this chapter by Lacy Williams
Copyright © OKC Christian Fiction Writers
“Hello-oo! Anybody home?”
Eleanor Clark paused in the foyer of her parents’ home, waiting for her glasses to unfog after coming in from the cold. And it was cold!
She brushed the fluffy, white flakes from her shoulders before shedding her coat and scarf. It hardly ever snowed in Oklahoma, but this one was shaping up to be a blizzard. The forecasters were calling for at least a foot. Two days before Christmas, no less. What were procrastinators—like her—supposed to do if they hadn’t finished their shopping?
“Mom?” she called out, hanging her coat in the front closet, already overstuffed with jackets, mufflers and other winter accessories.
It was unusual for the house to be so quiet. This time of year her parents’ home was usually filled to bursting with relatives and friends.
“She’s upstairs,” a voice answered.
Eleanor whirled and whacked a nearby potted plant with the duffel bag that she’d just picked up from the floor.
The man who’d spoken stepped through the living room doorway and caught the planter before it crashed over on its side. When he straightened up, Eleanor saw that her ears had not betrayed her after all.
It was her brother Robbie’s best friend, Theodore “Tad” Varner. Her nemesis since elementary school. In the flesh. The toned, movie-star-good-looking, blond-haired flesh.
“What are you doing here?” Eleanor swung away from him and her duffel whacked into the closet door she’d just closed.
He cleared his throat. Was he trying not to laugh? She couldn’t tell. “Your mom invited me. Do you want me to take that?”
“No.” She realized that sounded a little rude. “Thank you.”
She left her bag at the foot of the stairs and followed him into the living room, where she stopped short. A set of designer luggage took up space next to the sofa. A newspaper was spread across the coffee table, while folders and paperwork covered the cushions and arms of the couch.
He’d moved in.
Eleanor swallowed hard. “You mean Mom invited you… to stay?”
“Mm hmm,” he answered, distracted by a handful of papers he’d picked up. He looked up and really looked at her, his blue eyes piercing. “You seem different. Finals at the university go okay?”
“Yes, fine.” She rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Same as usual. Kids waiting until the last minute to turn in their projects. A few complainers who ‘forgot,’” she used air quotes to show her sarcasm, “to drop classes before the deadline.”
“Hmm. New boyfriend, then?”
She blushed, heat flaring up her neck and into her cheeks. “No. I’m not seeing anyone new.”
Not for two years. It was too hard to fit in social obligations when her schedule was full with teaching fifteen hours of classes—half at the master’s level—plus the extra tutoring she gave on the weekends.
Her sister Janice said she just hadn’t met the right man. That when she did, Eleanor would make time for Mr. Right. Eleanor was inclined to agree, but she hadn’t told her sister she was done looking after the last two men she’d dated had turned out to be uber-losers.
Tad tilted his head to the side, still considering her. Was it too much to ask that he not notice her flushed face?
“Well, there’s something new about you…”
She shrugged, not willing to talk to him about something she hadn’t even told her family yet. “I’m going to go find my mom. Upstairs?”
“Yeah, I think she was doing laundry.”
“All right, thanks.”
Eleanor turned to the stairs.
She stopped on the third stair, eyes closed. Tad and Robbie had shortened her name when she’d been in fifth grade. They were the only ones who ever used the nickname. She’d hated it then, but now it just hurt. “Yeah?”
“It’s good to see you.”
She mumbled something and stomped up the stairs. What was he doing here?
“What is he doing here?” Eleanor hissed at her mother, glancing over her shoulder toward the hall, to make sure he wasn’t out there eavesdropping.
“Why, staying for Christmas, dear.” Ruth Clark didn’t look up from the clean linens she shook out over the bare mattress in the guest room.
“But why here? Why not a hotel?” She turned her head and mumbled, “He could buy a hotel if he wanted.”
“I don’t know, dear. Can you tuck in that corner?”
Eleanor stretched the sheet flat and jammed it under the corner of the mattress. “Well, I don’t like it. You know he’s always disliked me.”
“That’s not true, Eleanor.” Her mother plumped the two newly-cased pillows and arranged them at the head of the bed. “He and Robbie both adored you. They were just boys – didn’t know how to show it.”
Eleanor shook her head, leaning back against the dresser with arms crossed. “Even if that was the case, I don’t understand why he had to come now.”
Ruth stepped over and touched her daughter’s arm. “You know we always have guests around Christmas. This year, it happens to be Tad.” She held Eleanor’s eyes. “And I expect you to behave the same as you would if it was anyone else.”
Eleanor controlled her expression, but what she really wanted to do was argue. She didn’t want Tad here, not this Christmas. Instead, she nodded.
With a gentle pat on her daughter’s arm, Ruth turned to pull the block quilt up over the bed and smooth it into place. “This Christmas is going to be hard for all of us, with Robbie gone.”
And having Tad Varner around would make things worse. For her.
Check back on Wednesday for the next installment!