I don’t usually post on Christmas, other than a quick pic or something that says Merry Christmas. But I’ve been contemplating this off and on for a few days, maybe even a few weeks.
What do I give you, my loyal followers, that all or most of you will enjoy?
I thought about one of my books, but I know from speaking to a few of you that you have read them all, which I appreciate immensely.
I didn’t want to request postal addresses to send actual merchandise–not that I have any, anyway, but I could have ordered some, if I thought it wasn’t intrusive into your privacy. (Let me know about this for future reference, if you would.)
I decided that today, Christmas Day (and I’m actually writing this TODAY), I would give you the next installment in our serial story. Merry Christmas (even if you’re not reading this until days later 🙂 ). I love and appreciate all of your support. I also pray that you are having, or had, a wonderful holiday filled with immeasurable joys and blessings.
If you missed a previous chapter, see below this chapter for those links.
Ellie packed books while Todd and Jonathan carried the furniture she wanted. It had taken less than an hour to pack the kitchen and her bedroom. She didn’t want any of the living room furniture, but she’d need a place to sit in the workshop—her new home—at least until she could afford something better, so she’d told them to take the couch along with her bed and dresser. Nothing else mattered. She hadn’t been able to afford cable or satellite service, so she didn’t own a TV. She had her computer and a lot of books she’d picked up for pennies at the thrift store. Those would go.
The men took her bed apart and hauled her mattress down the stairs. They’d been gone a few minutes when Demarco made an appearance.
“So you really are moving out.”
He stepped into her personal space. “That’s a shame.” His fingers caressed a stray hair next to her cheek. “I had plans for us.”
Taking a step back, she stared at him. “There isn’t an us, Demarco. There never was, and there never would have been.”
“Honey, is everything okay?” Todd stepped to her side, wrapping his arm around her waist.
She hadn’t heard them come back.
Jonathan’s eyes widened. Thankfully, Demarco didn’t notice, since his back was to the other man.
“It’s fine. Demarco was just saying goodbye,” Ellie said, lifting her chin and glaring at the neighbor, who’d invaded her apartment uninvited.
“Yep. All good. See ya, girlfriend. You know where to find me if you ever change your mind.” Demarco sauntered out the door and down the stairs.
“Don’t count on it,” Ellie said, just loud enough for Todd to hear.
He squeezed her waist just a bit then let go.
Jonathan closed the door. “Is there something going on here I don’t know about?”
“Yes, but not what you’re thinking.” Todd ran a hand through his hair, making it stand on end. “We encountered Demarco last night when I brought Ellie home. I said that she was my fiancée to get him to leave her alone. He’s one of the reasons I’m adamant about getting her out of here today. I didn’t like the look on his face when Ellie passed him on her way to her apartment.”
“He’s overreacting,” Ellie said.
“From what I saw and heard as we came in, I don’t think so. I think Demarco told the truth when he said he had plans, and I don’t think you’d have had much say when he put them into action. I agree with Todd. You don’t need to be here anymore. Or ever again.” Jonathan gazed at her steadily. “If this arrangement doesn’t go as planned, see me. We’ll find you something more suitable than this dump.”
She nodded and turned away. Having one man be overprotective was bad enough. Now she had two. At least neither of them had an ulterior motive. Jonathan was already married, and Todd hadn’t shown any real interest in her except as his nanny and housekeeper. Last night and today he’d acted a part, nothing else. No matter how much she wished for more. His touch had ignited something within her last night and fanned it even brighter just a few minutes ago. She had to make sure to avoid the feelings coursing through her. He was her boss. She couldn’t risk allowing any impropriety to exist between them.
Taking a deep breath, she headed to her dilapidated bookcase. She’d almost finished packing the books. The guys hauled the rest of the bed down and then the dresser while she finished up. She didn’t have much left to pack, but she piddled because she didn’t want to face Todd while her emotions were still in turmoil over his touch.
God, please help me. I haven’t felt these feelings for a man before, and I don’t know what to do with them.
When she finished, Ellie taped the box shut.
Todd grabbed the box when she was done. “This it?”
She nodded. “I just have to tell my landlord and turn in the keys.”
“Plop the tape on top. We’ll meet you downstairs.”
“Okay.” She took one last walk around the space, making sure she hadn’t left anything important behind. After taking a deep breath, she locked the door and headed to the manager’s apartment. He should be awake by now.
She knocked. His gruff voice filtered through the door, but she didn’t understand what he said.
He yanked the door open. “What?”
“Here’s my key. Everything I want is out of the apartment. Do whatever with the rest. As soon as I have the funds, I will send you what I owe.”
“Why?” He seemed truly dumbfounded that she’d want to leave.
“Really? The place is going to fall down one of these days. Besides, I’m almost three months behind on the rent. You’d have kicked me out soon anyway.”
He nodded, rubbing his bald head as he did so. “True ‘nough. Well, you were one of the good ones, girl. Take care of yourself.”
“Thanks. You, too.”
He had been a good landlord. He couldn’t do much about the state of the place, and he fixed what he could when it broke.
She climbed into the car with Todd. A weight seemed to lift from her shoulders. One less thing to worry about. “What should I do about my car?”
“What’s wrong with it?” Todd asked.
“I don’t know. It won’t start, but it’s been giving me fits for weeks. The engine—I suppose it’s the engine—knocks when I go uphill or push on the gas too hard. I’m pretty sure the brakes are bad. In general, it would need a complete overhaul.”
“How long have you had it?”
“A few years. I only paid five hundred for it, and I haven’t done anything to it since, except put in gas and an occasional quart of oil.”
“Call the junkyard and see if they’ll haul it away for you. They might give you fifty dollars for the parts.”
“Okay.” She wrote a note to herself, so she could make that call the next day while Kaitlyn was in school. “What time does Kaitlyn get home?”
She checked her watch and frowned. “That doesn’t give us much time to get the workshop cleaned and my furniture set up before she gets home.”
“She can come out and help us.”
“What about Mrs. R?”
“She’ll probably tell us we’re doing it all wrong, and then proceed to instruct us how to do it correctly.” Todd chuckled.
“True, but I don’t want her to overtire herself. She’s not been feeling well for a few weeks now, and I worry about her.”
“Me, too. Together we can make sure she doesn’t do too much. Kaitlyn can help with that, too.”
A smile formed on Ellie’s face. “Your daughter is a treasure. You’ve done a good job in raising her.”
“Thanks. It hasn’t been easy. Mrs. Rosenblume was a Godsend when we moved here. A lot of Kaitlyn’s manners come from her.”
“She may have taught her how to be polite, but you would have had to continue the teaching for it to stick. Children will push to see how much they can get away with. If you allowed her to be a brat, then that’s what I would have seen, no matter what Mrs. R taught her. Trust me. I saw enough brats in the zoo gift shop to know.”
They pulled along the curb in front of Todd’s yard. He motioned Jonathan to back in.
“Where do you want all this?” Jonathan asked.
“The workshop, but it needs to be cleaned first.” Todd grunted. “I didn’t consider your need to leave soon after we got here.” He ran his hands through his hair. “Would you be willing to drive my car and come back after work for your truck?”
“Yes, but who will help you get this stuff out?”
“I will. I took it up to my apartment with only the delivery guy, so I’m sure I can help Todd take it to the workshop,” Ellie said.
Jonathan and Todd looked at her strangely.
“You carried that heavy furniture to your apartment?” Todd asked.
Ellie shrugged. “You do what you have to do when you have to do it. I needed furniture. I was just happy the thrift store agreed to deliver for a small fee.”
Jonathan crossed his arms. “Take care of the small things, clean up the workshop, and I’ll help you carry the furniture when I come back for my truck.”
Ellie stiffened as she waited for Todd’s response.
He glanced her direction. “We’ll see how the day goes. Let’s get the boxes out of my car, so you can head out. We still have a lot of work to do before furniture moving happens.”
Ellie relaxed. Todd seemed like he would be reasonable about the situation. Just because she was female didn’t mean she couldn’t carry heavy things or work equally as hard.
They removed the boxes from Todd’s car, and Jonathan left.
She glanced at Todd. His gaze focused on her. Heat filled her face. “I never thanked you for interrupting Demarco earlier, so thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Should we take a break for an early lunch, and then get to cleaning?”
“Sounds good, but I’m only good at making sandwiches at the moment.”
“Sandwiches work for me. I have meat and cheese in the fridge. Why don’t you work on those while I grab the cleaning supplies?”
“Okay.” They walked toward the front door. “How dirty is the workshop?”
“I’ve lived here for most of Kaitlyn’s life. I’ve never cleaned it. Until yesterday, it held everything I didn’t want to deal with — mostly Marissa’s things from when my friends helped me pack my house. I just stored them out there and forgot about them.”
“That’s five years of build-up. Fun.”
“Yes, well.” He chuckled. “The best things in life come after a little hard work. At least in my experience.”
Todd grabbed the last of the cleaning supplies and headed to the kitchen. He stopped in the doorway as Ellie’s voice reached him. She sang the praise song they’d sung in church the day before. He stood still for a few minutes and enjoyed her worship. A moment later, she turned and gasped.
“You have a beautiful voice.”
A blush colored her cheeks. “Thanks. I’m almost done with the sandwiches. I also peeled and sliced carrots and celery. I put ice in the glasses but didn’t know what you wanted to drink.”
“I’ll get us some sweet tea. We’ll take water bottles out to the workshop, so we don’t have to traipse up here for drinks.”
She nodded and went back to her work. A few seconds later, she turned with two plates. Each had a thick sandwich, a pickle, several carrot and celery sticks, and a mound of potato chips. She joined him at the table, placing his plate in front of him.
“Shall we pray?” He reached for her hand.
She hesitated a moment.
A jolt of attraction made him pause a little too long when she touched him. Her gaze met his and a blush tinged her cheeks. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, desperate to ignore the fact that the attraction seemed mutual. “Dear Lord, thank you for this food. Help it to bless our bodies, and please help us to get the workshop clean and Ellie moved in. Amen.”
“Amen.” She pulled her hand from his grasp and focused on her sandwich.
He did the same. Before, when he’d put his arm around her, he’d paid more attention to the situation, alert for any hostility from Demarco. With no danger pending, his grasp on her hand … well, he hadn’t expected the sensation.
Yes, she was beautiful.
Could he …?
It would be highly inappropriate.
He took a bite of his sandwich and swallowed it along with a sigh. Looked like he was in for some extended prayer time.
Christmas Blessings on you and yours,