Magic in the Snow
The ink is barely dry from her divorce when Dawson Patrick and her three-year-old Autistic son, Adam, arrive in Cedar Falls, Maine. She’s here to help her aging father and doesn’t plan to stay long. Soon she and Adam will be on their way somewhere...to a new life.
When she finds her dad sitting in a cold house that’s falling around him, with little food, she realizes she might have a bigger problem on her hands. To make matters worse, she has no idea where to start on her long list of home improvement. She needs books on lots of DIY projects, and the man to help her is the local Christmas scrooge.
Samuel Johnson owns Chapter Twenty-Five Bookstore. He doesn’t enjoy the holiday season and he doesn’t ‘do’ gifts. He just happens to live in a town that wholeheartedly embraces it, so he’s learned to adapt and lay low to escape the memories of many an unhappy Christmas past. He can’t believe the blonde beauty who marches into his store like a candy-coated snowstorm, along with her pint-sized elfin toddler, and orders up a stack of DIY home repair books. Before Samuel knows it, he’s letting Dawson and Adam drag him to the town’s tree lighting ceremony, convincing him to foster kittens, and to give gifts.
Has Dawson just returned home to forget her past, only to slide into another relationship? Has the town scrooge finally seen the Christmas lights?
Release Date: October 27, 2020
Genre: Contemporary Holiday Romance
Cedar Falls looked the same as when Dawson Patrick left it. She stopped her truck and looked down Main Street. It was a perfect Hallmark Christmas scene, or a Thomas Kincaid painting come to life. She shook her head, not quite able to believe she was back in Maine.
She shivered against the cold air coming in off the Atlantic, silently cursed it under her breath, and looked at the snowy street view before her. Assorted shops lined the snow-covered sidewalks of Main Street, their business signs swinging in the wind. Most were old houses converted to stores. She suspected many still housed apartments above for rent or for the shopkeepers. Some were white Colonial clapboard, several elegant Victorian with turrets, others were brick, and a few were Tudor. Most harkened back to the 1800’s era when the town settled. All were decorated with merrily twinkling lights to match the blinking ones on each black lamppost dotting the length of the street. Red ribbon bows fluttered in the crisp wind.
She exhaled a deep sigh. Hallmark.
The things you do for family.
She rolled the window down a few inches and let the cool ocean air in to circulate throughout the SUV. She inhaled the salt-tinged scent and sighed again.
She looked at her three suitcases in the back, one bought specially before she left Roanoke, Virginia and filled with thrift store chunky sweaters, flannel shirts, corduroy pants, and extra gloves, scarves, boots and gloves. Plus one colorful case full of gently used, new things for her son, Adam. She thought she was done with needing a heavy winter wardrobe when she left Maine seven years ago. Apparently not.
Traffic was light as she eased through town, and then picked up speed on the other side. Her destination was her dad’s place, her old home, about five miles out of Cedar Falls. She glanced in the backseat and she smiled at Adam.
“How are you doing, buddy?” she asked her son.
He bobbed his blond head and smiled back at her, showing off his dimples. He hugged Bear-Bear tight. Her heart melted at the sight of his trusting face. He’d been so patient and well-behaved during their nine-hundred-mile trip.
Peter has no idea what he walked out on.
Dawson turned her attention back to the road, as her mind traveled two different paths of thought. The scenes before her were familiar. This used to be her way home. She drove by her old school, a three-story, L-shaped brick building that housed K through twelve. Automatically she made the turns to reach her destination. No GPS needed here in Cedar Falls. She glanced back at Adam again.
His position was as it had been for most of their journey, sitting straight in his car seat and watching intently out the window. How much of what he saw did he understand? Peter swore Adam processed next to nothing of what he experienced. Dawson disagreed. She had so much proof that her son had a decent understanding of life for his age.
Peter was an idiot. In so many ways.
She turned on the wipers to brush away the thin layer of snow that fell on the windshield.
“Look at the snow, Adam. See the snow falling?”
She smiled back at him. “That’s right, sweetie. Snow. Good job.”
Then she saw her destination; a rusty, dented mailbox. 1135 Patrick. It leaned haphazardly to the left, as if it had been hit a few times. Well, she did bump into it once when she was seventeen and late getting home that one night, but her dad had propped it back up. Now it bore witness to more recent attacks than just hers. Her fingers curled around the wheel and her heart rate sped up.
“Snow,” Adam repeated, almost making her jump.
“Yes. Snow. We’re here now. This is where I lived when I was young.” She pointed through the windshield at the pale yellow, two-story farmhouse. She tried to make her voice upbeat, but the sight of her old home closed off her throat. Her brother had not been exaggerating.
Josh was an anesthesiologist with Doctors Without Borders. He’d come home to visit Dad during one of his rare breaks. It had been his first visit home in several years and he was shocked. Right before he left again, he called Dawson and outlined his concerns.
For Dawson, the timing proved to be…convenient. It did not take her long to wrap up her business in town and pack for Adam and herself and hit the road. Since they had nowhere else to go, returning to Cedar Falls seemed...fortuitous.
Josh promised to provide some money if she could chip in too and together, they could get their dad squared away. So she agreed and budgeted some of her savings to the dad cause. Since Peter absolved himself from Adam, he was freed from any child support. And because he had the better lawyer, and she had the wimpy lawyer, he was also freed from any alimony. Dawson left with her savings and her retirement from her job. Period.
Adam kicked the seat, jarring her back to the present.
“Well, buddy, we’re here now, so we’re going to make this work. Right?” Because there was no going back, and she couldn’t think of anywhere else to go.
She inhaled a deep breath and slowly let it out. Rinse and repeat. She took another breath and let it out. She could do this. She went around the car and helped Adam out of his car seat. Once free, he held Bear-Bear in one chubby hand and clutched her hand with his other. She held him tight, hoping he didn’t pick up on her nervousness.
They mounted two steps. The door opened and Dawson’s pulse skipped. “Hi, Dad.”
Her father leaned in the doorway, a disbelieving expression on his weathered face.
“It’s me. Dawson. I’ve come at Josh’s request.” She thought it best to preface her visit with a stamp of suggestion from the golden child.
“Who’s that?” He stabbed a bony finger to her side.
“This is your grandson, Adam Lloyd Patrick.”
“Lloyd?” Her dad tilted his head to one side.
“Yes, he’s named after you.” One more thing that ticked Peter off.
He looked beyond her to the car. “Patrick. Your husband’s all right with using your maiden name for the child?”
“He isn’t ‘the child’, Dad. His name is Adam.” She tried to keep the edge from her voice, but she’d had her fill of people talking about Adam as if he wasn’t there. “Please use his name.”
“Where’s your husband?”
Her dad ignored her request and looked closer at her truck, as if he expected a man to climb out. Dawson exhaled. “Peter and I are divorced. It’s just Adam and me.” So recently divorced, the ink is barely dry on our decree. She watched his lips thin and eyes narrow. Dad didn’t believe in divorce. Well, neither did Dawson, but sometimes divorce wasn’t a two-way decision like marriage was. Beside her, Adam shifted and tried to pull away from her. The weariness of almost twenty hours on the road with a toddler sapped her energy.
“Look, Dad, I’m here because Josh asked me to come. He is concerned about the house and you. But if you can’t offer your daughter and grandson some basic hospitality, say so and we’ll go.” Somewhere.
He scrubbed his chin. “Of course, come on in. How old did you say little Lloyd was?”
“Adam, and he’s almost three.” She led him up the steps, steering him around the rotted boards. “Let’s go see Grandpa, little man,” she said cheerfully. Shy, Adam clung as close to her leg as he could. She could see in his face he wanted to explore but he kept glancing at her dad. He did tend to be wary of all strangers and she insisted it was a normal by-product of his age.
“The house has seen better years,” her dad said as he led them past the entrance, down the short hall that opened to the kitchen and dining room. Dawson felt her jaw drop as they walked along. This was her childhood home? Her mom would be appalled at the peeling wallpaper, chipped paint, creaky boards and more. Better years? What an understatement. Now she understood part of her brother’s concern.
She stopped in the kitchen and released Adam’s hand. She turned in a circle and looked at the cabinet doors hanging crooked, the dripping faucet and missing sections of flooring. She placed her hands on her hips and faced her dad.
“I can fix this. Give me a little time, and I will fix this.”
Her dad shrugged. “If you’re so sure, get your things and bring them in.”
It wasn’t an open-arms, engraved invitation to stay, but she would take it. She gave him a nod. “I’ll put Adam in my old room, and I can take the spare bedroom if that’s okay.”
Again, her dad shrugged. She began to wonder if some of Josh’s other concerns might be correct too. Well, in time she would get a much better idea of what was going on. Right now, she had a temporary place to stay, enough repair work to keep her busy indefinitely and hopefully Adam might get to know his grandfather. The only problem was, she knew nothing about home repair.
* * *
Early the next morning Dawson cooked breakfast from the meager supplies her dad had on hand. She had found a can of concentrated orange juice in the freezer and had that floating in hot water while the coffee slowly perked. She made two lists as she buttered toast and scrambled eggs. One was labeled groceries and the other she called house. The grocery list was going much easier than the house one. So far, she’d identified no less than seven different types of repairs, and she was clueless where to even start. Back home she’d march her list into the local building center and the helpful people there would fill her cart with everything she’d need and recommend professionals for things she felt were beyond her. Cedar Falls didn’t even have a local hardware store. According to dad, the nearest one was the next town over.
“Eat up, little man, we have another road trip ahead of us.” She forked scrambled eggs onto Adam’s plate.
“Sure, we can bring Bear-Bear.”
“The boy doesn’t talk much, does he?”
Her dad took a seat at the table and she grimaced. “Adam, Dad. Please refer to my son as Adam. And yes, he talks when he wants to.” She handed over a coffee cup now that it was done perking. Next, she went to check the status of the thawing juice.
After pouring glasses for herself and Adam, she handed the pitcher to her dad and took a seat for herself. She passed over the plate of buttered toast and the jar of jelly.
“And what did you and Josh discuss when he was here?”
Her dad thoughtfully chewed and swallowed. Dawson took the moment to breathe in the scents of warm yeasty bread and coffee.
“We talked about the Panthers. They’re going to have a great season. And the Warriors have been playing well.”
Sports. She felt her jaw tighten. “Didn’t you two talk about anything besides sports? Like the condition of the house? The lack of groceries?”
“We decided it might be a dry summer.”
“Oh for Pete’s—” She squeezed her eyes shut and pinched two fingers over the bridge of her nose. Either her dad or her brother was off their rocker and she wasn’t sure which one.
“Dad?” Adam looked up, his eyes lighting up hopefully.
Dawson’s heart crushed. “No, sweetheart. Daddy’s not here.” She reached over and smoothed his hair. She wanted to pull him into a hug.
She blinked back the tears. “Maybe later.”
She knew he’d never bother making the trip to come see his son. He had glossed over visitation during the court hearings. The very fact he allowed her to have Adam’s last name revert to her maiden name without argument told her all she needed to know. He was absolving Adam from his life. And she would be damned if she ever let that fact break her little boy’s heart.
She turned back to her dad. “Adam and I will go into town and see what I can find for the house and pick up some food. Is there anything special you’d like?”
“Nope. This was good.” He stood up and walked into the living room. Exhaling a heavy sigh, she scooped up their dirty plates and cups. “Baby, you just stay there for me. Once I wash up these dishes, we’ll grab Bear-Bear and get going.” She gave him that big hug and kissed his head. She loved running her fingers through his silky-soft blond hair. Thank goodness he had her hair, blue eyes, and mostly her facial features. The fewer reminders of Peter he gave her, the better. He smiled as she placed a piece of paper and some crayons in front of him.
Twenty minutes later she and Adam were on their way to town. Fortunately, he’d forgotten about hearing what seemed like his daddy’s name. Thank goodness. But it was more proof of his intelligence. She added magnets to her shopping list to secure his artwork to the fridge. She reached town and studied the meager offerings. Two grocery stores, one a local mom and pop and the other a regional chain. She’d find a better selection and maybe better prices at the chain store, but she always liked supporting local-owned shops. And there was not one hardware store. Darn.
On the other hand, she felt a shadow of relief because she still had no clue what she needed to do or get. Her brother owed her big time for taking on this project—while he talked about sports and weather.
“Looks like we’re heading out of town, buddy. We’ll get the groceries on the way back.”
She passed a sign and her foot eased off the gas. Chapter Twenty-Five Bookstore. Clever name. An idea formed in her mind. If the bookstore had home improvement books, she could better figure out what she needed before heading over to the hardware store. At least she would be forearmed. And she’d feel less stupid.
“Change of plans, Adam.” She pulled the truck over to the curb and threw it into park. “Gloves and hat, sweetie. It’s cold out.”
Dawson and Adam walked along the shoveled sidewalk to the bookstore. A light dusting of snow still covered the brick pathway. They stopped at each storefront to admire the unique Christmas displays. Twinkling lights, perfectly decorated little trees, wrapped gifts in pretty paper, white or gold angels, and more filled the windows. Dawson laughed along with Adam, taking delight in his merriment. Christmas was for the children. Watching his blue eyes light up like the Christmas trees, she wished she could freeze time.
“Cold,” he finally said, and wrapped his arms around his middle.
She hastened to the bookstore and ushered him in. “It’ll be warm in here, buddy.”
Immediately the smell of old and new books enveloped her, as did the warm air. She glanced around for the holiday decorations. The only thing she saw was a spindly tree standing in the corner, with four gold balls hanging from its sparse branches. She blinked twice. Was it a joke? That tree made Charlie Brown’s tree look the National Christmas tree in D.C. Confused, she looked around for the staff.
“Can I help you?”
The baritone voice directed her attention to the old wooden counter stacked high with books. Behind the counter stood a man, one that many women probably wanted to find under their own Christmas tree. He towered over her by several inches, and his broad shoulders gave the impression of firm muscles beneath the checkered flannel. His smile was cautious but friendly. Gold, wire-framed glasses framed brown eyes crinkled at the corners. Dark brown hair curled near his ears and eyes. The early morning scruff on his chin only added to the rugged appeal. Yum.
“Um, yes, I wondered if you had some books.”
He looked around. “Yes, I have a few. Can you be more specific?”
Heat filled her face. Oh, for Pete’s sake! He hadn’t even grinned at her faux pas. “Home repair,” she blurted. “I have a home that needs repair.”
“All right.” He stepped around the counter and she took one long moment to appreciate his long legs and how well those worn jeans clung to them. Muscular. He led her to a row of books and gestured to a shelf. “Home repair.” His gaze flickered to Adam where he clung to her leg. “Is your little buddy going to help fix up the house too?”
She grinned at his reference to little buddy. “He might. This is Adam. I’m Dawson.”
He knelt and extended his hand to Adam. “Hi, Adam. I’m Samuel.”
Adam tightened his grip on Dawson. “Don’t take it personal, but he’s shy with new people. It normally takes him a while to warm up.”
Samuel stood up. “No worries. So—Dawson—here are the home repair books I have on hand.”
She was a little disappointed he didn’t offer to take her hand. She’d bet his grip was strong and warm. But he made an effort to connect with Adam and that was pure gold in her eyes. She brushed her hair aside and scanned the titles. “Building a patio, installing a fishpond, and putting in a shed.” She looked up at Samuel. Her heart skipped a little. He was good looking. She cleared her throat. “I hate to sound picky, but these aren’t quite what I had in mind.”
“What did you have in mind?”
She exhaled. “Plumbing, basic electricity and wiring, repairing drywall, carpentry and cabinets. That sort of repair.”
His mouth formed an O of surprise as she named her list. “That is some serious repair. And you’re going to do all that?” He arched one brown eyebrow, his tone almost a dare.
Dawson lifted her chin a little higher and squared her shoulders. “Yes, I intend to. Now, that’s why I need the books. Do you have them or not?”
He scrubbed his scruffy chin, like her dad did. “Not on hand, but I can probably order them. Come back to the counter and I’ll see what I can find.”
He led them back to the counter. “Come on around.” He patted the wooden top and stepped to a computer on a lower desk attached to the counter. He moved the mouse and the screen flickered to life.
She watched as he scrolled around and then pointed to the display.
“Okay, here are some repair titles. Look and see if they would work for you.”
She settled into the chair he offered and lifted Adam onto her lap. “Yes, these are more like it.” She pointed out specific titles that offered descriptions suited to her needs. As her finger trailed the monitor and he took down titles and information he needed, their hands brushed. Startled, Dawson looked into his brown eyes and her breath paused. He looked just as affected. He turned away first and cleared his throat. Well, he just made his point loud and clear. She waved to the screen.
“Can you get these?”
“I can order them.” He fluttered the list he’d created. “They should be here in about two days.”
Two days. She was at a standstill for two days? She chewed her lip as she considered the options. She hated to go to a repair store and have no idea where to start. The books would tell her what she needed and how to figure how many of each item. In the long run, they would save her time and money. She just had to wait two days.
“Okay, go ahead and please order them. I really need them as soon as they come in.”
“Yeah, it sounds like you have some important ventures planned. Electricity? Carpentry?” He flashed her a smile. It did wonderful things for his looks. “Is this a side job of yours?”
He nodded. “I get it. If you leave me your number, I can call you once the shipment arrives.” He passed the paper with the list to her. “That way you won’t waste any time.”
She wrote her cell phone number down. “I appreciate that.” She handed the list back. “Tell me, what is the deal with your sad little Christmas tree?” She inclined her head toward the pitiful sapling.
He looked taken aback. “What do you mean?”
“It is the most pathetic holiday tree I’ve ever seen.”
“It does the job. It adds the Christmas cheer required by the town’s good citizens.”
Dawson thought about the lovely lights and festive decorations and stately, full trees she and Adam had seen. She looked back at Samuel’s dejected evergreen. It was almost comical. She took a couple steps closer, aware he was following. “Don’t you want somewhere to put presents?”
She watched his lips thin and wondered what was wrong with an innocent question.
“I don’t plan on giving anyone presents and I don’t expect anyone to give me gifts.”
Her breath hitched. “Samuel, that is quite possibly the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. Don’t you even want an ugly sweater?”
“No.” He held his palm out to her. “Let me stop you right there, all right? I know this town lives and breathes all things Christmas and embraces the holiday with an open-armed spirit that sometimes doesn’t know when to quit. I put up that tree and a handful of decorations to avoid a citizen mutiny, but I do not share the sentiments of the rest of the good people of this town. I guess you need to know that since you’re now a part of Cedar Falls.”
She worked his speech around her mind, looking for the logic and reason. Finally, she gave up. “Well, Samuel, everyone is entitled to their views. Please do let me know when the books are in.” She took Adam’s hand and guided him toward the front door. She paused as she held the door open for Adam and looked back over her shoulder at Samuel as he stood behind his counter. The barest twitch of a grin threatened to betray her. “Merry Christmas,” she called just before she shut the door.
Dawson and Adam walked hand and hand along the snow swept brick sidewalk. Adam giggled at the sights in each window. They entered the grocery store and immediately the strands of “Jingle Bells” came through the overhead speakers. Dawson placed Adam in the seat of the firetruck Kiddie-Kart and took out her shopping list.
She looked at it and sighed. It was exhaustive as her dad didn’t have much on hand. Yet another tidbit her brother failed to mention. Some things he extolled as if they were life and death, while others he omitted completely. Maybe it was a guy thing. She lifted a shoulder in a shrug. Maybe he was afraid she wouldn’t come if he’d been completely honest with her. Like she had so many other appealing options.
Adam’s question jolted her back to the moment. He scooted forward in his seat as if willing the Kiddie-Kart to move.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. Yes, we can find you some organic oatmeal raisin cookies. How does that sound?”
As she pushed Adam and added things in the cart, and the overheard songs changed from “Jingle Bells” to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, and on to “Winter Wonderland”, she thought about Samuel’s firm comment regarding an expectation of no gifts and his lack of holiday spirit. What could have happened to make him dislike such a nice holiday?
“Dawson Patrick? Is that you?”
Hearing her name, she turned to the woman to her left. She took a few seconds to study her eager face.
“Wendy? Oh wow, it’s you!”
She and Wendy Albright had been best friends since third grade when Wendy’s family moved to town and lasting until Dawson left town. They moved their carts and hugged.
“It’s so good to see you, how have you been?” Dawson asked.
“I’m good. How long have you been in town? And who is this handsome man?” Wendy knelt to introduce herself to Adam.
Dawson smiled at how Adam took Wendy’s hand. She explained she and Wendy were friends and then explained to Wendy a little about her situation and Adam.
“Well, honey, I’m glad to see you back in Cedar Falls. You plan on staying?”
Dawson brushed her hair away and blew out a breath. “Long enough to get Dad and his house squared away.” She explained about needing some books on the subject.
“Have you checked with Samuel Johnson at the bookstore?”
She nodded. “Yep, we just came from there, where I placed an order with him.”
Wendy gripped her wrist, reminding Dawson of when they were teen-agers. “He is so hot on the outside, but so cold on the inside.” She clucked her tongue. “What a waste of a prime piece of male.”
Dawson agreed on most of Wendy’s assessment. “What made him so chilled? How long has he been in town?”
“Let’s see. He moved in about three, four years ago. He’s always been the quiet loner, you know. He’s happy just holed up with his books. But he’s friendly enough when he needs to be.”
Just friendly enough if her experience was anything to go by.
“No one seems to know much about him. He bought the old Cedar Falls Books and gave it a new name and then stuck his head inside his shell.”
How odd. How mysterious. “Tell me about yourself, Wendy. What’s new? Are you married? Kids?”
Wendy’s cheeks blushed. “I’ve been a newlywed for about six years now. Remember Warren Anderson? He’s my knight in shining armor. Together we have three kids, ages two, four and five. Warren is home with them now so I can have some quality mommy time here.” She giggled and motioned to her shopping cart, already half filled with assorted goods.
Dawson shared a laugh, fully understanding. Beside her, Adam began fussing at the long delay. Wendy was ultra-quick to pick up on it. Again, she grabbed Dawson’s arm.
“Honey, it was so great seeing you. We’ve got to get together soon. I’m in the phone book. Take care and don’t let your daddy run all over you.”
They hugged once more, and Dawson promised to look her up and give her a call soon. Walking away, she caught herself humming. Finally, something had gone right since she arrived in town. And, unless she was mistaken, Wendy could help shed a few rays of light on the mysterious bookstore owner. And it was refreshing to realize she was back in a town that still utilized a phone book.
* * *
Samuel closed the shop and turned off the lights. All day his thoughts returned to the blonde beauty who powered into his life. She blew in like a candy-coated snowstorm, dressed in an oversized sweater and knee-high boots, her hair piled up in a messy bun full of flyaways, and that adorable pint-sized munchkin with the wide eyes hugging her leg.
There was something in her pale blue eyes that hinted at sorrow, but she kept an upbeat candor when she assured him she could wire a house and rebuild walls. He probably couldn’t do that stuff. She impressed him on many levels, the least of his list might be the tender way she dealt with her son—Adam. There was something about the little boy that tugged at an unseen and long-buried string deep inside his heart.
Just before he went to his upstairs apartment, he glanced over to the tree he put up each year. Once the town citizens realized that was the best he was willing to do, no one mentioned it again—until her. He tilted his head to the left. Maybe it did have a certain pathetic look to it. Or maybe it was just fine. It had been fine for years—until her.
He blew out a tired breath and trudged up the steps. It would be interesting once Miss Hurricane’s books came in.
* * *
Dawson hugged Adam’s sleepy head to her shoulder as the credits rolled on the Grinch movie. They’ve watched the movie twice so far, and Adam was a big fan.
“Max,” he said, his voice muffled by her sweater.
“Umm hum. Maybe someday we can get a dog, sweetie. You can call it Max if you want.” She longed for the day she would leave her dad’s home, and she and Adam could settle someplace nice. She’d rent a small house, with a yard and a fence. She’d get a job and find a good day care for Adam. And she’d adopt a dog. A wistful sigh escaped her. Until she could get to work on the house, she was pretty much stuck here in Cedar Falls. Of course it wasn’t like she knew where else to go. Maybe she could throw a dart at a map on the wall.
“As long as it’s somewhere warmer.” She turned the television to a cartoon channel and set the remote aside. “Baby, I need to go bring some firewood in, I’ll only be a few minutes. Stay right here for me.”
She slowly withdrew, noticing he was already engrossed in the singing…er…whatever those colorful things were on the screen. Adam was easily amused, swaying to the catchy beat of the music.
She wrapped a scarf around her neck, grabbed her coat, gloves and boots and headed out to the woodpile. Darn, she needed to split some first. Why hadn’t Josh split the wood while he was here, talking about sports and weather? Her gloves weren’t thick enough to fend off all the splinters and last time she split wood; she’d still ended up pulling splinters out of her palms.
“That darn Joshua.” Muttering, she picked up the mallet and wedge and balanced them over a round chunk of wood. Slam. The log broke neatly into three sections. If nothing else, splitting wood was good for stress relief and probably some therapeutic benefits. “Like imaging certain undesirable faces.” She giggled as she swung the mallet down on the wedge again.
Minutes later, with a large bit of wood tucked under her arm, she rushed back in the house. Was Adam still good with the cartoon? Would her dad ever help watch Adam so she could split wood and handle the repairs once she started on them? So far, he took meals with her and Adam, and might watch a TV show, but preferred his own space. He liked to sit in the rocker in the living room, the family room, or stay ensconced in his bedroom.
She dropped the wood with a thud as her cell phone rang. She tripped over the logs and snatched it off the table.
“Is this Dawson Patrick?”
The blunt, rough voice could only belong to one be-speckled, anti-Christmas, handsome man. Her heart fluttered at the quick baritone.
“Your books came in today.”
She smiled. Great. Now she could really get some work done. “Thanks.” She copied his curt speech. “We’ll be in this morning.”
She stared at the phone in her hand and shook her head. The man took abrupt to a whole new level. She moved over to the fireplace and fed a few logs into the fire, poking the embers to life. Heat lifted out into the room.
“Dad, Adam and I are running into town. Do you need anything?”
His voice drifted into the living room like a ghostly specter. “I’m not so old I can’t drive myself in if I need to.”
“I was only offering,” she muttered under her breath, huffing into the fire. Her bangs fluttered against her forehead. Soon she’d need a haircut, as she hadn’t taken time during the whirlwind divorce. Her dad closed his bedroom door and her heart sighed. “Come on, sweetie. Let’s go shopping.”
Adam pulled away from the dancing...things, and eagerly dressed.
“We can see more Christmas decorations.”
She smiled and could not help but think of Samuel Johnson. “Yep, we’ll probably see one of those too.”
At least her little man showed some enthusiasm over something. First, she wanted to change sweaters. On their way out, she cast one lingering look at the dishes she’d left soaking before she joined Adam with his show. Maybe while they were out the dish fairy might stop by. Hopefully, she’d bring a bunch of her friends. They could wave their magic wands and not only wash the dishes but fix each item on her list.
She helped Adam into his car seat. And if the fairies fixed the house, would her dad allow her to stay on until she came up with a better plan? She blew out another heavy breath, feeling weights settle down upon her shoulders.
“What’s that, baby?”
Adam pointed out to the lazily tumbling snowflakes she hadn’t noticed. “Magic.”
His tone wasn’t questioning. He seemed confident in his short statement. She studied the large flakes. “Sort of. They’re snowflakes. They’re frozen water like rain drops. Except these are cold. They look the same but supposedly no two are ever alike.”
“Magic,” Adam cheerfully affirmed as he pressed his palm to the windowpane.
Dawson’s heart melted at the wonder in her son’s eyes. “Yes, they sure are. You are so smart.”
* * *
They arrived in town and she parked two blocks from the bookstore. “Take my hand.” Together they walked the snowy brick path winding along the storefronts. City workers balanced a huge evergreen as they secured it to its base on the city square. They paused to watch, and Adam laughed at the utility trucks. Doubtlessly workers would string lights and decorate it with baubles.
She’d read in the paper how Santa was arriving Saturday to light the tree and the shop keepers were offering cocoa and caroling and games for the kids and there was even supposed to be a sleigh ride. The fire department was going to hose down part of the park and let it freeze for a small skating rink. Dawson glanced at Adam. Saturday they were coming back to town. He would have a front row seat to see Santa. Maybe she could get her dad to come too.
She remembered when she and Josh were younger, Mom and Dad always brought them to see the tree lighting, drink cocoa, meet Santa, sit on his knee to read her wish-list. How many times had she fibbed about how good a girl she’d been all year?
She glanced at Adam, his gaze riveted to the city workers and their big truck. Her heart constricted. Would he boldly approach Santa and speak? Could the child who saw magic in snowflakes have the potential to grow into complete sentences?
“I sure hope so, baby.” She gave his gloved hand a squeeze. “But if not, that’s okay too.” Adam gave her a mystified glance and began catching snowflakes on his tongue, giggling when he caught one.
“Okay, let’s go get our books. Grandpa has a long list for us.”
Some stores had music playing and it filtered through the doorways, each shop offering a different song. Chimes of Little Drummer Boy and Angels We Have Heard on High made her want to stop and linger. It felt like she’d just stepped back in time to an old Christmas card. But she was on a mission today and couldn’t linger.
“Here we are, Chapter Twenty-Five.” She guided Adam into the space and immediately noticed the lack of holiday cheer. It smelled clean, and lacked any clutter, but it might have been June for the absence of holiday cheer. Her gaze drifted to the motley tree and the pitiful gold globes that drooped on their branches. It was just so wrong.
Samuel’s neutral greeting snapped her attention back to the counter where he seemed to magically pop up from. She smiled at the thought and moved her hand through her hair, suddenly self-conscious.
“Hi. So you’re ready to put me to work.”
He blinked, a startled gaze passing over his face. “Huh?”
Still with the one-word sentences. Talking to him wasn’t much different than talking to Adam, or her dad. “The books. Now I’ll have to read them and get to work on my dad’s house.”
“Oh.” He gave her a slow nod and slid a stack of books toward her.
Dawson brought her wallet out. She hated to charge them but right now she didn’t have too many other choices. Instead of taking her card, Samuel came around the counter and knelt by Adam.
“Hey, buddy. I have something you might like.” He held out his hand with a shiny red and blue racecar in his palm.
Adam’s eyes lit up and he reached for the car. Halfway, he stopped and looked up at Dawson. Her throat clogged with love for her son and gratitude for Samuel. She nodded and cleared her throat.
“Yes, sweetie. You may play with it.”
Adam wasted no time in taking the car. He dropped to the floor and began making car sounds as he pushed it around.
“That was very kind of you.”
Samuel shrugged. “I used to keep a box of cars and dolls out here for the little kids.”
Interesting. A man who can hold only one and two-word conversations with her can speak a whole sentence. And he likes kids enough to keep toys out for them. Yet he dismisses Christmas as unimportant. Samuel Johnson was an enigma, but right now, Dawson wanted to hug him.
“Why don’t we keep the car here for Adam to play with the next time we come in?”
His dark eyes flashed with surprise at her suggestion. “You plan to come back?”
She didn’t need any more repair books. And she sure didn’t need to be charging luxuries like romance novels or mysteries on her credit card. She blew out a sigh. “Sure, why not?” Now that Samuel was speaking full sentences, she regressed to short replies.
He smiled, a slow twist of his lips that reached his eyes and twirled her tummy. At her feet, Adam roared and chugged, playing for all he was worth. She’d have to search dad’s house and see if they had saved any of Joshua’s old toys. She’d only brought a few stuffed toys on their trip and now she regretted not packing more for him. Samuel’s smile made her heart stammer. Then she realized she still held her card. “Oh, um, how much? For the books?”
Samuel named a price and she handed the card over. Their fingers brushed and he quickly looked away as he made the transaction and slid the receipt over for her to sign.
“Is that your ugly sweater?”
She took her card and receipt, jolts of electricity zapping through her fingertips.
“Um, no, this is my tacky sweater.” She’d taken some tacks from her dad’s garage and stitched them onto a thrift store sweater, spelling out the word NOEL. Suddenly she felt ultra-conscious of his hooded stare and she questioned the sanity of her impulsive shirt. Samuel turned to the register, his head bent.
“Stay away from magnets.”
“What’s your favorite Christmas movie?” she asked impulsively.
She stepped closer to him. “Your go-to Christmas movie. Are you old-fashioned and like Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street? Classics like It’s a Wonderful Life? Feel good with a dependable array of Hallmark movies or do you secretly binge the cartoons like Charlie Brown’s Christmas?”
“I do not like Christmas shows.”
She shrank a little from his stern admission.
“None at all?”
“Oh,” she inhaled and drew back. “So you’re more the Grinch-y type.”
He was starting to look frustrated and she edged toward the door. “You know, the green fellow who stole Christmas from everyone else. Remember?”
“I’m sure I don’t.”