We are very excited to announce the launch of this year's Christmas offering, A Ruby Christmas. Each weekday, through next Thursday, we will share one chapter here for your enjoyment, each written by a different author. During that time, we'll also share a little about the authors who wrote the chapters, and tell you a little about their other books.
We're also having a fun contest that will run during these two weeks. Each day, the author of the day will post a photo on her website that has been altered from the original photo, which will be posted on Pinterest. We'll provide the links to both. Figure out what's different in the altered photo, and start making a list. On Thursday, December 12, the last photo will be posted. After you've figured that one out, send us the list of all the differences you discovered. (There's one change per photo, for a total list of nine items.) E-mail your list - in the body of an e-mail - to MagnificentHope [at] yahoo [dot] com for your chance to win two bundles of books - one print and one digital - for gifting or keeping (a $400 value!). We'll even send them out in time for Christmas!
Hope you enjoy the book!
A Ruby Christmas
by J.A. Marx
Sitting cross-legged on the rug, Ruby Joy Buckner folded the lacy white top on her lap and smelled it before adding it to the fourth pile ready for charity. The blouse held a hint of Momma’s scent despite having spent the past eight years in a plastic storage tub.
Something yanked her hair. Ruby pulled both braids around to her front to keep them out of the dog’s teeth. “Not now, Yippee.”
Her seven-year-old Jack Russell terrier tugged on her hair whenever he wanted to play, which was always. Yippee pawed the growing pile of clothes and whined as if he understood the memories it represented.
“That was Momma’s favorite top.” Ruby smiled at a mental image of her mother at the annual Cowboy Dance, wearing the white lacy shirt tucked into her jeans. Momma had tried to teach old Bud Summers a new line dance. Bud’s eighty-year-old feet couldn’t keep up, but she’d pretended not to notice.
Letting the terrier sniff the shirt, Ruby ran her fingers down his back. “Eliza Clementine Buckner had a way of making people feel special, Yippee. Special, whether they won first prize in the chili cook off or spilled that chili on their laps.”
Chili—the last meal she and her parents had eaten together. Ruby’s mind tumbled back to the haunting night that had changed her world.
Her first homecoming dance had just let out. She’d stood outside the middle school building, waiting for Momma to pick her up. Instead, their cook, Dutch, had pulled up in Daddy’s truck. He could barely usher Ruby inside as he fought the tears. “Ruby, something’s happened to your momma.”
And Ruby’s world had spun out of kilter. Momma had dropped Ruby off for the dance and had gone home. She’d told Daddy she had a bit of a headache, and she needed to take a nap. She’d never awakened. An aneurysm had robbed Ruby of a mother’s love.
The mild ache squeezing Ruby’s heart made her thankful she’d gotten over the throbbing grief that used to consume her twenty-four hours a day. All the same, life had never really returned to normal. Hers and Daddy’s recent decision to finally get rid of stuff should help them both. A second burial of sorts so they could move another step forward.
A pair of padded paws kneaded Ruby’s leg, bringing her thoughts back to the present. One of the ranch hands had given her the dog for Christmas. The cutest pup in the litter and Ruby’s best friend. She scratched Yippee’s hindquarters.
“Looks like you’ve been busier than a bee, sugar.” Daddy stood in the doorway, holding a crumbling Nativity. His salt-n-pepper moustache twitched, a sign that deep emotion had saddled his heart. “What would you think if I added some tiny tumbleweeds to provide some Texas flavor?”
The miniature wooden trough rolled off the platform and bounced on the braided rug by his socked toes. A wooden angel landed head first between the rug’s fibers, sustaining a broken wing, not that it hadn’t been glued on numerous times before.
Yippee pranced over and batted the empty manger. He jumped up as if it were chasing him then batted it again, playing his own game of hot potato.
Ruby had loved all of Momma’s crafts—except that crèche. Realizing Daddy still had a fondness for it, she kept the amusement off her face. “I think that’s Yippee’s way of telling us to replace it.”
Daddy hunkered near the terrier and held out his hand. “I can fix it.” He snapped his finger.
Yippee surrendered the hot potato then rolled over and played dead. Tongue hanging out.
“Daddy.” Ruby rolled her eyes. “Fixin’ that thing’ll be like trying to scratch your ear with your elbow.”
His frown scolded her. “I’ve fixed it every year, sugar. You know that.”
Baby Jesus somersaulted over the sheep and landed with his feet toward heaven.
Point made. Moved by her father’s tenderness toward the dilapidated Nativity, she crawled to him, kissed his sunbaked cheek, and then sat on her knees. “What would Momma want?”
His gaze brushed back and forth over the defective figurines, from Joseph and Mary to the shepherds. He erected the crippled ewe and stuck the staff back in the shepherd’s hand. “She loved this thing. But it is pretty old.”
“Older than me.” The decrepit impersonation of a Nativity had been around before Ruby was born, though she didn’t know exactly how long. Could be older than Bud Summers.
“Ruby Joy.” Daddy spoke her name as if he’d just snapped out of a coma and recognized her for the first time in decades. “You’ve grown up.”
Does he think I’m still a teenager? She smiled. “I’ll be twenty-one come Christmas.”
Sniffling, he caressed her chin with his rough hand. His moustache twitched. “You were the best present your mother and I could’ve asked for. That’s why she gave you Joy as a middle name.”
Ruby knitted her brow. “Y’all never told me that.”
Yippee popped up between her and Daddy and dropped baby Jesus onto her lap.
“That settles the matter.” She held up the slobbery figurine. “The King of heaven deserves better. We’ve got three months to find us a new crèche.”
Daddy pierced her with a sharp look. His chest expanded, stretching the pleats in his denim shirt. Determined and tough. As if something had awakened the man of yesterday.
Ruby had thought the tougher, more forthright Jake Buckner that once ran a tight ranch, had died when Momma did. Apparently, he’d merely lain dormant to survive a long winter. Too long.
“I know exactly what your momma would want.” He laughed like a man who just inherited an oil field.
She hadn’t seen this much contagious excitement since Wes Rogers roped a calf in 6.8 seconds. Ruby laughed with him. “Tell me. Before I explode from curiosity.”
“You and I are going to make a new crèche.”
That announcement fell way short of black gold prominence.
Out of courtesy, she kept smiling, but her excitement flag had completely slid off the pole. “Okayyyy. Well, you know I’m not much good in the woodworking department. That’s your area of expertise.”
Although he hadn’t picked up a chisel and mallet in eight years, Daddy used to be famous around town for his woodcarving skills.
“Sugar, your job is to find Mary, Joseph, and the crew. I’ll do the woodwork.”
This must be a relapse of serious grieving. Ruby shook her head. “Should I pour us some iced tea? Let’s take a break from goin’ through Momma’s stuff.”
Laying the crèche, or rather the remnants of it, on the floor beside him, Daddy then turned to her and took her by the shoulders. “Your momma had dreams for you, sugar. Big dreams. For your high school graduation gift, she was going to take you on a trip.”
A trip sounded both sweet and frightening. Ruby had traveled many places around the world—via books. Attending college online, she was halfway to getting her degree in History and Cultures. She didn’t know what she was going to do with that degree. Her heart yearned to go places, but she’d never think of leaving Daddy alone.
Ruby shrugged, and he let her go. “What does a trip have to do with a new crèche?”
Rubbing at his smooth-shaven chin, Daddy got up and ambled to the grill-paned window. “Mmm hmm. Yes, sir. It’s coming together.” He turned around and headed across the room toward the closet. The man paced when contemplating a matter or figuring out a solution to a problem.
What was the problem?
Returning to the pile of clothes she’d abandoned earlier, Ruby shook out a striped blouse. She spotted a stain and tossed the article in the discard pile near the wall.
“Pack your bags, sugar.” Fists on his belt, he halted in the middle of the room sporting a rugged John Wayne expression. “You’re about to fulfill your momma’s wishes.”
Ruby rose and mirrored his stance, disturbed by his no-nonsense vibes. “Meaning what?”
“You’re going to see the world. First stop, Colorado to visit your Uncle Jared, then on to the ends of the earth. While you’re gone, I’ll build the base. You’ll find the pieces to fit in it.”
Yippee sprinted into the room with the leash clenched in his teeth. Ruby hadn’t seen the dog leave, but apparently, he’d understood the word go. He dropped the leash at her feet.
“Not now, Yippee.” She folded her arms and tried not to glare at her confused father. “I’ll drive to town. The Christmas Shoppe is open. I’ll look for some nice matching Nativity pieces there.”
“Open your ears, sugar. This is what Momma wanted.” He smiled at the family picture on the wall and nodded. “I can’t believe I’ve let you stay here this long. You should be studying at a brick-n-mortar university. I am so sorry for neglecting your needs.”
He’s gone off the deep end. She chuckled to mask her growing fear of … the unknown. Her heart struggled to organize her mixed feelings. “Oh, Daddy, please. You haven’t neglected me.”
Come to think of it, yes, he had. He’d tuned out the world, and Ruby had been the one to keep their relationship alive—out of desperation not to lose both parents. But that didn’t matter now. She loved him.
She tucked her hands in her back pockets. “I’ve been grieving just like you. We’re starting to come out of our numbness. Let’s not make a soap opera out of it.”
A truth struck Ruby hard. She’d been so mentally cooped up, she hadn’t recognized until now her own yearning to get out of Dodge, as they say. But the thought of leaving the ranch overwhelmed her something fierce.
Picking up the crèche wannabe, she situated the manger between Joseph and Mary. “I think adding tiny tumbleweeds is a great idea. Yippee and I will go find some after supper.”
“Funds are no problem,” Daddy carried on, as if paying her no heed. “I’ve got a few connections to make, but I know they’ll all be honored to take you in. Yippee can go with you.”
The dog flew out of the room, and Ruby wanted to flee with him. She dropped the would-be Nativity on the floor and glared at her father-gone-mad. “No stinkin’ way! I’m not about to leave you at a time like this.”
His eyebrow arched and his moustache turned solid as steel. “Are you arguing with me, sugar?”
Yippee trotted in carrying a mini plastic suitcase, one of his show props. He dropped it on top of the leash.
Ruby scowled at the terrier. “Yippee Ti Yi Yo, whose side are you on?”
Lifting his head high, the terrier pranced over and planted his little wagging rear near Daddy’s foot.
“That settles the matter.” The reawakened Jake Buckner had spoken. “The King of Heaven has great things planned for Ruby Joy. But she has to leave this ranch to discover them.”
There’d be no staring the man down. No contending with him, period. Ruby would have to plow a whole new road to reason. Or prepare for heart failure—her own. “I think I hear Dutch downstairs. I’ll go help him with dinner.” Chopping vegetables should buy her some time.
Once the cook heard about Daddy’s idea, he started a list of things to do. Number one was to get Ruby a passport.
Just like that, the journey was settled. They were pushing her out of the nest, as Dutch put it. The next couple of weeks passed in a blur. Hurrying through school lessons to turn them in early. She’d had to train Ethel Higginbotham to cover for her at the bookstore, which drove Ruby mad. The hard-of-hearin’ woman always shouted when she couldn’t understand you. Why the boss picked Ethel to work around quiet readers made as much sense as a corral with no gate.
Yippee Ti Yi Yo got an extra good scrubbing and an overdue trip to the vet for shots. All the ranch hands threw them a surprise going away party on the eve of her departure, and the next day, Daddy and Dutch drove them to the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport.
I should’ve hidden in the barn rafters. Ruby crossed her arms and stared at the folks rushing to get to their flights. “I’m going to need more clothes than what’s in the bag.”
If Daddy really believed the single suitcase he gave her could carry all she needed for fifty days, he had some disappointing news to look forward to—in the form of a credit card bill.
Oh, the week worth of underwear suited Ruby fine, but he’d only let her pack two pair of jeans, two pairs of shorts, a Sunday dress, and three shirts.
“I’ve got your wardrobe taken care of, sugar.” Daddy wrapped his brawny arm around her shoulder. “It’s part of your adventure.”
Just like a man. Surely, Momma would’ve understood a girl’s clothing needs. Not that Ruby had an appetite for high fashion. She’d readily volunteer as the poster child for Plaid Wear. Practical. Comfortable. If only tank tops came in plaid.
She kept her arms tight across her chest. “Even Yippee packed more stuff than I did.”
Dutch chuckled. He’d come along as moral support. The thin-haired, tubby man had been a friend for so long Ruby deemed him family.
Snuggling Yippee, he rocked side to side on his boots as if rocking a baby to sleep. “Trust your daddy, darlin’. He’s got your best interest in mind. If I didn’t think so, I’d speak up.”
Lord, help me not be afraid. This trip was really happening. She wanted to go, but she didn’t. “Lord, I’m counting on You to take care of everybody while I’m a million miles away.”
Daddy wrapped her in both arms. “Sweet Ruby, you’re never alone. You’ve got Jesus livin’ in you.”
Suppressing a yearning to melt into his chest and stay there forever, she squeezed him for only a moment then pushed free. She dried her moist eyes, passed around kisses, and then slipped her backpack onto her shoulders. Yippee crawled into his crate and lay down, semi-sedated. No tricks from him today.
Entering the security line, Ruby Joy Buckner did not look back. If she did, she’d start bawling.
Read Chapter Two here.
Read Chapter Three here.
Read Chapter Four here.
Read Chapter Five here.
Read Chapter Six here.
Our authors are blogging all sorts of fun posts 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 most likely a different post.
Monday, December 2
For the Pinterest contest, visit Chapter One's Pinterest image and J.A.'s blog to compare photos
Marji Laine hosts Sheryl Holmes
Marji Laine - Chapter 1 Devotional
About J.A. Marx
J.A. writes Embattled Spirit novels. Her companions are adventure and imagination. Add in the supernatural, and her day is complete.
Above all, J.A.’s desire is to see people set free to live and love. She feels her purpose on earth is to participate in what Jesus Christ came to do: destroy the works of darkness. (1 John 3:8b).
Her desire to promote health and wholeness grew from seventeen-plus years in marriage coaching and developing small group ministries in four different states across the USA.
Growing up in Colorado, she spent much of her childhood climbing trees and rocks, and riding horses. She graduated from Colorado State University with a BA in Arts & Humanities and a double minor in French and Music.
She and her wild-at-heart husband presently reside in Texas near their two grown children and a new grandchild. Her hobbies are fitness, nutrition, and dancing the Argentine tango.
A Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt (co-author)