Hello, and how is your month going, aaaaaand I’m literally blanking on a good introduction to this blog post. 😉 #honesttogoodnesstruth
Basically, I thought it would be fun to share another chapter of my new novella Sincerely, Jem.
(If you haven’t read chapter one yet, catch it here.)
Chapter Two: Between the Tree and the Wall
There were garlands everywhere. Swagged across doorways, trailing down window trim, looping around and around the stair railing. Tinsel and bows, twinkling lights and ribbon decorated the garlands, making each one unique yet still coordinated with the others. In the kitchen, there was even a garland hanging from the edge of the island, which Jessie got a good view of every time she braved the crowd in the dining room to get a mini cheesecake.
Ember had done a perfect job making them, Jessie decided. They were creamy white with a crust that was crunchy moments before it melted in her mouth. She took another cheesecake, her last one for a while, and leaned against the kitchen counter to eat it.
As she peeled back the baking wrapper and began to nibble at the heavenly cheesecake, she let herself study the people crowded into the dining room. People of all ages, types, shapes, sizes, levels of noisiness, and levels of nosiness were happy to be there and around each other. Owen had found some other young teenage boys his age to play a board game with, and others of her family were fitting in seamlessly.
She sighed and threw away her empty wrapper, then drifted out to the quietly welcoming living room to see what was happening there.
Only a few people were in this room. Dad sat on the couch holding Baby Noel and talking to Mr. Donovan, their host. He was an older man straight from a storybook just like his house, and his sky-blue eyes twinkled as he spoke. Jessie recognized him from church choir where he stood between Dad and Owen in the tenor section.
Ember and her guy, Ben, had found each other immediately, and now they shared the piano seat and some pretty cute smiles. Jessie giggled to herself and shook her head.
She leaned in the doorway, not exactly welcome in one room and not exactly interested in being in the other.
The shimmering Christmas tree began a staring contest with her, and if she hadn’t been so bored, it would have beaten her sooner. She drifted toward it, finding the numerous ornaments fascinating. Here, a little horse, carved out of wood and handpainted with vibrant red reins and a little face. Next, a crystal star that shone in the light and danced as it hung from a branch.
Jessie moved from one ornament to the next, never touching them but soaking in their stories with her eyes. She reached out to touch one of the tree branches and rubbed it between her fingers. The strong, wonderful smell of pine met her nose. Definitely real.
She’d bumped from one slightly gossipy conversation to another awkward one, and it had left her feeling exhausted and out of place.
She was being unfair, she knew. Strangers weren’t usually comfortable diving right into esoteric or quirky conversations. Which reminded her… she still had last night’s weird dream to write about in her inspiration book.
Glancing around the room like an introverted spy, she tiptoed past Dad and Mr. Donovan to the coat rack. She fished around in her coat pocket and pulled out the notebook. The library receipt she’d found fluttered to the ground, so she stooped to pick it up. The words were too faded to read, but at least it would make a nice bookmark.
She slid it between the pages and returned to inspecting the Christmas tree. The space between it and the wall practically invited her to enter it, and she sank down on the carpet.
Her black shoes she’d changed into just peeked out from under the edge of her skirt, and she reached out to rub a scuffed spot on one toe. She had done well being a normal socializing person for the first three hours of the party, but conversationally tiptoeing around small talk and trying not to eat too many cheesecakes around strangers got tiring quickly.
Jessie leaned her head against the wall and pulled the bobby pins out of her hair, letting it fall loose around her shoulders. Now for the dream. She flipped to the sheet labeled “Dreams” and scrawled out her frightening and surprisingly humorous nightmare of that morning.
Apparently a rhinoceros had been wearing heels and began to tap dance all over the dress she’d ironed specifically for the party. Jessie giggled to herself, imagining the picture she would draw if she could, then shut her mouth quickly.
It would be awkward if someone found her laughing behind the Christmas tree.
She looked up just in time to see the first guests trickling from the overcrowded dining room into this one to grab their coats and say goodbye. Time to make her reappearance. Another cheesecake was a good excuse. Standing up, she hid her inspiration book by the side of her skirt and slipped out into the room.
Mr. Donovan was just turning away from shutting the door behind his guests, and his eyes lit in amusement when he saw her. “Enjoying the party, Jessica?”
Jessie flushed. “Mostly. I really like your Christmas tree.”
“Yes, it’s lovely, isn’t it?” He moved toward the tree, clasping his hands behind his back. “My wife takes great delight in decorating the tree for Christmas. She told me, none of this nonsense of perfectly matching ornaments, memories matter more to her. We even left that space between it and the wall so she can read behind it sometimes.”
Jessie looked at the tree in surprise and tried to picture Mrs. Donovan, always so elegant at the church piano, sitting in the same place she’d just been. So Judy wasn’t the only person who would understand her, after all! What a shame the most inspiring person she’d just discovered couldn’t have come to the party.
She turned to Mr. Donovan. “You both did a lovely job. I’m sorry she couldn’t be here today, or I would tell her myself.”
Mr. Donovan chuckled. “You and me both, though I think she’s quite happy where she is right now. Visiting a sick grandchild. That’s another thing that is important to her.”
“But you’ll get your chance to see her again sometime, and maybe then you can tell her.”
Copyright 2019 Kate Willis
You can read more in the A Very Bookish Christmas anthology. 😉
(Also, my Christmas tree looks so pretty right now, I’m tempted to go sit behind it.)