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?
“Water, please.” Heather jumped up at the sound of her father’s voice, just as Madelyn and Mom returned to their dear patient’s room. Mom’s deep frown revealed her anxiety. She approached the bed and leaned in to kiss Dad’s cheek. He blinked. “So tired.”
Madelyn poured water from the pitcher left on the moving table. “It’s okay, Dad. It’s probably the morphine making you drowsy.”
Dad opened his eyes. “Madelyn, you left your hospital and came? Am I on my deathbed?”
She chuckled. “No, Dad. You’re a fighter.”
A middle-aged doctor entered the room. “How are you doing, Mr. Ramsay? I’m Dr. Lewis, your cardiologist. I saw you yesterday but you were unconscious.”
“Mom, can you take the girls and go to lunch?” Madelyn suggested. “Dr. Lewis is going to examine Dad. I’ll let you know the diagnosis.”
In the cafeteria, they lined up with trays. When they reached the cashier, Heather blushed at her full tray where she’d loaded steak, spaghetti, green beans, and a pudding, compared to Mom’s soup, Claire’s salad and Tiffany’s hamburger. “You shouldn’t starve yourself, Mom. It’s not healthy.”
“I’m not very hungry.” Mom paid without even looking at the other trays.
But Tiffany grimaced. “How can you gobble up all that food? No wonder you go throw up after you eat. You have bulimia, right?”
“No I don’t. Shut your mouth, little shrimp.”
“Madelyn,” Tiffany called their eldest sister who’d just joined them. “I think Heather is suffering from bulimia. Last month, she had anorexia.”
“Enough, Tiffy, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Madelyn shrugged. “Mom, they did an EKG on Dad. It’s almost normal. They took him for an MRI to make sure they’re not missing anything.”
Mom nodded. Poor Mom, she was exhausted.
“Mom, what’s going on?” Their sister Roxanne strode toward them, in mismatched pants and top for a change, her hair pulled into an untidy ponytail. “I jumped on the first plane as soon as I heard your message.”
“He’s better now. Have a seat, Roxy. We’ll get you something to eat.”
“Not hungry. I ate on the plane. Can we go see Dad?”
“As soon as he returns from his MRI.”
When they went back to Dad’s room, they found him sitting and drinking juice. “Hey, Roxy, you came too, little girl.” Dad held out his hand and Roxanne rushed to hug him.
“Daddy, you scared me.”
“The doctor said no stress.” Mom waved everyone one out. “Too much noise here. We’ll have one at a time.”
“Barbara, relax. Having my girls around me is a joy, not a stress.” Dad surveyed the room. “But we don’t have enough chairs.”
“Tiffany and I can sit on the bed,” Claire decided.
“Mom has her chair. I’ll bring more for Roxanne and Madelyn,” Heather suggested. She needed to move around. The no stress for Dad directive had clasped her heart. No matter what she decided to do about the baby she was bound to cause him stress.
“I’ll help you.” Madelyn followed her out of the room. “How are things going with you and Jeff?”
“Good. Couldn’t be better. Actually, he asked me to marry him.”
“Wow. When would—” Madelyn couldn’t say more with Claire coming to help with the chairs.
They all sat facing Dad so he wouldn’t have to turn around to speak to one or the other. “It’s great to have my whole family here. As if I were in my own house.” He inhaled and slowly exhaled. “What more could I wish for?” He stared at the window, regret filling his eyes.
They respected his silence.
“What is it that you miss, Dad? Other than your health of course,” Madelyn asked.
“The Lord allowed me to attend your graduation and Roxanne’s, and see you starting promising careers. Heather will start college in September. And the little ones are doing great in school. So I’m not worried about your academic or business achievements but…”
“But what, Daddy?” Tiffany asked as they focused on his sad expression.
His head bobbed and his gaze flitted from Madelyn to Roxanne. “One of the proudest moments in a father’s life is to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. I have five daughters, yet I won’t be able to walk any of them.”
Heather’s breath caught in her throat and she listened intently.
Madelyn’s eyes filled with tears. “I’m sorry, Dad. I wish I had someone special in my life. The only males I hold in my arms are babies in the NICU,” she added with a derisive chuckle.
Mom arched her eyebrows. “What about that doctor who works with you and took you out for dinner?”
“Nick Preston?” Madelyn huffed. “Oh Mom, he’s the biggest flirt I’ve ever seen. The playboy of the hospital. Marriage is the last thing on his mind.”
“What about Bert Bolin, Jeff’s older brother? His mother hinted that her son has a crush on you, but he’s too shy to ask you out.”
Poor Bert. Jeff had often mentioned his brother’s feelings for Madelyn, but she didn’t give him the time of day.
“Mom, we’re too different.” Madelyn sighed. “He loves his farm and I live for my patients. It would never work between us.”
“How about you, Roxy? No one special?”
Roxanne shook her head. “No one. I travel abroad too often to have a chance to meet anyone around here.”
“Heather is the only one who has a special man in her life,” Tiffany said with an important voice. “One who adores her.”
“Tiffy, don’t start annoying me,” Heather warned.
The little sister shrugged and Roxanne added fuel to the fire. “If I had someone like Jeff, I wouldn’t let him slip out of my hands.”
“Mom always said that Madelyn should marry first, then you, and then me,” Heather mentioned to get them off her back.
“Ideally, but not necessarily,” Roxanne retorted.
“Heather, don’t you have something to tell Mom and Dad?” Madelyn pinned her with a stern look.
Panic churned in her stomach. She felt her baby kicking and paced to the door. Why was Madelyn betraying her now?
“Heather, come back,” Dad called.
“Yes, Dad.” She returned to perch on the arm of Mom’s chair.
Madelyn smiled and shook her finger. “There’s nothing wrong in telling our parents that Jeff proposed.”
“He did?” the three other sisters squealed.
“Oh God, he did?” Mom entwined her fingers together, her face ecstatic.
“He did?” Dad’s gaze lit with so much hope, guilt invaded Heather’s heart.
“Yes, he asked me to marry him. He doesn’t want to go to MIT. He’s been interviewing around here for a good job. Eventually, he’ll come to talk to you, Dad.”
“You have my blessing, little girl. I already love him like a son.” He opened his arms to Heather. “On that happy note, I think I’m going to nap.”
Jeff showered and changed into a pair of dressy gray pants and a white and gray striped shirt. Heather had told him about receiving her father’s blessing when sharing that Jeff had proposed to her. Before leaving his lodge, Jeff dug from his pocket a little velvet pouch and opened it to admire the tiny diamond he’d bought yesterday, as soon as he’d received the eagerly expected call offering him a job. On his way to his car, he paused by the backyard and checked the construction progress. The walls framed the two new rooms. Next week, he and his team would install the ceiling and the roof.
Yesterday, Mr. Ramsay had finally been discharged after spending another week at the hospital. Although David Ramsay was confined to his bed, his daughters had planned a birthday party for him and Heather had invited Jeff. But she hadn’t mentioned anything about the adoption agency.
“Gee, you look so neat tonight,” Heather blurted as soon as she opened the door. She’d donned a strappy sundress flowing straight to mid-calf.
“You look lovely. I missed you, babe.” A warm kiss rewarded his compliment.
“Missed you, too. Come upstairs. Mom baked a delicious chocolate and strawberry cake. Dad is waiting for you before he blows out his candles.”
“How nice of him.”
Heather led Jeff to her parents’ room. A cake covered with white icing and decorated with flowers and a red Happy Birthday Dad sat on a round table. The Ramsay daughters gathered on one side of the king-size bed and chatted quietly.
“Daddy, Jeff is here,” Heather announced.
Dad opened his eyes and smiled. Jeff suppressed a gasp at the sight of the jovial lawyer who now appeared to be a ghost of himself.
“I’m glad you’re back home, Mr. Ramsay.” Jeff stood by Heather’s chair next to the bed.
“Good to see you, son. It hasn’t been a great week, but I’m still around.” The chemo treatment administered after his mild stroke had created dire complications and sent Mr. Ramsay back to the ICU last week. Madelyn and Roxanne had requested time off from work, and took turns with Barbara to stay at his side overnight.
“I have some news to share.” Jeff decided not to waste time. The Ramsay sisters stepped closer to avoid missing a word. Even Barbara leaned toward him. “Today I received an offer for a staff position as engineer at Lexington Agricultural Tools. The salary and benefits are great, along with health insurance and paid graduate studies. I’d be able to go for a master’s degree by joining Lexington University’s evening program.”
“That’s fantastic.” Heather clutched her hands together and bit her lip. “What about MIT?”
“I already notified them I won’t be able to attend their program. No regrets at all.” He winked at Heather. “Mr. Ramsay, I have been in love with Heather for ages and she loves me too.” Jeff took her hand. “May I ask your permission to marry her soon?”
“Yes, son. As soon as possible.” Tears filled Mr. Ramsay’s eyes and Mrs. Ramsay sniffled.
“Is two weeks from today acceptable?”
“Two weeks?” Claire and Tiffany exclaimed.
“That would be mid-August,” Barbara mused. “Why not? We can arrange a private ceremony with just your family and ours. Have you talked to your parents, Jeff?”
“I did. Today.” He pulled the pouch out of his pocket and took out the ring. Gasps echoed around them. “I love you, sweetheart.” He slid the ring on her finger.
“It’s so beautiful.” Her eyes wide, Heather stared at her diamond, and then threw her arms around his neck. “I love you too.”
Her sisters clapped their hands and Mr. Ramsay extended his to Jeff. “Congratulations. I have to get better now to walk my daughter down the aisle.”
“We’ll toast with soft drinks so that your father can share,” Barbara said.
David Ramsay held his glass with a shaky hand. “To Heather and Jeff.”
Roxanne lit the candles on the cake and brought the plate closer to the bed for her father to blow out. They sang “Happy Birthday” with unsteady voices.
Would it be the last birthday for their dear father?
Madelyn cut the cake and distributed the dessert plates.
David took a small bite. “I can’t eat much.”
Barbara sighed but didn’t insist. “Girls, can you put the rest in the fridge?”
Claire and Tiffany collected the plates and went downstairs.
“Excuse me, Dad. I have a business call to make.” Roxanne followed her sisters out of the room.
It was a unique opportunity for Jeff. “Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, there’s something you should know.”
“No, don’t,” Heather squeaked.
“I won’t start my marriage on a lie by omission. I know they will understand.”
“What is it?” Barbara frowned, already concerned.
Heather rubbed her temples and lowered her head.
“Go ahead, Jeff,” Madelyn urged.
“Although it’s hard to say, I have taken advantage of Heather. She’s pregnant and will deliver in December.”
“Oh my God.” Startled, Barbara clutched the arms of her chair.
“Oh my God, a baby. Oh my God, I’ll hold her baby, my grandchild.” A few tears slid down Mr. Ramsay’s emaciated cheeks.
“I’m sorry, sir. I’m sorry,” Jeff repeated, not sure he’d heard right.
“Under different circumstances, I would have punched your face, Jeff. But not now. Not when you’ve just given me an incredible joy. When is the baby due?”
Her lips still trembling, Heather straightened. “Mid-December, I think.”
“Just before Christmas. Barbara, it’s going to be a holly jolly Christmas.” He hummed the happy tune. “A Holly Jolly Christmas. I promise I’ll be around to celebrate.”
“Thank you, Dad. Thank you, Jeff.” Heather smiled, a big happy smile Jeff hadn’t seen for a long time. “I will call Norma and tell her I can’t meet her after all.”
“Who’s Norma?” Two lines of worry creased Barbara’s forehead, but her husband continued to sing.
“A person we met recently at a meeting,” Heather answered with a non-committal wave of her hand.
“She was trying to befriend Heather, but I didn’t like her, and prefer to keep her away.” For nothing in the world would Jeff reveal Heather’s crazy idea of giving up their baby for adoption—not to her parents, or his parents, or any of their friends. He threw a sharp glance at Madelyn who responded with a barely perceptible shake of her head.
“Heather, how far along are you?” Barbara studied her daughter’s waist.
“Almost five months.”
“You’re not showing. Have you seen a doctor?”
“Not yet, Mom. But I’m not going to your Dr. Newman.” Heather preferred not to visit their father’s friend who treated them like his own kids and was sure to scowl upon her condition.
Barbara and Madelyn chuckled. “I’ll give you Dr. Lui’s card. She’s a friend and an excellent obstetrician,” Madelyn said with an understanding nod.
“Mom, please don’t tell the girls or anyone until after the wedding.”
“I don’t plan to,” Barbara reassured her.
“Any more surprises for today?” David’s voice sounded stronger.
“I think they gave us a big packet of surprises so far.” Barbara’s sigh revealed her mixed feelings. “Since Roxanne moved out, you can use her room as a nursery for the baby—”
“Thank you for the offer, Mrs. Ramsay. We plan to live in my lodge.”
“Your lodge?” David’s eyebrows rose. “Isn’t it too small for a young family?”
“Bert and Josh have been working with me on an addition in the back. Two large rooms and a small bathroom. It was a surprise, my wedding gift to Heather.”
“Oh my God, you are amazing.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and he didn’t hesitate to kiss her.
“Good job, son.” David held out his hand and Jeff shook it. “As soon as I’m stable on my feet, I’m coming to help.”
(To be continued on 12-14-2016)
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)