SCENE: Dingy, nightmare-fuel office building in the Gomorrah neighborhood of Manhattan
From above, we descend on the crowded, bustling streets of New York. The notes I got from corporate on the last one made it clear that we want to do a better job of establishing Christmas early on, so we’re not going my preferred route of “Dickensian Nightmare”. Instead, the aesthetic is a tourist’s dream of New York: Christmassy and populated exclusively by attractive people. As our camera (can we swing a drone for this one?) moves through the crowd, we find ourselves floating higher and higher until we zoom into the high-up window of a gray office building. Inside, the Christmas spirit we’ve cozied up to is gone. The atmosphere is beige-tinted panic attack. We hone in on a familiar cubicle and see Marie hard at work, her desk covered in papers as she tosses them around the surface, throwing anxious glances at her computer. She doesn’t notice the woman approach behind her.
Startled, Marie jumps. Her feeling of fear visually deepens when she notices who it is. It’s her boss, the same one from the first movie. For visuals, send Casting the following: pantsuit-ready, with a haircut that screams “Medusa if Medusa was an office bitch”. This time she’s not alone. At her shoulder, huffing her fumes, is every corporate coworker you’ve ever hated. We want the audience to seethe when they see this one.
BOSS: Is the report done yet?
MARIE: It’s – almost, I just need to–
BOSS: Almost won’t cut it, Marie. I have presentations in 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, an hour and 30 minutes, an hour and 55 minutes, and 2 hours and 10 minutes.
MARIE: I understand, I’ll–
BOSS: This isn’t the first time you’ve been late with a report, Marie.
MARIE: I know, it’s just… it’s the busiest time of year around here, and we never replaced Noel when she left, and…
BOSS: You were promoted to take on Noel’s workload. I thought you’d be grateful to be named Senior Analyst.
MARIE: Yeah, it’s great, it’s–
BOSS: It’s what?
MARIE: I’m… the only analyst?
BOSS: I don’t see how that’s my fault, Marie. How do you expect me to hire a new team with this economic climate? Everyone is quiet quitting, and another employee means less money for me to embezzle.
MARIE: I’ll get it done. And I’ll have the Roberts report done by Friday.
BOSS: Friday’s not good enough, I need you on a plane on Thursday.
MARIE: Hang on, I’m sorry, a plane?
BOSS: Yes, Marie, a plane. It has wings, it flies, and I have two ex-husbands who got arrested for trying to have sex with me on one. That’s neither here nor there. I have a meeting coming up with Alaska’s number one pollution manufacturer about a new pipeline and we haven’t secured the rights to the land yet.
MARIE: I thought Noel squared that all away before she left?
BOSS: No, she didn’t because she sucks and I’m glad I fired her. We have all the land we need except for one critical parcel completely blocking the way into the Evergreen Valley. If we don’t secure that land by Christmas, we’re screwed.
MARIE: Wait, hang on, I can’t just —
BOSS: Marie, you and I both know you’ve been expecting that promotion to Lieutenant Analyst. You know, the one that comes with health insurance.
MARIE: Yeah, of course, it’s my dream job, I just—
BOSS: Well, if you can’t make it work, maybe I should let Veronica try her hand at it.
The camera focuses on Veronica, the Boss’s sycophant. Can we make that her job title? She gives a devilish smirk.
MARIE: But Veronica’s still in her first year!
BOSS: Is this or is it not something you can handle?
MARIE: I can—I just… are you sure it’s in Alaska?
The boss gives her a stern look. This conversation is over. Marie slumps back into her chair.
SCENE: Outdoor bench, New York City
Fresh from commercial, we lead in with Christmas music and fresh eyes on the snowy cityscape of New York. Hot mormons in winter hats and scarves litter the screen. If we can reserve an ice skating rink and fill it with single dads who go to the gym, I’ll be in heaven. The camera moves throughout the crowd before landing on Marie, who’s sitting on the bench in her own impeccable winter attire, an anxious look spread across her face. It’s broken up by the vibrating of her phone. She looks down, smiles, composes herself, and answers the video call. Fans of the first film are about to go fucking nuts; it’s Noel and Rod! They’re clad in red flannel and so is the dog, the horse, and each of the six little blonde kids that surround them.
NOEL: Hey girl!
MARIE: Hey – wow! It’s… been so long. Hey, uh, everyone!
The battalion of children wave in unison.
NOEL: How’s New York?
MARIE: It’s… it’s fine.
ROD: It doesn’t sound fine.
He speaks with rural authority. We’re all just really glad Noel found a man like this.
MARIE: I don’t know.
NOEL: C’mon, tell us what’s wrong!
MARIE: Alright, well, you remember our old boss?
NOEL: Ugh. Scrooge McPantsuit?
MARIE: Yeah, well… she’s trying to send me to Alaska.
NOEL: To Alaska?! What for?
MARIE: I guess there’s a plot of land that we didn’t get squared away? I don’t really…
NOEL: Oh, no! I meant to deal with that before I left, but then…
She looks around, gesturing with a nod toward the eldest of the six.
NOEL: That’s when I got pregnant with this one and Rod insisted I move back to Nutmeg county right away.
ROD: We saved a lot of money on ultrasounds. What’s the point going to some big city gynecologist when I’ve got a horse MRI right here?
NOEL: Anyway, I am so, so sorry. If there’s anything I can do…
She shifts on the couch, tilting the camera and making it clear that she’s somewhere between 8 and 12 months pregnant. Marie holds up a hand in protest.
MARIE: Girl, no. You finally got out of this job! This is my mess to fix. I just… didn’t expect to be spending the holiday in Alaska.
NOEL: Well… who knows. Maybe you’ll meet someone?
MARIE: No, I can’t… it’s been so long.
NOEL: You know I can’t accept that! It’s been almost a year since Tom left you for his cousin. You gotta get back out there! Maybe a change of scenery will be the right thing for you.
MARIE: Yeah… maybe.
NOEL: Anyway, we gotta run. Myrrhanda’s Christmas prayer recital is in fifteen minutes and you know how long it takes to get six kids in the flatbed of Rod’s truck.
MARIE: It was good to see you! Merry Christmas!
THE WHOLE FAMILY: Merry Christmas!
Marie bites her lip. She wishes that could be her, surrounded by her own musk mountain of a man and their rural progeny. Maybe Noel has a point. Maybe it’s time to move on.
SCENE: Exterior, airport
A towncar pulls up to JFK or LaGuardia airport, whichever one we can get permission to shoot at the fastest. Inside, a driver, Marie, and, for some fucking reason, Veronica.
VERONICA: Remember, Marie: we need that land by this time next week.
MARIE: Yeah, I got that, Veronica.
VERONICA: I’m just saying. If you can’t… maybe someone else can. Do you understand what I’m implying?
MARIE: Yeah, I got that. Thanks.
She steps out and enters the airport. Check the runtime in the movie and maybe intersperse some B reel of her leap-frogging between airports until landing in Alaska.
SCENE: Exterior, tiny Alaskan airport
In a concrete tarmac outside a tiny airport, Marie steps off the smallest airplane we’ve ever seen, some real Dodo Airlines shit.
MARIE: So, hang on, how long are we stopping here before we get to the airport?
PILOT: Until we get to the airport? Honey, you’re looking at the airport.
Marie is fucking bewildered. What does he mean this is the airport?
MARIE: Are you sure? This isn’t just, like… a plane garage?
The man shoots her a look that reflects how stupid her addled urban brain is.
PILOT: Y’mean a hangar?
Marie shrugs, exasperated.
MARIE: It’s my first time in Alaska.
PILOT: I figured.
MARIE: So… will my driver be here soon or…?
He laughs a frontiersman’s guffaw
PILOT: Yeah, I suppose I can call Dean. Hang on, clear the runway, here comes Paul.
She looks up and sees another tiny plane in the sky, beginning its descent toward the airport. She checks her watch and steps aside. As it lands and the pilot exits to argue about sports betting with his coworker, she spends time trying to order something from the vending machine. When she’s finally got it, she turns and goes back into the single-room airport where she reaches for her luggage. But before her hand can make it to the handle, it meets the larger hand of a man. Taken aback, her eyes meet his. Is this our Hallmark meetcute?
NOPE. GOTCHA! The two cringe and recoil as soon as they make eye contact.
MARIE: I can handle my own luggage, for your information.
MAN: Yeah? That’s nice. Me too.
He goes in to reach for it again.
MARIE: Excuse me? Are you serious?
The man furrows his brow, pausing.
MAN: Excuse me. Am I bothering you?
MARIE: You’re trying to take my luggage.
MAN: This is my luggage.
MARIE: Milanese leather with an Eiffel Tower sticker?
MAN: Now you’re just being mean.
MARIE: What? No, that’s my luggage.
MAN: It’s not!
MARIE: It so is. Excuse me, pilot?
The pilot begins his approach. The man, embarrassed, tries to wave him away.
MAN: I really don’t think that’s necessary. Clearly there’s a misunderstanding.
MARIE: You think?
MAN: Why don’t we just open it up and see what’s inside, if it’s yours —
MARIE: Oh, why, so you can look at my underwear? Pervert. Is this what Alaska is like?
The man’s done. He can’t believe this. He steps away, raising his hands in surrender. The pilot grabs the bag from both of them and puts it on a table. Unzipping it, he flings it open. Inside, a bunch of man shit. Marie’s face sinks.
MAN: Yeah. These your boxer shorts?
He holds up a pair of Christmas Tree boxers.
MARIE: Okay, okay. My mistake. But really? The Eiffel Tower?
He shrugs, looking on with disbelief.
MAN: I taught in Paris.
PILOT: I had to use the restroom. I forgot your luggage on the changing table in there.
MARIE: What the hell?
The pilot shrugs. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is what it is. He looks at the airport front door.
PILOT: Oh, look at that. Dean’s here.
In from the cold walks Dean, a middle-aged rural man who looks like he’s lived in Alaska his entire life. Let me rip the band-aid off right now: Dean is NOT hot. You’re not wondering if Marie will end up with Dean. She won’t.
DEAN: Dean Schmidt, at your service! You must be Mary.
DEAN: Oh, shoot! Marie. Okay, okay. Well, your chariot awaits, ma’am.
He gestures out the window toward a beat-up truck. Marie rolls her eyes and takes the luggage the Pilot is offering her before following Dean to his aforementioned chariot.
SCENE: Inside Dean’s truck
Marie is typing away on her phone. Dean keeps looking back and forth between her in the road, trying to find a path for conversation.
DEAN: So… first time in Alaska.
MARIE: What? Oh, yeah.
DEAN: What brings you into town? The annual Gingerbread Festival?
MARIE: I didn’t know there was a Gingerbread Festival. No, I’m just here for business, actually.
DEAN: Oh, wow. Not a lotta people come in for business around here. Captain Keith told me you were from New York City. That’s a long way away!
MARIE: Yeah. Sure is.
An awkward pause passes. Dean’s visibly uncomfortable by the silence.
DEAN: Yeah, I’ve been here all my life. Me and my wife, Carol, we got married straight out of high school. High school sweetheart, I guess! And then there are our kids, Jeremiah, Joshua, and Jezebel. I might have some pictures in the glove box if you want to see, there’s one of Joshua when he was so little, he —
MARIE: How long until we get into town?
Dean is confused for a moment but then laughs.
DEAN: Why, well – you’re looking at it!
Marie furrows her brow and looks out the window at the small houses.
MARIE: This is… it?
DEAN: Welcome to Norwegian Pine, population one hundred and one! A little slice of Christmas in the Evergreen Valley! Between you and me, it’s not my favorite time of year. One too many bad memories. But the Gingerbread Festival makes it all worth it!
Disbelief floods Marie’s face as they continue through this incomprehensible rural landscape. I can’t make this next note clear enough: we have to build this town from the ground up. I spent half of the production money on a research trip to rural Alaska and that place is a damn nightmare. I found one cute town that could fit the bill, but they just changed their town motto to “Mike Pence National Traitor”, so maybe that’s best to be avoided.
MARIE: So… what do people do here?
DEAN: Oh, all sorts of things. My Carol makes a great pot roast, you should try that. And then there’s Darius, the law student – his fiancee makes a great pot roast. And then there’s the Mayor, Rose. She’s a great mayor. Makes a mean pot roast too.
Marie sighs, sinking into her seat. We switch to an overhead view of the car moving through the Alaskan wilderness. It curves through the narrow roads until it approaches what is indisputably the titular “Inn”.
SCENE: Exterior, The Gingerbread Inn
DEAN: Here we are, the Gingerbread Inn!
MARIE: Great, thanks!
Marie starts to open the door, but Dean continues. She’s visibly annoyed.
DEAN: Let me tell you, you are gonna love this town. We have this tradition where a bunch of guys dress up like nutcrackers, oh, and there’s the Nog Bowl. And you cannot miss the Gingerbread Ball. Actually, I know Joe real well. Maybe I should come in and introduce you? It’s always a —
Marie’s eyes go wide at the gall of this rural yokel.
MARIE: No, no – no. This is fine. Thank you.
Dean laughs a boreal chuckle. He’s too rural and nice to understand that Marie is being a bitch.
DEAN: Suit yourself, then! I hope you enjoy the Gingerbread Inn. It’s where my wife and I got married… and had our honeymoon.
Marie cringes. Fucking gross. She makes her way out of the car and trudges uncomfortably through the snow, trying to avoid ruining her $6,000 New York boots. Marching up the front stairs, she glances once back at Dean’s truck, from which he waves to her, before knocking on the door. She waits at the top of the steps for a minute, giving her plenty of time to ape up an exaggerated shiver to really sell how cold it is in Alaska. The waiting drawing on a little too long, she checks her watch just before the door finally opens. She opens her mouth, ready to speak her mind, when she makes eye contact with, un-fucking-believably, the guy from the airport.
MARIE: What are you doing here?
MAN: I could ask you the same thing.
MARIE: I’m here for a meeting with the owner. And unless he double booked…
MAN: Maybe he did. Maybe he triple booked. Or… quadruple booked. It’s an inn.
Marie is not pleased.
MARIE: Can you just stand aside and let me in? It’s freezing out here.
The man obliges with a dumb-fuck smarmy smirk on his face. She steps inside, shivering.
VOICE: Jack, will you let me know when —
A second, older man is heard before we see him descending the stairs. As soon as he comes within visual range of Marie, he stops himself.
OWNER: Oh, well, you must be Marie.
He forces a smile, but there’s nothing jolly in it. He continues descending.
OWNER: We can meet over in my office, if you’d like.
He leads Marie down a hall bedecked on one side with large, chalet-style windows and on the other by a wall filled with framed pictures of what we must assume are guests who have stayed at the inn over the years. At the end of the hall, he motions her into a small office before stepping in himself. Once inside, the two sit on opposite sides of a nice, wooden desk. The rest of the room radiates Christmas; garland lines every possible surface, at least three Christmas trees are visible at all times, and Marie winces in discomfort at the sight of a large Nutcracker figurine positioned just a couple of feet from her face.
OWNER: Joseph Frost. Friends call me Joe.
MARIE: Marie Saint Christ.
Joe returns another smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. He weaves his fingers together
JOE: I suppose you’re not here to tell me you reconsidered my counter offer.
Marie echoes his smile with one of her own.
MARIE: Unfortunately, my company isn’t exactly in the business of running inns.
Joe looks down at his hands, his shoulders pulled tight.
JOE: Yeah, well. Was worth a shot, wasn’t it?
Marie readjusts in her seat, composing herself for her pitch.
MARIE: But, Mr. Frost—Joe, I think the offer we sent you is beyond fair. If you look at market price for recent sales in the—
Joe holds up a hand, his eyes again meeting her own.
JOE: I don’t mean to interrupt, but… I don’t need the pitch. I’ve been doing this job a long time, I’m not getting any younger. I don’t know how you do it down in New York City, but up here, when we want to make a deal, we tell a man straight what we want. So you can keep your papers. All I need to know is this: if you were on my side of this desk, holding my candy cane pen… would you sell?
Marie pauses, biting her lip. Is this a fucking trap? What the hell, man. Almost forsaken to her own reverie, she snaps out of it just as Joe begins to raise his eyebrows in concern.
MARIE: Yes. Absolutely.
Joe nods and looks back down at his hands. It’s a good thing, too, because something in Marie’s look betrays her. She knows it’s a bad deal.
JOE: Alright then, it’s a deal.
Disbelief replaces the masked discomfort on Marie’s face.
MARIE: Wait, really?
Joe gives another tight-lipped smile.
MARIE: Oh my—that’s great.
MARIE: Okay, not that I don’t respect the whole “my word is my bond” thing, but… we will need that in writing.
Joe gives a light laugh and motions for the paper. She hands it to him and, licking the tip of his candy cane pen, he starts to sign.
JOE: Suppose there’s not much else I can do with the place. I’m slowing down. I thought one day I’d pass it down to my son, but… well.
Marie stares at his hand, waiting to make sure the ink is all the way on the paper before she responds.
MARIE: He’s not interested?
JOE: Well, he’s told me so about a million times. Y’know, I tried so hard to instill the Christmas magic in him when he was a kid. He used to love this place around the holidays. But then he went off to college, and then from there to law school. Now he tells me the market just isn’t viable for a year-round Christmas-themed inn in an uncharted area of Alaska accessible almost exclusively by charter plane.
JOE: I don’t know.
MARIE: Well—is he far?
JOE: Sure is. New York, just like yourself.
MARIE: Oh, wow.
JOE: Of course, he’s not there right now. He flew in, just to tell me “no” one more time to my face.
Marie frowns, but he counters with a smile.
JOE: I’m kidding. No, he really did turn me down one last time, but he’s here for Christmas. First time in a few years. He’s been busy litigating.
MARIE: That should be nice.
An uncomfortable pause passes slowly.
MARIE: Well, now that everything’s signed, I suppose I should probably be on my way back to the airport. It was nice meeting you, Mr. — Joe.
He nods, standing to show her the way to the door.
JOE: It’s too bad you couldn’t see this place for the festival.
[COMMERCIAL BREAK; include a spot for Hallmark’s “Christmas at the Barrio“]
SCENE: Exterior, Gingerbread Inn
Marie shuts the door behind her, visibly eager to get out of her. A sudden and unexpected chill falls upon her, followed immediately by a flurry of snow.
JACK: No, yeah, turn your wheels this way.
DEAN: This way?
JACK: Yeah, hang on, let me just shovel..
Looking down from the inn’s porch, Marie can see Dean’s truck stuck in at least a foot and a half of snow, all having somehow fallen since she entered. The mystery Man from before is hard at work trying to help shovel him out. Slowly, Marie approaches.
JACK: Try now.
With effort, Dean manages to free himself from the snow.
JACK: There we go.
DEAN: Thanks J—oh! There she is. Where we headed?
MARIE: Just back to the airport.
Dean’s expression sinks.
DEAN: Oh. Alrighty, then, I—
JACK: Wait wait wait, hang on—the airport? You’re seriously going back there? In this?
MARIE: Well, I’ve gotta get back to New York somehow, so… yeah.
JACK: No, no, no. No way. You can’t. There’s no way the planes are flying in this storm, and besides, the way there is all uphill and through the most dangerous road in the valley. Look, Dean’s truck could barely take this.
DEAN: I’m sure I’ll manage, Jack—
MARIE: See? He can manage.
JACK: You’re seriously gonna try to fly back now? Why?
MARIE: I just told you. I have to get back to New York, where I live. Where would I even stay if I stayed here in Alaska?
Jack throws his hands up incredulously.
JACK: Oh, gee, I dunno, maybe the inn? Y’know, the one you’re already at?
As uncomfortable as Dean was with the idea of driving to the airport, he’s even more put off by the tension. He raises a hand.
DEAN: Y’know, Jack, I… I think it might be lightening up. Yeah, look at that. Alright, Marie. Hop in.
Marie gives Jack a self-satisfied sneer. Jack’s own face is still painted with disbelief. He’s almost petrified in that stance as Marie climbs in the truck and Dean backs bumpily through the driveway.
[COMMERCIAL BREAK; include a spot for Hallmark’s “An ‘Oy Vey!’ Holiday”]
SCENE: Dean’s car
Dean weaves through Norwegian Pine’s meandering roads as the snow continues to fall around them.
DEAN: So… uh, how’d that meeting go?
MARIE: Really well, actually! He agreed to sell!
DEAN: Did he now?! Well, I’ll be, I didn’t know I was driving the new owner of the Gingerbread Inn! Let me know when you take over and Carol and I will stay the night!
MARIE: Gross. No, actually, I’m just here representing my company.
DEAN: Oh. I guess I never thought the Inn would go corporate, but… I suppose the old ways can’t last forever, can they? I just hope they find someone with half the heart that Joe has to manage it.
MARIE: Well… I don’t think anyone will be managing it.
DEAN: What do you mean by that?!
MARIE: We’re buying it for the land. They’ll probably tear down the inn and replace it with a dysentery pipeline.
Dean is taken aback and loses his composure. His focus on the road wavers and he starts to drift.
MARIE: Hey, wait, I think you should—what the hell?!?!
Dean returns his eyes to the road at the same time that we do, the camera landing for a split second on what looks like a ragged, frostworn woman clad in thick furs and brandishing a bloodied knife.
MARIE: Who the fuck was that?!?
DEAN: What? Who? That was…
He glances sidelong at her and visibly gulps
DEAN: No one. Just an ice mirage. We get those up here. You’ll get used to ’em.
He squirms in his seat.
DEAN: (whispered) …or not…
MARIE: I need to get out of this town.
SCENE: In front of the Evergreen Valley Municipal Airport
Marie, freshly emerged from Dean’s truck, is arranging her grip on her luggage. Dean leans out the window.
DEAN: Well, I didn’t think she had it in her, but she made it!
He sticks his arm out the window and gives the door a triumphal slap. His smile slips somewhat as he reattends to the rapidly-falling snow.
DEAN: Say… are you sure you don’t want me to wait around for a little bit? Just to make sure Captain Keith can get you out of here?
MARIE: No way. I can be surprisingly persuasive. It’s… kind of my job. You get home to Karen and that pot roast!
There’s uncertainty in Dean’s look, but he covers it with a smile.
DEAN: Well… okay! I do love that pot roast! I’ll see you…?
MARIE: Probably not. My work here is done. And… let’s be honest, I’ve seen everything this town has to offer.
DEAN: Oh, right. Well… I suppose this is goodbye!
MARIE: I suppose it is.
DEAN: Safe travels!
MARIE: Thanks, I will!
SCENE: Interior, airport
Marie is standing alone at the airport’s front counter, tapping her foot anxiously. She checks the clock on the wall, then her watch, then her phone, then the clock again. Eventually, the flush of a toilet is heard and the bathroom door opens.
MARIE: There you are. I’ve been waiting for forever.
KEITH: What do you want me to say?
MARIE: I’d like to get on the first flight to Anchorage, please. If I make it by eight tonight, I can catch the—
KEITH: Yeah, about that…
Marie furrows her brow.
KEITH: I don’t think you’re gonna be making it there by eight o’clock. Unless you mean tomorrow. And even then.
Marie’s vexation deepens
KEITH: Lady, I don’t know what you want me to tell you, it’s a damn blizzard out there.
MARIE: But—well, but that’s just not acceptable. I need to be back in New York—
KEITH: And I need to stop eating so much pot roast.
He puts a hand on his gut to cement the reference to his digestive health
KEITH: But I live here, so that’s not gonna happen. All the same, this is the worst storm we’ve seen in a while. I’m not flying.
MARIE: What about the other pilot?
KEITH: Who, Paul? Yeah, I don’t think he’s flying either, and you don’t want him to. Paul’s flown through six snowstorms; crashed his plane in every single one of ’em, so.
MARIE: Jesus, should he be flying at all?
KEITH: If you ask the state, no. If you ask me, hell no; the man makes a mockery of the aeronautical arts. I take my job very seriously. But it gets lonely here at the airport on my own and you try finding a pilot willing to work for subsistence wages in a town of one hundred just south of the Arctic circle.
Marie throws a cute little fit.
MARIE: So there’s really no way you’ll fly out of here?
KEITH: I’m telling you the same thing I told that crazy old man sitting over there.
He gestures to a man sitting in the airport’s small seating area.
KEITH: I don’t care how much Christmas Magic you promise me, we’re staying grounded.
MARIE: What am I supposed to do? Sleep here?
KEITH: I wouldn’t recommend it. Actually, I’m going to have to file a report against that man. He threatened to put me on a list. They said airborne terrorism would never come to the Evergreen Valley, and yet, here it is.
MARIE: Then where do I go?
KEITH: There’s an inn in town.
Marie contorts her face in response to this vile karmic justice. She takes a second to compose herself and puts her hands on the counter.
MARIE: I don’t suppose there’s any chance Dean’s still out there?
KEITH: No dice. I’ve got him on Instagram. Here he is sitting down for pot roast with his wife and kids.
MARIE: I… don’t suppose… you could give him a call?
Keith looks seriously at her and then shrugs.
KEITH: I’ll do it, but only for the free pot roast. But be warned, if you both get stuck up here after I’ve had my third slice, Osama bin Sleddin’ over here will be the least of your worries.
Marie doesn’t get it. She raises her brows and steps away from the desk. Just as Keith picks up the phone, hers rings. She takes a look at it. Veronica. Of course.
VERONICA: Hello, Marie, this is Veronica speaking.
MARIE: Yeah, hi, can I help you?
VERONICA: Where are you? The boss wants you here immediately.
MARIE: I’m in Alaska.
VERONICA: She’s not going to be happy to hear that.
MARIE: What does that mean? I just got here like two hours ago. It would be infeasible to be back in New York by now even if I weren’t snowed in.
VERONICA: “Snowed in”?
MARIE: I didn’t say that.
VERONICA: I heard it. “Snowed in” is bad, Marie. Like, official managerial talking-to bad. Like, not getting that promotion bad.
MARIE: Okay, chill, Veronica. The snow storm will pass and I’ll be on the next flight out of here. I have the documents signed and everything.
VERONICA: I’ll try to buy you some time, but… gee, I don’t know how long I can keep the lie going.
MARIE: It’s not even a lie, it’s — fuck off, Veronica.
She hangs up and goes to sit in the seating area, her frustration clouding her American sense of self-preservation in the face of foreign extremism.
POTENTIAL TERRORIST: Hello there, Little Girl.
Marie glances at the man. We shoot past the creepy shit he just said; her eyes widen slightly in faint recognition. A long, fluffy white beard flows from the man’s round face and beneath his pink nose. A genial smile spreads across his lips and he crosses his arms in front of his rotund belly, clad all in red. She’s seen this guy somewhere before, but she just can’t put her thumb on it.
MARIE: Um. Hi? I’m sorry, do I know you?
POTENTIAL TERRORIST: No, I suppose you don’t! Nicholas Ebenezer Thumbtack. Pleased to make your acquaintance!
MARIE: Nice to meet you too.
There’s something JOLLY in the twinkle of his eyes.
MR. THUMBTACK: Y’know, I couldn’t help but overhear… it being not a particularly large airport and all, that you’re stuck here for the holidays.
MARIE: Oh, no, it’s only until the storm clears.
MR. THUMBTACK: Is that so? Hm. You might be surprised.
MARIE: That’s a weird thing to say.
MR. THUMBTACK: Is it? I suppose so. I only mean… sometimes things don’t go the way you expect. Sometimes they’re better. Maybe you fall in love with the Evergreen Valley.
MARIE: Somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen.
Mr. Thumbtack gives a conciliatory smile.
MR. THUMBTACK: Perhaps not. Although, stranger things have happened… with a little Christmas magic.
MARIE: You still believe in Christmas magic? Even with this storm? Didn’t you have a plane to catch?
MR. THUMBTACK: Oh, yes. But I find things most often work out the way they’re supposed to, not the way we want them to. And it seems people often get what they deserve. Maybe the magic thinks I’d be more useful here for an extra day than I would be where I’m going.
MARIE: You think the pilot over there is gonna be alright with you sticking around here?
MR. THUMBTACK: I’ve been coming this way for years. I have no reason to doubt Norwegian Pine’s hospitality.
MARIE: …you don’t? Didn’t you say you overheard our conversation? It doesn’t sound like the two of you got off on the right foot.
MR. THUMBTACK: Hm, yes, it seems you’re right. I only meant to help him out.
MARIE: It sounds like he hates you. He said you told him you had him on a list.
MR. THUMBTACK: I do. And he’s not the only one. You see, Captain Keith is a philanderer and an art pirate. I find that in cases like these, it takes no more than a sock full of combustibles to right a man’s wrongs.
MARIE: Oh. Wait. What the fuck?
The airport door jingles. It’s got one of those jingle bell things to let you know when someone walks in. It’s not a Christmas thing, it’s just a normal bell. They have it there year round. Marie looks up and sees Dean walk in, shivering and covered in snow and hoarfrost. Relieved, she gets up and runs to him.
DEAN: H-hang on, I—
MARIE: No need; my chariot awaits, you said it the first time. Let’s go!
Dean gives the closest thing his near-frostbitten lungs can afford to a sigh and shoots Captain Keith a dejected look. Bundling himself up the best he can, he turns and follows his charge out the door.
Back outside, the snow is coming down faster than ever, and rough winds send it darting at Marie and Dean, both doing what they can to avoid its harsh sting. The two climb quickly into the truck and Marie tries her best to warm up as Dean turns the key and starts the engine.
DEAN: Now, before we get outta here—
MARIE: You can talk and drive. I’m going back to the inn.
DEAN: Right, well, actually, I think the safest place for you might be—
MARIE: New York, no, I know, but the stupid pilot said the planes can’t fly because of the storm.
DEAN: Well, that’s actually kind of what I’m trying to get at, see, a truck is kind of like the plane of the road, and—
MARIE: I agree, Dean, you’re a very good driver. Can we go, please? Please?
Dean, clearly conflicted, buckles his seatbelt and puts his hands on the steering wheel. Another look at Marie’s pleading face and he’s off.
[COMMERCIAL BREAK; include a spot for Hallmark’s “Collard Evergreens“]
SCENE: Front window shot, Dean’s car
Marie sits, examining her nails absentmindedly. Beside her, Dean’s holding on to the steering wheel for dear life, his knuckles almost as white as his face. He gulps.
MARIE: How long to the inn, you think?
Dean doesn’t catch the question at first. His eyes are on the road, but there’s something more, a deeper terror.
DEAN: What? Oh. Um…
He waits a beat
DEAN: Well, I don’t—
MARIE: Okay, fine. Keep it a secret.
Another awkward moment goes by; awkward for Dean; Marie’s mostly bored.
DEAN: Can I ask you something?
DEAN: Do you believe in superstitions? Do you think… forces outside this world exist? And that those forces can be commanded by people, if those people are… angry enough?
MARIE: My family’s Presbyterian but I’m thinking of converting and becoming Jewish.
DEAN: Yeah, okay.
Dean looks sick with worry. As the road becomes more uneven, he struggles to navigate some patches of snow. Marie continues to scroll through a dating app or social media page or something as Dean struggles to hold it together. After a particularly rough turn, he takes a few deep breaths and appears to relax. His knuckles start to regain their color and it seems like everything’s going to be alright. And then the car gets stuck.
MARIE: What’s going on?
DEAN: Oh, it’s just…
He steps on the gas, trying to force the car through the snow to no avail. His attempts to steer out of it are equally trumped.
DEAN: Well, the darn thing’s stuck. I don’t…
MARIE: Can’t you just give it more gas? Make it go faster?
MARIE: I don’t want to die out here.
The fear already forming on her face turns to horror as she reaches a sudden realization.
MARIE: I don’t want to die with you!
DEAN: Now hang on just a second—
Dean looks like he might finally have been bothered by Marie’s disrespect, but the look is fleeting, giving way to sheer panic as he glances sidelong out the window. In a rush, he tries again to navigate out of the rut and is ignorant to Marie’s appeals. The panic crescendos as we hear a tap on the glass. The camera pans and we see the same fur-clad woman as before. Fight or flight appears writ large on Dean’s face. Contorting all of its muscles, he visually acquiesces to his necessary death and rolls down the window.
WOMAN: You are stuck?
She speaks in something of an affected Russian accent, one we can’t quite place because the actress was born in Santa Cruz. Dean and Marie are as taken aback as we are, as neither answer her immediately.
WOMAN: Hello? You are speaking English? You need help? Snow is… very bad.
The two continue to stare, their eyelids immobilized by fear, but Marie manages a nod.
[COMMERCIAL BREAK; include a spot for for Hallmark’s “Ramadan Rudolph“]
SCENE: Exterior; road, a car stuck in the deepening snow.
All three of our characters are now out of the car, wielding what appear to be rudimentary, handcrafted snow shovels. Two of them are trying their best to free the car. Marie’s giving an honest effort, but she’s not cut out for this kind of work.
WOMAN: Sorry I scare you; I was clean my traps and you come by as I go to cross the road.
DEAN: Oh, sure.
MARIE: Traps? What kind of traps?
Dean shoots her a look in an attempt to shut down further conversation.
WOMAN: Usually small animal; squirrel, fox. Sometime larger; bear. Is my own design. Disintegrate all of animal except meat. Is my magnum opus.
MARIE: And you… live like this?
WOMAN: Of course. Is all I know.
MARIE: How long have you been out here?
WOMAN: All my life. My family move here… almost two hundred year ago.
Marie stops her pitiful excuse for shoveling. Her eyes widen.
MARIE: Are you a ghost?
WOMAN: No. My great great great great grandfather was explorer who survey Alaska for Russian Empire. I am Natalya Chirikova.
MARIE: So your family just stayed out in the woods all this time? Alone? Even on Christmas?
NATALYA: Yes, is a lonesome existence. My family was alone for many years. Also was racist so refused to interact and mix with local native folk. And Americans.
MARIE: Are you happy?
NATALYA: Like I said, is only life I know. As child, I was forbidden from learning English. I learn as adult by watching Rick and Morty on satellite TV. I would like one day to be part of community. Until then, I stay in forest and eat weasel.
The three step back from the car cleared off snow. Dean is three paces from death’s door, sweating more than when his braless wife brings him an unrequested pot roast.
NATALYA: Road should be clearer from here. I will watch out for you. Be careful, I have learned time machine from Rick and Morty is simply urban legend. When we die, we are dead.
MARIE: Thanks for your help, Natalya. I hope you find what you’re looking for.
NATALYA: Thank you, American wastrel. And Happy New Year! I imagine I never see you again.
Dean and Marie get back in the car and take off.
SCENE: Interior, Gingerbread Inn
MARIE: Thanks for driving me here, Dean.
Dean is still harrowed by the experience; he simply nods to her, gives a half-wave to Joe, and walks out the door to his car.
MARIE: So… any chance there’s an extra room at the inn?
She gives an awkward smile.
JACK: Oh, so you’ve come crawling back, huh?
JACK: I told you they wouldn’t be able to fly.
JOE: Jack! Everyone is welcome at the inn. Especially on Christmas.
JACK: As long as there is an inn.
JOE: There’ll always be an inn as long as there’s someone to run it. Plenty of time to change your mind.
MARIE: Oh, there’s really not. I mean—the contract is signed and the ink is dry and it’d be a whole thing… we’d better just leave things as they are.
JACK: I wish you’d leave us as we are.
Jack leaves the room.
JOE: Jack! Jack! Oh…
He contorts his face, staring at the ground before looking at Noel and forcing a smile.
JOE: He’s not always like this. It’s just been since his mother passed and all that New York nonsense. Oh, but… you don’t want to hear about all that. I’ll show you to your room.
Marie, momentarily endeared to the man she’s ruining, returns a smile.
MARIE: No, that’s okay. I can listen. But… I’d also like to see my room. Long day.
She gives a Hallmark shrug. Joe smiles and nods toward the stairs. They embark. The camera follows Marie as she explores an inn that’s both way too nice and way too new for this beyond rural Alaskan village. Amenities you only see in your rich second cousin’s house are everywhere here, yet it still maintains its rustic charm. When the two reach Marie’s room, Joe opens the door and gestures inward. Marie walks into a massive room and is stunned at the view out of a giant bay window.
MARIE: It’s… beautiful.
JOE: I’m glad you like it. My wife, y’know, she had this talent for assigning guests to rooms. She always knew which guest would be most comfortable where. She once took a week off to visit her sister in Denver and we got more complaints that week than we did in a year, all about the rooms. I think… I think this is the room she’d want you to have. Of course, my gut says otherwise, and the Honeymoon Suite is open if you—
Marie grimaces, and Joe smiles in acknowledgment, chuckling a little.
JOE: Alright, well, I’ll leave you be, then. Holler if you need anything, okay?
With Joe gone, Marie throws herself back on the bed and sighs, staring up at the ceiling. The stress is weighing on her. She shoots a chance look over to the night stand, where sits a snow globe depicting a miniature Gingerbread Inn. She can’t help but smile.
SCENE: Morning, Interior, Gingerbread Inn
Clad in pajamas, Marie climbs slowly down the stairs. She stifles a yawn in an attempt to be stealthy, but it’s to no avail; Joe notices her.
JOE: Marie! Morning! I’m just whipping up some breakfast, do you want that here or in your room?
MARIE: Oh, uh, no, actually, I’m just… I was just trying to make a call, but there’s no service upstairs? I figured maybe I’d try out front.
JOE: Nonsense! There’s no service anywhere around the Inn. And I won’t take “no” for an answer! Take a seat!
Rolling her eyes opposite Joe’s direction, Marie obliges and approaches the kitchen island, where she pulls up a seat.
JOE: So, big plans today?
He asks, passing her a mug.
MARIE: Not exactly. I mean, catch a plane out of here, obviously, but I don’t know when that’ll happen.
JOE: I don’t know if that’ll happen.
Marie, taking a drink from the mug, chokes in response.
MARIE: Excuse me?
JOE: Yeah, storm’s looking pretty bad. I wouldn’t count on it, is all.
Marie wants to complain, but what does this guy know? She’ll call and find out herself. She takes another sip from the mug and spits it out just as quickly as the first time.
MARIE: What is this?!
JOE: Orange nog! A Gingerbread Inn specialty. Part orange juice, part eggnog, all holiday spirit. You can think of it as a merry northern mimosa. I wanted to accommodate for your New York palate.
Marie looks on with disgust and slides the mug away when Joe turns back to the stove. In a moment, he returns with a frying pan and distributes breakfast. Marie, feeling hungry, goes to grab some, but pauses.
MARIE: And… what’s this?
JOE: Just some common egg on toast. You don’t have that in New York? I’d add avocado, if I knew what that was.
Marie shrugs and takes a bite, grimacing immediately.
MARIE: What kind of bread is this?
JOE: Only the best kind! Gingerbread!
MARIE: …is it frosted?
Their conversation is cut short by Jack entering the room. Marie feels herself pulling inward, suddenly self conscious about sitting here in her pajamas. She doesn’t understand why; she fucking hates this guy. And yet…
JACK: Morning, Dad—
Making eye contact with Marie, he manages only a nod in greeting. There’s something in his eyes that indicates the fastest hint of contrition, but his position re: Marie is set in stone. He continues grabbing his coat and prepping to go out.
JOE: Jack! Good morning—you’re not going out already, are you?
JACK: I have to. Got lots to take care of.
JOE: Well, at least take some breakfast with you.
Jack looks at the platter of eggs on gingerbread and the pitcher of orange nog.
JACK: I’m good!
He leaves, leaving Joe and Marie alone again.
MARIE: It’s fine, don’t worry about it. You can’t get along with everyone, right?
JOE: Well, he used to, it’s just… since his mom and…
He narrows his lips.
JOE: Y’know, you’re right. More orange nog?
MARIE: Actually, as much as I’d love that, I was thinking I should probably head into town, see if I can get some service there. Do you think I could get a ride?
JOE: Well, Jack took my car, but I imagine Dean’d be happy to show you around. He’s been awful antsy since he retired. You go get ready, I’ll give him a call.
[COMMERCIAL; include a spot for Hallmarks’s “Ho Ho Hoedown”]
SCENE: Exterior, downtown Norwegian Pine.
The camera pans around some establishing shots of downtown Norwegian Pine: it’s a classic Hallmark Christmas movie downtown, replete with side-by-side businesses that can’t possibly be supported by a town of this size. Walking comfortably through the freezing streets in a state accessible only by Ford F150 is at least 120% of the town’s population. The diversity approaches parody levels: we got Pacific Islanders, we got Cherokee, we got Sikhs. A smiling family exits the local Dungan mosque. In the middle of it all, Marie and Dean walk into frame.
DEAN: Marie, this here is Mayor Rose.
ROSE: Oh, hello, Dear! Nice to meet you!
MARIE: Nice to meet you!
DEAN: She’ll be showing you around today.
MARIE: Oh. I thought you were going to show me around?
DEAN: Oh, no can do. I have to go to church. Got some stuff to figure out.
ROSE: So, how are you liking Norwegian Pine?
MARIE: It’s… nice. I’m actually trying to catch the plane out of here as soon as possible.
ROSE: That’s too bad. The town doesn’t get many visitors anymore, and I know Joe Frost’s been hurting from it.
MARIE: He’s hurting?
ROSE: I know he doesn’t show it, but that Inn is everything to him. I keep trying to get him to look into a loan or some kind of a business deal, but… I know he’d never do anything like that. It’d devastate him. And the town. The Gingerbread Inn is so important to us.
MARIE: Well, I’m sure the town would manage. I mean, it’s so lively and… beautiful!
Marie’s just trying to be nice, but the last word catches in her mouth as she looks around the absurdly-crowded main street. For the first time, she’s not entirely lying.
ROSE: Thank you for the sentiment; that’s kind of you to say, but you’re wrong. The Gingerbread Inn truly is the vanilla frosting that holds this town together. That and the Community Center. But the Gingerbread Inn? Joe met his wife there, you know. Jack’s mother? And she, oh…
Rose does the TV old woman thing where she rests both of her hands on her heart. Tearing up slightly, she continues to look upward at Marie.
ROSE: She was such a treasure, until—
At that moment, a younger man runs up to Rose.
DARIUS: Aunt Rose, we have a situation at the Community Center.
ROSE: What is it, Dear?
DARIUS: You’re… gonna want to see for yourself.
He winces, eyeing Marie for the first time.
ROSE: Oh, alright, but you stay here. I’ve agreed to show Marie around the town.
Rose walks away.
DARIUS: Marie… as in New York Marie, the girl staying at the Inn?
MARIE: I guess word travels fast in these small towns.
DARIUS: My friend Jack told me.
MARIE: Oh, no. What have you heard?
DARIUS: Nothing too bad. Really. He’s just under a lot of stress. Has been since his mom passed. All the funeral stuff, helping his dad out with the inn, and booking flights back and forth from New York to do it all? It’s a lot.
MARIE: What’s he doing in New York?
DARIUS: He lives out there. He doesn’t like to talk himself up, but he’s a bigshot lawyer at a wealthy firm in Manhattan.
MARIE: Oh, I didn’t know that.
DARIUS: It’s too bad, sometimes I think he’s too humble. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.
DARIUS: Definitely. I was a snow child when Jack convinced his parents to let me live in the inn rent free.
MARIE: A… snow child?
Darius laughs in that almost-condescending way that locals are allowed to lavish on foreigners.
DARIUS: I can tell you’re not from here. A snow child is exactly what it sounds like; a kid whose parents didn’t survive the winter chill and who was left to fend for himself in the Alaskan wilderness. When Jack found me I was just an eleven-year-old kid who couldn’t read, write, or ride a bike. The only words I knew were “fresh meat” in Yup’ik. Now… I’m on track to graduate online college top of my class. Jack even got me a full ride scholarship to the University of Alaska Law School. I’m gonna be a lawyer just like him.
DARIUS: And that’s only the beginning. He also introduced me to my fiancee, the love of my life. We’re getting married on Christmas Day at the Community Center.
MARIE: I guess I had no idea–
DARIUS: But that’s enough about me. Aunt Rose–the mayor said you need someone to show you around?
MARIE: Well, not really. Dean’s done enough of that.
DARIUS: Oh. Well, if you need anything, don’t be afraid to ask.
MARIE: Actually, is there… anywhere in town I can get some good cell reception?
DARIUS: I got you. Service around here is a nightmare. If it weren’t for the Caribou Grille, I’d have never made it to finals my first semester.
MARIE: The Caribou Grille?
DARIUS: Yeah, for sure. I’ll show you the way.
SCENE: Interior, a crowded restaurant
Servers squeeze past with dish-filled trays as Marie and Darius make their way in from the cold.
MARIE: This is the only place with reception in town?
DARIUS: Best I’ve found. Oh, but… you will have to order food.
MARIE: Wait, I–
HOSTESS: Table for two?
HOSTESS: Are you two together?
DARIUS: Oh, no. I’ve got to get home to my fiancee. She’s making a pot roast. She’ll have something, though!
HOSTESS: Great, follow me.
Marie raises a hand to protest, but the busy hostess isn’t attending to her long enough to notice. Marie begrudgingly accepts the situation and follows her to a table. Once there, she sits down and the hostess gives her a menu.
HOSTESS: Do you need a few minutes to decide, or…?
MARIE: Wait, hang on, this is all Chinese food.
HOSTESS: You don’t like Chinese food…?
MARIE: No, no, it’s not that, it’s just… isn’t this place called “The Caribou Grille”?
HOSTESS: What did you expect? Shanghai Palace? China Buffet?
MARIE: I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean anything by it.
A man enters from offscreen and approaches the table.
OWNER: I’ll take it from here.
The hostess returns to her post as the man reaches out to shake Marie’s hand.
OWNER: I’m the owner, nice to meet you.
MARIE: Nice to meet you.
OWNER: I know it’s an odd name, but the people of this valley used to be very distrustful of outsiders. We operated as “The Lucky Dragon” for almost a year and had three customers. The day we changed our name to “The Caribou Grille”, the tables were full and the phone was ringing off the hook.
MARIE: Oh, wow. I’m sorry to hear that. I guess that’s rural Alaska for you.
OWNER: Was rural Alaska. Everything changed when Mrs. Frost moved to the area and opened up her travel agency. Suddenly, we had visitors from all over. We started selling food that wasn’t california rolls and crab rangoons. I had to special order chopsticks after we ran out of our supply from 2003.
MARIE: That’s wild. I was sorry to hear of her passing.
OWNER: Yes, it was very sad. Even more so for us. I can feel already the rising tide of extremism. In fact, just yesterday, the local 3%er militia–well, look at me rambling. My daughters always say that I ramble. Can I get you something to eat?
Marie squints at the menu.
MARIE: What is “Kung Pao Pot Roast”?
OWNER: (Laughing) Oh, that. It’s simple American Pot Roast, but we serve it with a side of soy sauce. Is that your order?
MARIE: No, I’ll… have the lo mein.
OWNER: Excellent choice.
He takes her menu and departs. Just then, her phone rings.
BOSS: Hey, bitch.
MARIE: Excuse me?
BOSS: You’re excused. Now where’s my paperwork?
MARIE: I’m working on it.
BOSS: You’re working on–it sounds like you’re out partying.
MARIE: Partying? In Norwegian Pine? Come on. I’m at a restaurant.
BOSS: Can’t you eat when you get here? After you’ve given me my paperwork?
MARIE: I don’t know what you want me to do, I’m trapped here until the storm passes.
BOSS: Well, you know who’s not trapped in Alaska? Veronica. And Gene, but not for long. He let the team know yesterday he’s retiring.
MARIE: Gene? From Legal?
BOSS: The very Gene. You’d know that if you were here and not in Alaska.
Marie sighs loudly as a waiter places her order in front of her. She mouths “thank you” as her boss blathers on in her ear.
BOSS: You know, if you can’t get that paperwork in hand in 48 hours, maybe I’ll have someone else take care of it. And then maybe I’ll give them the promotion.
MARIE: I highly doubt anyone else can do this any quicker.
BOSS: Maybe not. But if they can, maybe they’d be a perfect fit for Gene’s spot.
MARIE: Gene’s spot? But… that’s my dream. I was supposed to be promoted to lawyer.
BOSS: That dream ends if that paperwork isn’t here in 48 hours. Goodbye, Marie.
She hangs up. Marie hangs her head as we go to commercial.
[COMMERCIAL BREAK; include a spot for Hallmark’s “Okay, guys, just get in the car, we’re going to Grandma’s house because that’s where we go for Christmas”.]
SCENE: Dean’s car
MARIE: Then she told me that if I don’t get back in 48 hours, she’d give the lawyer promotion to someone else.
The camera pans to Dean, who looks all but dead. His hair is disheveled and he sits uncomfortably.
MARIE: Are you even listening?
DEAN: What? Oh, yeah, yeah. That’s… that’s rough. How can they promote you to lawyer? Don’t you need special education or something? Y’know–
MARIE: It’s absurd. Hey, where are we going?
DEAN: This way’s a little longer, but it avoids the dips we got stuck in before. It should be alright, as long as you have enough gas.
He pauses, clearly realizing something.
DEAN: Oh, wait–oh no. Don’t fail me now, Agrippa.
We focus on the fuel gauge in time to see it run all the way down to empty. The car carries on, running on fumes, for a while, but eventually sputters out.
DEAN: No! No, no, no, this can’t be happening.
MARIE: Hang on, it’ll be alright. I’ll just…
She checks her phone and remembers that there’s no service.
DEAN: Alright, alright, there’s still some daylight, I guess it can’t get any worse.
Suddenly, a sound outside alerts them. They squint, looking into the horizon, before their visages change: Marie becomes visibly hopeful; Dean’s face displays something between despondence and terror.
DEAN: Oh, God.
The figure gets close enough for us to tell that it’s Natalya in a sleigh pulled by a team of strong Siberian Huskies. She stops next to the stalled car.
NATALYA: People from before. You are alright?
DEAN: Oh, we’ll be fine. Go ahead and go on–
MARIE: Dean, are you serious? Hi, yeah, we ran out of gas and we’re kind of stranded here.
NATALYA: Hop in. I will take you to town.
DEAN: Are you sure? We can walk, and we’re going to the Gingerbread Inn.
NATALYA: Nonsense, you will freeze and die. I am going this way anyway. Get in sleigh.
Marie does so readily. After a beat, Dean acquiesces and climbs in as well. The sleigh takes off. Marie isn’t sure what to think at first, but she seems to enjoy it after a while.
MARIE: So… Natalya, right?
Natalya nods. Dean seems dazed and inattentive.
MARIE: I’ve been thinking about what you told me, and I can’t get my head around you being here all by yourself for all these years.
NATALYA: Why? Is fine. I am strong woman.
MARIE: But to be completely alone since your family died?
NATALYA: What? No, I have not been alone.
MARIE: You have someone?
MARIE: Oh, I’m sorry. Were they… like a friend?
NATALYA: What do you call in English… friend that you have intercourse with?
MARIE: Oh, um… a friend with benefits?
NATALYA: Yes, sure. Friend with benefit. Lots of benefit.
MARIE: Oh, okay.
The rest of the voyage passes in silence.
SCENE: Interior, Gingerbread Inn
Joe opens the front door to a shivering Marie who almost collapses as she steps in. We expect Dean to do the same, but he’s got seven toes in the grave right now and the cold doesn’t really seem to affect him anymore.
JOE: Oh, hey there.
NATALYA: I found these two stranded out in forest. Would have died if not for me.
JOE: Oh, wow. Thank you so much, you’re –
NATALYA: I am no hero. Hero can fly, wear capes, and punishes mentally ill for transgression.
NATALYA: I am sorry for awkward moment. I teach myself to read using discarded comic book from local library.
JOE: You don’t say. I used to be quite the comic fan myself. Any favorites?
NATALYA: Diary of Wimpy Kid.
JOE: No way! Y’know, I’ve got this Loded Diper Christmas ornament–limited edition. We could…
Dean shoots Joe a look and Joe recomposes himself.
JOE: Y’know, now’s probably not the time. Thanks for bringing these two back in one piece!
NATALYA: Is no problem. Car was stopped, not explode. No need to bring back in multiple pieces.
Joe returns a tender smile. Something changes in Natalya’s eyes, but she falters for only half a second before she regains her frosty exterior. They part ways and she mushes off.
JOE: Dean, I’ll call you a cab.
DEAN: I can take care of it. Is the honeymoon suite open?
JOE: Of course.
Dean saunters off, leaving Joe and Natalya alone.
JOE: I wanted to say I’m sorry about breakfast. I gotta admit, I’m not the best at this inn stuff, but sometimes it’s nice to pretend.
MARIE: It’s fine. It must’ve been hard losing your wife.
JOE: It was. She was the heart and soul of this place.
MARIE: If you don’t mind… can I ask how she passed?
JOE: She was diagnosed with a rare cardiac condition–her heart was too small. Two sizes too small.
MARIE: That’s horrible.
JOE: Yeah. She didn’t think so. She made the best of the time she had left, but… y’know, not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. It feels so lonely here.
MARIE: Do you ever think of… you know, getting back out there?
MARIE: I’m sorry if I’m overstepping.
JOE: No, it’s just… I have no idea how to talk to women. It’s been so long. Sometimes I think maybe it’s too late for me.
MARIE: Don’t say that. It looked like you had a good time with Natalya.
JOE: That’s such a pretty name.
The camera focuses on Marie. She’s having an idea.
[COMMERCIAL BREAK; include a spot for Hallmark’s “Atlanta Claus”]
SCENE: Interior, Gingerbread Inn, night time
Marie, clad again in her pajamas, walks downstairs, pours herself a cup of water, and wanders the hall. As she passes, she stops at the pictures on the wall. The camera zooms in, for the first time showing us the scenes of a lively Gingerbread Inn, a much happier Joe and his wife the centerpiece of many of them. Marie gives a wistful smile.
JACK: Don’t tell me you’re starting to like the place.
Marie, startled, makes eye contact with Jack.
MARIE: Oh, I–
JACK: They’re good pictures, aren’t they? Better days.
The two endure something of an awkward silence.
JACK: I… wanted to apologize about how I acted before. I’ve had a rough year, and…
MARIE: I heard. I talked to your Dad, and Darius, and… Dean.
JACK: Yikes. People here sure love to talk, don’t they? Well, anyway… I haven’t been fair to you. So I’m sorry.
MARIE: You have nothing to be sorry for. If anything, it’s me who should be sorry. I was so cold to you at the airport, and then I’ve been so selfish… I guess I’ve been missing the spirit of Christmas lately.
JACK: That makes two of us. Hot cocoa?
MARIE: That sounds… wait. What do you put in your cocoa?
JACK: Don’t worry, it’s my mom’s recipe, not my dad’s. I’ll grab you a mug.
We transition to the two sitting beside a small fire, each holding a mug of hot cocoa.
JACK: So, after that they made me partner. Then a year or so passed and… well, you’ve heard the story from there.
MARIE: Wow. I… can’t believe we lived so close in New York and it took a trip to Alaska for us to cross paths.
JACK: Yeah, well, I’m sure neither one of us would have much time for path crossing back in Manhattan.
MARIE: That’s true.
JACK: So how’s your job going? This is a pretty big sale you made. Your boss must be proud.
MARIE: Proud? Try mad as hell. She’s livid I couldn’t be back in New York sooner.
JACK: She’s mad? Sounds like she doesn’t have your best interests at heart.
MARIE: Yeah, but that’s work, you know?
JACK: I hear you. Sometimes I wish I could leave it all behind and just come back here, take my old job at the inn.
MARIE: You used to work here?
JACK: Oh, yeah. Reception, room service, I’d do it all. I used to think I’d end up running it.
MARIE: What happened?
JACK: Life happened. Business slowed down and… I dunno, I guess I convinced myself it wasn’t realistic. I make a lot more money in New York.
MARIE: But… are you a lot happier?
JACK: This is a pretty heavy topic. Let’s talk about something else.
MARIE: Like… what?
JACK: How about the festival? You staying for it?
MARIE: When does it start?
JACK: Tomorrow, downtown.
MARIE: I don’t know. Once the storm lets up–
JACK: Yeah, about that… that could be a while.
He shows her his phone; “WINTER STORM WARNING: NOW THROUGH CHRISTMAS” is visible in big letters.
MARIE: Great. Well, I dunno, I feel bad for making Dean drive me everywhere. It seems like he’s kind of… dying.
JACK: No problem. I can drive. We’ll leave straight from here.
MARIE: Wait, like a… date?
JACK: We’re New Yorkers, aren’t we? We don’t like to label things.
JACK: See you then?
She turns her head away from the fire, concealing a smile of her own.
SCENE: Exterior, downtown, even Christmassier than before.
JACK: So, what do you think?
MARIE: It’s beautiful.
Marie marvels at the town’s decor, pine needles and candy-cane patterns adorn every possible surface. As she looks on, Jack’s own eyes linger on her for a beat or two longer than normal. A faint smile plays at the edge of his lips.
JACK: Yeah… it is. Well, shall we?
The two begin their walk down the crowded downtown street.
MARIE: So… what exactly does this festival entail?
JACK: There’s so much. There’s the Gingerbread Ball, the Nutcracker Derby, the Nog Bowl… but it all starts with the Hunt for the Gingerbread Angel.
MARIE: Gingerbread Angel? Is everything made out of gingerbread here?
MARIE: No, seriously! What about the Nutcracker Derby? Are the nutcrackers gingerbread too?
He smirks, looking hunkier than ever.
JACK: You’ll see. …if you stay long enough, that is.
MARIE: If I stay long enough.
She pauses, the thought not seeming quite as awful as before.
MARIE: But first… the Gingerbread Angel Hunt. When does it start?
JACK: It started this morning.
MARIE: Then we’re late! What if it’s already been found?
JACK: Check the top of the tree. Do you see an angel?
JACK: Then it’s still in play.
MARIE: Where do we start?
JACK: Well… I probably shouldn’t share my strategy with you.
MARIE: Come on! Who am I gonna tell? Dean?
JACK: Alright, alright. I usually visit Ana, the Baker. She makes the angel fresh every year, so… y’know, maybe I can convince her to…
Marie looks shocked, half playful, half for real.
MARIE: Jack! You cheater.
JACK: Hey, I’m just using everything in my tool chest. It’s not my fault if something slips. We can try your strategy if you’d prefer.
MARIE: Okay, we can stop in, but… I’m blowing the whistle if you get up to something.
JACK: “Up to something?” Alright, c’mon.
The two enter the quaintest little small town bakery you’ve ever seen. Pulling a fresh loaf of bread from the oven, the baker approaches the counter, smiling wide when she sees Jack.
ANA: Jack Frost! I heard from Darius that you’ve been in town for days. I was starting to get offended!
JACK: I know, I know. I’m guilty!
Ana emerges from behind the counter with a long, hard baguette. She puts on a mock serious face and smacks it against her outstretched hand before playfully spanking Jack with it several times.
JACK: I surrender! I surrender!
MARIE: What the fuck?
Jack and Ana start laughing and embrace briefly.
JACK: Ana, this is Marie. Marie, Ana. Town baker extraordinaire.
ANA: It’s nice to meet you, Marie. I hope you’re not as naughty as this boy right here.
JACK: Whoa, now.
MARIE: No, definitely not.
ANA: Are you sure? ‘Cause I think he’s gonna have more in his stocking than coal this year.
MARIE: Jesus Christ.
JACK: Oh, hey, Ana, I was wondering. Y’know, today being the Gingerbread Angel Hunt and all…
ANA: You want me to tell you where I hid the angel.
JACK: Well, I wouldn’t say that, I just thought…
ANA: You thought I’d let something slip? Is that what you think of me, Jack?
JACK: What? No! Of course not. I know you’re so much more than that. You’re the best baker in town.
ANA: Really? You’re not just saying that because you know I’m critically insecure and that I’m the only baker in town?
JACK: Of course not! Your gingerbread is to die for.
ANA: Thanks, Jack. I just wish the people here thought so.
JACK: What do you mean?
ANA: It’s harder to make ends meet than it used to be. People just aren’t buying gingerbread year round anymore.
JACK: No! What happened?
ANA: Well… to be honest, I lost my number one customer. Your mom accounted for more than half of my sales. Since she passed, well… I don’t know how I’m gonna make it work.
JACK: That makes two of us.
She wipes away a tear.
ANA: I can tell you where they hid the angel.
JACK: Oh, no. No, that’s okay, Ana. Hey, how about a regular gingerbread cookie? For each of us?
Ana smiles through her tears.
ANA: Coming right up!
Jack and Marie leave the bakery. Marie takes a bite of her gingerbread cookie – she’s upset at how good it is. But she notices Jack hasn’t taken a bite out of his; he seems rattled.
MARIE: Is everything okay?
JACK: What? Oh, yeah. No, it’s just… I dunno. I miss her.
MARIE: For what it’s worth, I lost my mother when I was younger.
JACK: Really? Did you ever recover from it?
MARIE: Yeah, of course. I mean, to be fair, it was only for a few minutes at a K-Mart outside of Newark, but it was scary, and new, and I didn’t know how the rest of my life was going to turn out. Is that how you feel?
JACK: You know what? It is.
The two share a tender look.
JACK: But this is… this isn’t pertinent. We’re looking for an angel.
MARIE: Right, but… it could be anywhere, right?
Part of the way through the last word, Marie’s eye is caught by a familiar face in the crowd. It’s the guy from the airport! Mr. Thumbtack! He sends her a surreptitious smile and points silently at a nearby fir tree. Winking, he blends into the crowd and disappears.
MARIE: Um… hey, I can’t explain it, but I think we should look over here.
The two move to look in the tree, where Marie pulls out a large gingerbread angel.
JACK: How did you…? Wait, did Ana tell you? How’d you know to whisper in her ear?
MARIE: What, no. It was just… Christmas intuition, I guess.
JACK: Alright, I’ll take it. Well, help me put this up.
They walk over to the tree where a ladder is already ready for them. Jack steadies it while Marie puts the angel on the tree to a round of applause from the gathered masses. She wobbles a little as she comes down, but Jack steadies her. A step or two yet off the ground, she makes eye contact with Jack and they stare at each other for a moment, the brief sparkle in each set of eyes now radiant and evident to even the most detached Hallmark viewer. This shit is hot. Finally, Jack helps her off the ladder. They make eye contact again, but quickly look away, both smiling.
DARIUS: Well, I’ll be! Jack Frost found the gingerbread angel!
JACK: Actually, D, it was all Marie here.
DARIUS: Really? A town newbie, and already a Gingerbread Hunt victor? Congratulations Marie! And not a moment too soon. The Nutcracker Derby is just about to start at the rink. Are you competing, Jack?
JACK: Oh, no, not this year. Just… the mood isn’t right and…
MARIE: What? No! You have to compete.
DARIUS: I agree with the newbie, Jack.
JACK: I can’t! I’m rusty, I’ve been sitting at a desk all year, and I’m still a little jet-lagged. I won’t be useful.
DARIUS: The red team’s been down one member since Dean pulled out. You can’t let us down!
JACK: Aren’t you officiating?
DARIUS: Well, yeah, but c’mon; you know red blood runs through my veins!
JACK: I mean…
He surveys the pleading looks of Darius and Marie, and eventually acquiesces.
JACK: Fine. I’ll suit up.
[COMMERCIAL BREAK; include a spot for Hallmark’s “A Very Gamer Christmas”]
SCENE: Exterior; a rural ice skating rink surrounded by observers
Clad in a mixture of hockey-pads and a nutcracker costume, Jack stumbles onto the ice. Once he’s regained his footing, he’s a natural. Marie looks on, happy and anxious.
DARIUS: Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to the forty-second annual Nutcracker Derby! This one’s a special one, folks. We have a local legend joining us again today: five-time Derby Champion JACK FROST!
The crowd goes fucking bonkers for Jack, clapping and screaming. He waves sheepishly at them as other men clad in nutcracker suits skate onto the ice.
DARIUS: I think everyone here knows the rules, so… why waste any more time? Andy, release the nuts!
A man skates out to the middle of the rink with a large bag and dumps what appear to be several hundred walnuts onto the ice. Beside him, two teenage boys scatter the nuts with brooms.
DARIUS: Gentlemen… on your marks… get set… CRACK!
The competitors shoot away from the walls of the rink toward the center. Once they get there, they drop down to all fours. One by one, they begin shoveling nuts into their mouths and cracking them with their teeth. On the other side of the rink barriers, a set of observers hold up boards displaying the number of nuts cracked by each man. This montage goes on for like six minutes. It looks like Jack’s doing well, but then another competitor catches up to him, passes him. He seems to be slowing down; maybe he really is past his prime. But then, taking a look back at Marie, he finds a new fire within him and continues, cracking nuts with his mouth faster than she’s ever seen. Eventually, it’s down to Jack and one competitor, a burly man moving about on the ice with unseemly grace like something out of The Exorcist. The two are tied, 78 to 78. There’s one nut left on the ice, dead in the center. The two set off at what looks to be equal speed. We expect Jack to make it there first, but he’s a hair too slow; his opponent beats him to the nut. Victory in his grasp, the nut in his teeth, he’s caught by something; maybe his jaw’s given out after all that nutcracking. Whatever it is, he falters, and Jack takes the opportunity to pull the walnut from the other man’s mouth with his own. In one proud crack, the nut is broken. Jack wins. The crowd goes even more berserk, and Marie can’t help but join them.
SCENE: Exterior, after the Nutcracker Derby
MARIE: That was pretty impressive. I’ve never seen someone crack so many nuts.
JACK: I thought about going pro. I was offered a scholarship at Fairbanks State.
MARIE: What stopped you?
JACK: I wanted to go to law school. For my mom.
MARIE: She didn’t support your nut cracking?
JACK: No, she did. She was actually my biggest supporter. But I thought she’d be more proud of me as a lawyer than a nutcracker. I dunno. I think she would have preferred it if I had followed in her footsteps and entered the Nog Bowl.
MARIE: Why didn’t you?
JACK: I tried, it’s just… I’m not cut out for it. And ever since she passed, the event’s kinda languished. There’s just no one who can do it like her anymore.
MARIE: Do you think I could do it?
JACK: Really? You want to enter the Nog Bowl?
MARIE: If it’d make your mom proud. For some reason I’m really attached to the idea of doing that.
JACK: Alright. I’ll sign you up.
The two turn a corner where they run into Darius.
JACK: Hey, D.
DARIUS: The grand champion! Hey, actually, this probably isn’t a great time. My aunt just gave me some bad news about the Community Center.
JACK: Oh no, what happened?
DARIUS: You know the storm that we’re ignoring right now? So much snow accumulated on the roof that it caved in. It’s gonna be totally out of commission.
JACK: That’s terrible. Where are we supposed to have the Gingerbread Ball?
DARIUS: Bro. Where am I supposed to get married?
JACK: Oh no! Man, we have to be able to do something.
DARIUS: This is a nightmare. I wish I was still out in the tundra. Hunting seals was way easier than wedding planning.
MARIE: Wait, why don’t you use the inn?
DARIUS: The inn?
JACK: Wait, that’s brilliant. And despite growing up in and spending most of my childhood there, it never would have entered my mind to suggest it. You’re a genius, Marie!
MARIE: Thank you! Should we ask your dad about it now?
JACK: We can ask him at the Nog Bowl. He wouldn’t miss it. It reminds him of mom.
[COMMERCIAL BREAK; include a spot for Hallmark’s “Gingerbread Origins: The First Nutcracker Derby”]
SCENE: Exterior, a raised platform somewhere in the middle of town. A field of spectators look on at the dais where six or seven people sit in front of oversized dog bowls.
MARIE: Jack, what is this?
JACK: That’s the nog bowl.
MARIE: Hang on, it’s an actual bowl? I thought it was like a super bowl sort of thing. I don’t know if I want to do–
JACK: You’ll do great, mom! Shit, I mean–
DARIUS: All non-competitors please leave the stage, the Nog Bowl is about to begin!
JACK: Good luck!
DARIUS: My assistant Andy is now pouring the requisite amount of nog into each of your bowls. On my mark, you will, without using your hands, drain your bowl of nog as quickly as possible. Ready? Set? Go!
And they’re off. Marie is slow at first, much slower than everyone else. But she sees Jack in the crowd, hope in his eyes, and remembers the story about his mom. This reinvigorates her and she guzzles nog faster than we’ve ever seen. In the end, it’s her who beats out these seasoned competitors.
DARIUS: And in almost record time, the winner is… my god! MARIE SAINT CHRIST!
The crowd is aroar.
DARIUS: I haven’t seen speed like that since…
JOE: My wife.
Both Frosts see something new in Marie from that moment on. She’s nogged her way into their hearts.
SCENE: Exterior, downtown Norwegian Pine
It’s Alaskan dusk, like 1:00 p.m. Marie and the Frosts are walking down the street, smiling and laughing, when a sleigh pulls up alongside them.
MR. THUMBTACK: Need a ride?
MARIE: It’s you! Jack, this man helped me find the Gingerbread Angel.
MR. THUMBTACK: Nonsense! The Christmas spirit was in you all along.
JOE: Thanks for the offer, Sir, but it looks like you’ve only got room for two!
MR. THUMBTACK: Only in this sleigh! My friend should be right behind me!
The trio looks behind them to see the foretold second sleigh approaching. As it nears, they notice it’s Natalya’s, and that she’s at the reins.
MR. THUMBTACK: What do you say I take the couple and you ride with my friend?
JACK: Oh, we’re not a–
He wants to finish, but he can’t bring himself to. Marie looks radiant in her Hallmark outdoorsy garb. Meanwhile, Joe is transfixed as Natalya untangles a pine bough from her hair and throws a slab of raw meat to her dogs.
JACK: Sure, why not?
The group boards the sleighs and they disembark.
MR. THUMBTACK: It looks like you two are enjoying the festival.
JACK: I have to admit, it is good to be back.
MARIE: I’m a little new to things, but…
JACK: Nonsense! You’re a natural. The Nog Queen of Evergreen!
Marie is honored. She’s never been a Nog Queen before.
MR. THUMBTACK: I thought you were heading to New York City.
MARIE: Yeah, I did too, but this storm kinda ruined those plans.
MR. THUMBTACK: The way I see it, an old plan ruined is a new plan made.
JACK: That’s a good point.
MR. THUMBTACK: It’s also what got me kicked out of the airport. Captain Keith tried to call the TSA but phone service was out. Call it a Christmas miracle!
Marie turns to Jack, not noticing that the two have drawn closer to one another for warmth.
MARIE: So… what’s all that between you and Ana?
JACK: Ana? We’re friends from high school, why?
MARIE: I dunno. I’ve never seen friends spank each other with a baguette so many times in succession.
JACK: I guess that’s just how all Alaskans do things. This one time I walked in on my dad–
Jack’s story is interrupted by a gale of laughter from the sleigh behind him. He looks back fondly to see his father and Natalya enjoying themselves.
JACK: Anyway, no, there’s nothing between us. Actually, for a while, I’d kind of given up on the idea of anything special happening in Norwegian Pine.
MARIE: Yeah? What changed your mind?
He looks at her and smiles.
JACK: I dunno. Maybe a little Christmas magic.
The sleighs pull up to the front porch at the Gingerbread Inn and the travelers disembark, Jack and Marie waving to Mr. Thumbtack. As Joe is helped out of his own sleigh by Natalya, she reaches to disentangle another pine branch from her mane of hair.
JOE: No, it looks better like that.
Natalya blushes, the first time we’ve ever seen her show real emotion. Joe returns the expression.
JACK: Hey, Dad, you coming?
JOE: What? Oh, yeah, of course. Cold, isn’t it?
Jack misses the exchange, but Marie picks up on it and smiles.
JOE: Alright, c’mon, let’s head in. We’ve got a lot of work to do if we’re holding the Ball and a wedding.
Joe waves at Natalya, smiling. She smiles back. Marie and Jack share a smile of their own. Everyone smiles for Christmas.
[COMMERCIAL BREAK; include a spot for Hallmark’s “Five Golden Rings: A Latter-Day Holiday”]
SCENE: Interior, Gingerbread Inn, morning.
All around the main living room at the inn, our favorite characters stand, decked out in cozy Christmas sweaters. From off screen, we hear Joe speaking with Jack.
JOE: Jack, y’know, I just think maybe it wasn’t the right idea. I’m not your mother, I don’t know how to put on a good event. And now I’m supposed to cater for the whole town? I don’t think I can do it alone–
Just then, like clockwork, Joe rounds the corner to see everyone’s favorites: we’ve got Marie, Darius, Rose, Dean, Ana, Darius’s fiancee, Captain Keith, and Andy, all dressed Christmassy as hell and ready to help out.
JOE: What’s this?
JACK: Marie and I made some calls. You won’t have to do this alone, Dad.
JOE: Alright. Well, then. How about we spruce this place up one last time? What do you say?
Montage: Everyone decking the halls and readying for the events to come. There’s a central theme of Jack and Marie growing even closer. She wraps him in garland, he hangs a sprig of mistletoe just out of her reach. It’s gonna be really cute, guys. At the end of it all, the group sits knackered around the fully-festive living room, sipping from mugs of hot cocoa. A jug of orange nog sits full to the brim on a coffee table. Jack and Marie are enjoying each other’s company when Captain Keith approaches.
KEITH: Well, good news, I guess.
JACK: We’re ready for the ball? I know. It should be great!
KEITH: No, I mean the weather. It’s clearing up. We should be able to fly out of here tomorrow morning.
MARIE: Tomorrow morning?
JACK: Wait, but that’s Christmas Eve. Are you sure you want to fly, Keith?
KEITH: I always spend the holiday with my family, and this year’s no different. But Paul’s a Vajrayana Buddhist. Christmas Eve is as meaningful to him as earthly possessions in general. So you should be cleared for takeoff!
MARIE: Oh. That’s great.
It doesn’t sound great.
KEITH: Well, I’ve gotta go check on Dean. Has anyone checked on Dean? It seems like he’s having a crisis. Isn’t he like a close family friend of yours? Alright, whatever, I’m gonna check on Dean.
JACK: Well, looks like you’ll get your Christmas miracle after all.
Marie broods in silence. Jack has trouble reading her expression. He stands up.
JACK: I’ll grab us some more cocoa. Unless you want to try some more orange nog?
Marie gives a weak smile and hands her cup to Jack. He frowns and walks off. Joe approaches and sits down in that awkward Dad way.
JOE: Y’know, for someone who doesn’t care to see the inn running, you’ve been an awful big help around here lately.
He pauses, examining her downcast expression.
JOE: What’s going on?
MARIE: I don’t know. For the past few days, I’ve told myself that all I want to do is get out of here, to get back to New York. But now…
JOE: Norwegian Pine’s growing on you?
MARIE: I thought I’d never say that.
JOE: You didn’t. I did. It wouldn’t be the first time. Y’know, my wife, Jack’s mom… she wasn’t from here.
MARIE: She wasn’t?
JOE: No. She was from Washington. She came in with the federal investigation into the town’s asbestos mine, Norwegian Pine’s livelihood. The investigation threatened to tear the whole town down. When I first met her, I thought she was heartless. She was gonna throw away everything we’d ever known and she didn’t seem to care.
MARIE: What happened?
JOE: Well, the festival happened. I showed off my nutcracking skills and she tried her hand at the Nog Bowl – the second Nog Bowl, mind you. She learned to love Norwegian Pine and I learned to look through a person’s tough outer exterior to what really mattered. Her heart may have been two sizes too small, but it beat more strongly than all of ours. Part of that was because it had to, given the size thing, but… you get it.
MARIE: What do you think I should do?
JOE: I can’t tell you that. But… I think you might already know.
Marie gives him a weak smile and he returns it, standing up.
JOE: You’ve helped a lot of people with this, Marie.
[COMMERCIAL BREAK; include a spot for Hallmark’s “Nothing Special: A Jehovah’s Witness Wednesday”]
SCENE: Interior, Gingerbread Inn living room, morning
Marie’s in her pajamas again, standing in the middle of the deserted living room, with only Jack in the periphery, trying to place a phone call.
JACK: No luck?
MARIE: No. Wait! It’s ringing.
She holds the phone to her ear and Veronica picks up.
MARIE: Veronica? Sorry, I was trying to call the boss.
VERONICA: She’s off in Barbados for the holiday. She forwarded her number to mine.
MARIE: Oh, well. I’ve got some bad news.
The front door opens off screen. Joe must be back from the market.
MARIE: I… won’t be able to make it back today. The storm’s still raging, and the airport’s shut down.
VERONICA: That’s weird. It seemed fine to me.
There’s an echo. Marie’s confused until she looks up to see Veronica standing in front of her.
VERONICA: I told you that if you couldn’t solidify this sale, I would. Where’s the paperwork, Marie?
MARIE: What–this is my sale, Veronica.
The door opens again and Joe walks in.
VERONICA: Your sale? You told me it’d be easy, that you’d make these chumps sign and be back on the plane within the hour. It’s been days, Marie.
JACK: Marie, is this true?
MARIE: I didn’t… I didn’t know you at the time, and…
He walks out. Joe looks disappointed.
JOE: Hang on, what seems to be the problem here?
VERONICA: I represent the firm that bought this building. I demand to see paperwork verifying the sale.
MARIE: You don’t have any right to demand that.
VERONICA: You don’t want to make an enemy out of me, Marie. You think I won’t find that paperwork? And once I’m back in New York, the boss will promote me to Lawyer. And then how many months until I take her job?
Marie looks visibly anxious. Joe steps forward.
JOE: I had no idea Marie hadn’t sent the paperwork on. I’d be happy to sign a new contract for you.
VICTORIA: That’d be lovely. Shall we step into your office?
The two disappear. Jack reemerges to grab his coat before leaving.
JACK: I don’t want to hear it. How do you really feel about us, Marie? No lies.
He departs. Marie slumps down, her head in her hands.
[COMMERCIAL BREAK; including a spot for Hallmark’s “Gold, Frankincense, and Birth: A Midwife’s Holiday”]
SCENE: Interior, Marie’s room.
Marie’s sitting with the door ajar, still distraught by the earlier events. A knock is heard at the door, and Joe pushes it open. He’s dressed more fancily and Christmassy than we’ve seen him so far.
MARIE: Joe, I’m so sorry.
He enters and sits on the bed beside her.
JOE: Sorry about what?
MARIE: About what? About everything. I didn’t value the inn. I didn’t value you. I lied to you when you signed the contract. You asked me if I’d do the same thing and… I knew it was a bad deal.
Joe looks at the same piece of rug that Marie’s eyes are glued to, offering a tight-lipped smile.
JOE: I knew it was a lie.
JOE: I knew. I told you, in all these years running the inn, I haven’t gotten any better at cooking or cleaning or organizing… but I have gotten better at seeing past hard exteriors. And your exterior was… pretty hard. I don’t know if even Jack could crack your nut. Maybe I could have, in my prime.
They share a smile.
JOE: But I could see that, at your core, you were a good person.
MARIE: But my company’s going to ruin everything for you.
JOE: Well, yeah, maybe, but… it would have made your Christmas. And the inn’s been vacant for so long that I hadn’t made anyone’s Christmas in a long time.
MARIE: You were going to make a lot of Christmases tonight.
JOE: Were?! Look at me. I’d say we still are.
MARIE: You’re still going forward with the Ball?
JOE: I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
MARIE: But what about Veronica?
JOE: What about that snake? I looked past her exterior and saw the gaping maw of sheol itself. Yeah, I signed her contract. But she never asked my name, and I never told her it wasn’t “Dipstick Dinkins”.
Marie looks shocked.
JOE: So what do you say? One last Merry Christmas for the Gingerbread Inn?
She smiles and takes his hand, standing up.
MARIE: I’ve got to get ready.
JOE: I’ll leave you to it. Merry Christmas, Marie.
MARIE: (Smiling widely) Merry Christmas, Joe.
SCENE: Interior, Gingerbread Inn
The ball is well underway; guests dressed in nice Christmas attire fill the space, laughing and merrymaking. Marie twists, smiling through the crowd. She meets up with Joe.
MARIE: Everything’s going perfectly.
JOE: Thanks to you and Jack, y’know. This is really something–
At that moment, the door opens, and we see Natalya, standing there in a gorgeous burlap dress. Joe’s jaw drops as he lays eyes on the new reveler.
Natalya returns the gaze, looking at Joe, bedecked in his holiday ball garb.
NATALYA: Zoo-wee mama.
JOE: It’s Natalya! How did she… I couldn’t find an address or a phone number.
MARIE: I went out and found her cleaning her traps. I thought you might want her to come.
JOE: I… did. Thank you, Marie.
She smiles and allows them to convene. Turning away, her smile disappears when she runs into Jack.
JACK: Marie, hey, I’m sorry I left so abruptly earlier. I talked to my dad, and… well, I guess if he trusts you, maybe I was wrong to act the way I did.
MARIE: No, it’s me who should be sorry. I didn’t know you when I said what I did, but… you’re still people. And I realize now that I shouldn’t mistreat people even if I don’t think they’ll be hot lawyers.
JACK: That’s really noble of you to say.
They smile. Then, separating, a reinvigorated Marie walks too quickly and accidentally bumps into Darius’s bride, spilling orange nog all over her white dress.
BRIDE: Oh my gosh–
MARIE: I am so sorry, oh, no. We can… we can fix this, I don’t know…
JOE: Uh oh! Don’t worry, Marie. I’ve got this covered. Could you bring her up to my closet? My wife’s wedding dress should still be hanging up in there.
MARIE: Is that alright with you?
BRIDE: She was the most beautiful woman in Norwegian Pine. I’d be honored.
The two smile and make their way upstairs. There, the Bride makes her way into Joe’s bedroom. Marie makes to follow, but something catches her eye. Her door is ajar. She steps inside to find all of her belongings strewn across the room. She struggles to figure out what happened until she sees her work bag in the corner. She runs to it, looks inside, and notices that the contract is missing. She sprints downstairs and grabs Joe by the shoulder.
MARIE: Joe, we have a problem.
JOE: It doesn’t fit? I always said my wife had an incomparable ass, but…
MARIE: What? No. The contract. The real one. It’s gone.
JOE: What happened?
MARIE: I don’t know. Veronica must have checked the real one and seen that you wrote “Dipstick Dinkins”.
JOE: I worried about that. What do we do?
NATALYA: This bitch of yours, when did she leave?
MARIE: I don’t know, it couldn’t have been long.
NATALYA: My dogs can track her. Come with me.
The party leaves, bundling themselves up the best they can as Natalya tries to establish a trail.
NATALYA: I’ve got it! Hop in!
They gather in the sleigh. It takes off down the road and Natalya drives for a while in the dark and snow before a car can be seen in the ditch off the road. A woman is heard yelling.
VERONICA: Are you serious?! You’re useless! I thought you said you knew how to drive here!
Inside, we see Dean, rattled as ever. Veronica slams the door, rage on her face. The rage turns to fear when she sees the sleigh approaching.
VERONICA: You’re too late, Marie! It’s my deal now. You had your chance!
MARIE: Veronica, listen, you can’t.
VERONICA: Don’t tell me what I can’t do, Marie. I deserve this. I’ve served the boss all year. I’ve chosen her outfits, shaved her, given her baths…
JACK: What the hell?
VERONICA: You’re not messing this up for me.
Marie gets out of the car and starts to approach Veronica,
VERONICA: No! Fuck you! Bitch!
She runs into the forest. Jack hops off the sleigh.
MARIE: Wait, I can reason with her.
NATALYA: You try to reason. We will cut her off!
The sleigh departs and Marie runs into the forest. She and Jack go separate ways, trying to find Veronica. At last, Marie finds a set of footprints, she comes to a clearing, where Veronica is standing. Marie notices too late that she has a gun.
VERONICA: Your story ends here, Marie.
MARIE: What?! Veronica, hang on. Put the gun down. Where did you even get a gun?
VERONICA: That idiot in the car had it on him. Said it was to protect him against the Forest Woman. When I’m gone, there’ll be one dead woman in a forest and one distraught man sitting in a car crying about what he’s done.
MARIE: Veronica, that’s insane, this is just a job.
VERONICA: Just a job? Yeah? That’s how you see this? I work eighty hour weeks, Marie. I have put everything into this job. And now I’m going to get what I deserve. Because I worked for it. And you can’t—
Jack enters the clearing, catching Veronica off guard. She turns on her heels to point the gun at him, but she slips on the snow and falls, then keeps falling. Marie steps forward, but she’s too late. Veronica’s caught in one of Natalya’s traps, setting it off. She’s beyond dead. And with her goes the contract.
JACK: It’s for the best, Marie.
MARIE: You’re right, Jack. I’ll move past this in due time.
JACK: Here, I think I hear them coming.
The sleigh appears on the other side of the trees. The two approach and climb in. Dean runs up to them.
DEAN: Joe! Jack! Marie! No! This woman…
He stares at Natalya, experiencing a sudden burst of vigor.
DEAN: I won’t let you take them, too! Not after what you did to Bernard!
NATALYA: How do you know this name…?
DEAN: He was my friend! Mayor Rose’s brother! We were stationed together… we were friends. And he left with you one night and I never saw him again!
Natalya starts tearing up.
NATALYA: Bernard was treasure to me. He find me in forest when I was most lonely. He keep me company, even though I look like she-bear.
JOE: No, don’t say that. You’re beautiful.
NATALYA: Over time, we fall in love. Spend all time together. I give birth to little cub. But winter is harsh and cub become sick. Sleigh is stuck, won’t move. Bernard say he will take little Greg to hospital, but… Bernard never come back. Greg… never come back.
Her tears start to fall. There’s a change in Dean.
NATALYA: I lose my only family that day.
JOE: …what if you didn’t?
JOE: No, wait. Bernard was Rose’s brother. Jack, don’t you remember that year your mother got everyone DNA testing kits?
JACK: And we found out the Lumberjack was a serial killer.
JOE: And we found out that Rose was Darius’s biological aunt.
MARIE: Wait, does that mean…?
JOE: Natalya is Darius’s mother. Darius is Greg.
NATALYA: My Greg is… alive?!
MARIE: He is… and we’re missing his wedding.
NATALYA: Climb in! I will get us there fast!
The group piles in the sleigh the best they can and rushes off to the wedding. Dean still seems restrained, but he’s spurred on by his friend’s memory.
[COMMERCIAL BREAK; include a spot for “Blue Christmas: an AVATAR Holiday Special”]
SCENE: Interior, Gingerbread Inn
Our group bursts in through the front door.
JACK: Are we late for the vows?
DARIUS: You know I’d never do this without my best man.
Jack smiles and takes his place at the altar. Darius stares at Natalya by Joe’s side.
DARIUS: Who is this?
NATALYA: My Greg!
DARIUS: Greg? What the hell.
JOE: Darius, this is Natalya. You don’t know her, but I think you’ll be getting to know each other real well. I know I will.
BRIDE: Marie, you saved our wedding. Will you be my Maid of Honor?
MARIE: What?! I’d… be honored.
Everyone laughs. Marie’s so funny. The party take their positions and the wedding is delivered in montage form, with Rose officiating. Joe and Natalya sit in the front row, with Dean beside them. Everything goes excellently. After it all, we transition to a shot of everyone gathered at the Caribou Grille, where the owner laughs alongside them. Marie’s phone rings and she excuses herself from the table.
BOSS: Marie, what the hell is going on up there?
MARIE: I don’t know. Change of plans, I guess.
BOSS: Why won’t Veronica pick up her phone?
MARIE: I don’t keep tabs on Veronica. Isn’t she with you?
BOSS: She flew out to—dammit, Marie, I need that contract now.
MARIE: I guess you’ll have to find someone else to do it, then.
BOSS: What?! You’re never getting that promotion, Marie. You’re done at this company! DONE!
MARIE: Fine by me. I quit.
The boss starts screaming on the other end, but Marie hangs up with a satisfied tap on her phone screen. She returns to the table and takes her seat next to Jack, his arm around her. Across the table, Natalya has her arm around Joe.
JACK: Who was that?
DARIUS: So, wait, I’m confused. I thought the inn was being sold?
JOE: Not anymore.
ROSE: But you just told me you’d be retiring!
JOE: I am. The inn’s under new management.
DARIUS: But it’s not being sold? I’m still confused.
JACK: (Laughing) Marie and I will be running things, D.
DARIUS: Wait, for real?!
Jack and Marie nod.
DARIUS: But I thought the inn wasn’t financially viable?
JACK: Well, it turns out that some of the inn’s land is on a valuable coal deposit. We found a party who’s interested in extracting it, and his workers will need lodging while they’re here. So… win-win.
BRIDE: But I thought the coal industry was in decline across the United States, put out mainly by increased investment in natural gas and other non-coal fossil fuels.
MARIE: It is, but… I’ve learned that some people still like doing things the old-fashioned way.
She looks across the restaurant and makes eye contact with Mr. Thumbtack, who’s sitting on his own in the corner, feasting on a Kung Pao Pot Roast. He catches her glance and returns it, winking.
MARIE: Yeah, I think everything’s gonna work out alright.
Jack pulls her into a kiss. Natalya kisses Joe. Darius kisses his wife. Dean kisses his wife, both of their mouths full of pot roast. Captain Keith kisses Rose. We didn’t have time to show you that romance. The restaurant’s owner looks on proudly. The camera pulls out to an aerial shot of a light dusting of snow over Norwegian Pine. To the north, we see Mr. Thumbtack putting a huge red sack in his sleigh and petting a reindeer. The “TRAPPED IN ALASKA” logo appears superimposed over the shot.