Author: Robyn Carr
The kids were tucked in and the men were asleep, to put it politely. Joey was in her pajamas and Mel was in a soft and roomy sweat suit. They met in the family room. Mel brought the quilt and pillows out from her bedroom and they huddled on the couch together, eating ice cream and talking.
“You’re feeling well, except for the heartburn?”
“I’m feeling pretty wonderful,” Mel said. “For someone who has an entire gymboree inside of her.”
“And things in Virgin River are great?”
“Oh, Joey, you should see Preacher and Paige—I’ve never seen a transformation like that in my life. They are so in love, there’s practically a halo around them both. When they look at each other, there’s steam.”
There was a sound that caused both women to lean forward on the couch and look toward the front door as it opened. Brie came in. She was wearing her coat, her purse slung over her shoulder, tear stains on her cheeks. She stood in front of them and said, “I don’t want to go home. Alone. On Christmas Eve.”
“Oh, baby,” Mel said, opening her arms.
Mel and Joey instinctively slid apart so that Brie could sit between them. Brie dropped her purse, shed her coat, kicked off her shoes and climbed onto the couch in that little space they provided. And cried.
“It’s not like I haven’t gotten people through divorces,” she said. “But you can’t imagine what it’s like when the man you love, a man who’s leaving you, asks you to be his friend.”
“God, what nerve!” Mel said.
“You know what’s worse? I hate him for what he’s done—and I still can’t stop wanting him back.”
“If he came to me tonight and said, ‘I’ve made a terrible mistake,’I think I’d forgive him. Do you know he’s asked me for alimony? That he’s going to spend on her and her kids? She’s getting alimony and child support from her husband, and I’m paying them, too, and they both have good jobs. They’re going to make money on the deal.”
“And I can’t wait to start hating him for that. But I’m so afraid I’ll start hating him, which closes the door on letting him back. I want him back,” she wept. “I think I still love the son of a bitch.”
Mel and Joey put arms around her and held her as she cried.
“I’m so sorry,” Brie said. “It’s Christmas. And I bet this is the first really good Christmas you’ve had in a while, Mel.”
“We’re family,” she said. “We rejoice together. We share our pain. You’re staying right here with us. We’re sleeping on the couch tonight, anyway. I bet it pulls out.”
“Why are you sleeping on the couch?”
“Our drunk husbands stink,” Joey said.
Jack rolled over early Christmas morning with a loud moan and a splitting head, and some memory of learning the facts of pregnant women over far too much alcohol. Or was that the previous night? He wasn’t sure. There might have been inappropriate joking in the presence of the women, but he hoped they’d all been too drunk for that. His mouth tasted vaguely like a kitty litter box. He opened one bloodshot eye and saw that the bed beside him was empty. “Oh-oh,” he said. The sudden knowledge that the only man in the Sheridan family not in trouble would be Sam did not comfort him much.
He dragged himself out of bed and looked at the clock—6:00 a.m. There was time to mend his fences before the masses descended on them again, but he would first have to find his wife. He hoped she was still in Sacramento.
He rinsed his mouth and ran a brush over hair that was spiking every which way. The only thought he had was that he really hoped his lousy brothers-in-law were all in worse trouble than he undoubtedly was. Because surely they had done this to him. Bad influences, to the last.
He still had on last night’s trousers. Not a good sign. However, she had not killed him in his sleep—and that was a good sign. She was probably saving his execution for later, when he could feel it. He stood up straight in front of the mirror. He stuck out his hairy chest. He flexed, popping out tattooed biceps. I am a marine, he said to himself. She is five foot three. He sagged visibly. Who am I kidding? was his next thought.
He crept out of the bedroom into a silent house. Ah, there they were. Mel, Brie and Joey, on the sofa bed. Brie? Well, he’d find out about that later. He knelt on Mel’s side and gently moved her hair away from her eyes. One eye opened and there was not a smile in it. “Baby, are you pissed?” he asked gently.
“I’m sorry. I might’ve had one too many.”
“I know. I hope you’re in agony.”
“What are you doing out here?”
“Trying not to sleep in an ashtray.”
“What’s Brie doing here?”
“We’ll talk about that later.”
“Am I going to be punished?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. And she closed her eye.
It turned out that the great lover, Jack Sheridan, didn’t know his way around women nearly so well as he thought. He decided to shower and dress, in an attempt to get some points for effort. That accomplished, he crept quietly to the kitchen to make coffee and take aspirin. He was in no condition to fight; he had a hangover. And within a few hours there would be that huge gang of people back at the house, tearing into presents, yelling, laughing, making his head want to explode.
Sam met him there. “Gonna be fun today,” he said. “You boys, you sure know how get the women all spooled up.”
“Save it. Want me to help you get the bird ready?”
“Yeah, we should do that. Then we make brunch.”
“I’m good with brunch,” he said. “Did you notice Brie is here?”
“I noticed that,” Sam said. “And I noticed that so far, two of the five married women in this family did not spend the night in bed with their husbands.”
“Okay, save it. Since I’m going to get it later, I don’t need your two cents.”
“Whatever you say, son,” he said. “If you get in really deep, maybe you can take her back to my office and show her all your medals, tell her how you’ve barely escaped death a dozen times and she just doesn’t scare you.”
Jack glared at his father. Sam laughed, having far too much fun with this. Then Jack got busy cooking. He sautéed onion and celery in butter, washed the turkey, mixed the stuffing, peeled the potatoes. He had noticed that when Mel saw him doing domestic things, it softened her.
Brie was the next one in the kitchen, cozy in one of Mel’s long flannel nightgowns—the kind she used when she’d be around other people in her nightwear because at home, with Jack, his body heat was so intense, she could hardly bear to wear anything at all. Brie put her arms around Sam and said, “Morning, Daddy. I just couldn’t go home last night.”
It tore at Jack’s heart and he wanted to kill Brad. Wanted to put his arms around Brie.
“I’m glad you were here, honey,” Sam said. “You know this is always your house. Stay tonight, too.”
“Maybe,” she said, burying her face in his chest as he held her.
Next came Mel. She was still in last night’s sweat suit. But when she walked sleepily into the kitchen, she walked right into Jack’s arms and he must have breathed an audible sigh of relief because she whispered, “You’re still going to be punished. But not on Christmas.”
He smiled and kissed the top of her head because here was something he thought he knew about women for sure—if there was any kind of delay in the execution, they tended to lose interest. If she wasn’t mad enough to go after him right now, she wasn’t mad enough.
Christmas in Virgin River was a much quieter affair. For the first time since opening, the bar was closed for the day. Christopher had his gifts in the morning, which left him with plenty to occupy him throughout the day. Preacher turned out a delicious roast duck and all the trimmings while Paige worked on pies. Mike showed up at five with gifts—books for Christopher, a green cashmere sweater for Paige the color of her eyes, and for Preacher, specialty items for the kitchen purchased at Williams-Sonoma. “This is great!” Preacher said with enthusiasm.
“I don’t even know what some of that stuff is,” Mike said. “But it’s guaranteed for someone who loves to cook.”
“Let’s see, we have a mandoline, a thermostatic tray—Jesus, this stuff is incredible. A gravy separator, which I don’t really need ’cause my gravy is perfect. A grip-and-flip spatula, scoop-and-strain ladle, micro grater. Good work, Mike,” he said, grinning.
As they were sitting down to dinner, Paige came into the bar wearing her new sweater and, Mike noticed, dangling in the V of the neck, a very beautiful diamond pendant necklace. “Well,” he said, “someone had a very nice Christmas.”
She touched the necklace, a huge and lovely surprise from her man. Who knew Preacher could buy jewelry? Who knew Preacher knew what jewelry was! “I feel badly, Mike. We had nothing for you.”
“Being here with you three is Christmas enough for me,” he said, meaning it.
“Did you talk to your family today?” she asked him.
“Oh, yeah—about a hundred of them. All at Mom and Dad’s.”
Preacher set about carving the duck. “You don’t miss being there, with them?”
“Not yet,” he said. “Not until I get a little something back, you know? I need the space. They’re Latino and Latina—very demonstrative. Close. Intense, you know? Anxious and annoyingly well meaning. I want to at least be able to cut my meat with my right hand before I visit.”
“I get that,” Preacher said. “You watch. You’ll have it in no time.”
After dinner Paige left the men to a game of cribbage in front of the fire while she cleaned up. A little while later Christopher was downstairs, all scrubbed with one of his old books in his hand. He crawled up into Preacher’s lap as if he’d been doing it since he started walking. And Preacher drew him up like a father would. “This the one you want?” he asked Christopher.
“Horton,” he said.
“You don’t want to try a new one? We read Horton every night.”
“Mazy the lazy bird…” Christopher pointed out.
Mike turned his chair toward the hearth and put his feet up, enjoying the sound of Preacher’s voice telling the story by heart, Christopher adding lines that Preacher deliberately left out just for fun. My man Preacher, he was thinking—all soft and sweet, his voice rough and gravelly as sandpaper, holding a kid on his lap like he’d been doing it all his life. This was a guy who you didn’t want to see coming at you with a scowl on his face and his fists up. A picture of him in fatigues, toting an M16, a snarl on his face…The guy could take down a whole army. Mike looked at him now with new eyes. Transformed into a big, cuddly bear. Committed. Devoted. All in.
It wasn’t long before he stopped reading, dropped a kiss on the head of his sleeping boy and said to Mike, “Pour us a little something. I’ll be right back.”
Mike picked out the whiskey Preacher seemed to favor—a nice mild Canadian—and brought the bottle and two glasses to the table. When Christopher was tucked in and Preacher back, Mike lifted his glass to Preacher. “To you, old man. I think maybe you have it all.”
“I have to drink to that,” he said, sitting down. “Thing is—I really am going to have it all. When all that crap with Lassiter is settled and behind her some more, we’re going to talk about making a lifetime commitment. And children. More children, you know, because we already have a perfect family.” He took a breath. “Man, I never thought this would happen to me.”