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