Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Mom for Missy

What Came Before at Teaberry Farms, the winter wonderland setting for Susan Meier’s A BABY BENEATH THE CHRISTMAS TREE, part of A FAIRYTALE CHRISTMAS anthology with Barbara Wallace.

A Mom for Missy

The 1970’s were a confusing time for women. Pert and sassy blonde-haired, blue-eyed Sunny Peabody was no exception. She wasn’t against women’s lib. Quite the contrary. She believed the time had come for women to have a place in boardrooms across the country. But, personally, she loved to cook and wanted to spend most of her time in the kitchen. When she’d married the love of her life, a sophisticated, worldly man six years her senior, Max Peabody, she’d gotten a job working with him at Teaberry Farms.

He worked outside. A former entrepreneur, he’d sold his startup business to a Fortune 500 company and retired quite comfortably at thirty. Having spent eight years in offices, he relished the opportunity to be outdoors as the caretaker for the lush evergreens that grew along the steep West Virginia mountainside.

She worked inside, cooking and cleaning for the elderly Teaberries, two wonderfully wise people, who loved selling the Christmas trees that everybody believed were magic. To Sophie and Reggie Teaberry, having Sunny and Max to keep the place open for business was like getting a second wind. A second chance to provide miracles for the people of their small, rural town.

Sunny didn’t necessarily believe the trees themselves were magic, but she did believe in the magic of Christmas. She’d seen wealthy families step up and secretly provide surprises for those less fortunate. She’d seen younger people help older folks hang Christmas decorations or carry shopping bags. She’d seen money show up in mailboxes and gifts appear under trees. All from benefactors inspired by the legend of the Teaberry Trees.

So though it wasn’t conventional magic, good will and harmony sent a twinkle of something wonderful through the air in Towering Pines, West Virginia. From the day after Thanksgiving when the Teaberrys opened their farm, “people magic” flowed through the trees, along the mountain, and to the wonderful small town below.

That snowy Monday after Thanksgiving, Sunny glanced out the kitchen window of Teaberry Mansion just in time to see the shiny red Burkett’s Greenhouse truck driving up the lane. Six-year-old Missy Burkett jumped out of the passenger’s side as her father, Greg, a tall, lean man with thick auburn hair and dark brown eyes, slid out of the driver’s side.

Sunny quickly gathered a plate of chocolate chip cookies, slipped on her black wool coat and raced outside. “Missy! Hello!” she called, walking to the shed where freshly cut trees leaned against the weathered boards, awaiting customers.

“Hey, Mrs. Peabody,” Missy replied with a wave. A bright blue knit cap hid all but the bangs of her long yellow hair. Brisk early December air put color in her cheeks.

“I brought some cookies for you.”

“And for her dad, too?” Greg asked, laughing as he reached for one of the warm chocolate delights. Wearing a lined denim jacket over a red plaid work shirt, he took a bite of his cookie and groaned in ecstasy. “These are great.”

Missy glanced up and tried to smile. “Yeah, Mrs. P. They’re great. Thanks.”

Sunny’s heart turned over in her chest. Since the death of Missy’s mom two years before, the little girl lips barely twitched upward. Sunny wished her father would come by the farm more often so she could bake Missy cookies, ruffle her hair, share girlie secrets the way a six-year-old should. But they only came around once a year to gather trees to sell at Greg’s nursery.

“Are you two here for trees?”

“Yes, please,” Missy said.

“They sell like hotcakes!” Greg said. “The legend of Teaberry Trees brings customers in droves.”

“Well, it’s easier for townspeople to buy from you than to drive up the mountain to our farm,” Sunny agreed.

Missy tugged on Sunny’s sleeve. “Is it true what they say about the trees?”

“That they’re magic?” Sunny laughed. “Don’t you believe?”

She glanced down at the sparkling snow beneath her shiny blue boots then back up at Sunny. “I want to believe.”

Sunny’s heart wept for her. Of course she wanted to believe. Undoubtedly, at some point Missy had wished to have her mom come back, not understanding that some things just couldn’t be fixed. And when that wish went unfulfilled, she’d begun losing faith. A sad thing to happen to a six-year-old.

Mary Alice Carter limped from behind the shed, carrying a huge evergreen wreath. Her long sable hair had been tucked beneath a bright red cap that matched her simple red jacket. Her bright green eyes sparkled.

Sunny’s former best friend from college had been in an automobile accident a few years before. Severe injuries to her lower body had not only left her with a limp, but also with an even sadder consequence. Mary Alice couldn’t have children. When her fiancée was told, he’d broken their engagement. Now, Mary Alice poured out all her passion into floral arrangements in the summer and working for Teaberry Farms making wreaths in the winter.

Seeing the beautiful evergreen arrangement, Sunny clapped her hands together! “Oh my, who is that for?”

Mary Alice grinned. “Mrs. Thomas. She wants it for her front door. She thinks guests are more likely to touch this than her indoor tree. She wants everyone to get a wish this year.”

Sunny laughed at Mrs. Thomas’s creative interpretation of the legend, but Greg quickly hustled over and caught the huge wreath from Mary Alice’s hands.

A quick spark of something passed between them, as Greg said, “Let me.”

Mary Alice shyly glanced away as she handed the huge wreath to Greg.

Sunny looked down at Missy who studied her dad, then Mary Alice.

Her brow furrowed. She wondered if the six-year-old could tell that her dad obviously felt something for Mary Alice and that Mary Alice seemed to feel something for Greg – enough that the two of them would get together. Probably soon.

Tapping her finger on her cheek, Sunny wondered if this might not be a perfect opportunity to help one adorable child get her joy back. She didn’t really believe the trees had any power per se, but she recognized attraction when she saw it and she hated to see someone so young who didn’t believe in the power of wishes. What could it hurt?

She nudged the little girl over to the side of the shed, close to the plump pines awaiting buyers, and whispered, “Touch a branch.”

Missy frowned. “What?”

Sunny nodded at Mary Alice and Greg. “Touch the branch and wish.”

Missy’s eyes widened. She quickly grabbed a branch.

Just then Max strolled up a long thin path between two rows of trees. “What have we here?” Tall and broad-shouldered, with dark hair and bright blue eyes, and wearing jeans and a big black parka, he didn’t look like the stuck-in-the-office entrepreneur he’d been just a few months before. He swung Missy up into his arms and then over his shoulder, tickling her tummy. “You’re not here to steal magic trees, are you?”

Missy giggled. “No! We’re buying them.”

“Then your daddy and I had better get them loaded before the snow comes this afternoon. Sunny, why don’t you take this young lady into the house and get her some cocoa?”

“Or she could come back with me and I’ll show her how to make a wreath.”

Mary Alice looked surprised to have made the offer. Self-conscious since her accident, she stayed in the background more than she associated with people. But Missy’s eyes lit with joy and she didn’t give Mary Alice a chance to change her mind. She glanced back at Sunny, who smiled and winked, insinuating the magic was already taking hold.

Missy scampered over to Mary Alice who took her hand and led her into the shed where she cut branches and knit them together over wire to create luxurious evergreen wreaths for the front doors and fireplace mantles of people in three counties.

Sunny returned to the kitchen and went back to the fruit horns she wanted to bake for the annual Teaberry Christmas party – a lavish event held every year on December 20 as a way to thank everyone for supporting Teaberry Farms. While the dough raised, she made hot cocoa and took it to the shed for Mary Alice and Missy, but she was really hoping to entice Greg inside for a cup of tummy-warming cocoa before he headed back to his business with his trees.

When she stepped into the shed, she found Missy half-standing on a chair leaning against Mary Alice’s worktable as Mary Alice explained the technique for cutting evergreen branches to get the perfect stems for a wreath or floral arrangement. Missy’s bright eyes followed Mary Alice’s every move, but it was the expression on Mary Alice’s face that caught Sunny’s attention. Mary Alice had longed to be a mom. Fate seemed to have stolen that chance from her, but not if Sunny had anything to say about it.

“I have cocoa,” she called, letting them know she was approaching.

Mary Alice brushed her hands over her long apron. “Thanks. It was time for a break.”

Sunny poured cocoa for both Mary Alice and Missy. They had taken only a few sips before Max and Greg returned.

“Have some cocoa,” Sunny said, quickly pouring a cup for Greg, knowing he’d be too polite to refuse it and hoping that would give him some private time with Mary Alice.

“Thanks.” He glanced around then smiled at Missy. “Are you learning to make wreaths?”

Missy said, “Yes,” at the same time that Mary Alice said, “I’m happy to teach her.”

But once again, Mary Alice frowned. Sunny had to put her fingers to her lips to keep everyone from seeing her smile. If she didn’t know better she’d think the Teaberry trees were Johnny on the spot today, getting Mary Alice to say things without realizing it. But the truth was she’d seen that spark pass between Mary Alice and Greg. This relationship might require a nudge, but it didn’t require a miracle.

She turned to Missy. “Why don’t you come inside with me and Mr. Peabody and we’ll fix up a plate of cookies for you to take home?”

Missy jumped off the chair, the prospect of homemade cookies for breakfast in the morning clearly too much to resist.

After they’d packed the cookies and Missy scooted out the door, Sunny stared after her with a thoughtful smile.

“What’s in that head of yours?” Max asked, leaning against the kitchen counter with a cup of cocoa.

“Oh, nothing.” With a private smile she turned back to assembling her fruit horns.

Max frowned and Sunny could all but see wheels turning in his brain as he backtracked over everything that had happened that morning, then he gasped. “I hope you’re not matchmaking.”

Sunny pivoted to face him. “What if I am? I think Greg and Mary Alice are perfect for each other.”

Max shook his head. “Greg doesn’t. He feels sorry for her. Last thing Mary Alice needs is a man who feels sorry for her.”

Sunny pressed her hand to her chest. Max was right. Mary Alice might have some handicaps, but she was a proud, strong woman. If Greg pitied her, it would hurt her. Putting them together would be wrong.

Except what did she do about Missy? She hadn’t only been matchmaking; she’d set this up so Missy would believe in wishes again! Oh, she’d botched this one royally.


Poor Sunny! Scroll down to A Mom for Missy -- Part 2 to see if she's able to fix her mistake!

copyright 2010 susan meier

A Mom for Missy -- Part 2

Sunny tried to get into town the next day, but because Missy went to school, she was either too late to catch her before the bus came or too early to see her after school. With her own schedule of needing to prepare meals for the Teaberrys, she kept missing Missy.

Saturday morning, she rose early, served the senior Teaberrys their breakfast and jumped into her little blue car, heading for town. She made the excuse of needing flour and sugar for cookies, but she had a more important errand. With her baking supplies in the backseat of her car, she drove to Burkett’s Greenhouse.

Wearing her thick blue coat and knit cap, Missy stood beside the Teaberry Farms Christmas tree display. Fat fluffy snowflakes danced around her in a strong December wind. “Hey, Sunny!”

Sunny couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to stand outside in a snowstorm. Then she noticed Missy’s glove-covered fingers were wrapped around a branch. She was still wishing, holding onto her belief in a miracle for her dad with as much might as she held onto the branch. Sunny’s heart sank.

Worse, Mary Alice’s car pulled into the greenhouse parking lot. She bounced out with a big smile and a gorgeous wreath. Christmas balls nestled in a thick nest of rich pine. A thin layer of glitter gave the arrangement a festive glow.

“Hey, Sunny. Hey, Missy. Where’s your dad?”

Missy pointed at the glass building. “He’s inside.”

“Did you make that for him?” Sunny asked carefully, hoping she hadn’t inadvertently started something that couldn’t be stopped without Mary Alice getting hurt.

Mary Alice shook her head. “No. I have a business proposition. I’m going to offer him the chance to sell original wreaths by Mary Alice – right beside his Teaberry trees.”

Sunny relaxed. After Mary Alice had slipped inside the greenhouse, she stooped down in front of Missy. Uneasy, she cleared her throat. “Sweetie, the other day when you wished at my house, I might have given you the wrong idea.”

Missy’s head tilted. Her pretty blue eyes grew curious. “What?”

“Well, I think you can wish for your daddy to find a ‘friend’ but I don’t think you should be too specific.”

Missy’s gaze ambled in the direction of her father and Mary Alice, who were laughing.

“Why not?”

Sunny rose, studying the pair. They clearly liked each other. And maybe Max had misinterpreted something Greg had said? She placed her hand on Missy’s shoulder and guided her inside the nursery. She wouldn’t make any mistakes this time. She wouldn’t say or do anything until she had some substantial facts.

“So Saturday night, then?” Greg asked, his dark eyes shining.

“Sure. Why not?”

Overcome with joy, Sunny stopped walking. Surely Max had misinterpreted.


Saturday night, Mary Alice limped up the sidewalk to Greg’s cute Victorian house, armed with a gift for Missy. She didn’t want the little girl to feel left out, but she was thrilled for this chance to go out with Greg. She hadn’t really had a secret crush on him. In fact, she’d barely noticed him at all. Until that Monday morning they’d seen each other at Teaberry Farms. Then suddenly she noticed his shiny auburn hair, his dark eyes. And zing. She felt something that all at once exploded in her heart and made her knees turn to jelly.

His front porch had ornate wood embellishments that made it resemble the porch of a gingerbread house. Glancing around in appreciation, she rang the bell. Within seconds Greg opened the door.

Dressed in a soft green sweater, he looked like a sexy university professor. Her heart quivered and her blood sang through her veins. She thanked her lucky stars that he’d noticed her the same morning she noticed him and stepped inside. The foyer was quaintly decorated with an antique hall table and a chandelier with lights that looked like candles. It was the perfect house. The kind of house she’d always wanted to live in.

“I hope I’m not late.”

“Nope. I was just getting my coat.”

Missy came running down the thin cherry wood stairway. Greg slipped into his leather jacket. “I’m sure you and Missy will have a great time tonight while I’m at the movies.”


Her gaze swung to Greg, who talked on, blissfully unaware that her eyes had widened with surprise.

“We saved some of Sunny Peabody’s cookies for the two of you to eat tonight. Ingredients are on the stove for hot cocoa. I told my date we can’t go out after the show. So I should be back in about two hours.”

Shock thickened her tongue. He’d asked her to his house to babysit? She’d totally misinterpreted his comment about the movies? Oh, God! She wished the floor would open up and swallow her. Since that probably wasn’t going to happen, she pasted on a fake smile and walked over to Missy who hovered on the stairway. “I’m sure we’ll be fine.”

With that he left and Mary Alice struggled to stop the tears that welled behind her eyelids. It had been years since she’d even felt something for a man. First, there were surgeries and therapy. Then she’d spent another year longing for a fiancé who’d deserted her in her hour of need. Then, she had to confess, there was a year of bitterness. But she was back now. Ready for whatever relationship she could have.
Except Greg didn’t want her. The first man in years to make her feel that maybe, just maybe, she could love somebody again and he wasn’t interested.

Missy tugged on her hand. “Come on! Let’s go to the kitchen. We can make our own cookies instead of eating Sunny’s.”

She glanced down, ready to tell Missy that she shouldn’t mess up her dad’s clean kitchen, but when she saw the shine in Missy’s pretty blue eyes, she thought, “Why not?” Fate had fixed it so she’d never be a mom, why not take advantage of the next two hours and enjoy this beautiful little girl?

Monday morning when Mary Alice arrived at Teaberry Farms, Sunny didn’t waste a second. She put her head out the kitchen door and called, “I have fresh coffee and cookies! Come inside.”

Mary Alice held up a plate of her own cookies. “Actually, this morning I have cookies for you. Courtesy of Missy.”

Sunny frowned as Mary Alice walked into the kitchen and shed her black pea coat. “You baked cookies?”

“Yeah. Greg went out on Saturday night and Missy and I baked.”

Sunny’s eyes narrowed. “You baked?”

“Why are you so surprised? I can bake.”

“I just thought—“ she paused, swallowed.

“Ah, you thought Greg and I were going out.” Mary Alice said it through a smile, but a shadow darkened her eyes.

Sunny caught her hand. “You thought that too?”

She nodded, then shrugged. “But it doesn’t matter. I got to spend two hours with a very sweet little girl. I might not get that chance again.”

But she did. Greg called her that afternoon and asked if she could sit with Missy again that night. He and Diedre MacIntyre were getting serious and he wanted to spend a little more time with her than usual.

Mary Alice’s heart sank.

Still, she quickly showered after work, pulled on jeans and a soft, comforting sweater and headed for Greg’s house.

She babysat every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for the next two weeks, until Greg suggested that he was taking advantage of her. Mary Alice’s heart knocked against her ribs. She knew that when Greg and Deirdre got married, she’d lose the chance to spend time with Missy. She had only their courtship to pretend to be this little girl’s mom. She didn’t want to lose it.

“Are you kidding?” she said to Greg. “I love spending time with Missy. I’m happy to baby sit.”

“At least let me pay you.”

She shook her head furiously as pain ricocheted through her. He wanted to pay her for something she’d do for nothing. He really didn’t know her. She’d been foolish to think, even if it was only for one morning, that he might like her.

“Use the money to do something special for a poor family,” she said, refusing his money. “Be somebody’s Teaberry tree wish.”

He laughed and put his money back in his wallet, walked over and cupped her cheek in his hand. “You really are special, Mary Alice.”

She wanted to lean into the warmth of his palm. But after years of being disabled, then handicapped, she knew most men didn’t see her as desirable. It didn’t matter how wonderful she was with kids, or even how sweet she was, she was damaged goods. She’d never be the object of any man’s affections, let alone his desire.

Scroll down to Part 3 for more of A Mom for Missy

copyright 2010 susan meier

A Mom for Missy -- Part 3

By December 20, Greg felt as if his world was finally righting itself after his wife’s death. Not only had gorgeous Deirdre begun to really like him, but Missy had found a real friend in Mary Alice.

Pulling into a parking space at Teaberry Farms, with Deirdre in the passenger’s seat of his car and Missy in the back, he didn’t think his life could be any better.

As soon as he cut the engine, Missy jumped out. “Wait for us!” he called, but she scrambled ahead, too eager to get inside and see what Sunny and Max had in store for them to lag behind.

He stepped out. Taking Deirdre’s hand, he headed for the front door. Ten feet away, Mary Alice approached from the other side.

“Good evening.”

She smiled sheepishly. Her gaze strolled over to Deirdre, then back to him. “Good evening.”

He escorted both ladies to the front door which Max opened even before they knocked.

Dressed in a Santa suit, he swung Missy up in his arms. “Ho. Ho. Ho! Have you been a good little girl?”

Missy giggled. “Of course!”

“Then scamper on into the living room, Mr. Teaberry’s giving out presents!”

She gasped and darted off.

Max helped Mary Alice shrug out of her simple wool coat, as Greg slid Deirdre’s long leather coat from her shoulders.

“You look really pretty, Mary Alice,” Deirdre said.

She smiled. “Thanks.”

But Greg looked down at her. She did look pretty. Exceptionally pretty. Her strapless red velvet dress brought out the richness of her sable-colored hair. The white skin of her shoulders looked soft and smooth.

He shook his head as if clearing a haze. He couldn’t look at Mary Alice that way. Not when she was so fragile and he had a date.

He escorted Deirdre to the living room, but paused in the doorway. The place looked like sugar plum fairies had spent a week decorating. A string of gingerbread men decorated the fireplace mantle. Tinsel draped from the corners of the walls and met in the center of the ceiling, at the crystal chandelier. Red and green foil-wrapped boxes lay under a magnificent tree decorated with silver and gold balls over blinking red lights. Candy dishes were everywhere. Platters of cookies sat on the coffee table in front of the sofa of the pack-to-capacity room. Every resident of Towering Pines had attended.

He squeezed himself and Deirdre into the crowd. They found chairs in the back and Sunny served them a glass of punch. “Help yourself to cookies.” She winked. “But don’t eat too many. We have a buffet that will make you groan and thank your maker.”

Greg laughed. But when she was gone, he scanned the room. He told himself he was looking for Missy, but he was really looking for Mary Alice. Finding Missy at her side was just a benefit. When had she gotten so pretty?

Missy apparently said something funny because Mary Alice laughed gaily, then she hugged Missy. Really hugged her. Not like a friend, but like someone who really loved her. He swallowed. He’d known Missy longed for female companionship and he’d also recognized Mary Alice had been providing it. He just didn’t realize it would put a lump in his throat to actually see them together.

“You know, Greg, I really want to get married.”

Jarred out of his reverie, Greg bounced his attention back to Deirdre. “What?”

“Married. I was thinking we should get engaged for Christmas.”

Greg swallowed. Ever since the Monday after Thanksgiving he’d felt a weird urgency to get married, too. It had been on his mind so much he’d actually bought a ring. “I can’t believe you’re saying that!”

Dierdre pouted prettily. “It’s not too soon.”

“No! No! I agree completely.” But as he said the words, his gaze drifted back to Mary Alice. He could hear her laugh now. Warm and sweet it filled him with something he’d never felt before.

Deirdre kissed his cheek. “We could make the announcement tonight.”


Mary Alice took Missy by the hand and led her to what she called the “thrones” of Mr. and Mrs. Teaberry. They weren’t really royal seating. They were two tall-backed dining room chairs that found their way into the living room every year for this party. They sat on a little bit of a platform by the Christmas tree and definitely made finding the Teaberrys easier.

“It’s a lovely party,” she said to the pair as she walked over and shook their hands.

“Yes,” Missy said, mimicking Mary Alice by also shaking the hands of both Teaberrys.

Sophie and Reggie laughed, but tears stung Mary Alice’s eyes. She’d actually had an impact on this little girl. She couldn’t believe it.

“I have a gift for you,” Mr. Teaberry said to Missy as he reached behind himself to grab a red foil package from under the tree.

Missy gasped with happiness. But Mary Alice found herself looking back, glancing around for Greg who appeared to be deep in conversation with gorgeous Deirdre. She stifled a sigh. In the end, she knew she’d always lose out to beautiful women like Deirdre, so it was time to quit feeling sorry for herself and simply accept her fate.

“Look at this!” Missy excitedly tugged on Mary Alice’s hand. “It’s a kid-sized oven! With boxed mixes to make cakes and cookies.”

Mrs. Teaberry leaned down. Her gray hair had been caught up in a tight knot at the top of her head. Her blue eyes sparkled. “We hear you love to bake.”

Missy nodded eagerly. “I want to be just like Sunny one day.” She paused and caught Mary Alice’s hand. “And Momma Mary.”

Momma Mary? The tears that had stung Mary Alice’s eyes spilled over. What a lovely name -- she again glanced back at Greg who sat whispering to Deirdre -- but it was a name she didn’t deserve.

Swallowing, she turned to the Teaberrys. “Thank you for inviting me to your lovely party. But I have a long day tomorrow. I need to go home.”

“But you’re dressed so pretty!” Missy’s eyes darted from Mary Alice to her dad and over to Sunny. “You can’t go home. This is your special night.”

Sunny scrambled over. “Special night?”

“My dad went to the store today. He came back with a ring. I saw it.”

Mary Alice’s heart squeezed. Oh, good God. That’s why he and Deirdre had their heads together! He was asking her to marry him and they would probably announce it tonight.

She dropped Missy’s hand. “I’ve gotta go.”

With that she raced to the foyer closet, grabbed her coat and ran out.

She’d thought someone, if only sensitive Sunny, would follow her. No one did.

So what did she expect? That she was Cinderella? That the prince would chase after her?

Ha. She was a twenty-four-year-old floral arranger. Nothing special. Nothing fancy. Even without her injuries, she wasn’t anything a man like Greg would want.

She drove down the mountain with tears streaming down her cheeks. Though she’d tried not to, over the weeks of seeing Greg, babysitting his daughter, she’d fallen in love. And now she’d have to deal with it.

For the conclusion go to A Mom for Missy Part 4

copyright 2010 susan meier

A Mom for Missy -- Part 4

A Mom for Missy -- Part 4

Sunny stooped down in front of Missy. “Your dad bought a ring?”

“Yeah. It has to be for Mary Alice. That’s what I wished.”

Sunny’s heart sank. Missy hadn’t forgotten about her wish. And she also hadn’t amended it as Sunny had suggested. She still wanted her dad to marry Mary Alice and clearly he was about to ask Deirdre to marry him.

Upset, Missy burst into tears and raced to her dad. He scooped her up. “Hey! What’s wrong?”

“Mary Alice went home.”

“Oh, honey, you can’t expect Mary Alice to be at your beck and call all the time.”

Missy only wailed louder. “She was crying. You made her cry.”

Greg glanced over at Sunny who stood beside them, wringing her hands. “Can you make heads or tails of this?”

Sunny cleared her throat. “I could but I’d like some privacy to do it.”

“Missy, why don’t you stay with Deirdre?”


That loud and clear “No” didn’t just come from Missy. Deirdre looked absolutely appalled at the prospect of being left alone with his daughter.

Max came over. “How about if I take Missy outside to see the reindeer.”

Missy stopped crying. “You don’t have a reindeer.”

“Sure I do.”

With that Max walked away, carrying Missy to the foyer where he grabbed their coats. Greg followed Sunny into the kitchen.

“What happened?”

“Do you remember coming here, the Monday after Thanksgiving?” Sunny asked, back to wringing her hands again.

“Yes.” He did. He remembered the day clearly. Mostly because he’d had the odd urge to settle down since that day. He remembered how happy Missy was, remembered seeing Mary Alice that day and thinking how strong she was. For someone who could have curled up in a ball and felt sorry for herself, she pushed on with her life.

“Well, Missy and I got into a discussion about the trees being magical—“

“She knows the legend.”

“Well, I sort of nudged her to make a wish.”

His eyes narrowed. “You did?”

Sunny sucked in a long breath. “Yeah. And she wished for you and Mary Alice to… well… you know.”

“I’m afraid I don’t follow.”

“She wants you and Mary Alice to get together.”

Greg’s mouth fell open slightly. “She wants us to…” He made a rolling motion with his hand unable to say the words get married because it spooked him. For the past month he’d felt an urgency to get married, which could have been set in motion by his daughter’s wish? “Except I’m…” He pointed toward the living room, where Deirdre sat, indicating that he might have gotten lured along by one part of his daughter’s wish, but the second half was totally his own doing.

He ran his fingers through his hair. “Wow. I’m going to have some explaining to do.”

“I’m so sorry,” Sunny said. “I tried to get her to change the wish, to make it less specific but she really likes Mary Alice.”

“And I made it worse by asking Mary Alice to babysit.”

Sunny nodded miserably.

“I’ll fix it,” Greg said, fingering the engagement ring box he had in his trouser pocket.

He walked over to Deirdre just as Max returned with smiling Missy. She ran over to them. “I’m sorry, Daddy.”

“It’s okay, Pumpkin.” With all the drama that surrounded them, Greg felt a little foolish wanting to tap his plastic fork against his wine glass to get everybody’s attention. Half the people were already looking at him. At least, if he got engaged, there’d be a good reason.

He rose. Missy tugged on his hand. “I think we should go see Mary Alice.”

He stooped down. “Honey, daddy has something he wants to do right now.”

“But she was crying.”

His gut clenched. That’s right. He remembered Missy saying that before Max scooped her up.

“That’s why she left. We should go see if she’s okay.”


When Mary Alice got home, she tore off her red velvet dress and tossed it in the trash. In the morning, she’d probably fish it back out again, but tonight it felt symbolic to toss the darned thing away.

Tonight was the night she had to accept her limitations. She’d been very happy the past year. Until that Monday after Thanksgiving when she’d started feeling crazy things for Greg.

And wrongly. He’d never shown her any sign of affection. He’d never given her any indication he liked her as anything other than a babysitter.

This was on her. She had to accept it and move on.

She took a hot bath, suspecting that by now Greg and Deirdre had probably announced their engagement. She dried off thinking everybody had probably congratulated them and the Teaberrys might have even broken out some champagne for a toast.

Well, okay. If she was going to get over this, then maybe she should just open her own bottle of champagne. The one she kept for God only knew what because she hadn’t had much to celebrate lately. But tonight, if she opened it and drank to Greg and Deirdre’s happiness, she’d be making great emotional strides. She’d drink to their health and happiness and she’d move on.

In her fluffy robe, she limped to her kitchen. She rummaged for her two fluted glasses, the only two fluted glasses she owned, and filled one with the champagne from the bottle she’d uncorked.

“Here’s to Greg and Deirdre,” she said, hoisting the glass, but before she could drink, her doorbell rang.

She sighed. How was she supposed to make great emotional strides if she got interrupted?

After rushing to the door, she peeked through the peep hole and saw Greg, Missy by his side. She pivoted around, leaned against the door. Wow. He had some nerve.

Asking her to babysit so he could spend the night with his new fiancé…

She couldn’t do it. She wouldn’t do it.

Except that would hurt Missy.

Good grief, what had she gotten herself into? Would she forever be the babysitter for the daughter of the man she loved? Close enough to touch but not allowed?

He knocked again.

She huffed out a sigh, yanked the belt of her robe tighter, and opened the door with a wide, fake, smile.


Greg looked at the porch floor, then at her. “Hey.”

“What are you doing here?” She ruffled Missy’s hair, pretending everything was fine. She was so tired of everyone feeling sorry for her that it was easier to force herself to pretend everything was fine, even if her heart was breaking. “You need somewhere to stay the night?”

Missy’s eyes brightened. But Greg shook his head. “Missy can’t stay the night. She’s here to apologize.”

“She is?”

He nudged her forward. “Tell Mary Alice what you did.”

Missy looked down at her blue boots on the snowy porch. “I made a wish.”

Curious, Mary Alice stooped in front of her. “You did?”

Missy caught her gaze. “On a tree.”

Ah. Mary Alice got it now. It was so cute that she had to press her lips together, not sure if she would laugh or cry. “On one of the Teaberry trees?”

She nodded. “The Monday after Thanksgiving.”

“And what did you wish?”

“That you and my dad would … You know.”

It took a second, but suddenly everything made sense for Mary Alice. She hadn’t been falling in love with Greg. She’d been under the spell of an optimistic six-year-old and a wish on a tree. She rose and caught Greg’s gaze. “This explains a lot.”
Greg gave her a hopeful smile. “It does?”

“Yes. I’ve had a weird feeling around you since the Monday after Thanksgiving.”

He sighed as if relieved. “I’ve had the same weird feeling around you.”

“I thought I was a little crazy,” Mary Alice admitted. She didn’t know whether to be relieved or saddened. On the one hand, it had felt good to be falling in love. On the other hand, Greg was spoken for. Even if she hadn’t known it at first. “Especially since it wouldn’t go away, even after I found out you were dating Deirdre.”

“Imagine how I felt. I’ve been seeing Deirdre for months, yet there I was noticing things about you.”

That stopped her. “Really?”

“Yes. You’re quite a strong person.”

Everybody said that. She shrugged. “I have to be.”

“And you’re pretty too.”

She cursed the blush that stole up her cheeks. It wasn’t a declaration of love, but at least she didn’t feel like a total loser, noticing a man who wasn’t noticing her. “Thanks.”

He ran his hand along the back of his neck. “So we’re okay then?”

She nodded. In a weird kind of way she did feel okay. In another way she didn’t. Magic or no magic, she’d still noticed good things about him. Liked him. Wanted him to like her. Still, she wouldn’t tell him that.

“Yes. I’m fine. Just glad to know I wasn’t going crazy. Noticing things about you was just the end result of Missy’s wish.”

He smiled. “I guess we’ll go then.”

Her heart twisted a bit. She didn’t care if it had been a wish that caused them to notice each other. She liked him. And he’d noticed a good thing or two about her. All the same, she took a step backward, into her house again. Ready to close the door, she said, “Okay.”

Missy tugged on her hand. “Goodbye.”

She smiled down at her. “Goodbye.”

They turned to go, but Greg suddenly pivoted around again. “You said you noticed good things about me?”

She nodded.

“Like what?”

Hope fluttered in her tummy. Since her fiancée, she hadn’t had the courage to tell a man anything remotely like this. But since they were talking about it in the context of Missy’s wish…was it so bad?

“Well, you’re very smart and a good dad.” She cleared her throat. “And good looking.”

He grinned. “Really?”

“Well, you just said you thought I was pretty. I didn’t think it was out of line for me to admit I noticed you were good looking too.”

He laughed, shuffled his feet. “We’re a pair.”

“A pair?”

“Of idiots.”

“We’ve lived together in the same town for decades. We’ve been noticing each other for six weeks and neither one of us had the guts to mention it to the other.”

She straightened primly. “As I recall you were dating someone.”

He knocked his toe against some snow nestled up against a porch post. “I…um…Didn’t ask Deirdre to marry me tonight.”

She swallowed. What the devil did that mean? “You didn’t?”


The hope in her tummy brightened like Christmas lights. “You didn’t want to get married?”

He caught her gaze. “Actually, I did.”

Her Christmas tree lights of hope blinked off. Her stomach plummeted. “Oh.”

“The thing is –“ He scuffed his feet again. “I didn’t want to marry Deirdre.” He took a step toward her. “It’s cold. Why don’t you ask us in?”

As she gazed into his beautiful eyes, the lights of hope flickered again. Her brain fogged. “In?”

“So we can talk about this for real. I don’t want to marry Deirdre because I don’t feel for her what I feel for you. You’re smart, you’re funny, you’re pretty…but more than that, there is something happening between us and I don’t think a magic tree had anything to do with it.”

She smiled. Opened the door. Opened her heart. And the magic that was Teaberry trees twinkled away, floating above Mary Alice’s house, up the mountain and back to Teaberry farms, waiting for the next dreamer to touch a branch and make a wish.

Six months later Sunny and Max sat on the bride’s side of the wedding ceremony held in the old country church. Missy sat with them, beaming as Mary Alice and Greg exchanged vows.

Though Sunny genuinely believed their relationship was more the result of chemistry and a genuine friendship that grew between them, Missy insisted it was the result of a wish on a tree. Word spread of the marriage and the following winter Teaberry farms was inundated by singles buying trees for their apartments and houses, hoping to find their one true love. The following summer, Sunny tried to get pregnant and couldn’t. Missy, by then a feisty eight-year-old, nudged her in the direction of the Teaberry trees. Just to get her to hush, Sunny had wished on a tree and the following September her eight-pound baby boy was born.

Years drifted into years. A second son was born to the Peabody’s. The elder Teaberrys died. Their son didn’t like the farm, so it was closed. Max, wanting their two sons to get a stellar education, started a charter school which he ran for two decades.

And suddenly, one glorious December over twenty years later, the Teaberry’s grandson Drew returned with a rebellious son and a single mom secretary who loved to bake muffins and longed for one wish from a Teaberry tree…

Can they turn the house into a home again?

A new generation of Teaberrys brings the legend to life in A BABY BENEATH THE CHRISTMAS TREE, part of A FAIRYTALE CHRISTMAS anthology with Barbara Wallace.

copyright 2010 susan meier

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