Christmas Special Delivery
Labor of Love
by Lois Kay
#3 in the Reef Series
Fifteen days before Christmas
The old car slowly made its way up the hill. The paint was dull and faded and the car was covered in dust. The harsh sunlight would normally reflect off the windows, if the scratched glass had not been littered by caked mud.
The occupant of the car ignored the sickly coughing the engine produced and did not seem to notice the unnatural clanking sound that rang through the forest every time the tires hit a bump or hole. While the sun was relentlessly heating the interior of the car, the driver was happily singing ‘ White Christmas’, apparently not aware of the drops of perspiration that were rapidly staining the bright yellow t-shirt.
Expertly steering the car around the corner, the driver suddenly came to a full stop when noticing a slim form slowly walk up the road. The person was clad in a pair of dark blue shorts and a light blue shirt, while the brim of a brick colored straw hat obscured the face from view, shielding the eyes against the bright sunlight. A backpack was casually slung over a shoulder, while the figure gradually made its way up the hill, unaware of the staring eyes.
The corners of a pair of dark green eyes wrinkled when a smile lit up the freckled face.
“This will be fun,” a youthful voice grinned. “She seems to be deaf to the world.”
The distance between the car and the pedestrian was less than thirty meters and a mischievous grin appeared on the driver’s face. Taking a deep breath a hand was slammed down on the horn, producing an earth shattering noise. Immediately the figure jumped and turned around to locate the source of the noise. The body visibly relaxed when the car was spotted and the head underneath the straw hat slowly shook.
The driver put the car back in gear and it only took a few seconds of coughing noises to reach the patiently waiting person on the side of the road.
“Need a lift, cutie?”
“In that death trap? Do you think I’m soft in the head?”
“Well, you will be soon if you keep walking up the hill in this heat,” was the smirked response. “I’m offering to save your life.”
A clear laugh rang through the forest and with an impatient gesture the hat was pushed back, while a slender form stepped closer to the rolled down car window. A pair of clear blue eyes twinkled with amusement, while looking at the driver of the car.
“You know, Fi, I never thought it would be possible for this…thing to make it up the hill faster than it would take me to walk.”
“Are you insulting my car, Alice Wilson?” Fiona McDonnell playfully growled.
“Yes, definitely,” Alice laughed. “Why don’t you get something that is less like a junk heap and more like a car?”
“You sound just like Jody,” Fiona grunted, raking her fingers through her damp hair. “But you people don’t understand the challenge and adventure that’s involved in driving a classic car like this.”
“Classic?” Alice laughed. “All right, my friend, if you say so.”
“So, do you want a ride or not?”
“I’ll take my chances,” Alice smiled, walking to the passenger side and hopping in. The heavy door was closed with a loud screeching noise that almost made Alice’s teeth hurt. She winced and pulled a face, which only made her friend laugh harder.
“Trishia threatened to have me pulled over every time I hit the highway if I don’t get myself a new car by the end of the month,” Fiona cheerfully related.
“Knowing Trishia she’d make good on that threat,” Alice smirked.
“I know, so I told her it’s almost Christmas and it would be all right if she got me a new set of wheels,” Fiona chuckled. “You should have seen her face.”
Alice laughed and wiped the perspiration from her forehead. It was a hot day. The heat had quieted the forest, creating simmering walls of hot air that hovered over the road.
“I can’t believe it’s almost Christmas already,” Alice sighed. “Time sure has been flying. But I’m glad though, I could use a break.”
“I bet you could. You’ve been working really hard, Alice. You did a great job catching up on those years of school you missed. I don’t think I could have done it.”
“Sam and Jody helped a lot,” Alice replied with evident affection.
“But you were the one having to pass all those tests,” Fiona answered. “You’ll be going to the university soon,” she added with a sigh. “I will hardly see you and Yarra anymore then.”
“Well, I haven’t seen much of Yarra either these last few months,” Alice sighed. “I know she’s been working hard. She said she had to if she wanted to relax during the upcoming vacation. I can’t believe she will be starting her third year soon.”
“Yeah and by the time she’ll be a vet, you will be halfway to becoming an architect.”
“I hope so,” Alice replied with a wistful smile. “So, did you finish your Christmas shopping already?”
“Almost,” Fiona grinned. “I still have a few weeks, but most of the stuff I bought is already wrapped up and safely stashed away in my room. What about you?”
“I’m working on it,” Alice smiled. “I keep a few things at George and Susan’s. They told me I could use Yarra’s room as a warehouse,” she chuckled.
“Kirby’s storage, for all your Christmas gifts,” Fiona joked. “I bet Yarra’s parents are always happy to see you, since they practically adopted you into the family.”
Alice’s clear blue eyes grew pensive and she slowly nodded, thinking about how her life had changed over the past two years. One day she had been a street kid, a runaway and the next day she had been taken under the protective wings of Jody and Sam. It had not taken her long to start seeing them and their family as her own.
Alice let out a small sigh and watched the road ahead, knowing there would only be two more corners and then they would be granted a view of the majestic house on top of the hill. Surrounded by tall trees and flowerbeds. It had become her home.
Involuntarily her thoughts traveled to Yarra, her dark skinned friend, with the friendly, soulful brown eyes, who had been so supportive and helpful during the difficult months after Martin Coles’ death, the man who had been responsible for the death of her mother and brother.
Alice had finally been able to start putting the past behind her and move on. With the professional help of Lisa Bailey, the warmth and love from Jody, Sam and their family, Alice had felt safe enough to allow herself to heal. And she had, although some of the deep wounds that had been inflicted on her soul had left scars that sometimes still made their presence known by a nagging, dull pain. Of her new family and friends, Jody and Yarra always managed to pick up on those dark moods and they were always there to lend a shoulder to cry on, or to just listen to Alice tell them about the demons that still occasionally haunted her.
“Are you all right, Alice?” Fiona’s voice kindly interrupted her reveries. “You seemed a thousand miles away.”
“Oh, sorry,” Alice sighed, sending her friend an apologetic smile. “I was just thinking about…things.”
“Sad things?” Fiona gently prodded, having noticed the darkening of her friend’s eyes.
Alice smiled and reached out a hand to pat Fiona’s knee and give it a friendly squeeze.
“You might still be a brat, but you sure are the nicest one I know,” she gently teased.
“I promised Yarra to keep an eye on you.”
“Did you now?” Alice asked with evident surprise. “So the two of you have been…arranging things behind my back?” When Fiona solemnly nodded the blond haired teenager smiled affectionately. “And when exactly did Yarra ask you to keep an eye on me?”
“Oh, ages ago,” Fiona smirked, steering the car through the last corner and heading onto the steep stretch up to the hill where they already could see the house basking in the sunlight.
“Be more specific, please,” Alice responded with an amused twinkle in her eyes.
“When Yarra left for Brisbane,” Fiona confessed.
“That was two years ago.”
“Yep, it was,” Fiona grinned. “I told you before that my good friend is sweet on you.”
From the corner of her eye she could see the blush coloring Alice’s face and Fiona smirked. But the hesitant look that was cast her way did not escape her notice either.
“What is wrong?”
Alice shrugged her shoulders and looked outside the window in an attempt to hide her suddenly moist eyes from her friend.
“She doesn’t act like it,” was the hoarse reply and she could not avoid the hint of disappointment in her voice.
“What do you mean?” Fiona asked with a frown.
“Well, I…I know she has been busy with all those exams and term papers and stuff, but…a phone call doesn’t take up that much time, does it? But lately whenever she calls me, or when I call her she doesn’t seem to have time to talk. It’s…I feel like she’s brushing me off,” she ended in a whisper.
Darn you, C.J. Do I really need to kick your behind and slap some sense into you? Fiona angrily thought, eying her blond friend with a pensive look. This is so not you, my friend. What is going on?
“Did…um…did you ask Susan and George about it?”
“Yes, I did, but I felt like they were evasive about it, so I didn’t push the subject. Maybe she…” Alice didn’t finish the sentence, but stared outside the window again, swallowing away the lump in her throat.
“Maybe she…what?” Fiona pressed on. “What’s going on behind those baby blue eyes, Alice?”
“Maybe she has other friends now,” Alice answered in a rush. “And why shouldn’t she? I mean, it’s not like…like…I mean, we…we are just friends, good friends, but that doesn’t mean she owes me anything.”
Fiona sucked in her bottom lip and exhaled slowly, while her brain frantically tried to come up with a reasonable explanation for Yarra’s behavior. She knew her friend studied really hard, hoping to finish her education earlier than scheduled. And she also knew how homesick Yarra had been, especially those first few months after she had moved to Brisbane. She had practically buried herself in her study, but still had time to write her and Alice a card or a letter and make the occasional phone call. So what had changed all of a sudden? Fiona knew that Yarra’s feelings for Alice ran a lot deeper than the dark girl would ever admit, so there had to be a good reason for her friend to not contact the blonde. And Fiona was determined to find out. As soon as possible. Even if it meant driving her beat up old car all the way up to Brisbane to see her friend and demand an explanation.
Maybe Jody would have some words of advice.
“I’m sorry, Alice,” Fiona finally answered, parking her car next to the house and killing the engine. “I don’t know what’s up, but I’m sure Yarra has a good reason,” she said, inwardly sighing about the lame words.
“I know she really cares about you. You do know that, don’t you?”
Alice managed a weak smile and nodded.
“I guess I’m being a baby. She’s probably just real busy.”
Fiona nodded and a big smile adorned her face when she looked at the veranda where Jody was comfortably resting in a huge chair. A full grown German Shepard was lying at her feat. His eyes were staring at Fiona’s car and he was slowly thumping his tail. He knew he didn’t have to get up and defend his mistress. The new arrivals were members of his pack.
“Talking about babies, my poor sister looks like she just about had it. It’s amazing how huge she has gotten.”
“Don’t tell her that,” Alice replied with a warning glance. “Yesterday she said she felt like a beached whale. I think the heat is very hard on her at the moment.”
“No doubt,” Fiona sighed, opening the door and starting to get out. “I feel sorry for her. And she still has almost two months to go.”
“Maybe not,” Alice answered. “Twins often come a bit earlier.”
“Well, I sure hope these two will.”
Fiona got out of the car and tried to close the door as soundlessly as possible, which was hard, because of the huge dent on the side that had slightly bent the metal in an awkward angle. Not wanting to wake up her peacefully dozing sister, she decided to leave the door open.
Both teenagers quietly walked towards the veranda, but when they approached the sleepy looking Jody, they noticed a pair of tired green eyes looking at them
“Hey girls,” Jody greeted them. “I’m glad the two of you made it up the hill in that silly car.”
Fiona grinned and gave her sister a quick kiss on the cheek.
“Why is everyone constantly insulting my means of transportation? I know my car doesn’t look like a million dollars, but it moves.”
“Not for long, I’m afraid,” Jody chuckled, absently rubbing her swollen belly. “No offense, Fiona, but your precious car does look like it could die any minute. I bet I could still outrun it.”
Alice burst out laughing and let herself sink down in the chair next to Jody, looking at Fiona with sparkling eyes and scratching a contented looking Kurt behind his ears.
“I would like to take you up on that challenge, sis,” Fiona smirked. “But somehow I believe your doting, overprotective wife would have my hide. Besides, no matter how much I’d love to meet those little guys you are hiding in there, I prefer them to sit tight a little longer.”
“It’s not like they are sitting tight,” Jody chuckled. “It seems that when I need to sit down and relax, they start playing games. I believe their favorite pastime is acrobatics.”
“Just hang in there, Pea,” Fiona sighed. “As soon as those two get into the world you can have Sam running herself ragged.”
Jody smiled and pulled a face when a little foot kicked her stomach. Grinning she patted the spot and sent Fiona a mischievous look.
“They heard that,” she chuckled. “And I think they like the idea.”
“Is Sam not home yet?” Alice asked, having noticed the vacant parking spot where the SUV usually stood in the shadow of a big tree.
“I sent her on a mission,” Jody answered with a yawn. “We still needed some Christmas gifts and I managed to convince her that there are some things that cannot be bought on the internet.”
Alice smiled, familiar with Sam’s affinity with buying things on line, so she could get out of shopping. It was a constant source of gentle teasing between Sam and Jody.
“I’ll get some iced tea. You two want some as well?” she asked, standing up from the comfortable chair.
“I’d love some, thanks Alice. Driving that car always makes me thirsty for some reason,” Fiona answered, lazily stretching out her legs and crossing them at the ankles.
“Must be all that dust you collect,” Alice mumbled, disappearing into the house.
“I heard that, Victoria Alice Wilson,” Fiona called after her, but her dark green eyes were sparkling.
She turned her attention to her very pregnant sister, who eyed her with genuine curiosity.
“What’s up with Alice?”
“Is there anything that escapes your attention?” Fiona sighed, but the look she shot her sister was filled with admiration.
“I guess not,” Jody dryly replied. “I might be pregnant and so huge I can hardly move, but my brain is still intact. So, give.”
“She misses Yarra. Apparently their phone calls have been fairly short lately and Alice feels like Yarra is brushing her off.”
Jody slowly shook her head and made a mental note to ask her partner about that later. She knew Sam and Yarra often had contact through email, so maybe Sam knew more about what was going on with their friend.
“It’s not like C.J. to treat Alice like that,” Fiona sighed. “I’ll call her today, to see what’s up. She might need a good kick in the behind.”
“Use the phone in Sam’s office,” Jody offered, smiling when she saw the smirk on Fiona’s face. “I’d like to know what is going on as well.”
Not needing any more encouragement Fiona jumped up from her chair and headed for the back of the house, where Sam and Jody had built on a fair sized office. Closing the door behind her, Fiona walked towards the desk and sank into the cool leather of the big office chair.
She liked Sam’s office. The space was used as efficient as possible, with a huge desk, state of the art computer and a separate phone line. The walls were decorated with pictures of friends and family. And of course the enlarged picture of Alice, Yarra, Fiona and Kurt, that Jody had taken during the spring, when they had returned from a walk in the bush. A brief but fierce rainstorm had surprised them and by the time they had returned to Murrook Farm, they all sported the same disheveled look, covered in mud and various unidentifiable parts of the forest.
Fiona grinned and reached out a hand to grab the phone. She dialed Yarra’s number from memory and heard the tell tale sign of a buzzing phone. Impatiently drumming her fingers on the smooth surface of the desk she waited for the call to be answered.
“Hey, C.J., it’s me.”
“Fiona!” Yarra’s voice sounded pleasantly surprised, but tired. “You’re lucky, I just walked in.”
“Guess I’m luckier than some other people we know,” Fiona remarked, a little more sarcastic than she intended to. “What’s up, Yar? Why are you ignoring Alice?” she bluntly asked.
She could hear Yarra let out a sigh and just knew her friend would be nervously rubbing her forehead in a familiar gesture.
“I…I haven’t been ignoring Alice,” Yarra’s voice sounded strained. “It’s just…it’s so stupid, really, Fi. I’ve been working really hard lately, so I could have a few weeks off around Christmas. In fact, I have this job as well. It’s only for a couple of weeks, but it’s good money. I didn’t have much time for anything else but work and study. I haven’t had much time to spare lately.”
“Alice feels like you are brushing her off, that maybe you prefer to spend time with other people,” Fiona quietly remarked.
“Gods, no! I would never do that. You know what she means to me, Fi. In fact…” Yarra hesitated and Fiona could hear her take in a deep breath. “Alice was the reason I took that job. I needed some extra money to buy her something special for Christmas.”
Fiona let the words sink in and felt immensely relieved after her friend’s admission. Alice and Yarra were her best friends and she couldn’t stand the thought of either of them being sad or hurt.
“Really?” she finally responded with a delighted smile. “A diamond ring?” she teased.
She could hear Yarra snort and leaned back in the chair with a huge grin.
“It’s a bit early for that, don’t you think?” Yarra answered dryly, but Fiona could detect the wistful tone in her voice. “No, it’s something more practical than that, I…I wanted to give her a new drawing board with all the additional pencils and stuff she will need when she starts her first term next year.”
“Wow, she’ll just love that,” Fiona exclaimed.
“Well, I hope so,” Yarra sighed. “But keep your mouth shut, Fi, it has to be a surprise.”
“Hey, my lips are sealed, C.J. But I know she’ll love that, especially since it will be from you,” she added with a chuckle. “This reminds me, I’ll have to tell Sam and Jody to put mistletoe up in some strategic places.”
“Oh, ha ha,” Yarra responded, but Fiona could hear the smile in her voice. “You’d better watch out, Fi, that could just backfire you know.”
“I doubt it,” Fiona grinned. “It’s just to help you a little, my friend. At least with the mistletoe you’ll have a legitimate reason to get up close and personal with Alice.”
“I doubt if she wants that,” Yarra sighed.
“I don’t,” Fiona cheerfully replied. “But you’ll have to find that out for yourself. Just make sure to give her a call today, all right? And make it longer than five minutes.”
“I will,” was the soft answer. “I feel really bad about it, Fiona.”
“I know, but she will forgive you, C.J. Don’t worry about it. I’m glad I called you.”
“So am I. How is Jody holding up?”
“Having a bit of a tough time at the moment. The babies are on a growth spurt and the heat is not helping her feel better. She doesn’t complain, but I know it’s hard on her. Another few weeks to go though.”
“Maybe they shouldn’t have organized such a big Christmas party,” Yarra mused. “I mean, it’s sweet of them to invite their friends and family, but I wonder if it won’t be a bit too much.”
“It’s what Jody wanted. And what Jody wants, Jody gets,” Fiona joked. “I don’t think there’s anything Sam wouldn’t do for her, but she did make my sister promise to just sit down and enjoy herself. I think she won’t be allowed to do as much as lift one single finger.”
“Good. She shouldn’t. She can’t overdo it. She needs her strength to deliver those two little rug rats. Or I will sic my mom on her.”
“Oh, yeah, that would help,” Fiona laughed. “It’s a comforting idea to have an experienced nurse living next door. Who knows what could happen.”
“Knock on wood, McDonnell !!” Yarra laughed and she heard Fiona obediently knock on the surface of the wooden desk.
“Don’t want to jinx anything,” Fiona grinned. “I have to go, C.J., before Alice starts wondering where I am and decides to interrogate me. Call your sweetie as soon as you can, all right?”
“I will. Thanks, Fi.”
“No worries, mate. Take care of yourself. I’ll see you soon.”
“You will. See ya, Red.”
With a yawn Lucy McDonnell exited her vehicle that she had parked underneath the carport next to the house. It had been a busy day at the office and she was tired. All she wanted was a cool shower, a light meal and relax on the veranda, curled up into her lover’s arms.
Trishia had enjoyed a rare day off and Lucy wondered what her energetic partner had been up to. Knowing the tall police woman was not the type of person who would laze around the house for a whole day.
Maybe she fixed me a nice dinner, Lucy mused, looking forward to shrugging off her business suit and uncomfortable shoes.
With a frown she noticed the front of the wrap around veranda was empty and she silently wondered what Trishia was doing when she heard a muttered curse coming from the back of the house.
She bit back a grin and headed towards the source of the sound. As soon as she rounded the corner, she stood stock still and with wide eyes she stared at her sweaty, sawdust covered partner. Trishia was clad in a pair of shorts and a tank top that hugged all her curves in exactly the right way and would normally be considered incredibly sexy, except for the thin layer of dust that was liberally spread across her torso.
“Hi, honey,” Lucy greeted, stepping closer and putting a hand on Trishia’s back.
The tall woman immediately turned around and sent her lover a radiant smile.
“Hey, baby. I am glad you are home. How was your day?” she asked, starting to wrap her arms around her lover but being stopped by a pair of raised hands.
“Uh huh, you know how much I love you, honey, but I’m not letting you ruin this suit,” Lucy grinned, standing on her toes to quickly kiss her lover’s lips, ignoring the little pout.
“I’ll make it up to you,” she promised, patting the bare shoulder, where the thin line of a scar reminded her of that dreadful day when Trishia had been shot by Martin Coles. Her fingers idly traced the slightly jagged pattern and again her heart was filled with gratitude for not losing the woman who held her heart and soul.
“What are you doing, Trish?” she curiously asked, looking at the workbench where an odd looking wooden box was placed.
Trishia grinned and sported an absolutely smug expression when she looked down into her partner’s dark green eyes.
“Do you remember when Sam told us about that Dutch Christmas tradition where friends and family wrap presents in a funny way?”
“Yes, I do,” Lucy answered. “You mean that time when her brother Tom had made that big, life-sized doll and Sam had to perform surgery on it according to some instructions he wrote, in order to get to her presents?”
“Right,” Trishia grinned. “Knowing Sam she didn’t just tell that story without a reason.”
A pair of dark eyebrows were hiked up and Lucy shot her partner a quizzical look.
“Yep. I think it was a warning. I do believe Sam has something up her sleeve and I want to be prepared.”
“So, you’re building a…what is it, honey?” Lucy chuckled, always amused by the endless teasing between her lover and her sister’s partner, who had become the best of friends.
“It’s a maze,” Trishia explained with evident pride. “Look. Can you see all those little hallways? There will be a little marble hidden inside and Sam will have to pick up the box and tilt it to try and get the marble out. See all the openings? Most of them are fake. There will only be two exits for that marble.”
“Oh, that is mean,” Lucy chuckled, already picturing the frustration on Sam’s face. “But how will she finally get to the present, honey?”
“She will need the marble,” Trishia laughed, closing the lid of the box and motioning Lucy to have a closer look.
“Do you see this little hole? The marble fits in there and only when she drops it in, it will release this little hatch here,” Trishia opened the box again and pointed towards the center of it where Lucy could see the aforementioned hatch. “The weight of the marble will release it and then she can open the lid.”
“Wow, that is a smart contraption, sweetie. Did you design that all by yourself?”
“Yes, I did,” Trishia answered, apparently very pleased with herself.
Lucy smiled and in spite of the sawdust that had attached itself to Trishia’s clammy skin, she reached out and gave the tall woman a loving hug.
“Baby, I’m filthy,” Trishia half heartedly protested.
“Mmm…a bit sweaty and…dusty…nothing a nice shower can’t fix. Would you care to join me? I’ll wash your back,” Lucy promised with a seductive purr.
“Only my back?” Trishia asked with a mischievous grin.
“Other…body parts are negotiable,’ Lucy smirked, knowing that dinner would probably have to wait. A long time. Just thinking about Trishia’s strong, experienced hands roaming across her body, finding all the sensitive spots, took her breath away and provided a tingling sensation that ran from her head to her toes.
She swallowed hard and when she looked up into a pair of gentle green-blue eyes she saw a knowing smile.
“I am a police officer,” Trishia whispered in her ear. “I know all about negotiating.”
“Then what are we waiting for?” Lucy replied in a husky voice, reaching out a hand and grabbing Trishia’s larger one. “Follow me.”
They quickly made their way into the house, towards the bedroom with adjoining bathroom and the tall policewoman helpfully assisted her lover to unbutton her blouse, sliding it off her shoulders and unceremoniously dumping it on the floor. Of course Lucy’s hands had been busy as well and when Trishia pulled the tank top over her head she could hear her lover suck in a breath.
“It was my day off, remember?” Trishia replied, brushing her lips across a bare shoulder, while her fingers made quick work of the light linen slacks that were still hugging Lucy’s hips. They joined the rest of the outfit on the floor, while both women headed for the shower, exchanging soft touches and kisses along the way.
Trishia wrapped her arms around her smaller partner and pulled her close when the lukewarm water cascaded down their bodies, washing away the sweat and sawdust that had been clinging to her skin.
“Much better,” Lucy sighed happily, letting her hands travel down her partner’s chest and up again, pressing her face against Trishia’s neck and kissing the pulse point where she could feel the strong heartbeat underneath her lips.
“Now, where is that soap?” she dreamily asked.
“What soap?” Trishia breathed, capturing Lucy’s lips in a deep, passionate kiss, while her strong hands slid down to the small of Lucy’s back, pressing their bodies closer.
Soon the initial purpose of the shower was forgotten, as was Sam’s special gift box that was still displayed on the workbench, a proud result of Trishia’s labor.
“Honey, why don’t you sit down and relax? I’m sure Alice and I can clean up the kitchen and make you a nice cup of tea or something,” Sam gently suggesting, seeing the teenager nod. “You look tired.”
“I am,” Jody admitted with a sigh. “Carrying around all that extra weight in this heat feels like running a marathon.”
“Oh, and what do you know about running marathons?” Sam teased, stroking Jody’s cheek with the back of her hand.
A pair of green eyes sent her a droll look and with a grin Jody shrugged her shoulders.
“Not much, except that I’m sure those runners are glad when it’s all over.”
“Aw, sweetie, I’m sorry if you are feeling bad, I…”
Sam stopped talking when she felt Jody’s fingers being pressed against her lips and she playfully nibbled them.
“I’ll live, Sam,” the small redhead assured her partner. “I am sure I’m not the first woman to carry twins and I don’t think I will be the last one either. So, why don’t you and Alice clean up the kitchen, make some tea and then you and I can discuss the arrangements for our Christmas party. All right?”
“Sure honey. Do you want to sit inside or on the veranda?”
“The veranda, definitely. The sun’s gone there and I want to try and catch some of that lovely Ocean breeze.”
“Go ahead then, I’ll be joining you soon.”
Jody shoved back her chair, placed her hands on the table and with a soft grunt she pushed herself up, until she was standing on both her feet. She cast Sam, who was about to grab her arm a warning look. The tall woman sheepishly smiled and stepped back, making room for her partner to walk towards the kitchen door.
“You can perform your weightlifting duties soon enough,” Jody joked, making Sam chuckle.
“Why don’t you join Jody, Sam?” Alice suggested, having already cleared the table. “I’ll take care of the kitchen and make some tea.”
“That is sweet of you, Alice, but I’ll help you. That way we’re done quicker and you can relax as well.”
Sam had already received an update from her partner about the situation between Yarra and Alice and she realized it was a good thing Yarra had promised Fiona she would call her friend that evening, otherwise she would have felt compelled to call the dark girl herself. She did not want to interfere in their young protégée’s…love life, well, she hoped it was a love life anyway, but when it came to Alice both she and Jody had developed a very protective streak.
She did understand Yarra though and she respected the young woman’s desire to go out and work for the money she needed to buy her friend a special Christmas gift. When Jody had told her about Yarra’s efforts it had stung a little at first. Only Jody, Yarra’s parents and Yarra herself knew that Sam had been the one who had paid for her education. Being the third child with two older brothers who were also still enrolled at the University of Queensland, it was hard for George and Susan Kirby to come up with the money to support their daughter.
Sam had always had a weak spot for the soft spoken, sensitive girl and had readily offered her financial assistance. Only after agreeing to make it a loan, the Kirby’s had accepted.
Sam had been very generous and had opened an account where she had deposited more than enough money for Yarra to make it through veterinary school. She knew Yarra only took out the money she absolutely needed for tuition and books. The rest had been left untouched. It would have been easy for the girl to just take the money she needed to buy Alice a present, but instead she had decided to work, making long days to reach the goal she had set for herself.
Sam’s first reaction had been disappointment. She knew Yarra was a hard worker and she was proud of her educational achievements. But it troubled her the girl was pushing herself so hard, while the solution to her problem could have been so simple. But Jody had gently asked her what she would have done had she been in that situation and Sam had to admit she would have done the same. She would have wanted to be the one who had worked hard to give a special friend a special gift. So it would be only from her, nobody else.
Her respect for Yarra had jumped a few notches and her pride and affection for the veterinary student had grown.
“How are you doing in the Christmas gift department, Alice?” she asked the young blonde, who was neatly stacking the used plates in the dishwasher.
Alice looked up and her blue eyes twinkled.
“Are you on a fishing expedition, Sam?”
“Me?” Sam pointed towards her chest, with an innocent look. “Nah, not me.”
“All right,” Alice chuckled. “Because I’m not saying a single thing. I know you, Sam, you are just too curious.”
Before Sam could respond, a laugh sounded from outside and Jody’s amused voice filled the kitchen.
“That is the way to go, Alice. Good job.”
“You two are clearly conspiring against me,” Sam pouted.
“No we are not. We just know you, that’s all,” Jody dryly responded.
“Honey, I’m hurt,” Sam called back.
“Then hurry up with whatever you’re doing and come over here, so I can kiss it better.”
Sam grinned and tossed a soggy dishtowel towards Alice, who expertly caught it and used it to playfully slap Sam’s behind.
“Go on, I’ll make some tea.”
“You’ll make a wonderful baby sitter, Alice,” Sam teased.
“So you say. Pity I will be in Brisbane soon.”
“There are always the vacations,” Sam called over her shoulder, before exiting the kitchen.
Alice smiled and filled the kettle with fresh water, putting it on the stove. She enjoyed the playful bantering and teasing, always recognizing it for what it was: a sign of genuine affection. She had lost her mother in a tragic way and nobody could ever replace her, but Sam and Jody had proved to be loving, caring guardians and she was sure they would make great parents.
Just when she had finished pouring boiling water into the teapot the phone rang and Alice’s head jerked up, like it had done so many times before during the last few weeks. Constantly hoping it would be her friend, whom she missed so much. The disappointment had always been the same and Alice sadly reminded herself that she had to try and get used to the empty feeling she was experiencing since Yarra had stopped calling her every other day.
“Alice, it’s for you,” Jody’s gentle voice sounded with a hint of excitement, after a few long minutes.
Her heart did a double take when she walked towards the veranda to take over the phone Jody was holding out to her with a knowing smile.
“Yarra,” Jody mouthed, seeing the blue eyes light up.
Alice swallowed hard and moistened her suddenly dry lips, before pressing the cordless phone against her ear.
“Hi,” she shyly said.
“Alice, hi, it’s me. How are you doing?” Yarra’s soft, melodious voice filled her ear and Alice turned away from Sam and Jody to hide the tears in her eyes.
“I’m okay,” she answered. “I have been busy with school and getting everyone suitable Christmas presents. How are you?”
“I’m great. I’m talking to my best friend,” was the unexpected answer and Alice suppressed a sob.
“Alice?” Yarra sounded worried and the dark girl could have slapped herself silly when she heard the tell tale sound of tears.
“Am I?” Alice softly asked.
“My best friend? Always. I’m so sorry about those last few weeks, Alice. I…I have been real busy and…”
“Too busy to talk a few minutes on the phone with me? Or send me emails that are longer than two sentences?” Alice couldn’t hide the bitterness in her voice and she winced when the words had left her mouth. She silently reminded herself that Yarra did not owe her anything and she had no claim on the dark skinned girl.
“I can explain, Alice and I really want to. I don’t want you to be upset with me, although I do understand if you are. But you’ll have to believe me when I tell you that…I still feel the same about you. Nothing could ever change that.”
“Really?” Alice’s hoarse voice sounded.
“Really,” Yarra answered and Alice could hear the smile in her voice and she was able to picture her friend’s dark brown eyes, radiating warmth and affection.
“I miss you,” Alice softly whispered. “I haven’t seen you in like…months. Kurt misses you too,” she added, looking down at the German Shepard who had taken up position at her feet, looking up at her with trusting, dark eyes.
“And I miss you too, but I’ll be back home soon. And when I return to Brisbane, you’ll be here too.”
“I like that,” Alice confessed.
“I do too,” Yarra admitted. “I hate the city, but with you here it will be a lot better.”
“I hope so.”
“I know so,” was the confident answer and Alice smiled.
“Listen, Alice. I will be home soon. We can spend a lot of time together and I’ll explain to you why I acted like a…jerk…lately. Is that all right with you? It’s not a good idea to do that now, for numerous reasons, but I’ll tell you later. I promise.”
Alice frowned and absent mindedly scratched the big dog between his ears, making him grunt in pleasure. Her blue eyes had a faraway look in them when she stared into the distance, without seeing much of the beauty that surrounded her. But suddenly a thought crossed her mind and she shot upright, her blue eyes clear and alert.
“Um…does all of that…explaining…have anything to do with Christmas?”
Yarra coughed and cleared her throat and Alice could almost picture the flustered look on her friend’s face.
“Oh, Yarra, now I feel like a jerk,” she moaned. “I’m so sorry about…”
“Don’t be, Alice. I just want us to be okay and we are, right?”
“Yes,” was the whispered response. “We are.”
“That is all that matters to me. I couldn’t stand it if…if…something would come between us.” Yarra audibly swallowed before hastily continuing. “You mean so much to me.”
Alice threw back her head and looked up at the clear blue sky, not aware of the magical way the atmosphere’s colors deepened the shade of blue of her eyes.
Yarra’s words had made her heart skip a beat and a lump had formed in her throat. But this time it was not out of sadness.
“I wish you were here,” she longingly spoke.
“I will be soon,” Yarra promised. “Wild horses couldn’t stop me, Alice.”
“No, you’d probably talk them into giving you a ride,” Alice joked, referring to Yarra’s exceptional way of handling animals.
The dark girl chuckled and felt a warm surge course through her body. Alice always seemed to have that effect on her.
“If it would get me to you faster, I’d take it,” she quipped. “So, how are Jody and Sam?”
Only then Alice remembered she had not been alone at the veranda and while a blush colored her cheeks she turned around to cast a look at the couple that was comfortably snuggled on the couch. Jody was resting her head on Sam’s shoulder, with the tall woman’s arms securely wrapped around her body, while one of Sam’s hands was resting on her belly.
Jody sent her an affectionate smile while Sam winked.
“They both look like cats that just ate the canary,” Alice wryly smiled, making Yarra laugh.
“I guess you were not alone then, huh? I’m sorry about that, honey,” Yarra said, not even aware of the term of endearment that had so easily slipped out of her mouth.
But Alice had heard it, loud and clear and her heart skipped a beat while a dark blush crept up her cheeks. Yarra had never called her that before, but the affectionate way she had used the endearment held a world of promises and Alice was gladly accepting each and every one of them.
“It’s okay,” she softly smiled. “I know they’ll love me anyway.”
“Of course they do,” Yarra laughed. “What’s not to love?”
Alice softly smiled and reveled in the warm timbre of her friend’s voice. It seemed to her that every time she talked to Yarra on the phone, she missed her even more than before.
“Are you flirting with me?” she asked, wiping a sweaty palm on the fabric of her shorts as her heart rate picked up.
“Would you let me?” was the slightly tense reply.
Closing her eyes Alice exhaled slowly, while a smile crept up her face. She knew her answer would change their friendship into something deeper and more intense. But she was ready for that.
“Yes, I would.”
“Then I’m flirting with you,” Yarra smiled.
“So, what would have been your excuse if I’d said ‘no’?” Alice asked in a teasing voice.
Yarra didn’t have to think about that long.
“That I would have respected your answer, but it wouldn’t have meant I would have given up trying.”
“You are a determined little thing, huh?”
Alice smiled when she heard Yarra’s full laugh and subconsciously pressed the phone a little closer to her ear.
“Little thing? Last time I looked I was still a lot taller than you are, Alice.”
“But you haven’t seen me for two months, I might have grown.”
“Six weeks and three days,” Yarra sighed. “And yes, you might have. I’m looking forward to seeing if that will be the case.”
“Then hurry home.”
“I will,” was the solemn promise.
Six days before Christmas
Joan McDonnell let out a frustrated sigh and cast an aggravated look at the pile of presents that were littering the table. She was pretty sure she had presents for everyone, including her, soon to be born grandchildren and the time had arrived to neatly wrap each and every one of them.
And that was exactly what had been troubling her: she hated to wrap up things. It was a well kept secret, although she was pretty sure Fiona had caught on when she kept delaying the inevitable with excuses that became more and more transparent.
She loved her family and friends and was looking forward to the Christmas party Jody and Sam were organizing, but over the years her family had been steadily growing, so right now there were more presents to neatly wrap.
With a last, evil glare at the table, Joan took a deep breath and for the first time she questioned Sam’s suggestion that everyone who would be at the party, would buy a present for…everyone who would be at the party.
“Thanks, Sam,” Joan groaned. “I like the idea, but do we really have to wrap all of them? Why not just stick a note to it with a name? That would be so much easier.”
“But no fun,” an amused voice suddenly sounded behind her.
Joan jumped and when she turned around she shot her youngest daughter an accusing look.
“Don’t scare your poor mother like that, Fiona McDonnell ! Christmas is stressful enough as it is, without you trying to give me a heart attack.”
“Sorry, mom,” Fiona answered, but her eyes were dancing with merriment. “I could lend you a hand, you know.”
Joan McDonnell’s hazel eyes lit up and she looked from the cluttered table to her daughter and back again.
“That’s sweet of you honey, but I really think that…”
“Come on, Mom, you know you want my help,” Fiona laughed. “Besides, you’ll be taking off to Murrook Farm tomorrow to help Jody with all the baking and stuff. You need to be done before you leave. And that will give you…” Fiona cast a look at the clock and smirked. “…a total of eleven hours, since Sam will pick you up at eight.”
“You are enjoying this, aren’t you?” Joan sighed, but she was smiling.
“It’s one of the things that make Christmas so much fun, Mom,” Fiona grinned, stepping closer to the table and eyeing all the different shapes and sizes. “But just think about how great that tree will look with all those presents underneath it.”
“I doubt we’ll be able to even see the tree,” Joan muttered. “You know how many people will be there?”
Fiona leaned her hip against the table and cast her mother a feigned pensive look.
“Let me see, there are Jody and Sam, of course,” she ticked off on her fingers. “You, me, Lucy and Trish, Alice and Yarra, Susan and George, Yarra’s brothers Collin and Marron, Sarah and Megan with the little rug rat and then of course our mystery guests: baby one and baby two. That is fifteen visible people and two hidden ones. That’s a lot of presents, Mom,” Fiona smirked. “But it could have been worse, you know. Brian and Chris were invited as well, but they’ll be visiting Chris’ parents in Cairns and Bird is on a field trip and will be happily floating somewhere on the Pacific, doing whatever marine biologists do.”
“Sam and Jody must be out of their minds. Ah, well, the good news is I did get seventeen presents, so I didn’t leave anyone out, but the bad news..,” Joan’s eyes traveled to the table and she sent her daughter a pleading look. “Help !”
“We’ll be unwrapping stuff until New Year’s Eve,” Fiona laughed, looking forward to the event. “But I’ll help you, Mom. Let’s get this show on the road.”
“It’s a good thing it’s a school holiday, because we will be busy until after midnight,” Joan predicted. “I swear, I’ll get Sam for this.”
“Sweetie, can you hand me that roll of tape please?” Jody asked, pressing her finger against a piece of wrapping paper to hold the neatly folded edges in place.
Sam wordlessly handed her lover the requested item and looked at the growing pile of colorful wrapped presents on the kitchen table.
“You’re my hero,” she sighed. “I don’t think I could have done all that, Jody. I never realized how much it was until I saw that heap.”
“Well, it was your idea, Dutchie,” Jody smirked, using her teeth to bite off a piece of sticking tape.
“What was I thinking?” Sam mumbled, twirling another roll of tape around her finger.
“It was a great idea, honey. It’s going to be an excellent party.”
“Yes, it will, won’t it?” Sam chuckled while her blue eyes shone with glee. “Wait until Trishia has to unwrap her present! I can’t wait to see her face.”
“I swear, Samantha Stevens, you are such a child sometimes,” Jody laughed, but the look she sent her partner was filled with love and gentle amusement.
“It will be our last Christmas without kiddies,” Sam remarked with a happy sigh. “I’m so looking forward to meet these two little individuals. Nine months is such a long time to wait.”
Jody rested her busy hands on her lap and absent mindedly rubbed her belly, immediately feeling a movement underneath the palm of her hands.
“It might not be nine months, honey. You know what they say about twins.”
“That they usually come earlier,” Sam answered with a smile. “Well, I’m ready to meet those little sprouts. Those ultra sounds are great, but still, it’s just like looking at a black and white puzzle: whose parts are who?”
“Oh, come on, Sam, it wasn’t that bad,” Jody laughed.
“And then of course there was that one time when one of our offspring mooned us.”
Jody shook with laughter and had to hold her belly, afraid of falling off the chair she was sitting on.
“You are so bad ! Making me laugh like that woke them up, baby. You’ll need to tell them a story later on, to calm them down, otherwise they won’t let me sleep.”
“I still find that so…miraculous,” Sam smiled with eyes full of wonder. “The way they respond to my voice is absolutely amazing.”
“They know you love them.”
“And I do. I haven’t met them yet, but…I just know we will have two very special children. And I really would want them to look like their mommy.”
“Red hair and freckles?” Jody inquired with raised eyebrows. “I hope they will have more of your genes, sweetie. I like the blond haired, blue eyed look. Not to mention your height. I like it that you and your brother Tom’s are so tall. If these babies are anything like the two of you, I won’t be complaining.”
“Mmm…being tall has its advantages,’ Sam smiled, reaching out and grabbing Jody’s hand to bring it to her lips to softly kiss it. “But you still have no idea how beautiful you are, my love.”
A pair of green eyes met radiant blue and for a moment Jody completely lost herself in the tender gaze that enveloped her like a warm blanket.
“You mean that,” she finally whispered. “Even now, when I’m as big as a house and waddle around like a duck?”
“To me you have never looked more beautiful,” Sam vowed and in her lover’s eyes Jody could see she truly meant it.
“I love you, Samantha Stevens,” she smiled, caressing the blonde’s cheek with the back of her free hand.
“As I love you, Jody McDonnell. You and the twins are my life.”
Sam brought her face closer to her partners and captured her lips in a kiss that was so soft and tender, it brought tears to Jody’s eyes. Pulling the tall woman closer she wrapped her arms around Sam’s neck and rested her head against a strong shoulder, reveling in the feel of Sam’s hands that were rubbing slow circles across her back.
“I really like the idea of us having twins,” Jody confessed. “I know we’ll be busy, but it will be so wonderful, Sam. Have I ever thanked you for that?”
“For what?” Sam asked with a puzzled frown.
“For getting us twins,” Jody calmly answered.
“Um…well, sweetie, I don’t think it had anything to do with me, though, I just…”
“You were the one handling that…syringe type of thing, weren’t you?”
“Well, yeah, but…”
“I guess you just aimed right,” Jody laughed, kissing a pair of soft lips that were conveniently close.
Sam looked up and her blue eyes were twinkling when she saw the look of utter devotion on her lover’s face.
“I must have done well then,” she chuckled.
“You have. And there are so many more things you excel in, baby. Kissing is one of them,” Jody whispered hoarsely, feeling her heart skip a beat when her lips met Sam’s again.
They leisurely kissed for a long time, exchanging whispered words of love and soft touches, until Jody untangled herself from Sam’s long arms with a deep sigh full of regret.
“We need to finish this wrapping expedition, baby. Mom will be here in the morning and I need to be done by then.” Jody gave Sam one last kiss and playfully poked the taller woman’s chest. “It’s your fault, you know. You made up the rule that nothing is allowed to be bagged.”
“And what a silly rule that was,” Sam grinned. “I’m looking forward already to hearing everybody moan and groan about it. It was an excellent joke.”
“Yes, and look who ended up doing most of your wrapping, my devious Dutchie.”
“Hey! I did my share,” Sam protested, but she was grinning, knowing full well it wasn’t the truth, unless two out of ten presents counted.
“I love you anyway,” Jody grinned, playfully kissing Sam on the nose. “And I would really adore you if you’d rub my lower back for me.”
“Why? What’s wrong? Are you all right?” Sam immediately asked, full of worry.
“Yes, sweetie, I’m fine. I think I just overdid it a little. It feels a bit…sore, that’s all. Nothing your hands can’t handle,” Jody added with a charming smile. “So, can I talk you into giving me a nice back rub?”
“Anytime, my love,” Sam promised, already standing behind Jody’s chair, gently rubbing circles along the small of her partner’s back. “I aim to please.”
Michael McDonnell stared outside his bedroom window, his green eyes not seeing the way the treetops gently swayed in the evening breeze, or how the moon illuminated the water of the small pond that was fed by a spring higher up the hill, behind the house.
His fingers twirled around a piece of paper and without looking at it he knew exactly what it said. He had read it so many times already, he knew the words by heart.
Hopefully this letter will reach you. I never know if they do, since I have written you so many already and I have never received an answer. But I like to keep trying, because no matter what has happened in the past between dad and me, you are still my baby brother and I love you. I always will.
I respect the fact that you chose to live with Dad and the last thing I want is to stir up any trouble between the two of you, but I do miss you.
Sam and I are organizing a Christmas Party at our place, December 25th (duh!) and we want you to know that you are welcome to join us. Of course not just for the Holidays, you are always welcome at our place, Mikey.
I know you occasionally meet Mom and Fiona, so you have probably heard that you will be an uncle soon. One of my most heartfelt wishes is for you to be a part of the twins’ lives. To me that would be a precious gift.
Fiona told me you aced your final exams and are officially graduated from high school now. I’m proud of you. But then, you have always been a smart cookie!
I miss you, Mike. I hope we will see each other again soon.
I love you.
Michael exhaled and raked his fingers through his reddish blond hair. It had been such a coincidence he was handed the mail when he went into the tiny, local post office that morning. Usually it was his dad who collected the mail, when he was on his way home from work. But when Michael went in that morning to buy himself some stamps, the owner, Bill Sawyer, who happened to be a friend of his father, had not been there. Instead the only person manning the small business had been Bill’s nephew Mark. He had handed Michael a stack of mail and only when he had come home and dropped the envelopes on the kitchen table, his eyes had fallen on the familiar long hand he immediately had recognized as his sister’s. The letter was addressed to him.
With trembling fingers he had opened the envelope and taken out the sheet of paper. With tears in his eyes he had read Jody’s words, wondering why it had taken her such a long time to finally try and contact him. But when he read the letter for the second time he knew why.
And it pained him to know that apparently his father had made sure he would never receive any of the letters his sister had written him.
“Why dad?” Michael whispered, feeling miserable to have discovered something about his father Fiona had already warned him about years ago. He thought his youngest sister had been wrong when she had once told him that Jody never forgot his birthday, or Christmas. It had hurt him back then, to realize Fiona thought Jody remembered him. He had acted like it didn’t matter much to him, shrugging his shoulders and mumbling something unintelligible. But deep down inside, he had been silently crying. Trying not to think about how much he missed his eldest sister and later, after the divorce his mother and Fiona and Lucy as well.
They are all spawns of the devil, son, his father’s words echoed in his ears. Jody and Lucy are an abomination to God and our family and they have sucked your mother and sister right into it. When their time comes they will all go straight to hell.
Hell? Michael mused. What exactly is hell? I feel like I have been going through an emotional hell ever since Mom left. And Fiona. Dad expected me to take his side, because I am his son. He told me we should stick together. He told me God wanted me to turn my back on my sisters. It would be a great act of faith on my part. But I don’t believe that anymore. I don’t think I ever have. It’s what he wanted. Not God.
Michael rubbed his tired eyes and could feel the moisture coat his fingers. He felt like his life had come to a crossroads and no matter whether he would turn left or right, he would end up hurting people in the process. Not just ordinary people, but family he cared about. It was so hard.
His brother Matthew had his own business, working as a contractor and both he and his dad expected Michael to start his apprenticeship soon. They wanted him to be a carpenter, like they were. But they had never asked the eighteen year old what his dreams were. His grades were good enough to go to medical school and become a pediatrician. He once mentioned that to his father, who had laughed and roughly slapped his back, jokingly asking him if he was a queer like his sisters were? Being a carpenter would make him a real man, his father had assured him. Studying was for losers.
Michael swallowed hard and looked at the sheet of paper in his hands. He carefully folded it and tucked it inside his pocket.
Maybe it was time to be a man all right. And take a stand. He would need to do that anyway, sooner or later.
It was the day before Christmas…
“Come on, come on,” Yarra impatiently jumped from one foot to the other, waiting for the light to turn. She only had five minutes left before her bus would leave and she needed to be on it. But first she had to cross that awfully busy street where the whole world and his dog seemed to be rushing past to do some last Christmas shopping.
She had promised her parents to be home for Christmas Eve, which gave her about; she cast a look at her watch, five more hours. Her brothers had left for home days ago, taking most of her stuff with them and Yarra had watched them leave with tears in her eyes and a heavy heart. The deal with the job she had taken was to stick with it until four p.m., Christmas Eve, which had given her about an hour and a half to collect her weekend bag, run to the store where they had promised to lay away the drawing board and from there hurry to the nearest bus station.
When her brothers had left, the only thing that had kept her from jumping in the back of Collin’s car was the thought of a pair of brilliant blue eyes that would shine with happiness after Yarra had given Alice her presents. And something extra. If she could muster up the courage to give that.
Nervously fingering the small package in her pocket Yarra swallowed hard. Buying it had been a spur of the moment kind of thing, one which she didn’t regret. Oh, no. But she did wonder why she had talked herself into it.
Because it’s Alice, a calm voice in the back of her mind answered.
Yarra’s brown eyes softened and with a sigh of relief she saw the light turn. Quickly she followed the herd of pedestrians that were also on their way to the bus station. Many of them were students, like she was, having stayed in Brisbane longer to work and make some extra money to buy their friends and loved ones Christmas gifts.
Yarra grinned when she looked around and noticed that a lot of people were hauling around bags full of colorful wrapped packages or gift bags. At least she didn’t look silly, carrying the big box that contained Alice’s main present. The only problem was getting it on the bus. But maybe the driver would help her store it in the belly of the bus, where the huge luggage compartment was. That would help her to have a relaxed drive back home.
If you would have left earlier, you could have dropped in at Murrook Farm and visited Alice this evening. Now you will have to wait until tomorrow…
Yarra gritted her teeth and ignored the annoying little voice that was nagging in the back of her mind. She would be home soon and that was all that counted. After the summer Alice would go to Brisbane as well and they would be able to see each other more often.
Yarra smiled and felt a comfortable warmth settle in her chest. Next year would be great. With Alice around she might not even be homesick anymore…
Yarra’s eyes spotted the bus she needed to bring her home and she stuck her hand inside her pocket to pull out her wallet. Immediately she froze. Her heart skipped a beat and she felt a cold shiver run down her spine.
Her pocket was empty. For a brief moment the dark girl thought she had been robbed, but then, with clarifying horror she realized she had left it in her room. On the table. Next to her bed. With the money inside to buy a ticket home.
“Oh, no! I can’t believe I did that,” she whispered with disgust.
Looking at the heavy box that was sitting at her feet she took a deep breath, fighting down the annoyance she felt with herself.
“I am losing it. I am definitely losing it.”
“Hey, Yarra,” a cheerful voice sounded behind her. “Are you going home for the Holidays?”
Yarra looked up in the friendly face of Jim Hanson, one of her fellow students.
“Hey, Jim,” she greeted him with a tired smile. “I was going home, but I just discovered I left my wallet with all my money on my night stand. I guess I’ll miss this bus, huh?”
“Oh, I am sorry, mate,” Jim winced in sympathy, already reaching inside the pockets of his shorts to pull out a leather wallet. “If you need some money for a ticket, I can…”
“That is sweet of you, Jim,” Yarra sighed, pleased with the gesture. “But I’ll be staying home until the start of the new semester. I really need to go back and get it.”
“Hauling around that monster?” Jim asked, pointing at the box at her feet.
“I have no choice,” Yarra replied with a wry smile.
“Let me give you some money, so you can use one of those luggage lockers, Yar,” Jim suggested, raising a hand to silence the dark girl’s protest. “Come on, mate, it’s the least I can do. Besides, you’ll be able to move faster if you don’t have to carry all that weight around.”
“All right,” Yarra agreed with a smile. “But I will pay you back.”
“Whatever you want, Yarra,” Jim grinned. “But it’s only a few dollars.”
“You are a good bloke, Jimbo. I appreciate it.”
“No worries, just helping out a friend,” Jim shrugged. “Let’s go find ourselves a vault that will be able to swallow that thing. What’s it anyway?” he asked over his shoulder, leading Yarra to a small building where the storage lockers were. “A Christmas gift?”
“Yup,” Yarra answered with a grin, seeing Jim smile.
“She must be something special,” he remarked with a chuckle, knowing Yarra’s orientation because in the past she had turned him down a few times, before explaining the exact reason why. “I’d like to meet her.”
“You will soon enough,” Yarra promised. “She’ll start Architecture next semester.”
“Wow, that’s cool. She can design your clinic.”
“Maybe one day she will,” Yarra grinned. “Listen, Jim, I really need to run if I want to catch the last bus out. Thanks a lot for your help, mate. I really appreciate it.”
“No worries, Yarra. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, Jim,” she smiled, before sending him one last smile and heading back to where she had come from.
Yarra had no time to leisurely stroll and enjoy the festive Christmas atmosphere with all the decorations in the shop windows and the Christmas carols that cheerfully sounded from the various shops and restaurants.
Her long legs ate up the distance while she jogged down the street, already feeling the sweat trickle down her back and coating her forehead. She impatiently wiped a few drops away with the back of her hand, when she had to stop for a moment to let some traffic pass.
Hardly fifteen minutes later she reached the apartment she shared with her brothers and ran up the stairs to the second floor. Panting she opened the door to her bedroom and quickly grabbed her wallet from the small table.
Two minutes later the front door slammed shut behind her and Yarra started her jog back to the bus station, this time with her money and a bottle of water she had quickly grabbed from the refrigerator.
On her way to the station Yarra crossed a little park and she was grateful for the shade the huge trees provided. It brought a temporarily relief from the hot sun and she cast a quick look at her watch, wondering if she could allow herself a few minutes of rest.
“I guess I can,” she breathed, dropping down on a bench and stretching out her long legs, feeling the tired muscles pull in her calves.
“I need to get back in shape,” she mumbled, taking a long sip from the bottle of water she had been carrying. “I’ve been hunched over those books for too long those last few months.”
The thought of a few weeks vacation in which she was sure Alice would join her on some long hikes in the forest, immediately brightened her mood and Yarra smiled.
“Excuse me, miss?” a timid voice suddenly sounded and when Yarra looked up she saw a young girl standing in front her. She couldn’t be much older than ten. She was dressed in a pair of dark shorts and a light blue t-shirt that had seen better days. Her feet were bare and dirty. The light blonde hair almost fell into the girl’s pale blue eyes and she looked at Yarra through long eyelashes.
“Miss…if…when you are done with the…if your bottle is empty, can I please have it then?” the girl’s slightly husky voice hesitantly asked and Yarra looked at the girl with startled eyes.
“My bottle?” she asked.
“Yes, please? They emptied the bins in the park today and…and…I need a bottle to go over to the fountain over there to get my Mom some water. I dropped the other bottle I had and busted it,” the girl ended in a whisper. “Now it’s leaking a lot.”
Yarra’s brown eyes took in the girl, who was almost too shy to look up at her. Instead she was using the toes of one bare foot to draw invisible patterns on the short cropped grass.
“What’s your name, little one?” she asked in a gentle voice.
“Caroline, but my mom calls me Linny.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Linny. My name is Yarra,” the dark girl smiled. “And of course you may have my bottle. Here.”
Yarra had tightened the cap back on and handed the bottle to the little girl who looked at her wide eyed.
“You…haven’t finished yet,” she said with evident surprise.
“That’s all right, Linny. I can get another one later.” Her brown eyes searched the park. Except for the girl and a few people near the fountain, she didn’t see anyone else.
“Where is your, Mom, Linny?”
The skinny girl half turned and pointed a small finger at some bushes behind a big tree.
“She’s sleeping behind there,” she innocently explained, confirming what Yarra already suspected: Linny and her mother were obviously homeless.
With a stab of pain Yarra remembered the stories Alice had told her about her time on the streets and how dangerous and difficult her life had been.
If the weather was good enough, I usually slept outside. Mostly in parks, underneath some bushes that were big enough to hide me. I knew that if I would just stay put, I might survive another night, Alice’s voice echoed in her ears.
“Is she all right?” Yarra asked with a worried voice.
The little girl shrugged her slender shoulders and cast the tall woman a sad look.
“She said she would be, but I think she’s sick, because she was so cold. She coughs a lot. And I know she has a sore belly.”
“How do you know?” Yarra inquired with growing anxiety.
“Because she keeps holding it and I can’t touch her,” Linny explained in a whisper. “Is she going to die, Yarra?”
Yarra’s heart clenched when the little girl looked up at her with pain filled blue eyes that were testimony to the sorrow she already had encountered in her young life. It reminded her of Alice and Yarra had to swallow away a lump in her throat.
“Why don’t you show me where your Mom is, so I can have a look at her? All right?” she suggested, extended her hand to the little girl.
A clammy, small hand was put in her much larger one and Yarra gave it an encouraging squeeze.
“This way,” Linny said, tugging Yarra in the direction she had pointed out before. “Maybe you can make her feel better, huh?”
“Alice, honey, will you please stop pacing? You are making me sea sick,” Jody gently scolded, watching the young blonde cast her an exasperated look, before she let herself fall down in a chair, eying the cordless phone on the table with eager eyes.
“She’ll call you, Alice,” Joan McDonnell tried to reassure the young woman from her comfortable spot on the couch. “Yarra hasn’t seen her parents for a while, so I guess they are just catching up.”
“I know, I know,” Alice mumbled, wondering why she was feeling so restless. She cast a look at the clock and realized Yarra should have arrived home more than an hour ago. What kept her?
“Besides, you’re making poor Kurt lose his doggie mind,” Sam added with a smile, looking at the dog, who was impatiently pacing the area between the living room and kitchen. Sam had already opened the door for him a few times, thinking he needed to go outside, but every time his brown eyes had looked up at her with an unreadable expression and Sam had still not figured out what his problem was.
Probably the excitement about the upcoming Christmas Party. Or maybe he was expecting Yarra to drive up the road. Sam had read an article that stated that animals sometimes just knew those kinds of things.
Alice almost jumped when all of a sudden the phone started ringing and after a quick look at a nodding Jody she grabbed the cordless device from the table and brought it to her ear.
“Yarra!” she sighed in relief when she heard the familiar voice on the other side of the connection. “I was wondering where you were hiding. Did you have a good trip down?”
“I’m still in Brisbane, Alice,” Yarra’s tired voice sounded in Alice’s ear. “Something came up. I am sorry.”
“I’ll need to leave tomorrow morning. I missed the last bus out.”
“But how?” Alice asked with a frown, trying to hide the disappointment in her voice.
“It’s a long story, but I ran into a little girl and her mother who needed my help. I couldn’t just turn my back on them, Alice.”
“I…understand,” Alice managed to answer in a strained voice.
However, she was so disappointed having to wait another day to see her friend that she almost missed Yarra’s next words.
“What?” she asked, suddenly sitting up straight.
“I met this little girl and her mother in a park, when I was on my way to the bus station. They are homeless and the mother is very sick. She was lying behind some bushes, Alice and when I got to her she was more dead than alive. I called an ambulance, but somebody had to stay with the girl for a while. I couldn’t just leave her there, so I went to the hospital with her.”
Alice could tell that Yarra was about to burst out into tears and she could feel the moisture pooling in her own eyes.
“How is she now?” she softly asked.
“The doctor said she’ll live. She was severely dehydrated and has pneumonia. It nearly killed her, but they are pretty confident she will make it.”
“What about the girl?” Alice softly asked, remembering what it was like to feel completely alone when she had lost her mother and brother.
“They will keep her in the hospital, because she was pretty malnourished as well. At least that way she and her mother will be able to stay together. Hopefully the social worker will find a solution for them.”
“Sounds like you made a difference today,” Alice smiled.
“I hope so. I felt so bad for them. I…the little girl…she reminded me of you and…I…it hurt.”
Alice closed her eyes and felt a tear slide down her cheek. She was assaulted by a mixture of emotions. Yarra’s story had brought back some vivid memories about her own experiences as a homeless child. She knew all about fear and desperation and her heart went out to this little girl and her mother. She also felt joy and gratitude for Yarra putting aside her own plans, to assist a total stranger who needed help. But that was typically Yarra: kindhearted, loving and generous and it was such a blessing to have her as a friend.
“How are you doing, Yarra? Are you all right?” she asked with concern, feeling the couch next to her dip under the weight of someone sitting down. When she felt a gentle hand rub her back she didn’t have to look up to know it was Jody. After having lived at Murrook Farm for two years, it still amazed her how Jody always knew when she needed some extra support and comfort.
Gratefully leaning into the soothing contact, Alice listened to Yarra, who was obviously still fighting with her tears.
“I’ll be all right,” Yarra’s hoarse voice sounded. “I just felt so sorry for that poor little girl and her mother. I’ve heard the stories you told me, Alice, about your own time on the streets and I guess when I saw that skinny, blond girl, I saw you. I’m so grateful Jody and Sam took you in.”
“So am I” Alice smiled, glancing at the woman who was sitting next to her and sending her a fond smile. “And I’m sure Linny and her mother will feel the same gratitude towards you, my friend.”
Those last two words were laced with so much affection, Yarra felt a warmth settle in the pit of her stomach that rapidly spread through her whole body, taking away the anxiety and stress of the day and leaving her relaxed and content.
“I’ll catch the eight o’clock bus, so I should be home around noon. That means I might just make it to the party, but at least I’ll be there,” Yarra sighed.
“Did you hear the latest weather forecast?”
Alice sighed and raked her free hand through her short hair, leaving it wild and unruly.
“They say there are storms headed this way tomorrow. We could get hit with some nasty wind gusts and rain. Figures, huh?”
“Oh, goodie! Well, no matter what kind of weather it will be, I’ll be there tomorrow, Alice. I promise. Mom and Dad and the boys will leave around eleven thirty, but Dad promised to leave the four wheel drive at home, so I can use it when I get home. I’d hate to walk up the hill with that heavy present I got you.”
“A heavy present, huh?” Alice smiled. “Are you trying to make me curious?”
“Did it work?”
“I guess you’ll have to wait till tomorrow to see it. I’m sorry.”
“No, you’re not,” Alice snorted, but her eyes were twinkling.
“But you know what they say, Alice,” Yarra continued in a teasing voice. “All good things come to those who wait.”
“I know,” Alice sighed. “And I have been waiting a long time already. So hurry home.”
With a muffled groan Jody punched her pillow, changing its shape, hoping it would make her more comfortable. A quick glance at the alarm clock showed her it was past midnight already and she still had not slept for more than ten minutes in a row. For some reason she just couldn’t relax.
Turning her head she cast an envious look at the peacefully sleeping Sam. Her tall lover was lying on her right side, facing Jody, with one arm curled up underneath her pillow and the other one resting on her hip.
“I need to get up,” Jody mumbled to herself. “I’d better walk around for a while and make a cup of tea, before I wake up poor Sam. Besides, my bladder is screaming at me again.”
With difficulty Jody pushed herself upright and she was just about to swing her legs over the edge of the bed, when she heard Sam stir.
“What’s up, baby? Are you all right?”
“Yes, I need to get up for a while though. Somehow I can’t seem to get comfy,” Jody sighed.
“Do you need me to rub your back again?” Sam asked, sitting up and tenderly brushing a strand of hair away from Jody’s forehead.
“When I come back from my trip to the bathroom,” Jody groaned, cautiously getting to her feet and stretching her legs. “I swear, Sam, these kids have your energy.”
“I’m sorry you are miserable, honey,” Sam softly spoke, wishing there was something she could do to make her lover feel better.
“I’m not miserable, sweetie, just uncomfortable.” Jody turned around and sent her partner a tired smile. “I’ll be miserable in the morning if I don’t get some sleep soon.”
“What if I make you a nice cup of tea?” Sam suggested, already standing next to the bed, which would make Jody’s protests futile.
“You are a sweetie, Sam. Thank you,” Jody smiled. She looked from her belly up to Sam and smile wryly.
“The one thing I miss the most is enjoying a full body hug,” she sighed.
Immediately Sam stepped closer, put her hands on Jody’s shoulders and turned the smaller woman around. She wrapped her long arms around her lover’s body and gently pulled her backwards against her tall frame.
“I know this is not the same, but it’s as close as we can get,” she whispered, placing soft kisses across Jody’s neck.
With a satisfied moan, Jody leaned her head back against Sam’s shoulder and closed her eyes, absorbing the delicious feel of Sam’s warm body against her own.
“You have the best ideas, honey,” she sighed in pleasure, feeling Sam chuckle. “I love you so much.”
“And I love you,” Sam answered, pressing her cheek against Jody’s. “Now, go to the bathroom. I’ll make us some tea and then I’ll find a way to make you comfortable. How does that sound?”
“It looks incredible, Jody. Sam did a great job,” Joan smiled looking at the huge Christmas tree where piles of colorful presents were neatly stacked. It was hard to see the tree was not a real one. The dark green branches were exactly the right color and were decorated with silver and blue ornaments.
“She worked hard to get the room ready,” Jody told her mother. “They are pretty sure we’ll have rain today, so setting everything up outside was out of the question. It’s a good thing we have such a big house,” she chuckled.
“When will the first guests arrive?”
“I asked Lucy to get here a little early, so she and Trish can help out. I suppose the rest will start arriving around noon. I hope it won’t rain until the end of the day though.”
Jody leaned against the wall and exhaled slowly, immediately noticing her mother stepping closer and putting a hand on her shoulder.
“Honey, are you all right?”
“I think so,” Jody winced, rubbing her belly. “These two little acrobats are taking up so much room it’s getting a little uncomfortable.”
“A little?” Joan chuckled, gently rubbing Jody’s back. “I remember what it felt like, Jody, those last few weeks and I didn’t even carry around twins. Why don’t you sit down for a while?”
“I think I’d better,” Jody agreed. “If Sam sees me like this she’ll have a fit. I swear mom, she’s like a mother hen and sometimes I seriously think she’s convinced I’m made out of porcelain.”
“You mean, you aren’t?” an amused voice sounded from the doorway and when both Jody and Joan looked up they saw a grinning Lucy enter the room.
“Merry Christmas, Mom,” the slender dark haired woman greeted her mother with a hug.
“And Merry Christmas to you too, Jody,” Lucy smiled, carefully hugging her sister.
“Wow, I can hardly get my arms around you anymore,” she gently teased. Seeing Jody’s tired smile Lucy frowned and grabbed her sister’s arm.
“Sit down, sis. You look like you need a rest,” she urged, tugging Jody along to a comfortable chair. “Are you all right?”
“You know, if I had received a quarter for every time I’ve been asked that question during these last few weeks, I could buy Fiona a new car,” Jody grinned, obediently taking a seat. “And to answer your question, my dear protective sister, yes, I am all right. Just tired. I had some trouble falling asleep last night. That’s all. So, where is your honey?”
“She is outside with Sam, Fiona and Alice. They are wondering whether to put up the lanterns for this evening. If we do get hit by that storm they might be flying all over the place though.”
“I hope it will miss us,” Jody mumbled. “I was looking forward to a peaceful Christmas.”
Joan and Lucy exchanged a look and burst out laughing, while Jody looked at them with a puzzled look.
“What’s so funny about that?”
“Sweetheart, you are less than a few weeks away from giving birth to a pair of twins, invited an amazing amount of family and friends to your house to celebrate Christmas together and almost single handedly organized the whole event. There will be a lot of people here today, so I’m afraid you can forget the peaceful part,” Lucy grinned.
The corner of Jody’s eyes wrinkled and the green orbs twinkled when she softly chuckled.
“It will be fun though,” she remarked. “But I did have to promise Sam to sit down and just let things happen. I don’t think I am allowed to lift as much as two cups at the same time.”
“Good,” Joan nodded. “Tell us what needs to be done right now, so we can make ourselves useful. You stay put and rest.”
“Yes, Mom,” Jody smiled.
Yarra cast another look at the sky and noticed the tell tale signs of an upcoming storm. The wind had picked up considerably, even though the sun was shining and it was already hot outside. The line of dark clouds on the horizon was rapidly coming closer and was an indication that the weather prophets might be right. It could very well be a stormy, wet Christmas.
With a sigh the dark girl glanced at her watch. It was only eight thirty. She still had another two hours to go before she would be home. A lot of things could happen within two hours, Yarra knew, casting another look at the sky. She had a bad feeling about the weather.
“Looks like the weather blokes will be spot on,” the elderly driver spoke up, casting a look over his shoulder at his only passenger.
Yarra nodded and nervously nibbled her bottom lip, while her slender fingers played with the hem of her shirt.
“Not a good thing, lass,” he continued. “I promised the Missus to be home in time for dinner.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Yarra answered. “I should have been home yesterday, but something came up. Seems like I could be getting home late today.”
“Yup, but as long as we get there safe,” the driver smiled.
“That’s the main thing,” Yarra agreed, knowing full well that a fierce storm could easily cause mud and rock slides alongside the road and create flash floods that would turn a peaceful creek into a raging river within moments.
“Look how fast those clouds are coming in,” she pointed towards the sky, where the growing dark gray wall was lit up by lightning.
“Yeah and it’s heading south as well.” The driver cast another look at his passenger and noticed the disappointment in her expressive dark eyes. “I’m sorry, Miss.”
“Not your fault,” Yarra smiled weakly, swallowing away the lump in her throat and trying not to think about a pair of anxious blue eyes. “I’m sorry you might be getting home late as well.”
“I’m afraid that storm will hit us, Sam,” Trishia mumbled when she cast a look at the darkening sky. “Good thing everyone has arrived early and is accounted for, except Yarra.”
Sam’s blue eyes looked at the sky where only a few blue patches remained. The rest was quickly darkening and in the distance she could already hear the rumbling thunder.
“It’s past eleven thirty,” Sam sighed. “Yarra should have been here already. That bus was supposed to arrive around ten thirty.”
“Maybe she went home first to change,” Trishia remarked, seeing the worried frown on her friend’s face. “Come on, Sam, she is a big girl, Yarra can look after herself.”
“I know,” Sam sighed. “But I’m more worried about Alice. Yarra was supposed to be here yesterday, but something came up and she couldn’t leave until this morning. If she’ll be delayed again I’m afraid Alice will be very disappointed.”
Trishia nudged her worried looking friend’s shoulder and sent her an encouraging smile.
“Knowing Yarra, she’ll get here. Don’t worry, Sam. So, how’s Jody doing? She looks tired.”
“She is,” Sam answered with a small smile. “But she is holding up real well. She had a check up two days ago and everything was great. The babies are both positioned with their heads down, which is good.”
“Ready for take off, huh?” Trishia smiled. “Are you nervous?”
Sam’s blue eyes cast her friend an innocent look and she shrugged her shoulders.
“You liar,” Trishia laughed, slapping her friend across her back. “Gods, Sam, I would be packing it, really. I don’t understand how you can seem to be so calm. I would be all over the place.”
“Jody kicks my butt when I fuss too much,” Sam confessed with a wry grin. “She gives me that…look.”
“I think I know the one,” Trishia replied with a smile. “Lucy has that look as well. The ‘you know I love you, but if you don’t back off right now you’ll be sleeping in the shed’ kind of look.”
Sam laughed out loud and knew exactly what the tall policewoman was talking about, having been on the receiving end of those looks frequently during Jody’s pregnancy.
“They are truly sisters, huh?” she chuckled.
“Forces to be reckoned with,” Trishia sighed, but her eyes were sparkling. “Oh, boy, here are the first sprinkles,” she added, pointing at the small drops that were creating little wet spots on the hood of George Kirby’s car.
“Darn! I hope it won’t be a serious storm,” Sam mumbled. “Let’s go inside, Trish and see what the gang is up to. Kurt will surely warn us when Yarra comes up the road.”
The rain was coming down like a thick wall of water. The window wipers of the bus were frantically working to clear the window from excessive water, but to no avail. The visibility was reduced to almost nothing and the driver was squinting his eyes to try and see the road just in front of him.
Yarra had climbed into the seat next to him and her eyes were glued to the side of the road, ready to yell a warning whenever she would spot an obstacle that threatened to slide down the hill and hit the bus. Up until now it had only been a few little rocks and a lot of water that had been coming down. But she knew the rain that was pelting down would wash away the mud and sand and could easily loosen up the big boulders, causing them to tumble down onto the road.
“We’re close to the exit, Yarra,” the elderly river spoke up between clenched teeth. “Just keep your eyes open, all right?”
“Sure thing, Ted,” Yarra answered. “This is horrible.”
As soon as the rain had seriously started to come down, Ted Matthews had been forced to reduce speed and make his bus crawl over the road. There was no way he could stop. The few parking areas they had passed had been lined with big trees. The risk of the wind gusts taking off the huge branches and slamming them into the bus had been too great, so they had decided to continue their journey, sticking to the highway.
A bright flash illuminated the road in front of them and was immediately followed by a deafening thunder. Yarra cringed and looked up, but she could only see a wall of water.
“Merry Christmas,” she wryly remarked, making Ted chuckle, but suddenly she grabbed his shoulder and yelled a warning.
Thanks to years of experience, Ted Matthews managed to stop his bus just in front of a huge branch that was blocking the road.
“Wow, that was close,” he sighed, wiping his forehead. “Good job, lass. I hadn’t seen it.”
“We need to get it off the road,” Yarra said, jumping up and wishing she had been smart enough to bring a jacket. She knew that her cotton t-shirt would be drenched as soon as she set foot outside the bus.
“Yarra, you can’t…”
“We can’t just sit here, Ted,” Yarra reasoned, stepping towards the door. “I’ll get it off the road, you stay put, all right?”
Without giving the driver a chance to respond, Yarra had opened the door and jumped down the steps, onto the tarmac of the highway that was coated with a layer of water. The rain violently pelted down and within seconds her shirt and shorts were soaked with water, just like her brand new tennis shoes.
Keeping her head bent Yarra walked around the huge branch and used both hands to grab its splintered end. With a grunt she started pulling the heavy branch, feeling her muscles complain about the sudden abuse. It took all the strength she possessed, but she managed to move the obstacle towards the side of the road. The rough bark scraped against her legs and arms, causing a few abrasions in its wake, but Yarra didn’t even notice the pain. All she wanted was to get rid of the obstacle that was in between her and a beautiful blonde with amazing blue eyes.
“Move, you sorry excuse for firewood,” she yelled, giving the branch another shove, making it roll into the ditch next to the road.
With a satisfied grin Yarra wiped her hands on her shorts and quickly looked around. Noticing a familiar sign, her grin widened and quickly she jogged back to the bus.
“Are you all right, lass?” Ted asked with concern. “You are bleeding.”
Yarra cast a look at her arms and legs and just shrugged her shoulders. Her dark eyes were dancing with excitement when she pointed towards the road.
“I saw the exit sign, Ted, we’re almost there.”
Susan Kirby exchanged a look with her husband, who glanced back at her with a raised eyebrow.
“Your daughter is late,” she commented, not able to hide the worry in her hazel eyes.
George Kirby smiled and put his hand on his wife’s knee to give it an encouraging squeeze.
“She’ll be here,” he simply said and when Susan cast a look at her two sons, she saw both Collin and Marron nod their heads in agreement.
She never really understood how her husband and children did it, but somehow, on a level she never could grasp, they were all connected with each other. If one was in trouble, the other ones knew. Over the years they had proven that numerous times and Susan had learned to rely on their unusual gift.
“I’m more worried about Jody, though,” George Kirby softly spoke to his wife, his black eyes filled with concern.
“What do you mean?” his wife answered, while her eyes traveled to the pregnant woman, who was sitting in her chair, chatting with her friend Megan. “She seems to be doing fine.”
“Babies are due,” George calmly stated, taking a sip from his ice tea. “I already thought that when I saw the dog fussing about, but now I’m sure.”
“For crying out loud, honey, you….” Susan halted in mid sentence when her husband looked at her with a serious expression. “You are serious, aren’t you?”
She raked her fingers through her hair and let out a deep sigh. “Of course you are serious. You were always right with our kids. So what do we do, George?”
“Nothing,” the dark skinned man dryly answered. “We can’t go anywhere in this storm, so we’ll have to make the best of it here. You are here, so I’m not worried.”
“Honey, I am a nurse, not an obstetrician.”
“But you have delivered your share of babies. I have faith in you.” George put down his empty glass and unfolded his tall frame from the couch. “Best speak to Sam anyway, just to warn her,” he said.
George made his way to where Sam and Alice were standing near the window that was overlooking the driveway up to the house. Sam’s hand was on Alice’s shoulder and George did not need to hear the words of the conversation to know that the tall blonde was trying to comfort her young friend.
“She’ll be here soon, Alice,” his deep voice sounded full of confidence and when the young girl turned around and cast him a quizzical look he smiled.
“I just know,” he explained.
“I know you do,” Alice returned the smile. “Yarra told me about that. Thanks for letting me know, I was getting worried.”
“You don’t have to be,” he promised. “She won’t be long.”
“That’s a great gift, George,” Sam smiled at her neighbor. “If I will be half as good in predicting where my kids are, I’ll be content.”
“They are on their way, Sam,” George calmly answered.
“Thank goodness,” Sam sighed. “Another few weeks, possibly less and then…”
George Kirby suppressed a smile and put his hands on Sam’s shoulders to gently shake her. His black eyes searched for her blue ones and without words he tried to connect to the tall blonde woman.
The look in Sam’s eyes changed from curiosity to shock and underneath his hands, George could feel her body stiffen. But his eyes never left hers and after a brief moment of silence, Sam took courage from his calm, confident eyes and the expression on her face turned to quiet acceptance.
“There’s no way we can drive down to the hospital right now,” she softly spoke. “I could call our doctor, but I doubt she would make it up here in this storm. But I guess I’ll have to try anyway, huh?”
George nodded and gave Sam’s shoulders an encouraging squeeze before releasing the tall woman.
“There’s nothing wrong in trying,” he nodded. “Susan is here, she has helped in delivering a lot of babies and I’m sure Jody’s Mom can be of assistance as well, seeing she has six children of her own.”
“O, God,” Sam whispered, feeling a sudden tightening in her chest. She took a few deep breaths to push down the rising feeling of panic, knowing full well that very soon Jody would need her. She had to keep it together.
“So, is this where I ask for boiled water and clean towels?” she faintly joked, but the hand that was wiping her forehead was trembling.
“Not yet, Sam,” George smiled. “And there is no need to panic. I just felt it was fair to warn you.”
“Well, I sure appreciate it, George,” Sam replied, casting a look at Jody who was shifting uncomfortably in her chair. “How long? Do you have any idea? Maybe we can sit out the storm and drive to the hospital in time.”
“All I know is that it won’t be long, Sam. Tell me, when did those backaches start?”
Sam’s blue eyes looked at her neighbor and friend with a mixture of confusion and awe.
“How did…? Right, you just know,” she sighed. “Yesterday, early evening.”
George just nodded and mumbled something that suspiciously sounded like: “I thought as much.”
“How long will that give us?”
George Kirby was spared the answer, because a soft cry of surprise sounded when Jody was getting up from her chair. Holding the arm of the chair with one hand, her other hand was pressed against her belly, while her expressive green eyes looked for Sam. She managed a weak smile and mouthed: “My water broke.”
“Oh God, Oh God,” Sam breathed, feeling George Kirby’s hand on her shoulder.
“Keep it together, Sam,” he warned. “She’ll be fine. Just take a deep breath.”
Trishia who had noticed all the blood drain from Sam’s face, quickly stepped closer and grabbed her friend’s arm.
“Stay with it Sam,” she warned. “Come on, snap out of it. You have a job to do.”
“Okay, okay, I’m here,” Sam whispered, grateful when she felt the dizziness subside. “Thanks.”
With a few long strides, Sam was at Jody’s side, supporting the smaller woman by wrapping a long arm around her waist, holding her steady. Her lover’s eyes searched her face and Sam sent her a loving smile.
“Leave it to us to make this a Christmas no one will ever forget,” she gently joked.
“These two stubborn Dutchies just hate to miss a party,” Jody chuckled. “Are you all right, sweetie?”
“I’m fine,” Sam lied, whose stomach was doing flip flops. “So, what do we do now?”
“Megan suggested it’s a good idea to check out how far I am, you know, with the dilation. There must be something going on down there because I…” Jody sucked in a breath and pressed her hands against her belly. She slowly exhaled and took another breath. “…I think I am having contractions,” she ended seriously.
Joan cast a look at Susan Kirby, who nodded in agreement and stepped closer to Jody, who was leaning heavily on Sam’s arm.
“Come on, honey, let’s get you to your bedroom, so Susan can check you out,” Joan encouraged her daughter gently.
“What can we do, Mom?” Lucy nervously asked.
“Boil some water, Lucy,” Susan calmly answered. “Clean up some sharp knives or scissors and boil them for at least five minutes. And we need a stack of towels.”
Ted had made sure to drop off Yarra as close to her home as he could. In doing so he did break a few company rules, but that didn’t bother him much. He and the young student had been through a few rough hours together and he wanted to make sure she would be all right.
The storm had not eased up yet and at the local gas station Ted had made a quick phone call to his wife, to inform her he was all right, but wouldn’t be home yet for a while.
He and Yarra had said their goodbyes and with a worried frown he had watched the girl run down the road as fast as her heavy box would allow her to go. She disappeared into a muddy dirt track and Ted could only hope and pray the girl would arrive home safely.
Yarra knew she was taking a risk by running through the forest while there was a storm raging, but she didn’t care. She had promised Alice she would be home for Christmas and she would do anything she could to make it in time. Instead of fear she felt excitement, knowing she would finally see her friend again soon.
Yarra knew her parents and brothers would be at Murrook Farm already, but they had left the four wheel drive behind, so their daughter didn’t have to walk up the hill.
“You’re the best, dad,” Yarra mumbled, opening the door of the car and putting her heavy box on the backseat, glad she had managed to keep it in one piece. The box was wet and covered in muddy, red stains, but Yarra knew Alice would probably not even notice that. She grinned happily and slammed the door shut. Running into the house, towards her old bedroom she already pulled off her drenched t-shirt, feeling the goose bumps erupt, in spite of the heat.
“I have no time to shower,” Yarra mumbled, opening her closet and scanning the shelves for something appropriate to wear.
She quickly grabbed some dry underwear and reached for a cream colored, short sleeved silk blouse, when her eyes noticed the bloody patches on her arms.
“I’d better wash that, before everybody freaks out,” she mumbled, only then registering the burning sensation across her arms and legs. A quick look down showed her some painful looking abrasions and cuts.
“Freaking tree branch,” she mumbled with annoyance, deciding to have a quick shower after all. It would be a fast way to get rid of the blood and mud. “Sorry about that, Alice. I’ll be up soon though, I promise.”
She turned to head for the bathroom, when her eyes fell on a small package that was sitting in the middle of her desk. She frowned, knowing Alice had used her room to store some Christmas presents and she wondered if her blonde friend had accidentally left one behind. When she stepped closer to have a better look, she noticed the neatly folded note with her name on it. She recognized it as Alice’s writing. Curiously she picked up the note and unfolded it. Dear Yarra,
When you read this, you’ll be home. Finally ! It’s been a long wait, I can assure you. I have missed you.
I bought you a Christmas gift, to go in the huge pile here, at Murrook Farm. But I bought you something else as well. I hope you’ll like it. When I saw it, it reminded me of the day we first met and I just had to get it.
I really wanted to give it to you in person, but I chickened out (I hate it when I blush) so here it is. I hope you will like it.
I am so glad you are home !
With a soft smile Yarra picked up the little package from the table and looked at it closely. The dark red paper was neatly folded around something that looked to be a little box and Yarra could almost picture Alice’s face while she had wrapped it, the serious blue eyes focused on the task, while the blonde would nibble her bottom lip. A cute picture of concentration.
Carefully Yarra unwrapped the paper to reveal a small, dark blue box. Her heart did a double take when she saw the letters in gold print on top. It was from a local jewelry store that was well known for its handcrafted items.
Yarra slowly opened the box and her eyes grew wide when she saw the shiny object on its bed of black velvet. With slightly trembling fingers she lifted up the necklace and took a closer look at the beautiful silver wallaby that was resting in the palm of her hand. It was beautifully crafted and all the details were painstakingly added, so it looked like an exact copy of a real one.
“Oh, Alice,” Yarra whispered with a smile, feeling the moisture pool in her eyes. “It’s beautiful and what an amazing coincidence,” she chuckled, thinking about the little box that had been safely tucked away in her pocket and was now resting on the table, waiting for her to take it up to Murrook Farm and give it to her friend.
Yarra put the little box back down on her desk and with a smile she headed for the bathroom. She decided a real fast shower would be in order, because she couldn’t wait to see those amazing blue eyes when Alice would see the necklace she had gotten her friend.
Michael McDonnell cringed when another thunder almost shook the ground he was walking on. He had hoped the thunderstorm would have eased off quickly, but instead the storm seemed to linger and he felt extremely vulnerable as the lightning lit up the sky above him. A forest was not the best place to walk around in a storm like this, but he had no choice.
Early that morning he had finally told his father what he had been dreading to do for such a long time already. Ever since he had received his sister’s letter. When David McDonnell had been sitting at the kitchen table, sipping his freshly brewed coffee, Michael had taken a seat across from his father and had looked at him with pain filled eyes.
Without speaking a single word, he had pulled Jody’s letter out of his pocket, neatly unfolding the creased envelope and slid it halfway across the table.
David McDonnell’s eyes had grown wide when he had recognized the writing on the envelope and for a brief moment Michael had seen the insecurity in his father’s eyes.
“It’s from Jody,” he had explained in a soft voice, his green eyes, so much like his sister’s, dark with sadness and pain.
“I see that,” David McDonnell had answered in a gruff voice. “Funny thing, that she is sending you letters now, after all those years.”
“You think so?” Michael had asked, swallowing away the lump in his throat.
David McDonnell’s grip around his coffee mug had tightened and his eyes had grown cold when he had looked at his youngest son.
“For years I believed that I had lost my eldest sister, because she chose a wrong way and she didn’t want to have anything to do with me. I thought you were right, when you told us we should try to forget her, because she was a sinner and a pervert. I tried that, dad, I really did, but somehow I could never really believe all the things you told me about her. Because in my memory she always was the best sister I could have asked for. I know she loved me.”
Michael had taken a deep breath and his voice had slightly trembled when he continued. “And when I remember Samantha Stevens, I remember a nice person, who was always willing to tell me stories and play with me. And I remember how Jody and Sam looked at each other. Even back then. How can a love that is so deep and pure be wrong, dad?”
“It’s unnatural!” David McDonnell had spat. “God does not approve of…of…”
“God is love,” Michael had calmly interrupted his father. “I know that much. I can’t believe a loving God would approve of a father coming between his children and telling them lies.”
Michael’s voice had grown bitter and when David McDonnell had looked up he had noticed the tears in a pair of eyes that constantly reminded him of someone he desperately tried to forget.
“What…do you mean?” he had finally asked, feeling a cold band settle around his chest.
“I talked to Mark Sawyer, Bill’s nephew and we discovered a very strange thing,” Michael had answered in a strained voice.
“What?” David McDonnell had asked, while a wave of nausea had threatened to relieve him of his breakfast.
“This,” Michael had replied, reaching underneath the table and pulling up a shoe box that was filled with mail, letters and cards, most of them unopened.
“These are all the letters and cards Jody sent me over the years. The ones you told Bill Sawyer to put away, so I would never receive them.”
“Jody and Sam invited me to their Christmas Party today and I will be going there,” Michael McDonnell had said in a strong voice, pushing his chair back and standing up.
“You will do no such thing!” David McDonnell had barked, jumping up from his chair and walking around the table, grabbing his son by his shirt.
“Yes, I will,” Michael had calmly answered, although inside he was shaking like a leaf. “I have a right to see my sister. I am eighteen dad, I can basically do whatever I want.” He had put his hand over his father’s clenched fist and slowly pushed it down. “I wish things would have been different. I love you, dad. But I also love Jody. Please don’t make me chose.”
After those words, Michael McDonnell had grabbed the shoe box from the table and walked towards his room to grab the overnight bag he had already packed that morning.
“Don’t think for a moment you can have the car !” his father had shouted after him and Michael had sighed. He had arranged to meet one of his friends down the road, who would drop him off close to where Jody and Sam lived. He could walk the rest of the way up.
Leaving the house he had softly closed the door behind him. Without looking back he had headed for the road, while the rain had been pelting down on his slicker and mingling with the tears that were rolling down his cheeks.
Michael sighed and wondered how much further he had to walk until he would reach Murrook Farm. The road through the forest was steep and winding and under different circumstances he would have appreciated the beauty that surrounded him, but not this time, when the lightning and thunder made him jump and the wind made quick work of the dead and sick tree branches that came tumbling down on a regular basis. He had been able to avoid being struck by one a couple of times and wondered how much longer his luck would last.
Another flash of lighting illuminated the sky and on reflex Michael threw himself down. A split second later he heard the whooshing sound of a fire bolt passing overhead, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
A loud, crackling noise told him the lightning bolt must have hit a tree and he swallowed hard, wondering if it had been a wise decision to walk up the road.
“God, help me,” he whispered, while another lightning flash and accompanying thunder made it sound like the world was coming to an end.
Michael managed to get back to his feet and just when he was about to throw his body in a shallow ditch and just hope for the best, he heard the sound of a car’s engine.
He looked over his shoulder and relief flooded through his body when he saw the headlights of a car that was slowly crawling up the hill. Grabbing his soaked backpack he didn’t have to think twice. He ran down the road, towards the approaching car, waving his arms and hoping his prayers would be answered.
The driver signaled with the car’s headlights and Michael almost sobbed in relief when he opened the passenger’s door and quickly crawled inside, slamming the door behind him.
“Oh, my God,” he exhaled, pushing back the hood of his raincoat and revealing his red blond hair, that stuck to his damp forehead.
He cast a look aside and smiled when he noticed a pair of soulful brown eyes staring at him with compassion.
“That was a stupid thing to do, mate,’ the dark skinned girl gently rebuked. “I saw that bolt of lightning and it nearly hit you.”
“I know,” Michael sighed. “But…but…I know. Thanks for stopping, by the way.”
“No worries,” Yarra grinned. “I am glad to be able to help. Besides, your sisters would skin me alive if I’d not given you a ride.”
“You know my sisters?” Michael exclaimed. “But, how…”
“You could be a male version of Jody,” Yarra smiled, extending her hand and feeling it caught in a firm grip. “Hi, I am Yarra Kirby. Friend of the family.”
“Michael McDonnell,” Michael smiled, deciding he already liked the girl who had rescued him from the severe thunderstorm.
“Nice to meet you, Michael,” Yarra laughed in delight. “I know a few people on top of this hill, who will be so pleased to see you. It’s great you could make it.”
“It’s almost seven centimeters already, honey. You are further than I thought you would be,” Susan Kirby smiled. “I think this is going to be a very special Christmas delivery.”
Jody’s green eyes shone with delight when she looked up into the smiling eyes of her lover.
“That’s what you’ve secretly been hoping for, isn’t it?” she gently teased, sucking in a breath when she was assaulted by another contraction.
“Um…not consciously, although I have to admit it did cross my mind,” Sam sheepishly answered, looking at her partner with compassionate eyes.
She tenderly brushed away a strand of hair from Jody’s forehead and neatly tucked it behind the smaller woman’s ear.
“If I could take over this part, I would,” she softly spoke and when Jody looked up into her lover’s eyes, she knew Sam was serious.
“But where’s the fun in that, honey?” she hissed through clenched teeth, before struggling to sit up straight and shooting Susan Kirby a pleading look.
“I really need to walk around for a little while.”
“Go ahead,” Susan smiled. “Just do what feels natural to you.”
“Help me, Sam,” Jody whispered, stretching out both her hands to her partner, who grabbed her hands in a solid grip and carefully helped her to her feet. With a groan Jody stretched her legs, putting her hands in the small of her back for some extra support. The contractions seemed to get stronger and last longer, but walking did help her to relax a little, so nature could run its course.
“How long do you think it will take, Susan?” Sam asked the nurse, who was studying Jody with a pensive expression in her soft, hazel eyes.
“Oh, Sam, that is so hard to say,” Susan sighed, watching how Joan handed Jody a glass of cold water. “I have seen so many deliveries and none of them were the same.”
“But your experience must tell you something,” Sam insisted, while her eyes never left her partner’s.
“Well, the dilation is progressing faster a lot faster than I expected. I really believe those babies are ready to come out, Sam. She’s almost seven centimeters now. And the contractions are only about two to three minutes apart. Usually it takes about another couple of hours before complete dilation, but in Jody’s case I think it will be faster.” Susan cast a look at Sam’s clear blue eyes and caught them effortlessly in a glance that was a mixture of excitement and trepidation. “A lot faster,” she added.
Alice nervously paced the kitchen, while her eyes darted from Lucy to Trishia and back. Both women were busy with boiling water and some scissors and knifes and Alice couldn’t help but shiver when she realized what they would be used for later.
Another look at the clock showed her it was almost one o’clock. They were supposed to have started their Christmas party around noon, but the dishes with food were still on the kitchen counter, untouched, because nobody seemed to have an appetite.
Fiona was helping Sarah and Megan to put as much food back in the refrigerator as they possibly could. Maybe they would eat it later.
In the living room George Kirby and his sons were quietly talking. Their faces were serious, but there was also a hint of excitement in the air.
Outside the wind was still howling, while the rain came crashing down on the roof, forming little waterfalls when the rain pipes couldn’t process the huge amount of water that came falling down the sky. It caused a steady, loud thrumming noise that forced the occupants of the house to raise their voices, every time they wanted to make themselves heard.
In spite of the clattering rain, Alice suddenly raised her head, picking up a sound that somehow didn’t correspond with the rhythmic pounding on the roof.
Her blue eyes met George Kirby’s black ones and the older man smiled, nodding his head and mouthing: “Here’s Yarra.”
Alice didn’t need more encouragement. She practically flew threw the kitchen, leaving a chuckling Fiona behind and arrived outside on the veranda, almost sobbing in relief when she saw a familiar car make its way up the hill.
Nervously jumping from one foot to the other, she waited until the vehicle stopped and Yarra killed the engine. To her surprise two doors were opened and while Yarra opened the backdoor to retrieve some big box, she motioned to the other person to get on to the veranda, out of the rain.
Alice watched curiously when the stranger approached the steps, but when he pushed down the hood of his rain coat, she let out a gasp of surprise.
“You must be Michael,” she exclaimed, grabbing his hand and pulling him up the stairs. “Everybody will be so pleased to see you. My name is Alice, Alice Wilson,” she introduced herself and she received a warm smile that was so much like Jody’s it was uncanny.
“Go inside, Michael,” she encouraged him. “It’s dry there.”
“Thank you,” he smiled, opening the kitchen door and stepping inside.
Immediately Alice heard Fiona’s happy voice yelling: ‘Mike ! ‘ and she smiled, knowing Jody just received a gift she had been dreaming about for years.
Leaning her hands on the railing, Alice’s eyes drank in the sight of Yarra, who was clad in a hooded oilskin and was struggling with a box she finally managed to wrestle off the backseat.
Using one of her long legs Yarra practically kicked the door shut and with a wildly pounding heart Alice watched her friend run up the stairs, only stopping when she knew she was finally out of the rain.
Yarra carefully put down the box and pushed the yellow hood away from her head, scattering tiny drops all over the veranda. She quickly unzipped the jacket and shrugged it off, hanging it on one of the hooks beside the kitchen door. Then she turned to face Alice and watched her friend with intense brown eyes.
“Hello, Alice,” her husky voice greeted her friend softly.
“Hello, Yarra,” Alice whispered, her blue eyes held captive by Yarra’s dark ones that slowly but surely came closer, until her friend was standing so close, she could feel the heat radiating off her body.
Her eyes widened and a small smile crept up her face when she noticed the necklace Yarra was wearing. Not able to stop herself she reached out a hand and fingered the small, silver wallaby that was resting against Yarra’s skin.
“I see you met your new friend,” she smiled, letting her fingers linger against Yarra’s soft skin.
“I did, “Yarra whispered, grabbing Alice’s hand. “That was a precious gift, Alice. Thank you.”
Alice swallowed hard and her clear blue eyes turned serious when she looked up at her friend.
“I have missed you,’ she confessed with a trembling voice, feeling Yarra’s strong fingers tighten around her smaller ones.
“I have missed you too,” Yarra answered, lifting Alice’s hand up and softly brushing her lips against the warm skin.
Alice moistened her suddenly dry lips and let out a shaky breath. A lot of things had changed since the last time she had seen Yarra. She knew that while they had been apart her feelings for her dark skinned friend had steadily grown stronger and deeper. And she could only hope that Yarra’s feelings for her would be the same.
Yarra’s lips left a trail of fire across her skin and Alice could feel her body tremble. Seeing the look of concern in Yarra’s eyes she mustered up a smile and reached out a hand to touch Yarra’s cheek.
“Are you all right, Alice?”
Alice nodded and took a deep breath, deciding to take a leap of faith, or rather, hope and while she closed her eyes for a moment she knew there was no way back. Not any more.
Her blue eyes radiated something that Yarra had only dreamed off and the dark girl sucked in a breath when Alice’s hands slid up her shoulders and came to rest on the back of her neck, slowly but surely pulling her closer.
“Alice…” Yarra’s voice rasped, afraid to wake up and discover she was dreaming.
“Merry Christmas, Yarra,” Alice whispered, before her lips touched her friend’s.
Their first kiss was soft and sweet and Yarra almost cried out from the sheer pleasure of feeling Alice’s lips shyly move against her own, while the blonde’s body rested against her taller one, spreading a delicious warmth from the soles of Yarra’s feet to the top of her head.
“Alice,” Yarra finally managed to whisper against a pair of soft, probing lips. “Merry Christmas, Alice.”
Their next kiss was less shy and more passionate and Alice could feel her skin glow when Yarra’s hands slid down her sides and came to rest in the small of her back.
When a hesitant tongue tenderly grazed her bottom lip, Yarra thought she was going to spontaneously combust and her body started to tremble from the effort to let Alice set the pace and not pull the blonde even closer and ravish her sweet, soft lips.
“I have wanted to do this for a very long time,” Alice finally sighed, resting her forehead against Yarra’s shoulder, feeling her friend’s arms tighten around her body and pulling her close.
“You have?” Yarra breathed, still trying to come to terms with her dream coming true.
“Yes, I have,” Alice smiled. She peeked up from her comfortable spot and glanced up at her friend’s face. “I hope you don’t have the urge to wipe your mouth with the back of your hand,’ she teased, referring to the story Yarra once told her and Fiona about experiencing her very first kiss.
“Don’t worry,” Yarra smiled, brushing her lips against Alice’s forehead. “If it’s up to me I will never wash my face again.”
Alice smiled and snuggled closer, feeling Yarra chuckle.
“That won’t be needed, honey,” she sighed contentedly. “There’s more where that came from.”
“I was hoping you’d say that,” Yarra sighed, not able to wipe the goofy smile off her face. “I’m sorry I am late, Alice. But driving up here was horrific.”
“I’m just grateful that you are here,” Alice replied, tilting back her head and kissing Yarra’s chin. “Besides, it’s a strange day anyway.”
“It is? How come?”
With a look of regret Alice let go off Yarra’s body and stepped back, grabbing her friend’s hand.
“Jody is in labor,” she calmly explained.
“She’s what?” Yarra exclaimed with surprise.
“In labor,” an amused voice sounded from the kitchen door. “You know, working hard to get a tiny human through…”
“Thanks, Fiona, I think we are familiar with the specifics,” Yarra replied dryly. “But what a day to be born: Christmas Day.”
“Yup, timing is everything,” Fiona grinned stepping out on the porch and closing the kitchen door behind her. Her dark green eyes were shining with mirth they traveled between Alice and Yarra.
“Tell me, did I just see my two very best friends kissing on the veranda?” she asked in a teasing voice, chuckling when a deep red blush crept up Alice’s face.
“Yes, you did,” Yarra answered, wrapping her arm around Alice’s shoulders and pulling the blonde close. “Got a problem with that?” she added with a grin, having noticed the quiet happiness that radiated from Fiona’s face.
“Are you joking?” Fiona laughed, stepping closer to her two friends and hugging them fiercely. “I’ve wanted this to happen for a long time now,” she confessed, feeling two pair of arms wrap around her body when both Alice and Yarra answered her rare display of affection. “The two of you belong together,” she added softly.
When she finally stepped back the old Fiona had reared her head again and she looked at her friends with a mischievous glint in her eyes.
“A first kiss is such a special…event,” she seriously stated, while her eyes sparkled. “Wouldn’t you have wanted it to be captured in an image that would last forever?”
Yarra frowned but Alice looked at her dark haired friend with narrowed eyes.
“You didn’t do what I think you did, did you?” she asked slowly.
Fiona grinned and shrugged her shoulders.
“Believe me, Alice, when you and Yarra have grandchildren of your own you will be so pleased to be able to show them the picture of your first kiss. It was great. The two of you; dark and light, with the rain in the background and…”
“You really did it, didn’t you?” Yarra breathed, feeling her face grow warm.
“C.J., I have been waiting for that moment for ages,” Fiona complained. “You didn’t want to deny me the pleasure of capturing such a great moment. Come on! One day you’ll be able to tell people the great Fiona McDonnell shot the first kiss you shared with the love of your life.”
“You…are…such…a…brat!” Yarra punctuated the words carefully, not knowing whether to laugh or be annoyed with her friend.
But Alice had been calmly studying Fiona’s face and while Yarra and the youngest McDonnell were staring each other down, she suddenly burst out laughing.
“You are bluffing, McDonnell,” she exclaimed, stepping closer to the dark haired girl and playfully slapping her arm. “I can see it in your eyes.”
“”Oh, no,” Fiona grunted in mock despair. “Jody has been rubbing off on you. What gave it away?”
“I’m not telling,” Alice grinned, reaching behind her and grabbing Yarra’s hand. “But you almost had me fooled there for a moment.”
“All right, I didn’t take a picture, but only because my camera was out of reach.” Her twinkling green eyes softened when she looked at her friends and she smiled warmly. “But believe me it was a beautiful thing to see.”
“All right,” Yarra muttered. “Who are you and what have you done to our friend? The Fiona we know is not into mushy stuff and would never willingly admit that she enjoyed seeing two people kiss.”
“It’s the Christmas spirit,” Fiona quipped with a smirk. “And the fact that from day one, I’ve known that the two of you were made for each other. It’s good to see you are finally giving in to your primal urges,” she added with a wink.
But then her face grew serious is a very non Fiona way and she looked at Alice and Yarra with sad green eyes.
“I’ll miss the two of you when you go back to Brisbane.”
“We’ll miss you too, Fiona,” Alice softly replied, touched by her friend’s unexpected display of emotions.
Fiona exhaled slowly and a small smile crossed her face when she looked up at her dark skinned friend.
“By the way, it’s none of my business, of course and I will be heading back indoors to see if I can get an update on my poor sister’s laboring, but the two of you are still standing underneath the mistletoe, so, feel free to continue with whatever you were doing,” she smirked.
A pair of clear blue and soulful brown eyes simultaneously looked up, making Fiona grin when she saw her friends roll their eyes, before they started chuckling.
Susan Kirby exchanged a knowing look with Joan McDonnell and tried to hide her nervousness. It was clear that the twins had made their minds up and were ready to meet their parents, but outside the storm was still raging and even though Sam had called their physician, it would be impossible for her to drive up the hill. Not with the heavy rain that, most likely would already have flooded the creek, or the violent wind gusts that snapped off branches like they were matchsticks.
Jody’s body was doing a fast job of preparing itself for the birth of her children and Susan realized that soon she would be going into active labor. The contractions had become stronger and were less than two minutes apart. Soon Jody would be ready and Susan swallowed hard. Delivering twins was always more risky than giving birth to a single baby.
As an obstetric nurse she had assisted with countless deliveries, but they had all been within the clinical setting of the hospital. Not in a big house, on top of a hill, in a fierce storm, while the rain came pelting down and a power outage just seemed to be a matter of time.
Letting out a shaky breath Susan cast another look at a small table where she had carefully placed the instruments she would need after the babies had been born. They had to improvise, but that was the least of her worries. Her main concern was the position the twins were in. Jody had told her the last check up had showed the twins being in the right position to descend into the birth canal. But what if they had shifted? What if one of them was in a breech?
Susan wiped her clammy hands on the fabric of her shorts and tried to send the serious looking Jody a reassuring smile. Sam had not left her partner’s side and was gently rubbing her back, trying to provide some extra warmth and relaxation to the tense muscles.
Jody was lying on her side, facing away from her partner. Her eyes were closed and Susan and Joan could see her biting her lip every time another contraction ripped through her body.
“It’s no fun anymore,” Jody suddenly grunted, sounding a little out of breath. “I want them out!”
“I know honey,” Sam tried to comfort her lover, wiping away a strand of hair from a damp forehead. She felt utterly helpless, seeing her partner lying there in pain and discomfort, knowing there was nothing she could do to make it better.
The anxiety was wreaking havoc on her nerves. She and Jody had been looking forward so much to the birth of their children, but she had never expected them to be born at home instead of at the hospital. If anything would go wrong…
Sam shook her head and mentally slapped herself for her dark thoughts. Jody needed her. She had to stay focused. Her lover needed her to be positive and strong.
“We never do anything the usual way, do we love?” she softly spoke, tenderly stroking Jody’s cheek.
“Not really,” Jody chuckled, in spite of the situation. “It’s a heck of a party, Sam.”
Sam smiled and felt Jody take her hand in a painful grip when another contraction made her suck in a breath and she winced.
“Susan, I’m seriously getting the urge to push!”
Jumping to her feet Susan sent up a quick prayer, asking for strength and guidance and stepped towards the bed, where Jody had slowly rolled onto her back.
“Let’s have a look, honey,” she said with more confidence than she felt.
After a quick assessment Susan’s hazel eyes locked with a pair of determined emerald ones and wordlessly she nodded.
“It’s time, Jody.”
“I’m going nuts,” Lucy groaned, pacing the living room and nervously clenching her hands into fists. “What’s taking them so long?”
Trishia smiled and stepped towards her lover to wrap her arms around her and pull her close.
“It’s been only two hours, sweetie. Most deliveries are not like what you see in the movies.”
“Megan only took an hour,” Lucy sighed, sending her friend an almost accusing look.
Megan smiled and cast a look at the couch where her nine month old daughter was curled up on Sarah’s lap, fast asleep and oblivious to the tension in the room.
“Megan broke a few world records,” Sarah quietly answered, her gray eyes full of affection when she looked at her partner. “And we had only one, Luce.”
Her eyes traveled across the room where Yarra and Alice were sitting close together, while Fiona was standing behind them. Her youthful features held a serious expression and she was uncharacteristically quiet.
“It will be all right,” George Kirby’s low voice rumbled, breaking the heavy silence.
Yarra sent her father a grateful smile and felt Alice’s smaller hand creep into her own when they heard a door being opened and quickly approaching footsteps.
Everybody looked up expectantly when Joan entered the room and cast the onlookers a tired smile.
“Nothing yet,” she quickly said, answering the silent question. “But it won’t be long now. I need some warm water to make a hot water bottle. Baby one is on its way.”
Only then Joan’s eyes fell on the smiling face of her youngest son and she let out a muffled cry when he hurried towards her and wrapped his mother in his arms.
“Merry Christmas, Mom,” Michael whispered.
“Oh, sweetheart ! It’s so good to see you here. You didn’t tell me when I saw you last time. I…”
“It’s a long story, Mom,” Michael replied, loosening his grip and stepping back a little. “I’ll tell you later.”
He couldn’t hide the sadness in his eyes and Joan nodded, while her hand cupped his cheek.
“All right, we’ll talk later,” she smiled. “Thank you for coming, Mike. Jody will be so thrilled.”
“Tell her to hurry up,” he grinned. “I can’t wait to see her and those little rug rats.”
“Here, Mom,” Lucy said, handing her mother the metal, cylinder shaped hot water bottle, wrapped in a soft baby blanket. “Is…is she doing okay?”
Joan’s green eyes shone with delight when she nodded and took over the warm blanket.
“Your sister is doing great, so is Sam and as far as Susan can tell the babies are positioned right. No breeches.”
“Thank goodness,” Lucy breathed, with a relieved smile.
“I’d better head back, because we could need this thing any moment now,” Joan explained with barely contained excitement.
Susan Kirby wiped her sweaty forehead on her shoulder and took a deep breath.
“No pushing, Jody,” she encouraged, seeing the tell tale signs of a tiny little crowning head. “Try and blow through it.”
“I’m working on it,” Jody grunted, squeezing Sam’s hand and panting when she felt another contraction ripple through her body.
“You’re doing great, sweetie,” Sam encouraged, trying to ignore the vice like grip on her hand that was starting to become very painful. She carefully tried to wiggle her fingers to get the blood flow back, but that made Jody squeeze even harder.
“I suffer, you suffer,” Jody growled, feeling like her body was ready to split in half.
Sam swallowed hard and caught Joan’s twinkling eyes, sending her mother in law a weak smile that bordered on insecurity.
“Here’s the little head,” Susan announced calmly, looking down at a red, wrinkled little face and quickly checking if the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck. She smiled when it was free and sent Sam a happy grin.
“All right, sweetie, with the next contraction you can give it all you’ve got. Baby one is almost here,” she smiled with evident relief.
So far, so good.
“It better be, or I’ll be really pissed off,” Jody gasped, digging her nails into Sam’s skin, eliciting a whispered ‘ouch’, while Susan Kirby quickly cleaned the fluid off the baby’s face.
Only a few minutes later the latest addition to the McDonnell-Stevens clan was lying on its mother’s belly, securely wrapped in a loving embrace.
“It’s a boy, Sam,” Jody said in a voice filled with wonder. Her green eyes were dark with emotion and when she looked at her partner she saw the tears roll down Sam’s cheeks.
“He’s beautiful,” the tall blonde whispered, reaching out a hand and gently stroking a red, wrinkled cheek. “Oh, honey, he is so beautiful,” her voice cracked and she brought her face closer to Jody’s to kiss her tired looking partner tenderly on the lips.
“I love you, Sam,” Jody softly spoke, when her eyes drank in the sight of the happiness and wonder that was written all over her lover’s face. She knew there was another baby who was planning on entering the world and she could feel it was in a hurry. But no matter how painful and uncomfortable the next moments would be, it was all worth it when she looked in those clear blue eyes she loved so much.
“I love you too,” Sam answered, leaning in for another kiss. “You’re my hero, Jody.”
When she brushed Jody’s hair away from her sweaty forehead she heard her partner suck in a breath and her blue eyes widened in alarm.
“Wants to be with big brother and wants it now. Must be a real Stevens,” Jody panted, mustering up a smile when her mother reached over to pick up their tiny son. Joan’s experienced eyes took in his healthy color and steady breathing and when he opened his mouth to let out a frustrated cry, she smiled.
Taking courage from that sound and the expression on her mother’s face and Susan Kirby’s confident demeanor Jody braced herself when the contractions started again.
“What was that? Was that a baby?” Lucy cried out, jumping up from her chair and looking at the tense faces in the room. Cocking her head she intently listened and everybody seemed to hold their breath until it sounded again.
“Yes!” Trishia almost yelled, pumping her fist and jumping up to hug her partner.
Nervous laughter broke out when Jody’s and Sam’s family and friends leaned back in their seats with relief.
“I can only hear one though,” Lucy remarked.
“Well, what did you expect, sis? They usually take turns. It’s not like they come out at the same time,” Michael chuckled, his green eyes shining with excitement.
He let out a happy sigh and for a moment his thoughts went to his father who was home alone, or maybe with Matthew, his older brother and his girlfriend Sheila. It pained him his father and brother were stubbornly refusing to have anything to do with Jody and Sam. But he was grateful for the chance he had been given to be a part of this very special Christmas, which turned out to be a real magical one. He couldn’t wait to see his sister, her partner and their newborn children.
Feeling a hand on his arm Michael looked up in the eyes of Fiona that gazed at him warmly.
“Isn’t this great, Mikey?” she smiled.
Swallowing away the lump in his throat he could only nod. Wrapping his arm around his sister he pulled her close and they remained sitting like that, listening intently for the sound of another baby’s cry.
Susan Kirby could just cry with relief when a few minutes after the first baby was born, she was holding another, fiercely protesting infant in her arms. Quickly checking the newborn she could feel a tear slide down her cheek when she handed the little bundle to an exhausted Jody.
“It’s a girl,” she sniffed. “And she seems to be absolutely healthy.”
“A girl,” Jody repeated in a whisper, looking at the angry little face. The high pitched crying was like music in her ears and with tears in her eyes she looked at Sam, who seemed to be in a trance. Her face was positively glowing while her eyes took in the twins that were both lying on their mother’s belly.
“A girl,” Sam slowly repeated, letting the realization sink in. “A girl. We have a boy and a girl.”
Her eyes drank in the little forms of the newborns and while the tears were streaming down her cheeks, her brain registered their healthy looking offspring.
Her eyes locked with Jody’s and the world around them seemed to fade out. The emotions they both felt were too intense to put into words, but in each other’s eyes they could see the mixture of happiness, gratitude and wonder.
“Wow, there are four of us now,” Sam laughed through her tears, reaching out a large hand to lovingly rub her daughter’s back. “Honey, I…I…”
Too overwhelmed with emotions Sam just scooted closer to her lover and pressed her face in the crook of Jody’s neck.
“Thank you,” she whispered, letting the tears flow freely.
Jody turned her head so her lips could brush Sam’s cheek and she closed her eyes to revel in the sensations she was experiencing. She was tired and sore, but at the moment she just knew she was the happiest woman on the planet.
Joan and Susan exchanged a look and smiled. They quietly left the room and when the door shut with a soft click, they faced each other.
“Thank you,” Joan sighed happily, giving the other woman a hug. “Thank you so much, Susan.”
“Goodness, Joan, I was packing it in there for a while. I’m so happy there were no complications!” Susan Kirby answered, drying her eyes. “Congratulations, Grandma.”
“Oh, God. It’s true,” Joan chuckled. “I am a grandmother now. Wow, that is amazing.”
They both giggled like schoolgirls and with their arms wrapped around each other’s waists they headed towards the anxiously waiting family and friends.
“I’ll give them a few minutes together,” Susan promised. “But until a doctor has looked those three over, I’ll be watching them like a hawk.”
As soon as they stepped into the living room a silence fell. Everybody’s eyes were looking at the two women with a mixture of hope, excitement and anxiety.
Susan’s eyes found her husband and when she nodded his dark skinned face was lit up by a huge grin that was mirrored by Yarra’s and her brother’s, who had noticed the exchange.
“Tell us!” Lucy almost whimpered. “I’m dying here.”
Joan looked at Susan who smiled and stepped away towards her husband, who had stood up and engulfed her in a big hug.
“A boy and a girl,” Joan beamed. “Both babies and their mothers are doing absolutely great.”
For a brief moment it was dead silent, but then everybody started laughing and crying at the same time, creating a pandemonium.
“What are their names, Mom?” Fiona eagerly asked, wiping away the tears that coated her cheeks.
Joan McDonnell’s face sported a goofy grin and she just shrugged her shoulders.
“I don’t know,” she laughed. “I forgot to ask. All I know is that they are absolutely adorable. And Jody did a great job. So did Susan,” she added with a grateful look to Yarra’s mother.
“We’ll find out soon enough,” Fiona sighed. “I do know there’s nothing wrong with their lungs. My goodness, what a sound !”
“What a great Christmas gift,” Lucy beamed, burying her face against Trishia’s shoulder.
“Yeah, and we didn’t have to wrap them,” Fiona joked.
“How are you feeling, sweetheart?” Sam tenderly asked, kissing Jody’s cheek and looking at the two babies that were still resting on her partner’s belly, securely wrapped in their mother’s arms.
“A little tired,” Jody admitted. “But not as bad as I thought I would be. We’ve been blessed, Sam. Everything just went so smoothly.”
“I’m grateful for that,” Sam answered, her blue eyes holding a serious expression. “I know having twins can be risky and…” she swallowed hard. “I was afraid there for a while. But you were amazing, baby. And I don’t know how we can ever properly thank Susan.”
“We’ll find a way,” Jody smiled, looking at the two babies who were starting to stir a little, making little noises that warmed her heart.
“A son and a daughter,” she sighed happily. “I know I must look like a mess, but I feel like a queen, honey.”
“You’re beautiful,” Sam smiled. “As always. Motherhood becomes you.”
Jody chuckled and lifted up her head a little to capture Sam’s lips in a tender kiss.
“Thank you. I hope you’ll still say that after we’ve been up all night, feeding and changing these two.”
“You are always beautiful, my love,” Sam seriously replied. “You know why?”
When Jody looked up at her with a soft smile, Sam reached out and traced a line across her pale, freckled cheek.
“Because you are not only beautiful on the outside, but also on the inside. It’s what made me fall for you in the first place and over the years we’ve been together, I’ve been falling and falling over and over again. Every passing day I love you more. Merry Christmas, my love.”
She pressed her lips against Jody’s trembling ones and they quietly shared a kiss that was a confirmation of the love and deep bond they shared.
Outside the storm had passed and the rain had stopped falling. A tentative ray of sunlight peeked through the thinning clouds and was reflected in the millions of tiny drops that clung to the trees and bushes. It created a wonderland of light, crystals and diamonds that sparkled and seemed to welcome the two newest additions to the world’s population.
After her mother had returned to look after Jody and the twins, Yarra had pulled up Alice with her from the couch and walked through the kitchen, towards the veranda.
She hadn’t explained what she was up to and Alice sported a patient, slightly curious look when she saw Yarra close the door behind them.
“Did you want to make use of the mistletoe again?” she gently joked, seeing the tender amusement in her friend’s eyes.
“No. Yes. Well, I…do we need that weed?” Yarra quipped with a smirk.
“I don’t think so,” Alice laughed, almost feeling giddy with happiness. Yarra was with her, after waiting such a long time for her friend to return, Jody and Sam had two healthy babies, it was Christmas…life was good.
“Good, I am glad,” Yarra smiled, leaning in to steal a quick kiss from the surprised Alice.
“As a matter of fact, I wanted to give you…one of your…Christmas gifts,” she remarked, fascinated by the single ray of sunshine that illuminated Alice’s hair in a very interesting way.
“Aren’t they supposed to go underneath the tree?” Alice asked with a glance at the big box that was still resting against the kitchen wall.
“That one will,” Yarra promised. “Whenever it is we will exchange gifts anyway. No, I have something else, but…I..um…” the dark skinned girl stammered, evidently lost for words. Her eyes were cast down and she missed the look of affection her friend was sending her way.
“I chickened out,” Alice confessed, reaching out and fingering the fabric of Yarra’s silk shirt. “I felt like such a coward when I left that little box in your room. But…” her eyes caught a pair of brown ones and a soft smile deepened the radiant blue, making Yarra want to drown in its depths. “I should have known,” she added in a whisper.
“Should have known what?”
“I should have known you would have loved it, cause it…it was a gift from me. I think that, if I’d have given you a rock with a red ribbon tied around it, you would have loved it just the same.”
“You are right about that,” Yarra smiled, tracing Alice’s cheek with tentative fingers. Her heart swelled with emotion when her blonde friend closed her eyes and leaned into the touch.
“No matter what you’ll give me, I’ll love it because it will be from you,” Alice promised, opening her eyes and smiling into a pair of soulful brown ones.
Yarra reached inside her pocket and pulled out a small box. Taking Alice’s hand she put the box in it and closed her friend’s fingers around it.
“When I saw this, it reminded me of you. Do you remember that one night we spent at The Reef and you were having a nightmare?”
“I do,” Alice whispered, looking at the box in her hand. “You wanted me to relax and told me that story about how the tortoise lost its tail. I love that story.”
“I know,” Yarra smiled. “That’s why I just had to get this. Go on, open it.”
With careful fingers Alice lifted the lid of the little box and her breathing hitched when she saw what was inside. A silver necklace, almost the same one like she had given Yarra, but this one held a small silver image of the cutest turtle she had ever seen.
“Oh, Yarra,” she breathed. “It’s so beautiful.”
“Like you are,” the dark skinned girl smiled. “Don’t you think it’s amazing we came up with gifts that are so similar?”
Alice smiled and her eyes were brimming with unshed tears when she looked up at the woman who had captured her heart so easily.
“It is,” Alice nodded, lifting up the necklace and handing it to her friend. “Can you put it on, please?”
Yarra took the silver necklace and put it around Alice’s neck, making sure to carefully fasten it. When she was done her fingers lingered against her friend’s warm skin and lovingly traced a path to her cheeks.
“Thank you, Yarra,” Alice whispered, leaning closer to press her lips against her friend’s, sighing in contentment when she felt them move against her own.
“We’re underneath the mistletoe again,” Yarra smiled, wrapping her arms around Alice and pulling her closer.
“Good,” Alice sighed, letting her hand slide towards the back of Yarra’s neck and pulling her closer. “Let’s honor the tradition.”
As soon as Sam stepped into the living room she was practically bowled over by her friends and family who wanted to congratulate the new parent all at the same time.
Laughing she accepted all the hugs and kisses and when her eyes fell at Michael, who stood back a little, watching her with shy eyes, she went completely still.
“Mikey?” she asked, using his family pet name. Stepping closer she reached out a hand and touched his shoulder. “Michael, is that really you?”
It was a rhetorical question, because his eyes and hair were so much like Jody’s, she would have recognized him anywhere.
“Hi, Sam,” he shyly greeted, wondering if his sister’s partner would be angry at him for not having showed up years ago.
“Oh, my goodness, Mike,” Sam’s face lit up when in a delighted smile. “Jody will be over the moon when she sees you. Come here!”
She pulled the teenager in a bone crushing hug, chasing away all his doubts and insecurities and he just clung to her, not ashamed for the tears that were rolling down his cheeks.
“Are you ready to see your sister and meet your nephew and niece?” Sam finally asked in a hoarse voice.
Michael used the back of his hand to wipe his eyes and nodded enthusiastically, making Sam smile because for a moment she was thrown back in time, remembering Jody’s brother when he was just a little boy.
“Come on then,” she encouraged him.
Her radiant blue eyes swept through the room and she swallowed hard when she noticed all the happy faces.
“I don’t want to be a spoilsport,” she apologized. “But I’d like to do this in stages. I know everyone is dying to see Jody and the babies, but I think it’s better not to do it all in once. So, what about family first and the rest later?”
“Sure Sam,” Sarah smiled, winking at her partner who was sporting a goofy grin. “We can wait a little longer.”
“Great,” Sam smiled, looking towards the veranda. “Fiona, drag Alice back inside, will you? She and Yarra can continue their smooching session later.”
Jody was comfortably seated in her bed, a bunch of pillows stuffed under her back. With Susan’s help she had been able to take a quick shower, leaving her feeling clean and refreshed and although her body was still tired and sore, she was so happy, that sleeping would not be an option for a while.
With a loving gaze she studied the two precious bundles she was holding, already recognizing a striking resemblance between her son and Sam. The way he wrinkled his little nose was so familiar to her, she felt the happy tears sting the back of her eyes.
The door was carefully opened and when she saw Sam’s blond head poke around the corner she smiled.
“Are you ready for some visitors?” Sam smiled, feeling her heart do a double take when she saw the serene picture of her partner and their children.
Jody nodded and answered Sam’s smile with a happy one of her own.
“Let the crowds in, honey,” she encouraged.
The door was fully opened and the first one stepping inside the bedroom was Lucy, who was tugging Trishia along with her. At the foot of the bed she stopped to soak up the image of Jody and the twins.
“Aw, Jody,” she croaked. “You look beautiful. And would you look at those two little cuties?”
Stepping closer Lucy leaned in and carefully hugged her sister, pressing her cheek against Jody’s she softly sniffed.
“I love you, Pea. Congratulations. I am so glad everything went all right. I was just…”
“Just like an expectant daddy,” Trishia snorted, gently shoving her lover aside so she could give the new mother a loving hug.
“You look great, Jody,” she smiled. “And those two are just adorable.”
“Thanks,” Jody smiled with pride. Her eyes traveled to the door and she frowned when she noticed no one else had entered yet. “I thought my family was bigger than just the two of you,” she dryly remarked. “No offense.”
“None taken,” Lucy chuckled. “We just needed to prepare you for one of the visitors,” she added with a beaming smile.
Seeing the puzzled look at her sister’s face she reached out her hands and put them on Jody’s shoulders.
“Mike is here,” she smiled.
“What?” Jody breathed. “Mikey? Is Michael here? You are not kidding are you, I…”
Her eyes darted back to the door and she gasped when she saw her lover step inside, her arm securely wrapped around her youngest brother’s shoulders. As soon as their eyes met, Jody could feel the tears roll down her cheeks.
“Lucy, Trish, hold them for a moment, will you?” she asked, handing them her babies, so she could look at her brother and hold out her arms to him. Michael didn’t need any further encouragement. With a sob he practically flew towards his sister, falling on his knees next to the bed and carefully wrapping his arms around her body. Burying his face against her shoulder he let go of his tears and she rocked him gently.
“Oh, Mikey,” she sighed. “You have no idea what gift you have given me. I have missed you so much.”
“I would have come sooner,” Michael sobbed. “But…but…I never received your letters, Jody and I thought maybe you didn’t want to see me.”
“Oh, no, sweetie,” Jody reassured him, putting her cheek against the top of his head. “I’d never do that. You are my baby brother. I never stopped loving you.”
“I’m sorry, Jody,” Michael sniffed, looking up into his sister’s face.
“Don’t be, Mike. I am just happy to have you here,” Jody smiled, playfully ruffling his hair. “We have time to talk later. Do you want to meet the new members of the family?”
Jody cast a look at the door and smiled when she noticed Sam’s teary eyes.
“Send them all in here, sweetie,” she smiled. “We’re done with the mushy stuff.”
Fiona’s chuckles filled her ears and Jody smiled when her younger sister, mother and Alice and Yarra stepped inside. The latter one had to be practically dragged.
“I’m not family, Jody,” she immediately apologized. “But Sam…”
“Sam told me about you and Alice making out on the veranda, Yarra,” Jody dead panned, but there was a gentle twinkle in her eyes. “That makes you family.”
“Yes, it does,” Fiona added with a grin. “Didn’t you read the Stevens-McDonnell Handbook for in-laws? One kiss and you are toast.”
Sam snorted and took a seat on the bed next to her partner, wrapping her arm around a pair of slender shoulders and thoroughly enjoying all the cooing around the twins.
Lucy was totally absorbed in the adorable newborns and Sam shot Jody a meaningful look, making her partner chuckle.
“All right, you two. Time to spill it. I want names and I want them now,” Lucy sighed.
“Mmm, Trish is rubbing off on you,” Jody teased. “You could join the police, Freckles, no worries.”
Lucy grinned and handed Jody the baby she was holding while Trishia carefully slid her little bundle in Sam’s arms. The new parents exchanged a happy look and with an exaggerated look of concentration Sam peeked at the baby in her arms.
“I want you to meet Timothy McDonnell-Stevens,” she smiled, kissing the soft skin of her son’s head.
“And Taryn McDonnell-Stevens,” Jody added, unconsciously mimicking Sam’s gesture and kissing the little head.
“Timmy and Taryn. How cute!” Alice sighed dreamily, making everybody chuckle.
“Tim was born first and Taryn followed less than five minutes later,” Jody smiled. “I think she is a real Stevens and doesn’t like to be left out of the fun.”
Sam grinned and gave her partner a quick kiss.
“We’ll see, honey. I am sure she has your looks though.”
“As if you can see that right now,” Fiona snorted. “They…um…are a bit wrinkled at the moment, although they are really cute,” she added, seeing the outraged look in Lucy’s eyes.
“It’s been the best Christmas,” Alice happily sighed, leaning closer to Yarra’s tall form.
“And we haven’t even exchanged gifts yet,” Sam added with a wink.
“Mmm, yeah, we haven’t,” Trishia admitted thinking about the contraption she had built especially for the occasion.
Lucy and Jody exchanged looks and they both smiled, knowing exactly what their partners were thinking about.
“Maybe we can do that tomorrow, exchange gifts I mean,” Jody suggested with an amused smile. “That way both Sam and Trishia can have the satisfaction of annoying each other with their…’special’ wrapping techniques.”
“You’re an angel, honey,” Sam sighed in contentment, grinning at the tall police woman, who winked at her.
Jody softly laughed and rested her head against her partner’s, immediately feeling a long arm wrap around her shoulders. They looked at each other and in spite of the amused smiling onlookers they shared a slow, tender kiss.
“So, any ideas for a Christmas party next year?” Jody finally asked with a tired, but impish smile.
The end…(for now)
Continued in Booyong Mountain