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A Christmas to Remember

By´╝ÜJenny Hale

Chapter One


People under stress can benefit from doing something familiar. The predictability of the task will sometimes ease one’s anxiety.

Carrie highlighted the passage in her book and closed it. With a deep breath, she set it on the passenger seat of the car next to a half-empty box of candy canes she’d bought at a border store between North Carolina and Virginia on her way to her next job.

Growing up in a small town in North Carolina, Carrie’s life had been very predictable. She went to school with friends in her neighborhood, and every afternoon—even on the coldest days—her mother would wait on the swing of their long, front porch for her to get off the bus. On Wednesday nights she had soccer practice during the warm months, and on Tuesdays she had dance practice during the cold ones. When it was snowing—like it was now—she and her parents would go sleigh riding down the big hill in her front yard, and her father would bring in logs from the back porch and start a fire in their stone fireplace to warm them up afterward. She and her friends would sit in front of the flickering flames their legs stretched out, their fuzzy socks all in a row while her mother brought them mugs of hot cocoa. Her life had been predictable, but she had lots of warm memories.

And now Carrie sat in her car, far away from all that was familiar and predictable. She’d taken this job in Virginia because her new boss, Adam Fletcher, had offered her a considerable amount of money—more than what she’d made at her last job. And it was temporary, only lasting through New Year’s. Even though it went against everything she felt she wanted, Carrie had decided that this would be her last nanny job before moving on to something else. She needed to see what life had to offer, and being a nanny made it difficult to do that. She was always with other people’s children. She needed time to build her life if she ever wanted to have a family of her own. So, she’d have a fun trip to Virginia, and then, she’d focus on her New Year’s resolution: finding another career.

Carrie felt anxious every time she started a new nanny position. She didn’t know the kids yet or the manner in which the parents would expect her to manage the children. She always had her own way of making it all work out, though. Being a nanny was what she knew. She was great at it, and, once she got her bearings, she felt confident with her decisions when it came to children. It didn’t matter what type of child she was given at the beginning—whiney, rambunctious, needy, anxious—she had a natural ability to help them through whatever it was, and by the time she left, they were happy, healthy, lovely children. She was able to change them because she knew that the job was more than just watching them. The parents didn’t always understand that, but she knew it, which was all that mattered. Carrie never felt comfortable until she’d been at a position a few days—when she’d had enough time to get a feeling for the atmosphere in the home and the personalities of the children. But once she felt comfortable, she could be quite outspoken about what was best for the kids.

She looked out the window. The snow was coming down all around her, and she could feel the chill of winter slipping into the car. The sky was a seamless white, blurring with the snow-covered ground. All the houses on this street were brick—their red and brown surfaces the only color against the blank canvas of snow. Even the street was covered, and the snow was falling so quickly that it hid the tire tracks nearly as fast as they could be created by passing cars. Carrie looked at the white expanse through her windshield, letting the quiet scene calm her, just as her cell phone lit up on the seat, her new “Jingle Bells” ringtone shrill against the surrounding silence. She grabbed it before she’d even looked at the number.

“Hello?” she said, closing her eyes and cringing because she’d been impulsive in answering—she only had a few minutes left before she had to be on the Fletchers’ doorstep. She hoped the call wasn’t a long one. Trying to rush someone off the phone would only frazzle her, and she didn’t want to be frazzled on day one.

“Hi. Is this Carrie Blake?”

“Yes.”

“It’s Adam Fletcher.”

She sat up straight, every inch of her body on high alert, her heart pounding with anxiety. Adam, her new boss, had an authoritative voice, the kind that made her want to put her best foot forward, the kind that made her overanalyze every single word that came out of her mouth just to be sure she’d made a good impression. He was also in the house right beside her.

“Hello,” she said, not knowing what to say next.

“Is that you outside, sitting in your car?”

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