Dee Wallace's father died six months before her mother made her spend Christmas Day with a man Dee hated, the bully from school and a house full of strangers. There she meets Max Portland, who somehow made everything about her first Christmas without her father better.
Over the next several years, Dee and Max come together at Christmastime and the timing is never right for them to be together. How many Christmases does it take to grow up and fall in love?
Anna Clayton lives in upstate NY with her husband, kids, dogs, cats and a bunch of other pets. When she's not playing matchmaker in her stories, she loves to read, cook, hike and connect with readers.
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Christmas Day, 1998
Deidre Wallace wanted the world to cancel Christmas.
It wasn’t fair. Everything went on like normal for everybody else, but her world would never be the same again.
Her dad was gone. He’d died six months ago, and she missed him even more today than when he had first passed away.
Now she had to sit in the backseat of the car while Mom drove them to his house for Christmas dinner. She hated him. He had been there when Dad had died, and he should have saved her dad.
Just last week Deidre's mom had forced her to sit down so they could watch the movie Home Alone together. If that kid had made it through the holidays and could fight off burglars, she should be able to stay at home for just a few hours without a problem. She’d tried that argument before they’d left the house. Her mother wasn’t having any of it.
“Jingle Bell Rock” came on the radio, and her mom began to hum along. How could she? Why did she think that it was okay to feel happy when everything about their lives felt wrong?
“Can you shut off the radio?”
Dee's mother glanced over her shoulder before reaching out to the dashboard to turn the volume down. “I thought you liked this song, Dee. Remember how you and Dad used to dance around the living room when it would come on?”
Of course she remembered. Dee remembered everything about her dad, which was more than she could say for her mother. “Yeah, I remember. That’s why I don’t want it on.”
She saw her mother’s shoulders slump, and she pressed the power button on the radio. “Honey, I know you miss Dad, but it’s okay to remember all of the good about him. Especially this time of the year. You know how much he loved the holidays.”
Dad hadn’t just loved Christmas. He’d made it magical. For as long as she could remember, every year on November first, he would head out to the garage, climb up into the storage rafters, and bring down box after box of holiday decorations.
Every day until the weekend before Thanksgiving, he’d come home from his factory job and yell, “Dee! I need your help finding my Christmas spirit!” right after closing the front door. Dee would drop whatever it was that she’d been doing to run and body slam into him for a hug.
He’d picked her up and hugged her with her feet dangling above the floor up until last Christmas. Dee thought that she had grown too tall, and she'd told him she was too old to be treated like a little kid anymore. At twelve, she was probably getting kind of mature for everything else, too, but she wasn't ready to give up the tradition with her dad.
No matter how grown-up she felt, she still hugged him when he'd call her to the door, and when she did, she’d inhale the scent of tar from his work at the factory. She didn’t care that it wasn’t that great of a smell. It was her favorite because it was his.
They’d make their way to the garage where he’d place his hands on his hips. Dad looked like the most handsome man in the whole world when he stood there. She’d loved his curly, dark brown hair, huge grin, and how he always wore T-shirts with cartoon characters on them. He'd been perfect.
Dad’s mouth would slowly drop from a smile into a frown before he’d sigh and say, “Well, pumpkin. I can’t decide what we should put out today. There’s too much to choose from. Should we just cancel Christmas and forget about it this year?”
For years she'd screamed “No” and dashed to a box, opened it, and grabbed the first thing she could get her hands on. This past year, her dad had played along when she just grinned and he gestured with his hand to give her the okay to dig in. On really good days, Dad would let her pick two or three decorations to put out around the house.
Mom always watched from the couch when they'd come into the house and would say things like, “I really don’t think we have room for all of those decorations” and “It looks like the Christmas spirit threw up all over our house.” Dad and Dee would laugh while Mom shook her head and smiled.
When the house was all decorated, Dad would take her to visit Grandma and Grandpa at least once a week for hot chocolate and cookies. Mom would stay home because she'd said she didn’t want to intrude on their time together. Dee knew better. Her Mom didn’t always get along with Dad's parents. No one ever talked about it, but it hadn’t been that hard to figure out. Even when they'd go over for other holidays and birthdays, Mom would always have a reason why she wouldn't be able to go.
The best part about Christmastime was when Dad would dress up as Santa, knock on the windows, wave, and leave treats outside the door for everyone. He'd done it up until their last Christmas together. Her parents had said time and again it wasn't her dad, but she knew it was him in the Santa costume. Dee would have known his eyes anywhere.
Dad even did his Santa routine on Christmas Eve. He’d put on his suit, fill his bag with presents, and make a ton of noise as he shuffled around the Christmas tree and placed the gifts around it. Dee could tell he knew she’d always watched from the stairs.