Authors: Elena Aitken
This is a work of fiction. The events and characters described herein are imaginary and are not intended to refer to specific places or living persons. The opinions expressed in this manuscript are solely the opinions of the author and do not represent the opinions or thoughts of the publisher. The author has represented and warranted full ownership and/or legal right to publish all the materials in this book.
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Copyright © 2011 Elena Aitken
This book may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means, including graphic, electronic, or mechanical without the express written consent of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. Your support of author rights is appreciated.
Ink Blot Communications
Also by Elena Aitken
Unable to take one more second, Andi Williams spun around and hit the power button on the stereo. Bing Crosby's Winter Wonderland cut off mid-wonder and blissful silence filled the space.
Her best friend and business partner, Eva, appeared from the storage room wearing antlers and holding a Santa and an elf hat in each of her hands. She glanced at the mute stereo and shot Andi a look. "Which do you think?" she asked and held up the hats.
"Go with the reindeer," she said. "Santa is over done and if you dress as an elf, people might get the wrong idea about Santa's little helper." With Eva's tall, curvy body, pretty much anything she wore gave men the wrong idea.
"It is a party for the Senior Mens' curling team." Eva tossed the other two hats behind her onto a shelf and moved over to the stereo, flicking it on again.
Party Hearty, their event planning business, was stuffed into a tiny office, with barely enough room for their desks and a couch for client meetings. Despite the small space, Eva felt it was crucial to maintain a festive atmosphere for potential clients, which, in her opinion, meant carols on repeat play and the overpowering scent of cinnamon and apple spice. For Andi, it was less festive and more like torture to be constantly surrounded by a reminder of the holidays.
"Definitely the reindeer then," Andi said trying her best to ignore the music. "When did we get the curling team? I don't remember it in the books."
Andi was in charge of bookings and most of the business side for Party Hearty, but this year, the holiday season had been their busiest ever. She'd be relieved when it was over. It's not that Andi was dreading the holiday season because it meant working late into the night, or juggling schedules, or even trying to find enough staff to work each party, no, it was because Christmas this year represented everything Andi was supposed to have, and didn't.
"It was a last minute thing," Eva said. "They called yesterday and the party's this Saturday. Short notice, means lots of extra cash. Plus, it's a no brainer. I already have the girls working out the details."
The 'girls' were the two college students Andi had hired at the beginning of November. They'd been a blessing and naturals at the party business, as college students usually were. Regardless, their presence meant Andi could stay in the office and as far away from the actual parties as possible. Exactly where she wanted to be.
"What's in the bags?" Eva asked and pointed to the pile of packages stacked next to Andi's desk. "Don't tell me you have presents in there? I thought you hated Christmas?"
Andi sighed and rolled her eyes. "It's not that I hate Christmas..."
"Whatever you say."
"I got the boys their gifts," Andi said. "Watching my little brothers open their presents is going to be the only saving grace to this stupid holiday." She flopped backwards, sinking into her leather chair. Her desk was organized into neat piles of invoices, to-do lists and a growing stack of unopened Christmas cards and invitations. Andi moved a magazine so it was covering the envelopes. "Three is the perfect age for this stuff. And when they see the drums I got them, they're going to go crazy." Andi flashed a wicked smile.
"Your dad is going to kill you," Eva said.
"It's his own fault for having twins at his age. Besides, isn't that my job as the older half sister?"
Eva didn't answer her. Instead she tossed a thick, red envelope on her desk. "This came for you today."
Andi knew what it was before she even turned it over to read the calligraphy on the front. The invitation to the Porter's Annual Night Before, The Night Before, Christmas Party. Her stomach churned and for a brief, terrifying moment she thought she might throw up on her desk, right on top of the offending envelope in all its glossy, card stock weighted glory.
Why did they send her an invitation this year? They had to know she wouldn't go. How could she show her face in a room filled with her ex's family and friends? Why would she want to?
"Dam, I should have recycled it." Eva said. She appeared in front of Andi, her face creased with concern. "I'm sorry. I knew I shouldn't have given it to you. Do you need a drink? I can get you a bottle of water. I think we might even have some wine in the back. I can get you what-"
"I'm fine." Andi took a deep breath and sat up straight. The only way to make it was to fake it so she slapped both hands on her desk and stood. "Now," she said. "What needs to be done?"
Eva stared at Andi as if she'd spontaneously grown a horn out of her forehead.
"What?" Andi asked. "We have parties to plan, don't we? After all, that is what people pay us to do, right?" She walked as she spoke, moving to the wall where they kept clipboards for each event.
"Andi, it's okay."
"What's okay?" She flipped through the pages, not seeing any of the lists.
"Sit." Eva pushed a chair towards her.
"Sit," she said again. This time there was enough force behind her voice that Andi stopped and looked at her friend. "It's okay," she said softly.
"I can't do this," Andi whispered. She could feel the tears building in the corners of her eyes and she hated herself for them. She'd promised herself months ago that she wouldn't cry. Tears didn't do any good. They never had. "I don't think I can do this."
"You don't have to go to the party."
"No," she said and waved her arms around the room. "I can't do this. Any of this. Christmas. The holidays. The happy, cheerful people. The kids singing carols and eating candy. Santa. Gingerbread. Any of it. Christmas is for families."
"You have a family," Eva said gently.
"You know what I mean." Andi grabbed a tissue and dabbed her eyes before the tears could leak out.
"I know," Eva said. She pulled a chair next to her friend and held her hand tight. "Andi, you will have a family. It wasn't-"
"Don't you dare say it wasn't meant to be." She snatched her hand away. For the last eight months, since her daughter had been stillborn, Andi had heard those words too much. They were what people said when they didn't know what else to say. They were the words uttered by those who couldn't handle seeing her in pain and thought she should just get over it. How did you get over losing a baby? How could you ever get over pain like that?
"I wasn't going to say that," Eva said. "I was going to say...okay, I was going to say that. But only because Blaine wasn't right for you, not because of anything else. He's a total jerk and he should've stood by you. What kind of guy takes off after something like that? I mean-"
"Please." Andi held her hand up to stop her friend's tirade. Eva had never liked Blaine. From the moment they'd been introduced, she'd declared him a pretty boy who was too into himself and his career. She never understood what Andi saw in him. She didn't see the tender side of Blaine that Andi did. The way they used to talk for hours about the future, how he used to encourage Andi to make Party Hearty bigger, to expand and become the biggest party planning firm in Calgary. And when Andi was pregnant with their child, how he'd sit for hours with his hand on her belly, talking to the baby and pouring through name books with her. They'd talked about getting married after finding out they were expecting, and there wasn't a doubt in Andi's mind that it would be perfect. Until it wasn't.
"Can we talk about something else?" Andi said. "Are you sure you don't need me for any of the parties next week?"
Eva scooted her chair back to her own desk and grabbed her planner. "You know I don't," she said. "They're all taken care of. We have that charity ball on the twenty-third and then then the Anderson gig on Boxing Day. I have the girls lined up. We're good to go."
"Really, Eva, I don't mind being there if you need me."
"I don't need you," she said with a grin. "Besides, you'd be miserable acting like you were full of festive joy. No offense, but you're not really very good at pretending."
"None taken," she mumbled.
"You know, if you really don't want to be around, we got a promo invite from the Castle Mountain Lodge for a villa. You can use it."
The Castle Mountain Lodge was only two hours from the city, but it might as well have been a world away. Nestled in the mountains, the Lodge had a reputation as a mountain hideaway away from the rest of the world. It would be the perfect place to escape to. The thought of hiding away in the forest, reading a good book in front of a crackling fire until the holidays were over, did have its appeal.
"For when?" Andi asked.
"It's actually good through to the twenty-sixth. You can hide from the whole holiday." Eva dug in a pile on her desk. Producing the invitation, she tossed it to Andi. "But I thought you were spending Christmas with your dad? Didn't you say, and I quote, 'watching my little brothers open their presents is going to be the only saving grace to this stupid holiday'?"
Andi smiled at the thought of her twin brothers. They were busy, full of mischief and fun, but best of all they adored their half-sister, which made their mother, who was only three years older than Andi herself, miserable. She'd give up the dream of hiding at the Lodge, but only for them.
"It's true," she said. "I'll tolerate Roxanne and her awful cooking to see the boys. Maybe I can pretend that we're all one big happy family and it won't be so bad."
Eva smiled, but before she could say anything, the phone rang. Eva answered with a jingle in her voice, "Good afternoon. It's a happy holiday season at Party Hearty."
Andi rolled her eyes and turned back to the piles on her desk.
"Yes, Mr. Williams, she's right here. Let me put you through."
Eva pressed the button to put him on hold and said, "Speak of the devil. He's on line one. I'll be in the storage room if you need me. I think I'm going to need some mistletoe for the curlers."
Andi laughed along with her and was still laughing when she picked up the phone. "Hi, Dad."
"Hi, sugar. How's work today? Are you girls busy over there?"
Leave it to Dad to put business first.
"Very," she said. "'Tis the season and all that. What's up?"
There was a silence on the line and in that instant, Andi knew she wasn't going to like what she heard.
"Well," he said after a moment. "I'm afraid I don't have very good news. I know you were looking forward to a family Christmas this year."
'Looking forward to', weren't really the words she would have chosen, more like, 'would tolerate'.
"But plans have changed," Andi's dad was still talking.
"What do you mean, plans have changed? Christmas is in five days."
"That's just it. Roxanne decided she'd like to go to Disney World this year and the boys are at a good age for the Magic Kingdom and she found a great last minute deal and-"
"Wait," Andi stopped him. "Did I hear you right? You're ditching me, your only daughter, to spend the holidays with Mickey Mouse?" Andi's chest tightened and she took a sip of water.
"We leave tonight."
"I've never been to Disney."
"Did you want to come?"
"You know I don't."
"We'll be back for New Year's, if you want to come over then?"