Resisting Fate

By: Kylie Gilmore

Chapter One

Don’t smite me. Ben Wright quickly stepped through the entrance of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and lived to tell the tale. He hadn’t set foot in church since he was a kid. He veered right and headed downstairs to the basement for the craft bazaar. Not that he was a crafty guy. He was more of a rugged type with his six-foot height, short light brown hair, and his usual black leather jacket with worn jeans and hiking boots. His dimpled smile detracted from the ruggedness, making him “approachable” or “such a cutie patootie,” as Grandmom always said when she wanted to butter him up. Just like she’d said this morning before ordering him to pick up a jar of homemade cherry jam and a handknit sweater. Something in a men’s large that he’d promptly forget he bought. Merry Christmas to me!

He chuckled to himself. Grandmom was down with a cold or flu, she wasn’t sure, and had insisted he do exactly as she said. “It’s one day only! You can’t miss it!” And when he’d assured her he didn’t need anything more than to spend Christmas with her, healthy and well, she’d become irritated, shooing him out the door with a parting jab. “You have to get your gift before someone else snatches it up!” Like there’d be a stampede for men’s handknit sweaters.

In any case, he always came through for a woman in need. It was kind of his thing.

He halted in the bustling basement, surprised by the number of people Christmas shopping when it was still November. It sure as hell felt like Christmas down here, from the silver garland strung along the ceiling to the carols playing softly in the background to the scent of hot chocolate and fresh-baked goodies. He shoved his hands in his jeans pockets, taking in way too many long tables along the edges of the space bursting with crafty crap. He needed a plan—get in, get out.

He made his way to the center refreshment table with hot chocolate, juice boxes, and assorted individually wrapped baked goods for sale. He figured the women there could direct him to the jam. A few minutes later, jam in hand, he was about to ask where the men’s sweaters were hiding when a hand clapped him on the shoulder.

“Ben, how nice to see you here again!”

He startled at the sight of an ancient Father Munson, completely bald now and considerably more cheerful than he’d ever been at Mass. Ben flushed, feeling guilty for…everything. “How’re you, Father?”

“I’m well, thank you. Your grandmother said you’d be here. Let me direct you to the sweaters she thought you might like.”

“Sure, thanks.” He followed him through the crowd to the far corner of the room, where two long tables were covered in sheep’s haircuts. One corner of his mouth lifted, imagining all those naked sheep grazing in the meadow.

Father Munson gestured him on. “Right over there,” he said and took off, surprisingly nimble for a man of his years.

Ben stood near the end of one table next to a couple of elderly women checking out the men’s sweaters. There were also hats, scarves, and mittens. He touched the edge of a hat, already feeling itchy and hot. Okay, as soon as those women moved on, he’d grab the first sweater close to his size and get out of here. But then his grandmother would want to see him wear it, and she’d notice if he only wore it once.

The women moved on, and he stepped forward, setting the jam on the table and quickly sifting through the men’s sweaters for one large enough for his wide shoulders that wasn’t too hideous. He felt someone staring at him. He lifted his head and nearly laughed. Her again? What were the odds?

Missy Higgins. Formerly red-haired, currently brunette with sharp brown eyes, delicate-looking cheekbones and nose, and the sexiest plump lips with a dip at the top. She wore a clingy red sweater that showed every sweet curve.

This was gonna be fun. The first time he’d met her months ago at his honorary brother Marcus’s bar in the city, she’d caught his eye with her red hair. But then she’d dyed her gorgeous red hair dark brown, and the second time he met her, he hadn’t recognized her. By the time he put it together, she was irritated. But not in a serious way, more like she didn’t really give a fuck.