Thanks so much for joining us this week. This is the final part of my birthday gift to you, a fun short story. I hope you loved it, or that it at least made your week a bit brighter.
If you need to catch up, the first day is here, Tuesday is here, Wednesday is here, and Thursday is here. Enjoy the end!
Rachel mulled over what she thought she heard in the background on Chris’s end. Had his GPS actually told him to take the exit she was about to turn on? Maybe she assumed that’s what she heard because it was on her brain.
“We’re getting close now.” Kathy pointed to the right. “It says turn here and go about five miles.”
“Are you rooming with someone or did you reserve a room to yourself?” Kathy leaned back. “I hate sharing a room. I always fear my snoring will keep them awake.”
“Oh. No. I’m rooming with someone I met at a local group a year ago. She’s coming up from a different direction. But we both needed the discount.”
“I understand. Anyone who thinks writers do this for the money are crazy. I always want to apologize to my accountant when I turn in my expense report at the end of the year.” Kathy rambled on for the rest of the ride and even halfway through the state park as they meandered their way through cathedral-like trees and past the golf course.
Rachel gratefully parked and grabbed her two bags before heading into the hotel and conference center. She’d check in to her room first and then figure out where everyone was meeting. The man at the counter held up a finger while finishing up a phone call.
“Yes.” He hung up and lifted a brow.
“I have a reservation. Rachel Hall.”
Thanks so much for joining us this week to read my birthday gift to you, a short story. If you need to catch up, the first day is here, Tuesday is here, and yesterday is here. Have fun!
If it were any other ringtone, Chris would ignore it. After all, he had a fifteen-year-old he had to set an example for, and breaking the law wasn’t the way to do it. However, it was Rachel’s song, and with her on the road, he didn’t want to risk missing something important.
“Hey Rach.” He pushed the button to send the call through his car’s speaker system.
“Chris, where are you?”
“What?” He glanced around, making sure she wasn’t actually in one of the cars nearby. “Why?”
“Maddie just called and said you didn’t come back to pick her up after practice.” Rachel’s voice was near tears.
“Calm down. I talked to her about the plan earlier and she knows what it is. She’s not stranded. I promise. She probably forgot it would be a different vehicle and looked for yours.” He searched his brain to make sure he hadn’t said anything he wasn’t ready to reveal yet.
“So, you picked her up?”
“It’s taken care of.” He hated that he was having to phrase things in a way it was almost a falsehood, but she’d understand soon enough.
“Okay. I just worried. I mean, she was supposed to have left half an hour ago and she just called in the last ten minutes ...”
Thanks so much for joining us this week to read my birthday gift to you, a short story. If you need to catch up, the first day is here and yesterday is here. Have fun!
Rachel pushed through the garage door, arms full of plastic bags. Chris’s voice carried from the direction of his office—must be on a phone call. Of course. And Maddie was nowhere to be found. Looked like two more trips to the car for her.
She set the last bags on the counter and started putting things away. There should be enough time to throw Benjamin’s stinky things in the wash before she left this afternoon. Assuming he came home right after practice.
“What’s that?” Maddie appeared at Rachel’s elbow as she unbagged several frozen meals.
“Food that’s easy for you guys to fix while I’m gone. I meant to make a few things in advance, but then I got busy with a new story idea and the next thing I knew, I was out of time.” Rachel stuffed the pasta and veggie dish into the freezer. “At least this way I know you’ll eat something besides pizza or burgers.”
“What’s wrong with pizza and burgers?” Maddie opened a pack of cookies and stuffed one in her mouth.
“Besides all the carbs and fat?” Rachel snatched the package away and stashed it in the top of the pantry before her daughter could eat another. “Nothing. But veggies are better for you.”
“You act like you’re going to be gone forever.” Maddie rolled her eyes. “It’s only a weekend.”
Thanks for joining us this week for a short story. If you missed the previous section, read it here.
Why couldn’t he do anything right?
The coffee—it was supposed to be a sweet surprise for her. Fixed exactly the way she liked it. And he knew he’d gotten the ratio of creamer to sugar to roast right because he’d seen the blissful expression on her face as she took another sip.
She hadn’t even said anything about the card. That had been a stupid idea. A poem. Who did he think he was? Wordsworth? Browning? Store-bought would have been a better idea. And maybe flowers.
Well, he still had time to do those, but they’d just wilt while she was gone.
“Dad, are we going?” Benjamin waved a hand in front of Chris’s face.
“Yes. Got your gear?” Chris grabbed his wallet and keys. “Come on, Maddie. Time to drop your brother off at practice.”
“Why can’t I stay home?” She gave him attitude better known for someone a year older.
“Because I don’t trust you.” He motioned with his head for her to head to the truck.
Benjamin filled up the passenger side with his long legs, pads, and helmet. “When can I drive?”
“When you have your permit.” Chris reversed out of the garage. “Have you even been studying for the test?”
“Some.” Benjamin ran his fingers through his hair, combing it over to one side. The curls flopped back into disarray almost immediately, but Chris didn’t tell him. The helmet would mess up any fancy ‘do Benjamin tried to achieve right now anyway.
“Dad, what about Grandma?” Maddie spoke up from the back.
Last year, for my birthday, I wrote a short story and shared a piece each day of that week. Everyone seemed to enjoy it so much, I am doing it again. This year, the story isn't about a birthday girl, but I hope you enjoy it just as much. Make sure to check back every day through Friday this week to keep reading more. I can't wait to hear what you think. (Maybe this will hold you until my next book comes out in October. ;-))
Rachel rolled over and reached toward Chris’s side. The sheet was smooth under her hand ... and cool, letting her know he’d already been up a while. A glance at the clock confirmed the alarm hadn’t even gone off yet. She swallowed the disappointment of not being able to kiss her husband good morning first thing on their twentieth anniversary.
Twenty years. Had it really been that long? Surely it had only been a few revolutions around the sun since she was a bride. Not two decades.
She silenced the buzzing that started next to her head. Time to start the day, even if it wasn’t how she had envisioned when she drifted to sleep last night. And the chaos to be organized for the next eighteen hours was enough to make her want to dive back beneath the covers. No time for a celebration this year.
After a quick run through the shower, she slipped into the outfit she’d laid out the evening before. It wasn’t anything fancy. The retreat she was headed to later that day was casual—jeans and a nice shirt. She’d been warned to take a sweater, too, as the conference room tended to run cold.
“Mom, we’re going to be late if we don’t leave right now.” Benjamin stuck his head out of his bedroom door, his hair standing up in every direction imaginable. Football was the only thing exciting enough to pull her sophomore out of bed before ten on a summer morning.
“Your father is taking you today. Remember?” She tweaked his ear before he could dodge her. “Besides, you have half an hour before practice starts and we only live five minutes away. Calm your bones.”
Thanks for stopping by. This is day five of my Christmas gift to you this year. It's a short story based on characters from my book, An Unexpected Legacy. If you missed day four, you can go catch up here.
This section is just a bit longer than the others have been because I wanted to do it full justice. I hope you enjoy the end of this Christmas story.
“Well, look at that.” Chad stood at the front window early the next afternoon.
Presents had been opened that morning, and Jessica hadn’t noticed anything that would have caused Chad and Aunt Ruth to have such mischievous looks about them yesterday afternoon. She’d tried to settle in and simply enjoy the day with her family, but the sense of something not quite right still hung about her shoulders and clung tight. She rubbed her upper arms as she moved to stand next to Chad and look outside.
Gentle white flakes drifted from the sky. Already the grass was more white than brown. Her breath fogged the glass as she let out a breath of wonder. Snow on Christmas.
“Think it will last long?” Brittney looked through the other window.
“Probably not. This is Arkansas, after all. We almost never get a white Christmas.” Her dad peered over their shoulders.
“Humbug to you, too, Daddy.” Jessica smiled and took in the wonder of the fluffy crystals swirling in the breeze. “It’s so beautiful.”
“Let’s go walk in it.” Chad tugged at her hand.
“Walk in it? It’s going to be so cold.” She resisted only for a second. After living in central Texas for several years, she yearned for weather like this every now and then. There was nothing more magical. “Maybe we can borrow scarves and gloves from Aunt Ruth.”
It only took ten minutes to find enough cold weather gear to satisfy Jessica. Then, out they headed into the winter wonderland. The bit of accumulation crunched under their shoes as they walked down the driveway. Chad clasped her mitten-ensconced hand and swung their arms between them. She giggled as she stuck out her tongue to try and catch a flake. Nothing like snow could bring out the inner child quite so quickly.
Without discussing a direction, they both turned and meandered toward the park down the street. Chad dusted off one of the swings and motioned with a bow for her to sit. She lifted her legs as he gave her a gentle push, sending her flying through the swirling precipitation.
“This year has been so different than last year.”
“If I remember correctly, we ended up here on Christmas night last year, too, though.” Chad laughed.
“And you gave me my necklace.” She glanced over her shoulder with a grin. “And told me you didn’t want anything from me.”
He reached out and caught her swing to slow down her momentum. “And I still feel exactly the same way, though I do love that pocket knife you had under the tree.”
“I’m glad you like it. It took forever to decide on the perfect gift.” She stood and snuggled into his arms.
“Hm?” She didn’t want to move away from his warmth.
“I have a question for you.”
“Okay.” She back away just enough to be able to look up into his blue eyes.
He loosened his hold and got down on one knee.
She gasped and swallowed hard. Everything from the weekend suddenly seemed to make more sense.
“I’m going to need to take this off for a minute.” He tugged at the mitten she’d insisted on wearing.
“This ring.” He held up a diamond that looked familiar, though she couldn’t remember why. “When Uncle Andy gave this ring to your aunt, he meant it as a promise of a lifetime of love. Their story didn’t get the finish they wanted. Aunt Ruth said it’s time this piece of jewelry has a happy ending. Will you let me promise to love you forever and help me give this ring the story it deserves?”
She nodded, fighting the lump in her throat. “Yes. Yes, yes, yes.”
He slipped the cold metal on her finger and then pressed a kiss to her hand. She tugged him up, needing to be in his arms, to feel him and know this wasn’t simply some magical fantasy playing out in the unexpected winter wonderland. As his lips found hers and he swung her around with a “whoop” that was sure to be heard all the way back to Aunt Ruth’s house, she couldn’t stop the laughter that bubbled up.
“This is why you and Aunt Ruth have been acting so sketchy since we arrived, isn’t it?” She poked him in the chest as he set her back down.
"Aren’t you glad you didn’t walk in a minute sooner and ruin the surprise yesterday?”
She backed up and put her hands on her hips. “Wait. When you answered my question yesterday about who I was marrying, you knew you were going to do this?”
“I can’t wait to see you in that dress.” He wiggled his eyebrows.
She shook her head, bent down and scooped up some of the wet snow. “Right now, I think you need to be the one wearing white.”
He yelped as her snowball slammed into the side of his head. “Hey! This was supposed to be romantic.”
“It was. And now I get to get back at you for making me worry the last few days.” She threw another missile.
“Oh, this is war.” He knelt down to get his own weapons.
“Bring it on!”
“We want to play, too.” Brittney and Trevor came walking up. “And Mom says hurry back because she wants to see the ring on your finger.”
“She knew, too?” Jessica threw a ball at her sister. “I’m declaring war on everyone!”
“I think she can take it.” Brittney’s snowball caught her in the shoulder.
They tossed the wet projectiles at each other all the way back down the street. On the porch, right before joining the others inside, Chad stopped Jessica, pulling her into his arms.
“You know, a year ago, we shared our first kiss here.”
“Here’s to many more.” She pressed a quick one to his lips and then slipped inside to find her parents.
“That wasn’t nearly long enough.” Chad complained as he slipped from his jacket.
“We’ve got a lifetime to do that.” She smiled and admired the ring once more. “But right now, I want to go rummage around in the attic and find my Grandma’s wedding dress.”
“That’s the perfect way to have a white Christmas.” Her mom came up behind and hugged her. “Ruth is already up there. Let’s go.”
Time to start planning her happily ever after.
Fun historical note: they really did get almost a foot of snow in Arkansas back in 2012, when this is set. I giggled when I looked it up. Thanks so much for revisiting these characters with me. I did enjoy seeing what they got up to after the end of the book.
And if this has made you want to check out these characters in their original setting, you can find that story here.
Thanks for stopping by. This is day four of my Christmas gift to you this year. It's a short story based on characters from my book, An Unexpected Legacy. If you missed day three, you can go catch up here.
Where was that boy? Chad wasn’t in the living room with Dad, Brittney and Trevor. He wasn’t in the dining room. His car was still in the drive. She wandered closer to the kitchen, pausing as she heard the murmur of voices. One sounded like Aunt Ruth. Surely, he wouldn’t be in there with her.
She pushed against the door and a flurry of movement on the other side made her flinch back once more before trying again. Aunt Ruth and Chad both stood on opposite sides of the room, slightly guilty expressions on their faces. Jessica glanced between the two of them, completely perplexed. This day continued to grow stranger the longer it went on.
“Hey.” She leaned against the wall and crossed her arms. “What’s going on?”
“Your aunt was just showing me something for later.” Chad’s grin looked forced.
“Later? Like a present? Because we don’t usually open gifts until tomorrow.”
“Did you see the forecast for tomorrow?” Aunt Ruth opened the fridge and started digging around. “They say we might actually get a white Christmas this year.”
That was a random subject change. Jessica studied Chad once more, but he wouldn’t meet her eyes. Something was definitely going on.
“Snow, huh?” Jessica tapped her foot. “Do we need to run and get some salt for your porch steps and driveway?”
“Oh, no, honey. It’s not like we’re planning to go anywhere tomorrow.” Ruth straightened, setting a ham on the counter. “We can just hunker down and enjoy the time together.”
Jessica pursed her lips, but it looked like no one was going to ‘fess up. “Okay, then. Mom said she’ll be in from the porch in a few minutes. She was looking through old family photos.”
“Which album?” Ruth glanced around.
“The one with Grandma’s wedding photos. I didn’t realize she had such a pretty dress.”
Ruth let loose a rare smile. “I used to dream of getting married in that dress. I think it’s still up in the attic somewhere.”
“That’s what Mom said, too.”
“Maybe one of you girls can use it instead. Assuming it’s still in any kind of good condition.” Ruth dug some potatoes from the cabinet.
“I bet Jessica will look great in whatever she chooses to get married in.” Chad’s voice held all the warmth of his grin. She had forgotten he was there.
“And just who am I supposed to be marrying?” Jessica lifted an eyebrow.
“I guess we’ll have to wait and see.” He winked. “I’m going to go check out what your Dad and Brittney are up to. I’ll only be in the way in here.”
Not the answer she had been expecting. Not that she knew exactly what he was supposed to say to that question. After all, they’d been dating for almost a year and a half, but only mentioned the future every now and then, and never with any surety. But wasn’t it strange for a boyfriend to not suppose himself to be the groom?
Come back tomorrow for day five (the end)! And if this has made you want to check out these characters in their original setting, you can find that story here.
Thanks for stopping by. This is day three of my Christmas gift to you this year. It's a short story based on characters from my book, An Unexpected Legacy. If you missed day two, you can go catch up here.
“Brittney thinks Dad is being too hard on Trevor.” Jessica brought some cookies onto the sun porch where her mom was looking through a picture album.
“Oh really?” Her mom looked up and patted the seat beside her.
“Evidently, Dad was questioning him about everything.” Jessica grinned. “Brittney wishes they were like Chad and me.”
“Oh man.” Her mom leaned back and shook her head. “I don’t think she knows what she’s wishing for.”
“What your dad is doing to Trevor is nothing compared to the hurdles you and Chad overcame last year.” With a sigh, her mom reached over and squeezed Jessica’s hand. “But after that, your relationship has been so strong. I’m proud of you for not only making it through that intact, but also getting to the root of the problem. We might not be here having this peaceful holiday otherwise.”
“I’m not sure it’s truly peaceful, though.” Jessica leaned forward with her elbows on her knees. “There’s this undercurrent I keep picking up on. I thought Aunt Ruth was doing much better, but now I’m not so sure.”
A frown creased her mom’s forehead. “Do you think it’s related to what happened last year? Or could it be something else?”
“I honestly don’t know. Chad told me not to worry about it.”
“He’s probably right.” Her mom looked around. “Where is he? You two are usually no farther than a stone’s throw from each other.”
“I’m not sure, actually. I saw you out here and thought I’d bring some treats before they were all eaten, but he didn’t follow me. Maybe he got to talking to Trevor or something.” She pushed to her feet. “Enjoy your cookies.”
“Thanks, Sweetie.” Her mom patted the old album. “I’ll be in to help get dinner started soon, but I got caught up looking at these old photos.”
“Is that you?” Jessica leaned over to look more closely at a picture of a bride.
“No. That’s my mom.”
“Her dress was gorgeous.” Jessica traced the outline of the lace gown with her finger.
“Yes. I think it might still be stored away in the attic somewhere. No telling what kind of shape it’s in after all these years.”
“It’s so pretty. Almost exactly what I would want for my own.”
“Well, maybe we can dig it out when it’s time to think about things like that.” Her mom squeezed her hand.
“Maybe.” Jessica stood once more. “Who knows when that will be.”
Come back tomorrow for day four! And if this has made you want to check out these characters in their original setting, you can find that story here.
Thanks for stopping by. This is day two of my Christmas gift to you this year. It's a short story based on characters from my book, An Unexpected Legacy. If you missed day one, you can go catch up here.
“Ugh.” Jessica’s sister, Brittney stormed up to the kitchen counter, jerked a gingerbread boy from the plate, and bit his head off. “Why did I think it was a good idea to invite Trevor to family Christmas?”
“She sounds like you.” Chad smirked at Jessica from where he sipped coffee at the table.
“Oh, please.” Brittney rolled her eyes. “I don’t remember Dad giving you the whole ‘how dare you date my daughter?’ routine last year. He must have asked Trev at least forty questions since lunch.”
“I’m sure Chad’s answered a few questions, too. And I know I had to answer some questions for his family when I first met them. That’s just the way life works. Dads want to protect their children.” Jessica added a few more sprinkles to the Santa she was decorating.
“’What made you decide to get that tattoo? What was it about my daughter that made you want to date her? What are your life plans for the next twenty years?’” Brittney mimicked their dad’s voice and then ripped off the legs of her cookie.
“Really? Only twenty?” Jessica teased.
“You guys have it so lucky.” Brittney flopped into the chair beside Chad. “He’s not the new boyfriend anymore. And I really don’t remember him having to go through everything they’re submitting Trevor to. Seemed like everyone was all huggy when we parted last year.”
Jessica exchanged a look with Chad that told her he remembered things much differently, too. “I think you were too wrapped up in being on break and keeping Trevor a secret to remember things correctly.”
“Well, either way. I wish we could move past this and get to where you’re at. Why can’t they just accept Trevor the way he is?” Brittney’s voice hovered near a whine, as if she were younger than her almost twenty years.
“Dad didn’t ask you about your tattoos, did he?” Jessica set the plate of decorated cookies on the table and winked at Chad.
“No. He was too busy wondering about my piercings. We never got to tattoos.” Chad selected a reindeer with chocolate chip eyes.
“Ha, ha. Very funny.” Brittney crossed her arms. “I get it. I didn’t pick someone who looked the same as everyone else in the family.”
“Britt, there you are.” Trevor came in and slid into the chair on the far side of the table. “I thought you were coming back.”
“Sorry. I couldn’t take it anymore, seeing Dad treat you that way.” She pushed the treats toward her boyfriend.
Jessica laughed. “And so you just left him there by himself?”
Brittney covered her face with her hands. “Don’t mess with me. I’m stressed out.”
“It’s okay, Brittney. My dad did the same thing when my sister brought her boyfriend home a few years ago.” Trevor bit into a bell-shaped cookie.
“Well, I still don’t like it. Dad needs to go back and pick on Chad some more.”
“Hey now.” Chad held his hands up in the air. “I served my time. I’m very happy to be in the background for now.”
Jessica frowned. What did that mean? He wanted to be front and center again soon?
Before she could ask, her dad came in, sniffing the air. “Cookies?”
Chad held up the plate. “Come on over. We were just talking about tattoos.”
If looks could kill, Jessica would be down a boyfriend once more. Brittney’s glare was razor-sharp as she narrowed her eyes at Chad. Trevor just snickered and Jessica hid her laughter by turning to get her dad a cup of coffee, too.
Come back tomorrow for day three! And if this has made you want to check out these characters in their original setting, you can find that story here.
Several readers have requested I write a sequel to my book, An Unexpected Legacy. Well, I don't have enough ideas for a whole 'nother book, but I thought it might be fun to gift you a short story set a year later with the same characters. I warn you, though, that this story does sort of give away how the book ends. ;-)
I will be posting one bit of the story each day this week so be sure to stop back by and read the rest.
And, ever since writing this, I've had this image in my head of what the glider on Aunt Ruth's front porch looked like. When I saw this picture over on Sarah Orsborn's blog, here, I asked if I could borrow the photo since it matched my imaginings so well. She agreed, and now you can see an image of what I imagine Aunt Ruth's front porch looks a bit like.
“Maybe bringing you wasn’t such a good idea.” Jessica tugged Chad out the front door of Aunt Ruth’s house and into the old metal glider the morning of Christmas eve. She zipped up her puffer vest against the fifty-degree chill.
“What are you talking about? I thought we agreed we didn’t want to spend Christmas apart.” He pulled her to his side, his arm around her shoulders.
She snuggled into the warmth. “I know. But have you seen the way she’s been acting?”
“I guess not because I don’t know what you mean.” He glanced at something over her shoulder, but by the time she looked back at the window, there was nothing to see but curtains.
“What was that?”
“There’s nothing there. Must have been a reflection or something.” He squeezed her bicep. “Now tell me what you think you’re seeing Aunt Ruth do.”
“I’m not even sure.” She rubbed a circle on her temples. “She’s casting you sideways glances and ... it’s almost like she’s trying to meet your eyes but not at the same time. I don’t understand. I thought she was over her vendetta against your family, but now I’m beginning to wonder if she’s gone back to her old ways. I mean, it’s been a year since she really saw you. And I know she’s going to counseling, but maybe it’s not working?”
“I think you’re looking for things to see.” He pressed a kiss to her hair. “But you’re worrying for no reason. She’s been nothing but kind to me since we got here two days ago.”
“Really?” She looked up to make sure he was being serious.
“Really, truly.” With one finger, he drew an x on his chest. “Promise.”
“I know it’s not ideal. I mean, that couch has never been the most comfortable—”
“Jess, I promise. There’s no other person I’d rather spend the holidays with than you. Your family is great. And besides, I can’t escape to my grandfather’s house this year. Remember? We finally had the estate sale and that place is empty and almost sold.”
“So, you do want to escape!” She poked him in the shoulder.
“No!” A look of exasperation crossed his face. “I told you—”
“I know. I’m teasing.” She leaned up and dropped a quick kiss on his lips. “I’m glad you’re here, too. I’ll try not to be so skittish.”
Yet, she couldn't quite shake the unsettled feeling gurgling in her stomach. Was there really something wrong or was she simply paranoid after the previous year?
Come back tomorrow for day two! And if this has made you want to check out these characters in their original setting, you can find that story here.
This is a place for me to tell you about what I'm writing, talk about the process or where some of my ideas came from, or even have other authors come in and talk about their books.
Authors I Love to Read (in no particular order)