Christmas Lane will be released in just over one week, on November 29! For your reading pleasure, here's an excerpt from Chapter One. Actually, since I'm feeling generous, here's Chapter One in its entirety.
22 days until the parade
There was a butt sticking out from underneath the sink in Tiny’s Panini. It was a nice butt. Round. Firm. Encased in faded denim.
Zach Greenfeld would know that butt anywhere.
He stopped mid-step on his way into the café from the kitchen and swallowed back drool. Someone bumped into him from behind, making him fumble his box of tea bags. A few of them fell off the top, scattering across the floor.
His older sister, Alana, brushed past him. She turned to that Grade A butt but didn’t seem as enamored with it as Zach.
“How’s it going, Mr. Stone?”
The butt backed out from underneath the sink, revealing a strong torso, solid shoulders, and corded arms in a white, V-neck, long-sleeved T-shirt, and a narrow face with a slightly pointed chin, long nose, and high forehead. The chin and jaw were unshaven and covered in dark brown scruff liberally peppered with gray, matching the hair on his head that stood up in careless spikes.
Holland Stone could’ve doubled as a piece of art.
He stood to his full six-foot-two height and dropped a wrench and a flashlight into the toolbox at his feet. “Should be fixed now,” he told Alana. Turning the knob on the sink, he let the water run for a few seconds before shutting it off again. “If you have any more problems, let me know.”
Alana blew out a relieved breath. “Thank you so much, and I apologize again for bothering you on a Friday evening. I feel like we’ve called you in here to fix something at least once a week for the past few months.”
Holland shrugged. “That’s what I’m here for.” Crouching, he threw a few more tools back into his toolbox, then snapped it closed. “Call me if you need anything else.” He stood, toolbox in hand, making the muscles in his upper arms strain against his shirt. “You guys have a good night.” He gave a two-fingered salute and was gone a second later, having grabbed his winter jacket off the coat rack next to the café’s front door on his way out.
Zach’s shoulders drooped and he almost dropped his box. “He’s never going to notice me.”
“Who?” Alana looked from him, to the front door where Zach was still gazing morosely, back to Zach, back to the front door, her light brown eyes—identical to Zach’s—widening with each head swing. “Mr. Stone? You’re talking about Mr. Stone?”
Zach winced. “Why do you say his name like he’s a professor or something?”
“He was your third-grade teacher!”
“Yeah. A million years ago.” He placed his box on the counter.
“You’re twenty-four,” Alana pointed out, her voice at a register that made his ears hurt. “Third grade really wasn’t that long ago. But, seriously.” Her head swung back to the front door, but Holland was long gone down the dark street. “Mr. Stone? You have a crush on Mr. Stone?”
“Shhhh.” Zach glanced wildly at the dozen or so seated patrons. All he needed was for small-town gossip about his ill-advised crush to reach Holland’s ears. He’d never be able to face the man again. “Will you relax? Nothing’s ever going to happen. He only knows me as the guy who keeps calling him over to fix stuff that’s broken.”
“But...but…it’s Mr. Stone.”
“Can you stop saying his name like that?” Zach picked his wayward tea bags off the floor and threw them into the garbage.
“He’s twice your age!”
“Actually, he’s only fifteen years older than me.”
“Oh my god, will you stop screeching? What’s the matter with you?”
“Yoo-hoo!” A knock on the countertop. “Alana, darling.”
Alana’s back tensed and her eyes screamed Help me! at Zach.
“Alana? I know you can hear me. You’re only two feet away.”
Zach choked on a laugh.
Alana pasted an imitation of a smile on her face and turned. “Mrs. Shoemacker. How lovely to see you.”
“Mm-hmm.” Mrs. Shoemacker’s wrinkly lips pressed into a disapproving line. “It’s twenty-five days until Christmas, Alana, and I notice you still haven’t put up the Christmas lights on the awning outside or any decorations in the front window.” She glanced around the café as though a decoration might appear as if by Christmas magic.
Rustic wooden tables and chairs, barn lighting, and local artwork gave Tiny’s Panini a homey feel, but there was nary a holiday decoration to be seen.
Alana’s fists clenched. “As I told you yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that, I’m currently short staffed and haven’t had time to decorate. It’s on my to-do list. I don’t need you to remind me every day.”
Mrs. Shoemacker harrumphed. Zach filched a cookie out of the cookie jar and watched in fascination as his sister went toe-to-toe with the head of Lighthouse Bay’s Business Improvement Association.
“Well, it seems that I do indeed need to remind you, since the deadline to have the decorations up was the day after Thanksgiving.” She paused dramatically, pale gray eyebrows rising up her forehead. “And that was over a week ago.”
Zach swallowed the last of his cookie and wiped his hands on his apron. “I’ll have them up by the end of the day tomorrow, Mrs. Shoemacker.”
“See that you do.” She speared Zach with her steely-eyed gaze, then turned back to Alana. “I don’t want to have to fine Tiny’s Panini for failing to follow the rules. You knew your obligations when you took over running the café from your parents.” By obligations, she meant the one-hundred-page document that outlined proper business ownership in Lighthouse Bay’s downtown area. “We all need to do our part to ensure Christmas Lane is a success.”
With that parting shot, she left.
“Christmas Lane.” Alana scoffed. “I still think it’s stupid.”
“I like it,” Zach said. Christmas Lane was what the locals referred to Main Street as from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day. All the businesses put up lights and decorations, a Christmas tree stand popped up on the corner of Main and Regent Streets, carolers serenaded pedestrians every weekend in December, and the clock tower at the end of the street lit up red and green every night.
Alana rolled her eyes. “You would. You’re obsessed with Christmas.”
“Obsessed is a harsh word.”
“And you can’t put up the decorations tomorrow,” Alana spoke over him. “You have a job interview.”
“It’s not going to take all day. I’ll put them up in the afternoon, after my interview.”
“And who’s going to help me here tomorrow afternoon, then?”
“Okay, I’ll put them up in the morning.”
Alana threw her hands in the air. “Then who’s going to help me prep the food?”
Zach took a breath and bit his tongue. Alana knew how to run a business and had kept their parents’ café afloat despite the rundown equipment, yet she couldn’t seem to find part-time help to save her life. Applicants were either too young, too old, lacked experience, had too much experience, or weren’t available the days she needed them. But in a town the size of Lighthouse Bay, Maine, where people tended to move out more frequently than they moved in, she really needed to get over her misgivings because, at this point, she’d never find anyone and Zach would be stuck working for the family business for the rest of his life.
Not that there was anything wrong with working in a café. It just wasn’t what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. But it wasn’t like jobs in event planning were aplenty, and ones for recent college graduates were even more scarce. Especially since he lacked the coveted experience.
But how was he supposed to get experience if nobody would hire him?
The conundrum of every recent college graduate everywhere.
Even with the holidays upon them, and parties happening everywhere, he still couldn’t find anything.
The pay at Tiny’s Panini wasn’t awful, but most of it was going to his student loans. The sooner he found a job in his field, the sooner he could pay them off. He had his side job/hobby as a calligrapher too, and while the orders coming through his Etsy store weren’t huge, they were enough that he could set a little bit of money aside for himself.
To someone else, calligraphy might not appear to be the most interesting of hobbies. But for Zach, it was soothing. In a world that was messy and unorganized, calligraphy was precise yet artistic. A break from the busyness of life. Working his way through a project—invitations, notecards, placeholders, event signage—was almost therapeutic.
“Why don’t we just put the decorations up after we close tonight?” he said.
“Because I’ve been here since six a.m., and I’m tired.”
“I’ll call Zari. See if she can take my shift tomorrow afternoon, and I can put the decorations up then.”
“Okay, thanks.” Alana’s smile was relieved as she pulled a box of coffee cups from under the counter and replenished their supply next to the coffee maker. “Where’s your interview tomorrow again?”
“The Gold Stone hotel chain—”
“Right,” Alana interrupted. “In Florida, right?”
“No, their corporate office is in Orlando, but the job I applied for is at their hotel in Portland.” Which was only forty minutes away.
“Can you pass me the box of sugar packets?”
Zach sighed and rooted in the cupboard for the box while keeping half an eye on the front door.
In case Holland came back. Which, of course, he didn’t.