“If you step one foot in Holly Well Springs, I will disown you,” shouted Dad from behind his desk.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, calm down,” I said. “Do you want to end up in the hospital again?”
It probably didn’t help that I added some laughter to my tone, but I really couldn’t help it. Joking around was just a part of who I was, and Dad should have understood that by now. Besides, it was ridiculous how much hatred he had for a town, of all things. How could a person hate a town?
Dad’s health wasn’t the greatest, so I added, jokingly, “This time, I won’t volunteer to give you any of my blood. I’ll just let you fade away.”
“You think this is funny?” he yelled. “I already lost two of my sons to that wretched town. I will not allow you to take any leave if that is where you’re going.”
Dad was beginning to turn red in the face. I knew I probably should have let it go, but now he was treating me like a two-year-old. For as hard as I worked for him at the firm, I deserved better treatment than that. Ever since my brothers became officially gone for good from our family law firm, I’d been working even harder than normal.
“Allow me?” I asked. I had to shake my head at that one. Sometimes, Dad was just unbelievable. “Dad, I’m a grown man. I have at least a year’s worth of leave if I choose to hold this company to its contract. All your shouting won’t change my mind, and I’m sure they can hear you in the cafeteria on the bottom floor.”
That seemed to kick him out of his screaming fit again, at least somewhat. Of course, I knew it would, since the company reputation meant more to him than anything else, including me and my brothers. It wasn’t like people around the office weren’t used to him screaming all the time, but whenever I pointed his behavior out to him, he seemed to think everyone would be shocked. That would usually get him to pipe down for a few minutes at least.
“I’m going to Holly Well Springs to spend the month of December with Pops, Gran, and my brothers,” I said firmly. “You are more than welcome to come and join us there.”
“I would rather clean out the horse stalls all month before I spend one more day in that town,” Dad grumbled.
I shook my head again, still laughing, and pulled out my phone to pretend to dial a number. “Hey, Henry, how are things at the horse barn?” I asked. “Wow, that’s great. Listen, I was talking to someone who has a lot of time on his hands and thought you might need some help with cleaning out the stalls.”
“Very funny,” shouted Dad.
He had raised his voice again, but at least he wasn’t screaming from behind his desk anymore. I laughed again and hung up the imaginary phone call.
Despite my jokes, I really didn’t understand what his problem was with Holly Well Springs. It was a fantastic place to visit, and I really wish we had all stayed there as a family so my brothers and I could have grown up there. We would have been with Pops and Gran all the time as well as Mom and Dad, and I was sure that it was the best place to raise a family.
Denver was a great city. It had a really vibrant nightlife and a great art and foodie scene, so it was a good place to grow up too, for most people anyway. But the part of the city we were exposed to all the time was the high-stress corporate scene, and that part of society was nothing but a constant competition for who had the most money and which firm was the most powerful. That got old really fast. There was no room for love and kindness in an atmosphere like that.
I realized then that I’d never really asked Dad what his problem was with Holly Well Springs. I supposed he had always been so unapproachable about the subject. It wasn’t like he was approachable right then either, but I decided to try anyway.
“Dad, what do you have against Holly Well Springs anyway?” I asked. “You grew up there. Your father is the most famous man in the town, if not in the world. How can you be so bitter? I love Mom, but Gran is the poster girl for kindness and love. Just one of her hugs and you feel safe.”
“You’re spouting off nonsense,” Dad said. “I thought by getting you boys out of there when I did, I could spare all of you getting sucked in by that town and my parents, but it seems I was wrong. You have no idea what it was like always being compared to my father. My parents belonged to everyone but me. I always came last whenever anything in that town needed something and believe me, it always needed something. I won’t let you get pulled in like your brothers, to waste your life believing in something that doesn’t exist.”
“Again, with the let me,” I said.
Dad could be so frustrating. At least he’d answered me, but that didn’t seem like a good enough reason to hate a whole town and leave two of your sons behind. I tried the reasoning approach. “Dad, James is practically engaged to a great girl. He’s right where he has always wanted to be. I was only twelve when we left there, but I still remember how upset he was leaving Pops and Gran behind. He’s really happy now. And Jesse—”
I looked up and cut off my sentence when I heard an object come whizzing toward me. Luckily, Dad missed me when he threw the book across the room, but that was hardly professional behavior, or the way a father should treat his son.
“Don’t mention his name again,” he said. His tone was surprisingly calm for someone who had just thrown an innocent book for no reason.
“I see that nothing is going to get through to you.” I shook my head. The conversation was going nowhere, so there was no sense in getting both of us even more upset, especially with Dad’s heart condition. “I’m leaving now, Dad, and I’ll see you again in January. Please take care of yourself. I really don’t want to see Mom having to spend all her time taking care of you or listening to you yell at everyone.”
I turned and walked out of Dad’s office, closing the door just in time to hear another object hit it. I had to laugh at how childish Dad could be.
I would never truly understand what he had against Pops and the town of Holly Well Springs, but I decided not to let those thoughts enter my head for the next month. My clothes were already packed and loaded into my sports car, waiting to make the trip to Holly Well Springs. I was excited to spend this time with my big brothers and my grandparents.
I looked over at Sally, my dad’s secretary, and gave her a huge smile. Sally had always been nice to all of us, and I honestly didn’t know how a person that nice could put up with my dad day after day.
“Don’t give me that smile,” she said. “You’re abandoning me! First Jesse, and now you.”
I had to admit I did feel a little bad leaving her there with him in a mood, but it would make it worse if I stayed. “You are the only one who can handle him. It would be a great time to ask for a raise.”
I laughed as I went forward to give her a big hug.
“Stop that before I write you up.” She laughed. She backed out of the hug and waved me away. “Go find happiness, Jackson. You and your brothers deserve all the good things in life. Maybe you will be like Jesse and James. Maybe someone is waiting for you whose heart beats to the same rhythm as yours.”
“How can you work so long with my father and still have such a romantic heart?” I asked, laughing. “Sorry to disappoint you, but I am still a carefree bachelor and will be for a long time to come.”
“All I’m saying is, you never know,” she said.
She gave me a smile, and I just shook my head.
“See you in January,” I said with a wave. “Don’t let the old man get to you.”
I walked out of the door and laughed as she called behind me, “Famous last words from a soon-to-be-retired bachelor.”
Walking out the door of the office building, I felt free. I couldn’t wait to get to Holly Well Springs and join my family. There was so much going on in Holly Well Springs in December on a usual year, and this time, we’d have both Hannah and Brodie’s wedding and the fiftieth anniversary celebration. It had been fifty years since Holly Well Springs had become a Christmas town, and that promised to be an incredible festival. I couldn’t wait to get there.
As I drove down the long stretch of highway in front of me, I thought about my brothers. I was pretty jealous of James, if I were being honest. He had never let Dad influence him when it came to choosing his career and, now, where he was living his life. Sophie was the perfect match for him. Just in the little time I spent with them after Dad’s heart attack, there was no doubt they were meant for each other.
I was surprised that James gave up his hospital career to take over the farm for Pops. I thought it was just temporary while Gran was dealing with her health scare, but there seemed to be a lot more to that than just taking care of the farm.
I thought about Jesse as I put more miles between myself and the law firm that Dad had built. As the oldest son, Jesse was slated to take over as CEO of the firm one day. It didn’t look like that would happen now, though.
Now, Jesse had opened his own law firm in the town of Holly Well Springs. He’d started out staying on Pops’s ranch and working in an office in one of the outbuildings, but now he was renting a house just outside of town. The last time I spoke with him, he sounded excited about life there. I didn’t blame him. He was finally free of Dad’s control and doing what he loved in a great place like Holly Well Springs.
I had to laugh at how funny fate could be. Who in a million years would have imagined Jesse dating someone like Belle? If you went on looks alone, it would be easy to imagine because Belle was beautiful. She turned heads, even mine, when she walked into a room.
She has this amazing southern accent and said the oddest things most of the time. I found her hilarious and could spend hours just listening to her, so she was a wonderful woman, but I’d always imagined someone more like Brooke for Jesse. Brooke was so serious and businesslike. Belle was always so happy and carefree.
I guessed it was true about opposites attracting. I was happy for my brother that he’d found someone like Belle. But she was only in Holly Well Springs for Hannah’s wedding. I wondered what would happen when January came and she went back to Texas.
As I looked at Denver in my rearview mirror, I knew I would be back. My life was there. I planned to have lots of fun over the next few weeks, but magic and love were not in my plans.
So why did Sally’s words keep going through my mind?
“Famous last words from a soon-to-be-retired bachelor.”