The Christmas Bazaar“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”The words coming from a radio rang in Melanie’s ear. She walked toward her spot through a crowded room, hauling a large metal table. Today was the annual Christmas bazaar, and Mel was there to sign copies of a book series containing a few of her stories, but there was no “carol ringing within her heart.” Thirty-five years old, single, and no prospects in sight. Mel heaved a sigh, feeling like the last person who should be writing inspirational stories called All in Good Time or Wait and See.As she struggled to unfold the table, her hand caught a sharp edge, and the table crashed to the floor. An icy knot grew in Melanie’s stomach as blood pulsed to the surface of her finger. Great. Blood-smeared books are just what I need now.“Let me help with that,” came a deep, masculine voice from behind Mel.She whirled around and saw a handsome, smiling face. “Would you mind?” Pulling a tissue from her bag, she wrapped it around her finger.He grabbed the table in both hands. “That’s what I’m here for.” He placed it upright against a wall decorated with a colorful wreath. “Will that do?” Mel mustered a smile. “Thank you.” The aroma of brewed coffee filled the air, and she felt a little less anxious. He looked at her hand and motioned toward a corridor. “The restroom’s at the far end if you want to run cold water over that. I’ll get peroxide and a Band-Aid. Coffee?”Mel walked toward the long hallway. “Please,” she called over her shoulder.When she returned, the stranger opened an adhesive bandage and placed it lightly around her ring finger.He extended his hand. “Sorry. The name’s Jake.” He gestured to the large poster with her name and the word “author” in bold lettering. “And you’re Melanie.”Mel took his big warm hand in her own and glanced over the eye-catching display he’d made with the books. “I didn’t expect you to do all this, too.”“No problem.” As Jake surveyed her stack of books, his gaze fixed on Inspiration for Singles. He cleared his throat. “So you’re donating your proceeds to a Christmas fund at Northern Home?”Mel nodded. “Towards gifts for those who have nowhere to go over the holiday.”Vendors were setting up tables around them and music blared from a speaker. “I do some writing as well,” he shouted over the noise. “Always nice to meet an —” But before she could finish speaking, an elderly lady rushed up to Jake. “Wonderful to see you here on a Saturday morning, Pastor Jake,” she said, taking his arm.“Good morning, Phyllis. Interested in buying one of these books to raise money for a worthy cause this author supports?” he said, flashing a big smile. Jake was a Godsend — an answer to her prayer for help this morning. “It’ll make Christmas a little brighter for some child,” she managed to say, her gloomy mood lifting.“Your name will be listed as a contributor,” Jake added. “What’ve you got?” The prospective reader scanned the titles before picking one up. “I’ll take Christmas Miracles.” She glanced at Jake, then leaned close to Mel and whispered. “We’re very fond of our pastor. It’s surprising someone hasn’t snatched him up before now.” Phyllis smiled, waved and shuffled off before Mel could respond. Mel felt her cheeks grow warm. A thick silence hung between the two despite the rising tide of holiday clamor. “So you’re a writer and the pastor here?” Mel said without looking directly at Jake. “Well . . . I have a weekly column in the local paper.”“What do you write?”Jake rubbed the back of his neck and gave a low chuckle. “I give advice to singles.”Mel’s eyes dropped down to his left hand. No wedding ring. Before she could say anything, he was called away. Was Phyllis trying to spark her interest?Over the next hour, several shoppers stopped by Mel’s book table. She answered questions and made a few sales, but she couldn’t help thinking about Jake.Then, there he was, standing in front of her again, wearing a smile and holding a cup of coffee for her. Mel held out one of her books. “Let me give you this as a thank you for coming to my rescue.” She handed him Inspiration for Singles — the one he’d eyed earlier.“That might be useful for my singles group,” he said, shifting his feet. “We meet here on Monday.” His grin widened. “Love to have you join us.” “Thank you. Would you like me to sign your copy?” His blue eyes fixed on hers. “Please put your number down, too. You know where I can be found, but I don’t know about you. And read my column next week in The Review.” He winked. “It’s about anticipating the unexpected.”As she handed her book back to him, their hands touched. Did he feel the same attraction?Less than a week until Christmas. Mel’s heart surged with hope. Was Jake the answer to another prayer of hers? Outside Christmas bells were ringing and this time they rang within her heart, too.____________This short story appeared in the Splickety Magazine issue of December 2013.