This long-ish short story was part of the 2021 Home for the Holidays anthology. I’m now releasing it as a stand-alone.
Lyndsay Williams reluctantly returns home for Christmas only to find her brother has brought a friend to spend the holidays with them. He’s the last man she wanted to meet again.
Because her brother Josh asks her to come for Christmas, Lyndsay Williams returns to the house where she grew up. She has no happy memories of the place other than her relationship with Josh, but she’d do anything for him. Her goals for the holiday are to survive the visit, avoid most contact with her cold, mean foster mother, and return as quickly as possible to her budding career as an architect.
She’s not surprised Josh has brought his wife and father-in-law. She’s dismayed to find he also invited his best friend, Aaron. Lyndsey had a crush on Aaron growing up, but after a mortifying incident with him at Josh’s wedding, she’s avoided contact with him since. Having to deal with Aaron and her foster mother could turn this Christmas celebration into a nightmare.
Not everything is what it seems, though. Josh has reasons for bringing together this group of people he cares about. Change is in the holiday air, and it offers the possibility of healing and forgiveness.
If Lynsday can let love— the love of family, friends, and one special man—heal the wounds on her heart, there’s a happier future waiting for her.
Lyndsay Williams pulled to the side of the driveway and stopped the car, needing a moment to gather her nerve for the ordeal ahead. She switched off the radio, which currently blasted Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, and stared at the ugly old Victorian house.
A scattering of snow lay on the ground around it, but no decorations festooned the place. None ever had—that she could recall, anyway. She tried to visualize the building with lights lining the porch and wrapping the shrubs along the front, but her imagination couldn’t overcome the weight of the past.
Drawing a deep breath, she put the car back in gear, drove up to the side of the house and found a parking space on the grass at the side, next to a large new pickup truck and an SUV. Farther back, the shabby green Chevy sedan Marnie used to drive sat rusting into oblivion. No sign of Dale’s beat-up old Ford pickup. Lyndsay wouldn’t be mourning over that.
She’d just gotten out of the car when the front door of the house opened and a group of people surged out onto the front porch. Josh Sanders led the way. For a moment, he was the only one she saw. They weren’t blood relatives, but she could never think of him as anything but the most wonderful big brother any girl ever had. He was the sole reason she’d made the trip.
He wrapped her in his arms, enveloping her once more in his warmth and strength and whispered, “Thank you for coming.”
Lyndsay stared back at him. “You asked.” She smiled at the petite brunette beside him. “Jenny, you look…” She stopped for a moment. “Fabulous. Is this what I think it is?” She nodded toward Jenny’s midsection.
“Well, I’m not a mind-reader,” Josh answered, “but if you’re thinking that we’re expecting, then you’re right.”
“Ohmigosh, that’s so exciting.” She embraced both of them. “When?”
“May.” Jenny said. “I’m just getting past the constant nausea phase.”
“You’re going to be great parents.”
Josh drew a sharp breath. “I don’t know. I hope so.”
Lyndsay looked behind him and froze. The middle-aged man was a stranger, but the tall young man with sandy blond hair was…someone she’d hoped to never see again.
She should’ve known better. Aaron Hampton had been Josh’s best friend for a long time. He’d also been her main crush for years while growing up. The last time she’d seen him was at Josh’s wedding, where, fueled by too much champagne, she’d made a complete fool of herself. Even now she felt the heat rising in her face, but she ignored it to greet him with hard-won self-possession.
“Hello, Aaron. It’s been a while.” She reached out a hand to shake his.
Maturity had only added to Aaron’s good looks, refining the lean strength of his features. The wavy light brown hair, blue-green eyes, and dimples in his cheeks hadn’t changed, but he’d added some muscle to his rangy frame.
“You’re looking good, Lyndsay,” he said. “Josh tells me you’re now a licensed architect. Congratulations.”
“Thanks.” She couldn’t think of anything more to say.
“I’d like to hear more about it,” Aaron added.
Josh saved her the need to reply when he broke in to introduce her to the older man, his father-in-law Tom Farrell, Jenny’s only surviving parent. Tom shivered as they shook hands and Josh added, “Let’s get Lyn’s bags and go inside before we all freeze.”
Josh and Aaron each took one of her suitcases, rolled them into the house and carried them up the stairs to her old room. New curtains, bedspread and rug made a brave attempt to cheer up the otherwise bare space.
Once Aaron left them, Lyndsay sank onto the bed and turned to Josh. “You know I’m thrilled to see you and Jenny again and delighted for you, but what’s this really about? Where’s Marnie? And why are we making an effort to have Christmas here? She’s never been interested in celebrating it before.”