by Ann Roberts
Trouble is brewing in Tucson’s JOY neighborhood, known for its vibrant holiday traditions and…joy. Just a few days before the festivities begin, Carol “CJ” Joy, the granddaughter of JOY’s founders, discovers a looming eviction for Santa’s Workshop and for Santa himself. Property owner Karol Kleinz has eyes on a swift sale and dreams of an early retirement.
Tucson once held memories of young love between Karol and CJ. But now as Karol returns—she’s torn, wrestling with ambitions of a future elsewhere and the magnetic pull of her reignited feelings for CJ.
Dive into a festive tale by award-winning author Ann Roberts, where love and laughter blend seamlessly, honoring the magic of the most wonderful time of the year.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"My wife got me a shirt for Christmas one year that read, “Careful or You’ll Wind Up in my Novel.” I only wore it once as it sparked a lot of conversation with strangers in the supermarket, and resulted in a two-hour shopping trip, but my wife knew the sentiment rang true. I’m always ready for the next idea, listening, watching, and often asking questions. A Carol for Karol began as a spontaneous conversation between my cousin and his son while I was visiting them in Tucson, Arizona just before Christmas. They mentioned a community that went over the top with holiday displays, carriage rides, and lighting displays, and they’d been staging the event for decades. Another friend mentioned she thought participation was required when someone bought a house in that neighborhood. And thus, a seed was planted."
Shimere A. - …If you're looking for a fun holiday read that's full of love, tons of laughter, and the magic of the season, this is the perfect choice. Ann Roberts has crafted a story that honors the most wonderful time of the year, and you won't be able to resist getting caught up in the joy of it all. So grab a cozy blanket, a hot cocoa, and immerse yourself in this enchanting holiday extravaganza for a truly heartwarming experience.
Henrietta B. - Hallmark Christmas cheer and a romance between mature women…An enjoyable holiday read which surprisingly adds a romance between two mature women (both around 60) to the mix. A very welcome addition to my ever growing sapphic holiday library.
KP P. - The best part is that the author built this incredible world that is inclusive to all people. The neighborhood where this story takes place has people of all generations, many different letters within the LGBTQ+ spectrum, various religions, multiple ethnicities and racial groups, a range of financial levels, and so much more all living together in harmony. This book is so wholesome and the perfect escapism for when reality becomes too much!
Women Using Words
A festive and heartwarming backdrop is wonderfully constructed for this holiday-themed, second-chance romance, providing cozy feelings of joy and Christmas sentimentality that really resonate with readers. Roberts masterfully uses the themes of love, family, and community associated with the holidays to enhance the emotional connection between her main characters, making this romance more than appealing.
Jessica P. - What a cute Christmas novel! The writing was excellent and captured my attention straight away. This was a first for me by this author and I will definitely read more!
Darlene V. - Very entertaining and well written romance… A fun holiday read.
Eve R. - It's a delightful addition to the holiday reading list!
“Bette Davis was right,” Karol Kleinz muttered. “Old age ain’t for cowards, or whatever it was she said.”
Unable to coax open the cellophane end of the new roll of packing tape with her fingernail, she dropped it on her bedroom floor. “Shit.” It was yet another reminder that her fine motor skills were no longer up to par thanks to the arthritis in her hands, which seemed to worsen with each passing year.
She took a deep breath and gazed out her window at the New York skyline that greeted her. Thousands of lights punctuated the night sky. “I’ll miss you, city that doesn’t sleep.”
She headed to the balcony of her Upper West Side apartment. Snow covered Central Park, the trees’ bare limbs seeming to reach out for spring. She studied the buildings beyond the park. Each illuminated window indicated life—cleaning crews scurrying to prepare businesses for the next day; busy executives with corner offices, toiling to meet a deadline; families watching television; people relaxing with a favorite hobby—or having sex. In New York it could be anything at any time. The city was always alive. Most people couldn’t tolerate life in the city, but she’d thrived on it. What’ll it be like in Boca Raton? “Probably not as lively,” she answered herself, “but hopefully not comatose.”
A cold December wind whipped past and she retreated inside to face the stacks of half-filled boxes, rolls of Bubble Wrap, and the damn stubborn tape. She grabbed her tablet from an end table and pulled up her packing plan, not to be confused with her moving plan, her travel plan, or her Florida arrival plan. The movers weren’t due for another week, and despite the apartment’s disheveled appearance, she really was on track to finish ahead of schedule, according to the moving plan.
Three sharp barks interrupted the soothing jazz piano that wafted through the living room. “Manny,” she called. “Where are you?” She scanned the room but didn’t see Manhattan, her little Yorkiepoo. He was likely in a box as he favored small spaces. She stepped carefully around the detritus that covered every surface and the floor just in case he was hiding in plain sight.
Three more barks—and possibly movement—near the giant bag of giveaway clothes.
“Manny!” she called.
“Ruff!” came the response, closer to the boxes that lined the hallway.
No bark. He was playing hard to get. She groaned and shook her head, careful not to tumble over the stacks of books waiting for a box. Why had she listened to the organization guru who’d advised that the best way to pack was to first collect similar items and then pack when they were all in the same place? Obviously that woman didn’t have a Yorkiepoo whose favorite game was hide and seek.
“Ruff!” Over by the office door.
She looked in a box filled with recyclable packing peanuts, and there was Manny, his entire body submerged. Only his cute little brown head sat above the surface. He looked pleased that Karol had found him.
“Ruff!” The shifting peanuts indicated he was wagging his unseen tail.
“There you are!” She scooped him up and set him inside his little pen. “Sorry, bud. You gotta stay in the O.K. Corral for now. I don’t have time for any reindeer games.”
Manny barked his displeasure as Karol returned to the living room. She looked around and groaned. Now, where the hell is my tablet? She closed her eyes and focused, releasing her growing frustration. During every one of their sessions, Dr. Kennedy reiterated the importance of not sweating the small stuff, something that was truly a challenge, as she wasn’t accustomed to losing things, forgetting things, or failing. She was a multitasker with a reputation for sharp wit. “Well, I used to be,” she muttered.
Another minute and she found the tablet sitting precariously on the arm of a wingback chair. “Okay,” she ordered herself, “tonight is photographs, art, and knickknacks.”
She started with the most important photo: the black and white 8x10 of her with her family: her mother, Joyce; her father, Herschel; her maternal grandmother, Nana Hope; and her paternal grandfather, well-known New York attorney Eli Kleinz. She was only a toddler, sitting on her mother’s lap. Her father stood behind his wife with Eli to his left and Nana Hope to his right. The picture said it all. The two men wore stern expressions and nearly identical three-piece suits while Nana Hope, her mother, and Karol smiled beatifically for the camera.
As usual her gaze bounced between her mother and Nana Hope, never really looking at the men. Her mother had died from breast cancer at thirty-four, when Karol was only eight, leaving her upbringing to her father—via the hired help—and sometimes Nana Hope. Many times Karol had begged to live with Nana Hope permanently, but her father recognized the leverage and sympathy he gained from being a widower, especially with the women he regularly bedded.
She quickly wrapped the photo and set it in a box and pulled an original watercolor from the wall, a beach scene. She loved staring at the detailed waves and the setting sun in the background. The Tucson artist who’d painted it, Judith Mariner, had told Karol it was a San Diego beach, but whenever Karol looked at it she thought of Boca Raton, the place that would become her new home in just a few weeks. After she made a stop in Tucson and finally settled Nana Hope’s affairs and sold her house.
She’d avoided the home she inherited three years ago when Nana Hope had died of Covid. It had been much easier to hire a property management company to occasionally check on it, just to make sure the roof wasn’t leaking or squatters hadn’t taken up residence. She received a report twice a year, but what eased her mind was something Nana Hope had always said: “I have the best neighbors in the world.”
Karol had met some of them. She knew that part was true.
Before she realized it, she was standing in front of the photo of her and Nana Hope outside the small Craftsman house with the wide, long porch. She and Nana had spent many afternoons sitting in the Adirondack chairs playing Go Fish, while the neighbors strolled by and waved or came up the walk to chat.
There were also other kids in what had come to be known as the JOY neighborhood for its Christmas affiliations, mostly boys, but she couldn’t remember them specifically, and there was one other girl with dark, curly hair and a mischievous smile. They’d always had fun and her name was Carol too, but she spelled it differently and went by CJ. There had been several afternoons underneath the giant Aleppo pine behind the field…eventual kisses and a long-distance, preteen “romance,” destined to fizzle. It was a first love that navigated her toward women. She still thought of CJ occasionally.
Where was that picture of the three of them with Hope?
She hadn’t been back to Tucson and the Craftsman house since her preteen years. Her father had moved them to San Francisco for his computer job, so Nana Hope, since she was retired from her job as a civil engineer, always came to them. Then, after Karol’s mother passed, they rarely saw her. Nana always invited Karol to come visit again, but as she grew older there was always a reason to say no—a chance to see friends, a big law school final, or the demands and expectations of an up-and-coming junior associate. Whole decades flew by and the only tether between Karol and Nana Hope was this photo and the memories that surfaced each Christmas when she’d make Nana’s famous gingerbread people for her colleagues, neighbors, and friends.
She wiped a few tears off the picture, remembering one of Nana’s favorite expressions. “If you don’t bother with me when I’m alive, don’t worry about me after I’ve passed.”
Karol hadn’t even gone to her celebration of life.
Her cell pinged with a text from Stella, her paralegal. I just splurged and bought a crap load of sunscreen.
Karol laughed. Stella Plotz was queen of the bargain. She replied with a thumbs-up, and suddenly remembered what she wasn’t supposed to forget: Stella’s retirement gift. Despite four different reminders in four different places, she still hadn’t wrapped the present.
“Shit. Let’s just pray I don’t have dementia.”
She rustled through the items on the couch and found the Macy’s box that contained a lovely light-blue cashmere sweater. All it needed now was a fancy bow. Karol had vowed to learn new things in retirement so instead of heading down to the gift-wrap counter, she’d stopped at a craft store and picked up some red wire ribbon. How hard could this be?
She cleared a spot on the dining room table and pulled up a picture of a handsome five-loop bow. She studied it for a moment, cut off a hefty piece of ribbon and tried to re-create the picture. After three attempts, she’d severely mangled the ribbon. She held it up and groaned. It looked like a starving red balloon animal.
She laughed and opened her YouTube app. There were endless choices for How to Tie a Bow with Wire Ribbon, but the first video had over nine thousand “likes” and the smiling woman holding the bow was definitely Karol’s type—curly salt-and-pepper gray hair, lovely green eyes and a wide smile. Karol was a sucker for a great smile. She tapped on the play button.
Some upbeat violin music started and the words, It’s All JOY filled the screen followed by the same woman sitting at a dining room table. She introduced herself as Carol and spoke in a soft, lilting voice. There was something very familiar about her, but Karol didn’t have time to dwell on that. She needed to get this bow done and return to her packing.
Carol methodically outlined the steps, gave clear directions, anticipated the mistakes beginners would make, and three minutes later, Karol did indeed have a lovely bow for her present. At the end of the video, Carol asked the viewers to stay tuned for a special announcement, and Karol felt obliged to listen, since Carol had done such a stellar job.
Holiday music played while Carol narrated a video of a neighborhood exploding in Christmas lights with ice skating, sleigh riding, even a reindeer petting area. Hundreds of people milled about, drinking hot cocoa and eating gingerbread people. “…so if you’re anywhere near the Tucson area,” Carol said in the voiceover, “come visit the JOY neighborhood this holiday season. JOY will fill your heart with joy.”
Karol gasped. “Carol is CJ! That’s my CJ!”
A laughing little girl filled the screen. Then the camera pulled back to include her entire family standing in front of a house made up to look like Santa’s Workshop, complete with elves, sacks of presents, and a real sleigh with Santa waving at the camera. Fake snow covered the lawn and the roof. Karol stared past them—to the long front porch with the Adirondack chairs, the swing, and the front door painted bright red.
Again she gasped. “That’s Nana Hope’s house! My house!”