Bread and Promises: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Story: Hamish

Photo by Jill Heyer on Unsplash

The weather on the night of the Thornton Tree Lighting made the possibility of angels easy to believe. The temperature had snapped cold again, and a brisk squall left a powdered sugar dusting of snow to cover the hardpacked slush. The village was garlanded in fir boughs and ribbon, and the sky wore stars like diamonds.

Hamish followed obediently as Kate dragged him from Ewan’s truck to a cluster of people near the bandstand. He knew the innkeeper by name. Nan had been Kate’s best friend since school, and the subject of many wine-fueled conversations in Paris about Hamish’s then-single status.

You’d love her. She’s pretty and funny and sweet… and you’d have so much fun in America.

I’m sure I would, but my heart’s back in Scotland.

What if Fiona doesn’t wait for you?

She will.

She had.

“Hamish! It’s been a long time.” Kate’s brother Jack reached for his hand. They’d met when Jack visited Kate in Paris. “Kate told me about your wife. I’m very sorry.”

“Thank you. I miss her.” Hamish mustered a smile, shoring himself up against memories. He was fishing around for small talk topics when the high school choir took their places near the sizable live blue spruce that waited for its big moment.

Kate called over his shoulder, waving. “Juliet, over here!”

Hamish turned, and Juliet Chen was making her way through the crowd, once again wearing the pompom hat. Tonight, she wore thick mittens that matched, and a long down coat. Her expression reminded Hamish of a rabbit caught in a headlight.

Kate caught Juliet by the arm. “You remember Nan and Joss, and my brother? This is Anneliese. Her daughter is around here somewhere… and Hamish.”

He could sympathize. He’d already forgotten Nan’s husband’s name, and there were parents and neighbors gathered five deep around the tree.

He leaned down. “It’s like being dropped into a loud Normal Rockwell painting, isn’t it?”

The choir led off with Let It Snow, and Juliet glanced up at him, her lips curving. “It really is. I’m staying just over there, in an AirBnB over the book shop, and the owner insisted I not miss the festivities tonight. I thought, ‘When in Rome,’ but—”

“You didn’t count on the Kate Pease Social Engine?”

“Exactly.” She wrapped her arms around her chest and tucked her hands into her armpits. “Or the cold. How did the scones come out?”

He wanted to wrap his arms around her to ward off the cold, but he was pretty sure he didn’t rate as hugging material just yet. “Perfect. I wrapped some up and put them in the freezer for your next visit.”

“Tuesday,” she said matter-of-factly. “Kate’s going to teach me to pipe roses.”

Juliet had said she was a journalist. If she was looking to get to the heart of Kate Pease, learning from her was the ideal strategy. Juliet chafed her mittened hands together.

“There seems to be a hot chocolate booth.” He gestured across the common to where the Thornton Union High School Booster Club was selling baked goods and warm drinks. He squinted to bring the hand-lettered menu into focus. “And mulled cider. Can I offer you something?”

Juliet glanced at the knot of humans huddled together, all bound by friendship and history. “I’ll come with you.”

He secured two styrofoam mugs of lukewarm cider with cinnamon sticks, and they drifted to the edge of the crowd. “I grew up in a town like this, but I’ve no’ been back for Christmas in a long time.”

“I’ve never seen anything like this. Christmas in Phoenix looks a lot different.”

Her voice went husky at the mention of Arizona; Hamish wondered what she’d left there. He knew the sound of longing.

“No snowy tree lightings?”

“Nope. We just hang the ornaments on cactuses.” She deadpanned, blinking at him over the rim of her cup.

The belly laugh burst out of him, along with a kind of lightness he hadn’t felt since before Fee… Her ghost touched his cheek and the laughter dried up. “My wife loved Christmas. She’d have done that.”

“How long ago did you lose her?” Juliet’s voice was soft. 

Hamish studied his cider. “Two years now.”

She touched his arm. “I’m sorry.”

“Thank you.” He cleared his throat. “I woke up three months ago with thirty extra pounds on my gut, a beard I didn’t like, and nothing in my diary for the foreseeable future. I packed up our—my flat, and left.”

“You’ve been traveling that long?”

He’d been lost in one place for more than a year. At least traveling meant the hope of a destination. “I’ll know when it’s time to do more than stay for a visit. Or I’ll end up back at home.”

Juliet didn’t offer platitudes. He liked her for it. They stood in companionable quiet, listening to the carols for a few moments. “I’ve always wanted to go on a sleigh ride. The old-fashioned kind with blankets and bells and snow. There’s a Christmas tree farm near here that does them.”

A barely recognizable pulse thrummed under Hamish’s skin. He hoped he still remembered how to ask a woman on a proper date. 

“Would you like to come with me on a sleigh ride, Juliet?”

Juliet smiled, well and truly, for the first time since they’d met, and he could have sworn he heard Fiona’s laugh in the wind. Look what you’ve gotten yourself into, you great oaf.

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

Star of Wonder, Star of Night: Part Eleven

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

The weather cleared by late afternoon, and a cold front poured in over Lake Champlain, frosting the damp ground. Sterling packed for the Geminids with a heavy heart.

Telescope, warm layers, bedroll pad to sit on, the adaptor for his phone; he had a mind to take photos of the meteor showers if the sky cooperated.

A woman he barely knew wouldn’t be joining him for a solo hike he’d been planning for months. That was no reason not to go. Tony’s reminder was fresh in his mind. He could use the quiet time with Regulus,  Pleiades, the moon, and the falling bits of asteroid to craft the perfect explanation, and he would knock on Ivy’s door once she and Phlox got back from wherever they’d gone off to.

The drive wound along Fuller Creek headed south towards Thornton. The pullover was hard to spot until you got to know the road. The deer track surprised him every time. It was always there, but somehow it toyed with him, its entrance hiding in shadow or behind a low branch, as though it didn’t want to be found.

He peered up through the trees as he walked, waiting to catch the first of the shooting stars. There was almost no light pollution up here anyway, never mind out in the middle of the woods. His excitement was dimmed, though, by Ivy’s pain. He didn’t know how the bad information had found its way to her, but he wanted to make it right before he lost his chance to get to know her better.

He clambered up a stone step and stepped over the spring that fed Fuller Creek, then followed the footpath to its end, where the Stone Garden spread out on the hilltop. The clearing was frosted under the waning moon, the sky a deep, starry indigo and silver expanse above. He was just setting up the telescope when the showers began in earnest, streaking across the night.

He adjusted the scope, and wished again that Ivy was with him. She would have spent time up here, too, with Jack, charting the stars, watching the motions of the solar system and the infinite potential beyond it. He felt that potential between them, and it stole his breath to think he might not get the chance to explain himself.

She wasn’t a fly-off-the-handle type, of that he was certain. If he could only get to her before Phlox worked her magic, he could convince her to… to what? Stay in Vermont to see if the inexplicable draw he felt was something more? Because she might actually just leave because some guy she’d just met had possibly behaved like a jackass?

Something didn’t add up; he’d just been to upset to notice.

He laughed aloud at his own foolishness, but his mirth was cut short by the rustling of feet in the brush.

To be continued…