Their Christmas Carol

By: Jessica Gilmore

Lacey had always hated the constant change and movement, but Nat had loved starting a new school every few months, living in a different town and city before he got a chance to get bored with the current one. It was the way things had always been; travel was essential for creativity, his parents said—that was the second family slogan—nothing atrophied the creative spirit like settling down and routine. And yet here they were, happily ensconced in a neat little white ranch house at the end of Bramble Lane, just a short walk from his father’s two aunts at Crooked Corner and from Lacey herself, who lived with her fiancé in a huge old Victorian house they had bought earlier that year.

“You should get a base in town, Nat, now we’re all settled. Don’t you want a place of your own? You liked living here for senior year, you still have friends around. Think how lovely it would be to have a home to come back to.” Lacey coaxed, wistfulness in her voice, just like always when she tried to convince Nat to settle down, preferably right next door.

“Hey, you’ve got almost the entire Hathaway clan living within ten miles of Marietta; when Fliss gets back from Scotland it’ll be everyone but me. One of us has to uphold the family traveling tradition. What would our pioneer ancestors think if we all settled down in one place?”

But although his voice was light and his smile genuine, Nat was uneasily conscious of feeling like an outsider in his own family for the first time. The wider Hathaway family could usually be divided into the travelers and the settlers, but suddenly Nat had become the last wandering Hathaway—at least he would be when his cousin, Fliss, returned to Three Pines, the family ranch, in the spring. And with a US tour already lined up for next year and meetings set up in both Nashville and LA in the new year, there was no danger of Nat staying in one place any time soon.

His phone buzzed and he shifted, pulling it out of his pocket, raising an eyebrow when he saw who the SMS was from.

“Something interesting?” Lacey was as incurably curious as usual.

“No,” Nat lied, pocketing his phone, the message unread.

He had no idea why Piper Flynn would be messaging him on Thanksgiving, the global superstar had been quite unequivocal when they’d said goodbye Labor Day weekend at the end of her tour. Thanks for the memories and have a nice life—oh, she hadn’t put it quite like that of course, but Nat had known exactly what she meant. He’d just been relieved she’d been the one to say it. She was a beautiful girl, extremely talented too, but even the most down-to-earth superstar still existed on a whole other plane of reality and Nat had been glad to return to his own world when the tour and their on-off relationship had come to an end.

It took a while to find a parking space, the parking lot full of cars and trucks of all sizes. A large sign proclaimed that Santa would be on site daily from December first, another pointing the way to the yard where the pre-cut Christmas trees were stacked up ready for buyers. Nat swung out of the truck and the distinctive scent of pine and sweet apples hit him. It had been a long time since he had smelled that particular combination. Not since he had given Linnea Olsen a ride home his last day of senior year. They had parked right there, under the huge oak tree and he had kissed her goodbye for the last time.

His mouth curved into a reminiscent smile. Now that had been a goodbye kiss to remember, he’d driven away as close to heartbroken as he had ever been, his worldly belongings in the back of his car as he’d headed straight out of Marietta to join his parents on tour as one of their session musicians. But good as the kiss had been, he hadn’t looked back, in such a hurry to get away, to start his adult life and career. He sometimes thought he’d left his youth right under that oak with Linnea Olsen.

Not that she’d hung around for much longer. Unlike him, she’d attended prom—after all, she’d organized it—and graduated, before heading straight to Yale. Linnea’s eyes had been as firmly focused on getting on and getting out as his had been. It had been the only thing they’d really had in common.

Would she be home for Thanksgiving? Last he’d heard she was living just outside New York, married to a guy she’d met at Yale and working for his family’s business. Not that Nat had ever deliberately sought out the information; he hadn’t needed to. Lacey was a walking, talking school reunion  , she knew the destination, marital status, and employment history of practically every one of their classmates. She was wasted as a community broadcaster; if the FBI ever snapped her up, she’d probably replace every super computer they owned.

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