Their Christmas Carol

By: Jessica Gilmore

If she’d looked more like her adoptive parents, would she have felt less of a pressure to excel at everything? Less of a need to prove herself worthy? A need she had never quite shaken. “Good, I think. I won’t know the year on year figures until the weekend, but it seemed busy. How’s Dad?”

Vika sighed. “Refusing to rest, so I took him and the girls over to Pernilla’s early. I thought if he could sit in the den with Nils and watch the game he wouldn’t be fretting about not being at the store to help you.”

“Why didn’t you stay? You could have messaged me to meet you there?”

“I didn’t want you to have to drive yourself over on your own. Besides, you might want a glass of wine or two, in which case we only need one car. You deserve to relax after all the work you’ve put in this week.”

Linnea squeezed her mother gratefully. “Thank you, but I agreed to go over to the Crooked Corner open house later so I’ll hold back on the wine. You and Dad are very welcome too,” she added.

“Your dad won’t admit it, but he’ll be tired after dinner. Give my regards to Patty and Priscilla and tell them thanks, but not this year. Did they invite you when they collected their cider? It’s very kind of them.”

“Lacey asked me, she and her dad came to buy trees. Nat came in to the store to get the cider,” she added in as off-hand a voice as she could manage, sure her voice betrayed her.

“Nat Hathaway is in town?”

Linnea affected not to notice the sharp glance her mother shot her way. Vika had always suspected there was more to Linnea and Nat’s friendship than Linnea had ever let on.

“It is Thanksgiving, even travelers wind up home at this time of year. Okay. Let me get changed and I’ll be right with you. We don’t want hold Pernilla up, and you know she won’t start without us.” Linnea had no idea why her cheeks were hot, her stomach squirming, just like when she was a child and caught up in some mischief.

All she knew was that she didn’t want to discuss Nat with her mother, or to admit to herself just how discombobulated she felt knowing he was back in town.

At least it wasn’t for long. The longest Nat had ever spent in one place was right here in Marietta when he had lived with his great-aunts at Crooked Corner for senior year, but even then his blue eyes had been fixed firmly on the horizon. That was why she had kept her heart in check back then, not allowing herself to fall too hard for the boy with the guitar and the huge ambition.

Now he had achieved that ambition, he still belonged out on the open road—and her priorities were right here in Marietta.

Chapter Four

Nat stood out on the porch and slid his phone from his pocket. He’d almost forgotten about the unopened and unread SMS in the aftermath of his unexpected reunion   with Linnea. Funny, both relationships were well and truly in the past, but although Piper was by far the more recent, she already seemed little but an indistinct dream. Maybe that was because they had never really talked, because she didn’t let down that glossy facade, not even with him. Always the star, always performing.

In contrast, within two minutes of talking to Linnea, it was as if the past decade had never happened. Given a little more time, Nat might even have found himself confessing his frustrations with the new album. Told her that despite his record company’s excitement, despite knowing he was on the verge of achieving his dreams, something important seemed to be lacking.

Or maybe not. After all, they were in very different places now and even back then, for all their closeness, Linnea had made it clear she too would not be looking back.

“You’re the perfect starter boyfriend.” She had told him once. “We both know the end date. We both know we’re planning to walk away so there’s no danger of hearts being broken.”

He’d laughed, but her words had remained with him, echoing uneasily during his most uncertain moments the perfect starter boyfriend the truth uncomfortably sharp, just like her insistence on keeping their relationship a secret because “I don’t want to be seen as another one of your string of girls.”

“Because being with me will tarnish your perfect image?” he’d retorted and knowing he was right hadn’t lessened the sting.

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