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Christmas Love in the Square #2

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?

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pat tt christmasWith 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…”

“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!

 

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Christmas Love in the Square #1

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?

Return to Tuesday Tales for more Christmas romances.

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“…and a huge thank you to Bertie, over at Scrappie’s Quilt Shop, for volunteering to coordinate our Quilted Christmas Memories on Oak Grove Square.” Heather, the merchant’s association liaison from the city, strutted in front of the group as proud as if it had been her idea. “Bertie, can you give us a report on where we are and what still needs done before our grand weekend?”

Bertie hesitated before she eased herself up from the cold, metal chair. “Didn’t know I’d have to talk in front of everyone,” she mumbled.

“Can’t hear you,” a voice from the back of the room called out.

“Oh fiddlesticks, t’aint much to hear.” But she did attempt to speak a little louder as she stumbled over her announcement. “The quilters are finishing up the last of their quilts. I have a list over at Scrappie’s of all the businesses that agreed to hang a quilt in their window. Most everyone is participating.” She took this chance to turn and glare at Hank sitting in the last row.

He raised his hand in protest. “Hey, I’m a Bar-b-que place. You don’t want hickory and mesquite smoked into your precious quilts do you?”

“Naw. Suppose not…“ Bertie conceded. “We do still need a Santa for Saturday night though…don’t reckon you can help us out by being Santa, can you?”

He shook his head sternly. “Not a chance! My cantankerous behind ain’t getting’ in no jolly fat man’s suit. Try Sam, over at Pageturner’s. Betcha he’d do it.” A sly grin crossed his face as he chuckled. “Specially for you, Bertie. I think the man would do anything you asked him to do.”

Most of the crowd giggled softly or grinned. A lot of hands flew up over their mouths as the other business owners tried to suppress their amusement. Poor Sam had held a flame for Bertie for a long time. Not that it did any good. Bertie refused to give him an ounce of encouragement, going out of her way to rebuff his attempts at even a friendship.

Bertie called out across the room. “Irene, Sam’s your employee. You suppose you can ask him if he’d help us out by being Santa?”

“Well, Bertie, I could…“ Irene answered, “…but I think Hank’s right on this one. I think he’ll agree in a flash if you ask him. You know, you being the committee chair and all.”

pat tt angel tree

The response Bertie’s uttered was so low no one understood it. Which they were fine with. They didn’t really want to know what she’d said. Heaving a big sigh, she continued. “The response for the angels on the tree has been terrific. We have wishes from twenty six underprivileged children on the tree. The quilt club ladies made handmade stockings for each of them. We asked the children for three wishes – a piece of clothing and their size, their favorite candy or treat, and a toy or fun item they wished for. We have almost every item. We’re just lacking a few.”

Hank raised his hand from the back. “What ‘cha lacking, Bertie? That I can help with. Put Hank’s BBQ down for what you still need. Bring me over a list and I’ll finish up the last pieces.”

Victoria, who owned the antique shop, Serendipity, was sitting next to Hank. She started clapping and the rest of the merchants chimed in, bringing a red flush to Hank’s face. She turned and patted the embarrassed man’s arm. “Thanks, Hank,” she said under her breath. “You’re not really such a scrooge after all, are you?”

The group started chattering to each other and Heather cleared her throat to get their attention. When that didn’t work she threw her shoulders back (which she was prone to do anyway, being very proud of her silicone gals) and clapped her hands in the air. “Ladies…and gentlemen…” With the emphasis on gentlemen, she battered her eyes and glanced at the men in the front row. With a wink at one, she announced, “To deliver the presents to the children, I do believe our kind Fire Chief has volunteered the use of the old engine for the night.”

He nodded in agreement, a proud grin plastered across his face. And most in the group knew that he’d only agreed with the request because Heather – and her gals, usually prominently displayed in a low cut blouse – had asked him.

It was Christmas. ‘Tis the Season. And the flirting and desires in Oak Grove Square continued whatever the season.

The group finished up with the agenda and most scurried out the door, intent on getting backing to their businesses and livelihoods. Victoria hung around the back door. She’d wanted to speak to Bertie but was late to the meeting and had slipped in the back, taking the last empty seat next to Hank.

Victoria caught Bertie’s elbow as the older woman tried to slip out with the crowd. “I wanted to ask you. Come caroling with us Friday night?”

“Nope. Can’t make it. Too much to do.”

“C’mon, Bertie. It’s only for an hour. Where’s your holiday cheer?”

“Honey, this is my holiday cheer. I do what I can to bring magic to some children’s lives. For me…I haven’t enjoyed Christmas for myself since my Henry died.”

“How long’s your husband been gone?”

“Twelve years last September.”

“Twelve years? Surely that’s been long enough that it’s time for Bertie to have a little fun, isn’t it?”

Bertie stared intently into Victoria’s eyes before answering. “You know, honey, sometimes I almost think so. And then a rush of memories come flooding over me, washing me away back to the past. We were so happy, he and I. We had thirty eight Christmas’ together, coming up on thirty nine before the Good Lord called him home.” She stopped and wiped a tear away that threatened to trickle down her cheek. “Christmas just isn’t the same without my man.”

“Goodness that’s a long time together. I didn’t make it that long my first time around. I hope that Toby and I make it as long as you two did. Haven’t you even dated anyone since?”

A flash of happiness erased the tears in Bertie’s eyes. “Now you and Toby, I declare. That’s the best match I’ve seen in this town square since I’ve been here. You just glow when you’re around him.”

“I don’t know…” Victoria demurred. “Sally, over at Crafter Cottage, caught a pretty special guy when she found Izzy.”

“Ayep. Them too. But you ladies are young. Why me, I’m just an old geezer, tottering on towards my own grave.”

“Why Bertie…you’re only…what? Sixtyish?”

“Sixty eight last month.”

“That’s not old. You still have plenty of life and spark left in you.”

“Twouldn’t know about that.”

Victoria gave an impish grin. “There’s Sam…now he thinks you’ve got some romance left in you.”

“That old coot?” Bertie sputtered. “He can kiss my flying hide if he thinks he stands a chance with me. Ain’t no man, specially him, gonna take the place of my Henry. It’ll be a cold day in Hades before I see the romance side of life again.”

 

Come back tomorrow for more!