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Authors: Jenn Faulk

Christmas surprises

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Christmas Surprises

 

 

Jenn Faulk

 

Copyright © 2015 Jenn Faulk

All rights reserved.

ISBN:

ISBN-13:

 

 

Other Jenn faulk books

 

 

Resolutions

 

Different Stars

 

Just Breathe

 

Best Day Ever

 

Even Still

 

Ready or Not

 

A Little Faith

 

Promises Kept

 

Beyond the Game

 

Just Friends

 

A New Tune

 

Pure Fiction

 

Home to You

 

Something Better

 

From Here on Out

 

Anywhere

 

Happily Ever After

 

Perfectly Pretend

 

Take Heart

 

So Like Us

 

 

CONTENTS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

1

 

Chapter Two

50

 

Chapter Three

76

 

Chapter Four

109

 

Chapter Five

145

 

Chapter Six

154

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For news on new books and giveaways, connect with Jenn at…

 

 

Blog - www.jennfaulk.com

 

 

Facebook – Jenn Faulk Books

 

 

Twitter - @JennFaulk

 

 

Instagram - jennfaulk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER one

 

 

Rachel

 

 

It was going to be the best Christmas ever.

 

That was saying a lot because Rachel Johnson had experienced some wonderful Christmas holidays over the years.  Back when she'd been Rachel Finn, the daughter of college professors who took every school break as an invitation to educate their own children as diligently as they educated hundreds of undergraduates, Christmas had included trips to historical sites in the US, geographical wonders, and, yes, that one Christmas where they'd taken her and her brother, Grant, to New York City, where they visited one museum after another.  Rachel, all braces and long, gangly limbs as a teenager, hadn't been nearly as taken with the educational side of the trip as she had been with the lights of the big city, the holiday decorations, and the fancy dinners, keeping them out late every night, as she counted herself so lucky to be in the most exciting place in the world for Christmas. 

 

That Christmas had ranked at the top of her list... until she'd met Micah.

 

And then?  Well, Micah and every Christmas spent with him, no matter where they were, pretty much trumped every childhood Christmas she'd experienced.  (Sorry not sorry, Mom and Dad.)

 

They had been newlyweds their first Christmas together.  They'd been living in the house she'd owned long before he came along, packing up boxes and getting it ready for the closing day, anticipating life in the huge house they were building out in the country, savoring every moment, every long night, and every sweet second together.

 

They'd had plans to spend Christmas Day with her parents and his mother both, right on the university campus where her father was now president, where her mother spent almost every night of the week entertaining very important academic people at the president's manor, right across from the library.  Grant and his girlfriend, Maddie, were planning on being there as well, where they'd likely sit around and watch football most of the day, all while stuffing themselves full of whatever Grant was planning on cooking for them all.

 

Oh, the very thought of all that food had made Rachel queasy during that first married Christmas.  She'd hidden her new, ever-present nausea from Micah, knowing just exactly what it meant, given her nursing career and given the way she'd meticulously charted everything from the minute they'd gotten married.  Being queasy like that meant good news, she knew, which had been affirmed with a home pregnancy test and celebrated with a solo shopping trip to the baby gear superstore, where she had picked up a gift for her husband.

 

Christmas Day belonged to their parents, but Christmas Eve had been all theirs.  She'd decided to wait until that evening to give him the gift, to let him in on the secret, and to spend the rest of the night dreaming of all that was ahead of them.

 

But she was horrible with waiting.  Absolutely horrible. 

 

So, Christmas Eve had begun at 6am.  Technically, that was so totally Christmas Eve, right?  Micah, in his exuberance over having cancelled all of his appointments at his dental practice for the holiday, had intentionally not set an alarm for the morning, but Rachel hadn't needed any help waking up, anticipating the most exciting day of her life thus far, surely.

 

The most exciting day of Micah's life, too.

 

He'd still been snoring when she'd climbed out of bed and scurried past the packing boxes and into the living room, where she'd snatched up the present with his name on it and rushed back into their bedroom.

 

She'd been amazed to find that he was still asleep, that he couldn't subconsciously gather that this was the biggest moment of his life.  No problem, though, as it had given her a reason to climb up on top of him, sit on his thighs, and begin poking him in the chest.

 

"Micah," she'd said.  "Micah.  Micah.  Micah."

 

Just as she'd begun to consider tickling him to wake him up (or just smacking him on the side of the head with the gift box), he'd blinked his eyes slowly, peering at her with an obvious question on his lips... just before it disappeared, lost in the smile he gave her.

 

Wow.  That smile.

 

"Never gets old," he'd murmured, reaching up to pull her face down to his.  "Waking up and seeing you.  It never gets old..."

 

It never did for her, either.  All those years of waiting for a happy love story to happen in her life, all those years she'd spent alone, all those years that he'd been making his way to her... well, it all made perfect sense every day that she woke up to him, to being kissed like this, to knowing that it had been worth every single second of singleness --

 

"Hands to yourself for a second, mister," she'd chided as his hands had started unlacing the string on her pajama pants.  She'd plopped the gift onto his chest.  "Merry Christmas!"

 

"It's not Christmas yet," he'd said, glancing over at the clock.  "It's barely even Christmas Eve, Rachel.  This was our only day to sleep in, since Grant said we had to be over there at --"

 

"I know," she'd murmured, leaning over to kiss him again, if only to shut him up for a second.  Not that she didn't love hearing him talk, but wow, she'd needed him to open the gift.  "Open the gift."

 

He'd just grinned and shaken his head.  "You first," he'd said, his hands on her hips for just a moment before he'd let go and leaned over to his bedside table, opening up the drawer and pulling out a package of his own.

 

"What's that?," she'd gasped.

 

"Your gift," he'd answered.  "Knew you'd snoop, so I had to hide it."

 

She would have snooped under normal circumstances, but she'd been so consumed about the details of his gift that she hadn't even looked for a gift with her name on it.

 

"Micah, I wouldn't have snooped," she'd lied.

 

"Sure," he'd laughed.  "But this way I know for sure that you're going to be surprised."

 

She'd grinned down at him before ripping into the paper, even as he'd put his hands back to her hips, drawing her closer to him, doing his best to distract her from --

 

"Tickets?," she'd asked, looking at the papers in the box he'd wrapped up for her, papers with a fancy airline logo across the top.  "Are these tickets?"

 

"Yeah," he'd said.  "Check out the destination."

 

"Rio de Janeiro," Rachel had read, her heart speeding up.  "Lima.  Buenos Aires.  Oh, Micah, are we --"

 

"We are," he'd laughed out loud, sitting up to kiss her face to face, sliding his hands up under her shirt.  "Going to see the world with you, Rachel.  Europe last summer, South America this summer."

 

Summer.  Rachel had done the math in her head and had felt her heart sink.  "Oh, wow," she'd murmured.

 

"We'll take off for three weeks in August," he'd murmured against her neck, leaving kisses there, his hands roaming and his body moving closer to hers.  "We're only stopping in the city for a few days.  Then, we're going to see the Amazon.  Go backpacking.  Remote, off the grid.  Me and you.  All alone out there."

 

Except not.  Rachel had known the truth of it even as Micah's mind was already heading that way, given how he began to attempt to take off her shirt --

 

"I hope you got travel insurance," she'd sighed.

 

And he'd dropped his hands, backing away just a little, an uncertain smile on his face.  "You don't want to be alone with me?," he'd asked.

 

"No, that's not it," she'd said.  "It's just that... well, we're not going to be alone in August."

 

He'd opened his mouth to ask for clarification, but she'd offered none, handing him his gift instead.

 

"What do you mean --"

 

"Just open the gift," she'd said softly.

 

And he had, concern in his eyes as he'd torn apart the paper, the gift there between them, her helping him to open the box, then staring right back at him as he saw the little tiny T-shirt that saidDaddy Loves Me.

 

"What?," he'd asked, breathlessness in the question.

 

"It just happened," she'd said, knowing full well that it hadn'tjust happened, as she'd charted it, as she'd counted the days, as she'd known when it was time and had come to bed that night wearing the action shorts.  (Seriously, there was always action when she wore those tiny little shorts to bed because Micah, bless his heart, was predictable like that, and she'd used that knowledge to her advantage.)

 

So, honestly, it hadn'tjust happened. 

 

Still, though.  Given the shock on his face, she'd begun worrying that this wasn't welcome news, even though he'd said, from their wedding night on, that he'd celebrate pregnancy just as soon as God granted it to them.

 

But her worries had ceased when Micah - strong, confident, solid Micah - had looked at her with tears in his eyes and had whispered, "Thank you.  Rachel, thank you."

 

"You're welcome," she'd managed, as though she'd done it all by herself. 

 

Which she hadn't, clearly, the memories of it all still so vivid in her mind that morning as he'd put his hands back to her hips, picked her up so gently, and laid her down there next to him, moving over her and leaving her to think that now -- yes, now -- they were really going to celebrate --

 

But no.  Micah had begun crying.  In that wonderfully masculine, completely consumed way of his, reminding Rachel of all that he'd ever said about how he'd counted himself out when it came to things like marriage, like having a family of his own, like being happy, as he'd leaned over and spoken, not to her, but to someone else....

 

"Daddy does love you," he'd murmured, leaning down to kiss her right where he'd untied her pajama pants.  "So, so much.  And forever."

 

Before Rachel had been able to formulate a response to this, her own tears gathering in her eyes, he'd smiled up at her.  "I'll have to be careful with you now." 

 

"Not too careful," she'd insisted, pulling him down on top of her, marveling over how great Christmas was already.

 

The next Christmas had been even sweeter.  In the months preceding it, the morning sickness had run its course, the doctor had found two heartbeats instead of one, they'd done a big reveal party with pink everywhere, and their travel insurance paid up so much that it covered the last minute expenses they incurred when Rachel went on bed rest.  By Christmas, Mia and Zoe had arrived, of course, but neither one of them was sleeping through the night. 

 

No loss there, as the Christmas memory that year was of Micah slowly pacing the nursery with one sleeping pink bundle in his arms, while Rachel sat in the corner of the room holding the second, neither of them daring to speak, only mouthing words back and forth to one another.

 

Merry Christmas, his lips had offered her, along with a satisfied smile.

 

Such a sweet, peaceful Christmas.

 

Then, there were completely chaotic Christmas celebrations, full of life and sound and movement and so much joy.  The girls were walking, the girls were talking, the girls were old enough to understand that the colorful boxes held toys, the girls would wake them up at 2am on Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought, and the girls were so big, so impossibly grown up, with Micah's brown eyes and Rachel's smile, talking their twin language and giggling at everything and nothing at all, just exactly like girls their age were already starting to do.

 

Kindergarten.  They were in kindergarten now.  Rachel couldn't fathom how that had happened, how the years of being at home full time with the twins had sprinted by so quickly.  She and Micah hadn't ever seriously discussed having another baby in all that time because two at once always felt like enough, and now that they were older, the thought of starting all over again was just exhausting.

 

Rachel had lost herself a little in having children.  Okay, so she'd lost a lot of herself in having children.  The minute they were in school, she'd felt the loss of purpose once the house was quiet and still.  After just a short while of that phantom, unsettling peace, she'd declared that it was time for her to get back to being her, and the best way she could figure to do that would be going back to work.

 

Micah had been supportive.  The doctor's office where she'd spent most of her career before children had told her they would have a spot for her after the new year.  She'd been able to take the time at home that first semester of the girls' kindergarten year to take some refresher courses, to sit for her licensure exam again, and to prepare herself to leave home.

 

Now it was only a week away... and she was having some doubts.

 

She enjoyed being at home.  She liked having a meal ready for Micah when he got home from work, doing all the laundry while the girls were in school, having the time to comparison shop at the grocery store, and spending the afternoons reorganizing all that she'd never had a spare moment to organize in the toddler years.  It was work, but it was good work.  At the end of the day, she went to bed ready to do it all again the next day, content...

 

Well, almost content.  If only there wasn't that voice in the back of her mind, questioning it all.

 

It wasn't enough to just be a mom, was it?  To just stay at home, to be a room mother and PTA president for the next thirteen years, to make her life all about her husband and their children, to never earn a single cent, and to be defined only by being a wife and a mother.

 

It wasn't enough, was it?

 

She wasn't sure.  But now wasn't the time to stress out over it.  Well, technically it was way past time, since the decision had been made and she'd be back at work in a week, but she pushed that thought aside, focusing instead on Christmas.

 

Because this Christmas?  This Christmas was going to be the best Christmas ever.

 

Why?  Well, some of the family would be coming in for Christmas Eve, and for the first time ever, she and Micah would have a full house for the holiday, just like they always said they would back when they'd built the house. 

 

Joy and Taylor, who practically lived with them anyway in the suite at the end of the house built especially with them in mind, would be coming over.  They did fine at their own apartment near the center for adults with Down's Syndrome, working their jobs that were in walking distance and living near enough to the church Micah and Joy had grown up in for people to check in on them.  But Micah and Rachel had plans that one day they'd be living here if their health became a concern, if they needed help, or if they just wanted to be with family.  They spent at least a couple of nights a week here already and planned on spending the week of Christmas with their nieces, who would no doubt spend the majority of their time playing board games with them and insisting that they read yet another book together.

 

Also on the guest list were Grant and Maddie, the former of whom was going to be doing the cooking, of course, on his one day off for the holiday.  He had plans to have the restaurant open on Christmas Day, having figured that the profits from that one high traffic day would be enough to pay off the very last mortgage payment, which was, admittedly, a huge deal.  Maddie had told Rachel that he was so intent on doing it so that they could finally afford to buy a house in the new year, which was becoming a more and more urgent need as the days went by, counting down to April, when the baby was due.

 

They were also expecting Jacob and Gracie, home for good from Argentina, where he'd spent the last five years working.  He was coming back to take a job with a new company closer to home, practically in Micah and Rachel's backyard.  With their three children and a fourth one on the way, they would likely liven up the holiday festivities, but Rachel was glad for that, so eager to welcome them back to the US and help them transition into this new place, where Micah, ever the gracious cousin, had offered to help Jacob out however he could.

 

Natalie, Micah's mother, would also be there.  As far as mothers-in-law went, Natalie was the best, always the calm, quiet voice of reason and never one to be critical, at least not of her daughter-in-law, who she took special care around, especially with all that Rachel had on her plate with Micah's schedule, the kids, the new house, Joy and Taylor always here, and --

 

Her phone buzzed at her just as she was making her way to the fridge, thinking through the preparations she had to do before the guests began showing up.

 

Barbara Finn.

 

Ahh.  Speaking of critical.

 

"Hey, Mom," Rachel sighed, stopping her preparations for her guests and preparing herself in another way instead. 

 

Yeah, there were daughters who had issues with their mothers, but Rachel hadn't ever been one of them.  She and Barbara had always had a good relationship, had honestly been friends, and were once able to share freely with each other, in a way that had naturally progressed from openness when Rachel was a teenager to real camaraderie as she'd become an adult.

 

And then, she had children and left her career, and... things were different with her mother.

 

No fault of Barbara's.  That's just who she was.  A bra-burning, vocal, angry feminist who was now entering her senior years... and wouldn't dream of going braless (seriously, menopause does things to your body), was no longer angry about much of anything (and why would she be, given how great her life was), but still a feminist at heart, at her very core.  She'd applauded Rachel's decision to give her all to the twins because it was Rachel's decision, and wasn't feminism about being free to do whatever you wanted to do because you were a woman whocoulddo whatever you wanted to?

 

Be a homemaker, baby.  Just do it because youcando it, Rachel.  Because women can have it all!  Be with your little ones while they're little and don't let the man or a raging feminist tell you that you should miss out on any of that!

 

Women empowered!  Empowered to give up their careers and be barefoot and pregnant and...

 

But, seriously, Rachel.  For the rest of your life?  A homemaker?  Enough is enough.  Once the girls are in school, enough is enough, surely, and you need to get back out there and be fabulous once again.

 

Barbara hadn't said that, of course, but Rachel had heard it in the relieved breath her mother had released when her daughter had announced that she was going back to work.

 

She also heard it in all the little, “innocuous” side comments Barbara made all the time.

 

Sigh.

 

"Hey," Barbara Finn answered back.  "Hope I'm not waking you up.  Stay at home moms get to sleep in, right?"

 

See?  Like that.

 

"If they do, I've really gotten the raw end of that deal, Mom," she said.  "I've been up getting things ready for hours.  There's no rest for the weary around here.  Especially not during the holidays."

 

"Get that husband of yours to help out a little more," Barbara chided.  "Women aren't made to carry the entire load of the housework by themselves.  You're in an equal partnership."

 

Well, she was in fine form this morning.

 

Yes, Barbara and Rachel were friends... the kind of friends who could offer unsolicited advice like this.  (One sided, though, as Rachel had never dared to suggest that her mother was wrong about some things.  Which she so totally was.)

 

"He carries the load, too, Mom," Rachel murmured, smiling to think of how Micah had gotten up before she had this morning to run a very special errand.  "He does a lot around here.  And he brings home the entire income, which is more than his load, quite honestly."

 

"He's not going to be the only one bringing home an income for much longer," Barbara answered.  "Can't wait to hear how it is back at the clinic for you."

 

Yes, her return to work was being lauded near and far by her parents.  It was good for a woman to have something outside of the home.  It was good for a woman to contribute to society in a meaningful way.

 

It was good for a woman to earn her "own" money, even if she was in an "equal partnership" with her husband.  (Barbara tended to talk out of both sides of her mouth about this, quite honestly.)

 

"One more week at home," Rachel said, not surprised that the mention of her diminishing time here made her just a little sad.  What would she miss out on?  Being the carpool mom, volunteering at the school, going to a ladies' Bible study on a weekday morning, having the afternoon free to meet up with some of the college girls from church and have coffee, invest herself in discipleship relationships because she had the time to do it all...

 

There was all of that, of course.

 

But Barbara didn't hear what her daughter didn't say. 

 

"And a busy week at that," she added, continuing on as Rachel thought about what was ahead.  "I want to help take some of the burden off of you and see if I can get the gifts earlier for you and get it all set up."

 

"I can handle it," Rachel said.  "Grant's got the food for tomorrow set up.  Said he'd try to get away to eat with us, but... well, we'll see.  But either way, he's having it delivered straight to your house."

 

"He needs to take a break," Barbara chided.

 

Get to work, Rachel.  Take a break, Grant. 

 

See?  Both sides of her mouth.

 

"That's what he's doing today," Rachel murmured, agreeing with her mother on the part about Grant needing to rest, at least.

 

"I tried to get in touch with him to see when he might come by, but I can't reach him.  Maddie either.  Do they ever answer their phones?"

 

Grant, no.  Maddie, yes.  But only now and again and only for sad, discouraged conversations where she never spoke ill of Grant or her marriage but exuded so much disappointment that Rachel could easily discern it.

 

No wonder at that, what with the schedule Grant kept.  Rachel doubted that he even got more than an hour with Maddie every day. 

 

Barbara didn't need to know this.  "She's working on the next book," she said, explaining it away.  "Spends most days at the library, working on that, so she probably keeps her phone silenced."

 

"I remember those days," Barbara sighed.  Yes, Barbara was published as well.  Her dissertation in women's studies had led to a book on feminism and its impact on traditional home values. 

 

Yeah.  She'd written the book on that.  Literally.

 

Rachel couldn't remember her mother's busy writing schedule or the promotion that followed because she'd been so young when it all happened.  But there had been plenty of talk about it all, was talk of it even now, all these years later, along with the still shocked murmurs from other women's studies experts who couldn't fathom why Barbara hadmarried,then taken her husband's last name, and then -- gasp! -- hadchildren, of all things.

 

Seriously, Barbara.  What were you thinking?

 

But even that had worked to her advantage later on.  Grant and Rachel were successful adults which made it to her credit all these years later.  Before Rachel had married and made the choice to stay at home, Barbara had regularly paraded her daughter around, telling people about her career, about how she was single, about how she was making her own way in the world and all.  (Yes, even as Rachel had been abysmally lonely, wishing for nothing more than a husband and a family.  She wouldn't dare say anything of the sort to Barbara, of course.) 

 

She had a good relationship with her mother.... kind of.

 

"I'm looking forward to seeing you," she said, thinking that her mother's concern was rooted in love and that no matter what she said or how it hurt, she did what she did because she honestly believed she was looking out for her children's best interest.

 

"Me, too, Rachel," Barbara answered.  "I was thinking --"

 

"Oh, hey, Mom," she said, looking at her phone.  "I have another call coming in."

 

"Take it," Barbara said.  "It could be work."

 

On Christmas Eve?  Before she even started working again?

 

"Probably," Rachel sighed, knowing that her mother needed to believe it, to think her daughter this important, to assure herself that this staying at home business was good and done.  "I'll see you tomorrow?"

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