Written Fireside is a round robin style written, short story feature based on the campfire game where one person starts a story then passes it on to the next person gathered by the fire to continue.

For each story I write part 1, then each participating author (a Fire Writer) adds a part in turn.

Aug 4, 2014

Christmas by the Fire: The Best Present

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Written Fireside: Christmas by the Fire
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And now, a sample from my story

The Best Present
The starting paragraph is written by 
Georgia Beyers

Charlotte sat at the bus stop wondering whether she would make the naughty or nice list this year. Last year she had rescued a stray kitten and therefore considered herself most definitely ‘nice’. This year she had broken Daniels heart into a million tiny pieces, so ‘naughty’ seemed to be the only answer. 
There’d be no Santa Claus coming down her chimney anytime soon.’  - Georgia Beyers

*continued by Lori Connelly

Snippet #1

There has to be a way to make things right.

The thought gnawed at Charlotte, holding her still, doubting her decision to come home, until snowflakes started falling. A quick glance up did nothing to improve her mood. For once, the weatherman was right.

White bits of fluff caught in her long dark hair as she moved the cat carrier off her lap and onto the sidewalk by her feet. Charlotte pulled a sky blue hat out of the backpack beside her. Restless, she tugged it on while getting to her feet.

The bus had driven out of Fir Mountain almost as soon as she disembarked. The local station, no larger than a coffee stand, was dark and a closed sign hung in the window. The rest of Main Street appeared much the same. Businesses closed early on Christmas Eve in the small Oregon town where she’d been born and raised.

Her cell phone weighed heavy in her pocket. One phone call to the Bar 7, the ranch that had been in her family for generations and someone would come pick her up. Part of her wanted to run straight to her parents, ask them what she should do but Charlotte hesitated. During the past year, living apart from her large family in the ‘big’ city, she’d grown to rely on her own council. She couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a way to make things right if her guilt would only quiet. Yet she didn’t know what else to do, he ignored her every effort to talk about it.

One hand slipped into her pocket. Her fingers briefly clutched the phone and then dropped it again. She had other news, news that would be exciting to share normally. Tim, the owner of the Indigo gallery called late last night. A customer and noticed one of her paintings he was preparing for her first exhibit, and wanted it, was impressed with the depth of emotion it portrayed.

A lump formed in her throat. Charlotte blinked rapidly, fighting back the urge to cry. That success came from knowing Daniel, the way he’d snuck into her heart, and how it was now breaking because she was losing him. She should have taken better care.

His faith remained shattered despite her countless attempts to take back what she’d said. Charlotte felt it every time she’d tried to speak to him since then. Daniel looked at her with a sad, resigned expression no matter how she tried to explain and shook his head.

Weeks had passed without any change. Dispirited, Charlotte hadn’t planned to join her family’s festivities, but this morning she’d changed her mind. Just being in Fir Mountain, with its sense of history, was usually a comfort. Grandpa Rolfe never tired of sharing stories about thwarted rustlers, kidnappings, would be outlaws and more. Pictures painted by her many times over great-aunt, Rebecca, hung in the main ranch house where she’d grown up. Those pictures were her first inspiration.

Charlotte paced, trying to make a decision, her thoughts circling from the present to the past. She’d moved to Salem right before Christmas last year, certain her art would astound everyone. Reality soon grounded her. People liked her works, said she had promise, but that didn’t pay the rent. That’s what led her to Daniel.

While working in a restaurant near the hospital, Charlotte decided volunteer a hour a day in the children’s ward. One day she’d found a starving white kitten, soaked from the pouring rain, in a nearby alley. She’d had wrapped him in her coat and took him with her to the hospital. That day she met Daniel. He helped her pick out the kitten’s name.

An icy blast of wind pulled her back to the present. She needed to get her cat out of the cold. Charlotte reached down and lifted up the carrier easily, too easily. Panic shot through her. She set the carrier down on the bench and in that motion the small door swung wide open.

Muttering a word that would still cause her mother’s eyebrows to rise, she stuck a hand inside. The thick wool blanket her beloved pet had nestled in during the long bus trip was empty. Charlotte straightened, looking swiftly around. Bumble had a pension for wondering, but couldn’t have been gone long. Even in the evening’s twilight, his pure white coat should’ve been easy to spot.

Her heart pounded faster with each second that passed without seeing him. Suddenly, at the far end of the street, she noticed people emerging from Judith’s, a restaurant that had been in Fir Mountain for over a hundred years. Light spilled out onto the street. Charlotte caught a glimpse of a long white tail before it disappeared inside the building. She slung her backpack over one shoulder, snatched up the carrier and darted up the street.

“Bumble,” Charlotte called out, praying that she was wrong, that her, ever on the prowl for a snack, cat wouldn’t be inside. “Bumble.”





*Snippet #2

No hoarse yowl answered her. She sighed as her hand closed over the handle and then yanked the door open. A friend’s family owned and operated the business. Charlotte stepped inside hoping that Karen was the one closing tonight. That would be the least embarrassing.

The place was about empty. A family with several children sat at a large table near the street facing windows, and a man with his back to her sat on the opposite side of the room. Neither cat nor restaurant staff appeared to occupy the space. She reasoned the waitress was likely in the kitchen. Her pet, however, could be anywhere. Since Bumble loved kids, she approached the family.

“Excuse me,” she spoke quietly, but as luck would have it her words dropped into a lull in the conversation. Eight pairs of eyes focused on her, grand parents, parents and four kids ranging from a toddler in a highchair to preteen. She cleared her throat. “I, um, wondered if you might have seen my cat?”

A young boy who looked about five, his large brown eyes serious but warm, reminding her of Daniel’s, nodded. “I did.”

“You did?” She crouched by his chair, “Where?”

“He followed the lady in there.” The boy pointed toward the kitchen.

Charlotte pushed to her feet in a hurry, “Thank you.”

Swallowing another sigh, she walked swiftly across the room. She really hoped it was Karen back there. Health inspectors didn’t take kindly to cats in restaurant kitchens and Karen’s mother wouldn’t be as understanding of the situation as her friend was likely to be.

Her backpack bumped the man sitting alone when she rushed by him. Charlotte muttered an apology without sparing him a glance, focused on fetching Bumble before the feline caused any more problems. She pushed open the door with the employees’ only sign and called his name softly.

His familiar raspy yowl answered her, drawing her further into the bright space. One long stride and she stopped cold. Her white cat was sitting, trapped, under an overturned black milk crate by the office door.

Not Karen. Feeling someone looking at her, she slowly turned her head to meet the gaze of the woman standing at the grill.

“Good to see you Charlotte.”

“Yes ma’am, good to see you too.” She answered, easing over toward her pet.

“Your cat I presume?”

“Yes, Mrs. Edgerton.”

“Animals are not allowed in the restaurant.”

“No ma’am.”

Charlotte walked over to her cat that, other than his standard answering yowl, was ignoring her in favor of the saucer with bits of meat on it. She smiled. Her old boss talked tough, was serious about rules, but she loved animals.

“Had to put the crate over him, keep him in place while I finished cooking.”

“I understand.” Charlotte scooped up the cat and put him in his carrier despite his look of protest. “I’m so sorry.”

“I’m sure you are.” The older woman’s words were tart but she smiled and then nodded over to a small white paper sack. “A kitty bag for… Bumble isn’t it?”

“Yes ma’am, thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Are you home for Christmas?”

Charlotte nodded, picking up the sack and tucking it into the mesh side pocket on her backpack. “I just came in on the bus.”

“Shall I let Karen know you’re in town?” The other woman plated eight dinners with the easy skill of long practice.

“Yes, please.”

“Good,” Mrs. Edgerton arranged the steaming plates on a large tray, lifted it, and headed to the door. “Now take Bumble and get on out of here.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“And be sure to come back soon without the cat and visit.”

“I will.”

Susan Edgerton smiled at her then hit the swinging door open with her hip and left the room. Charlotte double-checked the fastener on the pet carrier door before following after her. A few steps in the dining room, she paused beside the man she’d bumped earlier.

“I’m sorry about before, I-” She started her apology but her voice trailed off in surprise when he looked up her.

With his blond shaggy hair, reading glasses perched on his nose, and a full beard gracing his chin and cheeks, Charlotte hadn’t recognized him at first. Even as she did, her imagination was taking flight. It wouldn’t take much to turn blond to white.

Robert Harrison put down the book he’d been reading and slowly removed his glasses. “Still getting into trouble?”

“Trouble?” Charlotte stiffened, trying not to take offense.

He looked pointedly at the carrier she held, “Your cat?”

“It was an accident.”

“It always is.”

His almost paternal amused tone rankled but Charlotte allowed that to pass unchallenged, sliding into the booth seat opposite of him. She needed his help and refused to waste time debating with the man who’d captured her attention from the moment she first discovered boys were interesting rather than icky. Besides, she’d wasted more than enough of her time trying to impress him growing up. All those efforts had been fruitless. He seemed stuck on the belief that the six-year difference between them meant she was like a little sister, and an annoying one at that.

“Zach didn’t mention you’d be here for Christmas.”

“For good reason, I didn’t tell him.” Rob had been good friends with her eldest brother for as long as Charlotte could remember.

Serious dark blue eyes studied her until she fought the urge to squirm. “I see.”

His tone was without inflection causing her to wonder what he meant. Under other circumstances, Charlotte would’ve asked. Not now, there wasn’t time.

“I need a favor.”


*Snippet #3

“I’m sure you do.” He picked up his coffee mug, took a drink and then carefully set it back down. “And for that I suggest calling your brother.”

“The favor I need now is from you.”

Rob gave her a measured look. “Right now I think you need to get that cat out of Judith’s before Susan blows a gasket.”

“I know. I was going to, and I will, in a minute.” Charlotte glanced across the room. Mrs. Edgerton was still busy with the family but she didn’t have long. “This is important, please, will you help me?”

With a heavy sigh, Rob put a bookmark in the battered paperback and got to his feet. He tossed some dollar bills down on the table, enough to pay for the coffee and a generous tip. “Let’s talk outside.”

Rob headed for the door without another word. Charlotte followed on his heels, determined to convince him to help her. Only a few steps away from the restaurant’s front entrance he stopped, turning to face her.

“What do you need this time?”

“This time?” Charlotte echoed in surprise. “What do you mean? I’ve never asked you for a favor before.”

“True, Zach usually bails you out, as I said, give him a call.”

He turned and started walking away.

“Please. I need you.”

Rob stopped. For a second, Charlotte had the impression that he’d stiffened as though absorbing a blow, but then dismissed the thought as a trick of the low light. Slowly he shifted back to look at her.

“What is it you need?”

“I need you to be Santa.”

Rob stared at her a long moment in silence, and then shook his head. “Funny.”

“Not in the slightest.”

Something in her grave tone sparked a reaction. He stepped closer. “Why?”

“I was careless, spoke without thought-”

“Imagine that.”

Although he whispered she heard Rob clearly, both the words and tone tore at her heart. Still Charlotte offered no defense. The baby of her family, indulged by all, most of her life she’d been certain that everything revolved around what she wanted. He’d had a front row seat to her bratty teenage self. She could tell him that this past year, volunteering in the hospital had changed her, chased away the last traces of immaturity, that she’d finally grown up but she didn’t. Making things right for Daniel was all that mattered.


“Please.”

His frown would have discouraged most people. Rob wasn’t a warm person, not outwardly. Zach told her once that was the result of growing up in the foster care system. Charlotte, however, knew him well. He’d been part of her family circle since she was little. The man might appear distant but he had a kind heart.

Still the scowl birthed a seed of doubt.  

What if I can't persuade him? 

Charlotte considered, and then dismissed the thought of asking one of her brothers. Dark haired, slender built and clean-shaven all, not one of them would work well enough. Her father would have been a shoe in any other year. He’d played Santa for the local elementary every winter since he’d retired but he was recovering from a recent surgery. Rob was the best choice, her only real choice.

“Organize a party and forget to book a Santa?”

His slightly mocking tone once would have sparked her temper. Tonight, Charlotte only shook her head and offered him the truth. “Because of me, a little boy no longer believes in Santa.”

“That happens. It’s part of growing up, realizing there are no magical beings.”

“Daniel isn't growing up. He heard me, someone he trusted, say Santa wasn’t real.”

“So tell him that you were wrong and say you’re sorry.”

“I tried that, repeatedly, but he doesn’t believe me now.”

“Everyone is disappointed sometime.” A note of impatience had entered Rob’s voice. “The boy will get over it.”

The memory of how she’d last seen Daniel, staring blankly at the ceiling, quiet, too quiet, his optimism and enthusiasm gone flashed through her mind. The threat of tears thickened her voice. “No he won’t, not without help.”

“Trust me, in time he’ll be all right.”

“Daniel doesn’t have time.”

Copyright © Lori Connelly

Thank you for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed the start of my tale. The complete story will be available at Christmas time as part of a free holiday anthology published by Harper Impulse. 

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