Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Written Fireside Christmas Blog Hop: "The Misfits of Christmas" Part 2

Welcome to the 

Written Fireside August Blog Hop!



Fifteen authors from Harper Impulse, a digital first imprint of Harper Collins 
will write fifteen stories all starting from one shared starting paragraph 
written by competition winner Georgia Beyers

Each author will share a snippet/s from her story according to the schedule below, and then at Christmas time all fifteen complete short stories will be available to download as one awesome and free holiday anthology. 

Come, join us by fire

Enjoy how each author's voice takes the starting sentences and creates a unique tale.

Lori Connelly - Aug 1,2,3  
Erin Lawless - Aug 4,5
Mandy Baggot - Aug 6,7 
Aimee Duffy  - Aug 8,9
Teresa F. Morgan - Aug 10,11
Angela Campbell - Aug 12,13 
Lisa Fox - Aug 14,15 
Lynn Marie Hulsman - Aug 16,17
Linn B. Halton - Aug 18,19 
Carmel Harrington - Aug 20,21 
Charlotte Phillips - Aug 22,23
Romy Sommer - Aug 24,25
Jane Lark - Aug 26,27 
Zara Stoneley - Aug 28,29 
AJ Nuest - Aug 30,31

Without further ado, here's part 2 of my contribution. Be sure to enter the giveaway below!
***
The next afternoon, Lucy grumbled in her arms and tried to wiggle away while they waited for one of the sisters to come let them in. Charlotte probably should have left her cat at home, but it was Christmas and they’d both been invited. Why not?

The door opened, and Trevor stood there in a god-awful ugly red holiday sweater sucking on a candy cane. His smile enveloped his whole face when he saw her.

“That sweater reminds me of my Chinese friend,” he said. “His name is Ug Lee.”

She tilted her head in mock sympathy. “Just how closely related were your parents?”

“I see Lucy’s not the only one who has her claws out today.” He fake kissed each side of her face. “Merry Christmas. Get inside before that devil cat turns this into a horror show and kills us all.”

Set free, her cat explored her new surroundings with caution. Charlotte glanced down at the eyesore of a sweater her grandmother had given her at some point—the one that looked like giant snowmen were attacking a village of Gingerbread men—and sighed as her stomach growled out its hundredth complaint of the day.

Of course Daniel would choose that moment to appear around the corner, a bowl cradled in his hands as he frantically whipped something up. “Dinner’s almost ready. Help Trevor finish setting the table so Mildred and Eugenia can relax.”

Her face grew so warm she wondered exactly how red it was and if it matched Trevor’s gaudy sweater. A tiny squeak of dismay escaped her lips after Daniel disappeared back into the kitchen. She grabbed Trevor’s sweater and pulled him close.

“I thought you said he wouldn’t be here!”

“Relax, darling. Even men are allowed to change their minds.”

“You didn’t think to warn me? The plan was for me to change into a sexy outfit and take him leftovers later.”

“We’ll just have to improvise,” he said before sauntering toward the kitchen.

Trevor, improvising? God have mercy on them all.

She took a look in the mirror, groaned at her tacky attire and winced because she hadn’t bothered with too much makeup. Her honey blonde hair was a hot mess and—

Her gaze spotted her calico cat sitting on the dining room table behind her, chowing down on something in a bowl. “Lucy!”

Springing over to pick the cat up, she wrestled to get a piece of something—was that sliced ham?—out of the growling feline’s mouth.

Eugenia came out of one of the back bedrooms, walker in hand, and froze when she saw them.
“What on earth are you and Wendy doing over there? Is it time to eat yet?” Eugenia yelled because she was so hard of hearing, she always yelled.

“Who’s Wendy?” Charlotte yelled back, setting Lucy on the floor.

“That cat.”

“You mean Lucy.”

“Who’s Lucy?” Eugenia yelled.

“My cat.”

“Oh, okay.” Eugenia sat in one of the recliners and bent to wiggle her fingers at Lucy. “Come’re Wendy. Let me pet you.”

Lucy ran underneath the sofa like some kind of rabid animal, a large piece of meat hanging from her mouth.

Oh, for heaven’s sake.

After taking a moment to bury her face in her hand, Charlotte finished setting the table while Mildred gossiped about everyone in the building who wasn’t there. Charlotte’s gaze kept straying to the kitchen, wondering what on earth Trevor was up to in there. Curiosity got the better of her, and she wandered in on the excuse she needed more silverware.

“Anyway, I’m not saying she’s a slut, but she’s been on more wieners than Ketchup.” Trevor lifted his drink and glanced in her direction.

Had he been talking about her? He’d better not have been talking about her, because she absolutely was not promiscuous and—

“I was just telling Daniel some facts about Janet. You know her, right? The tramp who swore on her mother’s life she and Daniel played hide the willy at your office party a few weeks ago.”

Her eyes widened. “Trevor!”

“What?” He reached behind him for another glass. “Mimosa?”

She grabbed Trevor by the arm and dragged him out of the kitchen. “You are not helping.”

“He was eating out of my hand. Trust me. He was very interested to hear what dear Janet had told you.” Trevor poked her in the chest. “He’s still into you. I can tell.”

Feeling flushed and, to be truthful, hungry and therefore irritable, Charlotte was loosing her patience with the entire situation. “Trevor, just stop. Let me handle this.”

Spinning on her heels, she went back into the kitchen to find Daniel putting the finishing touches on a very delicious-looking turkey. Mouth watering, she stared at it, distracted. Her man sure knew how to dress a turkey.

“Charlotte?”

Daniel’s husky voice drew her attention back to him. “I just wanted to apologize for Trevor and whatever he told you. I wanted to tell you myself so that you would, hopefully, understand why I freaked out and believed her.”

A hint of a frown teased his lips. “Why did you believe her? You and Janet aren’t close friends. I didn’t even know you liked her.”

“I don’t, especially now.” Charlotte tugged at the hem of her sweater. “All I can say is that I’ve been very stressed at work, waiting to hear about the promotion, and she caught me at a bad time when I was so jumpy I was willing to believe anything she said. Like you mentioned, I barely know her. Why would she lie about something like that?”

Sighing, Daniel removed the apron he wore. “I don’t understand why she would say something like that either, or why you would believe her without giving me the benefit of the doubt.” He leaned closer. “I love you, Charlotte. I thought you felt the same way.”

Love. Not past tense. That gave her a boost of courage. “I do! But you know you’re out of my league. We both know it. Janet is gorgeous and I saw the way you were looking at her at that party and—”

“Whoa! I wasn’t looking at her any way because I was a complete and total nervous wreck that night. Believe me, if I paid her any attention, it was all an act.”

Charlotte’s brows drew together. “What do you mean? Why were you a nervous wreck?”

“When are we gonna eat?” Eugenia yelled, and Charlotte turned to see the elderly woman standing in the doorway a few feet away. “It’s already past my supper time. What are you trying to do, starve me to death?”

Charlotte glanced at the clock. It was only four-thirty in the afternoon!

She helped the sisters get seated at their table, and then turned to find Trevor sitting on the floor in front of the Christmas tree, messing with Lucy. He snickered, and when he stood up, she saw why. He’d written “I don’t need Christmas because it’s not food. Is it food? Where’s my food?” on a piece of paper and hung it around the cat’s neck like a sign.

Trevor bent down to take a photo with his phone, no doubt to post on Instagram or some such nonsense. Charlotte smacked him on the arm.

“What are you doing to my cat? That’s not funny.”

“Oh yes it is. That’s hilarious!” He snapped away. Lucy grew tired of the hindrance and fell on her side, chewing at the paper. She probably thought it was food.

After removing the paper from her cat’s claws, Charlotte wrangled Trevor into a seat before sinking down into the chair beside him. Please! It was like dealing with a pack of naughty children.

She took a deep breath and tried to relax. What had Daniel meant he’d been a nervous wreck that night? He carried the turkey in and sat it on the table. Trevor and Mildred began clapping, but Charlotte was too anxious to join in.

“Is somebody knocking?” Eugenia yelled and glanced toward the door. “What’s that noise?”

“Oh, you old coot, it’s just us.” Mildred snorted at her sister. “Why don’t you go put some Christmas music on while Daniel puts food on our plates. I left an album out over there for us to enjoy today.”

Oh, that would be nice. Charlotte always enjoyed hearing Christmas music while eating the holiday dinner. That would help settle her nerves.

Scooting her chair back, Eugenia slowly ambled over to the old-fashioned record player near their small television. A scratching sound blared from the speaker as she made her way back to the table.

The loud guitar strings on Johnny Cash’s classic track “Ring of Fire” blasted out of the speakers. Charlotte blinked and glanced around. Trevor looked confused. So did Daniel. But Mildred and Eugenia were reaching for food without a care in the world.

“This is a good song,” Eugenia yelled. “Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas,’ ain’t it?”

“No, you coot,” Mildred returned. “It’s Dean Martin. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” She turned and shook her head at Charlotte. “I swear my sister is as deaf as a nail.”

Trevor settled his hands on both sides of his face. “Oh. My. God. We’re trapped in an episode of Candid Camera, aren’t we?”

Oh, this was absurd.

Charlotte shoved her chair back and leaned close to the younger of the sisters. “Do you mind if I put on something else, Mildred? This song, er, makes me sad.”

“Oh, you poor dear. Go right ahead.”

Sighing, Charlotte lowered the volume and flipped through the set of albums off to the side of the record player until she found a nice one: a Christmas album by Elvis Presley. His soulful voice crooned the beginning of “Santa Claus Is Back In Town,” and some of the tension melted away from Charlotte’s tightly wound muscles. It was a bonus that Elvis was one of her and Daniel’s favorite artists.

Taking a seat across from Trevor, she realized Daniel had piled her plate full of the most delicious-looking food she’d ever seen. Bless his heart.

She smiled up at him as he filled his own plate. Catching her expression, his own softened into a warm smile. “Go ahead and eat up. We’ve got enough for leftovers.”

Bless. His. Heart.

Charlotte’s hand hovered over her fork. “It’s Christmas. We can’t eat without saying a prayer first.”

She expected a smart comment from Trevor, but he only nodded, closed his eyes and waited, palms clasped in front of him. Daniel sat in the chair beside Charlotte.

“Mind if I do the honors?” he asked. When no one objected, he bent his head and shared a lovely prayer, wishing each of them blessings and giving thanks for the ones they had. Before he finished, he added, “Thank you for reminding us all here today that family isn’t always about blood. It’s also about the people in your life who want you in theirs and accept and love you no matter what.”

After a chorus of “amen” from everyone except Eugenia, who was already chewing away, completely oblivious to the wonderful words that had just been spoken, Daniel’s hand covered Charlotte’s. He leaned over and murmured, “We’ll talk after. Now, eat up.”

Hope unfurled in her chest, erupting in a smile as she sampled the mouth-watering feast Daniel had presented without scarfing it down like a starving wolf. Daniel and Trevor traded good-natured insults while Mildred talked over them, determined to make it known “that man in 205” had cut her off at the mailbox a week ago, and young people these days simply did not have any ethics whatsoever.  God bless their souls.

After dessert, Trevor, Charlotte, and Daniel cleaned up, and the atmosphere had lightened so much that Charlotte felt almost…normal. As if this was an average Christmas gathering and not some awkward circumstance forced upon each of them.

“Mildred and Eugenia, thank you so much for inviting us into your home today,” Daniel said before grabbing Charlotte’s hand and edging toward the door. “Charlotte and I have something to discuss. Trevor, stay out of trouble.”

“Never.” Trevor winked at them and settled in on the couch beside Mildred, in no hurry to leave. Then again, “White Christmas” was on the television, and lord knows he couldn’t resist a musical.

Charlotte scooped Lucy up and followed Daniel across the hall to his apartment. Her heart was galloping around her chest. What should she say? Should she let him start?

“I didn’t cheat on you with Janet,” he said, making the decision for her. He hit a switch and lit the large Christmas tree in his living room. “Let’s get that straight right now.”

“I know.” Her cheeks grew warm. It hadn’t taken her long to realize Janet had been after Charlotte’s promotion and had been playing some serious mind games to earn it. Janet had admitted as much after Charlotte had been named an associate partner at the advertising firm.  “I’m so sorry, Daniel.”

“Good.” He bent and reached beneath the tree to retrieve a small package. “I bought you this the morning of the party, so I was a bit nervous and preoccupied about whether you’d like it. I was in no state to so much as think of another woman. Go on, open it.”

Holy smores. Was the small box what she thought it was?

Hesitantly, with trembling fingers, she tore away the wrap and revealed a ring-sized jewelers’ box.

“Daniel!” The lights on the tree caught and sparkled in the diamond on the ring inside.

“Charlotte, you silly woman.” He dropped to one knee. “Now that we’ve cleared a few things up, I would still be honored if you would be my wife.”

“But—”

Standing, he silenced her by pressing his lips to hers. “Say yes, and we can sort out the rest later.”

“Yes!” She threw her arms around his shoulders.

They stood there embracing, Charlotte’s world suddenly feeling all right again, until a rustling from the tree caught her attention and drew them apart. Seconds later, the tree tilted and fell crashing to the floor amidst a loud, “Mreoow!”

“Lucy!” she and Daniel shouted at once.

The cat sauntered out from the mess as if she had no idea what the fuss was about. A ribbon trailed behind her, and a crocheted decoration hung around her neck proclaiming “Merry Christmas!”

Smiling because she couldn’t help herself, Charlotte realized, as crazy as this holiday had been, it was a Merry Christmas indeed.

***


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