Jon listened to the clop of Dancer’s hooves on the pavement
and pulled his coat tight against the sleet. When he’d announced he had a
part-time holiday gig as a driver of a horse-drawn carriage in the streets of
Chicago, his roommate Sam had looked at him like he was daft. “You know
you’ll be required to talk to people, right? Show them around? Be a tour
“Yes, I know, Sam. Satin usually has the job-”
“See, there’s someone who could handle the tourist
“But he needed a pinch hitter, since he’s traveling to
New York for a month to visit his boyfriend. ‘You won’t spook the horses,’ he
“Just try not to spook the people.”
Jon had done pretty well so far, and when traffic was low he
got to ride around the streets in peace. The job was a throwback to an earlier
era, and a cheesy one at that. But when a couple got settled in the carriage
(usually one was reluctant, and the other excited, eyes bright, pointing at the
bells he braided into Dancer’s mane) they had a moment of quiet and calm in the
midst of Chicago’s packed Michigan Avenue. The sounds of blaring horns and the
swoosh of buses faded away, and typically the couple was giggling and making
out within five minutes, paying no attention to the driver. Frankly, Jon was
relieved, although he’d lived in Chicago for five years now and, he thought,
had a decent tourist riff down.
Jon hadn’t had a single customer all night, though he did
have a reservation for 9 pm. The sleet hitting the pavement probably explained
it. So he was surprised when a beautiful red-headed woman tentatively
approached the carriage as he was petting Dancer. Jon had a particular spot he
pulled up to at the old Water Tower building, a small sand-colored stone castle
that looked right next to his glossy black carriage, His boss insisted the
effect helped sales.
The woman looked like she’d been crying, but was doing her
best to hold herself together. “Hi, I’m sorry to bother you, I know you had a reservation from us - from
him - tonight at 9, but we had to
cancel, and I wouldn’t want you to lose the chance to pick up another customer,
I know it’s the holidays and-”
Cars were honking behind him, but Jon had learned to ignore
them, and this woman looked bereft.
“We’re the Baratheon reservation, I mean, we
were.” She had a paper shopping bag under her arm. “I’m sorry, he had
to cancel. I’m Sansa, by the way, not that you need to know the name of a
customer who’s bailing on you. I just wanted to free up your carriage, I’m sure
you can find another couple.” Sansa’s expression softened when she looked
at Dancer. The horse pawed the pavement but stayed still as Sansa approached.
“He’s beautiful.” Dancer was lovely, a small roan filly with red and
green ribbons woven into her mane along with the bells.
“She,” Jon said reflexively. It was the first word
he’d spoken. He could visualize Sam rolling his eyes. Sansa gave him a small
nod. “She, then. What’s her name?”
“Dancer? Do you go through all of the reindeer names
from the song? Dasher, Prancer, Vixen, the rest?” He was glad to see a
soft smile playing around her lips. The sleet had turned to snow.
“No.” Come on, Jon, try for two sentences in a
row. “She’s always been Dancer. Though that’s not a bad idea.”
Sansa took another tentative step forward. “Could I
touch her?” Customers petting horses was strictly against company policy,
but when he saw the light in Sansa’s eyes, he found he didn’t care.
Sansa murmured to Dancer as she stroked her coat. She gazed
wistfully at the carriage. Jon was struck by a way he might be able to salvage
the night for her.
“So your reservation was paid in advance, and I haven’t
heard about a cancellation.” The company didn’t allow for refunds anyway.
“Would you still like to go for a ride?”
“No, thank you, I’d feel odd traveling in the carriage
alone.” Jon was starting to seriously dislike the guy who’d taken this
part of the evening from her. She seemed like a romantic, like someone who’d
been looking forward to the ride all day. And it would be lonely in the
carriage by herself.
“You could ride up here with me,” he said.
“Is that proper?” No, it wasn’t, and in fact Jon
could get in trouble for it. He dodged the question.
“There’s room up here for two.”
Sansa hesitated. She’d wrapped her arms around her blue
peacoat. Jon tried again. “Besides, I think Dancer likes you.”
“I bet you say that to all your fares.”
“No, you don’t seem like the hard-sell type. Well, if
you don’t mind, I’d be grateful.”
Jon helped her up next to him in the driver’s seat. She was
warm next to him and squealed in delight when the bells tinkled in Dancer’s
mane. They headed out into the river of car lights on Michigan Avenue.
“Thank you. What’s your name?”
“Jon. Is there anywhere in particular you’d like to
Sansa blew into her mittens. “No. I’m sure I’ll love
whatever tour we take.” Jon started showing her the sights, but Sansa
seemed to enjoy the small details of the ride Jon has never noticed before. She
closed her eyes to smell the roasted chestnuts from a street vendor and pointed
at the strings of lights draped over the trees lining the street. Little kids
waved at the carriage and Sansa waved back. Some of her enthusiasm rubbed off
on Jon, and he saw the city through fresh eyes. They hit a pothole at the intersection
of Michigan and Wabash and Sansa grabbed Jon’s arm and didn’t let go. Jon
silently thanked the city for not maintaining the streets.
“Oh wait! I have an idea.” Sansa rummaged through her bag
and pulled out two Santa hats. “We could wear these. I think the crowd would
“You’re good at this.”
Sansa shrugged. “I run a florist shop, and I specialize in
sales.” She faltered. “We don’t have to, of course.” Jon, who’d never worn a
piece of holiday clothing in his life, took one of the hats and put it on.
Sansa grinned at him and pulled the other hat over her ears.
Tourists started to point and smile at the two of them. When
they hit the next stoplight a group of sightseers called out to them. “You two
are such a cute couple! Give us a kiss for Christmas!” Jon stared at a sea of
phones held up to capture the moment. He had no idea what to do. Sansa turned
to him and whispered. “I think it will help business. Though I’m not sure you
want to kiss a stranger.” Jon heard a glimmer of hope in her voice. He most
certainly did want to kiss Sansa, and she seemed willing and maybe a little
excited by the idea. Here goes nothing, he thought. He reined Dancer in and
leaned over to her, heart pounding. He held back, though, in case she decided
this wasn’t a good idea after all. He saw Sansa take a deep breath and leaned
into him. She tasted like sweet peppermint and his hand came up to cup her
cheek and he got lost in the softness of her lips and the warmth of her skin. When
they finally broke apart, the crowd had dissipated. He could see Sansa’s breath
in the cold air. “Thank you Jon.” Anytime, he wanted to reply, but his brain
kicked in. “You’re welcome.” OK, that wasn’t much better. Sansa must have seen
the right expression on his face, though, because she snuggled closer to him as
they arrived where they’d started.
“That was so kind of you, Jon. This city can feel isolating,
even though we’re surrounded by people, and I’m happy I met you.”
“I know what you mean. I grew up in a small town in
Illinois. I sometimes feel more alone here in a sea of tourists than I did
standing on my back porch.”
Sansa nodded. Jon was reluctant to let her go, but he had no
reason he could think of to ask her to stay. “Would you like your hat back?”
Sansa smirked. “Keep it. Consider it my contribution to
marketing. Oh, by the way, could I have your card? My brother Robb and his fiancé
are looking for a holiday outing.” Jon dug around in his pockets and placed the
ivory card with an embossed gold carriage in her hand. “Thank you,” she said
softly. “Here, take mine too. I think you could sell flowers on rides. Stop by
the shop if you like.” Jon felt a brief flutter of hope that Sansa might want
to see him again. “OK, I’ll do that.”
Sansa hopped down and gave Dancer one last pet. “Thanks for
making the night special, Jon.” Jon swallowed. “I’m glad I could help.”
“So am I.” Whoever had left her behind tonight was a fool,
Jon decided as he watched her leave. He ran his finger over the edge of the
card she’d given him, and realized she’d written a number on the back. He smiled
despite himself. Sam was never going to believe he’d met and kissed a beautiful
girl and managed to get her number.