Jane lit a candle, put it in the holder and placed it on the windowsill, careful that the curtains were well away from it. It’s not going to show up against the lights of this city, but maybe someone will see it anyway.
She moved around the apartment with brisk efficiency, pulling her small, solitary meal together. Coming up here seemed like such a good idea at the time. She hadn’t been able to bear living in Cleveland after Terry died — everything she saw reminded her of him. There was nowhere to go that didn’t hold some memory.
But she forgot her own rule: happiness wasn’t a place. The loneliness that had plagued her before was nothing compared to being in a new city where she only had the most rudimentary grasp of the language, and where she knew no one. It takes more than a few hockey games to make a city yours. No matter how much you love the sport.
Still, she refused to concede defeat. As she sat down to eat, she prayed yet again that she would find a place here; friends, a life — a home.
As she finished, and was washing the dishes, there was a hesitant tap on the door.
Jane peered through the peephole, and then unlocked and opened the door. It was her upstairs neighbor, whom she had seen on occasion, and sometimes exchanged brief greetings with. “M. Gagnon?”
“Oui.” He smiled at her tentatively. “I’m sorry, Madame Prentiss. I wouldn’t bother you, but I saw your candle …”
“Oh!” She glanced quickly at it around the door, afraid it had somehow managed to catch something on fire despite her caution.
“No, no. Il est bien — it’s all right. It’s just,” he bit his lip and paused.
She studied him for a moment. He came from a small town in the Estrie, she knew, and it suddenly occurred to her, that even without the language barrier, he was probably less at home here than she was.
“I was about to make coffee. If no one’s waiting for you … would you like to come in for a bit?” she asked.
“Yes, merci. That’s très gentille — very nice — of you.” He came in shyly and stood for a moment, uncertain.
“Let me take your coat.” She hung it on the coat tree and gestured for him to sit in the small kitchen. “Do you take cream or sugar?”
“No, black is fine.”
They waited for the coffee to finish brewing. She would glance at him and then he at her, and finally they looked at the same time and laughed together.
“I hope I’m not disturbing you?”
“No, not at all.”
She poured the coffee for him and herself, and after a moment’s recollection, she brought a small plate of cookies over. “Cookie? I mean biscuit?”
They didn’t speak for a bit. Well, this is exciting, she thought, and then rebuked herself. You prayed for company and He delivered. Why not make a little effort here?
“I know your last name, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard your first name. Mine’s Jane. Not all that exotic, but …”
“Ah. I am Michel. I am pleased to meet you.”
“Likewise, Michel. So what about my candle caught your attention?”
“Well.” He put his mug down. “My mother did the same thing. She was very devout, and it was meant as a greeting for the Christ Child — a welcoming. No stranger would be turned away on Christmas eve, for who knew who the visitor really was?”
Jane smiled. “That’s lovely. Then you are twice welcome.”
Michel laughed gently. “I’ve been called many things in my time, but never a divine visitor.”
“You’re a blessing to me,” Jane said, and then blushed. “You’re the first person who’s been in my apartment, if you don’t count the people from Gaz Métropolitain and Hydro.”
“How did you come here?” Michel asked, studying her with his head cocked to the side.
Jane explained about Terry, and Cleveland, and her long-time love for the Canadiens. “It all came together and I wanted to come live here. I’ve been learning French for a long time, but it’s so different when you have to say things quickly. I’m sure people think I’m mentally deficient.”
“I doubt it. You are trying, and that means something. Give yourself credit for having the courage to start over. Most people wouldn’t have bothered.”
“I hope so. But you, you moved here from a very different place. How did that come about?”
Now it was Michel’s turn to explain about his small town, and how the company he worked for had fallen on hard times. “I never dreamed how truly different things would be. Where I came from, I knew nearly everyone. Here — ” he gestured his confusion.
“I know,” Jane responded softly. “Believe me, I know.”
The floodgates opened then, and they talked together, sharing what they had come to learn about their adopted city, forgetting their mutual reticence, until Jane’s mantle clock chimed 12 times.
“Midnight, already?” Michel looked at his watch as though he expected that the clock couldn’t possibly be right.
“Yes. It’s Christmas.”
He smiled broadly, and Jane saw that the eyes behind the wire-rimmed glasses he wore were clear and green and very attractive.
“Would you do me a great favor, Jane? I can’t travel home right now, and I was going to cook a special dinner for myself. I would prefer to share it — with you, if you could come.”
Her face lit. “Oui, j’aimerais ça.” I’d like that.
“Bon.” He grinned. “A une heure?”
“One o’clock. Yes.”
As she closed the door behind Michel, Jane couldn’t quite wipe the smile off her face.
She almost took the candle off the windowsill, but changed her mind and left it. I think it’s safe, somehow. And maybe someone else will get a little light from it as well.