Published: November 8th, 2021
He gave her a song. She gave him Christmas.
Once a huge pop star, Jake Wilder hasn’t written a hit song in over ten years. Stuck playing small-time venues where only his most dedicated fans remember him, a comeback seems improbable. But even those gigs are quickly drying up, and if Jake doesn’t do something soon, he’ll slide into permanent has-been oblivion. In a twist of fate, a record executive with a soft spot for retro artists, holds a competition in search of pop musicians to write a new Christmas classic.
Longing to become a serious and respected journalist, Mackenzie Stone scoffs at her latest assignment to write a profile about a washed-up pop singer. She would prefer to cover hard news rather than light stories assigned by her editor who seems unwilling to give her a chance. Determined to write a noteworthy story and at the same time prove herself, it’s up to Mackenzie to help inspire Jake to compose a Christmas classic.
As Jake struggles to overcome his anxieties and write a great song, Mackenzie digs for a story of substance. Together they find love while also discovering the true meaning of Christmas.
Mackenzie Stone stormed into her editor’s office at The Sunrise Press. “Mr. Hughes, you do realize I have a degree in journalism and political science.”
He let out a harsh breath. On several occasions, he’d asked her not to raise her voice, especially in front of the rest of the staff. Not that he’d ever fire her. She was hands down his best reporter.
There were exactly two things she hated: being told what to do and getting assigned fluff pieces.
“I’ve said it a million times.” He looked up from the plant he was watering. She admired his green thumb since she could barely keep her Chia pet alive.
“The political news comes straight from The Associated Press. Our focus is on community events and human-interest stories,” he said.
“And you think what’s going on in the rest of the world isn’t of human interest?” She slapped her hand on the desk for effect. He jumped. Too gentle to be in the cutthroat business of big league journalism in her opinion. Though The Sunrise Press was hardly big league. How he lasted over forty years at the paper was a miracle.
She took in a deep breath. Her father always said her temper would lead to trouble. There was also the whole red-headed stereotype. More than once she’d been called hot-headed and told it had something to do with her flaming red hair. This narrow-minded assumption usually irritated her even more.
“All I’m asking for is a serious story. I need something with grit.” Mr. Hughes set down the watering can and scratched his head, pushing his gray hair so it stood up in all directions. She stopped herself from smoothing the wayward strands and, while she was at it, straightening the sagging shoulders of his cardigan sweater. He was like the unkempt, sweet old grandfather she wished for as a kid.
He finally said, “Take it easy, Lois Lane. You’ll get your chance at the Pulitzer someday.”
She brushed off the Lois Lane comment. Profiling Superman would be a lot more interesting than the story he had assigned her. “The whole world’s going to pot, and you want me to profile some washed-up pop star named Jake Wilder?”
“Everybody loved him. You know that song,” he said. “‘We looked out at the city lights that night’,” he sang. “‘The connection we both felt, it seemed so right’.”
Not bad. She was getting too distracted and needed to drive the point home that nobody would care about this story. “Yeah, well I had to Google him, and so will the mere handful of people who may want to read about him.”
“Believe it or not, young lady, pop music didn’t begin with Lady Gaga, or whoever it is you’re listening to these days.”
“But there are plenty of washed-up stars to profile. Why him?” “I think the term you’re looking for is retro.” She imagined that’s how Mr. Hughes referred to himself as well. “If you Googled him, then you should know the answer,” he said. “He’s a local boy. Born and raised in Pasadena. Probably grew up right down the street from you.”
Her family knew everybody in their private, very exclusive neighborhood. She would’ve heard if they had a celebrity, even a former one, in their midst.
“He hasn’t even cinched the deal.” She’d been informed earlier about the details of the contest. Jake Wilder was only one of several artists competing for the shot. “His Christmas song could be a disaster and the story a huge waste of our time.”
“Let me worry about that,” Mr. Hughes said.
“This is so lame.” She slumped into the chair across from him. For five years she’d been compiling a portfolio of important stories that might land her a job at one of the major newspapers. This Jake Wilder nonsense wouldn’t make the cut.
“I got a call from Jake’s manager today. He said we’d have exclusive access to the whole process—from Jake accepting the challenge, to writing the song, to waiting for the call,” he said, punctuating every stage with an animated hand gesture. He was excited about the story, and she knew she’d lost the battle.
“I don’t even like Christmas.” She hoped he wouldn’t remember her desk was covered in Christmas decorations.
He leaned his head back and laughed. “Everybody around here knows the truth. You’re crazy about Christmas.”
Mackenzie had to admit. There was a story. She only had to dig it up.
About the author:
Andee Reilly was born and raised in Los Angeles. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of California, Riverside, Palm Desert. After many years of teaching writing and literature at California State University, Channel Islands, Andee moved to Maui to pursue her dream of teaching at the University of Hawaii, writing full-time, and surfing the beautiful waves of Hawaii. To learn more, visit her:
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