(12 Days of Heartwarming Christmas)
After the wedding
“It was entirely too dark to knit inside, Odette,” June Baxter said loudly as she stepped outside the Mercantile to join the other Knotty Elves on the sidewalk. From here, the music volume had dulled, and it was a relief to stop yelling. “We danced three line dances. That’s enough for anyone.”
“And Jax Marshall will have the pictures to prove it,” Prudence Parker said as tugged her coat closed. “This town will never let us forget that.”
“Weren’t Jax and Lincoln the cutest couple? How many selfies do you think they took?” June’s grin was contagious.
It had been a good day.
Odette King sighed, her breath making a steamy cloud in the cold night. She was reluctant to return to Over the River Retirement Home after such a lovely celebration. John and Lisa were married. The carousel was restored, and the whole town was partying inside. Loudly.
Outside, Christmas Town had taken on a still, quiet Christmas Eve peace. After sunset, the streets around the town green usually quieted down, but tonight everyone was still dancing inside. The sidewalk was empty, and snow drifts muffled the noise of life and love.
“I can’t argue there was no room for knitting. Those dark corners were meant romance anyway. I’d say this snowy night air feels good for a minute or two. The electric slide takes some energy.” Odette tugged both ends of the silver-and-green chevron knit scarf she’d made herself, just for the special occasion and then squinted. “Who is that?” She pointed toward the gazebo.
June wiped her mittens across her thick lenses. “You know I can’t answer that.”
Prudence bent forward, as if the extra two inches would make the difference in the limitation of her eyesight. “Can’t guarantee I’m right, but I’m guessing it’s Beth and her houseguest. That young man is living proof that even if you never get a second chance to make a first impression, you can dig yourself out of a hole. He has improved with time.”
“What a good lesson he is in giving people second chances. If that is Beth and Steven headed toward the gazebo, I wish them both well.” Then Prudence waved a hand down the sidewalk. More than one set of footprints, proceeding two by two, were outlined by snow. “Although, if it isn’t them, I believe we have a wide range of suspects. I’ve got my fingers crossed that Sadie and Dylan make a visit.”
“Anxious for more wedding bells? That nephew of yours would make a handsome groom.” Prudence said. “I say Wally and Grayling beat Sadie and Dylan down the aisle. There’s a baby on the way, after all.”
“Margarite Heatherton’s granddaughter and her next-door neighbor were walking back from that direction when we arrived.” June juggled her knitting bag to make a thumbs-up. “He’s a smart young man. Losing most of the beard was the right decision.”
”Row and Chloe Welcome might already be married, but they’ll be back tonight to gain its blessing.” Odette nodded wisely. “Magic doesn’t always have a predictable timeline.”
June sighed. “Is this going to turn into a pool, like when we all pay a dollar to choose a date for the first day of snowfall? Winner takes the pool?”
“We should try that as a fundraiser. Maybe for the toy drive next year?” Prudence tilted her head to one side as she considered the question. “It sounds awfully close to gambling. But we asked people to guess how many books had never been checked out in the library for a chance to win free coffee for a year from The Tea Pot and a book a month from the book store and look how much money we raised for the library.”
“Nothing wrong with making a prediction on love.” Odette studied the darkening sky, content with the way all the Christmas Town love stories were progressing.
“Nothing at all.” June crossed her arms over her chest. “If we were going to choose champions for the winner of the first round of wedding bells in the new year, I’m putting all my hopes on Jaycee and Tyler. They might not make it first down the aisle, but neither one of them likes to lose. I drop a little hint, and…” Her mittens waved in a dramatic “voila” fashion.
Odette shook her head. The three of them were a little competitive themselves. “It was a lovely wedding. I am not surprised romance is in the air. That Scarlett turned this place into a beautiful winter fairytale.”
“I do love a good twinkle light myself,” June agreed. “And all the work the artists in this town managed to pull off on that lovely old carousel. More than one bride and groom will celebrate here.”
The three of them looked down the street toward the Yuletide Theater. It was closed, but the marquis showed “It’s a Wonderful Life” was still playing. And Dockery’s was mostly dark, but the window displays showing families of snowmen dressed for the wedding were lit.
“Did you see Seymore and Elaine Garland dancing? It was like they were twenty again,” Prudence said with a small shake of her head. “Ruby and Decker were cute as could be in their matching Santa hats. And John and Lisa… Those two have worked so hard. They deserve to enjoy every minute. I hope they make it out to the gazebo, too. Even if the wedding bells have already rung, they need special dose of Christmas Town magic.”
Snow drifted lightly on a small breeze, stirring across the sidewalks and the empty streets.
“That gazebo might need a ‘take a number’ system tonight. So many happy couples.” Odette tsked. “I’m just hoping there won’t be pneumonia in the hospital after this evening.”
“Never, not on Christmas Eve in Christmas Town. Kisses in the gazebo, and we’ll have romance all through the year.” June sighed happily.
“What about us? Can we get pneumonia?” Odette mumbled. “Where is she?”
Bright lights swept across their knitting bags before a red SUV thumped to a stop.
As they opened the doors, Catherine Vanderburg said, “So sorry for the delay. I was forced to park at an egregious distance, down by Carols and Curls.”
Tense silence filled the interior. Catherine Vanderburg was a late addition to their group, and none of them were quite certain how to get comfortable with the newcomer. Not yet. They’d figure it out.
In the backseat, Odette elbowed June. “Oh, I have meant to say how much I love your new hairstyle.” June coughed. “What made you decide to try something different?’
Catherine sniffed. “As to that…” She checked to make sure they were all wearing their seatbelts and reached over to fuss with Prudence’s belt in the front seat. “A friend talked me into it. Fresh. That’s what she said. I could try something fresh.” She shrugged a shoulder. “Maybe there’s something to this ‘friend’ thing, after all.”
The Knotty Elves were all silent as they absorbed that. Then Prudence waded into the gap. “Have you been practicing your knit stitch? Perhaps we can get together for another lesson.”
Catherine tightened her hands on the steering wheel. “Well…” She raised her eyebrows and carefully considered her words. “Have I mentioned that I have the largest fireplace in Christmas Town?”
Prudence, June, and Odette nodded silently. Answering with a conservative guess that she’d told them at least ten times would be truthful but not tactful, and getting Catherine to warm up to them had taken some effort.
“I also have refreshments. Tea. Finger sandwiches. Tea cakes. Would you like to visit my cottage for a lesson tonight? I thought, perhaps, as it’s Christmas Eve, you would like to delay your return to Over the Hill for a bit.” Catherine waved a hand. “Sorry. I meant Over the River, of course. And if you’ve already made other plans, I’m more than content enjoy my fireplace.” She cleared her throat. “Alone.”
“The largest fireplace in town. That is something we should behold,” Odette said and leaned back against the seat, content to go where the night took her.
June clapped her hands. “Lovely. Finger sandwiches. It’s so out of touch that it’s perfect for a Christmas Eve celebration. Can I also practice my best elocution?” She drawled the last word in a fine mimic of Catherine’s precise, fussy pronunciation.
Before Catherine could demand an explanation, Prudence added, “And time with friends is the perfect way to celebrate the holiday. Thank you, Catherine.”
Catherine raised her chin regally, her eyes filled with a spark and perhaps a bit of amusement, as she met Odette’s stare in the rearview mirror. A bit of teasing might be the best way to induct Catherine into their group. They’d already introduced knitting. The Knotty Elves would win her over.
The SUV stirred snowflakes when Catherine made the very slow circle through town, as she only had one speed behind the wheel, and left a dusting of Christmas Town magic behind.
Cheryl Harper discovered her love for books and words as a little girl, thanks to a mother who made countless library trips and an introduction to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House stories. Now she spends her days searching for the right words while she stares out the window and her dog snoozes beside her. Visit CherylHarperBooks.com.