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Starting Over – TT ‘wood’

In Starting Over, Victoria met Toby in the antique store she owns in Oak Grove Square. The man is a frustrating mix of coldhearted developer, sweet and charming hunk, and a broken-hearted little boy still mourning his grandparents.

Toby and Victoria have had a disagreement about his latest development project. They’ve patched things up and are headed out for their first formal date since their big fight. This week we’re writing to the prompt ‘wood’. Return to Tuesday Tales here, to read more snippets from the talented Tuesday Tales bunch.

Tuesday Tales

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The ride back to Victoria’s was quiet. The air was thick with tension, although of a different sort than they had on a ride they’d shared a few weeks back when they had their huge fight. Their hands lay on the console between them, clasped tightly as if their lives depended on their contact with one another.

Victoria almost felt overwhelmed with the swirling emotions that ranged from nervousness to excitement, with small touches of fright tucked in here and there.

So much for her resolve to never get involved again.

So much for her determination to steer clear of Toby after seeing a side of him that she didn’t care for much.

But then she’d glance at the profile silhouetted by the street lights they passed, and seeing the planes of his face changing with the light and the shadows her stomach would flip flop with desire and anticipation.

When they pulled up in the driveway Toby turned the car off, turned to her and raised his palm up to her cheek. Gently stroking the side of her face, he murmured, “You’re going to invite me in, aren’t you?”

The only answer she was capable of was a soft kiss on the palm cupping her cheek.

He moaned softly before he whispered, “You know I won’t want to leave.”

“Suits me fine. I don’t think I want you to leave.”

“Let’s continue this conversation inside.”

A shadowy porch greeted the two as they stepped towards the door. Victoria fumbled with the key, which between the darkness and her nerves wasn’t cooperating. “Guess I forgot to leave the light on.”

“That’s okay. Then your neighbors won’t see this…” Toby scooted in behind her and slid his arms around her waist. He nuzzled the back of her neck, nudging her hair out of the way, leaving a trail of kisses up the side until he reached her ear.

When he gave her ear a quick lick, Victoria’s knees buckled and she dropped the keys.

Toby chuckled as he bent to retrieve them. “Which key? I’ll get the door for you.”

Flustered, she could only hold out the proper key.

“Let a man do it,” he joked as the door swung open.

Victoria patted his bottom as she stepped around him and flipped a switch, illuminating the living room with a soft light in the far corner. “Oh…I do believe I will let a man do it…if he thinks he’s any good at it,” she retorted.

“Oh honey…maybe I’ll just let you give me a report yourself…in the morning.”

She took his hand and pulled him towards the couch, dropping her purse on the floor beside it. Glancing at the wood pile to see how much was there, she asked, “Want a fire?”

dancing in dark“I don’t think we need a fire…we’ll heat it up just fine ourselves.” To prove his point, he moved in closer and slid his hands up her arms. “Maybe some music? You like to dance?”

Soon a jazzy band sounded from the speakers and the two moved together and swayed to the tune. There wasn’t much talk going on, only the communication between a man and a woman, getting to know each other on their own private dance floor.

Victoria didn’t think she could stay upright another moment, she ached to feel his skin, to feel him covering her body with his. All fears and anxiety had fled, to be replaced with fiery passion and need. “I think…” she whispered.

“…me too.” He took her hand and started to lead her away. Until he stopped mid stride and started laughing. “Except…I don’t know which way your bedroom is.”

With a giggle, Victoria led him down the hall. She stepped into the dark room and stopped.

Not realizing that she wasn’t moving, Toby bumped into her. “What?” he asked in mock astonishment. “No light? Honey, I want to see you. I want your face embedded in my memory. I want to look in your eyes as I make love to you.”

Victoria moved to switch on the small lamp sitting on the nightstand. It was several hours later when the light was finally turned off for the evening and she fell back into Toby’s open arms, where he lay waiting to embrace her as they fell asleep, wrapped together.

Starting Over – Tuesday Tales ‘paint’

In Starting Over, Victoria met Toby in the antique store she owns in Oak Grove Square. The man is a frustrating mix of coldhearted developer, sweet and charming hunk, and a broken-hearted little boy still mourning his grandparents.

Toby and Victoria have had a disagreement about his latest development project. They’ve patched things up and are headed out for their first formal date since their big fight. This week we’re writing to the prompt ‘paint’. Return to Tuesday Tales here, to read more snippets from the talented Tuesday Tales bunch.

Tuesday Tales

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saladVictoria shifted the croutons on her plate around. “The salad’s fine. I’m just a little preoccupied I guess.”

“What about? Business? Us? Talk to me.” Toby laid his utensils down and leaned forward, resting his chin on his propped up palm. When she hesitated, he added, “C’mon, fess up…after all the complaining you’ve done about how closed off I’ve been…”

“I know…I know…” Her chest heaved with a big sigh. “I’m feeling confused.”

“How so?”

“When I moved to Texas and bought Serendipity, I had no desire to get involved with anyone. Ever again. As in never.”

“Yeah…we talked about that one night. The way that jerk treated you…a pilot, wasn’t he?”

She stopped fiddling with her salad and looked directly into Toby’s eyes. “It was easier when you were behaving like an ass. Then I could despise what you stood for. I could rant and rave and insult you up one side and down the other.”

“You took me to task, but you were never that harsh with me.”

The laughter eased the worried look on her face and lightened the darkening mood. “Oh…you never heard the thoughts that ran through my mind…”

He sat up straight in mock astonishment. “What?”

“I know.” She grinned. “Hard to believe, huh?”

Then a more serious countenance settled in, chasing her frivolity away. “But lately…especially after your turn about on the senior’s project…it’s been so pleasant spending time with you.”

“And? That’s a bad thing?” He looked truly puzzled.

“It’s just that it paints a different picture of who you really are. And I greatly admire that man I see…which confuses me.”

A waiter hovered nearby with a pitcher of cold water. Toby couldn’t tell if he were eavesdropping on them, or was merely being considerate to not interrupt their intense conversation. He beckoned to the young man and lifted his water glass in the air as he approached. “Yes, I’d like a refill, please.”

With glasses refilled and no reason for the youngster to lurk, it was the two of them alone at the table again. Toby started up where they’d left off. “So…where were we? You admire me?”

“Yesssss… What? You don’t want me to?”

“I do. I do. But…here I’ve been hoping that it was dashing good looks that captivated you,” he joked. “I’ve been wishing that you were lusting after my hot bod.”

She leaned back in her seat and narrowed her eyes when she looked at him. “Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s not just admiration. There’s a whole lot of lusting going on too.”

“Then, darlin’. I think we should finish up this meal and get you back home. Because I think we’d make better progress in this conversation if we were camped on your couch and I could hold you tight and smother you in kisses while we discuss what kind of future the two of us have together.”

Starting Over – TT picture prompt

In Starting Over, Victoria met Toby in the antique store she owns in Oak Grove Square. The man is a frustrating mix of coldhearted developer, sweet and charming hunk, and a broken-hearted little boy still mourning his grandparents.

Toby and Victoria have had a disagreement about his latest development project. They’ve patched it up and are headed out for their first formal date since their big fight. This week we’re writing to a writer’s choice picture prompt. I chose the wine in front of the fireplace. Return to Tuesday Tales here, to read more snippets from the talented Tuesday Tales bunch.

Picture prompts are only 300 word snippets, so it will be quick reading and you’ll discover lots of new, fun stories in the works.

Tuesday Tales

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TT_011116The evenings still brought a chill with them and Victoria shivered when she stepped out into the brisk night air. Toby threw an arm around her and escorted her inside the restaurant. The waiter showed them to a table right next to a blazing fire. She would have rather been camped underneath his shoulder again.

Victoria ordered a Caesar salad and Toby looked surprised. “Just a salad? You sure you don’t want to try one of the specials?”

“I’ve been craving a salad all day.” She was tired after the long week and didn’t want to get sleepy. With things going so well between them right now, there were other things on her mind besides sleep.

“Obviously you haven’t been on a construction site all day.” The large T-bone he ordered, complete with sides attested to his hunger.

When the waiter suggested a nice Merlot, Toby looked to Victoria.

“Maybe a glass. More than that and you’ll find me snoring over here.”

Toby raised his glass in salute. “To us…and our peace treaty.”

“It’s nice…being together and not bickering,” Victoria agreed. “Think it will last?”

“I definitely hope so.” He leaned in closer. “You are worth some compromises. I may not be able to open up much, but I promise that I will try to tear down some of the wall I’ve built up.”

She reached across the table and laid her hand on his. “If you can do that, I’ll promise not to expect you to be someone you truly aren’t.”

Toby laughed. “I may find my inner child after all.”

When the meals came, he dug right in, devouring his as if he hadn’t eaten in days. He looked up later and realized that Victoria was merely pushing bits about her plate.

“You okay? You haven’t touched your meal.”

 

Starting Over – TT ‘wired’

In Starting Over, Victoria met Toby in the antique store she owns in Oak Grove Square. The man is a frustrating mix of coldhearted developer, sweet and charming hunk, and a broken-hearted little boy still mourning his grandparents.

Toby and Victoria have had a disagreement about his latest development project. They’ve patched it up and are headed out for their first formal date since their big fight. This week we’re writing to the prompt ‘wired’. Return to Tuesday Tales here, to read more snippets from the talented Tuesday Tales bunch.

Tuesday Tales

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“Charlotte’s granddaughter?” He looked surprised. “Am I supposed to know her?”

Victoria gave a nervous giggle. “Sorry. Guess that came out of left field. You must think I’m a ditz.”

“Well…not really. Except I’m really confused right now. I can’t think of who a Charlotte is.”

“Remember the bundle of envelopes you brought me a while back?”

“Envelopes…oh yeah…the one’s my contractor found in the house we were demoing?”

“The very ones. A few weeks ago I tracked down the granddaughter of the women – Charlotte – from the letters.” She tugged on her ear and stuttered, “…uh…guess I should invite you in and not leave you standing on the doorstep…”

“I can come in…or, if you’re ready to go, we can head for the restaurant.”

Once she was settled into the passenger seat and buckled in, Victoria continued her story about the granddaughter’s visit and how much the letters meant to her. “I did keep one as a memento,” she admitted.

CNJ driving

A gentle smile appeared on Toby’s face while a glint of amusement twinkled in his eyes. “My little softie. You really are connected with these old things from the past, aren’t you?”

“They’re my life. This store and these pieces from long ago saved me. When I needed something to care about, they were my lifeline.”

“Something tells me that this wasn’t a new fascination though. I have a feeling you’ve always been attached to sentimental things.”

“Guilty as charged,” Victoria confessed. “I really can’t remember a time when I didn’t appreciate heirlooms and collectibles.”

“Unlike me. I think we’re wired differently for how we feel about the past.”

“Well…that’s what you profess. But if you really didn’t care at all, you wouldn’t have brought any items to me and the store. You would have simply tossed them in the dumpster.”

“Cash, baby. It was all about the cash.”

“Ha! So you say. But…there was no cash transaction with Charlotte’s letters. You brought them to me because you thought I’d like them. No cha-ching value for you there.”

“You’ve got me. Well…maybe big, bad developers aren’t always what they seem.”

Victoria turned towards the driver and looked intently at him. “No,” she murmured softly, “it seems that I have misjudged you on a few matters.”

A warm flush flooded her body as she realized how she wanted to stroke his cheeks and cover him with caresses. This is going to be a long dinner, she groaned silently.

Starting Over: TT ‘shoes’

Tuesday TalesIn Starting Over, Victoria met Toby in the antique store she owns in Oak Grove Square. The man is a frustrating mix of coldhearted developer, sweet and charming hunk, and a broken-hearted little boy still mourning his grandparents.

Toby and Victoria have had a disagreement about his latest development project. They’ve patched it up and are headed out for their first formal date since their big fight. This week we’re writing to the prompt ‘shoes’. Return to Tuesday Tales here, to read more snippets from the talented Tuesday Tales bunch.

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The antiques that filled every square inch of Victoria’s shop, Serendipity, failed to captivate her as they usually did. Typically she could spend the entire day in her little oasis, wandering the store, dusting and rearranging the multitude of pieces of the past, lost in a time warp.

This week she didn’t notice the Fiesta ware pitchers that usually gave her such delight. The sparkling depression era dishes seemed colorless and bland. The vintage linens that she loved to stroke whenever she passed by, thinking of the hours that some nameless hand spent lovingly stitching the embellishment…they lacked their magic too.

Instead, she had visions of blond, handsome Toby. Memories of their passionate embrace and mini make out session heated the smoldering flames into a blaze. She counted the hours until their Saturday night date. She spent hours musing about what outfit to wear. She daydreamed about how the evening would progress…and where the night would end.

Customers had to repeat themselves. She’d catch herself staring off into space, not even hearing the phone ringing in the background. One day she totally forgot to eat lunch.

Sally, from Crafter’s Cottage stopped in Saturday morning. “You all right?”

“Fine,” Victoria answered, slightly confused about why Sally had even asked that question.

“You haven’t joined us for our morning walks this week. We wondered if you were sick.”

“No…no…just…just busy…”

A surprise visitor later that day momentarily brought her focus back to antiques. When the bell tinkled over the door, Victoria looked up to see a woman coming straight towards her. She appeared to be in her mid-thirties, but Victoria knew that sometimes looks were deceiving.

“Hi. I’m Susan Copeland.”

“Uh…hello. I’m Victoria.” It seemed odd, because customers didn’t usually introduce themselves. Unless they were leading up to a sales pitch of some sort.

“You left a message on my phone a few weeks ago.”

“I did?” Victoria’s brain was spinning, trying to remember who she’d called and why. She came up clueless, not having the foggiest idea of who she’d left a message for.
CNJ_old love letters“About the letters.”

“The letters…” A puzzled look must have conveyed her confusion to the woman.

“My grandmother’s. You said you came across a stack of them and were looking for her descendants. Charlotte Copeland…from…”

Those letters! Of course. I’m so sorry. I’ve been so distracted these past few weeks with fighting an inappropriate development and…and…oh gosh, you’re not interested in all that. So, Charlotte was your grandmother?”

The two woman whose only link was a stack of love letters postmarked in the forties chatted and forged a bond as they honored Charlotte and the memories of her life.

“I’m so excited that you found these and tracked me down. All I have of my grandmother’s is her wedding outfit – her dress and shoes. I’m looking forward to seeing a piece of her life.”

Victoria disappeared into the office and returned bearing a ribbon wrapped stack. Minus one letter – one of her favorites – that she kept as a memento to remember the day that Toby appeared bearing this unique gift his workmen had uncovered in the house they were demolishing.

Finally – she could close the shop and rush home to prepare for her anticipated date. After the fantasizing that filled her mind all week, she hoped that the evening would be as special as her imagination made it. She primped for an hour, working on her makeup, her hair and her outfit. Goodness, it took her longer to decide whether or not to wear underwear – and which pair – than it normally took her to dress for the day.

When the doorbell rang, she rushed to the door and flung it open. Toby stood on the front porch, freshly showered with hair still wet. His periwinkle polo shirt tucked into starched khaki’s wrapped tightly around his muscular forearms. A subtle aroma of his cologne wafted towards her and enveloped her in its masculine scent.

Victoria stood mesmerized. Feeling tongue tied and suddenly nervous, the words that popped out of her mouth were not what she’d planned. “I met Charlotte’s granddaughter this afternoon.”

Christmas Love in the Square #3

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.

Merry Christmas!

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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.

Pat tt santa carriage

 

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!