A Bad Boy for Christmas

By: Jessica Lemmon


She opened the lid and plated what was inside: sweet and spicy chicken drummettes from Salty Dog. The local bar had great food, and the chicken wings were among her favorite menu items. Procuring another square serving platter, she plated the evening’s crowning glory next.

Three shiny, glistening, glorious Devil Dogs. Tall, rectangular, chocolate cream–filled cakes, dipped in dark chocolate, each topped with whipped cream and a cherry. She would like to say she’d had the wherewithal not to scarf one down before her friends got here, but the truth was she’d ordered four of the cakes from Sugar Hi. The fourth one was gone before she got home. It was perfection.

She had no regrets.

A roll of thunder rattled her picture frames, but this time the lights remained steady. She wasn’t quite used to the sounds in her new place yet, and oh, how it made her miss her old apartment. Being here was like having to break in new jeans. Uncomfortable. Foreign. And given this place had two hundred less square feet, a little tight.

Her old apartment was at ground level rather than the top of a long flight of stairs, with a big, beautiful oak tree and a picture window looking out over the golf course. After giving up the place to move in with Michael, there hadn’t been any hope of getting it back. Whoever had moved in was smart enough to stay rather than give up the prime real estate.

Which left her renting in Shady Pines. She was able to score a second floor with a balcony, and she’d admit it was nice not to have anyone stomping around above her this time around. The new building wasn’t as fancy as Oak Grove, but it was private. Freestanding, the six-unit building had small homes on either side, but not too close, with a patch of pines on one side and a parking lot with a basketball court on the other.

She was lucky to find it, really. Given the touristy draw of this town, most places were rented out to vacationers looking for some lakeside R&R. When one didn’t own a house, one was left to rent whatever was available.

Shady Pines was available.

Her immediate neighbors living in the building were elderly and friendly, aside from the guy downstairs who worked nights and rarely spoke to anyone. Faith didn’t mind having older folks nearby. It wasn’t like her friends were going to get “wild” or anything.

She arranged a number of bottles on the counter, frowning at the selection. She couldn’t get the one wine she wanted most. Layer Cake Primitivo was hard to find, and her favorite wine to drink in the fall. Packed with flavors like cherry, espresso, and white pepper, the red was great by itself, but with chocolate, it was to die for. In her former profession as the wine and beer girl for Abundance Market, she had special-ordered and kept in stock anything she liked. Primitivo was always stocked if the shelves had space for it. And if not, she kept a stash for herself in the back of her cabinet.

Recently, she’d run out.

She let herself run out, vowing to face her demons, specifically Michael and Cookie, who now also worked at Abundance. But in the end, Faith had chickened out (again), popping a Uey in the parking lot and driving to the small, under-stocked wine shop on Belinda Avenue. It was quaint, and she loved the staff, but alas, no Primitivo. The woman behind the counter politely offered to order it for her, but Faith had turned her down.

She’d compromised so much—she’d lost so much—the wine had become a sticking point. The next bottle of Layer Cake would be purchased from Abundance Market, so help her God. She couldn’t avoid the market forever. She could go. She had to go. And soon, when she found her courage, she would go.

You realize how ridiculous you’re being, don’t you?

Yes. She was being ridiculous. Unsurprisingly, that last thought reverberated through her head in her mother’s voice. Linda Shelby had always been critical of her eldest daughter, and learning Faith’s fiancé was no longer her fiancé had only stoked that flickering flame.

To be fair, that voice—her mother’s or not—was not wrong. Abundance Market wasn’t exactly Mordor. There were no gates, no mouth of Sauron, no leagues of orcs to battle her way through. All she had to do was park in the lot, walk through the automatic doors, and straight back to aisle fifteen.

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