Homemakers’ Christmas, by Jill Piscitello
A recent error in judgement has deposited Cricket Williams, her daughter, and a son spiking a high fever into a homeless shelter. A touch of Christmas magic is sprinkled upon her family when an eccentric volunteer invites them into her New England farmhouse. Blindsided with the proposition of a contractual living arrangement, Cricket is seized with renewed hope for her future.
Boris Glynn is in town visiting his grandmother but harbors a secret that will impact her life and the lives of his dearest friends. Complications arise when he is unable to restrain himself from pursuing his grandmother’s beautiful new neighbor.
As Cricket begins to succumb to Boris’s attention, her new world is shaken by a series of events that have the potential to destroy her plans for a fresh start.
The release date is October 20, 2020 but the book is available to ‘order’ now at the sites below.
Amazon ebook-kindle – https://amzn.to/3lfPR0f
Amazon print book – https://amzn.to/2SJYq7r
Nook Press (Barnes and Noble) ebook- https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/homemakers-christmas-jill-piscitello/1137831589?ean=2940162645429
Apple ibooks (coming soon)
Cricket stifled an involuntary gag at the sight of the balled-up sheets in the corner. Visible stains made it clear that they were the source of the stench. Her eyes watered, and she wondered if she was supposed to do something with them, or if someone else would come and exchange them for new ones. The bed was completely bare—one bunk bed for three people. She and Max slept on the bottom bunk, and Ashling took the top.
Better than no bed, she supposed.
The kids hadn’t said much since they had arrived a week ago. She assumed they were in shock. December had just begun, and this was the last place she wanted to be with her family as the Christmas season got underway. She couldn’t envision a less festive place to spend the holidays than a homeless shelter.
No way to sugarcoat it, far as she could see: They’d be here for a while, so they better get used to it. Cricket figured it didn’t make much sense to stand around staring at the depressing sight any more than necessary and herded everyone out to the dining hall with hopes of finding someone to help remedy the bedding situation.
Scanning the crowded tables, she wished they could grab trays and head back to their room, but that wasn’t allowed. This meant Max would eat absolutely nothing. She’d once again be forced to hide his sandwich and a cookie in her pocketbook and encourage him to eat it later. Her mop headed six-year-old picked at his food in the best circumstances. He was more than reluctant to try what they served here.
After sitting down in three recently vacated seats with their full trays, Cricket scooped a forkful of bland mashed potatoes into her mouth. Ashling nibbled at her meatloaf and green beans. Mature for her thirteen years, she knew better than to complain about the food on her plate.
Although the meal lacked taste, it was the thought of staying here that Cricket couldn’t stomach. They hadn’t left much behind, but it had been theirs.
They certainly hadn’t been ousted from a palace. The freezer had housed a full-blown sanctuary of cockroaches, for crying out loud. However, the place had had a small kitchen, a living room where Cricket slept, a bedroom for Ashling, and another for Max (though it had technically been a closet). Despite its obvious shortcomings, it had been home. For years, they celebrated birthdays, holidays, and life in general in that apartment.
Cricket’s appetite evaporated as her eyes scanned the packed room, and she reflected on her two choices: Allow herself to be swallowed up in despair or make do with what they had and try to move forward. She had been struggling to choose the moving forward option, but no one was looking to hire someone without references. The supermarket didn’t want her. The convenience store didn’t need any help. The local fast food restaurants didn’t even want her cleaning their toilets. Hard not to take that personally.
She stared at her daughter’s half eaten plate, willing her to finish up. The common room television beckoned. The same channel with family friendly programs seemed to be on every night, but Cricket couldn’t care less. The kids were entertained, and she was spared from hearing the questions that were growing more and more impossible to answer.
The next morning greeted Cricket with a wave of exhaustion. Max had developed a high fever overnight. With substantial effort, she dragged herself out of bed and shuffled to the restroom. One glance in the mirror sufficiently quenched any curiosity regarding her appearance. A shadow of a woman who’d once been pretty stared back at her, with prominent cheekbones that had become angular. Once delicate features turned sharp due to weight loss. Her appetite always disappeared when stress took over. The dull, lank hair dusting her shoulders no longer held a hint of shine. She swept away the stringy pieces falling into her eyes.
Although she struggled to keep it together, panic set in as she joined Max on the bunk. He needed to be seen by a doctor. Cricket carried his scalding, lethargic body out of their room and surveyed the facility for help. As she considered the possibility of obtaining a voucher for a taxi, Cari Montgomery, one of the shelter volunteers, breezed through the front door unbuttoning her coat. Her skin glowed, scrubbed clean of any make-up. Her auburn hair had been pulled back off her face to reveal a flawless complexion. Jeans and a vibrant pink cheetah print cardigan complimented her figure. Although her smile was slightly crooked, it grew to a mile wide when she spotted Cricket. Unlike everyone else zipping around the dining room, Cari hadn’t had a chance to dive into the breakfast routine yet.
More than a little quirky, and always sweet with a quick smile, Cari had quickly become one of Cricket’s favorite people in this dreary place over the past week. It was well known that she had recently inherited a popular farm and orchard. Another person would have dodged Max with his endless questions about honeybees, but Cari encouraged his curiosity.
Cricket held her breath as she approached. Limitations often restricted what volunteers could do regarding expenses. As Cricket described Max’s symptoms, Cari nervously tucked a stray strand of hair behind one ear, feebly attempting to reassure her by cracking a joke about kids making it their job to get sick.
Cricket didn’t find the humor in that and ignored the effort to cheer her up. “Do you know if there are any transportation vouchers available?” she asked. “I’ve tried everything, but this fever won’t break, and it’s over one hundred and four.”
“You don’t need a voucher. I’ll take you. Get what you need, and I’ll find Ashling.”
Cricket gathered up their few belongings and, within a half hour, they sat in the waiting room of a crowded emergency room. Germs floated through the room, almost palpable with the coughing, sneezing, and groaning filling it. Cricket wondered why gloves and masks weren’t there for the taking in the same way boxes of tissues lined the magazine table. The ticking of the clock droned on as they waited for Max’s name to be called. Cari chatted with Ashling while Cricket held her son on her lap.
The relief that had surged through her at hearing his name in the waiting room faded as she perched on the edge of a chair next to the hospital bed while he slept. By the time the doctor stepped behind the curtain, she was also half asleep. After a brief examination, the doctor diagnosed Max with the flu and a double ear infection. Dehydrated, he needed to be hooked up to intravenous fluids. The doctor wanted to keep him for a few hours of observation and expected he could go home later that afternoon if his fever was under control and the fluids did their job.
Go home. To a homeless shelter. Not ideal for a sick little boy. But this wasn’t the doctor’s problem, so Cricket swallowed her fear. She returned to the waiting room and shared the doctor’s advice.
“I don’t want to take up your entire day,” she finished. “We’ll be fine. I can’t thank you enough for driving us here.”
Cari’s eyes flashed back and forth between Ashling and Cricket, clearly unsure as to what she should do next.
“I don’t have anything going on today and had just planned on spending the afternoon at St. Agnes’s,” Cari finally said. “I’ll stay here with you to make sure everything is okay.”
“You don’t have—” Cricket started, but Cari interrupted her.
“I know for a fact that none of you had anything for breakfast today. Ashling and I will go check out the cafeteria and bring back something to eat. You keep Max company.”
Ashling’s face lit up at that.
“My treat,” Cari added, recognizing the source of Cricket’s hesitation.
“That’s really kind of you. Maybe just something for Ashling. I don’t have much of an appetite.” Her stomach twisted with nerves. “The nurses offered to bring something for Max when he’s up to it.”
Ashling reentered the exam room almost an hour later, fidgeting with an elastic in her hair. Her head of curls, growing more unruly by the day, had been tied up in a bun. Cricket paused to gaze at her daughter’s lovely face that had been hidden for the past few days. Moving her eyes to Ashling’s other hand, she saw that she had taken advantage of Cari’s generosity. A cardboard tray laden with a cheeseburger, fries, soda, and an ice cream lay clutched in her palm. Cari rounded the corner and passed Cricket a chicken salad sandwich and a cup of coffee, “In case she changed her mind”.
Hours later, Cricket stood in the waiting room, insisting that Cari go home, when the doctor emerged from behind swinging doors and said he’d determined that Max could be discharged with a prescription. They were to come back if his fever spiked again. Not ideal, considering his mother had no idea where their next ride would come from if they needed it. She stared wide eyed while he talked and watched him briskly walk off, assuming all was well with the world. His world maybe.
“I’ll—I’ll go after him. Maybe I can convince them to keep Max overnight.” Visibly shaking and on the verge of tears, Cricket clasped her hands together trying to still them.
Cari spoke before her brain caught up with her words. “Cricket, wait. Would you consider coming home with me? I can’t stand the thought of you taking Max back to the shelter while he’s sick. Even if they keep him ‘til tomorrow, how much better will he be?” She glanced at Ashling. “And Ashling shouldn’t spend the night here. She’ll be the next one sick.”
Stunned and at a loss for words, she knew Cari must have interpreted her silence to mean she was afraid to bring her children into a stranger’s house. That’s where her mind should have gone. Instead she struggled to process whether she’d imagined what had been said. Had she misunderstood?
Spurred on by the expression on Ashling’s face, Cari strode over to Cricket, pulled her into a nearby seat, and stared directly into her eyes. “I know it sounds like a crazy idea. You don’t even really know me. But I promise I’m not some wacko psychopath. I live alone and have plenty of room. Please, just think about it.”
Cricket stared down at her lap and shook her head trying to comprehend the insanity of the idea, then jerked her neck up. “What’s there to think about? You have more to worry about than I do. For all you know, my daughter and I might rob you blind!” She smiled for the first time that day.
“I’ll take my chances,” Cari grinned back.
* * *
Jill Piscitello is a teacher with a passion for writing and an avid fan of multiple literary genres. “Homemakers’ Christmas” is her first novel, published by Stain Romance, an imprint of Melange Publishing.
A native of New England, Jill lives with her family and three well-loved cats. When not planning lessons or reading and writing, she can be found spending time with her family, traveling, trying out new restaurants, and going on light hikes. Although she divides her reading hours among several books at a time, a lighthearted story offering an escape from the real world can always be found on her nightstand.