Boston, Massachusetts. Three days before Christmas.
Emma Jones walked down the busy city streets with a lightness that radiated from her head to her toes. Finally, the 29-year-old blonde thought, Christmas is almost here. It was her favorite time of the year; If she could, she’d start decorating the day after Thanksgiving.
“Killian would probably be furious if I tried though,” she mumbled to herself, a flicker of a smile on her face at the thought of her husband of 10 years. He always told her it was better to wait until right before the 25th to decorate, insisting—if they decorated too early—the effect would wear off by the time the holiday finally arrived.
He’s always telling me it’s better to wait for things… and with that melancholy thought, her mood had begun to sour. Adjusting her grey beanie and tightening the zip on her red leather jacket, Emma tried to shake the negative thoughts from her mind. Soon, she told herself.
She continued down the street, hoping to reach the yoga studio she worked at on Wednesdays with enough time to get in a bit more meditation. As she got closer to the studio, however, she couldn’t help but overhear the rather dulcet tones of the Santa Claus standing beside a red bucket in the middle of the square.
“Ho-ho-ho,” the man rather somberly called—lacking the necessary enthusiasm to bring in donations—while halfheartedly ringing a bell.
Emma had proceeded past him but a quick glance at the name on the side of the donation pail halted her steps. Her face softened, and she turned around his shoulder. “Hey Santa,” she smiled. “Tough crowd, huh?”
“I do okay,” the man barely insisted.
“Oh?” Emma looked past him into his bucket. “Eighty-seven cents… and a gum wrapper.” With that, she held out her hand.
“Lady, you’re supposed to give me the donation.”
“Hand over the bell, Santa,” she smirked lightly while wiggling her gloved fingers. The slightly chagrined Clause turned somewhat red beneath his fake beard before passing the instrument over.
Emma thanked him before ringing the bell as enthusiastically as possible. “Merry Christmas, Boston!” She continued with a string of loud ho-ho-ho’s and bell ringing as people began to come forward with donations for the Boston Children’s Orphanage.
After a few more jingles of the bell, she passed it back to the Santa Claus. “Now you try! Come on, from your diaphragm.” The Santa seemed to receive a renewed energy from the young woman’s efforts and the two of them stood for a few more minutes together, passing season’s greetings and encouraging donations from the people of Boston.
Emma smiled at the filling donation bucket before wishing a last “Merry Christmas” and continuing her way to work.
~ · ~
Across the city, 20 stories up in a glistening high-rise, Killian Jones was negotiating yet another “deal of the century”. Emma’s 30-year-old husband was a literary agent with one of the most esteemed agencies in Boston, something he rarely let anyone forget.
“Paperback? Jefferson, don’t insult me.” The agent spat through his Bluetooth to the publisher on the other end while frustratedly running fingers through his inky locks. Jefferson Petasum may be slightly off-kilter from the other publishers Killian negotiated with, but he was also shrewd as they come. It would take more than a little effort on Killian’s part to get this deal. Luckily, Killian was just as cunning as Petasum.
“We’re talking about August Booth here. The guy is a literary giant.” Killian stood from behind his mahogany desk, brushing imaginary lint off his charcoal suit, and strolled before his floor to ceiling windows, glancing at the city beyond. He briefly wondered what Emma was doing down below his sights before his thoughts returned to his business. “You’ve heard of the Pulitzer Prize, yes?”
Barely waiting for a response from Jefferson, Killian continued, “Brilliant, he gets first-run hardcover.”
Jefferson denied his statement from the other end again, insisting that Booth was old news and too far removed from the literary world to warrant hardcovers on the first run.
“All right, Jefferson,” Killian threw his hands in the air—despite knowing the publisher couldn’t see him. “You want to be the bloke who sticks with the bargain bin, that’s lovely. I’ve got Neal Cassidy on hold and he’s—”
Jefferson interrupted Killian’s potential threat by asking for time to consider the deal. “Sure, you can think about it,” Killian paused. “You’ve got a minute,” and before Jefferson could argue further, Killian switched to his other line where he had Cassidy on hold.
“Cassidy? Alright, I’ve got Jefferson Petasum on hold. He wants to publish 100,000 hardcovers,” Killian allowed his statement to briefly sink in before sitting back down to his desk and confidently continuing. “You’ve got to top that, savvy?”
~ · ~
Later that evening, following an afternoon of packed yoga classes and confusing the hell out of her art teacher during a Portrait session by painting the model’s head in half, Emma was wandering her local Christmas tree lot alone—trying not to let her former melancholia return.
After looking at her watch for what felt like the hundredth time, she stood on her tiptoes peering around the tall trees looking for Killian again. She tried to ignore the tiny stabs of jealousy as she watched happy couples and families leave together with their chosen trees.
“Can I help you, sister?” A gruff voice sounded from behind a cluster of Fraser Firs.
Turning, Emma saw a shorter man with a beard, wearing a black knit cap, a sour face, and a nametag that read “Leroy”. “I was just waiting for my husband; he’s usually late, but I was hoping to pick the tree out together this year. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen and I’ll have to pick it out myself, but I’m not sure what I want, and I have no idea why I’m telling you all this.”
At her embarrassed blush and sad looking eyes, the man other lot employees were prone to calling “Grumpy” softened slightly. He thought of his girlfriend, Astrid, and how happy she got every year when he brought her to the lot to pick their tree. As much as the scent of pine needles drove him crazy, seeing the love of his life smile was worth the trouble each December.
“Well, sister, I can tell you that you’re not alone in feeling pain about the holidays. But, if my Astrid has taught me anything, it’s that a good Christmas tree is all the cure you need.” He smiled awkwardly at her, but his words seemed to do the trick because Emma’s face lit up. “Now, what kind of tree are you looking for?”
~ · ~
Ten minutes earlier, still in his office, Killian was gleefully ending another call with Petasum when there was a knock at his door. “Yeah?”
His coworker, Milah, entered quickly carrying a stack of pages on a clipboard. The curly-haired brunette, dressed in a black blouse, charcoal business suit, and fiery red lips, stopped on the other side of his desk. At the sight of Killian, his tie slightly undone and his hair roughed up as if he’d been running his hands through it, she couldn’t help her smirk.
Before she could get a word out, Killian interrupted her thoughts. “I just made August Booth the deal of his career.”
"Aye. I mean, the bloke blew his talent years ago. He’s been coasting on that Pulitzer of his, but—"
“He’s a brand name that still sells.” Killian was pleased at Milah’s ability to follow his line of thinking—she was easily becoming one of his best associates with the kinds of deals she’d made happen this year.
“Exactly. You’re learning.” Milah couldn’t help the blush across her cheeks at Killian’s praise. She hadn’t necessarily been going out of her way to impress him, though, lately, it seemed to happen more often. It wasn’t something she was unhappy about. “So?”
“Right,” she continued, “I called Robert Gold. Just to check in.”
“Has he done the sequel yet?”
“Unfortunately, no. He’s still in the research phase,” Milah said, shrugging lightly and laying her stack of papers on Killian’s desk. “He’s going to return to Storybrooke to see how it’s changed.”
Killian couldn’t help but roll his eyes and smirk at the idea of Storybrooke, Maine ever changing. “As long as he meets his deadline. Anything else?” He punctuated his question by putting each foot up on his desk, crossing them at the ankles.
“Yeah, I read that submission from Henry Mills, the 20-something from Seattle?” Milah held up the clipboard, showing the first half of a manuscript.
“Right…the fairy tales brought into the real world? Once Upon A Modern Age.”
“It’s very Brothers Grimm meets Margaret Atwood. Derivative, but only just.”
“Couldn’t agree more,” Killian said while contradictorily shaking his head. “I want to sign him.”
Milah barely laughed in exasperation. “Killian!”
“Have you heard the word on this lad, Milah?” Killian fiddled with his Bluetooth while confidently explaining his thoughts to his coworker. “I smell movie rights, excerpts in Rolling Stone or Vogue.”
“Aye,” Milah poorly mimicked his accent and rolled her eyes. “But, it’s literary junk food! Garbage for people to simply munch on.”
“What are you, darling, a critic or an agent? Don’t smell it; sell it. Because a deal like this, should it succeed,” And it will, Killian thought to himself, “will leave us quids in.” Killian was rapidly losing interest in the conversation and decided to press his position more resolutely.
He dropped his feet from his desk, tossed his earpiece on the surface, and pressed his assistant’s line on his office phone. “Hey, Thomas? Book me on the last flight to Seattle tonight.”
Milah leaned over the desk and pressed the line again. “Thomas? Book me too.” She leaned back with a smirk of satisfaction and raised her eyebrows to Killian, daring him to challenge her attendance.
He scratched behind his ear—an anxious tic he could never rid himself of—and briefly considered what this could look like, the awkward position it might put him in before he brushed it off. This is business, he told himself, Nothing more or less.
How Emma might feel about his disappearing once again for work right before the Christmas holiday didn’t even cross his mind.