From USA TODAY Bestselling author Jennifer Fischetto comes a hauntingly humorous short Christmas tale...
While Gianna Mancini longs for a cozy family Christmas back home, this year her cousin, Claudia, is getting married, and Gianna is the maid of honor. Having to spend the holiday in another state may have Gianna a bit blue, but when Claudia runs off the night before her nuptials, Gianna is determined to find her.
To complicate things Gianna has a rare gift...she sees dead people. Reluctantly teaming up with gorgeous, P.I. Julian Reed, and her cranky dead Aunt Stella, Gianna sets out to catch her runaway bride cousin, find the sender of a cryptic love note, and track down a list of Claudia's ex-boyfriend—the "ghosts" of her love life past, present, and possibly future.
**This is a short story of approximately 12,000 words/25 pages**
Note: This work was previously published under the title A Christmas Ghost & Zero Regrets.
Read an Excerpt
CHRISTMAS, SPIES & DEAD GUYS
“He’s gonna find out who’s naughty and nice…” I sing while half-twerking, half-chicken dancing into the living room. Not that I can twerk well, although I do have the booty for it. Thank goodness I’m the only one home.
But just in case a television camera crew has broken into my apartment ready to catch my most embarrassing moments, or my pervy neighbor two floors down has learned to scale the side of the building and is on the balcony with his iPhone, I take a quick glance around. Whew! It’s just me and our Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
My roommate-slash-cousin, Claudia, spent last night at her parents’ house. Tomorrow’s not only Christmas Day but also her wedding, and she wanted to stay in her Barbie Princess childhood bedroom one final time, because tonight will be the last time we share this apartment together too.
I blink several times to keep back any tears. I’m not usually sensitive, but this has been an emotional week on many levels. Not only do I still have to find a new roommate before my savings runs out in February, but I also have to miss my favorite holiday with my family in New York because I agreed to be Maid of Honor. It sounded like a badge of honor when Claudia first asked me, but now all I can think about is how I won’t be singing carols off-key and getting tipsy off eggnog with my brother and sister.
I reach for my cell phone on the coffee table and glance at the four, small boxes wrapped in shiny red paper with sheer gold bows under the otherwise-empty, spindly tree. Claudia and I decided to not exchange gifts this year. These presents are from her to the rest of the bridal party. She insists that me being her Maid of Honor is gift enough. I agree since she also added wedding planner to my title, and she turned into a Bridezilla a couple of months ago. Although that’s not too far from her normal diva attitude.
I dial the ten-digit phone number I’ve known my entire life and shut my eyes. I should savor this moment. In a couple of hours, the apartment will be loud and alive. Instead of a bachelorette party with strippers and money-filled G-strings, Claudia wants her friends over for a drunken slumber party.
There’s a click on the other end. I take a deep breath and put on a smile, as Ma says, “Hello. Merry Christmas Eve.”
I snort at her exuberant greeting. “Hey, Ma.”
“Gianna, honey, is that you? I was just telling your father I wish you were home. It won’t be Christmas without you.”
A boulder lodges in my throat. “Me too, Ma.” This will be the first Christmas I’ve ever spent without my parents and siblings. It sucks.
I couldn’t say no when Claudia asked me to be her Maid of Honor. I was thrilled. Two years ago, I moved to Connecticut to share an apartment with her, to be two single girls in the city. Okay, it’s not Manhattan, I’ve never tasted a Cosmopolitan, and there hasn’t been nearly enough sex, but we’ve shared everything over the years. I was even there the first time her now fiancé, Henry, asked her out. But when she announced her big day would be on Christmas, I nearly ran away screaming.
I’m not a big holiday person. I think Halloween should be a national event, and I shouldn’t have to work on my birthday, but the rest are kinda eh. Except Christmas. There’s something about the lights and tree and Santa Claus that still leave me feeling like a kid. Every Christmas Eve Ma would make us hot cocoa, and we’d sit by the fireplace with a plate of the chocolate chip cookies we’d baked for Santa. We didn’t actually light the fireplace when we were kids. I was too afraid Pop would forget to put it out and Santa would burn. But as an adult, I’d shed my fear, and Pop would throw on a log. And, yes, even now, at age twenty-five, I’d still sip my hot cocoa, usually spiked with Bailey’s Irish Cream, and stare at the multi-colored tree lights as if it was the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen.
But not tonight.
No, instead I’ll be listening to Kimmy and Bess giggle about guys and paint each other’s toes. While I do appreciate a good mani-pedi, I’m not a giggler.
“Are you okay, honey?” Ma asks, cutting into my thoughts.
I sigh. “Yeah. I just wish I was with you guys.” I’m happy Claudia and Henry are tying the knot. He’s really great for her. But did she have to selfishly pick a major holiday?
“I know. We would’ve come but…” Her words trail off. I’ve heard her reasons a thousand times in the past six months, so I totally understand. It’s not a random day. It’s Christmas. My parents go all out for this day, and there’s Alice, my niece, to think about. Claudia has a no children rule on the guest list. Is my sister just supposed to attend this shindig and leave her daughter with friends on Christmas?
I’ll admit that part pisses me off. Claudia’s never been one to think of others though. Sometimes I wonder how I lasted two years with her.
My phone buzzes, but I refuse to cut this call short. Whoever it is will have to wait.
“So, are you making smelts this year?” It’s a stupid question. The teeny tiny fish, tossed in a light coating of breadcrumbs and baked, are served every Christmas Eve. Along with Baccala, a salted fried cod; spaghetti with tomato sauce; stuffed squid; a tortellini salad with jumbo shrimp, calamari, and veggies; and tossed salad. Ma cooks enough to feed a small country. It’s okay though because my brother eats plenty, and now that he doesn’t live at home, Ma has him take most of the leftovers with him.
As she rambles about the menu, I glance at the clock. It’s nearly six, and I need to pick Claudia up soon. Kimmy and Bess are scheduled to show up around eight, and in case they’re early, I don’t want to be stuck here without my cousin. But I just don’t want to hang up.
“Do you think Aunt Angela is mad that your father and I aren’t coming tomorrow?” Ma asks. This is the third time she’s asked in the past month, so she must be feeling guilty.
“No. She totally understands. She said so. And I believe her.”
Aunt Angela is the youngest of the three sisters. Ma is the middle. The eldest, Aunt Stella, died some years ago, but unluckily for me, I still see her almost daily.
Yep, I can see and communicate with ghosts. It all started after a small accident when I was eight. I climbed onto a shelf in the walk-in freezer of our family owned deli, slipped, fell, and hit my head on the floor. I died in the ambulance for one minute and thirty-two seconds. And when I woke up, I could see the dead. It was freaky as heck at first, but I got used to it.
Other than the dead, only a small group of people—Ma, Pop, my sister and brother, and a couple of others—know I can see ghosts. It wasn’t like I could hide it from my immediate family. Especially when I was eight. Besides, we’re way too close to keep that kind of secret. As for Aunt Stella, I don’t know why she refuses to move on, but when Aunt Angela, Uncle Franco, and their kids decided to move up here to Connecticut, Aunt Stella figuratively packed her bags and called shotgun. She refuses to even discuss moving into the light.
“Well, good,” Ma says. “I don’t want to upset them. It’s a stressful time.”
My phone buzzes again.
I roll my eyes. What’s so important?
“Ma, I should go. Tell Pop and everyone I love them, and I’ll call back as soon as I can.”
After another two minutes of good-byes and I-love-yous, we hang up. I look at my missed calls. One is from Claudia, and the other from her parents’ house. What’s going on?
I’m about to call Claudia back when the phone buzzes in my hand. It’s her parent’s house line.
“Gianna, oh thank goodness you answered.” It’s Aunt Angela, and she sounds like she skipped stressed and jumped straight into frantic.
My stomach tightens automatically. “Is something wrong?”
“Yes,” she practically screams into my ear. “Claudia is missing.”