If you haven’t read The Perfect Christmas, be forewarned that this is a spoiler. It is the epilogue to the short story I wrote for Unwrapping Love, a holiday anthology that you can purchase here.
If you have read The Perfect Christmas, then this is a treat! I wrote this epilogue fully intending to include it as part of the story, but my editor recommended I cut it out. She said the story wrapped up nicely without it, and we were limited in our word count, and not surprisingly, I was over my allotment. “Save it and use it as a blog post, after the anthology has been out for a while.”
She had an excellent idea. The anthology came out on December first, and I figured offering up this deleted scene was appropriate for Christmas day. So without further ado, I bring you the epilogue from The Perfect Christmas:
Ten Years Later….
Anna stood in front of the French doors, looking out over the darkened landscape, dotted with multi-colored tiny Christmas lights. Jesse stepped up behind her, smoothed his hand up her back and then cupped her neck, massaging gently.
“You okay?” he asked, his voice laced with concern.
She twisted her head to look over her shoulder and smiled. “It’s perfect. Everything is perfect.”
“Good.” He motioned with his empty beer bottle. “I’m going to go get everyone another round. You want one?”
She pulled the bottle out of his hand. “I’ll do it.”
“I’ll help you.”
Anna and Jesse exchanged a surprised look, but neither said anything out loud when Jessica walked over and interrupted their conversation. Jesse dropped his hand and Anna led her sister into the kitchen.
“So Mom says she’s using one of your ideas to redesign their kitchen.”
Anna shrugged. “Jesse’s going to do the work. I just gave him the idea.”
“Just,” Jessica muttered under her breath. Then she added, “What can I do?” She stood in the middle of the room, looking slightly lost and as gorgeous as ever.
“Um, how about you get a bottle of wine from the rack? The opener is in that drawer over there.”
Anna snagged three bottles of beer from the fridge. When she turned around, Jessica stood, facing the counter, her palms planted on the smooth surface, her shoulders shaking slightly. Anna placed the beers on the counter and walked over to press her hand against Jessica’s back.
“Hey. What’s wrong?”
Jessica shook her head and tore a paper towel from the roll perched near her elbow. She dabbed at her eyes and cleared her throat. “I didn’t think I would cry.”
Fear sliced through Anna’s body, shooting from her extremities straight to her heart, where it wrapped its slimy, dark tentacles around and squeezed. She tried unsuccessfully to suck in air.
“Are you … are you changing your mind?”
It had been ten years. Cora knew her as cool Aunt Jess. She breezed through town less than half a dozen times a year, and life was always a party when she was around. While they no longer argued and fought like hateful sisters, Anna was always relieved when she left again – without her daughter.
Jessica turned around and leaned against the counter. Her face wasn’t even splotchy. If Anna had been crying, her face would look like she was having an allergic reaction.
“No. Mom and I said we would take both your girls for a spa day for Christmas, and we meant it. And if you’re worried we’re going to corrupt them, don’t be. You have had far too much influence by now. For God’s sake, Cora wants to become a partner in yours and Jesse’s business someday. What twelve year old wants to be a carpenter?”
The slimy tentacles retracted and Anna blew out a relieved breath. “Of course,” she said, her voice shaking only a little.
She waited while Jessica dug around in the junk drawer, searching for the wine opener.
“She isn’t mine,” Jessica said into the silence. “I mean, she is, but, you know…”
“I know,” Anna reassured her. “And I can never thank you enough for that gift. Both of them.”
“Cora and Gina?”
“Cora and Jesse. And Gina.”
“You two did make a pretty cute kid. Funny that she looks just like me.”
Anna did not rise to that bait. Secretly, she was pleased that both of her daughters had inherited Jessica and her mother’s beauty. She’d confessed as much to Jesse last night, and in an effort to demonstrate just how beautiful she was, he’d seduced her on the rug in front of the Christmas tree. She hadn’t minded the reassurance. Not in the least.
“We should probably get back with the drinks. Mom’s wine glass was empty when we came in here. I’m surprised she hasn’t come charging in, demanding her refill.”
“Danny and I split.”
So that was the cause of the tears. Jessica wasn’t feeling sentimental over seeing her biological daughter during the holidays. She was upset over the loss of her relationship with her rock star boyfriend.
“He’s big time now, you know. Hot young bimbos are throwing themselves at him at every turn. It was only a matter of time. I guess even I have begun to age.” She sighed deeply.
“You’re just as beautiful as you’ve always been, Jessica.” Anna fed her sister the obligatory compliment, but the thing was… it was true.
Jessica waved away her words and filled the wine glass she’d brought with her into the kitchen. “It’s okay. I met this twenty-two year old at the bar the night before last. I’m actually going to meet him again in about an hour.”
Anna probably should have been shocked. She’d learned ten years ago not to be shocked by her sister. Jessica was, and always would be… Jessica.
“Listen, before you go …” Anna reached out, touched her sleeve, then pulled back, unsure of what to say, where to start. How did you thank someone, when they didn’t even really believe they’d given you a gift in the first place?
“Yes. I will.”
“Jesse told me about your plans for your tenth anniversary. I said I’d come back into town to watch the girls.”
“You … you will?” Never in a million years would Anna have dreamed to ask her sister to watch her two children while she and Jesse slipped away for a tenth anniversary trip.
“What? Would you rather leave them with our parents?”
Anna laughed, then slapped a hand over her mouth. Jessica tossed her a wry grin and sipped from her wine glass.
“Jesse’s parents will watch them. Or his sister.”
Jessica shook her head. “No. I want to. It’ll be good for me. For them.”
Those slimy, scary tentacles started to advance again. “You won’t …”
“Suddenly develop maternal feelings? Not a chance. I’m digging this Aunt Jess status. It’s pretty cool, actually. And it’s only in short spurts, which is even better. So stop worrying. It’s been ten years, Anna. How much longer will it be before you are convinced that Cora and Jesse are yours, and they always will be?”
Anna impulsively grabbed her sister and pulled her into a breathtaking hug. Jessica endured it for approximately ten seconds, and then she pushed her sister away. “Go. Get in there and deliver beers to the guys. And then go hug on that husband of yours. You know he likes it more than I do.”
“Yeah. He does.”