The original drafts, Holidays, Inc. and Hope for the Holidays featured three main character points of view. During edits, I decided to cut the third character perspective to simplify the narrative.
In Holidays, Inc. Jill offers additional insight into her brother’s return and Dani’s renovation.
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Fluffing her bangs for the third time, Jill sat in her car in the deserted parking lot of the Higginbotham’s motel. The show had been a success. After a few missteps, she helped Dani get everything under control. Her brother had finally seen reason and decided to take up the only legitimate job opportunity in town. With Holidays, Inc. on track, she could return to her three-part plan. Buy out the Higginbotham’s, transform the lodging into a charming resort, and do her part in the campaign to getting New Hope on the map. After months of questioning her next move, the opportunity appeared fully formed.
She lowered the visor once more to check her teeth for any stray poppy seeds from her muffin. Why hadn’t she confessed her plan for the money to Paul? Because if he needs me to buy him out, I will. Studying her reflection in the visor mirror, she pressed her lips together. She hated sharing any idea before she was sure of the results. Her dream still had too many unknowns to include other people. First, she needed answers and a plan.
Satisfied with her lip-gloss, she raised the visor and hopped out of her car. She stepped over the widening cracks in the asphalt and carefully picked her way over to the front door. The Higginbotham’s two-story motel was neat, but the tiny details—the cracks in the parking lot, faded awnings, and worn doorknobs—exposed their situation.
Like many people in town, the family enterprise wouldn’t survive to be inherited by the next generation. She opened the door a crack and paused. A sudden sharp pain pierced her side, and she sucked in a quick breath. She pressed her hands to her waist and breathed until the ache subsided. Every so often the loss of her family’s business hit her. She was happy to see Dani’s vision transform all of their lives. Losing the theater so change could happen, however, had been the hardest choice she ever made.
She plastered on a smile, fluffed up her bangs, and opened the door wide. She was greeted with a setting out of a sixties catalogue. Mod furniture, the kind that had fallen out of favor and been restored to popularity too many times to count, in bright colors grouped in a small seating area near a fireplace set off the shaggy cream throw rugs over the green linoleum tile floor. Along the back paneled wall, a walnut veneer front desk stood in front of bookshelves stuffed with knick-knacks.
Mr. Higginbotham stood at the desk.
Mrs. Higginbotham held a feather duster in hand and attended to the collectibles.
“Good morning, welcome to the New Hope Motel.” Mr. Higginbotham greeted like a cheery animatronic from a theme park.
With his shock of white hair and thick mustache, he looked like a friendly mall Santa.
Jill tugged the hem of her blazer. The professional garment was supposed to add a layer of professionalism. Instead, she wore her clothes like a costume. After listening to Shirley’s gossip and Rob’s encouragement, she decided to take an unsolicited chance. In the moment, she realized a presumption encouraged her to barge in, but she couldn’t leave without an explanation.
Mr. Higginbotham continued to smile in her direction.
Mrs. Higginbotham, her jet-black hair contrasting the deep wrinkles in her face, dropped her feather duster and joined her husband. “Jill Howell, is that you?”
The Higginbothams hustled from behind the desk and approached her.
“It is Jill, dear, you’re right.” Mr. Higginbotham nodded. When the pair stopped only a few feet away, he motioned toward the low back couch and two club chairs.
Jill crossed the room and sank onto the couch.
“I’m surprised to see you here with your busy theater schedule.” Mrs. Higginbotham settled on one of the chairs.
Jill opened her mouth.
“Dear, that was over a week ago.” Mr. Higginbotham waved off the comment. “But it is a long time since we’ve seen you here. Well, I don’t think it was since Larry took you to the prom.”
“Oh, yes, my dear.” Mrs. Higginbotham settled a hand over her heart. “Larry looked so dashing. How nice of you two to go together to prom. You were always such nice friends.”
Until he threatened to tell everyone we slept together. Jill swallowed and plastered a smile on her face.
“And now you’re here for a visit. This is so nice. We’ll have to be sure to tell Larry when we call him tonight,” Mrs. Higginbotham said.
It hadn’t occurred to Jill before how little she’d have to talk. She stalled her visit until Rob’s badgering became unbearable. Despite growing up together and being the last members of their high school class left in town, they hadn’t sought each other’s company since graduation. She’d known him forever, and yet he remained a stranger.
“When we move, dear,” Mr. Higginbotham said.
The deep cadence cut through Jill’s thoughts. She lifted her gaze to the couple.
Mr. Higginbotham wiggled his eyebrows at his wife.
Jill frowned and pressed together her lips, refreshing her glass. She missed several exchanges in her reverie and couldn’t squander another second. She was here on a mission. “You’re moving?” She jumped into the conversation with both feet and widened the tiny gap in their nonstop talk.
“We are thinking about it.” Mrs. Higginbotham said. “Nothing has been decided on yet. Even with the shows coming to town, we don’t see many guests.”
“It is still early days.” Mr. Higginbotham nodded his head and smiled.
The gesture didn’t quite reach his eyes. He was paying lip service and not buying into Dani’s vision. If they didn’t see the value in what Dani brought to town, Jill could get the motel at a cut-rate price.
Mrs. Higginbotham reached for her husband’s hand. “We are ready to retire, finally.”
“Are you selling the motel?” Jill swiveled her head between the pair.
They clamped their mouths shut.
They exchanged the kind of significant glance she’d seen hundreds of different couples make thousands of times before. Their secret body language left her on the outside. She’d been on the fringe of deeper conversations her whole life. She refused to lose confidence and raised her chin. Thirteen years ago in this very room on prom night, she shoved their son, Larry, to the ground and explained consent in simple terms. If she found strength to stick up for herself then, she could dig deep now. She cleared her throat. “What I mean to ask. Will you be considering bids to purchase the motel?”
“You mean, locally?” Mr. Higginbotham frowned.
“Yes. Locally. Specifically me.” Jill poked a finger into the center of her chest. “I’d like the chance to make an offer to buy the motel.”
Mr. Higginbotham rubbed his chin. “We’d be open to hearing your bid.”
“We’ll need more than that.” Mrs. Higginbotham crossed her arms. “I like you, Jill. I like the idea of keeping this motel going after we’ve left town to live closer to Larry. But I don’t want to see what happened to your Dad’s place, rest his soul.” She paused to make the sign of the cross over herself.
Jill winced. Her father was the least religious person she’d known. Dad’s exposure to organized religion was restricted to the funerary rites executed at his request. A priest oversaw his service and buried him next to her mother. If he was watching this conversation from somewhere above, she knew he was chuckling.
“I know Ms. Winter has big plans over in town with the theater. If we sell this property, I want to see it remain a motel.” Mrs. Higginbotham leaned back in her chair.
“I would, of course, keep it as lodging.” Jill nodded but kept her words vague. She didn’t want to commit to anything, especially not without chatting with Rob. She clasped her hands tightly in her lap. He encouraged her idea but wasn’t business partner. The sooner she remembered the enterprise was hers alone the easier his inevitable backing away would be. Without a big project needing supplies, they’d never cross paths. After she bought and overhauled the motel, she’d probably never see him. Their lives would return to normal. She’d go back to being the sister of his high school best friend who tutored him junior year.
“We’ll tell you what.” Mr. Higginbotham stroked his chin. “Larry is coming to visit over Labor Day weekend to discuss this with us. If you can get a business plan together, we’d love to have you present your proposal to all of us then.”
Jill stood and dusted her hands on her jacket. Seeing Larry again? She fought a shiver.
The Higginbothams stood.
Crossing the carpet, Jill shook hands first with Mr. Higginbotham then Mrs. Higginbotham. If she focused on her plan, she could ignore the looming specter of their slimy son. “That’s a deal. Thank you for the opportunity.”
“Absolutely.” Mrs. Higginbotham clasped her hands around Jill’s. “Larry will be so happy to see you.”
Shuddering, Jill kept her smile in place. She wasn’t the scared teenager their son tried to shame into acquiescence and then silence. Forced to make hard choices, she was a person on the rise. She pulled back her shoulders and studied Mrs. Higginbotham with an unwavering gaze. “I’ll be prepared.”