Bread and Promises: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Story: Christmas Day

Photo by Jill Heyer on Unsplash

Hamish woke on Christmas morning sore in places he’d not realized he had muscles. Shoveling a Vermont storm wasn’t for the weak. He found Kate already in the kitchen, brewing coffee.

“We’ll keep bakers’ hours ’til we’re dead, won’t we?”

Kate chuckled and poured a dollop of heavy cream into her mug. “I imagine. Ewan says he was up late wrapping something, but I think he might have been working on a story. It’s kind of a miracle our schedules ever align.”

“He’s brilliant. Your place is brilliant. This whole month was exactly what I needed, even if I thought I was only staying a few days. Thank ye, Kate.” The Scot slipped out with a broad smile. “Happy Christmas.”

Kate came around the island and hugged him. “Merry Christmas, Hamish.” She gave his shoulders a squeeze, giving him a wry look when he winced. “I’m going to bake that lovely cinnamon ring you left proofing, then after breakfast we’ll head over to the Damselfly for the rest of the day.”

“Sounds perfect.” As perfect as it could be without Juliet.

Kate sipped her coffee, regarding him over the rim of the cup. “Did you hear from Juliet? How’s  Montreal?”

Hamish paused his pour. “Not a peep, but I didn’t have high hopes. Thing is, she’s been on her own since her parents died. This is her first family holiday. I canna expect her to be texting me when she’s reunited with her family at Christmas.”

A small smile played on Kate’s lips. “That was quick.”

“What?” Hamish inhaled the strong steam off his coffee. 

“You’re in love with her.” Kate’s voice softened. “The way you talk about her. It’s the same as it was when we were in Paris. With Fiona.”

“God, I miss her.” He put his face in his hands and scrubbed at his stubble. “I miss Fee, and I think about Juliet all the time. I’m going to miss her something fearsome.”

Kate wound an arm around his waist and laid her head on his shoulder. “Love sucks.”

***

Juliet woke to the smell of breakfast. Bacon, coffee, biscuits… her nose lead her down from the second floor room she’d been given for the night. In the kitchen, she found Nan and an older woman holding a snoozing baby in candy cane stripe pajamas.

“Merry Christmas.” Nan was balancing a bread basket and a platter of bacon on her way from the stove to the large farmhouse table that dominated one half of the room. “Juliet, this is my mother-in-law, Molly Fuller. Molly, this is Juliet Chen, Kate’s journalist friend.”

Juliet smiled and took the platter, following Nan to the table. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for letting me invade your family holiday.”

“Family’s a broad term around here,” Molly said. “The more the merrier.”

“Speaking of more,” Nan said, “Joss and his dad are out in the barn with our daughter. We’ll have breakfast once they come in. Can I get you coffee? Anything else?”

“I need to call my grandparents, and—” And talk to Hamish. That thought Juliet left to herself.

Nan gave her a knowing look. “Of course. You can take a mug, and feel free to use the parlor or your room.”

Her grandparents fussed over her on the phone, extracting firm promises to come for Twelfth Night, and her grandmother whispered, “Stephen Zhang is here. I couldn’t very well turn him away.”

“I’m sorry, Mémère. He sprang the whole thing on me, too. I should be there.”

Her grandmother’s voice dropped to a whisper. “No, duck. You shouldn’t. That young man is looking for a boring little wife, and I’m not letting him within a mile of you until his stops assuming he’s going to be part of this family.”

Juliet’s heart swelled. “Je t’aime, Mémère. Joyeux Noël.”

“I love you, too, sweet girl. Joyeux Noël.”

Now, to call Hamish and wish him a merry Christmas.

***

Halfway to the Damselfly Inn, Hamish realized he’d left his phone behind at Kate’s. Damned technology. He’d been looking forward to catching up with Juliet at some point during the day. She’d said the family did a big Christmas Eve celebration, followed by a midnight mass, but that by noon on Christmas day, everyone was napping, reading, or cheating at cards.

“What?” Kate turned back, two frown lines deepening between her brows.

“Ballocks. Was I muttering? I forgot my mobile at your place.”

Kate offered hers on her palm. “You can use mine.”

“If I actually knew her number…”

Hamish watched the snowy fields roll by, sun-kissed and glittering, with a pit of disappointment in his gut.

***

Juliet was pinned down under a sleeping baby in the parlor when the rest of the Christmas party arrived; everyone else was in the kitchen. Nan and Joss’s daughter bounced into the room, her voice chiming the list of guests.

“Aunty Kate and Uncle Ewan are here and Uncle Jack is here and Chloe and Anna are here and Uncle Bobby and Aunt Jane.”

The baby snuffled in his sleep, flexing his toes in their striped pajamas. “So many friends,” Juliet mused.

“And a new friend, but I don’t know his name.” She boinged out of the room, singing half the tune of Jingle Bells as she went.

Juliet’s heart leaped at the next voice she heard, melodic over a bass line of heavy tread in the hallway.

“Just through here then?”

Hamish stopped short at the sight of her, his face lighting up like the tree he stood near. “Joss said to put these with the other gifts, but I don’t think I’m meant to put them all on that chair wi’ ye.”

“I’m a little stuck,” Juliet replied, keeping her voice level over the baby’s head. “Merry Christmas, Hamish.”

She was aware of the commotion of friends and family filling the kitchen, but the noise fell away as they grinned like fools, talking over one another.

“I thought you were in—”

“I didn’t know you’d be here—”

“You first,” Hamish said, setting down the stack of wrapped packages near the Christmas tree. 

“It’s a long story, but I delayed leaving for my grandparents’, and then got stuck at home because of the snow. Joss saw me in town and invited me out here to stay where it’s warm and there’s power, and I thought, ‘Why not?’”

“Why not, indeed.” Hamish dropped down gently on the arm of her chair, speaking in a low half-whisper. “Kate frog marched me. She’d no intention of leaving me on my own.”

He pressed his lips to hers, ever so gently, with the snoozing baby between them, and Juliet felt the hinges come off every door to her heart she’d closed. 

“Hamish?”

“Mmm?” He kissed Juliet again.

“Will you be my guest for the Chen’s Twelfth Night Masquerade?”

“I dinna know what a Twelfth Night Masquerade is, lass,” he said, clearly putting on a bit of his Scot for her, “but I wouldn’a miss it for the world.”

Bread and Promises: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Story: Juliet

Photo by Jill Heyer on Unsplash

Père Noel brought the snow.

When Juliet woke to a fairytale of thick, sparkling white snow, and barely passable roads, that’s all she could think. There would be no Christmas in Canada, but neither would there be a reckoning with Stephen.

Père Noel had also brought a power outage. Making her way to the kitchen to boil water for cocoa, Juliet realized she’d left her phone unplugged all night. Much like her other appliances, it was dead. That wasn’t so bad, she could still email from her laptop. 

Which was in her travel bag, also uncharged.

Hamish would assume she was already in Montreal. He didn’t know she’d decided to delay her trip to avoid time with Stephen. At least he wouldn’t be worried if she couldn’t text him.

She had just enough juice in her computer to fire off a quick note to Pépère, letting him know she was safely marooned in Vermont, but would come north for Twelfth Night. The Chens’ Epiphany party was always a hoot, capping off the Christmas season with a Shakespeare-inspired masquerade and a secret gift exchange. 

With nothing beyond her cozy apartment, Juliet allowed herself the pleasure of Marian Muse’s bookshelves. There was magic in having a bookseller for a landlord. She picked up a volume of short fiction by a Vermont author, and lost herself in a world threaded together by related narratives, told in a voice like a modern-day Robert Frost.

Hours later, when the late afternoon light faded, Juliet put on her boots and coat. An almost supernatural quiet had settled over the village during the storm; even the muffled rumble of plows on Main Street couldn’t break the enchantment.

Two floors below, people were emerging from the houses on nearby Chapel Street, and a handful of brave folks in pickup trucks and four-wheel drive SUVs were making their way along the banked streets.

The frozen twilight, gilded by street lamps and frosted in the last swirling flakes of the storm, was so unlike anything Juliet had ever imagined. The homes and shops were dark, with a few generator- or candle-lit windows. She stood there in a kind of rapture, grinning like a fool with her legs going numb from the knee-to-hip deep snow just beyond the doorstep.

A truck slowed, the window rolling down. The chains on the tires left a crosshatched track in the still snowy road.

“Juliet!”

The driver was a friend of Kate’s; momentarily stunned by the marshmallow world at her feet, Juliet gawped at him.

“Do you have power yet?”

He was peering across the passenger seat of his truck cab in concern. Joss. The innkeeper’s—Nan’s—husband.

“No. Haven’t all day. How’s everything with you?”

“We’re toasty warm. Wood fire and a generator built for a nuclear bunker. I came into town to check on some folks.” Joss looked around at the dark village the back at Juliet. “We’ve got room at the inn. You’re welcome to spend Christmas with us if you’d like.”

She hesitated briefly. He was barely more than a stranger, despite Kate’s efforts. That said, he was offering her shelter—quite literally—from the storm, and if she could plug in her phone… Her greedy heart sang; she could talk to Hamish.

She wouldn’t be alone at Christmas. “I’d love to. Can you give me a minute?”

Her bags were, after all, already packed.

I Just Named My Muse ‘Karen’

Inspiration is a tricky beast.

Last week, I shared this Tumbler meme on my Facebook page:

I was kidding. Mostly. Then Friday morning I realized the submission deadline for the Word Count Podcast was coming up hard. I stared at the prompt photo for a bit, completely devoid of ideas, and then BOOM! Inspiration by way of Tumbler meme. What if there was a time agency of some sort that had a costume designer and there was something about an ice-locked ship…

What came out in the end was a little bit of both, and a bunch of something else entirely, but it was super fun to write and record.

You can find the listen link for the ‘cast on R.B. Wood’s site.

I went in to tell my reader group about the finished podcast, and started rambling away. By then end of the post, I’d likened my muse to Karen from Will&Grace.

“Always around, seldom intentionally helpful, a little drunk, lovable and a little mean.”

If you need us, Karen and I will be over here working on the third book in Thornton series. In the meantime, Sweet Pease is free for a limited time, so if you haven’t grabbed it, don’t delay!

Spicy Red Lentil Soup: A Recipe from the Damselfly Inn

Something a little hot just for you!

A few fictional years  have passed since Nan Grady was feeding her friends at the Damselfly Inn, but she’s still very much a voice in my head. Married now, and going by Nan Fuller, and still feeding her friends. I imagine them gathered around the big farm table in her kitchen, guests out enjoying the art museum or a play at the college, or warming up by the fire in the parlor. It’s cold and snowy outside. The pastures are white; the Fuller herd is in the barns. The sun goes down early, so the sky outside is dark, but the lights are burning bright in the yellow Victorian on County Road, and soup is on the menu.

Nan likes easy comfort food, but with a little something spicy and unexpected, so this recipe is one I can easily see her making. Pull up a seat at her table, and enjoy!

  • 2 T. coconut oil (olive is fine, too)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • fresh grated ginger to taste (I used a couple of tablespoons)*
  • 1 T. Thai red curry paste*
  • 2 T. Vietnamese chili garlic sauce (Tuong Ot Toi)*
  • 1 t. salt
  • 2 T.  finely chopped garlic*
  • 1/2 t. crushed red pepper flakes*
  • 2 tsp whole cumin seeds*
  • 3/4 tsp ground coriander*
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric*
  • 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, do not drain
  • 4 c. vegetable or chicken stock/broth
  • 1 c. red lentils
  • good pinch of saffron threads*
  • chopped fresh cilantro (if you’re into that)
  • plain greek yogurt, sour cream, or crème fraîche

Heat the coconut oil over medium heat, then sauté the onions until they are softened and translucent, but not browned. Add everything from the ginger to the turmeric and sauté for a minute. Dump in the tomatoes, broth, and lentils. Give it a stir, then add the saffron threads. Simmer for about 15 minutes. If you like, you can immersion blend it at the end for smoothness, but it’s not necessary.

Serve topped with cilantro and yogurt (or other dairy). Yum!

*Basically, adjust all the flavors to suit what you like.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, Damselfly Inn is FREE for a limited time at Amazon, and you can pick up Buck’s Landing for just 99¢!