Once Upon A Christmas

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Mallory Gardner hung the last Christmas ornament on the fireplace display she’d set up in the corner of her shop, Every Day is Christmas, when her sister, Dina, called out to her.

“Mal, you gotta see this.”

Mallory rushed to the front of the store.  “See what?”

Dina pointed, “Feast your eyes on the newest guy in town.”

“I see a lot of people trudging through the snow.  Which one are you referring to?” she asked.

“That tall guy getting off the bus,” Dina huffed out air.  “See,” she pointed.  “He’s the only guy carrying a suitcase, for God’s sake.”

“Yeah, he’s okay,” Mallory said and stepped back pulling Dina with her.  “Okay, show’s over.  Let’s get back to work.”

“Okay?” Dina’s hands flew to her hips, “Okay?” she said with sarcasm. “Is there something wrong with your eyesight?  Maybe you need glasses because the hunk I’m looking at is gorgeous.   And, he’s alone, Mal. He’s carrying a suitcase. And what makes it even better is there’s no woman hanging off his arm.”

“Yeah, so,” Mallory said in a rush of words. “You shouldn’t be staring at men, anyway.  You’re a married woman,” she said sharply.

“Not for me, Mal,” she said gritting her teeth. “For you!”

“You never give up, do you?  Well, here’s a news bulletin for you. I’m not interested.”

“Mal, you haven’t dated in two years.  Mourning period is over.  Dump the black widow clothes and get back in the game. Mitch wouldn’t have wanted you to remain single for the rest of your life.  You know that.”

“And somehow Dina, I really don’t care what Mitch would or wouldn’t have wanted me to do.  He’s not here to help raise the girls. I am!  And I won’t subject another person to their bickering.” She edged away from Dina. “Maybe when they’re older.”

“Oh yeah, that’ll work! You’ll probably be too old by then.  Right now, you’re young, you’re beautiful, and dammit, having a man would improve your disposition.”

“What’s wrong with my disposition?”

“Well . . . nothing.”  Dina threw her hands up.  “Nothing that a little night of passion couldn’t fix.  Catch my drift?”

“Oh, right.  That’s it.  A romp in the sack would fix all my problems.”  She shook her head. “Get real!  Now, please come over here and help me fix this display.”  Mallory stood in front of the fireplace and rearranged the garland for the tenth time hoping Dina would get back to work and stop gawking at the so-called gorgeous guy in town.  “C’mon, I need your help.  You’re much better at this arranging stuff than I am.”  She eyed the display again and inched closer to rearrange one more time.  Stepping back a few inches, she threw her hands up in frustration.  “Something’s off and I can’t figure out what it is.”

“It’s just the age,” Dina said as she made her way over and started fiddling with the garland.

“Whose age?” Mallory said.

“The girls, Mal.  You’re pathetic.  Aren’t you listening to anything I’m saying?” she glanced off a frustrated look but as usual, Mallory ignored her.  Rearranging the garland, Dina draped it down in swirls, then placed the Santa by his sleigh and moved the elves closer to the gift packages.  “There. How’s that?”

“It’s perfect.  And just what it needed.  Your touch.”

“Now back to the subject at hand,” Dina said.  “Dating.”

“Perhaps when the girls reach adulthood.”

“Are you kidding me? That’s eight or nine years from now and you’ll be almost forty by then.”

Mallory huffed out a dramatic breath. “Why?  You think I’m going to be all wrinkly and in need of a walker at thirty-eight?”

“No.  But you’re young and vibrant right now.  And you’re too beautiful to be alone.”

“And that’s the key word here little sister, I’m not alone.  I have two flippin’ daughters who hate each other.”

“They don’t hate each other.  It’s just their age.”

“Right.  This comment coming from a woman who has no children?”

“Well, maybe I don’t.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand children.  I want them.  And maybe some day I will have them.”

“Exactly!” Mallory said.  “Maybe some day.  And that’s how I feel about dating.”

Dina raised her brows. “I think you might be passing up the chance of a lifetime.  When was the last time we saw a new guy come into town?”

“Dina.” Mallory shouted.  “For God’s sake.  You don’t know if he’s here to stay, whether he’s here to see his parents for the holidays, or here to get married.  He might even be meeting his wife who’s visiting her relatives.”  Mallory huffed out air, “You should be a writer with that imagination.”

“Cripes,” Dina said, slapping her hands against her thighs, “if you’re not the ghost of Christmas past.  If there was a woman involved, she would have greeted him when he got off the bus.”  Dina blinked her eyes in disgust and walked toward the front of the store for another look. Mr. Tall, dark and handsome was headed right for the shop. “Mal,” she squealed like a teenager, “He’s headed this way!”

A sudden rush of nervousness coursed through Mallory’s body. When her hands began to shake, she panicked.  Not because of the guy, but because of the guy.  She looked to Dina.  “You take care of him, I’m going in the back.”

“Nice try, little sister.” Dina gave a toothy grin.  “He’s all yours, sweetheart.  I’m outta here.”  The words were no sooner out of her mouth than the whoosh of the door closing echoed in Mallory’s ears.

“But . . .”

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