Love Finds You in North Pole, AlaskaBy: Loree Lough
“All right,” Olive said, one fist propped on a chubby hip, “out with it.”
He felt the eye patch rise as his brow rose. “Out with what?”
“Oh, don’t give me that. I taught school too long not to recognize when somebody’s got something up his sleeve.”
Chuckling, he met her dark eyes. “Never could fool you, could I?”
“Main question I’ve always had is…why do you even try?”
She had a good point. So why not just spit it out? Might ease her mind, knowing that while she sunned herself on warm sandy beaches, he’d be happy, doing what he’d always wanted to do. Elbows between two snow globes on the counter, Bryce spelled out his plan, then held his breath and waited for her reaction.
“Honey,” she said, patting his cheek, “that’s the best idea you’ve had since…well, it’s your best idea yet.” She walked around the counter and threw her arms around his neck. “Now I won’t have to worry about you while I’m dipping my toes in the warm blue waters of the Atlantic. And let me tell you, I am so ready for that!”
A nice picture, he acknowledged…for Olive. But he bit back the sadness roused by mere thoughts of her leaving.
“Of course, with me gone, you’re gonna need to hire somebody to run the store…until it sells.”
Bryce heard the unspoken warning in her gravelly voice. The North Pole real estate business hadn’t exactly been brisk. The fact was, Olive probably made more selling snow globes than anyone in town had earned selling property.
“I’ve been trying to find help for nearly three months. Hope you’ll have better luck than I did.”
“Me, too, ’cause the idea of sitting inside all day, every day, makes my hair stand on end.”
“What hair?” she teased.
Bryce laughed, savoring the bittersweet moment. He sure was going to miss her! “Maybe while you’re in Florida, you can get work in one of the beachfront comedy clubs.”
She ignored his feeble attempt at humor. “I know you’ve never been the ‘stay indoors’ type, but it might be good to try it on for size. Maybe it’ll knock that chip off your shoulder.”
“Chip? What chip?”
“Oh, please.” Olive began moving snow globes from the counter to a shelf along the side wall. “You haven’t been yourself since you walked through that door a couple weeks ago, wearing that patch and a Captain Hook attitude.” She shook her head. “I know it hasn’t been easy, dealing with the fact that you’ll never see out of that eye again, but even you have to admit, things could have turned out worse.”
Lots worse, he admitted, remembering all the soldiers who had fallen while defending their country. And some of those who’d made it home would spend the rest of their lives in wheelchairs or struggling to adjust to prostheses that replaced lost limbs. Bryce felt the heat of shame creep into his cheeks. “I didn’t realize I was behaving like…I never meant…” Had his demeanor really made others think he felt sorry for himself? Bryce sure hoped not. “It isn’t the blindness that bothers me,” he said dully.
Olive turned, a snow globe in each hand. “Oh? Then what?”
How could he admit how much he disliked being back here, where every man, woman, and child—whether born in North Pole or visiting by choice—loved the town where it was Christmas, twenty-four-seven, three-sixty-five? He didn’t bother voicing his hearty objection to the sell-sell-sell attitude surrounding the day on which the Lord was born, because on a practical level, even he had to admit how much the whole Christmas thing had pumped up North Pole’s economy. Besides, his attitude toward God and religion had taken a big hit during the past few years, so it seemed hypocritical, even to him, to use the over-commercialization of a holy day as his excuse.
Bryce took a deep breath and decided to follow her example of doing the right thing, simply because it needed to be done. “So, what can I do to help?” Might as well dive in headfirst. He’d been home nearly two weeks and hadn’t done a real lick of work to help her out. If he hoped to sell the place and make a profit, he’d better learn the ropes while she was still around to teach him, because the lessons he’d learned as a kid, working beside his parents, had long ago retreated to the dark recesses of his memory.
On the heels of a muffled yawn, she said, “A shipment arrived this morning, and I haven’t had a chance to unpack it.”
He paid little attention to the dark circles under her eyes. His aunt often spent all-nighters reading novels by her favorite authors. He’d tried the “Even a powerhouse like you needs a good night’s sleep” speech, but since it had always fallen on deaf ears, Bryce didn’t bother now. Instead, he stood at attention and snapped off a smart salute. “Captain Stone, reporting for duty, ma’am!”
Olive snickered. “There’s the clipboard,” she said, nodding toward a peg on the wall, “and a pen. Now get crackin’, soldier!”