Saturday, December 19, 2015

Santa Magic: The Adult Years by Stuart R. West

One click away from ridiculousness.



I remember the thrill of waking up on Christmas morning. The magic of a big man in a sleigh, sneaking into your house at night (in a non-threatening way, of course!), bringing good will and joy.  And toys, can’t forget the toys. There always seemed to be a strange lingering magic dust in the air, a smoke screen of wonder blurring the blinking Christmas tree lights.

When you’re young, it’s by far the best part of Christmas. No matter what anyone tells you.

But as a child, when I began to question the whole Santa Claus thing (“But…how can Santa be at this mall, when he’s at Steve’s Shoe Shack at the same time?”), realizing the absolute impossibility of it all, a part of my childhood went into hibernation. It didn’t die, just crawled into a cave for a long nap. 

My parents were hardcore about the myth of Santa Claus. Even kept it up while I was in college. No one was fooling anyone and we all knew it. But the dumber you played, the longer you indulged in the game, the more likely you’d get cool gifts. One year, my brother and I found the “secret Santa stash” in the basement, unwrapped the presents, oohed and ahhed over them. Sealed the presents shut again. Okay, fine, not very magical, but we were know-it-all, “worldly” kids (or so we thought).

Finally, we let the cat out of the bag, let my parents off the hook. Told them to cut it out. There is no Santa Claus. Hard to believe, but my mother looked sad at our revelation. And that’s when socks and underwear became the norm as gifts.

I suppose I don’t blame my mom, not really. Once your own childhood thrill is gone, you live vicariously through your children’s excitement. The circle of life.

Seeing Christmas through the eyes of my young daughter reawakened my hibernating inner child.
I lived a double life: Dad and Santa. And I thrived on it. I loved watching my daughter sit next to the tree amidst an avalanche of colorfully wrapped gifts.  Her eyes lit up as she opened her presents, wondering how the Big Man in Red knew what she wanted. (And this particular “Big Man in Red” went to a lot of effort searching for what my daughter asked for. Always the hottest, hardest to find toys. Always. I have lots of war-torn Christmas stories. But that’s a tale for another time.).

It was all worth it.

But all good things come to an end (a rather cynical saying my mother used to tell me).

One day, while pushing my daughter on the back-yard swing set (the same swing set we had the dreaded sex talk on a year or so later), she said, “Dad?”

“Hmm?”

“Is Santa real? Or is he, like, parents making him up and stuff? You know, sneaking around and putting gifts under the tree. Pretending.”

A quandary. I always taught her not to lie. Yet…I wanted to keep the mythology alive; if not for her, than for me. I hemmed and hawed, finally said, “Do you believe he’s real?”

“I guess.” Not really.

“Well, if you believe he’s real, then he is. Merry Christmas!” I ran quick interference, shouting, over-zealously hugging, cheek-kissing. The works. Anything to avoid telling her the truth.

Yet, I could tell, just by the way she forlornly nodded, she didn’t buy into my non-answer. The magic had dissipated, the Santa dust drifting away into an invisible cloud.

We played the game for a few more years. But we both knew the jig was up. Knowing winks were shared; smart-alecky comments were dropped whenever the mythical Man in Red came up.

A sad time, a rite of passage. Not only for children, but also for parents.

Last year, my youngest niece quit believing in Santa. Over Christmas dinner, I asked her why.

“I mean, the whole thing was kinda weird,” she explained. “How Santa could hit all the houses in the world in one night. Yeah, right.” (Her examination of the impossibilities of the Easter Bunny was even better.)

Laughter ensued. But it foretold the end of Santa magic for our family.

But my now grown daughter brought me back in.

“Dad?”

“Hm?”

“Do you believe in Santa?”

I hugged her. “You know I do.”

Bring on the next generation! 

Happy holidays, everyone!

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Friday, December 18, 2015

It's Almost Christmas and we've got SNOW! by Nancy M Bell

Hello again. Hard to believe a month has gone by so fast. Christmas is just around the corner and the air is filled with carols and Christmas music everywhere. The town has put up their light display in Nose Creek Park and it is spectacular as always.


My birthday is on the 20th and man, I'm getting old! It got me thinking about Christmas when we were kids. I thought I'd share a few memories with you all. Every Christmas Eve we would pile in the car and visit four of my dad's five sisters. Auntie Irma lived near Ottawa and that was too far for a day trip. But we hit all the others, from Whitevale to Mississauga. By the end of the night we were full of junk food and high on sugar. One Christmas Eve we had just pulled in the drive at home when what did we see but Santa Claus coming down the neighbor's drive. My sister and I jumped out of the car and raced into the house. We slept in bunk beds in our parent's room. We ran through the kitchen down the hall and into our beds with our coats and boots still. We refused to get up and take them off because SANTA WAS RIGHT NEXT DOOR AND HE WAS COMING HERE NEXT!

Of course, he still came even though we only pretended to be asleep for about ten minutes before we really fell asleep. The Christmas Eve journey was always exhausting. In the morning we got up early and opened presents except for the ones for my gramma and grampa who lived with us. Daddy would make bacon and eggs for breakfast and then my grandparents would get up and we'd open presents with them. Right after that the kitchen was off limits to us as Mom and Gramma started working on Christmas dinner.

Aunt Francis and Uncle Jim always came for dinner and brought their dachshund with them. Over the years the dogs changed, but always a dachshund. Sandy, Tanja, and I can't remember the last one's name. We could get away with murder when Sandy was around because he would bite Daddy if he tried to discipline us. Aunt Francis sold Avon so we always knew the gift was something from Avon. For dinner Dad would pull out the big table that folded up very small and put in all the leaves so it filled the whole living room. Granted the house was pretty small but to me it seemed like the biggest table ever.

From my family to yours wishing you all the best for the Holiday Season.


Available For a limited time

A Longview Christmas



Click on the cover to get yours today!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Casting Your Characters - Sagittarius - Janet Lane Walters

Here goes with character traits for Sagittarians to help develop characters.

Sagittarian Sun or the inner person --These people are jovial, bright, hopeful and generous. They are generally self-reliant and out-spoken. There frankness can lead to problems. A Saggitarian heroine or hero is ambitious and not easily discouraged. They like liberty and out-door activity. Their strong will can present problems for they will not be driven.

Ascendant - Outer self. This is the face shown to the world. The Sagittarian hero or heroine is very independent and will not be ordered around. They can be impulsive and out-spoken. The hero or heroine can be found with their foot in their mouth. He or she can be nervously energetic and quick to make decisions. They have foresight especially in regards to business. He or she can appear blunt and abrupt. They can be high-strung. This hero or heroine likes animals.

Moon -- the emotional nature. This character can be benevolent and humanitarian. He or she can be sociable and loves to travel. They often change their residence frequently. This is a quick worker who may find themselves in the public eye either in a positive or negative way. The hero or heroine can benefit through women.



Wednesday, December 16, 2015

One of My Favorite Christmas Songs - Roseanne Dowell


Product Details  One of my favorite Christmas songs is Round and Round the Christmas Tree by Bing Crosby.  We start singing it right about now.
I'm sure by now you know I love Christmas. It's my favorite time of year. There's something magical about it for me. I'm not sure what it is, maybe it's my childhood memories or maybe it's being with family. I love everything about this time of year, shopping, the hustle and bustle of getting ready, buying gifts, even wrapping them. Not that I have many to wrap any more. Even though our family has grown by leaps and bounds, finances haven't. I've had to cut back and for my kids and the married (or coupled) grandchildren, I often make them something. The rest of my grandchildren get something small to open and a gift of money. To me spending time with my family is more important than any gift. It wasn't much different when we were growing up. Money was tight back then, also and gifts weren't plentiful. Honestly, I hardly remember any of my Christmas presents. Memories from the time spent with my aunts, uncles and cousins - well like the commercial says - Priceless.
Every Christmas Eve, my aunt and uncle came to our house with my four cousins for dinner. We had a traditional dinner -which I make to this day, but instead of having it on Christmas Eve, we do it a week before Christmas. It gives us another day to celebrate and be together.
After dinner, we always went to my grandparents' house where other aunts and uncles gathered. There weren't any gifts to open for anyone but my grandparents. Until this moment, I can't honestly say I noticed. Christmas wasn't about the gifts.Christmas Day we went to my aunt's and uncle's for dinner. Yes, the very same ones we spent Christmas Eve with. Again, no gifts were exchanged. It was a time for family, love, and making memories. Yes, Christmas is my favorite time of year and always will be.
To each and everyone of you, I wish you all a Blessed and Merry Christmas.

My book, Time To Love Again is about a widow who faces another lonely Christmas - Fifty-eight year old, Rose Asbury  doesn’t care that people think she's a recluse or that the neighborhood kids thinks she's a grouch. She just wants to be left alone. She doesn’t need anyone and no one needs her and that’s just fine. At least she didn’t until this year. For some reason this year is different. Suddenly, Rose is melancholy and discontent with her life. And the man next door doesn’t help matters. He insists on speaking to her. So her stomach tumbles every time she sees him, that doesn’t mean anything. Hunger pangs, nerves, Rose just wishes he’d leave her alone. Or does she? To top it all off, his granddaughter and her friends insist on playing in Rose's yard, sledding, building snowmen and throwing snowballs at her house. Then Rose's sister’s ghost shows up and life changes drastically. Available at Amazon

Below is the song Round and Round The Christmas Tree. You can hear it on: YouTube

Round and round the Christmas tree
Presents hanging there for you and me
Lights all shining merrily


Christmas a week away

A-ring around the Christmas tree
Children making up a melody
Grown-ups laughing happily
Christmas a day away

Wishing, hoping, boxes to open
But we agree it's right to wait
Turkey and dressing, after the blessing
And there's just a night to wait

Round and round the Christmas tree
Opening presents with the family
One for you and two for me
Oh what a Christmas Day

Ding dong, ding dong, ding dong,
Ding dong, ding dong, ding dong
Tra-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la

Round and round the Christmas tree
Presents hanging there for you and me,
Lights all shining merrily
Christmas a week away

Lights all shining merrily
Christmas a week away
La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la
La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la
La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la
La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la

Wishing, hoping, boxes to open
But we agree it's right to wait
Turkey and dressing, after the blessing
And there's just a night to wait

Round and round the Christmas tree
Opening presents with the family
One for you and two for me
Oh what a Christmas Day
Oh what a Christmas Day
Oh what a Christmas Day
Oh what a Christmas Day
Oh what a Christmas Day

 You can find my latest book All's Well That Ends Well at Amazon 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

You'll Laugh Until Your Sides Split at this Brand New Comic Mystery

Books We Love is very excited to introduce readers to Zack and Zora in Stuart R. West's brand new comic mystery series.  This is a delightful treat, a hilarious read, and a just plain funny, feel good story of a brother and sister caught up in the zaniest murder mystery plot imaginable.  An excellent choice for de-stressing from all that holiday fever.



Bad Day in a Banana Hammock

Bad Day in a Banana Hammock
A Zach and Zora Mystery

Zach wakes up with no memory, no phone, and no clothes except his stripper g-string. And oh yeah! There’s that pesky naked dead guy in bed next to him. Problem is Zach's not gay. Or a murderer. At least, he doesn't think so. Only one person can help him, his sister, Zora. Of course Zora's got problems of her own—she has three kids at home and is eight month's pregnant with the fourth. So she’s a bit cranky. But that’s not going to stop her from helping her brother. With kids in tow, the siblings set how to find the true killer, clear Zach's name, and reassure Zach he's not gay.

“An hilarious murder mystery romp. Ride along with Zach and Zora on this most entertaining of mysteries.”-Heather Brainerd, author of the Jose Picada, P.I. mystery series.

“A fun, quirky whodunit so full of wild antics, it will keep you guessing...when you're not giggling.”-Heather Greenis, author of The Natasha Saga.

“Bad Day in a Banana Hammock will have you wiping up tears of hysterical laughter.”-Suzanne de Montigney, author of the Shadow of the Unicorn series.

Just Released from Books We Love - Stock Up Your Holiday Readers

PURCHASE FROM BOOKS WE LOVE
     Witness Security, Book 3 - COVER OF DARKNESS
It's US Marshal Ben Markham's job to keep witnesses alive, but providing protection to BDSM social club owners who stumble onto double murders isn't at the top of his bucket list. Still, protecting Mitzi Pomeroy until trial has its perks. Like close contact with gorgeous, smart-as-a-whip Assistant DA Addison Decker. Too bad Addie doesn't come with a warning label. Who'd have thought an ADA could have so many secrets? Or that those secrets will find Ben and his partner Nick Pierce scrambling to keep them all alive?

"Suspense at its finest. This book has it all, romance and mystery. A real thriller. Ms. Hill has done it again." ~ Romance/mystery author, Roseanne Dowell

"I've been waiting and waiting for this one. Jamie Hill's Witness Security books are on the top of my reading list. I'm so excited that Cover of Darkness is here before Christmas - it's also on my "gift" list for romantic suspense reading friends and family." ~ Jude Pittman, author of the Kelly McWinter, A Murder State of Mind series

 Purchase from Amazon:  BUY NOW

Purchase from Smashwords:  BUY NOW
 

Impounded Holiday by Ginger Simpson


I'm skipping my own fantastic new releases and instead sharing a Christmas story I wrote in 2009 for the December issue of Love Stories Magazine as my gift this holiday season.  I hope you enjoy it, even if it is a tad longer than most of my posts.  :)

Gwen Spencer scanned her cheery living room and sighed.  The place had lost its appeal.  All the time she’d spent decorating in her favorite southwestern motif now seemed a waste.  Snuggled in her sandstone-colored easy chair, with knees bent and feet tucked beneath her, she stared at the telephone.  If wishes came true, it would ring at any second and she’d hear Brad’s voice. 

She raised her gaze and peered through the window. An overcast sky hid the sun, and gray shrouded the fall-colored trees in the front yard. A few leaves drifted to the ground, carried by a light breeze. Within weeks, the branches would be bare—as empty as her heart felt at the moment.  The visual hint of the late October chill made her shiver.  Where was Brad?  Was he warm and safe?  The fire she’d started earlier flickered bright beyond the hearth and kept the room toasty.  She hoped her husband had a coat.  Tennessee nights were cold this time of the year.

The silence overwhelmed her and, with a sigh, she stretched out her legs, stood, slipped her feet into her fuzzy slippers, and shuffled to the stereo.  She flipped through the plastic CD covers housing her music collection, the ones she and Brad had selected together.  She paused and let them fall back into a neat row.  The songs held recollections of happier times.  Today marked ten years since she and Brad had married, and she’d never expected to spend such a special occasion alone. Favorite tunes would only enhance her pain.  She forced a smile, remembering what someone once told her.  “If you play country music backwards, you get your dog back, your house back, your man back, your life back.”  

If only retrieval was that simple.  Her heart clenched with fear, and the momentary glee faded.  This time Brad wasn’t coming home.  He’d been gone for over a month.  The personal time she’d requested from work had almost expired, and it was time to get on with life.  Time to get back to the job that financially sustained her.

 With a shrug, she wandered into the kitchen and opened the bottle of wine she’d purchased a few months ago for their special day.  She filled a glass and went back to her favorite spot in the living room.  Carefully plopping down, she took a long, slow draw from her goblet, favoring the light, fruity taste she favored  over the more bitter offerings.

“Happy friggin’ anniversary,” she muttered and raised her glass into the air.  Her gaze drifted back to the phone.  Did he even know what day it was?

Deciding to watch television, she reached for the remote.  The TV screen flashed to life with the evening report and more bad news:  Floods, murders, rapes.  Was there no end to life’s disappointments?  Her mind wandered, and the anchor’s voice became only a murmur in the background.

Visions of her wedding flashed before her. She’d been the happiest bride in the world.  Brad stepped into her life to fill a void left by another man.  She never dreamed of finding love a second time, let alone discovering someone who treated her like a queen. Although divorced for two years between weddings, saying vows to Brad felt like the first time.   She recalled how her heart fluttered with excitement.

What had gone wrong?  Somehow during the years, drugs became the other woman and held more appeal than Gwen did.  When had he started taking them, and why hadn’t she noticed?  The first five years were blissful, but afterwards, telltale signs were there. She obviously chose to ignore them.

 Because Brad always came home, she continually accepted his pitiful excuses for any short disappearances.  Relieved to see him, she never questioned his sincerity until the truth became crystal clear...the day a packet of pills fell from his pants pocket on laundry day.

When questioned, Brad at first denied the pills were his, but then relented.  He swore he only used methamphetamines to get through a stressful time at work and promised his problem had nothing to do with her. Funny. Then why did it his drug addiction spill over and make her life miserable?   Eventually, he couldn’t hold a job...or didn’t want to.  His excuses always made him the victim.

Gwen lowered her head and grasped the back of her neck to ease the growing tension.  All this time and no word, when would she get a clue and move on?  His dependency had a far bigger hold on him than she ever could.  If he gave a damn about her, he would have at least called to let her know he was okay.

She reached for her wine glass and took another gulp.  The smooth sweetness passed through her lips with ease, but struck a sour cord.  She clenched the slender stem and gazed into what remained of the rosy liquid.  A grimace tightened her mouth.  Was drinking pink Chablis to ease her pain that much different than Brad taking pills?  She stood, marched back into the kitchen in bare feet, and emptied the wineglass and bottle contents down the drain. Faith in God would be her strength, not alcohol or drugs.

She started upstairs for a hot shower. The phone rang.  Her heart seized, but she patted her chest and took a deep breath.  If she answered, she’d probably find it was her mom.  She called every day, but not usually this early.  Still, Mom knew Gwen wasn’t working right now.

“Hello.”

“Mrs. Spencer?” The man’s voice on the other end wasn’t familiar.

“Yes.”  She held her breath.

“This is Officer Gilliam from the Dickson police department.  I believe we have a vehicle in our impound lot that is registered to you.”

Gwen exhaled.  “Is…is it a white pickup?”  The words stuck in her throat, but she pushed them out.  Brad drove the Toyota she’d purchased before they married.  She’d never bothered to re-register it in both their names.

“Yes. A 1999 Toyota long bed.  You should make arrangements to pick it up as soon as possible as fees are assessed everyday it’s here.”

It was her truck, but fees were the least of her worries.  “Why do you have it?  Did you arrest…”   Her knees wobbled and she sank into her chair.

“I don’t know the particulars, ma’am.  I’m just the person in charge of notifying the owners.  When you come to claim it, be prepared to pay whatever fines are owed.  We don’t accept checks, but will take money orders and credit cards.”

“How could I possibly bring a money order if I don’t know the amount?”  She vented her frustration on the wrong person and immediately bit her lip.  “I’m sorry, that was rude.”

“No problem.  I should have told you each day your truck remains impounded, we charge one hundred dollars.   Since it’s taken me some time to track you down, we’ve already had your vehicle for ten days.  Are you aware you haven’t changed your address information with DMV and that your registration has expired?”

“Yes, and I’m sorry about that.  I guess it slipped my mind.” Her thoughts raced with what might have happened to Brad despite the caller's scripted rhetoric.

“Well, before we can release your property, you’ll have to pay the renewal and accumulated fees when you come in.”

“How do I find out what happened to the person who drove the vehicle?”   She balanced the phone on her shoulder and wrung her hands.

“You can either call back tomorrow and ask to speak with Sergeant Calhoun, or come in and see him personally.”

Gwen thanked the man and hung up. Her mind was a whirlwind of worries.  If Brad didn’t have a vehicle, how was he getting around?  Was he in jail?  The hospital?  Dead?  A cold chill peppered her with goose bumps.  Brad couldn’t be dead, but still, she wouldn’t know for certain until tomorrow.

***

                              

Gwen felt as though she’d been drugged when her alarm sounded.  She slapped at the button atop the clock and struggled to open her eyes, wondering how anyone could enjoy a self-induced fog. She hadn’t mentioned anything about Brad to her mother when she called.  Everyone in the family assumed they were doing well in their new home state, and Gwen didn’t want anyone to know her second attempt at marriage was another train wreck.  She glanced at the empty pillow next to her, wishing her problems with Brad were all a bad dream.

Most of her night had been spent tossing and turning, trying to find answers to all her questions.  She didn’t know what time she’d finally fallen asleep, but recalled seeing strands of light creeping through the blinds.

She stood, stretched her hands high over her head and rocked from side to side.  Her spine crackled and released some of the pent-up stress.  A visit to the police department didn’t count high on her list of favorite things to do, but Sergeant Calhoun was the only ones who could confirm her worst fears. Although she vowed to get on with her life, she wasn’t ready for bad news about a man she still loved.   Gwen dropped her arms to her side, and with shoulders slumped, headed for the hot shower she’d planned before last night’s upsetting call.

Afterwards her shower, she dressed, stood in front of the mirror and pulled a hairbrush through her tangled locks.  She was barely forty and already strands of gray frosted her brown hair.  God, she didn’t want to grow old... and alone.  Her eyes misted with tears, and she decided to forgo makeup for sunglasses.  As she dried her eyes, her room brightened.  Evidently yesterday’s clouds had moved on… at least those in the sky.


***

Gwen’s hands felt clammy on the steering wheel.  Traffic was light on the back country road to Dickson and now that the phone call had sunk in, she wondered how her truck ended up in such a rural community.  Nerves and breakfast had never been a good mix so she’d passed on her morning meal.  Her stomach clenched and rumbled but most likely not from hunger.  What news would she hear today?  Was she strong enough to face the truth?  Morbid thoughts blurred the trip.

***

A city limits sign proclaimed she’d arrived in Dickson and, drawn back to clarity, she scanned both sides of the street, looking for the police department.  The old brick building marked as her destination looked more like a library. She parked in front and went inside, inhaling the mustiness of years past.
  Her brief conversation with Sergeant Calhoun didn’t provide any new leads.  The pickup had been found on the side of the road with a flat tire and towed to the impound lot.  She jotted down directions to where the Toyota was kept and was allowed to view it before paying her fines.  Pain stabbed at her disappointed heart as she drove the two blocks to an old gas station where more than a dozen vehicles were parked.  She used the code the sergeant had given her to open the lock on the gate. In the far corner, she spied her truck.  She walked to the dirty, white Toyota on leaden legs.
Tears filled blurred her eyes as she opened the driver’s door and gazed inside.  The seats and floor were filthy—littered with trash and remnants of how Brad had lived for the past month.  His scent lingered in the air.  The fence surrounding the impound lot gave off an eerie vibe, and Gwen shivered and summoned memories of happier times to fill her mind.  This wasn't how things were supposed to end.  For years he’d been her caretaker when she was ill, her partner, her lover, her best friend.  Why couldn’t she save him?  Why couldn’t her love be his salvation?
Gwen reflected on all she had left of their relationship—the collection of teddy bears he’d bought her over the years: one holding a Valentine Heart, one wearing a St. Patrick’s Day vest, and the big white panda he'd brought back after he’d disappeared for three days the last time.  That one had been the harbinger of what was yet to come, with its furry paw raised in a farewell wave. But the clue went unnoticed in her joy to have Brad home.
Shaking the negative image from her mind, she returned to picking through the rubbish on the floorboard. She fingered a tiny ring, cheap and discolored, but engraved with the letter “G”—her initial.  Her throat burned with restrained sobs as she tossed it back, wondering where it came from and why he’d had it.  She didn't need one more thing to remind her of him. What she needed was to forget.
Stoically, she forced herself to continue the inspection, hoping for, yet knowing there would be no clues to answer her many questions. She heaved a deep sigh and pulled the seat forward.  Beneath more refuse, she found yet another bear.  The fur on its small face was dirty and the body contorted from being smashed beneath weight heavier than its own.  She picked up and cuddled the toy, hoping in some way her embrace would transcend the atmosphere and let her husband know she still cared what happened to him. A tear trickled down her cheek.  Gwen held the treasure away and stared at it through blurred eyes.
Should she throw the bear away?   What use was it?  Each time she looked at it, she would only remember no matter how close you hold someone and love them, there is always something stronger that can pull them away. This tiny stuffed creature was like Brad in many ways.  Once it was clean and bright and brought a smile to a face. But burdened by a weight heavier than it could manage, it became dirty, unrecognizable and not quite so loveable.  She could launder it, but that would only take care of the surface. She had washed his clothes and kept his home clean, yet his problems were so deeply imbedded she couldn’t fix them.
There was nothing in the truck she wanted.  Gwen put the bear back where she found it and gently closed the door. She didn’t need one more piece of memorabilia, one more link to heartache and bad memories.  Instead, she resolved to hold onto images of a healthier and happier man and know she had truly tried to make things work.
A momentary feeling of defeat washed over her, and then a realization dawned.  She hadn’t lost. He had loved her as much as a troubled man could love, and she’d cherished him in return.  The agony was in knowing the drugs had won the battle, but strength came in realizing she’d won the war.  She could finally let him go, praying he found himself and happiness again…somewhere, someday.   Surely the pain would linger for a time, but a weight lifted from her burdened shoulders as she walked through the gate, leaving behind the truck and all it represented.  The City of Dickson could donate the vehicle to charity for all she cared.  She wiped away the last tear she planned to shed over Brad and, squaring her shoulders, walked back to her car.

***

Gwen hung the last piece of tinsel on the Christmas tree, shocked at how quickly Halloween and Thanksgiving had come and gone.  Although not much in the mood for festivities, she’d forced herself to drag out the decorations and focus on the spirit of the holiday.  In an attempt to move ahead with life, she’d invited co-workers and neighbors over for a party.  Maybe she couldn’t face her family with the truth, but she’d confided to a few friends that she and Brad were finished.  The reasons why weren’t important… and actually, she didn’t know herself what drove Brad to drugs.  She still struggled to close the chapter in that book.
The log in the fireplace crackled and popped as fiery fingers stretched up the chimney.  Gwen lit the pine-scented candles on the mantle to provide the smell missing from her fake tree.  She’d spent all of Saturday preparing food and getting things ready for tonight.  She stood back and surveyed the room.  The tree shone in radiant beauty and the garland around the doors and windows added the perfect festive touch.
She glanced at her wristwatch and realized the guests would be arriving in less than an hour.  She’d already showered, so all she needed was to change clothes and fix her hair and makeup.  As she turned to go upstairs, someone knocked at the door.
“Oh, brother.  Who could that be?”  She crossed the room and opened the door.
Her heart seized.
“Hi, Gwen.”   Brad flashed a sheepish grin.
She stood rooted to the spot, her breath failing her.  She moved her mouth but no words materialized.
“I’m sure you weren’t expecting me.”  He stepped forward and pulled her into his arms.  “Darling, I have so much to tell you… so much to explain.  Please give me one last chance, and I promise you won’t regret it.”  His clothes were clean and he smelled of fresh laundry soap.
Her pain from the past months bubbled to the surface and steeled her resolve.  She pushed him away.  “I’m happy to see you’re alive, but I don’t think you have anything I want to hear.”
He took hold of her hand.  “I totally understand how you feel, and I’d act the same way in your shoes.  But…”
“No buts.”  She jerked free.  “You’ve put me through hell.  All this time, I’ve had no idea if you were dead or alive.  You couldn’t bother to pick up a phone and call me? Now you have the nerve to show up on my doorstep and expect me to act like nothing ever happened?”
He lowered his head and stared at the ground.  “I couldn’t call.  At least not after I hit rock bottom and accepted help. Before that, everything is a drug-hazed blur.”
The cold air pouring through the open door sent a shiver through her.  She recalled using almost those exact words to explain her sleepless night. His statement piqued her curiosity, and she couldn’t turn him away without hearing his explanation.  “Come in.  It’s freezing out there.”
She perched on the edge of her chair and gazed up at him.  “What do you mean bottomed out?”
“May I?”  He motioned to the sofa.  When she nodded, he removed his jacket, draped it over the couch back, and sat.  He took a long breath.  “Where should I start?  Let’s see….”
Gwen listened in earnest as Brad revealed the whole story.  How he’d given in to the drug high until he ran out of money, begged on street corners for a fix, and finally landed in jail.  During his incarceration, he suffered a minor stroke and found himself hospitalized.  A visiting pastor invited him to accept the Lord and an offer of help through a local drug treatment center.  Brad had agreed and spent all this time getting clean and sober.  One of the caveats of the program had been the stipulation that there would be no contact with the outside world.  He’d passed on the opportunity to phone her beforehand because he didn’t want to get her hopes up until he knew he had defeated his demons.  Here he sat, claiming he had.
“I don’t expect you to forgive me.”  He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “I’ve put you through the wringer.  It makes me feel better to know that I’ve apologized.  It’s part of my program…to make amends with those I’ve wronged.”
Tears burned the back of Gwen’s eyes.  She’d never stopped loving him, just trusting him.  How could she get her faith back based on one story and an apology, no matter how convincing?  “Like I said, Brad, I’m relieved to see you alive and well. I cried myself to sleep too many nights wondering where you were and how you fared.  I appreciate your apology….”
“I understand.  I’m not asking for another chance. I’m only asking that you let me prove I’ve changed.  Something different happened this time.  I realized how much I had to lose: my life, you….”  He paused for a moment, his gaze locking with hers. “It dawned on me that without you, life wasn’t worth living.”
Brad’s face looked drawn, and he was much thinner, but he still had that tall, dark and handsome appeal that drew Gwen to him.
His words warmed her heart, but didn’t heal the wound.  She wanted to believe him but needed time.  She nibbled at her bottom lip and flashed back to all the broken promises, the times she forgave only to be hurt and disappointed again.
He glanced around the room.  “Everything looks so nice.”  His gaze rested on the dining room table and the festive plates, glasses and bowls of snacks.  “Are you expecting someone?”
“Yes, I’ve invited a few people over for a holiday celebration.”  Gwen wondered how she’d explain his presence, and hoped maybe she wouldn’t have to.  “Would you like to stay?”  She held her breath for his response.
“No, thank you.  I don’t believe I’m quite ready to face the world yet, but I would like to come by on Christmas Day and bring you a gift.”
A silent whoosh of air fluttered past her lips.  “That would be nice.”
Brad stood.  “Is one o’clock okay?”
As he slid his muscular arms through his jacket sleeves, Gwen recalled the times he’d held her and how wonderful it felt.  Although she wanted to fall into his embrace and forget everything that had happened, she resolved to take baby steps.  “One is fine. Would you like to have Christmas dinner with me?”
“I’d love to.  I always look forward to your honey-baked ham with mashed potatoes and gravy.” He trailed his hand down her arm and smiled.  “Goodnight, Gwen.”
He opened the door and stepped outside, but turned.  “I do love you, you know?”
She covered her heart to quell the pounding in her chest.
His eyes shone with unshed tears making her want to soothe him until his hurt went away.  She stepped forward yet hesitated.
Brad’s gaze lifted to the mistletoe hanging over her head.  He leaned in and placed a gentle kiss on her lips, then stepped back, snuggled into his jacket and zipped it to his chin.  “You’ll see. I’m a changed man.  From now on, the only drug in my life is going to be the love I feel for you. If I need a fix, I’ll steal a kiss.”  He turned and walked toward the street.
Gwen closed the door and slumped against it.  She touched her fingertips to her lips and smiled.  She hadn’t asked for a gift for Christmas, but it seemed Santa had come early.  She had a party to dress for, and now, a real reason to celebrate.


***
Gwen’s hands felt clammy on the steering wheel.  Traffic was light on the back country road to Dickson.  Now that the phone call had sunk in, she wondered how her truck ended up in such a rural community.  Nerves and breakfast had never been a good mix so she’d passed on her morning meal.  Her stomach clenched and rumbled.
When a city limits sign proclaimed she’d arrived in Dickson, she scanned both sides of the street, looking for the police department and parked in front of an old brick building that looked more like a library.  Her brief conversation with Sergeant Calhoun didn’t provide any new leads.  The pickup had been found on the side of the road with a flat tire and towed to the impound lot.  She jotted down directions to where the Toyota was kept and allowed to view it before paying her fines.  Pain stabbed at her disappointed heart as she drove the two blocks to an old gas station where more than a dozen vehicles were parked.  She used the code the sergeant had given her to open the lock on the gate. In the far corner, she spied her truck.  She walked to dirty, white Toyota on leaden legs.
Tears filled blurred her eyes as she opened the driver’s door and gazed inside.  The seats and floor were filthy—littered with trash and remnants of how Brad had lived for the past month.  His scent lingered in the air.  The fence surrounding the impound lot gave off an eerie vibe, and Gwen shivered and summoned memories of happier times to fill her mind.  This wasn't how things were supposed to end.  For years he’d been her caretaker when she was ill, her partner, her lover, her best friend.  Why couldn’t she save him?  Why couldn’t her love be his salvation?
Gwen reflected on all she had left of their relationship—the collection of teddy bears he’d bought her over the years: one holding a Valentine Heart, one wearing a St. Patrick’s Day vest, and the big white panda he'd brought back after he’d disappeared for three days the last time.  That one had been the harbinger of what was yet to come, with its furry paw raised in a farewell wave. But the clue went unnoticed in her joy to have Brad home.
Shaking the negative image from her mind, she returned to picking through the rubbish on the floorboard. She fingered a tiny ring, cheap and discolored, but engraved with the letter “G”—her initial.  Her throat burned with restrained sobs as she tossed it back, wondering where it came from and why he’d had it.  She didn't need one more thing to remind her of him. What she needed was to forget.
Stoically, she forced herself to continue the inspection, hoping for, yet knowing there would be no clues to answer her many questions. She heaved a deep sigh and pulled the seat forward.  Beneath more refuse, she found yet another bear.  The fur on its small face was dirty and the body contorted from being smashed beneath weight heavier than its own.  She picked up and cuddled the toy, hoping in some way her embrace would transcend the atmosphere and let her husband know she still cared what happened to him. A tear trickled down her cheek.  Gwen held the treasure away and stared at it through blurred eyes.
Should she throw the bear away?   What use was it?  Each time she looked at it, she would only remember no matter how close you hold someone and love them, there is always something stronger that can pull them away. This tiny stuffed creature was like Brad in many ways.  Once it was clean and bright and brought a smile to a face. But burdened by a weight heavier than it could manage, it became dirty, unrecognizable and not quite so loveable.  She could launder it, but that would only take care of the surface. She had washed his clothes and kept his home clean, yet his problems were so deeply imbedded she couldn’t fix them.
There was nothing in the truck she wanted.  Gwen put the bear back where she found it and closed the door. She didn’t need one more piece of memorabilia, one more link to heartache and bad memories.  Instead, she resolved to hold onto images of a healthier and happier man and know she had truly tried to make things work.
A momentary feeling of defeat washed over her, and then a realization dawned.  She hadn’t lost. He had loved her as much as a troubled man could love, and she’d cherished him in return.  The agony was in knowing the drugs had won the battle, but strength came in realizing she’d won the war.  She could finally let him go, praying he found himself and happiness again…somewhere, someday.   Surely the pain would linger for a time, but a weight lifted from her burdened shoulders as she walked through the gate, leaving behind the truck and all it represented.  The City of Dickson could donate the vehicle to charity for all she cared.  She wiped away the last tear she planned to shed over Brad and, squaring her shoulders, walked back to her car.

***
Gwen hung the last piece of tinsel on the Christmas tree, shocked at how quickly Halloween and Thanksgiving had come and gone.  Although not much in the mood for festivities, she’d forced herself to drag out the decorations and focus on the spirit of the holiday.  In an attempt to move ahead with life, she’d invited co-workers and neighbors over for a party.  Maybe she couldn’t face her family with the truth, but she’d confided to a few friends that she and Brad were finished.  The reasons why weren’t important… and actually, she didn’t know herself what drove Brad to drugs.  She still struggled to close the chapter in that book.
The log in the fireplace crackled and popped as fiery fingers stretched up the chimney.  Gwen lit the pine-scented candles on the mantle to provide the smell missing from her fake tree.  She’d spent all of Saturday preparing food and getting things ready for tonight.  She stood back and surveyed the room.  The tree shone in radiant beauty and the garland around the doors and windows added the perfect festive touch.
She glanced at her wristwatch and realized the guests would be arriving in less than an hour.  She’d already showered, so all she needed was to change clothes and fix her hair and makeup.  As she turned to go upstairs, someone knocked at the door.
“Oh, brother.  Who could that be?”  She crossed the room and opened the door.
Her heart seized.
“Hi, Gwen.”   Brad flashed a sheepish grin.
She stood rooted to the spot, her breath failing her.  She moved her mouth but no words materialized.
“I’m sure you weren’t expecting me.”  He stepped forward and pulled her into his arms.  “Darling, I have so much to tell you… so much to explain.  Please give me one last chance, and I promise you won’t regret it.”  His clothes were clean and he smelled of fresh laundry soap.
Her pain from the past months bubbled to the surface and steeled her resolve.  She pushed him away.  “I’m happy to see you’re alive, but I don’t think you have anything I want to hear.”
He took hold of her hand.  “I totally understand how you feel, and I’d act the same way in your shoes.  But…”
“No buts.”  She jerked free.  “You’ve put me through hell.  All this time, I’ve had no idea if you were dead or alive.  You couldn’t bother to pick up a phone and call me? Now you have the nerve to show up on my doorstep and expect me to act like nothing ever happened?”
He lowered his head and stared at the ground.  “I couldn’t call.  At least not after I hit rock bottom and accepted help. Before that, everything is a drug-hazed blur.”
The cold air pouring through the open door sent a shiver through her.  She recalled using almost those exact words to explain her sleepless night. His statement piqued her curiosity, and she couldn’t turn him away without hearing his explanation.  “Come in.  It’s freezing out there.”
She perched on the edge of her chair and gazed up at him.  “What do you mean bottomed out?”
“May I?”  He motioned to the sofa.  When she nodded, he removed his jacket, draped it over the couch back, and sat.  He took a long breath.  “Where should I start?  Let’s see….”
Gwen listened in earnest as Brad revealed the whole story.  How he’d given in to the drug high until he ran out of money, begged on street corners for a fix, and finally landed in jail.  During his incarceration, he suffered a minor stroke and found himself hospitalized.  A visiting pastor invited him to accept the Lord and an offer of help through a local drug treatment center.  Brad had agreed and spent all this time getting clean and sober.  One of the caveats of the program had been the stipulation that there would be no contact with the outside world.  He’d passed on the opportunity to phone her beforehand because he didn’t want to get her hopes up until he knew he had defeated his demons.  Here he sat, claiming he had.
“I don’t expect you to forgive me.”  He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “I’ve put you through the wringer.  It makes me feel better to know that I’ve apologized.  It’s part of my program…to make amends with those I’ve wronged.”
Tears burned the back of Gwen’s eyes.  She’d never stopped loving him, just trusting him.  How could she get her faith back based on one story and an apology, no matter how convincing?  “Like I said, Brad, I’m relieved to see you alive and well. I cried myself to sleep too many nights wondering where you were and how you fared.  I appreciate your apology….”
“I understand.  I’m not asking for another chance. I’m only asking that you let me prove I’ve changed.  Something different happened this time.  I realized how much I had to lose: my life, you….”  He paused for a moment, his gaze locking with hers. “It dawned on me that without you, life wasn’t worth living.”
Brad’s face looked drawn, and he was much thinner, but he still had that tall, dark and handsome appeal that drew Gwen to him.
His words warmed her heart, but didn’t heal the wound.  She wanted to believe him but needed time.  She nibbled at her bottom lip and flashed back to all the broken promises, the times she forgave only to be hurt and disappointed again.
He glanced around the room.  “Everything looks so nice.”  His gaze rested on the dining room table and the festive plates, glasses and bowls of snacks.  “Are you expecting someone?”
“Yes, I’ve invited a few people over for a holiday celebration.”  Gwen wondered how she’d explain his presence, and hoped maybe she wouldn’t have to.  “Would you like to stay?”  She held her breath for his response.
“No, thank you.  I don’t believe I’m quite ready to face the world yet, but I would like to come by on Christmas Day and bring you a gift.”
A silent whoosh of air fluttered past her lips.  “That would be nice.”
Brad stood.  “Is one o’clock okay?”
As he slid his muscular arms through his jacket sleeves, Gwen recalled the times he’d held her and how wonderful it felt.  Although she wanted to fall into his embrace and forget everything that had happened, she resolved to take baby steps.  “One is fine. Would you like to have Christmas dinner with me?”
“I’d love to.  I always look forward to your honey-baked ham with mashed potatoes and gravy.” He trailed his hand down her arm and smiled.  “Goodnight, Gwen.”
He opened the door and stepped outside, but turned.  “I do love you, you know?”
She covered her heart to quell the pounding in her chest.
His eyes blurred with tears, making her want to soothe him until his hurt went away.  She stepped forward, yet hesitated.
Brad’s gaze lifted to the mistletoe hanging over her head.  He leaned in and placed a gentle kiss on her lips, then stepped back, snuggled into his jacket and zipped it to his chin.  “You’ll see. I’m a changed man.  From now on, the only drug in my life is going to be the love I feel for you. If I need a fix, I’ll steal a kiss.”  He turned and walked toward the street.
Gwen closed the door and slumped against it.  She touched her fingertips to her lips and smiled.  She hadn’t asked for a gift for Christmas, but Santa had come early.  She had a party to dress for, and now, a real reason to celebrate.



Although I didn't submit anything to BWL suitable for Christmas, you can look for The Pendant coming near Valentine's Day.  meanwhile, you can take advantage of the BOGO sale and stock up for the holiday.  Buy One Get One Free.

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