When I pull into the driveway, I cringe at the obscene amount of Christmas decorations littering my Grandmother’s porch. How the hell was an eighty-year-old woman nimble enough to string all those lights and garland herself? The small cabin bears a strong resemblance to those rustic homes adorning the holiday cover of Good Housekeeping or Farm Life. I shake my head and groan. I hate Christmas.
I turn off the car and groan, pinching the bridge of my nose. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Of all the years for Grams to beg me to come home, she chose the year from hell. Between the pandemic and the mess at Solus, this year should be cancelled completely. But when Grandma Ruth requests your presence, that’s the equivalent of God handing down a commandment. It’s strange it took her this long to ask.
The cold air bites my face and fingertips when I step out of the car’s warm haven. I grab the decorative paper bag sitting on the front seat and make a mental note to get my duffle from the trunk later.
“Andy, is that you?”
I spin around to find Grams waving from the front porch wearing a hideously festive apron. My gaze narrows. Is that…the Mandalorian on her apron? I almost laugh at the absurdity of seeing my grandmother wearing Star Wars anything, but I sober quickly when I remember she’s the one who introduced me to the original movies when I was a kid.
“Hey, Grams. Nice apron.” I wrap her in a warm hug and hold tight. The sweet, spicy bite of cinnamon and cloves lures me deeper into her embrace. She’s so soft and petite in my arms. I cling tighter knowing I’ve been remiss in visiting her. It’s been way too long.
Grams pulls away and her warm, knowing gaze skims across my face and down over my torso. “Look at you. Not the scrawny boy who rode dirt bikes past the sheriff’s house at midnight anymore are you?” I catch a glimpse of tears shining behind her glasses as she tuts and turns away. “Come inside before your catch your death.”
I shake my head. “I wouldn’t put it past fate after the year we’ve had,” I mutter under my breath as I follow her into the house.
The inside of her home looks as grotesquely over decorated as the outside. The small living room bears the marks of Grams’ overenthusiastic decorating. An overburdened tree stands sentinel in the corner of the room, years of Christmas ornaments hanging from the branches. Candles and glittering garland interwoven with holly clutter the mantel over the fireplace. A row of stockings hangs from hooks. I see a handmade stocking emblazoned with my name on the end.
“Did you decorate the house by yourself?” I weave through the living room following her into the kitchen.
“I did.” She glances up from the open oven with a tray of fresh cookies in her hand. “Do you like it?”
Guilt grips me with meaty fists at the thought of lying to my grandmother, but I smile. “Yeah, it looks good.”
She waves her hand. “You’re full of it. I saw the look of horror on your face when you got out of the car.” She sets the cookies on the stovetop and closes the oven before turning it off. “Never did get into the Christmas spirit, did you?”
I lean against the door frame and fold my arms across my chest. “Nothing gets by you, does it, Grams?”
“Never has, never will.” She winks.
Every surface in the kitchen is covered with cookies. Tupperware and tins stacked five high, full of delicious baked goods.
“Are you expecting to feed an army?” I gesture to the cookie hoard.
Grams laughs. “Not an army. Just the whole town. I’m taking them to the community center. They’re having a party tonight for the whole town.” She cocks her head and a silver curl escapes the bun holding the unruly curls. “Didn’t I tell you?”
Frustration sets in. I came to visit my grandmother, not the whole fricking town. “No, Grams, you forgot to mention that.”
She unties her apron and pulls it off revealing an ugly Christmas sweater bearing the face of The Child. “You don’t mind giving me a hand getting these into town, do you?”
“No, Grams.” I inhale sharply, resigned to the holiday torture I actively avoid. Seems only fitting as the crowning jewel to the year from hell.
“Load these up and we’ll head into town.”
What felt like twenty trips to my car later, every box, tub, and tin of cookies in the house is loaded in the trunk and overflowing into the backseat of my car.
“Grams! Are you ready to go?”
Grams appears from the bedroom down the hall with a glittering box in her hands. She thrusts it into my chest. “Here. Open it.”
I roll my eyes and take the box jammed into my ribcage. “Thanks.”
Inside the box is a sweater. I pull it out, bracing myself for some corny ugly Christmas sweater. Then I see what’s on it and grin.
“Kylo Ren?” I laugh and hold it up to get a better look.
“Of course.” Grams tosses the box aside and turns the sweater to hold it up to my chest. “I had to guess on the size, but I think I did well considering I haven’t seen you in years.”
“Did you make this?” I ask, eyeing her with newfound respect and a twinge of guilt at the truth in her observation.
“No. Martha down at the center made it.” She pulls at her own sweater. “I had her make this one for me.”
“‘This is the way,’” I mutter in a reverent tone.
“‘I have spoken,’” she replies in an equally reverent tone.
“I love it. Thank you, Grams.” I pull her into a hug.
She sniffs and wipes a stray tear from her cheek. “Good. Now put it on. We need to get into town.”
“Wait. You want me to wear this tonight?”
“Well, of course. Why else would I give it to you before Christmas?” She tuts. “Go, hurry. We need to help set up.”
After I change into the warm sweater, we leave for town. Grams flips through the radio stations until she finds the local station playing Christmas music. I grit my teeth, but grant her this small concession. It’s only a fifteen-minute drive to the center. So, I bear the torture as we weave down the mountain with Grams singing along with the music.
By the time we reach our destination, my ears are bleeding and my head aches. All I want is a hot toddy and some time to myself. Unfortunately, I’m stuck with the whole town of Coppany and the misery that is the Christmas holiday.
Between songs, a weather alert comes on. “Snowstorm coming from the Great Lakes sweeping over northern Pennsylvania threatens at least a foot of snow. Possible freezing rain starting at midnight.”
“You sure about this party tonight?” I glance at Grams. “Sounds like a hell of a storm coming in. Maybe we should stay home.”
Grams waves her hand in dismissal. “Since when can weathermen predict the weather? We’ll be fine.”
We pull into the lot, and it’s already packed with cars and people milling around the building. It looks as festive as Grams’ house, and I wish I thought to pack my flask. It’s going to be a long evening.
My gaze drifts to the store bedside the center. An oversized tree blinks with bright lights and the sign above the store is trimmed in green, silver, and red garland. Buck Wild Beans.
“When did they put that in?” I ask Grams as we climb out of the car.
“Oh, almost ten years now.” Grams waves to a group of her friends gathered near the door of the center. “We go there twice a week for book club and bunco. They host all kinds of events in town. Good coffee too.” She smiles and turns to the older woman as she walks up. “Julia! So lovely to see you. Would you mind getting some help to carry these cookies in?”
“Right away, Ms. Ruth.” Julia rounds up a few people and I step aside as they swarm my car.
“Would you get me a cappuccino, dear?” Grams appears by my side and I jump at her question.
“Uh, yeah. Sure.” I leave Grams and the cookies in Julia’s capable hands and wander toward the front door of Buck Wild Beans. The logo of a buck drinking a cup of coffee makes me chuckle.
The bells above the door jingle when I open the front door. A familiar and intoxicating scent of coffee beans and fresh baked pastries lures me deeper into the shop. I admire the simple wood décor even though it looks like Santa’s elves vomited all over it. The soft strains of holiday music filter through the speakers and I ignore the persistent earworms trying to burrow into my head.
A dark haired woman appears behind the counter from the kitchen.
“Welcome to Buck Wild Beans! What can I get for you…” Her voice trails off when our eyes meet. Those lovely green eyes I spent years trying to forget widen in surprise before narrowing with unabashed suspicion.
“Vivian.” A name I haven’t spoken in twenty years ghosts over my tongue without a thought.
“Andrew.” Her chipper tone dissipates instantly, replaced with icy indifference. “What the hell are you doing here?”
It seems twenty years wasn’t long enough. “Grams wants a cappuccino.”
Without a word, Vivian turns to the espresso machine. I watch her work and my heart twists in my chest. I anticipated encountering a few ghosts from my past, but I wasn’t prepared for the jolt of regret and guilt driving knives into my heart at the sight of my sister’s best friend. The one I ruined and left behind without a second thought.
Shit. Could this holiday get any worse?
I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek into Mistletoe and Mistakes. Just a little author’s note, I pictured Sebastian Stan as Andrew as I wrote this story. 😉 If you love Andrew and Vivian, then you’ll love Ben and Penelope in A Lockdown Love Affair, which is only 99 cents for the whole month of December. ❤
Merry Christmas, darlings!
If you want to read Mistletoe and Mistakes, pick up a copy from one of these retailers: