A CHRISTMAS DO-OVER by Sheila Roberts
Going home for the holidays wasn't all happy smiles and Christmas carols when everywhere you looked you were bound to see smoldering bridges. And when you were Darby Brown, there were a lot of them.
Of course, Mom and Dad wanted to see Darby. But they were parents, and parents were prejudiced. They, and probably her little brother, were about the only ones. Fa-la-yuck!
Darby had no one but herself to blame for this, and she wanted to fix it, really. But she wasn't sure how.
"You'll figure it out," said Josh White, the man who was supposed to have fallen at her feet in adoration but had stubbornly remained upright.
She'd met him in a Starbucks in the fall, when the weather in New York was cooling down and pumpkin lattes were on the menu. She'd flirted with him while they waited in line for their drinks, and she'd charmed him because, well, that was what she did. And he'd charmed her. So they'd gone out. A few times.
He'd listened to her work woes and nodded thoughtfully when she told him about her awful boss who hated her because she was young and pretty, and the coworker who was sabotaging her. Yes, sabotaging her. (She knew what sabotage looked like—gossip and backbiting. She'd done her share of both.) He'd nodded thoughtfully again when she told him about her idiot neighbor who was always snarling at her about something. Then, when they met for drinks after she got fired—fired!—and she went on another rant about how awful her boss was and the revenge she was going to take, he'd stopped calling. Was everyone in New York a jerk?
It turned out that, no, not everyone was. But someone was. Darby.
"Really?" Josh responded when she ran into him at a different Starbucks and informed him that he'd shown incredibly poor taste by ghosting her. "Maybe it was more a case of seeing that we're not a match," he suggested.
"What's that supposed to mean?" she demanded.
"Different priorities, different value systems."
"I have values. I don't cheat on my income taxes."
"Good for you."
What a tool.
Still, she'd stayed right there in Starbucks and kept talking to him. More like listening to him, really. Or maybe it wasn't really him speaking to her. Maybe he was a tool of a different kind. He didn't ask her out, but he offered to take her to church. Next thing she knew, she was doing some serious thinking about her life, her attitudes, and what was important.
Josh kept them at the friendship level, explaining that Darby needed to do some work on herself before he or anybody could really be with her. That hurt. But then, painful truths often do.
Now, here she was, coming home for the holidays, even though she didn't want to.
"It's been three years," Mom had reminded her when they'd talked on the phone. "You can't make a habit of staying away."
Sure she could. Her sister would as soon never see her again. And then there were...others. Anyway, Mom and Dad already had two kids to play with at Christmas. They didn't really need her.
"You have no excuse now," Mom had added.
Yeah, she did. "How about no money? You don't have it when you don't have a job, Mom." Okay, that had come out snotty. Old habits were hard to break.
"That's why we're sending you a ticket. We miss you, Darby Doll. Come home."
So much for the can't-afford-it excuse.
Now, here she was at Sea-Tac International Airport, waiting for her brother, Cole, to pick her up. She had a swarm of butterflies (did butterflies swarm?) in her stomach, and she half-wished she could turn right around and fly back to New York where she had...no one and nothing waiting for her. No one and nothing was preferable to what was probably waiting in Eagledale, the small town way, way north of Seattle. She was standing in front of the Alaska Airlines passenger pickup area when Cole pulled up in his pride and joy—a red Chevy truck, which, of course, every guy finishing up a master's degree in construction management needed.