“Hey Ms. Turner. I saw it was you through the window. We’re doing some last minute prep for the party tomorrow.”
I nearly stepped into the foyer, but caught myself and looked up. Troy followed my gaze up to the mistletoe and then went bug-eyed with a horrified expression.
“On second thought,” I explained hurriedly, retracing my steps, “I think I’ll just take these straight around to the kitchen.” I maneuvered myself and the baked goods back down the steps. High stepping through about a foot of encrusted snow, I trail-blazed a path through the side yard to the back patio and kitchen door.
“Goodness, why didn’t you use the front?” Grandma scolded me as she answered my knock. I stomped my boots off on the mat before I delivered the boxes to the kitchen counter. Grandpa beckoned me over from where he sat at the table and I kissed him on the cheek.
“I decided to maintain the innocence of certain unsuspecting young men in your foyer,” I explained, wagging my finger at Grandma. “That mistletoe is going to come back to bite you sometime. Do you know how awkward it can be to be thrust into that situation?”
“Oh, posh. It’s just a kiss. My experience is that most people who kiss under the mistletoe are looking for an excuse to kiss somebody or let themselves get kissed. It’s a fun tradition Eliza. I’ve seen plenty of people wiggle out of it. What do you know about it anyway, Miss never-gets-caught-under-the-mistletoe? A few days ago with Harry was the only time I’ve ever seen you give yourself up to the magic of the mistletoe.”
“Please explain this ‘magic of the mistletoe’ thing to me because I’ve somehow let myself kiss a few frogs this week.” With the exception of jumbotron Geoff, I didn’t realize until just now that I had been the one to initiate the kiss in every situation.
“Oh sweetie, mistletoe magic is just a figure of speech. I’m your grandmother, not your fairy godmother. I just think love is worth going after sometimes. It doesn’t always work to have it come hunt you down.” She turned and appraised me. “But, I’m very interested in hearing about all your frogs this week.”
“I, for one, am not interested in hearing about all your frogs,” declared Grandpa, pushing himself to his feet. “I think everything’s about ready for tomorrow, but I’m going to go check on the workers just in case.”
Moments after Grandpa and his cane thumped themselves into the hall, Harry entered the kitchen from the dining room. “I think the finishing touches are complete, Mrs. Turner,” Harry announced.
“I hope Grandma and Grandpa have left you some time to work for some other families too,” I told Harry.
Harry turned to me with a surprised expression. “I didn’t know you were here, Eliza.” He smiled and ran his hand over his head, unsuccessfully trying to comb down a thatch of unruly curls. “It’s nice to run into you again.”
“I’m just helping Grandma out on some last minute assignments. You too, I guess.”
Grandma chimed in. “Harry and his team have been invaluable around here.” She turned to Harry. “He might not show it, but my husband is very pleased with how things have turned out.”
“I’m glad we’ve been able to help out. I’m going to round up the guys and head out if you don’t need anything else. It’s been a real pleasure to meet your family.” He smiled and nodded his head in a miniature bow as he backed up.
I started to feel disappointed that I’d shown up just as Harry was headed off. He had been awfully nice after Grandma had ensnared both of us a few days ago.
“We’ll see you tomorrow,” Grandma said to Harry in farewell.
To me she quietly added, “Don’t worry. We’re not making him work anymore. He’s coming as our guest.”
There was a little prickle of joy in my chest. The soiree was always fun, but having Harry here may be an extra bonus for this year’s event.
Harry waved a quick goodbye to the two of us and headed back through the dining room.
“Oh Harry,” Grandma called, halting him in his tracks. “Just one more thing if it’s not too much of a bother. I’ve been thinking I’d really like the extra snow shovels. The snow blower was acting funny by the time we finished with it today and I don’t trust the weather. I believe the shovels are in the back shed. Do you think you can help Eliza fetch them for me? She can show you where the shed’s located.”
“No problem, Mrs. Turner. I’m happy to help.”
Why was Grandma asking Harry to help out? I was perfectly capable of carrying a couple of snow shovels by myself. Grandma gave me no hint as she hummed to herself and tracked down a flashlight for me. I waited while Harry got his coat and then we headed out to the back shed. The driveway and walks had been cleared of snow and salted in anticipation of the guests tomorrow, but Harry and I had to forge our own path through the snow as we trekked to the shed in a deep corner of the property. “I think the shed was originally a smokehouse,” I explained to Harry as we walked in the crisp air. I lost my balance for a moment in the snow and Harry grabbed my elbow to steady me, making sure I was okay before we continued on.
Harry cleared his throat. “I’ve loved getting to see your grandparents’ house as we’ve been setting up for the party. It has the kind of workmanship that people don’t have time for anymore. These were real craftsman who built this house. And your grandparents have done an amazing job maintaining it.”
“Did Grandpa give you the full tour? I know he contracted out a lot of the electrical and plumbing upgrades, but he did most of the other work himself. I can’t begin to imagine how many hours he’s devoted to this home.”
“Your grandpa did show me around the place. He even revealed the secret passageway from the butler’s pantry to the library.”
The mention of the passageway reminded me of a slightly embarrassing story from my tween years that involved me, my sister Charlotte, and a multitude of cousins. I decided to share it. When we arrived at the shed we were both laughing.
I removed the pin holding the door and swung it open. The shed was practically empty; only a few wooden crates were scattered in the corners.
“I’m sorry,” I apologized to Harry. “Grandma obviously made a mistake. There are no shovels out here.”
“Hmm, maybe she didn’t make a mistake.”
“What do you mean?” I scanned the corners of the old shed with my flashlight. “I don’t see anything.”
“Harry pointed up to where several old hardwood trees wove their branches together over the roof of the shed. Several large bunches of mistletoe had rooted themselves to the bare branches of a red maple. One particularly large mass of the evergreen plant hung directly above our heads.
A tingle—the nice kind—started at the base of my spine and made its way up my back.
I couldn’t help but worry what Harry thought of the whole situation. “I’m sorry. Grandma likes to meddle.”
“You don’t need to apologize, Eliza,” Harry said softly, taking my hand. He bent at the waist and lifted my hand, gently brushing it with his lips. He didn’t let go as we turned to retrace our steps. “Let’s head back. I have a feeling Grandma might suddenly remember where the shovels really are.
Return tomorrow to read the conclusion of Mistletoad