Olive had just shut the door to her apartment behind her when she felt the telltale buzz of her phone in her back pocket. She sighed and slumped back against the door as she retrieved the phone, already knowing who it was going to be. Sure enough, as soon as she unlocked the screen, she was met with a barrage of texts from her best friend, Mel. Olive had been ignoring her since earlier that day, when she had left to go have Thanksgiving dinner at her parents' house, but that had apparently not been enough to discourage Mel from continuing to reach out to her.
Guilt over blowing her off gnawed at Olive's gut, but as she began typing out a vague reply at last, her phone started buzzing anew: Mel was calling her this time.
Figuring she might as well get this over with now, Olive accepted the call and held the phone up to her ear. "I was just getting ready to text you back, I promise," she said before Mel had the chance to speak.
"Oh, so you [i are] alive," Mel said, her tone biting. "Thanks for finally letting me know."
Olive winced. "I'm sorry, Mel. Really. I just—"
"Just couldn't find the time to give me a simple heads up that you're still in the land of the living? I can't imagine you were all [i that] busy; your mom said that basically all you did today was sit around and stare out the window."
"Wait, you talked to my mom? When?"
"I messaged her on Facebook after the first few hours of radio silence. Would you rather I had called the cops and told them to do a wellness check? 'Cause I was about to."
Olive pinched the bridge of her nose in consternation, slowly allowing herself to slide down until she was seated on the floor. She was way too exhausted to deal with Mel's theatrics right now. "Don't you think that would have been a little bit dramatic, even for you?"
"Considering how upset you were last night, I'd say it would have been pretty reasonable."
Olive had nothing to say in response to that, and after a few moments of silence, Mel heaved a sigh that was so long and loud it temporarily blew out the speaker. Cringing at the harsh sound, Olive held the phone away from her ear, then brought it back when Mel began to speak again.
"Look," she said, all the harshness now gone from her voice. "I don't mean to be such a bitch about this, and if you need some time to yourself to work through everything, that's totally fine. But at least [i tell] me that you need space, okay? It's not like you to just completely ignore me, and I was really freaking out."
Instantly, Olive felt tears of shame pricking at her eyes. Mel had spent Thanksgiving truly worrying over her while she had done nothing but sit around feeling sorry for herself. "I'm sorry, Mel," she said again, and this time she truly meant it. "I should have told you I didn't feel like talking today. It's just that every time my phone went off and it wasn't him, I kept feeling worse and worse, until it was all I could do not to lose it in front of my family." Even now, sitting alone on the floor in her dark apartment, Olive felt dangerously close to sobbing.
Mel must have somehow sensed this, for she asked, "Do you want me to come over? I can be there in, like, ten minutes. We can just put on a movie or something—we don't have to talk at all unless you want to." Her previous irritation had now apparently been completely replaced by overwhelming concern, and it brought a smile to Olive's face despite it all.
"Nah, I think I'm just gonna go to bed," she said, reaching up with her free hand to wipe at her nose. "Gotta be at work early for Black Friday tomorrow."
"God, don't remind me," Mel groaned. "Vinnie's not opening the store any earlier than usual, but I'm sure that won't stop people from lining up an hour ahead of time anyway. What time do you have to go in?"
"[i A.M.]?" Even though she had to know that was exactly what Olive had meant, Mel still sounded incredulous. "That shit should be illegal."
Olive shrugged. "It won't be so bad." The truth was, she often woke around four in the morning anyway, as that was when things really started to get loud in the kitchen of the bakery below her apartment. And at this point, she was almost grateful for the excuse work would give her to not wallow around in bed with her feelings.
Mel started to grumble something about "morning people," but Olive interrupted with an offer to meet for lunch. "I'll be off around one, and we won't even have to eat at the mall since I won't be going back in to work. Wherever you wanna go, my treat."
"Oooh, maybe I should get mad at you more often if this is how you make it up to me," Mel replied jokingly. "I'll think on it and let you know tomorrow."
"And hey, Ollie?"
"Text me if you need me, okay? I mean it."
"I will, Mel. Thanks."
The two of them said their goodbyes and after hanging up, Olive spent a few moments still sitting in her apartment's entryway, staring blankly ahead. The light from the street lamps outside illuminated the boxes that covered every available surface in her tiny living room and were starting to spill over into the kitchen. They were all full of Christmas decorations, which Olive had dug out of storage a few days before in giddy anticipation of spending Thanksgiving decorating her apartment with her boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend, now.
[i But maybe I shouldn't even call him that], she thought, reflecting on how surprised Austin had been when she'd expressed excitement at finally being able to introduce him to her parents at Thanksgiving dinner.
[i "I never said I wanted to do the whole boyfriend-girlfriend thing with you, babe,"] he'd told her, which Olive supposed was technically true. Still, she figured she couldn't be blamed [i too] much for having believed the opposite, as they had been seeing each other exclusively (or so Olive had thought, anyway) since March, and Austin had lately been dropping multiple hints that he wanted to move in with her.
That was clearly out the window now, as after that conversation, he had promptly stopped returning all calls and texts and had effectively vanished out of her life as though he had never been in it in the first place. And Olive had spent Thanksgiving surrounded by her family, but still feeling utterly alone. Now it looked like Christmas was shaping up to be the same way.
Olive frowned suddenly and pushed herself to her feet, walking into the living room and flicking on the light so that she could properly survey the disorder in front of her. What was she going to do, shove it all back in storage and mope around for the rest of the year? Christmas was her favorite holiday, and she'd spent more years celebrating it while single than she had in a relationship. Was she really about to let some stupid [i boy] ruin it all for her now?
[i No,] she thought. [i No, I don't think so.] And then she got to work.
By the time her alarm went off at three-thirty the next morning, Olive had had only about a couple of hours of sleep. She'd managed to get about half of the Christmas decorations up before admitting that she needed to have [i some] rest before facing the Black Friday crowds, and planned on wrangling Mel into helping her with the rest that afternoon. The dark circles under her eyes were easily concealed with makeup, and she had a bright smile and a warm greeting ready for each of her coworkers as they trickled into Bath & Body Works, still half-asleep.
The day was a grueling one, even with Olive's determination to face it as cheerfully as possible, so she was quite relieved when twelve-thirty rolled around at last and she was able to clock out. The mall was still packed with people taking advantage of the various Black Friday sales, so it took Olive a little longer than usual to wade through them all and make her way to the exit. She found that she didn't really mind, happy to just absorb the sight of twinkling lights in the Christmas displays of myriad stores, the sounds of a thousand conversations going on all around her and over it all, Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You" blasting over the mall's loudspeakers. Most people (Mel, for instance) would likely have torn their hair out from the sensory overload of it all, but to Olive all this chaos served as both a distraction and a pleasant reminder that it was now her favorite time of the year. Surely nothing, not even being ghosted by the man she'd spent most of the last year with, could keep her down for long now.
Skirting around the giant carousel in the middle of the mall, Olive came upon a large group of children and their parents in the line to see Santa Claus. She tried peering around them to see if it was George MacDougal—the mall Santa for the past three years and the best they had ever had, in Olive's opinion—but was unsuccessful, as she stood at least a head shorter than most everyone in the crowd. What she [i did] see, however, was a bright red sign encouraging mall employees to apply for seasonal positions as Santa's helpers.
Olive chewed on her lower lip for a moment, considering, before pulling out her phone and taking a picture of the sign so that she would remember the website she needed to go to in order to apply. Taking on this job would mean she would be even busier than usual during Christmas season, but she could always use the extra income.
More importantly, however, she could think of no better way to truly get into the Christmas spirit and have no time to even think about her failed love life in the process.