Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Sweet Christmas Kisses 3 - 1st Chapter of THE ROAD NOT TAKEN, by Magdalena Scott

Serendipity, Indiana--Book Six
Copyright 2016, Magdalena Scott

Brad turned the car into the lane of the Christmas tree farm, and some of the stress built up during the long drive from Florida to Indiana fell away.


No matter how long I lived away from here, the peaceful feeling always settled over me when I returned to Serendipity.

From the placid scene of the hilly farm covered with evergreens and a thin skiff of snow, I dragged my eyes back to my husband. “Thank you again for making the trip, Brad. I know it’s not your favorite place to spend the holidays.”

He nodded, his eyes on the gravel lane. “You’re welcome, again, Francie. Where else am I going to spend Christmas than with my son and wife?”

That sounded simple, but he and I both knew better. Our marriage was in trouble. I wasn’t sure how or when it had begun to deteriorate, but I feared this was our last Christmas together, unless something drastic happened to turn things around.

Heading up the driveway, we passed my sister Carla’s house on the right. On the left was the small acreage my parents gave me when I turned twenty-one. Unlike Carla and our brothers Jim and David, I had never built my dream home here. Had never lived the life as an adult that looked so idyllic—residing on a Christmas tree farm, selling trees and working in the Christmas shop during the holidays.

It was hard work much of the year, but because we worked together and our family was close-knit, the effort was always worthwhile. Time spent with customers in the Christmas shop was the easy part—more like play than work to me, with the CDs providing holiday music, families shopping together… Okay, sometimes that part was stressful to endure, depending on how well the kids and adults behaved.

After Dad died, every facet of the farm business changed. At first, my brother Jim had tried to shoulder all of Dad’s responsibilities, but he eventually had to hire help so he could keep his law practice going. Mom, who had always been in charge of the Christmas shop, helped Jim in overseeing the farm’s operations. She also ran the relatively new sideline—the tiny cabin B&B. I leaned my forehead on the cool glass of the passenger side window, feeling anew our family’s loss.

Brad parked the Prius in front of the house I’d grown up in, as close to the edge of the gravel pad as possible, since the parking area is also used by customers who come to cut their own trees and peruse the shop.

Mom appeared on the front porch, her dog Daisy at her side. Daisy had been Dad’s, but after his death, she became Mom’s near constant companion. I tore out of the car and ran up onto the porch, and Mom enveloped me in a hug.

“Sweetheart, I’m so glad you’re here.” She held me, rubbing my back as if I were a small child. I had to steel myself to keep from crying. At last I found my voice and pulled back a little.

“It’s great to be here, Mom. Thanks for putting up with our last-minute decision.”

Brad walked up the wooden porch steps and set down the first load of luggage. He moved toward Mom and I took a step away. He hugged her briefly and kissed her cheek. “What Francie said, Lillian. I’m embarrassed that we called you so late to see if you have room.”

“Have room? My goodness, of course I have room for my baby daughter and favorite son-in-law.”

The thought flashed into my head to wonder if she would call Jared Barnett favorite son-in-law once he and Carla got married. By that time, it was possible Brad and I would be divorced. My breath caught, anticipating the conversation we would need to have with Joseph, and with my family. Like the proverbial elephant in the room, the breakdown of our relationship in the last few years had been something neither of us wanted to talk about—even keeping it between the two people who might be able to repair the situation. In all the hours of our drive north, we had studiously avoided discussing anything personal. During my stints at driving, there was no conversation at all. Brad was too focused on his phone or laptop to talk.

Mom’s cheerful voice broke into my depressing reverie. “If I had known ahead of time that you were coming, I wouldn’t have begun the renovations upstairs. You don’t mind staying in one of the cabins, do you?”

Brad’s jaw dropped, and I can only assume mine did too. He recovered more quickly though. “No room at the inn, as they say.” He turned to me, one eyebrow cocked. “We can be flexible, can’t we, Francie?”

“Um. Sure. Sure, that’s not a problem.” I hadn’t spent much time in any of the cabins that were part of the farm’s bed and breakfast business, but from what I remembered, they were truly tiny. Was there enough space for two people who used to be intimate life partners but no longer were?

Mom sighed with relief. “Oh, good. I’m so glad you don’t mind. Do you want to see what’s going on with the rooms upstairs?”

We abandoned our bags and followed Mom through the living room and up the stairs to the bedroom Carla and I used to share. Mom opened the door.

Most of the wallpaper had been scraped off, but stubborn layers of old paper remained in patches here and there. The woodwork had been scraped too. Paint chips in a variety of colors littered the floor. The posters and other teenage memorabilia were long gone, no doubt. Most of all, the twin beds were missing.

“Oh. My. Word.” I couldn’t help it, and lucky for all of us, I hadn’t let loose with something more colorful.

Mom put an arm around my shoulders. “It’s just a start, you know. When we’re done here, the room will be fit for royalty. You’ll love it.” She squeezed me and let go, stepping further into the room.
I staggered after her.

Mom looked thrilled with the renovation, and I didn’t dare say what I was really thinking. “Wow. This is a surprise. I guess I was picturing new curtains, maybe some paint.”

Brad remained in the hallway, taking in the devastation of the room where he and I always stayed when visiting. “Whoa. It’s major, Lillian.”

She hurried on, unaware of our shock. “It was time, I’d say. I had lots of help deciding which way to go, as you can imagine. Carla, and Jared’s daughter Katie, both had ideas about everything. Katie’s very creative. She’s promised to help me with the sewing, since Carla is so busy at her dress shop. Katie is learning to machine embroider too. She’s trying out her new skill on the coverlet and matching curtains. But, you know, at fourteen, she has lots going on at school and extracurricular events.”

“That’s nice,” I muttered.

Her face fell, and not wanting to hurt her feelings, I pasted a smile on mine. Something was different with Mom today, but I wasn’t sure what.

“Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure it’ll be nice. I’m just surprised.”

“There didn’t seem to be any reason to leave it as a museum to you and Carla when you’ve had your own homes all these years. That’s why I sent you the boxes of things from the closet, remember? I found a few other items in the attic too. They should fit into your trunk for the return trip. Carla took the beds to put in the room that will be Katie’s whenever Jared and Carla finally tie the knot. You remember I asked if you wanted any of the furniture, right, Francie?” Her voice was filled with concern about my reaction to the room.

“Yes. Yes, I remember, and that’s totally fine. And—let me think—you’re going to rent this room out as part of the B&B?”

“Well, that’s a possibility. Jim and David are against the idea. Those boys are overprotective of me and insist the B&B guests only belong in the tiny cabins. I think if it were up to them, I wouldn’t serve breakfast during tree season at all.”

“Why’s that, Lillian?” Brad was leaning against the doorframe, handsome and casual—not flipping out as I felt myself doing.

Mom scraped with her thumbnail at a piece of wallpaper that refused to budge. “Because there isn’t a way to serve them in the Christmas shop during tree season, and I host breakfast in my dining room instead. I figure it gets the good china out of the cabinet one month each year. Really, it’s easier to have them in the dining room than to carry everything to the shop building across the parking area. 
But Jim and David don’t understand that part.”

“What’s their room like?” I blurted out.

“Their room? Oh, the boys’ old room. Come and see.” We followed her across the hall. The bedroom David and Jim had shared was always a boys-only territory which historically housed a variety of creepy pets, concert posters, and their sports trophies.

We strolled through the large bedroom, noting a variety of stuffed Santa figures, Nativity sets, and a big plastic Rudolph suspended from the ceiling smiling down at us.

Brad chuckled, shaking his head. “Wow. Salute to Christmas, huh?”

Mom nodded. “Pretty much. Can anyone guess who worked with me on the plan for this room?”

Our son Joseph appeared from the hall, strode to each of us in turn and administered bone-crushing hugs. “Hey, guys. What do you think of my room? Grandma said since I’m the one who stays here the most, I could decide what it looks like.”

Evidently, our recent college grad was more of a Christmas junkie than either of us realized.

“It’s… It’s very Christmassy.” That was all I had. What it was, in my opinion, was overdone to a massive degree. “How much of this glows in the dark?”

Joseph bounded over onto the messily pulled-together bed. “Not that much. And I sleep with my eyes closed anyway. Only thing I miss from the way it used to be is the bunk beds, but Matthew has those now, which is awesome.”

Mom crooked her finger. “Let’s go downstairs and I’ll get you something to eat. Do you need a nap before dinner?” She was leading the way down the steps not watching the reaction from Brad or me.

Thank goodness.

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN is one of 17 holiday romances available in SWEET CHRISTMAS KISSES 3!

Magdalena Scott is a USA Today Bestselling Author, and writes small town sweet romance and women's fiction. Visit her website to find out more about her, and her two small town series.