Mistletoe in Maine

By: Ginny Baird

Chapter One

Carol Baker imagined herself in the snowy scene… An idyllic Victorian mansion sat high on a hill, overlooking a frozen lake. Holly draped from the railing of the wide wraparound porch, and a cheery Christmas wreath hung on its old oak door. She smiled beneath her warm woolen hat as fourteen-year-old Will and nine-year-old Ashley put the final touches on their snowman. Suddenly, Ashley turned on her big brother, hurling a snowball. “Oh no, you don’t,” he charged with a grin, scooping up some snow of his own and pelting back. Carol laughed heartily, joining in the fray. It was the first time she and her kids had enjoyed each other’s company in months.

Carol sighed and closed the cover of the glitzy brochure she’d been perusing, setting it on the dining room table. How she wished she could really take her kids on that kind of family holiday.

“What’s that?” Ashley asked. Her daughter had just come indoors from a rousing game of basketball, during which she’d no doubt whipped the tail of the ten-year-old boy next door. Her cheeks were pink from the nip in the air, her sweatshirt slightly speckled with moisture.

Carol glanced out the window, noting dark clouds rolling in. “Is it raining?”

Ashley pulled off her hoodie. “Just started. It’s getting really windy too.” It seemed they were in for another winter storm—all rain, with temperatures hovering right around forty. If only they had luscious snow like Carol had been dreaming about in New England.

Will emerged from the kitchen, snacking on a meatloaf sandwich. The boy always seemed to be eating these days. Perhaps that was because he was growing like a weed. “Is that where we’re going on vacation?” he asked, motioning to the brochure on the table.

Ashley took it in her hands, fanning it open. “The Love Inn?” she said with a big, broad smile. “Sounds sweet!”

Will polished off his sandwich, peering over her shoulder. “Yeah, Mom, look. They’ve even got dog sledding.”

Yes, Carol had looked in to that, and its incumbent price tag. She could nowhere afford that kind of fun on her public-schoolteacher’s salary. “Dog sledding’s expensive,” she said with a sympathetic smile. “I’m afraid we can’t swing that this year. In fact, we won’t be making it to Maine at all.”

Ashley shot her a worried look. “But you said we were going skiing.”

“Yes, honey, and we will,” Carol said brightly, producing a new pamphlet. “In Asheville!”

Her kids’ faces fell as they studied the dismal brown condos hugging the side of a craggy mountain. Their placement looked Photoshopped as log-shaped lettering proclaimed: Discount Family Vacations. Lightning crackled outside, and the sky opened up in a downpour.

“Oh,” Ashley said with a frown.

“For Maine, we’d have to buy airline tickets,” Carol explained. “Asheville’s within driving distance.”

“Looks cool, Mom. Really.” Will nudged his sister.

“Yeah,” Ashley said, brightening. “I’m sure it will be great.”

Just then, the doorbell rang. Carol glanced down at her sweatshirt and jeans. She’d been so busy grading papers, she hadn’t even bothered to put on makeup today. “Are you two expecting anybody?”

Will and Ashley shrugged and shook their heads.

“Probably just a delivery person,” Carol said, straightening her short brown ponytail.

Carol pulled open the front door to find a curly-headed man holding Christmas packages. Behind him, rain came down in droves.

“Hi, Carol, nice to see you.”

“Jim.” Her stomach clenched, making her feel ill all over. “You could have called.”

“I thought I’d surprise the kids on my way to the airport.”

Carol noted his dark sports car parked in the drive. A stunning, young blonde waited inside. Naturally, Jim was headed to the airport. He and Brenda hadn’t stopped traveling since they’d hooked up. When he’d been married to Carol, he’d never taken her anywhere.

“Is that Daddy?” Ashley called from inside. She rushed out on the porch and wrapped her arms around him. “Daddy, it is you!” she said with a happy laugh. “Come in the house. You’re getting wet!”

“Merry Christmas, angel,” he said with a happy grin.

Carol burned to rail at him for every single Christmas, birthday, and special event he’d missed. Instead, she pressed her lips together and cleared the way for him to walk indoors.

Will ambled in from the next room and cast his dad a wary eye.

“How you doing, son?” Jim asked in a jovial tone.