Welcome to a Christmas short story with the characters from Spencer Valley. I thought it might be fun to revisit Robert and Annie, Molly, Alex, Jason, Ellie and others around Christmas time and share the story here on the blog for 12 days leading up to Christmas. I’ll share a new chapter each day for 12 days. I hope it will be a fun walk through the winter in Spencer for all of us.
Without further ado . . .
Cold bit at Robert Tanner’s skin, stung his lungs and made him wish he could stay inside under a blanket with a warm cup of coffee. Instead, pulled his winter cap down further on his head and stepped out into the cold.
Between the house and the barn, snow swirled wildly, darkening the sky, and making it feel like dusk instead of late afternoon.
Inside the barn it was warm, and he was grateful for it, even if his arrival did mean he’d have to start cleaning out the cow’s sleeping area and preparing the second milking of the day.
Truthfully, his mind was far away from the tasks of the day, consumed with a gift he hoped to have completed for his wife of 32 years by Christmas.
He couldn’t even believe it had been 32 years.
It felt like it had only been a day ago when they’d held hands in front of the minister and all of their friends and family in a small country church. Her soft brown hair had been shaped into curls and hung down, framing her delicate features. Looking at her he had felt as if his heart would explode out of his chest.
He’d felt the same way a year and a half ago when he woke up from a coma and saw her looking down at him, tears in her eyes as she smiled.
The barn door opened as he reached for a pitchfork, a cold wind blowing in with his son Jason.
Jason tossed a wrench into the toolbox on the far wall and started pulling his gloves off. “I think I fixed the tractor. Again. For now. Whichever.”
“Just in time since it looks like the weather app might be right this time. Carburetor again?”
“No. Oil line was plugged. How much do you think we’ll get?”
“Who knows. Probably only a couple of inches. Too early for a big one”
Jason leaned back against a stall and reached for the tumbler of coffee he’d brought with him to the barn this morning. “I got that lumber and unloaded it into the shed in the lower field like you asked.”
Robert tipped his head in a quick nod as he began cleaning out a stall. “Thank you. I appreciate it.”
“Should I even ask what it’s for?”
Robert smiled and winked at his son. “Not unless you want me to add more work to your list.”
Jason sipped the coffee and smiled. “Nah, I’ve got enough to do. I’m going to start prepping the cows.”
Robert nodded and continued to work. He wasn’t ready to tell anyone about his plans yet. If he did, they’d probably offer to do it for him, worried he’d overdo, which was something they needed to stop worrying about.
While he still limped from the broken leg that hadn’t healed correctly, he’d almost fully recovered from the stroke he’d suffered during surgery on his cracked pelvis. He understood and appreciated their concern. His family had been so used to protecting him for the last sixteen months, they didn’t know how not to.
He understood that, but this was a project he wanted to do on his own – something he hoped would show Annie how important she was to him.
Snow fell fast, peppering the ground around Alex Stone, landing on his clothes and even his eyelashes.
Out in front of him the snow had begun piling up in an empty field across the road from the house, creating a smooth surface the sun would reflect off in the morning when the snow finally stopped.
He pulled the collar of his coat up around his neck and stepped off the front porch, toward his truck, almost completely obscured by the snow now. Pulling his signature cowboy hat down low across his forehead he kept his mind on who was waiting for him inside the cab instead of on the cold slivers of ice scratching against his cheek and bare hands.
“Ever hear of gloves?”
Her teasing voice brought a smile to his face as he climbed inside and closed the door against the wind.
“Sure have. They’re the things delicate women wear on their hands in cold weather, right?”
He grinned and leaned over for a kiss, glad they were alone without the prying eyes of Molly’s older brother, and his best friend, Jason.
Sliding across the truck seat he pulled her against him to deepen the kiss, jumping back a second later as a pounding on the driver’s side window startled him. He cleared the steam with the side of his hand, matching the glaring eyes of Jason with a glare of his own.
Jason pointed two fingers at him through the window. “Take your hands off my sister, Stone!”
Alex stuck his tongue out while Jason grinned and then walked away.
Molly and Alex had been dating a year and a half now and though Jason seemed to have adapted to the fact for the most part, he still occasionally threatened Alex with bodily harm for showing affection toward Molly.
Alex knew Jason worried that he would somehow corrupt sweet Molly, but Jason should know by now that it was Molly who was influencing Alex.
Molly looked out through the windshield as he turned on the wipers. “I hope this snow lets up before I need to head back to town. Liz and I are watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving tonight.”
“This is a four-wheel-drive.” Alex winked at her as he shifted the truck into gear. “I’ll get you there one way or another.”
For now, though, he only had to get her to her parents, half a mile down the road from Jason’s house where they’d just finished lunch with Jason and Jason’s wife Ellie.
They would finish the chores at the barn and then he’d drive her the six miles to town where she now lived with her best friend Liz and Liz’s daughter, Bella.
He’d drive her to make sure she got there safe, but also because her truck, which used to belong to her late grandfather, was in the shop. Her uncle Bert’s mechanic shop, to be exact. The truck, a 1976 Chevy, was one of the last physical connections to the man who had meant so much to her and passed away four years earlier.
While it was true that the engine on the truck had finally died, it was also true that Alex had purposely delayed the work on the truck for a personal reason that he hoped would pay in dividends at Christmas.
Next to him Molly scrolled through her phone. “I think I’ve found what I want to get Ellie for Christmas. This scarf is totally her. Don’t you think?”
He glanced at the screen of the phone briefly. “Uh. Yeah. Sure.”
He really had no idea if the scarf was Ellie or not, but it was better to talk about scarves than –
“So, are you going to go visit your mom at some point around Christmas? Or maybe your –”
Here they went again. “No. I’ve already planned to be here.”
“Of course, you’ll be here for Christmas day, but what about after Christmas? Or the weekend before?”
“There will be too much work to do before and after Christmas. I don’t think I’ll have the time.”
Out of the corner of his eye he could see Molly chewing on her bottom lip. It was what she did when she wanted to say more but also didn’t want to push the issue.
She reached over and squeezed his upper arm gently. “Well, maybe you can at least send your mom and dad a card. Anyhow, I called Uncle Bert earlier but couldn’t get an answer.”
He admired the way she’d resisted trying to find another way to convince him to see his parents and how she quickly changed the subject.
“Ah, he’s probably busy. I wouldn’t worry.”
The skin between her brow knitted. “I’m just wondering what the verdict on the truck is.”
“I’m sure he’ll let you know as soon as he can.” He pulled his truck next to the barn and shifted it into park, clearing his throat. “Listen, Mol, I know how important that truck is to you, but you should probably prepare yourself. It’s old. It may be time – I mean – it’s possible it won’t be able to be saved.”
He hoped the truck could be saved. He planned to do the best he could to make sure it could, but if it couldn’t, he had a backup plan.
Her shoulders fell for a brief moment. “I know. I’m trying to prepare myself for that.”
He reached over and took her hand in his. “I know how much the truck means to you. I’m sure Bert’s going to try his best to save it.”
She took a deep breath, eyes glistening. “I know and even if he can’t, I know it’s not all I have left of Grandpa. Not really. I have photos and my memories. No one can take that away from me.”
She gave him a shaky smile.
He squeezed her hand tighter then leaned over and kissed her cheek gently. “Have faith. She’s on the operating table and that’s the first step toward her healing.”
Molly laughed. “You know women don’t assign gender to their vehicles, right?”
He wrinkled his nose, eyes bright with laughter. “You don’t? Why not?”
“Because they’re inanimate objects, not people.” She shook her head and kissed him briefly. “Now, listen, I love sitting here with you, but your hands are cold. I can feel them through my gloves. If you want to hold hands with me outside during the winter you’re going to need to act more like a weak woman and wear some gloves.”
He grinned and touched the palm of his hand to her cheek. “Whatever makes you happy, my dear.”
She squealed and pushed his hand away before jumping out of the truck. “Alex!”
Inside the barn, Molly took over hooking up the milking machine from her Dad, while Alex headed toward the back of the barn to prepare the feed. Robert followed him.
“How’s your plan going?” Robert asked when they were alone in the feed room.
“Bert’s seeing what can be done now. How about yours?”
“Jason picked up the lumber today to replace the rotting boards.”
Alex rolled the wheelbarrow to the feeding station. “You think we can make it a few more weeks without them finding out?” Robert winked. “Of course, we can. I’m living proof that God still does miracles, young man.”