Their Christmas Carol

By: Jessica Gilmore

Besides, it was her home too.

She raised her eyes to his, her smile rueful. “I always said I wouldn’t return to Marietta until I’d achieved everything on my life list. But I’ve learned you’re still you whether you live in London, New York, or right here in Marietta. Same problems, same truths, same needs… And there’s so much to do here. It’s not like I’ll be bored. Mom needs a lot of support, Dad’s still supposed to be taking it easy and keeping him quiet and stopping him stressing is a full time job. Meanwhile, I’m settling the girls into school, making a home here, and dragging this place into the twenty-first century. Cider is suddenly really hipster-cool, but we’re behind all our competitors when it comes to expanding into new markets and products. I need to think about a whole new brand refresh, a new website, bringing in business during the low season. A Santa on site is a start, but there’s a long way to go.” The orchard’s income had been falling steadily over the last few years. If she couldn’t turn it around and soon then there would be no point in having moved back, they would have to sell anyway.

“Same old Linnea, never seen a challenge she can back down from.”

“We can’t all charm our way through life with a guitar and a boyish grin, Nat.” She grinned to show she was joking, but his return smile didn’t reach his eyes. What was going on there? “I downloaded every song you made you know, followed your Facebook page, your YouTube channel. I was so proud when I could actually go into a store and buy an actual CD with your name on the cover. I wanted to tell everyone, I knew him back when. I nearly bought tickets to see you when Piper Flynn played Madison Square Gardens. Your number one fan!” She actually preferred the downloaded early tunes to the recent CD, instantly enjoyable as it was.

She’d put a playlist together, one she only listened to alone, when she was feeling nostalgic. Nothing in Nat’s album had touched her heart in quite the same way—but she wasn’t going to tell him that.

“You should have, I would have let you come backstage if you’d promised to be good.”

Her smile faltered. “It was the second anniversary of Logan’s death. I needed to be with his family, with the girls. Not that he would have wanted that, he’d have told me not to be so silly, to go to the concert, but he didn’t get to have a vote so I stayed home.” And, with that, all her responsibilities came crashing back. “It’s been great catching up, Nat, but we’re closing at one so we can have our own Thanksgiving. Let me get the apples and I’ll bring them out to the car.”

Nat’s expression was a little quizzical, like he knew she was shutting him down, backing off for a reason, but he simply straightened. “I’ll carry the cider,” he said. “The pickup’s just outside.”

“Great, I’ll see you out front in two.”

Linnea met him just outside the main doors, the box of apples balanced on a cart. She smiled briefly, but didn’t speak as she followed him through the parking lot to the pickup where she instantly recognized the smiling blonde who resembled Nat so completely.

“Linnea!” Lacey surged forward in the same exuberant way Linnea remembered from school. “I’ve been meaning to drop by and say hi. I’m away half the week, working, and haven’t had a chance, but it’s lovely to see you. We must meet up and catch up.”

“That would be great.” Linnea righted her cart as she smiled over at Nat’s sister and the older man who with identical blue eyes and the same easy smile must be their father. “In some ways it’s harder to come back to a place after a long absence than it is to start again in a new place. Everyone knows you, but no one knows you now, if that makes sense. I need to start getting out and about.” She swallowed, the truth of the words hitting home, and searched for a quick change of subject, eying the two trussed up trees in the back of the truck. “I thought Crooked Corner always got their trees from your family ranch? I’d have put one aside if I’d known.”

“These aren’t for the aunts, they think Thanksgiving is far too early for trees, but I didn’t want to wait any longer for mine and Grandpops won’t cut any until December—he says it’s too early as well,” Lacey said. “One is for me and one is for Mom and Dad. We want our trees up right away!”

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