Bread and Promises: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Story: Juliet

Photo by Jill Heyer on Unsplash

Juliet practically floated out of her meeting with the editor of Bennington Magazine. It was the second of the day, the second Christmas present the gods of writing had seen fit to bestow. She’d driven two hours south from Thornton, soothing her anxiety with vistas of snow covered fir trees and icy mountain lakes, first to meet up with a octogenarian painter in Bennington, an alum of Bennington College, who’d worn entrepreneurial and political hats for nearly sixty years. 

Juliet wondered what Kate Pease would be like in her eighties. Fascinating, that much was certain.

The painter agreed to a profile in the summer, going so far as to offer Juliet the use of a cabin on her property for the duration of her stay.

Juliet wondered what Vermont would be like without Hamish in it, for by then he’d have moved on to a new adventure. Lonelier, of that she was sure.

At her second meeting, she’d pitched her profile of the painter, and gotten an introduction to the editor at a university press. The last of the students were flooding off campus as she got into her car and turned back northward.

She and Hamish had danced around their immediate futures, choosing instead to explore Thornton together as though they were any couple at Christmas. Stolen kisses under the kissing ball in the Rexall Pharmacy, late dinners over candlelight or in front of Netflix in her apartment, and oh… the baking.

He brought her treats every time they were together, which was sweet, but he’d also taught her how to make dark brown, floury boules and golden, slashed baguettes. Between Kate and Hamish, she’d gone from a woman who made three dishes well, and otherwise cooked boxed pasta and scrambled eggs, to a halfway decent baker who could even make a few simple frosting flowers.

Juliet wondered if the smell of yeast would ever not bring Hamish’s gentle, teasing hands to mind. 

There was still heat in her cheeks when her phone jangled over the car’s speakers. She connected the call from the steering wheel without looking at the screen.

“Jules!”

Stephen. “This is unexpected.”

“I know, but I had to call to find out where you’d like to have dinner on the 26th.”

“What?” She gripped the wheel hard, wondering what he thought he was doing.

Stephen charged on before she could ask. “I called Madame Chen and asked—since this is your first Christmas without your parents and you’d be lonely—if I might join the family in Montreal. You know Christmas isn’t much of a thing in my family, so I won’t be missed at home. I thought your family might like to meet me, too.”

“You called Mémère?” She could feel her lips flapping open like a drowning fish. “You invited yourself to Christmas?”

“Isn’t it perfect?” Stephen breezed on. “And I’d very much like to take you to dinner the night after Christmas.”

A lead ball dropped in her belly. That delicate “very much” carried far too much weight.

“Stephen, I’m not sure—”

“Think about it, then. I grabbed a flight to Montreal, so you’ll be able to pick me up on your way to your grandparents’. We’ll talk then.”

He was gone before the torrent of words could fully form, so she shrieked them into the empty car as it sped up Route 7: of course I’ll be lonely! But they’re my family! And I hate being called Jules!

And you’re not Hamish.

She pounded the steering wheel, blinking back tears. He’d single-handedly ruined her holiday. It was going to come down to a confrontation. Stephen refused to hear what he didn’t want to hear, and he wasn’t going to like what she had to say.

Bread and Promises: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Story: Juliet

Photo by Jill Heyer on Unsplash

Of all the things Juliet Chen anticipated finding in Thornton, Vermont, a clumsy Highlander was the last.

So what if he’d had a truly adorable dimple? A girl just didn’t run into a red-headed Scotsman in a snowy village four weeks before Christmas. That nonsense was for the Hallmark Channel. 

She collected her ham and gruyere croissant and a hot half-caff with steamed coconut milk, checking her phone make sure she was going to be on time for her interview.

A gust of wintry air tossed fine droplets of spray from the waterfall into her face as she walked. Juliet shivered, wondering what on earth had possessed her to travel to Vermont in December. 

Katherine Pease, whose cookbook and memoir project with her novelist husband had rocketed the small town party chef into foodie celebrity, had possessed her—in a way. An ambitious, talented, charismatic woman in what was still a male-dominated profession. A small town girl who exuded urban confidence.

When Kate—she’d insisted on being called Kate—had agreed to be one of her monthlong profiles, Juliet hadn’t considered the changeable fury of winter in the northeast.

Twelve months, twelve deep profiles of women entrepreneurs—she was betting on finding a commonality that would be her hook. She wanted to pitch this piece to a heavy hitter. It was a tremendous gamble, but she had nothing to lose but the inheritance she wished she didn’t have. Even so, she had two sorority sisters in Miami who were developing fair trade channels for Caribbean artisans and growers. 

She could be drinking mojitos in the sand with Harley and Trina instead of falling victim to a distracted man with ginger scruff and sad eyes.

Eyes like the surface of a deep lake on a clear day. Blue and steady, with a touch of melancholy.

Where had that thought come from?

The cold was addling her brain.

Bread and Promises: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Story: Hamish

Photo by Jill Heyer on Unsplash

“It’s no’ the Highlands, but it’ll do.” Hamish Munroe laid his Scots accent on thick for the college student who’d driven him down from St. John’s to Thornton, Vermont. 

In truth, the snow dusted village, set into a vast glacial valley between two old mountain ranges and a long, glittering expanse of lake, took his breath away. He’d teased Kate Pease about going back to America after the delights of Paris, clearly his head had been full of flour dust and French women.

Now he understood what pulled her home.

His ride dropped him just outside Kate’s bakery. Backpack slung over his shoulder and relishing the look of surprise he’d get from his old friend, he barreled straight into a woman turning the corner, sending both of them crashing to the sidewalk. 

“Sorry, lass. I didna see ye there.” Hamish hadn’t yet turned off the Scot, and the words rumbled out of him like a bad Sean Connery impression. He hauled himself to standing and offered the woman his hand, along with the more modest burr that was his everyday accent. “Are you okay?”

Without missing a beat, she took his hand and pulled herself to standing, dusting road salt off slim denim-clad legs. “I’ll be fine. Thank you.”

Hamish shouldered his bag again and grabbed the door handle, gesturing to let the woman though while he took a moment to appreciate her. She was petite—enough so that he could picture tucking her under his chin, and to his chagrin, he topped out at five-foot-eleven—with dark deep-set eyes and a warm complexion. He’d noted a smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose and cheekbones. She wore her reddish-brown hair in a fringed shag, revealed when she pulled off her pompomed hat and shook it loose.

Fiona had rocked a platinum-dyed shag. Her Debbie Harry Hair, she’d called it.

The woman nodded to him as she passed, approaching the bakery’s counter with gaze already fixed on the menu board above.

Hamish shook off memories of Fee and her devotion to New Wave. 

Looking around, he felt Kate’s presence as strongly as he had when they’d shared a tiny workspace in a Paris pastry shop. From the fuchsia awnings to the gleaming counters and coolers, it was sophisticated and welcoming, perfectly at home in this Vermont hamlet. 

Just like its owner, he mused, as the woman herself pushed through a swinging door. Her gaze skimmed over him as she called out to her staff, but he caught a hitch in her stride—a happy one, he hoped.

Kate wheeled, her nose wrinkling slightly as she focused on him. “Hamish?”

“The one and only.” He made it halfway through a courtly bow before she launched herself into his arms, squeezing tight. 

“What are you doing here?” She pulled back to kiss him on each cheek, a French custom they’d adopted while living there. Her gleeful expression dimmed. “I’m so sorry about your wife.”

To be continued…

Cinnamon Girl: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Romance: 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…

Cinnamon Girl: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Romance: Cinnamon Girl: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Story, Part 9

Continued from part 8, or you can start from the beginning.

John Pease turned up at the farm three days later, dressed in flannel, denim, and work boots. Walt heard footsteps down the barn’s wide center floor and stuck his head out of a stall he’d been clearing out.

“Walt?”

“Hey, John. C’mon back.”

“What’s goin’ on?”

“Murph’s out in the east pasture bringing one of the girls back. Doc Sutton is stopping by later to take a look at her.”

John leaned against the stall’s half-wall. “Do I want to know?”

“How’d’you feel about udders?”

“Bovine?” John grinned. “Not so much.”

Walt chuckled. “You here to work?”

“If you can put me to use.” John cast around the barn as if looking for inspiration.

“I’m walking the fence line by the Swift’s place this afternoon. I wouldn’t say no to company and an extra pair of hands.”

“Sounds great.”

Murph came around the side of barn door, leading one of the dairy’s sweet-faced Brown Swiss. They were his mother’s favorites—gentle girls with furry ears his mother loved to stroke as she crooned over them. His mom hadn’t been back once since the day after the funeral, when his cousins George and Charlie had come by to help move her things to Aunt Yolie’s house.

He ought to insist she and Aunt Yolie come out to the farm for Sunday dinner.

Who would cook dinner? He was pretty competent at the grill, but he’d stocked the freezer with an embarrassment of TV dinners since his mom left. He couldn’t make a turkey or a ham to save his life.

Who would eat it, anyway? His Pop’s had been the biggest appetite. For everything.

Molly and her lasagna flooded his thoughts. Slow down there, Fuller.

“Walt?” John was watching him, a mixture of pity and concern in his eyes.

Walt blinked. “Sorry, thinking about the vet bill.”

“Bullshit.” John’s tone was conversational. “I wish you were thinking about Molly Sanders, not something that makes you look like a kicked dog.”

John’s uncanny question caught Walt off guard. “What about her?”

“She’s pretty, and she likes you.”

His friend’s words unleashed butterflies in his gut. “Is that your law degree talking?”

“That’s my eyes talking.” John clapped Walt on the shoulder. “I don’t get my law degree until spring. You like her, too, if I still know you. Let’s take a walk and you can tell me what that’s about.”

To be continued…