I have always wanted to write a Christmas Novella, and this year I am determined that I will. In fact, I hope to write it over the next few weeks. I won’t publish it until next November, though. But I am excited about it and okay with setting my current writing project, On Bur Oak Ridge, my fourth novel in my upcoming Sheltering Trees series, aside for a little while. I thought you might enjoy the opening to my novella, which I wrote last night. *Keep in mind a professional editor has not looked at this work, so you may find a few mistakes.*
Holly’s Homecoming: a Christmas Novella
Chippewa Falls, WI
Ahead, shrouded in a winter mist, the road home ended, past which Holly hadn’t been in over ten years. She stood as still and frosty as the morning, peering into the unknown of what awaited her.
Holly gulped, gripping the handle on her rose-patterned carpetbag tighter, swallowed, and willed her black-booted feet to move.
This is a mistake.
She could tell herself that all day, but she had to know, had to find out if the rumor she’d heard from Mr. Grady, their neighbor, was true—that her father, the lumber baron, had returned. And then there was the fact that she hadn’t even told Aunt Nel where she’d gone. Nel would be furious if she knew.
“That brother of mine, a scallywag and a poor excuse for a father to boot. To say nothing of what he did to Eliza.” Holly had heard it over and over throughout the years she had lived with Aunt Nel and Uncle Harland—Har for short.
Vague memories drifted to Holly sometimes of her mother, Eliza Moore. Holly closed her eyes. There it was, imprinted on her mind, a faint image and the smell of lilacs like a reoccurring dream: an alabaster cheek with the barest bloom of tulip pink brushing the curve, those deep-brown eyes, so warm, dark ringlets of hair, and a thin but pretty smile, exposing a bright, white flash of teeth. And then the laugh, tinkling and merry. Aunt Nel said Holly looked like her mother, and Holly supposed she did.
That was all Holly held of her mother, really. All she recalled. They’d been to the river’s shore on that bright, sunny summer day, Mother, Father, and her. Holly had been only five, she thought, but who knew if what she remembered was a dream or reality. Or perhaps a little of both.
Father’s sturdy face, edged in frosted dark hair clung more clearly to her memory but not a happy one. An overpowering sense of sadness accompanied her thoughts of him. When she sorted through the internal portraits she retained of him, his crisp blue eyes stuck with her, radiating a quiet pain. But his stiffness had been what she’d felt the day they parted and he had left her with Nel and Har on their farm. The one hand he had placed on her shoulder had pressed down firmly, almost finally. He had whispered goodbye and then was gone.
Holly shook her head clear of the memories, too long past now and walked on, her boots leaving fresh prints in the new-fallen, crunchy snow. She gazed up. the trees over the drive were old and the long-armed, tangled branches wove a sort of canopy overhead. But whether it was sheltering or foreboding, Holly couldn’t discern.
Mr. Grady had dropped her off at the end of the drive to Grapevine Lodge just a few minutes ago. Holly heard the bells on the sleigh still jingling in the distance. Holly had timed her plan to coincide with Mr. Grady’s milk pickup, and she knew he’d never refuse her a favor.
Now as she walked, with each few feet closer, the imposing structure of the lodge became clearer. It’s high peaked beams, white lattice woodworking, and leaded window panes didn’t look that familiar to Holly. But something about the boxwood hedge brought back a memory of her running along it, her chestnut hair fluttering behind her with her hand brushing the edge of the green hedge as she went. Holly reached out and touched the greenish boxwood, frosted with snow.
“Mornin’ to ya, Miss, but we have no need of peddlers here.”
Holly turned to look where the chilly voice had come from. She spied a middle-aged woman in a stiff looking black dress, white apron, and cap. Standing on a stoop a ways down the lodge, the woman beat a small rag-rug into submission. Dust floated up and caught the filtered sun’s rays like fools’ gold, until she stopped and focused on Holly.
“Oh, no; I’m . . . I’m not a peddler.” Holly held a red wool, mittened hand to her throat. “I’m here to see . . . well, that is to say . . .” Holly coughed and swallowed, her throat sandpapery. The words that she had practiced saying seemed so clear to her an hour ago but now died on her tongue.
The woman leaned the wire beater up against the cedar siding and stood with her hands on her hips. “Well, spit it out,” she demanded.
“I’ve come to see . . .” but Holly couldn’t finish.
“Ah, you’ve come about that position, I suppose.” With a bracing look, the woman frowned and eyed her up and down. “Well, I expect you’ll do and will be as good as any as we’ll get around here, though you do look a mite small.” She nodded her head, opening the heavy-looking side door. “This a’ way; don’t dawdle.” The woman gestured with an impatient flick of her hand toward the door she held open.
“Yes, yes, of course.” Holly gave her a tight smile and stepped down the brick walkway and through the open doorway.
This could play in my favor, Holly surmised. She’d been worried about whether Father would recognize her or not. Holly was terrified that he wouldn’t, but then worse—he would and wouldn’t want to see her, talk to her.
“Haven’t had a proper housemaid since before Mr. Moore left. Been only me and old Thomas watching over the place for those renting. I’m Mrs. Porter.” She didn’t extend her hand in greeting but instead held the door open wider for Holly. Mrs. Porter continued and slid one hand down her apron. “I’ll get a uniform for you then inform you of your duties.”
A housemaid? It might just be the perfect way to introduce myself slowly to Grapevine Lodge again and to Father.
But she wouldn’t want to worry Aunt Nel and Uncle Har. She’d send them a note, vaguely saying she’d obtained a job in town as a maid. At least she wouldn’t be lying.
Holly smiled, nodded, and said, “Thank you, kindly.” She walked through the open doorway, and Mrs. Porter followed, closing the door behind them and closing in Holly’s dream of coming home, though not in the way she’d expected.
Thanks for reading!
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of my work in progress.
I recently read a sweet Christmas novella by Amanda Dykes, entitled—Bespoke: a Tiny Christmas Tale. Right not it’s free on Kindle.
Are you reading any Christmas novellas or novels right now? If you are, let me know what they are in the comments.