Any Way You Plan It, страница 9часть #1 серии Upper Crust Series Novel
Let me start by saying last week’s shepherd problem has been solved. A huge thank you to our own local cop and hero, Dave, who is now pulling a double shift as a shepherd for both the Catholics and the Methodists. If you see him around town with a long staff and dressed like Moses, don’t be afraid. Also thank him for keeping such a good eye out for everyone in the aftermath of the snowstorm.
Marissa is organizing the community dinner on Christmas Eve again this year. I hope this town is grateful for the many hours of service she puts in to make this place better. Now if you need someone to spend Christmas Eve with, then you’re in luck because she’ll be there along with many others, including myself, to welcome you and make sure you get a hot meal. Please don’t sit home alone. We can collect you and drop you home if you need a ride. There’ll be turkey, roast beef, and loads of veggies. Oh, and dessert. Let’s not forget about dessert.
The toy drive is still going. Apparently gifts for teens and preteens are low this year, so if you can provide these, you’ll make someone very happy. It’s hard enough being a teenager, let’s not make it harder for those kids. Do you remember being a teenager? I do and I had some pretty below-par Christmases myself. I was lucky I had my brother, Todd, who we all know will not be listening to me right now, but not everyone has a brother like that. Those kids especially could use a gift or a gift card. Not that I’m saying Todd could have been replaced by a gift card . . . okay, maybe I am saying that . . .
And speaking of giving, Gavin down at the Rangers Market thanks you for all your donations to the food drive. He said if you could give something other than the boxed mac and cheese that’s on sale this week that would be extra helpful. Of course, everyone loves mac and cheese, but a can of chili, some baked beans, or even some canned fruit and vegetables would really help round out those bags. And don’t forget people down on their luck still need to clean their teeth, wash their hair, and generally maintain themselves, so personal items are always appreciated.
Lucy from Pied Piper’s Pies says if you aren’t up to making pies yourself this year, let her know and she’ll bring you some of Pied Piper’s famous pies from Boston. She won’t be in town until late Christmas Eve, but she will bring you a pie. I’m hoping for cherry myself, although I will have to do an extra workout afterwards. Drop by all, call the paper, and let me know your pie needs by the twenty-first.
Okay, now for the headlines—let’s start with the Town Council updates, shall we?
Because he needed the distraction, Mike’s next stop was the office. He checked some emails and generally tried to keep his mind busy, but it was pretty futile. Marissa’s lips, her legs, her smile, seemed to be all he could focus on.
And the fact that she was sad about Christmas. He could put that down to friendship at least and not lust or whatever else he was feeling. In fact, most of his own best Christmas memories involved Marissa.
Even last Christmas he remembered helping her with the toy drive for the town. There weren’t that many people who truly needed help in their town, but she knew exactly who they were and what they wanted. She used his paper to promote that and the Christmas Eve community dinner.
He remembered her painstakingly dividing the gifts and making sure anything homemade went off to Manchester.
“One Christmas, Lucy got homemade gloves that someone in town made when we were teens, and then when she wore them to school, someone put two and two together,” she’d explained to him. “She was so humiliated she never wore those gloves again. So anything easily identifiable goes out of town. We want people knitting and sewing, but we don’t want kids embarrassed.”
She put lots of time into making sure other people had a good Christmas; she deserved one, too.
In fact, Mike decided he’d go hit the toy store and deliver his donations to the library today. That would be productive and keep him busy, and he knew Marissa would be very happy to see the presents under the tree.
Marissa was up a ladder adjusting the library’s Christmas tree angel when the door opened. She didn’t hear it, but a cool winter breeze drifted up beneath her skirt, alerting her that someone new had arrived. It had been a busy morning. Lots of people borrowing DVDs and Christmas-themed books to fill in a wintery weekend. The truth was the library acted a bit like a community center for the town’s young families. If you came in with your kids, you knew they’d see some friends, do some craft, and you could gossip with someone, too. For those who were alone, single or had working partners, it was an easy way to kill a morning.
All Marissa could see when she turned her head was a man holding a large box. Which man was unclear until Patty called out hello to him from across the library.
“What did you do, Mike? Buy out the toy shop?”
“Just my donations for the toy drive.”
“Well, that’s certainly generous,” Patty said, hands on her hips and eyebrows raised.
Marissa still could not see Mike’s face. He wouldn’t, she knew, appreciate Patty’s commentary on his donations.
He peered over the box and smiled up at her. That smile. That mouth. She felt warm all over.
“Wow, thanks, Mike. That looks like a great haul. Pop that on my desk while I come down.”
He did so and then reached out his hand to take her hand as she backed down the ladder. That did absolutely nothing to ease the warmth. She was all too aware of Patty staring at them.
“I heard you two had a date last night,” she said.
“We had dinner. Have you been to the Paris Cafe? It was divine.”
She sniffed at Marissa as if she was a fool. “Of course I have. Jacob and I have been a few times.”
“Lucky you then!” She found the best way to deflect Patty these days was to be eternally positive. It was tiring but better than having her wound up.
She returned her attention to the box of toys. He’d done a great job. She picked up a very cute brown teddy bear and smiled. “These are wonderful, Mike. You’ve made lots of people very happy.”
“Including you, I hope,” he said.
“Yeah, including me.” She wanted to be mad at him but she’d never been any good at that. She also wanted to kiss him and get away from him and get her head on straight. None of that seemed likely either.
“That’s good.” He looked up at the tree. “Nice tree. I see you have some new ornaments.”
Of course, she had the kids in town making new book-themed ornaments each year. “Yeah, I especially like these little Dr. Seuss, hats. We made them out of baby socks.”
He touched one gently. “Very cute.”
“Okay, so I’ll have a last reminder in the paper this week about the toy drive. Do you need more help with the Christmas Eve dinner?”
Patty was back. “I really wish you’d have that dinner earlier; you’re so late for our Christmas Eve party every year.”
“Well, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem very charitable to feed people dinner at two in the afternoon so I can have an extra cocktail,” she replied. “Anyway, it’s tradition.”
“You and tradition. You’re obsessed.”
Sometimes it took all her strength not to yell at Patty, but she was better as a friend or a frenemy than an enemy proper.
“Oh well.” She shrugged and turned back to Mike, giving her eyes a thorough roll that he saw. “If you run the regular ad reminding people of the time and that they need to let me know if they’re attending by the twentieth, that’s it.”
“Okay. Great.” He shoved his hands in his pockets. “Well, thanks for last night. It was fun.”
“It was.” She couldn’t tell by his facial expression which bit he was referring to. The dinner, the kiss, or both. “Great food.”
“Yeah, ah, great food. Okay. See you later.”
And he was gone.
What was she going to do about that guy?
She remembered the first time she’d seen him after college, after his wedding. It had been Patty and Jacob’s wedding and she’d been in a peach
Her breath had caught at the sight of him. He looked the same but more filled out. A boy turned into a man. His hands were shoved in his pockets as always, but then when he’d spotted her, his face had lit up. She was standing in the back of the church and he was walking around to see the groom.
She’d snuck out the back and given him a quick hug, and he’d felt so solid.
“Look at you!” he’d exclaimed.
“A vision in peach.”
“I didn’t mean the dress,” he’d said, whispering in her ear.
She could hear the bride calling her name. “It’s so good to see you. We’ll catch up at the reception, right?”
And they had caught up. It had felt like old times to her. She was still living away in Nashua and he was still in New York, and he said he was recently divorced.
“I’m sorry that didn’t work out,” she’d lied. Well, part of her was sorry but part of her had hope.
“Yeah, I’m officially not marriage material,” he said solemnly as they sat at a big round table toward the end of the reception after a long slow dance. “That’s it for me.”
“I don’t think you should be so hard on yourself. Things happen for a reason and people make mistakes. Live and learn,” she’d said, sipping her champagne.
“Yeah, well, I’ve learned I’m not meant to be married. That’s it for me. I’m not marrying again.”
Part of her had thought that was the rantings of a man who had been jilted, a man whose wounds were still raw. But he did seem serious.
“I think you’ll change your mind in time,” she’d said.
“Marissa, I’m telling you, I will not change my mind. Ever. You can take that to the bank.”
And yet again, she hadn’t believed him.
Time would change things. The band was playing a song by Mariah Carey, a soppy love song that had done nothing to convince her that her love wouldn’t be enough.
Back in the room, she looked at the box of gifts. Time hadn’t changed anything. Clearly she was older but no wiser. She’d chosen to ignore what he said then and hope, and here she was still hoping. It was the very definition of insanity. Love did that, she guessed.
Somehow she needed to change his mind or fall out of love with Mike once and for all. Neither of which she’d managed to do in the past ten years. Great, she was exactly where she had been then.
Sunday night was poker night, but the truth was it was Sunday afternoon and Marissa was kind of bored. She should have been packing up the contents of her parents’ house or packing her own belongings to move in a couple of weeks but that did not appeal to her. She had two hours until poker and nothing to do.
She decided to head to the ice-cream parlor.
As always, she found Chloe behind the counter, wearing a big smile and a pink apron.
“Hey, Marissa, I don’t usually expect to see you on a Sunday.”
“Really, that’s not like you.”
“I’m out of sorts, I guess. Hit me with a peppermint hot chocolate.”
“Coming up.” She gave her a smile and turned to make the drink. It was practically empty in the parlor.
“What are you doing tonight?”
“No plans really. Like most nights.”
“Do you play poker?”
“I have played poker. I wouldn’t say I was a player per se.”
“Come to Todd’s for the game tonight. It’ll be fun. I’m sick of being the only girl.”
“I don’t know . . .”
“Why? Got to wash your hair?” she teased.
Chloe laughed. “Okay, fair call. I may as well be out in company.”
“Yeah, I don’t know if these boys qualify as company, but why not, right?”
“Exactly. We need to get some girl stuff going on in this town.”
“Girl stuff?” It was as if she’d never heard of such a thing.
“I don’t know. Stuff girls like to do. I have been kind of busy the last few years, and now I’ve come up for air and I’m kind of aware of how little there is to do, especially if you want to get out without your kids, assuming you have them or without your friends’ kids, if you don’t.”
“You’re right. I’ve seen so many DVD series on Netflix since I moved here I’m almost back to 1975 with my viewing.”
She placed the steaming hot chocolate decorated with crushed candy cane in front of Marissa and also had one for herself. “It’s hard enough moving to a new town, especially one without much action.”
“Well, let’s make some plans. We can’t be the only ones who need some excitement.”
Marissa licked some whipped cream off her spoon and smiled. This was what she needed, whipped cream and girl talk.
“Chloe, should we talk about the elephant or maybe the Moose in the room?”
Her friend shook her head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh my goodness, you’re such a bad liar. I was here. I saw how he looked at you and how you reacted to him. There was some sizzle between you. He’s cute, he’s kind, and . . .”
“Not my type,” she cut her off.
“Really? You could have fooled me.”
“What is your type?”
“Well, usually I prefer the cheating bad-boy bastard with a dangerous edge and control issues.”
“Ouch.” It was hard to believe sweet Chloe had a bad-boy complex. “Well, maybe it’s time you changed your type to sexy, well-educated ski resort owners.”
Chloe laughed bitterly. “I’m not quite sure I can handle an upgrade of that magnitude.”
“Is that why you came here, honey? To get away from someone?”
“Kind of. It’s a really long story, but I came for a fresh start. I’ve sworn of men of all varieties for a while. I need some time to work out exactly who I am. Lucky for me, this town hasn’t presented too much temptation.”
“Well, he doesn’t live in this town and my ability to resist the good guys is fine; it’s the other ones I need practice with.”
Marissa could tell Chloe wasn’t ready to spill her guts yet. “Well, then, even more reason to come up with some good female fun.”
And then they spent the next hour brainstorming ideas from movie nights, skating nights, a wine club, and a book club.
Marissa had brought Chloe from the ice-cream parlor to poker night.
“Too much testosterone here,” she’d said to Todd as if that was enough of a reason to change things up.
“Cool.” Was all Todd said. That was Todd all over.
There were eight of them tonight. Numbers varied. Sometimes they ran two tables, but December was always a funny month. Two men had begged off because their wives were out Christmas shopping and they were home with the kids.
Marissa was sitting next to him. He could smell her perfume and it was a distraction. So he asked an inane question.
“How was Maine?” he asked.
“Great. The skiing was amazing actually, and the lodge was also amazing.”
“Yes, and we went to a cool bar, lots of dancing. Fun.”
She was checking her cards now. “Great. You seeing him again?”
“Maybe.” She shrugged.
“Okay, I am probably seeing him again. He’s a good guy. In fact, he visited this week.”
He nodded. What could he say. “Oh, right.”
She gave him a nudge with her shoulder. “Jealous are we?”
She shook her head. He wasn’t jealous, exactly. And
“Yeah right, anyway I think he took one look at Chloe and swallowed his tongue. He and I are just friends.”
“Chloe, huh?” Mike looked out and checked her out. She was a pretty girl. Chestnut hair, big brown eyes, a nice smile, but who would choose her over Marissa?
“It’s all about chemistry, Mike,” she said as if she knew exactly what he was thinking.
Of course he was distracted and lost the first round and the second.
“You’re getting your ass handed to you, brother,” said Todd a while later when he came around with more beers.
“Thanks for noticing,” he grumbled.
So far, the Christmas Eve community dinner was going amazingly well. Numbers were up a little on last year, which was both fine and a little worrying. Who did all these lonely people spend all the other days of the year with? It had always bothered Marissa, but now that she was also alone, it seemed to hit her all the more acutely.
Mr. Drysdale, who at one time had been the school principal and was now the wrong side of ninety, smiled up at her as she brought him a second slice of pie.
“You are such a good girl, Marissa. Everyone really does appreciate all you do for this town.”
“It’s my absolute pleasure.”
The truth was there wasn’t as much around for people in the community as there should be, except church events and not everyone was into that.
Mike and Todd stood side by side behind the counter, plating up pie. She always appreciated that they came to help. And the fact, which nobody knew, that Todd funded half the meal as well.
“Thanks, guys,” she said, swooping in to collect some extra slices for a few other elderly folks.
“No problem. That’s the last of the pie.”
“I think everyone is good.” She smiled at them. “If you want to make tracks over to Patty and Jacob’s, I’ll meet you there later. The community bus will be here in fifteen to drop everyone home.”
“You don’t want a lift?” Todd asked.