Dear friends and readers,
As I type these words on December 21, 2021, it is the Winter Solstice, a celebration of the longest night of the year.
It has also been just over three years since I posted anything on my blog, and I thought it was time to fix that.
Earlier this month, I had a chance to spend some time with my family, and watch my favorite holiday shows. We turned on the classic Christmas cartoons for the kids, and after they went to bed, I stayed up late with my siblings to watch It’s a Wonderful Life. The next night, I drove home and watched The Family Stone with my husband. Those are my two favorite Christmas movies, and the older I get, the more they both make me cry.
My husband and I moved to Mancos, Colorado, this summer (our last day at our old place was June 30th), but I’m still heading up a local writers group in Durango called Writers & Scribblers. We had our annual holiday potluck and read-a-thon on December 10th. This year, I decided to write a Christmas story just for this party, rather than read aloud from a manuscript I’ve been working on.
Unfortunately for me, I ended up missing the party due to hazardous driving conditions. After a recent severe snowstorm, it was too dangerous to drive over Red Mountain Pass, Molas, and Coal Bank in order for me to make it to the potluck that night.
But I realized I could share this short story on my blog, and post it on the Winter Solstice, in honor of my most Pagan novel, Bloodshade of the Goddess.
On December 10th, I also emailed the story to my friend Melanie, and her husband Joe was able to read it aloud at the party that night, which lessened my feelings of futility quite a lot.
This short story isn’t literary at all, but a work of commercial fiction. It was designed as something to be read aloud to an audience, and if I were really being true to the piece, I would videotape myself reading it, and share that instead.
But if I required that of myself, I would never share this story at all. And I really wanted to break my three-year not-blogging streak.
So without further ado, here it is, pasted below: “The Christmas Wedding.” A holiday story. I hope you enjoy it. 🙂
And I hope your own holidays are warm and bright, and full of love.
The Christmas Wedding
The wedding invitation was strikingly beautiful, like many other poisonous things: crimson berries, snow-white belladonna blooms, red and gold azaleas. Danger was nothing if not enticing.
As Camilla read over the invitation, which was dusted in a coat of premium ‘winter wonderland’ glitter, she wasn’t immune to the threat. Camilla knew that her stepsister’s extravagant Christmas wedding was not something she should be anywhere near.
But her long-estranged father, who was desperate to make amends for his shortcomings, had already begged Camilla to come. He wanted to be a family again.
That word alone—family—was its own siren song in Camilla’s heart. Some part of her still longed for the father she’d never had growing up. The father her stepsister had gotten to grow up with instead.
Camilla knew she should have dropped Libby’s wedding invitation straight into the trash. Regardless of what her father said, she knew Libby had no desire to be part of her ‘family.’
But Camilla was a fool with a very soft heart. She opened the RSVP card, elegantly decorated with snowflakes and also dusted with glitter. Hand trembling, Camilla marked yes.
She knew she must’ve made worse decisions before. But none came to mind.
* * *
Two weeks later, Libby Winston was at the breakfast table with her mother and stepfather, looking over her wedding planner’s updated spreadsheets with sparkling pride, when she spotted Camilla Wheatley’s name on the guest list.
Libby was angry enough to swear about it, but she never cursed in front of her stepfather. Proper girls like Libby didn’t use filthy language.
Libby swallowed her aggravation, and said in a falsely bright voice, “Oh, look. Camilla’s going to come.”
Libby noticed that her mother furrowed her brow for a moment, and then pretended to smile, while her stepfather simply beamed with relief. He placed a hand on his wife’s shoulder and said, “You see, Ness? I knew she would come.”
Vanessa widened her fake smile. “I’m so glad, Charles,” she said warmly. “I know how much you wanted her to be there.”
In all truth, Libby knew that her mother was as pissed about Camilla’s RSVP as Libby was. But they both continued their enthusiastic charade for her stepfather’s sake. He was paying for the wedding, after all.
Later, Libby vented with her mother in private, and then she set about doing what she did best: taking her enemies down. Libby had six months till her wedding, after all. Plenty of time to make Camilla Wheatley back out.
First, she demanded that Camilla wear a certain dress, claiming it was for the family pictures, and sent Camilla a link to a red holiday dress that was over three thousand dollars. Everyone knew that Camilla was a broke graduate student, and didn’t have money like that. Camilla couldn’t even afford takeout, or a Netflix account; hell, she didn’t even wear makeup.
But Camilla surprised Libby, and bought the dress.
“Shit,” Libby hissed.
Her next tactic was to let it be known that anyone who showed up to her reception with a wedding gift worth less than five hundred dollars was a disgrace to the family, and wouldn’t be welcome. Libby hinted that such guests might be turned away at the door.
But Camilla surprised her again, and bought her a set of knives on her registry that were seven hundred dollars. They arrived at Libby’s house three weeks before her big day.
Libby immediately threw them away, and registered for a different set. She wasn’t starting her new life with anything that had come from Camilla.
Libby’s tactics grew increasingly harsh. She told Camilla she couldn’t attend the rehearsal dinner. Camilla said that was fine. Libby ordered the wedding planner to seat Camilla at ‘the geriatric table,’ as she called it, and then let Camilla know she’d be having dinner with a bunch of octogenarians. Camilla shrugged and accepted that. “Should be a fun night,” she said mildly.
No matter what Libby did, she couldn’t take Camilla down.
On the morning of December twentieth, the morning of Libby’s big day, she knew that Camilla would be at the wedding.
But Libby wasn’t finished just yet.
* * *
When Camilla woke up in a hotel room in Newport, Rhode Island, and remembered why she was there, she knew she had made a mistake. She should have let Libby win the battle of wills, and drive her away.
But Camilla was stubborn, and despite all appearances, she was also far more willful than Libby. She was going to this damn Christmas wedding; come what may.
* * *
Ever since she was a little girl, Libby Winston had known she would get married in a castle one day. After her father died when she was three, Libby had called herself Cinderella, a princess in waiting, suffering the endless hardships of a cold, cruel world. Even with a trust fund, porcelain dental veneers, and an Ivy League education, life was a bitch, and therapy only barely made it tolerable. As soon as Libby was old enough, she’d begun searching for her prince.
She’d found him in Monaco, and after a whirlwind romance during a trip across Europe, her knight in shining tuxedo had gotten down on one knee on the Amalfi Coast.
Libby had known that celebrating a love story like theirs was no easy task. It took an extensive internet search before she found the Gilded Age mansions of Newport, Rhode Island: the so-called American Castles were an excellent choice for a princess wedding. If only finding the right wedding planner had been as straightforward. The first two she’d hired had quit.
But Libby had always called herself Cinderella, and when it came to getting her dream wedding, she had persevered against all the odds.
Now she just needed to rid herself of her evil stepsister.
* * *
The wedding started at two o’clock, so Camilla gave herself a leisurely morning before she fixed her hair and got dressed.
The moment she began to walk outside to her car, Camilla knew something was wrong. Bracing herself against the cold winter wind, clutching her red gown in one hand and the hood of her coat with the other, an eerie sense of premonition came over her.
She was halfway across the full parking lot before she spotted her vehicle. All four tires were flat. The hilt of a knife stuck out of the tire by the driver’s side door.
Camilla’s stomach sank as she took in the damage. How the hell had this happened? She’d parked under one of the security lamps, for God’s sake; her car had been illuminated all night. And someone had still slashed her tires like that? What was the matter with people?? She’d spent so much money just to come to this wedding, and now this.
Camilla turned and walked back inside, fighting back tears. She was going to have to notify the police, and have the hotel check their security cameras. She was going to have to have her car fixed.
Even if she got a cab, she’d never get to the wedding on time.
* * *
At one o’clock, as Camilla was giving a statement, Libby’s wedding planner’s chief assistant—a woman named Mo—was down at the church, overseeing the final preparations before all of the guests began to arrive.
Mo had been at the church for the past five hours. She’d been busy hanging up garlands and arranging the flowers, decorating the pews with handcrafted festoons, checking the twinkling lights on two dozen Christmas trees, arranging the program table, meeting with the officiant, lighting hundreds of candles, and completing all of the other three hundred tasks on her spreadsheet.
Mo was standing near the front door when she heard a low rumble, something between a lion’s growl and the rasp of rocks in an earthquake. The sound was coming from up above her. With a heavy sense of dread, Mo lifted her eyes toward the ceiling.
The church was almost entirely empty when a big chunk of the roof suddenly caved in. Plaster and woodwork, insulation and slate: the debris rained down about twenty feet from the front door, right over the nave. The noise was tremendous; so loud that Mo thought the whole building was on the verge of collapse.
She screamed and screamed as she turned and ran out of the church.
When the police arrived, it was Mo who was able to tell them that the pews had all been empty when a hole suddenly opened up in the roof.
* * *
At two o’clock, Camilla was still at her hotel, when she unexpectedly got a text from her father. He sent her an address for a church on the other side of town, along with the words: Wedding was moved, new start time is four.
He didn’t send anything else, and when Camilla called him, he didn’t answer his phone.
* * *
Libby Winston had wanted a fairy tale wedding so ostentatious and grand that no wedding after it would ever be as magnificent.
But then the roof of the church caved in. And that was just the start of Libby’s problems.
The wedding planner, however, was undaunted, and she sprang into action. A new ceremony location was found, and the guests were mobilized to haul whatever decorations could be salvaged from the disaster zone to the new church. Even with all of the crisis management, Libby still lost her temper and started yelling at people. The winter day turned sour.
By the time the ceremony began at four o’clock, people were drained and frazzled. Camilla slipped into the church at the last minute, and took a seat in the back. Libby shot her a look of disdain as she walked down the aisle.
The ceremony went as planned, but as everyone filed out of the church, chaos erupted again. An elderly guest slipped on some ice in the parking lot, and shattered her hip. A groomsmen had a fender-bender trying to get to the reception. At five o’clock, a winter squall hit the shoreline, and knocked out the power for two hours. The caterers and the staff at the mansion rushed to get the generators turned on. It took over an hour for all of the Christmas lights hung up outside to flicker back on. As Camilla arrived with the other guests for the reception, instead of seeing a storybook castle glowing with holiday cheer, the giant mansion was almost entirely dark in the night.
Even after everyone was safely inside, with the power back on, trouble just followed them in. Libby had ordered the construction of a life-size gingerbread house in one of the ballrooms, and arranged for a photographer to take pictures of her guests posing inside of it. Around six o’clock, someone kicked an interior wall of the candy house, and half of the structure suddenly fell over, sending people running. No one ever figured out who had ruined the gingerbread house. But as soon as Libby found out about it, she blamed Camilla, who she could see smiling and chatting as if nothing was wrong. Her evil stepsister had struck again.
Because in fact, Libby blamed everything on Camilla: the hole in the church roof, the ice on the ground making people slip, the winter storm knocking out the power, the gingerbread house falling apart. Libby cursed Camilla Wheatley’s name with all the strength in her heart. She had done everything she could think of to keep that bitch out of her wedding. But that nasty hag had still found a way to show up, and ruin everything.
As the night wore on, the mayhem continued. Libby had arranged for a giant ice sculpture to decorate one end of the bar, and hired a bartender to pour drinks through a special chute in the sculpture to fill each martini glass. When the entire sculpture suddenly crashed to the floor, sending chunks of ice everywhere, Libby knew it was Camilla’s fault.
But Camilla hadn’t even ordered a drink at the bar, much less knocked over the ice sculpture. She was waiting in line at the hot chocolate station, and helping some of the elderly guests avoid stepping on the ice debris all over the floor; at least a dozen people were dangerously close to another broken hip.
It was honestly the most stressful wedding Camilla had ever been to in her life. Like a lot of people at the “fairy tale castle” that night, Camilla didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
By nine o’clock, Libby was yelling at everyone, and people were already leaving. Not even the paid staff could convince them to stay. Since Libby didn’t have any friends, she’d hired five women at a Rent a Bridesmaid service in New York City to be her bridesmaids that day, and even those women, who had seen all number of wedding day horrors, privately agreed with each other that Libby’s Cinderella wedding was an absolute trainwreck; the single worst wedding they’d ever seen.
Camilla’s father, who had walked Libby down the aisle and paid for everything, went outside and got drunk in his car. He didn’t answer his phone, and no one could find him.
He wasn’t there when Libby had what onlookers would later call “a break with all reason.” In a moment of uncontrollable fury, undone by the pitying looks people were giving her, Libby tore off her princess tiara, crossed the reception hall, and bitch-slapped Camilla.
“Get out!” Libby screamed. “Get away from me! Don’t ever come near me again!”
Camilla drew herself up, still clutching a hand to her cheek. The two women faced each other a moment, one dressed in scarlet, the other in a snow-white gown fit for a queen.
Libby’s voice filled the hall. “You’ve ruined everything!” The five Rent a Bridesmaids walked over to flank her, aware that Libby probably wouldn’t pay them what was left on their contract if they didn’t support her right then.
Camilla took in their miserable faces, and briefly wondered if she’d fallen through a rabbit hole to the Ninth Circle of Hell. Libby had temporarily gone from ice princess to Satan.
Camilla sighed, in no mood to prolong her own torture.
“Congratulations, Libby,” Camilla said dryly. “Merry Christmas.”
She didn’t go back to her table to pick up her wedding favor: an exquisite stoneware mug with the couple’s name and wedding date etched on the side, filled with hot chocolate supplies, tucked in a gift basket full of the ingredients to make s’mores. Camilla wasn’t alone in that. Hardly any of the guests that night took home their favors. Almost all of that stuff would end up in a dumpster.
But Camilla wasn’t thinking about the abandoned wedding favors right then. She was crossing the parking lot, looking for the car she’d had to rent earlier.
She spotted her father sitting in a shiny Mercedes. One glance, and she knew what he was up to. Camilla opened the driver’s side door, and got in beside him. Her father didn’t say anything to her. Just offered her a half-full bottle of whiskey.
The interior of the car was freezing. Camilla found the keys in a cup holder, and turned on the engine. She flipped the heater on high, and as the car began to warm up, she took a swig of the whiskey.
Then Camilla turned on the radio, and found a station playing old Christmas music. Dean Martin’s “Let It Snow” filled the car. Camilla kept the volume on low.
Her father took another drink, and she looked over at him for a moment, at his bleary eyes and defeated expression. She remembered him leaving her mother when she had been three, abandoning them to run off with Vanessa. She thought of him raising Libby as his own.
Camilla watched her father run a hand through his hair, and realized he probably had no idea how much pain his choices had caused her. How much it still hurt her to look at him, and know in her soul that she hadn’t been enough. He’d chosen Libby instead.
And for the first time in her life, Camilla realized that she wouldn’t want to be Libby for anything, even if it meant she’d gotten to grow up with her father. Camilla’s life, good and bad, was enough.
Her father wasn’t thinking about the past, though. Or ruminating on what kind of father he was. As Camilla looked him over again, her father smiled wearily, and gestured with his thumb at the mansion behind them. With the power back on, the enormous castle was all lit up once again. The Christmas lights filled the car with a cheerful glow.
“Quarter million I just spent on that party,” her father muttered, shaking his head.
Camilla smirked, and then patted his shoulder. “You really got your money’s worth, Dad.”
He laughed a little, and then he reached over and hugged her. “I’m glad you came.”
“Me too, Dad,” Camilla said, and she meant it.