From The Anthology
On The Way To Christmas
A Holiday Do-Over :: Chapter 1
Going home for the holidays wasn’t all happy smiles and Christmas carols when everywhere you looked you were bound to see smoldering burned bridges. And when you were Darby Brown there were a lot of them to see.
Of course, Mom and Dad wanted to see Darby. But they were parents, and parents were prejudiced. They and probably her little brother were about the only ones. Fa-la-yuck!
Darby had no one but herself to blame for this, and she wanted to fix it, really. But she wasn’t sure how.
“You’ll figure it out,” said Josh White, the man who was supposed to have fallen at her feet in adoration but had stubbornly remained upright.
She’d met him in a Starbucks in the fall, when the weather in New York was cooling down and pumpkin lattes were on the menu. She’d flirted with him while they waited in line for their drinks and had charmed him because, well, that was what she did. And he’d charmed her. So they’d gone out. A few times.
He’d listened to her work woes, nodded thoughtfully when she told him about her awful boss who hated her because she was young and pretty and the co-worker who was sabotaging her. Yes, sabotaging her. (She knew what that looked like – gossip and back-biting. She’d done her share of it.) He nodded thoughtfully again when she told him about her idiot neighbor who was always snarling at her about something. Then, after she got fired – fired! – and went on a rant when they met for drinks about how awful the woman was and the revenge she was going to take, he stopped calling. Was everyone in New York a jerk?
It turned out that, no, not everyone was. But someone was. Her.
“Really?” Josh responded when she ran into him at a different Starbucks and informed him that he’d showed incredibly poor taste by not calling her. “Maybe it was more a case of seeing that we’re not a match,” he’d suggested.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she’d demanded.
“Different priorities, different value systems.”
“I have values. I don’t cheat on my income tax.”
“Good for you.”
What a tool.
Still, she’d stayed right there in Starbucks and kept talking to him. More like listening to him, really. Or maybe it wasn’t really him speaking to her. Maybe he was a tool of a different kind. He didn’t ask her out but he offered to take her to church. Next thing she knew, she was doing some serious thinking about her life, her attitudes, and what was important.
Josh kept them at the friendship level, explaining that Darby needed to do some work on herself before he or anybody could really be with her. That hurt. But then, painful truths often do.
Now, here she was, coming home for the holidays even though she didn’t want to.
“It’s been three years,” Mom had reminded her when they’d talked on the phone. “You can’t make a habit of staying away.”
Sure, she could. Her sister would as soon never see her again. And then there were … others.
“You have no excuse now,” Mom had added.
“Yeah, she did. “How about no money? You don’t have it when you don’t have a job anymore, Mom.” Okay, that had come out snotty. Old habits were hard to break.
“That’s why we’re sending you a ticket. We miss you, Darby Doll. Come home.”
So much for the can’t afford it excuse.
Now, here she was at the Sea-Tac International Airport, waiting for her brother Cole to pick her up. She had a swarm of butterflies (did butterflies swarm?) in her stomach and she half wished she could turn right around and fly back to New York where she had … no one and nothing waiting for her. No one and nothing was preferable to what was probably waiting in Eagledale, the small town way, way north of Seattle.
She was standing in front of Alaska’s passenger load area when he pulled up in his pride and joy – a red Chevy truck, which, of course, everyone knew a guy who was finishing up his bachelor’s degree in construction management needed.
He screeched to a stop and hopped out. “Hey, sis! About time you came home.”
“Just for a visit,” she clarified.
“Why go back? You lost your job.”
“Thanks for reminding me,” she muttered as he picked up her suitcase and carry-on and loaded them.
“So, what happened?” he asked as they pulled away from the curb.
Great. Was everyone going to ask her this? “It didn’t work out.” Only a month ago she’d have had a different story to tell, all about how threatened her boss had been by her youth and smarts, how her jealous co-worker had sabotaged her. Now she had a more balanced version, and it wasn’t one she was all that ready to tell.
“Got anything else lined up?”
“Not yet,” she said.
She’d put up a Linked In profile, sent out resumes, made calls and haunted job boards, so far with no success. Every blog she read told her that her best bet was to be a referenced candidate, but so far she hadn’t figured out how to find any company insider to help her with that.
She’d so easily fallen into her job in New York – got it through a friend of a friend – both men, naturally. Women hated her. (Like she could help it that she had perfect hair, symmetrical features, and good taste in clothes?) Other than Josh and a couple of his buddies, the pool of people with a helping hand stretched out was proving to be very shallow.
Like you, whispered the new and improving Darby. She sighed.
“It’ll work out,” Cole said easily. “There’s lots of ad agencies in Seattle, and probably lots of companies that need technical writers. And words are your thing.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” she said. It was a gift.
One she’d misused a lot in high school and then again when she went away to college. She had a lot of rebuilding to do.
“How’s school going?” she asked. “You going to graduate cum laude?”
“I’m gonna graduate,” he replied with a cheeky grin.
Cole was a loveable goof, a people person and the king of charm. He’d be fine. He’d probably be a construction manager before he was twenty-five.
“If you stay here you won’t have to come all the way back for the ceremony. You are coming to my graduation, right?”
“Of course.” She’d been at Erika’s. Not that Erika cared about Darby being anywhere near her anymore. Who could blame her?
“Rika’s already at the house. Mom made that peppermint divinity you like and she’s planning on you guys all baking cookies together tomorrow.”
Yes, Mom had a whole week of fun activities planned. Cookie baking, tree decorating, a neighborhood open house. That was scheduled for Sunday, the day after next.
“Who all’s coming to the open house?” she asked. Please don’t say Gregory.
Colin started rattling off names. A couple of neighbor girls she’d ignored, Mrs. Williams from two doors down. And, “The Colliers,” he finished.
“As in Gregory?”
“Yep. Him, too. He bought the Henrys’ old place.”
“I didn’t know that,” Darby said.
There was a lot she didn’t know any more about Gregory Collier, former nerd turned teacher. Like why he chose to remain in Eagledale, Small Town, USA.
“That’s what happens when you stay away,” said Cole. “You miss out on what’s going on. Not that there’s that much going on in Eagledale.”
“Not even for you? Why don’t you have a serious girlfriend yet?”
“It’s hard to pick when so many want me,” he said, flashing that grin again.
He’d meant it as a joke, but Darby could believe it. Her brother was as good-looking as he was good-natured.
Her sister was also good looking and good-natured. Well, except when it came to her. What had happened to Darcy? Why had she chosen to be a mean girl?
Oh, yeah. She’d thought it was cool. The attitude and the snarky remarks became such a habit she never noticed them. It was who she was.
Who you were, she reminded herself. Not who you are anymore.
She suspected she was going to have a hard time proving it.