Bread and Promises: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Story: Juliet

Photo by Jill Heyer on Unsplash

Père Noel brought the snow.

When Juliet woke to a fairytale of thick, sparkling white snow, and barely passable roads, that’s all she could think. There would be no Christmas in Canada, but neither would there be a reckoning with Stephen.

Père Noel had also brought a power outage. Making her way to the kitchen to boil water for cocoa, Juliet realized she’d left her phone unplugged all night. Much like her other appliances, it was dead. That wasn’t so bad, she could still email from her laptop. 

Which was in her travel bag, also uncharged.

Hamish would assume she was already in Montreal. He didn’t know she’d decided to delay her trip to avoid time with Stephen. At least he wouldn’t be worried if she couldn’t text him.

She had just enough juice in her computer to fire off a quick note to Pépère, letting him know she was safely marooned in Vermont, but would come north for Twelfth Night. The Chens’ Epiphany party was always a hoot, capping off the Christmas season with a Shakespeare-inspired masquerade and a secret gift exchange. 

With nothing beyond her cozy apartment, Juliet allowed herself the pleasure of Marian Muse’s bookshelves. There was magic in having a bookseller for a landlord. She picked up a volume of short fiction by a Vermont author, and lost herself in a world threaded together by related narratives, told in a voice like a modern-day Robert Frost.

Hours later, when the late afternoon light faded, Juliet put on her boots and coat. An almost supernatural quiet had settled over the village during the storm; even the muffled rumble of plows on Main Street couldn’t break the enchantment.

Two floors below, people were emerging from the houses on nearby Chapel Street, and a handful of brave folks in pickup trucks and four-wheel drive SUVs were making their way along the banked streets.

The frozen twilight, gilded by street lamps and frosted in the last swirling flakes of the storm, was so unlike anything Juliet had ever imagined. The homes and shops were dark, with a few generator- or candle-lit windows. She stood there in a kind of rapture, grinning like a fool with her legs going numb from the knee-to-hip deep snow just beyond the doorstep.

A truck slowed, the window rolling down. The chains on the tires left a crosshatched track in the still snowy road.

“Juliet!”

The driver was a friend of Kate’s; momentarily stunned by the marshmallow world at her feet, Juliet gawped at him.

“Do you have power yet?”

He was peering across the passenger seat of his truck cab in concern. Joss. The innkeeper’s—Nan’s—husband.

“No. Haven’t all day. How’s everything with you?”

“We’re toasty warm. Wood fire and a generator built for a nuclear bunker. I came into town to check on some folks.” Joss looked around at the dark village the back at Juliet. “We’ve got room at the inn. You’re welcome to spend Christmas with us if you’d like.”

She hesitated briefly. He was barely more than a stranger, despite Kate’s efforts. That said, he was offering her shelter—quite literally—from the storm, and if she could plug in her phone… Her greedy heart sang; she could talk to Hamish.

She wouldn’t be alone at Christmas. “I’d love to. Can you give me a minute?”

Her bags were, after all, already packed.

Bread and Promises: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Story: Hamish

Photo by Jill Heyer on Unsplash

Hamish should have been anticipating the ambush, but Kate was a professional. She sidled up to him while he was tending to the rye starter he was growing for her, handing him a mug of strong, sweet coffee and a eggnog muffin.

“Her parents died. She’s a little lost right now—and planning to move on after the new year. Tread lightly there.”

He blinked at her, arranging his face in what he hoped was a bland expression. “I’m sure I don’t know who you mean.”

Kate leaned her elbows on the counter, her eyebrow lifting along with one corner of her half smile. “After all these years, the tips of your ears still go red when you’re not being entirely truthful.”

“I know, Kate. She told me.” Over a very nice bottle of French dessert wine at a restaurant near the river, their table for two had been near the fireplace. They’d kissed in the frozen front garden, under a street lamp, Hamish feeling for all the world like he’d stumbled through a wardrobe.

“I like her.” Kate knocked her coffee back like whiskey. “She only got here a few weeks ago, and I know she’ll be gone by the end of the month, but she’s made a place for herself here in her own way. Maybe it’s the journalist in her, but she has an incredible sense of how people work.”

Juliet had made a place for herself in his heart, as well. “Maybe that’s why I like her, too.”

“You’re a bit of a heartbreaker, Munroe.”

“Pot and kettle, Katherine.” He drew her name out in a mangled French accent. 

“Yes, but I’m not the one who’s still having conversations with my dead wife while I think no one is listening.” She hugged him hard, then pulled away to cradle his face between her palms. “And before I forget, we’re having Christmas at the Damselfly, and of course we told Nan and Joss you were coming, too.”

He raised his mug to her as she retreated upstairs. “I wouldn’t miss it.”

It wasn’t as though he’d be spending it with Juliet, though he’d asked. As it turned out, her father’s family lived outside Montreal, which was only a few hours away, and she’d promised to make the trip for the family’s Christmas Eve celebration. She wouldn’t be home until the following evening.

Bread and Promises: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Story: Juliet

Photo by Jill Heyer on Unsplash

Her mother would have been appalled. Nice young ladies didn’t drop hints the size of hot air balloons. Good girls didn’t suggest romantic outings with scruffy Scotsmen who were barely more than strangers.

Juliet and Hamish were swallowed up in the crowds applauding the newly lit tree, and Hamish was absorbed into Kate Pease’s circle of friends. He’d sought her out with his eyes, but there were no more private conversations. 

Afterward, Juliet had made her way to the cozy apartment over the book store, feeling that while her mother wouldn’t have approved of her methods, her father would have liked Hamish straight away.

She flipped open her laptop to read the emails she knew were waiting. The one from Harley she saved, savoring the idea of warm Florida sunshine. The other one she opened despite the revulsion even the name conjured. 

Her mother had liked Stephen Zhang. 


Jules—

Hope you’re at least trying out skiing. I definitely want to hit the slopes with you at Mimi’s wedding. That gives you three months. If you’re still out there in the middle of nowhere in January, maybe we can meet up slopeside. It’d be great to spend some time alone together.

—S

“I don’t like to be called Jules.” She growled at the screen. “And meeting up slopeside sounds cold and expensive.”

Stephen was the spoiled only son of a family her mother had grown up with. He was handsome (Trina said he looked like a preppy Jay Chou) and successful; he was also arrogant and boring as hell.

“I don’t want to learn to ski!” She bit her lip, regretting the outburst. It was late, and Thornton went to bed early.

Juliet didn’t know how to convince him that the claim he assumed on her affection had never existed. Her mother had hoped for a match; Stephen liked the idea of having her on his arm. He’d said as much once, that her mixed heritage—he’d said it delicately to emphasize it, a verbal tic of his—made a striking visual when they were together. 

Her father voiced concerns at her mother’s relentless matchmaking; it always ended in the same argument. Juliet never imagined there would come a day when she’d miss their bickering, but without the discord, there would never be the laughter when Pierre Chen put on old records and crooned love songs until Ying Yue forgave him.

Hamish could make her laugh; she was sure of it. 

She’d have to ask him if he skied.

Onward!

Well, 2017 was a dumpster fire of a year. I’ve honestly never been so tired of social media, so fried on blogging, so inclined to hide out in a fictional Vermont town.

That said, it was also the year I turned 40, the year my son reached double digits, our return to Disney World, and the year I officially made Thornton a series of novels, not just a novel and some “bulges.” (That’s Diana Gabaldon’s term for the stories that bulge out from the main narrative, and I like it.)

I’ve got some concrete goals for 2018, both writing-related and personally. I won’t bore you with the specifics, but they boil down to more words for you, more balanced me. They’re mostly born from failures from years past and lessons learned. I’ve screwed up more than a few things, but there were some amazing successes, and it’s time to take the reckoning and move forward.

Twice today, I typed “onward!” in conversations with online friends. Twice, before I realized that’s the word, the guiding word for 2018.

Onward!

I’m sure things will get lost, I like the idea that they will be found by those who come behind, and I will pick things up, too, as I go. Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia is one of my favorite plays, has been since I worked the tech crew for a college production, then took a class on the maths and physics of Stoppard’s plays. Septimus Hodge said it far more eloquently than I, so onward I go.

I hope you’ll stick with me. I like having you here.

It All Starts With Catwoman

I don’t always write about Eartha Kitt, but when I do, it’s for Jeremy Flagg. This piece ran during a month of Superhero Geekery on his site..

~~~.

This is not about comic books, or superheroes, or even villains, really.

This is about Catwoman.

This is about being just a little bad, about being sexy and funny, and not taking yourself too seriously. Or: What I learned from Eartha Kitt.

There was something about her voice. The low, intimate timbre with the sharp delivery. The way she rolled those r’s. Purrrrfect.

Same Bat time, same Bat channel. Early morning reruns of Adam West and Burt Ward ZAM!ing and POW!ing their way through the villains of Gotham were my first exposure to superheroes. There was always something in Batman’s eyes that let you in on the secret. Something cheeky and conspiratorial, though at five I couldn’t have explained that.

At five I just wanted to marry him when I grew up. Ahem.

Something else I couldn’t have described until years later was that Batman’s world was a boy’s world. Wealthy, charming Bruce Wayne, strong, clever Batman, reliably naughty, comical villains, and a roll-call of women I barely recall, all designed to satisfy the boys. Even Julie Newmar and Lee Meriwether’s feline glamour seemed to complement Batman.

Eartha Kitt Catwoman debut 1967
By ABC Television (eBayfrontback) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
And then there was Eartha Kitt.

A third thing a five-year old can’t articulate: that woman was sexy as hell, but she was so much more than a packaged reflection of male attention. She was deliberately provocative. She owned the scene and her place in it. When she purred, I listened. She made being a bad girl look awfully powerful, even when the situation was completely ridiculous.

There’s a brilliant moment in which she pulls up alongside the Joker who’s attempting to look innocent walking down the streets of Gotham. She’s driving the most preposterous car imaginable, complete with a tail, eyes, cat ear wheel wells and a convertible bubble.

“You want a lift, big boy?”

In the ensuing 30 seconds or so, she manages to be saucy, snarky, and completely in possession of how goofy the whole thing is.

She transcended the camp of the show even while she was low-slung-belted-hips deep in it. She didn’t need the Joker–or Batman–to shine, but they sure were fun to toy with.

I think I looked for Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman in every heroine, every anti-heroine, every villainess I found after that. She set a strangely high bar for such an unrepentantly silly adaptation of the Batman story. In searching for that wonderful mix of humor, sex appeal, and sass (easier to articulate as you get older), I began to gravitate towards villains and bad girls–not necessarily in comics, but in other fandoms. Forget about blondes and their fun, bad girls had more power.

I am, for the record, the farthest thing from a bad girl, except that I write romance. (Just ask my son. He will tell you his mom writes inappropriate books.). I still haven’t forgotten Eartha Kitt; her voice is in my ear anytime I write a strong, provocative woman.

She and Catwoman opened the door for me to tap into the bad girl under the surface, but also to find the heroines I needed. The ones with self-awareness, humor, sass, power, and some rebel bad girl in them.

Maybe this is about superheroes after all.