A literary journalist and publicist since 2003, Dee Stewart's writings have appeared in Precious Times, Romantic Times, Spirit Led Woman Magazines and on The Master's Artist Blog. She is also the owner of DeeGospel PR (www.deegospelpr.com,) Christian entertainment PR boutique located in Atlanta, GA. Visit her Christian Fiction Blog, which turned 6 years old in July at http://christianfiction.blogspot.com. Her debut novel "A Good Excuse to Be Bad (Kensington/Dafina) releases Summer 2011. Talk to her in real-time on Twitter at @deegospel.
A Smile for Christmas
Merry Christmas! This year a group of writers formed *The Facebook Group Writing Project to create a Christmas story just for you. Enjoy.
Last year the Boone docs had given Old Man Daniels a week to live. Two days ago as they stood over him studying his hospital chart, they gave him less than that. Yet, he believed he wouldn’t see Glory until he was good and ready.
“Can’t be leaving here just yet.” He patted his daughter, Ivy’s, hand.
He saw his old troubles etched across her beautiful yet wrinkled brow and asked God to give him enough time to give her Providence.
“I have a Christmas gift that will put your mama’s smile back into your eyes.”
“I smile just fine.” She kissed his forehead.
He nodded, “ I hope that when the time comes you remember my words.”
Ivy Daniels looked up at the large TWO DAYS ’TIL CHRISTMAS sign dangling above her inside the Daniel Farms Holiday Shoppe, then shifted her gaze to the her inbox. It overflowed with Get Well Soon and Christmas cards, and a framed photo she had been considering to use for Daddy’s memorial service she knew she would soon be needing to plan.
She studied the photo and wondered what her father had meant this morning. He loved to tease her with riddles. A shiver ran down her spine.
In the photo he was taller, stronger, and more handsome than the Fraser firs he had chopped down and sold for the past forty years. Now he was weaker . . . no, more like hemlocks on the ridge. Those trees in the mountains had been invaded by an insect blight, and once infected withered to a tree version of a skeleton.
The farm revenue was dying just as fast as Dad.
She lowered her head and sniffled. I have to sell this place, but not until Daddy dies.
The door jingled. She looked up to see a well-dressed man standing at the threshold.
She wrinkled her nose at the sight of him. “May I help you?”
“I’m here to see Mr. Daniels.” His voice was as rich as Belgium chocolate.
“And you are?”
“I’m not the county tree inspector, if that’s what’s worrying you.”
Ivy picked up the requisitions, once several inches deep, now a stack of fifteen. Didn’t she have enough problems without having to deal with a snippy customer? Dropping the papers onto the desk, she forced a smile. “He was here last week. I assume you’re looking for a tree. The price list is by the door.” She pointed to a small chalkboard nailed to the wall.
The man didn’t pick up a price list, but grinned, walked back outside, and examined the trees. After twenty minutes of watching him wander, Ivy walked outside where the man now stood.
“Have you decided on one yet, Mister?”
He turned toward her and extended his hand. “The name is Bradley.”
She noticed his hands and the flirt in his grin, but folded her arms over her chest instead.
He scoffed. “Wow, someone needs some holiday joy in their life.”
Ivy gasped. “Look, Mister, I don’t care if your name is Jim, Louis, or Moby Dick . . . I know your kind, so save your small talk for a local who finds that Yankee accent of yours charming. There’s nothing here for you but these trees. So pick one here or go someplace else.”
Bradley Forrester sensed that he had struck a nerve with the doe-eyed beauty. So he picked out a tree, paid for it, and left, although he would be back.
Later that evening, back in his hotel room, he still had the woman on his mind: those brown eyes, the wild hair that hinted a buried passion inside her, and that perfect snarky mouth. Even more surprising, he had immediately felt protective of her. Perhaps it happened when he noticed the dry tear on her cheek. He rubbed his head as the revelation struck him. Why hadn’t Old Man Daniels told him about his daughter? And why was he intrigued by a woman who was so mean to him?
His cell phone vibrated. He glanced at the screen and recognized the number. He flipped the phone open. “Everything is complete, but . . .” He eyed the tree lying on the floor where he dumped it and slumped on the couch. “I’ve had a change of heart.”
Christmas Eve. So soon?
Ivy zipped her parka and stepped onto the back porch. She sipped coffee that failed to counteract the early morning chill and surveyed the mountainside. Thirty-by-thirty plots of Fraser firs formed large squares that made the rolling hills look like a quilt. Her mother once called the land “God’s blanket.”
She sighed. Did anyone love waking up to the smell of a real Christmas tree anymore? Granted, the evergreens would keep until the following year, but with steep competition in the High Country and lack of interest soaring, sales would likely continue to fall.
We should clear the land and turn it into a ski resort.
She sipped the hickory brew, closed her eyes and imagined working a two-story lodge, a husband by her side. Who, though? She’d put aside her social life when Dad got sick.
Although she hated to admit it, things would change after Dad— She shuddered at the thought. Maybe a trip to Tahiti would rid her of the blahs. Ha! Like she had the money to do that. This farm, although she loved it, had become an albatross around her neck.
“An incredible view,” a voice from behind made Ivy shudder.
Belgium Chocolate. She almost dropped her mug. The coffee splattered her parka. Her anger rose, not just at the handsome New Yorker who wouldn’t go away, but at herself for thinking the man handsome.
She spun around and growled. “What are you, a grizzly bear seeking fresh Wall Street meat?”
“Is that how you see me…” he craned his neck back toward the office to read her desk plate “. . . Ivy?”
“What can I do for you this time, since you’ve already gotten a tree?” Ivy brushed past him and went inside.
She searched her desk for something to clean her coat with and to hide her embarrassment.
“And I liked it so much I decided I wanted the entire farm.” He said, while offering her a handkerchief from his pocket.
Ivy snatched the monogrammed cloth from his fingers. “It’s not for sale.”
“I wasn’t asking.”
He flashed a smile, one that she knew too well. A smile that said he’d already won whatever game he was playing.
“What are you talking about?”
“Your dad sold the farm to me, Ivy. He wanted—”
“Who do you think you are? You don’t know my dad. If you did, you’d know that he never talked business on Christmas Eve.” Her fingers numbed as her blood began to boil.
“Ivy, I’m sorry.”
She refused to look at him; she feared what he claimed might be true. It would answer her father’s riddle from yesterday. It infuriated her.
Her cell rang. She looked down at the caller ID. Matthew. She didn’t need to pick it up, to know why he called. She dropped the phone, then crumbled to the floor beside it.
In the church chapel, Ivy recited her father’s last words to her over and over but was still confused.
Bradley sat beside her.
She shifted away from him. “Have you no shame?”
“Before I met your dad and you, I would have said yes, but now it would be a shame if I turned this place into a ski resort as I had planned.”
“What?!” She turned toward him. “Why would my dad sell his farm to you and not me?”
“So that you can have your life back.”
She quaked. “I don’t want this. Is this what he thought I wanted?”
“He wanted you to know you were taken care of and would never want for anything again.”
“But what if all I wanted was what he and Mom had?”
“Then I guess we keep making quilts for God’s country, maybe open a B and B, with my help of course.”
A heavy pressure lifted from the corners of her mouth. She smiled wider than she thought she ever could.
“Thank you for the gift, Daddy.”
*Authors in the Writer’s Group: Yolanda Latoya Gore, Bonnie S. Calhoun, Kimberli Buffaloe, Patricia Woodside, Aziza Bailey, CherlisaStarks-Richardson, Keisha Shabazz Kuma, Pamela Meyers, Ane Mulligan, Pamela English, and Dee Stewart.