Her Christmas Dream
"Sweet Christmas story by Jo Huddleston. Always well written and great characters. Wonder[ful] love story and sweetness of Christmas." -5-Star Amazon review
White Pines, Georgia
Saturday, December 5, 1959
The lyrics of “Jingle Bells” floated from the record player in a corner of the living room area at the Promise House shelter. Marilyn Wagner hummed along with the Ray Conniff Singers while she examined the generous bough of mistletoe she held.
After the harsh breakup she went through this time last year, would anyone want to kiss her under the mistletoe this Christmas? She dreamed of sharing the season with someone special.
She should be wiser with her heart if another relationship came along. Marilyn had misplaced her trust in Bobby, and the heartbreak had nearly consumed her. Yes, she’d be more cautious next time. If she ever had a next time.
Before Marilyn stepped on the first rung of the tall step ladder, she tested its stability with a brisk shake. Satisfied the ladder was safe, she climbed halfway up.
Someone had earlier draped wide, red ribbon over the archway into the dining area, and now she would add the mistletoe at the arch’s midpoint. More red ribbon held the mistletoe together and had a loop for hanging it on a hook.
She’d worn blue jeans today since she knew they would put up Christmas decorations. She unsuccessfully reached toward the hook to place the mistletoe there. Huh-oh. The ladder needed to be closer.
Marilyn chose not to return to the floor to adjust the ladder but eased her foot as far as possible to the right on the rung. She held on to the ladder with a death grip of her left hand and stretched toward the archway.
The ladder wobbled beneath her penny loafers. She could either continue to try to put the loop on the hook and risk a fall or use both hands to steady the ladder before it toppled over. Duh! Marilyn released the mistletoe and, in an instant, hugged the ladder with both arms. She breathed a sigh of relief and pressed her face onto the flat top of the step ladder. Then she heard an unfamiliar voice.
“Excuse me, ma’am. I think you dropped this. Do you need help?”
Marilyn slowly raised her head from the top of the ladder and peered down onto the face of a handsome black-haired stranger who stared up at her with striking Paul-Newman-blue eyes. His khaki pants and long-sleeved button-down shirt were not soiled nor wrinkled.
The stranger’s face had only slight crinkles at the eyes, and he was clean-shaven—not the overall appearance of a hungry hobo in need of the shelter’s services. He held her mistletoe between a finger and thumb.
“Oh, yes, that’s mine.” Marilyn slowly made her way down the ladder as she tucked her shirt back inside her blue jeans and patted her reddish-brown hair into place.
“Were you trying to do a trapeze act up there?” the stranger asked.
“When I got to the top of the ladder, it wasn’t near enough to the archway. I guess I kind of pushed my luck a little.”
He moved the ladder closer. “Now, you want to try again?”
When Marilyn put out her hand palm up for the mistletoe he still held, instead of giving it to her, he swung it over her head. As quick as a flash, she sidestepped away from him to stand on the other side of the ladder.
Not discouraged, he followed her and tried another time to position the mistletoe above her head. “Don’t have time for a little Christmas cheer?”
Her resolve against a kiss from a stranger weakened when she glanced into those light blue eyes. But she didn’t know this guy, not even his name. Their slight ruckus had garnered attention from a few of those at the shelter.
Marilyn stepped onto the ladder and climbed partway up. She reached down toward the man and said, “Give me the mistletoe. Now!”
Reluctantly, he surrendered the mistletoe bough to her, and she climbed higher where she successfully hung the greenery on the hook over the archway. The stranger held the ladder to secure it and probably would until she returned safely to the floor. There seemed no way to avoid another confrontation with him, so she descended the ladder.
He started to talk before she planted both feet on the floor. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I wasn’t serious about the mistletoe. You don’t know me, and I guess I came across overfriendly. Let’s start again—hello, my name is Addison Hamlin.”
His apparent sincerity brought a slight smile to her lips. She extended her hand toward his. “Hello, I’m Marilyn Wagner.” He gave her a gentle handshake and, at his touch, tingles traveled up her arm.
“That’s better,” he said and released her hand. “Want to have a cup of coffee with me?”
She checked her watch. “Yes, sure. We’ll get coffee from the kitchen and sit in the dining area since it’s a couple of hours till lunchtime.”
He hesitated. “I wanted to go someplace else. This shelter is miserable, and there’s no privacy here.”
His words struck a sour note with Marilyn—the Promise House shelter was a passion of hers. If he didn’t like it here, let him go somewhere else. No one would miss him. “I don’t have time to go anywhere else. I volunteer here and won’t leave for several hours. Suit yourself. Do we have coffee or not?”
“Yeah, uh, sure, let’s have coffee here,” he said.
“Okay. If you’ll please put the ladder in the storeroom across from the office, I’ll get our coffee.”
They sat opposite each other at the end of one of the long tables where the shelter served meals to their clients. “So, Addison Hamlin,” Marilyn said after she stirred cream into her coffee. “I haven’t seen you around here before. Are you a volunteer, or do you need a meal?”
He laughed out loud, and an almost-sneer crossed his handsome face. “No, I don’t need a meal. I guess I’m a volunteer. When I checked in with Miss Malcolm earlier, she said I should report to the woman on the ladder—you. The rest is, as they say, history. I guess I get my work orders from you.”
“That’s strange. Miss Malcolm didn’t speak to me about a new volunteer for today.” She saw a twinkle in his eye and a glint of the bad boy flickering in the corner. “You’re pulling my leg, aren’t you? She didn’t tell you to report to me, did she?”
He raised his arms, palms forward. “Guilty! You’re right, I made it up, hoped the story might put me on good footing with you after the rocky beginning we had.”
Miss Malcolm passed through the room at the far end of their long table and sent a solemn stare toward them. What kind of message did she intend to convey? Whatever her problem was, Marilyn wouldn’t let it interfere with their coffee time. “We did get off on the wrong foot, didn’t we? Honesty on your part will always put you in good standing with me, but lies will get you nowhere.”
“Understood. I shouldn’t have tried to trick you. Sorry. So, how long have you been a volunteer here?”
“Oh, my goodness. Since I was a teenager in high school. My mama says that even as a toddler, I always wanted to care for anyone who got hurt. And every day at snack time, I would share what I had with my playmates. The Promise House shelter provides food and clothing to those in need. Also, we try to find them a job and housing if necessary. How about you?”
“Uh, yeah, sure. I agree with you about helping people.”
“Well, I welcome you as a new volunteer. Where do you live?” she asked.
“I’m, uh, I just transferred into the area. I rent a place for now.”
“Then, welcome again to our little town of White Pines, the sweetest spot in northern Georgia.”
Two strong hands gripped her shoulders from behind, and fingers massaged the tight muscles there. She knew it was George before he spoke.
Who else could pinpoint the exact place that always needed his touch to loosen her tension? No one got her as well as George—they’d met in kindergarten, grown up together, went through high school, even attended college at the same place, and shared a commitment to the shelter. Marilyn had plenty of girlfriends, but no best friend like George.
“George?” Marilyn asked.
“Yes, how’d you guess it was me?” He pulled a chair out from the table and took a seat next to her.
“I’d know your touch in the dark. Thanks for the mini-massage.”
George looked across the table at Addison and extended his hand. “Hey, I’m George Ramsey.”
Addison shook his hand. “Addison Hamlin.”
“Haven’t seen you here before.”
A frown creased Addison’s brow as his eyes focused on the tall man with light brown curly hair. “Haven’t been here before.”
Marilyn hurried to interrupt their confrontation—for that’s what it was—before it escalated. The two men considered each other as would two territorial animals to mark their possessions. She was nobody’s possession, but she’d sure cast her lot with George any day rather than this handsome newcomer.
“George,” she said, “Addison’s a new volunteer here at the shelter, as of today.”
“Glad to have you aboard,” George said. “If y’all have finished your coffee, we’d better get on with the Christmas decorations. I’ll go to get the tree after lunch, Addison. You want to come along?”
Addison hesitated, looked at Marilyn, then back at George. “Sure, be glad to help you with the tree.”
They worked on finishing the transformation of the shelter into a sea of green and red. They’d even painted snowflakes on the windowpanes. After they helped to serve the noon meal to an almost-full house and then cleared the tables, George and Addison left in George’s maroon pickup truck to bring back a Christmas tree.
Copyright 2020 Jo Huddleston