Scrooge and The Girls Next Door

Two Years From Now

Henry

I stare at the email from my agent, not quite sure I believe what I’m seeing. I read it twice more to be sure, but it shows the same number of zeroes every time. There has to be a mistake. Maybe Barbara put the decimal in the wrong place?

 

To: Henry.Hill@jeffuniv.edu

From: Barbara.Henckel@CSliterary.com 

 

Good morning, Henry. 

I’m pleased to tell you that Prufrock Publishing has won the auction for US and world rights to your book. They will be shuffling their lineup to release it next fall in time for the holiday season. That means When Grandma Got Run Over by A Reindeer: an Anthropological Memoir of the Grief and Joy of America’s Most Celebrated Holiday will be available to help people through their complicated Yuletide feelings next Christmas.

I’m delighted for you! Attached, please find the publisher’s contract with their winning bid. It’s an astonishingly generous advance, but then again, I’m a very good agent. Still, even a novice could have sold your compelling story. A ready-made family and a wife who happens to be one of the biggest influencers in the DIY space? A wounded Scrooge with a tragic Christmas backstory who rediscovers the magic of the season through the eyes of a child? This book was a dream project, and I’m honored you trusted me to represent it. 

Kind regards, 

Barbara

 

So many zeroes. We can pay off the house this year instead of when I’m retired.

I barely know what to do with myself. At the moment, I’m standing beside my car in faculty parking, ready to go pick up Evie. We’re supposed to meet Paige at the store to check out her Mother’s Day window display before dinner. I’d planned to cook, but it looks like I’ll be treating everyone to dinner at Creekville’s finest Evie-approved restaurant: the diner. 

The drive home happens by muscle memory. I’m too distracted by the knowledge that I just sold a book. To a big publisher! 

I pull into 341 Orchard Street. After Paige and I got married, we all decided that my place still felt too big for three people, and we’ve been cozy next door for over a year now. My grandparents’ house is being rented by a visiting professor of Spanish literature with his wife and two teenage daughters, who love babysitting Evie. 

I park and make the short walk to the elementary school, arriving just in time for dismissal. 

“Dad!” Evie yells, barely out of her classroom door. 

I legally adopted her three months ago, and I will never, ever get tired of hearing her call me “Dad.” 

“Hi, Eves,” I call. I wait until she reaches me before asking, “How was your day?”

“Good, but we’re going to the store, right?”

“Yes. Mom texted and said the window is ready, but she wants us to go in through the back.”

Evie rolls her eyes, but they’re sparkling. “Dramatic reveal.”

“Dramatic reveal” has become a punchline in our house. It’s the key part of all of Paige’s videos and the staple of every HGTV show for a reason; viewers love being reminded of the shabby before and the spectacular after. Now when Evie finishes cleaning her room, she’ll announce “Dramatic reveal,” when we go to check it, or I’ll say, “Dramatic reveal,” when I place dinner on the table.

Sure enough, when we emerge from the back room, Paige is waiting for us, smiling. “Hello, favorite people,” she says. “You have to close your eyes, and I’ll guide you out to the sidewalk for a—”

“Dramatic reveal,” Evie and I finish. 

“I’ve trained you well.”

After a minute of shuffling and Evie accidentally knocking over a seed display as we bumble to the front door, Paige situates us on the sidewalk. 

“One, two, three, open!” she says. 

We do, and I blink in surprise. Normally, Paige stages her Mother’s Day window display around a spring gardening theme, but this one is more literal: she’s transformed it into a nursery in whites and pastels, complete with a bassinet. 

“Do you like it?” she asks. “I did a cross-promotion with the yarn store.”

“Smart,” I say, noticing the small signs beside the knitted baby blanket trailing from the bassinet and another afghan draped over a rocking chair. She’s also positioned gallons of paint near their corresponding colors in the scene. Swiss Coffee, her standard white, is beside one of the plain white walls, and I spot cans for the hues of soft green, yellow, and gray she used as accents. “I know you know this, but you’re so good at this, babe.”

Yeah, I’m a man who says “babe” now. Paige loves it when I call her that, and it finally felt normal after a while.  

“Thank you,” she said. “Want to go in and look?”

“Yes!” Evie says. This is one of her favorite parts of each window reveal: the privilege of getting to go in the display and see some of her mom’s hidden touches up close. 

She darts into the store, and Paige and I follow after her, my wife’s hand firmly tucked in mine. Even though we’re right behind her, Evie has already made it into the window case, bending to read the spines of the books on the nursery shelf. 

“All my favorites,” she announces, grinning. Then she moves to another part of the display. 

“So I got some good news today,” I tell Paige as Evie explores. 

Paige’s eyes brighten. “The book?”

“The offer came through. It’s big.”

“How big?” I tell her and her eyes go round. “I guess that’s probably enough.”

It’s an absurd amount, and I can’t figure out where “probably enough” came from. “What do you mea—”

“With my new sponsor, we should be able to afford renovations without an issue.”

I can’t keep up. It fees like we’re having two different conversations. “Your new sponsor?”

She smiles and points to one of the paint cans. “Finnegan Paint just offered me an endorsement deal that will cover the entire renovation of your grandparents’ house.”

“My grandparents’ . . . why are we renovating it? The Romeros seem happy enough with it.”

“Yes, but they’re moving back to Argentina this summer when Sergio’s teaching term ends. It’s the perfect time to renovate.”

“Running out of content?” I ask. 

She yawns and stifles it. “Running out of room is more like it.”

“For what?” We share the bonus room at home pretty easily, my desk in one corner, her studio in the other.

“Mama?” Evie turns from the bassinet she’s stooped to investigate. “What’s this?” 

She walks over to us carrying a plastic  . . . thermometer? I squint. What is that?

But as soon as she reaches us, I know. I shoot a glance at Paige, who’s watching me with a small smile as I take the “thermometer” from Evie. It’s got a small oval window showing two pink lines.

“Paige, are you . . .” I break off, not wanting to say the words in case I’m wrong. 

“Is she what?” Evie asks when Paige nods. 

Paige pulls Evie into a hug but keeps her eyes locked with mine. “Evie, honey, we’re going to have a baby.” 

Evie whoops and squeezes her hard, then turns herself and flings herself at me. “We’re going to have a baby, Dad!” she yells, and I’m grinning like an idiot as I pull Paige into our hug.

“So what I’m saying is,” Paige mumbles into my shoulder, “we’re going to need the extra room. That okay with you?”

I drop a kiss on Evie’s head and then Paige’s. “Mrs. Hill, that’s perfect.”