Christmas by Candlelight Deleted Scene

photo of a gin tasting

Welcome to Brighton Bits, short short stories about the people, places and things in and around the fictional village of Brighton, New Hampshire.

Today, instead of a story, I’m offering a deleted scene. Can you guess why I cut it?

How Claire Broke Porter’s Heart

Porter had chosen a hipster bar in Boston’s Back Bay to host a show-and-tell gin tasting. It crawled with thirty-something, up-and-coming men and buzzed with a rumble of voices. Its straight and stark lines and lighting that both spotlighted and threw deep shadows made me feel squeezed in and out of place.

Snippets of conversation from tables, sampling flights of craft gin, drifted to me in spurts. Foraged white fir tips. Hibiscus-infused. Grapefruit notes. Unlike me, Porter with his golden good looks and his social ease was right in his element at this networking event.

I stood flattened against the dark wood wall, decorated with images of juniper, nursing a gin and tonic, minus the gin. To make time go by faster, I tried to distract myself with the shifting perspective game Porter and I had played so often on dates.

“Wide angle, Claire, what do you see?”

Brick and wood and rows of tables that the angle funneled straight to the door made to look like the entrance of a cave. A door that might as well be a mile away.

“Zoom in up close, Claire, what do you see?”

Ice floating in a glass of clear liquid, bubbles popping around a miniature iceberg over a spiral of lime rind twirling beneath like seaweed.

“Pan down, Claire, what do you see?”

The toe of a polished shoe with a scar on the leather, poised as if at a starting block.

I glanced at my watch and silently groaned. How could only forty-five minutes have crept by?

“Counting the minutes?” someone next to me said, startling me.

The woman had a spill of flame-red curls and a smile to match. Her little black dress was the kind that shouted sexy while still demure enough to pass for businesswear. She stepped out of her stiletto heels and rubbed her toes.

“I hate crowds,” I said. Probably not the smartest thing to say at one of these events, after all, I was supposed to throw a spotlight on Porter and his achievements. But my tongue got all sorts of tied when it came to socializing and I tended to say all the wrong things.

“You here for someone?” she asked, scanning the crowd.

The question’s phrasing seemed odd. “Porter Hull.”

He owned a maker lab and went all out to support members’ ideas that he thought had merit. Today’s was a new and innovative way of distilling gin. That ability to see what wasn’t there was what had brought us together three years ago.

“Ah, yes, the wunderkind with the golden eye.” She chuckled in a way that I was sure would have half the guys in the room thinking of silk sheets and sex.

“He is good at seeing possibilities.”

She tilted her head. “Are you one of them?”

I cracked a small smile and took of sip to tonic. “I’m just the girlfriend.”

“Just?” She tutted. “Don’t sell yourself short, honey.” She took a long sip of her drink. Wine, I noticed, not gin. “You could always leave.”

I wanted that more than anything. I wanted to go home, ditch the pinchy shoes and the binding dress. I wanted to dig into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy and get lost in a good nature documentary. “I promised to be here when he made his big announcement.”

“Oh?”

I shrugged, my gaze on Porter as he passed out compliments like calling cards. “He’s looking to impress some guy he thinks he can talk into pouring money into this gin project.”

“Does the project have value?”

“I guess it all depends on what you value.”

“Aaah.” She stretched out the word as if I’d said something insightful. Her gaze slid down my dress—a slinky thing that trussed me like mummy wraps—making me highly aware of the extra ten pounds I’d put on over the past year, attending all these networking cocktails and dinners.

“Do you like gin?” I asked, scrounging for words that stacked together in a way that made sense.

She lifted her glass. “I prefer wine.”

“Then this project wouldn’t be for you.”

She turned her gaze back to the scene in front of us, men at tiny tables, jostling for attention and domination. “What do you do?”

“I’m a photographer.”

“You’re not taking pictures.”

I thought of the owls and foxes and bobcats that made up my portfolio. “Wrong kind of wildlife.”

“I don’t know.” She once again let her gaze roam the room. “They look pretty wild now that they’ve got a few gins under their belts.”

Porter caught sight of me and waved.

I pushed off the wall. “Time for the big announcement.”

He rapped a spoon against a glass. “Can I have your attention?”

The noise dimmed down to a murmur. “I’d like to introduce you to our newest investor, Sam Blanchard.”

Applause went up. He hadn’t waved to me, but to the woman beside me. She slipped back into her killer heels. “That’s my cue.”

The smile she threw me had a dangerous edge to it.

And I had the sinking feeling Porter wasn’t going to like her announcement.

* * *

After Sam declined to invest, I somehow made it through the rest of the evening, a shawl of shame draped over my shoulders. By the time we left the bar, rain poured like Noah’s deluge. Although a car had picked us up and dropped us off door to door, I still managed to get soaked to the bone.

“Did you have a good time?” Porter asked, twining his fingers through mine in the elevator.

“You know crowds aren’t my thing.”

“I wouldn’t call that a crowd. More of a small gathering.”

Because I didn’t know what else to add, I let my head rest on his shoulder. “I’m sorry about Sam.”

“There’ll be others.”

Once up at the apartment, I kicked off my shoes. Dying to change into something dry, I headed toward the bedroom.

“Claire,” Porter said, in a voice that sounded choked.

Halfway to my destination, I stopped and braced, expecting Porter to ask me what I was thinking when I told her this investment didn’t meet her values. Except I had no idea she was the Sam he was so excited to meet. I thought Sam was one of the bearded and bunned men he was courting at the tables.

I turned on my heel to face the well-meant lecture. One of too many lately. You should come to the gym with me, work off the extra weight. This dress doesn’t suit your body type. To get what you want, you have to work your contacts, Claire.

Instead, he strode across the room, then got down on one knee in front of me. “Claire Chandler, will you marry me?”

My breath caught in my throat. My pulse beat at my temples, at my wrists, in my chest.

He looked up at me expectantly, blue velvet ring box open in the palm of his hand, glistening with rain. The diamond was the size of a raspberry. Each facet twinkled with utter confidence in its beauty, its value.

Here I was dripping rain on his expensive wood floors, hair slicked to my skull like a ragamuffin, mascara probably racooning my eyes. All I could think of was, why? That I’d cost him a boatload of money tonight. That it wasn’t the first time; that it wouldn’t be the last.

I wanted to say, “Are you crazy?”

I wanted to say, “Looking like this?”

I wanted to say, “Yes, of course,” for all the good times we’d shared—those long dinners, those walks across the city, those intimate conversations about hopes and dreams.

But mostly, all I could see was a lifetime of making mistakes stretching out ahead of me. A lifetime of saying no to me and yes to him. Of him growing to resent my social awkwardness, my lack of style, my invisibility.

He had goals, ambitions. I was a liability to those goals and ambitions.

“Claire?”

“I’m sorry, Porter.” I wrapped my arms around my wet and cold middle, holding myself together. “I can’t.”

“Oh.” His face crumpled like origami gone wrong. His gaze fell to the open box. A raindrop or a tear plopped against the white velvet hugging the ring in place. He shut the box with a snap and stuffed it back in the pocket of his jacket. That’s when I saw the dozen red roses, the bottle of champagne and the two flutes on the counter in the kitchen.

He rose to his feet, turned his back on me, and looked out over his beloved city. “I think it would be best if you moved out before I got back home tomorrow. I’ll get a room for the night.”

Which made me feel even worse, because the apartment was his. I should be the one to leave tonight, not him.

The relentless rain, plastering the wide picture window, transformed it into a mirror.

I’d broken his heart.

If you want to read more about Brighton, pick up a copy of Christmas by Candlelight and Christmas in Brighton or the new cozy mystery, Of Books and Bones.

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