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?
With a grunt of displeasure, Bertie crossed the street and headed to the book store. Pageturners sat on the same side of the square as Scrappie’s, but on the opposite end of the block. Since Irene was at the merchant’s meeting they’d just left, Bertie figured that Sam was holding down the fort. She wished that Irene would have agreed to ask Sam about being Santa. It seemed the whole square conspired to get her and Sam together.
She wound her way through the empty outdoor tables at Java Time, the coffee shop situated next door to the book store and was surprised that Carmen hadn’t pulled them in for the winter yet. She held up a hand of greeting as she passed the large window filled with painted steaming cups of coffee and cocoa, wrapped with curly holiday ribbons and bows.
When she got to the bookstore’s window , she halted to take it all in. The display depicted a vintage Christmas from long ago. A tree filled with homespun ornaments, paper chains and burlap bows took center stage, surrounded by more children’s picture books than Bertie could imagine. An old time wagon sat next to the tree, filled with stuffed dolls, teddy bears and balls while an old fashioned train sat in a circle.
The tinkling bell over the door announced her entrance and as Sam turned from the counter and saw Bertie, his face broke out in a megawatt smile. “Bertie, love, such a radiant ray of sunshine you are.”
“Oh, stuff it, you old smoosher. Some day you’re gonna give it up.”
“Not a chance, dear. Not a chance.” A twinkle filled his eyes. “Way I see it, some day I’m going to wear you down and you’ll give in and have dinner with me.”
Bertie threw up a hand to stop him there. “What do you even want with an old lady that’s well past her prime?”
“Well, Bertie, my love, if you haven’t noticed…I’m not so far from death’s door myself. The only thing young about me is my spirit.”
She nodded her head towards the front window. “Irene borrow some things from Victoria’s shop?”
“Not at all. Why would she do that when she has me? That old wagon? Mine. Got it one Christmas when I was just a tyke. The dolls were my sisters, God rest their souls.”
“You lost your sisters already? You have any family left?”
“A niece and nephew. In Michigan. I don’t hear much from them. A birthday and Christmas card sometimes.”
“No kids or grandkids?”
A flicker of pain passed through his eyes. “I had a daughter. She was in the car with Mabel when the drunk driver hit them.”
“I’m sorry…” She laid a hand on his arm, a lump in her throat preventing her from saying more.
“Ayep. My life changed in that moment. Lost both my loves without a chance to say goodbye. Alice was just twenty eight. In the prime of her life. About to be married herself.”
“…how long ago?”
“Coming up on twenty years this Christmas Eve.”
“On Christmas Eve? You must hate the holidays.” Sympathetic pain filled Bertie’s heart. “And here I came over to ask you about being Santa.” She turned to go.
“Santa? For you Bertie dear, I’d love to be Santa.”
His words stopped her in her tracks and she turned back with a puzzled expression. “How can you, with what this time of year must mean to you.”
“Oh, now don’t get me wrong. For years and years I couldn’t have.” He dropped his voice to a whisper. “Truth be told, for too many of those years, I hid behind a bottle until the holidays were over.”
Her interest was piqued. “So what changed from that to the cheerful man you are today?”
“Because I finally learned that life is precious. Even mine. Throwing away my life wouldn’t bring my wife and daughter back.” He paused, a wan smile drifting across his lips. “And one night Mabel came to me…”
“She did? In a dream?”
“Not sure. Seemed I was wide awake. Maybe a little drunk. But, boy howdy, did she lay into me! Said I was wasting my life and she was disappointed in me. Said my actions were undermining anything good we’d built together and that I’d better shape up. If I wanted to honor her and my daughter‘s memories, I‘d better do what I can to leave this place a little brighter before I follow her home.”
“And, so…here I am trying to spread a little sunshine…and trying to court the most eligible gal in the square, who won’t give me the time of day…”
“Samuel!” Bertie batted at his shoulder, not quite sure how to answer that.
“So yes. I’d love to be Santa. Just tell me when and where.”
“Here in the square. Saturday. And you’ll have to go with the Fire Chief on the old engine to deliver the presents to the children that the square adopted for Christmas.”
“Ho Ho Ho!” he bellowed out with a chuckle. “Just practicing, dear. And afterwards…you’ll go to dinner with me?”
With another swat at his shoulder – and a half a grin this time – she muttered, “We’ll see…ya old coot,” as she scooted away.
Sam just smiled and didn’t reply. Seems her words didn’t have quite the clipped tone in them that they usually did.
He had a few surprises up his sleeve. He didn’t live to be seventy without learning a few tricks. He’d be Santa all right. And this year, Santa was going to show Oak Grove Square – and Bertie in particular – a special kind of magic.
Cone back tomorrow for the final installment!