“New Year’s Home”

What is the ultimate gift?

This short story is based on The Garden Collection, one of my favorite novels to reflect on during the holidays … “The heartwarming story of struggle, determination, heartache, and true love …”

 

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 31ST

In Mason’s Diner in rural West Michigan, six-year-old Chloe Miller’s paper snowflakes cover all of the windows as if another blizzard hit town. Multicolor Christmas lights blink around the window frames. By the cash register, a two-foot-high fake Christmas tree holds so many of Chloe’s homemade ornaments the patrons can’t see the branches.

Standing behind the counter, Brianna Carlson waits for Henry Mason to pass her orders through the grill window. She stares at the poster behind the register.

Her best friend, Lucy Donovan, had suggested Bree put her own doodle sketches to good work and enter the competition to design the New Year’s Eve Gala poster. Out of one hundred applicants, she won.

She had drawn dark snowy woods where the old trees have snarled branches. The trees’ arthritic fingers reach for the sparkling red box with a bright white bow that illuminates the small clearing. The caption reads WHAT IS THE ULTIMATE GIFT?

The regulars at the diner celebrated her excitement by encouraging her to attend the gala. As the winner, she received one hundred dollars and a ticket to the party. She had saved her money for three weeks to buy a dress with matching shoes.

“Bree, your order’s up,” Henry yells from behind the grill. She sees only his eyes and the top of his bandana-covered baldhead through the open window.

The retired men on the stools at the counter chuckle. “Are you daydreaming again, Cinderella?” Charlie asks.

She blushes. “Maybe I’ll find my Prince Charming tonight,” she replies, picking up the cheeseburger platters.

George unrolls his silverware from his napkin. “Are you ever going to tell us what’s in the red box from your poster?”

She grabs the ketchup from under the counter. “What do you think is in the box?”

George takes the bottle. “Money?”

“How about keys to a yacht?” Charlie adds.

“I know what’s in the box,” Chloe says from the end of the counter. Her long brown hair in a thick braid matches her big sister’s. Chloe bites into a French fry and grins.

“Well, my sweet one, please share with us,” Bev Mason says from behind the cash register.

Chloe looks at her. “Can I tell them?”

Bree nods. “I always thought it was obvious.” She caresses the etched ivy on her gold heart-shaped locket, an emerald in its center.

“Tell us right now,” George demands. He winks at Chloe as he wipes his mouth.

“It’s LOVE, sillies. I can’t believe you never guessed it.”

“Oh, I forgot you’re a genius,” Bev jokes.

“I’ve gotten all excellent marks so far in first grade.”

Brianna nods. “You have a lot of wonderful tutors,” she says, glancing at her work family. Chloe grew up on that stool. They even put her name on it.

As the men tease Chloe that they made her smart, Officer Eddie Kent stomps his feet inside the door. In his dark blue uniform and auburn crew cut, he sits at the opposite end of the counter. Bree greets him with his usual glass of milk.

“It’s not ready yet?” he asks.

“I wasn’t sure you were working today. I’ll get right on it.”

Bree quickly enters the kitchen and helps Henry with the order of rare steak and scrambled eggs with a side of raw onions and garlic toast. Eddie eats it every day he works.

She carefully sets his plates in front of him. She had learned not to stand too close afterward.

“Bree, don’t worry. I’m here if you need anything,” Eddie says, reaching for the knife.

“What?”

“Kent! I will explain it,” Chief Cameron Mason says, taking up the entire doorway. He smooths down his thick mustache with his thumb and finger then points her to the end booth. With a hand over her stomach, she sits. He stops Chloe from jumping off her stool. “Stay put. I want to talk to Bree in private.”

“Cam, what’s wrong?” she asks as he slides in across from her.

“Wayne is being paroled due to overcrowding.”

She gasps. “When?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Oh, God.” She places her shaking hands on her lap. Chloe stares at her reaction. “Do you think he’ll come back here?” she whispers.

“I honestly don’t know. If you see him anywhere in town, call my cell,” he says, pulling out his card.

She stops him. “I still have it memorized.”

Cam leaves for the kitchen to talk to his father. She stares out the window at the two fresh inches of snow. What should she do?

Wayne Miller’s letters from prison promised to take Chloe away from her. Bree has no legal rights to Chloe. Could he reclaim his daughter?

Bree had taken the brunt for years so he wouldn’t hurt her half-sister. She would not let Wayne hurt her now.

She jumps as Chloe slides in next to her. “Bree, what’s the matter?

She hugs her. “Nothing for you to worry about, my sweet Clover.” She nudges her out of the booth. “I have to get back to work.”

While carrying the tub of dirty dishes, she bangs her shin into the metal cart behind the counter. The tub crashes to the floor. Plates and mugs shatter. With tears in her eyes, she rushes to clean the mess. Partial blindness in her left eye and a limp from a healed broken leg makes her clumsy, especially when stressed or tired.

Eddie Kent laughs as he finishes his meal. “Bev, have you run out of plates yet?”

Bree looks up at her. “I’m sorry.”

“Honey, we know it’s not your fault. Why don’t you and Chloe take off? Tonight’s the big night. Happy early birthday.”

As she puts the last broken plate in the tub, she slides it to the side and stands. Charlie asks, “You’ll save me a dance?”

“I’m first in line. She promised me yesterday,” George adds.

“Only if you recognize me. It’s a masquerade ball after all.”

Thankful for their understanding, Brianna helps Chloe with her coat, hat, and mittens. Stepping outside, she takes a deep breath. They would make a run for it. They’d hide, and Wayne would eventually give up looking. With a purpose, she reaches for her sister’s hand.

“Bree, do you want a ride?” Eddie asks, absently patting the gun at his side.

Resisting the urge to wrinkle her nose at his horrid breath, she shakes her head. “We have errands. Thank you though.”

Chloe shuffles her boots through the snow on the sidewalk and sings “Let it Snow.”

After closing out her savings account with one hundred and twenty-six dollars, she pulls open the door to the pawnshop. The stifling heat hits them in the face as they wipe their boots on the rug just inside the door. In a Santa hat, Gus Fuller strokes his long white beard and waves.

Bree sighs. “I need to talk to Gus for a moment. Do you want to wander around?” Chloe nods and heads for the stack of board games while Bree meets him at the counter. “I’d, uh, like to see what I can get for this,” she says, slipping her precious locket over her head. A treasured gift from Lucy’s brother, Robert.

Gus turns it in his hand. “This is a high-end piece. I’d say it’s worth a grand. I can only give you five hundred, but Donovan’s Jewelry may give you more.”

She groans. Robert had spent too much money on her. She quickly wipes her eyes. This is about responsibility and survival not a sentimental trinket.

Bree takes the locket back from him and stares at it. She wears it all the time and touches it often. Finally nodding, she sets it back on the counter. As she tucks the money into her wallet, Chloe joins her with a magic kit.

“Do we have extra for this? It’s three dollars,” Chloe says.

“It’s yours for a hug,” Gus replies.

Chloe runs around the counter. After paying with a hug, she kisses his cheek and tugs his beard. “Thanks, Gus.”

With slouched shoulders, Bree moves toward the door.

“Take care,” Gus says quietly.

She wants to grab her locket and run. Instead, she limps out the door. No turning back. At the bus station, she opts for the trip tomorrow morning so she can attend the gala. Her one last hurrah.

“What are you going to wish for?” Chloe asks as they walk down the snowy sidewalk.

“Hmm, my birthday wish,” she says, swinging Chloe’s hand. “What would your wish be?”

“It’s a secret.”

“You’re keeping secrets from me?” Bree asks.

“Only my wish.”

“Are you wishing to hold hands with your boyfriend, Patrick Dugan, during recess?”

Chloe yanks her hand away. “I don’t like Patrick.”

“If you say so.”

“Well, I don’t,” Chloe replies.

Bree laughs. “So what’s your wish or should I keep guessing?”

Chloe takes a deep breath. “I wish I had a mom.”

Bree winces. Her eyes blur again. “I’m sorry things are different for us. I try to take care of you the best I can.”

Now, Bree would be making their lives even more difficult. The stress and worry sends an ache to her leg as they walk up the hill.

“Bree, I didn’t mean—”

“It’s okay, Clover. I sometimes wish for that, too.” Bree points to the golf course country club where the gala would be held. Delivery trucks drop off flowers and balloons. The band unloads their equipment. “Should I bring you home one of those huge balloons? Silver or gold?”

“Both,” Chloe replies, taking her hand again.

Bree slows her pace and huffs as they approach Paul and Marta Donovan’s house. She and Chloe live in the studio loft above their two-stall garage.

After retrieving Chloe’s backpack for her overnight stay, they enter the main house through the huge kitchen. Passing two freshly pressed tuxedos still in their plastic wrap, Chloe races up the steps. Bree limps behind her.

In Lucy’s room, a cluttered oak desk overlooks the snow-covered in-ground pool and golf course. Working from home, Lucy has a knack for marketing while Robert, always away, travels the world and designs amazing necklaces, earrings, and bracelets for the family business — Donovan’s Jewelry.

On the plum couch, Chloe scoots closer to Lucy so they can look at her new magic kit.

Lucy grins as if she knows a secret. “Turning twenty-one will be your best birthday ever. I can feel it. The stars have finally aligned.”

Lucy believes in Happily Ever After scenarios. She had said having a sprained ankle would allow her to watch Chloe while Bree went to the gala this year.

“A new year always brings hope and excitement,” she replies, letting Lucy’s positive energy wash over her. “Are you sure you’re up to this?”

“Chloe and I are going to have a girls’ spa night with facials and manicures,” Lucy says.

“Oh boy,” Chloe says. “Bree, you can go now.”

Bree kisses Lucy’s cheek and whispers a “thank you” in her ear. “Behave, my sweet Clover. I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning.”

“Why so early?” Lucy asks. “We’re staying up until midnight.”

“I want to start celebrating my birthday. Chloe promised to be extra nice. I want to take advantage of it.”

“You’re not going to be mean, are you?” Chloe asks.

“I’m going to be so horrible, and you’ll still have to be nice,” Bree replies, kissing her head. Chloe laughs at her jest and pushes her away.

After leaving the main house, Bree hurries up the steps to the loft. Inside, she kicks off her boots and tosses her coat on the double bed that she and Chloe share. She loves this small space but her home no longer.

XXX

 

Read more about Brianna and her struggle in the novel, The Garden Collection

 

The Garden Collection: Blurb

A few words of encouragement can stay with you for a lifetime. Robert and Brianna’s childhood friendship grew into respect for each other and their ideas. Robert gave her the confidence to stand up for herself. Brianna helped him see his artistic potential and encouraged him to travel for his inspiration. He found it in the letters she wrote.

Now struggling to care for her six-year-old half-sister, Chloe, after their mother abandoned them, Brianna Carlson receives news that her abusive stepfather will be released from prison. Still limping from a once broken leg, she’s terrified he’ll come back to hurt Chloe this time. She decides to leave town.

While traveling for his family’s jewelry business, Robert Donovan designed The Garden Collection, his newest line of necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Returning home, he discovers Brianna had lied in every letter she sent. She never received any of his. Before he can demand answers, she disappears without Chloe. As Robert learns about Brianna’s life during his absence, he sets out to find her and convince her to trust him again.

Ten Reasons to Read/Reread The Chemical Attraction Series

Here are my TEN REASONS why you should read/reread The Chemical Attraction Series:

#10 – The Re-release of the Series

One of the reasons for the second edition release is to put the Series in chronological order. The newest novel, The Kindred Code, is the sequel to Their Rigid Rules. (Saying the sequel to the prequel was a mouthful.) With the order change, I was able to add more scenes to Chemical Attraction and Chemical Reaction for a smoother transition. I love the result and think you will, too.

#9 – A New Addition

The Kindred Code is divided into three storylines: Matt & Eva’s budding romance, Peter & Joe’s new working relationship, Taylor & Stuart’s engagement struggles.

I love Matt and David’s bond. Matt’s a great dad always putting David first. All of a sudden, he meets Eva, who completely mesmerizes him. They aren’t saving the world, only each other. However, it’s not all wine and roses for Stuart and Taylor. They’re together but miles apart; and it’ll stay that way until they share their pain and fears.

Meanwhile, Joe and Peter work on an unofficial assignment before Joe heads to Quantico for his FBI training. Joe simply has to sweet talk the waitress for information, but they soon uncover a sinister plot. This novel picks up two weeks after Their Rigid Rules.

#8 – Hot Alpha Men

As a history professor and former Marine, STUART MORGAN, a blond, blue-eyed war hero, battles his inner demons. Although he longs for mental peace from an empathetic woman, his rigid rules prevent it.

Ruggedly handsome with a calm demeanor, Officer MATT CONNOR recovers from a gunshot wound obtained while on duty. As a single parent, he pushes any romantic life aside and focuses on raising his eight-year-old son, David.

Charismatic yet brooding, JOE ROBERTS is a womanizer on the surface. Deep down, he’s searching for an instant chemistry with his soulmate, the one person who will love him for his faults not in spite of them.

#7 – Strong Sexy Women

TAYLOR VALENTINE, a natural beauty, embraces her vanilla tendencies. Her plan for her life reinforces those traits. Kindhearted, she doesn’t apologize for giving people the benefit of the doubt.

EVA O’SULLIVAN, a petite Irish spitfire with auburn spiral curls, has big opinions, and you know them whether you want to or not. Masking her vulnerability, she wears her willfulness like armor.

Akin to Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, MADELINE PIERCE, a dedicated scientist, has pain in her heart from an abusive relationship. With her Ice Queen persona set, she hides within the realm of her research.

#6 – More Romance

I consider my Series to be equal parts romance and thriller. I think the romance and action feed off each other creating the suspense. Now, there’s more romance as I delve deeper into Eva and Matt’s and Taylor and Stuart’s relationships. The combo of respect and humor in Joe and Peter’s bromance is also fleshed out in both Their Rigid Rules and The Kindred Code.

In Chemical Attraction, Joe’s player ways hinder his potential relationship with Madeline during the case. I’ve amped up their sexual tension. While finishing the case in Chemical Reaction, Joe cares deeply for Madeline. His actions reflect his love for her, intensifying the decisions and choices he makes to save her from her abductor… some good, some bad. He’s torn between his personal desire and his professional integrity.

#5 – Based on Real Places

I love giving a shout out to Michigan where all four seasons can be felt in a single week. In Their Rigid Rules, I describe autumn at Western Michigan University. In The Kindred Code, winter in Michigan is my main focus. I also mention Allegan’s Regent Theater, the Grill House, Minnie’s Diner, and Marr Haven Wool Yarn Farm.

In Chemical Attraction, I’ve referenced a hot humid summer in Allegan (aka Allenton), its beautiful boardwalk along the Kalamazoo River, Bubba’s bar, the Griswold Auditorium (aka my fictional Hartford Auditorium), and the Delano Mansion Inn (aka Sylvia’s B & B).

Although the external description of the Delano Inn and Sylvia’s B & B is the same, the inside couldn’t be more different. I refer to Sylvia’s as a comfortable farmhouse-style B & B. The Delano has a classy Victorian-style decor. If you get a chance to stay there, do. The owner Marcia Neigebauer goes out of her way to make you feel welcome … much like Sylvia, my fictional owner.

Summer carries over into Chemical Reaction. The focus is back on Allegan, Detroit, and the Great Lakes. Although I’ve lived in Michigan most of my life, I still learned so much more about the Great Lakes and the Welland Canal’s locks between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario that bypasses Niagara Falls.

#4 – Science & Holistic Aspects

What happens when science runs amuck? Who has the courage to stop it?

With a degree in Biology and a diploma in Traditional Chinese Acupuncture, I’m passionate about science as well as holistic health. In Chemical Attraction and Chemical Reaction, a nanotechnology drug designed as a medical cure ends up a bio-weapon. Meanwhile, for Joe and Madeline, the healing power of love is incredibly profound. I love exploring the physical science, the emotional workings of our mind and heart, and the spiritual energy that taps into our passions.

#3 – New Cover Art

Although I like the original cover art, I love the newer versions … simplistic and meaningful to the novels. When Taylor meets Stuart for the first time, her life’s plan goes up in flames in Their Rigid Rules. A single ring in The Kindred Code changes the family dynamic forever. With the recently added scenes to Chemical Attraction, the cell phone in the water fits perfectly within the storyline while the floating beaker in Chemical Reaction represents the chase along the Great Lakes.

#2 – More Humor

Throughout the Series, Joe, Taylor, and Eva needle each other with playful sibling banter. In The Kindred Code, Joe’s joking nature tests his and Peter’s new working friendship while Taylor’s and Eva’s first impressions with their future mothers-in-law go awry then increasingly worse. With the additional scenes to Chemical Attraction, Joe’s Fun Phone wreaks havoc in his pursuit of Madeline, who isn’t falling for his lame pickup lines.

#1 – My Best has gotten Better

I had the opportunity to improve the stories with everything I’ve learned over the last few years. These characters have been in my head for over a decade. Now, I’m able to share more of their backstory. A special thanks to my publisher, Juanita Samborski. I’m grateful for her faith in the Series and in me. I’m proud of how far I’ve come and what I’ve accomplished.

The Chemical Attraction Series on AMAZON

*****

Goodreads Author Page

48fourteen Publishing

The Chemical Attraction Series Facebook Page

THE GARDEN COLLECTION Flash Sale: ONLY $0.99

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For The Garden Collection, I took a single defining moment from my childhood to create a story with an important message about the energy of words and how they affect us. Love doesn’t require perfection. Its healing power is incredibly profound. ~ Christina Thompson

Grab your copy of my sweet romance, The Garden Collection, on sale now for $0.99

REVIEWS

“The heartwarming story of struggle, determination, heartache, and true love kept me reading …”

“Tender and hopeful, painful and sad … all make a sweetly intriguing story…”

“I do believe that positive and encouraging words can change a life.”

BLURB

A few words of encouragement can stay with you for a lifetime. Robert and Brianna’s childhood friendship grew into respect for each other and their ideas. Robert gave her the confidence to stand up for herself. Brianna helped him see his artistic potential and encouraged him to travel for his inspiration. He found it in the letters she wrote.

After her mother abandoned her at sixteen and her stepfather beat her at eighteen, Brianna Carlson now struggles to care for her six-year-old half-sister, Chloe. The day before her twenty-first birthday, Brianna receives news that her stepfather will be released from prison. Half blind from a head injury and still limping from a once broken leg, she’s terrified he’ll come back to hurt Chloe this time. She decides to leave town.

Waiting for their five-year age gap to diminish, Robert Donovan purposely stayed away. While traveling for his family’s jewelry business, he designed The Garden Collection, his newest line of necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Returning home, he discovers Brianna had lied in every letter she sent. She never received any of his. Before he can demand answers, she disappears without Chloe.

As Robert learns about Brianna’s life during his absence, he sets out to find her and convince her to trust him again. He hopes the innocent love of their youth is strong enough to heal her injured heart and fulfill his need for a home.

GOODREADS

AMAZON

 

 

The Energy of Words and Actions

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Although this memory is dear to me, I debated whether to share it. However, the message outweighs my cringe-worthy embarrassment.

The origin of The Garden Collection has a bit of my own back history. When I was young, my family moved around a lot. Between 2nd and 5th grade, I attended five different schools usually starting in the middle of the year. As hard as it was to make friends, I started to wonder if it was worth trying, especially if we were moving again.

My clothes weren’t fashionable. My pants were a tad too short. My glasses were thick. I was shy and had an overbite … as nerdy as you can get. Surprise! I was picked on constantly.

Well, one day in 5th grade music class, our teacher told everyone to sing and sing loudly. Since I knew the song she played on the piano, I happily complied. By the chorus, not only were twenty students looking at me, the teacher stopped playing and openly mocked me with many of the students joining in. To say I was mortified is an understatement. I just gave the whole class more ammunition against me.

It was then that the popular boy spoke up. “Stop it,” he yelled. “She told us to sing loud.” All I could do was stare at him. That never happened before; the class actually stopped taunting me.

Well, it wasn’t the last time I was teased or bullied. It wasn’t even the last time that day. However, the mental snapshot has always stayed with me when I realized two things in that moment:

1) My feelings weren’t invisible like I thought; and

2) I mattered … to that one person at that particular point in time.

It changed the way I saw myself. He had given me a new confidence, and I built on that.

Well, my family stayed in that school district. He and I graduated from high school together. We didn’t really interact, but at a rural school, everyone knows everyone.

He inspired me to write a story about that moment. It’s not about him or me; it’s about the message that words of encouragement can stay with you for a lifetime. His certainly had.

I saw him with his daughter a while ago. I told him he inspired the story while his daughter listened. Surprised, he didn’t remember his kindness all those years ago. I didn’t expect him to. As awkward as that conversation was, I’m glad I shared it. His daughter left knowing her dad was my fifth grade hero.

I started to wonder if all those people who impacted my life in a positive way knew that they had. I try to share my appreciation whenever I can because the energy of words and actions affects us ─ good and bad. So, for all of the people who made a difference in your life, make sure you let them know. I guarantee you’ll feel great and it’ll make their day.

Learn more about The Garden Collection here.