An only child, Tracy Broemmer grew up with a wild imagination. An avid reader from a young age, she spent a lot of time with her nose buried in books and a lot of time making up her own stories. She penned her first book in grade school and hasn’t stopped writing since then.

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Short Fiction

Manhattans & Mittens

Manhattans on 38th Street

Part One

“I don’t get it.” Bryn Douglas dipped her knees and leaned into the counter to eye the vermouth as she tipped the bottle over the glass strainer. “I mean, what’s so bad about Christmas?”

“I don’t know.” Elise Ross shrugged and shook her head. “Kids get a little crazy, but then, my kids—”

“But, seriously.” Bryn interrupted Elise. She set the vermouth aside and picked up a jar of bitters. “What’s her deal with Christmas? Why does she hate it?”

“She’s standing right here.”

Bryn lifted her gaze to the young woman across the room. With her back to them, the skinny, angular body could have belonged to a boy. Gabryel’s hair had grown out some since that last extreme cut, but it was still short, cut up over her ears, and angled much like a guy’s style. The girl in question leaned her forehead into the screen door, one hand propped on her hip and the other holding a lit cigarette.

Bryn wished she would at least quit smoking.

“It’s, like, un-American to dislike Christmas,” Bryn continued to Elise. “What’s the harm in getting together with friends and family? Lighting a tree? Exchanging gifts?”

“Did you know the Christmas tree is actually a German tradition?” Gabryel asked, head still pressed to the screen like a little kid watching the skies for Santa or at the very least, praying for enough snow that school will be cancelled.

“I do know that, Gabryel,” Bryn muttered as she stirred the drink on the counter. She pushed it toward Elise who took it and carried it through the open area to the living room where Bryn and Elise’s husbands were hanging out, talking about a trip south next month. Bryn hated the idea; she hated being gone from the house and the kids. But she kind of thought Elise would go along with it, maybe even jump at the chance.

“It’s so commercialized,” Gabryel continued. “Everyone’s in this huge competition to outspend their neighbors. Outdo them in lights and the crazy Christmas cards and the number of gifts under the tree. No one knows how to just relax and enjoy what they already have.”

“You’d think she was an old woman,” Elise mumbled as she returned to the counter, where Bryn was now carefully mixing a second Manhattan.

“Apparently you all think I’m deaf.” Gabryel coughed as she turned to look at them.

“You know what I’ve noticed?” Bryn, leaning over the strainer again, the bourbon in hand now, lifted only her eyes to look at Gabryel. “It’s trendy now to be jaded. About everything. Especially the holidays. You’re not being original, you know? You’re selling out in your rebellion, just the same as you say we’ve sold our souls by falling in line.”

Gabryel laughed softly. “I’m not being trendy. I hate the holidays.”

“Maybe you should take back those gifts under the tree with Gabe’s name on them.”

“You didn’t have to get me gifts.” Gabryel rolled her eyes. She put the cigarette to her lips one last time and dragged a deep puff of poison into her body. Bryn watched her pivot, slide the screen door open, and step out to the patio.

“Do you know why she hates the holidays?”

“A lot of people do, Bryn,” Elise reminded her. She snatched a chip from the crystal bowl decorated with old-fashioned Santa faces.

“Yeah, but Gabryel’s not a lot of people,” Bryn argued. “She’s a whole different animal.”

“Still hear you,” Gabe called from the patio.

“You’re an enigma.” Bryn shrugged.

Hoarse laughter rang out from the patio. Bryn and Elise exchanged a look again, and Bryn went back to the Manhattan.

“Were you raised by wolves?” Bryn asked when Gabryel came back inside. This time, she closed the sliding glass door and joined Bryn and Elise at the counter. The smell of smoke clung to her black tunic and dark wash jeans. Bryn thought the smell of smoke had worked itself into her skin, her hair. That even if she quit smoking this instant, she would always smell of cigarettes and cinnamon gum.

As if on cue, Gabryel dug through her worn, oversized gray leather purse. She sat on a barstool as she pulled the pack of Dentyne from the bag and took a stick out. Her hands, like the rest of her, were bony and thin, her perfectly shaped nails unadorned. The wide silver band she wore on the middle finger of her right hand twisted just enough that the flat signet top was sideways. Bryn had often wondered where she got the ring. There was no initial engraved in it, and it was too big for her, but Bryn had never seen her without it.

“Close enough,” Gabryel answered as she unwrapped the stick of gum and popped it in her mouth.

“Is it because it’s depressing?” Bryn pushed. “Christmas?”

When Gabryel didn’t answer immediately, Bryn glanced at her again. The girl was pretty, though in a worn, tired way. At first glance, she appeared to be just out of her teens, but if you looked closer, you could see lines in her face, around her eyes and her lips. No doubt lifestyle had added some years, but she wasn’t as young as Bryn had thought the first time Elise had dragged her along to a cookout earlier this year.

“Jesus, Bryn, by the time you get those Manhattans done, it’ll be Easter.”

“Yeah?” Bryn grinned. “Do you celebrate Easter?”


“You celebrated last Christmas,” Elise said suddenly. Whether it was the sudden rush of excitement in her voice, or what she had said, Bryn jerked the bottle and spilled a drop of bourbon on the counter.

“Well, that’s a party foul,” Gabryel tssked. She reached over the top of the counter and wiped the drop of liquor up with her finger. Bryn shook her head when Gabryel stuck her finger in her mouth. “I didn’t celebrate Christmas.”

“You did,” Elise insisted. “You told me one day in the break room. You went skiing with a guy.”

“I did. But we weren’t celebrating Christmas.” Gabryel grabbed a napkin and wiped her hands. “Maybe you thought that because I said I felt like Santa sometimes, coming once a year.”

Bryn snorted and jerked the bottle again.

“Give me the bottle.” Gabryel reached for the bourbon, but Bryn dodged her.

“So, do you think we’re just another rat in the race?”

“What?” Gabryel shook her head when Bryn straightened and set the bourbon on the counter. Bryn arched her eyebrows expectantly. “What does that mean?”

“Christmas is too commercialized. Yada, yada, yada.” Bryn tossed her hand out toward the twelve-foot tree in front of the floor-to-ceiling window in the living room. She and Monty had added to it through the years; the brown and gold and red colored glass ornaments made her happy. It was elegant, too much so for a twelve and nine year old boy, but Bryn still loved it. The tree in the basement—what would Gabryel say about that—was for the family, for the boys. Where Santa left their packages. This one was for Bryn. Late in the evening, when she had the boys settled and Monty was downstairs watching movies or football or NBA, Bryn loved to relax up here with a glass of wine and the tree and quiet Christmas music.

“You guys feel like the real deal.” Gabryel tossed the words off lightly, but Bryn wondered at the brief look of pain on her face, the sadness in her eyes.

“So, if not wolves, what?” Elise asked as she crunched another mouthful of tortilla chips. “Wrong side of the tracks? Daddy ran off on the Santa train?”

“Elise!” Bryn snorted and swung at her friend to smack her gently. “I don’t think you need another drink.”

“Well, at the rate you’re going, it’ll be next month before she gets a second one, so I think the buzz’ll wear off.” Gabryel arched her eyebrows and then winked at Elise.

“She’s not offended,” Elise told Bryn. “We’re all friends here.”

“I didn’t actually grow up on the wrong side of the tracks.” Apparently tired of waiting for a Manhattan, Gabryel picked up the bottle of cabernet sauvignon Elise and Dex brought tonight. “Didn’t grow up in a castle. Or in the woods or a cave.”

“These things take time,” Bryn said as she stirred this drink. Elise took it and carried it to Dex.

“Massages, afternoon naps, and good sex should take time.” Gabryel worked the cork out of the wine bottle. “Alcohol should not.”

“What happened to the guy? That you were with last year when you weren’t celebrating Christmas?”

“There was no tree. No decoration in our cabin whatsoever. That there was in the office cabin doesn’t count, because we spent seventeen seconds checking in and getting our key. We had incredible sex. Three days of nudity and very dirty sex. I haven’t talked to him since he dropped me off back at home.”

“Why not?”

“Why should I?”

“Don’t you want love?” Bryn asked as Gabryel splashed the wine into a long stemmed glass.

“Not really.”

“Let me guess. Overrated? Commercialized?”

Gabryel lifted the glass to her thin, upturned lips.

“My mother was…well, she wanted to be a gypsy. Or a bohemian. Or a hippie. Or something. She was kind of a mix of all of the above, plus just garden-variety crazy, and really, she was just a mess. There were three of us, and after my older sister turned eighteen, she sort of…I don’t know. Forgot that my brother and I existed, I guess. Or that we were her children.”

“She neglected you?”

“She tolerated us living in her space. Some people thought she was an addict, but in retrospect, I think she needed drugs. She was seriously crazy. Lived in her own world. Dad got tired of it. Of her. And apparently, of me. He took Jerad when he left Mom. Remarried, but not his secretary, thank God, because how cliché would that be? No, he remarried Mom’s best friend. Because she was pregnant. With Dad’s kid.”

“Was this on a talk show?” Elise asked as she snagged Gabryel’s glass and took a gulp.

“Haven’t I taught you better manners than that?” Bryn elbowed Elise.

“Am I in trouble for being rude again? With the questions?”

“No. For God’s sake, there’re more glasses right there.”

“I’m waiting on a Manhattan.”

“You might grow old waiting,” Gabryel warned.

“You dad left your mom for her best friend?” Bryn continued mixing another drink.

“Well. I mean, Mom was busy casting spells and shit and trying to communicate with life on other planets. Not much time for sex when you have all that stuff going on. So Dad got cozy with Rana.”

“Rana Rana Bo Bana.”

“I don’t think you need a Manhattan.” Bryn tipped her head to study Elise. Her cheeks were pink, but she’d only had a few sips of wine.

“My dad and Rana live in Rhode Island. I see them as little as humanly possible. Their kids are young and entitled, and they have no clue who I am. My brother—Jerad—was ten when Dad took him. I used to cry myself to sleep at night. Worried about him. Missing him. Jealous of him. Hating him.”

“Did your dad kidnap him?”

“Nothing as unsavory as that.” Gabryel turned up her nose. “He told Mom he was leaving, and he wanted Jerad. But not me. Mom signed the divorce papers, called out a goodbye Big Boy to Jerad and didn’t blink when they were gone.”

“That’s horrible.”

“You asked.” Gabryel shrugged. “I was fourteen. I took care of my mother until I moved out.”

“Was she sick?”

“Crazy.” Gabryel shook her head. “Still is. She’s living with some guy she thinks is related to Ringo Starr. They have four dogs. She dresses like Madonna of the eighties, not the church one. They smoke pot. Their Christmas involves hanging out at the community center. They serve dinner for the homeless, and yes, before you attack me, I think it’s nice that they do that. But it doesn’t make up for all the shitty Christmases I had when I was a kid.”

“Where’s your brother now?” Bryn asked Gabryel. She set the next cocktail in front of Gabryel.

“Praise be.” Gabryel cackled and took a sip.

“What about your dad? Has he ever asked you to do Christmas with them?”

“My brother is a freelance photographer. He spends his holidays anywhere other than the states. I pity my mom. He hates my dad. Neither of us adjusted to the changes. We’d have been better off in the crazy house with my mom worshipping the sun and dancing to disco music and my dad banging Rana on the side.”

“So you don’t see your dad?”

“I saw him last when I was twenty-two. And I see the look on your face, Bryn,” Gabryel lifted her hand to stop the question. “Six years ago. I showed up for Christmas. And I drank my way through it. Never drunk, just greased enough to make it through. He has two sons and two daughters with Rana. Think Nellie Olsen from Little House on the Prairie. I refused to stay in their house. Got a hotel room for the week, and even though it wasn’t the Ritz-Carlton, it cost me a fortune. I had a total of ten to twelve minutes alone with my dad that year. He asked how I liked school. And he was shocked when I told him I’d graduated and just started working at the bank. Funny, considering I sent him an announcement. Not because I wanted him or Rana at the ceremony. But because I wanted to say fuck you, I did it without you.”

“Gabe.” Elise winced. She sipped her wine and shook her head.

“I met a guy there. I liked him. A lot. He was older than me, but not creepy older than me. We spent some time together. Walked in the snow. Held hands. Drank hot chocolate. Kissed under the mistletoe. After we slept together, he climbed out of my hotel bed and said he had to get back to his wife. They were putting a playhouse together for the kids. So he had to leave me to go home and play Santa. And so, the holiday sort of makes me want to puke. Not because I got hurt. But because I was with a guy who had a wife and little kids at home, and I would never want to break up a family.”

“Not all guys are dicks,” Bryn started another Manhattan.

“I like dicks,” Gabryel answered with a shrug. “If they’re connected to a reasonably good-looking, intelligent guy. That’s all they’re good for, if you ask me.”

“So. Um.” Bryn cleared her throat. “Should we tell her?” She glanced at Elise.

“Tell me what?” Gabryel rolled her head on her neck. “You have some super hot nephew or brother you invited over to set me up with?”

Bryn and Elise looked at each other nervously and then Bryn looked back at Gabryel.


“I’m kidding. I know I don’t measure up to your standards. I’d be the last person you want to date anyone you care about.”

“He’s a good guy,” Bryn mumbled.

Gabryel stared at her through narrowed eyes.


“He works with Monty. He’s new in town.”

“Then how do you know he’s a good guy?”

“Not that new,” Bryn admitted. “I didn’t invite him thinking you could hang out with him under the mistletoe.”

“And yet, what to my wandering eyes should appear, but mistletoe in the entry way.” Gabryel took a healthy slug of the Manhattan.

“You could answer the door.”

“I don’t kiss anyone hello.”

“Magical season.” Elise shrugged suggestively. “Never know what could happen.”

“The brand of magic I grew up with makes me a firm believer in science.”

“Okay, so maybe the stars are aligned.”

“Okay, so if I play your game, I kiss him under the mistletoe and take him home tonight and play with him all night. Then what? Does he get invited back or do I? Because there won’t be room for both of us.”

“Gabe.” Bryn sighed.

“I’ don’t do love, Bryn. Any more than I do Christmas.”

“And yet, here you are, at a Christmas gathering with friends.” Elise tipped her glass to sip her wine. “Just saying.”

The doorbell rang, and Gabryel rolled her eyes.

“Wow. Do you have a whole script written out? How this is supposed to go? Can I ad lib?”

“You might like him.”

“I like Monty and Dex, but that doesn’t mean I want to be in love with them. I’m not interested, guys.”

“Okay. But he’s still here.” Bryn watched Monty pull the door open. Harrison Kent offered Monty a handshake and a hearty thanks for the invitation as he stepped inside. Bryn fought the urge to look at Gabryel, to see what she thought of the new arrival. His worn leather jacket hung open. He insisted on leaning over to tug his scuffed up brown boots off because there was snow on the ground, and he didn’t want to track on the hardwood floor. He followed Monty back through the open room, said hello to Bryn, and thanked her for the invitation, also.

The wire-rimmed glasses toned down the raw sexual appeal, but the nerdy look worked for him. Bryn had teasingly told Monty she’d take Harrison in the event of a holiday spouse swap. Monty—sexy and fun in his own right—had only laughed and rolled his eyes.

“Hey, Elise.” Harrison stepped around the counter to sling his arm around Elise’s shoulders. “Good to see you.” He gave her a gentle squeeze.

“You, too.” Elise had to look up to meet his eyes.

The short hair and sideburns were perfect for his classically handsome face. Thick, dark eyebrows curved over his deep green eyes.

“What can I get you?” Bryn asked him.

“Hey.” He grinned at the array of liquor bottles and cocktail ingredients on the counter. “Are you making Manhattans?”

“I am. Want one?”

“Mm.” He frowned as he considered it and finally shook his head. “Thanks, but I could maybe just do a beer for now.”

“Coming right up.” Elise slipped away from him to fetch a longneck from the refrigerator.

“Harrison, this is Gabryel Adams.” Bryn shot Gabryel a look warning her to behave. ‘Gabe, this is Harrison Kent.”

“Hi.” Gabryel offered her hand and a smile, looking for all the world like the girl next door. Bryn watched her, afraid she might climb from her chair and swing her legs around Harrison’s waist. Not that he would mind, but this was a family night, after all. The kids were all downstairs.

“It’s nice to meet you, Gabryel.” Harrison took the beer Elise brought to him. He took a step sideways and settled on the end barstool, giving Gabryel a bit of space. “Any chance you wear pink mittens?”

Gabryel opened her mouth to answer him, but she could only stare at him with surprise. The thought of the sharp-edged, cigarette-smoking, men-are-only-good-for-sex woman before her wearing pink anything was a surprise to Bryn.

“Yes.” When she did finally speak, Bryn would have sworn Gabe’s cheeks were tinged with pink.

Harrison tugged a pale pink mitten from his pocket and offered it to her.

“Found it on the driveway.”

“Oh.” Gabryel’s smile was sweet. Another word Bryn never thought she’d use in a sentence about her friend. Fiery and feisty and sarcastic and sexy, absolutely. Sweet, not so much. “Thank you.”

“Maybe a kiss for his time,” Elise mumbled so low only Bryn heard her. She bit her lip to hold in the sarcastic snort.

“Welcome.” He grinned, and Bryn felt her ovaries chirp. She glanced at Elise and knew from the look on her face that she felt it, too. He tipped his beer and tapped it gently to Gabryel’s glass before excusing himself to join Monty and Rex by the fireplace. And the tree.

The one that Gabryel probably didn’t like.


“I need a cigarette,” Gabryel answered as she fished through the big gray bag to find them. Bryn and Elise watched her saunter to the sliding glass door and step outside.

“Should have put the mistletoe over that door.”



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