Here we are on the final chapter of our Christmas story! That means we are almost to Christmas! So exciting. Let me know in the comments what you thought of the story.
The story was shared with minimal editing, just for fun, but it will be fully edited once it is complete.
You can catch up on chapters HERE.
If you would like to read more about the characters in this story, you can find full-length novels on Amazon for purchase or on Kindle Unlimited HERE,
The first three chapters of the first book, The Farmer’s Daughter, can be found HERE.
Once all the chapters have been shared here, I’ll be providing a free Book Funnel link to blog readers and placing the story on Amazon for 99 cents.
The house smelled of frying bacon, brewing coffee, pancakes, and if he wasn’t mistaken, grits, something his family ate only on special occasions. It was a dish passed down my his mother’s Southern relatives.
Robert had talked Molly and Ellie into keeping Annie in the kitchen while he and Jason worked on installing the swing.
Hannah had brought Franny over and Walt and Marcia were on their way. Leon and Eleanor were driving from town.
A surge of energy rushed through Robert as they put the final touches on the swing. He stepped back when they were done and took a deep breath. Morning sunlight glistened off the silver of the new chain and the white surface of the swing seat.
Jason hung an arm loosely on his shoulder. “She’s going to love it, Dad. You did a beautiful job. Shall we go get some breakfast before we bring her out?”
Robert nodded. “Definitely. We need to get your grandmas here first. They’ll see it on the way in, so grab them if you can and tell them it’s a secret.”
“Will do.” Jason opened the front door. “But let’s see if we can help the women get the food done faster so we can eat.”
Neither of them was much help as they both picked at pieces of bacon but finally the table was set and everyone had arrived to gather for breakfast around the dining room table, which Robert had extended to fit them all.
Robert asked them all to take each other’s hands and they bowed their heads and thanked God for their time together, for his son, and Robert especially thanked God that he was still alive to be with his family.
“Amen,” Franny echoed as he finished the prayer. “That goes for me too.”
Everyone laughed and began to eat.
Nervous energy buzzed through Robert as breakfast began to wind down.
He took a deep breath. “Everyone, can I have your attention? I need to ask Annie to come outside with me for a few moments before we begin opening gifts.”
Walt chuckled. “Rob, can’t you wait to make out with your wife until later?”
Robert shook his head, a faint smile playing across his lips as he stood from the table and held his hand out to Annie. “No, sorry. I can’t.”
Annie gasped and playfully slapped his hand. “Robert Tanner! You stop. Now what’s going on?”
Robert gestured for the rest of the family to go out ahead of him and once they were on the porch and in the yard, he walked Annie onto the porch, hoping she wouldn’t peak through the front window. The gasp that slipped from her when she stepped through the door and saw the swing sent relief flooding through him.
“Oh my goodness! Is that our swing?” She placed a hand over her mouth, tears filling her eyes. Everyone in the family cheered and held up their phones to record the moment, something Robert still wasn’t used to. When she was able to speak again, her voice cracked with emotion. “This is beautiful. Did you do all of this?”
Robert gestured into the yard. “I refurbished it, but Brad helped get the parts, Jason helped with the painting and hanging it up and the rest of the family helped keep the secret when they saw it on their way in.”
Annie wiped tears away as she wrapped her arms around Robert’s neck and kissed him.
“Should Jase and I grab your gift, Annie?” Alex asked from where he was standing next to Molly on the porch.
Robert pulled back from the embrace, confusion etched on his face. “What’s all this?”
Annie smiled. “You weren’t the only one keeping a secret.”
Jason and Alex lifted a dark stained bench down from the back of Jason’s truck a few minutes later and carried it to the porch, placing it on the side opposite the swing.
Robert’s chest tightened as Annie’s hand slid down to his. She laughed. “Looks like we both had ideas for somewhere we can sit on the porch. When we get tired of swinging, we can sit on the bench.”
Robert walked to the bench, fingering the back of it. His throat thickened with emotion. “Is that –” His voice caught. “One of the pews that Dad made?”
Annie nodded. “Yes. Walt helped me refurbish it.”
A tear slipped down Robert’s cheek. “Thank you, honey.” He looked at his brother, while pulling Annie against him. “Thank you, Walt. This is beautiful.”
He sat down on the bench and took a deep breath, looking out at his family bundled up in winter coats, smiling back at him. Gratitude consumed him.
After a few moments of watching them laugh and joke with each other he stood again. “If everyone wants to wait out here just a few more moments, I think Alex has a special gift he’d like to show Molly.”
The family all turned to Alex expectedly and Robert tried not to chuckle as pink flushed across the young man’s cheeks. It was clear what the family expected the gift to be, and Robert had a feeling they might be disappointed, but also delighted at what it really was.
“Take it away, Alex,” he said. “It’s your turn.”
“Close your eyes!”
Alex listened to Jason’s playful admonishment as he walked to Ned’s truck, parked behind the barn. When he pulled the truck up in front of the house Jason had both of his hands over Molly’s eyes while they both laughed.
“Keep your eyes closed,” Jason taunted through a laugh.
“Okay, you can uncover them,” Alex said as he exited the truck and slammed the door behind him.
“Now?” Jason grinned while Molly tried to pull his hands away. “Are you sure?”
Molly clawed at Jason’s hands for a moment, then licked her palm and reached up to drag it across his cheek.
Jason removed his hands, jumping back, and rubbed at his cheek. “Ah man! You’re gross! What’s wrong with you?”
Molly’s laughter faded as her gaze fell on the truck. Her eyes moved slowly, taking it all in and then she drew in a ragged breath. Alex’s chest tightened when her expression crumpled, and the tears began to flow. He’d known she’d be emotional but had no idea the emotion would sweep over her so completely.
A collective “aw” went up from the women in the family. Alex hesitated then stepped closer cautiously. “Are you – is it, okay?”
She clutched at his shoulders and leaned into him, sobbing against his shirt. “Oh Alex, it’s beautiful. I can’t believe you did this.”
He slid his arms around her, choked up himself now. “Bert and I did. Jason helped too. And Brad drove three hours to get us the last part we needed.”
Looking on the porch and in the yard, he saw tears in the eyes of most of Molly’s family members, especially Franny and Robert. Bert gave him a thumbs up sign and Jason pointed a finger gun at him and pretended to fire.
“Do we seriously have to go back in the house and try to follow these show offs?” Walt asked loudly, bringing a round of laughter from the group. “I don’t think anything will top these gifts.”
As if on cue, the sound of sleighbells filled the air, and everyone turned toward the road. Alex shook his head and laughed as he watched Matt leading a horse-drawn sleigh across the freshly fallen snow, Liz sitting next to him in the seat.
The tension that had built up in Alex’s muscles released as he kept an arm around Molly while they watched the sleigh stop in front of the house. Sunlight glistened off the red paint and the silver of the runners on the bottom.
Matt pulled the reigns back quickly as the sleigh slowed. “Whoa!”
He grinned as he looked out at the crowd gathered in front of the house. “Hello, Tanners. I didn’t know we’d have a welcoming committee.” He winked at Alex. “Looks like you weren’t the only one with a big Christmas surprise.”
He stepped out of the sleigh and held a hand out to help Liz step down. Her dark hair had spread across her shoulders, flowing from a blue knitted cap.
Alex looked at the sleigh in awe. He ran his hand over the smooth curve of wood along the back of it. “This is the one your dad started, right?”
Matt looked at the sleigh proudly. “Yep. This is it. I finally decided to finish it, like Dad would have wanted.” He slid an arm around Liz’s shoulder. “Liz was very surprised when I told her we were going for a ride in something special.”
Alex watched as Matt quickly stepped away from Liz, turned toward her, and dropped to one knee, pulling a small box from his coat pocket. “I think this might surprise her even more, though.”
Liz and Molly gasped at the same time.
The next few minutes were a blur of activity. Liz crying and saying, ‘yes’, hugging Matt, them kissing, Molly hugging Liz, Annie hugging Liz, Robert shaking Matt’s hand, Alex shaking Matt’s hand, Jason shaking Matt’s hand . . .Around they went.
After a few moments of congratulations, Matt said he should get the horses out of the cold and Robert offered the barn and invited him and Liz inside. The rest of the family turned to go back in the house, Liz talking to Ellie, showing her the ring.
Alex realized he had almost been holding his breath in all the excitement.
Molly leaned close to him as Matt began to unhook the horses. “I have to tell you, I was afraid you were going to do something like that today. I would have been so embarrassed.” She laughed softly, whispering. “Plus, proposals on Christmas day are so cliché, right? I’m thrilled for Liz, though.”
He hooked an arm around her waist. “Then I’m glad I didn’t have that in my bag of surprises today.” He kissed the top of her head. “Hey, I’m going to help Matt with the horses. I need to find out where he got them.”
She smiled. “See you inside then. I want to go get a look at that ring.”
Alex reached in his coat pocket for the gloves he’d been trying to wear more regularly now, knowing he’d need them to help Matt. When he yanked one out of his right pocket, a box tumbled out with it, clanking against the ice on the ground.
Panic surged through him, and he stooped quickly in case Molly turned around to see what the noise had been. While stooping, though, pain ripped through his lower back and left him down on one knee, cold seeping through his jeans. His foot slipped forward, kicking the box and sending it skittering across the ice, into Molly’s path.
It seemed like an eternity before she paused and looked at it, then bent and picked it up. She turned slowly. “Oh, Matt, I think you dropped your –”
Alex watched her gaze fall to him kneeling in front of her, color draining from her face. She took a step back, her lips parting slightly. “What are you – are you –?”
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Robert, Matt, and Jason stop what they were doing and turn to look at him. His heart raced and he couldn’t feel his hands.
“Oh, Alex. I – I – I didn’t mean – I shouldn’t have said what I said about –”
He held up his hands. “Wait. Let me explain. It’s my back. It’s locked up. That box just fell out of my pocket, and I tried to get it but accidentally kicked it with my foot and now I’m stuck down here and . . .”
He couldn’t read Molly’s expression for a moment, but he thought he saw a flicker of disappointment before a smile replaced her shock. She laughed and reached out her hands. “Oh. I see. Let me help you up.” He stood slowly with a grimace, and she handed him the box. “I jumped the gun there. I’m so embarrassed. Here’s your box.” Her cheeks flushed pink. “Whatever it is. Anyhow, I’m so embarrassed. Really.”
As she turned to walk back into the house, a brilliant blaze of memories flicked across his mind at warp speed, all the moments between them rushing at him in a visual cacophony.
He stopped her, grabbing her wrist. “Molly, wait.”
Looking in her beautiful green eyes, he suddenly wanted to see the ring on her finger. The ring Franny had given him earlier that day.
The ring Ned had placed on Franny’s finger all those years ago. The ring Franny had told Alex two weeks ago she’d held on to for him, in case he decided he wanted to propose to Molly someday.
It wasn’t that he felt pressured to propose. Suddenly he wanted to propose. More than anything he’d wanted before. He wanted this ring on her finger and to soon have her arm looped through his as they walked down the aisle into a future they would experience together.
The memory of a dream he’d had years ago came flooding into his mind – a dream where he and Molly were outside Franny’s farmhouse, with children playing in the front yard on a swing set, and a baby on Molly’s hip.
He tried to speak but no sound came.
“Alex?” Molly reached up and touched his cheek. “Are you okay?”
“I don’t know if I’m ready,” he blurted. “I don’t know if you’re ready, but I know I love you and that I can’t see spending the rest of my life with anyone else. Honestly, this scares me out of my mind.” He shook his head and laughed, tears pricking his eyes as he opened the box with shaky hands. “This isn’t a very good proposal, I know, but it’s all I’ve got.”
Molly laughed through the tears, holding out her hand and letting him slip on the ring. “I’ll take what you’ve got, Alex Stone. Any day and any season.”
The creek of the swing and the tap of his foot on the porch floor broke the silence of the night. Robert and Annie’s breath sparkled in front of them, intermingled and dissipated again. In front of them, in the yard, snowflakes dotted the air, falling on snow that had already fallen in the days before.
He took a sip from the mug of cocoa in his hand and pulled his wife against him.
“The day worked out okay, didn’t it?”
She nodded and yawned. “It did.”
“Alex is going to be an official member of the family soon, it looks like.”
“Life is good Annie Tanner.”
“Life is good Robert Tanner.”
He clinked his mug against the one in her mitten-covered hands. “Here is to a new season of life. May it bring us much joy as this one has.”