The Christmas Shoppeby Melody Carlson
The small town of Parrish Springs is not ready for Matilda Honeycutt. A strange older woman with scraggly gray hair and jewelry that jangles as she walks, Matilda is certainly not the most likely person to buy the old Barton Building on the town's quaint main street. When it becomes apparent that her new shop doesn't fit the expectations of Parrish Springs residents, a brouhaha erupts. After all, Christmas is approaching, and the last thing the town needs is a junky shop run by someone who looks and acts like a gypsy. But as townsfolk venture into the strange store, they discover that old memories can bring new life and healing.
Once again, Melody Carlson delivers a Christmas story that will touch hearts and delight the senses. Sure to be a classic, The Christmas Shoppe is filled with the special magic the best Christmas stories share--that intangible mixture of nostalgia, joy, and a little bit of magic.
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The Christmas Shoppe
By Melody Carlson
RevellCopyright © 2011 Melody Carlson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNo one in Parrish Springs could recall exactly when Matilda Honeycutt came to town. No one seemed to know where she came from either, but most everyone remembered the day Matilda Honeycutt purchased the old Barton Building. Not because she made much noise when her bid won the run-down brick building in the sealed-envelope auction conducted by the city, but because Councilman Snider swore so loudly that patrons in the coffee shop next door to his real estate office actually heard his tantrum.
Word spread quickly about "the interloper who'd snuck into town and practically stolen that property right out from under the noses of the good citizens of Parrish Springs." Experienced in rumor circulation, Councilman George Snider made sure of this. He also requested that the city extend the close of the bidding so that he could have a second chance at securing the Barton Building. "I'll pay 10 percent more than what that woman paid," he promised the new city manager behind closed doors. But as the city manager pointed out, and rightly so, doing this would put the city at serious risk of a lawsuit should Ms. Honeycutt choose to take legal action.
Now, most people would've given up at that point, counted their losses, and just moved on. But not George Snider. Having served as councilman for more than thirty years, he was used to getting his way, and he was not one to back down from a fight, particularly if money or profit was involved. So when he observed the city manager walking down Main Street with that intruder—that blasted Matilda Honeycutt—it took all his self-control not to break into swearing again. Seeing the two of them walking up to the Barton Building, unlocking the front door like they owned the place—when he doubted that the sale even would've been through escrow—was adding insult to injury. Good grief, why not just give that fool-headed Honeycutt woman the blasted keys to the city?
George felt certain this state of affairs would not have occurred back when Leroy Stanton managed their fair city. But Leroy had retired late last spring, and after many interviews and candidates, Susanna Elton was hired to replace him. Her work experience hadn't even been all that impressive—she'd been an assistant to a city manager for less than ten years, although it was a larger town. George suspected the other council members were swayed by her appearance as much as by her fancy college degree. Despite his attempt to warn them of the dangers of youth in positions of power, the upstart got the job. And now this. Leave it to a woman to foul things up royally!
He scowled at the two of them. Susanna, as usual, looked like she planned to be photographed for some highfalutin fashion magazine, whereas that strange Matilda Honeycutt character looked more like a bag lady. What a pair. And what a mess they'd made of things too!
* * *
It didn't take Susanna Elton long to figure out that Councilman Snider was going to make her life difficult. Although she had to admit that her first impression had been deceiving. Taken in by his easy smile, silver hair, and sparkling blue eyes, she'd let her guard down a bit. But when he called her a "youngster" during her third interview with the city council, she knew exactly where he stood.
"Don't let Councilman Snider get to you," Councilwoman Laxton had told her during a break, when their paths crossed at the sinks in the women's restroom. "George is a card-carrying member of the Good Ol' Boys Club, and trust me, old habits die hard with that man."
"He thinks I'm too young and too female to manage Parrish Springs," Susanna stated as she touched up her lipstick. "That just makes me want to prove him wrong."
Their eyes locked in the mirror above the sinks, and the older woman simply winked as she gave Susanna a slight nod. Then, without saying a word, she dried her hands and left. At the time, Susanna had been unsure as to the meaning of the wink and the nod. But at the end of the day, when she was offered the job of city manager, she understood. When Councilwoman Laxton warmly congratulated her as they were walking to the parking lot, Susanna suspected that the only woman serving on the city council might prove to be an important ally.
At times like now, when Councilman Snider was acting like a complete jerk, Susanna was tempted to run crying to Councilwoman Laxton. Except that she knew better. Small-town politics were tricky at best. At worst they could derail a career before it ever got fully started. No, Susanna was determined to deal with this herself. If Councilman Snider wanted a fight, she'd give it to him. In a ladylike way, of course. It wouldn't be the first time she'd stood up to a bully.
At least that's what she told herself when she spied him scowling at her and Matilda Honeycutt from across the street. It didn't escape her attention when he ducked into the newspaper office, probably off to one of his Good Ol' Boys Club meetings. Susanna felt confident she could deal with the old coot, but she felt bad for Ms. Honeycutt's sake. It wasn't a very friendly welcome to their town.
"I'm new to town myself," Susanna admitted as she unlocked the door to the Barton Building.
"I thought perhaps you were." Ms. Honeycutt glanced across the street, making Susanna suspect that she'd observed the ill-mannered councilman as well.
"I haven't actually been in this building yet, although I've admired it from the outside. The city I moved from didn't have much in the way of old architecture."
"It does have nice bones, doesn't it?" Ms. Honeycutt smiled up at the brick building. "A good feeling too."
Susanna handed her the key. "Feel free to poke around as long as you like. As soon as your check clears at the bank, we'll get the deed paperwork going."
"Wouldn't you like to see the interior of the building?"
"Sure." Susanna nodded. "I'd love a little tour."
"Hopefully the electricity is on by now." Ms. Honeycutt flipped the switch, and after some initial blinking, the overhead fluorescent lights came on. "Let there be light!"
"How did you manage to view the property before, without electricity?"
"Your assistant ran over to the hardware store and borrowed a couple of lanterns. We made do."
"That Alice is a resourceful girl." Susanna chuckled as they walked across the dusty floor. It appeared to be hardwood, but it was hard to tell beneath all that grime.
"Yes, she is. Of course, I already knew this was the building for me. Unless we'd discovered something terribly amiss, which I knew would not be the situation, I was certain I wanted this building. Your assistant promised to call the power company and get the electricity turned on as soon as possible."
Susanna ran a finger over a dust-covered shelf. "Looks like you'll have your work cut out for you, Ms. Honeycutt."
"Please, call me Matilda."
"Then you must call me Susanna." She smiled at the older woman. "I would appreciate it if you considered me a friend."
Matilda's brown eyes lit up. "That would be lovely!"
"Do you have any specific plans for the building?" Susanna asked as they inspected a back room with a large door that led out to the alley behind.
"Oh yes. Definitely."
Susanna wanted to ask what but figured Matilda would've been more forthcoming if she'd wanted her to know. Best not to appear overly nosy at this stage. "Well, if you need any help in applying for business permits or whatever, feel free to ask Alice. She knows her way around city hall."
"Thank you, I'll do that." Matilda stopped by the stairs, flicking on another light switch. "Would you like to see the apartment on the second floor?"
"I'd love to."
Soon they were in a spacious room with massive windows that overlooked the street. Like everything else, they were coated in grime. "This could be very nice," Susanna told her, "with some work." She studied the older woman, trying to gauge her age. Her hair was gray, but her face seemed young. "Do you think you'll need someone to help you with it?"
"Yes, I expect I will." Matilda opened a cabinet in the ancient-looking kitchen. "Do you know anyone?"
"Actually, my mother-in-law. She moved to Parrish Springs with me, and she might be interested. She told me she wants to find some work."
Matilda looked curiously at Susanna. "I got the impression you were a single woman."
Susanna nodded. "That's right. I'm divorced."
Matilda seemed somewhat amused. "You're divorced, but your mother-in-law lives with you?"
Susanna forced a smile. "I know ... it's a bit odd. It's partly due to my ten-year-old daughter. My mother-in-law, Rose, couldn't bear the idea of being five hours away from Megan, so she asked if she could relocate here with us. Naturally, I said yes. Rose is such a part of our lives. The property I purchased came complete with a carriage house that someone transformed into a guesthouse, so we even get to have a little space between us. Not that she's intrusive. To be honest, I don't know what I'd do without Rose."
"It sounds like a delightful relationship. I'm sure your daughter must appreciate having her grandmother so close by."
"She loves it. Megan comes home from school and Rose is doing things like making cookies or planting flowers. She really enriches our lives."
"She's looking for work?"
"Just something part-time. Although I don't personally understand it, she loves to clean. She's the best housekeeper imaginable. I'm always telling her not to clean up after me, yet my house remains spotless."
Matilda blew a dust bunny off the old linoleum countertop. "Well, if you don't think this mess would overwhelm her, I'd love to give your Rose a call."
Susanna pulled out one of her own business cards and wrote Rose's name and cell phone number on the back, then handed it to Matilda. "Here. Honestly, I don't think anything could overwhelm Rose." She glanced at her watch. "Thank you so much for the tour, Matilda. If you'll excuse me, I need to get back to city hall for a lunch meeting with the Beautification Committee."
"You run along, dear. Thank you for your help."
Susanna hoped that it wasn't a mistake recommending Rose for this job. Rose had been complaining that there wasn't enough to keep her busy while Megan was in school. And no one worked harder than Rose. But what Susanna hadn't told Matilda was that Rose had a bit of a Latin temper and could sometimes make life difficult. Susanna was used to it, and she knew when it was time to give her mother-in-law space. But to someone with the gentle sort of spirit that Matilda seemed to have, Rose might prove a handful.
Susanna knew from experience that she couldn't micromanage every potential pitfall. She'd leave Matilda and Rose to sort this thing out for themselves. In fact, the more removed Susanna remained from the situation, the better off they'd all probably be. Besides, with Councilman Snider to deal with, Susanna had enough challenges of her own to keep her occupied. Why go looking for more?
Chapter TwoGeorge turned away from the unpleasant scene in front of the Barton Building, but as he ducked into the newspaper office, he could still hear the two chirping females as they went into what should've been his building. He needed to do something and he needed to do it fast. He was ready to implement plan B—bending the ear of Tommy Thompson. After all, Tommy's father, Tom Sr., had once been good friends with George. Tommy had been fresh out of college when he inherited the town's weekly newspaper, the Parrish Springs Spout.
As he went inside, the councilman felt almost fatherly toward his old friend's son. He felt certain that Tommy would be happy to get the scoop on such a juicy story, because he knew this was a ripe one.
"How you doing, Helen?" George grinned at the part-time receptionist. He'd known Helen Fremont since childhood. She'd been a few years behind him in school but appeared to be holding up fine for her age. Just fine. In fact, not for the first time, George wondered what was wrong with Rich Fremont for having left this stunning woman. Of course, looks could be deceiving, and he'd heard the rumor that Helen had borrowed money from her elderly mother to get some "work done" recently. George assumed that meant plastic surgery and such, but seeing her today, he figured it must've been well worth the price.
"I'm just fine, Councilman Snider." Helen smiled brightly. "How about you?"
"Well, to be perfectly honest, I've had better days."
She nodded. "I heard about the Barton Building."
He shook his head. "That's why I'm here. I want to talk to Tommy about the whole nasty business. I'm sure there's a story behind it."
"I think Tommy's in his office, unless he's still working on the press. You want me to buzz him for you?"
Her phone began jangling, and he waved his hand at her. "Nah, I'll just go and hunt him down."
She turned to answer the phone, and George headed on back through the dimly lit building. This place hadn't changed much since the days Tom Sr. ran the Spout. Back then it seemed much more modern and efficient somehow. Now it just seemed dusty and old. Then again, no one had expected Tommy to stick with the paper this long. Tommy had been one of those kids who thought Parrish Springs was a backwater, one-horse town. He'd made it no secret that he was hankering after those big-city lights. The fact he was still here was a bit of a mystery to George. At least the boy knew how to write a good story, and for a small-town paper, Tommy kept it interesting.
"Hey, Councilman Snider." Tommy emerged from the pressroom.
George greeted him and shook hands. With a serious expression, he informed Tommy that he was sitting on a real big story. "I think you'll be interested in this one."
"Come on back to my office," Tommy said in a friendly tone. "Can I get you some coffee?"
"Nah, I'm all coffeed up already." As they walked, George filled Tommy in about losing the bid on the Barton Building to Matilda Honeycutt.
"I heard about that," Tommy admitted as he led the way into his cramped and cluttered office. "Too bad for you, Councilman."
"Unless it's not over yet ..." George closed the door to the office, waiting for Tommy to sit down and get comfortable. "Because I'm telling it to you straight, Tommy, that woman is up to no good."
* * *
Tommy listened to the familiar creak of his worn leather chair as he leaned back. Folding his arms across his front, he eyed the councilman carefully, finally deciding to wear his lackadaisical expression. After nearly two decades in the newspaper business, he'd learned a thing or two. In this case, he knew that the less he said, the more he could learn. Councilman Snider was usually long-winded, and if you gave him enough space, he would easily fill it in with words. It would be up to Tommy to separate the fact from the fantasy and decide whether or not it was fit to print.
"What makes you so sure?" Tommy finally asked in a flat tone.
"For starters, this strange broad sneaks into town with no friends, no connections, nothing. She doesn't seem to know a single soul, doesn't even have a residence here—"
"How do you know that?"
"I have my sources." He grinned like that was supposed to be funny. "My housekeeper's sister works at the Golden Door Motel. That's where Matilda Honeycutt's been staying. Not sure how long she's been there, but according to Cathleen, that Matilda Honeycutt is one weird wacko."
"My housekeeper," he answered a bit cantankerously. Like he wanted to know why Tommy wasn't keeping up better.
Why does your housekeeper think Ms. Honeycutt's a weird wacko?"
"Probably because she is. At least that's what Cathleen's sister says. Now, I'm trying to remember what Cathleen called that woman. Sounded like a bad word at first, but it wasn't. Oh yeah, she told me that Honeycutt lady is a hoarder. You know what that is, Tommy?"
"You mean like a pack rat? Someone who hoards a lot of stuff?"
"I reckon. Anyway, it sounds like she's got a bunch of trash with her. Some of it's in her car. A bunch is in her room. Nothing worth anything, according to Cathleen."
"You mean Cathleen's sister."
"Yes, yes, Cathleen's sister or whomever. Can you imagine why any sane person would haul a lot of garbage around with them? You have to admit it sounds a little crazy."
Tommy shrugged. "Takes all kinds."
Excerpted from The Christmas Shoppe by Melody Carlson Copyright © 2011 by Melody Carlson. Excerpted by permission of Revell. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Melody Carlson is the award-winning author of over two hundred books with sales of more than five million. She is the author of several Christmas books from Revell, including the bestselling The Christmas Bus, The Christmas Dog, and Christmas at Harrington's, which is being considered for a TV movie. She is also the author of many teen books, including Just Another Girl, Anything but Normal, Double Take, and the Diary of a Teenage Girl series. She is the winner of a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award in the inspirational market for her many books, including the Diary of a Teenage Girl series and Finding Alice. Melody and her husband live in Oregon.For more information about Melody visit her website at www.melodycarlson.com.
Melody Carlson is the award-winning author of over two hundred books with sales of more than five million. She is the author of several Christmas books from Revell, including the bestselling The Christmas Bus, The Christmas Dog, and Christmas at Harrington's, which is being considered for a TV movie. She is also the author of many teen books, including Just Another Girl, Anything but Normal, Double Take, the Life at Kingston High series, and the Diary of a Teenage Girl series. She is the winner of a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award in the inspirational market for her many books, including the Diary of a Teenage Girl series and Finding Alice. Melody and her husband live in Oregon.
For more information about Melody visit her website at www.melodycarlson.com.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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"The Christmas Shoppe" brought a lot of surprises to it and opened up the lives of all who lived in the town! It was a short book -- wish it could have been longer-- but it was very good and made you look inside yourself to see what event in the past helped shape your life. It is one I will read again!
Well I did like this story though I thought it could have been a little longer. Also I thought it would be more about Christmas. The subject itself is brought up a lot but it takes place around Thanksgiving. Overall it is a good read!
I enjoyed this book. The story line was interesting and mysterious at times. Life lessons to be thought about but story was still fun to read. Ended Happily enough.
A great holiday read! This was a cute story that had you look inside yourself for answers and to search within yourself . Sometimes the obvious is right in front of us when we open our eyes. More than just a Christmas story, it’s about forgiveness and love.
It was a great book! I just finished the book today and it has such a great meaning to it! ;D Cant wait to read it next Christmas.
A whimsical tale that keeps you turning pages. Whom will the Christmas Shoppe save next? Enjoy and learn!
Nice Christmas story.
Heartwarming, quick read.
Well written interesting story
This was definitely a holiday favorite that I will read again
Great read. Thank you