Christmas Extravaganza 2019
After her grandparents as forced to live apart through assisted living, and then die within nine days of each other, intrepid entrepreneur Calissa Ladd is devastated. She's always wanted to experience the same lifelong love modeled by her grandparents, but her heart isn’t where it needs to be as she clings to the past for answers and then starts having vivid dreams of a long-ago time period.
Deferential banker Monte McQueen has loved Calissa since they were children, but he procrastinates making a commitment to her. He stands by as Calissa gets stuck in the past.
Calissa clings to the decrepit homestead that belonged to her family, searching and seeing visions into the past. Will she overcome her skewed beliefs and reclaim her relationship with the Lord as Monte pushes his love of Christmas on her? Or will she forfeit her happily-ever-after?
Monte licked the envelope and tapped it on the desk in his bank office as the call connected. “Hi, sweetheart. I have a surprise for you.”
“Hi, yourself. You excited about something?” Calissa sounded distracted.
He’d probably interrupted her work, but he was about to give up on helping her see life from his point of view. “I am. I’ve taken off the afternoon to celebrate our December thaw. Set aside your thimble. Wash the glue off your hands. Dress warm, and I’ll see you in half an hour.” He wished she still lived close to downtown, but he loved her country apartment off Highway 77 south of Fremont.
He knew Calissa well enough not to give her a chance to make an excuse. Outside the bank, he loosened his scarf. Too warm in the sun.
Twenty minutes later, he inhaled the aroma of spicy meatballs, Calissa’s favorite menu item from Pop’s Place.
Demure smile in place, she met him at the door of her home. She’d gathered her long hair and puffed it high at the crown, just the way he liked it.
“How do you manage to look so lovely when you work from home?”
Her cool eyes glinted silver. Her lips parted in a bigger smile as she grabbed her black leather jacket. “Surprise, huh? Am I dressed all right?”
“Jeans and boots are perfect.” He assisted her by settling the jacket across her shoulders. “I knew as soon as I heard the forecast for a day in the mid-sixties, so rare for December, that I needed to get you away from your house. Do you have any speedy orders to expedite?”
“We’re busy filling Christmas gift orders, of course. Younger and younger girls are getting into the bling of my jeweled denim.” She opened her front door and jiggled the knob to make sure it was locked. “I’m so glad my nieces help after school.”
“They’re what, fifteen and sixteen now?”
He wound his way through the development surrounded by fallow cornfields.
She gazed out the window, occasionally repositioning a pin that held the pouf of hair above her unlined forehead and away from her face.
He slowed for the country road off the highway, and she finally turned to him.
“Are we going where I think we are?”
“Yes. The snow is gone. I thought a picnic would be the perfect surprise to celebrate a beautiful day.”
She punched him in the arm and smiled again. “You can be romantic when you want to be.”
Moments later, he pulled into the indecipherable drive where little gravel remained visible. Green grass in front of the dilapidated home made it look more like September than December. What she saw in this place, he’d never understand. Why it hadn’t fallen down in a good wind was unbelievable. It had to be dangerous and rotted. The window glass was long gone. Trees grew out of the foundation.
“Oh, thank you, Monte. I love this place. It’s always looked rundown, yet something inside me considers it home.”
He shook his head, exited, and then turned to the backseat. “If you grab the food behind you, I’ll get everything else. I borrowed a camp table and chairs from our upcoming new savings account campaign at the bank.” And a nice tablecloth from the vice president, who claimed it a romantic touch.
“This smells wonderful.” Calissa set down the box on the table. Its contents were wrapped in foil. She moved her chair so she’d face the decrepit house. “I can’t believe how warm it is today.”
“You know Nebraska. The weather can change fifty degrees one way or the other with a wind shift.” He set out plates and plastic ware, which were wrapped in oversize paper napkins, winked at her, and then opened the tin holding their individually wrapped meatball subs. “But there’s no way you’d go on a picnic in the snow. I would, considering how much I love Christmas.”
She folded her hands and bowed her head.
“I would have prayed out loud.”
Calissa didn’t meet his gaze as she picked up her cup of cider. “I wasn’t praying.”
So much for getting his hopes up that she’d acknowledge Jesus in her life again.
They enjoyed a few bites. No matter what topic he discussed, he couldn’t engage her in conversation. She just sat and stared at the house.
He finished his sandwich. “Since you’re not interested in what’s going on at the bank, or the songs I’m rehearsing for our church choir, why don’t you tell me what’s going through your mind?”
She forked in the last meatball from the bread that lay open and untouched, wiped the corners of her mouth, emptied her cider, and sat back in the chair. Finally, she met his gaze. “I try to picture my grandparents in the house where Mom and her eight siblings slept. I know a boundless affection existed between my grandparents. I saw their love as lasting forever and ever. Why did they have to die apart, just days before Christmas?”
“Those answers can only come from God, sweetheart.”
She shook her head and took his hand. “Thank you for being so patient with me. For overlooking my bad moods. You went to a lot of work to make this a special time for us. I can always count on you, Monte.”
He turned over his arm and twined their fingers. “We’ve known each other since kindergarten and have always accepted the other. In good times and bad.” This was a bad time for her. Her depression had a strong hold on her, which made him feel helpless. He brushed his thumb over her wrist.
Her eyes glistened watery gray in a ray of sunlight as she met his gaze. Her voice quivered. “I don’t know how to tell you this. I’ve been having dreams about my grandparents. They’re so vivid, I feel as if I’m right there in the room with them. I hear their laughter. They’re always so happy. Do you think it’s a glimpse of heaven?”
“That’s a question for our pastor and for God.” He squeezed her hand, released it. “I have something for you.” He pulled the envelope from his inside breast pocket.
She accepted his offering and traced her name on the front, turned it over, and ran her index finger over the bottom half. Calissa made eye contact for a split second, and then unsealed the flap.
A Victorian boy dressed in green with his cocker spaniel at his feet shyly knocked on a door with an envelope in his other hand.
The moment he saw that old-fashioned card, Monte had imagined Calissa opening the door for him. His smile faded.
She stared at the card. “You know I don’t do Christmas.”