Their Christmas Carol

By: Jessica Gilmore

Not that Nat took any notice, leaning on the counter, his arms folded as if he was settling in for the duration. “So you’re back in Marietta? For good?”

So few words for so much soul-searching and turmoil. “For good?” Her laugh was a little unsteady. “If I’ve learned anything over the last few years, it’s that there’s little point making such sweeping statements when life is quite capable of throwing huge curve balls every now and then. But, yes, I’m back and have no plans to move on.”

Truth was moving back hadn’t been an easy decision. She’d been content in Milchester, the little town outside New York where she’d lived ever since she married; she’d loved her job, had some good friends, and her daughters were happy. Putting all of them through a second life-changing upheaval was difficult for everyone, especially for Elsie, her eldest daughter. But the decision had been made and they were here now. Once the girls were settled in, once she had begun to reconnect with her old friends, once her dad was back to full health, once she felt she had a right to make changes here at the orchard. Once she was back in control, then she would be able to relax.

“Mom and Dad are struggling to manage everything, it got to the point where they were talking about selling,” she said. “I couldn’t let them do that. Dad inherited the orchard from his dad and he from his, it would break his heart to see someone else running the place. So I packed the girls up a few weeks ago and moved back. It’s an adjustment. But it’s a wonderful town, I have lots of family here, it’s a great place to grow up. I think it was the right thing to do.” There, that was the right kind of positive note. If only she felt as positive as she sounded.

“My parents have bought a house right here in Marietta,” Nat said. “All those years they never spent more than three months in one place and here they are, buying Christmas trees on Thanksgiving. Not only that, my dad’s invested in a whole load of Christmas lights which he is planning to put up this weekend, which will replace the quite astonishing display of Thanksgiving decorations currently taking over their house. If settling down is what they want to do then I fully support them. It’s just a little odd seeing two people who prided themselves on their lack of possessions have an entire house’s worth of decorations for every holiday.”

“It’s funny isn’t it? We reserve the right to chop and change, but find it difficult to adjust when our parents do anything different.” Funny how old habits reasserted themselves so seamlessly she couldn’t even see the join.

She hadn’t seen Nat for a decade and yet here she was, using him as a sounding board for her restless thoughts once again as if they had been in constant touch.

“My girls don’t even like me to get a haircut and you should have heard the fuss when I thought about getting highlights! I’m the same. I spent the last ten years just assuming Mom and Dad were as invincible as they always have been, even though my life moved on so dramatically in that time. Then I came home because Dad was in the hospital and saw that this place was a little tired, realized that they aren’t just older, but heading toward being actually old. That he needs to take it easier, that Mom needs more emotional support than a phone call three times a week. Now I’m the grown up, not just for the girls, but for my parents too. I don’t think anything can prepare a person for that.” Although being widowed with two small children in her mid-twenties was a pretty good training ground, not that she’d recommend it to anyone.

“Did you want to come back? To run the business? I have to admit I was surprised when Lacey told me you were here. You always said you wanted to live in London or Paris or New York, or better yet all three!”

Linnea didn’t often allow herself to remember the young woman with her life ahead of her, the woman who confidently thought she’d spend her life striding through some capital city, briefcase in hand, a lawyer or an editor or a manager. Life might not have turned out the way she’d envisioned it at eighteen, but she had a good life, one full of love. But she could imagine the incredulous expression on that girl’s face if she’d been told that a decade after graduation she would be back in Marietta, back in her childhood house. Back in the business she’d helped out in since she could first pick fruit. No one had made Linnea move back, but how could she have dashed the hope that had flared in her father’s eyes when she first suggested that maybe they wouldn’t have to sell the orchard after all.

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