Tuesday Tales is getting together to bring you a round of Christmas short stories. Some are complete in Tuesday’s post and other stories are a little longer and will run over three to four days.
Christmas Love in the Square will run over three days. Come back tomorrow for the next installment, and then Christmas Eve for the end. If you’ve followed Starting Over or Thyme for Love, you’ll have met some of these characters all ready. In this short story, Bertie, from Scrappie’s Quilt Store, is the target of Cupid’s arrow. But after a long, happy marriage and being a widow for twelve years, Bertie isn’t interested. Did Cupid aim for a hardened heart?
This is the third and last segment of this short Christmas story. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.
The next few days Bertie wondered how she’d get it all done. Fortunately the quilting guild came in and spent a few afternoons wrapping presents instead of doing any sewing. A few had even spent hours at home making twenty six pillowcases out of fabrics adorned with Santa’s, reindeer, snowmen and Christmas candy. The gifts for each child went in a pillowcase with their name on it.
The handmade stockings ran the gamut from lush velveteen’s, fun Comic book characters, Disney princesses and whimsical prints. The ladies spent hours filling each stocking with an assortment of tasty seasonal candies, mints, candy canes, nuts and an orange. Little trinkets such as costume jewelry, chap sticks and figurines went in too.
The town was getting quite festive as Christmas themed quilts started appearing in the shop windows on the square.
In the midst of the confusion and chaos, as she still had a store to run with women needing last minute fabrics and accessories, Bertie’s friends from the square kept dropping in to pester her about going caroling. Victoria stopped at least once a day. Sally, from Crafters Cottage stopped in. Irene, from Pageturners came by a few times.
Even blustery old Hank, dropped in one afternoon. “Gotta go caroling with us Bertie gal.”
Everyone except Sam. He was mute on the subject. Which puzzled her a little. But then she got caught up in the frenzy and didn’t give it another thought.
Carmen, from Java Time, waltzed in Friday morning, carrying Bertie’s favorite drink, a steaming Peppermint Mocha. “So, you going caroling with us tonight.” She held the drink up high. “I bring you bribery.”
“Oh, all right,” Bertie grumbled, reaching for the frothy concoction. “I’m never going to hear the end of this if I don’t.”
So, even after repeated refusals, at dusk Friday night she found herself joining her friends around the towering pine tree in front of the courthouse that sat in the middle of the square. Spying Victoria, deep in conversation with Sally and Carmen, Bertie sidled up to the group. “Traitors,” she called out in greeting. “And here I thought peer pressure was something that happened to young people.”
They all laughed and embraced her in a group hug, chattering the whole time.
Heather, dressed in chic winter wear that made a statement, made the rounds, handing out stapled chorus books she’d copied for the event. As the ladies all took a set, Bertie looked around to see who else was there.
“No Sam?” she asked.
“Sam? I thought you didn’t give a hoot’s patooty about Sam,” Victoria said, in mock astonishment.
“I…um…I don’t…” Bertie sputtered. “Just curious, you know…since y’all seem so hot and bothered to hook us two old geezers up.”
“No…no…” they all claimed, trying to look innocent.
Heather whistled to get everyone’s attention. “While some of the shops are still open, I thought we’d start on this corner, and then make our way around the square until we get to Hank’s BBQ, which is open the latest. We can wander through Hank’s serenading those dining inside. Then we’ll sing our way over to Crafter’s Cottage, where Sally has hot coffee, tea and cocoa waiting for us.”
“Cookies and yummies too,” Sally called out. “From Marie and Three Tarts Bakery.”
A cheer arose from the small group, now extra excited about the festivities for the night. As Heather called out the first song – Good Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – and started singing, the group headed across the street, to work their way around the square.
A top hatted gentleman, complete with Victorian frock and ruffled cuffs, slid in between the women and bent his head towards the back of Bertie‘s neck. “Evening ladies. Bertie.”
The three spun around in surprise and Bertie gasped. “Sam?”
“Top o’ the evening to you mi’lady.”
“What on earth?”
“Well, since I’ll be decked out as the jolly old man himself tomorrow night, figured I needed my Christmas finery on tonight. “Just trying to impress the lady,” he said with a wink, then continued on with the carol as if nothing were remiss.
A little bit later Victoria nudged Sally and whispered, “I think Bertie’s distracted. She’s having trouble keeping up with the songs.”
The next hour passed quickly as they sang Dashing Through the Snow, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, and other favorites. At Hank’s BBQ they finished up the revelry with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer which had the children joining in. When they left, the entire restaurant broke into applause.
Feeling pleased with their performance, the group headed back down the street to meet up for refreshments. Good cheer spread through the crowd and even the frosty breath in from of them didn’t dim their happiness.
Sam moved in closer to Bertie and her friends. As they started to go inside, he cleared his throat. “Um…Bertie…” She stopped in the doorway as he motioned to the greenery hanging in the doorway above her head. “Mistletoe, ma’am. I get a kiss.” With that he dropped a quick kiss on her cheek before she knew what was happening.
With that the group entered the store, where goodies were laid out on the counter. Sam spent the rest of the evening circulating and not giving Bertie any special interest.
That night Bertie didn’t sleep as well as she usually did.
“Henry,” she spoke aloud. “Are you there? Can you hear me? You know I loved you with all my heart, don’t you? More than life itself?”
Memories of Christmas’ past trickled through her mind. She remembered their first Christmas together, with their pathetic little tree and handmade ornaments. A ditch tree, they called it in Iowa. One they cut down from a ditch in the road. The Christmases when the children were little. The last Christmas together after Henry was so ill.
She almost thought she heard him in the whisper in the night. “It’s all right, dearest. Live and love.”
She finally fell asleep, sometime before dawn broke, but not by much. When the alarm went off she kept hitting snooze until she knew she’d be late to open the store if she continued sleeping.
Being the last Saturday before Christmas, the store was packed from opening till closing. She didn’t have time to think or fret. She finally almost pushed the last customer out of the door, with barely time to lock up and head to where everyone gathered around the fire truck, festooned with twinkling lights and a dashing Santa. He was already seated up on top next to the Chief, waving to the crowd.
A stage set up in front of City Hall featured entertainment until the fire truck finished their rounds and made it back to town. The high school band, their instruments gaily wrapped with colored lights, performed. The choir sang Ave Maria. But the children from the preschool with their song and dance were clearly the favorites of the evening.
Soon the old fire engine returned to the square, horn honking all the way. The crowd gravitated to where it parked, with Bertie right in the midst. She wanted to catch another glimpse of the cheery man in the red velvet suit – who maybe wasn’t so much of an old coot after all. But he wasn’t there.
She was surprised at the empty feeling she had, not seeing him seated on top where he was when they left.
The crowd quieted as a new sound entered the air. Bells. “Sleigh bells,” someone called out from the crowd. They tinkled louder, getting closer, and then the clip clop of hooves joined the jingling bells.
Around the corner came a fancy white carriage, pulled by four horses outfitted with old time sleigh bells. Sitting in the carriage was a familiar looking Santa, with a cozy comforter draped over his legs.
The driver pulled to a stop in front of the crowd. Sam stood up and hollered to the milling throng. “Bertie! Bertie Mills. Your chariot awaits.”
Bertie couldn’t reply. She was too choked up. With tears. With joy. She started making her way towards the team of horses. “Coming Sam, you jolly old coot,” she finally hollered out.
The smile that lit her face let everyone know that ‘old coot’ was now a term of endearment. It seemed that love, after all, isn’t only for the young. And another romance was soon to blossom in Oak Grove Square.