Holiday Story Prompt Challenge ~ Ho-Ho-Ho Read-a-thon 2017

Aleen @ Lampshade Reader is hosting one of the challenges for HOHOHO Readathon that involves writing. She has a list of holiday words to use in your writing. My story ended up being immensely long. I did not intend this, so I created a post to share it. I didn’t want to stifle the story that started flowing out, so I just kept going. I bolded the words Aleen outlined for the prompt in my story.

Marina had carefully planned this year’s Christmas affair at the lodge. Nestled at the base of the Rocky Mountains, the large and luxuriously glamorized structure sat on extensive grounds covered in fresh powdered snow. The early morning sun winked off icicles decorating the wrap-around porch. Smoke curled up from the chimney. Out front in the large circular drive sat a glossy red sleigh, complete with intricate silver inlays, she had commissioned over a year ago. Life-like reindeer stood at attention in front of the sleigh as if ready for take-off. The hand-tooled harnesses matched the intricate designs on the sleigh. Her request for 31 custom jingle bells along each harness had been met. Anything was met when you flashed enough cash, Marina had come to learn.

This day had been on her mind for the last few years. She had waited painstakingly to pull off the perfect holiday vacation for the people she cared about most. An out-of-state catering crew had come highly recommended following one of her now ex-fiancé’s business dinners was already on staff and planning delicious fare. Marina practically begged for the classic and quintessential holiday treat she was accustomed to during the Christmas season but had long given up after her first Christmas with Ian. Unlike Sheldon, her favorite character from The Big Bang Theory, she only took her hot chocolate with four marshmallows. Sipping the warm concoction brought back the memory of her younger brother, Benny, pouring marshmallows into his steaming mug directly from the bag. They had cut such a large hole that the small white missiles ended up everywhere that cold morning. It always brought back a chuckle, remembering three-year-old Benny scrambling around the table, standing in his long-johns in the kitchen chair.

Marina mused on her initial misgivings about her sudden inheritance. Despite the two years of misery living in New York, attending social functions with Ian and committee meetings scheduled by his secretary, Marina supposed it was nice to come into her sizeable wealth. At least Ian hadn’t been a Grinch with his money. He’d created a sizeable financial portfolio that Marina significantly benefited from after his sudden death. She’d never want for anything in life. Except love. Surely that was what Ian was buying when she found the arms of a street sleaze snaked around his pale body in his office suite. Such naughty behavior from such an upstanding businessman of the community.

The tinkling of glass brought her back to the present. Marina glanced at the eight-foot Christmas tree, neatly arranged in the corner. Decked out with glass ornaments and strings of lights, Marina walked across the double living room to stand in front of the tree, looking at the angel on top. Silver strands of tinsel fluttered on the branches at her approach. A lone silver strand slithered to the floor to lay next to a pile of presents.

Feeling vulnerable and alone despite the impending avalanche of family, she turned her back to the tree and took in the scenery. Yards of garland decorated the doorways and beautiful cherry banister leading up to the second floor. Huge gossamer bows decorated the railing along the upstairs landing.

Just then she heard the chime of the front door. “Oh, they’re here!” she said aloud to the empty room.

Rushing to the door, she was greeted with the sticky fingers of her toddling nephew. His twin sister was squalling, trying to rip herself from her father’s steadfast arms. “It’s been a rough trip,” he says before Karina launched herself at Marina. Sticky fingers grasp both cheeks as Karina plants an open-mouthed kiss on Marina’s pert nose.

“That boy dropped the damn candy cane on the carpet, James!” she heard her sister yell from the depths of the minivan.

Marina raised a brow. “It was just shampooed,” James whispers while rolling his eyes. “Honestly, Mar, I don’t understand her. We have three children under the age of seven. Two dogs, a pot-bellied pig -”

“And a partridge in a pear tree!” screeched Kevin, zipping through the doorway while inadvertently dodging his siblings’ sticky fingers. He had grown inches since Marina had last seen him, but his face was still round and innocent as a babe’s. He proudly brought in a sackful of presents, boasting his immense strength while marching directly to the tree.

James chuckled. “He just learned that song at school for the pageant. We’ve listened to it all the way here,” he said as he walked in. Taking both hands of his fiendish twins, he hustled them to the downstairs bathroom.

Sabrina rushed up the front steps breathless. “Oh, Mar, it’s so beautiful. You didn’t have to…” she let her voice drop off at seeing the dark look cross her sister’s face. A conversation best left for later, she thought as she tucked away her next words.

“Alright, Kevin, go get the last few things,” his mother told him.

His eyes widened. He glanced in horror at Marina. “You mean the le-”

“Kevin! We talked about this,” Sabrina said in a panic.

Kevin stood dumbstruck, staring at Marina. He gulped. “Oh, yeah.”

He raced out the door, leaving Marina to stare in his wake. Then she turned to her sister, carefully making herself up in the hall mirror. She placed her purse and phone next to the bronze bowl spruced with sprigs of holly. Marina instantly knew something was not quite right with her own twin. Classic deflect move. Sabrina had done it ever since they were girls.

“Sab, what was that all about? What was Kevin talking about?” she peered around her sister’s bustling form.

“Hmmmm?” her sister purred. She leaned into the mirror to preen over an already perfectly coiffed up-do. “Oh, it’s some little leggy chicken thing he brought to show Parker.”

Marina stilled. Sabrina’s comment had hit its mark and she knew it. She looked into the mirror at her sister as their eyes met.

“Parker?” Marina asked.

Sabrina faked a wince. “Oh, dear! Didn’t James tell you? He came into town. Ever since his mama passed – bless her soul – he’s been this lone drifter type. James invited him weeks ago. I thought he’d told you,” Sabrina pursed her lips and applied a fresh coat of Rapscallion Red.

“No,” Marina whispered. “He didn’t mention it.”

Sabrina swirled around. “Oh, Mar, I didn’t know. Honest,” she said. Marina could see the fingers crossed behind her back in the mirror, another vestige from childhood her sister had never been able to give up.

“I’m sure it will be fine,” Marina huffed.

“Mar, it was ten years ago,” Sabrina says quietly.

“Please don’t remind me,” Marina retorts. Grabbing a trenchcoat from the coat rack, she flees the foyer to find what was keeping Kevin.

Out in the drive, the minivan sits glinting in the sun, all doors open. The bags were abandoned by a front wheel.

“Kevin, what the hell are you up to now?” Marina muttered as a blast of cold air hit her full in the face. She marched around the side of the lodge, head down and buttoning her coat as she rounded the corner. To run full into a steel wall.

Strong hands reach out to grasp her arms to keep her from toppling over backward. “Whoa, careful there,” a familiar voice says.

Marina looked up after regaining her balance. She blanched, then quickly recovers. “Sabrina just told me you were coming.” She tries to shake his hold and move on, but he doesn’t loosen his hands. She glances around him. Where did that kid get to this time?

“Well, Merry Christmas to you, too. You near bulldozed me over running around the corner like that. You ought to give a man some warning,” he drawled.

Just like there should be a flashing neon billboard above your head warning a poor girl, Marina thought. The man was pure sex on a stick.

Parker lets his hands drop to his sides. Still prickly after all these years, he thought. What would she say if she knew tomorrow night he’d be playing Santa himself? Deck the halls with holly, he couldn’t contain his grin at the thought of her sculpted bottom sitting across his lap.

Marina frowned. “Have you seen Kevin? He was supposed to bring the last bags in, but he’s run off.” She scanned the hillside. Kevin’s red jacket was just a speck in a cloud of white.

Parker turned. “Oh, yeah, he took himself down to the old campfire.”

Marina stood staring, lost in another time. The campfire. It was the first place she’d met Parker as a gangly girl of eight. She thought he was the most interesting person on the planet. That summer had been an awakening for Marina. She finally understood what all the girls in her class thought when they dreamed up their wedding days.

As the years passed, the campfire was the one place Marina always seemed to find herself at. The night she had the worst fight with Sabrina, she ran down the hillside. The night she learned her best friend was moving overseas, Marina had found herself at the campsite. Parker had been there too. That night.

The night of their first kiss. The gentle way Parker had talked to her, held her. Memories flooded Marina.

“I was surprised it was still here after all these years,” Parker mused.

Marina jolted back to the present. A flush that had nothing to do with the cold crept up her face. “I…I had it maintained,” she said stiffly as she started down the hillside.

Of course she did, Parker thought. She had bank vaults full of money now.

“Quit being an ass, Parker,” he ground out. Watching the black swatch of cloth sway in the arctic blast, he made his way after her. “I think there are still some coals down there!” he called out to her swiftly retreating backside.

Maybe spending a week ensconced with Marina was a bad idea after all, Parker thought as his large feet filled the tiny prints Marina’s had left in the pristine snow.

By the time he reached the bottom of the hill, Marina already had Kevin rounded up.

“Tia! Did you leave room for our stockings? Mama packed all of them in the twins’ suitcase. The new ones you sent us as an early present!” Kevin crowed. His gap-toothed grin spread from ear to ear. Christmas was his favorite time of year.

Marina nuzzled him into her side. “Of course I did, you rascal. Now, let’s go get those bags. You can hang your stocking right on the mantle next to mine,” she declared.

“Uncle Parker! I didn’t know you were coming!” Kevin exclaimed, racing up the hill and launching himself at Parker.

“Yeah, it seems that’s the general theme around here,” he said wryly, glancing up at Marina as he hefted Kevin in his arms.

She smiled conspiratorially. “Come on, Kev.”

He placed his small mittened hand in hers. She latched on to the warmth, chiding herself for running out the door in such haste.

Parker picked up the bags by the van while Kevin ran around shutting the doors, and they walked up the front steps together. Once inside Kevin melted out of his jacket and mittens, leaving them in a puddle on the floor. Parker followed him just as quickly, leaving Marina to pick everything up and sort it out in the coat closet.

Soon she heard laughter and giggles from the kitchen. “My gingerbread didn’t turn out right, Mama,” Kevin whined.

“It didn’t? I thought you were going for Rudolph?” she said between bites. “Here, put a Red Hot for his nose.”

“It’s just a fat cow with a runny nose, now.” A lot of huffing and puffing followed Kevin’s declaration.

“I’m sure it’s a tasty fat cow,” Sabrina prompted.

“Here, I’ll eat him,” Parker said.

Marina realized she was standing outside the kitchen doorway eavesdropping. A part of her felt compelled to join them in the kitchen, while another had her rooted to the floor.

“Parker, we brought the letter. Mama says we’re going to send it to the North Pole. Maybe Santa will bring some extra toys when he comes to visit.” Kevin was such a hopeful kid.

“Did you write and tell Santa what you were looking for?” There was the hint of a laugh in Parker’s voice.

“Yeah, Uncle Park. We told him Tia Marina needs a man!” Kevin yelled at the top of his lungs.

“Oh, this is going to be good,” Sabrina chortled. “This is your brainchild, I assume?”

There was a silence. “Uh…yeah,” Parker admitted.

“Mom! Uncle Park brought a Santa suit and everything! It’s going to work.” Kevin’s enthusiasm didn’t reach the living room.

Marina stood rooted to the floor. Her mouth hung open.

A small noise had Marina swirl around. James stood there with a sleeping Karina on his shoulder. The look of horror on his face told Marina he had heard everything, too.

“Were you a part of this?” Marina whispered traitorously. She felt sheathed in anguish.

James paused, thinking over his next words carefully. “Mar, I think we should sit down,” he said levelly.

Marina stepped toward him, then stopped and seemed to think better of it. He hitched his arm higher, settling the prone Karina higher up on his shoulder.

Kevin’s laughter drifted in from the kitchen.

“Hey, there you guys are. We were just looking for….you,” Parker’s words slow to a halt. Kevin grasps onto him like a monkey, giggling into the silence.

Marina stands there in the center of the room, directly in front of the grand staircase. He can see the rigid lines in the set of her shoulders. Something just went south.

“Well, St. Nick,” she whirls around, her raven hair whipping around her face. She advances on him, finger raised. Just like when they were kids. “You thought Santa needed to bring me a man? A man!” she shrieked.

Warning bells went off in Parker’s head, so he did the first thing he could think of to distract her. When she came near enough, poking her finger against the muscled wall of his chest, he grabbed her to him. He could instantly feel Kevin let go and drop to the ground.

Parker molded her to his chest. She looked up at him with a speechless expression, yet there was spitting fire in her eyes. Before the next string of words could get out, Parker slanted his mouth over hers.

For a brief moment he felt Marina go limp against him. Then gathering her courage to buck up again, she wrenched free of his hold. Hot anger welled in her eyes.

They were doomed. All of them.

“Wheeeewwwweeeee. I think we need some eggnog to put out that fire,” Sabrina drawled.

Marina spit bars. Then she rounded on Parker. “Just what do you think you are doing?” she yelled, punching his chest again with her finger, punctuating each word.

Kevin tugged on her arm. “But Tia, look!” Kevin pointed up to the chandelier.

Everyone inclined their heads, following Kevin’s finger. There, tied to the chandelier and dangling down, was mistletoe.

“It was the mistletoe, Tia Marina,” Kevin pronounced the Spanish flawlessly. A

James gave his wife a meaningful look. Crossing the room, he placed Karina couch. “Come on, Kev, let’s go eat some more of those cookies.”

“They’re reindeers, Dad,” Kevin corrected.

“Come on, my little elves,” Sabrina said in a sing-song as she followed them into the kitchen.

Marina stood glaring at Parker. “I can’t believe you would do this. Sabrina I can understand this from, but to drag James and Kevin into this. What the hell were you thinking?”

Parker glared right back. That cold, hard kernel inside of him was back. The feeling he had all those years ago with a ring burning a hole in his pocket.

“Don’t make me into the Krampus, here, Marina. If I could have you wrapped in that sparking damn wrapping paper and tied with a curly bow, I would. I deserve it at the least. You owe me that much,” he bit out.

Marina sucked in a breath. “I owe you? I don’t owe you any damn thing, Parker Blake.”

Parker gave an arresting stare. Anger flashed across his face. “No? I was going to ask you to be my wife that night, Marina. I had the ring in my pocket.”

He could see the shock sink in. Marina never knew.

Well, now she does.

He could see she didn’t know what to make of this new information. “Suck on that, sugar plum. You can feel just as badly as I did ten years ago. I’ll see you later for the caroling.”

Marina reeled back onto the couch. Well, figgy pudding! This vacation was not going at all as planned.

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