Their Christmas Carol

By: Jessica Gilmore



He swallowed, produced the old easy smile. “It’s good to see you too, Linnea.”

“Wow, Nat”—she shook her head as if disbelieving her eyes—“it’s been forever. What on earth are you doing here?” She glanced down at the jar in his hand and raised elegant brows. “A sudden craving for bramble jelly for Thanksgiving?”

Nat put the jar back on the shelves. “Not today, I’d never be forgiven if I took shop-bought jelly into Crooked Corner, even Olsen jelly. I have a shopping list from the aunts. A short shopping list,” he added, “cider, both varieties.”

“For Crooked Corner? Their usual Thanksgiving order? I have a crate aside for them. And a bushel of our late-blooming apples. Your aunt Patty always likes them for canning and baking. Come on through to the back room and I’ll get them for you. They have an account so no worry about paying.”

Nat hadn’t exactly spent the last decade wondering what he’d say if he ran into Linnea Olsen again; if he had then groceries and accounts would most likely have been at the bottom of his list. But his usual easy air had deserted him. It always had around Linnea; that was what had made her so dangerous. But what was there to say? You didn’t keep in touch? Neither had he. I hear you got married? Nice and smooth, since he’d just heard she was also widowed.

Linnea led the way to the closed door, pushing it open and gesturing for Nat to precede her in. The forbidden room, forbidden no longer.

“This is real nice,” he said looking around.

A wooden bar ran the length of the far end of the room, wooden casks stacked on the shelves lining the wall behind it. More shelves lined two walls of the room, one filled with bottles of various alcoholic ciders, the other with bottles of fruit wine and liquors. Square tables were dotted around the interior, big white menus lay on each one. Light streamed in from big skylights, the winter sun slanting onto the golden wood floors.

“Isn’t it? Sometimes we hold tasting evenings and we usually do it in here, it has such a nice intimate atmosphere. I’m hoping to expand so we can offer more than cider and wine. Gin is very trendy right now, as is flavored beer. I’m in talks with the Flintworks to see if we can work together.” Linnea pushed her hair back with one hand, her mouth snapping shut. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to give you the marketing spiel; as you probably remember I talk too much when I’m nervous. I didn’t expect to see you, there’s been a lot of blasts from the past over the last few weeks, but I didn’t think you would be one of them. Last I heard, you were out on the road.”

She’d kept up with his career? Or was it just town gossip filtering through, just like Lacey casually kept him filled in on Linnea’s whereabouts. “I was, have been pretty much since I last saw you, but the last tour I was on finished at the end of summer, I was recording in Nashville through most of fall.”

“That’s amazing, you made it, Nat.” Linnea’s smile had always been a thing to behold, lighting up her whole face, her eyes, giving her everyday prettiness a twist of rare, real vivacious beauty.

Nat’s breath caught in his throat. The first time he had seen Linnea really smile he had been utterly smitten. Her smile still had that same power.

“I’m so proud of you, a real proper singer-songwriter, just like you always wanted.”

Just like he’d always wanted. All those nights he’d stayed up late sharing his dreams with Linnea. She’d been so sure he would make it, had believed in him so hard it was impossible not to believe he would succeed. It had taken several years longer than he had planned, true, but at least he could say he’d justified her faith in him.

“The new album is pretty much there so I decided to come home for Thanksgiving. I owed Lacey a visit, I didn’t make it back last Christmas, and then I promised I’d come back in February for a charity fundraiser she organized and had to drop out of that too.” His conscience panged.

He’d been so intent on building his career, it was all too easy to forget how much he’d let down the handful of people who really cared for him. Was that really who he wanted to be? Like Piper, expecting the whole world to march to his beat?

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