Authors: Marcy Blesy
Tremont Lodge Series
By: Marcy Blesy
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are a result of the imagination of the author or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, events, or locations is a coincidence.
No part of the text may be reproduced without the written permission of the author, except for brief passages in reviews.
Copyright © 2015 by Marcy Blesy. All rights reserved.
Cover design by Cormar Covers
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Table of Contents:
I can’t believe it’s almost Christmas. I’ve lived at Tremont Lodge for half the year already. Who knew that when I started my adventure at the lodge in June that I’d actually want to stay and that I’d potentially inherit the entire lodge empire if I wanted it? Man, life is funny how it contorts itself by taking something so ugly as my abandonment as a child and turning it into something with potential. This journey has been a real game changer in my life. If only it were as easy as the real game of Life where all you do is take plastic pegs of pink and blue and stuff them into cars after stopping at the church to get married, of course.
I remember playing that game for hours with my grandparents when I was younger. It’s one of the only happy memories of them I have, actually. Grandpa always used to say,
You gotta buy insurance, Reese. You never know when you’re gonna need it.
And me saying,
Grandpa, it’s a waste of money. Nothing bad is going to happen.
Sigh. That was before I starting questioning, before I started putting two and two together and wondering why I was the only kid in school being raised by two gray-haired grandparents while everyone else had a mom and a dad with youth and enthusiasm to spare—something my grandparents only doled out during board games.
“You really need to be more careful.”
I jump at the sound of Finn’s voice. He sneaks up behind me and spins me around. He plants a kiss on my lips, tugging on my top lip before releasing me with a winded breath. “What was that all about?” I ask.
He points above my head. “You’re standing under mistletoe,” he says. “Duh.”
I glance up to one of the many decorations I have hung from the ceiling of the Tremont Lodge ballroom, which in addition to glittery balls of red, white, and green, include strands of plastic mistletoe. I smile. I knew the mistletoe would be a sweet touch. There is a reason why I didn’t forgo all of my responsibilities at the lodge when I turned the reins of the front desk and rec department operations back to the most deserving people, Luis and Jeremy, respectively. I’m good at running special events—that, and the woman who was sent on sabbatical when I took over decided that living in the north wasn’t her preference after all once she got a taste of living in Alabama with her new boyfriend. So, it worked out well for both of us. “I’m glad you like my decorations. Why are you here anyway? Don’t you have a hundred luminaries to set in place along the streets that line this place before partygoers arrive for the ball?” I ask.
“Crack the whip, won’t you?” he asks, grinning devilishly. “My fingers are freezing. I needed a break. Unlimited hot chocolate, right?”
“Well, maybe allowing employees the same privilege as the guests is going to cost my father—I mean, Ted—more than I anticipated.” I try to play it straight-faced but I can’t when Finn looks at me like that, all cute and eager to please.
“Then you need to think of another way to warm me up, Reese.” He pulls me in close again. I can feel his breath, cool and pepperminty, close to my mouth where he hovers before planting another kiss on my lips.
“Go get yourself a cup of hot chocolate, you big baby,” I say, laughing. “I need to get back to work. The party starts in four hours.”
“Suit yourself, but don’t come boo hooing to me the next time you can’t feel your toes.” He grabs a frosted reindeer cookie off the dessert table before I have a chance to yell at him. I’m not sure what I did to get so lucky to have met Finn this year, but if stealing one of my cookies before the annual Christmas ball at the lodge tonight is the biggest problem in our relationship, then I’m destined for a lifetime of pure and utter bliss. If only I was naive enough to believe it would always be this simple.
“Hey, Reese, where do you want the Christmas tree?” I turn around to find someone holding a giant plastic tree, his entire body hidden except for his expensive high tops that peek out from the bottom branches.
“Lawson? Is that you?” I ask.
“Just tell me where to put this damn tree.”
“Okay, uh, how about next to the DJ table? Over there.” It takes me a second to realize that he doesn’t know I’m pointing. “Walk toward my voice.” I walk across the dance floor. “Right here, please.”
Lawson knocks several of my newly placed table settings off the tables he squeezes between, and I squirm every time I hear a glass tipping over, imagining the worst. “Uh, sorry,” he says, finally setting down the tree in its proper place. When I can see him fully, I am truly impressed. He’s really taking this whole Christmas theme seriously.
“Wow, Lawson. Elf ears? You really are living up to the memo Ted sent out about exuding holiday cheer all day long.” I can’t help but laugh, and it doesn’t take long before Lawson’s face matches Rudolph’s nose. “Sorry, but you have to admit, it’s a little out of character for you to dress in character.”
“Funny, Reese. It’s Georgia’s idea. She said it would soften my, uh, my edges.”
“Hmm…I guess she’s right.” My smile disappears. “You’re still playing with fire, I guess.”
“I’m only calling it like I see it. Ted still thinks that Georgia is his girlfriend. Considering Ted has bent over backwards for you and given you every benefit of the doubt and then some with your sometimes less than savory choices…” I let the words linger before continuing. “Maybe you should just be careful. That’s all I’m saying.”
“Well, I don’t need relationship advice from you. Let me remind you that not too long ago your new boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend dropped a baby bombshell on you that he conveniently kept hidden.”
“Jerk,” I say. “For your information, that baby might not even have been Finn’s.”
He shoots lasers at me, which makes him look more like a possessed character from a Halloween slasher movie than a sweet Santa’s helper. “Don’t imply that I might have been that bitch’s baby daddy.”
“Look, you two, knock it off. The tree looks great, Lawson.”
“I can’t believe you found it in the back of the rec depart supply closet. It is so dusty in that place!”
We both turn and look at Bree at the same time. She smiles from ear to ear, filling every tiny feature on her face as she giggles nervously. “You didn’t do it in the supply closet with Jeremy, did you?” I ask.
Her only answer is a sweetly whispered tune of
Frosty the Snowman.
“Classy,” says Lawson.
“Anyway, thanks again for the tree, Lawson, but I think you’re needed in the rec department. Some guy busted his lip on a metal sign in a snowboard accident gone awry. Jeremy doesn’t really like blood.”
“But he doesn’t mind dust and cobwebs,” he mutters as he brushes past us toward the door that leads to the lawn that is newly minted in a fresh layer of snow to add to the eight inches that fell a couple of days ago.
“What did you do to Lawson?” Bree asks, straightening her shoulders to appear taller. It doesn’t work. Maybe it’s her lengthening hair that makes her look even tinier, the little neck that she has now nearly covered by a new shade of platinum blonde. It’s just one more quirk that makes Bree irresistible to everyone who meets her.
“Oh, never mind. He’s just being a crab. Are you here to help or to lecture me?”
“At your command, boss.” She bows dramatically, and I can’t help but laugh.
“Fine. There’s a box of decorations in the back. Start decorating the tree. I have to replace some broken glasses on the tables and check that the food is all set to go in the kitchen.”
As I’m washing a new set of glasses myself because the kitchen staff is too busy frying mushrooms and wrapping little pieces of ham in rings of cream cheese and sticking toothpicks in olives for the hors d’oeuvre table to tend to my problems, my phone rings. Most people send me texts anymore, so it’s startling to hear the phone actually ring, a ringtone set to sound like an old-fashioned phone. I can’t imagine never having options to change that sound. I look at the caller ID.
“Hey, little brother. What’s up?” I ask, balancing the phone on my shoulder as I towel dry a glass in my hand.
“Hi, Reese. Sorry to bother you.”
“You could never bother me. What’s the matter? Trouble in paradise with Hannah?”
“No, thank God for her.”
“Look, I’m sorry to do this over the phone, but…”
“What’s the matter, Blake?” I set the glass down and walk back into the privacy of the large ballroom, every other surface shimmering from the red and green strobe lights that shine from the ceiling in alternating wisps of rotating color.
“It’s Grandma. She…she died.”
I stand in front of my closet staring at my clothes, a blur of business in a rainbow of colors, a side effect of spending the summer living with Tinley. I know what I’m wearing tonight. I bought my dress for the Christmas ball two weeks ago when Bree and I drove across the bridge to Traverse City to go shopping in bigger stores than those available in Tremont City. Bree chose a short purple dress that shimmers in the light, and her pale skin was actually aided by the bright color. She looked cute, if in an odd sort of way.
It’s not the long black, strapless gown that gives me doubts as I watch it sitting upon the hanger as if saying,
Everyone stay away. I am the queen of this closet.
It’s that I am doubting why I am even attending the Christmas ball in the first place. Bree and Helen and Marge are quite capable of overseeing the annual event. Everything is set to go. I don’t really need to be the one to be here. I should be home with Blake and Grandpa. But Blake had insisted that I wait until the morning to come back to Bridgman.
I’m not even going to be home tonight. There’s a basketball game in New Buffalo. We have an appointment with the funeral home at 9:00 tomorrow morning. Wait until after then.
And I hadn’t fought him…even though Grandpa shouldn’t be alone. I know he shouldn’t be alone. He and Grandma would have been married fifty years next month. That’s a hell of a long time to be with the same person. I think of Finn and wonder, just wonder…
As if reading my mind, there is a knock on my door. “Come in,” I say.
Finn walks across the room and wraps his arms around me. I lean against him and let him support me. “We don’t have to go tonight, Reese. We can just stay here and watch a movie or something if you’d rather.” He kisses the top of my head. I breathe deep and inhale the smell of his aftershave, clean and woodsy at the same time. It makes me feel safe.
“I couldn’t possibly cause you to miss the opportunity to win Christmas King at the ball. You’re a shoo-in with this awesome tuxedo and red and green striped tie.” I tug on the tie and pull him closer so I can kiss him because when I’m kissing Finn, nothing else really matters.
“Well, if that’s really how you feel, then you might consider changing clothes unless you’re waiting for your Fairy Godmother to turn you into the belle of the ball.” He smiles, and I melt a little more.
“I love you, Finn.”
“I love you, too, Reese. And, seriously, we don’t have to go tonight. You’ve had a rough day, and tomorrow isn’t going to be any easier.”
“That’s exactly why I need to go with you to the dance tonight. Can you give me a minute?”
“I was hoping I could assist you in getting dressed?” He smiles sheepishly and shoves his hands in the pocket of his tuxedo pants in an
kind of way.
“I really pegged you more as an undresser than a dresser,” I say, pushing Finn toward the bathroom door. “There’s a
in there. Sorry, it’s the best I’ve got. I’ll hurry.”
“The bathroom? Really? Can’t I just cover my eyes or something?”
When I am ready to call Finn back into my room, I survey myself one last time in the full-length mirror that Tinley insisted we hang on the back of the closet door. I’ve never worn such a stunning dress. Though a single black color, the way the dress is cut makes a powerful statement, or, I could say, it makes my body make a statement. There isn’t going to be much room for eating tonight, as the material around my mid-section sits as tight as possible without cutting off my ability to breathe.
aren’t words I’d typically use to describe myself, but from the slit up my leg to the way my breasts peak over the top of my not-so-sweet sweetheart neckline leaves little to the imagination. I hope Finn likes it. I slip on my new silver high heels, push my hair behind my shoulders, pucker my bright red lips, and call Finn back into the room.
“Whoa! I, uh—you look amazing, hot, beautiful.” He sweeps me in his arms again and kisses my neck, nuzzling me in the spot at the back that he knows drives me wild. “Are you sure we can’t be a little late?” he asks, tickling my skin as he runs his fingers lightly across the top of my chest.
I put my hand over my heart to steady its cadence, sure that if it beats much faster, my breasts really will pop out of the dress. “We’d better go
,” I whisper.
Finn helps me button my long winter jacket that is the opposite of my dress. It’s all about being practical when it comes to choosing a winter coat in northern Michigan—long black, down jacket that looks more like a sleeping bag than a coat. But it’s warm, and since we still have to walk across the lawn to get to the lodge, I will sacrifice this part of my vanity.
With Finn’s arm through mine, we walk along the carefully salted brick road and sidewalks that link to the lodge. The once plush green lawn full of kids playing games, the stage full of acts from Finn’s sweet melodies to the magician’s floating ball tricks, the guests reading their newspapers on the veranda—all is replaced by inches and inches of snow piled high, footprints from heavy boots crisscrossing, forging the path of the intended guest—usually to one of the ten ski runs that dot the mountain above. I should have worn my boots, too, but my cold feet are warmed by the thought that I’m holding onto the arm of the most handsome man at the lodge, and pretty soon everyone at the Tremont Lodge Christmas Ball will see that, too. I push the thoughts of my grandparents to the back of my mind where they so often pushed thoughts of me. I will deal with all of that tomorrow. Tonight is for Finn and me.
Marge greets Finn and me at the door. I tried to send her home after we attended to the finishing touches, but she insisted on staying to pass out party favors: a make-your-own fake snow kit, a flashing red and green globe necklace, and a Tremont Lodge handkerchief with the initials
embroidered on it. The story goes that every year since the Christmas ball first began forty years ago, each guest has received one of these handkerchiefs. People don’t even use handkerchiefs anymore but no matter. It’s one tradition I wasn’t about to upset. And since most of the guests are Tremont City residents who have either been coming to the ball for years or had family members who had made the ball a part of their early holiday festivities, there is something special about upholding our end of the bargain—to make one night a magical, local event for a small community who so welcomingly opens its doors all year long for strangers. It’s the least we can do as a lodge to give the locals a night to remember. And, honestly, after the year I’ve had, I can’t wait to kick back and have some fun, too.
“Reese! Finn! The two of you look lovely. I love the festive tie, Finn,” says Marge. By now Finn has activated the button that alternates illuminating the red and green stripes in his tie. He’s a walking Christmas tree, and he’s mine.
“Thanks, Marge. You look nice, too.”
Marge blushes as she smooths out the non-existent wrinkles in her slightly-longer-than knee- length salmon polyester ruffled dress. “Just a little something I grabbed from the back of my closet.”
“And where’s your husband?” asks Finn, flirting modestly with Marge enough to make her blush again.
“He and Helen are directing the servers and overseeing that the hors d’oeuvre trays are sufficiently filled.”
I jab Finn in the side. “See, I told you that I wouldn’t be missed. Everything is running smoothly without me.”
“Ah, yes, but you are the brains of this operation, my dear,” says Finn, giving me a side hug. “Isn’t that right, Marge?”
“Absolutely. Now, you two take your goodie bags and have fun. There’s a group of people coming down the hall.”
“Thanks again. Let me know if you need us. Finn and I are going to make the rounds and see if anything is needed.”
I excuse myself from Finn to check with the DJ to make sure he is all set to get this party rocking once the appetizer portion of the night is complete. There has been no formal dinner at the Christmas ball at the lodge for several years, so to make up for it, there are more appetizer selections added yearly, and when the desserts roll out later, there is no excuse for anyone to go home hungry.
“Miss Reese, you look beauuuutiful,” says Helen, grabbing my hand and twirling me around in front of her.
“Thanks, Helen. You look great, too.”
“This old suit? Well, it is my best color.” Helen is wearing a two piece pant suit—a deep green color that makes her eyes stand out. I couldn’t imagine Helen wearing a dress anyway, so this is the perfect choice for her. “I’d like you to meet someone special.” A small man steps out from behind Helen, his stature barely matching that of Helen’s. He’s got one of those bad combover things going on, but when he smiles, I can see why Helen loves him. There is something both warm and trusting about that smile that says,
I got your back, babe.
Helen is a lucky woman. “Nice to meet you, Reese. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
I thrust my hand into his, careful to not squeeze too firmly lest he break. “It’s nice meeting you, too. I’m so glad you could come tonight. And, Helen,” I say, addressing my former floor supervisor, “Remember that this is not entirely a working party. Make sure you two get out on that dance floor.”
“Is that an order, dear?” She giggles, and her husband puts his hand on her shoulder.
“Yes.” We hug
for the moment, and I continue making the rounds, checking on the kitchen staff and even inspecting that the bathrooms are fully stocked with toilet paper and scented hand towels, another tradition.
Finn is standing in a circle of employees that includes Bree and Jeremy when I meet up with him again. “There you are,” he says, when I squeeze in next to him. “I thought you’d gotten lost.”
“Nope. She’s just being bossy,” says Jeremy. I shoot him a,
Hey, you’re being an asshole
look. “Oh come on, you know what I mean. You’re
, after all.”
“Cut it out, Jeremy. Let Reese have some fun tonight without the ribbing, okay?” Finn puts his arm around me protectively, and for a minute I feel like I’m back at my high school prom with my date who I so desperately wanted to fight another guy who kept stepping on the train of my dress. I swear he was doing it on purpose, too, because by the end of the night no matter what I did, I couldn’t get my dress to stay high enough on my chest. I was so embarrassed I had to wear my date’s tuxedo jacket until he dropped me off at home. He’d insisted we go somewhere private first, but no way was he getting access to the goods under my dress after not defending me. At least Finn values my happiness.
wants the goods.
Something about Bree looks different tonight. “Are you going to stare at me much longer because it’s creeping me out?” she says, giggling nervously.
“Sorry, you look—oh, I know what it is. You look
Bree glances at her feet which are currently standing in two inch black heels. She leans against Jeremy for support. “Well, that’s not the first compliment I was hoping for, but okay, whatever.”
“I’m sorry! You also look gorgeous.” She brightens. “Purple is such a great color with your skin tone and hair color. Love it!” One more hug and all is well. In fact, the evening is so quiet and uneventful, that I’m actually a little bored. My life has been anything but slow since I arrived at the lodge, and I’m not quite sure what to do when there’s nothing
When the appetizer plates lessen in frequency, I wait for the first song to strike from the speakers that line the dance floor,
another tradition. I can’t help but smile wondering if Lawson is here somewhere and if he’ll dance to the song. Thanks to his early encounters with me, he spent a little time in jail. I really think he’s kicked his addiction—for now. But his asshole meter still signals high more times than not. “Want to dance, Reese?” Finn puts out his hand. I offer mine in response and begin what I know will be hours of dancing. Perhaps normal is something I could get used to after all.
I am snuggled into Finn’s chest as
by Eric Clapton plays, letting his cologne mix with my perfume in an aroma of sweet ecstasy I know we will both appreciate later, when I glance toward the couple to our right. I recognize the girl first. It’s Georgia, Ted’s secretary and longtime lover, twenty years his junior, and also currently Lawson’s secret flame. She is laughing at something her partner is saying—a partner that I can clearly see is neither Lawson nor Ted. And when she laughs, her large bosom heaves in and out, which leaves little to the imagination. I glance down at my own chest to make sure it is still in place.
“What’s the matter?” asks Finn.
“Georgia is looking pretty chummy with her dance partner.” I point in their direction.
“Why do you care?” he asks, more sweetly delivered than the words themselves.
“She’s just such a tease. Ted, Lawson, and now some other guy. Does she have no morals?”
“I think that can be said of a lot of people we know, Reese, but let them sort out their business. It doesn’t affect us.”
“I guess not,” I say, nestling back into Finn. But I can’t stop watching Georgia and the mystery man over Finn’s shoulder. He is stroking her hair and rubbing her back. When he kisses her neck I feel myself grabbing on tighter to Finn. There’s no way I’m letting that girl near my man. Girls like that are evil. And she hates me already. Ever since I caught her and Lawson finishing up one of their trysts in his office, she won’t even look me in the eye. Truthfully, she probably started hating me first when Lawson went to jail after shoving me earlier in the summer. I imagine their little affair has been going on for quite some time. I close my eyes and try to shut out the ugly images in front of me and concentrate on Finn.