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.
“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.”
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?”
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.”
“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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