Cinnamon Girl: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Story, Finale

Continued from part 13, or you can start from the beginning.

“Wait,” Molly said. “This is the thing I’ve dreamt about for a year and a half, and when I realized it was coming true, I cried.”

He started to speak, but she hushed him.

“My first thought was, ‘It’s too soon.’” She shifted to be closer to him. “I cried because I didn’t want… I don’t want to fly off and leave you. Not now when you’re still hurting, not now while we’re figuring this out. And there you were on my doorstep, and I had this crazy thought that I would cash it all in and stay here.”

He shook his head. “No—“

“I know,” she rushed on. “All those talks we had, all the time we’ve spent together this last month, and I’ve never even mentioned it… Have you ever had a dream so big you can’t tell the one person you feel like you really should? Like, if you give it words, it’ll fall apart?”

Oh, Molly… “Yeah.”

“I know we only met a month ago, and I know it’s selfish to ask you to wait until spring for me, but will you? Will you still be here in March when I get back?”

The blood was singing in his veins. Relief washed through him. “I’m not going anywhere.”

She launched herself into his arms, kissing him hard. She leaned back breathlessly. “Come on, let’s go introduce you to my folks. And Eddie.” She grimaced. “I’m sorry in advance about Eddie.”

He followed her back across the lawn, through the hedges, and across her yard. Introductions were a blur, and he found himself with a cup of coffee and a slice of pie, sitting in the Sanders’ living room while Molly’s family scattered to their own corners of the house.

She handed him a box from under the Christmas tree, wrapped and ribboned. “It’s not as nice as your present.”

Walt opened the box to find a pair of boiled wool slippers in a size far too small for his feet. When he looked up questioningly at Molly, she was grinning.

“House shoes for me to keep at the farm. Those floors get cold in the winters.”

He set the box next to him, and got up to cross the room to her. “That’s the most romantic thing anyone’s ever given me.”

Molly stood, wrapping her arms around him, close enough that she had to tilt her face up to look at him. “I’m going to have to work on that between now and when I go.”

“Merry Christmas, Molly.”

She touched her lips to his. “Merry Christmas, Walt.”

Cinnamon Girl: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Story, Part 13

Continued from part 12, or you can start from the beginning.

Walt could see, through the Sanders’ front door, Molly’s family gathered around the Christmas tree, staring at them. Molly’s face was in her hands, her shoulders shook. He grabbed a coat from the coat tree just inside the front door, wrapped it around her shoulders and pulled the door closed, leaving them alone on the cold front stoop.

“What happened?” He pulled her close, not knowing what else to offer her.

She buried her face in his chest and clung to his waist for a moment, but the shaking stopped. When she looked up at him, her eyes and nose were blotchy with crying.

“I got my Christmas present.” She sniffled and wiped her eyes.

“That bad?” He couldn’t help but smile.

She gave him a wobbly smile. “Amazing, actually. Just… unexpected.”

His own gifts still weighed heavily in his free hand while the other held her. “I guess these aren’t exactly amazing, but maybe unexpected?”

He brought the two packages between them, offering them to her.

“Yours is inside,” she said, taking up the record, and slicing the paper. “Neil Young. You surprise me.”

“I wore this one out at the end of high school.” He reached up to touch the curling locks of auburn hair around her face. “The day you and Jane rescued me, that’s what popped into my head: Cinnamon Girl.”

Molly set down the album on the empty planter that stood guard at the front door and took his face in her hands. “That is the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me.”

Her lips were cold, but Walt didn’t care.

“Now…” She took the smaller box and unwrapped it, handing him the paper. When she lifted the lid off, she looked up at him. “Walt, it’s beautiful.”

“Not as beautiful as you, Molly.”

A pair of fresh tears welled up and rolled over her cheeks.

“Hey, there. Don’t cry.” He thumbed away one falling tear.

She took the necklace out and held it up between them. “Will you help me?”

Walt took the chain, and clumsily at best, fastened it around her neck.

Molly took his hand. “Come take a walk with me.”

She shrugged into the coat, fished in one of its voluminous pockets to find a striped ski hat in Thornton High colors and a pair of leather driving gloves that dwarfed her hands. She tugged the hat around her ears. “You grabbed my dad’s coat.”

She led him around the corner of the yard, through a hedgerow and into the large lawn that surrounded the Riverbend Hotel. The Revolutionary War-era tavern was dark, its windows lit with electric candles. Molly skirted the empty fountain and formal garden, seeking out a gazebo that looked out over the lawn towards the Catmint River.

“Three semesters ago I had my gall bladder removed.”

Walt blinked. That wasn’t what he’d expected.

“It pushed back my graduation, and while I was recovering from the surgery, I started reading old travel guides my Grampa Simon brought for me.”

The travel guides in her father’s car came to mind.

“Ever since then, I’ve wanted to go to Europe, stay in hostels, eat street food, see all the art and palaces and cafés…” She took a deep breath. “I just knew that the world was out there waiting for me to find it.”

The gold band around the opal egg at her throat winked, and Walt’s heart sank like a stone to his gut.

“My whole family got together to give me the plane tickets and some spending money.” She squeezed his hands. I leave in three weeks. I’ll be gone ’til late March.”

Her eyes were shining. She couldn’t know how lovely she was, sitting there telling him she was leaving. The stone in his belly cracked open. Once she’d seen the wide world, she wouldn’t want a hardscrabble dairy farm in her hometown. Once she’d tasted French wine, walked museums and parks with other explorers, kissed men who’d seen the world, she wouldn’t want a man anchored to the eighty acres his family had farmed for generations.

“It’s going to be amazing, Cinnamon Girl.” He swallowed the hitch in his voice. “You’re going to be amazing.”

To continued...

Cinnamon Girl: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Story, Part 12

Continued from part 11, or you can start from the beginning.

Molly’s brother Eddie slept later than anyone that Christmas. By the time his sleep-tousled sixteen year old self came downstairs, the rest of the Sanders family was deep into their coffee and Christmas Kringle. They unpacked their stockings and opened a their gifts while the morning stretched out, stopping for bacon and eggs halfway through.

“When’s your boyyyyyyyfriend coming over, Moll?” Eddie sing-songed, wearing his new ski jacket and a pair of mustard-yellow and brown striped hand knit socks with his sweats and Thornton High football jersey.

“Shut up, Eddie.” Molly tossed a ball of wrapping paper at her brother.

“Language,” Mrs. Sanders said idly, flipping through the cookbook Eddie had given her. Eddie and Molly rolled their eyes.

Her dad got up and rustled under the tree, producing a wrapped package the size of a department store shirt box and handing it to Molly. “Since your brother unwrapped his ski jacket and knows what he’s getting for his big gift, it’s your turn.”

The box was light and a gentle shake revealed nothing. Molly unwrapped it carefully. Everything about this Christmas felt strange and magical. Inside, she peeled back folded tissue to reveal a plane ticket and a sheaf of museum pamphlets from European cities.

“Daddy? Mom?” She looked back and forth between her parents in disbelief. She’d never dreamed they’d give her the means to travel.

Her mom looked up. “You’ve worked so hard, honey, and we knew this was what you wanted most. Granny and Grampa Simon chipped in, too, and we got a good deal on the tickets from Simon’s son who’s a travel agent in Boston.”

Molly barely heard her mother. She was looking at the round trip tickets to Paris, nine weeks apart. She was leaving on January 14th. “I’m leaving in three weeks?”

“We knew you were torn about working for one more summer at the camp.” Her dad beamed. “Now you can do both.”

Her mother leaned forward.  “There’s a check in there, too. Belated graduation gift from all your aunts and uncles on both sides.”

Her gratitude clogged her throat. It was too much. It was too soon. Tears welled up in her eyes, and her parents faces crumpled.

“What is it, Moll?” Her father’s voice was thick with concern.

Eddie lobbed the ball of wrapping paper at the kitchen wastebasket, sinking it. “She’s just worried her new boyfriend’s going to find someone prettier while she’s gone.”

“Shut up, Eddie!” Her voice cracked on a sob, but the whole scene was cut short by the doorbell.

Molly salvaged as much of her dignity as possible and headed for the front door, where Walt stood, holding what looked like a record. and a small box wrapped in shiny red paper.

“Merry Christmas, Molly,” he said.

Molly promptly burst into tears.

To be continued…

Cinnamon Girl: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Story, Part 11

Continued from part 10, or you can start from the beginning.

Christmas morning dawned much like any other snowy winter morning. Walt rose before the sun, meeting Murph, who waited in his idling truck, two styrofoam cups of coffee steaming on the dashboard. By the time the herd was milked and pastured, the sun was up, and Walt’s belly knew it was past time for breakfast.

Murph headed out. He had a sister down on Lake Bomoseen who filled a stocking for him.

Walt packed up his mother’s picnic basket with raw milk for Aunt Yolie, and the best of the cuts from his beef share for his mother and the Cartwright cousins. His Pop had sold a bull calf the year before, knocking a fair amount off the sale price in exchange for the future meat. It wasn’t much of a Christmas gift, but he hoped his family would forgive him. He’d spend most of his spare cash on a gifts for Molly.

The Neil Young record was one he was gambling she didn’t have already, since it was nothing new, just something that reminded him of her.

The small box weighed like a stone in his pocket.

Molly had invited him to join the Sanders family for pie and coffee after Christmas dinner; the idea of giving her a present in front of her parents and her little brother was something close to terrifying, but he’d seen the little opal egg on a slim gold chain through the window at the Mercantile, and known it would look beautiful around her neck.

Aunt Yolie answered her door, sweeping open the grand front entry—Walt both loved and feared his aunt’s formal Victorian home. Eolia Cartwright was well into her seventies, but to Walt she’d always seemed old. She wore her steel-gray hair in the same severe up-do he knew from his own christening photographs.

“Walter,” she said. She was always formal, but there was kindness in her eyes. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, Aunt Yolie.” He leaned over the threshold to kiss her papery cheek, then followed her into the front parlor. His mother sat in a stiff wing chair, looking at—but Walt suspected not seeing—Yolie’s Christmas tree. “Merry Christmas, Ma.”

Tory Fuller was fifteen years her sister’s junior, but you couldn’t see it in his mother’s grief-ravaged face. She’d paled since Thanksgiving, he noticed. Her gaze drifted toward him. “Oh, Walt honey. It’s nice to see you.”

Yolie fussed over him, putting the food from the basket into her fridge and ladling him a glass of thick, stingingly boozy eggnog. “She’ll perk up when your cousins get here.”

His mother did, in fact, perk up when the Cartwrights arrived. His cousins Charlie and George arrived with their families within moments of another. Between them there were six kids, and their happy noise filled the house.

George’s wife Ginny paused near his position in the living room doorway, where he watched the littlest cousins opening their gifts. She stretched up to kiss his cheek, flicking a glance at the mistletoe ball Yolie always hung there. “You’re quiet today. Even for you.”

Privately, Walt had always considered Ginny Cartwright the most beautiful woman alive, even if she was a quarter of a century older than he was. Looking into her concerned eyes, he was defenseless. “I’m worried about Ma.”

“She’ll be okay. Losing the love of your life takes a lot out of you.” She laid a hand on his cheek and smiled. “I heard you were spending time with someone.”

“Word travels fast,” Walt muttered, but he couldn’t help the way his lips curved toward a smile. “Molly Sanders.”

“I know her. She passed through my classroom a few times over the years. And George wrote her a college recommendation. She’s a good girl.”

“I know.” He was having a hard time not letting his imagination run away with the future. Since the bonfire, they’d seen one another almost daily. Molly seemed content to visit the farm, and unafraid to pitch in, especially if it meant Walt had extra time to show her the secret places on the property. Just two days before, he’d taken her down to Fuller Creek, to the spot his Pop had put up the tire swing the summer he and Joe begged for one.

One the way home, they’d stopped in the barn, and Walt had quite nearly confessed his love when Molly laid her cheek on the forehead of one of the Brown Swiss. She’d smiled at him over the cow’s nose. “They’re wonderful,” she’d sighed.

So are you…

“What did you get her?” Ginny was watching him over her eggnog, while Charlie’s twins squealed over new doll clothes.

“A necklace,” Walt mumbled.

“I’m sure she’ll love it.”Ginny rested her head briefly on Walt’s shoulder before going to see what her daughter Rosie was holding up.

Walt hoped so.

To be continued…

Cinnamon Girl: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Story, Part 10

Continued from part 9, or you can read from the beginning.

“I wouldn’t have figured Walt Fuller for a good kisser,” Jane said. She was paging through the Sears catalog, and held up a page for Molly’s approval. “Do you think something like this would be a good traveling suit for the honeymoon?”

“Does Bobby know you’re planning that already?” Molly gave the camel-colored blazer and tailored trousers a once over. “You’d look good in that sweater or the striped shirt, but this is all winter stuff. You’re going to want a summer suit if you get married in June.”

Jane flipped the whole catalog shut with a quick huff. “You’re right.”

“Once we got out of our own way, he’s a great kisser.” Molly figured she was as close to an expert as anyone on that subject. They’d strung popcorn and cranberries while dinner warmed up. They’d kissed in the kitchen while the lasagne cooled. Walt brought down his mother’s box of ornaments and tinsel. Molly held a crocheted sprig of mistletoe over his head, and they’d tangled together in a breathless heap on the plaid sofa cushions.

In the amber-dappled light of the Christmas tree, they’d snuggled front of the wood stove, drinking spiked hot chocolate and talking late into the night.

Jane was looking at her, having abandoned her trousseau shopping. “What about backpacking? Rome? Vienna? Athens?”

Molly wrapped her arms around her knees. “What about them?”

“You’ve been talking about going to Europe ever since you had to take that semester off for your gall bladder surgery, and your graduation got pushed back. Are you going to just give that up because Walt Fuller’s more interesting than he looks?”

“That’s mean.” He was, though. Much more interesting, though Molly liked his looks just fine. “And a dinner date and some kissing doesn’t mean we’re getting married.”

Jane’s eyebrows rose, their groomed arches displaying her skepticism. “A dinner date you invited yourself on, and the bonfire at Randy’s…” Her lips pursed just slightly as she trailed off. “I ran into Cora at the Rexall.”

Molly laughed. “Okay, fine. I like him a lot, but that doesn’t mean I have to give up Europe.” Molly flopped back on Jane’s bed. “It’s not like I have the money to go, anyway.”

“Well, the Fuller dairy herd isn’t going to pay for it, that’s for sure.”

“Jane!” Molly sat up. Jane had paged past the suits and on to winter outerwear.

“Walt’s already married to the cows, as far as I can tell, so I don’t think he’s headed off to backpack across Austria for a summer.”

“You’re awful.” Molly lobbed a throw pillow at her cousin, who caught it neatly and set it on the foot of the bed.

Jane gave her the eyebrows again. “I’m practical. It’s different.”

To be continued…