Christmastown, Vermont: where it’s Christmas 365 days a year…
To Darcy Carr the holiday is depressing enough without reliving it every day. Her thriving wreath business and faithful cat are no longer enough to distract her from the pain of her past memories or her current loneliness. Is her frosty neighbor, the only man in town with no Christmas decorations, just another Scrooge, or could he be the one she’s been looking for?
Coppersmith Dean Whitfield hasn’t celebrated Christmas—or anything else—since the death of his wife and unborn child. And he certainly has no desire to carry on the family tradition of crafting a star for the town’s Christmas tree, even if it will benefit a charity. Can Darcy and the joy of the season thaw his frozen heart and help him love again?
Darcy Carr hated Christmas.
Well, she didn’t hate Christmas. She loved celebrating Christ’s birth, but on the cusp of thirty-two—and single—she found the family-driven holiday just…depressing. It hadn’t held innocent wonder since 1994. No holiday had. December twenty-fifth loomed before her, holding nothing but a frozen dinner and a twenty-four hour marathon of The Christmas Story with her cat.
Best not get ahead of herself. She had to survive Thanksgiving first.
Darcy fingered the scruff of her cat’s neck, his deep purr vibrating her fingertips. “Well, what do you think?”
Gomez blinked. With his paws stretched across her stomach, he yawned, snarling the black fur on his upper lip that resembled a pencil-thin mustache. He lowered his head and sighed.
She imitated the noise. “My thoughts exactly.”
Her legs filled the length of the padded window seat. Translucent fog clung to the corners of the glass. Mammoth snowflakes danced in the air like God had opened a giant feather pillow.
Her gaze drifted to the snow-dusted welcome sign across the street, two houses down. Christmastown, Vermont. The perfect tourist destination to expand her wreath business. The sales of her online supplies, ready-made wreaths, and instructional videos were climbing, but she wanted an economically secure place to hold classes as well. She’d found it here.
Gold, red, and green decorations transformed historic homes, since converted to businesses, into giant Christmas packages. Old-fashioned lampposts lined the streets. Pine garlands twisted around their bases with velvety, red bows glowing from halos of gaslight. The village burst with bed-and-breakfasts, specialty shops, candy stores, a coffee house, restaurants, and the community church at the edge of town, its large, white steeple peering above the pine trees. With the bakery next door, the crisp air smelled like Grandma’s kitchen. Every inch of everything screamed Christmas. And would every day. All. Year. Long.
The sound of metal scraping against concrete broke the silent dawn. She checked the house across the street as the noise echoed louder. The house didn’t exhibit one shred of decoration. Odd. Why hadn’t she noticed it before? The structure itself fit right in, but the lack of adornment made it stark and lonely.
Did an elderly person live there, too feeble to keep up the tradition? After Darcy finished unpacking, she’d go over and introduce herself. They could probably use the company, and she could too.
A bulky silhouette emerged from the side of the naked house. A man scooped his shovel with ease, pitching snow from the sidewalk into the yard. Orange and purple sunrays splashed across his masculine features, revealing dark hair protruding from beneath a black cap and a couple days’ worth of scruff. That was no elderly person.
She squinted for a clearer view. He appeared to be around her age and, from what little she could see, quite handsome.
The clamor ceased, and he used a broom to sweep away snow from a large wooden plaque beside the porch light. Darcy squinted again. Whitfield Copper, since 1898. A business? Why didn’t it match the rest of the town?
Gomez sprang from her lap and landed with a thud on the hardwood floor, distracting her investigation. He meowed and padded in a circle on the braided rug in front of the fireplace. Breakfast.
“All right, I’m coming.” She threw her legs to the floor and made her way to the kitchen, though not without one last peek at her intriguing neighbor. The bottom of her slippers shuffled over the wood planks. She hugged her oversized cardigan tighter around her middle as the cooler temperature of the kitchen penetrated through to her skin. Owning a Victorian home was a dream come true, though the realtor failed to tell her how difficult heating it would be.
After feeding her kitty and pouring a cup of coffee, she snuggled back onto the window seat, disappointed to find Mystery Man gone. Darcy cringed. She was already transitioning into the nosy cat-lady. What came next? Scaring the neighborhood children?
She should still go over later and introduce herself, since she just moved in and it would be the neighborly thing to do and all. No sense in starting off on the wrong foot. Then again, what if she were greeted by Miss America’s doppelganger and forced to witness the man’s gorgeous features in his 2.5 kids?
Her life’s soundtrack.
Darcy sipped her coffee, inhaling the fragrant vanilla steam. She forced herself from the window seat toward the mountain of unpacked boxes stacked in the next room. If she didn’t escape this insane frame of mind now, it was going to be one long winter.
Dean Whitfield drummed his fingers on the side of the brown paper-wrapped box in his hands. The post office brimmed to capacity, no one in a hurry this morning. If he hadn’t already stood in line for so long, he’d give up and come back later. He hated crowds. Avoided them at all cost. Between the sardine-packed room and mindless chatter, a sense of claustrophobia crept in. He tugged his baseball cap lower and continued to wait.
“I met the new wreath lady at church yesterday,” Ruth Simpson barked from her place in front of him. After a few beats, he realized she was talking to him. She crossed her arms and stared at him, as did her identical twin sister standing next to her. At least he thought she was Ruth. Maybe she was Ethel.
Gray hair brushed the collar of her thick denim jacket. The Christmas tree embroidered on the front was littered with beads, pearls, bells, and bows. Was that star a real working light?
Ethel leaned her wrinkled face closer. Or maybe it was Ruth. “The wreath lady.”
Ruth/Ethel curled the corners of her mouth. Hot pink lipstick bled into the fine lines branching toward her nose. “Her name’s Darcy Carr. She bought your parents’ place. Opening Twin Wreaths in the old parlor.”
Dean’s ears perked. He knew his parents’ house sold, but hadn’t investigated any further. A customer left, and they all moved up a foot.
“She’ll be selling wreaths and offering classes,” Ethel/Ruth continued.
Dean offered a tight-lipped smile to the town’s professional busybodies. “Good to know.”
Ruth/Ethel turned, tugging her sister’s arm closer to the counter. “We should sign up, Ethel.”
Ah, so she was Ruth.
“You haven’t seen her, have you? She’s the type that makes a sloppy t-shirt and sweatpants look like evening wear.”
Ethel gazed down at her paunch. “The type that makes the rest of us feel horrible about ourselves.” She shrugged. “I hear the bakery’s giving demonstrations on how to make German fruitcake. Let’s go there instead.”
Ruth shook her head. “I want to learn how to make a holly and twig wreath to put on Eddie’s grave. We’ll go to the bakery for dessert afterward.”
The line shifted again, and Dean moved forward, bumping his arm against a man groping for a package of clear packing tape on a rack beside him. Dean nodded his apology.
“Next,” hollered a sales clerk.
Double-trouble approached the counter. “What kinds of Christmas stamps do you have this year?” Ethel asked the clerk.
The employee named off several different varieties.
“Can I see them all?”
Dean hung his head. Good grief. This was why he avoided public places.
His customer’s package in the mail, Dean stepped out into the cold air and sucked in a deep breath. His claustrophobia subsided. He was sick of feeling trapped all the time. Like a caged animal, alive and well, viewing life in full motion around him but unable to participate.
All the way home, he avoided eye contact with as many tourists as he could, nodding at those he couldn’t. Pedestrians crowded both sides of Main Street, bustling with shopping bags like they only had hours until Christmas instead of thirty-five days. Bitter wind nipped his nose and ears, and a white cloud formed in front of his face with every breath.
His childhood home stood proudly up ahead. He missed the old place with the wrap-around porch. But nothing was the same since Bethany died. Nothing. Their short life together had been Indian summer and every day after a cold, bleak winter. Would the new owner find what he’d left behind?
“Blessed Assurance” echoed from the community church’s bell tower. Dean strode through his garage, passing Christmas decorations he ignored every day, and retreated to the silence of his workshop, blocking the music to a hymn he knew by heart but couldn’t bear to hear.
Question 1: When Dean lost his wife, he closed his heart to others. Why do you think grief causes some people to do this?
Question 2: Gomez's peculiar quirks paired well with his owner's, making them the perfect team. Do you have a pet that brings you comfort or shares your personality?
Question 3: The story was written in both Darcy and Dean's point of view. Which character did you connect with more?
Question 4: Christmastown is a fictional town set in Vermont. How do you feel about living in a town where it's Christmas all year long?
Question 5: Ruth and Ethel use their nosy ways for good. Do you know anyone who constantly plays matchmaker?
Question 6: Dean channels his grief into anger toward God. Why do you think we sometimes struggle to trust God in the face of adversity?
Question 7: Darcy realized she subconsciously sabotaged relationships out of fear. How does fear hinder our ability to love fully?
Question 8: Copper must be polished to be reflective. Has a particular trial happened in your life that caused you to better reflect Christ?
Question 9: What Christmas traditions do you celebrate faithfully?
Question 10: Did this story resonate with you? If so, why?