Authors: Nancy Thayer
Tags: #Contemporary Women, #Fiction
Table of Contents
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO Mary Lethbridge, Eileen McGrath, Nina Murray, and Emma Rusch
AND IN MEMORY OF Ethel Anastos, Barbara Andrews, Grace Grossman, and Margherita Sutro
Praise for Nancy Thayer’s Hot Flash series
“Readers who loved the previous books as well as those new to the series will enjoy the adventures of these spirited women navigating family, love, and aging during the holidays.”
Hot Flash Holidays
“Who could fail to root for [these] five as they face aging with honesty, determination and a lot of help from their friends?”
Hot Flash Holidays
“Women of a certain age . . . will chortle knowingly at her all-too-vivid [depictions] of the multiple tolls that age takes on the female face, form, sex life, and self-worth. Thayer lays it all out with perverse relish—aches, pains, incontinence, hormone surges, sagging this and bulging that.”
—The Boston Globe
“Time after time, [Nancy Thayer] makes me laugh, makes me think, makes me appreciate that she understands what women want to express. Thayer’s writing often reminds me of Elizabeth Berg, Jeanne Ray, and Anne Tyler. . . .”
Wisdom is hope and knows no age.
My gratitude is immense for the wisdom of my editor, Linda Marrow, and my agent, Meg Ruley.
I couldn’t have written this book without the gifts of inspiration, anecdotes, humor, chocolate, wisdom, and oh, yes, an ankle bracelet, from my friends, younger and . . . older. Enormous thanks to Deborah Beale, Mimi Beman, Jill Burrill, Laurie Chatfield-Taylor, Jennifer Costanza, Martha Foshee, Tina Gessler, David Gillum, Kim Guarnaccia, Gilly Hailparn, Charlotte Maison, Joan Medlicott, Margrethe Mentes, Elena Murphy, Robyn North, Letitia Ord, Tricia Patterson, Jane Patton, Pam Pindell, Selma Rayfiel, Susan Sandler, Laura Simon, Josh Thayer, and Sam Wilde.
And Charley, thanks for being better than chocolate!
ON THIS EARLY DECEMBER DAY, SNOWFLAKES SPARKLED down to earth like granted wishes from a magic wand.
Inside the handsome lounge of The Haven, Yule logs blazed cheerfully in the fireplace, while Presley, Sinatra, and Springsteen sang Christmas carols. Near the long casement windows, five women were looping lights around a Norway spruce so tall they had to use a ladder to reach the highest branches.
“Okay, that’s the end of the last string,” Marilyn called from behind the fat tree.
“Plug them in,” Shirley told her.
Marilyn knelt to fit the plug into the socket.
“Oooooooh!” Shirley, Faye, Alice, Marilyn, and Polly sighed with delight as dozens and dozens of multicolored miniature lights twinkled to life.
“Now,” Shirley announced, “for the fun part. How shall we do this?” Shirley was the director of The Haven, but the four other women were her best friends, practically her family, and she wanted to please everyone.
“I think we should all hang the ornaments we brought where we want,” Polly suggested.
“But keep in mind,” Faye added, “it will look better if the heaviest, biggest ornaments go on the bottom boughs, with the smaller ones on the higher branches.” She was an artist, with an artist’s eye.
“Yes, but we don’t want it to look too
” Alice insisted. “We want it to look real.”
“Good point, Alice,” Shirley agreed. “Perfection, as we all know, isn’t real.”
“Sometimes it is,” Marilyn disagreed, in her thoughtful, vague way. “The horseshoe crab, genus
for example, is perfect. Its design hasn’t changed since the Triassic period, that’s two hundred forty-five million years.”
“Lovely,” Faye said gently, amused. “Still, we really don’t want to hang a horseshoe crab on the Christmas tree.”
“I suppose not. Although one year we did.” Marilyn smiled at the memory. She was a paleobiologist—the others teasingly called her a pale old biologist—and her grown son and her ex-husband were molecular geneticists. “Teddy was nine, and fascinated with crustaceans and fossils, so we bored holes in lots of shells, slipped colored cords through, and hung the tree with crabs, mollusks, and gastropods.”
Alice snorted with laughter. “You are so
“Oh, I don’t know,” Polly chimed in. “David told me that he and Amy are hanging
homemade decorations on their tree. And my daughter-in-law is such a purist, she’ll use
vegetable dyes, natural wood, straw, and such. Afterwards, they’ll probably carry the tree outside and feed the entire thing to the goat.”
The others laughed. As they talked, they moved back and forth from the tables and couches where the boxes of decorations were set out. Occasionally Shirley dropped another log on the fire.
The spacious room, with its casement windows, high ceilings, and mahogany paneling, seemed to glow with contentment. Once built to house a private boarding school, this old stone lodge had been abandoned for a few years. Then Shirley, with the help of her friends and a few investors, had bought it and opened The Haven, a premier spa and wellness resort with a burgeoning membership and second-floor condos for staff or friends.
She had staff (she had staff! Shirley, who had struggled financially most of her life, got a thrill every time she remembered that). But she hadn’t wanted her staff to decorate the Christmas tree, and neither had her friends. They’d wanted to do this together. They’d agreed to bring three boxes of decorations each, and they’d agreed to do it without advance discussion or collaboration, so their choices would be a surprise.
Now they worked quickly, climbing the ladder to adorn the top, stretching left and right, standing back to appraise, kneeling to the lowest branches, murmuring to themselves, exclaiming at what the others had chosen.
Shirley was a sucker for whimsical creatures with smiling faces: elves, snowmen, Santa Clauses, cherubs, fat angels with crooked smiles and tilted halos, fairies with freckles and yarn hair.
Faye had selected expensive glass ornaments: gorgeous faceted stars, elongated teardrops and iridescent icicles, extravagantly striped or translucent balls in gleaming gemstone colors.
Polly loved to cook. She’d baked dozens of gingerbread men and women, sugar-cookie stars, leaping reindeer, trumpets and drummer boys and crescent moons, the absorbing, familiar activity bringing back memories of Christmases when her son was little. She’d decorated them with colored icing, silver balls, and sprinkles of colored sugar, and glued ribbons firmly on the back, for hanging. She’d also strung cranberries and popcorn on fishing wire and bought boxes of candy canes.
Alice, less sentimental and more practical, had chosen thirty of the skin care, cosmetic, and aromatherapy products on sale at The Haven, and tied their lavender boxes with glittering gold and silver bows.
Marilyn’s contribution was a boxed set of antique ornaments from the Museum of Fine Arts, and a handmade collection of brass and enamel stars, sun, moon, and planets purchased from an Asian gentleman selling them from a rug on a sidewalk in Harvard Square.
When every ornament was hung, the five women stepped back to admire their handiwork. The mixture was eccentric, aesthetically enchanting, and wildly cheerful.
“It’s fabulous,” Shirley said. “Let me get my camera.”
Alice said, “I’ll pour the hot chocolate.” She twisted the cap off a large Thermos and poured the fragrant liquid into Christmas mugs—little gifts from her to the others. Then, without the slightest twinge of guilt, she took out a can of Reddi wip, shook it, and topped the drinks with snowy swirls of the white concoction. After that, she opened a little plastic bag, dipped her hand in, and sprinkled dark chocolate shavings on the creamy peaks.
“I brought some Christmas cookies—without the glue.” Polly opened a red and green tin, and the sweet, warm aroma of butter and sugar rose into the air.
Marilyn and Faye pushed two of the more comfortable wing chairs close to the sofa so they could all sit in a half-circle, facing the tree. Shirley returned from her office with the camera and began snapping shots of the tree and its trimmers.
Shirley wore purple Tencel pants with an emerald top that flattered her auburn hair. Her earrings and necklace were miniature battery-operated Christmas lights that blinked on and off.
Faye wore scarlet trousers in a silk-and-wool weave with a matching jacket over a sleeveless white shell. A chunky choker of garnet and jade circled her neck. Her white hair was held back with a matching barrette.
Plump, auburn-haired Polly wore jeans and a bright green sweater with white snowmen she’d designed and knit herself.
Alice looked majestic in a velvet tunic and pants of swirling crimson and indigo, embellished with lavish gold embroidery. Earrings, necklace, and bracelets of heavy, scrolled gold gleamed against her dark skin.
Marilyn wore brown wool trousers and a shapeless gray sweater. She wasn’t color-blind; she just kept forgetting to think about her clothing.
The five curled up on the sofa and settled into the chairs.
Shirley raised her mug. “To the holidays!”
“To the holidays!” the others toasted.
They all sipped the rich hot chocolate, and sighed in unison.
Faye focused dreamily on the twinkling tree. “This is going to be the best Christmas ever!”
Alice chuckled. “Yes, and I’m Glinda, the Good Witch of the North.”
“Did you know,” Shirley informed them, “in the movie
The Wizard of Oz,
Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, was played by an actress named Billie Burke when she was
“You’re kidding!” Polly nearly spilled her cocoa. “She looked so young! All that blond hair. The sparkling pink dress. The tiara.”
“I wish I had that dress,” Faye mused.
“I wish I had her magic wand,” Marilyn murmured.
Alice lazily turned her head toward Marilyn. “Really. What would you do with it?”
Marilyn didn’t hesitate. “I’d turn my mother back into her normal, independent self. Oh, yes, and renovate Faraday’s sexual abilities.”
“He’s still impotent?” A former hotshot executive, Alice didn’t mince words. Besides, they’d helped solve one another’s problems before, and were ready to do it again, if they could.
“Always.” Marilyn’s tone was rich with regret. She’d only discovered the joys of sex in her fifties, and she wanted to make up for lost time.
“You need a magic wand to make his wand magic,” Polly joked.
“What’s going on with your mother, Marilyn?” Shirley asked.
Marilyn sighed. “My sister says she’s going downhill fast. Not physically, mentally. Sharon wants me to have Mother come here for Christmas and stay indefinitely, so I can watch for signs of senility and help her decide whether or not Mother should be ‘persuaded’ to go into an assisted care facility.”
“Hard decision,” Faye sympathized.
“I know.” Marilyn pinched the bridge of her nose. “Sharon said she can’t make this kind of decision herself, and she’s absolutely right.”
“How old is your mom?” Alice asked.
“Eighty-five. She lives in Ohio, in the same town where we grew up, only a short drive from my sister’s home. I’ve always felt guilty that I haven’t been able to help Mother as much as Sharon has. But I live so far away, and I don’t want to give up my position at MIT.”
“Not to mention,” Alice teased, “you often have trouble keeping your thoughts in the same millennium, never mind on the same species.”
“There is that,” Marilyn agreed easily.
“Is Faraday spending the holidays with you?” Shirley asked.
Marilyn nodded. “He is. He’s got two grown children and some grandchildren, but one lives in California and the other in Ohio.”
“It’s hard when your kids live so far away.” Faye looked wistful. “Thank heavens, Laura and Megan and Lars are coming back east for Christmas. I can’t wait to get my hands on my little granddaughter again. I hope she remembers me.”
“Faye,” Alice bossily reminded her, “you’ve chatted with her every day on your web-cam.”
“Yes, but it’s not the same. I want to hold her. Smell her.
“I know exactly what you mean.” Polly’s son and his family lived only a short drive away geographically, but emotionally, they were on Pluto.
“Will you get to see your grandson for Christmas?” Faye asked.
“I’ve been invited for Christmas dinner.” Polly made a face. “But it will be at Amy’s parents’ house, and they have piles of relatives, so I know I won’t be able to hold Jehoshaphat much. Plus, they’re so
I always feel like Mae West visiting the Amish.”
“What about Hugh?” Alice, Marilyn, Shirley, and Faye all asked in chorus. Polly had been dating the handsome doctor since April, and their hopes for her were high. Polly deserved someone wonderful.
“Hugh’s spending Christmas Day with his children and his ex-wife.” Polly mimed pulling out her hair. “The size-six, perpetually dependent, helpless little Carol.”
“Well, that sucks,” Shirley said. “Come have Christmas with us.”
“Thanks, but actually, I’ve been invited to Christmas dinner at Carolyn’s, and I just might go there instead.”
“Oh, do!” Faye told her, impulsively. “I’ll be there, with Aubrey.”
“Really?” Polly brightened. “I wonder whether Carolyn would mind if I brought Hugh.”
Of course she would, Faye thought silently. Carolyn wants her father to marry
She shifted uncomfortably on the sofa, then leaned forward to grab a cookie. Polly had helped Carolyn during a stressful time in her life, and Carolyn, whose mother had died when Carolyn was just a child, had pounced on Polly as a surrogate mom. Polly was so good-natured and sweet, she didn’t seem aware of Carolyn’s intentions to match her father up with her, and if she
aware, Polly would be so horrified, she’d probably move to Alaska. Faye really liked Polly, the newest member of the Hot Flash Club, and didn’t want to cause her any embarrassment.
Alice looked puzzled. “Faye, I thought you said Lars and Laura and baby Megan were coming to have Christmas with you.”
“They’re coming east, yes,” Faye explained. “They’re spending Christmas Eve and Christmas morning and most of the day with me. They’re going to Lars’s family for Christmas dinner.”
Alice groaned. “Christmas is so complicated!”
“Yeah, but the food’s good,” Polly pointed out cheerfully.
Simultaneously, everyone reached forward to grab a cookie. They all laughed.
“I always gain ten pounds over Christmas,” Faye moaned, munching.
“It’s impossible not to,” Alice assured her as she chewed. “It’s stress eating.”
Polly giggled. “Last night I ate a pepperoni pizza, a pint of ice cream, and two bags of mega-butter popcorn.”
“I can trump that,” Alice said. “I bought a box of expensive chocolates to take to my bridge group, and last night I sat down and ate them all.”
Shirley licked a curl of cream off her spoon. “Hey, Faye. You said you think this will be the best Christmas ever. Want to elaborate?”
“Well, I didn’t mean
” Faye corrected herself. “The best Christmases I ever had were with Jack, when Laura was a little girl. Christmas is really about children. There’s nothing like the joy on their faces, the surprise when they see all the gifts under the tree. This Christmas, Megan is three, old enough to really appreciate everything. Plus, I’ve moved into my darling, new little house—not that I didn’t love living in my condo here at The Haven, Shirley,” Faye hastened to assure her friend. “But it’s so nice to have a little place all my own. I’ve got three bedrooms, you know, and one is for me, one is a guest bedroom, and one is for Megan! I painted the room myself—”
“—I saw it the other day,” Polly told the others. “It’s exquisite. A little girl’s
“I can’t wait for Megan to see it!” Faye beamed. “She’s
clever! Do you know what she said? Laura told her to eat the crusts on her bread, and Megan said, ‘Mommy, don’t you know? They only put crusts on the bread so you won’t get peanut butter on your fingers when you’re eating the sandwich.’ ”