Posted by Nancy Northcott Dec 15 2016, 12:44 am in Christmas, fantasy, Light Mage Wars, Romance, short story
This was a fun story to write. I’m a sucker for holiday decorations, and I enjoyed creating a situation where the decorations played a central role.
There used to be a young man in our neighborhood who decorated his small house and yard to the max every Christmas. He had “Merry Christmas” spelled out in lights on his fence, outlined his entire house (including the windows) in lights, and had inflatables in his yard and on his roof. We loved his Christmas kitsch so much that we drove by several times each year to admire it. Never having met him, we didn’t know his name. We just referred to him as Christmas Guy.
I don’t have any photos of Christmas Guy’s magnificent efforts, but I like this photo of a hotel in Barcelona, Spain, when the city was decorated for Christmas. The red lights at left, about halfway up, are made of light strings in loops, several of them hanging together. Apparently Antoni Gaudi, the famous architect, used a similar device to create in inverted arches.
Like I said, I’m a sucker for decorations. Unfortunately, lights don’t always photograph clearly on my little camera.
Anyway, getting back to the story…
Because I so enjoy decorations, I knew I want them to play a big part in “The Magic Christmas Guy,” and the title obviously had to have Christmas Guy in it. And I wanted to use the town of Wayfarer from my Light Mage Wars series because small towns make a bigger thing of their Christmas celebrations than big cities.
The small town near my high school had a Christmas parade every year, and our band marched in it. My hometown had a big pine tree on Main Street that was decorated with lights every year–until Hurricane Hugo took it out.
So this was going to be a story set in Wayfarer, and the perfect foil for Christmas Guy was a woman who didn’t celebrate the holidays. She’s not a grinch, but her family suffered a holiday tragedy that led them to avoid all things Christmas-related as much as possible.
Here’s the description:
A Heart Scarred by Loss
Who knew that the small town of Wayfarer, Georgia, was freaking Christmas Central? Accountant Jenny Bridges, haunted by the Christmas Eve death of her twin sister, plans to ignore the twinkling lights and festivities and focus on her new job, which she desperately needs. Her boss, however, insists that Jenny help her hunky neighbor across the street—who just happens to be a mage like she is—with the town’s annual holiday carnival.
A Magic Man
Deputy Mike McLean loves Christmas. Every wreath, every colored bulb, every ho, ho, ho. Each December for decades, his family has hosted the town’s annual charity carnival at their old Victorian home, and this year his pretty new neighbor adds extra zing. Lo and behold, she’s a mage, too, but as the attraction between them sparkles like the lights on the holiday trees, Jenny sees it, and him, as a betrayal of her sister’s memory.
A Season for Miracles
What Jenny doesn’t know is that along with holiday spirit and magical gifts, Mike has patience in spades. Can the hope of the season heal her wounded soul, and make the kind of magic that lasts forever?
And here’s a look at Mike and Jenny’s first meeting:
Maybe moving here was a mistake.
As the grocery checkout line moved forward, Jenny Bridges steeled herself for the conversation at the register. How could anyone guess that Wayfarer, Georgia, a town famed for its love of New Age woo-woo, would also be totally gaga for the holiday that had scarred her soul?
Anyway, it wasn’t as though she’d had a lot of choices about where to start over. She’d been tarnished by association after her unexpectedly scuzzbucket ex embezzled from a client of the Atlanta accounting firm where they both worked. On top of that, he’d billed hours he hadn’t worked. Jenny’s own records had been scrutinized like a new microbe in a plague zone. They were clean, of course, because she was honest. That had saved her from being fired, but the taint persisted.
Even worse, word had gotten around in the professional community, as word always did, and Jenny had become about as desirable an employee as a mangy dog. If her uncle hadn’t approached an old friend who ran a firm here in Wayfarer, Jenny would’ve been caught in the limbo of a disgraced employee with no chance for advancement and no alternate prospects.
“Merry Christmas, Lissa,” the cashier said to the thin, graying woman picking up her bag. “Happy Solstice, too. Y’all havin’ a party?”
“Not this year. We’re goin’ to my sister’s. Merry Christmas to you, too, Estelle, and Happy Kwanzaa.”
Lissa Whoever moved on, and the lanky guy behind her with the gold wire-rimmed glasses and unruly mop of brown hair stepped up. His easy smile lit his lean, solemn face and made him downright handsome. “Y’all getting ready for Christmas, Estelle?”
“Working on it, Reverend. How’re things at the shelter? You gonna have a full house for the holidays?”
“I hope not. People are happier when they’re settled somewhere.”
He must be the director of the community shelter. Jenny’d heard good things about it in the six weeks she’d lived here. She tuned out the conversation. Two more people ahead of her.
Two more holiday conversations, and then she was up.
But her family’s loss wasn’t these well-intentioned, friendly people’s problem. So she would do what she always did during the Christmas season, suck it up and deal. She would smile and say something neutral and hide the grief that had never gone away.
And she was definitely buying her groceries in big loads until the holiday was over. If she hadn’t forgotten it was her turn to bring the office coffee, she wouldn’t be here this morning.
At last, Jenny reached the register. She set the coffee on the cashier’s stand and braced herself.
“Well, hey, Jenny. That’ll be thirteen ninety-three, please. You all set for Christmas?”
“More or less.” Relaxed, easy tone, smile in place. All good. Jenny passed over the money. “My parents are coming, but we don’t really celebrate the holidays, so there isn’t much to do.”
Estelle didn’t need to know that the Christmas Eve death of Jenny’s twin sister twelve years ago, when they were fifteen, had pretty much demolished the holiday at the Bridges house. Nor could she know that Josie’s death had been caused by the dark magic users known as ghouls. No Mundane, or normal person, could know that. Or that ghouls kidnapped mages and Mundanes as breeders or snacks or just to torment for the hell of it.
Whatever the ghouls had intended for Josie, at least she’d escaped that.
Smiling, Estelle bagged the coffee and handed it over. “Well, there’s a lot to be said for a quiet day or two. You have a good one.”
Jenny thanked her. Hurrying toward the market’s glass front, she let out a relieved breath. That wasn’t so bad.
People did mean well, and the difficult part of the year lasted about a month. If everyone else was as laid back as Estelle, Jenny could deal. She’d come to like this pretty, friendly, somewhat eccentric town.
People were so informal here. The cashier at her grocery store in Atlanta had never learned her name. But cashiers there tended to come and go. Jenny’d heard that Estelle had run the register at Wayfarer Market for more than twenty years.
A man in the khaki shirt, green trousers, brown ball cap, and leather jacket of the Wayfarer County Sheriff’s Department was on his way in. He stepped back, holding the front door for Jenny. Before she could thank him, a faint magical vibe brushed her skin as it resonated with her own power.
He was a fellow mage. What were the odds that she would meet another mage in this town?
When she looked up in surprise, he said, “Hey, neighbor.”
His familiar face stopped her in her tracks, and her heart did a pit-a-pat. “You live across the street from me.”
“Sure do.” He let the door swing shut and extended his hand. “Mike McLean. I’ve been meaning to come say hello, but I’ve been on the night shift. Makes for a weird schedule.”
“I bet.” She shook the offered hand, and the contact generated a little buzz of excitement that had nothing to do with both of them being mageborn.
“I’m Jenny Bridges,” she added, recovering. She tugged at her hand, and he released it. His warm smile, though, said he’d been reluctant to let go and didn’t care that she knew it. He was confident.
And way too attractive. Glimpsing him from across the street, she’d found the view very appealing. Up close, he was seriously hot.
She continued, “The few times I’ve seen you, I’ve been running late, so I didn’t introduce myself.”
“We’ve fixed that now.” He grinned, and Jenny naturally grinned back. He was one of those people whose mood was infectious. His open, friendly smile was such a contrast with her sleazoid ex, Grant’s, calculation.
Mike also had sheer, male presence to back up his broad-shouldered, muscular build and rugged features. The short, brown hair and brown eyes didn’t hurt either. The intense interest in those eyes made Jenny’s heart flutter.
Scrambling for something intelligent to say, she came up with, “Your house is so gorgeous. Victorian, right?” Set on a huge lot, it was a warm shade of slate blue, with white gingerbread trim along the eaves.
“That’s right, and thanks. I grew up there.”
“I imagine you’ll be glad when all the work on it’s finished.”
“Work?” He looked baffled.
She raised her eyebrows. “You know, the electricians and bucket trucks and carpenters and even landscapers in your driveway?”
“Oh, them.” He smiled, and his eyes held a glint of humor. “You hadn’t heard that I host the Wayfarer Christmas Carnival?”
Christmas. Oh, no. Jenny forced a smile. “No wonder things have been so busy over there. I’ve heard enough to know the carnival is a big event for the town.” It was an annual fundraiser for the town’s library and community shelter, but she hadn’t paid much attention. “I’m surprised no one at work mentioned that it was across from my house.”
“Maybe they figured you knew.” He shrugged. “It’ll all be done this afternoon, though. I’ll have the lights on at seven. Swing by, and you’ll see it all.”
“I’m sure it’s beautiful, but I don’t really celebrate Christmas. Thanks, though.”
His smile faded a bit. “Sure. If you change your mind, you’re always welcome.”
“Thanks.” The disappointment in his face was subtle and definite. And flattering. Her own regret was sharper than she’d expected. But no way was she immersing herself in something that celebrated all she’d lost with Josie’s death.
An elderly couple who looked past retirement age started out of the market. Mike grabbed the door for them. They exchanged greetings, and he introduced Jenny. The couple, Bert and Sally Dickson, moved on with a “See you tonight, Mike.”
Mike turned back to Jenny. “You on your way to work?”
“Yeah. I imagine you have, er, perps to catch or something.”
“Not many perps in Wayfarer.” He grinned again, making her pulse, unfortunately, skip. “We mostly get neighborly disputes, the occasional kid shoplifting to see if it feels cool, and some out-of-towners speeding. But I should get back to it. Good to meet you at last.”
Opening the door again, he doffed the ball cap and jammed it into his back pocket.
Jenny hurried back to her car. He was friendly and hot and a mage, but hosting the carnival meant he was also, unfortunately, a serious Christmas Guy. Just what she didn’t need. He was the first attractive guy she’d met since dumping Grant, and he was all wrong for her. Absolutely.
So that’s a brief look at “The Magic Christmas Guy.” In the real world, we got our Christmas tree today, though we won’t decorate it until the weekend. That’s when we’ll also pull out the boxes of decorations accumulated over the years and dig out the wrapping paper and really dive into the holiday.
One of the decorations I always make sure actually goes on the tree is pictured at left, a plastic reindeer I saved when my parents downsized. I think he used to have eight companions, but he was the last one left. I saved him because he’s a piece of Christmases past, a tangible reminder of holidays long gone by. My parents probably got him at a dime store (what we had before big boxes like Target), but he has lasted a long time.
I’ll be back the day after Christmas, aka Boxing Day, hanging out and chatting with whoever drops by. I hope you’ll be able to pop in. Today, though, let’s talk decorating. What’s your favorite holiday decoration, either at Christmas or for another season or you celebrate?