening news, she ate her dinner.

    Nick sat alone at the desk in his study. Angel had curled up on the corner of the desk and was sleeping soundly. He had gotten up early to grade some papers. He had promised his students they'd get them back within the week. As he sat reading paper after paper on the rise of feudalism, he glanced at the calendar. It was February 12th. An audible sigh escaped his lips, causing the cat to raise her head sleepily to see what had disturbed her owner. He hated this time of year. At least this year no one was bugging him about who he was, or wasn't dating. He smiled, glad that he was still a bit of an enigma to the other staff at the university.
    At almost every place he had worked over the years, he had had to dodge the subject of his love life, or lack thereof. Everyone assumed because he was young, good-looking and single that he was a ladies man. It would spill over to any woman he was close to. He smiled to himself, making a mental note not to call Hope at work any more.
    Later that evening, he was packing up his briefcase as the class filed out of the lecture hall. When he reached to grab his coat from the back of his chair, he saw that one of the seats in the back was still occupied. He set down the case and walked up the aisle, stopping next to the desk.
    The occupant had their head down and was snoring softly. He smiled and touched the person's arm. Startled, the person sat up. It was Hope.
    She glanced around at the empty room, then up at Nick. "Oh god. I'm sorry, Nick."
    Nick smiled. "Don't worry about it. It happens. What brings you here?"
    "Well you *did* invite me." She stood up and grabbed her coat. "The lecture was actually pretty cool. I liked that stuff about Saint Valentine. Sorry I fell asleep. Work's been pretty tough lately."
    Nick fell into step beside her as they walked back to the front of the classroom. "Too much work to do?"
    She laughed. "Actually no. That's the problem. Everyone has too much free time on their hands." She continued off his questioning look as he grabbed his things.  "They've had a bit too much time to work their imaginations around my non-existent love life."
    Nick nodded, smiling. "I know the feeling well." He held the classroom door open for her, then locked it behind them. Hope continued. "It's like people can't believe that a man and a woman can just be friends. Also, not everyone needs a significant other to validate their existence."
    "So you're not looking for a 'significant other'?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.
    She paused in the hallway. Was he asking her directly, or was he just adding to the conversation? "It's not that, really. I've just never really been too lucky in the relationship area." she sighed. "Most guys don't like a strong woman. I guess I come across as too independent or something."
    They stood there in the empty hallway in silence for several minutes. Both sensed that this was not the direction they wanted to follow at this moment. It was getting a bit to personal for comfort.
    Hope broke the silence. "Are you doing anything this Saturday?"
    "Not that I know of, why?"
    Hope paused wondering if this had been a mistake. "Well, since I have usually spent Valentine's Day alone, a couple of years ago I got tired of feeling sorry for myself, so I started a Lonely Hearts movie night."
    "A what?"
    She smiled, relaxing a bit. "I do the opposite of what you'd think to do on Valentine's Day. I pig out on junk food and watch the least romantic movies I can find. Did you want to join me?"
    This time Nick laughed. "Sure, why not."
    When they reached Nick's car in the parking lot, Hope said "My car's right over there. I guess I'll see you on Saturday. Come by around seven-ish. I'll stock up for you." She waved good-bye as she walked away towards her Explorer.

    Valentine's Day. Hope had just finished the ever so romantic task of putting away her laundry and was heading downstairs when the buzzer rang.
    Crossing the living room, she pressed the button for the security camera and saw Nick standing outside holding a grocery bag.
    She pressed the intercom. "You know Nick, I gave you the code for a reason. You don't have to ring the bell." She laughed as he apologized and buzzed him in.
    When the elevator opened, she met him at the door and took the brown grocery bag from his arms. She smiled as she unpacked the bag and laid out a nice assortment of snacks and treats.
    "I wasn't sure what you liked." Nick smiled sheepishly.
    "Hey, if it is bad for you, I like it." She giggled.
    Nick took off his overcoat and hung it on the coat rack by the door. Uncharactisically, he was wearing faded blue jeans and a plain white tshirt.
    "What movies did you get?" He asked returning to the kitchen.
    "I got your typical Valentine's fare - Nightmare on Elm Street, X-men, Aliens, stuff like that." She said as she put a bag of popcorn in the microwave. "Oh, and just so I can watch you, I got Bela Lugosi's Dracula."
    Nick chose not to take the bait as he stepped past her to get a bottle from the fridge. Grabbing a glass from the cabinet with his free hand, he headed off towards the television.
    When the microwave chimed, Hope took out the popcorn and poured it into a large bowl. She took the bowl, a six pack of coke and as much of the junk food as she could carry and followed Nick to the entertainment area.
    He was sliding a dvd into the player as she sat down on the couch and arranged her snacks around her. She used the universal remote to dim the lights and slid over to allow Nick to sit beside her on the couch.
    When the copyright announcement dissolved into the menu screen, Nick grinned and leaned over to Hope. "Get your notepad ready." He said as the opening titles of Dracula appeared on the television screen.
    Two hours later as the credits rolled by, Hope sat up. "You know, when you know a real vampire, this movie is even dumber than usual."
    Nick laughed and got up to get a new bottle from the kitchen. Hope stood up to take the dvd out of the player and put a new one in. Nick came back to the couch and sat down. He placed his glass on the end table as Hope flopped down on the couch next to him.
    When the movie began, Nick stiffened. It was the old black and white version of King Kong.
    Noticing his discomfort, Hope turned to him. "Is something wrong?"
    "No, it's ok. Just memories of another time." he said quietly.
    She paused the movie. "Did you want me to put in something else?" she said starting to get up.
    He reached out, touching her arm to stop her. "Really, it's fine. Nat used to love this movie. I haven't seen it in a very long time." He paused for a moment, remembering. "She even used to cry at the end."
    Hope leaned closer to him and put her hand on his arm. "I keep forgetting how close you two were. You really miss her, don't you?"
    He looked into her eyes and smiled. "Yes. It's hard sometimes, knowing she's really gone. But now I have Hope." He put his arm around her and pulled her close. She leaned against his chest and started the movie again.
    "Nick?" she said leaning her head against his shoulder.
    "I cry at the end too."