Susan Quincey sat in her car, the icy wind howling outside. She turned the key in the ignition once more,
praying that the engine would somehow start this time. It groaned briefly, then fell silent.
She buried her head in her hands, the tears flowing freely. She hated winter. She hated cold weather. Most
of all, she hated Christmas! At least this one. Christmas had always been such a happy time, but that was before…
"Ms. Quincey!" It was a man’s voice, accompanied by a light rapping on the window. "Ms. Quincey! May
I help you?"
Susan was glad the person on the outside couldn’t see through the patterns Jack Frost had painted on
the glass in the eight hours she had been inside the big Metropolitan Building, working dutifully at her job as a secretary
at the insurance company.
She wiped the tears with the back of her scratchy wool glove and pushed the tiny latch that moved the window
so smoothly up and down. Nothing. Of course, she reasoned. If her battery was dead, the automatic window switch wouldn’t
function any more than the motor would.
"I’m afraid my car won’t start," she apologized as she opened the door to face Kevin Dockter,
the president of the company, standing there.
"It’s no wonder," he said. "I don’t think my engine would start if I’d sat outside in this
cold wind all day, either. Come on, I’ll jump you."
Susan felt a smile cross her lips, in spite of her dedication to be a genuine Scrooge
this year. She wondered what her friends back home in Florida would say if their boss—and a rather handsome one at that—offered
to jump them. Only in a climate like Duluth, Minnesota would a girl understand that this lingo meant to hook two tiny
clamps onto the battery of one car, two clamps onto the battery of the second car and try to get enough power from one car
to the other so both would run.
"I hate to bother you," Susan said, embarrassed by the situation. "I’ll just go catch the bus. I can
get a wrecker to start it tomorrow."
"Nonsense," Mr. Dockter insisted. "It’s no trouble." His smile warmed her even if the temperature was
nearly thirty below zero. In a flash he was gone, then returned with his shiny silver Porsche.
Susan gasped. She had seen this car sitting in the parking lot day after day, and she wondered what it would
be like to ride in it. Now, her mind drifted away momentarily into a dream world where she envisioned herself sitting in the
front seat with Mr. Dockter— Kevin—beside her.
"Pop the hood, okay?"
His voice called her back to consciousness—her dreams crushed by reality. Just like all the rest
of my dreams, she thought.
"Try it now," he said. She turned the key again. Sound! Weak at first, but then… It was running! Well,
at least one thing went right. She would go straight home, she decided. The grocery shopping she’d planned could wait
until some other time. She didn’t dare turn the car off for fear it wouldn’t start again. She would find something
at home for her and Jeremy to eat.
She backed out of her parking space and opened the window to wave a "thank you" to her boss. The windows
were still frosted over, but she had scraped a little hole to peek out of. It was only a few blocks home. There weren’t
many cars on the route, and she knew it well. She could always open the side windows enough to see if anyone was coming at
Kevin Dockter waited a few seconds then followed her, far enough back so she couldn’t see him. He laughed
out loud as she stuck her head out the side window so she could see if it was safe to cross the intersection. Her windows
were still fogged over, but he knew he didn’t have a thing to worry about with her head protruding like a duck from
He played the pages from her job application over and over in his mind as he drove. She had a son: Jeremy.
On the space marked "Marital status" she had clearly written "Widow." No name of a husband. No facts of what had happened.
He had contemplated asking her so many times, but he knew he had no right to interfere. He was just her boss. At least to
her, that’s all he was.
He had been smitten from the first second he laid eyes on her. Smitten, he thought, smiling. Such
an old fashioned word, yet it fit her perfectly.
Susan breathed a deep sigh of relief as she pulled into her driveway. It was good to be home. Home! What
irony! She had lived all of her life in Florida until she met Mark.
Mark Quincey. The handsome, sensitive sweet navy lieutenant from Duluth, Minnesota, who stole her heart,
swept her off her feet, knocked her socks off, just like in some old romantic flick. She had never been the same from the
first moment she laid eyes on him at the Christmas ball the city put on for all the military men in the area.
She would have followed him to the ends of the earth. As a matter of fact, she wondered if that isn’t
exactly what she had done. When he was assigned to a special duty on the ships in Duluth, he was so excited at the prospect
of going home that his anticipation quickly sparked her enthusiasm as well. Anyplace was wonderful, as long as they were together.
They were married before he had to leave. Neither one of them could stand the thought of being apart. It
hadn’t been a big wedding, as there wasn’t time to make all the plans for something elaborate. The church was
decorated for Christmas, so it was nice, despite the hurry of the affair. To her, it was perfect. She would always keep that
day in her heart.
She sat, alone, daydreaming of what could have been. If only he hadn’t gotten that assignment to Kuwait.
His death was so senseless. He left before their son was born. Now Jeremy was almost four years old. He looked exactly like
his father. It was the one spark in her life that kept her going—a piece of Mark to keep alive forever.
"Are you okay in there?"
Susan jumped. She could swear it was Kevin Dockter’s voice. Why would he be here? Her mind must be
playing tricks on her. There was no other explanation.
"Ms. Quincey!" he called again. "Susan?" Desperation filled his voice. Susan jerked the door open and hopped
"What are you doing here?" she asked, embarrassed by his presence. When she and Mark first arrived in Duluth,
she fell in love with this big old Victorian style house the minute she saw it. Now it seemed so dilapidated, so run down.
The windows were dirty, one of the shutters was hanging loose on one side, banging in the wind.
"I’m sorry," Susan apologized again.
"For what?" Mr. Dockter asked.
"For…that!" she said, pointing to the shutter. "For everything."
"No need to apologize," he assured her. "You didn’t have to follow me home," she said, tugging at the
end of her muffler which had entangled itself in the car door when she slammed it shut.
"I…I wanted to," he said simply, then hastened to add, "You never know what can happen on these streets.
Especially way up here on top of the hill. If the streets get too slippery…"
Susan shivered. She hated these hills. Every time she went down them, especially in the winter, she was sure
she would drive right into Lake Superior. She had even had nightmares about her brakes failing. How did he know? Or did everyone
who lived in Duluth have the same fear? For the first time in months she felt almost normal. She pulled her scarf from
the now-open car door and then shut it again.
"Thank you," she said softly. She glanced up to see Jeremy’s little round face peeking out from behind
the drapes in the living room. "I’d better go in."
She wondered if she should explain to Mr. Dockter that she had an almost-four-year-old son. Would he understand?
Or would he think she was some loose woman on the prowl? In answer to her unspoken question he asked, "Jeremy?"
Susan’s face turned crimson. She had never spoken about her son—or her husband—to anyone
at the office. How did he know about Jeremy?
She felt a sense of shame, then pride. It didn’t matter what this big shot from work knew about her.
He had a life of his own. Probably a wife who had dinner waiting and was at this very moment trying to explain to their kids
why Daddy was late. She wondered if he was often late.
"Yes," she said. "He’ll be wondering what’s wrong." She turned to walk towards the house. She
felt his hand, warm even through the thick sheepskin lined leather gloves he had on, rest on her shoulder.
"Aren’t you going to invite me in? I mean, I did rescue a damsel in distress. Unless, of course, you
can’t stand the sight of your Sir Lancelot."
Susan laughed. Not just a smile this time, but a good, hearty laugh. Mr. Dockter laughed with her. He loved
the look on her face—her dimples, her little turned-up nose, the sparkle in her eyes—when she laughed. It was
not one of the reasons he had hired her. Recently he had noticed that she laughed less and less often. He set out on a personal
crusade—a private one—to get her to laugh again. This was just the first step in carrying out his battle.
"I’m sorry," she apologized once more. "You are quite right. Please come in. I’ll get you some
good hot coffee."
As they walked, side by side, to the house she said, "I sure hope it doesn’t stay this cold for long.
It won’t be much fun for Christmas at all. Nobody likes to run around with their teeth chattering."
The front door opened and Jeremy stood in front of them with a tiny porcelain reindeer in his outstretched
hand. "Look, Mommy," he shouted excitedly. "I found your favorite!"
Susan grabbed the figurine away from him and stuck it in her jacket pocket. "Don’t you ever get in
that box again!" she scolded.
"I didn’t get in it, Mommy!" Jeremy exclaimed. "It’s too little! I’d never fit!"
Mr. Dockter laughed heartily. "Come here, Jeremy," he said, picking him up protectively. "Your mom’s
had a rough day. Her car wouldn’t start and then I show up on her doorstep. You can’t blame her for being upset."
"I don’t care if a man shows up on her doorstep," Jeremy said, "as long as it isn’t one of those
mean men that came about my Daddy."
Susan looked helplessly at the two of them. She didn’t want to burden anyone with the problems of her
life. Certainly not her boss! But as she looked at him, Jeremy held securely in his arms, she knew she had some explaining
"I’ll get the coffee," she said.
"If you don’t mind," Mr. Dockter said, "I’d really prefer hot chocolate. If you have some, that
is. I’m not much of a coffee drinker."
Jeremy laughed. "My mommy can’t stand that yucky coffee either," he said. "But we both love hot
"Three hot chocolates, coming right up," Susan said as she disappeared into the kitchen.