UPDATE: A Ruby Christmas is FREE on Kindle
Friday, December 13 through Monday, December 16.
Read Chapter One here.
Read Chapter Two here.
Read Chapter Three here.
Read Chapter Four here.
A Ruby Christmas
by Jerusha Agen
She tried to take a breath before she passed out from panic. She was alone in New York City.
Daddy hadn’t mentioned that the hotel he booked for her was smack in the heart of Times Square. She supposed she should be grateful he had a backup plan in case Greerson Hank, his former ranch-hand-turned-artist buddy, failed to turn up at the airport. Hank did just that, probably tuning out the world while he worked on some project, and Ruby was left without a guide to this city that was like something out of a sci-fi movie.
Her head still swirled from the taxi ride that had more jerks and turns than barrel racing on an unbroke filly, but she had to gather her wits if she was going to survive this. “Lord, help me,” she whispered, as she pushed through the throng to the hotel entrance with Yippee on-leash beside her. Tense faces surrounded her, people shoving and jostling as much as a stampede of cattle.
Worried Yippee might get stepped on, she reached to scoop him up and felt something pull on her arm.
Before she could react, Yippee’s bag was yanked off her shoulder. “Hey!” she yelled and reached for the teenager as he dashed away. “Help! Someone stole my bag!”
Yippee barked furiously, pulling on the leash toward the disappearing thief.
She looked around at the passing faces. “Someone catch him! Please?” Her voice faded when she saw that the people were ignoring her. All she gained by yelling was a little elbow room as they gave her a wider berth. What kind of place was this? She knew southern hospitality was one of the things that made Texas special, but she didn’t realize any city could be this cold.
Being told by the hotel clerk that there was no point in reporting a doggy bag getting stolen did not make Ruby feel any warmer.
Daddy had said she should just wait, and Hank would find her. She prayed it’d be real soon.
She opened the door to her room and gaped.
On the table sat a giant bouquet of flowers, and near it, a box bearing Texas State colors.
Dropping her luggage, she rushed to the arrangement and read the attached card. TO RUBY JOY, FROM J.S.
A squeal escaped her lips, and Yippee barked. “Shh. It’s okay, Yip. It’s from Jonathan.”
The terrier jumped onto the bed and pranced about while she opened the box.
Chocolates in the shape of Texas. She took one out and nibbled it, as she smelled one of the roses … then one of the lilies. This couldn’t compare to having him here, but it would hold her over, especially if his gifts were saying what she hoped.
She texted him a thank you, wishing Daddy’s data plan for the phone had no limits.
Ruby pulled the covers up to her chin. She closed her eyes for the umpteenth time and tried not to see the flashing lights that somehow snuck around the edge of the hotel room curtains or hear the honking horns, the talking and yelling, the emergency sirens that seemed to sound every five minutes, even in the middle of the night. How did people sleep in New York?
Yippee grabbed the top of the blanket in his mouth and pulled, whimpering as he stared at her with pleading eyes.
“Yippee, that doesn’t help.” She had been trying to get to sleep for hours but only succeeded in getting more uptight and nervous. She longed for the peaceful sound of a cricket outside her window as she’d heard in the Blue Ridge Mountains. And for Texas manners and friendliness.
Yippee hopped to the floor and whined again.
“Yippee.” She sat up to see the little dog sitting on his hind legs with his leash in his mouth.
She looked at the clock. “Yippee Ti Yi Yo, it’s one in the morning.”
He made a pitiful attempt to yip around the leash in his mouth.
“Okay, you win. Daddy would be ashamed of me, anyway, holed up in this hotel like a skittish coyote. I don’t have to be afraid because I’ve got Jesus livin’ in me, Daddy would say.”
Muttering “I will fear no evil,” Ruby brought the terrier out of the hotel into Times Square. She squinted at the bright lights illuminating the neon billboards that lined the buildings.
There was a sight fewer people in the square but still plenty more than she reckoned would be out at this hour anywhere else. At least there was room to walk without getting bumped around like a bull in a shoot.
Once Yippee’s business was done and picked up, a surprising sight caught Ruby’s eye. She had seen folks sitting on what she thought were bleachers earlier, but now she saw they were actually wide, red steps that glowed brightly. They led nowhere but faced a statue of a man in a World War I uniform. The pedestal he stood on read FATHER FRANCIS P. DUFFY, a name she recognized from her studies of war heroes. It seemed ironic that a statue of a pastor would be in the heart of Times Square.
She looked around at the people who milled about, and her gaze was drawn to someone behaving even more strangely than the others. A young woman was holding one of the red metal chairs that were scattered around the square upside down on her head.
A man pointed a camera at the chair-wielding character, apparently taking pictures. Is this what New Yorkers did for fun? Ruby shook her head and turned to leave. Maybe she could get to sleep and wake up in the sane South to find out this had really been a nightmare.
Ruby turned to see the woman coming toward her, without the chair.
“You have such a cute dog.” She smiled and bent to pet Yippee, who was already clamoring for her attention.
“Thank you,” Ruby finally responded. She found it hard to stop staring. The young woman was one of the loveliest Ruby had ever seen but not at all in the usual way. She was extremely petite, but exuded an easy, graceful confidence that made it clear her short height was not a disadvantage. A mass of long, black hair cascaded in tight curls well past her shoulders and rested on a strange outfit. Layers and colors seemed to be the idea of the multiple jackets, bright blue pants and red heels.
The woman straightened and extended her hand. “I’m Muriel.”
“Ruby Buckner. How do you do?”
There was something enigmatic about Muriel’s face. Her full red lips, high cheek bones, huge eyes, and unique skin tone made Ruby curious about her ethnicity.
“My friend would like to take some pictures of me with your dog.”
Ruby blinked in surprise.
“Would that be all right?”
Yippee sat down and barked.
Ruby had to smile. “I guess that means yes.”
“Are you a model?” Ruby asked, as they walked over to the photographer.
“Sometimes. I’m more of a fashion designer and a harpist.”
Ruby blinked again, trying to absorb the idea of this tiny woman being a model, fashion designer, and a harp player who posed with a chair on her head in Times Square at one o’clock in the morning.
Muriel caught Ruby’s expression and laughed. “Welcome to New York City.”
“He seems to understand everything you say to him,” Muriel commented.
“He pretty much does.” Feeling a little proud herself, Ruby had Yippee show his more advanced abilities like counting and recognizing different shapes and colors. “He enjoys the athletic tricks more,” Ruby said, after their astonished praise died down. “If my rope hadn’t been stolen, I’d show you his lasso skills.”
“I’d like to see that,” a man said behind Ruby.
She turned and was instantly shaking the hand of a fast-talking man who introduced himself as an assistant producer of the Good Day USA television show. He had to have Yippee on the program. Now Ruby knew she had to be dreaming.
She still wondered if it was a dream two days later, when Yippee showed off his tricks on the national TV show. Ruby had not been able to refuse since she knew how much Yippee would love it, and she just could not turn down the chance to do Texas proud. Now if she could just do her daddy proud and find the pieces she had come for, this trip might not be for nothing.
Ruby fiddled with her braids as she waited for Muriel to arrive at the hotel. The designer-harpist was kind to show Ruby New York, but after four exhausting days of cramped restaurants, dizzying stores, falling on the subway, and a theater with rows so small her legs might never recover from the required contortions, Ruby thought she’d scream if she had to rub arms with one more stranger. Still, Muriel insisted Ruby shouldn’t spend her last day in the hotel, so Ruby proposed they visit historical places if they must go out. The Statue of Liberty would be their first stop. Ruby should have been excited, but all she could think about was that she still hadn’t met Hank or found the pieces for the Nativity. She was about to let Daddy down.
She probably should have asked Muriel for help finding pieces that would work, but Ruby feared what Muriel might come up with as much as she feared another New York shopping trip. Ruby was convinced there was nothing worth collecting or experiencing in this crazed, self-obsessed city.
Someone knocked at the door, earning a short bark from Yippee.
She had thought Muriel was going to call from the square when she arrived. Ruby went to the door and peered through the peephole.
A man with long gray hair, shaggy beard, and baggy clothing stared back at her.
Was he a homeless man? She didn’t think they usually went door-to-door in hotels. Maybe he was selling something. “Sorry, I’m not interested.”
“Not interested in your daddy’s old hand?” he returned, in a deep, scratchy voice.
Greerson Hank. Ruby thought her eyes might pop out of her head when she swung open the door, and the scrawny man grabbed her in an exuberant hug.
“I finished my project,” he said, as he released her. “Turned on the TV and you coulda knocked me over with a spoon. There was the prettiest cowgirl I ever did see with her little doggy—”
Yippee interrupted with a bark of glee and jumped in the air in front of Hank as if knowing the rough-looking artist was a fan.
“Well, how do you do?” Hank grinned down at Yippee then looked at Ruby. “I tell you, it made me real proud to be a Texan. Helped me find you, too. I told your daddy he shouldn’t trust me to pick you up, but you seem to have done real well for yourself. My place ain’t fit for a lady.”
Maybe it was the joy of hearing a Texas drawl again, but Ruby couldn’t be angry in the face of that grin. She returned the smile with one of her own and relaxed into having her best day since she set foot in New York.
After calling Muriel to cancel, Ruby and Hank strolled arm-and-arm into Times Square with Yippee on-leash. The day passed at a lazy, Texas pace, filled with Hank’s stories about her daddy and momma. Even Yippee, probably spent from his TV appearance, seemed to enjoy the slower pace of the day.
When Ruby and Hank eventually got hungry, they ate hot dogs from a food stand and sat at one of the little tables in the square. Ruby forgot to notice the crowds today. Maybe a person could learn to tolerate anything after all.
Hank suddenly stopped what he was saying mid-sentence and got up from the table. He went straight for a woman who had dropped her briefcase about ten feet away from them. The woman looked at him with fear in her eyes then watched with obvious shock as he gathered her papers into a neat stack and slipped them back into the briefcase.
“God bless you, ma’am.”
If he’d been wearing a cowboy hat, Ruby was sure he would have tipped it with his parting words. Ruby stared at him when he returned to the table. It was a simple gesture, something she’d expect to see in Texas, but even she hadn’t felt an urge to help the lady herself. In fact, she realized with a guilty pang, the woman hadn’t even registered on Ruby’s radar. She was just part of the crowd Ruby was learning not to care about.
The truth struck her with the force of a bucking bronco—Ruby had become just like them. She was growing as self-absorbed and as cold as she accused New Yorkers of being, and it only took her five days to get there.
“You look like you just saw your best friend walk off.” Hank watched her with concern.
“No.” She cleared her throat. “I just saw myself.”
Hank looked at her for a long moment then reached into one of the half-dozen pockets his loose-fitting field jacket appeared to have. “Maybe I ought to show you what I been workin’ on.” One at a time, from different pockets, he pulled out four wooden figurines. Angels, each intricately carved and painted with exquisite detail.
Ruby stared at them. Their tiny faces were filled with such transparent joy that tears sprang to her eyes. She pulled her gaze away to look at Hank, but he wasn’t watching her.
His gaze followed the people who passed by. He smiled and nodded at the grim New Yorkers whenever he managed to catch their eyes. The tense expression on some of their faces lightened in response, but others glared or looked at him like he was insane. Hank was unbothered either way.
“They’re beautiful, Hank,” Ruby said.
He looked at her with a smile, and she thought she could see a glimmer of moisture in his eyes. “Yes, they are,” he replied. “All made in the image of God.”
“I meant the angels.”
“Oh, well, praise the Lord for that. I prayed He’d help me make somethin’ special for your Nativity.”
She looked from his thoughtful expression to the angels. “They mean something, don’t they?”
“What do you think?”
She pondered the figurines for a moment. The words of the angel who spoke to the shepherds so long ago filled her heart. “Fear not,” she quoted, “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” She looked at Hank. “Even cranky, crazy New Yorkers.”
“The crankier and crazier the better.” He winked. “They need the good news more than anybody I know, darlin’.” He squeezed her hand that rested on the table. “A Savior is born,” he gruffly whispered, intently staring into her eyes.
“I really blew it, didn’t I?” Ruby dropped her gaze. “I was even on TV, and all I could talk about was how great Texas is.”
“Come back again. Do it right next time. And keep ’em in your prayers.”
“I will.” She smiled and leaned over the table to give him a kiss on his bearded cheek.
Ruby was shocked when Muriel showed up at the airport to see her off with Hank. Guess she shouldn’t have been surprised after the loving friendship and touch of mothering Muriel had shown her. She told Muriel as much as they hugged and Ruby apologized for being a complaining spoilsport. After securing a promise that Ruby would visit again, Muriel presented Yippee with two new squeaky toys and a bag as uniquely stylish as Muriel herself.
The gift left Ruby speechless and already in tears for her farewell with Hank. She thought she spotted a wet glimmer on the old cowboy’s cheek above his beard when he finally let her go from a long hug. Her heart squeezing almost as painfully as when she left her daddy, she forced herself to turn away and carry Yippee in his crate to board the plane.
As she settled in her seat, she wondered if nerves would replace her tears shortly. She was about to leave the country for the first time, but after what she went through in New York, she doubted anything could surprise her. Still, she had the feeling she wasn’t done with what God had to teach her on this adventure. One lesson she was learning fast was that with God, all things really were possible—even changing her stubborn Texas heart.
Read Chapter One here.
Read Chapter Two here.
Read Chapter Three here.
Read Chapter Four here.
Read Chapter Six here.
Our authors are blogging all sorts of fun posts, interviews, articles, devotions and more during the next couple of weeks too, so we'll try to keep an updated list so you can visit. Most of them are changing posts as often as we are, so if you see their names listed more than once, check out all the links, because it's a different post.
Friday, December 6
For the Pinterest contest, visit Chapter Five's Pinterest image and Jerusha Agen's blog
DIANNE E. BUTTS
FAY LAMB posting on INNER SOURCE
JERUSHA AGEN guest posts at SERIOUSLY WRITE blog
MARJI LAINE Chapter 5 Devotionon Faith~Driven Fiction
MARJI LAINE Devotional about Light on A Woman Like Me Blog
PHEE PARADISE on Delighted Meditations
From Thursday, December 5
For the Pinterest contest, visit Chapter Four's Pinterest image and Ruth O'Neil's blog
DIANNE E. BUTTS
FAY LAMB posting on INNER SOURCE
MARJI LAINE Chapter 4 Devotion on Faith-Driven Fiction
PHEE PARADISE hosts Tracy Ruckman at Delighted Meditations
From Wednesday, December 4
For the Pinterest contest, visit Chapter Three's Pinterest image and Fay Lamb's blog
DIANNE E. BUTTS
MARJI LAINE Chapter 3 Devotionon Faith~Driven Fiction
FAY LAMB guest devotional at Phee Paradise's Delighted Meditations
From Tuesday, December 3
For the Pinterest contest, visit Chapter Two's Pinterest image and Dianne E. Butts' blog
FAY LAMB posting on INNER SOURCE
MARJI LAINE Chapter 2 Devotion on Faith~Driven Fiction
DIANNE E. BUTTS guest article about Christmas at Embattled Spirits
DIANNE E. BUTTS guest devotional at Phee Paradise's Delighted Meditations
Jerusha Agen is a lifelong lover of story--a passion that has led her to a B.A. in English and a highly varied career. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Jerusha is the author of the Sisters Redeemed Series. The first two books in the series, This Dance and This Shadow, are available now. The third book in the series, This Redeemer, releases next year. Jerusha co-authored the e-book A Dozen Apologies (February 2014).
Jerusha is also a screenwriter, and several of her original scripts have been produced as films. In addition, Jerusha is a film critic, with reviews featured at the website, www.RedeemerReviews.com.
Jerusha relishes snowy Midwest winters spent with her large, furry dogs and one little, furry cat.
Visit Jerusha online:
Contributing Author to The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt
** Amazon Best Seller **
Grace takes delivery of a package and her life is turned upside down by nine sealed mystery envelopes from her late grandmother. Grammie’s instructions require Grace to take the journey of her lifetime, not only to far off places, but also into the deepest parts of her heart. As she follows the trail laid out for her and uncovers her family’s darkest secrets, Grace is forced to confront the loss and betrayal that has scarred her past and seek the greatest Christmas Treasure of all.
A Dozen Apologies
Coming Valentine's Day
Mara Adkins, a promising fashion designer, has fallen off the ladder of success, and she can’t seem to get up.
In college, Mara and her sorority sisters played an ugly game, and Mara was usually the winner. She’d date men she considered geeks, win their confidence, and then she’d dump them publicly. When Mara begins work for a prestigious clothing designer in New York, she gets her comeuppance. Her boyfriend steals her designs and wins a coveted position. He fires her, and she returns in shame to her home in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where life for others has changed for the better.
Mara’s parents, always seemingly one step from a divorce, have rediscovered their love for each other, but more importantly they have placed Christ in the center of that love. The changes Mara sees in their lives cause her to seek Christ. Mara’s heart is pierced by her actions toward the twelve men she’d wronged in college, and she sets out to apologize to each of them. A girl with that many amends to make, though, needs money for travel, and Mara finds more ways to lose a job that she ever thought possible.
Mara stumbles, bumbles, and humbles her way toward employment and toward possible reconciliation with the twelve men she humiliated to find that God truly does look upon the heart, and that He has chosen the heart of one of the men for her to have and to hold.