Home > The Wishing Tree

The Wishing Tree
Author: R.J. Scott

 


Dedication

 

 

Always for my family.

 

 

Also for the army of people that make me look good. For Meredith’s beautiful inspirational art and Sue’s editing skills and comments on Hallmark movies. Love you girlies. For my proofers, Susan, Rick, Anita, and Cristina, thank you so much.

For deborah (lower case :) ) who fixes my sentences and is super honest.

For every reviewer who takes time out of their day to read my books and work hard to review. Authors need every one of you and we love you for it all.

To Vicki, the wonder twin, for her constant support and unfailing snowy humor.

And for my wonderful readers, without whom I wouldn’t be able to do this writing thing.

Happiness to you all. Stay safe and well, and I hope your holidays sparkle.

RJ, Buckinghamshire, England - 3 December 2021

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

BAILEY


Back then

 

 

The Wishing Tree is beautiful, a dark shape towering over me against a pale dawn sky in the middle of the park. It was magic to me as a child, a place to leave Santa a wish for the gift I wanted the most, which then appeared magically on Christmas Day. It had stood here longer than this town, the streets built around it, with room for the small park where the fountain ran with spring water, and for the bandstand, which was lost in the snow in the far corner. No one really knew the history of the huge, spreading oak, only that at some point in the past the people who lived in Buchanan Springs had decided to start tying ribbons to the branches in winter and make wishes.

It became something more—a tourist mecca. So much so that the town changed its name in 1952, and the thriving existence of Wishing Tree, Vermont, owed everything to this silent witness of the changing years.

“I don’t know what to wish for,” I murmured, the words echoing in the hush of the blanket of snow that had fallen overnight. Dawn painted the sky with the first blush of sunrise, and I was early enough that I was the only one there, staring up at the branches and then down at the blank card in my hand, not knowing what to write.

This could be the most important wish I’d ever make.

More important than the make-your-own-jewelry set I’d asked for when I was ten, or the paints and sketch books I’d requested at eleven, or even the theatrical makeup set I’d wanted when I was twelve. I was fifteen, gay, searching for meaning in my small-town life, and desperately in love with my brother’s best friend.

And today was the day I told my family everything. Not about who I loved, but who I was. Gay. Different. Wrong.

“Just write the words, Bailey,” I admonished, but the words wouldn’t come.

I was terrified of what my family would say, how things might change, and worst of all if they would ever love me again.

I wish that my family won’t hate me. I wish I didn’t feel so wrong in this world.

The wish had to be perfect. What did I want more than anything else?

Kai Buchanan. That was who I wanted.

An image of Kai slipped into my head, and I just let it stay there, used to thinking about him because he consumed my waking thoughts and followed me onto heated dreams. It didn’t help that he was in town for a couple of days—a quick visit with his family before heading back to the Albany Harriers and his professional hockey career. I’d seen him three times—managed to avoid him on two of those occasions, never knowing what to say to him. I huddled further into my coat as a cold breeze collected fallen snow and flung it at my face.

The sound of approaching footsteps on the icy trail made me shuffle forward a few inches to hide, vainly hoping no one would notice my bright yellow coat, but I’d been spotted. In horror, I saw that it was one person I didn’t want to see who’d caught me there so early. Kai.

“Angel! Hi!” He bent at the waist, stretching, but turning his face as he did, so he could send me a smile. His eyes were such a beautiful shade of caramel, just this side of topaz, and his lips were lush and pink and pillow soft. He called me Angel because, according to him, my hair, all blond curls and long, made me look like an angel. I secretly loved him calling me that, and he was the only one who did.

“Hey.” I sketched an awkward wave, the card obvious in my hand and, embarrassed, I shoved it deep into my pocket, hoping he didn’t notice.

“Are you adding a wish?” he asked, then he jumped over a mound of snow and headed my way. I swear I was going to die on the spot. “I should do that before I go.” He lifted the lid to the sheltered card box, and picked up a pen, which he proceeded to tap on the surface. “I’ll have to owe the tree a dollar. I’ll bring it back later.” He glanced up at the tree as if he was apologizing to the skeleton of branches. “I don’t know what to wish for.” He side-eyed me. “What are you wishing for?”

Oh god, my tongue was a hundred times too big for my mouth. I couldn’t tell him all my secrets; I wouldn’t have known where to start. I let out what sounded like a squeak, and same as my brothers, he didn’t pause to let me answer because he knew as well as they did that I didn’t talk much, that I was shy.

He tapped the pen on his lip, leaned on the small table next to the honesty box, and crossed his legs at the ankles, staring up at the branches and frowning. “I guess I could wish for the Harriers to go all the way to the Cup, but I don’t want to tempt fate.” He glanced at me, and smiled, and my chest got so tight I forgot how to breathe, my greedy inhalation of air so dramatic.

He frowned at me. “Are you okay?”

I nodded. He was so beautiful, and I was so besotted that talking was hard. Talking was impossible. He smiled at me, and his smile was my undoing. I edged deeper into my shaded hiding place—just a small shuffle step—but everything was too loud, and the peace I’d found under the tree had gone. My safe space was more like a prison because I was frozen to the spot, and what had started out as a simple act of putting a wish on the tree was now me not being able to breathe.

Fuck. That happened fast.

Cold sweat trickled down my spine, and I shivered, clutching my arms to my chest, and not looking up at Kai in case I gave too much away. He’d been a witness to these short panic attacks since I was a toddler, and wouldn’t think anything of it, but I didn’t want to be this stupid thing. I wanted to be confident. I stared down at the snow and waited for him to comment, but he was focused on the wish, and I had space to try to settle the panic. I hadn’t slept at all last night, knowing what I was going to do today How I was going to tell my family I was gay and how I might lose everything if they didn’t understand.

Kai tapped his pen against the card, and I focused on the rhythmic tapping and the husky depth of his perfect voice. “Maybe I should wish that I get called up for the All-Star team?” The last comment, he phrased as a question. I made a humming noise to indicate I agreed, and all I could wish for at that moment was for the ground to open and swallow me.

“Nah, that’s not likely. I think I’ll just go for winning the next game,” he announced with added jazz hands, then scribbled on the card with his tongue poking out from the corner of his mouth, before threading a ribbon through a big hole and tying his wish to one of the higher branches. “There.” He patted the wish and held his hand out for my card. “You want me to tie yours up?” Not only was he six years older than me, but he was also a foot taller, sexy, and confident with cropped dark hair, and so handsome it made me want to cry. I’d known him my entire life—his sister Brooke, was dating my oldest brother, Callum; he was best friends with brother number two, Lucas; and he played pool with brother three, Duncan. He knew me better than most, and this was where it was going to go to shit because when I didn’t say anything, he rested a hand on my shoulder and squeezed.

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