For some people, Christmas was just a day. Maybe, a season; a once a year grand occasion. For Abby Smith, it was everything. Her love of the holiday combined with her fond memories of Christmas’ long ago, strengthened her determination not to let being alone make her lonely. Her laser focus and intense worth ethic allowed her to make a career out of Christmas. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“You’ve got Mrs. Edenbury on her way in,” her assistant said through the intercom. The speaker system was probably unnecessary as she could hear Kimberly’s voice outside her door, even with it shut. Abby liked the professionalism of it though.
After working out of her home, she took great pride in this space. As office spaces went, hers was tiny, but it was functional and meant she didn’t have bins of Christmas stacked to the ceiling in her equally small apartment. It was located in the older district of Sweets, New York, which kept the rent more reasonable than anything closer to the hub of town.
Abby stood up behind the pretty, knotted pine desk she’d found in an antique store down the block, and smoothed down her black skirt. And so, it begins. A smile bloomed on her face. It was fitting to start the season with one of her longest, and most special, clients. With thirty seconds to spare, she adjusted the buttons on her holiday cardigan—it was never too early— and walked to the door to open it before one of her favorite people could knock.
“Abby!” Mrs. Edenbury said, holding out her arms. Walking into the hug, Abby inhaled the delightful smell of the woman’s light vanilla fragrance. Being the owner and CEO of a beauty product company meant this client never looked or smelled anything less than perfect. Like Christmas commercials, it was a sign that the season was once again upon her and the thought, the smell—the idea—made her stomach dance with joy.
“It’s so good to see you, Mrs. Edenbury. Please, come in.”
Abby went back to her seat behind the desk while the older woman, dressed impeccably in a wine-colored pant suit, took a seat in front of her. There wasn’t a trace of grey in the woman’s side-swept, dark hair—another testament to the woman’s own beauty products. One of Abby’s original clients, Mrs. E had been more of a mother figure to her than her own mom in the last few years. At Christmas time at least.
For several years now, her mother refused to spend the holidays in Sweets, regardless of Abby’s pleading. Meeting Mrs. E and bonding over their mutual love of the season made it difficult to keep her interactions strictly professional. To say Abby had a soft spot for this woman, was putting it mildly.
“How are you? You’re early this year,” Abby said, picking up a pen, her notepad ready with the date and client name written at the top. “I’m wonderful. Business is booming. I told you my son, Finn, had come to work for me, right? I’d say there’s nothing better than having your children grow up to become your employees, but I’m not altogether convinced that’s true yet.”
Mrs. Edenbury leaned forward set her over-sized, black purse on the floor and Abby smiled, thinking that this woman, with her elegant posture, perfect suits, and easy smile was a contradiction. She seemed tough as nails, but Abby saw the tenderness in the way she referred to her son. Finn. Finn Edenbury. It was Abby’s job to know her clients, their lives, their families, and how to make their idealistic visions of the holidays come true. When she’d been getting her business off the ground, focusing on Christmas only hadn’t paid the bills, so Abby organized and executed other events and celebrations. Those were beginning to take a backseat to this season though and nothing could have thrilled her more.
“How is Finn?” Abby asked. Though she’d never met the man, she knew a fair amount about him. He’d been married, had a child, and in the last couple of years, divorced. It was interesting to Abby that someone she’d never met had such an impact on her life. When she’d been starting her party-planning-event-assistant business, Mrs. Edenbury had tasked her with the job of finding the perfect venue for Finn’s engagement party and seeing to all the event details. His life events, in a sense, kick-started her career. Decorating Mrs. E’s house for the holidays had been Abby’s step in the direction she’d longed to take.
“He’s a Scrooge. It’s not his year to have Melody for the holidays and it’s turning him into an absolute grouch. He refuses to talk about the holidays, never mind plan for them,” she answered, her eyes glowering, but with a slight sheen to them. Abby smiled, leaned back in her chair. “Well, to be fair to your son, we’re still a week away from Thanksgiving and a lot of people don’t plan for the holidays until it’s past.”
Mrs. Edenbury leaned forward, her hands on the desk when a knock interrupted whatever she was going to say. Kimberly, Abby’s part-time receptionist-slash-assistant, pushed open the door with her hip, bringing in a tray of gingersnaps and hot chocolate.
“Sorry to interrupt. Just wanted to bring in some refreshments,” Kimberly said. She smiled at Mrs. Edenbury, set the tray down on Abby’s desk and with a quick wink and a grin, left the room. All part of the holiday packaging, Abby thought. They were well rehearsed, though things felt more natural with some clients more than others. Standing to come around the desk, she passed one of the mugs of cocoa to Mrs. E before taking the other for herself. Leaning against the edge of her desk, she waited for the woman to continue venting. Knowing the woman’s tendency to chat, Abby had cleared a longer than usual block of time in her calendar.
Mrs. E took a sip and sighed. “Delicious. Every time. Where was I? Oh, right. It’s not just that it’s too early, Abby. Finn says he won’t celebrate the holidays at all this year. Oh, he’ll come for Christmas Day at our house, but when I asked him about decorations and menus for the staff party, he said he didn’t care. If he’s working for me, I want him to care. We have an example to set and I’ve always prided myself on making the holidays special for my employees. Do you know Finn told me he isn’t even decorating his home? That’s just not acceptable.”
A tiny flicker of uncertainty sparked to life inside Abby’s stomach. She could plan a menu for 250 people, put together gift baskets that rivaled Academy Award swag, but she couldn’t make people have Christmas spirit.
“Lots of people don’t feel as strongly about Christmas—or any holiday—as you and I, Mrs. Edenbury.”
In her five years, she’d had plenty of Scrooges try to rain on her holiday parades. The holidays could be a very difficult time and not everyone enjoyed them. Abby understood that, but it still made her sad. Her mother was one of those people and if she had a magic formula for infusing hearts with holiday cheer, Abby would have used it already.
Mrs. E picked up a gingersnap as she set her mug down. Breaking the cookie in two, she looked up at Abby with a frown. “Call me Patricia. For goodness sakes, you’ve been buying my Christmas presents and arranging every event I’ve had for the past five years. And it doesn’t matter if he likes the holidays as much as I do. He has a child now and he needs to make sure that traditions and sentiments are carried on even if he doesn’t have a wife to see to it. Who ever said it was the woman’s job anyway? Not that she did it herself, which I’m not judging, but Melody goes back and forth between both houses. She deserves to have her parents put their best effort in, even if she isn’t there full-time. What’s he going to do next year when it is his turn to have Melody? Besides, I don’t want him going home to his house devoid of any holiday spirit and sitting by himself every evening. He’s been curmudgeonly since the divorce. The only thing that makes him smile is Melody. I…” Her voice broke and Abby’s heart cracked a little. This woman wasn’t worried about Christmas. She was worried about her son. She grabbed a tissue and passed it to Mrs. Edenbury. Taking it, she sniffled delicately and smiled. “Thank you. Sorry, dear. I want to give my son a very special gift this Christmas. I want to remind him that there are lots of reasons to be hopeful, that magic still exists, and that the holidays are the perfect time to forget all our other troubles. I want to give him more than Christmas spirit, Abby. I want to give him back a little bit of faith in humanity. And I’m hiring you to do it.”
I wrote Damaged years ago when I was trying to find an agent. I'd had the story in my head for some time and it was one of those ideas that wouldn't leave me alone. Maddi Brooks, in my opinion, is one of the strongest characters I've ever written. I love the quote above and it truly encapsulates what Maddi needs to realize about herself; what Noah and his sister Natalie help her realize. She's stronger than she believes and despite everything, has an incredible capacity for love. This story mattered to me years ago and it still does today. I'm so happy with the new cover and grateful for the chance to share it all over again.