Holly Jolly Christmas
Prequel to Holiday Babies Series
by USA Today and New York Times bestselling author
Copyright © 2016 by Mona Risk
Heather and Jeff have always been in love. Yet to find herself pregnant now, at eighteen, before she even starts college and he joins MIT for a master’s degree… Talk about the wrong time. Besides, the news might kill her father who is battling cancer.
Although the decision to give up her baby is breaking her heart, Heather contacts an adoption agency. But Jeff absolutely refuses to consider her solution. How can they save their relationship and their baby’s future?
“I want the baby to be raised by a couple who can provide love, security and a family atmosphere,” Heather declared, hoping she would not burst into tears after the statement that tore at her insides. “If they allow us to see the baby once in a while we would be so happy,” she added, hoping beyond hope she could still be part of her child’s life.
Madelyn studied her for a moment then lifted her hands. “Are you sure you won’t regret this decision?”
Leaving the bed where she felt trapped under Madelyn’s scrutiny, she walked to the window and cleared her throat. “I gave it a lot of thought. I’m convinced it’s the best thing for the baby, for Jeff, for me, and for our parents.”
“Knowing Jeff, I’m surprised he’s agreed to give up his baby.”
“I didn’t inform him of my decision yet.”
“You can’t make any decision without discussing it with him. He has to agree first.”
Heather spun toward her sister who insisted on complicating things. “The baby is here.” She pointed to her belly. “In my body. So it’s my decision.”
“No, my dear. If you put Jeff’s name on the birth certificate, then he’s the father and he has his say in the matter. Heather, you can’t organize things in your head without learning the procedures. I am going to inquire about the formalities and let you know.”
“Thank you.” A big sigh escaped Heather. She lowered her head and immediately raised it, refusing to feel defeated. “I browsed through the Internet for information because I don’t want to tell anyone about…about this.”
“You don’t plan to inform Mom and Dad?” Madelyn’s lips pinched in disapproval.
Why couldn’t her smart sister understand her reasons?
“No. I don’t want Dad to get worse because of me. And Mom would be furious.”
“Sweetie, Dad won’t get worse because of you, but because of the cancer spreading. His doctors are doing everything for him. Now, he and Mom will probably be upset as soon as they hear the news, but then they can help you. You have to realize that in a month you won’t be able to hide your condition.”
“Yes I can. No one will learn anything. I have it all planned.”
“Seriously? How?” Madelyn crossed her arms on her chest and tilted her head.
“I’m starting college at UK in late August. I’ll be on campus. No one will see me here. For the coming months, I’ll make sure I wear loose printed shirts on top of my pants. Like this one. No one will notice. Jeff didn’t.”
Dr. Madelyn huffed in frustration. “Because you’re still in the fifth month. You’re going to balloon very suddenly.”
“Stop trying to upset me.”
“Heather, calm down. I am trying to make you see the big picture. Your decision will lead to problems if you try to handle it on your own.”
“Well I trusted you with my problem because you are a doctor and you’re going into a residency in pediatrics. So help me and give me the name of a gynecologist in Louisville.”
“Okay, I’ll look into that. But one more thing to keep in mind. Dad has only a few months left,” Madelyn warned with a sad voice. “If you disappear during this time you will regret it later.”
“I thought about it.” Tears rolled down Heather’s cheeks. “I will visit him at the hospital on the days of his chemo and hold his hand. I’ll wear a big scrub top. Oh, Madelyn, I screwed up.” She smacked her forehead. “I’m trying to fix things.” How she hated herself. She had to deal with huge problems of birth and death while her high school friends were celebrating graduation at parties, concerts and picnics.
“Calm down, sweetie. A pregnancy can make you very nervous. I will help you. I promise.”
“Go talk to Jeff now. But first eat something and take a vitamin. You lost weight, which is not good for the baby. I will bring you a bottle of vitamins, especially for pregnancy.”
“Thanks.” Not ready to argue with Jeff now, she headed to her room and closed the door behind her.
A few minutes later, it burst wide-open, with Claire and Tiffany barging in. “Mom said you have to drive us to the swim club for our diving training.”
“Yes, now.” Claire stomped the floor.
“Mom said you should swim with us and bring us back,” Tiffany added.
Her young sisters, fourteen and eleven, adored her and would stick to her all day if she let them. Right now, she felt like kicking them out of her room. “Okay, okay. Wait for me downstairs.”
“What’s the matter with you? You’re no fun anymore,” Claire complained. “This house is becoming a prison. Mom is too busy taking care of Dad. Roxy already left for her new job, and we can’t disturb Maddy as usual.” Claire clamped her fists on her sides. “Now even you are ignoring us.”
“I’m not ignoring you. I just have my own pro…huh, stuff to think about.”
“No, you just prefer to be with Jeff and kissy-kiss.” Tiffany danced from one foot to the other and blew kisses.
“You little monster, what are you talking about?” As if she needed these girls to add their teasing.
Claire shrugged. “We saw you behind the pool shed.”
“And now, Claire wants to do the same with Brian.” Tiffany laughed while Claire smacked her butt.
Oh God, no, please. She couldn’t stand another sin on her shoulders. The girl was only fourteen.
“Stop it, you two. Get your bathing suits on. We’re going to the pool. I’ll wear mine.” She pushed them out of her room and grabbed her one-piece bathing suit. Good thing it still fit her. She shed her clothes and watched herself in the long mirror affixed on the door. Thank God her belly didn’t show any roundness yet. She quickly threw on a beach dress that flared at mid-thigh.
Just as she opened the door, her mother’s voice reached her. “Heather, honey, Jeff is here to see you, in the family room.”
Darn! Why now?
A bomb bursting in his tiny living room wouldn’t have shocked Jeff more than the news that he would soon become a father. When Heather had jogged away, he hadn’t tried to follow her. She wanted to be alone, and he needed time to adjust to the situation and ponder his options. Ignoring the heat, he had dropped onto the bench on his front patio and stared at the two bushes of red roses decorating the corner of his lodge. For a change, their rich color and warm fragrance failed to soothe him.
Of course, he would marry Heather as soon as possible, but he had to plot their future and list his priorities. He’d counted on his fingers: a job for him, a quick wedding, a doctor and a hospital for the delivery, insurance to buy, an evening program where he could prepare his master’s degree. In addition, to how and when to announce the news to their folks.
Still mad at himself, he’d punched his palm. Would he ever forgive himself for throwing his innocent girlfriend into such a life-changing crisis?
No need to procrastinate. He had stepped into his miniscule kitchen to swallow the rest of his cold coffee. He should hurry up and organize things to allow Heather to relax. Determined to look at the positive side, he’d slipped on his sneakers and grabbed his keys and glasses. But he hadn’t run like Heather. Instead, he had slowly strolled, trying to find an answer to every new question popping into his mind.
By the time he’d arrived at the Ramsays, he’d been confident he could handle the future. As usual, Barbara Ramsay had greeted him with a welcoming smile. “You can wait for Heather in the family room. I think Claire and Tiffany are with her.” Heather’s mother treated him like a son and never worried when her daughter went out with him. He hoped he wouldn’t lose her trust when he confessed their story.
David Ramsay appeared behind his wife. “Hey there, Jeff. Congratulations. I was on the phone with your father a moment ago. He shared your good news. So proud of you, son. Heather must be thrilled for you.”
Jeff caught a glimpse of Heather with Claire and Tiffany behind her at the family room door, the three of them in swimming attire.
“Thank you, sir. But I… huh… I have to think about it. I may not accept it—”
“Not accept it? You must be joking. A scholarship at MIT. Grab it with both hands, son. It’s a guarantee for a bright future.”
“Jeff plans to accept it, Dad,” Heather said. “He’s just overwhelmed at the moment. Jeff, I have to take the girls to the swimming club for their training. Want to tag along?”
As if he had a choice. “Sure. See you later, sir.” When they settled in the Ramsay van he added, “We need to talk.”
“They want me to swim with them. We’ll drop by your place to get your bathing suit.”
“Whatever.” He swallowed a sigh, not liking her procrastination on such a serious subject.
Twenty minutes later, they sat on the ledge by the pool and watched the girls dive under their trainer’s supervision. Heather clapped her hands at each performance and he followed suit. Once the girls finished their diving, they insisted on having him and Heather swim with them. He indulged them and forced himself into a fast crawl to drown his irritation.
Soon, Tiffany hung upon his shoulders and let him drag her around the pool. He imagined little arms wrapping around his neck while he taught his own child to swim, and a warm feeling invaded his chest.
Losing a scholarship at MIT was a small price to pay for gaining a loving family with a beautiful young wife and a baby. He had no doubts Heather would share his eagerness to marry soon. At least they wouldn’t have to sneak out to be together.
With Claire and Tiffany around, he gave up on any serious conversation and climbed out of the pool to sit on the ledge. “Aren’t you tired, girls?”
“Not at all,” Tiffany said with a scoff. The young sisters had often been a pain in his side, always sneaking in on him and his girlfriend at the wrong time and giggling as if they’d discovered a treasure chest.
“Want to come out, Heather? You shouldn’t exert yourself so much.”
“Why not? I’m not sick, for heaven’s sake.”
Claire snorted. “Heather is a better swimmer than all of us. Haven’t you seen the three dozen medals she won with her swim team? Hey, sis, want to race me to the other end?”
Of course he’d seen her medals and cheered at her competitions. But today, she shouldn’t be racing, not when she was carrying his baby and should avoid strenuous exercise.
“I’m in,” Heather answered right away.
Had she lost her mind?
“Me too,” Tiffany added.
“Please don’t.” He scrambled to his feet, stretching out an arm to pull her out of the pool. “You can’t—”
“Will you stop ordering me around?” Heather glared at him and dove underwater.
“Heather…” Exasperated, he huffed and watched her swim a perfect crawl, while her sisters vainly tried to catch up with her. Why was she acting like…like a careless eighteen-years-old girl? Maybe because she hated her new condition and resented him for causing it. Damn, he hoped she wouldn’t consider an abortion. At a loss about figuring out her way of thinking, he raked his fingers through his wet hair.
She’d mentioned asking Madelyn to help her. Madelyn was a doctor. She sure wouldn’t encourage getting rid of a baby. Damn, damn, damn, he had to talk to Heather, and if she kept avoiding a serious discussion about their future, he’d call Madelyn.
When she swam back next to him, he leaned over the side. “Are you ready to go home?”
“Can’t I relax for a moment?” She groaned, visibly annoyed with him. But he’d lost what little patience he’d been trying to hang onto.
“Listen, if you insist on ignoring me, I’m going straight to your sister and my parents.” Maybe that would get her attention.
Her eyes widened and filled with tears. “You can’t do that. Please, Jeff.” She hauled herself out of the pool and sat next to him, covering his hand with hers and making him feel like trash for hurting her. But he couldn’t back up now, not until she shared her feelings and decisions with him.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. Either we are together in this or…or I’ll take the lead and make the decisions.”
“What decisions d’you want to make?” Her soft conciliatory tone didn’t fool him.
“Tomorrow we’ll go to the Jefferson County Clerk’s office and get the marriage license. I looked it up on line. We’re both over eighteen so we don’t need anything but our driver’s licenses as ID. No blood test. And then we have thirty days to get married. You choose the date, the place, and the guests.” Relieved that she hadn’t interrupted him, he added, “So, when d’you want to get married?”
Her eyes narrowed and her lips pursed. “Didn’t you listen to what I said at your lodge? You’re going to MIT and I’m going to UK. That’s all.”
Her sweet stubbornness eroded his patience. “Seriously? And what happens when the baby comes out?”
“By then Madelyn will have found a loving couple to adopt him—”
“No way. Never,” he bellowed.
Claire and Tiffany, and some other kids in the pool, spun to look at them.
“Calm down and be reasonable,” Heather urged. “Please, Jeff.”
“No way,” he repeated in a lower voice. “I can’t believe you’d abandon our child.” Was this person the same girl he’d always loved?
“I’m not abandoning him. I’m giving him to a reliable couple who’d be able to love him and care for him better than us.”
“I’ll never let anyone take my child. Never. You hear me? Never.” Unable to control his rising temper, he jumped to his feet, grabbed his clothes from the chair where he’d left them and slipped on his shorts and shirt.
Reeling from Heather’s horrible decision, he walked out of the swim club and hailed a taxi to go home to his lodge and collect his thoughts.
How had his world turned upside down in a few hours? Going from a carefree student announcing his biggest achievement to a torn father-to-be about to lose his child. He could give up a scholarship at MIT, but he would never give up his baby.
(To be continued on 11-29-2016)