Two weeks before Christmas
Pulling this off would take a Christmas miracle...
Persephone had two weeks to restore Christmas joy to Tripp Evans and his daughter, or she was doomed for eternity. A century ago, she’d been skilled at restoring Christmas joy. But being entombed in a cold, marble statue for a hundred years had taken its toll.
Come on, you can do this.
She gripped her handbag strap, inhaled deeply, and rang the bell. The door was opened by a man with dark blond hair and sad emerald eyes. Faded jeans and a charcoal gray sweater hung loosely on his frame, as if he’d recently lost weight. He was handsome, but would have been more so were it not for the haggard grief that ravaged his face. His wife had died in a car accident two years ago, but his grief appeared fresh, so intense it was palpable.
“Hi.” Persephone smiled gaily, though it felt out of place in such proximity with this man’s sadness. “I’m Percy Akers, your new nanny.” She’d given herself a human name that sounded a little less old-world.
His gaze moved over her impersonally, as if he were picking out a Christmas tree. She knew her human body was at least semi-attractive. She’d seen herself in a mirror shortly after her release from the statue. She’d retained much of her Joy Fairy appearance—auburn hair, blue eyes, smooth, pale skin—although she was now a solid form rather than the ethereal being she had been. But Tripp Evans didn’t seem to care what she looked like. His expression was impassive as he stepped back and swept his arm out in invitation. “Come in.”
She followed him through a foyer and into the large living room of a house that was quiet as a graveyard. It was mid-December, yet not a hint of Christmas could be found. While Persephone had hated every moment of her captivity, there were worse places to be entombed. Her statue stood in a park near downtown Windport, and during Christmas, the trees were adorned with beautiful lights, ice skaters glided on the frozen pond to Christmas songs, and the air was filled with the aroma of cinnamon, pine, and popcorn. Unlike her former prison, this house held no scents, no ambiance at all. It was clean, beautifully decorated, but still and desolate, as if no humans resided within its walls. A fire burned in the fireplace, although it did nothing to dispel the deep chill that permeated the space.
He gestured to a sofa. “Have a seat. Would you like something to drink?”
She would, actually. Her mouth was as dry as dead pine needles. But his demeanor gave off impatience, conveying that he was only being polite, and if she accepted his offer, he’d be annoyed. “No, thank you.”
He sat in a chair catty-cornered to the sofa and linked his hands, leaning forward and resting his forearms on his thighs. “As I explained to the agency, I’d like you here weekdays at seven a.m., starting tomorrow. You’ll stay until I get home, which will sometimes be after Brielle’s bedtime. On weekends, I’ll need you a few hours occasionally, but I’ll be flexible and work with your schedule. I have a neighbor who can stay with her for short periods of time. I understand you’re free Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?”
Trepidation slid through her soul. She was free, literally, up until Christmas night. And if she was unable to restore their Christmas cheer, she’d never be free again. “That’s correct.”
“Good.” He stood. “Today, I’d like you to hang around a few hours so Brielle can get to know you. I’ll go get her.”
He disappeared into a hallway and she heard footsteps going up a staircase. In moments, he returned, his seven-year-old daughter at his side. She was a pretty child, but didn’t look much like Tripp. She must have taken after her mother with her petite frame and dark coloring. She wore jeans, purple tennis shoes with light-up soles, and a sweatshirt festooned with cartoon puppies. Her hair hung in crooked braids, and Persephone wondered if she or her father was the culprit.
Tripp rested his hand on Brielle’s shoulder. “This is your new nanny, Percy.”
Brielle studied Persephone with serious, dark eyes.
Persephone stood and smiled. “Hello, Brielle. Nice to meet you. I hope we’ll become good friends.”
“Nice to meet you.” The words were low, and her mouth opened just enough to show a gap where her two front teeth used to be.
“Brielle,” Tripp said, “please take Percy up and show her your room. She’ll be staying until dinner.”
Without speaking, Brielle turned toward the hallway, and Persephone slung her bag over her shoulder and followed the child upstairs. They entered a room decked out in everything Barbie. Barbie comforter, Barbie curtains, Barbie posters, even a small canvas Barbie chair pulled up to a pink, surprisingly non-Barbie desk.
“Your room is awesome. So, tell me, do you like Barbie?” Persephone grinned, but her joke didn’t earn a returning grin. “What kind of games do you like to play? Since you’re out of school for the holiday, we can have all kinds of fun.”
Brielle shrugged. “Any kind. I like to play out in the snow.”
“Fantastic! We’ll build a snowman together. And we’ll stay out until our fingers and toes are about to freeze off, then we’ll come inside and make hot chocolate. We’ll sit by the fire and read. Do you like to read?”
She nodded, her small face impassive.
“Me too. I brought you a few books.” Persephone reached into her bag and pulled out Charlotte’s Web and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
“Thank you.” Without bothering to look at them, Brielle took the books and tossed them behind her onto a dresser.
“You’re welcome.” A stilted silence fell while Brielle stood with her arms crossed and Persephone struggled for something to say. “Hey, how about we go pick out a tree tomorrow? We can decorate it together.”
Brielle’s expression morphed from solemn to angry. “I don’t want a tree. No tree.”
“Okay, no problem. I just thought it would make things a little more festive.” Persephone’s task was to bring Christmas joy to the child. She didn’t want to push, but she had to try. “Don’t you want Santa to have a place to put presents?”
Brielle clenched her tiny fists and stomped her foot. “I don’t want a tree, don’t want presents!”
Persephone flinched at her vehemence. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you. Okay, no tree. No gifts. How about if we play a game or color or something?”
Brielle hesitated just a moment, then went to a pink armoire and opened it, retrieving coloring books and crayons. Persephone sat on the bed next to her, stealing glances at Brielle as they colored their respective pages. The little girl was intent, focused, but didn’t exhibit an ounce of enjoyment. And when Persephone left a few hours later, her mood had remained the same. No happiness, no interest in Christmas, or anything whatsoever.
This job was going to be harder than she’d anticipated. She gritted her teeth in anger. Joy Fairies weren’t supposed to hate, but she couldn’t help it. She loathed the Sorrow Fairy who’d cast Persephone’s soul into the statue. Persephone wasn’t sure why the evil fairy was interested in bringing joy to the Evans, but she didn’t care. She was just grateful for the opportunity—one she never thought she’d get. And she was not going to fail.
One week later
Tripp slid grilled cheese sandwiches onto a plate. “Brielle,” he leaned out the kitchen door and shouted, “lunch is ready.”
His mother sat at the table drinking coffee, frowning at the sandwiches. “I wish you’d let me cook you a proper meal.”
“I like doing for Brielle, and our new nanny has been feeding us well. Brielle will survive without a five-course feast at every meal.”
His mother harrumphed, but a small smile appeared before she covered it by taking a sip of coffee. He knew she loved to mother-hen him, and it amused her when he challenged her attempts to do so.
Brielle’s footsteps pounded down the stairs moments before she entered the kitchen. “Smells like grilled cheese.”
“You got it, punkin. And power sticks and a fruit cup.” His wife, Shana, had the clever idea of calling carrots, celery, and broccoli ‘power sticks’ instead of vegetables to make them more enticing. She had a knack for creating miracles out of the simplest things. God, he missed her so much.
“Hey,” his mother said to Brielle, “Where’s Grandmama’s hug?”
Brielle launched into her arms, and they hugged tightly before Brielle took a seat at the table. She bit into her sandwich and chewed, waiting until she swallowed to say, “Is Percy coming today?”
The light shining in Brielle’s eyes thrilled him. In a short time, Percy had worked her way into his daughter’s heart, and his own. They barely knew her, but her vitality and kindness had brought light into their dim world. He liked her smile and her gentle voice when she spoke to Brielle. And, it wasn’t just for Brielle’s sake that he was pleased she was here. For the first time since he lost his wife, he was attracted to another woman, which made him feel both guilty and elated.
“She’ll be here soon. I’m going to the restaurant for a little while and Grandmama has shopping to do, so Percy will stay with you.” He hated working on a Saturday. But owning your own business sometimes meant you had to be there, even when you didn’t want to be.
Brielle was just finishing her lunch when the doorbell rang. “That’s Percy! I’ll get it!” She scrambled from the table without waiting for permission and ran to the door.
His mother chuckled. “This Percy must be pretty special.”
Tripp didn’t want his busybody mother knowing just how special she was becoming to them, so he shrugged casually. “She’s good with Brielle.”
Moments later, Percy and Brielle appeared in the kitchen doorway. Percy wore a soft pink sweater and curve-hugging faded blue jeans. Her cheeks were flushed from the cold, and her blue eyes shimmered like sapphires. Tripp’s heart lifted, taking him by surprise. How could he be developing feelings for this woman, when he wasn’t finished grieving his wife?
He smiled at Percy, and her returning smile settled in his chest like a warm slug of brandy. “Percy, I’d like you to meet my mother, Minerva.”
His mother stood and extended her hand. “So lovely to meet you, dear. I’m delighted that you’re looking after my granddaughter.”
The beginnings of a smile lifted the corners of Percy’s mouth, but faded abruptly. The color drained from her lovely face. For a moment, he thought she was going to faint, and he rushed to her side. “Percy, are you okay?”
She turned panic-stricken eyes to him. He had no idea what was wrong, but he would have moved mountains and slayed monsters to erase the fear from her face.
I hope you enjoyed Part 1 of my story. Tune in tomorrow for Part 2.