I have always loved the paranormal. Ever since I was a young child. I cut my teeth on sci fi/fantasy, and so it certainly wasn’t a leap. The mythos behind supernatural creatures has always fascinated me.
But when I started writing, my stories were all contemporary. Part of that, a small part, was that I didn’t think paranormal sold as well, and hey, as much as I love writing (and in fact, would wither away without it) it’s also a job, and I have to take that into consideration. But the other part of that was fear. Building a contemporary world is easy, because we live in it every day. I just needed to put the pieces together to fit my MCs. It was harder to make sure all the pieces fit together for a paranormal world.
But that didn’t stop me from devouring PNR as a reader. I love paranormal romances, and want nothing more than to have every last one of them in my eyeballs.
I dipped my toes in the PNR world. Beholden, AcceptingSubmission, and even the RequiemInc series, to a degree. But still, the majority of my work is contemporary.
And don’t get me wrong, I love to read and write contemps too. I love any story of people falling in love, overcoming their obstacles, and finding their HEA (or HFN). I’m all about the love.
But PNR in particular has always drawn me in. Which is why I’m very much leaning in that direction of late. In July, the first book in the Cauldron Creek series will be out. There are at least three more planned for that series.
The current serial on the blog features werewolves (though in my published works you’ll find I prefer the term shifter, as there are not just wolves. Since there’s not as in-depth world building with the flashes, I went with ease and used werewolves). But even though the burgeoning idea was sparked by Jamie’s food issues, I still ended up in PNR territory, because that’s where my brain is currently at.
There’s another series I’m also dying to write, though I’m still working out the details on just how I can make it work like I want, which also is, you guessed it, paranormal. That one has a lot of moving pieces though, and would, probably, be a little longer than the books I tend to write (which sit in the 20k-30k novella territory). Plus I’m going to have to talk to people to get details for things I only have peripheral knowledge of. But PNR is the focus of that too.
All this is to say that I have always been obsessed with PNR, and I want to write more of it. Does that mean I’m giving up writing contemporary? Certainly not. But my muse is definitely focused on shifters and magic, world building and alternate reality, than it is on the everyday contemporary. And since I’ve had such a hard time getting words on the page for quite a while now, I’m going to indulge the muse.
** Let’s check in with Jamie, as he has that conversation with his alpha. You can read part 1 here. And in all honesty, there will probably be a part 3. Enjoy!**
The pack run had been exhilarating in a way I didn’t normally experience. But Sean had specifically asked me to run with him, though he made it clear it was entirely my choice. The bright full moon led our way as we ran through the forest, howled to the pack, cavorted and hunted. Well, I didn’t hunt, but I did manage a scrap of rabbit Sean caught and offered to me. It was his way of providing for me, and I knew that. But even in my fur, I had trouble with food. And Sean didn’t seem to judge me for that, even though wolf instincts were at the forefront. Just offered me a small chunk and made a pleased little growl when I gulped it down.
We could shift into our werewolf form whenever we wanted, but there was no doubt the moon had it’s pull. It didn’t make us shift, but it called to us, and it was hard to resist. Sean had structured monthly pack dinners, then runs, to coincide with the moon cycle as a way to encourage pack bonding. It had worked. Our pack was stronger than ever.
As the sky lightened, Sean lifted his head and let out a long, ululating howl, calling the rest of the pack in. The answering yips and howls were music to my ears and I couldn’t help but join in. Sean rubbed his muzzle on mine, then nudged me toward the pack house. I went, trying to keep pace. But I was tired, and low on reserves. That was one of the reasons the dinners beforehand were so important. It took a lot of energy to run on four paws.
Shame washed through me, knowing I was slowly my alpha down as Sean adjusted his pace to match mine. With each mile I lagged even further. I didn’t usually run this far out, or for as long, because I knew my limitations. But being at Sean’s side had given me a burst of adrenaline that was now faded and making it difficult. But Sean didn’t seem upset or frustrated. Perhaps a little worried. But he never pushed, just kept my pace until we finally broke through the treeline and into the clearing behind the pack house.
We were the last ones back.
Sean shifted immediately. The rest of the pack was human too, and in varying states of dress, all happy and chatting and full of energy from the night spent in fur with the moon. Some of them called to Sean, wanting the alpha’s attention. But he ignored them for a moment to crouch down beside me and bury his fingers in the scruff of my neck.
“Take your time, and come inside when you’re done, all right?”
I acknowledge that with a tiny yip, pressing my nose against his bare chest for just a moment. I wanted to roll around in his scent. Comfort and caring radiated from him, as well as something sharper and deeper underneath. But my wolf brain couldn’t parse the meaning and I didn’t worry about it. My alpha had said to take my time, and so I did.
It took a while, and when I finally got going, calling up my human skin, the change was slower than normal. Though I wasn’t overly quick with the change, it usually didn’t take this long. After the initial few seconds of pain, my synapses shut off, blocking it out, so all I felt was the pull and twist of muscles shifting, of bones breaking and realigning. When I was finally done, my chest heaved as I fought for breath, and I was still on all fours, the dew causing the grass stick to my skin and making me shiver. I just wanted to flop over and curl up instead of moving.
Sean’s scent assailed me an instant before he wrapped his arms around me, holding me close. I shivered, the contrast of the heat from his body and the chill in the air too much for my body to process. He coaxed me up, first to sitting on my heels, then gently to my feet. I had to lean heavily on him but we made our way across the grass, up the six steps, and onto the deck. Instead of going inside, Sean gently lowered me into one of the chairs, and then wrapped me in a couple of warm flannel blankets.
With a soft touch to my hair, he disappeared, but he was back a moment later with a glass of juice, a small portion of scrambled eggs sprinkled with cheese, and a half piece of toast smeared with a thick layer of peanut butter. Protein, fat, and sugar. All the things I’d need to get back on my feet.
“Eat as much as you can, sweetheart.” Sean’s voice was low and kind. And even better, he left again so I could eat without an audience. The little voice in the back of my head said he was probably just on the other side of the glass sliding door, watching me, but I purposefully didn’t turn around. If I didn’t see him, he wasn’t there.
I managed most of it, with only a few bites of the egg and a quarter of the juice left, before I just couldn’t make myself eat any more. I sat back, pulling the blanket a little tighter around me, and heard the door slide open.
Yup. He’d definitely been spying.
Sean took a seat next to me, his pleased smile after he glanced at the plate showing me he was proud of me. That warmed my insides and a tiny smile bloomed across my lips.
“So, you and I need to have a conversation.” Sean’s voice was light, easy, but my stomach clenched. I knew he was going to ask me about my eating problems, and I just didn’t want to talk about it. He could make me—a command from him would have me spilling my guts—and even though I didn’t think he would do that, it still made me nervous.
“Okay. Yes.” I made myself say the words even though I didn’t feel them.
He nodded, pleased, and leaned forward to rest his forearms on the edge of the table. “As I said, I’m very aware of the power imbalance between us, and I want to state up front that you have the control here. This is all about your consent, and I promise you right now I will never violate that.”
I blinked, my slow brain taking a second to catch up to what he was saying. Oh. Oh! This was about our mutual attraction. Relief flooded through me and I grinned. This was so much easier to talk about than the food, because I knew he returned the feelings. Homophobia was prevalent in werewolf culture, but things were changing. And Sean had worked hard to oust any intolerance in the pack. I freed a hand, because I wanted to touch, and laid it over his where it rested on the table. He flipped his hand and gripped my fingers.
“You have my consent, Sean,” I assured him, deliberately using his name and not his title, so he would know we were on even ground. “I’ve wanted you since I met you, but I couldn’t imagine you’d want me back. So I kept to myself.”
Sean’s smile turned a little wicked, just the edge of it, but it was enough to quicken my pulse. His thumb caressed the back of my hand, and it felt so good, I would have purred if I’d been a cat. Instead, I let out a little, happy sigh.
“I noticed you right away, Jamie. Make no mistake. But I had to focus on the pack, of making it better and stronger. Of getting rid of the bigots and the racists. And not just because I’m bi and wanted acceptance in my own pack, but also because I don’t tolerate that kind of behavior. It’s unacceptable and I won’t have it.” His voice was threaded with a hint of steel.
I squeezed his hand. “I know. You showed us all right from the start that you were fair and kind, and that you only wanted the best for all of us.” Heat crept up my cheeks but I forced it back with a deep breath. “I was physically attracted to you right from the start, but I wouldn’t have started crushing on you if you hadn’t been a good person.”
His expression morphed into a leer, but there was a twinkle in his eye that softened it. “A crush, huh?”
I laughed, partly from embarrassment. “Yes, well.”
“Yes, well,” he repeated, but playfully. “Then how about we go on a date? Just the two of us, away from the pack. We’ll see if the spark we feel can grow into a flame.”
“Yes, please.” My voice came out breathy but I didn’t care.
“Good.” Sean leaned in, closing the distance between us, and kissed my cheek. He lingered there for a moment, nosing along my jaw, inhaling deeply before murmuring, “You smell so good.”
I swallowed hard, unable to make my voice work as my blood sang through my veins.
“Tonight?” He asked as he pulled back, though he kept hold of my hand.
“Yes.” It came out whispered, and I cleared my throat to try again. “Yes. That works.”
“Good,” he said again. “I’ll plan the whole thing. I’ll text you later about times, once I get things worked out. And Jamie? Make sure you eat beforehand, yeah?”
Damn. The food thing. I peeked up at him, opened my mouth to say something, but he shook his head, a kind smile gracing his lips.
“Don’t worry about it. We’ll talk if and when you’re ready. But I want you to know you’re taken care of, and since I can’t do that for you, I’m trusting you do it yourself.” He made sure I was looking him in the eye before he continued. “I won’t push. I will never do that. But I will gently check up. Are you okay with that?”
My voice failed me, touched that he cared enough but even more so that he wasn’t going to push and demand. It meant so much to me, and more importantly, made things easier on me. I nodded.
Sean smiled, stood, and then scent marked me by dragging his wrist along my throat. “Stay as long as you want. Get dressed and go only when you’re ready.” He cupped my chin in exceedingly gentle fingers, tilting up until our gazes locked. “Look for my text and I’ll see you tonight.”
Excitement raced through my veins and I grinned so hard my cheeks hurt.
It’s been a rough couple of years. Yeah, years. I think 2020 itself needs no explanation, but it’s been even longer than that for me. Lots of stuff and reasons, but I don’t think I need to rehash them. Some of them I’ve mentioned here before, but essentially, this site went dormant for more than a year.
I’ve finally done a bunch of the admin that needed doing, and so links are updated, books have been added, and you’ll be able to find my stuff in the books tab if you need to.
I’ve also begun Flash Fic Friday again! It was always one of my favorite things, but considering so much of my problems over the past two years has been trouble with words, that fell by the wayside. But I’ve got something new going there, and we’ll see more of Jamie and Sean, the werewolves, this Friday. So stay tuned for that!
And I’ve finally managed to finish something new! Considering last year, the number of stories I published was thin on the ground, and it’s been a while since I even pubbed at all, that’s exciting news. It’s called Snow and Mistletoe and it’ll be out in July. There’s a reason for that. It’s a Christmas in July story. And there’s shifters and magic and fated mates. Oh, and it’s the first in a series, so yes, we’ll be visiting Cauldron Creek again in the future. More details when I have them.
And I have a lot of ideas, so hopefully more will keep coming. It’s my goal, anyway. This year might not prove to be as fruitful as years past, but I’m certainly hoping I’ll get the words on the page. Wish me luck!
**It’s time to resurrect Flash Fic Friday! This might turn into a serial if there’s interest. Enjoy!**
No one noticed I wasn’t eating. Most of me was relieved about that. I didn’t want to, couldn’t, and having to explain or make excuses would have been exhausting. I didn’t have the spoons to deal with that today. But a small part of me was also sad. Because if no one noticed, that meant I was as invisible and insignificant as I imagined I was.
Pack dinners were always raucous affairs, filling with tons of conversation, laughter, and joy. I did my best to fit it, to talk and joke with the rest of my pack. But it wasn’t easy, and I wasn’t important enough to hold anyone’s attention for long. We all knew each other—in a pack of thirty wolves, it wasn’t hard—but even though we were always in each other’s pockets, it was surprisingly easy to hide. People saw what they wanted to see, and werewolves were no different.
Our alpha, Sean, was an outstanding leader. Fair but firm, patient and kind. He’d stepped in the role five years ago and turned the pack around. Before that, things hadn’t been horrible, but the alpha had been ineffectual and indifferent. Sean had swooped in and taken over, immediately made changes, and now we were one, big, happy and thriving pack.
I was so lost in thought I didn’t even realize the alpha had approached my corner. Within the walls of the pack house I was safe, and so wasn’t on high alert, keeping my senses tuned into my surroundings. Beside, the place smelled heavily of him, always did, so I might not have noticed anyway.
I tilted my head as soon as he stepped in front of me, showing my submission. He reached out, fingers gentle as he placed them along the side of my neck, leaving his scent on me. I couldn’t help the tension seeping out of my shoulders. It was how it should be when the alpha was there. He offered me a warm smile, his dark eyes shining.
“Hello, Jamie. How are you?”
“Hello, sir.” I returned the greeting but wondered if I’d get away with not answering his question. When Sean slid his fingers around and squeezed the back of my neck, I physically relaxed even further even though my brain told me that meant he wasn’t going to let me refuse to answer.
Sean leaned in, his gaze never leaving mine, but his tone was light and conversational. “Have you eaten?”
“Yes,” I answered quickly, because it wasn’t a lie. I had eaten, just not here and not since breakfast this morning.
“When?” he asked, still with the same tone, though his fingers tightened just a touch. I lowered my gaze, unable to keep his in the face of his scrutiny. I did not answer, only because I knew I wouldn’t be punished for it. But if I told him the truth, he’d be upset with me for another reason, and I didn’t want that either.
After a long moment of silence, he let his hand drop and he took a step back. “Please come with me.”
I didn’t have a choice. It was a command as much a request. But I didn’t want to disobey anyway. Sean was worthy of following, and if he requested something, I had no qualms about doing exactly that. I wasn’t like other werewolves. I didn’t blindly follow whomever was in charge. But Sean was a good man and a good wolf, so it was easy.
Until he led me to the food table.
Unconsciously, I dragged my feet. I didn’t want to go near it. But his gentle touch had me moving forward. Sean’s hand on the small of my back propelled me forward, and when he handed me one of the small plates, I took it automatically, glad it wasn’t one of the large ones. Then he leaned down so he spoke directly in my ear. It wouldn’t stop other’s from hearing, but they’d at least know to ignore whatever he said.
“Pick out something. Just a little. A couple of bites, if that’s all you can manage.” His breath blew softly against the shell of my ear, and I fought a shiver. I opened my mouth to insist I wasn’t hungry, but before I could he added, “Please.”
I took a tiny piece of grilled chicken that seemed bland enough and hoped that would be sufficient. But Sean raised an eyebrow, so I added a tiny scoop of broccoli salad to the plate as well. That, I knew, had been made by Adaira, I’d had it in the past, and it was good enough I’d be able to force down a few bites.
That seemed enough to satisfy Sean, and he handed me a fork and napkin before gently leading me to the large table. I balked again, not even thinking about it, just my body reacting before my brain could get online enough to follow my alpha’s directive. I had to take a breath, to try and make myself move, but Sean was so attuned to me in that moment, he easily changed course.
Without realizing where we were going, I suddenly realized we were on the back door. Which was suddenly and suspiciously absent of pack members. Usually there were always people hanging out here when it was nice. But no one was around, and the door slid shut behind us. I didn’t get a chance to turn and see who had shut it, because Sean didn’t let up the slight pressure on my back and I had to move to the café table in the corner. He pulled out a chair for me, and I sat. He took a seat beside me.
“Please try and eat.” His voice was so soothing, lacking all judgment and with only a little concern. I speared a piece of broccoli and forced myself to eat it. The approving rumble that Sean let out warmed my insides and I went for another bite.
“You know I try to stay out of my pack member’s personal lives. Unless it directly effects the pack or harms them, that is. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about how little you eat.”
The few bites I’d taken soured in my stomach. “I eat.”
Sean nodded. “Clearly you do, at least sometimes. But rarely with the pack. I thought I was imagining it, at first. I asked around, and no one seemed to see it, so I was sure I had to just miss you eating. But you don’t, do you, Jamie?”
I couldn’t lie even though I wanted to. “I don’t…I don’t like…it’s weird…” I blew out a frustrated breath. “I have issues with food sometimes.”
Sean nodded, his gaze still judgement free. “You don’t like eating in front of people?”
I blew out a breath, pushing the plate away. “When I was young—” Nope, I couldn’t do it. “Stuff happened and it’s hard. I’ll try to do better.”
“Jamie,” he said seriously, leaning forward so I couldn’t avoid his gaze. “You don’t have to ‘do better.’ We just need to find a way that works for you. We take care of you and your needs, okay, sweetheart?”
It was the kindest thing anyone had ever said to me in relation to my food issues but my brain was stuck on the last word. Sean wasn’t the type to use endearments with his wolves, so it had to mean something more. I opened my mouth to ask, then shut it because I didn’t know what to say. But the look on my face must have telegraphed my inner turmoil because Sean hung his head for a moment.
“Shit,” he muttered. Then he blew out a breath and lifted that dark gaze to mine. “I didn’t mean to say that.”
Disappointment coursed through me. I nodded, trying to not let it show on my face and knowing I was probably failing. “Oh. I understand.”
Sean grabbed my hand, his grip gentle but firm. “No, I don’t think you do. I didn’t mean to say it because I’m very conscious of the fact that there’s a power imbalance between me and my wolves. I would never want anyone feeling like they had to do something because I was alpha. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Kind of. “I think so.”
Sean’s gaze bored into mine. “Just because I’m attracted to you doesn’t mean I’d act on it, okay? I have excellent control. In all things. So you don’t have to worry, all right? I’d never force you or expect something you’re not willing to give.”
“What if…” I cleared my throat, trying to find my bravery to voice the one want I’d had since I first laid eyes on him. “What if I want you to?”
His eyes blazed, a hint of his wolf showing through. “Want me to what? Be very clear here.”
I let the shiver course through me, showing him how much his words affected me. His nostrils flared, no doubt taking in the scent of my spike of arousal.
“I want you to act on it. You’re beautiful, Sean. And kind and good and I—” I was rambling. I sucked in a deep breath. “What if I want you to act on that attraction because I feel the same?”
“Well then,” he said, twisting his hand to twine his fingers with mine. “Then we talk about it.”
The world is on fire. Literally in Australia. Between politics and idiocy and gaslighting and all around fuckery, it’s been tough.
In May, I pulled all my titles from Dreamspinner Press. With their failure to pay, they breached our contract and I was able to get the rights back to all 11 titles I had with them.
Eventually I got paid but I’m one of the few. And far more authors are owed far, far more than I was.
The nonsense is still going on.
Romancelandia blew up in the past week. With good reason. I’m not a member of RWA and now I’m glad I could never scrape together the funds for membership. I won’t rehash it all, there are plenty of people out there who have done it far better and more eloquently than I can.
I became mired in depression and it took me a long time to see it. Part of me thinks I should have known by the sheer fact I had no desire to write or knit and those creative pursuits are my biggest passion. But depression can do that to you. Make it so you can’t see the forest for the trees.
I changed jobs and loved my new position, only to have the rug yanked out from beneath me and forced into a position I did not want. And it was a terrible situation for me. So I changed jobs again.
But in all the weight, there is some good.
All of my titles have been republished with JMS Books. Save one, the third in the Requiem Inc series, which will be out next month.
I did manage to get some new words on the page. Forever Nine and Miracles in Space were released this year. (Buy links in the books tab at the top) Accepting Submission will be out next month.
And I’m banging out a short story right now that has a tight deadline that should be out early next year as well.
I have been woefully less productive than I wanted to be. When I look at this, I feel as though I’ve failed. No, that’s not right. But fell short for sure. Short of my goals and short of my hopes. And that’s a hard pill to swallow.
It’s been a tough year. A hard year. But I did manage words. And I did find my knitting mojo again.
So maybe 2019 wasn’t the best year. But it’s nigh on over, and 2020 looms.
I’m going to work on getting more words on the page so I can bring you all more fluffy, happy, satisfying HEAs. Because goddess knows we all need that right now.
Here’s wishing you all that 2020 is your best year yet.
**As promised, here’s the final chapter of Cody’s story!**
The only lights were the Christmas tree, the fireplace, and dozens of flickering, electric flameless candles. I’d put them on every surface that could hold them, and it gave the living room a warm, homey glow. Friends and family sat on every available surface. Cindy was singing along with the carols playing through the Bluetooth speakers, and she had a lovely voice. The kids were shrieking with laughter. Papa Jim had gotten into the eggnog and was smiling goofily at his wife. Cole was being weird, but since he had confided he was going to propose to Marie tonight, I wasn’t surprised. The whole house was filled with the scent from the mulled cider I had warming on the stove, and laughter and conversation ebbed and flowed.
This was what Christmas was all about.
I couldn’t stop smiling, even if I wished Jake was here to enjoy it with me. But every time that thought crossed my mind, I only needed to look around and feel joy. Cole caught my eye and gave me a shaking grin. Knowing that was our sign, I flashed a thumbs up, and picked up the nearly empty cookie tray. I headed into the kitchen to fill it with Annabelle’s perfectly decorated confections. While I was there, I pulled out the bottle of champagne, and gathered up the flutes from the pantry where I’d set them earlier after I’d washed them. This way I’d be ready to pop the cork to celebrate my brother’s engagement.
Just as I was setting down the tray, Cindy wandered in. Her face was flushed, most likely equal parts wine and happiness, and I leaned over to kiss her cheek.
“How you doing, Cody?”
I smiled and moved away, then started removing the foil from the bottle.
“Okay. Good.” I sighed. “Happy and sad at the same time, you know?”
“I know. That’s the beauty of being human. We’re capable of feeling all sorts of emotions at the same time.”
I chuckled because she wanted me to. But in the back of my mind, I was wondering if I could put my foot down and insist that Jake resign his commission or somehow demand he never get deployed during the holidays again. As soon as the thought crossed my mind, I dismissed it. I’d never do that to him. I’d just have to deal if it happened again. And in a few more years, it would not longer be an issue.
“You need any help with this?” Cindy asked.
“Nope.” I got the bottle open, the loud pop a satisfying sound, and offered her a huge grin. “I’m all set.”
“Okay.” She patted my arm and headed back into the other room, swaying a little with the music. She was too damn cute.
I’d just finished pouring all the glasses when Cole stuck his head through the doorway. I smiled wide.
“Sure am,” I responded. “You?”
“Yep,” he said. And he did look a hell of a lot calmer. I followed him out, and watched as he walked across the room. The dead silent room. When he stopped beside Marie, I expected him to clear his throat or drop onto one knee, but he did neither. In fact, his gaze slid across the room toward the front door.
Movement caught my attention, and then I was sure I was hallucinating. Because there stood a Marine in his service uniform, cover tucked under his arm. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. Because this could not be real. It couldn’t be.
“Hey, baby boy,” my husbands deep voice came out of the Marine mirage. The Marine that had his face and his smile. And was standing in our living room when he should be half a world away.
My knees gave out, but Jake was there before I hit the ground, saving me and holding me up, just as he always did. His touch jolted me back to reality, let me know that this was really happening and I threw myself at him. Literally threw myself into his arms and climbed up him, wrapping him tight with both arms and legs.
An eternity passed and I didn’t care that it was two days till Christmas and we had a room full of people staring at us. Jake was in my arms. And then he was kissing me. With all the power he possessed, all the longing he’d built up, and I was devouring him back with that same aching need.
Eventually he had to put me down, but he didn’t let me go. He kept me flush against him and I was crying, but the only reason that bothered me was because I couldn’t see his face clearly.
I shot a look at my brother who grinned sheepishly.
“Surprise?” Cole chuckled. Then he took Marie’s hand and held it up, and the light caught the diamond on her finger. “She already said yes.”
There were shouts, maybe of glee and congratulations, but I couldn’t process it at all. It was all just meaningless sound
Jake took hold of my chin to turn my attention back to him, then used his thumbs to wipe the tears from my cheeks. He smiled a watery smile of his own.
“How?” I managed to croak.
“I had leave, and I pulled some strings. But I wasn’t sure it was going to happen. Not when I was deployed. But I’m not a Staff Sergeant for nothing, right?” He kissed me again, quickly but full of so much heat. “I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to get your hopes up if I couldn’t make it work. And then even when I knew it would, I decided it would be fun to surprise you.”
“Oh Christ,” I whispered, still not able get my brain online. “Jake.”
“Yeah, sweetheart. It’s me. And I’m here for two weeks.” He gave me a crooked grin. “God willing and the creek don’t rise. Merry Christmas, baby. I love you.”
Jake’s mother was at the door. That, in and of itself, wasn’t strange. She’d taken it upon herself to stop in on a semi-regular basis since Jake had been deployed, so we could miss and worry about him together. We’d always gotten along great anyway, and when she found out I didn’t have a mother of my own, she’d adopted me as one of her boys. She loved me even more once I married her son.
What was strange, however, was the huge box she held in her arms.
I opened he door, kissed her cheek, and tried to take the box from her. She made a noise of disgust, and I simply stepped back and allowed her to enter, a fond smile on my face.
“Whatcha got there, Cindy?”
She clomped into the house, winter boots loud on the hardwood floors, and set the box on the table before turning to me with a wide grin and a waggle of her eyebrows.
“I was feeling crafty.” She gave me a conspiratorial wink and started removing her outerwear. “And since my house is bursting at the seems, and Jim would murder me and hide the body if I made anything else holiday related, you get the spoils of my work.”
I laughed, because her husband was the gentlest soul on the planet. Papa Jim wouldn’t murder a fly, let alone his beloved wife and the mother of his children. I took her coat from her and when I returned from hanging it on the hook by the door, Cindy was already busying herself with making a pot of coffee. It was going to be a lengthy visit then. That was fine. I could do with the company.
“May I look?” I was already peeling the flaps of the box back, knowing she wouldn’t deny me. Cindy had outdone herself. The piece was full of poinsettias, evergreen boughs, and pine cones. Two red pillar candles graced the center, and baby’s breath and a dusting of fake snow and glitter gave it a shine. The wide red glass dish gave it extra elegance, and I knew each piece had been set into florist’s foam so that it could be kept watered. The woman did nothing by halves.
“It’ll look great on the table at the party on Sunday, don’t you think?”
“What party?” I asked absently, running my finger along the velvety soft leaves of one poinsettia. Then her words hit me, and I jerked back, my gaze snapping to hers. “Cindy, I–”
“You weren’t thinking of not having the party, now were you.” It should have been a question, but Cindy purposefully made it a statement. When I didn’t respond, she gave me a half smile. “The holiday party you throw for the family, and your friends, is tradition, Cody. Just because Jake isn’t home doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have it.”
“I know,” I whispered, dropping my gaze.
Cindy appeared at my side, two mugs of steaming coffee in her hands. She set them on the table, then gently took my arm and turned me to face her. I couldn’t quite meet her eyes, but she cupped my face in her hands.
“This is your favorite time of year. This party you throw? We all look forward to it every year. And you should have it, and enjoy it, because even if you do? That doesn’t mean you miss Jake any less.” Her voice grew soft, and I heard the threat of tears in the slight waver. “It doesn’t mean you’re not worried and scared for him. It doesn’t mean you don’t love him. All it means is that you’re doing your best to keep yourself together until he comes home.”
Until she said it, I hadn’t even realized that’s what I’d been doing. I missed Jake so much it was a constant ache, and it sucked celebrating without him. But more than that, I feared that if I some how didn’t spend all my time worrying about him, if I actually let myself enjoy something, it would somehow negate his absence. Or worse, make people think I didn’t love him as hard as I did, considering he was risking his life in a war zone.
I hugged Cindy tight, because she put voice to the things no one else would say. And just her reassurance made me feel better. I could love and miss Jake, worry and fret for him, and still do things that brought me joy. Cindy petted my hair and hummed tunelessly and just let me soak up her love.
Several hours and a pot of coffee later, Cindy was gone and I was sitting at the table, admiring her handy work. It was then that I noticed the spot of white that didn’t belong. And that definitely hadn’t been there before.
My hands shook as I freed the envelope and I almost couldn’t get the damn thing open.
Mom is working her special brand of magic for me. I asked her to put this together, and to give you this note, so you remember that the holidays are about togetherness and joy, family and friends, even if your husband is half a world away. Take plenty of pictures and spam my inbox with them. If Dad gets into the eggnog again, make sure you get video. He’s the most affectionate drunk I’ve ever seen. Party hard, sweetheart. Celebrate the season. Go all out. This is harder on you than it is on me. I miss you like crazy, but at least I have my platoon and the structure of the Corp to keep me from going insane. I’ll be home as soon as I can.
I love you,
I cried, but there was some happy mixed in. Jake never failed to make me smile, even from thousands of miles away. He’d be home eventually. And until then, I’d have to muddle through some how.
I laughed at myself, turned on the carols, and started making a list. I had a party to plan
**Here’s the next installment in the tale of Cody and Jake!**
I didn’t get much time to talk to Jake, so when he was available, I was glued to my phone. Calls weren’t usually an option, but we had an app that allowed us to message. He was the only one I talked to on it, so my body was cued in to the alert tone. It could wake me from the dead of sleep, or pull me from a work zone out. Which meant I never missed the opportunity to talk to him, since we were working on his schedule.
Being deployed meant he was twelve hours ahead of me in time zone, and busy as hell. When Jake was available, I wanted to be able to speak to him.
But inevitably, the conversations got cut off with him saying abruptly he had to go. Almost always. I expected it, but it was still disappointing when it happened. Tonight had been especially hard, since we’d only gotten a little more than an hour. I tossed my phone onto the coffee table and buried my face in my hands. I wouldn’t cry, but I was frustrated and sad. I missed him so badly. And even though I hated that our conversations were often cut short, at least I knew he was alive and well. That’s what mattered.
“Cody!” The deep voice registered in my brain a second after I realized the front door had opened. I knew I locked it which meant my brother had used his key.
“What are you doing here?” I griped. “And you could have knocked.”
Cole just grinned, and shook something at me. It took a second to recognize my jacket. “Come on. Get bundled up.”
I scowled. “No. What?”
“Yes,” he said, that grin growing even wider. “We’re going to Lights on the Lake. It’s one of the walking nights and we’re going.”
I groaned and flopped backward. No way was I going. It wasn’t that I didn’t love it, because I did. Every year, the Parks and Rec department set up the animated light show along the parkway that ran next to the lake. Most of the time, it was for cars to drive slowly along, with Christmas carols playing on the car’s radio. A few times during the season, they opened it for pedestrians. It was bitterly cold, but so much fun to be walking through the lights.
But I wouldn’t do it without Jake.
“No. Cole, come on. It’s too cold. It’s probably icy. I don’t want to.”
Cole wouldn’t be dissuaded. He was bigger than me, and spent far more time in the gym, so it was easy to grab my arm and haul me to my feet. I protested again and shoved him hard, but he only stumbled back one step. I turned away, but before I could get far, my brother snagged me in a hug.
“I know it sucks, Cody. But come on. You could use a little cheer, and I know deep down you want to.”
“It’s not the same,” I whispered.
Cole squeezed me tightly, then stepped back. “I know. But do it anyway. This is your thing, man. Miss him under the lights, okay?”
I still didn’t want to, and I almost flat out refused. Cole might be pushy–he was my older brother and it was in his job description–but if I really put my foot down, he’d listen. But the look on his face, even when he was trying to grin, let me know he was worried about me. And he had reason to be. I wasn’t myself. How could I be when my heart was half a world away?
So I put on my coat, mittens, scarf, and hat. I pulled on my warmest boots. And I climbed into his monster of a truck for the fifteen minute drive to the lake. I even managed a half smile when he bought me a peppermint mocha and joined the throng of holiday merry makers walking down the path.
As the minutes passed, and the lights twinkled, and the music played, some of my sadness lightened. I would still rather be here with Jake, but watching the kids screech and point as the lights did their thing, exclaim over the jumping reindeer and the dancing trees, hearing the absolute joy that infused the cold, crisp air, something loosened in me and I felt a bit of that holiday spirit creeping in.
We made it to the turn around point, where we’d walk back to the cars through a different set of lights. My breath seized in my lungs as Cole pulled me to a stop. This display had been added last year, a unicorn dressed as Santa, climbing down a chimney. It’s mane was red and green, and it’s horn sparkled gold. I remembered seeing it for the first time with Jake last year, and kissing him hard right on this spot as joy filled me.
Tonight it made me want to cry.
Cole cleared his throat, tossed an arm around my shoulders, and handed me a letter. I cocked an eyebrow at him, but he just tugged me a little closer to the display so that I could read by it’s light.
If you’re reading this, then your brother feels you could do with some holiday cheer. I’m so sorry I’m not there with you this year. I know how hard it is. But remember how much fun you have, looking at the lights? You don’t need me there to enjoy it. It’d be better if I was, for both of us. I can’t be there to feel the cold and see the snow, I’m not there to watch the lights dance in your eyes. So enjoy it for both of us, and when I come home, I want to hear all about it. About how everything feels like magic and holiday cheer. You’ve gotta Christmas for both of us, baby boy. Don’t let me down.
I love you,
I laughed even as I choked on a sob. He was so good at the subtle guilt, but he did it because he knew I needed to hear it. I needed to be reminded he was keeping our country safe while I was at home, pining. So I took a deep breath, and forced myself to take it all in. Cemented it all in my mind so that once he was home, after I kissed him senseless and we spent three days in bed, I’d be able to tell him all about the magic of the lights.
**Follow along this December as we watch Cody get his Christmas Miracle. Four part series coming your way, with the first three being the Fridays, and the final installment on Christmas Eve**
Normally I loved the holidays. From Halloween to New Year’s, I celebrated everything I could. I went all out with the pumpkins, cobwebs, and ghosts at the end of October, which transitioned into nicely more pumpkins, mums, and gourds for November. Then the snowflakes, snowmen, bells, stockings, garlands, and elves came out on the day after Thanksgiving and carried me into December. The tree went up the first weekend of the month, and carols filled my house. And then I left it all up, but added sparklers and streamers for the last day of the year.
But this year, things were different.
Jake and I had been together for nine years, and this wasn’t the first time he’d been deployed. And usually I used my love of the holiday season to keep myself upbeat and occupied. But it was the first time since we married three years ago. And that made it feel different in ways I’d never anticipated.
I knew being a Marine husband was hard. I’d been doing it in one capacity or another since Jake and I first started dating. I’d been with him as he came out to his platoon as bi, and was there by his side, nervous as hell, as he finally introduced me to his brothers in arms. It hadn’t always been easy. Nothing worth having ever was. But we’d made it through all of the hard times and we were happy.
Jake was nearing his twenty years, and he’d been stationed here for the past five. I thought, maybe naively, that we were in the home stretch. He had his job on base that he excelled at, and his CO was more than happy to keep him around. Retirement was still officially two years away, and Jake wasn’t even sure yet if he was going to muster out when he hit his twenty years. We were still talking about it. I wanted him to, but he loved being a Marine, and I wasn’t going to stand in the way of that. I never would.
When the orders came through that his platoon was being deployed, my heart sank. I hated being apart from him for such a long stretch. He’d been gone for nine months, and I just didn’t have it in me to celebrate without him. I’d halfheartedly put up some of my fall decorations, but I hadn’t felt it in my soul. And now it was the sixth of December, and I hadn’t changed to my Christmas/winter decorations.
I was feeling it especially hard today as my cubicle mate had been playing carols all day. So by the time I got home from work, the melancholy had settled in deep. I was moping so hard, I almost didn’t see the package waiting for me on the doorstep. Knowing I hadn’t ordered anything, I picked it up cautiously. But it had my name on it, and the black swoop-smile on the side of the box let me know it was probably safe.
Once inside, I set it carefully on the table by the door, took off all my winter gear, and then picked it up and padded in my socked feet to the kitchen. The tape came off easily, and inside was a crystal star. It was gorgeous, the way the facets caught the light, and I gasped at it’s sparkle.
The note was at the bottom.
Hi baby boy,
I know this year is going to be super hard on you. Me too. I want to be with you, to watch your face light up in joy as the holidays approach. To experience your happiness. But I can’t this year. So instead, I’m sending you something I know will put that look on your face, and that spirit in your heart. When you put this on top of the tree, when you see it there every day, know that my heart is there with you and I’ll see you as soon as I can. Enjoy the holidays, sweetheart. Even if I can’t be there with you.
I love you,
The tears were involuntary but I smiled through them. Carefully placing the tree topper back in the box, I scrambled to the storage space to pull out all the decorations and get busy. I needed everything up and decorated so I could put Jake’s thoughtful gift on the tree and feel his love.
**Let’s visit with Cole and Luke from last week!**
I groaned as the alarm went off, then rolled over and buried my face in the pillow. Luke reached over me to silence the alarm, then snuggled up and pressed his nose into the back of my neck.
“Wake up, baby.”
His voice was soft and cajoling, but I’d eaten far too much yesterday and had one too many glasses of wine. After the whole thing with Luke’s mother, I was emotionally wrung out too. I just wanted to sleep.
“No work,” I muttered, the pillowcase sticking to my lips. “Keep sleeping.”
“Oh no,” Luke said with a chuckle and giving me a gentle shake. “This was all you. The whole reason we set the alarm in the first place. Time to wake up.”
Luke chuckled again, squeezed me tightly, then attacked my neck with playful, biting kisses. I squirmed, my body reacting to his touch, but just as I was about to really get into it he pulled away. I felt him sit up, and then he whipped the blanket back and gave me a sharp smack to the ass.
“Get up, love. It’s Black Friday.” The sound of him standing was immediately followed but a groan as he stretched. I flopped onto my back quickly so I wouldn’t miss the show, but he was finished by the time I got my bleary eyes to focus. Damn.
“Come on, Cole. I’ll start the coffee, you get dressed. You know what you have to do.” He pointed finger guns at me and I couldn’t help but laugh.
By the time I got into the kitchen, there was a pot of hot, delicious brew waiting for me. I poured a cup, inhaled deeply, then added a dollop of creamer and sipped tentatively, not caring that it was too hot.
“You get everything?” Luke asked. I nodded, still not ready for speech. He grinned. “This was you, Cole. This is what you wanted. I only agreed because I love you.”
Feeling more awake now, I was able to smile. He was never shy about giving me the words and I loved hearing them. I leaned over so I could kiss his neck, and then said, “I know. I love you.”
Luke pressed his lips to my forehead. “Breakfast first?”
I shook my head. “Maybe in a bit.”
“Good then. Let’s get cracking.”
It took the better part of the morning, but by the time we stopped for lunch, everything was pretty much done. The tree (fake because Luke was allergic) was up and fully decorated, the white lights sparkling from every branch. We didn’t have a ton of ornaments, but what we did have meant something to us and it looked incredibly pretty. The garlands were up above the doorways, candles and bells decorated the end tables, and my collection of elves had found homes throughout the house. We even had candles in every front window, the battery operated kind that would flicker and cast a warm glow without lighting the curtains on fire.
Soft carols played over the speaker, and Luke had just laid down the finishing touch: a dark blue rug with snowflakes all over it. It looked fantastic in front of our space heater, which I only got because it looked like a real fireplace. Or a close approximation anyway.
I sighed happily, and sat on the couch to take it all in. Luke joined me a few minutes later, bringing with him mugs of hot chocolate. It was the instant kind, but it was the thought that counted. I kissed him as I took my mug, and then snuggled into his embrace. We sipped and he hummed along with “Adeste Fideles.”
Warmth and happiness filled me. I had Christmas and the man I loved. I couldn’t ask for anything more.