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Jillian Magee, a fifth-grade math teacher who loves Christmas, has a freezer filled with Christmas cookies, all her Christmas gifts wrapped, and the red scarves all knitted for her caroling party. Unfortunately, the universe seems bent on depriving her of joy this season, even when it supplies her with a well-intentioned celestial do-gooder—a quirky female version of Jacob Marley.
Tristán Solano, famous as Trystan Sol in the rock music world, grew up across the street from Jillian Magee, his first friend at five years old and the woman he left in order to grab the brass ring. After eight years with a popular group, earning more money than he can possibly spend in one lifetime, he longs for his old, uncomplicated life. As Christmas approaches, he leaves the band and heads home with his four-year-old daughter.
Will Jillian have her heart broken again, or can she and Tristán overcome the past and keep each other warm this Christmas?
Page Count: 164
Word Count: 41546
Jillian slid down the door jamb, sat heavily on the wooden floor, and lowered her head into her hands. Christmas was supposed to be perfect. Weren’t there twelve dozen homemade Christmas cookies in her freezer, waiting to be boxed up for friends and family? Wasn’t the outside of her house decorated like the best Chevy Chase Christmas ever? Wasn’t everything on her gift list checked off? Well…almost everything. So why had the season started off on the wrong foot and continued to go downhill?
For starters, no snow. No snow angels, no snow forts, no snowmen. No snow at all in her little town of Green Earth, Minnesota. Yep, frozen ground, but not one iota of snow. And with less than two weeks until her Christmas break from school, temperatures in the fifties. If that wasn’t bad enough, her entire family had decided they had other plans this year and left her to fend for herself, over Christmas, for cryin’ out loud. And she didn’t care one patootie about their excuses. Well, okay…they had good ones, but still.
And last, but not least, no boyfriend. Gone. MIA. The inscrutable Brian had decided he needed to think about their relationship—over the holiday, in St. Croix. By himself. Are you kidding me?
She let out a longsuffering sigh and, after casting the evil eye at Buster, pulled herself up from the floor to shuffle back to her bedroom. The mess in the living room would have to wait. If she didn’t shower immediately, she’d be late for work.
Jillian liked to arrive at school an hour before her students to fine tune her lesson plan. She needed to make sure she had enough copies of the daily handout and get her math manipulatives in order. Her ten-year-old students could wreak havoc on any lesson not planned to the enth degree.
After glancing at the clock on her nightstand, she decided against making a lunch or buying one at the Sheridan Intermediate School’s who-would-ever-eat-this-stuff cafeteria. She’d get a bite to eat at Nola’s Diner, a small cozy restaurant a block down from Sheridan. Melissa, her BFF, waitressed five days a week there, and what were friends for, if not to vent on?
After a quick shower, she pulled her long, curly hair into a ponytail—hair that was the auburn version of her red-haired Irish father’s. She brushed a light foundation over her smooth golden skin to cover the smattering of freckles over her pert nose—the skin, her Italian mother’s contribution. A swipe of mascara on long lashes, light pink gloss on her full lips, and she was ready to go. When she smiled at her appearance in the bathroom mirror, three dimples popped out—two on her right cheek and one on her left. Darn it, anyway. Why couldn’t she have had four dimples, evenly divided? Or better yet, none. Bah, humbug.
She opted for basic white underwear, shoved her legs into a pair of beige khakis, and pulled on a bright red, long-sleeved polo shirt, only to yank it off and exchange the shirt for a dark brown, crewneck sweater. Red looked too much like Christmas, and she was on a mission—Scrooge inspired.
She stopped in the living room for one last look. She glanced past the damaged tree and through the front bay window to the abandoned white clapboard house across the street. The lovely old home mirrored her own and brought back bittersweet memories. Glancing down at the big tabby, she heaved another sigh. “Behave yourself while I’m at work. Christmas hasn’t been the same for the last eight years, Buster, without anything else piled on.” In his esoteric way, Buster was noncommittal.
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