A Christmas Story
by ©Ann Swann
“Christmas in April? Why would anyone want to move it all the way up to April?” I glanced out the gallery window at the waves beckoning me to the beach.
Meg rolled her eyes. “Don’t be a Negative Ninny. I told you it’s a Spring Break fundraiser for the hospital in the city.” She handed me a seashell to paint. “You won’t believe the hordes of tourists that will be swarming this tiny town in the next week. With their pocketbooks wide open I might add. Now, get busy you.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I picked up a new tube of Holiday Red acrylic paint. “I’m just glad you didn’t say Negative Nancy.” I laughed good naturedly. I knew she was only teasing. “I’ll just put my negative little nose right back to the old grindstone.” I held up the clean scallop shell. “What should I do next, holly, ivy, or candy-canes?”
“Yes, please.” She glanced at the drying rack shaped like a metal Christmas tree. All the shell-ornaments I’d painted so far were hanging there from their red satin ribbons. Before this, all I’d done were the beachy fridge magnets displayed on the spinner beside the cash register.
Meg went back to work. She was known for her amazing driftwood sculptures, but my little hand-painted beach magnets were also becoming best sellers. At only a few bucks apiece, they didn’t exactly pay the bills. To do that, I taught first grade. Children and painting were my two loves.
“Ho, ho, ho!” A deep voice boomed from the doorway.
“Sander!” Meg jumped up to hug the robust man in the fake white beard.
He leaned down and kissed her cheek. “Have you been a good girl, Meggie?”
She punched him on the shoulder. “You know I have! Where have you been? I expected you an hour ago. And what is this?” She pulled at his beard playfully.
“We’re putting up the Christmas tree on the gazebo.” He winked at me and tugged the beard all the way off. “Thought this would add a little fun.”
Wow. My heart began to race. The face beneath that beard—deeply curved lips and a dimpled chin—made me think Meg had caught herself the hunkiest fish in the sea. How had she never mentioned him?
I’d recently cut my own “fish” loose after a disagreement about kids. The Chump, as he was now listed in my contacts, let me know he had no intention of having children. Ever. So I’d told him goodbye, spun my classroom globe—I’d taught school back in Texas, too—and stabbed my fingertip down onto a random place to start anew. That’s how I wound up in the tiny town of April-by-the-Sea, California. I just steeled my backbone, filled my car with gas, and moved to the tiny artsy community on the rugged Pacific coast.
Strolling the boardwalk that first week, a sculpture in the window of Meg’s Art Gallery had caught my eye. Before long I was helping out in the shop on Saturdays and Meg was selling my magnets as fast as I could paint them.
“Nancy McAlister,” Meg said, popping me out of my reverie. “Meet my dear Sander—Santa—Evanslee.” She squeezed his arm. “I did tell you about him, didn’t I?”
“I don’t think so …” I stood and held out my hand. “Pleased to meet you, Santa. I mean Sander.” My cheeks grew warm.
The man’s crystal blue eyes twinkled. “Pleased to meet you, Nancy.” His voice flowed over me like warm honey.
Meg smiled. “I was about to explain to Nancy why the whole town is participating in this Christmas-in-April fundraiser.” A man and woman entered the shop and Meg hurried to greet them. “But maybe you can tell her for me,” she called over her shoulder.
“Santa” picked up one of my magnets. “So you’re the magnet artist?”
I nodded. “And now the ornaments artist.”
Sander slipped one of my beach magnets into his shirt pocket. Then he examined the drying rack. “Beautiful,” he said. “My kids at the hospital will really benefit from this fundraiser—”
“I run the physical therapy department in the children’s wing.”
My mouth fell open.
Sander laughed. “Your reaction makes me think you didn’t know.”
I was saved from responding when Meg sauntered back. “So, are you two getting acquainted?”
“Oh, yes,” he said. “I’ve already confirmed the fact that you’ve told Nancy absolutely nothing about me.”
I scanned Meg’s face. “Actually, he just told me about his position with the hospital.” I tried to sound casual. “Now I understand why we’re part of the fundraiser.”
“Your ornaments will look perfect on the gazebo tree.” Sander said. “I’ll take them all. Oh, and be sure to add this.” He pulled the beach magnet from his pocket. “It depicts my favorite picnic spot.”
Meg grinned. “Anything you say, bro.”
Wait. Bro? Did she just call him bro? I’d never heard her call anyone bro before, not even jokingly. Could he be her brother? For real? Nah, that would be too perfect.
Holding up my magnet, he said, “I wouldn’t mind a picnic tonight. Before all the tourists hit the streets tomorrow.” He smiled, “Care to join me?”
I met his gaze, intrigued. “May I bring my sketchbook?”
“That sounds like a great plan.” He tucked the magnet back into his pocket. “Should we let Sis join us, seeing as how she insisted I come in and meet you while I was in town?”
I smiled at Meg. “I think we should. After all, Christmas-in-April only comes around once a year.”