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My Kind of Christmas

My Kind of Christmas by Robyn Carr
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"I think a little vacation in Virgin River is exactly what Angie needs," Sam Sheridan announced as he looked around the table at his family, all gathered at his home for Thanksgiving dinner. Angie gave her grandfather a grateful smile, relieved to finally have someone on her side. "She's been through quite an ordeal," Sam continued, "and I think medical school can wait while she figures things out. A little rest and relaxation—a chance to visit with the rest of the family—it will do her worlds of good."

"Well, I think if anyone knows what's good for Angie, it's me," Donna replied sternly, glaring daggers at her father. "A visit with Jack, Mel and Brie sounds all well and good, but I'm her mother, and I've supported her from the day she was born. A vacation should be the furthest thing from her mind right now. The accident—" She hesitated, glancing over at Angie. "Well, let's be honest, Angie—the accident has really…affected you. There's nothing that needs 'figuring out.' You need to get back on track academically as soon as possible. That's where your focus should be. That's where it was before."

Before. It seemed for Angie as though things would forever be divided into life before the accident and life afterward. While there wasn't much that she remembered from the car accident itself, there were certainly a few moments that stuck out in her mind. She remembered how close she came to dying that cold, drizzly March evening, lying in an emergency room covered with blood, and that it was her long-dead grandmother who was attempting to help her cross to the other side. She hadn't told anyone in her family about that little detail. Why bother? Some of them already thought she was half-crazy.

On the day of the accident, Angie had been the passenger in a car with her friend. A car on the opposing interstate lane had lost control, crossed the median and hit two oncoming cars—including the one Angie had been traveling in. The crash could've been caused by a flat tire or from the driver's attempt to avoid another car, but there was no clear villain, no alcohol or drugs to blame. It was truly an accident.

The driver of the other car had been killed, everyone else injured, Angie the worst. She'd suffered a couple of serious fractures for which surgery had been required. She also lost her spleen, had a collapsed lung and a titanium rod had been placed in her left femur. But the big issue had been the head injury—there had been an impressive laceration on the back of her head and, while there was no open fracture, her brain began to swell and the neurosurgeon had needed to implant a shunt to drain the edema. After her surgery, Angie had been in a coma for three days and had to fight her way back to the world through a postanesthetic and pain-med haze. Friends, family and medical experts had wondered for weeks if this bright, driven young medical student would have any mental handicaps as a result. She did not.

However, as often happens, the experience changed Angie forever. And those changes were what had led to the current impasse between Angie and her mother, a university professor who wanted to see Angie back in med school as quickly as possible. Today, Angie was fully recovered from her accident and could have gone back to school in September, but she'd chosen not to.

"Well, maybe a brief break from school is within reason," her father, Bob, said to Donna cautiously, once the rest of the family was happily starting dessert and the three of them had offered to start the dishes in the kitchen. Angie rolled her eyes. She knew he'd remain on the fence to avoid an argument with her mother.

But Donna wasn't nearly so reserved with her opinion. "This is completely unacceptable, Angie," she said stiffly. "You've worked far too hard to reach this point in your studies, and we've contributed far too much for you to waste it all on a whim."

Angie was shocked and suddenly angry. Concern was one thing, but this? She was done having her parents, mostly her mother, decide things like this for her. "I might not want to continue medical school! I might want to make macrame flower pot holders for the rest of my life! Or grow herbs! Or hitchhike across Europe! I don't know what I want to do right now, but whatever it is, it's going to be up to me!"

"Don't be absurd," Donna announced in her typically dismissive way. "You're not yourself at all right now. It's obvious the accident has affected your personality more than you realize, Angie. Once you get back to school, you'll be yourself again."

Personality change? Angie didn't agree, except that she'd grown surprisingly stubborn. "Actually, I think I've finally found my personality. And you know what, Mom? I think it's remarkably like yours."

If the accident had any affect at all, it had been through a close-up view of how unpredictable and tenuous life could be. One minute you're buzzing along the freeway, singing along to the radio, the next you're looking down on yourself, watching as medical staff frantically work to save your life and you see your dead grandmother across a chasm of light.

Once she realized she had barely survived, every day dawned brighter, the air drawn into her lungs more precious, the beat of her heart lighter despite the colossal importance of what had happened. She was filled with a sense of gratitude and became contemplative, viewing the smallest detail of living with huge significance. Things she had previously taken for granted now took on a greater significance. There was no detail she was willing to miss: she stopped to have long conversations with grocery-store bag boys, corner flower peddlers, librarians, booksellers and school crossing guards. In short, life was different now for Angie, and she was enjoying every minute of it.

She'd also looked back at the life she'd lived so far and had some regrets—specifically about dedicating so much time to study that she had few friends. Many study partners, but only a few friends. She'd said no to far too many parties and dances for the sake of grades. For God's sake, she was already twenty-three and she'd had only two boyfriends! Both pretty inadequate, come to think of it. Was life all about books? Didn't well-rounded adults know how to play? While her few girlfriends were dating, traveling, exploring, getting engaged, what was Angie doing? Making Mama proud.

She was going to fix that if she could. "Mom, I love you, but I've made my decision. Medical school can wait. I'm going to Virgin River."

Angela LaCroix pulled up to Jack's Bar on the day after Thanksgiving and parked right next to her aunt Brie's car. She gave a double toot of her horn before she jumped out and dashed up the steps and into the bar. There they were, waiting for her—Jack, Mel and Brie. Angie's smile was so big she thought her face might crack.

"You made it," Jack said. He rushed around the bar and picked her up in his embrace. Then he put her on her feet and said, "I thought you might be bound, gagged and held prisoner in Sacramento."

"It didn't get physical," she said with a laugh. "However, Mom isn't speaking to any of you."

"That's a relief," Jack said. "Then she won't be calling five times a day."

"Come here, kitten," Brie said, edging Jack out of the way to hug Angie. Then Mel jumped off her stool and joined the hug. "It's so good to have you here," Brie said. "Your mom will come around."

"Fat chance," Jack said. "I don't know anyone who can hold a grudge longer than Donna."

"I hope I didn't cause a rift in the whole family," Angie said.

Jack walked back around behind the bar. "Sheri-dans," he grumbled. "We hang together pretty well in tough times, but we've been known to have a lot of differences of opinion. Bottom line is, you're welcome here anytime. You always have a place at my house."

"And mine," Brie said.

Angie chewed her lower lip for a moment. "Okay, here's the thing. I appreciate it, I do, and I plan to spend a lot of time with you, but I was wondering, hoping, that you wouldn't mind letting me use that little cabin in the woods." She took a breath. "I need some space. Honest to God."

Silence hung in the air. "Is that a fact?" Jack finally said.

Angie took a stool and her two aunts automatically framed her on their own stools. "That is a fact. Space…and I wouldn't mind a beer. And maybe some takeout. It was a long drive."

Jack served up a beer, very slowly. "There's no TV out there," he said.

"Good. But there's an internet connection, right?"

"It's slow, Ange," Mel pointed out. "Not as slow as dial-up was, but it's finicky. The internet connection in our guesthouse is much—"

"I think it's an outstanding idea," Brie said, smiling at Angie. "Try it out. If it gets a little too quiet, I have a guest room and Mel has the guesthouse."

"Thanks, Brie."

"Hey, when you're running away from home, you should at least have your choice of accommodations," Brie added.

"I'm not really running away…. Well, okay, I guess that is what I'm doing. Thanks, you guys. Seriously, thanks."

Mel laughed. "It's not exactly an original idea. Brie and I both landed here because we were running away from stuff. I'm going to go get Preacher and Paige. They've been so anxious to see you. And I'll call your folks to tell them you made it here safely."

"You had no trouble driving?" Jack asked.

"I like driving, but my dad insisted we swap cars. I have his SUV and he has my little Honda," she said. "But I wasn't nervous. Maybe because I don't remember the accident."

But Angie didn't want to dwell on what had happened. She was here to relax, to escape, to move forward with her life. Changing the subject, she asked, "And did everyone have a great Thanksgiving?"

"I might never eat again," Brie said. "How about you?"

"We were all at Grandpa's and it was good, except for a little melodrama about me leaving for a month. Between the aunts, uncles and cousins there seems to be quite a diversity of opinion on how I should live my life."

"I imagine. And what did Sam say?" Brie asked of her father.

"Grandpa thought it was an excellent idea to come up here for a little while and he reminded us all that you did that yourself, Brie."

"And you know what? He was very supportive and encouraging at the time, even though he was at least as worried about me as your parents are about you. He had guessed I was in love. Your grandpa is a pretty modern, savvy guy."

"Yes," Angie said quietly. She was close to Sam Sheridan and had often wished, over the past nine months, that she could tell him she had seen Grandma and that she had looked wonderful. But she wasn't sure she hadn't been dreaming or hallucinating, and second, Grandma had been gone such a long time. She didn't want to stir up grief in her grandpa.

Preacher came out of the kitchen with a look of stun and awe on his face as he pulled off his apron and tossed it over the bar before grabbing Angie up in his big arms, spinning her right off her stool. "Aw, girl, girl, girl," he said, hugging her tight. Then he held her away and looked her over. "You are beautiful!" And then he had to let go of her to wipe his eyes.

"Preach," she said, laughing.

Paige slipped around her husband, giving Angie a warm hug. "I'm so glad you're here," she said softly.

"Your big scary husband is crying."

"I know," she said. "He's such a softie. He's the last person you want to meet in a dark alley, but he's so tenderhearted. He cries at Disney movies and Hallmark commercials."

"Yesterday I cried over football," he said. "It was pathetic all day. I'm just so damn glad to see you, Ange. Your uncle Jack was a mess while you were in the hospital, he was so worried."

"And as you can see, all is well," she said.

"Mel says you want a takeout. I'll make you anything you want—you just tell me what."

"I'll have whatever's on the menu and a bottle of wine. Do you have any sauvignon blanc?"

"Are you sure you're allowed alcohol?" Jack asked.

"Yes," she said with a laugh, holding up her glass. "Hence the beer I'm drinking. I promise not to get wasted. But, gee, some of Preacher's dinner, a glass of wine, a fire, a book, peace and quiet… Oh, Jack, there are logs out there, right?"

"You're all set," he said. "Do you know how to light the fire?"

She rolled her eyes. "Preacher, do you suppose I could do a little graze through your kitchen? Grab some staples—a few eggs, some milk, bread, that sort of thing? In case I wake up starving?"

"Absolutely," he said.

Although it was soft and low, Angie heard someone clear his throat. There, at the end of the bar in the corner was a lone man in an army-green, down-padded jacket. He had dark hair, an empty beer glass and some money in his hand.

Jack turned to him, took his money and said, "Thanks, bud. See you around."

"Have a nice reunion," the man said, moving to leave.

He was so tall—that was what Angie noticed first. As tall as her uncle Jack. And his dark hair had some red in it. Dark auburn. She'd never seen that combination before, unless it was on a woman and had come out of a bottle. Usually red shades were found in blond or light brown hair. The stubble on his cheeks had a tinge of red, too.

As he walked toward the door, their eyes met and Angie felt her cheeks grow warm—he'd caught her staring. He had the greenest eyes she'd ever seen. They had to be contacts. He gave her a half smile and then he turned and was gone.

"Wow," she said. "Whew. Who's the hottie?"

Brie laughed and said, "I think our girl is fully recovered."

Jack let go a little growl. "He's not the one for you," he said.

Angie looked around at all the smiling faces—Brie, Paige, Preacher…. "Gee, did I ask if he was right for me?"

Preacher chortled loudly, another thing the big cook seldom did. "Patrick Riordan," he told her. "He's here sitting out a little leave. He's Navy. I think he got hurt or something."

"Nah, he didn't get hurt," Jack clarified. "Luke said there was an accident during his last deployment and he decided to take a little leave or something. Rior-dans, good people, but that one's got troubles right now. You might want to give him a wide berth. I don't know all the details, but it sounds like combat issues. ."

"Yeah, we wouldn't want to get mixed up with anyone with combat issues,''" Preacher joked. And Jack glared at him. Preacher put a big hand on An-gie's shoulder and said, "He's been kind of quiet and grumpy while he's been in town. If you got to know him a little, you know what? I bet he wouldn't cheer you up that much."

That made Angie laugh. "Well, how about that—we both had accidents. Now, what's for dinner, Preach?"

"Big surprise, turkey soup. It'll keep you very healthy. I boiled two carcasses all day. Homemade noodles—the best. Even though it's not raining, I baked bread."

Her mouth began to water. "I'm in."

MIRA; November 2012
400 pages; ISBN 9781459244375
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: My Kind of Christmas
Author: Robyn Carr
 
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ISBNs
9780778313854
9781459244375