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 8

Continued from part 7, or you can start from the beginning.

He didn’t say much, but Molly watched the way his smile played coy with his face when he snuck glances at her. Walt Fuller’s eyes might be windows to an old soul, but the fireflies in her belly flocked to the light that flickered in them when he got out of his truck in the dooryard.

“See that break in the fence ahead?” she said. “Take that. It Randy said we’re meeting up at the mill.”

Walt nodded, slowing the truck and turning onto the dirt road. They bumped down the frost-heaved tractor road that wound from Route 7 around the orchards to the abandoned mill, Molly wondering if he was thinking about the crackling atmosphere between them. Once the tidy rows of bare trees were behind them, she could see the glow of the bonfire through the woods beyond. A scattering of vehicles met them around a bend, and Walt stopped the truck.

He let out a long breath and pulled the key from the ignition. Molly touched his shoulder.

“Come on, let’s go.”

She paused for a beat when he let himself out of the truck. He’d surprised her, closing her door in her parents’ driveway; she wondered if he’d come around to get the door for her.

Her patience was rewarded. Walt opened the passenger door and offered her a hand. With her feet firmly on the ground, Molly looped her arm through his and led him towards the fire pit.

A chorus of greeting rose up from the knot of people around the already blazing fire. Molly felt Walt hesitate and squeezed his arm.

“Walt! Hey, man.” Randy Strickland got up from the log he’d been perched on. “Hey, Molls.”

“Hi, Randy. Thanks for the invite. Nice night for it.”

“Cold night for it.” Walt reached out a hand, the two men shook hands. “Been a while.”

“Yeah,” Randy laughed. “Think the last time I saw you, we were out at your place for a party. Summertime?”

“My mom’s fiftieth.” Walt filled in the information.

Randy’s grin sank. “Sorry about your old man. My folks didn’t mention it until I got back from school.”

“Thanks.”

Molly snugged his arm against her to ward off the sadness she knew kept him company.

“There’s beer in the cooler over there.” Randy gestured at the circle around the fire. “Grab a seat.”

A girl with a wheat colored braid hanging down over one shoulder was playing a guitar and singing, with help from a couple nearby. There was space on a picnic table across the clearing.

Molly slid her hand along his arm, twining their fingers where they met. “Want to grab a couple of beers? I’ll grab some seats.”

Walt nodded, and made his way to the cooler on the tailgate of another pickup. He met her at the picnic table with two bottles of Labatt’s. Molly leaned against him when he sat, enjoying the way her head fit in the crook of his shoulder.

More cars and trucks filled in the makeshift parking, and the crowd around the fire grew. Someone left their car running, providing more music when the guitar-playing girl’s fingers got too cold.

Cora Atkinson and her tall, dark-haired date joined them. “Molly! I didn’t know you’d be here. You know John, right?”

“Hey, John,” Molly said. “John Pease, Walt Fuller.”

Walt’s posture shifted, she felt him relax. “We know each other.”

“Just a bit.” John dropped down next to Walt with an easy grin. “How’s the farm?”

Cora sat on Molly’s other side. “John’s parents live next door to the Cartwrights.”

Molly tilted her head, squinting at her friend.

“Walt’s Aunt Yolie?” Cora prompted her. “Walt’s mom moved in with her sister after Jed Fuller died.”

Cora went on, but Molly wasn’t listening. Next to her, Walt was deep in conversation with Cora’s boyfriend, more at ease than she’d seen seen him yet. His father hadn’t been gone a month, his mother had decamped to her sister’s—she knew from Janey that his sister and brother weren’t nearby.

No wonder he was so solemn, with only cows for company.

She leaned into him a little more, the layers of clothing between them warming from the contact. In wordless answer, Walt’s hand pressed against hers. A quiet gesture, but Molly’s heart felt it just the same.

To be continued…

Cinnamon Girl: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Story, Part 6

Continued from part 5, or you can start from the beginning.

Molly checked the laundry hamper twice before she loaded it into her dad’s station wagon. A carton of raw cranberries, a paper bag of popcorn, thread and needle pinched from her mom’s sewing box, some bittersweet and holly from the wild tangle of shrubs on their property line, and a Bing Crosby Christmas record. Molly wasn’t sure how Walt felt about music, but you couldn’t go wrong with Bing Crosby.

The moon was a low, snow-white crescent in a deep sky over the valley as she drove west out of town. Darkness came early in December, but the radio station out of Plattsburg was playing Christmas carols, and Molly sang along with enough gusto to hide her lackluster singing voice—and her twanging nerves.

It was five-fifty-five on the dot when she turned into the driveway at the Fuller’s farm. The dairy barn hulked in its own shadow, and the pastures rolled away into the night, a study in lonesome moonlight and snow. The house, in contrast, was lit up from within with a warm, steady light that brought an involuntary smile to her face. She stopped the car on the gravel and cut the headlights—just in time to realize Walt was up a ladder, leaning into the front gable, long cords of colored lights dangling from the ladder and a hammer slung from his hammer loop.

“Be right down,” he hollered.

Molly stood in the driveway, arms wrapped around her chest against the cold, while Walt put a nail in the peak of the gable, and hauled the lights into place along the roofline.

He climbed down, leaving the ladder in place, and crossed the front yard, chafing his gloved hands together. “Want to help me light it up?”

“Yeah.”

He led her to the outlet on the outside of the wall, tucked behind a rhododendron in the front garden and handed her the plug. She wondered if he felt the zing of an altogether different kind of electricity when her mittened fingers touched his bare ones.

The lights brought the house to cheerful life, and Molly clapped. “It looks great.”

“So,” Walt said, face alight with pleasure, “what’s the big surprise?”

“We’re going to make a popcorn garland for your tree.”

Walt carried her laundry hamper of supplies inside. Molly followed, shucking her coat and shoes by the door. Walt glanced at her sock feet.

Molly wiggled her rag-toe. “Keeps the dirt out. I might be a messy packer, but I hate dirty floors.”

He was a tidy bachelor, she thought, but whether that was due to natural inclination or lack of opportunity to make a mess, she couldn’t be sure. The wood stove was going in the parlor, and Walt set her basket down by the sofa. “I don’t have much, but I’ve got some Schaefer in the fridge.”

Molly opened the gingham tablecloth she’d wrapped around her offerings. “That’s not very festive. I brought hot chocolate.” She pulled out a large green Thermos, set it down on the coffee table, then dug back into the basket. After a brief search, she brandished a fifth of peppermint schnapps. “With a kick.”

“You’ve got a regular picnic in there,” Walt remarked, looking over her shoulder at the cranberries, the popcorn, and a foil-wrapped baking dish. “Is that a lasagna?”

“It’s my specialty.” Molly pulled out the popcorn and cranberries, then tucked the tablecloth around the dish. “It just needs to warm up. We can put it in when we get hungry.”

“Molly?”

“Or I can put it in now.” She pulled back one corner of the cloth.

“Molly.”

Walt’s voice had gone hoarse. In the same motion she turned and began to stand while he clasped her arm and tugged. She stumbled into his embrace. He wasn’t too tall; she liked where she fit into his body. “I’d really like to kiss you.”

His arms snugged around her and she rested her forehead against his nose, their breath mingling. “You definitely should.”

As first kisses went, Molly thought, it wasn’t so bad. If their teeth clinked and she giggled, if she wasn’t sure what to do with her hands, it didn’t matter. He tasted like mint, and when she didn’t shy away, his lips slanted against hers, and the oxygen in the room went hot.

They kissed, openmouthed, unbothered by awkward hands, for a brief eternity. Full darkness filled in the shadows around the farmhouse, leaving them cocooned in warmth and light.

Molly caught her breath before it whooshed out in a nervous laugh. “We should heat up that lasagna.”

Walt pushed his hands into his pockets. “How ‘bout I go bring in the tree and the stand?”

To be continued…

Cinnamon Girl: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Story, Part 3

Continued from Part 2, or you can start from the beginning.

“Patty, why are we doing this again?” Walt trudged through the rows of blue spruce with his sister while his niece and nephew covered one another in snow and fallen needles.

Patty grinned. “Because Mom’s not home to remind you, I’m leaving in three days, and we’ll be with Gary’s family for Christmas, and Joe will probably forget what day it is. If we don’t get you a Christmas tree now, you won’t have one at all, and that’s just sad.” She stopped, hands on her hips, and peered through the row at an eight footer a few feet away. “That one.”

Walt followed the line of her gaze and approached the tree in question. “This one?”

“Yes.” One of the kids squealed from somewhere behind them, and Patty hollered back without looking. “Leave your sister alone.”

Walt knelt under the tree, shaking some of the snow off the boughs before he notched the hand saw into the bark. “You know mom’s going to stay with Aunt Yolie. There’s no point in a tree at the farm.”

His sister was uncharacteristically silent. He heard her boots crunching through the snow toward him. Her voice, when she spoke, was gentle. “Mom can’t hide herself away with at Yolie’s for the rest of her life.”

Walt finished notching the tree, then eased out from underneath it to hand the saw to Patty. “Hold that.”

Patty took the saw. “Okay, fine. Mom probably will stay with Yolie in town.”

Walt took the saw back and crawled under on the other side of the trunk to finish the job.

“You could always invite that pretty redhead from the funeral over to help you trim your tree.”

Walt’s head snapped up and he thwacked it on a low branch, muttering a curse in Patty’s direction as the remaining snow in the boughs fell on him with a soft whump.

Patty and the kids laughed; Walt couldn’t help grinning at himself. “Thanks, Sissy. I needed that.”

“The laugh or the tree?” Patty asked, nudging her kids back into the snow to play.

Walt looked between the kids wrestling in the dirty track and his sister standing over the fallen fir, and channeled the memory of his Pop—intentionally this time. “Ayuh.”

Patty’s eyes misted over. “Let’s get this tree back to the truck.” She brushed away the emotion and hollered again at the kids. “Ellen, Alex, back to the truck!”

Walt grabbed the tree by a lower branch and dragged it along. When he caught up to Patty, she gave him a sly look.

“Who is the redhead anyhow?”

His cold-stung cheeks warmed a bit. “Molly Sanders.”

“She’s pretty. How’d you meet?”

“You remember the day I stranded the truck out by the bridge?” He paused; Patty nodded. “Molly and her cousin Jane picked me up and brought me back to the farm.”

Patty rounded on him. “You met that girl last week?”

Walt stopped. “Yeah, why?”

“Not every girl shows up at a family funeral for a second look. Unless you were slipping out at night to meet her after Thanksgiving?”

“Patty.” They’d eaten the holiday meal around the kitchen table, too sad and tired to put much into it.

Patty clicked her tongue. “You’re a goner.”

“Uncle Walt! Look!” Alex, six, came barreling back to them, holding a robin’s nest in his mittened hands.

“Hold onto that,” Patty said. “They’re good luck in a Christmas tree, and your uncle’s going to need it.”

Walt shook his head, but he didn’t argue. Patty started walking again, but stopped after a few steps to turn back to him. “Invite her over to trim the tree.”

He didn’t have the heart to tell his sister that Molly Sanders was probably back at her college in Saratoga Springs, and not likely to waste much more time on a homebody like him.

To be continued…

Cinnamon Girl: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Story, Part 2

Continued from Part One:

Jed Fuller was laid to rest the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Nearly everyone in Thornton was there at the burial ground on Fuller Creek Road. To Molly it seemed half of Vermont was huddled there by the half-frozen creek, heads bowed around the Fuller family stone while Reverend Shutter prayed for Jed’s immortal soul, though his body would wait in the crypt until spring.

Jane shivered next to her, immaculately turned out in a black dress and what Molly thought of as her Sunday coat, though she’d decided on her snow boots. For her own part, Molly had squeezed into something borrowed from her mother, and covered it up with her parka after the service in town.

Walt stood between his mother and a slightly older young woman Molly assumed was his sister. Jane had given her a primer on the family before they’d come, even while she’d tried to talk Molly out of it. “We don’t even know him,” she’d said.

“He needs friends,” was all Molly could think to reply. Watching him shoulder a corner of his father’s casket, a clutch of idle snowflakes sticking to his lashes, Molly stood by her assessment.

The half-hearted snow swirled into a squall just as Reverend Shutter concluded his prayers, and Walt looked up. She smiled at him through the rioting snow, but wasn’t sure he saw.

At the farm, Jane found Bobby’s parents, who drew her into their circle of friends. Molly drifted past the dining room table, stopping to take a cider donut and a cup of coffee. She paused to say hello to some neighbors, but it was Walt she sought out while they spoke.

She found him sitting on the stairs, his coat still folded in his lap. “Hi,” she said. “How are you holding up?”

“All right, I guess.” He blinked at her, and Molly was suddenly painfully aware of the fact that they’d only just met. “How did you know about the funeral?”

“Jane.” Molly broke the donut in half and offered him a piece. “She drove, too. I hope it’s okay.”

Walt took the donut; their fingers brushed, and her insides went warm. For a moment, though, he only held it, staring at a point on the wall just beyond her.

She finished the donut to fill the awkward silence, but then there was cinnamon sugar on her fingertips, and she’d forgotten to bring a napkin. In desperation, she licked her fingertips, then grinned at her own foolishness. She didn’t have a napkin. “I’m sorry. I’m intruding.”

“You’re not—“ he began. A tentative smile played around his mouth—probably at her expense, but she’d take it—then his sister’s voice rang out, challenging his assertion.

“Walter? Where are you? Sal and Rachel are getting ready to leave.”

Walt’s eyes followed the sound of his sister’s voice to the front hall, where an elderly couple were bundling up. He shook his head just a tiny bit, blushing a little when she caught it and gave him an answering wry smile.

“I am,” she said stepping back to let him by. As he passed she brushed his hand with hers. “See you around.”

Jane was easy to find; she was even easier to convince to leave.

Molly shed her jacket and tossed it in the back of Jane’s car. “He’s like a lost puppy.”

Jane sighed as Molly’s coat tumbled off the seat, then turned the car around and pulled away. “He’s a dairy farmer, Moll. Don’t you want something nicer?”

“Don’t be a snob.” Molly reached for the radio dial. “You’re only doing secretarial training so you can work for Bobby’s dad and save up for a house faster.”

Jane’s disapproving frown flipped, and she flexed her left hand. The light caught the small diamond solitaire Bobby Thompson had put on her finger three months before. She looked up at Molly sharply. “So, why did you bother to do four years of college?”

“It’s 1977, Janey. I want to learn things, just to learn them. I want to figure out where I belong. You know?” Molly glanced in the rearview mirror at the receding farm. “In case you didn’t notice, I’ve hardly been a man-magnet in Saratoga Springs.”

“At least Walt Fuller has the good sense to think you’re pretty,” Jane conceded.

A happy shiver coursed down Molly’s spine. “Do you think so?”

“Don’t be stupid. I saw how he looked at you that day on the bridge.”

Molly sighed. With her long, thick blonde hair and blue eyes, Jane Starr was the kind of girl guys just noticed. Molly’s not-quite-red unruly waves that curled near her face, her curves, and her earnest face were more sidekick than leading lady.

The way he’d looked at her that day by the bridge had made her feel like the leading lady. She’d liked his eyes—serious and gray-hazel–and the appreciation in them.

“You know, Moll,” Jane said, pulling the car into Molly’s driveway. “Walt Fuller has something going for him.”

“Yeah?” Molly reached for her coat.

Jane shrugged. “He’s probably got a house already.”

To be continued…