Large snowflakes fell in a winter's dance outside Nicole Flattery's office window, taunting her with their cold beauty. They landed gracefully on the evergreen boughs and red velvet ribbons wrapped around the old-fashioned lampposts lining Boston's streets. Another Christmas alone buried up to her eyeballs in work she could never seem to see her way out of.
"Yes, Jim. Sorry. What were you saying?" she said into the phone.
Her boss cleared his throat. "Connors wants a few more changes to the aesthetics of the outside. He's trying to reel in his costs."
"If we can switch out the stone with brick in a few places, it'll help. But the development firm is really picky about their rule. Not to mention the town council. It may not fly."
"See what you can do. I'm sure I don't need to remind you how important this account is to our firm."
Disappointment tinged his voice. No matter how hard she worked, she could never seem to please him. "No, of course not. I'll take care of him. You can count on me."
He disconnected from the phone call, and Nicole blew out a deep breath. She pulled up the files for the development's terms and conditions. She'd been working day and night on this account and had thought they'd finally made it through this phase of the development. The growing stack of projects sitting on the edge of her desk mocked her. They would have to wait a little longer.
"Oh, it's snowing. I love the snow," her assistant Carrie said, bustling into the room with another file in her hand.
"I hate the snow," Nicole grumbled.
"No, you don't. You just hate that it reminds you of home, and you can't go."
"I swore to my dad I'd be home this year for Christmas, but the way things are going, it’s not looking very promising."
"Just do it, Nicole. We are closing down for four days. You can take a long weekend."
"I could, but then I'd never get through this stack." And she'd hate to see the look on Jim's face when she had to give her weekly progress report. Her work hours were grueling. She gave it all she had and was moving up in the company fast, but it was getting more and more difficult to find a good balance between her work life and home life.
"You don't have to finish all those files."
Nicole looked up at her with surprise. "I have to if I want that promotion."
"You are the hardest working architect in this firm. Mr. Morris is a fool if he can't see that."
Nicole smiled and glanced outside. "You should get going before that snow gets worse."
"What about you?"
"I just have a few things to catch up on and then I'll go."
"Yes." Same Carrie. Always concerned for Nicole's heath and safety. Nicole had a tendency to put in a few late nights more often than she should, but even she didn't want to be walking home from the train in this weather.
They said goodnight and Nicole went back to her screen. She'd only read through a couple of pages of the development's specifications when the phone rang again.
"Nicole Flattery," she answered, absently.
"Nicole. Thank goodness I got ahold of you." The panic in Mary Margaret's voice struck an unexpected blow to Nicole’s insides. She hadn't heard from her father's neighbor in at least a year. Maybe more. And she certainly hadn't heard that tone, not since she was a child and Landry had fallen through the ice.
"Mary Margaret? What's wrong?" She glanced at the old picture on her desk. Her father in his Santa outfit, one arm over her spotty pre-teen self, beaming in a green elf costume. "Is my dad okay?"
"Yes, thank goodness. Though the fool man is lucky he didn't break his neck. He never listens."
Nicole blew out a shaky breath. "Okay, start at the beginning. What happened?"
"What always happens? He climbed up on that ladder to hang his Christmas lights and fell off. How many times have I told him he doesn't need to be up on that ladder, especially at his age."
"He fell off his ladder?"
"Yes, that's what I said. Fell on his gardenia bushes and destroyed his shrubbery. Luckily, he only broke his leg and not his fool neck. Though he does have a minor concussion."
"Where is he now?" Nicole asked, horrified by the image of her father lying on the ground amidst the broken branches and waxy petals.
"At Mercy Hospital. You should come home."
Nicole's gaze immediately shot to the stack of papers strewn across her desk. Her dad needed her. She was all he had. A no-brainer. So why wasn't she moving? Or breathing?
"Yes, I will. I'll be there as soon as I can." She stood, staring at her desk, trying to decide what to take, and what to leave.
"Good. They're releasing him this evening, and they need someone to stay with him for the next twenty-four hours."
"All right. I'll be there."
Mary Margaret's voice softened. "It sure will be nice to see you again, sweetheart. It's been way too long."
"It has," Nicole said absently, trying to remember exactly how long. She hung up the phone. The snow falling outside changed from a picturesque fluttering to a harried flurry.
She picked up the phone again and called her boss. "Don't worry, I can work from my dad's place in New Hampshire," she offered quickly before he could object.
"Are you sure you don't want Steve to take over this account?"
"No, I can handle it."
"All right," Jim agreed. "Take care of your dad, but don't forget if it looks at any time like you can't get it done, call Steve."
"I will," she promised, though she had no intention of giving up the account. She grabbed the bulk of the files along with her laptop and dropped them into her briefcase before heading out the door; all the while, praying her father was okay.
And that he had Wi-Fi.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish