Lorraine sat alone in her tiny apartment at 44 Cherry Street. All around her, Christmas was screaming its message of love and sharing, and she was feeling very much alone. She put up her small Charlie Brown artificial tree that she kept from year to year in back of the hall closet, and carefully unwrapped the ornaments she had collected since childhood. Each ornament held special meaning for her. There was the wooden sled given to her by her grandmother when she was six. The silver ice skate from her parents when she was eleven and was learning to figure skate. The tiny Eiffel Tower she had bought in Paris when she did her junior year abroad so long ago. She hung them and the others in her collection on the tree, and plugged it in. The white lights glowed and illuminated her ornaments, and she wished she had someone to share the holiday with.

Of course there was Suki, and she hung the dog’s stocking on a nail on the wall near her desk, as she didn’t have a mantel on which to place it. Seeming to understand that it was her stocking, Suki barked, jumped and spun around staring up at the stocking.

“You silly thing!” Lorraine laughed.

At least she had Suki. She put her coat on and got Suki’s leash off the chest by the door. Suki went into a dance of such ecstasy, that Lorraine laughed aloud. “I guess you want to go for a walk, Don’t you!”

Cherry Street was dressed for Christmas. Barry had hung thousand of colored lights around the Cherry Street Square and had placed a fully decorated tree atop the covered porch beside Dark City Deli. The town had hung candy-cane-shaped lights on each pole, and volunteers were setting out luminaries up and down the street in anticipation of Holly Jolly, the annual official kick-off of a holiday shopping season (which actually began  right around Halloween or even earlier each year.)

Lorraine loved Holly Jolly. Cherry Street was closed and thousands of people young and old gathered there to enjoy each other, wander from store to store, where refreshments were served, and listen to local musicians. People who grew up in Black Mountain and had moved away often returned each year for Holly Jolly.  She planned to bundle up in her warmest clothes and mingle with the cheerful crowds, catching some of their holiday spirit. Suki would be left at home, as Lorraine didn’t want her stepped on by the crowds, even though she would enjoy it. Maybe this year Lorraine would buy Suki one of those baby strollers for dogs Lorraine had seen tourists push around town. It might make a nice Christmas present for her sweet baby.

Lorraine and Suki saw Colleen placing greenery in the flower boxes outside Mountain Nest. Colleen’s big small spread across her face as she waved. Lorraine crossed the street to say hello. “Hey, Lorraine! What’s new with you?”

“Well,” answered Lorraine, “I thought I had met a good match on Match, but turns out he has issues. He hasn’t gotten over a childhood of poverty, and it has left him a cheapskate.”

“It’s hard to meet someone at our age,” consoled Colleen.

“No joke!” responded Lorraine.

“In fact I even remember a joke about that. It’s the only joke I can ever remember, actually!  What’s the similarity between men and parking spaces?” said Colleen.

“I don’t know. What?”

“The good ones are all taken and the ones that are left are handicapped!”

“Oh! Too true!” laughed Lorraine, then said her good-byes to Colleen and continued her walk up the street.