Title Taste Thursday. The novelette, Christmas Courage, is included in the Sweetwater Canyon Holiday Trio. Or it can be purchased for 99 cents on it’s own. Those who were on my email list as of Dec. 14th already received this story for free in their inbox. Enjoy the start of the story.
Kat snuggled into the recliner and cradled her hot cocoa in her hands. The twinkling lights on the Christmas tree mesmerized her. The ornaments were a combination of shiny balls to reflect the lights, old-fashioned wooden toys, and homemade ornaments her mom had crotcheted. It was the perfect tree in every way.
Was it only two weeks ago she and her mom had trekked through the snow at Frog Lake to choose and cut this Noble Fir? It still amazed her that the Forest Service let you cut your own tree, up to twelve feet tall, for only five dollars. It was the best deal ever and always an adventure of choosing the location, play arguing over which one was best, and often ending in a snowball fight before they hauled the tree back to the car and tied it to the roof.
Fortunately, the snow wasn’t too deep this year and they found the perfect tree within only half an hour. The only thing she regretted was not bringing the chainsaw, as they’d done every year she could remember. Kat had watched a Hallmark Christmas movie the night before where the happy couple had cut a tree together with a bowsaw. They’d both fallen in the snow, made snow angels, and then kissed in that way only couples on Hallmark movies do—the half chaste and half OMG kiss. The movie made it all look sooooo easy. She told her mom she wanted to cut the tree the old-fashioned way this time. After Kat promised her that she would be the one kneeling in the snow and working the saw, her mom gave in.
It hadn’t turned out quite as romantic as she’d thought after twenty minutes of working the bowsaw back and forth through the six-inch trunk. Evidently, the saw wasn’t all that sharp. It was left over from her dad’s tools that hung in the garage untouched for the past fifteen years. It kind of made her feel good to use the saw though.
In the end, the tree really was perfect. A twelve-foot Noble Fir, with its thick, silvery-green needles and sturdy branches protuding straight from the trunk was perfect for ornaments. Though no handsome man stood by for the congratulatory kiss, Kat figured it was good practice just in case she had the chance to do this with someone else in the future. She just hadn’t found her Hallmark prince yet.
Kat put her cocoa aside and inhaled the rich, woodsy aroma of the tree. She couldn’t help striding to the tree to finger a lacy, starched snowflake hanging at eye level at the center of the tree. It had a picture of Kat as a baby. Born on December 3rd, her Mom had crocheted the ornament between feedings and naps in celebration of Kat’s first Christmas. Then she’d made a new one every year for Kat’s birthday. She looked at another crocheted ornament, a circle. This one had her baby picture for her 2nd Christmas. She worked her way around the tree until she reached the newest one—the one she had received for her seventeenth birthday. It was different than all the others. It had three balls hanging together inside a three-dimensional crocheted sphere. The first ball had a picture of Kat as a baby. The second ball had a picture of Kat today. The third ball had a question mark. Her Mom said that was for Kat to place the picture in ten years from now, when she’d made her own future.
Kat’s eyes misted as she looked at it again. Ten years seemed like forever—especially since she wasn’t sure about anything in her future. There was no boyfriend. She wanted to go to college, but she wasn’t sure where or how she would afford it. She also wasn’t sure she could leave her Mom alone in the house. Though she’d tried for years to get her Mom to date, she’d steadfastly refused.
A loud pounding at the front door drew Kat back to the present. The three cats scrambled toward the door to investigate, jumping over each other as if the first cat there would win. Who would be visiting at nine in the morning on a Saturday? Sweetwater Canyon didn’t have a rehearsal scheduled today.
“Kat, would you get that please,” her mom yelled from the bathroom. “Whatever the kids are selling, tell them we don’t need any more wreaths or ornaments or candy or…whatever it is.”
“Okay,” Kat yelled back.
She looked through the sidelight to see a man she didn’t recognize. He looked kind of old, maybe fiftyish. Maybe it was the salt and pepper hair. His boyish face didn’t match his age. He waved tentatively and smiled. Kat unlocked the deadbolt but kept the chain on as she opened the door a couple of inches.
“Whatever your selling, we aren’t buying,” she said, echoing her Mom’s instructions.
The man laughed and it lit up his eyes. “I’m not selling anything, Kathleen. I’m here to see you. You’ve grown up since I last saw you.”
Kat’s eyes widened. “How do you know my name? No one calls me that except my mom.”
He smiled again, this time though his eyes looked sad in opposition to the smile. “It’s been a long time. I don’t expect you to remember me. I’m your father.”
Kat froze. She couldn’t speak. She stared at the man—a person she’d always wanted to meet and know more about. A person her mother had made clear she had no idea where he was or if he was even alive. A person who had never bothered to contact her in any way.
“I…uh…think I should have handled that better,” he said. “Can I come in?”
Kat slammed the door and threw the deadbolt. “Mom!” Kat yelled as the panic welled inside her. “I need you, like right now!”
Her mom ambled toward her from the kitchen. “Don’t be so dramatic, Kat. Who is it?” She unlocked the door and threw it open.
“Hello, Theresa,” the man said.
“No! No, no, no, no.” Her Mom slammed the door closed again, threw the deadbolt in place and stood with her back at the door as if it would assure it couldn’t be opened. Then she slumped to the floor visibly shaking.
Kat sat quickly beside her and reached around to hug her tight.
“I’m not leaving,” the man yelled through the closed door. “I have a right to get to know my daughter.”
“Mom..is it…really…my Dad?”
“No no no no no. Not now. Not without warning. This is not fair. Not fair.”
“It’s okay, Mom. We don’t have to let him in. If he’s going to hurt us I’ll call the police and they will come take him away. Just tell me what you want me to do.”
After several minutes, her Mom stopped shaking. “Oh, Kat. I don’t know what to do. I really don’t know.”
“You’ve never really talked about him, except to say he left when I was two years old. Is he a bad man? Did he beat you? Was he a womanizer? You’ve never said anything about him. You don’t have to protect me, I can take it. You know I can. Just tell me the truth.”
Her mom let out a big sigh. “No, he wasn’t a bad man to me the three short years we were married. I loved him and we made you together, the best thing that ever happened to me. But when he left without even a note as to where he was going or why, I was lost. I had a two year old baby, a part-time job, and I didn’t know what to do. I kept hoping and waiting for him to return. I thought maybe he was just overwhelmed with being a father. Maybe he just needed a break and would come back. After months became years, I gave up.”
“He never wrote? Ever?”
“No.” Her Mom placed her hands gently on Kat’s shoulders. “I’m sorry, honey. I just didn’t know what to tell you. I didn’t want you growing up thinking you were unloved. It was easier not to tell you anything than to say how I felt. I never wanted you to think he didn’t love you.”
“Obviously, he doesn’t love me,” Kat said. “I don’t care about that, right now. All I care about is you.” She held her mother’s hand. “What about his family? Did you know them, did they have anything to say about where he was?”
“His mother died when Doug was twelve years old, and his step-father was not a good man—someone Doug never talked about or had any contact with since he ran away at sixteen. He was an only child.”
They sat holding hands in silence and Kat wondered what she should do. She didn’t know this man at all, and if her mom didn’t want her to get to know him, she would honor that. After all, it was her mother who had stuck by her all these years. She’d been both mother and father. When Michele got married, David became a kind of surrogate father for her. When Rachel got married, Noel became a second surrogate father. And now that Sarah was married too, even though they lived far away in Oklahoma, it was like she had three amazing men in her life. She really didn’t need a father anymore.
Her mother had handled the single-parent life without complaint as far as Kat could remember. From the time Kat was ten until she entered high school, her mom had worked two jobs. One as a waitress at ZigZag Pizza and another cleaning houses for people on the mountain who rented out their vacation homes. She’d juggled shifts so that she could pick up Kat from school every day. They’d go home and she’d want to know about everything Kat had learned. She also volunteered in the classroom: helping with reading circles; bringing cookies or cupcakes for special events; and occasionally even going on field trips if her work scheduled allowed.
She didn’t really know about dating when she was younger, but as a teenager she’d asked her Mom several times about dating, and she’d always say she didn’t want to waste a single minute with a man when she had all the wonderful things to do with Kat. One time she’d asked Rachel about it, cause she knew Rachel would tell the real truth. Rachel said that good looking single women were often not trusted because wives were afraid they’d go after their husbands. If it weren’t for the band, Kat knew her mom probably wouldn’t have any close women friends.
The door shook behind them with pounding again. “Hey, it’s getting cold out here. Come on, Theresa, let me in so we can talk. I came a long way to make up for everything.”
“You don’t get to waltz into our lives fifteen years later without warning, Doug,” her mom shouted through the door. “If your cold go away. You seem good at that.”
“Ooooo, good one, Mom.” Kat raised her hand in a high five invitation and her Mom returned it with a wan smile.
“This isn’t about me,” her mom said. “What do you want to do, honey?”
“I…uh…I’m not sure. I kind of always wondered what my dad was like. But, if you don’t want me to talk to him, then I won’t. I mean you’ve been the one who stuck with me.”
Her mom squeezed her hand tight. “I love you more than anything, Kat.”
Kat squeezed back. “I know.”
Her mom stood and pulled Kat up with her. “Okay, let’s introduce you to your father.”
“Really?” Kat worried her bottom lip, unsure if this was the right thing to do.
“Yes, really.” Her mom hugged her tight. “This may be the only time you will ever have time with him. I don’t want you to always wonder what would have happened. I’m sure you have lots of questions and you can only get them answered by him.” She let go and looked Kat in the eye. “Honey, guard your heart a bit. Okay? I know you always think the best of everyone, and that’s a great quality. Just remember we don’t live in a Hallmark movie. I don’t know that he’s going to stay. I honestly don’t know anything about him any more.”
Kat nodded. You bet she wasn’t going to just open up and tell him everything. He had to prove himself to her. She also had to be sure he could never hurt her mom again.
Kat opened the door. Her father was sitting on the porch facing toward the drive. His shoulders were slumped forward. He straightened and turned slowly as he stood. “Does the prisoner get a hearing?”
“Whatever jail your in, is of your own making,” her mom said. “You can come in, but I get to say when you leave.”
The man nodded.
“I can’t call you dad,” Kat said as she held the door open wide. “So, I’m going to call you Doug. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve had no father for fifteen years.”
Doug nodded again. “That’s fair. I hope I can change that.”
“Don’t count on it.” Kat closed the door behind him with a resounding thump.
If you are in the mood for even more holiday stories you may enjoy all three of the Sweetwater Canyon holiday stories but together in one volume called A Sweetwater Canyon Holiday Trio. The stories encompass Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.
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