"So, ... I talked to Alice this morning & she told me something very interesting!" The twinkle she could see in Todd's eye told Amy he probably knew about the gifts.
"You talked to Alice?"
"Mmmhmm, and she told me that you have recently become very popular. You've been holding out on me." She could tell he was just teasing her, but Amy blushed, nonetheless.
"I just wasn't sure what to say," but what Amy didn't admit is that she also felt weird talking to Ben about another guy. They were certainly just friends, but she still felt a little strange.
"What to say? Tell me everything!"
So she did. From the very first gift, to the kinds of things the guy was saying about his feeling, to her fear about falling in love to her recent decision to try to be more open to the possibility.
"Do you think he really loves you?"
"Yeah, I guess so! I believe him, but I just wonder how someone I know could love me without my knowing it."
"That is hard to believe, but I am sure it's possible."
"What do you think about it?"
"I think it's wonderful that you are getting a gift every day, because you certainly deserve that to be honored in that way. And of course you deserve a love you can cherish forever. But he better love you like no one ever has before and ever will again, and treat you like he knows you're his happiness."
"Awww! I hope he'll say wonderful things like that, too."
Amy was glad that Ben seemed to support being open to this possibility. She hadn't wanted to tell him yet, but now that she had, she was glad to hear what he thought.
He went on to tell her that he understood why she'd have felt worried about marriage and he remembered all the times she'd vowed never to do it. "Your parents set a pretty discouraging example. To put it lightly!"
"But you are worth any difficulty you have to go through to be loved and cherished for the rest of your life. I want that for you, no matter who you spend it with, and I hope you won't miss out on it."
"Well, when you say it like that, I hope I don't miss out, either. And that's very sweet, what you said."
That's when she brought up the call from her mother and told him how freaked out she was to realize she had borrowed what she thought was her own opinion about love & relationships from her mother.
"So she had the experience, and drew her own conclusions about love, but you lifted them without examining them first?"
"I don't think that's true, Amy. I remember talking about it with you all the way back then. Certainly her pain influenced you, as you've said, but it makes sense that you might both look at such a painful experience & draw similar conclusions."
"It doesn't mean you are becoming your mother, although that is rumored to happen. I just think it means you thought alike on this one."
Amy was silent for a moment, thinking about what Ben said. "I see what you mean. But I disagree with her one so very many things!"
"It makes me wonder if I am wrong, if my strategy is much the same as hers."
"Well, you know how I feel. Even if Mystery Gift Guy isn't the one for you, I believe that if you open your heart to the possibility of love, then when the right ones does come along, you'll get to have the love you deserve."
"So I hate to see you close yourself off from the possibility of love. No matter what your mother chooses or doesn't choose."
"Right. It's not really about her, except it is."
"But maybe it doesn't have to be, Amy. You are so different from her. I think when your dad left, her reaction was a combination of how terrible it was that he left + who your mother is as a person + her depression at the time."
"She doesn't seem to be depressed anymore, but in spite of still being in therapy, the person she is keeps her stuck. I think."
"But that's not who you are, Amy. And it never has been."
"Well, I can't say I don't agree with you there. But I hadn't thought about what you said about being different all along. Which means I am free to make a different choice now."
"I will definitely think about what you've said. And I do want to be more open to what could happen."
"You know I'll always have your back."
"I know." And she was so grateful for that, too. But she saw what that meant for this discussion.
If she got hurt, he would be there. Her mother didn't have a "Ben."
It was a lot to think about.
Ben and Amy talked for a while longer, and when she hung up, she thought again about how glad she was to have him in her life.
And to be able to talk to him about things like this when she needed a listening ear.
Later that afternoon, Amy had just finished lunch -a ham and cheese sandwich plus a big reindeer cookie from the batch she'd made that morning, when she found her next gift. She replaced the "back in one hour" sign & when she turned around & walked back into the book room, she saw it on the counter.
Dear Amy, I know that gingerbread cookies and gingerbread tea are your favorites. I've heard you say "gingerbread was made for happiness." :) So have some now and I'm hoping I'll be able to keep you in gingerbread for the rest of our lives. Love, Still Hopeful
She had just given Todd the rest of the ones she'd made when he came by yesterday, so this gift was right on time! But she needed to make herself wait until at least after dinner.
She'd save them to have while she watched a movie tonight. And hopefully, she wouldn't eat them all, even though there were only about 5 in the basket he gave her.
She could probably eat twice that!
She put them away to save for later, and then headed back to the book room. There were books to sort.
Though she had felt nervous during her initial conversations with Ben, they were getting better. Most of the time, they talked by phone, but even the occasional visual calls were becoming easier for Amy.
Her talk with Santa and that guided visualization had both helped, and she'd found that each time they talked, she was more comfortable, and felt closer to him. The inner Ben that she was getting to know in her head, as the memories continued to surface, was beginning to merge with the one she talked to on the phone.
And she was beginning to adore the Ben on the phone, more and more, as the "same Ben" merging kept happening. Now, rather than dreading having to talk to him, she looked forward to their calls.
Because she was less nervous, it was easier to notice his kindness, to see his face light up when they could see each other, to feel his warmth and gentleness and love.
To notice how his eyes crinkled when they were laughing together. To see how happy it made him to make her laugh.
It's such a relief, she thought, while washing her favorite Christmas mug by hand so it would be ready the next time she needed it. I can basically just be myself with him, now, for the most part.
And after each conversation, there seemed to be some kind of syncing up process that happened overnight in her dreams. It really helped her feel more and more like she'd known him forever, even thought she could still remember not knowing him.
But it did wear her out. Those next mornings were hard. A couple of times she overslept.
Still, she was grateful for his presence in both her memories and her life, and their friendship was worth any hassle right now as she integrated the past with the present.
Yawning, after one of those syncing nights, she headed back to the book room to check on whoever had just walked in.
It was Todd! "Do you know you only have socks on?"
Amy looked down at her feet, and realized she must have forgotten to step into the mules she'd laid out today. She'd put on an oatmeal-colored half-zip fleece pullover with a matching pair of leggings and had planned to wear it with her brown mules with the olive green reindeer.
What had distracted her?
"Hang on! I'll be right back." When she ran back downstairs, she found that Todd had headed into the kitchen and was unloading a big takeout bag she hadn't noticed when he first walked in.
"I brought lunch. Can you close for an hour?"
Amy ran to find her "back after lunch" sign and then, locked up. Christmas Village was pretty laid back about things like that. Everyone knew where everyone else was if they really needed them for something.
She'd occasionally had people knock on the door to her deck because she was closed but they knew she was home. When she wanted to hide out, she went upstairs and ignored the knocks.
Todd told her he had talked to Ben a couple of times, so they compared notes on how it felt to talk to him while they ate their ham and cheese quiches he'd brought from Dasher's Delights.
He was fascinated when she told him about her conversation with Santa, and he told her he'd had what he thought were probably syncing up dreams, too. They had a great talk and it reminded Amy that she wasn't alone.
In fact, Todd told her to call him anytime she felt freaked out or concerned. She felt a little guilty that she wasn't telling him about the gifts, but she knew she would later.
He needed to get back to work, but she gave him some gingerbread cookies to take with him when he left.
Dear Amy, I know it won't surprise you at all to know that I thought of you as soon as I saw these earrings. I was shopping for a Christmas gift for my mom, but came home with a gift for you, instead. She won't mind. Hope I get to see you with these on. Love, Mr. Hopeful.
Amy found her next gift hanging on the inside doorknob of her front door. She had just walked a customer out and was lingering over there conversation about the kinds of Christmas music she liked, when she saw a holiday gift bag (solid red) hanging there.
The customer did not comment on it, except to say, "Oh, how pretty!" on her way out. It wasn't until she looked inside that Amy saw the familiar wrapping around a medium-sized gift box.
Inside were two pairs of Christmas light bulb earrings, one red and one green. She remembered having a red pair in college, that somehow she'd replaced.
She laughed as she remembered that she used to wear those earrings and a reindeer headband during the last week of the semester, before the Christmas break, to spread as much cheer as possible to everyone feeling slammed by all the studying for finals or finishing papers that they all had to do.
She missed those antlers! Maybe she'd make some reindeer cookies tomorrow.
Later, Amy had just started watching a Christmas movie when her mother called. She was in her upstairs den, and had settled in with a cup of hot chocolate, with whipped cream covering the entire top of the mug, and that was after she'd stirred some in to cool it off.
After taking one sip & getting a dab of whipped cream on her nose, she had turned up the volume as the movie came on, when she heard the Grinch movie theme song that signaled her mother was calling.
"Mom, what a surprise!" her mother told her she was on her way home from an event and just wanted to check in.
Check in? Like she did six months ago.
"Well, it's nice to hear from you!" Did Santa understand fibs you told to keep the peace?
"Hey, Mom? Do you remember those reindeer antlers I use to wear?"
"Oh, lord! Yes, I do. You were always so silly about Christmas. You never wanted to take them off, and were always wanting to bake cookies and take them to people."
Amy smiled. She sounded like a nice kid.
"I blame the Andersons for all that Christmas craziness! I hope you've let all that silliness go."
Amy grinned. Not in the least!
"Sure, Mom. I know what you mean."
"So? Anything new?" Amy knew her mom thought her life was boring.
When Amy had received the money from her grandfather's inheritance, the last thing she'd thought Amy would do was renovate the family house and open a bookstore.
What her mother had done with her own money, was travel, buy quite a few houses, one in France, one in Italy, etc., because Amy had lost count, and divide her time between them doing only she knew what.
Amy hadn't seen her in years and only talked to her a couple of times a year when her mother felt like remembering she was one.
So what made Amy decide to tell her about the gifts was anybody's guess. Later, she thought she might have been trying to get her mother to think her life wasn't so boring, after all.
"Some Romeo is sending you a gift a day but won't say who he is? I'm telling you, Amy, when they woo you with romance, it never lasts!"
"Take my advice and just stick with the ones who never promise otherwise. Just have fun, like me. It'll keep you from getting hurt."
Amy felt the shock of realizing that except for the fun part, she also espoused guiding her romantic life in such a way as to never get hurt. That's where I got it from??
She'd thought she came up with that idea on her own. Maybe trying to run from love was just another opinion of her mother's that she could decide to throw away?
Wow. She'd been living that way most of her adult life and she remembered when she'd come to that decision. She had thought it was about her mother but not from her.
She'd thought she was learning from her mother's mistakes, not parroting her mother's opinion!
"Mom, I am really glad that works for you. You seem to have created a life you really enjoy. I'm happy for you."
"Thanks, Amy! Now, I have to go, dear. Catch ya, later."
Since it was a movie she'd seen before, anyway, Amy wasn't too bothered to have missed the beginning of the movie, and turned up the volume again after hanging up. But she spent a lot of distracted time, mulling over the idea that she had learned her mother's way of thinking after a relationship loss that affected her but wasn't really her own, and adapted her mother's strategy, basically, when she didn't want to live her mother's life.
Shrugging on her Christmas tree print pajamas once the movie was over, Amy thought maybe she'd mention it to Ben tomorrow & see what he thought.
Amy woke up early, excited to try the Santa meditation. Because she had hours before she had to open the store, she decided to take a bath later but do the meditation first.
Bounding out of bed in her red pjs, she turned on the electric kettle she kept upstairs, and when her gingerbread tea was ready, grabbed the red cable-knit throw still sitting on her corner chair, and headed to the turret. Lighting the candles she had there with a lighter she kept up there, she sat down, threw her throw around her & began to breathe deeply and slowly in preparation for her brief, guided meditation.
She stared at the flames until she felt calm and then she began. The meditation went very well, She'd had a strong sense of connection, and felt what she could only describe as magical energy & goodness energy.
It grounded her but also connected to a lightness and to something else in her. The connection pulled it forward and made it expand, but she couldn't put words to what it was exactly.
But it inspired her to play Christmas guitar music while she took her bath, and she felt like throwing a Christmas party at the bookstore. Should she, this year?
Maybe have it during one or two of the hours she was open? Hand out cookies and a certificate for maybe 50% off a book? Something like that. Maybe she would, but when?
She got dressed in a long brown ribbed knit skirt and wore a red v-neck sweater with it, her mules with the reindeer on it, and red and brown earrings. She decided play some lively, peppy Christmas music in the book room all day & turned it on just a few minutes before her first customer walked in, looking for a gift for his daughter.
Later that afternoon, she found a gift box on the mantel in the keeping room at the back of the house. Opening it up, she found gourmet apple cider and an ivory envelope with a note...
Dear Amy, just so you know, after our first date, I am not expecting you to invite me in for coffee. Instead, save this gift and invite me in for apple cider. And maybe one of your snickerdoodles? :) I can't wait to see you! Love, Mr. Hopeful
Snickerdoodles! That's what she'd make for the party. But she'd save the apple cider for after the date and serve hot chocolate instead to whoever stopped in that day.
Amy woke up exhausted from her exciting weekend with Todd. It was all she could do just to make herself get out of bed that morning.
So she decided to make some cinnamon muffins for breakfast. She rushed through her shower, to make sure she'd have enough time and threw on a knee-length ivory knit dress with brown tights and brown maryjanes, and added a green and brown print scarf.
Amy didn't bother with jewelry or makeup, but rushed downstairs to put the pot on for tea, and started the process of making the muffins. She decided to make several trays and share them with whoever wandered in today.
While eating a few of them later and sipping her tea, Amy thought maybe she'd live, but she definitely hoped the day would be a relatively quiet one. Later, she had to run to the Merry Market for a grocery run, but hopefully, that wouldn't take long either.
Just as she was about to turn the corner onto the her street, right after leaving the store, she saw an very well-dressed Santa who appeared to be taking mail out of the Peterson's mailbox.
Was he also the Santa from her dream? It was snowing but the snowflakes falling around him seemed to be lights.
Wait, what? Amy couldn't quite figure out what she was looking at.
"Hi there!" As she walked toward the mailbox where he was standing, she noticed that the word "Santa" was written on every envelope he held.
Had the Petersons donated their mailbox to be used this year for Santa mail? Maybe he was a local Santa, and if so, it was awfully nice of him to help answer the letters.
She had been a letter-to-Santa helper in the past and it was always a heartwarming thing to do.
"Hi, there, Amy! How are you today?"
Weird that he knows my name! "I'm okay, but I have a question that I'm sure will sound odd. Are you the Santa from my dream last week?"
"Hey, I'm in the chimney business! Climbing into dreams would be a lot more complicated." Amy laughed but noticed he hadn't actually said yes or no.
"Is there something you wanted to ask your dream Santa?"
"I just want to understand what happened. Did I actually time travel or just in my mind? And did Ben live in some alternate universe or did he not exist at all? Can I trust him and is Santa real? I mean, I think so, because of Ben, but ... I don't know."
"You think I'm crazy, right?"
"Not at all! If anyone's crazy, it must be me! I mean, who thinks they can travel around the world in just one night, right?"
Amy grinned, feeling completely comfortable with him and hoping to walk away from their conversation feeling more sure. This would be a great way to cement everything she and Todd had discussed, the conclusions they drew, and more.
"So, Amy, here's the thing! I suspect that your dream Santa would probably not be willing to give away any magical secrets." After briefly touching his nose and winking, he leaned a little closer, "but I feel sure that everything you experienced was real, and you can trust all of it!"
"Thanks, Santa! And if I wanted to talk to you -I mean, dream Santa- again, how can I do it?"
Santa told her to make it a part of the brief rituals she does sometimes (how did he know about them?) And he suggested doing it by having a brief meditation. By imagining that he was coming down the chimney.
"Once he's there, what would you want to ask him? What would you want him to bring you that day?"
"That's a great idea! Okay, I'll try it tomorrow when I drink my tea."
"Sounds good, Amy! Better hurry on home now, so your milk stays good."
She waved and started off toward home.
Amy found the next gift in her own red mailbox five minutes later. It came in a manila envelope, that held a small gift wrapped in the same Christmas pattern as all the other gifts had been.
But on the inside, it was a "letter to Santa" kit she recognized from Happy Holidays, a gift and stationery store one street ahead, near the corner. So Amy realized she could probably solve this mystery right now.
And she thought seriously about doing exactly that. But on the one hand, she didn't know Gary very well.
He owned and operated Happy Holidays, and she wasn't crazy about explaining anything about why she needed to find out who sent her the kit. Which she loved, by the way!
She often wrote a note and left it on the coffee table on Christmas Eve, but hadn't sent a letter since she was a child. Perhaps she would this year.
Dear Amy, may I suggest "please bring me the love of my life" as your Christmas request? ;) All my love, Still Hopeful
Amy laughed & decided to do as he suggested, just for fun. Surprisingly, just as she finished saying it in her mind, she could have sworn her mind heard a hearty Santa laugh.
She was so sure, she looked around just to make sure she was still alone, and felt silly once she saw that she was. But what was that that she'd heard?
And was it her imagination or did the snowflake ornament she has on the tree next to the fireplace just twinkle at her?
The lights weren't plugged in! But it just did it again.
Amy looked around, again, for any light source that might explain what she just saw. Outside, the wind was howling and snow was everywhere.
No sun that she could see.
"So. Where are we now on Santa Claus?" Todd glanced at Amy for a second while taking a sip of the hot chocolate she'd made for them. "Is he real? Not real? What do we think?"
They were beginning this conversation during the time they would usually be at different churches, and neither had wanted to go. After their all-day Christmas movie marathon, and the deep discussions woven in between, they collapsed around 2 in the morning and slept like the dead until after 10 the next morning.
Amy woke up first, at about 10:15 to go to the bathroom, and when she came back, heading to the couch she'd slept on, Todd was sitting up on the other one. They'd covered themselves with blankets and Amy wrapped herself up in one of hers as she said hello.
They agreed they would skip church and take quick showers in different bathrooms so they could hurry into the kitchen to make hot chocolate. Todd was renting-to-own a duplex that he and Jeremy loved, but it was drafty in the mornings. Amy grabbed her phone & added dachshund door draft stopper (and maybe she'd find something for the living room windows, too) to her mental Christmas gift list.
They'd just sat back down, this time in front of a fire, and were carefully sipping their still-hot hot chocolate when he asked about Santa. "You know me, Todd. I'd love to believe in Santa. But I've never ever gotten a gift whose origin I couldn't uncover."
"But on the other hand, he was the one in my 'dream,' and everything changed after that."
"I know. And clearly, something of a time travel nature occurred. Because we both know we had a life where no Ben existed that we knew of, and now we are living in a universe where he not only exists, but we've known him for years."
"And," Todd pointed at her, "all of our Christmas magic movies that we watched had stories that were similar enough that we could be in a movie right now!"
Amy could tell he was really excited and seemed to be coming to some sort of belief about what happened. He'd been a sci fi fan as long as she'd known him but he'd never shown much interest in Christmas before. He put up a tree, and sang a carol or two when pressed, but it was Amy who loved all things Christmas.
Yet, she kept thinking that the Santa explanation was too good to be true. Something time-travel-ish had happened. But was it really "Santa" who was behind it?
"Okay, let's say there's a Santa, and he's the one who time-traveled Ben." Amy put her cup down and put her hands together, the way she always did when she was turning something over in her mind.
"That would have to mean that he was far more than a cookie-eating gift-bringer for good little girls and boys."
"I agree. He'd have to be more about helping people in general. Not just kids. And he'd have to be very powerful."
"Right. Not just knowing who had been bad but what each person needed. In a broader sense." Amy felt like she might be on to something, and took a big gulp from the whipped cream side of her mug.
"I noticed that in those movies, each character knows herself in a deeper way by the end. She not only becomes stronger & shifts in some way, but she believes in herself more. And usually, she realizes that she can do something she didn't think she could. Or she decides to go after something she wants when she'd never had the courage before."
"Hmm." Todd looked a little nervous. "I wonder if that means that my remembering time without Ben is not an accident but that somehow, I was meant to be included in this whole thing."
"Ooh, I hadn't thought of that!"
"Me, either, but I will be thinking about it now." And he was silent for a moment, as if pondering the possibilities.
"But wait, what do you think it means for you? I mean, it's like your whole life has been rewritten. And we've come to the point where we believe it happened -we're not crazy- and it seems to be magical in some way; possibly, Santa magical. But why did it happen? Why did you need it?"
Immediately, it came to her. And they were so close, she didn't even think about not sharing what she was thinking.
"I think it was about love, as goofy as that sounds."
"Yep. Because I had decided I was never going to get married. And believe me, I was dead serious!"
"And to me it was all about me being alone in the hallway, and my mother, languishing in her room. heartbroken and miserable because my father had left us." Amy proceeded to tell him more of the story. he'd heard bits and pieces before, but never the whole miserable saga.
"And suddenly, there's a connection to this very loving family, and out of that, I get a best friend, who sat beside me in the hall, and a grown-up, his mother, who marched into my mother's room and talked her into getting the help she needed."
"Wow!!! Wow." Todd gathered both their mugs and dumped them in the sink, turning to look at her, wide-eyed, before running water into each of the mugs.
Then he came over to the couch she was on, sat next to her, looking at her earnestly. "Amy, it's like Santa was rescuing you or saving you from the loneliest life I can imagine."
"People can be unmarried without being lonely."
"I know, but you have so much love to give. You open your heart to everyone you know. It's like you closed yourself off to this one idea - the possibility of being loved back & getting to keep it, instead of being mowed down by it. But everywhere else, all your doors were wide open."
That truth, because she knew he was right, hit her hard. Her refusal to fall in love, and her tight control of that part of her life did not match who she really was.
How had she not understood that before? And how much energy had she lost to trying to maintain that kind of control?
But on the other hand, she didn't remember any guarantees during that dream.
"I know what you're saying is right. And I guess that means if I am like the women in the movies, then I'm supposed to change my mind? Take a chance on love?"
Todd nodded gently, and she could see his compassion for her struggle.
"Well, I still feel scared."
Todd told her he totally understood, but wondered if life could be as magical for her as the movies they'd watched. He reminded her of the fear or struggle each character had had and how many of them had to actually try it out and practice this new life they thought they couldn't handle, or weren't made for, before they realized it was what they really wanted. And their experience was what taught them hey could have it.
"If all of this has been real, what is it all for, if it really can't work? That would make it a nasty trick someone was playing on you, wouldn't it?"
"Todd, that's a good point! Why would Santa bother, or whoever, if he knew I couldn't handle it? If he knew the result would be misery?"
"Girl, you know it was Santa!" They both laughed, and Amy admitted she was inclined to believe it was.
"Let's do a Santa trust ritual."
"What?" Amy did sometimes do brief rituals when she wanted to strengthen something in her life or deepen her faith that a problem would be resolved. She'd just done it recently, with Laura.
And Todd knew she'd done them before, and he thought they were sometimes silly but surprisingly effective. Like the "understand Chemistry" ritual they'd done (he'd kept coming to her to ask for other ones after that one seemed to work).
He was already beginning to gather things together.
First, he grabbed a bell he'd gotten in a Christmas set a couple of years ago. It was hanging at the top of a small tree that he put on the kitchen counter sometimes when he didn't know where else to put it.
He jingled it all around her, which he said would clear away negative energy. She was mostly just putting up with him but was surprised to notice that she did feel clearer, if that was the right word for it, once he was done.
Then he lit the red candle he had on the end table closest to her. And she'd lit a lot of candles in her day but as she saw the flame, she felt a sense of peace wrap itself around her, settling & calming her completely, when she hadn't realized she wasn't calm.
"Look at the candle flame and imagine Santa and his reindeer circling around you."
She did so, and oddly, it was like she could feel a bit of wind as he whipped around her. What was that? And there it was again.
She glanced at him but he didn't seem to have noticed anything.
"Now, you mentioned the fear ritual you did recently, but we do have a fire going. Maybe you could write down disbelief or lack of trust or something and toss them in."
She looked around for her purse, grabbed it and took out a piece of paper, tearing off a small piece to write on and throw in. Todd handed her a pen and there she was, not sure what to write.
How do I find the words to express willingness to open my heart to love, or wanting to be able to open it and keep it open, she wondered.
She finally chose unwillingness to trust or be open to taking a chance and threw it in.
"Now close your eyes & take a moment to imagine what the impact of letting that go will be in your life."
She immediately saw an image of herself getting married in her upstairs living room, and could feel the sense of safety and love she would feel. She felt freedom and lightness and happiness and saw her radiant face after the wedding, but couldn't see clearly who the groom was.
Would it be whoever it was that was giving her the gifts?
Todd didn't know about that, so she didn't mention it but she did tell him she'd seen herself getting married.
"Yay!!!" he hugged her so tightly she couldn't move for a minute. "I can't wait to see how it unfolds."
"Oh, me, either!"
When Amy finally got home, there was a big box in front of her door, with the same pattern as the one before. When she got it inside, eager to see what was inside, she saw that there were two gifts today.
One was another red candle for Advent. Amy decided she'd light it when she ate dinner.
But beneath the box that held the candle was a box that held something else she was sure would be a part of her dinner experience. Inside that second box was an apple pie (her favorite) from Bethlehem Bakery, one street over.
She loved that bakery! It had been started by the Watsons long before Amy was born, and now was run by Tina Watson, who took over for her father, who was so grief-stricken after her other died, he didn't want to leave the house.
That had been several years ago, and he seemed to be feeling much better now, when Amy saw him, but he declared himself retired, so Tina was still at the helm.
Hey, would Tina know who bought it? She set the pie box on the counter for later and decided she didn't want to spoil the surprise, so wouldn't ask.
What a neat and yummy gift! And from someone who obviously knew how much she'd like it. She knew she'd enjoy her piece of pie tonight.
But meanwhile, she'd found an envelope beneath the pie box, and could open that now...
Dear Amy, I wish I could be there with you to light the candle. We could talk about how Christmas is coming, and share that celebration. I know you sometimes you feel like Christmas is over before you've squeezed everything out of it that you wanted or needed. And I hope the candles help you pause and soak up more of it. I know you'll enjoy the pie. Think of it as another moment of celebration.
Determined to sleep in on a Saturday, Amy covered her phone with one of her pillows when she looked at her clock and realized it was only 7 a.m. in the morning! Whoever it was could wait.
But when it rang again, she opened one eye to see who was calling and saw Todd's smiling face.
"Todd, it's too early! Wanna sleep."
"I have to talk to you about something really weird."
"I'm freaking out Amy and once I tell you why, you'll know why I couldn't wait to call you."
Amy was pretty sure she wasn't going to be able to get out of this one, so she sat up and tried to wake up a little more.
"Okay, what's wrong?"
"Ben called me last night to check on you. He said he'd had a strange conversation with you and wondered if I knew what was wrong."
Oh! Amy hadn't even thought about other people knowing or remembering Ben. Wait. And Ben was worried about her?
"But here's the problem. For the first few seconds of my conversation with Ben, I had no idea who he was!"
That woke up Amy up fast!
"He was talking to me like we were good friends and I had no memory of a friend named Ben. So I told him I had no idea who he was, and he laughed, and then mentioned the last time I'd seen him."
"And suddenly, I began to remember that time. And yet, it feels like I am seeing a movie in my head that I don't yet have an emotional connection to and I still kinda know that he didn't exist. Or not in my world!"
"It sounds crazy and it feel crazy, but I know I am not crazy!! So this is making my head spin."
Oh my god, it's happening to him, too! How could that be? What is going on? "Okay, you're not crazy! But this situation might be."
"Situation?" Todd's voice suddenly got quiet. "You know about this situation, too?"
Amy sighed. "Well, sort of. I'll explain when I see you."
"Good. I'm glad you're coming over. Bring a change of clothes!"
"Well, this just all feels like it's wrapped up in Christmas somehow. And I really want to figure this out."
"So I have at least a day's worth of Christmas magic, by way of a movie-watching marathon, for us to devour & discuss, all while stuffing ourselves with tea and comfort food."
Amy LOVED Christmas movies & would be happy to dedicate a whole day and night to movies. She couldn't wait to find out what movies he'd chosen.
"But we may need to skip church if it spills over into Sunday. In fact, it may take more than one day of movies to get to the bottom of this."
"Todd, you are so much fun! Okay, I'm in. But what about Jeremy?"
"No worries. I sent him home for the weekend. And he thinks that was his idea. His mom'll feed him good food, his younger brother will come over and they'll overdose on video games. It'll be fun for him."
"Well, he does complain now that you don't like him to spend as much time playing them."
"Whatever! True love is not making love to a video game while your partner is ten feet away."
"Well, that's one way to put it. Okay, see you in an hour or so! I'll bring breakfast."
Before taking her shower, Amy called the bakery and ordered an extravaganza of delight. Muffins, cinnamon rolls, coffee cake and cookies. He had his favorite hot chocolate mix, but she'd also make a pitcher of her gingerbread tea.
Wearing a fuzzy red sweatshirt, a pair of jeans and red maryjanes, Amy grabbed a red tote bag, threw in a folded moss green sweater, undies tucked inside it, oatmeal jeggings, rolled up, and her deodorant before declaring herself ready to go.
But when she opened the door, there was another gift waiting for her. This one seemed smaller & looked like it might be a book.
Amy lifted the lid and instead of a book, she found two DVDs, each a different version of "Miracle on 34th Street." She tried to find that movie every Christmas on TV but hadn't bothered to buy either DVD yet, so she was thrilled to get them.
But isn't it weird to get them on a day when I'm about to watch Christmas movies? Bet Todd doesn't have this one.
So, of course, she decided to bring them in case he wanted to watch them, minus the wrapping.
After putting the box aside, she opened the ivory envelope to read the note from her mysterious gift-giver. It was a lovely note and it touched her heart. She thought about the kind things he said all the way to Todd's place...
Dear Amy, to me you are always nearly aglow with Christmas spirit. It is one of the things I love most about who you are.
While they were diving into the coffee cake and drinking her tea, Amy told him a little of her own Ben and no-Ben experience. By that time, they were full, they were confused, in it together, and ready to watch the first movie he'd chosen. Though she'd mentioned the one she brought, he told her they'd save it for later in the day.
Between each movie & the next, Todd & Amy talked about what was magical about it, how Santa intervened, theorizing about how he worked & the possible goals of his involvement, and they drew conclusions about how the Christmas magic had changed the lives of the characters involved.
And each time they stopped to eat, ordering a pizza when dinnertime rolled around, they shared a few new memories of Ben as well as old ones that would have happened at about the same time, that did not include him at all.
"Okay, so we already know I remember not knowing him and what was happening in my not-knowing life on the weekend that I met him in this new set of memories. I know I told you about flirting with him, but let me compare the 2 weekends side by side. And then, I have one more movie I saved for last."
"You were throwing a 'finals are over' party before everyone went home for Christmas break. You said it would give you a chance to celebrate Christmas with friends you wouldn't see during the holidays without anyone feeling pressured to buy you a gift."
"I remember that!" Amy had tried to keep the Christmas idea low-key so no one would feel tricked and when they all got there and saw her decorations, she'd reminded them of how crazy she was for Christmas and said she'd wanted to show off her decorating skills.
And she hadn't gotten anyone any gifts, either, so everyone had fun and she got to share some Christmas energy with her friends. Though she certainly liked a glass if wine from time to time, she hadn't had alcohol at this party because she wanted people to pig out but not get drunk and throw up and have memories that were negative from that party.
"You know, I do remember that party without him, but just now, I am starting to see it merge a bit with the memory of him being there. I'm starting to feel confused."
"Me, too, Amy! But I'm going to try to keep them separate..."
"Okay, first the no-Ben party. I brought a guy named John to the party..."
"Oh, John! I remember him. He was awkward but so sweet. Whatever happened to him?"
"Well, that's just it!!! I don't even KNOW HIM in this second version. I never meet him!"
"Oh my god!!!"
"I know. I shouldn't even remember him now, but I do."
"So, I brought him, and it was our first date. We spent most of the party drinking that apple cider drink you made and sitting on that couch listening to you and that other girl tell stories."
Amy smiled, remembering how fun it had been to laugh with Willa, a girl who'd lived nearby and after meeting her in a class, had invited herself to a party Amy threw and she told her at that party, a single-on-Valentine's-day party, that she wanted to be invited to every one Amy threw. And she did because Willa was hilarious and great fun to have around.
Amy, herself, loved to have people around who she liked but was no life of the party.
"So there we are, not talking much to each other, but laughing along with everyone else, and by the end of the evening, I knew he and I would only be friends."
"But we laughed about it and stayed friends. Way past college. But we're not friends now. I don't even know for sure if he exists."
"Todd, we have to find out!"
And then they just stared at each other, eyes wide, not yet daring to move. Finally, Todd pulled out his phone to look for John's phone number and contact info.
"It's ... not ... there!"
"Oh, my gosh, let's Google him." So they did and they found him but the info said he had gone to a different college entirely and was now a professor, teaching at that college.
"Hadn't he said he was going to be a journalist?" Amy could have sworn he had said so sometime during that party sophomore year.
"I think so! But he told me he secretly wanted to write the Great American Novel, like all other journalism majors."
"Is that what he's teaching?"
"No!! It says here that he's teaching psychology. So this Ben thing changed his life, too."
"I wonder how many other lives were changed." Amy hoped he was happier teaching psychology than he would have been had he become a journalist.
But could she be sure of that? Was it worth it to magic up somebody's life if other people mixed up in the shuffle?
Todd just shrugged when she asked him that, and went back to his story.
"So in this new memory, I go to your party alone and Ben is one of the first guys I see. I thought his face lit up when I walked in but I must have been wrong about that, because I went over there and started flirting, but he did not respond."
"He was friendly, sweet, kind. But not interested."
"Well, I don't know why not! You're quite the cutie patootie and a wonderful friend."
"Thanks! To be honest, I didn't really flirt. I just like to call it that. What I did was introduce myself and right after he said his name was Ben, I told him he was gorgeous and asked him if he wanted to go out with me."
"Wow, that was bold! What did he say?"
"He looked flattered. His face kind of lit up and he grinned and said thank you. And then he told me I was adorable, but he was just out of a relationship and not quite over it yet."
"Hmm. I don't remember that."
"Oh, I know. I think he was just trying to be nice. Someone told me later that he was straight."
"But I don't think he is, Todd."
"Oh, yeah, I think he is. I don't don't know what I was thinking that night. I wasn't even drunk or anything."
Amy chuckled and told him she was glad he hadn't been, as that would have made it an entirely different party experience for everyone. Todd danced on tables if he was even tipsy.
And mentally, she shrugged. She didn't think Ben was straight, but since it didn't really matter, she was ready to get back to comparing the memories.
They both began to compare differences just based on that party and the time period surrounding it, and both noticed minor changes.
Amy realized she had a different professor for one of her classes and it was a class she'd had with Ben. In addition to not knowing John, Todd realized that becoming friends with Ben strengthened his intimacy skills.
"I think my friendship with Ben has changed me for the better. I think my relationship with Jeremy is stronger and we're closer than we might be otherwise."
"Apparently, I learned a lot from Ben about being close in a relationship, and sharing your feelings."
"Me, too. I was a lot more popular in college, and it was very tempting to just kind of float and not get as close to people."
"You were very popular! And friendly."
"True. And for a while, there, I not only avoided getting too close in romantic relationships, I kept everyone at a distance, even though it was a friendly one."
"But because Ben was there, too, he kind of grounded me. He kept getting me to stay open with him, and that helped me everywhere."
They continued to look for differences and then, Amy wondered aloud if there were any new memories that had affected their friendship or new memories they both had.
They both thought about it for a moment and then, suddenly, the story was right there for both of them at the same time.
Though they had been friends in both realities, Amy and Todd had really bonded one weekend soon after they met, when she saw him alone at a nearby coffeehouse, joined him & they ended up hanging out all weekend.
At the same time, they looked at each other. "Like we're doing now!"
Amy had been feeling lonely and had wandered in with a book, deciding to treat herself to a cup of tea and a slice of apple pie. She thought maybe she'd feel less alone there then sitting in her dorm room.
And Todd had just been dumped. A bunch of his friends were going to a party later that night, but he knew his ex would be there so he'd decided not to go and had been there at the coffeehouse for hours.
They talked for the rest of the night, exchanging bits of their life stories, and then, decided to hang out for the rest of that weekend, and do a movie marathon on Saturday and a bookstore marathon on Sunday. That weekend really strengthened their friendship and knit together a closeness that they never lost.
But enter Ben, and everything changed. That weekend didn't happen.
Because Amy and Ben were both at the same college, she didn't get lonely. And when Todd got dumped, he went to the coffeehouse, but Amy never showed up.
What did happen was that one weekend, Amy & Ben & Todd & Jeremy created their own movie marathon experience and it happened when Todd & Jeremy had not been dating for very long.
"So it helped to cement your relationship with him."
"Yeah, it really did, I guess. And our friendship is good."
"It is, but I hope we'll never forget that weekend, even though it 'never happened."
"Me, too. I hope we hang on to all of them."
They went back to watching the movies, but agreed that already they were feeling less freaked out because they were getting the chance to talk it all out with each other.
"Hey, wait! This is our weekend. This is like a replacement or makeup weekend for the one we now don't have in our Ben reality."
"Good one, Amy! We are getting to have our weekend. Okay, well, let's make it count."
Todd aimed the remote & the next movie began.
By the time Amy woke up, she was filled with gratitude for having Ben in her life. They had not only the best friendship she had ever had, but the best friendship she could even imagine. She knew she would treasure it for the rest of her life.
Though she'd slept like the dead, her dreams had been vivid and intense. Basically, she began to remember life with Ben.
Not every moment of it. She supposed that would take a while.
But she did begin to remember several moments that happened over the course of their childhoods and it became clear to her that Ben was a good, good person who was endlessly kind and sweet. And that together, they were unassailable.
She saw them drink milkshakes made by his mom, watch movies in his parent's movie room, do homework together at her house, talk at their lockers that were next to each other in school, give each other advice, console each other when something went wrong.
He was gentle and tender and he brought that out in her. And she gathered that impression and those memory scenes from maybe 5 dreams, that she was only able to remember a little of when she woke up. As she stretched & her thoughts became a little more clear, she wondered how much better it might be if she was able to remember the rest of it.
Today, she'd try to see what happened if she brought to mind what she did remember and waited for the rest of it to fill in.
She lay there for a few more minutes, again feeling grateful that she had been given this chance to experience such a wonderful friendship. It did change everything, just like the Santa experience promised.
Because now, she thought maybe there was a great love waiting for her. Maybe she would try to be more open to Mr. Mystery.
Is she could know someone so wonderful, who was her very best friend, didn't that prove that love was real and big and beautiful, and that it didn't always blow everything up? That maybe she could be one of the lucky ones? She hoped that's what it meant.
Finally, feeling happier than she had in days, Amy got up and got ready.
After she got dressed in a light olive green jumper that landed at lower mid-thigh with darker olive tights and dark brown maryjanes, she hurried downstairs with her phone, started a fire, sipped hot chocolate, and tried to decide what to say to him when she called.
Ben and Alice. Man, she was going to buy a ton of gifts for them this year. She was SO grateful for them both!!
As the fire blazed and she finished her hot chocolate, quite a few more memories of her friendship with Ben suddenly just sort of dropped into her mind.
First, she remembered, in a kind of flashback style, all the times he was there for her every time her mother had to go back into psychiatric treatment. How understanding he was about her feelings about her mother.
There were new memories of blissful moments spent playing outside, swimming in the lake, climbing trees, playing hide and go seek. Or playing board games, reading in one family room or another.
She saw one memory surface, from high school, when a boy she had a crush on was mean to her. She had asked him to a Sadie Hawkins dance & she remembered him saying he would never go out with a weirdo like her.
Ben had left school that day already, and she'd run home, sobbing, and called him on her cell phone. He'd come immediately.
She remembered being held by him, leaning up against his broad chest, and feeling better because someone like him was her friend and that would be true even if some horrible boy was mean to her.
But rarely did he experience heartbreak. In fact, he dated so seldom, but seemed so devoted to her, that she'd wondered if he was gay. Apparently, she'd never asked him & he'd never told.
She remembered something else. Once, when his father had had a heart attack and she and Ben were in the waiting room with his mother, he told her how glad he was that she was there, and said that whenever she was with him, nothing that was bad could be all bad because her presence added the good.
He'd been the one to say it, but it was a perfect way to describe so much of the new memories she now had. She couldn't wait to remember more.
After a final sip of that delicious hot chocolate, she decided to call him.
It had just come to her, just popped into her head, that he was a bestselling author, of romance novels, and right now, was doing a book tour.
Her best friend wrote romance novels? Did she read them? She loved romance novels.
That information popped in, too, and she began to see herself reading his books, but she also saw them having conversations long before that about whether or not he should become a writer. She saw herself encouraging him, reading what he wrote, and celebrating with him when he got published.
Okay, this experience just keeps getting more interesting! she thought and picked up her phone again to call him.
Right before she did, he video-called her!
"Good to see you!" he looked wonderful and his face was so dear to her. And yet, she felt really nervous to see him, instead of just hearing him.
It felt kind of in her face, and she suddenly felt like she wasn't ready. Ack, but there he was, saying hello.
"You, too!" She smiled and hoped he couldn't tell how nervous she was.
"You okay?" Turned out he could tell something was off.
It was just so much to take in. All these new memories, and there he was on video, real, and in person, and before the other day she didn't even know he existed.
I mean, did he exist?? Amy realized she was going to need more time to absorb it all.
It had been like watching a movie, she realized, and having to try to talk to him now was weird.
"Yeah, I'm okay. Just having an off day. I'm sure I'll be back to myself in a day or two. I've had some freaky dreams lately, and they are making me feel weird, I guess."
"Oh, yeah, dreams can do that! Remember those strange dreams I had after Dad had the heart attack? They really stressed me out."
Suddenly, she did remember. "Oh, yeah!! Those dreams even freaked me out when you told me about them."
Ben laughed. "Well, what kind of dreams are you having?"
"Oh, I am sure I will end up telling you about them at some point. But I'm trying to avoid them today."
"But what I do want to tell you, Ben, is how grateful I am to be your friend! My life would not be the same without you."
Ain't that the truth? It still felt weird to be looking at his face and talking to him this way, but Amy felt compelled, nonetheless, to try to find a way to thank him.
"I feel the same way, Amy! You have been the best constant in my life. I can't imagine a life without you in it."
Amy wished she could say the same as she was freaking out precisely because she could. "When do you think you'll be home?"
And how long do I have to get used to the idea? She couldn't wait to see him and hug him, and she couldn't imagine suddenly having to see him and hug him.
She wished she had a journal, thinking that might help her make sense of what had happened and how she felt about it all.
"I think I'm getting back toward the end of the month. Can't wait to see you!"
And then, he told her about today's stop on the book tour and how the book signings and interviews had gone in the past few days. But then he said he had to go, and would check in again tomorrow or the next day.
Amy was really relieved as they said goodbye because the whole conversation had felt so weird! She felt so close to memory-inside-her-head Ben but didn't yet feel the same connection to the live one.
She wished she could talk to someone about it, but who? No, she'd just wait and hope it all synced up somehow.
While thinking more about how their conversation had gone, she looked up and suddenly, there was a cutie patootie about 6 years old asking where the bathroom was.
Amy showed her and realized she better go check to see if she had customers waiting. She had completely forgotten that she was in the middle of a work day.
As she walked toward the book room, she told herself to get it together. She could get back to freaking out later.
But all seemed well as she walked in. The only person there was a woman she suspected was the mother of the little girl she'd just encountered.
She walked up to her with a book she wanted to buy, and while handing it to Amy, she introduced herself as Karla Kauffman and told Amy she'd just moved to the village because her husband got hired at the community college about 20 miles down the road if you got on the interstate. She also mentioned that she was an intuitive and a healer, handed Amy a business card, and invited her to come for a free oracle card reading.
"Oh, that sounds neat! I have a friend who owns several decks and does readings sometimes."
Karla said she would be doing readings at her house, with her 1-year-old son nearby, while her daughter was at school.
Amy glanced at the card, and then told her she knew exactly where the house was and would call to set up an appointment.
Right then, Karla's other daughter ran up to her mother and hugged her. Smiling down at her, Karla introduced her daughter as Jamie, and then, they left, with Karla saying thanks for the book and Amy promising to call.
Bet I could use a reading about now. I could use some wisdom and guidance.
Wearily, Amy walked into the hall, deciding to go into each of the downstairs rooms to see if they needed straightening up, but ended up staying for a while in the first one.
Because on the love seat across from the door was another gift. As she sat down to open it, Amy felt suddenly like she needed to go to sleep for hours.
But what she saw when she lifted the lid jolted her back to being alert. It was a Christmas journal!
She remembered getting them a few times from Ben's mother when she was younger, but hardly ever saw them anymore, except occasionally in catalogs. She'd always meant to get one for herself, just as she'd meant to continue journaling, in general, but it never happened.
She remembered that she got her first one, and the others, too, now that the memories came to her, at Thanksgiving when she was about ten. She'd spent a lot of Thanksgivings with the Andersons.
And she'd always been so eager to open a new Christmas journal and start writing down her thoughts.
She'd loved everything about it: making a gift wish list, writing down her ideas for gifts for others, adding pictures to illustrate all the fun she had during the Christmas season and writing down all her thoughts during the month of December.
This would be perfect for writing down everything that had happened just in the past week, not to mention the rest of the month.
But she got chills as she thought about the fact that this gift showed up on the same day she'd been wishing for a journal!
She opened the ivory card to see what today's message would be...
Dear Amy, I'm guessing that by now, you might be feeling overwhelmed by the gifts when you still don't know who is sending them. I hope you'll forgive the suspense. Maybe it will help to have a place to write down how you're feeling about all it all. I bought one for myself, too, and have been writing in it every day. Don't think I'm not nervous about this entire gift-giving romance adventure,
Reading his words made Amy realize how much courage it must have taken for him to decide to put himself out there the way he was doing. He wasn't just giving a gift each day, he was basically asking her to give him a chance because he wanted to be the love of her life.
She hoped that one way or another, this experiment would end well for both of them.
Later that night, she began to write down everything she'd experienced this month, so far, stopping only when she began to get too sleepy to write. Just as she was drifting off to sleep, she thought about how Santa had promised to help if she needed it, and she asked to wake up without the overwhelm, hoping tomorrow she could connect to Ben more easily.
As she thought she might, Amy woke up wishing she could spend most of the day in bed, eating chocolate & popcorn and drinking tea, while watching HGTV. She'd shopped for a lot of houses from her comfy bed.
And she knew she couldn't just not get up at all, but remembering the Santa dream, and realizing it wasn't real, depressed her enough to put off opening the shop until noon. It was never very busy before then, on a Monday, anyway, so she crept downstairs and stuck a note saying she'd open at noon and then gave herself another hour to lounge.
She'd ignored a call from Alice and an email from an old friend from college. She didn't even get on Facebook, afraid she'd see too much happy happy for this particular blah day she was having.
Her thoughts were ping-ponging back and forth between the too-bad-it's-not-real memory of the perfect Christmas dream she'd had last night and very real memories that made her loss of the fantasy dream even harder.
She remembered the pure happiness on Alice's and Samantha's faces, the other day, and then thought about something her mother had once told her about her own wedding.
"I knew during the dress rehearsal that your father was the last man I should marry. We'd just finished the rehearsal, and I was happier than I'd ever been. So I went to the bathroom and then we were all going to go to dinner. Well, I don't know where your father thought I'd gone. Maybe he thought I'd gone on ahead. I don't know. But I walked out of the bathroom and down at the end of the hall, I saw him flirting with my best friend. And then I got a glimpse of her face & she was not surprised. The look on her face told me this was not new. And then he leaned in and kissed her."
But it was what her mother said next that slammed into Amy's chest every time she remembered it.
"I knew, then, that getting married was a mistake, but I just wasn't strong enough to walk away. Not that night, or later, after we were married, when I realized he was cheating on me."
Ugh, it was so depressing to hear. And, of course, she knew her mother was telling the truth.
Her mother hadn't been strong enough to walk away and it had destroyed her. No way would she let that ever happen to her.
Once she finally did open up at noon, after skipping breakfast, and just drinking tea while watching HGTV, she opened the door to Samantha. "Nice to see you! What a neat surprise."
Samantha was there to grab a couple of bridal magazines on her lunch hour, so she and Alice could look through them for ideas later that night after dinner.
After she left, though Amy was happy for them both, she still felt she was having a dream's-not-real hangover, so she decided to have her cookie treat right away, instead of saving it for later.
She had intended to have one of her big gingerbread cookies later, during her tea-and-reading date with herself. But maybe she'd go wild and have two today.
Right before she closed later that afternoon, a customer brought her his empty coffee cup, thanked her, and then asked if she'd seen the ivory card with her name on it that was on the table next to the one where he sat. "No, I haven't!! Did you see who left it there?"
He told her that it was there when he sat down and just wanted to make sure she knew about it before he left. She put the money he'd handed her into the cash register, he wished her a good afternoon as he left, and she hurried over to grab the card.
Inside the beautiful card with both a lovely Christmas design and a lovely message, was a square piece of paper with a note for her. It told her to go look behind the first recliner in the movie room - the one that was a playroom for kids during the day, but had 4 recliners that could pull out from the wall when needed, to create a movie room.
When she looked behind the first one, she saw a big gift bag in that same pattern the boxes had come in & opening it, found several big bags of popcorn, two each of kettlecorn and cheddar cheese popcorn, her favorites.
A note inside the bag promised that the gifts for the rest of the week were intended for their second date, a Christmas movie marathon to be held (he hoped) on Christmas Eve. He promised to reveal all his date ideas in time.
The gift actually perked her up a bit. And she was quite curious about what the next gifts would be. She loved movies more than anything, practically, especially during the Christmas season.
Though she decided to be fair & save the yummy-looking popcorn, just in case some kind of date did eventually occur, she did look for a Christmas movie to watch when she was finally settled for the night in her pjs, with a cup of tea to keep her company. Just as she was about to press "play" to watch the movie she'd chosen, her phone lit up.
What she saw made her quickly put down her cup of tea before she dropped it. The most handsome face she'd ever seen covered her screen and the name attached to this glory of masculinity? Ben.
She ignored it, closed her eyes, and desperately tried to remember everything dream Santa had told her. A text came in before she could put all the pieces together from last night.
Bet you're watching a movie without your phone. Okay, catch ya later!
She did that all the time! This can't-be-real Ben really did know her.
Amy decided to put the movie on hold while she freaked out. After several sips of tea, she decided to come up with a plan for trying to retrieve those memories dream Santa mentioned. If it worked, it would prove that it was all real!!!
But he'd told her the memories would not return all at once. So maybe this tie she'd try for just one: the day they met...
The first thing she remembered was that the sun was really strong that day. She wanted to play outside, so her mother took her to a playground near the school. She loved to go there, and swing on the swings, and run and play hide-and-seek with her father by hiding behind the trees.
Amy had closed her eyes to focus on summoning that memory and it made it both clearer and more intense. As she saw it all happen, each piece of the memory started out new, connected to her heart in some way, and then became something she remembered.
Thinking about it afterward, it seemed so strange, the way it all happened. It was like watching home movies, like seeing yourself from someone else's point of view living a moment that you remembered from the inside and trying to put the two together.
Except that connecting with the view-from-inside was delayed. She got whole minutes of watching what happened and by the time some piece of the story felt like it was living inside her, she had moved on to something else.
And yet, now it felt true. And settled.
She could feel the beauty of that moment with Ben. And the amazing instant emotional connection with him.
But if that was now, real. if what she experienced last night in the "dream" had actually happened, what did that mean?
Trying to make sense of it and understand it all was giving Amy a headache. Flopping back onto her pillow, Amy decided to give up for now and go to bed.
Maybe the clear light of day would help. Either that, or it would all be gone and she'd know she'd finally gone crazy.
Just the thought of that amused her, and she went to sleep with a smile on her face.
Was she asleep? She was dreaming, right? She could tell it was after midnight.
Right after she'd made her plans for another comfy, cozy evening, Amy had straightened up her official bookstore room & had found the next present. It was wrapped like all the others and on the inside, this card's message was brief, saying, "wishing I could give you daisies in December."
She'd said that a lot to the people who knew her well, that sometimes what people need is daisies in December, so they can keep believing that something good is on the way. What a neat reminder!
The box held a single CD that she was willing to admit kind of touched her. The song was Grown-Up Christmas List, by Amy Grant, and that meant whoever was giving her these gifts really knew her well, because that was her favorite Christmas song that wasn't a Christmas carol.
If only it could actually lead to a forever love. This Amy didn't believe it was possible.
After listening to the song and pondering the meaning of life and love, she'd spent the afternoon reading and drinking her favorite tea. Then, she'd had a sandwich for dinner and spent the evening watching old movies.
Last thing she remembered, she was watching Sleepless in Seattle. She'd gotten to the part where Meg Ryan was at the airport at the same time as Tom Hank's character, and they saw each other.
But she must have fallen asleep after that.
She felt like she was still asleep. But something strange was happening.
It felt like she'd been awakened by a bright light that came in through the window and formed itself into the shape of a snowflake.
But Amy knew that that didn't make sense so she decided she must still be dreaming.
Her eyes were closed but she could feel someone's energy in her mind. Dream energy, she supposed.
She felt goodness, kindness, caring, and hearty laughter. How could she feel laughter as an energy? Happy laughter, even?
Sharp intelligence and deep wisdom that saw everything but judged nothing. Compassion, a willingness to help and the ability to heal in many different ways.
A deep strength and a capacity for breath-stopping tenderness.
Who was this new dream companion?
Suddenly, she could hear this new companion talking to her from inside her mind.
So it must be a dream. But if it was a dream, why couldn't she see anything on the movie screen in her mind?
"Wow! Thanks, Amy!! Those are kind words. I appreciate them & I'm glad to be here with you."
Then she heard a chuckle that sounded suspiciously ho-ho-ho-ish in nature. A "Santa" was in her dream? She heard the soft chuckle again.
Then the Santa voice was telling her she could have what she'd wished for so long ago... (what I wished for? What was that?)
"You asked me for true love but without the heartbreak your mother experienced or you didn't want it. And I promised to make that dream come true. But you must have forgotten because I've heard you vow never to marry."
Suddenly, a hazy memory began to piece itself together in Amy's head. Alice, who had always been her only close friend, had asked her to come with her family to go see Santa.
They were both 13 and Alice said she didn't want to be the only teenager there to sit on Santa's lap & take a picture. Somehow, she talked Amy into going, and then, later, goaded her into going first.
I can't believe I forgot about that!
"Well, I am here to grant that wish. A lot of Christmases have gone by, but I never forgot, Amy! I just wanted to make sure you were ready. And I know you are beginning to loosen the grip on that vow of yours, so this seemed like the perfect time."
And suddenly, although she could tell her body hadn't actually left the bed, it felt like she was moving through time & space. Swirling around in energy like she'd sometimes seen in movies.
In the next second, she felt like she was standing next to Santa. Though she still couldn't see him, she felt him with her and they were both looking down at her sitting in the upstairs hallway, leaning against the wall, outside her mother's bedroom.
It must have been right after her father left & she could feel her own heartbreak, her worry for her mother, and her mother's depression & sadness in a stronger way than she ever had before.
"Though you didn't make the vow until you were a teenager, this was the moment when overwhelming fear & loss began to close your heart to love. But it's never too late to open your heart again"
"What would you need in this moment we're looking at right now, that you think would change everything?"
Amy took a deep breath and tried to feel her way through what she had been going through in that hallway. "I think, to not feel so alone!"
"That's perfect, Amy! And you're right, because in one way or another, you've felt alone ever since."
In the time it took to blink, she felt a difference. Then, she saw it.
There was a little boy sitting next to her on the floor in the hallway. He was silent, but he was holding her hand.
She watched herself lean her head on his shoulder and could feel that for that moment, she felt okay because he was there. A split second later, a woman walked down the hall, squatted in front of her, ruffled the boy's hair and told Amy she wanted to help her mother.
Then she said that she knew for sure that she could, but it might mean that Amy would have to stay with them (her and the boy?) for a while until her mother felt better.
She asked if Amy would be okay with that and right in that moment, Amy felt a rush of love surround the three of them. She could feel it from her perch above the action.
So she was not surprised at all to notice that little Amy looked up at her with trust in her eyes and told her it would be okay with her.
"You stayed with them for months, and had the best Christmas you ever had as a child at their house. Your mother was in and out of mental hospitals, and was in outpatient therapy whenever she was home with you. When she wasn't, you stayed with Ben and his mother, Sarah."
Amy tried to take it all in, and thought about how much she wished this wasn't just a dream. In fact, she wished dream Ben was the one sending her the mystery presents.
It was going to really hurt tomorrow when she woke up. Maybe she'd keep the shop closed & stay in bed another day.
"It's going to be okay now, Amy! Everything has changed. Ben is your very best friend. You met at a playground when you were three years old and have been nearly inseparable ever since. You are closer to him than anyone and you trust him completely, as much as he trusts you. "
"Now, there are a lot of new memories you'll have. But they won't all come to you at once. Be patient."
"But also, until you feel like you have them all, use Ben as your memory. He'll remember, because if it happened to you, it happened to him, too."
She felt his energy hug her, and felt his love for her gently surround her. In that moment, the fact that Santa loved her dearly was both physically & emotionally real to her!
Then he was leaving, but said he would never be far away if she needed him. Before she could ask him to clarify what he meant, he was gone but he seemed to leave his warmth & goodness behind.
She wrapped herself up in it, felt completely safe in the world, as if all was truly well, for the first time she could remember in a long time, and went back to sleep.
Because Amy was just one street away from the heart of Christmas Village, she walked everywhere she needed to go and hoped that in doing so, she was getting all the exercise she needed because other than the occasional community dance, walking was all she did. Though she needed a few things from the store on the next street over, her main reason for walking into town was to meet her best friend Alice, and Alice's partner Samantha for lunch at Dasher's Delights, a comfort food restaurant that had the best loaded baked potato soup she'd ever tasted.
Samantha loved it, too, but Alice always got the Broccoli and Cheese soup, instead. They met once a week for lunch, although sometimes Samantha, a high school guidance counselor, just couldn't get away.
Samantha liked to joke by calling their get-together a "redheaded lunch", because Amy and Alice were both redheads. But Samantha's big afro was a warm, dark brown, instead. Though she sometimes dyed the tips with blonde highlights just for fun, a redhead, she was not.
Amy spotted Samantha's gorgeous afro as soon as she walked in but didn't see Alice as she walked toward the booth and greeted her.
"Alice's weekend session went long but she should be here soon," Alice was the pastor of Christmas Village's non-denominational church.
She had a loyal, multicultural congregration of about 200 people, and Amy, who did not think of herself as spiritual or religious, was among the 25 or so extras who attended every once and a while. Alice offered both pastoral counseling and oracle card readings and sometimes came in on Saturdays for people who couldn't get to her during the week.
"Oh, okay. I see you've ordered tea, so I'll get some, too, when the waitress comes back this way."
Once Alice was there, and they'd all been served their soups, Amy saw Samantha give Alice a meaningful look and Alice, who had seemed happy for no particular reason, lit up even more. "We have some news!" Alice was beaming.
Amy's stomach sank, even though they both looked so happy. She just had a weird foreboding.
"We're getting married!!" Samantha said, and that's when Amy noticed they were wearing identical engagement rings. How had she missed that??
She was relieved that it really was good news, but for some strange reason, felt like crying!
Alice listened as they told her their proposal story. Samantha had cooked dinner, lit candles all around their apartment, and served dessert -a piece of apple pie, Alice's favorite- with a small ring-sized box 2 inches to the left of the pie.
Alice's eyes filled with tears as she told Amy that her first response, even before the actual proposal had been, "apple pie and a ring? Perfect!" And then, they'd laughed.
Samantha told her that while laughing, she'd started crying and telling Alice how much she meant to her and how wonderful their life together was, and then she proposed.
After Alice said yes, Samantha pulled out the other box, and told Alice that since she'd wanted a ring, too, she'd waited an additional six months so she could pay for both at the same time.
Amy gushed over the story and the rings and was genuinely happy for them, but at the same time, she felt the sadness that always seemed to come at moments like this. Listening to their story reminded her of that image of herself, sitting in the hallway while her mother was too heartbroken to get out of bed.
Though it also reminded her of why she'd made the decision to avoid marriage, and that decision made sense to her, thinking about it now still hurt. She wouldn't get to have the happiness she could see on their faces..
She hoped she'd hid it successfully from Alice and Samantha - they'd said she had to be their "best man." And she told them she'd help them plan the wedding.
Hopefully only she would know how hard that would be. As she headed home, bundled up and carrying her bag from the store, her chest felt tight, and the cold air and dreary weather that day just increased her sad mood.
The whole village had discovered hygge after she created a slideshow for the village meeting last year in August and persuaded them that it would help make winter sweeter for them all. She was so happy they'd done it, and today, when she got home, she'd need to double the hygge factor for herself.
Lighting the candles on the mantle, getting the fire going, putting on her comfy pjs even though it was only 2:30pm when she got home, making some hot chocolate, grabbing her flannel blanket and her Kindle.
She'd spend the rest of the night cozied up this way, she decided as she crossed the road and was near her driveway. And by tomorrow, maybe she'd be all better.
As she got to her steps, though, she saw another gift box and realized that sinking into hygge-ness might have to wait. For the first time, she wasn't excited to see it. At all.
But once she got it open, she loved it! It was a Christmas snow globe with both a Santa and a Christmas-y looking village. How perfect!
She decided that once she started the comfort-fest, it was going to come with, and it did. Snuggled up with all her comforts, later, she felt ready to open the card.
Dear Amy, one day you told me the story of how you'd found out that Santa Claus wasn't real. You shrugged it off, but I could feel the heartbreak you must have felt, finding out in such a hurtful way. It was hard for me to tell you how sad it made me feel, but every time I think about it now, it brings tears to my eyes. And outrage that your mother would deliberately take that away from you because she couldn't be bothered to keep up the pretense.
Wow!! That is SO sweet!
Amy felt like she had a unknown champion, and hugged that sweetness to herself for the rest of the night.
She was just sitting there. Staring at the flame.
Every time Amy came back to check on her, 12-year-old Laura Livingston was turned toward the candle, staring at its flame.
Her mother had picked it up and held it for a minute, admiring it, but then had put it down and went to the other room to shop for books (and, Amy suspected, Christmas presents.)
Laura sighed and Amy asked if everything was okay.
"Do you have any books on how to make a man fall in love with you?"
Trying to desperately not to giggle, Amy sat down near her, wishing she could just hug the stuffing out of her. "Do you mean...," Amy looked right and then, left, as if what she was about to say was an important secret, "with the dark art of magic?" Amy grinned & raised an eyebrow.
Laura giggled, but then sighed again. "No. Well, see... there's this boy. At school." Laura looked up at her & Amy could tell how much this boy must mean to her.
"His name is Jeremy, and he's in my 4th period class. Chorus. And sometimes I see him as we are walking to class, and I say hey to him and he says it back. But then it stops. I never know what to say next."
"Sometimes - the way he smiles at me & looks at me - I think, maybe he likes me. And, well there's this dance coming up. The Christmas dance?" she glanced at Amy, who nodded, knowing that Laura's school had a Christmas dance every year. "Well, I want to go with him, but what if he doesn't ask me?"
Amy smiled gently at Laura, thinking that she was so adorable that any boy in his right mind would want to take her to the dance.
"Well, first of all, Laura, I think this has got to me a hot chocolate situation! Want to come back to the tea room & have some? I think there might be a gingerbread cookie or two with your name on them, too."
Laura jumped up immediately to head to the back of the house, but Amy made her check in with her Mom first, who told her to go on ahead. Once Amy & Laura were both settled and situated with hot chocolate and a plate of gingerbread cookies between them, Amy picked up where they left off.
"This situation reminds me of Jack Sutton."
"Mr. Sutton? You mean my dentist, Mr. Sutton?"
"That's the one. I had a BIG crush on him when we were in junior high. His locker was right next to mine, if you can believe that. And we smiled at each other every time we were both there, but I never knew how to strike up a conversation with him."
"NO idea, whatsoever! But eventually, he was my boyfriend. All through 9th grade. And you'll never believe what he told me after we had been dating for a month or so."
"You dated Mr. Sutton??? He's so old!"
"Well, yes, I guess he is now. But you see, he wasn't then. He was dreamy."
"Anyway, I found out -because he admitted it to me one day right at Bethlehem Burgers- that he never knew what to say to me, either! He was hoping *I* would say something to get a conversation going."
"Oh my GOD!"
"Right? If we hadn't had a Sadie Hawkins dance at the beginning of the 9th grade, and I hadn't gathered up my courage to ask him, we'd never have dated."
"So I think the same thing could be true with Jeremy. So here's what we're going to do." They were sitting at one of the tables near the fireplace and Amy gestured towards it. "Let's do a quick ask-me-to-the-dance ritual."
"Ooh, a spell???"
"Well, not exactly. Hold on a second." Amy went into the kitchen and dug around in her junk drawer for a pen and a scrap piece of paper.
"Okay, first, I want you to take a deep breath and while you stare at these flames, I want you to imagine walking down the hall with Jeremy. Take your time, but let me know when you see it in your mind."
Almost a minute went by before Laura said, "I can see it," while still staring at the fire.
"Okay, I want you to watch the two of you walking & ask yourself, what should I say to him?"
"Then let me know what comes to you," Amy said.
"I think I'm supposed to walk a little more slowly, smile at him, look at him directly & ask him if he's heard about the dance."
"But then he'll know I want him to ask me & what if he doesn't like me? That would be so embarrassing!"
"Well, it certainly wouldn't be fun!! But let me ask you this. Would getting to go with him be worth the risk?"
"Okay, then let's do the next part. On this piece of paper, I want you to write, 'I'm throwing away my fear so I can do this!'" In response to Amy's instruction, Laura's eyes got very wide.
"Will you do it with me?"
"Me? How come?" Amy hadn't expected that one.
"I just think it will be easier for me to do it if you do, to. Like for something you're afraid of. 'Cause it's magic, right?"
"It might be. I haven't actually done it before, but my friend Alice does something like this every year right before New Year's. I thought of it because I thought it would be kind of a girl power thing."
"Okay, let's do it!" Laura tore the scrap paper in half and handed the other half to Amy. She quickly scribbled on her half and then, waited for Amy to do the same.
Oh my god, Amy thought to herself. She had started this whole thing to help Laura feel more confident, but hadn't planned to do anything herself. Ah, what the heck?
She grabbed the pen Laura had just used and wrote down, I'm ready to let go of my fear of love and become strong enough to accept it if it comes to me.
Her head felt like it was spinning after she wrote that down.
Did she mean it? She wasn't sure. But here goes nothing. She stood up & Laura did, too.
Together they threw their pieces of paper into the fire and watched them burn. Once they had burned completely, Laura turned to Amy, grinned, and high-fived her.
Then they hugged and Laura said she'd better go find her mom, so they could go home and she could start on her homework. She'd come straight there with her mom after she picked her up from school.
It was really almost time for the bookstore to close anyway, and as Laura and her mother left, Amy decided she'd close 15 minutes early.
She felt kinda shaken by that letting go experience.
Had it worked in some way? Did she feel any different? She waited for a minute or two, but truthfully, didn't feel a thing.
As she started closing up shop, she thought to herself that she hoped it would work for Laura, even if all it did was give her the confidence & daring she needed to talk to Jeremy about the dance.
Magic and miracles never seemed to happen for her, anyway, she thought. She did rituals like that one sometimes, but never knew if anything was happening.
She'd even done one more than once asking for healing so she could one day fall in love and live happily ever after. But so far, no such luck.
So she knew there was no point in getting her hopes now, just because she'd finally tried that throw-it-in-the-fire letting go exercise that Alice was always after her to try.
She wouldn't even bother mentioning it to Alice, so she wouldn't get Alice's hope up either. Alice had a lot of faith in those spiritual things she did. No point spoiling it for her.
That Laura was so cute, she thought as she washed the mugs and plates from their impromptu snack, and she hoped that whatever happened with Jeremy, Laura would come away from it feeling empowered.
She no longer had cute crushes and had never been in love. She'd decided it wasn't for her personally, but she loved it when those she cared about were happy.
She liked seeing it happen in make-believe stories, too. Maybe she'd watch a movie tonight.
Oh, she'd forgotten one of the rooms. It was one of the fireplace rooms she had set up like a den. Giving the plate one last swipe, she put it back in its cabinet & headed toward the room.
Just as she got inside, she saw a gift box sitting on the coffee table. Yay! Another present. Same beautiful wrapping, too!
When she lifted the lid on this larger gift box, she found a lovely lantern, large enough to hold the Advent candle she'd gotten yesterday. That meant she could take it outside with her if she wanted.
Opening the ivory envelope, she drew out a card...
Dear Amy, I admit that I do love the way you look in the glow of candlelight, but that's not the only reason for your gift. I thought you might like to take your favorite candles outside with you to one of the balconies or sit out on your deck. And I know that seeing pictures of someone holding a lantern makes you think of the idea of carrying the light, which you do, for me & for an entire village who are all know they are "Amy's friends." Love, Mr. Hopeful
I'm so glad you've come for a visit.
I hope this website helps you fill every day with hygge comfort.
Love to you! ~Jeanine