Establishing shots: A rustic rural community center in a disgustingly festive midwestern town. We linger on an isometric overhead shot of the building; “December 24, 2002” fades in at the corner of the screen. Inside, the townspeople mingle and trade merriment in quantities that border on illegal. Our camera tracks through the crowd at elbow-level before we settle on a six-year-old girl. She’s standing beside her mother, looking shy, and holding a toy horse. From off-screen, the shittiest little nine-year-old we can cast enters the frame, snatches the horse, and runs away.
She takes off after him and the two weave in and out of the crowd of revelers. Their garb is rural formal, but we want to sell that it’s the past, so throw in a couple of “Never Forget” shirts. The girl, Noel, narrows her eyes intently as she falls behind. The boy looks back, laughing. Just as he turns his head to watch where he’s going, he runs face-first into a tree and sends the horse flying. Our state-of-the-art cameras follow it. Maybe slow this shot down enough to justify the purchase of state-of-the-art cameras. As the toy hits the floor, a leg dislodges. Eyes fall on the boy. Embarrassed, he takes off.
Noel approaches the horse, her face a mix of disappointment and anger. Reaching down to grab it, she’s beaten to it by the hand of another boy. She looks up, surprised, as he picks the horse and its leg from the floor. With what we’re to believe is talent, he reattaches the leg and hands it back to her.
BOY: Good as new.
Noel takes the horse and examines it, then retrains her amazed eyes on this stranger. The look is as much “love at first sight” as we’re willing to encourage a six-year-old to produce.
BOY: I’m Rod. Nice to meet you.
NOEL: I’m Noel.
The two smile at each other. The actors are children, and they don’t know how to fill a scene. That’s okay. We don’t care; let ’em run with it.
NOEL: How did you know how to fix my horse?
ROD: I’m going to be a horse surgeon one day.
NOEL: Wow! Like for real horses?
ROD: Yeah! Like Mr. Thumbtack’s.
NOEL: I’ve always wanted a horse.
ROD: Have you told Santa Claus? Mr. Thumbtack says if you really want a horse, you have to write a letter to Santa Claus. What would you name your horse?
ROD: That’s a beautiful name for a horse. So, do you go to schoo —
WOMAN: Rod! There you are. Your father’s been looking for you. He wants you to tell his coworkers how you delivered Mrs. Nelson’s calves during that barn fire last week.
The two share one last look as Rod shrugs.
ROD: Well, it was nice to meet you.
He runs off. Noel stares after him. She doesn’t notice her family approach behind her.
MOM: There she is. What do you have to say?
MIKE: …sorry I stole your horse…
DAD: You better be! We’re just lucky it happened this year and not next. Mr. van Duivel says he’s gonna move the celebration up to his fancy mansion once it’s finished. The Christmas trees there’ll probably be worth a million apiece. Imagine that lawsuit.
The conversation fades into the background as Noel stands silently, her eyes drifting between her toy horse and the boy who is pantomiming a live calf delivery on the other side of the room.
Interior, a cramped studio apartment in New York City. I want to say, like… 30 square feet. It’s not well kept, but also not so poorly-kept that a Hallmark-attractive white couple wouldn’t live there. Our blonde female lead sits behind her MacBook at a cramped desk that boasts the only color in the unit: a small Christmas display. The door opens and in walks her boyfriend, a decently-attractive man with a quality that shouts “I can be immediately overshadowed by a rural hunk”. In the corner, “Present Day” fades in. We’re not future-proofing this. Hallmark is forever.
NOEL: Chinese again?
MATT: I didn’t have time to get anything else. Long day at the office. You know the end of the year is big for us. I do tech support for male models. Couldn’t you have made something?
NOEL: You know I don’t have time. There’s a big presentation tomorrow and I’m a working woman. I may be a housewife at heart, but our fast-paced, urban society has tricked me into believing I can provide for myself as well as a man can.
MATT: I can’t possibly provide for both of us. This studio apartment costs fifty thousand dollars a month and I don’t value a hard day’s work enough to get a real job in rural America.
NOEL: Speaking of rural America…
MATT: When are you going to get over this, babe? I don’t have time to visit your family this year. There’s a big Male Model IT conference in the city on Christmas Day. I can’t miss it.
Noel sighs, and the camera pans to a Christmas card from her family. (Qualities: Happy, white, wintertime. Wintertime optional)
Interior, a highrise office building in New York City. Overhead, the fluorescents are unbearable. The workfloor is decorated for Christmas, but the decor is “bad” at best. The exception? Our protagonist’s cubicle, which she shares with three other people. There’s a small Christmas tree on the desk, some holly and toy reindeer, and a framed and signed photo of Santa Claus. Speaking of our female lead, she’s walking in now, huffing and puffing. She’s joined by a work friend, who’s Hallmark Hot, but, you know, not so much so as to compete with the protagonist you’re already identifying with.
MARIE: You’re late. The boss is gonna go nuts.
NOEL: I know, but the traffic —
MARIE: She’s coming now! Look busy!
Noel picks up a manila folder and leafs through it as her friend get back to work. The boss, definitely a tightly-wound woman in a pantsuit, approaches.
BOSS: Late again…?
NOEL: Oh, hi, boss, listen —
BOSS: This is the busy season for the company we work for, Noel. If you can’t make it into work on time, maybe I should find someone who will.
NOEL: Yes, boss, I’m sorry —
BOSS: This isn’t your tiny Nebraska town anymore, you understand?
NOEL: Yes, of course, I —
BOSS: Don’t interrupt me when I’m being a bitch. Get back to work or you’re fired!
She walks away and the friend re-emerges
NOEL: I know… what crawled up her pantsuit? (or any line remotely resembling this)
MARIE: Girl, have you asked for your time off yet?
NOEL: No, I —
NOEL: It’s just, we’re really busy, and — look, you saw the mood she’s in.
MARIE: You haven’t had a vacation day in six and a half years. You deserve this!
NOEL: Tell that to her…
Interior, NOEL’s cubicle. It’s later in the day, she’s got a pair of glasses on or something and she’s holding a hand to her temple. She must have a headache. It’s easy to see why. The brightness of her computer screen is competing with the fluorescent lights above. Noel’s very serious-looking, businessy coworkers work around her. Then, on her screen, a video call comes in. If we can get Skype to sponsor the movie, great, if not, give animation like, I don’t know, ten minutes to come up with something. The ringing is loud. She’s surprised and accidentally answers. It’s her mom.
MOM: Hello, Dear!
NOEL: Mom? I’m at work, I can’t —
MOM: Hello, honey? I can’t hear you. Oh, your — your brother set this up this morning. You know I don’t know much about computers. Or anything really (laugh). Oh, there you are. Oh, you look wonderful! I hope I’m not bothering you.
NOEL: Actually, Mom —
MOM: Anyway, I just wanted to check in and see when you were coming in tomorrow. Your father’s out of the hospital, and we just thought —
NOEL: When was Dad in the Hospital?!
MOM: What? Oh, honey, I’m sorry, I can’t hear a darn thing! What did you say? Oh, bother. Can you tell me when your flight —
The Boss emerges from the hall, looking mad as hell. She thunders down the row of cubicles, ready to decapitate our protagonist
NOEL: Oh, no. Mom, listen, I have to go — no, I’m sorry. I’ll talk to you later. Boss, I’m so sorry, I —
BOSS: I work hard every day selling products and doing paperwork. And I have to interrupt my spreadsheets and stocks to come micromanage you every fifteen minutes? Unbelievable.
NOEL: I’m sorry, it’s just, I got a call —
BOSS: Was it with the President of the biggest company in Asia? Because that’s who I was on the phone with. He was going to offer us a $50 billion deal, but now he is going to bring it to our rival company in Chicago because of this.
NOEL: I’m sorry, it won’t happen again.
BOSS: It better not. Anything else before you cost me more money?
NOEL: No. Well, actually — well, sorry, there was one thing. I was wondering if maybe I could have some time off for Christmas, you know, to visit my family?
BOSS: Christmas?! You still celebrate that? A waste of money, I’d say. You know what I think about wastes of money…
NOEL: They’re wastes of money.
BOSS: Exactly. Now get back to work.
SCENE 4: Noel’s Apartment
Interior, a 15 square foot apartment. Noel is getting ready for bed. Matt is out. “Male Models IT Conference” is written and circled on the calendar. Noel steps into her slippers and walks to the bed, when her phone lights up. It’s a picture of her mom and dad, self-shot. Beneath it, the caption is something like “Sorry about the call earlier. You know me and computers! Hope we can see you for Christmas. Love you, Mom.” Noel takes a deep breath, collects herself, and shoots to her MacBook WorkingWoman. She opens a flight booking page (sponsorship would be wonderful) and books the first flight out. She tears up, unable to believe what she’s doing as she rushes out the door and catches a late night taxi. She pulls out her phone inside the taxi and calls Matt. Splitscreen mode engage.
MATT: Babe? What’s going on? I was just about to solve a major IT problem for one of our male models.
NOEL: Babe, I’m… I know this is gonna sound crazy, but I’m on my way to the airport. I’m going home. I… I wanted to see if you were interested in coming with. I know… I know you’re busy, I just —
MATT: Definitely not. Business is too busy. There are so many problems going on. I can’t go to Nebraska and it’s because of business.
The camera pans, showing a group of angry male models holding phones and tablets with, I don’t know, like a little alarm animation and “ERROR” in big red cyber letters
MATT: I have to go. Bye.
NOEL: Matt, wait —
He doesn’t. She puts her head in her hands as the taxi drives down the dark New York streets.
SCENE 4: Airport, Probably Omaha or something. Does Lincoln have an airport? Find out if Lincoln has an airport. NOEL emerges from the terminal alongside a whiter, more Christmas-friendly audience than surrounded her in New York. She looks around until she sees a clearly familiar face. Fans of the family picture in her apartment will recognize this guy. It’s her brother, holding a fake limo driver board with a childhood nickname on it. Lots of directional freedom here. Maybe it’s like “Scooter” or “Birdbrain” or something. I don’t know. She laughs and runs for a hug.
SCENE 5: Rural home, decked to the fucking nines in holly and/or jolly holiday shit. It’s festive, but not so festive that it completely covers the omnipresent veneer of rural work ethic. These people are what makes America great. As Mike’s Ford F-150 Supercab Vas Deferens 4WD pulls into the long driveway, the siblings’ parents are out waiting for them already. Dad’s wearing something rural, yet not trendy, like a puffy vest and old hat. Mom is also wearing a puffy vest but girls don’t wear hats. By the time Noel can clamber out of the car door, Mike is already helping her with her bags.
DAD: Hey Scooter!
NOEL’s mom goes in for a hug. Her father shakes Mike’s hand.
DAD: So, how’s that big stinky city treating you?
NOEL: Dad! It’s not so bad. It’s just… big. Also I wake up crying and want to kill myself.
MOM: I’m just so glad you’re home!! I’ll finally have someone to have brunch with.
NOEL: What happened to Mrs. Kirkpatrick?
MOM: She’s such a bitch. Just the other day —
NOEL’s dad starts coughing, pulling out an old handkerchief to hack into. Mom looks sad.
NOEL: Dad, are you okay?
DAD: I’m fine, I’m fine. Just something in the ol’ breathbox. Don’t worry about me. I’m built like a tractor.
MIKE: This tractor’s getting rusty!
DAD: Oh, it’s nothing. Anyway. Who wants some hot cocoa with eggnog?
Everyone raises their hands. The family laughs.
SCENE 6: Town Christmas Market
Noel is roaming the market, rummaging through fruits and mistletoe. She walks by the woman running one of the stands.
MRS. THOMPSON: Hello there. Why — well, wait just a moment! Noel White, is that you? Oh my, I thought you’d moved out to the big city! What are you doing here?
NOEL: I’m just back for Christmas, to see the family. Do you still have some of those world famous Red Delicious apples for Chestnut?
MRS. THOMPSON: Boy, do I. Right over there, on the left.
She gestures to the baskets of apples on the far end. There aren’t many of them, and they’re clearly labeled. She could have looked.
Noel grabs some apples and starts putting them in her basket, overwhelmed by the stunning lack of variety, she turns to grab another and bumps into something, knocking her basket over. She stumbles, trying to grab them as quick as she can, but she’s beaten by the object she ran into, the barrel chest of a farmtown fuckstallion. Handing her an apple, their eyes meet. There’s chemistry immediately, but hold your goddamn horses, it’s not that intense — anything over a “tender smooch” on the fuck-o-meter and this shit gets a parental advisory rating. They stand and chuckle together. Noel is nervous
NOEL: Oh, I’m so sorry, I should’ve —
ROD: It’s fine. Mrs. Thompson’s apples have me acting a little crazy too.
He looks into her eyes again. There it is.
ROD: I’m Rod.
ROD: Are you from around here?
NOEL: Yeah, I grew up here, but moved out for college. Now I work in New York. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you before, though. Are you new?
ROD: Nah. Lived here all my life. I went to Farm School, though. That’s probably why we’ve never met.
NOEL: The farm school. My dad was always telling me I should’ve gone there, but I wanted to go to public school so I could get into college in New York.
ROD: How’d that go for you?
She hesitates. Urban life has been nothing but a big fuckin’ mistake. She just looks down and smiles. He smiles back.
ROD: Well, I oughtta get going. Big farm meeting coming up.
Rod leaves. Noel’s gaze lingers for a moment. She’s startled by the ringing of the cash register behind her. She turns and gives the apple to Mrs. Thompson.
MRS. THOMPSON: Good choice. A horse like Chestnut needs quality feed. Hasn’t she won the Nutmeg County Derby the past three years?
NOEL: The past four. My dad won’t stop talking about it.
MRS. THOMPSON: Tell you what, I’ll puree one of these up and send it ‘round to your place for Frankie.
NOEL: Oh, Mrs. Thompson, you don’t have to —
Mrs. Thompson waves away the response.
MRS. THOMPSON: You kidding? Your mom’s my favorite customer. And Frankie ain’t Chestnut, but she deserves good food too. It’s on the house.
Noel smiles. What a nice woman. What a nice town.
SCENE 7: The White farmhouse, interior, an HGTV kitchen. Noel is typing away on her MacBook, looking stressed. Her mom comes in.
MOM: I wish you’d put that away. It’s Christmas!
NOEL: Tell that to my boss.
MOM: I don’t have her phone number. Besides, what happened to your dream of running a mommy blog?
NOEL: Mom, that’s not realistic.
MOM: Why? Does Matt have erectile dysfunction?
NOEL: What? No! I mean, yes, but that’s not it. There’s just not enough time in the day. We each have to work 90 hour weeks and by the time we’re home — ugh, Mom, forget it.
Noel looks outside, where her father and brother are lifting some heavy rural object, like a cow or a heavy hay bale. They set it down and her father doubles over, coughing and rubbing his back. Noel stands, but he recovers. She turns back to her mom.
NOEL: When were you going to tell me Dad’s sick?
MOM: Oh, we didn’t want to bother you, and it’s no big deal, really. Your father, he’s built like a tractor.
NOEL: Tractors get old, Mom.
MOM: This is getting depressing. People are going to start switching to Lifetime. Hey, here’s something: I heard you met up with Mrs. Hollyjolly’s boy, what was his name? Bod? Lod? Scodd?
NOEL: His name —
MOM: Hang on, I’ll get it. Pod? Todd? God? No, that’s someone else. Maude?
NOEL: His name’s Rod. You know his mom?
MOM: Of course! Holly and I go way back. We were best friends in school and her family has always been in arm’s reach but I’ve never mentioned them up until now because I left all my friends behind when I married your father. You know, that Rod is a good boy. A real country hunk a mother could approve of, and that’s important to our target demo.
NOEL: Mom. You know I’m with Matt. I don’t want to go against my vaguely religious but obviously Christian values.
MOM: Honey, I get it, but listen: this is Hallmark. Infidelity is the name of the game.
NOEL: Mom, what? I’m… I’m gonna get back to work.
SCENE 8: Morning. Noel comes downstairs, slightly disheveled so we know she’s been sleeping, but not so much that she’s not cute. She’s obviously wearing makeup. Her father is dressed and ready. He hands her a cup of coffee, made just the way she likes it.
DAD: Up late, Honeybun?
NOEL: Kinda. I was talking to Mom yesterday and…
DAD: Say no more. Your Mom means well, y’know. But she’s stupid. Brain doesn’t work like mine. I’m built like a tractor.
NOEL: I know, Dad.
Mike walks in, also dressed and ready, clad in warm overalls and workman’s gloves.
MIKE: You ready, Dad? Oh, shoot. Scooter, you comin’?
Dad looks at her intently.
DAD: Are you?
NOEL: Coming where?
MIKE: Where? It’s December 22nd, Birdbrain. Did New York City scramble your egg that quick? It’s Christmas tree day.
DAD: You remember Christmas Tree Day, don’t you? We decked this place to the nines in mid-October, but we wait until three days before Christmas to pick up a tree.
MIKE: That’s when they’re freshest, right Dad?
DAD: That’s right. Well, daylight’s wasting. Move it or lose it, Scooter.
NOEL: I’ll — okay, fine. Give me a minute to get ready.
SCENE 9, exterior, Christmas tree field. The three are roaming up and down aisles of tall coniferous trees. Dad’s eyeing them, hands in his pockets, calmly. Noel is visibly cold.
NOEL: It’s been five minutes. How about this one?
DAD: This one? C’mon, Petunia blossom, this one’ll never work. Look at it. It’s all… I don’t know, shitty.
MIKE: Dad’s the expert. Look at you, all shivery. Guess life in tropical New York City made you forget what a blistering cold Nebraska winter is like, huh?
We’re filming in suburban LA so it’s probably gonna be, like, 75° and sunny. Just try and sell this. Honestly, suspension of disbelief is already set to 120, so don’t worry too much about it. Are you still reading the script?
Mike pauses and points at a tree, further down.
MIKE: Hang on, Dad, this looks like that tree at the pasture.
DAD: It sure does. That’s a good, girthy tree, that one.
NOEL: Hang on. Which tree? All of our trees —
MIKE: It’s not our tree, birdshit. Dad’s been taking Frankincense out for her daily exercise out on the west side of town.
NOEL: The west side of town — Dad, that’s all the way on the west side of town!
Dad nods, knowingly. It’s not great, but it’s the way it goes. He’s that kinda guy. He’s built like a tractor.
NOEL: What’s wrong with our land?
MIKE: It’s bad.
I don’t know why it’s bad. Maybe there’s a sinkhole. Maybe the local government is irresponsible and now there’s a sinkhole. Maybe Frankincense is allergic to the grass.Or maybe we don’t need to explain. Anyway, TBD.
NOEL: That was a thorough explanation, but… isn’t there something we can do?
MIKE: We had a deal for a couple of acres of land all set to go…
NOEL: But what? What’s happening?
DAD: You’re not gonna like this.
MIKE: A big firm from New York City undercut us and took it They want to build a skyscraper called “Christmas Sucks” where talking about Jesus is banned. Pretty soon, they’ll have all the land they need.
NOEL: There’s gotta be something we can do.
Her Dad shrugs. Mike frowns.
DAD: I think this is the one. Let’s lift ‘er up and put ‘er in the truck like I did your mother on our wedding night.
Dad and Mike take the tree. Noel is left there, looking worried. She should probably help, given that her tractor of a father is at death’s door, but we really need this next exchange to happen, so she doesn’t.
ROD: Didn’t think I’d see you here.
Noel jumps a little, taken aback. Rod looks sexy as hell but he also looks Christmas.
NOEL: What–oh, Rod!
ROD: You’re looking for more land for the pasture, huh?
NOEL: You heard that? Yeah, but where are we going to find more land around here? The population density of one person per four square miles has the town choked for places to build already.
ROD: That’s easy. Old Mr. Thumbtack is retiring in a couple months. I’m sure we could convince him to give up some of his land early for the right price.
NOEL: Really? But that would require paperwork, I think. I mean. I don’t really know, I guess? What does it take to sell land?
ROD: Yeah, it’s paperwork. But I can do that no problemo.
NOEL: You can do paperwork? I thought you went to farm school.
ROD: I did. I got my Masters in Agricultural Acquisitions from Farm Tech. I just did a land sale for Mr. Carpenter that landed me 36 billion dollars in commission.
NOEL: Wait, you’re actually rich but you don’t act like it at all because you wear, like, flannel shirts or whatever?
ROD: Yeah. I’m really down to Earth and I choose not to use flowery language. I’m intimidating physically, but not intellectually, even though I’m kinda business smart in a way that’s good because of money. Kinda cool, huh?
NOEL: Wow, so you could really do this?
ROD: I’ll draw it up.
The two share a tender look. At this moment, six children (casted for “cute”, not acting ability) run up and stare at him.
KIDS: Uncle Rod, uncle Rod! We found our trees.
NOEL: Uncle Rod?
ROD: These are kids from the local orphanage. I met them through the app I designed to match wealthy local benefactors with Victorian-era ragamuffins without parents for Christmas. Each year, I get them their own trees and we have Christmas together.
NOEL: Oh, wow. That’s amazing.
KIDS: Can we go, Uncle Rod?!
Rod looks at Noel, smiling.
ROD: Well. Duty calls.
KIDS: We love you, Uncle Rod!
The children and Rod leave stage northeast and Noel watches them, failing to hold back her own smile.
GUY: Beautiful, isn’t it?
Noel stumbles back, startled.
GUY: He sacrifices so much for those kids. D’you know they were gonna make him CEO of Apple? He had a whole twelve figure salary lined up. They said there’s one condition: you’ve gotta put all those kids back up for adoption. Most people would have done it. Heck, I would have done it. But Rod said no. Y’know, my Mom got trapped in a car crash once, a few years back. Got shrapnel from the exploded gas tank right in her kidneys. Both of ‘em. Paramedics said she was gonna die, either from the crash or from the kidneys. I sure am lucky Rod was there. He lifted the car right off of her and did surgery right there on the spot, gave her his own kidney. Just so happened he was driving it to the hospital to drop off for child cancer research. He said she clearly needed it more. If it weren’t for him… wow.
He sighs and smiles, staring forward.
GUY: I just love Rod.
NOEL: Wow. You two must be good friends.
GUY: Good friends? Try best friends. I mean, he never really mentions me to anyone and it sort of feels like I’m just here fill a very specific role. Sounds kinda fucked up when I put it that way, I mean. I’m the closest thing this film has to a major Black character and all I exist for is to talk Rod up? Did I mention the time my car broke down thirty miles into a six-hour journey and Rod picked me up, brought me there, and baked cookies? Yeah, I guess we’re best friends. I’d tell you my name, but, honestly, you’d probably forget it. Anyway. You seen Rod?
SCENE 8, The White house living room. The family is decking the tree.
Mike, holding some kitschy ornaments, looks out the window.
MIKE: Looks like the snow really came down out there.
Dad sighs; he tries to hide it, but he’s too late.
DAD: Well, guess I better go out and try to get ahead of it.
NOEL: Wait, what? Dad, no. You can’t, not with your back.
DAD: It’s a tractor back.
NOEL: I’ll do it. Mike, you coming?
MIKE: Mom needs me to put the star up on the top.
Noel rolls her eyes and grabs a shovel.
SCENE 9, The White family’s long-ass country driveway.
Noel starts shoveling, but she’s rusty. She hasn’t done this in a while. She lives in a New York City apartment. She snows bit by bit, but she still struggles. A truck pulls up in the background.
VOICE: You need some help?
Noel looks. She’ll be damned. It’s Rod. He exits the car and jogs up to her, his own shovel in hand.
NOEL: Rod?! What are you doing here?
ROD: Got more snow than we were expecting. I got a call from the Andersons. Needed some help with one of their goats.
NOEL: Is he okay?
ROD: He will be. Poor guy’s got goat cancer. They usually take him out to the clinic in Reindeer for his chemo treatments, but with all this snow? No way. I said I’d come out and do it myself.
The two are hard at work, shoveling the driveway. Noel’s trying, but Rod’s doing a better job.
NOEL: You can do that?
ROD: Sure can. I minored in radiology at Farm Tech.
NOEL: That makes sense.
ROD: So. How long you in town for?
NOEL: I don’t know, a couple days, I guess. My boss is already furious with me. I don’t want to test her.
ROD: Sounds like a tough boss.
NOEL: Yeah, well, we all have to deal with stuff like that sometimes.
ROD: Not me. I’m my own boss.
NOEL: I guess we’re pretty different.
ROD: I don’t know about that. So… you like it in New York City?
NOEL: Yeah. I mean, it’s okay. There are a lot of people. And it’s… noisy. Our apartment has rats. And roaches. And rent is a million dollars a month. Not to mention…
ROD: I thought these were supposed to be reasons you liked living there.
Noel smiles. She made an oops.
NOEL: You ever think about moving out of here?
ROD: Sure, I mean. I have. And I did. After my second tour in Afghanistan, I thought I’d had enough of Nebraska. Went out west and worked for a company there for a year…
NOEL: I heard they wanted to make you CEO of Apple.
ROD: Yeah. I was VP of Acquisitions for a while. They wanted to get into self-driving cars and artificial intelligence.
ROD: What a load of… I mean, it’s the dot com bubble all over again, isn’t it? I told ‘em they need to get back to their roots, start investing in what their company is all about. We started buying up orchards up and down the west coast.
NOEL: Did that work?
ROD: Boy, did it. Brass doesn’t like to talk it up much — some of them fancy city folk didn’t take too kindly to a country boy telling ‘em how to run their business. But the big secret ‘round the C-suite was that apples were the only thing making Apple money. Seems pretty obvious to me that a company called “Apple” should sell apples. I saved their tushies from the fire and I guess the board wanted to reward me for it, make me CEO. But I couldn’t do that to Tim. Besides, there’s only so much I can do for a company as doomed as that one. And California? No way.
NOEL: When’d you know you wanted to come back?
ROD: Honestly? Day one. Went to bed in that luxury apartment, couldn’t sleep without the smell of hay and manure. Never really got better.
NOEL: You really are a farm boy at heart, aren’t you? Isn’t there anything else you care about?
The two share a look.
ROD: Well. Maybe.
They divert their gazes but soon return.
ROD: Listen, the Christmas festival is coming up, up by Gingersnap Lake. I usually go alone, but I was wondering… if you’d like to go with me?
NOEL: Like… a date?
ROD: If you want to call it that.
NOEL: It’s been so long since I’ve been on a first date.
She looks nervous.
ROD: First date? I’d say this is something of a first date, wouldn’t you? The second date is much less pressure.
Noel smiles. They get back to shoveling.
SCENE 10, A town gathering place
MOM: Thank you for coming to help set up for the Christmas recital, honey.
NOEL: Oh, c’mon, Mom, you know it’s nothing. What can I help with?
Mom looks off screen, distracted.
MOM: What? Oh, hang on, honey. Hello there, Mrs. Kirkpatrick!
Mom runs off to meet her frenemy. Noel’s left standing there alone.
EVE: Noel? Is that really you?
Noel’s eyes widen, and a smile appears on her face.
NOEL: Eve? Oh my gosh! I didn’t know you were still around.
EVE: I wasn’t. I went to Med School out in Chicago. Tried to be a doctor in the big city, but… well, there’s nothing like home, right?
Noel stares off screen for a moment. She’s clearly deep in thought.
EVE: Well, enough about me. What’s new with you?
Transition shot: a pan around the room at all the Christmassy shit serves as a time warp to get to the end of the conversation.
EVE: Wow. Rod Hollyjolly? He’s the hunkiest guy in town.
EVE: It sounds like the two of you are really hitting it off.
NOEL: I don’t want to speak too soon, but… [overexcited] we are. The only thing that could stop us from a New Year’s Eve kiss would be a horrific misunderstanding that unnecessarily drives us apart to push the plot.
NOEL: Hang on, is that —
Around the corner, Rod walks up to the punch bowl with a woman. She laughs at something he says and says something herself, making an exaggerated pouty face. Rod responds by putting his hand on her lower back. Noel and her friend gasp. They lean in closer to listen in.
WOMAN: So, this Noel… do you like her?
ROD: Like her?
Zoom in on Noel. For expression, think… your child was murdered in front of you. She clenches her fists and walks off. Her friend, equally angry, follows. The camera moves back to Rod.
ROD: I like her, like her.
SCENE 11, Outdoors, Mrs. Thompson’s house
Noel and her father and brother are helping Mrs. Thompson decorate the tree in front of her house. Noel looks frustrated. She drops an ornament from up high on a ladder. It hits every branch on the way down and hits Mike on the head.
MIKE: Scooter, what the —
Her father smirks and puts his hands on his hips.
DAD: What’s goin’ on in that dome of yours, Scooter?
NOEL: It’s nothing, it’s… nothing.
MRS. THOMPSON: I don’t know about that. I heard about what happened between you and Rod.
MIKE: Rod Hollyjolly?
MRS. THOMPSON: Mm-hmm. I heard Noel here had a little bit of a fling with the hottest piece of Man-Ass in all of Nutmeg.
MIKE: He ain’t that hot.
Mrs. Thompson shakes her head. He is that hot.
NOEL: It wasn’t a fling, we were just… talking, that’s all.
MRS. THOMPSON: Call it what you like.
NOEL: How did you even hear about that?
MRS. THOMPSON: You made the mistake of telling Dr. Eve. Don’t you know she can’t keep a secret?! Word was all around the knitting circle last night.
NOEL: I guess I forgot about that.
MRS. THOMPSON: It’s honestly disrespectful, and a major problem, given the whole HIPAA thing, but in this context we think it’s kinda cute.
DAD: So what happened with Rod?
NOEL: Dad, don’t worry about it.
MIKE: I heard you walked in on him with another woman.
DAD: Another woman?!
MRS. THOMPSON: Now hang on, I don’t know. That just don’t sound like Rod… he’s dated models, actresses, female heads of state, but… he just don’t strike me as that kind of a guy.
NOEL: Yeah… me neither…
She looks down at her phone screen, displaying a big ol’ notification: 45 missed calls, ROD. She frowns and reaches for another ornament.
SCENE 12: Inside a car parked outside the town’s post office.
NOEL: Mom, I told you I had to send out my Christmas cards. Matt was supposed to, but an issue came up with male models and… ugh.
MOM: Just be quick. I have to go to the jeans store for some last minute Christmas shopping.
Noel exits the car and walks into the post office. She walks up to the counter.
POST OFFICE WOMAN: Deliveries?
NOEL: Yeah, kinda urgent. I think the postage should all be —
The moment is interrupted by a door opening behind the counter. Out comes the postmaster, followed by Rod, who’s carrying a large package under his arm.
POSTMASTER: Thank you so much for coming out here last minute, Rod.
ROD: Of course, Postmaster Dan. It’s nothing.
POSTMASTER: Y’know, the bigwigs out in Lincoln keep telling me the postal trucks and airplanes are the best way to send mail, but… Mr. Thumbtack’s horses get the mail there way faster than any motor I’ve ever known.
ROD: That’s the power of a good horse.
POSTMASTER: You sure he’ll be willing to take on the job?
ROD: Sure will. I called in a favor. I struck oil digging an irrigation ditch on his farm a year or two back and he’s made $32 million on it. Figures he owes me. I said it was nothing but… well, hey.
POSTMASTER: Well, I cannot thank you enough.
ROD: Please, again, it’s noth—
Noel finally catches Rod’s eye. He almost drops the package.
She pauses. She’s almost excited to see him, but then she remembers how mad she is at him. She tries to look away. Rod walks up to her.
NOEL: I have a busy schedule, I gotta get my mom to the jeans store. Maybe you should just let me send these and I’ll get out of your way.
ROD: You never let me explain.
NOEL: Alright, then, go for it. Explain.
She speaks with unnecessary exasperation.
ROD: That woman’s not my girlfriend. She’s a member of my mom’s knitting circle. She hurt her back having a rural experience. I was helping her out.
NOEL: With your hand on her back?
ROD: It’s a technique I learned in farm school for wounded cattle. Women and cows aren’t that different.
NOEL: Oh. She’s really just your mom’s friend?
ROD: Noel; of course. I would never cheat on you. I consider our informal, undeclared bond sacred.
NOEL: So… for the Christmas festival… it’s a date?
ROD: Yeah, but…
He bites his lip. He’s worried about something. I wonder if he’ll tell us?
ROD: My ex is coming.
NOEL: With you?!
ROD: No! Her family puts on the event.
There’s a nervous blur between the two of them, but Noel looks excited. She almost forgets to hand over her Christmas cards before she heads out the door to meet with her mom.
SCENE 13: A luxurious, massive, superhuge mansion. Marble floors, gold accents, million-dollar Christmas trees. This place is decked to the tens with holiday decor, but there’s no character. It looks like something out of New York City.
Rod is on the event floor, mingling with some Hallmark 6s and 7s. He takes a chance look and catches her in the corner of his eye. Noel is stopped on the stairs, clad in a dress and make up. Her hair’s been done. The camera lingers, both to show off her look and to help justify the money we’re spending on make up and wardrobe. We flash back to Rod, who looks like he’s never seen a woman in a dress before. It’s almost offensive how much disbelief he’s in. Did you think she was ugly before, or what, Rod? She’s not wondering any of this. She’s looking back at him. She starts to slowly descend and walk up to her television-friendly lover. She stands there, saying nothing, just looking intently at him. Honestly, she loves compliments.
ROD: Wow, you’re…
He looks her up and down but in a way we respect
ROD: Stunning. I’m speechless.
NOEL: You don’t look so bad yourself.
ROD: Oh, this? Nah, this is nothing. Just the suit my grandfather died in. He was a war hero, you know. Should we go get something to drink?
The two turn to head for refreshments, but something else catches their eyes. Enter Anastasia, a physically-attractive woman dressed in qualities that turn us off to her; maybe she’s too elegant or too tall or gives an urban vibe.
ANASTASIA: So this must be… Nolan?
Surprising the fuck out of everyone, Anastasia is inexplicably English.
ROD: Noel, actually.
ANASTASIA: Ah, of course. And… you’re a…?
NOEL: Office. I’m an.. I mean, I work in… I mean —
ROD: She works in an office in New York City.
ANASTASIA: Ah, New York. I own a 93rd floor penthouse in Staten Island. Maybe we’ll run into each other. Or maybe we don’t travel in the same circles.
Noel doesn’t run in the same circles. She doesn’t live in a penthouse. She’s a simple girl. She wears flannel. She’s wearing it now. No she’s not. She’s in a dress.
ANASTASIA: So what has Rod here told you about me?
NOEL: Um —
ROD: You, actually… haven’t really come up.
She puts on a pouty face
A shame. My family puts on this event. It’s a sort of… pity project my father does for my grandfather. He moved out of this tiny town to attend liberal arts college and made 99 billion dollars, which audiences should approve of, but he did it in an urban, anti-Christmas way that they would hate. Me, I got my law degree years ago, but I make more money attending suave events and modeling for Big Veganism. Have you ever modeled for Big Vegan?
Noel blushes. She hasn’t. Embarrassed, she blurts out
NOEL: My boyfriend works for male models.
Anastasia laughs. She can’t help it. Working for male models is pathetic, right? But then she laughs for another reason — her boyfriend? She points at Rod, questioningly.
ROD: What? No, she’s — listen, the air smells weird in here, is there a gas leak? Sounds like a major liability.
Anastasia balks at the word “liability”. She’s a snake-ass lawyer, can you blame her? She scuttles off.
ROD: Hang on… your boyfriend?
Noel frowns, ashamed of herself for a brief moment.
NOEL: Well… yeah. Listen, I never told you but…
Rod eyes the door. We’d planned to replicate the misunderstanding angle from before, but Hallmark needs us to shave 30 minutes off of this bitch, so we’re gonna plow straight through.
NOEL: Yes. But. Hang on. He’s… he didn’t want to come out here. He was too busy with male models.
ROD: Male models?
They stare at each other for a moment. Is he going to attack her? We want half of our audience to be afraid of that, and the other half to be okay with it if it’s in a sex way. Instead, he breaks out in a rural chuckle.
ROD: Wow. That’s… something.
Noel smiles, wiping away her embarrassment and humiliation.
NOEL: But… it’s over. In his moment of stress, he failed to support my compulsion and for that… it’s over. He’s not like you. You’re Hallmark hot.
Rod tightens his lips in a contented smile. This is good enough for him.
ROD: No problem.
The two mingle around the party for a while, the camera pans over the festivities against a jazzy Christmas song. The music fades as they, smiling, walk arm-in-arm toward a group of people that parts too late for them to have noticed Anastasia before she notices them.
Rod looks, but there’s nothing he can do. Anastasia is giving them a foul smile.
ANASTASIA: Rod, hello! Come, come. My father and I were just talking with Mr. Thumbtack.
The camera pans to reveal the most Daddy Warbucks businessy dude we’ve seen so far standing next to an old, balding man with a bushy white beard clad all in red.
ROD: Mr. Thumbtack!
He turns and looks much more seriously at Anastasia’s father.
ROD: Mr. van Duivel.
The stern man nods.
ANASTASIA: We were just celebrating with Mr. Thumbtack. My father’s company purchased his remaining parcels of land and now they’ll have enough for their skyscraper. Isn’t that wonderful?
Rod looks shocked, but he cleans the look off his face.
ROD: Wow. Well. Congratulations.
Mr. van Duivel nods again, Anastasia beams an evil smile.
MR. VAN DUIVEL: I think it’s time we get back to the board.
The two turn, leaving our couple with Mr. Thumbtack.
ROD: Mr. Thumbtack, I thought that land was still available —
MR. THUMBTACK: It was, but when you came by to saddle my horses with that package, I’d left the signed contract in one of the saddle bags. Once it makes it to its destination in New York City… well. The land’s theirs.
ROD: Oh no. Oh, no, Noel, I’m sorry, this is all my fault.
NOEL: Is that it, then? There’s no more land.
MR. THUMBTACK: Not unless you can get Rod’s paperwork to New York City faster than the van Duivels’.
ROD: No mail truck beats your horses, Mr. Thumbtack. I’m sorry, Noel, I guess this is it.
NOEL: Wait a second. You’re right that no mail truck can beat Mr. Thumbtack’s horses, but… what about another horse?
Rod contorts his face into a shocked expression.
ROD: Noel, I’ve seen a lot of horses… Mr. Thumbtack’s… they’re something else.
NOEL: What about Chestnut?
NOEL: She’s won the Nutmeg County derby four years in a row.
MR. THUMBTACK: That’s a real pretty horse. Fast, too. Maybe faster than mine.
NOEL: Do you think it’d work?
ROD: Mr. Thumbtack’s horses left earlier today… it could, but we’d have to leave right away.
NOEL: But we’d need a jockey. Mike left to go pick up his pregnant wife, and my Dad… he’s my Dad. He’s not a tractor.
ROD: I think I might have just the thing.
SCENE 14: Outside the White stables. Noel, Rod, and Rod’s friend “Guy” are there. Guy is clad in a jockey’s uniform.
ROD: You sure you can do this, Ricardo?
RICARDO: It’s been a while, but… I think I’ve still got it in me.
ROD: Here’s the map. You think you can do this?
Ricardo looks at it.
RICARDO: Gee, I dunno, Rod. This is faster than I’ve ridden in a long time. I’d need…
He wipes his forehead, staring at the map. Noel looks nervous.
MR. THUMBTACK: Maybe this is a ride for two.
The group turns. He’d appeared silently, decked out in a thick red fur coat and standing beside a sleigh fitted with two reindeer.
ROD: Mr. Thumbtack —
RICARDO: All due respect, Mr. Thumbtack, I think that sleigh of yours will make me slower, not faster.
MR. THUMBTACK: I don’t know about that. This is a special vehicle I made myself. Y’know, it’s not every horse that can pull it, but one that was raised on a farm with a special Christmas spirit…
He looks around at the decorations everywhere, at the Christmas tree shining bright beyond the windows.
MR. THUMBTACK: I think it might be enough.
The group exchanges looks. They’re unsure, but they don’t have any better ideas. Ricardo looks at Rod for reassurance. Rod shrugs and Ricardo shrugs back, climbing up on Chestnut as Rod and Mr. Thumbtack hitch him to the sleigh.
MR. THUMBTACK: Alright, son, you have the paperwork?
Ricardo opens a bag to reveal a ream of paper.
MR. THUMBTACK: Keep that safe. We’re going to go pretty quick.
RICARDO: Come on, Mr. Thumbtack. How fast could this thing possibly go?
Mr. Thumbtack smirks.
MR. THUMBTACK: I think you might be surprised. We ready, Rod?
ROD: I think so. Noel?
Noel nods, still nervous, but hopeful.
MR. THUMBTACK: Alright, then. On Chestnut!
He gives a shake of the reins and Chestnut takes off, first at a trot, but then she really gets going. The snow starts flying beneath her hooves. Rod and Noel squint to watch as she fades into the distance. Then, at the last second, it looks like — did she really?
ROD: Did you see that?! Did she—
NOEL: There’s no way. She’s a horse. She can’t…
NOEL: I guess there really is something special about the Christmas spirit.
SCENE 15: The White house, the family is sitting by the fire on Christmas morning. Rod, Noel, her mom and dad, Mike and his pregnant wife. In the corner, a horse that looks 99% dead. This must be Frankincense. They’re enjoying the day, sweaters on and cocoa in hand, but there’s something missing. The phone rings.
MOM: Rod? It’s for you.
Rod looks confused, but he stands and answers the phone.
ROD: Hello? Yes. Really? No! Really? Okay. Thank you so much, Ricardo.
Rod turns to the group
ROD: That was Ricardo. They… they made it. The deed’s good. The land is yours.
NOEL: Really?! Dad, we’ll have a pasture. For Frankie!
Dad’s face brightens. He shoots up. Noel and Mike grimace, expecting pain, but it’s not there.
DAD: You hear that, ol’ girl? No more going all the way out to the west side of town. You’ll be able to trot around right here!
Frankie stays put for a moment, emotionless, then something happens. A little life returns to her eyes. She starts to stand, slowly at first, then more quickly. She stands strongly on her two legs and Mike leads her outside, where she starts leaping around excitedly. Mike comes back in.
MIKE: Well, with that good news out of the way — time for presents?
The group moves excitedly toward the tree where Mike hands the presents out.
DAD: In honor of this good news, I think Noel should open the first gift.
The camera pans. Everyone is in agreement. Noel, taken aback, reaches for one.
ROD: Wait. I think you should open this one first.
He hands her a present he’d been holding, one that hadn’t made it under the tree. It’s a small, wrapped box, a couple inches by a couple inches. What the hell could this be? The biggest mystery so far. She looks at it, then him. He nods. She starts to unwrap it. As the giftwrap falls to the floor, Rod grabs the box inside from her hand and lowers himself to one knee, opening it to reveal the largest diamond she’s ever seen set in a beautiful gold ring. Do y’all think we could put like a horse on it somewhere? Would that look cool or lame? I mean, either way. I’m not gonna press it. Maybe, though. Noel gasps.
ROD: Noel Christmas Pudding White, will you do me the honor… of being your husband? Will you marry me?
Noel looks at the ring for a moment. There’s suspense, but we’re not, like… on the edges of our seats. The next movie starts in two minutes, so, like… we know. Still. She reaches for the ring and puts it on her finger.
NOEL: Oh, Rod… of course!
The family celebrates.
MIKE: Yeesh, Rod, save some Christmas magic for the rest of us. I got Margaret a sweater!
The family laughs and a montage shows them opening their gifts. Mom gets a friendship bracelet from Mrs. Kirkpatrick. Dad gets a miniature tractor. Margaret (Mike’s wife) gets a sweater. They retire out to the yard, where Frankincense is still going absolutely wild. The camera pulls out to look at the family from above. We end with Mr. Thumbtack’s voice from afar.
MR. THUMBTACK: Ho Ho Ho!!
He’s fuckin’ Santa Claus.
Peep the Christmas Collection for more Ben.