Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Christmas in Luxembourg, Part 2


“But honey,” Mother said, “I always have a White Elephant party on the first Saturday of December. It’s going to be in the lobby of the Inn. Everyone comes, of course. Your sisters will be there. Even hotel guests can come, if they wish.”

Years of therapy had taught Jill that her first impulse to snap back that it was so good of Mother to give the guests a choice was probably not the the correct response. She sat back from the table covered with tax returns and receipts and various papers she’d been trying to sort out, and let out her breath in a controlled fashion that could not be called a sigh.

“I’d hoped to relax on Saturday, Mother. All finances and no play make Jill a dull girl.”

“I know, darling. I’ve barely seen you since you came home. After twelve years you might at least eat dinner with me. I know you only had two days to attend your father’s funeral, but now that you can spare some time I think we ought to see more of each other.”

What Jill was seeing was red, clouding her vision, taking her back to the days when Mother could and did get under her skin, until shouting and smashing seemed like the only way out. I’m not 18 anymore, she thought. I’m an adult. I will not be provoked.

“I suppose you’ll see me on Saturday at your White Elephant party, since it’s important to you, but until then my first priority is the job that you asked me to do.”

“Well, I can’t wait to see what you’ve come up with. Your father poured his heart out into his businesses to support this family. I know you won’t let that Garrett French get away with another lowball offer for the Inn. You were always Daddy’s girl. Don’t undervalue his work.”

And Mother shut the door gently, leaving Jill to choke on her responses. I don’t “come up” with numbers! The figures are all here, somewhere. The inn is worth what it’s worth, no matter how much you or I or Daddy valued it. 

“That Garrett French” was the stock villain of Mother’s life, an investor who was snapping up local properties. According to what mood Mother was in, he was either preventing progress by refusing to modernize outdated buildings, or destroying history by recklessly renovating the crumbling charm out of the downtown historical district. Jill didn’t remember him well, as he’d been several years older than her, but she pictured him now as the Old Man Potter, rubbing his hands and cackling as he lowballed the worthy property owners of Luxembourg, Ohio.

Jill stretched and then shivered in the chill of the old house. She was at work in the library, and had been, it felt like, since she’d arrived. She knew, if she cared to cast her mind back, that Mother had an array of snacks out for her as she’d lugged her bags, and that she’d slept in an elegant room that had not been her bedroom for twelve years. The bedroom, as the dining room and the rest of the house, was spotless and fresh, because as best Jill could tell the inn staff were cleaning this house along with their standard housekeeping duties next door. And the books were being fudged so that somehow this counted as a business expense. So many things, in fact, counted as a business expense that the inn was barely running at a profit. And the same went for Daddy’s garage, and several other ventures that fell under the heading of “family business”.

The implications of this needed to be hashed out, but for now, all Jill wanted was something warm to wear. She pulled open the closet door in the hall before she remembered that she didn’t live here anymore and wouldn’t have a jacket hanging up. And then, as she stared at Daddy’s old Christmas sweater on its wooden hanger, she felt her heart pounding like a leaden lump of grief. 

It was in the closet because he’d worn it all year round, and because in the four months since his death no one had had the heart to move it, and so here it was in all its faded glory. Oversized — for Daddy, anyway; he’d never been a big man. Red, with holly leaves, and in the center was knit a big “Ho3”. That was Daddy’s kind of humor. He’d seen fit to wear it on balmy Spring days as well as by the glow of the Yule log. Jill pulled the sweater on and wrapped herself in her father. Here she was in his arms again, pressing her face against his shoulder, smelling his warm Daddy smell, wiping her tears on this very sleeve. Why had she not come home? Why had she let her mother keep her away? Why did she think emails and calls could substitute for Daddy in his sweater?

The big sob she could no longer hold back broke forth, and with it all the temper that she’d curbed for the past two days. She looked around for the the nearest thing to grab, just as she used to do. A string of chaste white lights, framing the doorway, was within her grasp. She yanked them down, opened the door to hurl them out onto the porch, and yanked her arm back to avoid hitting the hat of the man standing outside the door, shaking the snow off of his shoes. 

His flinch brought Jill to her senses, and she realized how she must look. Ancient Christmas sweater, frizzy hair, red eyes, nose welling up with a big drip, and the lights of fury still glowing in her fist. She hadn’t even pulled them out of the plug.

“Trouble with your lights?” asked the man, who had recovered himself as well. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Jill had already formulated a story about the difficulties of Christmas decorating when her mouth said instead, “I was angry.”

He nodded, and studied the Christmas sweater, and asked, “Are you Gillian?”

“Jill, yes,” she said, too startled to deny her full name. “How did you know?”

“Well, you’re holding lights, and you’ll forgive me if I note that you are probably not one of the Luxembourg Inn staff members that Regina usually pulls in to do her menial decorating tasks. Plus, I used to see your dad wearing that sweater all the time. Now here is someone wearing Chuck O’Leary’s Christmas sweater — out of love, I assume, because no one would wear that sweater otherwise. You look like your sisters Reagan and Del, but I can’t imagine either of them wearing your dad’s sweater or crying. So, a family member, the prodigal daughter coming home to paper over the accounting problems. Ergo, Jill.”

Jill stepped out on the front porch and carefully closed the front door before availing herself of the clean tissue the man provided her. “Love” was a word that she had heard her mother say often over the years, in many different contexts, but to hear someone say that the Christmas sweater was evidence that she genuinely loved her father destroyed her for a moment.

“Will you be okay?” the man asked, concerned. “Should I call someone?”

Jill hiccuped through her sobs. “Did you really just say, ‘Ergo’?”

He laughed. “I did. I’m pompous that way.”

The sweater was as convenient as the soggy tissue, so she wiped her eyes and nose on it as well. “I’m sorry,” she said, and then she was angry again. “Though there’s no reason I should apologize. I can cry if I want to.”

“You don’t have to apologize for that at all,” he said, “Your dad was a good man.” 

Jill wailed. “And I didn’t even hit you with the lights, so I don’t have to be sorry for that either. You shouldn’t have been right outside the door.”

“And I won’t be, much longer. I can see that this isn’t a good time. Would you tell your mother I’ll stop by to see her another time?”

He handed Jill a business card and another tissue, and tipped his hat to her as he turned to go. Who wears a hat? Jill wondered. Who says “Ergo”?

Looking down at the card, she read the name “Garrett French”.



Foxfier said...

You definitely hit the female lead's tone right-- I usually can't stand the Hallmark ladies, either. WAnt to yell at them to grow up. (Yes, even when I was an emo 14 year old; I blame the English.)

Foxfier said...

Also, giggling at the Ergo bit.

Antoinette said...

Great and twisting the cliches.

Kate said...

Oh, I was waiting for the incorrigible, polished rich romantic interest! There's always two--a rich, classy-but-surprisingly-down-to-earth gent and a plain-spoken, rough-and-ready small-town sweetheart.

Kelly said...

I haven't watched a single Hallmark movie so my strongest feeling reading this is Pride and Prejudice vibes. Looking forward to seeing it play out.