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“What a mess you’ve gotten yourself into.”
I furrowed my brow and looked over at my best friend, Cassie, who was currently sitting at my dressing table in my bedroom fiddling around with my collection of fairy figurines.
Cassie had been my friend since our freshman year of college, and we knew each other so well that we could sometimes tell what the other was thinking without even saying a word. But right then, I was confused.
“What are you even talking about right now?” I asked. “How is any of this my fault?”
She set down my purple fairy figurine gently, looked at me, and raised her eyebrows, glaring at me as she moved a strand of her auburn hair out of her eyes. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Nope,” I said.
I wasn’t kidding. I knew that Cassie didn’t want me to go to a whole different state, but I was in no mood to argue with her. I had to pack and get ready to leave, and I was having enough trouble deciding what to take without her comments adding to my emotional confusion.
I was in a mess—I’d give her that—but none of it was my fault, and Cassie knew it.
“Grayson is just another guy in a long line of men who cannot take no for an answer,” I said. “How can you expect me to settle down with a maybe when my forever is out there somewhere?”
Cassie shook her head. “You’re such a romantic.”
“Isn’t that the best way to be?” I asked.
If there was one thing I did know for sure, it was that love had to be just right to last forever. And love was definitely not just right with Grayson. It was better for both of us that I’d broken up with him when I had. He was just having a hard time accepting it.
Cassie smiled, then got up and started walking around the room. I sat in her place at my dressing table and glanced dreamily into the mirror, fixing the strands of my silvery-blonde hair that had tangled. My gray eyes stared back at me, flashing to silver for a millisecond with a glimmer of excitement.
That enthusiasm was part of the problem. I was conflicted. Yes, I was worried about Grayson and all the trouble he was causing, and I didn’t really want to leave my parents or Cassie. But I was also thrilled about what the future would hold for me in Holly Well Springs. It was a strange mix of emotions that had me feeling like I was on a rollercoaster.
Regardless, I had to pack and get ready, so I took a deep breath, stood up, and got back to work.
Cassie smiled at me softly while I walked around the room packing. “Nessa, I get that you can’t help being tiny and beautiful. The gods were surely shining down on you from birth.”
I took a deep breath and stared at the dress I now had in my hand, folding it carefully before putting it into the suitcase. “Actually, I prefer to think it was the Fairy King and Queen, not any gods, especially since my name means Fairy Queen, but I also prefer to think of myself as a fairy princess.”
Cassie was silent and continued to watch me carefully as I picked through my closet trying to figure out whether I should just take everything or leave some of my favorite clothes behind. I loved all my dresses, so choosing which ones to take was a tough decision, especially when my mind was such a mess.
I knew that Cassie could see right through me. She knew that all the small talk and fumbling with clothes were just ways to avoid facing what was really going on with me.
Finally, I threw a dress we both knew I hadn’t worn in a year into my suitcase.
Cassie frowned. “Okay. Nessa, you need to sit down and talk to me for real. Yes, you’re excited about traveling. But Grayson is clearly a problem.”
I sighed and sat down on the bed. As usual, Cassie had me pegged.
“It’s been really scary, having Grayson take my rejection this way,” I admitted. “It’s so much different than my other boyfriends. They weren’t happy at first when I broke up with them, but Grayson is starting to be really frightening.”
“Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. You need to talk this out, Nessa,” she said.
I nodded, but it was still difficult to put my feelings into words. Cassie just looked at me with empathy.
“I don’t understand why he doesn’t just move on,” I said finally. “Seeing those black roses on my front porch was the last straw, as far as my parents are concerned.” I crossed my hands, my fingers gently picking at the lace design on my skirt.
“Frankly, that was my last straw as well,” Cassie said. “I don’t want to see you go, but I’m happy that you’ll put some distance between yourself and Grayson.”
“I just can’t believe they’re sending you off to some desolate place in Montana,” Cassie said. “But I guess that’s far enough away that he won’t bother you.”
When I looked up, I saw the sadness in her eyes. She was going to miss me as much as I would miss her, but I wanted her to see that there was some good coming out of this whole arrangement.
I looked right into her eyes and smiled. “That’s the best part of all of this. This isn’t just a remote place in Montana. Holly Well Springs is the best place in all the world to be, according to my mom’s stories.”
“Why is that?” asked Cassie.
“Holly Well Springs is a small town in a valley in Montana,” I said. “It’s an adorable little town, according to Mom, and the best part is that they celebrate Christmas every day all year long.”
Cassie gave me an uncertain smile. “What? You’re joking.”
“No, I’m not,” I said. “I’ve never been there, but my Aunt June lives there, and she owns the bakery in town. I’ve always wanted to live there, but for some reason, my parents never wanted to go back.”
“Why not?” she asked.
I shrugged before standing up again and folding the next dress to pack. “I don’t know. But wouldn’t that be amazing, to be in a place where you can celebrate Christmas every day?”
“I suppose it would,” she said. “But how does a town celebrate Christmas all year?”
“It’s all magic,” I said with a smile so big that my eyes must have sparkled.
I didn’t like the reason I had to go to Holly Well Springs, but the more I thought about it, the more exciting the idea of a town with Christmas all year round started to become. Yes, I’d be getting away from Grayson, but I decided right then that I’d focus on what I was getting—an adventure in Holly Well Springs.
“Why have they changed their minds about you going there now?” Cassie asked.
“They believe it’s the safest place for me to hide out until Grayson moves on,” I said.
“If he moves on,” she mumbled.
I had just opened my mouth to say something when I heard my mom’s voice calling from the dining room.
“Girls, dinner is ready!”
“We’d better get out there,” I said.
Cassie nodded and we both headed down the hall toward the dining room.
I loved my home. Everywhere I looked, it was covered in beautiful plants and flowers in pretty pastel colors, and all our furniture was made of intricately carved natural wood, so everything flowed together as if we were in a lovely forest—a magical pixie forest.
“Your house always amazes me,” said Cassie. “It’s so beautiful. It looks like something out of a fairy book.”
I smiled. “I love it too. When I get a house of my own one day, it’s going to be decorated in exactly the same way.”
We rounded the corner into the dining room and saw Mom waiting there for us.
“We’re glad you like it so much,” said Mom. “Have a seat, girls. We’re ready to get started on dinner.”
“Thanks, Mom,” I said.
“Thanks, Mrs. Thompson,” said Cassie. “Oh, this all looks and smells so delicious.”
Mom smiled. “Thank you, dear.”
“Oh, this is my all-time favorite,” I said as I saw the incredibly cheesy pasta dish in front of us, as well as my favorite salad, a colorful mix of greens and garden vegetables.
Mom and Dad prided themselves on their beautiful garden in the backyard, which was a blended combination of gorgeous flowers and bright, colorful vegetables and fragrant herbs for Mom’s culinary creations.
“I knew you’d like it,” said Mom, just as Dad walked into the room.
“Hi, Dad,” I said.
He bent down and kissed me on the forehead. “Hello, sweetheart.”
Then he looked up at Cassie. “Always great to see you here, Cassie.”
“Hello, Mr. Thompson,” said Cassie with a smile as she arranged her napkin in her lap.
Dad sat down and reached out his hands. “Let’s join hands for grace.”
We all held hands around the circular dining table and Dad said grace. His words were always so poetic and beautiful. He had always taught me how important it was to be thankful for nature’s bounty.
Dropping hands, we all passed the food around until our plates were full, and I couldn’t wait to take my first bite. The conversation was pleasant as we enjoyed our delicious meal.
After a while, Cassie said, “I’d love to hear more about Holly Well Springs.”
The table grew silent as Mom and Dad looked at each other.
Dad spoke first. “I’m not too happy about her going there myself.”
He held up his hand. “But I’m far more worried about her staying around here while some guy is stalking her. It’s too dangerous for her here right now. This boy doesn’t seem to get the message, at least not from my efforts.”
Most of my boyfriends were afraid of Dad, and often to my embarrassment, he’d scared them off rather easily in my high school and college days by just looking at them in a certain way.
“Well, it is rather hard to set the boy right when we don’t even know where he is,” Mom said.
Dad nodded. “That’s what frightens me right now.”
We were quiet for a while, but then Mom started to describe Holly Well Springs. I could feel the excitement grow inside me as she talked about all the beautiful decorations and the exciting festivals they had regularly.
Dad looked at her, smiling the whole time as she spoke about her chosen hometown. “Maybe things would have been different if we’d raised you there.”
Mom shook her head. “We’ve had a great life here, and we’ve raised a beautiful daughter.”
“With that, I agree,” said Dad.
They both smiled at me.
I could tell Dad was still concerned about me, but I wasn’t sure if it was about me leaving home or the drama I would have if I stayed.
“Dad, you don’t have to worry about me,” I said. “I’ll be fine in Holly Well Springs.”
“I’m sure you will be.” His eyes said he wasn’t quite convinced, and he paused for a moment. “You’re twenty-three years old. I can’t force you to stay or go, but I do think that you’re in more danger here.”
“I’m sure you’re exaggerating,” I said, trying to lighten the mood.
It worked, and we spent the rest of the dinner laughing and enjoying the meal. Then we spent the evening playing board games. At one point, the phone rang.
“I’ll get it,” I said.
But when I answered, no one spoke on the other end. All I heard was breathing.
I hung up as a chill ran up my spine.
Yes, it was time for me to go.