Authors: Elyse Douglas
Tags: #Christmas romance, #Christmas book, #Christmas story, #Christmas novel, #General Fiction
Table of Contents
THE CHRISTMAS EVE LETTER
The Christmas Eve Letter
Copyright © 2016 by Elyse Douglas
All rights reserved
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The copying, reproduction and distribution of this e-book via any means, without permission of the author, is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and refuse to participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s intellectual property rights is greatly appreciated.
For Eleonore, who often dreams of The Gilded Age
The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.
Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.
Henry David Thoreau
You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by.
And when two lovers woo
They still say, “I love you,”
On that you can rely.
No matter what the future brings
As time goes by.
Eve Sharland had Googled and plotted her course to
The Time Past Antique Shop
the night before, while stretched out on a luxurious four-poster bed at Amy’s Bed & Breakfast, 30 miles south of Philadelphia. She left early the next morning and drove under a crystal blue mid-October sky along a quiet, two-lane Pennsylvania road that threaded its way past flaming autumn trees, splashing streams and graceful farmland, spotted with the occasional tractor, red barn and silver silo.
As she approached a roadside farm stand, she slowed down, her eyes widening in wonder, like a kid’s. There were giant pumpkins, bushels of colorful apples, jugs of apple cider, and a charming display of apple pies, candied apples, and plain and sugar donuts. Unable to resist temptation, she pulled over and parked. Eve loved all things apples, especially apple pie and apple cider. She mingled with gleeful, reaching children and anxious parents, finally choosing a plain donut, an apple pie, a bag of apples and a quart jug of cider. She poured some cider into a paper cup and drank it while eating the donut, enchanted by the sparkling Sunday morning, the last day of her 3-day vacation.
Fifteen minutes later, Eve was back on the road, still sipping cider, excited by the prospect of browsing the antique store just ahead, one of her favorite things to do.
She turned off the road onto a wooden bridge that covered a rocky, gurgling stream, listening to her tires rattle across the old beams. She glanced left as she drove down a low road that led to open farmland and a small town that was visible in the hazy distance.
Minutes later she entered the town of Combs End. She immediately spotted the eccentric little antiques shop, nestled under majestic elms and maples, with quiet homes partially hidden behind it.
She turned into the empty parking lot, her tires popping along the gravel, and parked near the front door. She climbed out into a snappy autumn wind and chucked her car door shut. Glancing around, she zipped up her brown leather jacket, pocketed her hands, and then stood back, studying the shop.
On the tiled roof, the battered
Time Past Antique Shop
sign sat perched precariously, as if the next burst of wind would send it tumbling. The shop itself definitely looked like something out of the past, perhaps circa 1920s or 1930s. It was a small, quaint shop that seemed to lean a bit to the right, as if it were tired and just wanted to take a long nap. The red paint had faded into the old wood and the open window shutters were a sun-bleached blue. Eve stepped over to the filmy, 12-pane vintage farmhouse windows and peered inside. She saw mantel clocks, vases, watches, a brass spittoon, and an ornate Victorian lamp, its opal, glass ball lampshade hand-painted with roses.
None of it looked particularly inspiring, but the shop was definitely a one-of-a-kind place. The lawn was yellow, the weeds high and rambling, and a flower garden lay wilted and neglected. The weathervane on the roof turned and creaked in the wind like a confused and drunken man. The poor little shop would be lucky to survive the next winter.
Eve removed her cell phone from her jacket pocket and took several photos, thinking she’d post them on Pinterest or Facebook.
With an ungloved hand, she reached for the cold doorknob and turned it gently. A bell over the pale blue door “dinged” twice as the door screeched open. She entered a dimly lit room that smelled of old wood, dust and a hint of mold. That excited her. These were authentic scents, not artificial sprays, candles or potpourris. This kind of shop was hard to find in our “modern antique” age.
She closed the door and allowed her eyes to adjust from bright sunlight to a place of shadows, where things were hidden, shy of light and waiting to be discovered again. It was so quiet, her ears rang.
“Hello,” she said, in a modest voice. “Hello. Anybody here?”
When no one appeared, Eve browsed the rickety-looking shelves and narrow display tables, taking in the vintage jewelry, the shoes, the purses, a candlestick telephone, the baseball cards from 1910, old political campaign buttons, a top hat and, of all things, a corset.
Wouldn’t want to have to fit into that,
She turned in place and saw an old rocking chair, a wood burning stove and, hanging on the wall, a large, over-the-mantel Victorian mirror with a subtle green, ornate plaster frame. The glass was slightly scratched and it needed cleaning, but it was a beautiful piece all the same. Eve moved toward it, seeing herself reflected back, remembering what her ex, Blake, had once said of her: “Pretty but tentative.” Why did she remember that? And why hadn’t she asked him exactly what he’d meant? All she remembered now was that she’d felt criticized.
Eve had just turned 30 and this long weekend getaway was one of her birthday presents to herself. Her friends thought she’d get lonely traveling alone, but Eve seldom got lonely when she traveled and explored. In many ways, she preferred it. It allowed her the freedom to follow her whims and fancies, lingering in old book stores and antique shops, when her friends would have been bored, scrolling through their phones or glancing impatiently at their watches.
Eve drifted closer to the mirror and examined herself. She had a heart-shaped face, a broad forehead, strong cheekbones, and a small chin. Her straight, honey-blonde hair fell loosely around her shoulders. When she was at work, she usually tied it into a ponytail or wrapped it into a bun, but not today. Today, she wanted to feel free. She shook her head and glanced again at the mirror. Her lips were small but full, and her eyes were blueberry blue. When she looked deeply into them, she had to admit she saw a hint of sadness. But she also saw curiosity. Yes, well, she’d always been curious about things.
She stood back and studied her figure. She was 5’6” tall, looking quite slim in her fitted jeans and tight, cream-colored sweater. Her two inch boots added height. The vintage brown leather jacket and dangling, 1960s, red-and-orange hoop earrings added a bit of whimsy. The merlot lipstick was new, something she was trying out. It might be too dark for her coloring.
Eve heard the wooden floor creak. She turned toward the sound.
A slender, elderly woman, wearing a print dress, long white sweater, Benjamin Franklin spectacles, and white hair piled in a bun on top of her head, squinted a look at Eve. Her face was pale, with a map of lines. She smiled thinly.
“Can I help you?” the woman asked, in a small, shaky voice.
Eve swung the strap of her purse from her left shoulder to her right. “Oh, I was just looking around.”
“Well, just keep on looking. My name’s Granny Gilbert and I own the place, such as it is.”
“It’s very unusual,” Eve said. “I’ve never seen one quite like it.”
Granny Gilbert pulled a balled-up handkerchief from her sweater pocket and wiped her nose. “Well… it’s old just like me. We don’t get many people coming in anymore. We’re off the main road and with all this internet business…”
Her voice trailed off as she looked about. She continued. “We’ll be closing the shop in a month or so.”
“Oh, really?” Eve asked. “Before winter?”
“Yes. My sons don’t want it. My daughter has no interest and neither one of my sons’ wives care about it, so it’s time to let it go.”
“How long has the shop been here?”
Granny Gilbert went into a frown of concentration. She adjusted her glasses, calculated and then looked at Eve from over the rim. “I should know that right off, but I forget sometimes. Age, I guess. Anyway it’s been in the family since 1921, I think. My grandfather opened it.”
Eve looked about the place with new respect. “That’s a long time. I bet you’ve had some nice pieces over the years.”
Granny Gilbert stood up a little straighter with sudden pride. She lifted her quivering chin and blinked slowly. “We once sold a gold watch to Harry Truman.”
Eve’s eyes widened. “President Harry Truman?”
“One and the same,” Granny Gilbert said, and then her face wrenched in distaste. “My father didn’t vote for him, you know, but he sold the President that gold watch. He was a business man first, despite his political beliefs. Well, anyway, Truman said his grandfather had had a watch just like it. It was all the talk of the county back then. Me, my father, and the President himself, we all had our pictures in the Sunday paper.”
Granny Gilbert searched the walls. “It’s around here someplace, framed on some wall, but I don’t know where. Maybe I gave it away. Maybe it’s tucked away in some box.”
“Do you live nearby?” Eve asked.
Granny Gilbert pointed right. “I live with my daughter just up a spell from here. I just happened to see your car parked in the lot, so I came down. You look around and see if there’s anything you want. It’ll all be gone in a couple of months. I’ll give you a good price.”
“Thank you. I won’t be long.”
With a deep sigh, Granny Gilbert eased down in a rocker. “Take all the time you want. I’ve got nothing but time, and not much to do with it except to wait on it, while it waits on me; one old buzzard staring down another old buzzard.”
Eve gave a half smile, thinking Granny was rather poetic. Eve wandered, looking at jewelry and lamps, picking through a rack of sweaters and blouses.
“You all alone?” Granny Gilbert asked.
“Not married, a pretty girl like you?”
Eve didn’t look at the woman. “No… it didn’t take.”
“How long were you married?”
Eve inhaled a little breath. Granny Gilbert was certainly nosey. But then, as she’d just said, she had nothing but time.
“We were married a little over two years.”
The woman rocked and made a tsk, tsk sound. “Well, that is just too bad. It seems that kids today don’t stay married all that long. Me and Pappy, my deceased husband, were married over 50 years. He ran this place for a long time. Do you have any children?”
“No. We were going to wait.”
“Wait for what? What was there to wait for? The clock just keeps on ticking.”