Cinnamon Girl: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Story, Part 11

Continued from part 10, or you can start from the beginning.

Christmas morning dawned much like any other snowy winter morning. Walt rose before the sun, meeting Murph, who waited in his idling truck, two styrofoam cups of coffee steaming on the dashboard. By the time the herd was milked and pastured, the sun was up, and Walt’s belly knew it was past time for breakfast.

Murph headed out. He had a sister down on Lake Bomoseen who filled a stocking for him.

Walt packed up his mother’s picnic basket with raw milk for Aunt Yolie, and the best of the cuts from his beef share for his mother and the Cartwright cousins. His Pop had sold a bull calf the year before, knocking a fair amount off the sale price in exchange for the future meat. It wasn’t much of a Christmas gift, but he hoped his family would forgive him. He’d spend most of his spare cash on a gifts for Molly.

The Neil Young record was one he was gambling she didn’t have already, since it was nothing new, just something that reminded him of her.

The small box weighed like a stone in his pocket.

Molly had invited him to join the Sanders family for pie and coffee after Christmas dinner; the idea of giving her a present in front of her parents and her little brother was something close to terrifying, but he’d seen the little opal egg on a slim gold chain through the window at the Mercantile, and known it would look beautiful around her neck.

Aunt Yolie answered her door, sweeping open the grand front entry—Walt both loved and feared his aunt’s formal Victorian home. Eolia Cartwright was well into her seventies, but to Walt she’d always seemed old. She wore her steel-gray hair in the same severe up-do he knew from his own christening photographs.

“Walter,” she said. She was always formal, but there was kindness in her eyes. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, Aunt Yolie.” He leaned over the threshold to kiss her papery cheek, then followed her into the front parlor. His mother sat in a stiff wing chair, looking at—but Walt suspected not seeing—Yolie’s Christmas tree. “Merry Christmas, Ma.”

Tory Fuller was fifteen years her sister’s junior, but you couldn’t see it in his mother’s grief-ravaged face. She’d paled since Thanksgiving, he noticed. Her gaze drifted toward him. “Oh, Walt honey. It’s nice to see you.”

Yolie fussed over him, putting the food from the basket into her fridge and ladling him a glass of thick, stingingly boozy eggnog. “She’ll perk up when your cousins get here.”

His mother did, in fact, perk up when the Cartwrights arrived. His cousins Charlie and George arrived with their families within moments of another. Between them there were six kids, and their happy noise filled the house.

George’s wife Ginny paused near his position in the living room doorway, where he watched the littlest cousins opening their gifts. She stretched up to kiss his cheek, flicking a glance at the mistletoe ball Yolie always hung there. “You’re quiet today. Even for you.”

Privately, Walt had always considered Ginny Cartwright the most beautiful woman alive, even if she was a quarter of a century older than he was. Looking into her concerned eyes, he was defenseless. “I’m worried about Ma.”

“She’ll be okay. Losing the love of your life takes a lot out of you.” She laid a hand on his cheek and smiled. “I heard you were spending time with someone.”

“Word travels fast,” Walt muttered, but he couldn’t help the way his lips curved toward a smile. “Molly Sanders.”

“I know her. She passed through my classroom a few times over the years. And George wrote her a college recommendation. She’s a good girl.”

“I know.” He was having a hard time not letting his imagination run away with the future. Since the bonfire, they’d seen one another almost daily. Molly seemed content to visit the farm, and unafraid to pitch in, especially if it meant Walt had extra time to show her the secret places on the property. Just two days before, he’d taken her down to Fuller Creek, to the spot his Pop had put up the tire swing the summer he and Joe begged for one.

One the way home, they’d stopped in the barn, and Walt had quite nearly confessed his love when Molly laid her cheek on the forehead of one of the Brown Swiss. She’d smiled at him over the cow’s nose. “They’re wonderful,” she’d sighed.

So are you…

“What did you get her?” Ginny was watching him over her eggnog, while Charlie’s twins squealed over new doll clothes.

“A necklace,” Walt mumbled.

“I’m sure she’ll love it.”Ginny rested her head briefly on Walt’s shoulder before going to see what her daughter Rosie was holding up.

Walt hoped so.

To be continued…

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 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…

Cinnamon Girl: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Story, Part 1

It’s December, and time for the 6th annual holiday romance! This Christmas, we return to Thornton’s near past, and the valley in which the heart of the series lies. There’s a reason Joss Fuller is the man he is, and it has a lot to do with the people who raised him.

They weren’t always grandparents-in-waiting, though. In the winter of 1977, they were just two kids, figuring out their futures…
~~~
Walt Fuller’s father dropped dead repairing a pasture fence a week before Thanksgiving.

Walt missed his Pop something fierce, but his  mother’s pain overshadowed his grief. She descended into mourning that lasted until the day she died. Jed’s broad-chested, bull-headed life had been the center of hers, and when his light went out, Tory Fuller switched hers off as well.

If she left Walt alone in the dark, he didn’t have the heart to say.

Within a day, the three bedroom farmhouse on the Fuller’s dairy farm was full to brimming with funereal closeness. Uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends poured in; the house swelled up with grief and goodwill. His oldest sister Patty came up from Connecticut with her husband and the babies and set up camp in the spare room. His brother was sleeping in his camper in the driveway, but he still came in to eat and use the toilet.

Walt couldn’t say for sure if Joe was showering at all.

He lasted three days among the mourners before taking his Pop’s truck west on County Road and driving until he could breathe again. A few yards shy of the Lake Champlain bridge, the truck ran out of gas. Cursing both the rare impulse and his father’s unexpected death, Walt hopped out of the truck to hitch a ride home.

If his fingers hadn’t been nearly frozen in the pockets of his Levis, the snow-scented wind off Lake Champlain would have made him smile. Walt relished the anticipation of long, dark Vermont winters. The dormant silence of a frozen pasture at dawn eased him in a way even the calving and greening of spring never could. The bovine warmth of the twilight barns comforted him like the drafty farmhouse never had.

He was contemplating the far-distant top of the Crown Point light house memorial when a blue Beetle honked and pulled onto the gravel shoulder. The girl who pushed out of the car had hair the color of cinnamon that curled out of her wool cap, and curves her bell-bottoms and a fair-isle ski sweater did nothing to hide. She came around the backside of the bug and leaned a hip against the rear hatch.

“Need a ride?” Her clear blue eyes were sparkling with suppressed laughter, taking in his truck and lack of a jacket.

The driver waved her hand. She was singing along with ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” drumming delicately on the steering wheel of the VW.

Cinnamon Girl grinned, returned to the open passenger side door, and pushed her seat forward to open up the back. “By the way, that’s Jane, and I’m Molly.”

Walt arranged his limbs in the back of Jane’s bug. The car was cramped, and his knees pressed into the seats. He rested one arm on one of about a half-dozen paper bags crammed in with him.

“Where to?” Molly shifted in her seat to crane her neck. Her eyes crinkled when she smiled.

“Fuller Farm. It’’s just—“

“Up County Road another coupl’a miles,” Jane said. She half-turned to Molly as she eased the VW back onto the road. “You must be Walt.”

He blinked at the girl driving. She was blonde-haired, blue-eyed, pretty in a catalog kind of way. “Ayuh.”

He heard his father in the old-timer response, and his chest squeezed.

Molly giggled, still twisted around to watch him. “Jane’s mom works at Town Hall. She knows everyone.”

Jane’s gaze flicked to Walt in the rearview mirror. “I’m sorry about your father.”

A cloud of concern passed across Molly’s face. “Oh, I—“

He cut off Molly’s sympathy. “Thanks.”

Molly reached out an arm, laying her slightly freckled hand on his knee. He felt the warmth of that touch through his flannel-lined denim. “Really. I’m sorry, too.”

Her crinkly eyes were wide with sympathy. It was too much. “So, where were you heading?
Before you rescued me?”

“Jane came to get me for Thanksgiving break,” Molly said. “I’m doing my last semester at Empire State in Saratoga Springs.”

“We’re cousins.” Jane’s eyes stayed on the road.

The bags in the backseat made a little more sense. “Do you always pack in grocery sacks?”

Molly’s answering laugh was deep and true; Walt wanted to make her laugh again.

Jane sighed. “She’s hopeless.”

Molly wrapped her arms around the headrest and laid her cheek on the seat with a helpless grin. “My laundry bag ripped.”

Jane slowed the car, turning into the driveway at the farm. He caught her slightly narrowed glance at his brother’s derelict camper, huddled among the jumble of cars, and felt an answering stain rise up the back of his neck. As soon as the car stopped, he leaned forward, ready to flee.

Molly opened her door and climbed out, flipping the lever to release the passenger seat as she did. Walt pushed it forward and crawled out of the little blue car. He turned, ducking down to address Jane. “Thanks for the ride.”

Jane gave him a pitying half-smile. When he straightened, Molly’s gaze was waiting. “I’ll be home all week. Maybe I’ll see you around.”

He pushed his bare hands deep into his pockets. He meant to say, “Going to be busy with all this family, the funeral…” What came out sounded a lot like, “Maybe.”
~~~
To be continued…

Missed a previous Christmas story? You can find Joy: Three Christmas Stories, and others at Amazon.com.

I Cleaned My Microwave

I guess it’s arguably better than carrying a large fruit to a hot, staff-only after hours party at a Catskills resort.

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Sweet Pease came out today. I know you’re all imagining me jumping in my private jet and flying off with my girls to drink champagne and eat macarons on my private island, but no… that #GlamorousAuthorLife looked more like tossing a coconut curry in the crockpot, going to office, and then coming home to clean the house, because we’re having our house appraised tomorrow morning and I figure if the place is clean, the appraiser won’t notice all the stuff we haven’t upgraded…

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