UPDATE: A Ruby Christmas is FREE on Kindle
Friday, December 13 through Monday, December 16.
Read Chapter One of A Ruby Christmas here.
A Ruby Christmas
by Dianne E. Butts
Ruby pressed her nose to the window and pored over the skyscraping hills. “Wow. All those trees.” Their green blanket looked as thick as the hair on Yippee’s hide.
The small plane landed in Pueblo, Colorado. Ruby waited impatiently for the crew to unload the baggage. When Yippee saw her, he whimpered as if to say, “How could you do this to me?”
After letting him do his thing, she followed the signs to the car rental desk. “I’d like a pickup please. Something American built.”
They gave her a little Toyota hybrid.
Whatever. Ruby piled everything into the go-cart sized vehicle as Yippee curled up on the passenger seat. “You sleep. I’ll drive.” She pointed the car into the sun, toward the mountains.
Forty minutes later the road began to rise, cutting through canyons, following the Arkansas River upstream, just as Dutch’s map showed. Walking stick cactus, squat pine trees, and red soil gave way to dark earth and tall pines.
She glanced at the deer grazing near the road in the twilight then snapped her attention back to the road. “This route has too many snake turns, Yip.”
Clinging to the steering wheel, she tapped the brakes. A peek in the rearview mirror revealed drivers stacking up behind her.
“Stop tailgating!” As if they could hear her. Knuckles white from squeezing the wheel, she steered onto a graveled pull-off to let traffic pass.
The Toyota’s motor died.
“Foreign-made cars,” Ruby grumbled under her breath while checking the gauges. The gas tank showed full, though she’d driven nearly two hours now. “At least that rental agent wasn’t kidding about the great mileage. You need a break?”
She killed the lights and climbed out to stretch. Yippee ran for the trees and did his business.
Music blared from a building across the road. It was no Texas two-step.
The terrier ran back, jumped in the car, and settled on the passenger seat.
“No kidding. Let’s get out of here.” She climbed back in and twisted the key. The motor turned over but didn’t fire. She tried again. And again. Nothing. She slumped in the seat. “Now what?”
Yippee cocked his little head.
Ruby tugged the hood release, pulled on her denim jacket, and then stood staring under the hood. She knew her way around a gasoline engine, but this highfalutin’ hybrid thing? “Looks like something from the Starship Enterprise. Lord, what are we gonna do?”
Rock music pulsed across the road. Friday night, the bar was full of life. Dozens of motorcycles lined up outside like horses at a hitching post.
Her backpack held the cell phone. She could call Daddy, but what could he do? Besides, she wasn’t that desperate … yet. Even though she had no number for Uncle Jared.
Returning to the driver’s side, she grimaced at Yippee. “What do ya think?”
Stubbornness won out. “Come on then.” She plopped her straw cowboy hat on her head, locked the doors, and headed toward the music.
Crossing the pavement, the dog weaved behind her as if trying to hide.
They entered the bar, and everything but the music stopped. People wearing black leather stared her up and down. Her plaid stood out in a herd of black leather.
A low guttural growl came from the end of the bar. There lay an English bulldog with a mean under bite.
“Hey.” The bartender nodded his head at Yippee. “No dogs in here.”
“What about that one?” Ruby nodded at the bulldog. She snapped her fingers, and Yippee jumped into her arms. A munched-up show dog wouldn’t perform well.
The bartender leaned heavily on the bar. “Can I get ya sumthun?”
Yeah, a ticket home. She marched up to the shiny wooden bar. “My car quit. Can anybody here help me with it?”
A man nearby stirred. His black skullcap was dotted with bright yellow smiley faces. A long braid trailed down his back. He held a knife, which nobody seemed to give a hoot about. Looked like he’d been whittling a hunk of wood.
He’s bigger than Dutch and Daddy put together. Ruby judged him to be in his late twenties.
Yippee yapped wildly.
“Hush,” Ruby whispered. But the terrier wiggled and growled.
The bartender stiffened. “Ma’am, if you can’t control that dog—”
“I can.” Quickly setting him down, she clapped her hands twice and flicked her wrist.
Yippee turned a black flip, did a handstand on his front paws, and circled her before settling down behind her. He peeked between her legs.
The man with the smiley face scarf snorted. “What kinda dog is that?”
“A mean one. He’ll tear your arm off if I tell him.”
“Uh-huh.” He sounded skeptical. “What kinda car is it?”
“I dunno.” Ruby tapped her foot. “Yippee, what kind of car is it?”
He barked three times.
“Oh yeah. Toy-yo-ta.”
Skullcap half-smiled. “We’ll take a look.”
He flicked his wrist almost like Ruby had and two men set their pool cues down. They walked past her and out the door. A patch on one’s black leather vest read, “Crash.” The other’s said, “Cactus.”
She watched them through a window. They crossed the road and stared at the Starship Enterprise’s engine, motioned to one another, then headed back.
“One of those half-electric jobs, Bear,” Cactus said to the big man. “Sorry, can’t help ya, Miss.”
Bear shrugged at her. “Kirk over at the garage can fix anything, But he won’t be in ’til Monday.”
“Great.” Ruby groaned.
“Where ya tryin’ to get to?”
She retrieved the handmade map she’d stashed in her hip pocket. “My uncle’s place. Jared Hart.”
Yippee turned another back flip. The bar crowd laughed and applauded.
“Hey, does he play fetch?” Cactus said.
She smiled. “Yeah, he can fetch. He rides a skateboard, too.”
Fully recovered from sedation and ready to roll, Yippee kept up the entertainment.
“I don’t have a phone number for Uncle Jared, or I’d call and see if he’d come get us.”
Bear rubbed his chin. “His place isn’t far from here. Do you ride?”
Ruby scoffed to herself. “Of course, I ride.”
“Okay, let’s go then.” He zipped up his leather jacket.
Then it dawned on her. “Oh. You mean ride one of those?” She jerked her thumb toward the motorcycles outside.
Bear hollered the other way, “She’s gonna need a brain bucket.”
“A what?” Ruby gaped as people shuffled about.
Crash handed her the coolest helmet with a steer horn protruding from each side.
“Seriously?” She turned the brain bucket over in her hands. “It’s perfect. But what about my dog?”
Bear shook his head and chuckled. “Any dog that can ride a skateboard can ride with me.”
The bartender retrieved a miniature black leather jacket and a pair of goggles from under the bar. “Carol won’t mind, will ya girl?”
The bulldog woofed.
A middle-aged woman handed Ruby a black leather coat loaded with fringe.
Running her fingers along the sleeve reminded Ruby of her mother’s studded, tan suede jacket with long fringe. She felt a hug from home. “Wow. Thanks.”
“I want it back,” the woman said dryly.
“Oh, of course.”
Cactus and Crash gathered her backpack and roller suitcase from the Starship Enterprise and bungeed them on their motorcycles like passengers. They tucked her cowboy hat into a saddlebag.
After wrestling Carol’s coat and goggles onto Yippee, Ruby maneuvered around the fringe to zip her coat then strapped on the horned helmet. Climbing on the bike, she whacked Bear with a horn. “Sorry.”
A sense of adventure captured her heart and made her skin tingle.
Bear fired up his Harley. Yippee jumped into Ruby’s lap. Moments later, they thundered up the canyon under a canopy of stars. Three single headlights cast eerie shadows into the forest.
Jowls blowing, the terrier nosed bravely into the wind, a bravery they shared. He bit Bear’s braid and gave it a yank.
Bear swatted at him. “Stop it, mutt!”
What am I doing on the back of a bike with a stranger? Daddy’d kick my tail. The wind caught up the fringe and slapped her in the face. “Ow.” She winced.
Though the vibration under Ruby felt nothing like the bounce of her buckskin, the ride offered a familiarity, an unexpected kinship.
Bear slowed by a mailbox marked HART and turned into the driveway of a log home with the porch light on. A trailer home sat nearby. He killed the motor and kicked down the kickstand.
Ruby imagined her uncle barreling out the front door with a shotgun, but he didn’t.
Bear climbed the steps to the porch and walked right in without knocking.
He knows Uncle Jared? Ruby jumped off and followed him inside with Yippee trailing.
Her first glimpse of the resident confirmed he was Momma’s brother. Same pointy nose and chin. Same curly blond hair, only less of it.
Aunt Jane cozied in a recliner covered with a handmade quilt like the ones Momma used to make. An oxygen tube ran to Aunt Jane’s nose. Now Ruby understood. Uncle Jared wouldn’t leave her side, even to fetch his niece from the airport.
The instant he saw them, Uncle Jared hopped up. “Well, just look at you. You look just like your Momma.”
Yippee introduced himself with a raised paw.
“Sugar!” Jane exclaimed.
Does she know Daddy calls me sugar?
Bear strode past Ruby over to Jane and kissed the woman on the cheek.
She patted his cheek. “Thank you, sugar.”
“For what?” Ruby wondered if she’d forgotten something she was supposed to give them.
Jane and Bear sent her awkward looks as if they were talking about something else altogether.
Cactus and Crash delivered Ruby’s luggage. In all the rush and questions, Ruby never got a chance to properly thank Bear before he was out the door.
The rest of the evening was one big jumble of catch-up on family news and Yippee’s tricks until Jane grew too tired. Ruby and Yippee were shown to their room.
Saturday morning, Ruby peeked out her bedroom window. He spent the night here?
Bear’s Harley was parked at the trailer house next door. Uncle Jared’s and Bear’s voices drifted in from the front porch as the aroma of coffee and bacon wafted from the kitchen.
Ruby made her way down the hall.
“I’m so glad you came.” Jane beckoned her from a wheelchair at the kitchen table.
Ruby sent Yippee out to do his business. “So how do you know Bear?” She poured herself a cup of coffee.
Jane’s eyes flashed a momentary sadness. “His ma left when he was little, and then his dad died when he was sixteen. He needed somebody. We sort of adopted him, not officially you understand.”
“He lives in the trailer?”
Jane nodded and sipped from her mug. “He’s a sweet young man.”
“I already figured that.” Ruby stirred in sweetener. “And Yippee likes him.”
“That’s how he got the nickname Sugar Bear. Go on out.” Jane dabbed her mouth with a napkin. “Just beware of his Bear hugs.”
Ahh. She was calling him sugar last night. Not me. Pushing open the door, Ruby tugged her denim jacket closed with one hand to keep out the chill. Steam billowed from her coffee as she crossed the porch. A delicious smell of pine-scented air delighted her nostrils.
Uncle Jared sat in a rocker while Bear huddled on the step, whittling.
“Mornin’, child.” Uncle Jared got up. “I’m going for more coffee. You sit here.” He went inside.
Ruby approached Bear and bent over to get his attention. “Thank you for driving me here last night.”
He stayed focused on his work. “Glad to help.” A curled slice of wood flew from his knife.
She settled into the rocker. “What are you whittling?”
“Evergreen tree.” Another slice flew. “I like to make trees.”
Yippee’s eyes followed every piece of wood shaving as if they were flies on a screen door.
“You know I met your ma?”
It took a moment for the words to register in Ruby’s mind. “You did? When?”
“More than a dozen years ago, I guess. Soon after my dad died. She came to visit.”
Past conversations edged out of mental storage. “I remember her taking that trip.”
“Kind woman. I can see her in your face.”
Not knowing what to say, Ruby filled her mouth with the heavenly brew.
Bear laid down the knife. “She wrote to me.” He pulled something out of his inside jacket pocket. A Christmas card with evergreens, a bit tattered. He opened it.
Ruby glimpsed Momma’s handwriting.
“‘Dear Winston.’” Bear gave her a sheepish grin. “That’s my real name.” His gaze zipped back to the card. “‘I know you miss your daddy and even your momma. I can’t imagine the heartache my daughter Ruby would feel if I or her Daddy died. I want to make sure you know Jesus loves you. He knows your name. He will never leave you. Make Him your friend soon. Eliza C. Buckner.’”
Unable to choke back the tears, Ruby squeezed her mug. She wiped her finger across the moisture trickling down her cheeks. Oh, Momma. I miss you.
Thankfully, Bear stared off into the forest instead of at her. “She wrote that the Christmas I was sixteen. I was drinking pretty heavy even then. I was angry at God.”
“When I heard she died, the news made me want to do what she asked. At first it seemed like I was doing something in her memory, but then Jesus—” Bear’s voice cracked. He inhaled sharply. “Well, that’s when I quit drinking.”
“Wow,” was the only word she could muster.
“I did what she said, ya know.” He turned and looked at her. “I asked Jesus to be my friend.” He set the card down, picked up the wood, and whittled in silence.
A breeze whispered through the evergreens.
“You wanna know why I whittle trees?”
Ruby had to smile. “Yeah, we do.”
“See that stand of trees over there? The tall ones?”
Following his pointing blade, she spotted a grove of towering, skinny poles. “Yes.”
“Those are lodgepole pines. They grow up to 160 feet tall.”
Sensing this was a holy moment, she tuned in with her heart.
“They make pinecones, but they won’t release the seeds.”
She frowned. “Then how do they reproduce?”
“Those cones won’t open ’til a forest fire comes.” He turned to her. “The heat of a forest fire melts the resin off the cones and releases the seeds.”
The words sank into Ruby’s mind and ran like sap down to her soul.
“It’s through the fire that new life comes.” Bear shaved another sliver and blew wood dust from his whittling. It was taking the shape of a lodgepole pine.
Yippee sniffed at Bear’s braid, and Ruby shooed him away before he took a bite.
“Jared told me you’d be collecting pieces for a Nativity.”
She swished the last of the coffee in the mug that’d grown cold against her palms. “That’s right.”
“I think they probably had palm trees in Bethlehem that first Christmas.” Bear’s sheepish grin was growing on her. “Still. I’d be honored if you’d accept my lodgepole pine tree for your Nativity. What do you think?” He held it up.
Admiring his handiwork, Ruby couldn’t stop some wayward tears from rolling down her cheeks. “This would be perfect, Bear. We’d be honored. Could you make more than one? This same size?”
He smiled and went back to whittling. “I’ll have them done before you go.”
The next day after church, Bear took her on another ride around the mountains. So much beauty to explore. Too little time.
Monday morning, Kirk the mechanic called. Ruby’s rental was fixed.
Uncle Jared drove her down to pick it up. “What was the problem?”
“I tapped the gas gauge.” Kirk wiped off his greasy hands. “It went straight to empty.”
“What?” Ruby placed her hands onto her hips.
“Gauge was stuck. Those fools at the rental agency probably think it gets two hundred miles to the gallon.”
Uncle Jared wrapped an arm around Ruby’s shoulders. “What do we owe you?”
“That’s all?” Ruby opened her wallet, determined to pay more.
Kirk shrugged. “I put five bucks’ worth of gas in it just to make sure. The thing runs fine now. But you’d better fill it up.”
It took ten minutes for her to fill the tank and for Uncle Jared to quit laughing.
The last day in Colorado, Bear presented her with a set of three trees. He’d even painted the limbs green with tiny pinecones. Then he wrapped his arms around her. Tightly. “Gonna miss ya.”
“I’m gonna miss your Bear hugs,” Ruby squeaked due to a lack of air. He let her go, and she straightened out her jacket.
Yippee lay on the corner of the porch, pouting. A comical whine escaped his lips.
“I don’t want to leave, either, Yip.” Ruby then said a tearful good-bye to Uncle Jared and gently kissed Jane, knowing she wouldn’t see her aunt again this side of heaven.
Thanks, Daddy, for sending me here.
She and Yippee headed back toward Pueblo. Two miles down the highway, the rumble of Harleys passed her. Bear waved. So did Cactus. Then Crash. Yippee jumped in the backseat and danced against the window barking. The rest of the riders surrounded them in front and behind and escorted her all the way to the airport.
Ruby returned the Starship Enterprise and boarded the plane. She took one last glance out the window at Pike’s Peak and saw a line of Harleys on the highway. A loving sight she’d never forget. A ride she hoped to repeat. Someday.
This traveling stuff is a cinch. Her heart leaped with excitement to discover what God had waiting for her and Yippee in Florida.
Read Chapter One 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 a different post.
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
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 Dianne E. Butts
Dianne E. Butts is the author of Prophecies Fulfilled in the Birth of Jesus, Prophecies Fulfilled in theDeath & Resurrection of Jesus, and the newly releasing Prophecies Fulfilled in the Life of Jesus (Pix-N-Pens).
Her co-authored book, Grandparenting ThroughObstacles: Overcoming Family Challenges to Reach Your Grandchildren for Christ (Pix-N-Pens, 2012) won a Nonfiction Book of the Year from Christian Small Publishers Association, was named Nonfiction Book of the Year by The Book Club Network, both in 2013, and was one of GRAND Magazine’s Top 25 Grandparenting Books.
Dianne is the author of Deliver Me, also a CSPA Book of the Year (2012), and Dear America.
A screenwriter, Dianne was a semifinalist in the Kairos Prize for Spiritually Uplifting Screenplays (January 2013). Her short script was a finalist in the 168 Film Project’s “Write of Passage” competition in 2010 and she wrote, directed, and co-produced a short film, “The Choice” (http://bit.ly/TheChoiceFilm), for the 168 Film Project in 2012. Both shorts were inspired by true stories in Deliver Me.
A member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Dianne has over 300 published articles and contributions to twenty books. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys riding motorcycles with her husband, Hal.
Connect with Dianne:
E-mail: dbwrites [at] juno [dot]com
Twitter: @DianneEButts @GParentObstacle @BAboutWriting