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?
To calm his rattled nerves, Jeff jogged all the way to his lodge. He couldn’t believe his bad luck. Why had the woman called just when Heather had started to accept the idea of marriage? She’d even shared with him a precious moment of their baby’s development. By the time he reached his lodge, he regretted his outburst of anger and promised himself never to lose control again. No matter what Heather decided, he’d keep his cool. Only his continuous support would convince her he’d be able to support their child.
At home, he changed into his old jeans and joined Bert and Josh in the backyard where they had been laying the foundation. “Your break was too long. At that rate we’ll never be done with the addition in six weeks,” Josh said.
“Sorry, guys. I had to see Heather.”
His two helpers looked at each other and burst out laughing. “He needed a dose of vitamins to sustain his effort.” Bert cast him a sarcastic glance.
“Vitamin kiss you mean?” Josh mocked.
Jeff shrugged. “No more breaks.” He’d drawn a grueling plan of work. So far, things had proceeded on schedule. This morning he had a promising interview with a company and the hiring manager had asked him to come back in two weeks and meet with the division director.
With the sun setting late in Kentucky, they were able to toil for two more hours. Around nine o’clock, they called it a night. Jeff offered a round of beer and warmed boxes of frozen lasagna. “We’re doing well. Tomorrow, we’ll start on the studs. I don’t know how to thank you.”
“Not to worry. You’ll return the favor one day,” Josh said with a wink. They lingered around eating, drinking and chatting. By the time his helpers left, it was too late for Jeff to call Heather and clear the air.
To avoid an unpredictable argument, Jeff emailed her the next morning, a brief, I love you, sweetheart. And I love our baby.
She emailed back right away. Me too. Please don’t be upset with me.
Poor Heather, she had probably rehashed his angry words late into the night and hadn’t slept well. Never. Sorry, I lost my temper. I can’t bear the thought of losing you or our baby.
Me too, Jeff.
He sighed with relief. Just don’t sign anything in haste.
I won’t. Not before sharing what I find out.
Reassured, he prepared a pot of coffee and finished his bowl of cereal by the time they arrived.
At noon, the men broke for lunch and Jeff seized the opportunity to call Heather. No one answered. She might have gone to see the adoption agent. He huffed and left a brief message. Love you. With his energetic companions, he resumed building studs. At four o’clock, his brother stopped to prepare more coffee. Jeff couldn’t wait to hear Heather’s report of the meeting, but no one answered his call. He tried the house. No answer there either.
Had the Ramsays gone out for an early dinner, as they sometimes did when David Ramsay wanted a family gathering without Barbara spending too much time in the kitchen?
Jeff went back to work, but his mind kept wandering. He hammered his finger and cursed, and had to cope with Josh and Bert’s annoying laughter. By eight o’clock, he couldn’t wait to see them leave. “You’ve done an amazing job. See you tomorrow.” As soon as Josh’s car cleared the driveway, Jeff rushed under the shower, and donned shorts and a shirt.
Impatient to see Heather, he drove to the Ramsays’ and arrived just as the garage door opened and the family van rolled in. The three girls stepped out.
“Heather,” he called and stopped short when he heard muffled sobs. Why were they crying? “What happened?”
“Dad had chest pain. Mom called 911. They rushed him to the ER and we followed. He’s in the ICU now.” Heather sniffed a few times. “We spent the whole day at the hospital. Mom sent me home with Claire and Tiffany. But she’s staying overnight there.”
He hugged Heather and her sisters. “I hope he’ll be better by tomorrow.”
“I hope so,” Tiffany mumbled, her voice trembling with tears.
“We wanted to stay with Mom. But she insisted we should go home, have dinner and sleep in our beds.” Heather wiped her eyes with the back of her hands and shrugged. “As if we’re going to be able to sleep tonight.” She unlocked the door to the mudroom and they followed her inside the house.
“I’m so scared.” Tiffany started sobbing.
Jeff turned the lights on and held her shoulders. “How about if I go get burgers and we talk while eating dinner.”
“Mom said to finish the leftovers. We have roast, potatoes and broccoli. And a delicious chocolate cake for dessert,” Claire recited.
“Thank you, Jeff. Yes, stay please. Can you girls start warming the plates?” As they obeyed quietly, Heather turned toward him and covered her mouth. “Mom said she’d called me if things get worse. And we’ll rush back to the hospital.”
“We thought we’d lose him today. The doctors were great. But he may have another stroke. Oh, Jeff, I’m scared too.”
He couldn’t take her in his arms now, not when he’d appointed himself a protector of the three girls, and her young sisters appeared as shaken as Heather. He opted to comfort her with words. “We have to believe he’s going to make it. He wants to live and he’s fighting hard.”
“And Mom was praying. I prayed too, but I’m not a good… Well in my condition…” She lowered her head in abject misery.
He understood her unfinished sentence. “God always listens. We’ll pray together. Now let’s set the table.”
When Claire and Tiffany returned with the plates, they sat at their usual places, leaving the parents’ seats empty. “We’ll say grace now.”
They held hands and Jeff started, “Lord we pray to you for Mr. Ramsay. Give him health and give his family strength and endurance.”
One by one, the girls added their prayers mingled with tears and hiccups. No one touched a fork. “Heather, can you serve?”
“What is your funniest memory of your dad?” Jeff asked to distract them from their sadness. They looked at him and frowned. He started eating and they followed suit. “Now think hard.”
Tiffany bit her lip in concentration. “I know,” she blurted. “It’s when Daddy took me to the father-daughter dance, and made me dance to a rock song. It was so funny. I stepped on his toes a few times. And he screamed. And they stopped the music. And he had to apologize to our principal for disturbing the party,” Tiffany finished with a hoot of laughter.
“My story is even funnier.” Claire related her tale. By the time Heather finished hers, they were all laughing, and reminiscing on other special moments with their parents.
“Remember when your brother Mark wanted to steal my wand, the pretty one with a feather?” Heather’s gaze turned dreamy. “I ran and hid in the tree and I was terrified of falling down. I cried for an hour, I think. But then you climbed up and saved me.”
“Is that when you fell in love with Jeff?” Tiffany asked.
Heather shrugged. “Yes, but I was only five.”
“You never told me that.” Jeff stared at her. She’d loved him since she was five? A fierce desire to protect her overwhelmed him.
After they binged on the chocolate cake, they all cleared off the table. Barbara called to make sure the girls were doing well.
“Mom says she really appreciates you coming to check on us,” Claire said.
Determined to keep them entertained, Jeff asked Tiffany to bring a couple of games. They gathered in the family room and played scrabble until eleven o’clock. When Tiffany rubbed her eyes but refused to go to bed, he suggested she lie down on one sofa and Heather on the other. “I’ll bring two sleeping bags from the basement for Claire and me, and we’ll all watch a sweet movie and doze here.”
“Great idea,” the girls said together.
Claire turned on the TV and selected The Princess Diaries. “We’ve already seen it, but it’ll be fun to watch again.”
They settled comfortably and relaxed. Heather dozed on and off during the movie. After an hour, Tiffany drifted off. Claire watched with him to the end, and then covered her head and slept.
“Jeff, are you awake?” Heather whispered.
“Yes. How are you feeling?”
“I’m so worried. Do you think Dad will make it?”
“I hope so. Try to sleep.”
“I’m hungry. Can you get me some cookies? Mom baked a whole box yesterday. It’s on the counter.” He unzipped his bag and jumped to his feet. “And a glass of water, please.”
Recently, she’d started eating a lot. Soon there’d be no way to hide her condition. Yet he couldn’t tell her that and add to her concern. They would take one day at a time.
He brought her a glass of water and a small plate of cookies that smelled heavenly, and put them on the corner table by the sofa.
“Sit here.” She rose to a sitting position and patted the sofa.
He glanced at her sisters. They were asleep. He sat next to her and gently stroked her hair. “Your stomach is better?”
She gave him a sweet smile and pointed at her belly. “He’s been behaving well. Soft kicking now and then, but otherwise everything’s great.”
He forced himself to ask the question that had been tormenting him all day. “What did you think of the couple?”
“What couple?” She frowned as if she didn’t understand his words.
“The couple you were supposed to meet at the agency.”
“Ah, I didn’t go.” She finished a cookie and reached for another. “It was an awful day. We all jumped into the van and Mom followed the ambulance. While in the waiting room, I called Norma and told her I was in the ER with my dad and couldn’t think of anything but him. And I turned off my phone.”
Jeff slowly exhaled. The Lord up there was watching over their baby. Now Jeff would be able to sleep.
The next morning, Heather awoke with a backache, probably due to her awkward position on the sofa. Her sisters didn’t seem to be in better shape but they hastened to shower and get dressed.
The wonderful smell of fresh coffee wafting from downstairs restored Heather’s vitality and she rushed to the kitchen. “Thanks for the coffee.”
Jeff set a cup in front of her and she opened the box of cookies. Too nervous to chat, Claire and Tiffany ate their cereal in silence, and then waited for her, each holding a book.
“Are you ready?” Heather collected her laptop and purse. “I’m bringing the box of cookies, just in case…”
“Don’t.” Claire shook her head. “You’re too nervous. If you keep eating cookies and crackers, soon you won’t fit in your clothes.”
Heather gasped. Her sisters were way too sharp. “It’s for all of us. Especially for Mom. She calls them her soothing cookies.”
“Mom is already too heavy.” Claire sighed. “And if we don’t pay attention we’re going to follow in her tracks.”
“No to worry. Mom was very slim before her wedding, but after so many pregnancies what do you expect?” Heather promised herself she’d never have so many kids and she’d lose her baby fat right after her delivery. “Let’s go.” She locked the door of the house and climbed up into the van. “Bye Jeff.”
“Bye.” Always a gentleman, he walked to his car, but waited until she drove away to leave.
At the reception desk, the volunteer checked her computer. “Mr. Ramsay is in room 405.”
“Ah, a private room… You hear that, girls? Dad is not in the ICU anymore.”
“Here are your ID badges. You take a right and…”
They were already dashing along the hallway to the elevator. On the fourth floor, they followed a corridor and paused at room 405. The door was ajar.
Tiffany jutted her head in. “Mom, can we come in?”
“Yes, come in, girls.” Dad’s dear voice melted Heather’s heart.
“Halt there,” Mom warned. “Before you hug your dad… Any running nose, cough, or sore throat?”
“No,” they answered together.
“Heather, no tummy ache?”
“No, Mom. I’m healthy. Now, can we hug Dad?”
Her father opened his arms. “Sure. I need all the hugs I can get from my wonderful daughters to feel better.”
Oh God, she was far from being a wonderful daughter. If Dad ever learned her secret, the disappointment might kill him. “Daddy, we were so worried about you,” she said, after they took turns hugging him.
“That was a close one, but I managed to survive. Now I’ve learned a good lesson. We should make the best out of each day. Be together, laugh together. Never let depressing situations ruin our happiness. Right, little girls?”
“Right, Daddy,” Claire and Tiffany replied in chorus and perched on the foot of the bed, one on each side.
Standing beside her mother’s chair, Heather stared at her father. Guilt and worry clasped her heart. Her father had just escaped death. She had no right to ruin his last months or days with her problems. Dad’s previous words reinforced her resolution to keep her pregnancy a secret and give up the baby for adoption.
“Barbara, why don’t you go rest? The girls will keep me company.”
Mom’s gaze flipped from Dad to each of their daughters. “Heather, I’ll leave you in charge. I’ll shower and change, and put a roast in the slow-cooker for dinner.”
“I said rest, Barbara. Not cook for the kids. Dining on fast food for once is not going to kill them. You didn’t sleep last night.”
“Oh, David, you know I can’t leave you for long. I’ll be back in an hour. Girls, don’t exhaust your father. He needs to rest too.” Their mother leaned over the bed to kiss Dad on his cheek.
“Drive safely, Barbara. Please don’t rush.” She left and Dad closed his eyes.
Claire and Tiffany opened their books to read and Heather kept rehashing her dilemma. Up until last week, she’d been determined to protect Jeff from messing up his future with responsibilities too heavy for him, but so many things had happened to confuse her and make her doubt her decision—Jeff’s anger every time she mentioned a possible adoption; the baby kicking and reminding her he was very much alive and happy to dwell inside her; Jeff’s proposal and suggestion they marry right away; and then Dad being rushed to the ER.
Yesterday, she’d completely ignored Norma and her clients. After watching Jeff’s kind attentions toward her and her sisters, she’d realized he’d make a great dad for their baby and she’d pondered confessing the whole mess to her parents and asking for their help.
How could she spoil Dad’s last moments?
She dropped onto the chair vacated by her mother, blinked back the tears threatening to spill and closed her eyes, wishing she could sleep like Dad and awake without problems.
A knock on the door interrupted her distressing thoughts and a young woman in scrubs stepped into the room. “Dad?” Madelyn froze. “How is he?” she whispered.
“Better than yesterday,” Heather answered.
“She went home for an hour. She was here all night.”
“What about you?”
“We went home last night. Jeff came and stayed with us. Ah, here’s Mom.”
“Madelyn, sweetie, I’m sorry I worried you so much.”
“You did well to call when Dad was rushed to the ER. I was in the OR all night and didn’t get your message until this morning. I drove here as soon as possible. You never know. A stroke can be followed by another.” Madelyn played with the stethoscope hanging around her neck.
“I have questions for you.” Mom grabbed Madelyn’s hand and pulled her outside the room, probably to ask her details about their father’s condition.
Heather opened her laptop and bit her lip at the sight of an email from Norma.
I hope your father is better. Can we reschedule for today?
As if Heather could leave Dad and meet anyone today? I’m at the hospital with my family. Dad still not well.
A reply came right away: How about tomorrow? The couple is eager to meet you.
Gee, the woman was too pushy. Heather wanted to ignore her, but her father’s words echoed in her ears. “We should make the best out of each day… Never let depressing situations ruin our happiness.”
She couldn’t be the depressing situation that would ruin Dad’s mood.
She couldn’t upset Norma and risk losing a good couple.
I’ll email or call tomorrow. Thanks.
(To be continued on 12-12-2016)
Holiday Babies Series
With high moral values and a strong sense of unity, the Ramsay family counts five daughters—Madelyn, Roxanne, Heather, Claire, and Tiffany, and their mother Barbara. Later, stepdaughter Monica Roland joins the clan.
Christmas Babies: Can a career fill her life? (Madelyn and Dr. Nick Preston)
Valentine Babies: Can he love a woman expecting another man’s baby? (Roxanne and Dr. Greg Hayes)
Mother’s Day Babies: Never too late to find love and happiness. (Barbara and Lou Roland)
Wedding Surprise: Is it the worst or best wedding surprise? (Claire and David Wheeler)
Christmas Papa: Who’ s my papa, Mommy? (Monica and Michael Wheeler)
On Christmas Eve: We want a mommy for Christmas. (Tiffany and Dr. Matthew Alonso)