Welcome to Chapter Thirteen of my Christmas novella!
I’ll be sharing the whole novella – one chapter a day – for the first couple of weeks of December (my Christmas gift to you, my wonderful readers!), so make sure you come back each day to read the next instalment of Emily and Matt’s story.
If you’ve just found this, I’d recommend starting back at the beginning of the story (here).
Sunday, December 8
Emily choked on air as Jai’s innocent comment registered. Some questions in life, there were no right answers to. And little kids seemed to ask ninety-nine percent of them. Emily looked from Jai to his dad, waiting for Jason to admonish him, or at the very least set his son straight or laugh off the question as a “kids say the silliest things” statement.
He didn’t. Just stood there.
The two of them weren’t actually serious, were they? Jai was a sweet kid, and easily one of Emily’s favorite students, but that didn’t mean she wanted to marry his dad. If this was Jason’s idea of a marriage proposal, it left a lot to be desired. Also, where exactly did Kelly fit into this equation? Jai hadn’t mentioned his parents being divorced, but surely her brothers wouldn’t set her up with a married man. Either way, Jason was definitely out.
Neil reacted far quicker than her, and he wasn’t happy.
“Excuse me, sir, but if you don’t mind, Miss Mitchell and I were enjoying a lovely dinner together before you so rudely interrupted.”
Jason looked first at Emily’s barely touched plate then Neil’s empty one and scoffed. “Someone was enjoying a lovely dinner, but it wasn’t your ‘Miss Mitchell.’”
“I beg your pardon.”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure you’re a great conversationalist but I could see even from the other side of the room that Emily would rather be anywhere but here. She’s barely touched her food, and she couldn’t have looked more bored if she’d tried. You might be enjoying yourself but she’s not.”
Why was it only in cartoons that the ground literally opened up and swallowed people? Emily could have done with a bit of assistance escaping right about now. She hadn’t realized she was being quite so obvious.
“I beg your pardon,” Neil said.
“You can beg all you like, mate,” Jason said. “But it still won’t change her mind. You’ve had your go at impressing her. You failed. Now it’s my turn.” Uh oh. “Emily, you can forget the marrying part because clearly that came too soon but do you want to go somewhere? I promised Jai ice cream. Come with us. We’d be honored to buy you an ice cream and go with you for a walk along the riverbank.”
“Yes. Yes. Please, Miss Mitchell. You could do that,” Jai instantly agreed. “And then you could fall in love with my dad and marry him and then I’d never have to miss you when I go to Grade One because you’ll be living in my house. Well, not my main house. My other one. The one with Daddy. That’s how it works, isn’t it?” He looked up at his father to confirm. Emily was glad he hadn’t looked at her. Almost as glad as she was that she hadn’t eaten anything substantial, since it would have been making a reappearance right about now if she had.
She was not marrying Jason. Even if he’d been correct about her being completely over this date. It would be rude to go on a date with one man and leave with another. She didn’t need to be a dating expert to know that.
Next question, did she reply to Jason or Jai? The two men staring each other down seemed a little intimidating right now. She’d go with the child.
“It was kind of you to invite me, Jai, but I can’t come.”
“Is it because you haven’t finished your dinner yet? Mom always says I’m not allowed ice cream until I’ve finished all my dinner, even if it’s yucky.”
Emily smiled. And here she’d been trying to figure out how to explain to Jai that she wasn’t interested in dating his dad without offending him when clearly Jason was his hero. “That’s right. I’d better finish my dinner. Enjoy your ice cream. You’ll have to tell me what flavor you pick.”
“I always pick the green one with chocolate in it.”
“Yeah. That’s it. It’s my favorite.”
She was pretty partial to choc mint too. “Well, have fun. It was nice to see you, Jai. You too, Jason.”
Clearly eager for his ice cream, Jai grabbed his father’s hand and dragged him away. Emily turned her attention back to the meal in front of her. It hadn’t been all that appealing steaming hot. She doubted the fact that it was now lukewarm would have improved it any. The cheese was starting to congeal and— Was that oil leaking out along the bottom? Her stomach squeezed painfully. She wouldn’t be getting her dessert tonight because there was no way she was finishing this dinner. She couldn’t even face the thought of another bite.
“You might have told me you weren’t interested when I asked you on a date.”
Neil sat back against his chair and crossed his arms. “Your brother told me you were interested in starting a relationship, but he was clearly disillusioned because it’s obvious you’re not. It’s Matt, isn’t it.”
“Sorry?” Had she said something? He’d been on her mind all night, but she was pretty sure she hadn’t said anything about him. She hoped.
“I’m not blind. I’ve seen the way you two act around each other. You smile the instant he looks your way, and he does the same. I’m surprised you even agreed to go out with me tonight.”
“Matt and I aren’t—”
Neil threw his napkin on the table before standing. “Oh, save it. I’m done. You spent more time tonight talking to two five-year-olds than you did me. A man can only take so much. Come on, let’s go.”
“What, now?” Was the date over already? And was she supposed to feel such relief at that realization?
“Unless you wanted to call someone else to drive you home? Jason, perhaps? I’m sure he’s still around. Or Matt? No doubt he’d come. Tag, even, if that’s really that fool’s name. You seem to be surrounded by men who jump at your command.”
He slashed at the air with his hand, cutting off her defense. “Look, Emily. I foolishly hoped tonight might be the start of something for us but clearly I was wrong. Now, do you want a lift home or not?”
Well, at least he hadn’t stormed out and left her to find her own way home. Disgruntled as she’d made him, Neil was a true gentleman to the end. He’d make some woman a wonderful husband one day.
But that woman was most definitely not her.
Matt might have been sitting in front of his TV, watching a movie, but if he hadn’t seen it twice already, he wouldn’t have been able to tell anyone what it was about. His mind was a long way from the action happening on the screen in front of him. He hadn’t been able to focus at church either, coming home as soon as it finished rather than staying to chat.
Had Neil kissed Emily?
He told himself over and over that it was none of his business, but it didn’t change the fact that he very much wanted it to be. He’d grudgingly concluded that he hadn’t purchased a guitar because he wanted a guitar. He’d purchased it because he wanted Emily—and the kiss had only proven just how deep that yearning went.
He wanted to be the one who loved her and took her out on dates. He wanted to be the one who drove her to school each morning and picked her up in the afternoons, even when she could drive herself. He wanted his—no, their—house to smell like gingerbread every Christmas, and to hear her harmonize to songs on the radio, something he wasn’t even sure she realized she did.
And he definitely wanted to be the only one who kissed her.
Nine-thirty. Their dinner should be over by now. Unless, of course, it had gone awfully well, and they’d decided to go see a movie or something. Maybe go for a drive. Have coffee. Dessert.
But no. Emily didn’t like Neil. She’d just agreed to a date with him because he’d invited himself and she hadn’t known how to say no. She didn’t like like him.
Or did she? After all, they’d shared dinner together tonight. Emily was sweet and funny, and Neil would have been a fool not to see that. He’d be doing whatever it took to make her like him back.
Matt forced himself not to look at his car keys sitting on the counter. He had no right whatsoever to drive to Emily’s house and check whether Neil’s car was still out front beside Emily’s. He might have been watching over her like a brother, but he wasn’t her brother. Definitely not. Brothers didn’t feel this way about Emily.
Matt was halfway to the door, car keys in hand despite the lack of wisdom in such a move, when his phone started blasting out the “Playschool” theme song he had reserved for a certain teacher who kissed like a dream. A kindy teacher who was supposed to be on a date with another man.
“Emily? Are you okay?”
Because he selfishly wanted her to say no so he could come and save her. “Just checking. How was your date?”
“Terrible. Neil’s a vegetarian, something he forgot to mention, so he couldn’t eat the lasagna we made. We went to a new restaurant he liked instead, which turned out to be just as much of a disaster. He ordered for me some weird vegetarian lasagna which I barely swallowed half a mouthful of, Jason interrupted our meal to propose—yes, marriage—and then Neil got so upset with me talking to everyone but him that he drove me home. Forget trying to kiss me. He didn’t even want to finish our date. Although, come to think of it, that’s probably a good thing since our date seemed doomed from start to end.”
Oops. Shouldn’t have said that. “I said, that’s no good.”
“No, you didn’t. You said ‘good.’ You’re happy it was lousy. Why?”
He might as well admit it. “I kind of liked kissing you.”
“Well, it’s true.”
There was silence on the other end of the line for a few seconds before Emily spoke again. “Me too.”
“You liked kissing me?”
“Yeah. A lot.”
He rubbed a hand across his face in an attempt to wipe off the smile that took residence there at her words. He needn’t have bothered. It was there to stay. Only—
“Luke’s going to kill me.”
“Nothing.” Five days. Five days until Luke was home. Five days to figure out what to do about the fact that Matt had fallen for his best friend’s little sister.
I think I’m in love with Matt McLaughlin.
Emily stared at the words on the page. She’d pulled out her journal, planning to write about her kids, the disastrous date, and the fact that the letter she’d been waiting for still hadn’t arrived, and that was what she had written. At least, it was her writing. She still couldn’t quite believe she’d written it. And she still couldn’t work out if it was true.
Was she? Truly? Did she, Emily Mitchell, love Matt McLaughlin? Could it really happen that fast?
Not that it mattered anyway, if she did or didn’t. She wouldn’t even be around next year if he was interested in starting a relationship. Which she had no idea about anyway. Just because she liked Matt didn’t mean he was interested.
Although, there had been that kiss . . .
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this chapter of Deck the Halls (and bring a hammer). Read on for Chapter Fourteen!