Deck the Halls (and bring a hammer) // Chapter Fifteen

Welcome to Chapter Fifteen 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)

Happy reading!

*****

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Saturday, December 14

Matt had never seen a nativity play run so smoothly. He’d also never been quite so entertained by one. The stable looked spectacularly average, which was exactly how it was supposed to look. It was a nice feeling to know he’d been one of the men who helped build it.

He couldn’t decide whether his highlight was the little ball of boy wrapped in a brown blanket who kept poking his head up to ensure the audience knew that, “I’m a wombat,” before going back to sleep and snoring loudly, or the three miniature knights who stood at attention so close to the doll playing Jesus that even Mary was pushed aside.

“We’re here to pledge our loyalty and fealty to King Jesus, the rightful King,” one of them promised. How did they even know what fealty was?

Then there was the flamingo. Hollie, wasn’t it? She hadn’t lied about being good at standing on one leg. Dressed in bright pink from head to toe—even having gone so far as to paint her face—she’d stood on that one leg for the entire show. Somehow.

Matt couldn’t have been prouder of the kids, nor their teacher. It was as if they knew this performance was special to Emily and pulled out their best for her. He knew the feeling. He wanted to care for her and pledge his loyalty to her like those knights did for Jesus. And his love.

He also really wanted to kiss her again.

***

Emily sat on the wooden stool and stared out the stable window at the stars. With her back to the car park and everyone else still up at the church hall eating supper, it was easy to let her thoughts wander to the real Mary of the Christmas story and what her life had been like. More, whether the girl’s emotions had been as scattered between hope and dread as Emily’s currently were.

The letter was in Emily’s pocket. Unopened. It had been there since she’d folded and slid it in there this morning. She kept telling herself that knowing, whatever the outcome was, was better than this wondering, but she’d yet to find the courage to open it.

Instead, she stared at the stars.

Her original plan for the stable hadn’t had a window to look out as she’d wanted to keep it as simple as possible to create. Matt had been the one to change that, insisting that it needed one, and that the extra work would be worth it in the end. He’d been right, of course. She’d have to remember to thank him for that. And what felt like a million other things.

She hadn’t wanted a man in her life either, wanting to keep life—and leaving—as simple as possible too. And then Matt had come along and just by being there convinced her that a relationship was worth the challenges. 

Had Mary ever wondered if the ache in her heart was worth it?

The Bible painted her with such grace and acceptance but surely she had moments of utter terror, wondering what on earth she’d agreed to. Had she been as scared to tell her parents about her future as Emily currently was? Did they throw her out when they heard? Disown her? Or was her faith in God a testament to theirs?

She was so revered, but surely there were days after Gabriel’s visit when Mary wondered what on earth—and heaven—she’d agreed to. Was her visit to Elizabeth as much an escape as anything else? A desperate hope for someone to tell her she wasn’t crazy and that it all really was going to be okay?

“I thought I might find you here.”

Emily jumped at the voice behind her—part in surprise and part guilt.

“Hi, Matt. I know, I should be packing up but—”

“All done.”

“What?” Emily looked across at the hall, shocked to see it dark where less than half an hour ago, it had been filled with people. “Who—?”

“Your brothers did most of the work, but everyone pitched in.”

“Everyone except me.”

Matt lowered himself onto a wooden crate, stretching his long legs out in front of him. “You directed a nativity play with twenty five- and six-year-old kids, organized supper for those twenty kids and their families, and even went so far as to have a life-sized stable built. I think you can be excused from doing the washing up just this once.”

True. “Still, I should have been there. I’ll go up now and thank them.”

“You’ll have to do it another time. They’ve all gone home. You and I are it.”

What? All of them? “But I didn’t thank—”

“Hey.” Matt silenced her with a gentle touch to her knee. “Another time.”

Emily nodded, knowing he was right. There was nothing she could say that either hadn’t been said or couldn’t wait for another time. It was late. The kids had worked hard and should definitely be in bed. As should she. Only she knew she wouldn’t sleep.

The Christmas play was done, school was finished, Christmas itself would be over before she knew it and suddenly she’d be . . . where? The unknown felt overwhelming. As did the irritating voice in her head reminding her that the future wouldn’t be unknown if she’d just open the letter.

Stupid voice. Stupid emotions.

She wouldn’t cry. Not here. Not in front of Matt. It was only exhaustion anyway. She’d put so much into the play tonight and now it was over. She could have predicted the tears. Definitely time to go home.

Only, the stars were beautiful, and the tiniest bit of breeze lifting her hair refreshing, and going meant facing the future when all she wanted to do was hang on to this moment.

All is calm, all is bright.

It was easy to believe, sitting here. Matt sitting beside her, as if he had nowhere else he’d rather be.

A tear fell. First one, then another. Silent tears. Tired tears. Holding on to a world which wouldn’t stay still tears. If only she could reach for her dream while still clinging to this moment. But nothing in life was ever that easy.

***

Night settled in around them as Matt sat beside Emily in the little wooden stable. Though they’d turned off the spotlights that had lit up the play, the car park lights were still bright enough to cast the structure in shadow. Knowing how much the stable meant to her, it had been the first place he’d thought to look when he and Luke had discovered Emily missing. Luke had been with Matt when they’d decided to head in this direction but, not surprisingly, had come up with an excuse to leave as soon as they’d spotted Emily sitting there. For someone so against forcing a relationship on his sister, Luke sure seemed to encourage it. Not that Matt was complaining.

“Your kids were amazing tonight,” he told Emily quietly. “You were amazing.”

“Thanks.”

“You know, I thought you were crazy when Luke told me you wanted a full-sized stable built, but it looked great. I can see now why you wanted it.”

He looked over at Emily then and was shocked to see tears winding their way down her cheeks. She was crying? What was he supposed to do now? Maybe he shouldn’t have sent her parents home. Her mom would have known what to do. He was still trying to figure out what to say or do when she spoke.

“It wasn’t just to look good. It was because—” She sighed as she swiped the tears off her face. No more seemed to follow so Matt took that as a good thing. “It’s my last one. I’m leaving Brisbane next year. I’ve been writing and producing our church’s nativity plays for eight years now but this is it. I guess I wanted it to be memorable.”

“It was incredible,” Matt was quick to reassure her, although it was the other part of her comment which made words difficult. “You’re really leaving?” he finally got out. She’d said as much last week, but that was before they’d kissed, and he’d realized how much he cared for her. Somehow, he’d hoped—

“Yeah.”

Oh. Right. “Where are you going?”

She let out a scoff of a laugh. “The other end of Australia. Maybe.” She shrugged. “I applied for a job. My dream job, flippant as that sounds. A letter arrived from the organization yesterday.”

“You got the job? That’s awesome.”

“I wouldn’t know. I haven’t opened it yet.” She pulled a folded white envelope out of her pocket, holding it against her knees as she stared down at it. “It’s probably a no anyway. I’m too young and I don’t have the right training, but—” She sighed again. “Have you ever just felt like something was right, even though it made no sense?”

Kissing her had. Falling for her. Wanting her.

“I’m assuming you haven’t told your brothers yet.” They never would have tried to set her up if they’d known she was leaving so soon.

Emily shook her head slowly, her gaze never leaving the envelope. “They wouldn’t understand. Much as I love them, to them, I’m the baby. I always will be. I could be sixty years old with a slew of grandkids and they’d still be thinking I was a child who needed to be coddled. The fact that they thought they needed to arrange my marriage just proves it. If I were to tell them I’d quit my job to chase a dream, it’d just confirm to them that I can’t be trusted to run my own life.”

Matt leaned back against the wall, hoping Neil hadn’t been the one to hammer in those particular planks.

“Want me to open it for you?”

With a fist against her mouth, possibly all that was holding back more tears, the way she kept blinking, Emily handed him the envelope.

Matt tilted it toward the light, not believing what he was seeing. But no, there was no mistaking the image in the top left corner.

“This is the organization you applied to work with? Treehouse Kids?”

Emily nodded, surprise clearly etched across her face. “You know it? From just the logo?”

“I have seven different versions of this logo on my computer.” Courtesy of weeks of emails back and forth with Treehouse’s founder trying to find just the right combination of color, design, and simplicity. “I designed it. Wait—no way.” Those emails. “You’re the girl.”

“What?” Emily held out her hand for the envelope. “Matt, if you’re not going to open it, at least give it back so I can pretend I’m going to.”

“You got the job,” he said with a smile, still not quite able to believe what he was seeing. Hearing.

Emily. She was the girl. The one his mom had told him about. All those months ago.

“Letter, please.”

“You got the job. I’m telling you.” And if she hadn’t, he was going to make sure she did, even if he had to stand up in front of the entire Treehouse board and convince them until they gave it to her. There was no one better qualified for it than Emily Mitchell.

“Look, Matt, as much as I appreciate your confidence in me, nothing you say is going to change what that letter says. So, either give me the envelope, or open it.”

“Fine.” Matt opened the letter, skimming it before nodding. “Yep. Here it is. ‘Treehouse Kids is honored to offer you the position of House Mom and Head Mentor.’ It’s official. You start January fifteenth.”

Forgoing manners entirely, Emily snatched the paper from Matt’s hand. He was all too happy to give it up, and watch as she read the words for herself, her disbelief turning to a smile of absolute delight.

“Congratulations.”

She shook her head, eyes wide with wonder. “I don’t understand. You knew. How did you know?”

“Mom told me.”

“Your mom? What does she have to do with this? I don’t even know her.”

“Actually, you do. On paper, anyway, even if you haven’t met her in person yet. That’s her name, right there at the bottom of that letter you’re holding. Janelle McLaughlin. Founder of Treehouse Kids.”

*****

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this chapter of Deck the Halls (and bring a hammer). Read on for the final chapter!!

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