Cinnamon Girl: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Romance: 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 Romance: 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…

The Soloist: Part Seven

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

When applause broke out at the end of Bill, Talia nearly dropped the chipped mug of chicken soup she’d been nursing in the back lot. She didn’t, but the soup sloshed over the rim and her spoon went clattering to the dirty asphalt. She turned to find Jojo Moretz standing in the kitchen door.

Jojo clapped enthusiastically again. “Oh, Talia. I’m sorry about your lunch! Though I’d be lying if I said I was sorry for lurking while you finished. I could listen to you all day, and nobody sings songs from Showboat around here.”

Talia flushed. “My mother had all those Broadway shows on records. I knew them all by heart before I even knew they were plays.”

Memories of her mother were like cigar burns on her heart.

Jojo sat herself down next to Talia. “My first job when I left here for New York was as a rehearsal pianist for an off-broadway production company. I’d hear a great old song in an audition and end up scouring this little record shop on Thompson Street for the cast recording. And leaving with five more the old guy who ran it recommended.” She fished a butterscotch from her pocket. “You want one?”

When Talia refused Jojo went on, the candy in her cheek. “I’m hosting book club this week. Tonight at my place. You should come.”

Talia started to refuse, but Jojo was faster.

“Nobody actually reads the books. We just have snacks and wine and gossip. And there’s a youth group social tonight at the church. My girlfriend runs it with Reilly. Eli will be welcome, and he’s over there already.”

If Talia’s laugh was touched with bitterness, Jojo was kind enough to overlook it. “You’ve sewn me up, haven’t you?”

Jojo inclined her head. Regally. “It’s my gift. I am a ninja-level meddler.”

“Please don’t take this the wrong way,” Talia said, bracing for Jojo to do exactly that, “but I’m not a joiner, and I’m not—we’re not—religious.”

Jojo leaned in close. “Half the folks who show up every Sunday would say the same. It’s pretty laid back, the way we do things. Lots of people come for company and free coffee, or a chance to sit with their thoughts. Reilly’s got enough faith for the whole town, but even he’s… well… Still waters, I guess. His God had room for Jasmine and I long before most people. He’s got more love in that crusty heart than he knows what to do with, but he’s never settled down.” She cackled. “Lord, I sound like such a yenta.”

Hank’s voice boomed from somewhere inside the diner. “Talia!”

Jojo stood. “Six tonight. 1280 Washington. Two blocks down on the left, above the storefront that sells all the teas and oils.”

Talia couldn’t think of a single argument. “Okay. Thanks.”

Jojo waggled her fingers and vanished into the kitchen, her voice cutting through the diner noise as Talia followed. “Hank, you work that girl too hard. Is there coffee?”

Inside, there were two orders for mid-afternoon breakfast sandwiches and a to-go mac and cheese. Talia split two English muffins and broke a couple of eggs on the griddle, and tried to ignore the bubble of nerves and curiosity in her belly.

Reilly was single.

Jojo wanted to be friends.

Eli hadn’t complained at all about his time at the Grove Street Church, not since before the first day, and now he was being invited to youth group socials.

Reilly was single.

Talia flipped one pair of eggs to break the yolks and shimmied the second to keep them from sticking while the sunny yolks set. She caught herself humming We Need A Little Christmas, and smiled. Jojo would like that one, too.

Book club. She didn’t go to book clubs.

Reilly was single.

To be continued in Part Eight

Star of Wonder, Star of Night: Part Nine

cameron-garriepy-star-of-wonderContinued from Part Eight, or you can start from the beginning.

Ivy pulled up the plush blanket Phlox had brought her as a housewarming gift, tucking it under her chin, despite the fire that crackled away in the belly of the cast iron wood stove. Kate Winslet was just about to find out that Rufus Sewell was engaged to that other woman, and the bottle of Prosecco her mother had left with her was freshly opened.

All signs pointed to a cozy and intoxicated evening alone. Her sister was in Burlington, seeing a band with someone she knew somehow from the Senator’s office, and the goats were snugged up for the night, as were the chickens and the carrots. There was no one to stop her from going straight from The Holiday right into Love Actually, not one person to judge if she had too much to drink and cried or decided to put on A Charlie Brown Christmas at midnight and dance like Snoopy on Schroeder’s piano.

And Sterling had stayed for cocoa. Had invited her to watch the Geminid meteor showers in the Stone Garden the next night.

The shrilling of her phone amongst all her snuggly solitude was particularly offensive. She paused her movie, and peered a her phone. With a sigh, she pressed the green circle on the screen.

“Hello, Mum.”

“Phlox just told me you’re spending time with Julia Saxon’s husband?” Her mother was not one for small talk.

Ivy felt the sparkling wine go flat in her stomach. “What?”

“Julia. Saxon. Your sister’s former employer? Barry’s daughter?”

The smallness of the world tightened around her like a noose as she sorted out the details. Barry Saxon was her mother’s first literary agent, now retired. Julia was Phlox’s boss who’d run off to find inner peace in South America. Her husband was… Sterling?

“I can’t talk now, Mum. I’ll call you in the morning.”

He’d stayed, drinking cocoa and telling her stories about her uncle. He’d helped her hang the wreath. She’d been on the verge of offering him dinner, when he’d glanced at the setting sun and excused himself. Supper with the family. 

“The Geminids,” he’d said, pausing at the door. “Tomorrow’s the peak, and the forecast is perfect. Not too cold, clear, no wind.”

“I know,” she’d replied, just a little breathless. “I was going to go.”

That smile again, surprising, charming. “Let’s hike in together.”

“Ivy? Don’t you hang up on me.” Her mother was speaking. “You’re not doing this again, are you? Ivy?”

Ivy poised her thumb over the red circle on the screen. “No, Mum. I’m not, but I’ve really got to go.”

She tipped the Prosecco bottle to her lips briefly, then topped off her glass, and started the movie again. There was not enough fizzy wine in the world, but maybe, just maybe, there was enough Jude Law.

To be continued