“Fisherwoman, you mean,” Mama corrected him. She beamed and said to Mamaw, “I finally got my girl!”

Mamaw agreed with a conspiratorial smile. “I’m so fortunate to have my three.”

“Girl or boy, I’ll have a fishing rod for her by the time she can walk,” Daddy announced.

Mama turned to me and smiled a bit possessively as her gaze captured my face. “You look quite handsome.” She patted my gray cashmere jacket over my red-checkered shirt.

“Harper gets all the credit,” I replied. “Except for the tie.” I lowered my chin to look at the green silk tie emblazoned with Christmas trees. “You gave me the tie last Christmas. Don’t you remember?”

Mama laughed. “I did, didn’t I?” Then her gaze swept the room, a quiet smile of deep contentment on her face. “Oh, Taylor,” she said with a sigh. “This was my Christmas wish for you five years ago. All this . . .” She turned her gaze to meet mine. “I’m so proud of you.”

I looked at her for a long moment. We knew each other so well.

“No headaches?”

“No. All good.”

“That, I suspect, is all Harper, too.”

“Don’t sell yourself short.” I bent to kiss her cheek. Again, I caught her scent at her throat and it carried me back through a lifetime of Christmas memories. “Thanks, Mama. For always making Christmas special for us.”

My words struck true and she appeared deeply moved. “That’s a mother’s job.”

“Speaking of a mother’s job.” I looked over my shoulder. “You should rescue Marietta from Daddy. I think she’s had enough fishing lessons for a three-month-old.”

“I’m on my way,” she whispered. Walking across the room, Mama said loudly, “It’s my turn to hold the baby!”

With everyone engaged, I went to the tree where dozens of gaily decorated presents reached the bottom limbs to pull out a small package. Then I crossed the room to where Miller sat on the floor with Sandy and Thor on either side.

“Quid pro quo.” I held out a small package wrapped in green with a white bow. “For you.”

Miller looked up from the dogs to take the package. He hefted it up, checking its weight, then said with a teasing frown, “Feels like a book.”

I laughed. “Open it.”

Harper glided across the room in her long emerald green silk dress that made her red hair shine in contrast. She was carrying a tray filled with champagne flutes. The consummate hostess, she leaned in close to my ear, discreet.

“We aren’t opening presents yet,” she admonished quietly. “My sisters haven’t arrived.”

“I know. This is personal.” I kissed her nose, then turned to watch Miller. I wanted to catch his reaction.

Miller opened the wrapping and found that it was, indeed, a book. He turned it in his hand to view the cover. Then his face eased into a knowing grin of pleasure.

“A Christmas Carol,” he announced. “Excellent.”

“No ‘bah, humbug’?” I asked.

Miller shook his head. “Like you said. It’s a classic.” Then he slanted a gaze my way and added wryly, “And we’ll always have Marley’s Ghost.”

I guffawed at our inside joke.

“Am I missing something?” Harper asked.

“It’s a long story,” I told her. “With a happy ending.”

The doorbell rang again and this time two dogs leaped to their feet and ran for the door. Sandy was barking up a storm. Marietta startled once more but she quickly settled with my mother’s rocking and cooing.

“Thor!” I called out. Immediately Thor came to my side and, chastened, sat quietly. Miller’s dog, however, was raising a raucous. Miller hurried after his dog to stop the cacophony of barking.

“Your dog could use a few lessons,” I teased him as he ran past.

“Where’s Clarissa when we need her?” he called back.

Mamaw stood at the front window, a vision of pale blue silk and cashmere. A long strand of pearls draped her chest. She pushed back the drapes and looked out. “Why, it’s the girls!” she exclaimed, clasping her hands together. “Oh, this is a party now!” she said to her companion, Girard, who stood by her side, looking elegant in his vintage smoking jacket. She took his hand and together they hurried to greet the family at the door.

The sound of high-pitched voices floated in from the front door, punctuated by heavy male laughter.

“I hope we’re not too late!”

“We had champagne at Dora and Devlin’s on the way. They’re right behind us.”

More voices rose up. More welcomes.

Mamaw’s voice rang out in her delicate drawl, “Come in! We’re waiting for you. The bubbly is all poured!”

Nate bolted into the room, heading straight for the presents under the Christmas tree.

The rest of the Muir family entered as a wave of glittering color and smiles—Blake and Carson, Dora and Devlin, Atticus and Vivian. Harper passed out flutes of champagne to all but Carson, who didn’t drink alcohol, and Dora, who, pregnant, settled for bubble water under Devlin’s watchful eye. Now that everyone in the family was here, Christmas had begun in earnest.

I went to the coffee table and picked up my dog-eared copy of A Christmas Carol. I’d purchased it five years earlier when helping Miller with his book report. I’d read A Christmas Carol many times over after that pivotal Christmas. The more times I read Dickens’s prose, the more I understood and took heart at his underlying message: We all had the chance to redeem ourselves, no matter how much of a Scrooge we may be.

I’d journeyed so far from that Christmas five years ago, when I’d returned home a broken man with PTSD. I’d learned to accept my past, embrace my present, and I held bright hope for the future. Most of all, I was not alone. I had Harper, Marietta, and Thor at my side. I’d been transformed. Dickens never wrote truer words when he had Scrooge exclaim, “I shall live in the past, the present, and the future!”

All were gathered in the living room, drinks in hand. I stepped forward and raised my glass. The family quieted, eyes on me filled with expectation. Then, with a wink in Miller’s direction, I made a toast inspired by the book that had helped carry me from my dark days to the happy, grateful son, brother, husband, and father I was today.


Tags: Mary Alice Monroe Lowcountry Summer Romance
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