UPDATE: A Ruby Christmas is FREE on Kindle
Friday, December 13 through Monday, December 16.
Read Chapter One here.
Read Chapter Two here.
A Ruby Christmas
by Fay Lamb
After her bag made its way to her on the carousel, and she nabbed it before it could get away, she began to worry.
“Ruby Joy Buckner, ain’t you a sight for sore eyes and a grieving heart. Child, I’ve missed you so much.”
Ruby spun, tripping over Yippee’s carrier.
A woman stood with her arms open wide.
“Land’s sake, Ms. Gina, how are you doing?” She looked back at her notes. Nope, she hadn’t read her hosts’ name incorrectly.
She sure would have recognized Gina Swain’s name. The person she didn’t recognize was the tall dark-haired man who waited patiently behind Gina.
“You look a little confused, Ruby Joy.” Ms. Gina ran a hand along Ruby’s bangs and touched a long braid.
The Swains had attended church with her when she was knee-high to a corn stalk. Gina had been her mother’s constant friend before moving to Florida more than twelve years before.
“Well, I didn’t remember Daddy telling me that I’d be staying with you.”
“Well, darling, you probably didn’t recognize my name. I’m remarried now. I’d like you to meet my husband, Pastor Paul Alward.”
Ruby dropped her bag to shake the man’s hand. What had happened to Mr. Marvin, Gina’s first husband … and …?
“We’re so excited to have you staying with us this weekend.” Paul gave her hand a strong shake.
“Jonathan should be home by the time we arrive. He just graduated from the University of Florida. You remember him?”
Ruby fought to keep her face neutral. Boy did she remember bratty Jonathan Swain. He was forever pulling her braids. At ten years old, he’d been the most infuriating …
Ms. Gina smiled. “Jonathan’s all grown up now. He won’t be picking on you. Besides, don’t you know if a boy teases ya, he’s got a crush on ya?”
“I’m excited to see him again.” Ruby wouldn’t put any oomph in Ms. Gina’s overactive matchmaking imagination. She’d bloodied Jonathan’s nose once. That’s the crush he got.
Mr. Paul picked up her bag, and Ruby picked up Yippee’s carrier and followed along beside them.
“He’s just as eager to see you again,” Ms. Gina said with a wink.
Ruby almost laughed aloud. Yeah, she bet he was waiting on pins and needles to get reacquainted with her.
At the end of a very long highway, they stopped at a red light. “This here is as far east as you can go on this road. The ocean’s right there, Ruby Joy.” Ms. Gina pointed.
Close enough to touch, but even raising her fanny off the seat didn’t afford her a view.
“This place hops during the winter months.” Mr. Paul activated his blinker and turned right.
The street was very busy. Ruby took in the sights. A huge, blue building trimmed in yellow and orange took up more than a block. A sign announced Ron Jon Surf Shop “One of a Kind.” She turned in her seat to peer out the window at the white statue depicting a surfer on a wave. She sighed and leaned back. She’d really like to see that ocean.
A few moments later, they turned down a residential street and pulled into the driveway of a nice one-story home. Ruby looked back from where they came. The Alwards lived only a couple blocks from that busy A-1-A. She could walk across it to see the ocean.
Yippee whined. Probably ready for a bathroom break. “Should I let Yippee out here before we go inside?”
“No, dear. Come on in. We have a fenced pen in the backyard for Yipee. It’s safer that way.”
Safer than what? Ruby didn’t ask. She just hitched up the carrier and followed Ms. Gina inside. Mr. Paul came behind, carrying Ruby’s bag.
The house was warm and inviting, much like the ranch house back home. The Alwards’ kitchen, dining room, and family room flowed together, all looking out upon a large screened porch and swimming pool. Beyond that the yard stretched toward a murky waterway. A hallway ran the width of the right side of the house. Ruby followed Ms. Gina down that hall. “Here’s your room, Ruby Joy.”
Ruby peered inside.
Ms. Gina kissed the top of Ruby’s hair. “A little different from the ranch, huh?”
Ruby entered her room, put her bags down, and released Yippee from his confines.
“Let me show you where Yippee needs to go.” Ms. Gina picked up the dog and led the way back through the house. Yippee licked the woman’s face until Ruby thought he’d licked her makeup clean off.
The woman opened the glass door. “Feel free to get in your suit and take a swim.”
“Swimsuit.” She’d been so all-fired excited about seeing the Atlantic Ocean, yet she hadn’t remembered to bring a bathing suit. Well, that didn’t matter. Jonathan Swain wasn’t about to see her wearing the one-piece with a skirt and make fun of her.
Ms. Gina opened the screen door leading from the porch and led Ruby out to a large gated area set off to one side of the house. Surely, they weren’t insisting that Yippee stay in that. He wouldn’t know what to do, and he’d howl all night.
“We lost our Precious about six months ago. She was an older dog, but we used this whenever she needed to go.” Ms. Gina set Yippee down, and he went about smelling the blades of grass and the chain link, wearily watching her when the woman closed the gate. “We’ll just give him a few minutes.” She tucked her arm in Ruby’s. “Let me show you why we have the pen.”
They walked toward the waterway and out onto a wooden dock that stretched a bit out into the water. From there, Ruby could see open water. She was sure she hadn’t lost her bearings, but she couldn’t tell.
“That’s not the ocean?”
“No. This canal runs to the Banana River. This seawall keeps out a lot of trouble, but gators have a way of getting to whatever it is they want, the sly devils.”
Ruby startled. “Gators? As in alligators?”
Ms. Gina pointed toward a log in the water—a log with eyes that watched Ruby and began to move in the direction of the dock. “Th–that’s a gator.” She stepped back.
“Darlin’, he can’t hurt you from here or even from our dock, but sometimes they come in somewhere that doesn’t have a seawall, and if Yippee were to run across one …”
Ruby shivered at the thought. “Can we get Yippee in the house?”
Ms. Gina smiled and slipped her arm around Ruby’s shoulder. “What do you think of Paul?”
“He seems like a mighty nice fella. Might ’n I ask what happened to Mr. Marvin?”
Gina peered back at the canal, and for a split second, Ruby thought she’d tell her a gator ate the poor guy.
“He died, Ruby. Two years ago. Sudden like. Had a massive heart attack.”
Ruby blinked. She’d expected something less permanent. “I’m sorry to hear that. How did Jonathan take it?”
“His grief goes beyond his dad’s death. Marvin left us long before he died. He changed when he came out here. Success made him even more driven than our poverty did in Texas. As your momma said in one of her letters to me when I wrote to her about Marvin’s late nights in the office, ‘Some folks are all right until they get two pairs of britches.’ Marvin had a whole closet filled with clothes and a son and wife who adored him, yet that wasn’t enough.”
Ruby gave Gina a tight hug. “Well, Mr. Paul seems to be a very nice man. I’m sorry about Mr. Marvin, but it looks like the Lord has blessed you.” Ruby opened the gate and hugged Yippee to her.
“Well, if it ain’t Ruby Joy Buckner.” The voice was deeper than she remembered, but it was also softer.
“I was beginning to wonder about you, son.” Gina took Yippee. “Why don’t you two say howdy while I get Yippee some food and water?”
Ruby lifted her eyes and began to force a smile. She faltered in her attempt. Instead she swallowed. Hard. Where had the brat gone? There was no mistaking his short dark hair and his sapphire blue eyes. A beard shadowed his face, and his smile didn’t quite make the sapphires twinkle, but he winked.
“I see you’re still wearing your pigtails.” He tugged one much more gently than he’d done when they were ten.
“Keeps it from getting tats.” She ran her hand down the length of the one he pulled and held to the end of it.
And … just … what … else … was … she … doing? She swiveled back and forth the way some of the silly high school girls did when the star quarterback came along.
She forced herself to stand still.
Jonathan started toward the house. “It’s mighty good to see you again, Ruby. There are some things I really do miss about Texas.”
“Land’s sake.” She followed him. “I would think being able to let your dog out in a yard without worrying about him getting eaten would be one of those things you miss.”
At that, Jonathan leaned back and laughed. “Yeah, I suppose so. It’s not as dangerous as Mom wants to believe. I ain’t heard of a gator chowing down on a dog in this neighborhood.”
“Well, what have you been doing?” Ruby asked.
“Speaking of Gators, I’ve been getting my degree in agriculture studies from the University of Florida.”
She smiled. “You don’t say. A bit of Texas dirt still in that itty-bitty heart of yours?”
He shook his head. “Same old Ruby Joy.” He opened the screen door, and she ducked under his arm.
“You wouldn’t happen to know how I could see that big ocean I’ve never seen, would you?”
Jonathan laughed—a sound she remembered. Amusement—at her.
Irritation sparked in her heart, and she balled her hand into a fist, just as she had when she’d bloodied his nose more than ten years ago. “What’s so funny, Jonathan Swain?”
“Ruby Joy Buckner, you’re just going to have to wait and see.”
Jonathan looked mighty fine in what he called a wetsuit. He left it unzipped to his waist where his swimming trunks showed. He’d toted his surfboard with very little problem, and she could see the scrawny boy had turned into a fine-looking man. The tan leather cowboy hat he wore didn’t hurt Ruby’s eyes none either.
He stopped at the end of a long boardwalk and scratched Yippee behind the ears. “There it is, Ruby Joy. That great big ocean you wanted to see.”
Turning, she took in the white sand stretching out toward the bluish-green waters. She drew in a deep breath of the salt air and released it. “What a beautiful sight. God sure did make some pretty things.”
“Yeah, he shore enough did.”
Ruby giggled at the joke then turned back to him. He was looking at her. She felt the heat climb up her face like that ornery old ivy that climbed the ranch walls. “Did you get a B.S. in sweet-talking along with that agricultural degree they gave you?”
He laughed again and lifted the hat from his head. “You’ll need this. Be sure to put on that sunscreen Momma put in your bag, and keep Yippee on a leash unless you’re sure he won’t run off.”
“Where’re you goin’?”
“Momma and Paul will be here shortly. I think they’d be much obliged if Yippee did some tricks. The church has a ministry … Well, you’ll see it. I like ’em and all, but I got something that needs to be done today.”
“So, I’ll just sit here and watch.” She didn’t want the disappointment to echo in her voice, but she knew it did, especially when he stepped closer.
He stroked her cheek with his hand. “I got some plans for us this evening—I was going to ask you later, but Ruby that ocean is my thinking place, the way the pasture used to be back home.”
Jonathan knew how to reach her.
“Fine.” She plopped down on the sand. “I’ll sit here and watch until someone finds me.”
“And I’ll do my best not to look like an idiot.”
“Not possible.” She snickered, and Yippee barked.
As Jonathan walked away, he cast a playful frown over his shoulder.
“Yeah, I know, Yippee. He doesn’t look like any idiot I’ve ever seen.”
Ruby and Yippee sat on a beach towel, enjoying the warmth of a Florida November and watching Jonathan catch a few waves. He sure enough knew how to surf—best she could tell. At least, he stayed upright on the board as he did flips or rode out a wave. But beyond that, he spent a lot of time sitting in that vast body of water. He’d look around or lower his head.
“He’s talking to God.” Ms. Gina came up behind her. “You’ve been so intent, you missed the show behind you. Come meet some friends of ours. And I brought Yippee some water and treats.”
Ruby stood and brushed the sand off her khaki shorts. Yippee had stayed on his leash beside her, but he sure did like Ms. Gina. He tried to keep up with her.
“Jonathan’s here!” A gal screened her eyes with her hand and stared out at the waters. “Ms. Gina, why didn’t you tell us?”
The kids were mostly in their teens with a few young adults. All the boys wore wetsuits, as did a few of the girls. Some, though, wore skimpy little suits while others sported one pieces. Others dressed like Ruby in shorts and a T-shirt. They were gathered around a large tent like the kind at a craft fair. Coastal Community Church Surfers was printed on the four sides.
“Ruby, your daddy told me Yippee is famous for the tricks you’ve taught him. Care to put on a show? We thought maybe Yippee’s tricks would bring by some curious onlookers, and we could pass out some tracts.” Gina handed one to Ruby.
The front had a picture of a surfer on it. Ruby opened it and read a surfer’s story of how God had touched his life one day when he sat on stormy waters. How he’d realized the ocean-sized hole in his heart could never be filled by anything—not drugs, not ocean swells, not girls, or lust—only God could fill that emptiness and give him peace.
Ruby stared out at the ocean and at Jonathan. For the first time, she noticed that when he looked down, his shoulders shook just a bit. Her eyes filled with tears. “That must be some talk he’s having with the Lord.” She swiped a tear away.
“I suppose he’s trying to find a way to tell me he’s heading back to Texas.” The woman smiled. “I was hoping when he arrived there, someone would make sure he got into church and would keep him fed. He forgets to eat every now and then when he’s involved in a project.”
Ruby wiped the tears again. Somehow, she’d have to find a way to keep him from pulling her pigtails, but she nodded. “I’ll do that, Ms. Gina.” She unleashed Yippee. “Come on, Yip. Time for a show.”
Ruby hugged the Ron Jon Surf Shop bag close as Jonathan led her along the Cocoa Beach Pier. All types of folks hung out at the beach. Jonathan held her hand as they threaded through tattooed bikers to tattooed girls in bikinis, older folks in evening attire, and some yuppie types. Jonathan even tipped his hat to a few fellows who looked like ranchers.
They reached a door to a restaurant, and Jonathan held it open for her. A hostess had his reservation—so he really had planned the evening—and led them to a table by the window overlooking the water. Jonathan pulled out a chair, and she waited for him to sit across from her.
He slipped off his cowboy hat and tucked it on her head again. “Momma tells me I can’t wear a hat in a restaurant, but it’s proper for gals to do it.”
She tugged it off and smoothed down the hair she’d taken out of her pigtails.
“You look nicer than the pies my mamaw used to cool in her kitchen window.” He winked.
In his charcoal gray shirt set against those sapphire eyes, he looked too handsome for words, so she said nothing.
Jonathan opened his menu. “When are you going to show me what you bought at Ron Jon’s?”
She felt ridiculous buying the things, but from what she’d learned from the tract today, and about Jonathan, the items she’d bought for the manger would be perfect—if not perfectly insane. “Ms. Gina says you’re coming back to us in Texas.”
He shook his head as if trying to follow her line of reasoning. Then he widened his eyes. “She surprises me sometimes with that Momma radar of hers. I took a job on a ranch back home. The older man needed someone knowledgeable to help his daughter. I hope to save some money for my own place one day.”
An awareness like none other she’d ever felt seeped into Ruby. Had she found more in Florida than a piece for the manger? “Daddy could sure use someone else knowledgeable on the subject of ranching.”
He studied her for a long moment. “I’ll tell him you gave me the approval. That’s one of the reasons he sent you here. That and I think Momma asked him to send you my way.”
“Jonathan, I’m so sorry about your dad.”
He looked out to the ocean, but his eyes produced waves of their own as the tears filled them. “I was telling him good-bye today. I asked God to help me let him go. God and Paul are taking care of Momma so I can return to where my heart has always been.” He reached across the table and touched her hair. “I actually don’t start work on the ranch until the New Year, but I was invited to spend Christmas with y’all. I hear you’re doing a lot of traveling between now and then.”
Dare she hope?
“I have some things to do around here, but if I can get away, I’ll try to catch up with you.”
“But you’re wanting to save money—”
He smiled. “Daddy left me some surfing money. We were going to travel around the world and surf to celebrate my college graduation. Not that I think he would have taken off work. Anyways, I don’t think he’d mind me using it for travel—even if I’m not surfing. But I don’t know. You might have to wait to see me in Texas when you get home at Christmas. Might save that travel money for another special trip or two or three.”
“In that case”—she opened the bag and unwrapped the treasured piece she’d purchased for the manger—”Can I entrust these fellows to you?”
Jonathan leaned back and laughed. He picked up the wise men, each clad in surfing shorts and a T-shirt. One bowed in reverence. His staff was a surfboard. Another stood, holding out a tiny box decorated with shells, and the third held a tether to a camel standing behind him. Because he was a Florida camel, he wore sunglasses. “Ruby Joy Buckner, I love—” He cleared his throat. “I love your sense of humor. And I’ll have them there safe and sound whether I catch up with you on your trip or not.”
Ruby played with the end of a few strands of her hair, but this time she didn’t care if she looked like a love-struck fool. “I’ll be looking everywhere for you.”
“Good. You’ll know how I’ve felt for the past twelve years, and we’ll see if God answers another one of my prayers I asked Him about today.”
Jonathan had asked God about her. Not too many boys thought that way.
“Well, I guess I might just need to start praying, too.”
Learn more about a worldwide ministry to an unreached people group by visiting
Christian Surfers International at www.christiansurfers.net.
Read Chapter One here.
Read Chapter Two 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 a different post.
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
From Monday, December 2
Fay Lamb’s emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay writes for Write Integrity Press and Pix-N-Pens. Better than Revenge is the second novel in the Amazing Grace series. Her first novel in this series is Stalking Willow.
Charisse, the first novel in Fay’s Ties that Bind romance series released in July 2013, and her second novel in that series, Libby, will be released early 2014.
Look for other novels from these series and from Fay’s Serenity Key series. She also recently released her first nonfiction book for writers, The Art ofCharacterization.
** 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.