The Christmas Stocking (Book Two of Christmas at Apple Lake series) is included in Authors of Main Street’s – Christmas Babies on Main Street – this year.
The story is close to my heart, as it centers around two children who have lost their mom, and Ellie Newsome who has lost her two unborn babies. Can families come together to ease each other’s pain of loss, if they search their hearts?
I’ve included Chapter 1 below. I hope you enjoy!
Three weeks before Thanksgiving
Ellie hadn’t slept all night. She finally gave up and slipped out of bed at three, careful not to wake Sophie, her toy poodle.
Who gets up this time of morning? As a rule, she certainly didn’t.
She stumbled around the roomy country kitchen and set a pot of strong coffee to brew. Because Sophie was a light sleeper and had trailed behind her into the kitchen, she filled both Sophie’s food and water bowls. Sophie continued to bounce back and forth from the door to dancing around Ellie’s feet, while yelping her little head off.
Ellie slipped the leash onto Sophie’s collar and let her wander around the back yard until she’d finished her business. Even though Ryan had balked about fencing in the back yard, she’d finally gotten him to when she’d suggested it would be safer for children. Ellie wouldn’t leave Sophie outside alone, since sightings of Coyote had increased the past few months. Several of the neighbors had lost cats and small dogs of late, and she wasn’t about to take a chance on Sophie being hurt, or worse.
While she waited on the coffee to finish, she attempted to reach some sense of Ryan’s recent action. What had led Ryan to forsake their marriage? She’d prided herself on being a good wife, always loving, kind, honest, and she didn’t push him in ways she’d seen other wives behave toward their husbands. Oh sure, they’d had problems as other couples did, but who didn’t? They’d never even argued over anything serious.
That should have been her first clue. You have to care enough, most of the time anyway, to argue. Now she let that thought sink in, maybe he just hadn’t cared enough. One more thing she’d pushed to the back of her mind.
It appeared her friends had better judgement than she. They’d made an earnest effort to discourage their hasty marriage. But love had won out, along with Ryan’s persistence to marry as soon as possible.
He’d been so different, so loving, when they’d first met. He’d blindsided her into believing he couldn’t live without her and had insisted on setting a wedding date three weeks after they’d met. Theirs was a love at first sight, he’d told her. And so…two months after they’d met, they became man and wife.
Ryan had been ecstatic and wanted to start a family right away. He’d found the newly renovated old farmhouse located on seven acres outside the town of Apple Lake. He’d purchased and completely furnished the home during the three weeks before they’d married. For their children, he’d said. She would liked to have shared the decision in where and the type home they’d settle down in, but he’d assured her he’d made the perfect choice. She would love the house he’d chosen.
That should have been another clue. But Ellie had loved him so much she only wanted to be wherever he was, and if that house made him happy…so be it. She’d live anywhere as long as he was by her side.
Nothing made sense anymore, but then their marriage had begun to crumble within the first year of marriage…after she’d lost the first baby. She’d pushed aside Ryan’s thoughtlessness of the last year to some degree, which was awkward, because they’d barely carried on a decent conversation.
He’d been passionate about the upcoming birth of their first baby. After the loss, he’d blamed her, and when she’d made an effort to explain why the baby hadn’t survived, he’d also blamed her for his frustration and actions.
Ryan always required a scapegoat, and Ellie was always available. She’d struggled to change that weakness in him, and herself for allowing it to happen, but to no avail. She’d detested that he’d become so controlling.
Then out of nowhere Ryan had changed and become the man she’d first met: loving, attentive and caring. What reason could he possibly come up with for his behavior? Of course, he’d wanted to try again for another baby. He’d begged her forgiveness and insisted she become pregnant again as soon as possible…and she had. Once again, she’d forgiven him and had gone along with his wishes.
Ellie had made an honest attempt at coming to terms with Ryan’s arrogant transformation and other deceitful and guarded decisions that had occurred between them in the last year of their marriage.
So…here she was. Alone, when the man who’d vowed to love her forever had brushed aside his vows. Without a child, slowly losing both her parents, with nothing to look forward to, even Christmas, which was six weeks away, brought no joy to her heart.
The coffee’s aroma filled the room a few minutes before the pot beeped. Ellie poured a cup of steaming brew, then dribbled in some half-and-half. She massaged her lower-back muscles, which had begun to ache from sitting in the straight-back chair for so long. She grabbed a pillow from the den to soften the seating and settled down in the kitchen once again, Sophie at her feet.
She’d lost the second baby only a week ago. Unable to prevent the ache in her heart, bitterness threatened to invade, and appeared to be winning. Time to heal physically and mentally was what she needed.
After her first miscarriage, due to Chromosomal Abnormalities, Ryan had almost become a stranger. He’d blamed her. Ellie had protested another pregnancy so soon, but he’d insisted since the doctor informed them sometimes the second pregnancy could be completely normal, they might try again in a few months if they so desired.
Ryan wanted a son. Determined the second pregnancy would give him a healthy son…a son to carry on his name and law practice, he’d pressured her until she had consented to the second pregnancy.
At week eleven, in her first trimester, Ellie had miscarried for the second time in two years. Results were again determined to be Chromosomal Abnormalities.
Ryan, assumed no responsibility for their mismatched chromosomes, and fully blamed her, again, for being unable to carry his child. He’d become unapproachable and their marriage had gone sour. More than sour…damaged beyond repair. Ryan had become resentful, and to her disappointment, had tensed when she’d attempted even a simple hug of reconciliation.
She’d never wanted to settle for less…but she had. Had she known Ryan had only married her to give him babies, she’d not have said yes. But she had.
Now, her hopes and dreams were gone, gone as simply and quickly as her husband who had chosen the coward’s way out. Without warning or explanation, simply a cold, hard backward glance, a week after the second miscarriage and two weeks before Thanksgiving, he’d packed his bags and walked out the door.
Never would she have believed she’d be alone again after two years of marriage.
How had she been so oblivious to the gradual challenges that had ripped them apart? Deep down she’d known they were in trouble, but refused to acknowledge how serious things had become. Sometimes I simply refuse to see what’s right in front of me.
Minutes had ticked away as daybreak broke and streaks of glorious, golden rays scattered across the North Georgia Mountains like a massive umbrella that enveloped the area. The dazzling light found its way into the room where Ellie had lingered at the kitchen table longer than she’d realized. The coffee cup, which was still full, had grown cold, the cream had settled in a light brown circle around the inside rim. She stared down at the bowl of soggy cereal floating in warmed milk, then pushed it aside. She had no appetite. Ellie pulled the warmth of the mint green robe back around her shoulders where it had fallen to her waist, Lord only knew when.
She rubbed at her chilled arms, then gingerly pushed up from the chair and pressed a hand to the middle of her stiffened lower back muscles. Although the house was warm and toasty, she wasn’t. With a sting and a sense of dread in her heart, she feared she’d never be warm again. She couldn’t seem to pull herself together and wasn’t sure if she even wanted to.
She’d lost two babies in as many years, and her dad lived at home with twenty-four hour care because of Parkinson’s. Her mom was ill with Alzheimer’s and was at a nearby memory care facility. With so much loss, what was left for her? What did she have to look forward to?
Ellie had fought against committing her mom to the memory care facility last month, but in the end, she’d had no other choice but to entrust her mom into the hands of strangers. Placing her mom there was the one issue where she and Ryan had vehemently disagreed. Ryan had insisted her care was too much for Ellie, but she had found the time spent caring for her mom gratifying. And who knew how much more time they’d have together before her mom would no longer remember her?
Her dad followed close behind in her mom’s footsteps, except her dad’s illness was due to Parkinson’s. Having both her parents in failing health had broken her heart all over again. She couldn’t bear the thought of losing them.
She wasn’t over Ryan, even though he’d left her high-and-dry. Not long after they’d married she’d examined her affections for him, and found them lacking, but in her heart she hoped he’d change. Now, after two years in a childless and loveless marriage, she questioned what in the world she’d ever seen in him.
While Ryan had destroyed the love she’d once given so freely, there was still that connection between them. Deep down, she recognized her need for closure. She had to stop making excuses and see him for what he was, a cold hearted man who cared nothing about her.
Ellie scowled. The choice was hers, hers, alone. Ryan may be a rogue, but giving him permission to control her forever was not going to happen.
She wasn’t going to sit back and let Ryan’s lack of consideration bring her down. There was only one thing left to do. She’d wallowed in self-pity and Ryan’s rejection long enough. She wasn’t going to play by his rules any longer.
She’d apply for a job to keep herself busy and not waste away at home day after day. Maybe her friend, Gage Landon, could be of help, since she had a solid network with many of the people in the town of Apple Lake.
Ready or not, she’d made a decision. It was time to brush the bad taste of two years spent with a man who hadn’t loved her, aside. Her troubles were in the past. It was time to move forward.
I wish you Butterflies, Music and Love…