“Yep. About two more miles and we should be there,” Noelle told her precocious eight-year-old daughter. There were times when Annabelle acted more like a teen rather than an eight-year-old, and this was definitely one of those times. She’d been skeptical about the directions from the start.
“You know that sometimes a maps app doesn’t always work correctly. We could be lost in all this snow forever and freeze to death. We should call Daddy and have him come get us.”
Noelle absolutely, one-hundred percent, refused to allow her soon-to-be ex-husband, Kris Timekeeper, to swoop in and be the hero. Those days were over. She was perfectly capable of taking care of herself, her daughter, and their dog, thank you very much!
Kris had emailed the link, warning her of the importance of using this GPS app rather than any other. At first she thought he was being ridiculous, but when her Google Maps couldn’t find Merry, PA, she tried his Merry Maps and sure enough it brought up the driving directions instantly. Now all she had to do was trust that this special app was accurate.
“We don’t need to call your dad. We’ll get there just fine on our own. We’ve gotten this far, haven’t we? If you learn one lesson in all of this, it’s don’t give up when your goal is just around the corner.”
“Why does everything always have to be a lesson? Can’t we just have fun?” Annabelle was obviously in one of her I-don’t-want-a-lesson moods. Noelle knew there was no winning when she decided to be this way, but the lesson was too important to drop.
“We are having fun, but you also have a chance to learn something important.”
“If you say so,” Annabelle mumbled. “But I want to be there now.”
At once Noelle knew she’d managed to alienate her daughter, a common occurrence these days. She hadn’t meant to. She simply wanted to make sure Annabelle grew up to be a strong woman, and never needed to depend on anyone. Whenever she had the opportunity to demonstrate that strength, she’d make a point of telling her daughter.
Apparently, this was not the right time.
“Okay, we’ll save the lesson for later. For now, we’ll simply savor our triumph of driving here all on our own from Long Island. That’s a big deal, and you helped!”
“Whatever,” Annabelle said, without looking at her mom.
Noelle glanced over at her daughter just as their car slid on some ice for an instant. Noelle’s hands locked on the wheel in a death grip, she eased up on the gas, and she purposely did not step on the brake. She had the car back under control in the blink of an eye, but the adrenalin rush still pumped up the beat of her heart.
“Mom, don’t do that. It’s too scary.” Annabelle sat up straight in her seat, and stared out the front window at the snowy road.
“I’ve got it. I’ve got it,” Noelle repeated, but she knew at any moment she could lose control once again. “No worries.”
The roads were getting dangerously slippery, and she was too tired for the constant battle. All she wanted was to find this darn turnoff and get out of the car for a while. She’d had enough fun for one day.
Noelle had never driven this far in her entire life. Kris had always done the driving, or her parents, or an assortment of friends. She looked at it as a sort of rite of passage and daydreamed of one day driving across the entire country with only her daughter by her side . . . and Holly, Annabelle’s dog, of course.
She sucked in a breath, sat up straight and once again tried to relax her shoulders by releasing the vice-grip she had on the wheel.
“In five-hundred feet, use the right lane, and make a right turn onto Candy Lane,” the male voice coming from her linked car radio said. Annabelle had chosen the male voice with the English accent to lead them to her dad’s house. The voice sounded more like her dad’s, and Annabelle worshiped her father, as she should. Noelle would have liked a little of that adoration coming her way every now and again.
“We’re here!” Noelle said as she made a right turn up Candy Lane. The tension of driving in snow had kept her body tight for the past fifty miles. Just knowing they were about to enter the town and were off the main highway was enough to ease the stiffness in the back of her neck.
“Holly is happy, but I think she needs to pee really bad.”
Holly was Annabelle’s very pregnant Westie, and the reason why they had driven from Long Island to this gosh-forsaken place to begin with. Annabelle wanted to spend Christmas with her dad, and wherever Annabelle went, Holly went right along with her.
When Annabelle’s dad had moved out eight months ago, she’d gone into a tailspin of sadness that Noelle couldn’t handle. A child phycologist told Noelle that a pet might help cheer her up, so Noelle immediately went out and found Holly, a five-month-old Westie pup who was already housebroken. Annabelle’s disposition immediately changed for the better. They were inseparable, along with Jolly, the Westie who lived down the block and was the inspiration for buying Holly in the first place. Little did Noelle know that Holly and Jolly had more than a friendship going on, and before Noelle could remedy the situation, Holly was pregnant with at least three pups, according to a local vet.
Now, with her ever-growing baby-bump, Holly stood on Annabelle’s lap and perched her front paws on the passenger door to get a better view out the window at her new world. Her head dipped to one side as if she wasn’t too sure about what she saw.
“Let’s find your dad’s house first. I don’t want to stop the car in all this snow.”
Annabelle’s dad had been the love of Noelle’s life. She thought they’d be together forever, until last spring when he inherited some old clock from his great-uncle Tim and refused to tell Noelle anything more about it, or why they had to move to Pennsylvania so he could work on it. She would have followed him anywhere if he’d been honest with her, but he wanted her to trust him, and just go along with the program.
All he told her was the clock could not be moved from its location and he was the only person who could work on it. God knew how much Kris loved to tinker with old clocks, but there was no longer a future in it. Great-uncle Tim had been a master clockmaker, and his dad before him and so on for several generations. Kris’s dad never had an interest, and instead owned a highly successful electronics corporation, making Kris the last in a long line of clockmakers. His great-uncle had never married nor had any children, but he’d made sure Kris learned the trade.
Unfortunately, Kris had given that love of clock tinkering to Annabelle. Noelle hoped it was a passing passion and her daughter would soon develop a fascination for anything other than a completely dead craft. So far, Annabelle still loved to tinker with old clocks despite Noelle’s encouragement for the arts, or math, or any number of viable potential interests. None of them appealed to her except those darn clocks. She was always working on one, and had brought one along for her dad to help fix. It was almost as if clock making was part of her DNA. Unfortunately, Kris’s great-uncle could barely make ends meet, and Kris seemed to be heading in the same direction.
Picking up and leaving so Kris could take up clock making full-time meant she’d have to give up the job she’d worked so hard to maintain at the marketing agency that paid her six figures a year. And Kris would be giving up his teaching position at Columbia University. They argued about it for months, until he finally walked away from his job and his family, and moved to Merry, PA. A town that wasn’t even on a map.
“This is highly unfortunate,” Kris said to his assistant, Mrs. Florence Tannenbaum, as they stood in the clock room, each busy with their own projects. “I’m nervous about using the old parts with all my upgrades.”
“You’ll have to work with what you have,” Mrs. Tannenbaum said with her usual dismissive flair. “You can’t depend on the mail service for such an important task. It just isn’t prudent. Never has been.”
Mrs. Florence Tannenbaum came with the house, which was fortunate because she knew almost everything about the ancient clock, the town, and great-uncle Tim. There had been contentious times in the past month when Kris had thought about dismissing her, but his great-uncle, even though he’d been practically bankrupt, had managed to make financial provisions for her and had strongly suggested that he find a way to work with her, despite her sometimes caustic behavior.
Kris had bit his tongue on many occasions, as she continued to be a challenge. “Is the guest room ready for my daughter? They should arrive any minute.”
Kris turned off the light on his desk inside the hidden room at the back of the house that was filled with gears, coils and various parts of antique clocks. The room dated back to when the house was initially built in the late eighteen hundreds, but was never added to the blueprints. For all intents and purposes the room didn’t exist. It resided on the third floor of the Victorian house, was purposely south facing with the entire upper half and ceiling made of thick, reinforced glass. The glass was automatically cleaned each dawn and dusk by a set of pulleys and squeegees run by some of the same gears and springs the clock ran on. The water was also automatically provided from a natural spring that ran through the back of the property. Trees hid the windows from the outside world, but the sun, the moon and the stars shone bright through the glass each and every day.
“Your guest room is ready, but I had little to do with it. Your annoying housekeeper saw to it with her regular chores. If that’s all you need for today, I’ll be heading home for the night.”
“Have a nice evening, Mrs. Tannenbaum,” Kris told her, anxious to end their day together.
“I will, but it certainly won’t be because you told me to do so.”
Kris sighed and hung his head in resignation. He’d once again forgotten that wishing her a nice evening was not something she responded to in kind. Instead, she took all of those traditional social pleasantries like ‘have a nice day,’ or ‘take care,’ as insults. To her, the person bestowing the kind wishes was literally telling her what to do. And Mrs. Tannenbaum would most definitely have none of that. No one told her what to do, ever, and she made darn sure everyone knew it.
“Ah, of course,” Kris replied, hoping that by some miracle she’d have a great night despite her acerbic nature and return in the morning with a smile on her face. Of course, he’d hoped for this in the past and each morning she’d arrive with her usual scowl. But Kris was an optimist at heart, so he never gave up hope on anything or anybody. Surely one day she would change her tune. It was simply a matter of good temperament and time . . . which he was running desperately short on.
He followed her out of the room, walked past the sliding wall, pulled on the large candlestick on the black marble mantle and watched the wall glide back into place, concealing the secret room from any prying eyes. No one would ever suspect that what was hidden behind that wall helped St. Nick–or Santa Claus, as was his more modern name. It was a secret that had been passed down in his family ever since his fifteenth century ancestor, who had lived in Prague, had designed the clock. It was one of two, only this one had been kept as a secret from the beginning, and shipped to this location once the house was completed. The other clock hung on the wall of Old Town City Hall, in Old Town Prague. This one was a smaller version, had been commissioned by Mr. Claus himself, and no one knew of its existence except the clockmaker’s family for more generations than Kris could count.
Annabelle didn’t know it yet, but she was the last descendant, and would one day be the sole custodian and Mastermagical Clockmaker. With her most recent birthday, she was finally old enough to be told the truth, and Kris couldn’t wait to tell her . . . at the appropriate moment, of course. It also meant that he could tell his wife all about St. Nick’s clock as well, and this time, he hoped she would finally understand the importance of his work.