Welcome to the final chapter of my Christmas novella!
I’ve been sharing one chapter a day since the first of December (my Christmas gift to you, my wonderful readers!), so if you’ve just found this and haven’t yet read the rest of Emily and Matt’s story, I’d highly recommend starting back at the start (here). Good news is, since this is the final chapter, the whole novella is now available to read!
Merry Christmas everyone 🙂
Saturday, December 21
Emily hadn’t seen Matt for six days. Not since the night of the play. The news about Treehouse and his mom’s role in it had been one thing too many for Emily to deal with when she’d already been so overwhelmed. Forget the straw that broke the camel’s back—it might as well have been a house dumped on top of her. And not the gingerbread kind she was currently trying—and failing—to hold together.
They always made it look so easy in the movies. Of course, said Christmas movies were set on the other side of the world. In icy temperatures. Not soaring heatwaves dripping with humidity. Even with the air-conditioning on.
Six days since she’d seen Matt.
Four days to Christmas.
Twenty-five days until she started her dream job at Treehouse Kids.
Two hours she’d been taking her frustration out on a gingerbread house which was no closer to being structurally sound than it had been when she’d started. At least it tasted good, even if it looked like a three-year-old had put it together. With their eyes shut. And both hands tied behind their back.
Matt was coming over soon. Which might have been another reason the gingerbread house was a disaster. Between her frustration, her distraction, and the humidity, the poor house hadn’t stood a chance.
He’d said he had something important to ask her. Or tell her, it might have been. She’d been too flustered when he called to catch the exact wording. And too embarrassed by how flustered she was to ask him to repeat it.
Janelle McLaughlin was Matt’s mom. Matt was the boy who’d escaped to his tree house—his favorite place—for years when home life had been a struggle.
When Emily had first heard the story behind the organization’s name, the unidentified boy had captured a piece of her heart. It had been that story that had made her choose Treehouse over other organizations doing similar work.
Now, that same boy was a man, and he’d captured more than a piece of her heart. He held it all.
And Emily had no idea what to do about it.
With a sigh, Emily gave up on the gingerbread house and started cleaning up the kitchen. The whole place looked like a sticky gingerbread monster had slid his way through it, before battling a flour fairy. She didn’t even try to hazard a guess as to how that speck of dough had gotten on the ceiling. She just pulled over a chair to stand on, wiped it off, and got back to cleaning. Matt wouldn’t mind if her house was a mess—especially if it meant she’d been baking—but she did.
At least his gift was ready. There it sat on the dining room table. One giant tin full of gingerbread, iced, sprinkled, and perfect.
It had taken her five attempts to get the ribbon tied in a bow she was happy with. And she wasn’t even a perfectionist. At least, not usually. Could someone become one overnight?
Emily told herself again to calm down. It was just Matt. Who—according to the clock she’d been trying not to watch—would be here in less than five minutes.
She ran to her room to change into a summery dress, ignoring the knock at the front door and the painful thud it caused in her heart. He was early. And he could wait the two minutes it took for her to pull her hair up into a ponytail. Oh, for goodness’ sake. Was that gingerbread dough in her hair? Of course it was. Why wouldn’t it be, the way this day was going. At least it wasn’t chewing gum. That was far more difficult to get out of hair. She knew that from experience.
“Coming,” she yelled, as Matt’s knock sounded again.
He held a bunch of flowers, the grin Emily loved so much present on his face but tinged with uncertainty. She knew the feeling. Her heart seemed to skip, then slow, not sure whether to race with excitement or stop altogether. Strange, since this wasn’t the first time Matt had come to her door these past few weeks. She’d become quite accustomed to seeing him there, easily picking out the distinct rhythm of his knock.
Of course, this was the first time he’d come since she knew who he really was. And who he was related to. And that she really was leaving. In less than twenty-six days.
She took the flowers—sunflowers, not one single lily in sight—and invited Matt inside. He didn’t accept.
“Actually, I thought we could go somewhere,” he said. “If that’s okay with you?”
“Sure. Let me just put these in water.” She ducked back inside, ignoring the perfectly clean house he wouldn’t even see, dropped the flowers into a bowl full of water, and grabbed her purse.
“Where are we going?”
“It’s a surprise.”
“I don’t get any clues?”
They were halfway to the church before Emily figured out where they were going. She wracked her brain, trying to think of an event that might be on there today, not coming up with anything. “Matt?”
“You’re not going to feed me anything with eggplant in it, are you?”
He smiled but didn’t laugh. “No eggplant.”
“Should I have brought a hammer?”
“Nope. No hammers either.”
Matt took her hand when they arrived, sending a thrill of giddiness along Emily’s already tense nerves. He probably had no idea how many times she’d dreamed of experiencing for herself the simple romance of walking hand-in-hand with the man she loved. It was perfection. But she was no closer to working out where he was taking her. The car park was empty apart from Matt’s car, and the church locked. Until they walked around the corner of the youth room and—
“The stable? That’s where we’re going?” Although it did look particularly Christmassy today, almost like a little wood cabin from a Christmas movie with its boughs of holly tied along the eaves and—was that mistletoe hanging from the middle truss, a red bow around it? Had Matt done this? For her?
Matt shrugged. “Seemed a fitting place to ask my question. Back where we began.”
“We’ve only really known each other four weeks. You make it sound like fifty.”
He squeezed her hand lightly, running his thumb along the back of it. “One day, God-willing, it will be.”
“We’ll tell our grandkids about the stable we hammered together, and the nativity play starring a wombat and a flamingo, how you begged me to kiss you . . .”
Emily was too rattled by the first pronoun Matt used to pretend to be embarrassed about the kiss comment. Especially when she’d been dreaming about that kiss for the past week. And he had hung mistletoe. She dropped his hand, heart thudding as she spun to face him. “Our? Are you proposing?”
“No,” Matt said with a shrug. “Like you said, it’s only been four weeks.”
“Oh.” Emily’s cheeks heated. She ducked her head to hide them before walking the rest of the way to the stable, calling herself every kind of fool on the way. Of course he wasn’t proposing. Why would she even assume that? He knew she was leaving in less than a month.
“I plan on dating you for at least another six months before I propose.”
He was what? “Oh.”
Matt took both of Emily’s hands, holding them loosely as she struggled to pull her thoughts into line. They were worse than a class full of five-year-olds on a rainy day, none of them wanting to sit still or make any sense at all.
“Emily, I do have a question for you, but before I get to that, there’s something I didn’t tell you the other night. Three somethings, actually. First and foremost—”
He stopped to take a long breath. Emily considered telling him to get on with it before her heart beat out of her chest, but that would have taken words, and her brain was still too preoccupied with the way his thumbs were now stroking her palms to consider anything as inconsequential as language.
“I know it’s only been four weeks, but—I love you.” His hand moved to her cheek. “I love your passion, your creativity, your strength, the way your heart beats for kids who need a bit of extra love. I love your laugh and how your hair always seems to smell like gingerbread, and how you’re not afraid to dream. You’re the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever known.”
“I thought I was ‘not bad looking,’” Emily teased.
Matt shook his head, but he was smiling. “I’m not going to live that one down, am I?”
“I might conveniently forget about it, if you kiss me again.”
Matt’s mouth dropped open for a second before he managed to close it. Emily tried not to laugh. She’d surprised him with that offer. Surprised herself too. His thumb moved from her cheek to her lips as he visibly swallowed.
“Number two,” he rasped, before swallowing again and clearing his throat. “About a year ago, long before I had any idea you would be working at Treehouse, or that I would fall in love with you, I organized to take two full months off from my job to reconfigure Treehouse’s computer systems and update their website and databases. It’s why I haven’t taken a holiday all year. I’ll be at Treehouse, in Tasmania, for all of January and February next year.
“Also, number three, and the last thing I have to say before I ask you my question.”
He took another deep breath, seeming to enjoy dragging out his life-altering admissions. Emily wondered what could possibly top those two. Half of her wondered whether she should run away now, before he ruined the bliss of the first two with what had to be the most serious of them all. He’d already admitted that he loved her, and that he would be there when she arrived in her new home. Which had once been his home too, if her research on Janelle McLaughlin proved correct.
“I bought a guitar.”
“You—what?” That was it? His big admission? A guitar? But what did that have to do with—
Oh. The list.
She shook her head, wondering what she’d been thinking to make such a list. As if any guy who met every one of those qualifications could have made her any happier than this man did.
“I’ve been taking lessons. I can play two chords. Which, technically, makes me a guitar player, and leads me to my question. Emily Mitchell, will you be my girlfriend?”
Emily tried to drag out the answer—payback for how he’d made her wait so long to hear his big admissions—but she couldn’t do it. Not when the answer had to be written across her face.
“Yes. Absolutely, yes.”
“Well, that’s good, because I already told Mom you were. She’s excited about meeting you, by the way.”
“As an employee, or your girlfriend?”
“Both. Now, about that kiss—”
Emily didn’t even let him finish the sentence before closing the distance between them. She didn’t wonder this time if she was doing it right or wrong, because Matt had been correct that night.
In his arms, she had nothing to worry about.
THE END 🙂
And that’s it. The final chapter. At least, for now*.
I hope you enjoyed Deck the Halls (and bring a hammer) and aren’t too annoyed at me for only giving you one chapter at a time :p I loved writing Emily and Matt’s story and have loved even more sharing it with you these past two weeks. Thank you for being the amazing readers you are. You make being a writer so much fun 🙂
Have a lovely Christmas, wherever in the world you are 🙂
*I’ve already started brainstorming Allie’s story… She needs her own, don’t you think? 🙂