Thanksgiving is over… does that mean we can finally get excited about Christmas?! Oh, good, because I’m already there, and I’m already SUPER excited about revisiting my Christmas books! What a Christmas is one of my favorites, all about what happens when the family shows up unexpectedly for the holidays and chaos ensues. So much fun! And you can enjoy it for just 99 cents this weekend. What? 99 cents? Yes, ALL of my books are just 99 cents right now! Head on over to Amazon and check it out!
And here’s a little preview of What a Christmas…
“And a little pressure… relax…”
Amelia Miller released the breath she’d been holding, letting her eyes fall closed as she did so, choosing to use the moment as an opportunity to practice all the techniques she’d learned over the past eight months. Visualization as she continued on with the careful concentrated breathing rhythms, centering her thoughts on a happier time and place. They’d told her to pick just one – just one memory – and let that be her focal point.
But she couldn’t pick just one.
No, Amelia had a slideshow playing in her mind’s eye as she breathed out. Caleb on a beach in Thailand, shirtless and reclined in the shade, grinning over at her lazily as she read from a guide book and made notes for her clients. Caleb on a ski slope in Switzerland, pushing his googles up onto his head and laughing out loud as she slammed right into him, declaring that the last hill had been a little too challenging for them both. Caleb at home late at night, still in his scrubs and exhaustion in his eyes, pulling her into his arms and burying his face into her neck as she laid down on the couch with him. Caleb beside her in church, her hand in his, as the pastor preached from a passage about a man’s calling to lead his family to Christ, giving a gentle squeeze because they were trying to have a baby, attempting to make a family a reality.
No, she didn’t pick just one memory to focus on. She picked him.
This was Amelia’s reality now. Caleb’s chin on her shoulder, breathing with her as he slid his arms around her. Real labor wouldn’t be this enjoyable likely, given the contractions she’d be feeling, but it was hard to imagine it as anything but bliss with Caleb kissing her on the cheek even as the midwife finished up the exam.
“Dilation? Effacement?” Caleb asked, his arms still around Amelia but his mind clearly on the science of it all. Even his clinical approach to their child’s growth and development was a comfort, though, and one of the reasons why Amelia felt comfortable with the idea of a home birth. She was married to a doctor, after all.
It didn’t keep her from grinning up at him in the exam room, though, teasing in her voice. “What do you know about all of that, Dr. Miller? Not terms that come up in oncology, surely.”
He smiled down at her. “No, they don’t. But I’ve been praying that this little girl…” He put his hand to Amelia’s enormous baby bump, and Noelle, hearing his voice, moved. “… well, that she’ll be ready to come a little early.”
“Better if she doesn’t,” Amelia’s midwife said, pulling off her exam gloves. “Thirty-six weeks is full term, but the longer the baby stays put, the better off she’ll be in the long run.”
“I know,” Caleb murmured. “From a professional standpoint, I totally agree with you. But as a daddy…”
Oh, Amelia’s heart thrilled just a little to hear him call himself that, just like it had thrilled her when they were newlyweds to hear him introduce her as his wife, to introduce himself as her husband. She’d made a point of using those words as often as she could back then and knew she’d use a new set of words with the same regularity so very soon…
“Well,” Caleb sighed, looking back down at her, “we’re just ready for the big birthday and all.”
They both were. They’d been married for nearly two years now, and they’d enjoyed being newlyweds. There had been no rush to any of it, just lots of time spent together, enjoying life as Dr. and Mrs. Miller as they traveled for her work, set up their home in Los Angeles, and got involved at their church. No rush… but it was time now.
Her frilly, pink nursery was ready for her. Their home was ready for her. Their hearts were ready for her.
Amelia squeezed Caleb’s hands, understanding just exactly what he was feeling.
“So,” he asked the midwife again, “how are we progressing?”
“Well, Amelia is progressing just fine,” she smiled. “No dilation, no effacement.”
That wasn’t progress. Amelia felt herself deflate just a little.
“Oh,” Caleb sighed, echoing everything she was feeling.
“First baby, Dr. Miller,” she smiled. “These things take time. And the pregnancy has been textbook perfect. There’s a lot to be thankful for, you know.”
Amelia did know. Plenty of women had blood pressure issues and had to go on bedrest. Plenty of women got bad news at ultrasound appointments. Plenty of women lost their babies along the way.
“I’m so thankful,” she managed softly, blinking back tears for all that she’d been spared. Noelle could stay put as long as she wanted to, just as long as she was healthy and happy.
“Anything we can do to get things rolling?” Caleb asked.
“You don’t want things, and I quote, ‘rolling’ this early,” the midwife laughed.
The baby moved just then, and Amelia could almost see a little foot pressing up against her. She spent a good portion of her days watching that foot move back and forth, just like that…
“So, no progress is good progress,” Caleb said, dejection in the words.
“If it was any different,” the midwife said, “I would have some serious reservations about holiday travel. But as it is, she’s exactly where she needs to be now. You can leave the city for Christmas. It’s actually good news.”
Maybe it would have been, but she and Caleb had already made different plans.
“Our families are in Texas,” he said.
“You can go home for Christmas then,” the midwife said.
“We’ve already decided we’re staying home for Christmas, just the two of us,” Caleb corrected, smiling down at his wife.
Amelia was secretly glad for that. Oh, she’d put a disappointed spin on it when she’d told her mother that they’d be “stuck” in LA for Christmas, but there had been definite excitement in thinking through a holiday with just Caleb. Especially after their first Christmas as an engaged couple, when her brother, Aiden, had announced that he’d quit his job. Then, Adam, her other brother, and Eve, Caleb’s sister, had announced that they were moving to Seattle, and all manner of nuttiness had broken out at both revelations.
Yes, Caleb’s sister was married to Amelia’s brother. It was how they’d met, after all, at Adam and Eve’s wedding, and it was actually very convenient, making get togethers easier to plan on both sides since they all shared in-laws like they did.
Then, Aiden had married Laurie, who wasn’t related to the Pearsons or Millers either one, which had turned last Christmas into an even bigger, more confusing mess with another family involved. When they’d gone back to Texas for Christmas last year, Amelia had found herself with one giant headache after another, what with all the people there at the church her father pastored, gathered together for what her mother called Epic Christmas.
Epically crowded and insane. Yes.
But this year would be completely different.
A quiet Christmas Eve, with dinner for just the two of them. A couple of gifts exchanged but nothing huge because they had everything they wanted and needed, after all. A slow, lazy Christmas morning. Breakfast in bed since Caleb wouldn’t be on call all day. Then, just each other, no one else.
Serenity. She was so looking forward to it.
“Well, that sounds nice,” the midwife said, smiling at them. “I’ll actually be out of town myself, but I’ll give you the number of one of my colleagues, just in case. Although, if Caleb has gotten everything on that list I gave him a few weeks ago, he should be just fine doing the delivery himself.”
Oh, and Caleb had gotten it all ready. He’d been more than a little clinical about all of that, too, getting supplies the midwife hadn’t even suggested, trying his best to be more than prepared.
“Just in case,” he’d told her, and she’d humored him.
But there weren’t going to be any surprises.
“I’m sure that won’t happen,” Amelia said, already imagining the perfect Christmas they were going to have.
It started as soon as they left the doctor’s office, with Caleb’s hand in hers, walking her down at least half a mile to a familiar restaurant.
“Are you trying to get things rolling?” she asked him playfully. “Walking me around like this, trying to get labor started?”
“No,” he said, pretending to take offense. “But it’s good to get some exercise, right?”
He pulled her closer to his side as they made their way in, as he nodded to the hostess, and as they settled into a booth in the corner, overlooking the busy street outside.
“I think we’ve been here before,” Amelia smiled, putting her purse down beside her and looking over at him.
He smiled as well, reaching across the table for her hands. “Might have been why I had you walk all that way, huh?”
This place was a pivotal one in their history.
The two of them had met at Adam and Eve’s wedding a few years earlier, far, far away from California. The wedding had been in Hawaii, of all places, and after just a few days of wedding festivities with the family and getting reacquainted with one another as they went from one event to another, they’d made plans to extend their vacation after all the other Pearsons and Millers had left the islands.
A whole week, just the two of them, in Hawaii.
It had been amazing. They’d spent long days out in the clear water, snorkeling and swimming, discovering the island all by themselves in secluded coves that Caleb drove them down to, with both of them talking about anything and everything as he did so. Most nights, he’d arranged two-person dinners on the beach, where they ate all the best Hawaii had to offer, while enjoying the privacy of being the only ones out there, apart from the waiter who brought their food to them. They’d ended those nights with long walks on the beach, talking again just as they’d spent the whole day doing, then with many kisses at the door of her hotel room, before Caleb told her goodnight and went to his own room.
The stuff of romance novels, for sure.
Amelia, who loved work and her life in LA, didn’t want to go back home at the end of it all. Even though Caleb was there with her, heading towards the same destination on the very same flight, putting her bag into the overhead compartment for her as they prepared to leave, she’d looked out the window and wondered what it would be like when they weren’t on vacation anymore.
“What’s going on?” he’d whispered next to her ear as he’d sat down.
His lips, so close…
She was going to miss him.
There was no need to be coy or flirtatious with him. They’d gone well past the point of playing games with one another in this short time, simply because they hadn’t played games. She’d been honest, he’d been real, and they’d connected authentically.
So, she’d told him what was going on.
“I’m going to miss you,” she’d said, leaning over and brushing her lips against his.
He’d leaned in to her soft kiss and deepened it, reminding her of the first time he’d kissed her, while she was sitting on the beach in the hideous bridesmaid dress Eve had picked out for her to wear.
Had that only been a week earlier?
Caleb pulled back just slightly, his eyes intent on hers, even as she fought back tears. How ridiculous. Crying over a man she’d only been with for a week, a man who was going back home on the same flight as her…
“You’re not going to miss me,” he’d said softly. “I’m going to be there.”
“Yeah,” she’d said. “But we’re going back to real life. And I’ve gotten spoiled, seeing you every day here, and…”
She had gotten spoiled. After just a week, she was having trouble imagining any better life than one where Caleb Miller was there all the time.
“You’re going to see me every day back in LA,” he’d said. “How am I going to live without you after this week?”
He’d meant those words. She’d been able to tell he meant them as he pulled her into his arms and held her for most of the flight.
She’d taken it all as a promise, just as she had the rest of the evening as he’d come back to her apartment and they’d called in for a pizza, as they’d sat around looking at pictures from their trip, and as he’d given her a long goodbye kiss at the door, telling her he’d call soon.
And then… he hadn’t called.
Amelia had reasoned with herself that he was busy. So busy, probably, catching up on work after taking that unexpected extra week away. He had patients to see, cases to catch up on, rotations to put in, and all of the important things that he did that only he could do, after all.
He’d call eventually. Soon, even.
A day passed. Another. A few more. On and on until it was two weeks later, and there was still no word from Caleb.
Amelia was left in a quandary.
Her mother had always told her to never call a man. No, you were supposed to let them pursue you and make the moves and all. A woman was worth being pursued, after all, and it wasn’t vanity to expect a little effort on his part. Amelia had never been good about listening to that advice, figuring that if you wanted a man you had to go for him. So, she had, discovering along the way that this method of doing things often left her with men she wasn’t all that sure she wanted after all.
A godly man would understand these things and wouldn’t let a woman feel so worthless, would he? Amelia had been drawn to Caleb’s love for Christ, his commitment to living for Him, and his heart for God above all else, so she’d just assumed that he would do things the right way.
Two weeks and no phone call, though.
Instead of being irritated about it, she began to worry, because Caleb wasn’t like those men who could promise you so many wonderful things and then just disappear.
No, something was wrong. His silence meant that something was horribly, awfully wrong. She knew it. That had to be the answer to his silence.
So, Amelia had called him, just like she’d called so many other men in the past, men who she’d nearly had to talk into loving her.
Caleb was different, though, surely, she’d reassured herself as she’d dialed his number.
He hadn’t answered his phone, and she hadn’t left a message, doubting herself as soon as she heard the beep. Then, in a moment of weakness, she’d fired off a text to him.
Hey, haven’t heard from you. Just making sure you’re ok.
After a couple of hours – yes, hours – she’d gotten a response.
Crazy busy. Sorry.
This stung just a little, but she’d typed out a response just as quickly as she could, so relieved to hear from him at last.
It’s ok! Want to grab dinner?
She could hear her mother chiding her for this, for rushing in and trying to take charge, when he’d only given her three short words in two whole weeks.
But it was Caleb… and heaven help her, she loved Caleb already.
So, she waited for his response, anxious and concerned.
After another two hours, it came.
So, this was it then. Amelia had nearly felt her heart break at the rejection.
Then he texted back.
Flooded with gratitude and joy, she’d forced herself to wait on responding. Well, to wait at least a few minutes.
He’d given her an address in the medical center along with a time, and she’d gone about the rest of her day with such hope and excitement in her heart. It carried her through the evening and into the next day when she counted down the hours as she worked, booking trips and securing reservations for clients, thinking nothing about the exotic destinations she was dealing with in favor of thinking about Caleb, waiting for her at the restaurant so very soon…
She got there five minutes early, not wanting to appear too eager. Even as she walked in, she chided herself for playing these old games when she’d thought that she and Caleb were way past games. But two weeks does something to a girl, and the feigned disinterest she was adopting felt justified.
He wasn’t there when she got a table. He still wasn’t there thirty minutes later. A whole hour passed and no Caleb. No text, no call, nothing. She’d blinked back tears as she’d sat there, looking down at the dress she’d worn just for him, one from their days in Hawaii, hating herself for all the extra time she’d spent on her hair and her makeup that day.
Well, one hour was plenty. It was more than enough, more than was wise. She gathered up her purse and set her eyes towards the door… just as Caleb walked in.
He was in his scrubs. He looked like he hadn’t shaved in a couple of days. He had circles under his eyes. Gone was the Caleb from Hawaii who’d popped up out of the water as they were snorkeling to smile at her and explain what they’d just seen. Gone was the Caleb who’d nearly backed the Jeep he’d rented over a couple of curbs in downtown Kona, laughing with her over the tiny parking spaces. Gone was the Caleb who would feed her a bite of the exotic fruit he’d pulled straight off the tree, then would lean over to kiss the juice from her lips, as he held her with one arm and touched her face with the other.
That Caleb was somewhere else, and this Caleb was all that was left now.
But Amelia found this Caleb, this tired and demoralized Caleb, even more precious, even more beloved.
Why did she feel this way when he’d given her no reason to?
“Hey,” he said apologetically, sliding in across from her without a hug, without a kiss, without any touch at all. “Sorry I’m late. There was a procedure that ran longer than I thought it would, and I have a consultation in thirty minutes, so…” He shrugged, embarrassed.
Sorry that he didn’t have any time, yet again.
“So, you don’t really have time for dinner tonight either,” she said, so sad that this was the first thing she’d said to him in two weeks, that everything special that they’d shared had come to this.
“I’m sorry, Amelia,” he said, and she could hear the genuine regret in his voice. Regret because he’d led her on? Regret because this wasn’t unfolding like she’d hoped? Or regret because he couldn’t be who she wanted him to be?
“You’re a busy man,” she said, stating it simply. “And you have your priorities.”
And a relationship was certainly not one of them.
“But I’ve missed you,” he said weakly, and she believed him. She honestly believed it because he sounded so sincere and she could see the Caleb she remembered there in his eyes…
“Maybe we can do dinner another night,” she said, noting that the weakness with which she said it made it sound just a little like begging.
“I’m not sure when,” Caleb said, running his hands over his face. “I haven’t had a night off in… I don’t even know.”
Not since Hawaii, probably. And he wasn’t the same guy.
She could sympathize with him and feel bad for his situation. And she did. She really, really did. Saving little kids who had cancer – what a tough job that must be. No wonder he couldn’t keep a tighter hold on his personal life. No wonder he looked so worn out. No wonder he was looking this desperate.
She could understand it. She could understand him.
But putting her heart out there and tying it to him, when he just couldn’t give anything himself, wasn’t the right thing to do. She felt selfish for even thinking it, but she deserved more.
It just wasn’t meant to be, no matter what promises they’d made in Hawaii.
“Yeah, this isn’t going to work,” she’d said, reaching for her purse and moving to leave, even though everything in her cried out to stop, just stop, for the love, Amelia, STOP!
But she kept right on because she’d been here before. It was give and take in a relationship, of course, and men were entitled to have their days. But her tendency in the past had been to put all of her effort, herself, and her heart into relationships with men who just couldn’t be counted on to do the same, and she was done. Had been done. She was worth more than a man who didn’t call, didn’t follow through on what he’d said, and didn’t keep his promises.
She’d walk away. It was about expecting better than what she’d known.
“Wait,” Caleb had started to say.
But she’d stopped him with a look. “No, Caleb, I want something more than this. Something more than waiting and wondering if you’re going to be who you were back in Hawaii, who I know you must really be, in your heart of hearts. I’m done playing games. Done trying to make you do anything. If you want me – if you really want me – you’re going to have to show me that you’re in on this, too.”
Oh, wow. She’d sounded so strong as she’d said that before she walked away and left him there by himself. But she was weak, so weak, because she left him physically but was right there with him emotionally.
She mentally kicked herself the whole way home, tears in her eyes as she drove away from Caleb, who was perhaps the best man she’d ever known. She berated herself the rest of the night, as she stayed awake, wondering if she’d been selfish, too demanding…
In the morning, she wasn’t sure she had any better answers, but she concluded that she’d done what needed to be done. She had her dignity, after all. It didn’t honor God for her to be a woman who made demands. But it honored Him less to be a woman who begged a man to love her, when the man in question was too busy to even say that he might.
Knowing all of this didn’t make it hurt less, though, thinking about what she’d lost.
She’d pulled on her running shoes, pulled her hair back into a ponytail, and stepped out to go on her morning run. Before she’d even reached the street, though, Caleb was there, walking towards her from the parking lot, a bag under his arm and two coffee cups in his hands. He wasn’t in his scrubs, though. He’d traded them in for shorts and a T-shirt, looking very much like he had back when they’d been somewhere very different.
“Hey,” he’d said, stopping just short of coming right up to her, nervous and tentative for the first time she’d ever been around him. “Wasn’t sure I’d catch you before you go off to work. Almost didn’t.”
She looked down at her running clothes. “Well, I don’t go to work like this,” she said softly.
He wouldn’t know, though. He hadn’t been around.
She could see the regret in his eyes. “No, I don’t guess you do,” he managed. “But you look beautiful, all the same.”
She’d just watched him, wondering at what this meant, that he was here, that he’d come at all.
“I brought breakfast,” he said weakly. “Found a place that had Kona coffee, drove all the way out there to get it, and… I just…”
Why was this so hard? Why had it been so easy in Hawaii but was now so difficult here?
He just stood there watching her, neither of them speaking, for the longest time.
“Why are you here, Caleb?” she asked, nearly holding her breath at the expectation of his response.
He took a deep breath. “I took a day from work. Cancelled my appointments so I could come here and spend whatever time you’d give me, convincing you that… I’m going to do what it takes, Amelia.”
He’d put down the breakfast, come to her side, and reached out for her, pulling her into his arms and burying his face in her neck, just like he’d done back when they’d been falling in love.
“I’m sorry,” he said, again and again. “I’m going to try, Amelia. I’m going to try.”
And he had. He’d done better than that. Caleb had gone above and beyond in the days since, just as Amelia had. Relationships weren’t fairy tales, perfect from start to finish. They were hard work because life got in the way, responsibilities made schedules difficult, and learning to relate to someone else didn’t always come naturally.
But it had been worth it. Hawaii had been about head over heels in love, but LA was about real life, finding that same love in the most commonplace days and moments.
She loved him for all of those everyday moments.
“What are you thinking about?” he asked her from across the table, as the baby kicked and she smiled over at him.
“I love you,” she said simply, and he smiled, because he knew just what she meant.
Christmas Eve morning dawned early and bright for the Millers.
Amelia opened her eyes to find the light reaching far into their bedroom, falling on Caleb’s face as he continued to sleep. Rest would be good for him, especially after the busy season he’d had at work, banking some off time for when the baby came.
Two weeks. He was going to take two weeks when Noelle came. The very thought was bliss, imagining mornings like this after late nights spent together.
Of course, it might be different with a baby. Mornings would be earlier, and nights would be full of feedings, diaper changes, crying…
Oh, well, better enjoy life as just the two of them while it lasted, Amelia sighed, reaching over and running her fingers over Caleb’s cheek, softly and tenderly, before lowering her lips to his and kissing him awake.
She did this most mornings, relishing the slow smile her good morning kisses brought to his face, right before he opened his eyes, pulled her to him and kissed her back.
This morning, though… he just kept lying there.
She leaned forward and kissed him again, a little more insistently this time.
Still no response.
“Caleb,” she said.
His eyes fluttered for just a second, right before he groaned…
That didn’t sound good.
“Sweetheart,” she murmured, kissing him on the cheek now, “are you okay?”
“I… no,” he said, finally opening his eyes. “Merry Christmas.”
“Christmas Eve,” she affirmed.
“How’s the baby?” he asked.
“She’s fine,” Amelia answered. “I’m more worried about you. You don’t look so great.”
“I feel kinda sick,” he said.
Oh, no. Caleb was a competent doctor. More than competent – he was brilliant. He could be around terminally ill children all day and stand as the voice of authority over disease and sickness, reducing even something as devastating as cancer down to something scientific to be dealt with, not to bemoan.
When he was the one who was sick, though, a common cold became catastrophic.
Amelia loved him, but she didn’t relish the thought of spending Christmas taking care of his whiny, dramatic, sick self.
“Sick how?” she asked, trying to inject at least a little compassion in her voice.
“Achy, all over,” he said. “And nauseated. Feverish.” He looked at her. “I think I have the flu.”
As soon as the words left his mouth, with the realization hitting him, he was out of the bed, backing away from her.
“We need to wash the sheets right now,” he said, even as he held his hand to his head. “And I’ll need to wipe everything down and sanitize everything I’ve touched, the air I’ve been breathing. And it –”
“You don’t have the flu,” Amelia said, getting out of bed slowly (because that’s how a woman this pregnant moved all the time) and went to his side. “Caleb, it’s –”
He covered his mouth with his hand and stepped back again. “You need to get to another room,” he said.
“Are you about to throw up?” she asked. There were a few things she couldn’t deal with, and puke was at the top of the list. She felt a little queasy even thinking about it.
“No,” he murmured into his hand. “I just don’t want you to get the flu. And, after last night, and the baby … go away! Go to another room!”
“You got a flu shot!” she exclaimed. “You don’t have –”
“I’m a doctor!” he shouted into his hand. “Amelia! Get out of the room!”
She rolled her eyes and did as he said, shutting the door behind her dramatically.
There. What a fine Christmas Eve this was turning out to be.
It sounded like he still had his hand over his mouth.
“What?” she asked, just a little irritated.
“I love you,” he said. “I’m only doing this because I love you so much and I don’t want you to get sick.”
“Caleb,” she said, resting her head on the door. “You got a flu shot.”
“For you,” he said.
Well, no, he got it for his patients, so that he’d be less likely to bring contagious viruses in their spaces with their compromised immunity. It’s also why he worked out obsessively and took supplements and was, basically, the picture of perfect health.
But it was also for her. He’d gotten the shot as early as possible this year, telling the colleague who’d given it to him that Amelia couldn’t get one, so he had to be particularly careful for her. And, oh, by the way, had he heard that Caleb was going to be a father?
He’d practically shouted it out the windows when they’d heard the news.
He was being this way for her and the baby.
“Are you still there?”
She took a breath. “I’m here,” she said. “I love you, too. What can I do to help you feel better?”
“Just go and relax,” he said. “I’ll clean up in here, then I’ll banish myself to the guest room.”
All visions of their cozy Christmas at home together, the last with just the two of them, were sadly disappearing before her eyes.
“I know,” he said, the sadness in his voice, too.
“You feel good enough to clean up everything by yourself?” she asked, as she heard the sheets being pulled off the bed.
“Not really,” he said. “But I’ll get it done. Can you get me a surgical mask from the emergency bag?”
Surgical mask? Emergency bag?
Was he talking about the delivery bag? The one he’d packed in case he ended up delivering the baby?
“Caleb, why do you have a surgical mask in there?” she asked.
“Had to be prepared for all possibilities,” he said. “There’s also a bag of A+ in the fridge.”
“You brought home blood?” she asked. “What kind of emergency would require giving me a blood transfusion with some stranger’s blood?”
“It’s not a stranger’s,” he said. “It’s mine. You think it’s legal for me to carry around someone else’s blood and store it in my home?”
Surely not, but legal or illegal, it was creepy either way.
“Though I doubt the wisdom of giving it to you now,” he said, “given how weak my immunity is, since I got the flu anyway.” Then, she heard all the movement in the next room still. “Oh. Oh, no…”
Hurried footsteps. Running to the en suite bathroom, from the sound of things. Then…
“Oh, no,” she murmured, holding her own stomach. It was most definitely the flu, then.
While Amelia thought that he was going to extreme measures to banish himself, she could understand the wisdom of cleaning everything.
So, leaving Caleb to handle the bedroom and bathroom (after he got done with the gruesome task he was currently working on), she began to clean the rooms she knew he’d been in. The kitchen, where he’d gone in the middle of the night to get something to drink, then had come back to bed where she’d welcomed him back with enthusiasm. She smiled even as she washed the glass he’d used, her mind on those details instead of thinking about how many germs he might have passed on to her, how many germs she was getting on her hands now, how many germs were in this house…
Being married to a doctor made you freakishly aware of these things, sad to say.
She straightened up the living room, wiping down a few surfaces in there, and then, she headed to the home office that they shared, where Caleb kept some of his medical journals and his laptop, where she kept a whole array of guidebooks and a planner full of extra copies of all of her contacts all around the world. She found the emergency bag and Caleb’s surgical mask and had it sitting in her lap when he finally emerged from their bedroom, freshly showered and dressed in his sick attire. Pajama pants, an old T-shirt, and a blanket thrown around his shoulders.
“You felt well enough to shower?” she asked, holding the mask up to him.
“No,” he said, after he’d slipped it on. “But I could manage it. I needed to get cleaned up before it really hit me. And I need to go get some flu medication. Cut this thing off early, you know?”
“Let me get myself ready first,” she said, standing up, “and I can get it for you. Want me to use the guest room?”
“No,” he said, nearly reaching out for her, then stopping. It was just second nature, always reaching out for each other, but he was being careful. “You take our room. I’ve cleaned everything. Sheets are washing right now.”
“Okay,” she said sadly, already missing him. “And you’ll…”
“Hole up in the guest room,” he said, just as sadly. “I’m going to try and stay in there until I can get some medicine and am no longer contagious.”
“Then, I’ll get that done soon,” she said, “so that we don’t have to spend Christmas apart, huh?”
“We can send one another texts in the meantime,” he said.
“What kind of texts?” she asked, lowering her voice and giving him a knowing smile.
“I feel too queasy to be sexy right now, Amelia,” he said, sighing.
“Wow, you are sick,” she murmured. “Poor baby. Go to the guest room and lie down. I’ll shower then get out and get you some medicine, okay?”
He shuffled off to the guest room while she made her way into their room, thinking through which places would be open on Christmas Eve. They would all be open, fortunately. That was the great thing about living in a huge city. Amelia was so accustomed to life like it had been in the small town that she’d grown up in that she was still surprised by the conveniences of a metropolitan area. Sure, traffic was bad, but the shopping was great.
Maybe she’d do a little shopping for Caleb later on this afternoon while he rested, she thought as she stepped into the shower and began to wash her hair, smiling even as Noelle stretched, that little foot moving again, as rivulets of water poured across Amelia’s bump. Maybe she’d do a little shopping for Noelle, too, because a baby girl could never have too many dresses and accessories, right?
She probably needed to get off her feet after all of that, though. Take care of Caleb as best as she could but put her feet up, because she was feeling a little crampy. Nothing major, just every now and then, a dull throbbing low, low, low –
“Glory!” she yelled, the loofah she was using flying right out of her hands at the sound of Caleb’s voice, right outside of the shower. She put her hand on her heart and pulled aside the curtain. “What? Are you okay?”
“Hey,” he said after a moment, still wearing that ridiculous mask and looking at her enormous body, which seemed even bigger now than it had been just a few hours ago. “Wow. You’re so beautiful. I love the way you look pregnant.”
“The flu has made you delirious,” she said, hiding a smile, knowing that Caleb honestly meant it, as he said it every day, multiple times a day, no matter how she looked or how she felt. “Or crazy. Are you crazy, Caleb? Do you want to throw that mask off, join me in here, and let’s take a chance and be crazy together?”
“Can’t,” he said. “And speaking of crazy… both of our parents just showed up.”
Amelia blinked at him. “I’m sorry… what?”
“Yeah, that’s why I came in here,” he said. “I needed to warn you that our parents are here.”
“Here?” she hissed. “As in… California?”
“As in our living room,” he said, leaning against the wall. “And I need to get out of here before I pass out.”
“Are you feeling worse?” she asked, stepping out of the shower and grabbing a towel, concern for him cutting her shower short.
And with that, Caleb fell to the floor, and Amelia screamed.
“What did you do to him, Amelia?”
Amelia refrained (just barely) from rolling her eyes.
“I didn’t do anything to him, Mom,” she said, doing her best to get comfortable in the room they’d left her to sit in on the guest bed. She’d screamed and screamed as Caleb had laid in a heap on the floor, tugging on her bathrobe and praying that one of the four parents in the other room would come in and help her lift him up, make sure he was still alive, get him to a bed, and all. You know, help since they’d randomly shown up here.
Charlie, Caleb’s dad, had been the first one on the other side of the door once she’d flung it open, and he’d been good to pick his son up, calling Amelia’s dad, John, to come help, as both of their mothers, Erin and Charity, had gasped and started asking ten million questions, none of which were helpful. (Okay, so Charity, Amelia’s mom, was the one asking most of the questions.)
“Well, he was just fine when he went in to get you,” she said, still talking. “Had on that mask, which was weird and all, but –”
“Here,” Caleb’s dad said, making his way to the bedside. “I found some pepper.”
“Pepper?” Erin asked, wringing her hands as she watched her son, still passed out but breathing, thankfully. “Why did you get pepper?”
“We always used smelling salts when we’d have student athletes get knocked out,” he said. “But Amelia and Caleb didn’t have any salt in their spice cabinet. They had pepper, though.”
“Caleb eats a salt-free diet, so I do, too, now,” Amelia murmured. “But, Charlie, I don’t think that’s the kind of salt that was in the smelling salts.”
Which meant that pepper wouldn’t work. But Charity grabbed for it anyway.
“Caleb!” she yelled as she waved it under his nose. “My granddaughter needs her father! Wake up!”
And in waving that pepper as violently as she was, her hand slipped, and she whacked Caleb right in the face.
Erin gasped, and Amelia looked up at her dad.
“Dad, make her stop!” she cried, even as her mother kept sprinkling pepper all over the bed.
But that slap had done something for Caleb, who finally came to, gasping and blinking himself. His eyes settled on Amelia and no one else.
“Hey, it’s you,” he said softly. “And you’re not naked anymore. That’s a shame.”
“Glory,” Charity murmured under her breath. “Is he delirious?”
“What a thing to ask, Mom,” Amelia retorted back. (Even though she had asked the very same thing not even ten minutes ago.) She pulled her attention back to Caleb.
“Sweetheart, are you okay?”
“I need some medicine,” he said. “Head rush earlier, but I’m okay. Just need some medicine so I won’t be contagious.”
“I know,” she said. “Maybe one of these guys can go run down to the store and get some, huh? Especially since they showed up without any kind of explanation –”
“What does he need, Amelia?” Erin asked, already getting her purse. “Charlie and I will go and get it.”
“Something for the flu,” Amelia answered. “Caleb, which one should they get? Can you give us the name so they can ask the pharmacist? Or maybe a friend who can write a prescription for something stronger, so –”
“The flu?” Charity asked. “I’ve got something for that!”
Amelia looked up at her mother. “You’ve got flu medicine?”
“Yeah,” she said, walking out to the hallway, where they could still hear her voice. “Practically packed a pharmacy in my suitcase, because you just never know when you’ll need something.”
Suitcase. Amelia glanced around with great concern in her eyes.
Her parents had suitcases in the living room. And in here, in the guest room, was another set. Likely Erin and Charlie’s.
They weren’t all planning on staying here for Christmas, were they?
“Oh, wow,” she said, feeling another cramp even as she exhaled. Likely just stress.
“Yes,” Charity said, grinning as she came back in. “And if this isn’t sufficient,” she said, holding up a huge bottle of dark liquid, “I can call Laurie, and she can pick up something on her way here.”
Aiden and Laurie were coming, too?
“On her way here?” she barely managed.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Charity said, squinting as she tried to read the bottle. “I know what you’re thinking, but that’s not what’s happening.”
Well, praise God.
“Yes,” Erin said, smiling at her. “Not everyone is coming here.”
“No, Adam and Eve can’t make it,” Charity said. “Some big to-do with their church plant.”
“And Abby and Mitch are still overseas,” Erin said.
Caleb’s sisters and one of her brothers. NOT here for Christmas with their parents.
“But Aiden’s coming?” Amelia asked.
“He is,” John spoke up. “None of us could stand the thought of you being by yourself for Christmas, being forced to stay here because of the pregnancy.”
She felt bad for telling the white lie… and irritated that it hadn’t kept them away.
“I’m not alone,” she said. “I have Caleb.”
Caleb, who was now snoring beneath his surgical mask.
“Caleb,” Charity said in a loud voice, “I’ll slap you again if you don’t wake up, honey. You need to take two tablespoons of this stuff, and after twenty-four hours, you won’t be contagious.”
“Sweetheart, wake up,” Amelia said, pulling his mask down and coaxing him awake as she rubbed his face.
“Hey,” he said, his eyes opening again. “You’re so beautiful.”
“I know,” she said. “Charlie, can you help me get him to sit up?”
They managed to get him up just enough to get the medicine in him, then let him lie back down.
“There,” Charity said, smiling down at him. “Maybe we should let him rest, huh?”
Yes. Maybe they should all go somewhere far away and let Caleb and Amelia both rest.
Before she could say it, though, her mother was off again.
“Hey, you know what we should do? We should go do one of those celebrity bus tours while Caleb is resting!”
“Oh, I’ve always wanted to do one of those,” Erin said, smiling. “And their houses are probably all decorated for Christmas, you know.”
“Perfect,” Charity said, clapping her hands together. “If we leave soon, we can fit it in before Aiden and Laurie get here and we need to start thinking about dinner. Oh, and I’ve got to get some last minute shopping done, too. Amelia, why don’t you go get dressed so we can make this happen, huh?”
Well, so much for a nice, quiet Christmas at home.
Amelia took a deep breath and willed herself not to freak out.
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