Sunday, December 6, 2015

Christmas With You by Margo Hoornstra


Part Three

      Dylan stood on the front porch of the huge colonial he and April shared to draw in a lungful of crisp winter air. A light snowfall had coated the landscape in white. Bare, spindly tree branches wore similar alabaster layers that winked and sparkled in the afternoon sun.
      A city snow plow rumbled by on the next block over. Their street would be next. The smooth untouched blanket would soon be churned up into rough banks of ice chunks and road dirt. Ugly debris on an otherwise pristine terrain.
      Chin to his chest, he blew out a sigh. Ugly and cold. Kind of the way he felt since leaving Crossroads. Alone. He’d gone there to support his wife, not argue with her.
      Turned away from the doorway, he picked up the remote switch for the tree they’d ordered to be delivered, set up and decorated. An assortment of presents nestled beneath its branches, their ribbons intact and wrappings untouched. With the subdued click of a button, multi-colored lights blinked on to reflect off golden tinsel and shiny glass ornaments.
      Like any good physician worth his or her salt, April was dedicated to her patients. One of the many things he loved about her. Not that he begrudged anyone in need that kind of devotion, but did wanting them to spend Christmas Day together make him selfish?
      April’s unique ring on his cell dissolved his thoughts like icicles in a morning sun. He wasted no time picking up.
      “How are you, beautiful?” It beat the first words that popped into his head—When the heck are you coming home?
      She let out a swift breath then inhaled another in what became a long, drawn out yawn. “I’m okay.”
      His gaze drifted toward the tree. “Sorry I was such a jerk earlier.”
      “Don’t worry about it. We were both pretty tired. I actually managed to get in a three and a half hour nap this afternoon.”
      “That’s good. How’s it going?” It. A simplistic term for transplant tolerance, long term allograph acceptance.
      “Too soon to know for sure. Turns out this is anything but a classic case. Unfortunately, those opportunistic pathogens seem to be everywhere. When we get one issue managed, another pops up. It’s been touch and go.” The edge of confident reassurance she kept in her voice as a physician slid away. “I’m doing my very best.”
      “I don’t doubt that. It’s all anyone can ask.” He did his darnedest to dispense some confident reassurance of his own. “Do your best, then let it go.”
      “Easier said than done.”
      “I know.” His reply was a tender whisper.
      “I’ll be home as soon as I can.”
      “However long that takes, I’ll be here.” The sound of her breathing took the place of words and he could only hope he’d made her smile. “You’ll know when it’s the right time to leave.”
      “Admit it’s out of my hands. That others can provide the same caliber care as me?”
      “Did you get anything to eat today?”
      “Uh-huh. About noon. Macaroni and cheese, green beans and some sorry looking fresh pears.”
      “They aren’t serving turkey in the cafeteria?”
      “They are, but I’m saving myself to have Christmas dinner with you.”
      “Our turkey’s in the oven as we speak.” He inhaled the savory aroma that filled the house. The only thing that filled the house right now. “I’ll have the rest of dinner fixed by the time you get here.”
      “That sounds perfect. They’re paging me again.” In the space of an instant, her voice went from low and sleepy to clear and alert. “Gotta go. Love you, Dylan.”
      “I love you, too.” He spoke to a disconnected call then set his cell down and returned to the living room.
      After a while when it got dark enough outside, he flicked on a switch by the door. The icicle lights on the eaves and above the windows shimmered into the night. A few hours later the turkey was done. Way too done. He left it on the counter to cool as long as he dared. Wrapped in a damp towel and covered in tin foil, the bird had to eventually go into the refrigerator or become a breeding ground for salmonella.
      That chore accomplished, he wandered back into their living room. From the specially crafted stone hearth along the back wall, the fire he’d built around noon and fed for most of the day sputtered and sparked as the remnants of a glowing log fell. Going over to crouch in front of it, he laid two pieces of fresh oak on top of the simmering coals then sat back when flames flared and curled around them.
      As he stood, his gaze came level with the antique clock on the mantel. Just after eleven thirty. His sigh was more acceptance than regret as he sank down on the couch. A few more minutes and Christmas would be over for another year.
      At the hum of the automatic garage door raising his thoughts dispersed. Another door, the one into the house, opened then closed with a gentle click.
      He glanced up as April entered. “How’s your patient doing?”
      “I’ve done all I can.” Her gaze lifted skyward. “Like you told me a few hours ago. It’s out of my hands now.”
      He nodded.
      “How was Christmas for you?”
      “I’ll bet.” She set her keys and pager on the table then shrugged out of the coat she dropped on a matching chair.
      He patted the cushion beside him. “Take a load off your feet.”
      “That sounds unbelievably nice.” Her smile grew as she came toward him. “I’ve missed you.”
      “I’ve missed you too.” The moment she sat beside him, he pulled her close. Her arms wrapped around his neck as the mouth he’d so longed for neared. Their eyes closed and their lips met in a lingering kiss of welcome.
      Staying snug in his arms when they came up for air, she pulled back to look him in the eye. “I was sure you’d be asleep by now.”
      “And miss our celebration?”
      “What a celebration it will be.” Two fingers stifled a yawn. “Sorry I made you wait so long.”
      He planted a kiss on the tip of her nose. “I guess that’s what I get for marrying the premiere thoracic surgeon in the country.”
      “That hasn’t been determined.” She lowered her gaze. “Yet.”
      “This is what you do, who you are. I wouldn’t change that for anything.”
      She looked up at him. The broad smile she came in with dimmed. Frown lines threatened at the corners of her eyes. “Things may be changing for us though. I just, I. This may be my last case like this for a while.”
      Her voice broke and she swallowed. Her next breath left her trembling; and him in a full out panic. He studied the face so close to his. Worry and fatigue clouded her eyes. He hadn’t noticed before how pale, too pale, her complexion was. How she suddenly seemed so fragile. Defenseless.
       His heart leaped up to his throat. He fought to speak around it. “Why? What is it?”
      Tensed hands held her by the shoulders as his mind flew back to their time in the hospital cafeteria. April’s words about the man who didn’t want to lose the love of his life. Fear, icy and hard took hold of him.
      “I’m not sure, because I haven’t had all of the necessary tests, but I think I’m pregnant, Dylan. I think I’m pregnant.”
      “You’re what?” He inhaled a gasp then forgot to do anything else.
      The frown lines returned. Her mouth flattened. “Being apart today of all days only served to prove our schedules are so crammed full now, we barely have time for each other. Adding a little one to the mix. I just don’t know how we’ll manage.”
      When she stopped to take a breath, his mouth covered hers. Then once more and again after that before he dragged himself away. “Oh, April. That’s wonderful news.”
      “It is?”
      “Of course. Whatever we have to do, we’ll do. After the baby comes, I’ll cut my hours to stay home. We’ll figure it out. We will.”
      “Will we? Really? We will!” Soft palms framed his face as hers drew nearer. Her eyes sparkled and her lips lifted into a colossal grin. “You’re going to be a father, Dylan.”
      At the pure joy on her expression, he laughed out loud. “More important, you’re going to be a mother.”
      Her eyes widened. “I am.”
      “You are.” He pulled her hands away then wrapped his arms around her, not too tight though, and brought her close. The vibration of her laugh against him warmed his heart.
      “Oh, Dylan. Next Christmas will be so much fun.”
      An enormous smile creased his cheeks. “Next Christmas will be phenomenal! Maybe we’ll get an electric train to circle around the tree and presents. A life sized hobby horse.”
      “That sounds wonderful, but let’s celebrate this Christmas first.” Snuggled beside him, she laid her head against his shoulder and sighed. “If it’s okay with you, though, can we postpone festive things for just a tiny bit longer? Maybe open presents in a couple of minutes?”
      Heart pounding with enthusiasm, he took a breath. Above all else, right now his wife needed rest. “Fine with me.”
      “Right now, I’d just like to sit quietly for a while. If you’re sure that’s okay.”
      “Not a problem.” He calmed the excitement in his voice. Assumed a mellow tone. “Not at all.”
      “Thank you. Merry Christmas, my love.” Her voice trailed off as her breathing took on the slow, even rhythm of sleep.
      Settled deeper into the cushions, he pulled the red and green afghan off the back of the couch to tuck around her then drew her nearer and brought his lips to rest on her temple. Presents and a fancy meal could wait as long as they needed to.
      The fire crackled then flared. The lights on their tree glittered and winked. He glanced down at the woman in his arms.
      “Merry Christmas, April.” From the shadows, clock chimes echoed the midnight hour. “Merry Christmas.”
I hope you enjoyed my small gift for this year. For more about me and the rest of my stories, please visit my WEBSITE

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! And have an absolutely great New Year!

Join us here tomorrow for the first installment of Penguins, Pucks and Pumpkin Pies by Alison Henderson. Who also designed the beautiful cover for Ringing in the Holidays. Thanks, Alison.


Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

I told you I was staying up until after midnight just so I could read your final chapter. Great job! I loved it. I can go to bed with a smile. Thanks for a great story.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Oh, Vonnie, you so crack me up! I love it! So glad I made you smile.

Maris said...

And a Merry Christmas to all. (Nice)

Jannine Gallant said...

A terrific ending to wrap up the mystery. Great job, Margo!

Margo Hoornstra said...

That's what I was going for, Maris. Merry Christmas!

Thanks, Jannine. For the compliment AND for your input while this story was 'in the making'.

Alicia Dean said...

Sweet! Fabulous wrap-up to an awesome story. Love the strong, selfless characters, the setting, and the love between the two. Kudos!

Margo Hoornstra said...

Wow, Ally! Such nice comments. Thanks.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Oops, wasn't done. I meant to add - spoken like a true editor. Squee!!

Alison Henderson said...

Well-drawn characters, sparkling details, a perfect ending. How lovely.

Diane Burton said...

What a perfect ending. He is such a gem! So glad they can see how their lives have to change--and be okay with it. Such a great story.

Rolynn Anderson said...

All's well that ends well...not that more juggling is ahead for these two!

Margo Hoornstra said...

Thanks, Alison. Very sweet.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Dylan had his moments, Diane. What do they say - life is what happens when you're busy making other plans.

Margo Hoornstra said...

They should be fine. Right, Rolynn?

Melissa Keir said...

Wow... what a treat. I can imagine how she would feel about having to divide her time. I gave up my job to stay home when the kids came. It was the best time of my life.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday Margo!

Margo Hoornstra said...

Glad you enjoyed it. Kids ARE what it's all about, Melissa. You have a wonderful holiday too!

Christine DePetrillo said...

Another wonderful story! Loved it!

Leah St. James said...

Fantastic ending, Margo. :-) Thank you.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Ah, thanks, Chris.

Margo Hoornstra said...

You're welcome, Leah. Thank you!

Alicia Dean said...

Ha, Margo. You are very welcome. Yes, I can't help but get some 'editor speak' in there, but I did enjoy it from a reader's standpoint too, promise! :)

Brenda Whiteside said...

What a sweet story for Christmas!