“So what you’re saying is, there’s no room at the inn?” Maren wanted to be clear before she lost her shit.
The woman, Mrs. Dorrie Langston, made an expression of regret. Then she lifted a plate. “Cookie? The Halliday Inn is famous for its spritzes.”
Deep breath, in through the nose. Exhale. “No thank you.” See? She could be polite to the nice lady offering cookies. Maren even managed a smile, miserly as it was. “I’m trying to understand how this happened.”
Mrs. Langston set the plate down on the desk and referred back to her computer screen. “It says here that a Ms. Jane-”
“Diaz,” Maren interrupted. “Or, that is, it was Flannery, now it’s Diaz.”
Mrs. Langston’s eyes lit up. “Oh yes, I remember now. She mentioned something about hoping for a ring for her birthday. So she already got married, then? That was fast. How romantic!”
Maren’s fists clenched. “Yes. Very romantic.” Her assistant Jane’s whirlwind affair with a Spaniard who owned an orange plantation in Valencia had been very fast and very destructive to Maren’s business plans. “Now what did Jane do with my lease?”
Mrs. Langston took a cookie from the plate and nibbled as she reviewed the notes on the computer. “Yes, Jane Flannery called, we negotiated the terms, we sent her the lease for the shop and she never got it back to us.”
Maren muttered a curse under her breath.
“What’s a pop up shop anyway?” Mrs. Langston frowned and squinted.
Deep breath. In through the nose. Try not to scream in front of God and everyone.
“A pop up shop is a temporary storefront, meant to draw seasonal crowds and encourage brand buzz.” Maren said the words almost by rote, as well she should. She’d been preaching and pushing for pop-ups at Cashmere Home for the past twelve months, staking her career on this expansion into the American market. Everything hinged on the first pop-up shop, here in Mistletoe Key.
Maren had done thorough market research. She knew the median ages of the visitors to Mistletoe Key every holiday season for the past decade, their breakdowns by gender, by geographic locations. She knew the top restaurants in the area, where the tourists stayed, what they did for entertainment. The Mistletoe Key Chamber of Commerce had practically assigned her a full-time rep who had sarcastically asked if she was just going to move here and pay dues already. Maren knew everything about this prime market for her client. Except, apparently, how to hire an assistant that would actually do her job.
“Mrs. Langston. I would really appreciate your assistance here. Apparently, the lease got misplaced in the shuffle around Jane’s departure.” Yeah right. It had probably been stuck between the pages of the twenty-five pounds of wedding magazines that Maren had cleared from Jane’s cubicle after Jane had hasta-luego-ed herself to Valencia as a new senora.
“Well, I don’t think there’s anything I can do at this point. When we didn’t get the lease back, we took the next applicant. Model trains.”
Maren shook her head. “What?”
“Model trains,” Mrs. Langston repeated with emphasis. “That’s what the gentleman is selling. He’s coming down from Charleston.”
Maren looked across the Halliday Inn’s lobby at the space where her pop up was supposed to be opening on Thanksgiving weekend. The Inn wasn’t a large hotel, by international standards, but it was the biggest one on the island, where the bulk of tourists put up their feet during the holidays. And the pop up shop wasn’t going to be huge, either. Just a cozy nook, tucked behind the old antique fire place, perfect for spontaneous Christmas gift buying.
“Homemade model trains. I think it will be a hit, personally.” Mrs. Langston was still going on about the trains and then she looked chagrined. “Of course, I’m sure your diapers would have been very much needed.”
Maren paused at the non sequitur. “I’m sorry. Did you say, diapers?”
The other woman peered at the screen again. “Yes. It says here that you wanted to sell Huggies at your little shop.” Mrs. Langston looked up at Maren over the rim of her bifocals. “It’s a practical item, that’s for sure. Popular with all the families with young ones.”
Maren couldn’t deal. “Not diapers. Not huggies.” Inhale. Control. Inhale. Inhale. “Cashmere Home is the preeminent British retailer for hygge-inspired home decor.”
Mrs. Langston nodded. “Huggie.”
Maren repeated slowly. “Hee-you-geh.”
“Hygge.” Now Maren said the Danish word, just as she’d practiced it over and over in her bathroom mirror before she’d interviewed for the brand merchandising and strategy director position at Cashmere Home. The Hygge lifestyle was all the rage in Northern Europe and the British Isles. Maren had staked her career on making it huge in America.
Until Jane Diaz Flannery had not returned a simple lease. But maybe there was still a way…
“What if I can get my office in London to email us a scanned copy of the lease?” Maren checked her watch. Surely someone was still in the office at… she did the math… ten pm?
Mrs. Langston looked inexplicably sad. “And let poor Mr. Chang down?”
How Maren didn’t throw her hands up in the air she did not know. “Who. Is. Mr. Chang?”
“Only the best model train designer in South Carolina!” Mrs. Langston smiled like, oh-of-course! THAT Mr. Chang! How could Maren not think of poor Mr. Chang of Charleston? Silly Maren.
Mrs. Langston reached for the plate of cookies. “Are you sure you don’t want to try a spritz? These have raspberry jam on them.”
And just then. All of Maren’s remaining hygge evaporated into the humid Florida Keys atmosphere. “No. Thank you. I am gluten intolerant.”
Maren immediately regretted her sharp tone when Mrs. Langston immediately looked both shocked and concerned. “Oh my poor girl.”
But although Mrs. Langston’s concern was unnecessary, Maren was a spectacular businesswoman. She would use Mrs. Langston’s weakness and exploit it.
“Yes. Because of this extreme medical condition, I cannot enjoy cookies. Furthermore, I have a shipment of Europe’s finest hygge home goods being delivered in forty-eight hours and I really am going to need a place to install my pop-up shop.” Inwardly, Maren groaned. That was the best she could do? That had been terrible. It was the jet lag. And the humidity. And Mr. Chang’s fault for coming in and stealing her lease with his stupid model trains.
“I’m sorry but-”
Maren cut her off. “Is there a manager I can speak to?”
The older woman looked regretful. “I suppose you could talk to the owner, Mr. Callahan-”
“But he has an important meeting and cannot be disturbed.”
“For how long?”
Mrs. Langston hit a few keys on the computer. Her eyebrows rose slowly at whatever she saw there. “This could take a while.”
This time Maren couldn’t stop the soft curse word from coming out. All her plans, all her research, all her carefully selected merchandise. She had a very small window to make the Cashmere Home pop-up shop a rousing success. She had to think on her feet.
“Could you recommend a leasing agent? Or a real estate agent?” There had to be another location that was acceptable for the project.
Mrs. Langston made a face. “You do realize it’s November.”
“Yes, we have the same seasons in England,” Maren couldn’t help replying.
“And that Christmas is next month?”
“Same holidays as well. All the mainstream religious holidays that happen all around the globe.”
But Mrs. Langston did not laugh at Maren’s dry humor. Instead she reached for a spritz cookie and snapped it in half, pale crumbs fluttering down over the computer keyboard. “This is Mistletoe Key, honey. Things run a little bit differently ‘round here.”
Once a year, Charlie Callahan was called in front of the firing squad.
Ordinarily, Charlie did not agree to distasteful events. Uncomfortable, unpleasant or merely boring invitations were declined with a good natured wink and an easy smile. Charlie was blessed with a personality that people loved, above-average good looks and a way for making the ladies (and the gents) feel better about themselves when they left his presence.
But this meeting was required.
Under the terms of his trust, Charlie had to meet with the trustee on an annual basis, to review the financials, the reports and the distributions for the year. Since Charlie hadn’t lived off his trust in years, the meeting was unnecessary and… well, boring.
Under normal circumstances, then, Charlie would have politely told the trustee that he was sorry, but he would not be able to come to the office at the Halliday Inn because (a) his dog needed a bath, (b) Charlie had a pedicure appointment or (c) his dog had a pedicure appointment.
Most people laughed at those excuses, and most of those people understood that Charlie’s dog, Clover, did need a bath on at least a weekly basis and Charlie and Clover both enjoyed regular pedicures does at the Miss Le Toes Nail Salon. After all, they lived on Mistletoe Key, an island in the Florida Keys where sandals and flip flops were appropriate footwear 98% of the time. No one wanted janky toes on Mistletoe Key.
But these were not normal circumstances and the meeting with the trustee was not something that Charlie could charm his way out of. The trustee was his father, Big Jim Callahan, and Big Jim took his parental (and fiduciary) duties quite seriously.
As Charlie loved his father, he had no other choice but to let him ramble on for the next… he checked his watch.
Big Jim noticed. “Do you have some other place you’d rather be?” His deep voice rumbled as he looked over his half-moon shaped reading glasses. The glasses were a bit incongruous on his big, burly frame but Charlie suspected his dad had gotten them in preparation for the day he would - maybe, hopefully, with a bit of luck and electioneering - serve as town Santa Claus. “A pedicure appointment, perhaps?” Big Jim knew his son well.
“Nope, not til five,” Charlie said easily. “Just wondering if it’s too early to get some spritzes in here.”
Big Jim Callahan had inherited the Halliday Inn when he was twenty-two and took great pride in not only the family legacy of operating the largest and oldest hotel on Mistletoe Key, but also the world-famous signature cookie that the Inn was known for. He immediately punched a button on his phone. “Mrs. Langston, can we get a plate of spritzes, please?”
Charlie also knew his father well. And no one could resist Halliday Inn spritzes.
Big Jim settled his reading glasses and focused back on the business at hand. “Now, you’ll see on page four, the income projections-”
He was interrupted by a brisk knock and the immediate entry of Mrs. Langston, hotel manager, bearing a plate of cookies. She set the cookies down in front of Charlie, patted his shoulder affectionately and handed a slip of paper to Big Jim. “This is the situation I told you about,” Mrs. Langston said right before leaving, “About that woman with the diaper shop.”
Big Jim studied the message for a moment and when he popped a spritz cookie in his mouth, Charlie jumped on the opportunity.
“Dad, we don’t need to go over the rest of it.” He held up a hand. “I know what the numbers say. I know you’ve done a great job with the money grandma left, but I’m fine. You don’t have to worry about me.”
Big Jim didn’t wait for the crumbs to fall off his mustache. “Charlie, I’m always going to worry about you-”
“You don’t have a job, you have no visible means of support, you live on a boat and run off to the Bahamas doing God knows what with who knows who-”
“Dad, we’ve been over this, I’ve told you-”
“You are a gambler.”
Charlie shook his head. “I’m lucky.”
“You can’t get by on luck.”
“Actually, I can.” Charlie was unfazed and reached for a cookie. The kind of raspberry jam on top. His favorite.
Big Jim pressed his lips together and looked at his son with a dismay that only well-intentioned, conservative parents can convey. “I got you that job at the ice rink.”
“And I took it to make you happy,” Charlie finished that thought for his dad. “And because we were going through a heat wave and Clover liked sleeping next to the ice. But I didn’t need the job, Dad, and it didn’t seem right to take a salary that could go to someone else in need. I do plenty well.”
Big Jim took off his reading glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Son, frankly, I find that hard to believe.”
Charlie grinned and leaned back in his chair. “I’ve offered to show you. Come down to Nassau with me one weekend and you’ll see.”
A few times a year Charlie sailed to the Bahamas to take part in poker tournaments there. Every time he came back with his bank account decidedly richer. He’d done this for years but his dad refused to see the light, as he was doing right now, with his stubborn head shaking.
Big Jim reached into a drawer and pulled out a small box. He slid it across the table to his son. “I want you to consider this.”
Because a lucky guy like him always took advantage of timing, Charlie stuffed a cookie in his mouth and accepted the box. Flipping open the lid he saw several hundred business cards.
J. Charles Callahan, Jr.
Real Estate Broker
Mistletoe Key, Florida
His full name. A very official sounding job title. A real estate license that he had never used since he was eighteen and his dad had signed him up for the course.
It would be very easy to say yes to his father. With Charlie’s luck, he’d passed the real estate exam with flying colors on the first try, without even studying. He had a knack for investments, too. For years, he’d taken his poker winnings and day traded his way to a solid seven figures. Real estate, especially in booming Mistletoe Key, would be equally as profitable for him.
And it would make his dad happy. That was the sucker punch, wasn’t it? Big Jim and Charlie were as different as apple cider and hot chocolate, but the bond was real. The Callahans loved each other, even if the rest of his high-falutin’ trust fund crew didn’t understand Charlie’s knack for poker or appreciate his living on his sailboat.
But agreeing to this was more than accepting a made-up title at the community ice rink. Agreeing to something like this meant that Big Jim wanted him to settle down, be responsible, act like a true Callahan at last.
At that just wasn’t going to work for Charlie.
“Before you say no,” Big Jim said, interrupting Charlie’s Deep Thoughts. “Let’s make this more interesting.”
Charlie’s favorite phrase. He was immediately intrigued.
Big Jim continued, “If you lose, you have to work for the family business. Permanently.”
“And if I win?” Charlie prompted.
Big Jim smiled. “Your trust will be revoked.”
Freedom. No more meetings, no more expectations. No one looking over his shoulder disapprovingly. If he didn’t receive their money, they’d have no strings over him.
There had to be a catch.
“What do I have to do?”
“Prove to me you’re as lucky as you say you are,” Big Jim said, with a guileless expression.
This did make Charlie frown. He’d never really tried to be lucky. Luck had always just been there, on his side, helping him out like a good buddy offering a pickup truck to help him move.
“How?” Charlie asked.
Big Jim handed over the message that Mrs. Langston had brought in earlier. “Find this woman a lease for her business.”
Charlie took the slip of paper. “That’s it?”
“Here in Mistletoe Key.”
That narrowed it down, but still not too bad.
“In the next three days.”
That was… more challenging.
“You do realize it’s…”
“November, yes,” Big Jim finished that sentence for his son.
A real estate lease in Mistletoe Key? In November? For anyone else it was impossible but… Charlie couldn’t help the grin that broke across his face.
He was going to finally show his father exactly how lucky Charlie Callahan really was.