Authors: Cassie Rocca
A NEW YORK LOVE STORY
Giving a present is not always easy. Clover O'Brian knows that only too well: her job consists of helping people in the arduous task of choosing unusual gifts. Christmas is coming, New York is buzzing, and Clover, who has always loved the festive period, savours the atmosphere.
Cade Harrison already has everything in life. A Hollywood actor, he is handsome, rich, famous and popular. Success, however, has its downsides; having just emerged from a disastrous relationship with an actress, he feels a need to hide away in an area unfrequented by stars, in an apartment lent him by a friend, far from prying eyes â especially those of tabloid reporters. But as chance will have it, the apartment in question is right opposite the one occupied by Clover, who until now has seen Hollywood actors only on the big screen. Two quite different lives meet by chance, at the most exhilarating time of yearâ¦
To those who still believe, in spite of everything.
The sound of children's laughter echoed through the streets. Everywhere you could hear the general gaiety of young and old alike, typical of a festive holiday gathering.
In a small residential neighborhood of Staten Island, families celebrated Thanksgiving. They chatted amiably around tables loaded with delicious offerings: stuffed turkeys, pumpkin pies and sweet potatoes. Outside, children enjoyed a cold sunny day at the end of November, running and trying to catch one another; but the Stevenson children were laughing louder than the others. A strange
was running after them.
“So! You want to eat me? I'll show you, cannibals! I'm sick of seeing my poor siblings cooked on your tables!”
With a croaky voice, imitating turkey gobble-gobble sounds, Clover O'Brian, delighted by their terrified shouts, was running after the three seven year old rascals on the lawn in front of the church.
“Which of you has eaten the most turkey today?” She emphasized this with a loud “Ooolullu! Ooolulluuu!”
“I did! I did!” Sam, the one missing two front teeth, shouted. “I had two servings!”
“Ahh! It's not hard to believe it with those missing teeth! So, I will eat you first! Ooolulluuu!” She rushed at him with her head down, making the child scream with excitement. Then she continued running after the other two little onesâ¦ She began to feel out of breath, but she liked hearing the children laugh and â by the way â she didn't have anything better to do. She was always on her own on Thanksgiving Day. Actually, to be honest, she was alone for every holiday.
She couldn't really say she had a
, and of course her few friends spent the holidays with their loved ones. Often they invited her, but she preferred to pass on these invitations and find alternative ways of spending those days. Crashing family parties only reminded her of what she missed out on and she didn't like gloomy thoughts.
Happiness was almost a duty for Clover, especially at this time of year. She adored Christmas. She loved the atmosphere in December. It was the best month of the year for her, and she made great efforts not to let anyone spoil those sacred thirty days, even if it meant celebrating them by herself.
Since her father's death ten years ago, Clover had slowly grown accustomed to solitude. It wasn't that the O'Brians expressed any great cheerfulness during the holidays when she was growing up: her family didn't seem to have either a strong inclination towards joy, or much of a Christmas spirit. But still, she never lost the childish excitement that made her smile like an idiot in front of dozens of colorful packages under a lighted Christmas tree. And she protected this feeling with all her strength from the cynicism and disenchantment of others.
Her mother had always hated Christmas. She detested having to organize an impressive party for guests, find gifts for everybody, and smile incessantly at relatives and friends. All this created a lot of tension from which her father wisely distanced himself. Since she had become a widow things had got even worse. Nadia O'Brian had stopped organizing any kind of party or event, but she did accept other people's invitations.
Since his marriage, her brother Patrick had lost any interest in Christmas, considering it just a children's holiday. Honestly, many other things had changed too, and none for the better. He had withdrawn into himself, focusing only on his work and his children. He'd forgotten the strong bond they used to have. Clover thought about Patrick with nostalgia and sadness. She was left with just memories. Because her sister-in-law didn't especially like her, her relationship with her brother had weakened and they saw each other only sporadically.
However â despite some sense of loneliness and her childhood memories â she didn't regret the estrangement from her family. It had allowed Clover to put the right distance between her need for serenity and lightness and their tendency towards pessimism and melodrama. The death of her paternal grandmother had given her the opportunity to leave home and move away, for she had inherited the little bungalow where she had lived for three years now. Leaving Maine had been a blessing, reducing the encounters with her family to almost zero.
Now the Christmas holidays had become the domain of Patrick and his wife Sienna. Every year the O'Brian family got together at their country house. For a few days they all pretended to get along and enjoy the festivities for the children's sake. Since she wasn't very good at pretending and hiding inconvenient truths, she wasn't welcome at these family re-unions. But she didn't care much. She remembered the torment of earlier years, when she used to go to those gatherings. There were always arguments and long faces that eventually ended with headaches and sadness. Since then, there was an unspoken agreement between herself and Patrick: he invited her to Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day lunch, and she pretended to have other commitments; so it all became just a matter of sending gifts to everybody. This was the only thing that kept her from being permanently crossed out of the family tree: she was damned good at finding gifts!
“Clover, you're too slow! You can't catch us!”
Mark, the smarter of the Stevensons, woke her up from her reverie, bringing her back to reality with a jolt.
“I think I had too many children for lunch! I need to get some rest. I will eat you another timeâ¦”
“Attack!” They all shouted together, running towards her.
Laughing, she turned to run away and found an unexpected obstacle. All of a sudden an object materialized in front of her, obscuring her view. She bounced off it and fell over on the grass.
“Are you ok?” At the sound of this voice, Clover looked up, a hand was extending to help her rise. The hand was the elegant extension of an arm which was attached to a well-proportioned body, covered â but not completely â with an elegant jacket.
“Bloody hell!” She got up without taking the hand, “are you Wolverine?”
“No, that's Hugh Jackman.”
“Well, by the feel of your chest, I would say you're made of
“Was the impact so hard? Should I call an ambulance?” He sounded amused.
Clover finally looked up at his face and she almost fell down again.
Even with the woolly hat and the collar of his jacket turned up, it was impossible not to recognize him. Cade Harrison, the famous Hollywood actor, was in front of her in all his handsome glory, with a slightly surprised and amused expressionâ¦ waiting for somethingâ¦? Maybe he was expecting an enthusiastic reaction, his was enough to stop her from dropping her jaw in amazement like a silly woman.
She stood up, all five foot, four inches of her â thank god the boots made her look a little taller â and brushed off her coat.
“I didn't expect to stumble into a wall on my way home. I wasn't prepared. One shouldn't materialize all of a sudden behind people, especially when one is your size!”
“I won't forget that advice next time I decide to go out for a walkâ¦”
Clover raised her eyebrows, “Do
“I hope there isn't a law yet that forbids people with an imposing physique to live in peaceful neighborhoodsâ¦”
you before.” When she saw Harrison's expression, she waved her hand and added, “I mean, around here, and I've been living in this neighborhood for a while nowâ¦ I would for sure have noticed a famous face!”
“A friend kindly lent me his house for the holidays,” he smiled, flashing his very white teeth â perfect enough to deserve a place of honor on the wall of a dentist's office.
Clover suddenly wondered if Cade Harrison had ever been in an ad for toothpaste, but noâ¦ he had been in an ad for a perfume. Now she remembered: six feet of sculpted muscles and tanned skin, lying down on pure white silk sheets with a slender, tall, very beautiful, sexy modelâ¦ On the contrary she must have looked like a wreck: bundled up in a shapeless coat, with a long pink scarf that clashed with her red hair, her bottom stained with grass and dirty hands. She hoped that at least there was no food stuck in her teeth!
“What is a stellar actor like you doing here? I thought the very rich and famous always went to Aspen!” Clover regretted this as soon as she said itâ¦ Why the hell should she make herself ridiculous in front of a man like him?
Harrison seemed to be taken by surprise. He was certainly used to a completely different kind of approach from people he met on the street: requests for autographs, selfies, and hysterical cries. He didn't expect to be harassed by a crazy woman who ran around making turkey calls, and addressed him as an unwelcome guest in the neighborhood.
“That is exactly what everybody expects,” he answered, putting his hands in his pockets. “And for that reason I am not going to Aspen or to whatever other place it is where celebrities go.”
“Okay, I get itâ¦ and so where is your friend's house here? Maybe I know it.”
“It's over thereâ¦”
Clover's eyes followed the direction Cade Harrison was pointing in.
“But it's in front of my house!”
Cade moved his gaze towards the small bungalow, and Clover almost wanted to jump in front of him to prevent him from looking. Compared to her neighbor's three-story house, hers really looked like a dump, and she could only imagine how it looked to this super wealthy, famous actor. She was slowly doing some work, but she couldn't afford a real renovation. Actually, she had only started to do inside improvements: now the rooms looked fresher and more cheerful and modern. But on the outside the small Victorian house still had the melancholic air of decay it had when her grandmother lived there.
She tried to convince herself she didn't care about a stranger's opinion and continued the conversation. “I'm only acquainted with your friendâ¦ anyway, it will be interesting to have you in the neighborhood. It's very rare to meet VIP's or celebrities around here.”
“Honestly, I would prefer it if the word didn't spreadâ¦” He looked around with a circumspect and worried expression, “I'm here for some peace.”