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She had just one wish for the holidays. The same wish she’d wished every December for the past five years.
Please bring Ben home for the holidays.
What was it Grandma Berta used to say? If wishes were fishes, the sea would be full. When Marlee was a little girl, she’d wondered what that meant. Now she thought she understood, but she still couldn’t give up hoping.
She tucked an errant red-gold curl behind her ear and leaned forward to peer out the multi-paned bay window at the front of her yarn shop, A Stitch in Time. It was only four o’clock in the afternoon, but heavy gray December clouds hung low over the small harbor of Porter’s Landing, Massachusetts. It would be dark soon, and she could almost taste the coming snow. It looked like they were due for the first white Christmas in several years. She shivered beneath her thick fisherman’s knit sweater and hugged her arms around her middle. Snow wouldn’t be so bad if Ben were here. As a kid, she’d tagged after him and her older brother Matt when they went sledding down Murphy’s Hill or built a fort in Barnum’s Wood. Any adventure was better with Ben along.
The three had grown up as tightly linked as Matt’s silly magician’s rings. She’d barely noticed her feelings for Ben changing until suddenly she was a sophomore in high school and the boys were seniors. By then, every girl in the school had the hots for Ben Granger, and Marlee Farrow was no exception.
But so much had changed since high school. The links had shattered. She hadn’t seen Ben in more than five years, not since the awful day of Matt’s funeral. Five days after the funeral, Ben had left town without a word and joined the Navy. He hadn’t been back since.
Her eyes stung, and she squeezed them tight to stem the flow of tears before it started. Stop it. You should be stronger by now.
But even after all this time, the pain was still raw.
Marlee swallowed the lump forming in her throat. Then she sniffed and pulled a tissue from the pocket of her jeans and dabbed her nose. If only … But recriminations served no purpose. All young men believed in their own invincibility, and Matt and Ben had been no different.
“Marlee, can you take a look at this and see if you can find the mistake? I don’t know what I’ve done.” With a half-frown of good-natured confusion, Evelyn Barlow held up a small, misshapen red stocking. Despite her lack of experience and skill, Evelyn was one of the most enthusiastic members of the Knit Wits, a knitting club that met at A Stitch in Time every Thursday afternoon.
Marlee took the sock and quickly spotted the error. “It looks like you dropped a couple of stitches, but I think I can fix them.” She deftly recaptured the errant loops on the small metal needle then handed it back to Evelyn.
“Thanks so much, dear. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Never get that darned ornament finished, that’s for sure.”
It was hard to be certain who had muttered the comment, but Marlee suspected Helen Markuson. The Knit Wits were a pretty congenial group, but as the oldest member, Helen felt she’d earned the right to speak her mind, and in true
New England fashion, did so without reservation.
“How are we coming along, ladies?” Marlee glanced at the members seated in a circle on plain wooden chairs surrounded by cubbies filled with colorful yarns of every description. As the only knitting shop within twenty miles, A Stitch in Time was popular with both tourists and locals, so she tried to maintain as broad an inventory as possible.
“I’m done,” Helen replied, holding up a cheerful gingerbread man. Her gnarled fingers were still so quick she’d already added the face and buttons.
“Almost there,” added Mary Duckworth. “I just need to crochet the hanger for my snowman.”
On cue, the seven remaining Knit Wits displayed their nearly-complete creations as well. This year, the club had voted to donate ornaments for the Christmas tree at the hospital. After the holiday, they would be free to any patient who wanted to take one home.
“It looks like we’re ready for refreshments, then,” Marlee said. “Who wants egg nog?” Hands flew up.
“I’m supposed to watching my cholesterol,” Helen groused.
“I can always fix you a cup of tea.”
“Hold on,” Helen protested. “I didn’t say I didn’t want egg nog, I just said I wasn’t supposed to have it.” Her eighty-two-year-old eyes twinkled. “You won’t tell Dr. Grimes, will you?”
Marlee laughed and crossed her heart. “It will be our secret.”
Forty-five minutes later, the finished ornaments were packed in a box and the Knit Wits were gathering their coats and knitting baskets. “See you all at the party at the hospital tomorrow,” Evelyn called over her shoulder on her way out.
Marlee followed the chattering gaggle and locked the door. As she crossed the uneven old brick street and headed for home, a familiar hollow feeling swelled in her chest. The ache had been building for days despite her best efforts to banish it. She loved A Stitch in Time and the Knit Wits, but she wanted more. Most of her high school friends had traded the quiet of Porter’s Landing for the excitement of the city years ago. A few came home for Christmas, but it wasn’t the same. She missed her family. And although she might not admit it out loud, she missed Ben.
Her parents had moved to
after Matt’s death, too grieved by the never-ending reminders of their loss,
but Marlee couldn’t leave Porter’s Landing. It was home and where she needed to
be. After Grandma Berta died, she had moved from the big, square captain’s
house with its widow’s walk on the roof that had sheltered her family for two
centuries into her grandmother’s tiny shingled cottage covered with climbing
She snuggled deeper into her raspberry mohair muffler and pulled her hat lower as she made her way down the street that ran parallel to the rocky shore. It wasn’t snowing yet, but the wind had picked up, tossing whitecaps on the water. Her cottage was only a couple of blocks away, a cozy refuge from the worsening weather, but for some reason she wasn’t ready to go home yet. Her restless feet carried her toward the lighthouse on the point.
Since the early nineteenth century, Porter’s Landing had been tied to the sea. It had begun as a whaling village then later switched to cod, and a small fleet of fishing boats still left the harbor most mornings in search of the daily catch. Generations of Farrow women had waited, sometimes in vain, for their men to come home from the sea, and Marlee was no different.
Ever since Ben had left, she’d come to the old red and white striped lighthouse whenever the loneliness closed in to stare out to sea and think of him, wondering where he was and how he was doing. The building itself was locked and no longer in use, but the ground level observation deck was still open. When she reached it, she leaned forward, resting her arms against the metal railing. The clouds overhead had morphed into an angry gray mass.
She repeated her plea like a mantra, as if that might increase its chances of reaching the right ears. Please bring Ben home for the holidays.
The summer after graduating from college, he and Matt had come home for a couple of weeks of fun and relaxation before launching into the world of grownup responsibility. Her heart twisted when she remembered them together: tall, strong, tanned, and laughing. They’d taken her father’s small sailboat out past the shelter of the harbor into open water when the skies darkened and a sudden squall blew in. Even though a fishing trawler was within hailing distance, the high winds and waves had swamped the small vessel before help could arrive. The fishermen managed to pull Ben out, but Matt was lost. She would never forget the agonizing hours before The Coast Guard found his body the next day.
Marlee pounded her fist against the railing. How could Ben have left town without speaking to her? Didn’t he understand how much she needed him, how much she needed someone to share the pain? Healing was so hard when you had to do it all by yourself.
She dropped her forehead against her hands and allowed the tears to fall.
“Marlee?” A deep voice interrupted her misery.
She lifted her head a couple of inches. She must be hallucinating.
“Marlee, it’s me.”Slowly, she straightened and turned.