Small-town bookseller Aiden Flynn doesn’t realize he’s put his life on hold until a pretty waitress and her little man remind him he’s got some hope left where his heart used to live. Golden memories are rekindled along with glittering optimism in this slightly sassy take on holiday heartwarming.
“Please, Mommy – please!”
Aiden looked up from his bowl of spicy goulash. The new waitress knelt down, shushing the boy who must be her son. “I’m sorry, Joey. The mall will be closed before I get off work. I’ll get you a sheet of paper and a pen – you can write a letter to Santa instead.”
The boy chewed his lower lip. “Grandma would’ve taken me.”
Man, the kid was good. What mother could resist that soulful expression? Joey’s mother, apparently; she closed her eyes briefly, but she didn’t respond.
“But this is important,” the young boy whispered loudly, emphasizing almost every other word. “Santa gets millions of letters. What if he’s a slow reader, like me? I need to tell him in person.”
Aiden was always intrigued by human drama, but the boy’s mother was clearly distressed to have an audience. Fair Meadows, Ohio was such a small town, anyone new was bound to attract attention. He took another bite of goulash and pretended to ignore them.
His waitress moved as if to push back her dark blonde hair, then stopped as her hand met the lacy headband that was part of her uniform. Her fingers flailed for a second as if at a lost where to go next, then she reached into her apron pocket and tore a page from her order book. “Here, you can write the letter on this.”
“But Mom . . .”
“Hush, Joey – Santa won’t care that your letter’s not on fancy paper. And I happen to know he’s a speed reader.”
The boy, who looked to be six or seven, had big blue eyes like his mom’s and hair several shades lighter – baby-fine, flaxen and softly curling around his nape. He’d bet the boy was teased about it unmercifully at school.
Aiden pointedly opened the local paper and flipped to the sports section before returning to his dinner. The high school scores weren’t nearly as interesting as his waitress, though, and the realization came as a shock. It had been years since he’d noticed a woman – really noticed her, down to his gut. Why now, and why this woman?
Well, there was the kid. He was a sucker for kids. These days, if a man admitted that out loud people thought “pedophile,” but Aiden had always been fascinated with the intelligence and curiosity of children. He missed kids. He missed being a dad most of all.
Tears swam in front of his eyes, blurring the headlines he pretended to read. It was just Christmas, damn it. He wasn’t normally this maudlin. He’d had ten years to get over his son’s death, eight to adjust to the loneliness, abandonment and guilt after his wife killed herself. There was nothing wrong with him that getting past Christmas wouldn’t cure.
He heard the rustle of paper as the boy slid into the booth in front of his, sniffling quietly and muttering to himself. “I’ll never get the book now.”
At the word “book,” Aiden’s attention was caught again. It could be any book, but he was willing to bet Joey was going to ask Santa for the next installment of "The Adventures of Billy and Buster," an incredibly popular series about a smart six-year-old and his Golden Retriever. Buster was really an alien from the Dog Star who helped Billy solve mysteries and save their town from an evil villain in every volume. The series had a special place in Aiden’s heart.
Every book ended with the boy and dog strolling through the front door of their small suburban home, where smells of a hot dinner wafted out to greet them. Billy’s mother’s question – “What have you two been up to now?” – was such a popular catchphrase, it had been co-opted on every show from "SNL" to "The Family Guy," as was Billy’s response: “Nuttin’, Mom. What’s for dinner? We’re staaaarving.”
As the owner of Chapters, the only book store town, Aiden was... Read On...