Monday, December 30, 2013

The Ghost of Christmases Past and Present Part One by Betsy Ashton

This was the last place she ever expected to spend Christmas.

For some ever was a long time. For Jennifer Warner and Dan Yates ever began in first grade in a small town in upstate New York. As small towns go, theirs was quite normal with a social elite and the rest. Dan’s family was part of the elite; Jennifer’s was part of the rest. All children went to the same schools regardless of background or wealth. No one in the elite group thought to send a child away to private boarding school unless that child was “not right” or behaved so badly he would have embarrassed his parents.

Dan was well behaved, right in the head and very bright. His singular weak spot was his friendship with Jennifer, the pretty redhead from the other side of Main Street. Because teachers seated pupils in alphabetical order, Jennifer always sat in front of Dan. They played games at recess. Later, in middle and high school, they hung out together with friends at the drive in or at sports events. By high school everyone knew Dan was sweet on Jennifer. Everyone knew they are a couple. Everyone was happy, except for Dan’s mother Mrs. Yates, the doyenne of the elite. She had no idea her son was involved with someone as unacceptable as Jennifer, that girl from the other side of Main Street.

At Christmas in their last year of high school, their relationship solidified into dreams of happily ever after. Jennifer never uttered a word about wanting to spend her life with Dan, but one of the mean girls in the school whispered something in the ear of another mean girl who told a third and so on. The fifth mean girl told her mother who happened to be best friends with Dan’s mother. To score points and break up the relationship between Dan and Jennifer, this mean girl’s mother ratted Dan out. Dan’s mother went ballistic. She forbade Dan to see Jennifer again. Ever.

“She’s not our kind, dear.” Like most doyennes, Dan’s mother had a misplaced sense of social propriety. Jennifer did not fit in her equation. Truth be told, she wanted Dan to marry the fifth mean girl to cement relationships between the two wealthiest and most powerful families in town.

Dan thought his mother was outrageous. He called his mother a witch, although Jennifer thought that was a typo. He threatened to run away if the witch used her power and social standing to stop them. The witch retaliated and secured a temporary restraining order against Jennifer, claiming she was stalking Dan and their family. The judge, a long-time family friend and executor of the family fortune, signed the order based on nothing more than a wink and the promise of a generous donation to his next judiciary campaign. Dan was sent to an Ivy League university. Jennifer stayed in the town and entered a local community college two towns over.

That first Christmas vacation of their freshman year in college found Dan and Jennifer hiding away in his car behind the football stadium. They kissed and made plans to elope on Christmas Eve. Jennifer had dreamed of a traditional wedding: white dress, family pastor, home church, friends and relatives surrounding them and toasting their happiness. Dan’s mother would never approve of them marrying. Two families from different economic classes were too much of a difference for the witch to handle.
Dan and Jennifer ran away on Christmas Eve. By early morning on Christmas Day they crossed the state line and found a justice of the peace to marry them. They hid from his mother. He heard through the rumor mill that his mother had begged her friend the judge to send the sheriff after them, but they were over eighteen. The judge could do nothing. The sheriff could do nothing either except to remind Dan’s mother that when the couple returned he would invoke the restraining order and arrest Jennifer. The witch could hope for nothing more.
The witch vowed to do everything in her power to find the couple. Dan and Jennifer severed all contact with his family. At first Jennifer called her mother often to let her know how happy she was, where they were living and what they were doing. Strange things began to happen after the second call.

Jennifer came home from her job at the grocery store to find piles of trash on the front porch of their rented house. Papers were strewn about and a sack with a sodden bottom rested on the mat. She opened the bag to find piles of fresh dog poop. Disgusted, she cleaned the mess and didn’t tell Dan. It had to be a coincidence.

The fourth time it happened Dan came home first. After a tearful confrontation, Jennifer confessed this was a pattern that had been going on for several months. Furthermore, she was positive she was being followed. She saw a strange car in the neighborhood and in the grocery’s parking lot every day. Could the witch have found them? Could she be behind the pranks and following?

Dan would put nothing past his mother. They moved to a different city, a bigger city where it would be easier to lose themselves. Jennifer dyed her hair; Dan grew a beard and wore fake glasses. They cut themselves off from friends and family because they were afraid of the witch. None of their friends knew where they were. Jennifer left her mother behind. They changed their names. They might as well have been in the witness protection program, because they all but disappeared without a trace.

They weren’t safe. Even though their only crime was love, the witch stalked them. Her vast wealth bought private investigators, some better than others. Whenever she received a report of Dan’s whereabouts, she sent men to threaten Jennifer and bring Dan home. Each time the couple learned they were being followed, they fled again. And again. And again.


Thank you for reading part one of "The Ghost of Christmases Past and Present." Tune in tomorrow for part two. 

I'm the author of Mad Max Unintended Consequences, the first in the Mad Max series available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Margo Hoornstra said...

Another page turner. I hope, I hope they get their HEA.

Diane Burton said...

I agree with Margo. Edge of the seat and we have to wait for the ending. :(

Jannine Gallant said...

Talk about your star crossed lovers... Nice set-up Betsy.

Chuck Lumpkin said...

Betsy, you've got me hooked. Next installment? Tomorrow?

Leah St. James said...

Interesting concept, Betsy! Can't wait to see what happens next.

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

Late to the party--again. Interesting first chapter and am full of hope they get their HEA, in spite of hateful Mom.