Nobody was coming. Katie Zeferelli dropped the phone on the carpet and flung herself backwards onto the sofa. A poof of Salvation Army special wafted upward and the Charlie Brown Christmas tree dropped a few needles in response to her sobs. Her career as an actress (possibly as a human being) had been stillborn; her family had gone on a cruise for Christmas, and the last of her fabulous new friends had just cancelled on her Holly Jolly Christmas party.
“What do I have to do to make my life work?” she demanded. Her cat Zed briefly opened one eye, then twisted and licked his butt.
“That’s not an option.” Katie snapped. The Titanic was her current life metaphor. Lots of self-proclaimed fanfare and then Blam. Disaster. Well, maybe not as much a disaster as the old guy clerking at the convenience store. His badge didn’t say Tom, or Jose, or Billy-Bob – it said MR ZADROOZNY. The end of the alphabet (she related), the tag-end of life, the bottom of the business barrel and he insisted on being a Mister. Katie liked that. She liked it a lot.
Tapping her teeth she sat up. What about the other people who had hit bottom like her and MR ZADROOZNY? To hell with her friends who were too busy doing something cool. She would throw a party for non-cool people. Like MR ZADROOZNY. Like herself. Zed tormented a dream mouse and then disgruntled, woke up. Katie ignored him.
The invitation template and mailing list hummed to life. A quick delete of RSVP and addition of Pot Luck. Flipping to the back of the phone book included in her rent, Katie started with Florence Za...
“The people at the end,” she told Zed. More needles fell off the tree as she typed. Seeing her at work, Zed jumped up and strolled across her computer keys. He left welts when she pushed him off.
Two hours later Katie jogged down to the convenience store and dropped 51 envelopes in the mailbox. MR ZADROOZNY glared at her through the window.
And then the day came. With slightly shaking fingers, Katie lit a couple of festive candles, fiddled with the lights, and rearranged plastic cups and napkins. 7:55…8:00…8:04…
“Zed,” she wailed, “what if nobody comes! What if even the end of the alphabet rejects me?” Zed waved his tail and wandered across the table in search of something worth eating. “None of the food is here yet,” Katie told him.
And then the bell rang. Katie froze and then when the second knock came, sprinted for the door. She pulled it open to a young man holding a package of store-bought cupcakes.
“Zach…I need help!” came from down the hall. He thrust the cupcakes into Katie’s hands and dashed down the corridor where a young woman wrestled with a stroller.
“Hi Katie!” she called. They got the buggy under control, she grinned, and then her smile faded. “You aren’t Katie,” she accused. “You don’t have a baby!”
“I have a cat…”
The woman fished out the invitation, looked at it and looked at her. “I thought you were Katie from our Lamaze class.”
“No, Katie Zeferelli.” She pointed at the flickering candles. “I’m having a Christmas party for the end of the alphabet.” No question, she realized. She’d fallen over the edge and was seriously crazy.
Zach stuck out his hand. “Zach Zorzi. This is Patti and Kaeden.”
Just as the Zorzis were getting a start on the cupcakes, the doorbell chimed again…and again.
Zanon…Zander…Zehner…Zenhuang….Zumwalt…Zyback…Zamora…Zymanski…and finally Mr. ZADROOZNY gripping a huge steaming casserole, with a tiny Asian woman in a nurse’s scrubs beside him holding out a bottle of wine.
“You?’ Mr. ZADROOZNY muttered. “I brought boeuf bourguignon,” his face folded and molded into a smile. Sort of.
“Florence Za,” the nurse said. “Thank you…thank you for inviting me.”
They were all lonely, or curious, or thinking she was someone else, Katie realized. And they all thought she was crazy… but the food was so good. Vietnamese, South American, German, plus a lot of storebought cheese and vegetable trays. Wine flowed. So did conversation among the nurse, convenience store clerk, office manager, electrician, teacher, construction worker, unemployed, and wannabes.
And a few were even cool – like George Zehner a producer for a new TV show. He coaxed Zed from the closet and while the cat purred in his arms and the rest of the guests toasted the season, he offered Katie a job as a goofy best friend on his new series.
It was long past one when Mr. ZADROOZNY left with Florence Za and the others drifted to their homes.
“Merry Christmas,” Katie told Zed. He fluffed his fur and plunked onto her pillow. Leaning back against the spare, with “Joy to the World” playing on the TV’s crackling fire, Katie texted all her friends about the amazing party they’d missed and her very cool new job.