Hope Twinkle sauntered into Kringle's Coffee Shop. She'd been driving for about seven hours, finally pulling off the road in Snowflake, Wyoming. It was a snap decision, but she needed the break.
She fell into a seat at the front bar inside the restaurant, putting her chin in her hand with her elbow on the bar. She was running away, plain and simple. Nothing had ever gone right for her since she'd been a teen.
"What'll it be?" she heard.
She lifted her weary eyes to an older man who sported silver wire-rimmed glasses and a white beard. If she'd been a kid, she'd have sworn this was Santa. "Um…" She looked up at the menu, written on a candy-cane clad chalkboard on the wall. "I'll have a hot chocolate."
The man turned and began making the drink. "It's a cold one out there. Is it snowing yet?"
"No, but it's thinking about it."
He chuckled a hearty belly laugh, almost sounding like ho-ho-ho. This guy was something else. He really got into the Christmas spirit, but Hope wasn't buying it. She hated Christmas, but this year, she hated it worse than ever.
"How can snow think of falling?" the Santa-wannabe asked.
"It just is."
He turned back toward her, carrying a perfect mug of hot chocolate sitting on a plate. Big marshmallows and a small dollop of whipped cream rested on top of the brown liquid with a candy cane hanging off the rim. Two small gingerbread cookies lay on the side of the plate, both decorated in the most adorable way while smiling up at her.
She studied the plate. "That's gorgeous. Mind if I take a picture before I eat it?"
"Go for it." He winked. "Are you doing okay?"
He leaned against the bar. "I'm all ears. Want to talk to me?"
She lifted her phone and took a picture of the drink, accidentally getting the guy in the picture as well. "You want me to talk to you?" She put her phone away. "You're not a bartender and you probably have a ton of customers to wait on." She glanced around, but no one else seemed to be waiting for a drink. The place had quite a few customers at the tables, all appearing happy and talking with others. She hated that she was alone, feeling oncoming sadness.
"Nope," the man said. "I'm bored." He smiled and she could've sworn she saw a twinkle in his eye. The guy just needed a red hat and coat to look like Santa Claus.
Hope shook her head. "Well, not much to talk about from this loser." She felt like such a failure.
"Loser?" He chuckled. "Hardly. I know who you are."
"You do?" She was surprised because she'd been out of the public eye for years…at least her face had.
"Yes." He patted her hand. "You're way out of town, though. Why is that?"
She glanced around, but no one was listening. Just in case, she leaned closer. "I'm running away. Don't you go telling anyone where I am."
"Not a problem. You had an interesting childhood, along with your twin sister."
"You know about her?" she whispered.
"Who doesn't? You and Joy were identical twins they used in a lot of movies when you were children. Then you had that other show during your teenage years."
She nodded. "The Twinkle Twins Take on Everything."
He chuckled. "I loved when they sent you out to a farm to pick oranges. Did you really not know they grew on trees?"
She chuckled. "We played to the camera a lot and some of that was scripted. However, considering we worked every day since we were about six months old, we didn't have time to learn much of anything. We had tutors, but it's different than having to live out in the real world." She sipped the hot chocolate. The perfect blend of chocolate, marshmallow, and whipped cream filled her mouth in an utterly delicious way.
He took a moment. "What happened after that show? You just dropped out of Hollywood."
"Sort of." She bit into a cookie. "Joy didn't. She was the prettier and the more personable of us two." Even the cookie was outstanding.
The Santa-wannabe seemed surprised. "But you're identical. How can she be prettier?"
"She was pretty where it counted--on the inside."
He leaned closer. "I doubt that. What have you been doing?"
"Well…" She was such a loser. "I was the face of Teddy Bear Chocolate Twists." She winced, hating her old job.
His white eyebrows lifted. "You were the teddy bear?"
What a legacy for her life. "I've been wearing that bear suit for four long years. That's a hot job and I'm talking in temperature only. At least it paid the bills, sort of." She shook her head. "I need a new agent but no one will touch me. Even my boyfriend dumped me." Tears teased her eyes. "That one hurt the most."
He leaned his elbow on the bar. "What happened, if you don't mind me asking?"
"My life's an open book." She didn't think the paparazzi would be out here. "But don't print anything."
"No problem." He chuckled. "I promise. I'm just curious."
"Well, I was dating the producer of our ads."
He nodded. "Adrian Romans."
Her eyebrows lifted. "You know him?"
"He was all over the news today." He lifted the day's paper and put it in front of her, showing the picture of the happy couple and the announcement of her sister's wedding at the bottom.
"Yeah. I guess you know about it, then." It was like a knife in her heart to see the headlines. "He and Joy are getting married on Christmas Eve. They want me to be the maid of honor. Adrian and I were dating, when one day, out of the blue, he proposed to Joy. She gets it all. She has her own variety show. She has money coming out her ears. She also bought that big house in Aspen, has cool cars, and friends everywhere. Adrian was the only good thing I had going for me and he ran off with Joy." Hope ate the rest of the cookie and wiped her eyes. "Life really isn't fair. I'm scraping by on my salary while Joy has it all. Can't I get a break?"
The Santa-wannabe put the paper away and thrust his hand into his pocket. "I want to give you something." He pulled out a copper penny, opened her hand, and placed it in her palm. "Keep that. It's magical and it'll help."
"A penny?" She glanced at it and then lifted her gaze to the man. "I guess it'll help pay my mortgage. Thanks."
He chuckled. "Trust me." He walked away, wiping down the counter as he went.
Hope wanted to drown her sorrows in her hot chocolate. Christmas was three days away and she dreaded the thought of watching everyone else be happy, except for her. After Christmas Eve, her sister would be married to Hope's ex-boyfriend and Hope would be alone, yet again.
As she sipped her drink, she studied the penny in her hand. It wasn't a normal penny. Although it was copper in color, on one side was a Christmas tree. She turned it over. The other side showed a winking Santa.
Hope looked up to find the man who'd given her the coin, but he was gone. In his place was an older woman, waiting on customers. "Excuse me," Hope said to the woman.
The woman held up one finger, ringing up the bill for a man. When she was done, she approached Hope. "Did someone wait on you already?" She pointed to the nearly empty cup in front of Hope.
"Yes. He was an older man with a white beard. I'd like to talk to him. He gave me this penny." She held out her hand for the woman to see.
The woman just stared at her. "We have no one working here like that. My sister and I own this place and are both working tonight. You must be mistaken and my sister waited on you."
"I doubt that, unless your sister has a white beard."
The woman shook her head. "No, she doesn't." She pointed toward the back of the coffee shop. "She's a brunette and I'm pretty sure she doesn't have a beard."
Hope turned to see a stunning middle-aged woman waiting on tables. "Where did the old guy go?"
"I have no idea." She put a bill beside Hope's plate. "We also don't give out cookies, but I'll let that slide." A flash of confusion covered her face. "We don't even have those types of cookies here. Are you sure you didn't bring it in yourself?"
"Nope." Weird. But she didn't want to argue with this lady, so she pulled out her purse and put some cash with the bill. "Keep the change." She stood up, ready to leave, because she had to find the man who'd given her the penny. Maybe it really was magical after all.