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.

Star of Wonder, Star of Night: Finale

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

Ivy stopped with one foot firmly in the clearing. He was laughing.

Sterling was kneeling on a camp pad, his telescope forgotten, laughing at her as she emerged from the woods.

“What are you doing here?” She knew she was whining, but the moment for maturity had passed.

“We’ve been had, Ivy.” Mirth was still splashed across Sterling’s face in the moonlight.

Ivy watched the Geminids streak behind him; their burning trajectory. “You’re not married, then?”

Sterling was still laughing, a gentle laughter. “No. Divorced. Lost my apartment because my ex wanted to sell the place. Ended up sleeping in Tony’s attic because home is where they have to take you in.”

Ivy didn’t understand how he could be so amused. “Why are you laughing?”

Sterling stood and took a step in her direction, then paused, as if waiting to see her reaction, “Ivy, what did you hear?”

“My mother, she knows your wife — your ex-wife’s– father. He was her agent. She heard something from Phlox about you being here, and then she wanted to make sure I wasn’t… making a mistake I’ve made before.” Ivy pushed her mittened hands into the pockets of her parka. “Tony told me about how you had a client, and wouldn’t be up here. I didn’t want to see you if…”

“If I was lying to you by omission? I get that.” He tilted his head back as four meteorites streaked overhead. “It’s a good one.”

Ivy felt a smile tease her cheek muscles. “I didn’t want to miss them. They’re Jack’s favorites.”

“Yeah. Me neither.” Sterling rolled up on the balls of his feet. “Tony told me you and Phlox were doing some sister overnight trip because you were pissed at me — that Phlox was going to convince you to go back to D.C., and it took me until I was out here on Jack’s hill, under his shower to see that Tony was doing his best to get us both up here tonight in spite of what you heard.” He looked down at his toes, then back up at the sky. “I was stupid enough to believe him, that you would actually be talked away from here because I didn’t live up to my name.”

He was still being funny. And his smile was better in the starlight. “Sterling…”

“Come look,” he said, gesturing to the telescope. “Take some pictures if you like.”

She passed him, fighting the urge to touch his arm as she did, and knelt by the telescope to adjust the focus. She felt him crouch down beside her while her body curved over the telescope. The falling Geminids filled her field of vision, and she remembered being up here as a child with her uncle.

A burning trajectory, fleeting and brilliant.

She leaned back from the telescope, her arm brushing Sterling’s; he’d dropped to his knees on the camp pad. Though he watched the sky, she felt his attention on her when he spoke.

“I’m glad I found your goats by the creek.”

Ivy laughed. “I think they found you.”

They watched in the sky in silence for a few moments before Sterling replied. “Ivy?”

She turned to him with her heart in her throat, waiting to hear what he would say.

“The Ursids are peaking next week, and I’m tied up with family stuff, but they’ll still be visible on Christmas Day. Would you like to join me if the weather’s good?

Ivy let go a breath she hadn’t been aware of holding, and reached for his hand. Her sister was leaving on Christmas morning to visit their mother. Ivy was looking forward to her quiet again. “That sounds wonderful.”

The End.

***

Thanks for reading a thirteenth installment. I hope you’ve enjoyed Ivy and Sterling; it’s been fun to meet new inhabitants of a somewhat familiar space. If you celebrate, I wish you a bright and merry Christmas. If your celebrations fall on other days, I wish you all the light and love in the world on those days and this one as well.

Star of Wonder, Star of Night: Part Five

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

Four straight days of Phlox’s company reminded Ivy why she’d left the counseling practice she’d worked so hard to build. Her sister spent her days surfing the arteries of modern life as a social media manager for a popular U.S. Senator. Ivy knew Phlox worked incredibly hard, but she also knew her sister thrived in the fast, ever-shifting world of internet branding and message marketing, she used Uber and knew where to eat and who to wear. For Ivy, though, the noise of the city had left her breathless and weary at the end of every day, exhausted from battling the demons wrought in others by the hectic, frantic lives they all lived.

“You look awful,” Phlox pointed out from where she was perched on the Poang rocker by the fire, poring over the Senator’s Twitter feed.

Ivy laughed out loud. She knew she stank, she’d been mucking the coop and pulling the last of the winter garden. She had sweet, nearly scarlet carrots still coming up in her cold-framed vegetable patch; her pride in them was mildly embarrassing. Far more so than her chicken manure-stained pants.

She gathered her breath in what she hoped wasn’t a wheeze. Thirty-seven wasn’t that old. “Thanks, sister.”

Phlox looked up, suddenly aware of her own words. “Aw, Iveeeeeee……” She sprang up from her chair and wrapped Ivy in a burrowing hug. “Let’s go out. There must be somewhere to go out, right?”

“You know what? There is.”

She was sure Phlox hadn’t meant hiking by moonlight when she’d said, “… go out,” but Ivy knew two things, Jupiter was south-southwest of the gibbous moon in an icy clear sky, and the Stone Garden was the place to see it. She carried snacks and a bottle of wine in her pack, and felt the full weight of a day’s labor in her knees and quads. Phlox had a pair of camping pads rolled up and slung cross-body on her back, and was striding through the night forest as if she’d hiked every day of her twenty-six years.

Benevolent hatred was totally a thing, wasn’t it?

When they reached the point where the cart road up from the homestead opened into the clearing, they saw that they were not alone in their pursuit of celestial events. Picking his way out from the deer track that climbed up from Snake Mountain Road, was the stranger who’d rescued her goats. She was sure of it.

She was unsure as soon as her sister’s voice rang out over the clearing.

“Sterling?” Phlox was staring at her goat-rescuer with her mouth open.

The man stopped short, squinting into what moonlight there was. His gaze moved between Ivy and Phlox, coming to rest on Phlox’s R.E.I.-catalogued person with an expression that reminded Ivy of a cornered animal.

“Phlox?”

To be continued…