Sometimes it’s not about falling in love. Sometimes it’s about making love work.
from the back cover…
From the time they met at the holiday parade, Bret knew that Christmas was Molly’s superpower. She knew how to create and spread Christmas magic like no one he’d ever seen. So when she proposes they start Christmas House, a half-year-long annual celebration of food, decorations, and special gifts associated with the holiday, Bret agrees to give it a try. But when it interferes with starting a family and Christmas House threatens to turn into Scrooge’s Money Pit, Molly and Bret wonder if their plans are more than their marriage can take.
A N E X C E R P T FR O M C H R I S T M A S H O U S E
Christmas passed quietly after that.
Molly received a shawl from Bret’s mother, who generously pointed out that it could be used as a baby wrap. Her dad asked Bret if he still had good insurance now that he’d left his teaching job, and suggested he might want to see if the local community college needed someone to teach furniture-making since that was where he was putting all his eggs these days. Both Molly and Bret weathered the inevitable sting of these incidents without comment, even to each other.
Three weeks later they were moving around the small kitchen, packing away the Christmas things – a somber, organized annual occasion in the Small household, usually culminating in Bret collapsing on the couch with an exhausted sigh and Molly meditating on Christmases past over a mug of hot chocolate. It was close quarters, but from the kitchen Molly could see where everything was and move to sort things into the boxes she wanted them to occupy. Now she had an announcement to make.
“I’m re-organizing how the decorations are boxed. I’m going to add new packing material to each carton, too. Secure them against any kind of breakage.”
Her words caught Bret at a disadvantage, trying to move three bulky boxes past the collection of gauzy fabric and angel figurines from the spare room. He grunted.
“Good idea to do that every so often. Did you want to vacuum-seal them, too?” He wore an innocent expression, but there was a twinkle in his dark eyes as settled the boxes in a stack.
“I hadn’t thought of that. It’s a good – wait a minute. Don’t be silly! But don’t knock my idea. The better we pack it, the less we have to replace.”
“Hmph. Maybe you should learn how to repair them, then you wouldn’t have to stress so much.”
She shrugged. “I’ll have you know, I do repair them. Maybe you could learn, too, then you could do some of the ones I can’t.” She expected him to protest.
Instead, he scratched his ear and looked at the box she handed him. “Might not be a bad idea for me to start keeping an eye on the wooden pieces, maybe oil them each year so they don’t dry out. I could look them over, fill in any chips or cracks. Maybe glue up a break.”
Molly paused, her hands draped over the carton she was stuffing with smaller ornament boxes. “You’d do that? It would be such a help. You’re so good with wood!”
She beamed at him, and he smiled in return. It was reflexive, but only because its roots went so deep.
“You know, it wouldn’t be that hard to come up with some designs and execute them in wood. A lot of wooden ornaments are based on simple shapes – like blocks or circles. I’ve got blocks out in the garage that would make fine ornaments. Light ones. Didn’t work to hold up other blocks, but they could hang from a string with the best of them.”
“You know, that would so work! I know the ones you mean. And, what if – what if I took some and strung them with cranberries – or, I know, coffee beans – and made kitchen garlands! That would look and smell so cool!”
Bret watched her face. She was glowing again. Well, glow might not be the exact word. After all, she didn’t look like she had a flashlight lit behind her cheeks or anything. But – it was in the way she became so animated when she was excited. Her eyes would suddenly catch the light, there’d be a greenish spark, and you’d feel like you saw inside them to some secret she shared only with you. Her cheeks flushed. Her head would bob up and down a fraction of an inch, as if it couldn’t contain her emotions.
Smiling and grabbing another box to fill, he added, “You might want to double-check your crafting. I never heard of anybody stringing coffee beans. And cranberries’ll dry up on you.”
Molly smirked at him. She picked up one of her caroling figurines and began wrapping it, taking care to stuff extra paper around the fragile bend of the singer’s wrist where she held the song book. “It just so happens I know a way to treat the cranberries to make them last over the year. You spray them with clear acrylic when you string them, and pack them up later with silica packets. If the acrylic coats right, they should last a few seasons. I might have to experiment with the coffee. I wonder how hard it is to thread a coffee bean,” she began musing to herself as she packed.
She got like this whenever something creative entered her mind. Usually it was Christmas-related, but not always. It was a trait they shared. Bret went off into his own reveries often enough when he was designing furniture or some other wood project.
“If real coffee beans won’t work, how about some wooden beads shaped like coffee beans?” Bret asked. “Won’t smell the same, but you’d get the look.”
“You volunteering to make me some?” Molly’s words were garbled. She had a peppermint in her mouth.
Bret laughed. “Nope, that’s too small for me. But I bet there’s already some beads out there that would work. And that peppermint gives me an idea. I can make little peppermint shapes that you could paint up and string like beads.”
Molly paused, watching Bret with respect. “You’d be willing to do that for me? Here, hand me that pile of newspaper and bubble-wrap.”
Bret gave the objects a puzzled look as he passed them along. “When did we get so much packing material?”
“I’ve been letting them build up. I thought a time like this might come.”
“What? Oh, the repacking thing. Good idea.”
“Would I what?”
“Make me some wooden peppermints, silly. Like you said.” She was back to wrapping Christmas figurines again, this time a Mother Goose wearing red and green plaid and sporting holly in her bonnet.
“Of course. Let me give it some thought. I could come up with all sorts of ornament ideas for Christmas. Would that make you happy?”
He looks at me so sweet, she thought. “Lots of things about you make me happy,” she replied. Then she tossed another idea into their conversation. “I set up my yearlong calendar today. I want to get certified for catering by March. That way I can expand. New customers will have more faith in me if I’m licensed.”
Bret nodded along. “Sounds good. I need to get my calendar done, too.” He glanced at her. “Is there room on your calendar for a baby?” His brown eyes widened as he raised his eyebrows.
Molly sighed. “I figured you’d ask me that.” She smiled at him and spoke softly,” The answer is yes. I think this is as good a time as any to start trying. But first -” she spun around to face him.
“First we have to buy a house.”
“A house?” he exclaimed, dropping into a chair at the kitchen table where they worked. “A house?”
“Yes. A house. One that’s big enough for a family. I love this little place, but where would we even begin to put a baby? If I can get certified in March, and we get a house in April, I can get it approved as a catering kitchen by June, start working, and we can start trying in July. See? I worked it all out. What do you think?”
She pulled out the chair next to him and shoved aside the boxes they’d been working on, some in front of him, some in front of her, like a wall, holding out the future.
Bret didn’t know what to think. She’d been at it again, planning on her own, then springing it on him. Sometimes that was fantastic, but right now he was having difficulty figuring out how it would all work.
“Molls, look,” he said, his slightly Puckish face drawn tighter with concern. “Buying a house right now would be tricky. I mean, taking on a new mortgage when I’ve just stopped teaching? I don’t even know if we can get a loan -”
“Well, there will be the money from selling this place. I know where to look for bargains, and we have that extra savings account. I know you’ve been ignoring it, but I’ve been putting money in there ever since we got married. Even when I couldn’t find work and decided to try baking. I put a portion aside from my sales every day, even if it only came to a few bucks. And you – you’re a better carpenter than you think. Plus if we had to, there’s my money from -”
“Oh no. Great Aunt Agnes’ money is supposed to be for when a baby comes. All the things we’ll need! I don’t want us to have to worry about those, so that is what that money’s for. End of discussion.”
Molly pushed herself back and drummed her fingers against the tabletop. “Okay. That makes sense. Although some people would say a house was for the baby.” She grinned slyly at him, knowing she’d caught him with something he couldn’t deny, even though he didn’t agree. “Look, we don’t have to figure this out until we start house-hunting and find something, right?”
“What about that timetable you were rattling off a few minutes ago?” He narrowed his eyes at her, knowing Molly never did anything without thinking it out.
“Well,” she drawled. “If things fell into place that way, I could start decorating for Christmas at the new house in September. Like we talked about.” She bounced up to her feet again and went to the cupboard and started pulling down plates.
“You mean like you talk about.” Bret grunted as he picked up two of the many boxes they’d stacked on chairs and floor and counter. “Good thing we aren’t sending these anyplace. They’d cost a fortune.” He turned to carry them upstairs. “That close timing – that’s an awful lot of activity, an awful lot of work all at once. You really think we could do it? Assuming the money worked out, of course.”
“Of course,” she said. “We move fast when we’re motivated, right? But, we have to find the right house first.”
“Well, naturally,” said Bret, taking reassurance from knowing how long it takes to find a house.