Hello, there. My name is Comfort Ann Joy. I'll wait while that one sinks in… (whistling noise). Oh, you get it? Sigh. My mother, under the influence of painkillers after my birth, let her kooky sister hijack the name-giving part of the process and didn't realize until days later the perky name I'd been saddled with. Along the way it was shortened to Comfy—like a worn out chair or an old pair of shoes. Much later, in design school, I was grudgingly glad for my unique name even as I rebelled against the implication that the only clothes a person named Comfy Joy could design were ugly Christmas sweaters.
I was famous for five minutes when I competed on a design competition TV show, but ultimately walked away with second place and a reprimand from the judges for not leaning into my "birthright" to design holiday-inspired clothing. (As if.) For the last two years I've apprenticed under a NYC luxury designer while trying to figure out my next career move. Since luxury retail is on the outs with the American consumer, my days here are numbered.
Under the category of "piling on," I received a sad call from my mother that my eccentric aunt died suddenly, right in the middle of her Christmas Year Around shop in Somewhere, Georgia. The fact that she died in a memorable way didn't surprise me… but what happened next sure did.
She left me her Christmas shop! My life, such as it is, is in Manhattan. Plus I don't even like Christmas—the pressure, the expense, the stress…ugh! But since I was on a career break, I decided to make the trip to Georgia and get the kitschy shop ready to sell. I didn't expect to land in the middle of a murder mystery, with a cast of quirky suspects straight out of a board game. And to be pulled into the quagmire of Christmasness. And to learn that Southern men can ring a girl's, um, bells.
So for the time-being, I have a new mantra: Christmas… if you can't get out of it, get into it.
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The cooler weather had driven in a larger crowd than usual for the weekly movie. Lonnie scrambled to set up chairs while Dafney and I arranged snacks. As we set out the pricey packaged bars, I sent up a fervent prayer that people would buy enough ornaments and yard decorations matching our Frosty the Snowman theme to break even for the night.
I smiled and greeted everyone, accepting compliments on my silver T-shirt with snow-covered shoulders. I confess I was enjoying the challenge of coming up with a new design every week. Mandy arrived, sans Justin. I was glad they weren’t together, but I was also keen to see Justin after last night’s uncomfortable spectacle, if only to see if he still respected me.
David Bays arrived with a friend I’d seen working in the Corner Diner, and Karen Cline was there, and Nolan Wamper. Renee came with Tina in tow. Rema Racine even slipped in and sat next to Dafney.
But no Justin.
When Lonnie flashed the overhead lights, I went to the counter to make sure Hank was sleeping where I’d left him. When I came back around the counter, the door opened, and Justin walked in. I was way too glad to see him.
“There are still plenty of seats,” I said, hoping my face wasn’t too transparent.
“I’m here on business,” he bit out.
I frowned, but stepped back when he passed. He walked over to where Nolan Wamper sat and tapped him on the shoulder. Justin said something to the man, then jerked his thumb toward the door. Nolan’s face hardened, then he pushed to his feet and walked heavily ahead of Justin toward the exit. I put my hand out to stop Justin. “What’s going on?”
He leaned in so no one else could hear. “I’m taking Nolan in for questioning… in Justine’s death.”
I gaped. “Why?”
“Because he has a record… for trafficking psychedelic mushrooms.” ~
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