Excerpt 1 (beginning of the story)
Mackenzie yanked open the car door, barely noticing the cold metal on her hands. This place. Why did she still feel like an outsider? It didn’t help to have local business owners griping about her. Well, to be fair, it was only a few, but they were loud.
Of course things felt unfamiliar when you start over, especially moving to Canada as she had, but she thought it would get better. Getting a job, a house and her dear boyfriend Declan hadn’t given her a place in the wider community. People still made comments and she couldn’t feel her roots. Sometimes it even felt like her life wasn’t real. Right this minute, though, she felt entirely real and entirely stressed. Difficult meetings did that to her. She sat in her cold car, gripping the wheel as she stared into space. Was this new project even possible?
What a stupid idea.
Okay, it was her idea. That didn’t mean it wasn’t stupid. She’d dreamed it up, a holiday festival to highlight the little village she loved. She imagined visitors marveling at the architecture, the charming shops, and the excellent restaurants, all wrapped in Christmas cheer. Magda Allen, chair of the Village Marketing Group, had run with the vision. Despite the naysayers, the group voted it in. Now it was up to Mackenzie to make it happen. In three weeks. Yes, a stupid idea.
A shiny Volvo swept up and Magda grandly gestured for her to put her car window down.
“Good job getting folks on board!” her sort-of boss said cheerily.
Mackenzie wrinkled her forehead. “Who? You heard the complaints. Those people don’t like outsiders. Estelle and Josiah especially.”
“Well, maybe,” Magda admitted, “but most people really liked it. The hotel people, the chocolate guy. The restaurant folks.”
“I guess.” Mackenzie tended to remember the negative bits.
“Some people don’t like change. Don’t worry about it,” Magda advised.
“When they complain about people from away it’s hard not to take it personally,” she said darkly.
“Estelle doesn’t like anybody,” Magda confirmed, “so it’s not about you. Besides, they voted, and you got a green light.”
“We did, not me. I’m an online marketer,“ she reminded her. “I don’t do in-person, talk-to-people-I-don’t-know stuff.”
“You’ll do fine,” Magda enthused. “It’s going to be fun and bring in business. The Sea Stars Festival will be the best festival ever in Stella Mare.”
“Because it’s the first,” Mackenzie objected.
“And that’s good enough,” Magda said. “Keep connected. Let me know what I can do.” Arm waving merrily out the window, she drove off.
Mackenzie could hardly fathom such confidence. If she did, then she could imagine Water Street full of lights and greenery, a parade with floats, bands, even Santa, and happy families watching. Maybe it wasn’t such a reach.
It was even possible organizing this festival could help her get connected to this community. Hope bloomed in her chest, but then she recalled the grim faces of the naysayer and her heart sank again. She wasn’t Magda, endlessly optimistic.
Remembering Josiah’s glare didn’t help, so she tried to shake it off while heading home. She wished she could unload her worries on Declan, but he was always busy. Teaching, writing, and, now, producing his play at the high school consumed his time. Besides, he was at work. She’d have to wait her turn for his attention.
Excerpt 2 (Before the parade, catching a quick nap in the car)
Her phone woke her and the dog. “Hi, Magda.” She tried to sound alert.
“Hi. We’ve got a problem.”
She closed her eyes, then opened them. “Okay. Tell me.”
“There’s no Santa costume.”
“They said it would be there by one p.m.”
“Yeah, well, it’s here. It’s just that it got peed on at the morning event and there’s no time to clean it.”
“What? They must be used to that,” Mackenzie said, heart in her throat. “Can’t they clean it? We have to have a Santa costume.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve seen it and smelled it. It can’t be used, probably ever again. The costume store tried every place they knew of to get an alternate, but we are just out of luck.”
Mackenzie slumped over the steering wheel, holding her head. “Oh, no. This is the worst. We can’t have a Santa without the suit.” No Santa, unhappy children, unhappy parents, no fun at all. It would ruin the festival, at least for the kids. Murphy whined from the backseat.
“I’m so sorry,” Magda said. “I hate bringing bad news.”
“It’s not your fault, obviously.” She sat up and gazed past the old fish houses at the grey water, fishing boats floating on their moorings. The nearest boat sported a Christmas wreath. “I might have an idea. What does a Maritime Santa wear? Could there be a Santa who doesn’t wear a fuzzy red suit?”
“What are you thinking?”
“What does the Santa of the Sea wear?” She put Magda on speaker and started scrolling her phone.
“Santa of the Sea? You’re ahead of me, Mackenzie.”
“Maybe the Sea Stars Santa wears hauling gear, like those yellow rain slickers and pants I’ve seen the fishermen wear. Storm gear.”
“You mean like the Gortons’ of Gloucester guy. Yellow top and bottom. And boots.”
“Yes, him! I’ve got a picture right here. The big boots could hold the presents.”
“We might be desperate, but I don’t think that’s going to work,” Magda said. “What about the reindeer?”
“Leaping dolphins? I don’t know. We don’t have any reindeer anyway,” Mackenzie. “We’re in a spot here. If we’re going to make this work, we have to believe in it totally. Otherwise nobody else will.”
Magda gave a short laugh. “We could just skip Santa this year.”
“We have to have Santa. Some version of Santa. We can’t disappoint the kids.” Her stomach contracted.
“Kids will still have Christmas, you know. We’re not their parents.”
Some kids might not have any Christmas except for this parade, she thought. “Magda, we can do this,” Mackenzie said. “Weave a story. Santa’s cousin is taking over for him today because he’s busy at the North Pole. Cousin, uh, cousin …”
“Freddy the Fisherman? Sammy the Sailor?” Magda offered hesitantly.
“Sammy the Sailor! We can do it.” Mackenzie said. “I’ll tweet it. Do you know anybody with yellow rain gear that might fit Billy Seymour?”
An emergency text to the members of the Village Marketing Group identified the problem. While she was waiting for a response, she drafted special announcements for social media. “Santa’s cousin Sammy the Sailor will be at the Sea Stars Festival in Stella Mare today only!”
It was lame but it was better than nothing. Maybe.
Excerpt 3 (At the parade lineup)
It was a good thing Santa was last in line. That gave her a little more time to pitch the story of Santa’s cousin Sammy the Sailor. She hoped the kids would buy it. She was halfway down the line of floats when she heard Kevin calling her. Turning, she saw him at the head of the line with two older men. Her Santa – now Sammy – had arrived.
“I tole you she was a cute lil’ one,” Billy slurred. The other man was Russ Johnson who’d originally told her where to find Billy. Billy was leaning heavily on Russ.
“Hi, Billy. Hi, Russ.” She didn’t say more. Russ planted his feet more firmly and looked sideways at Mackenzie.
“So. Seems like we might have a little situation here,” Russ said quietly. “Sorry about this, Mackenzie.”
Silence reigned as Mackenzie, Russ, and Kevin looked at Billy. Wobbly despite Russ’s firm grip, their would-be Santa gazed at the festive scene. “Looks like Chris’mas here.” He stepped away from Russ to fish a silver flask from his back pocket. “Merry Chris’mas. We jus’ need a little snow.” He gazed into the distance.
“Oh, Russ.” Mackenzie groaned. “Oh, no.”
“I know,” Russ said. “He wanted to come down here. I figured it was better for me to bring him than him try to drive.”
Mackenzie sighed as she approached Billy. “Hey, Billy. How are you?”
“What?” Billy squinted as he turned to her voice. “Hey, lil’ girl. Yeah, I’m good, I’m good.” He took another swig from the flask. “Almos’ Chris’mas, ain’t it?”
“Yes, it is,” she agreed. “A few more days. How do you feel, Billy?”
“Me? M’okay,” he said, gazing away from her. “Maybe a little tired.”
She turned a questioning gaze on Russ.
“I think he should go home,” Russ said. “He’s not at his best.”
“Yeah. I can see that.” Her heart had dropped at Billy’s first word. His bleary eyes confirmed the worst, but she was unwilling to concede defeat. “He’s only got to sit in the wagon. He doesn’t have to do anything. Or say anything.”
“You don’t want a sloshed Santa.” Kevin shook his head.
At that moment, Billy lurched toward Kevin, slung his arm around the other man’s shoulders and leaned into him. “Hey, Kev, how’s that woman of yours? She’s some fine, ain’t she?”
Kevin leaned under the man’s weight, and Russ stepped in to help keep Billy upright. Mackenzie could imagine the headline in tomorrow’s news: Sloshed Santa Makes Waves at Sea Star Festival. She sighed from the bottom of her feet.
Excerpt 4 (at the parade)
“Santa’s coming, right, Daddy?” The tall girl said. “We’re going to see Santa.”
“Santa!” the toddler in his arms shouted. “Santa.”
Mackenzie’s stomach plummeted again. All the tweets in the world wouldn’t prepare every child for this ultimate disappointment.
The crowd cheered as the police cruiser eased past Market Square toward the hill leading to the high school. Cheers rang out for each of the floats. The firetruck got gasps of awe from the kids. When firefighters in uniform walking alongside handed out candy canes, enthusiasm grew.
Mackenzie was counting floats. The wagon was last, and its arrival meant time for the speech, the draw for the giveaway basket and, worst, facing the disappointment about a missing Santa.
Oh, her edits! The speech needed to include Josiah and the food drive. Should Magda apologize for Santa’s absence? She scribbled on her tablet in the dim light under the streetlamp.
The wave of sound intensified as the parade neared the end. The pipe and drum band marched by in kilts, shivering but loud. The high school climate change float was next, the last float before the Frankel’s wagon. Cheers and shouts accompanied the teens and their massive papier-mâché Earth. Loud recorded music played from their float. She heard them go by as she was finishing her changes.
She looked up to see the draft horses tossing their manes, bells jangling from the harness. Old Mr. Frankel drove the wagon, looking like something out of the seventeenth century. The kids near her were squealing. “Santa! Santa!”
Heaving a sigh, she glanced over to see their disappointed faces, but all three kids were glowing. She followed their gaze upward to the back of the hay wagon, past the lighted fir tree, past Young Mrs. Frankel and her daughter tossing candy canes to see somebody else. Another person sat in the wagon, a big person with a red suit and a long white beard. Waving his gloved hands at the crowd.
She gasped. There was Santa, firmly in place on a bale of straw. How could it be? Shaking her head and smiling as if her face would crack, her tears were close. Maybe Christmas miracles did happen. Just never to her. Until now.