By Jennifer St. Giles
Your heart is free, have the courage to follow it. ~ Braveheart
St. Simons Island, Georgia
MC Love listened as her sister, Summer Love, relayed the latest dysfunctional drama to riddle her family. Her stepfather, whom she called Steppy (because she couldn’t remember his name or what number he was, fifth, sixth, seventh?) and her mother, True Love, owner and CEO of Love International Resorts, had relationship issues.
Actually, all the Loves did.
“Steppy passed out drunk at NeNe’s wedding,” Summer said. NeNe was short for Never Ending. MC had seven sisters, one full the others half, all with the last name Love. Besides Summer and Never Ending, there was, Sweet, Timeless, Pure, Forever, and Madly Inn. That was another dysfunctional story.
Summer continued. “He didn’t just slouch over in his chair, mind you. He face-planted into the groom’s cake!”
MC made an appropriate noise of shock.
“The groom freaked out over his cake being destroyed and threw drunk-Steppy into the fountain. NeNe took issue with her new husband’s lack of respect for Steppy and threw cake at him. He then dropped her, wedding dress and all, into the fountain as well. That’s what you get with a hot-headed New York Italian! I kept telling NeNe that if she wanted the real thing, she had to go to Italy and find a younger version of Gianluca. Long story short, NeNe has filed for an annulment. She will now hold the Love record for the shortest marriage. Mother isn’t too happy.”
Summer had been in lust with Italian Rockstar Gianluca Grignani since the age of thirteen. No man Summer dated ever matched up to her idol. MC had often told her to go to Italy and find her own Italian. It ran in the family though. No man matched their mother’s ideal, so True changed husbands as often as she changed shoes. MC knew what would happen next. “Mother will now divorce Steppy, marry again, and annul after a minute of wedded bliss just so she can reign queen again.”
“I thought you said you haven’t spoken with her today?”
“I haven’t. Just a guess.”
“She mentioned something along those lines a few hours ago. So all in all, we missed seeing you but you didn’t miss much of a wedding. How is the French Riviera?”
MC gazed out over the Atlantic kissing the Georgia coast with wave after gentle wave. “Delightful.”
“Any deliciousness in sight?”
Code for hot male. “I haven’t been looking. Still recovering from he who shall remain unnamed.”
“Well, you know the Love motto. Can’t let a bad man keep you down. You’ve got to get back in the saddle and ride again.”
Looking down at her very pregnant stomach, MC grimaced. She wouldn’t be riding any time soon. A Grand Prix racer from Monaco, Mr. Unnamed’s only response to her, “I’m Pregnant” bomb had been, “Take care of it.” He’d then raced out the door and on to more fast cars and faster women.
MC had been relieved. Mr. Unnamed would make more of a lousy father than she a mother. She was sure his old-school, old-money family wouldn’t agree, but that wasn’t her problem.
“—I’m flying over.”
MC jerked to attention back to Summer. “What?”
“I said, either you find a man or I’m flying over and help you do it. Where are you exactly?”
“Oh…in a villa outside Cannes. The view is perfect for painting. Honestly, no need to fly over. If you must know, I heard a singer last night who intrigued me. As soon as I-uh-finish with my current project. I plan to check him out.”
That wasn’t exactly a lie.
Since she moved in a month ago, she had heard her neighbor singing most nights. Usually about two or three in the morning on his balcony. Lately, she’d set her alarm and would wake up and read until she heard him. Then she’d sneak downstairs onto her porch to hear him more clearly.
“Do that. I will call you next week. Hopefully we won’t have another Steppy by then.”
“Tell Mom I will not be coming to any weddings until I get this project done.”
“It must be spectacular. You’ve been working on it for months.”
MC frowned. “I don’t know. Art is art. We’ll have to see.”
“Okay. I want a full descript and name of your singer or I am coming. Bye.”
Summer hung up before MC could reply. She groaned. Now she’d have to get on the internet and hunt down a man performing somewhere near Cannes that Summer would believe MC had an interest in. Oh, the tangled web…
She hadn’t wanted anyone to know she was pregnant. Once the father bowed out, MC had made the wise decision not to bring an innocent child into the Love family’s mess. Her oldest sister, Timeless, had divorced. She had two boys, Chance and Lucky. Yes, their last name was Love, too. It was True Love’s crusade that any child born into the Love Resort dynasty had to bear the name Love or they’d forfeit their inheritance.
She would now have to make up a lover for Summer to believe in.
Everything MC needed, she ordered on line. The only time she left the condo was for her pre-natal checkups. She currently didn’t even have the heart to say hello to anyone, much less have another Love misadventure.
She just needed to survive the next month, see the adoption through, and then reassess her life. At twenty-six, most of life apart from her art had lost any appeal. Lovers were never true. Friends were shallow. Family was screwed. At least she found beauty and purpose in art.
Cannes is where her old self would go to relax and have fun. She’d come to Georgia to hide. No paparazzi would be camping out anywhere, anytime soon. Once she’d made the delivery then she’d—
The phone rang, but not hers. She moved to the French Doors that led to her private patio and walkway to the beach. She’d left the doors cracked to bring some fresh air in during the warmth of the day. A man dressed in plain black sweats and worn running shoes stood with his back to her at the edge of the sand dunes. The breeze from the ocean carried the sound of his voice to her as he held up his phone and faced his caller. She recognized the man’s deep, and somewhat haunting tone. Her midnight singer.
His brown hair rustled in the breeze. He had broad shoulders and a trim muscular shape. She’d only need a few more details to satisfy Summer for a bit. Pressing her ear to the crack, she gleaned what she could.
Three years had passed, and Doug Warren still had to force himself to breathe sometimes. Usually it happened in the middle of the night, in the dark, whenever the rushing wind from the ocean made a sharp cry. He’d sit up in bed, his heart racing as he threw back the covers.
He’d then see the moonlit ocean beyond the glass doors and know he no longer lived in the mountains. His wife Lucy no longer lay by his side and his daughter Annie didn’t sleep in the next room. The crushing blow of reality always stole the air from his lungs, the spirit from his heart. Sleep after the flood of memories was impossible.
Last night had been no different. He’d gotten up, grabbed his guitar, and headed for the balcony. There, he’d huddled in the cold, with the waves crashing to the shore somewhere below, and sang. He hoped the wind would carry his love and spirit to their home in heaven.
Today he had played until the sun rose and the bright light of a new day burned his eyes. Then he had crawled back into his room and slept for an hour or two more. Most of the year, he had handyman projects lined up to fill a nine-to-five work week. But, not much happened in the winter on the island. Vacationers followed the warmth south like flocking geese and islanders hibernated for the most part.
This year—like last year—he planned to finish recording his first CD during the seasonal downtime. And this year—like last year—he couldn’t seem to pull it all together. So, once he pried his eyes open with a pot of coffee, he dressed in sweats and headed out for a run on the beach.
Before he slogged through the dry sand, his cell rang. His brother Brad had FaceTimed him. Doug hesitated answering. He didn’t feel like talking to anyone this morning. And he sure didn’t want to look anyone in the eye either. But guilt hit him and he answered, holding up the phone to see his brother’s mug—the poster man for badass State Trooper. Make that commander of field operations Major Brad Warren. “Yo, bro.”
“I see you’re already bumming the beach.”
“Catching the rays. You?”
“Catching the bad guys as usual. Thought I’d give you the heads up. Overheard Mom and Aunt Betty talking on the porch last night.”
“Christmas planning. Seems that if Mohammed—you—won’t come to the mountain—here. Then the mountain—us—are coming to Mohammed—there—for Christmas.
“Seriously?” Doug exhaled as his stomach clenched. He couldn’t go there. Not yet. Too many reminders haunted every corner he turned. Here he’d reached a level of survival.
“I’m afraid so. They’re really worried about you. And in all honesty, I can’t blame them. I’m worried, too.”
“I’m hanging in there. Really, I am. I’m just different now. After losing Lucy and Annie, I won’t ever be who I used to be, but I’m finding my way. A day at a time.”
Brad stayed silent a moment. “Nobody is expecting you be anything. They just want to see you. Put their arms around you and let you know how much they love you. It’s time. You missed last Christmas.”
Doug exhaled hard. He knew his brother was right. “Here,” he said, forcing the words past the tightness in his chest. He feared all of his family’s well-meaning empathy would sink him. He did better when folks didn’t know about Lucy and Annie. “Y’all come here. We’ll do the works. Bonfire. Smores. Christmas Tree. Fish fry.”
“I’ll let them know.”
Doug winced. “Tell them, I’ve got all bases covered. They don’t need to do or plan a thing, but just show up and cook, okay?”
“Will do.” Brad rolled his eyes. “Hope that works for you, bro. I can already hear the multiple calls you’ll get as they worry about every detail.”
“Joy,” Doug said dryly. “Anything else you want to tell me before I go run off my frustration?”
Brad hesitated then shook his head. “Nah. It will be good to see you in person. Technology makes distance way too easy these days. But it can’t replace real face time. Catch you later.”
Doug disconnected, wishing he hadn’t answered. He could have at least had his morning run in peace. Now as he raced along the beach, memories chased him. Smiles. Laughter. His fire truck rolling up to the head-on collision. The moment he recognized the mangled car crushed by the truck, he knew their lives had been taken in an instant.
Breathing hard and heavy, he ran three times his usual distance before heading back to the condo.
MC paced the floor, her pregnant laden back ached a bit, but she couldn’t sit still. She couldn’t paint either. She’d eavesdropped on her neighbor’s FaceTime conversation with his brother and couldn’t get the words out of her head…or her heart.
Every song he’d sung in the night, now had heart-wrenching meaning put to it, and she didn’t know what to do about it.
I’m hanging in there. Really, I am. I’m just different now. After losing Lucy and Annie, I won’t ever be who I used to be, but I’m finding my way. A day at a time.
She couldn’t seem to let it go.
Love, Christmas Box Collection
Coming Oct 2016