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.
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