Authors: Teresa Hill
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Love Stories, #Christmas Stories
"Okay," she said. "Thank you. I know you don't want to do this. I know you think it's a bad idea, but..."
"It's what you want. We'll do it."
She sighed and looked back at the baby. Grace had caught the tip of Rachel's finger in one tiny fist, holding on tightly, and Rachel was running her thumb over the baby's tiny hand, mesmerized, lost. Sam looked at the garland Zach had given her earlier. He remembered the way she looked, all sparkly and glittery, her hair glowing golden as well. She'd laughed, and he'd been startled by the sound. He didn't remember the last time he heard Rachel laugh, and he missed it. He missed so many things about her.
Sam couldn't help but think of how perfect she looked sitting in her great-grandmother's rocking chair with a baby in her arms.
"I know it's silly," she said, "but today, when Miriam came... It was just like in my dream. The baby dream. I was sitting here all alone, and the doorbell rang, and she walked up to me and handed me Grace. I'd given up on anything like that ever happening."
Because of Sam. He knew it.
They couldn't have any more children. They'd tried adoption twice, only to get their hopes dashed both times, and then they'd gotten Will, which had also turned out bad. Now they had more children, who weren't staying, either.
"Rachel, she's not yours to keep."
"I know." She nuzzled her face against the baby's cheek. "I was just saying... it was so like my dream. I'd given up, totally. I couldn't even hope anymore, because it was too hard. It hurt too much. But I think I was wrong, Sam. How can I just stop hoping?"
He wondered what his wife hoped for these days, but he didn't ask. All he said was, "Just don't forget this baby isn't yours."
"I won't. I promise. But I'm going to enjoy the time I have with her. I'm going to try my best to enjoy this Christmas with these children."
"We can do that, I guess." He didn't like it, but he'd do it for her. Because she'd asked this of him and it was one thing within his power to give. And then, with his throat thick and tight with regrets stored up over the years, he said, "I never meant for it to turn out this way, Rachel."
"Me, either," she said.
They weren't talking about kids anymore. They were talking about their marriage, about the mess they'd made of it. She'd given up on him, he feared, just as he'd given up on the two of them.
Still, Sam wondered if she missed him, at nights like this when it was just the two of them talking and in their bed. She'd never said a word about him sleeping somewhere else, never asked him to come back, and suddenly it seemed as if it had been forever since he'd touched her.
He didn't want to think that he might never do that again, might never have the right. What would she do if he turned to her now? he wondered. If he took her in his arms and buried himself in the familiar comfort of her warm, soft body?
Sam groaned. He still wanted her, and it had been so long.
All those nights, he thought, he could have been with her.
* * *
Emma lay all alone in the bed they'd given her in the front room. She never slept alone. The baby fussed, and she got up to see to her, but Rachel got there first, and Emma decided that was okay. You could tell when people honestly liked babies, and Rachel did. Emma trusted her, even with the baby.
Things were much better tonight. They were together and warm and their stomachs were full, and Sam, although he seemed mad at the world, said they could stay. Emma was a bit scared of him. Some men didn't like kids and some men were just plain bad. Emma couldn't tell for now about Sam.
But he'd promised they could stay until Christmas, and Emma believed him about that much, at least. That should give her and Zach and Grace plenty of time. They could stay here with Rachel, who was so nice, and Sam, who they'd just stay away from, and everything would be fine.
Emma heard footsteps coming down the hall and a moment later Zach climbed into the bed with her. She'd been waiting for that, too.
"You think it's okay?" Zach said, snuggling into the warm spot she'd made in the covers. "Miss Rachel didn't say I had to stay in that other room."
"I know. She won't mind."
"Do you think Mommy's coming soon?"
"Uh-hmm," Emma said.
"But we didn't stay at the motel like she told us. What if she can't find us?"
"She will. She promised."
Truth was, Emma was worried. She had been uneasy when their mother said she had to go away and that Emma had to take care of Zach and baby Grace for a whole day. It was just supposed to be for a day. Emma hadn't gotten really scared again until it had gotten dark and their mother still wasn't back. The second day, she had to work hard not to let Zach and the baby see how scared she was. Still, Emma knew what to do. She took care of them. She had even remembered what to do when the police and the social worker came. She hadn't told them her last name or where they were from or what their mother's name was. But they had taken her and Zach and Grace away.
"We had to go, Zach. The policeman said he couldn't leave us there by ourselves, remember?" She'd tried to make them leave the kids with her, tried to make them understand that she could take care of Zach and Grace, but she hadn't been able to do that.
"I didn't tell 'em nothin'," Zach said proudly. "Just my name and Grace's name and yours. And that I'm five."
"You did great," Emma said.
"Do you like it here?"
"I think it's a great place to wait until Mom comes back."
"They sure have good food here," he said.
"I know." He'd eaten enough for three boys. Rachel had warmed up lasagna for dinner and let them have all they wanted. Emma's stomach had hurt when she was done, and as she had been helping put things away after dinner, she had noticed that the refrigerator was full. Sam and Rachel must never run out of food.
"I still miss Mommy," Zach said.
"I know. But we're together, so we'll be fine. All we have to do is wait."
Emma believed it. She believed everything her mother said.
She waited until Zach was all warm and boneless with sleep, then got up and dug through the Wal-Mart bags for her snow globe. She polished the glass where it had gotten smudged with fingerprints and stared inside it, as she never had before. Honestly, she didn't think she was imagining things, but she had to be sure. It had been a long time since she believed in magic, after all.
Emma grabbed her coat and shoved her arms through the sleeves, but she couldn't find her shoes. So she just put her socks on and padded downstairs. She didn't hear anything, but the light was still on in the family room. Someone might still be awake. She was extra careful to be quiet when she slid back the lock and opened the front door.
It was cold, and her feet sank into the snow with every step she took, getting wetter and colder by the minute.
She went clear across the street, and when she turned around, there was the house, in the midst of the glistening snow, moonlight and streetlights and the lights from inside setting it aglow. It had beautiful windows, like the kind you saw in church, with all sorts of pretty colors in the glass. Little rectangles of blues, reds, and yellows framed each window in the front of the house.
It was the windows that cinched it for her when she held her snow globe up in front of her, looking from it to the house, then back again.
She didn't notice the cold at all anymore, and she wasn't even scared of being out here in the dark by herself in this new place. She wasn't scared of anything.
Because they were just the same.
The house in her snow globe and the house where she and Zach and Grace were staying were just the same.
It had to be a sign, Emma decided. She'd always looked at the house inside the little glass ball and thought nothing bad could ever happen there, and now she was living in that house. Which meant everything was going to be okay. Emma was sure of it.
On the second day of Christmas, in those odd moments between sleeping and waking, Rachel rolled over in her bed, instinctively reaching for Sam, but he wasn't there. She forgot sometimes before she truly woke up, and this morning she remembered something else, something even worse.
Sam was leaving her.
The memory stopped her cold. It hit with enough force to take her breath away even now, and she felt every bit as lost and as scared as she had yesterday when she'd heard him on the phone.
Rachel lay there, almost paralyzed. She'd thought it couldn't possibly be as overwhelming the second day, but it was.
Sam was leaving.
The words seemed to echo around inside her head, drowning out everything else for a long, frightening moment. Her eyes flooded with tears for a moment, and then the moisture overflowed. She just let those tears fall.
She wondered, not for the first time, if he'd ever really loved her, something that hurt just about as much as anything that had happened to her in the last twelve years.
Maybe Sam never really loved her at all.
She might have stayed right there worrying, but she heard the baby fussing and before she could get up, Sam appeared in the doorway with a sniffling baby Grace in his arms.
"I heard her crying," he said. "I assume she's hungry."
Rachel glanced at the clock. It was six-ten. She had no idea when the baby normally woke up and ate, but it seemed reasonable that this was the time.
"I made a couple of bottles last night and put them in the refrigerator." Rachel started to get up. "I just need to warm one up."
"I'll get it. You stay here." Sam put the baby in the bed beside her. "It's still early. She might go back to sleep, once she's fed."
"Thanks," she said.
Grace settled in beside her, tucked into her side, and hiccupped and fussed a bit more and then just stared up at Rachel. It was nice, she decided, having a warm, soft baby in bed with her early in the morning.
"You must have been so scared," Rachel crooned to her, the baby's eyes focusing in on her face, as if taking in everything Rachel had to say. "To wake up in a strange place, in that odd little crib. Not knowing where you are or where your mommy is.
"But we're going to take good care of you. I promise. Sam's bringing your bottle, and then we'll give you a bath, and we'll find you something warm to wear. Today we're going shopping. We'll find you such gorgeous things. Something pink, I was thinking. Do you like pink, Grace? It'll be perfect against your little pink cheeks and your mouth."
Grace purred up at her, still fascinated, blinking sleepily and stretching some more. This was the way Rachel had dreamed she'd spend her mornings, curled up in her bed in the first flush of dawn with a drowsy, hungry baby beside her, here in her house with her husband.
But they'd never had that. Rachel still felt guilty about the baby she'd lost not long after she and Sam got married. There'd been complications and she'd hemorrhaged badly. In the heat of the moment, the doctors felt they had no alternative but a hysterectomy, which meant there would be no more children. Not from her body. She felt as if her body had betrayed her, as if she'd let Sam down and her life had taken a wrong turn way back then, and she'd never been able to get it back on track.
Grace cooed up at her. The baby batted her hand against Rachel's, and Rachel fought back tears as she tried once again to soothe her.
"You're so adorable. I just don't know how anybody could walk away from someone like you," she said.
Rachel hadn't been able to walk away, not from the memory of her daughter or from Sam. Her father had wanted her to go to college in the fall, as she would have the year before if not for Sam and the baby. But Rachel couldn't. Her grandfather was getting weaker by then, and he needed Rachel. So did Sam. He worked like a demon at his job and on the house. Rachel helped him, took care of her grandfather, and told herself that someday there would be children. Except it had never worked out, and here she was thirty years old and childless, about to be husbandless. It seemed she would be starting all over again, just as her father had urged her to do, except she'd do it at thirty instead of eighteen.
Rachel had no idea how to even begin.
"I guess you're starting over, too," she told the baby, brushing her cheek against Grace's. "And we have things to do, you know. We have to decorate the house for Christmas, because Zach's worried that Santa isn't coming, although I'm sure he is. It's no telling what he'll bring you. I'm sure you've been such a good girl."
Grace shoved the side of her fist into her mouth and started sucking furiously, but stayed quiet except for the noises she made trying to satisfy her hunger.
"I know," Rachel sympathized. "I'm sure you're just about to starve. But Sam's coming. We'll get your tummy all nice and full and everything will look better then, I promise, sweetie."
She crooned to the baby a bit more until Sam was back with the bottle. Grace reached for it the minute she saw it, and soon she was sucking away, quite happily tucked into her spot at Rachel's side.