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.
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.