ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS
By Jenny Hale
Leah used the scissors from her Christmas wreath-making project to open the package from Nan, her hands trembling. She missed her grandmother so much that she held her breath from the moment her fingers touched the envelope. She set the scissors next to the pile of spruce needles that were still on the kitchen table and ran her fingers through her thick, blonde hair. She’d straightened it that morning, but after all day in the rain and sleet, it had started to curl back up.
Tipping the package upside down, Leah caught a lone key in the palm of her hand, recognizing it immediately. She pulled out a stack of documents with a note in Nan’s scratchy handwriting clipped to the top. The notepaper was pink and lacy, the edges rounded delicately with little holes punched out. She laid the documents on top of a few Christmas cards that had come in the mail and focused on the letter, aching to hear Nan’s soft, reassuring voice again.
“Mama,” Leah’s daughter, Sadie said, pulling her out of her thoughts. She was still wearing the red-and-blue leotard Leah had gotten her as a surprise for her birthday. Sadie had seen it in her gymnastics magazine and she’d kept the page open to it all the time. When Leah had asked her about it, she’d said that one day she’d like to have one of her own. Together, they’d made the matching bow clip in her white blonde hair. Every day after school she put it all on to practice her gymnastics. And she was quite the natural.
“The Girls are here,” Sadie said. She bent down, placing her hands on the tile floor, between the table and the kitchen counter, keeping her feet in place until she lifted a leg into the air. Slowly, from a perfect standing split, she put her other leg up, straightening out into a handstand. Sadie had learned to do this move slowly, as swift movements used to send Leah leaping across the kitchen, throwing her arms around Sadie’s legs while simultaneously grabbing dishes and knick-knacks to keep them safe. But when Sadie did it slowly, Leah was able to see the precision in her movements, her skill evident, and she didn’t worry at all. Leah grinned.
Sadie righted herself and opened the side door that led to the driveway, sending a wave of wintery air in past the new wreath Leah had made from evergreens she’d found in the woods. She’d just hung it today. Leah slid the contents and the letter back into the envelope and put the key in her pocket. Another gust sent a chill through her as The Girls came in chattering together, Roz short and Louise tall, both swaddled in their winter gear.
“The Girls” was the name Leah had given to herself and her two best friends when they’d first met. They’d started out as a single mothers’ group of around seven women, which Leah had joined after meeting Roz, her coworker at the florist’s. But over the years, The Girls had dwindled to three—Leah, Roz and Louise—and they’d become more than a support group. They’d become best friends. Tonight, Leah was having them over for a late dinner.
“You’re early,” Leah said with a grin as Roz, all bundled up in a dark burgundy, double-breasted peacoat and striped fingerless gloves, set a bottle of wine on the counter dramatically. It was some sort of cutesy specialty wine with a gold, swirling Christmas tree on the label.
“Louise was insistent that the snow was going to fall all at once and if we waited any longer we wouldn’t be able to drive here,” Roz said, pulling off her gloves and dumping them on the counter. She ran her hand around Sadie’s ponytail affectionately and gave her a wink. Then she shrugged off her coat. Roz walked over to the cupboards and started rummaging around for wine glasses. Leah smiled—she liked how Roz felt as comfortable as if she were in her own house. She was like family.
“At least I can say we’re safe,” Louise said, giving Leah a side hug as she was holding a bowl of salad and a tin of cookies in her other arm. She was covered from head to toe, with a hunter-green, wooly scarf wrapped tightly around her neck, covering her long, red hair. “And you’re sure we can camp out here if the snow does start to fall?”
“We hardly ever have that kind of snow this early in the season,” Roz said, busying herself at the sink. “But I brought my toothbrush just in case!”
Leah’s house was small—a brick rancher tucked away behind a thick strip of woods that separated it from the main street, a four-lane expanse of pavement which was teeming at this time of year with holiday shoppers as they crawled along in traffic to get from one shop to another. But the woods allowed some privacy, and at night, in the dark, it seemed almost secluded. She had rented the house for its proximity to work and the cozy feel of the living room. Although quite crowded when everyone got together, it had offered a comfortable space to make memories with Sadie.
Louise looked at Leah thoughtfully for a second, as if just noticing her. “How are you?” she asked, studying her face until the pop of the wine cork behind them pulled her attention away.
Her friend could always read her. Leah was dying to see what Nan’s letter said, but she didn’t want to bring everyone down tonight by bursting into tears. It was supposed to be a fun night with The Girls.
“I’m fine, thanks.” Leah smiled. “I was just going through the mail…”
“Well, ignore it!” Roz said, swinging a glass full of red wine her way. The purple color of it nearly matched Roz’s dark hair. It was bottle-black, her latest beauty experiment, and in the light, it had almost a reddish-purple tint to it. “We’re going to have an amazing night of…” As she pressed her bright red lips together in thought, she handed the other glass to Louise. “What are we doing tonight besides drinking wine and having dinner? Did anyone get a movie or anything?”
“I thought we could play cards,” Louise piped up, taking a dainty sip from her glass and looking back and forth between Roz and Leah. “I brought some. They’re Toy Story though.”
Roz snorted as Louise pulled her five-year-old’s cards from her handbag.
“I couldn’t find mine so I took some from Ethan’s room,” she said.
Sadie climbed up into a kitchen chair and reached for one of the silver, foil-wrapped chocolates that Leah had put out for tonight. The two of them had started their Christmas decorating today, and they’d been nibbling on those chocolates since early afternoon. Leah gave her daughter her best not-too-many face.
Roz poured one more glass of wine for herself and then filled a glass full of fruit punch for Sadie. Both Roz and Louise had the weekend free since their children were with their fathers, but Leah didn’t have anyone to help with Sadie, so Sadie always joined them. She was like an honorary member of The Girls.
ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS by Jenny Hale – out 6th October
All I Want for Christmas is a big, cozy Christmas story about the importance of family, the strength of childhood friendships, and learning to trust your heart.
Fans of Carole Matthews, Susan Wiggs and Susan Mallery – and anyone who likes the glow of Christmas lights and the rustle of wrapping paper – will fall in love with this feel-good Christmas treat.
Christmas comes once a year . . . But true love comes once in a lifetime.
Snowflakes are falling, there’s carol singing on every corner, and Leah Evans is preparing for a family Christmas at her grandmother’s majestic plantation house in Virginia. It won’t be the same now that her beloved Nan is gone, but when Leah discovers she has inherited the mansion, she knows she can give her daughter Sadie the childhood of her dreams.
But there’s a catch. Leah must split the house with a man called David Forester. Leah hasn’t heard that name in a long time. Not since they were kids, when Davey was always there to catch her.
Now David is all grown up. He’s gorgeous, successful, and certain of one thing: Leah should sell him her half of the house.
They can’t agree, but as they share memories over wine by the log fire, Leah notices a fluttering in her stomach. And by the look in his eyes, he’s starting to feel it too.
Will it be Leah or David who must give up their dreams? Or, with a little bit of Christmas magic, will they finally understand Nan’s advice to them both about living life without regrets … and take a chance on true love?
About the author:
When she graduated college, one of Jenny’s friends said “Look out for this one; she’s going to be an author one day”. Despite being an avid reader and a natural storyteller, it wasn’t until that very moment that the idea of writing novels occurred to her.
Sometimes our friends can see the things that we can’t. Whilst she didn’t start straight away, that comment sowed a seed and several years, two children and hundreds of thousands of words later, Jenny finished her first novel – Coming Home for Christmas – which became an instant bestseller.