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If you’ve tracked along with me since October 4th, you will have read the entirety of my Christmas short story, The Christmas Sweater. I really hope you enjoyed it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janice L. Dick, Author

Photo Credit: Glenda Siemens

Janice was born and raised on a farm in southern Alberta, Canada, and currently lives on a farm in central Saskatchewan with her husband. She has loved the written word all her life, and began writing purposefully in 1989. Since then she has traditionally published three historical novels and independently published two more (a third to be released shortly).

Besides historical and contemporary novels, Janice also writes short stories, blogs, articles and book reviews.

Blog/website:  www.janicedick.com

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/janicedick

If you enjoyed this story, please leave a review on Amazon. Thank you.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I write mostly historical fiction, novel length, third person. This story was a divergence from my norm, and once I met Debbie, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I would identify more with Jeanne, and finding Debbie was, for me, an encouragement to live life more fully and to embrace each day with faith and joy. I hope you enjoy reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

I want to acknowledge G.G. for encouraging me to write not only a short story, but to write it in contemporary genre. I changed it up a bit more and used the first person point of view.

Thanks to Deanna Robertson and Jeanne Heal for reading my manuscript and giving me their honest suggestions about writing what I had not personally experienced.

Thanks also to Gwen Hernandez, who offers excellent courses in Scrivener, so I could figure out how to format this story and set the template for future independent publishing ventures.  Also to Susan Russo Anderson for her helpful how-to article on compiling Scrivener for .mobi.

 

BOOKS BY JANICE L. DICK

STORM SERIES

(these three titles are temporarily out-of-print, but will be re-released soon)

Calm Before the Storm

Eye of the Storm

Out of the Storm

 

IN SEARCH OF FREEDOM SERIES

Other Side of the River

In a Foreign Land

Far Side of the Sea (to be released shortly)

 

SHORT STORIES

The Christmas Sweater

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS! May the reason for the season be JESUS!

 

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A Daring Escape is apparently the second book in The London Chronicles series, so I must find the first (A Secret Courage). A Daring Escape tells of a young American woman, Amity Mitchell, who has been tutoring in England. When her brother, who is in the British Home Office, appeals for her help in Prague, she agrees, only to find herself in the midst of German occupation. Amity does her best to arrange transport to England for as many Jewish children as possible, at great personal risk.

A well-told story of the plight of Jews in the way of Hitler’s advance. With the characters, we experience fear, betrayal, courage, forgiveness, freedom. The situations many of the Jews found themselves in during that time was appalling. Many had already been sent to death camps, but in Prague, evacuation of children was still possible. The author’s depiction of the desperate situation and the hope brought by those willing to risk their own freedom, offers hope to the reader also. It made me ask myself, what would I have done in Amity’s place? If I’d had a train ticket back to England, would I have taken it, or stayed on to help as I could, even as the possibilities of escape narrowed?

A good read, thought-provoking and accurately described.

See the first book in the series below, and feel free to check out the many other titles by Tricia Goyer

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I’m glad you’re still with me for this final scene of my Christmas short story, The Christmas Sweater. Read on and enjoy!

 

Chapter Three—Scene Eight(1425 w)

I called Debbie’s house after lunch and she answered the phone.

“It’s Jeannie. How are you?”

“Hey, girl,” she said in a ‘trying to be cheery’ voice. “Sorry I missed our walk this morning. I was really tired.”

“Don’t apologize,” I said. “Are you feeling a bit better now?”

“Yup. Come on over.”

I could tell when I saw her that she’d tried to fix herself up, but she couldn’t hide the dark circles under her eyes, or the lack of sparkle in her usually bubbly personality.

“Debbie, you’re going to be okay. I know it. Just trust that God has it all under control.”

“Whoa! No elephants allowed in this room. Way to get right to the point, sister.”

I smiled and shook my head, glancing up at the ceiling. “I’ve lived with elephants too long. I’m done with denial. Facing the problem is half the battle, right?”

She heaved a huge sigh and I wanted to bite back my words.

“I know you’re right,” she said, “but memories of the treatments from last time keep me from fully agreeing with you. It wasn’t fun.”

I used my head for once and kept my mouth shut. This was her time, not mine.

She glanced around to make sure Mickey wasn’t there and said, “Sometimes I wonder if I should forget about treatment and just enjoy whatever time I have.” She met my eyes. “It’s overwhelming when you know what’s coming…Oh, sorry. I promised you tea and here I am whining.”

Before she could pull herself to her feet, I jumped up. “If you can make tea in my house, I can make it in yours.”

She sighed again. “Upper cabinet beside the fridge.”

“Hey,” I said, “you have a 1-cup coffeemaker. Want me to make you a coffee instead?”

“I’d love that,” she said, and her face was as close to a smile as I’d seen that day.

“Coffee it is,” I said, hunting around in her cabinets until I found her stash of Dark Roast pop-ins. “Think I’ll have some too.”

That made her swivel around in her chair. “You? Coffee? Wonders never cease. By the way, how’s the packing coming?”

“Packing?” I needed time to figure out how to tell her.

“Yeah, packing. You’re going to Paris in a week or so. Paris, France, remember?”

I carried our cups to the table, along with a box of cookies I’d found on the counter, and sat beside her, avoiding her eyes. “I’m not going.”

“You’re not…” She pointed her finger at me before she even took a sip of her coffee. “Now you listen to me. You’ve been doing so well with all this, you’re finally looking forward to something. I’ve seen it in your eyes. Why on earth are you thinking of backing out now?”

My turn to do the Debbie thing. I pointed right back at her. “Now you listen. You’ve been there for me since you moved in, prodding me to pull myself together and start living for real. And look what you’ve accomplished.”

“I didn’t do anything,” she interrupted. “You and God did.”

“Don’t get picky. What I’m saying is that now it’s my turn to be here for you. I’m not taking off on the trip across the pond to leave you here with your fears and worries.”

She snorted and leaned back in her chair. “Well if that doesn’t beat all.” Then she glared at me with those big dark eyes that had rediscovered a definite twinkle. “I’m not dead yet. I may not even be dying. I haven’t even had the tests. Could be I just caught a virus or something.”

She sat forward again. “I promise that if I have to, I will singlehandedly drag you onto the plane. Do you hear me? And remember, you have a daughter who needs you.”

I stared at her, indecision dancing in my brain. If I canceled my trip, I would leave Emily on her own. What kind of Christmas would that be for her? She was now depending on me to share this time with her. On the other hand, Debbie needed me too.

“Good,” she said. “At least you’re starting to think. I’ll let you finish your coffee and then you get back home and finish packing. Mickey and I are taking you to the airport next Tuesday and you’d better be ready.”

A slow smile spread over my face. She was right, of course. I couldn’t do much for her right now except listen and pray, and she’d never forgive herself if I stayed home because of her.

“But when I come back,” I began…

“When you come back, we’ll talk about it. Until then, don’t worry. We’ll do coffee every day I’m not up to walking. And I’ll let you know what the doc says as soon as we know.”

I had to say it. “But what about Christmas? This is the first year you and Mickey are away from your family. It’s going to be lonely.”

“Forget about it,” she said, with a wave of her hand. “We want to make the season special for my folks so we’ll be spending most of our time there. And,” she emphasized the word, “Mike Jr. and Sally are flying out for New Years. You’ll even get to meet them.”

I heard the click of doggie toenails enter the room and watched the mutt stop beside Debbie for an ear-scratch. Then, to my surprise, she trotted over and put her head on my knee.

Debbie laughed. “I don’t believe it! You take her for a walk once and she’s all over you.”

“Yup,” I said. “Steena and I are buddies, aren’t we?” I ruffled her silky curls and enjoyed the adoring look in her eyes, then grabbed a cookie and dipped it in my coffee. “Mmm. These are good.”

“You need a dog,” said Debbie, tongue in cheek.

“You might be right,” I said, and she nearly choked on her coffee. “That just might be my belated Christmas gift this year.”

She stared at me then hollered for Mickey. He arrived in short order, worry on his face. It smoothed out when he saw the sparkle in her eyes. “Honey,” she said, “will you get that box on the top shelf of our bedroom closet?”

“Anything for you, Pumpkin,” he said as he hurried off.

“Pumpkin?” I squeaked.

“Shush.”

Mickey returned in a minute with a large flat box, the kind clothing stores use to pack your purchase in.

“Thanks, Sweetie,” Debbie said, and turned to me. “I bought this a while ago already. Was gonna wait till you got home, but I think now is the time.”

Frowning, I looked from her to the box. “What’s this for?”

She grinned. “It’s a retirement gift.”

“Retirement? First of all, I didn’t work enough to warrant a gift, and secondly, I quit working a few years ago already.”

“Agh! Just open it, woman.”

Tentatively, I took the box, which was fairly lightweight, and set it on the table in front of me, careful not to spill my coffee. I opened it and saw, nestled inside, a fluffy sweater in a shocking shade of orangey-red. At a loss for words, I stroked the fabric.

“Oh Debbie, I love it. But why do you call it a retirement gift?”

“Because I won’t let you take Sam’s shabby shirt with you to Paris. Time to retire it, preferably in the trash, and start a new phase. So try it on already.”

I held up the sweater—a cardigan style with three large buttons down the front—then removed Sam’s shirt and pulled on the sweater. It felt as soft as Steena’s curls, and I pulled it around myself like a hug. “It’s perfect. Absolutely perfect. Sam would love it. Red was his favourite color.”

“I’m not telling you to get rid of Sam’s old shirt, but let this sweater mark a new beginning.”

I laughed. “I love this shirt, but it’s going to fall off me in pieces one of these days.”

I hugged her fiercely, then stood on tiptoe and gave Mickey a kiss on the cheek. “You guys are the best. God sure knew what he was doing when he brought you here.” We were all getting a little red-eyed, so I grabbed up my stuff and turned to go.

“I have packing to do, folks. Thanks for the sweater. Bye Steena.” The mutt licked my hand and I grinned as I headed back home.

 

**Well, folks, that’s the end of the story. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you’d like to hear a little more about the story, the author, and other bookish things, please find me here next Thursday, December 6th.

If you enjoyed this story, and if you want to make an author (me) very happy, please take time to go HERE, scroll to the bottom of the page where it says Customer Reviews, and leave an honest review. Thanks in advance.

 

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Below, see the seventh installment of my Christmas short story, The Christmas Sweater. Curl up with a cup of hot chocolate and Christmas music in the background.

 

Chapter Two—Scene Seven

With the date of our trip coming up quickly, I spent a lot of time packing and making lists. I used the spare bedroom to lay everything out so I could see it at a glance and have a better idea if I’d missed anything. I even googled Paris and “what to take.”

I couldn’t remember being this excited in years and I knew I had no one to blame but myself. The more I thought about it, the more I felt badly for Sam and how I had kept him from doing some of the things he had really wanted to do. But I knew where he was now and that no earthly regrets bothered him.

I’d been living on the sidelines for so long I felt like a completely different person. I think my renewed excitement for life surprised even Debbie, which is a stretch. We’d been walking every day and as I grabbed my gear and headed out the door to pick her up, I thought of some things I needed to discuss with her about my trip.

It took several minutes for Mickey to answer the door, and when he did, I was stunned by his expression. His face was pale and pinched, his smile non-existent, and his manner subdued.

“Mickey, what’s the matter,” I asked as he stepped back to let me in. “Are you unwell? I just came by to pick up Debbie for our walk.”

He ran one of his large hands over his stubbly jaw and blinked rapidly a few times. “Listen, Jeannie,” he said. “Debbie isn’t feeling too well today, so you’ll have to excuse her. Sorry, I should have called and let you know.”

“Not well? How so? She looked fine yesterday. Maybe it’s a bug she’ll be able to shake in a day or so.” But in my heart I knew it could be something worse. When I stopped to think about it, Debbie had been quieter the past few days, and we had strolled more than hiked. Dread crept into my mind as I considered the possibilities.

“Can I see her?”

Mickey bunched his lips. “Can you give her a few hours? She didn’t sleep well and it’s taking her a while to pull herself together.”

I put a hand on his arm, aware that all the physical strength in the world couldn’t withstand emotional strain. “Of course. And count on my prayers in the meanwhile.” I paused, wondering if I should voice my worst guess, then thought of Debbie and plunged ahead. “Is it the cancer again?”

Tears formed in Mickey’s eyes. He turned his face away and shrugged. “Don’t know for sure. Going for more tests tomorrow, so we’ll see.”

“I’m so sorry. Please tell Debbie I love her.”

His grief kicked me in the gut and I turned to go. “Just let me know if there’s anything I can do.” An idea came to me. “Let me take Scruffy out. She’d love a walk.”

So I walked, more out of routine than anything else, but knowing the brisk air would clear my head. The silly mutt trotted along on her leash, as happy as if I’d given her a new chew toy. I’d done it again. First the endless months of grieving—not so much for Sam as for me I now knew, with my focus no more than six inches around me—then thinking of nothing but my upcoming trip. It was always about me, while Debbie spent her time counseling and encouraging me, even when she probably had a good idea her health was failing.

“Oh Lord,” I prayed as I walked. “Forgive me for my selfishness. I can’t believe what I’ve turned into this past year.” No, it had taken much more than a year to create the self-absorbed woman I’d become. Well, I had asked for forgiveness, and believed it granted, so now I had to do something about it. Walking Scooby was my first effort, and I’d continue to do so up until I left for Paris.

I stopped in my tracks, surprising the dog, and suddenly I knew what I had to do. Debbie had been there for me since she and Mickey had moved back. Now, when she really needed me, I was not going to take off on her.

 

**Only one more scene to go! Please come back next Thursday for the final installment!

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November 2018 New Releases

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Contemporary Romance:

Christmas in Jingle Junction by Tabitha Bouldin — In the small town of Jingle Junction, Holly Winters owns the local coffee shop, Jolly Java. It’s here that she meets Patrick Cooper and promptly throws coffee everywhere. Not only does Patrick not like coffee, he also despises Christmas! It’s up to Holly to show Patrick that Christmas is worth giving a second chance, just as Patrick himself deserves a second chance when he is accused of robbing a local convenience store. In a town full of Christmas spirit, lively debates over the best superhero and riding in a sleigh pulled by actual reindeer is just a normal day. Will Holly be able to prove to Patrick that Christmas is more than a holiday that has to be endured? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

A Picture Perfect Christmas by Candee Fick — Freelance photographers Liz Foster and Ryan Callahan are finally making plans for their future. And what better time to get married than during the festive holiday season that brought them together? If only Liz’s parents weren’t standing in the way of a picture-perfect wedding. Spurred on by the ghosts of Christmases past, Dan Foster has already written Liz out of his will, so even attending the wedding—let alone walking his daughter down the aisle—is out of the question. However, this is the season for miracles and Ryan will do anything to make his bride smile. What will it take to bring this family back together in time for the wedding? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

On Magnolia Lane by Denise Hunter — When his secret crush joins a dating website, Jack takes a leap of faith and soon becomes Daisy’s online suitor. But when they begin growing closer in real life also, Jack finds himself with an unexpected dilemma. Is Daisy falling for the real Jack or for the online version of himself? And how is she going to respond when she finds out they’re one and the same? (Contemporary Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

A Merry Miracle in Romance by Melanie D. Snitker — Baxter Reid returns to his hometown of Romance, eager to see his childhood crush. Unfortunately, Savannah hasn’t forgotten all the ways he used to tease her back then. He’s got his work cut out for him if he’s going to get a second chance. Savannah Miller avoids Baxter and the embarrassing childhood memories he evokes…until he apologizes and suggests a truce. Now what is she supposed to do? Only time will tell whether the spirit of Christmas in Romance is enough to transform a grudging relationship into true love. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

I Still Do by Melanie D. Snitker — What’s worse than running into your ex-husband? Becoming snowbound with him and an avalanche of memories you can’t escape. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

Contemporary/Women’s Fiction:

A Southern Season by Eva Marie Everson, Claire Fullerton, Ane Mulligan, and Linda Yezak — Four seasons. Four stories. Each one set in the enchanting world of the South. These are the kinds of stories your grandmother told you from a front porch swing. (Women’s Fiction from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

Historical:

Second Chances by Carol Ashby — A widowed father, still grieving the loss of his wife and child, and a devoted mother, who leaves behind everything she’s ever known to rescue her daughter from the ex-husband who would hurt her, are first drawn together by their love for her little girl, but God has much more for them than either could have imagined. (Historical, Cerrillo Press)

Historical Mystery:

Murder of Convenience by Linda Shenton Matchett — May 1942: Geneva Alexander flees Philadelphia and joins the USO to escape the engagement her parents have arranged for her, only to wind up as the number one suspect in her betrothed’s murder investigation. Diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, she must find the real killer before she loses her sight…or is convicted for a crime she didn’t commit. (Historical Mystery, Independently Published)

Historical Romance:

The Great Lakes Lighthouse Brides Collection by Lena Nelson Dooley, Rebecca Jepson, Carrie Fancett Pagels, Candice Sue Patterson, Kathleen Rouser, Pegg Thomas, and Marilyn Turk — Along the Great Lakes, America’s inland seas, lighthouses played a vital role in the growth of our nation. They shepherded settlers traveling by water to places that had no roads. These beacons of light required constant tending even in remote and often dangerous places. Brave men and women battled the elements and loneliness to keep the lights shining. Their sacrifice kept goods and immigrants moving. Seven romances set between 1883 and 1911 at Great Lakes Lighthouses bring hope to the lonely lighthouse keepers and love to weary hearts. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

A Musket in My Hands by Sandra Merville Hart — Two sisters have no choice but to disguise themselves as men to muster into the Confederate army in the fall of 1864–just in time for things to go very badly for the Southerners at the Battle of Franklin. (Historical Romance from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

Uncharted Journey by Keely Brooke Keith — Young widow Eva Vestal assumes loneliness is God’s permanent plan for her life. She keeps busy by raising her son and co-managing the Inn at Falls Creek with her elderly father, but her heart yearns for more. Solomon “Solo” Cotter has spent his life working with horses, but he secretly wants to write a book of the children’s stories his grandfather told him as a boy. He barters with Eva’s father for a 40-night stay at the inn, a needed respite from work to get his stories on paper. Once Eva discovers the barter, she believes Solo is taking advantage of her father’s failing memory. But when tragedy strikes and Solo works hard to save the inn, Eva sees his true nature. As her heart stirs with feelings for Solo, she wrestles with the guilt of loving someone new. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

Snow Angel by Davalynn Spencer — Lena Carver works as her physician brother’s medical assistant, housekeeper, and cook. Maimed in a childhood accident at Christmas, she believes she is beyond love’s reach—until a dark-eyed cowboy arrives broken, bruised, and bent on changing her mind. Wil Bergman wakes in a stranger’s home with a busted leg and a bullet-creased scalp. Trail-weary, robbed, and penniless, he is at the mercy of a country doctor whose sister’s healing touch has power to stitch up his heart and open his eyes to the impossible. (Historical Romance from Wilson Creek Publishing)

Romantic Suspense:

Tell Her No Lies by Kelly Irvin — After Nina Fischer is accused of murdering her uncle and adopted father, she must unlock deadly family secrets in order to clear her name and learn to trust love again. (Romantic Suspense from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

North by Starlight by Diane and David Munson — Attorney Madison Stone hurries to help her client Jordan Star defeat a mysterious relative who claims a share in his inheritance, and during the Christmas season Maddie learns to leave past regrets behind her, embrace the warmhearted people of Starlight, and dig deep to find her true heart. (Romantic Suspense from Micah House Media)

Her Deadly Reunion by Beth Ann Ziarnik — What will it cost an estranged daughter when she meets her birth father at his home and discovers it’s a dangerous place to mix past and present? (Romantic Suspense from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

Speculative:

Mark of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse — When the new Lady of Ravenwood inherits her family’s secret gift of dreamwalking, she discovers a dark history. Women in her family have been wielding the gift to preserve her family’s legacy—through assassinations. She’s determined to find the true reason behind the gift, convinced there must be a more noble purpose. But she’s torn about upholding her family’s legacy–a legacy that supports her people. What will she do when she is tasked with assassinating the one man who can bring peace to the nations–but who is also prophesied to bring about the downfall of her own house? One path holds glory and power and will solidify her position as Lady of Ravenwood. The other path holds shame and likely death. Which will she choose? And is she willing to pay the price for the path chosen? (High Fantasy from Bethany House [Baker])

Thriller/Suspense:

Stratagem by Robin Caroll — Psychologist Grayson Thibodeaux creates mind-bending adventure games for businesses as team-building explorations. When his ex-wife’s company hires Grayson’s for their executive retreat, he doesn’t see how things can get worse. Until she dies during the course of the game he created…making him the prime suspect for murder. (Suspense from Barbour Publishing)

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Here we are for the sixth scene of my Christmas short story, The Christmas Sweater. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Chapter Two—Scene Six

Debbie stuck her head in the door about suppertime and asked, “Have you called Emily yet?” Snuffles wagged behind her.

“No,” I admitted. “I will.”

I’d been thinking of Emily’s invitation all day, as well as Debbie’s counsel that I’d be sorry if I didn’t go but never sorry if I did. Wouldn’t they both be surprised if I accepted.

She glanced at her wristwatch. “You have an hour to call before I get back and call her myself.” She seemed a bit nervous, which was out of character. I waited.

“Listen, Oh Friend of Mine. Mickey’s at work and I have to go to an Alzheimers meeting at the  Seniors’ Centre and they won’t let me take Steena inside. I know you don’t like animals in your house, but could she stay right here in the entry? Just for an hour or so? I’d leave her at home but she’s been really scared of being left lately. I think she’s going through separation anxiety. We took her to Regina with us last time and it seemed to throw her to see my folks again but in a new place.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Not only was she commanding me to phone my daughter, she was requesting that I babysit her dog. In my home.

“Or you could come to my place and sit with her,” she said, as if reading my mind, “but I know you want to call Emily so I thought this made more sense.”

Well, I was tired of everyone thinking I was a wimp. I’d show them all, shut them up for good. The thought took root so quickly it shocked even me, spontaneity not being my forte.

“Go ahead. I’ll look after Stumpy,” I said, and tried to keep from laughing at her incredulous expression.

“Thanks…I think,” she said, and told the dog to stay put. I doubted the mutt understood, but it sat and wagged as Debbie backed out quickly, probably expecting me to change my mind.

When she’d gone, I sat down on the entry steps and spoke to my guest. “Well hello, Stinky. Nice of you to come by. I have nothing to offer you but my presence.” Tentatively, I reached out and patted her head. Her hair felt so soft and silky to my touch that I couldn’t help scratching her ears. She leaned her head on my knees and closed her eyes, and I had to chuckle. That launched a bout of tail wagging that made me laugh for real.

“You are a strange little creature,” I said. “Now I have to clear up my supper and make an important phone call. You remember what Debbie said: stay put right here while I call. The rug is quite comfortable enough for you.” I gave her one more pat on the head and went back into the kitchen.

I forgot all about the dog while I washed my few dishes and considered what I’d say to Emily. I hung the dishtowel under the sink and rubbed lotion onto my hands. Sam used to joke about the amount of lotion I rubbed into my skin, but he liked the resulting softness.

The phone sat mocking me from its cradle near the table, and I decided there was no time like the present. I had Em on speed dial, I’m not sure why since I rarely initiated the calls, so I hit the button and waited, wandering back and forth through the house just like Sam used to do when he spoke on the phone. Emily answered after three rings.

“Hello? Mom?” She sounded surprised I was calling and I guess I couldn’t blame her since it didn’t happen often.

“Hi, honey. How was your day?”

“Good, yours?”

Enough small talk. I was on a mission here. “Listen, about your invitation to Paris, you know how I feel about the timing and all, but I’ve decided, after a good deal of interference and coercion from an unnamed source, that I’ll take you up on it.”

Her silence lasted so long I thought the line had gone dead. “What did you say?”

“I said I’ll come. Have you changed your mind? You said you needed to know by today.”

The silence stretched between us, and a giggle escaped me at the incongruity of the situation.

“Are you jerking my chain, Mom? Because I was serious about the offer. I mean, if you don’t want to come, just say so.”

“After all this emotional upheaval, you want me to change my mind again? Sorry, Em, but the decision is final. I’m going—we’re going—to Paris. In two weeks.” I must be crazy.

I wasn’t prepared for her scream, but it ripped through the phone lines and into my house with such clarity that Stocky came running and buried her head in my lap. I started to chuckle and then the situation overcame me and I was laughing. In the background I heard Emily say, “Mom, are you all right? Have you started drinking?”

Her words made me laugh harder and that’s how Debbie found us, Spookie and me, when she returned from her meeting. She looked as troubled as Emily sounded. I knew I was on an adrenaline high, but I hadn’t had this much fun since…since Sam died. My laughter faded, but the bubble of joy inside didn’t go away.

“Listen, Em,” I said when I’d caught my breath. “I have to go. I’m babysitting Debbie’s dog and we’ve frightened her and Debbie’s here now. Just tell your friend I’m in and we can talk another day soon. Good night, my dear.”

“Goodnight, Mom.” I heard the uncertainty in her voice just before I disconnected.

“Hey, Debbie, how was your meeting?” The look on her face made me want to start laughing all over again, but I was too tired. It was exhausting being this happy.

 

**I hope you’re enjoying The Christmas Sweater. Only two more scenes to go. Join us next Thursday, November 22, for the seventh installment.

 

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This is the fifth scene of my Christmas short story, The Christmas Sweater. Enjoy the story and the season.

 

Chapter Two—Scene Five

Monday morning came without me aware of the day or the time. Being so close to winter solstice, it seemed to be always semi-dark outside. The jangle of the doorbell and the dull pounding finally brought me out of my stupor. Was the world ending? No, but my world already had. It couldn’t get worse.

The pounding stopped and my phone rang. I reached for it reluctantly.

“Hello?”

“Oh, thank goodness you’re okay. Jeannie, what’s up? Are you sick or what?”

I shook my head to clear it. “No, I’m fine. Just slept in…So, you’re back. How was the weekend?”

She ignored my polite questions. “Jeannie, you’re always up at the same time every morning. Now tell me…no, just open the door. I’m coming over. I can’t believe we’re sitting here talking on the phone when we live next door. And if you don’t open up, I’m gonna get Mickey to pick the lock on your door. He knows how.” And she hung up.

I rolled out, threw the covers over the bed in a quick but completely unacceptable fashion, and pulled on a sweat suit and Sam’s shirt, realizing it needed washing again. I could hear my mother’s words in my mind: Jeannie,your first task upon rising is to make up your bed. AndA lady never, ever leaves the house in dirty clothes.Somehow the memory of her scolding was a link to sanity, albeit a flimsy link.

The doorbell rang as I was brushing my teeth. She’d have to wait. Pushy woman. I remembered her threat about Mickey picking the lock, and although I didn’t believe he’d ever agree to do it, the thought made me hurry.

When Debbie blew into my kitchen, she took a look at my puffy eyes and swollen face and wrapped me in a wordless hug. The only thing that can ever stop her tongue is compassion. She’s hard to resist. Like water eroding stone. Over time you succumb.

She pulled back and stared at me. “You haven’t been outside all weekend, have you?”

“Yes, I have,” I said in my defense. “I walked on Saturday.”

“It’s Monday. That’s two days ago. That’s a lot of alone time, Kiddo. So you sat here in the dark and brooded?”

I shrugged.

“No one came? No one called?”

“Well, it’s none of your business, but yes, someone did call.”

Her eyes looked a bit less severe and she turned to get the tea things. “Good. Who?”

Incredulous, I stared at her back.

“I know it’s not my business,” she answered with her head in the tea cabinet, “but I’m curious. Who called?”

Fighting Debbie was like trying to stop the wind. I sat in my chair at the table and accepted peppermint tea in my cup with the roses on it, while she sat in Sam’s chair with a double-double Earl Grey in a black mug. “My daughter Emily called from Vancouver. She’s planning to go to Paris for Christmas.” May as well get it all out right away instead of parrying the questions one by one.

Debbie’s eyes widened and she slapped the table so hard I spilled some of my tea. “Get outta town! Paris? Who’s she going with? Did she ask you?”

The questions kept coming until I held up my palm to stop them. “Yes, she asked. I declined.”

Her eyebrows disappeared under her curls. “What the heck? Are you crazy?”

I waited for her to understand. When her expression didn’t change, I leaned forward and explained. “Debbie, remember what time of year it is. It will soon be the anniversary of Sam’s death. I simply cannot go traipsing around that romantic city of Paris with my broken heart in full view of everyone.”

“No, of course not,” she said, and I leaned back in my chair, satisfied that I’d connected with her at last. But she had more to say. “No, you have no business going to Paris on the anniversary of your husband’s death. Your place is to sit here in the dark with no tangible sign of Christmas and weep. Or stay in bed till mid-morning because you spent all night feeling sorry for yourself.”

I stood up so fast I almost spilled the rest of our tea. “How dare you? You have no idea what I’ve experienced and yet you judge me!”

“Simmer down, Cinderella,” she said, as if the argument was over spilled tea instead of death and grieving. Her silly comment took the punch out of me and I sat while she grabbed a clean tea-towel and wiped up the tea.

“I’m not judging you, Jeannie, but I have to watch you suffer every day, and I’ve only been here a couple of weeks. If this is what you’ve been doing for a year, it’s time you changed your ways or one morning all I’ll find upon breaking into your tomb of a show home is a puddle of tears on the kitchen floor. How long do you have to make your decision?”

I rubbed my bleary eyes. “I’ve already made my decision. I told Emily to accept her friend’s offer and go.”

“You didn’t answer my question,” she said. “When’s the deadline?”

I blew out my breath forcefully. “Today. Debbie, I’m just not up to it.”

She sat back and pretended to write something on an imaginary paper with her finger. “Excuse number one: Jeannie’s not up to it. Next excuse?”

I rubbed at my forehead with my fingertips, trying to massage away the ache. “I can’t go so soon, It’s a bad time of year. I have to get through it.”

“What do you mean, a bad time of year? It’s the best time of year!”

“Used to be. Not anymore. Ever.”

“So you’re gonna let it spoil Christmas from now on?”

I felt a burning in the pit of my stomach as the words boiled up from deep inside. “It’s not my fault,” I shouted, my voice quavering like an old woman’s. “It’s Sam’s fault. He’s the one who up and died on me. At Christmas, for heaven’s sake! He ruined it all. My favourite time of year and now I’ll never be able to enjoy it again!” The sobs started their way up my throat. “I hate him for robbing me. For leaving me.”

I took my cup with the roses on it and threw it into the sink, shattering it. Grabbing the counter with both hands I wailed, loud and ugly and guttural, till I thought I’d turn inside out.

The whole time, Debbie stood behind me, running her hands up and down my arms, murmuring comforting words, praying out loud, waiting. When I’d used up all the tears and felt like an empty husk, she turned me around and hugged me and patted my back as if I were a child. Later, we sat side by side on the couch, fresh cups of tea on the coffee table in front of us, Debbie’s arm around my shoulder.

“You know he didn’t leave you on purpose, right?”

My voice came out in a squeak. “I didn’t know I was so angry.”

Debbie’s answering smile looked sad. “We never do. Anger is one of those emotions that evolves into a monster over time if we don’t face it. I could see it consuming you.”

I narrowed my swollen eyes at her. “You goaded me into this hysterical fit.”

“Goaded? No. I may have nudged a bit, but you were well on the way without me, honey. I knew you had to get it out.”

The tea felt like sweet healing going down. “How’d you know?” I asked.

“Been there.”

“What? When?” I stared at her now, focused for once on someone outside of myself.

She pursed her lips, set down her cup and pulled up her knees, hugging them. “I have cancer,” she said in a quiet voice. “It’s in remission now and hopefully it will stay that way. But one never knows.” She stared out through the frosted window in a more contemplative manner than I’d ever seen her.

“I was so angry at everyone and everything, but mostly at God. Mickey didn’t know what to do with me. He tried everything: counseling, pastoral visits, deacons, friends, but I pushed everyone away, groveling in my pain and fear…and anger.”

Tears slipped from my eyes. “As I’ve been doing.”

She shrugged and gave me a crooked grin.

I had to know. “What happened to change that?” I was holding onto the end of the rope she’d thrown me, hoping to be pulled out of the quagmire I’d been sinking in.

“I admitted the anger.” She looked at me again. “You can destroy yourself with anger. Pretending all’s well, or pretending you aren’t angry or afraid. When I finally admitted how I felt, it was like a dam burst and reality was released. I could name it and face it.”

I nodded, recalling the feeling of release after my outburst.

“And I knew it wasn’t God’s fault,” she continued. “He’d been there the whole time, arms reaching for me. I’d stepped out of his arms when my anger and fear took over. I’d avoided him.”

She cupped her hand on my cheek. “Honey, you gotta let him in. He’s the only one who can help you become whole again.”

On the tip of my tongue the words gathered. I’ll never be whole again.I bit them back and swallowed.

“Yes.”

Such a simple word, but the release overwhelmed me. Tears I’d thought spent poured down my cheeks, not the exhausting upheaval at the kitchen sink, but a sweet peace.

“Okay, listen up, sister.” Debbie leaned forward to look into my eyes and brought me back to reality in a hurry. “You have a decision to make sometime today. You may forfeit Paris and be sorry later, but if you go, you’ll never be sorry. And another thing. Maybe Emily needs you with her right now. She can’t bear to be here in this empty house with memories of her dad everywhere, but she doesn’t want to be alone either.”

I stared at her. She really was pushy.

On her way out the door, she looked back and said, “Promise me you’ll seriously consider this, for Emily’s sake as well as yours. I will follow up, you know.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” I said, more to get her out of my house than anything. I appreciated that she cared, but she hadn’t lost her husband. I couldn’t suddenly change my feelings because I had faced the truth, and I needed time to adjust.

 

**Come back for the sixth installment of The Christmas Sweater next Thursday, November 15. Until then, enjoy the season.

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