I'm going to need some extra help for this next chapter. Christmas is coming and there are going to be some humorous mishaps. So, enjoy this chapter and then comment below with your memories of Christmas traditions gone wrong. Did you burn a turkey? Did someone discover all the presents early? Did one of your carolers forget to mention they couldn't sing? Let me know and you just might see your memory immortalized in Scarlett and Blizzard Chapter 8 - An Unmerry Christmas. And enjoy this sneak peek at the beautiful cover Charlene Raddon made for Scarlett and Blizzard. If you're a writer in need of a beautiful cover, be sure to check Charlene's work out.
In the weeks following the break-in, nothing happened. The sheriff didn’t see anyone unusual and no one was ever caught. The few suspects Josiah and Teddy had been able to think of turned out to have solid alibis and after a while, everyone in town just sort of forgot about it. Mom brought Jake back to our ranch for the fall harvest and winter preparations. But even with everyone believing that things had returned to normal and this was probably just some weird fluke, Mom still wouldn’t let me drive myself to the diner or school. She insisted I ride the school bus, which was more practical since she and Scarlett needed the truck at home for work. But I was starting to get tired of getting a ride into town for my job. Scarlett was usually the one to take me and while she never complained about it, I knew she would have been much happier staying at home. Word had somehow gotten out that she and Josiah were seeing one another, of course after their explosive break-up, and no one believed her when she said otherwise. I was surprised one evening when she brought her laptop with her to the truck as we were getting ready for the drive to town. “What’s that for?” I asked.
“Work,” she replied. Her tone was hesitant and I had the feeling she was trying to keep something from me.
“What kind of work?”
“Just stuff, Blizz. It’s nothing important.”
“Then why bring it along?”
“Because sitting by myself for three hours gets boring,” she snapped.
I stared at her for a minute, trying not to let her words hurt. But they did. A lot. “I can go on my own, if that would be better.”
Scarlett glared at me and then her expression softened. “Oh, Blizz honey, I didn’t mean to make it sound like I think you’re boring, because you’re certainly not. I love being there to hear you sing. You’ve got real talent and I’m sure you’ll be famous someday.”
“More famous than the Bear?” I asked with a small smile.
For a moment, I saw something dark in Scarlett’s eyes. Something between anger and pain. “Infinitely more famous than him. Look, I just have some things I need to work on, okay? And since I’ve got a few hours relatively distraction free, I may as well use them. All right?”
Scarlett took my arm before I could move away from her. “I really do love coming with you, Blizz. I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.”
I smiled. “It’s okay.”
We finished loading the truck and drove into town. When we arrived at the diner I followed Scarlett to our usual booth. There was a box sitting on the table. “Hmmm, someone must be sitting here already,” Scarlett mused.
“No, that was left for you, sugar,” Tammy said as she went around us to serve a nearby table. “Someone knew you’d be here.”
Scarlett’s eyes narrowed as she looked at the box.
“We may as well sit down, Scarlett. People are starting to stare.”
She took a seat before scrutinizing the box. We both knew who it was from and I could tell Scarlett was battling the impulse to throw it out and the desire to open it just to see what was inside. She slid it down the table before taking out her laptop and setting it in front of her.
“Are you going to open that?” I asked.
“No.” She hesitated a second too long. “I’m not interested in it.”
I knew it would be opened by the end of the evening as I said, “Okay, well, wish me luck.”
Scarlett smiled. “I always do. Break a leg, just not literally.”
Winking, I grabbed my guitar and went up to the stage. As I started my performance, I glanced around the room. I saw Scarlett start working on her computer. It struck me as odd that she was so careful to keep the screen out of view from anyone else. Anytime Tammy stopped by her table to refresh her drink or bring something to her, Scarlett kept the screen turned toward the wall. While I knew she wouldn’t be involved in anything overly suspicious, I was curious what was so important she had to keep it hidden. I watched Josiah walk into the diner just before my first break for the evening. He smiled and held a finger to his mouth. I smiled in return. I had no reason to be unpleasant and honestly, I was beginning to see why Mom and Teddy were so eager to see Scarlett forgive him. Josiah was a pretty good guy. When the song was finished, I took a bow and went to the table Scarlett was sitting at.
She closed the laptop with a snap before I could even attempt to see what she’d been working on. “You sounded great, Blizz,” she said with a smile. “Is that last song a new one?”
“Yeah, just finished it about a week ago.”
“It’s great, I really loved it.”
“So, what have you been up to?”
I noticed the box was opened. “Mind if I see what your admirer left?”
Scarlett’s cheeks reddened, but she shrugged. “Go ahead.”
I pulled the box closer to me as Tammy put a glass of water down for me. Inside was a lovely model of a dainty gray Arabian. I read the card.
Dear Lettie, My name is Misty Oasis. I’m from a far away place that no man has ever seen. I am quiet and shy, but loyal to the end. Because of my gentle nature, I am often used to deliver messages. Someone would like to know if you’ve forgiven him yet. I think you know who sent me. A response would be appreciated.
“Someone seems to be working awful hard to get your attention, Scarlett,” I said. “Maybe you should…”
“Maybe I should what?” she asked, her tone dangerous.
“Nothin’.” It wasn’t worth getting on her bad side again. I glanced at the clock. I still had a couple minutes before my break would be over. “I’m going to walk around for a bit.”
I left the table and watched as she pulled the box back towards her. Her fingers brushed the Arabian’s smooth neck. Then she opened the laptop again. I turned my attention to the table I’d seen Josiah sit at. “Hey,” I said as I came closer.
“Hey, Blizz. Wanna seat?”
“Nah, I’ve only got a couple minutes. Just thought I’d see how you’re doing.”
“I’m over here and your sister is over there. I think that’s a pretty good sum-up.” I’d never seen him look so dejected. His hair was in need of a trim and it was obvious he hadn’t shaved in a couple days, though that wasn’t too surprising. A lot of ranchers tended to let their facial hair grow out during the winter months. But the sparkle was gone from his eyes. I was pretty sure my sister had no clue just how much she meant to Josiah.
“Did she open the box?”
Nodding again, I said, “Yeah, she opened it. Don’t know what to tell you though about a response.”
Josiah muttered something under his breath that would have gotten my mouth washed out with soap. “What does she expect me to do?”
Just two weeks before Christmas things started to go downhill again. First, my grandmother showed up and before you get mad at me for thinking that’s a bad thing, let me explain a little better. Grandma coming isn’t bad in and of itself, and she always comes to spend Christmas with us. The problem was more in the fact that she arrived a week and a half early with the announcement that she wasn’t sure when, if ever, she would return home. While we all love her to pieces, her spontaneity is sometimes jarring. And she has a bad habit of dragging out sensitive topics. I’m sure she never means to cause any harm, but she manages to hit the spot with alarming regularity. Scarlett and I spent a rushed four hours getting her room set up at the ranch and making sure that everything was as tidy as could be while Mom drove to the airport to pick her up. Her unexpected arrival threw everything off kilter and we weren’t prepared when Josiah called two days later to let us know that Teddy was back in the hospital. Mom immediately drove out to see him and spend some time with him. Scarlett and I were then left to entertain Grandma. Between my less-than-perfect grades and Scarlett’s lack of wedding ring, we weren’t doing too great. Mom called to tell us she was going to stay in Jackson for a few days to help keep Teddy comfortable so Josiah could return to the ranch. It was probably a good thing Scarlett had taken the call, because all I heard was, “Sure, Mom, you take care of Teddy. If you need anything call.” She then came to the living room where Grandma was busily telling me about the latest tutoring program she’d heard about to help me with my math.
“Grandma, I’m doing fine.”
“Bad news,” Scarlett interrupted. “Mom’s going to stay up in Jackson for a few days. Josiah’s got some things to take care of t the ranch and won’t be able to travel back and forth to see Teddy in the meantime. So, Mom offered to stay and it’s just going to be the three of us for a while.”
“Oh my, does she need help?”
“No, Grandma, I’m sure everything will be fine. She and Josiah just don’t want Teddy left completely alone. His health is in really bad shape and Josiah wants to know there’s someone there for him.”
“Our neighbor. He runs the Double Rocking B with his father,” I replied.
“Is he single?”
Scarlett just barely stopped herself from rolling her eyes. “Yes, and no there’s nothing there, Grandma.”
“If you weren’t so picky, you’d be married by now,” Grandma retorted.
“Would you like some cocoa, Grandma?” Scarlett asked through clenched teeth.
“Oh, no, darling I’m fine right now. Now, Blizzard, I really think you ought to consider some of these online tutoring sites. I’ve heard from several of my friends that their grandchildren have seen vast improvement.”
Scarlett and I glanced at each other. It was going to be a long winter. I heard Grandma’s voice in the back of my mind whisper, “Trials always come in threes.” At that point, I did not want to know what the third trial would be. Unfortunately, I didn’t have long to wait.
The next afternoon, exactly one week before Christmas, Scarlett and I left the ranch to do some grocery shopping while Grandma had her pre-dinner nap. And mostly we just wanted to escape. We vented our frustrations the entire drive to town and anytime we weren’t in a checkout line. As we were driving home I said, “I just don’t think I can take her suggesting one more tutoring site. For heaven’s sake, my lowest grade is a B minus!”
“Believe me, I know how you feel. I…” Scarlett’s eyes suddenly widened. “Oh no.”
“Scarlett, what’s wrong?” Without answering, Scarlett jammed her foot on the gas and the truck lurched forward. “What the heck, Scarlett, what…” Then I looked out the windshield.
Black smoke billowed up from a fire in the distance. “Quick, call 911,” Scarlett ordered as we sped down the road.
“What about Grandma? If she’s still asleep, there’s no way we’ll get to her in time.”
“Fine, call her first and then call 911.”
I dialed the house and prayed my grandmother would pick up while I heard Scarlett muttering a prayer next to me. “Grandma, there’s a fire, get out of the house!” I said as soon as she picked up.
“Fire? Nonsense, Blizzard, there isn’t any fire. Are you feeling all right? Maybe I should have some tea for you when you get back…”
“Grandma there is a fire! We can see the smoke.”
“Well, I’ve got a fire in the fireplace, but really, dear, I doubt you can see the smoke from where you are.”
“Blizzard, it’s not Starwood,” Scarlett said as we neared our driveway. “It’s the B. Josiah’s alone, tell Grandma to…”
“Grandma, call 911 and tell them there’s a fire at the Double Rocking B,” I interrupted. I could feel the car accelerate as we passed our home.
“Are you sure…”
“Dang it, Grandma, I don’t have time to argue. Just do it. Double Rocking B, end of Rural Route 5.”
Scarlett slammed on the brakes as we stopped in front of the ranch. The house was engulfed while flames licked the sides of the barn. Horses screamed in terror. I started toward the barn, but Scarlett grabbed my arm. “No, Blizzard, it’s too dangerous.”
“But we can’t just leave them there to die.”
Tears were in her eyes as she said firmly, “We have to find Josiah. The animals are beyond our help. Even if we just tried to open the barn doors, we could make things worse.”
“But the doors are already open,” I pointed out. “Josiah probably went in there to save the horses. Scarlett, we have to try.”
There was a split second of indecision before she said, “Okay, but if I say go, you go without question. Got it?” I nodded and watched as Scarlett ripped the bottom from her tee-shirt. “Blindfold the horses, or they won’t follow you.” She grabbed a bandana from her back pocket and said, “I’m going to look for Josiah. You try to get as many horses out as you can. The barn fire seems recently started, so be careful.”
I nodded numbly as we went toward the open doors. The fire was towards the back of the barn and spreading. I took out my own bandana and tied it around my mouth and nose.
Scarlett noticed a full water barrel and pushed the side of it until it tipped over, sending water sloshing down the floor and extinguishing some of the flames. “That should buy us a little time,” she shouted. “Josiah! Josiah, are you in here?”
I listened for Scarlett’s voice as I tried to help the horses out. Some were so terrified I couldn’t get near enough to blindfold them. After I took the fourth horse out of the barn, I heard Scarlett calling me.
“Blizz, I need help, now!”
I ran to her and saw her hovering over Josiah’s body. “Help me get him out of here.”
“Can he be moved?” An awful groan rang through the barn.
“We’ll worry about that later, this barn is about to collapse.”
Helping her to get him up and linking our arms under him, we carried Josiah out of the barn. We could hear the distant wail of a fire truck as the barn timbers gave way. We carried Josiah to our truck. “Get a blanket out of the back,” Scarlett directed, holding Josiah in the truck bed. As I moved I heard her say, “Come on, Joe, answer me.”
“Here,” I said.
“Wrap him up.” She tore another strip from her tee-shirt and began bandaging a gash on his head I hadn’t noticed before.
I could see the fire engines coming as Scarlett took another strip from her shirt. A tiny smile crossed my face and I teased, “Josiah’s going to be disappointed he missed the view.”
“Who says I did?” he croaked.
“Josiah Meddleton, if I wasn’t so happy to hear your voice I’d slap you for that,” Scarlett breathed.
We sobered as the firefighters got busy putting out the flames. Paramedics took over bandaging Josiah’s wounds and checking Scarlett and me. Sheriff Henley took our statements. “It’s a real lucky thing you girls got here when you did,” he told me. “Josiah prob’ly wouldn’t be able to make a statement otherwise.”
When we were finally cleared to go, it was late. Josiah was taken to the hospital for an overnight stay, just to be safe. Grandma was beside herself with worry as we came into the house, smoky and with Scarlett’s shirt torn to shreds. “Gracious, what happened to you? Are you all right? Did that man ravage you?”
“Grandma, Josiah wouldn’t do that. We just got back from a fire. You wouldn’t look impeccable either,” Scarlett retorted.
For a moment, Grandma just stared at us. “Well, you two march yourselves to the shower and get cleaned up. Dinner is probably stone cold by now, but I suppose I could warm it up for you.”
“Actually, I’m not particularly hungry,” I said. My ears still rang with the terrified screams in the ruined barn.
“Me neither,” Scarlett admitted. “Right now I just want to get cleaned up and sleep for a week.”
Grandma came and hugged both of us close. “My dears, I know you’re scared and hurting. I can see it in your eyes. But starving yourselves won’t change what happened back there. Take a shower, get in pajamas, and come have a little cocoa at least. Then you can go to bed and sleep your troubles away.”
Jessica L. Elliott
Author, artist, mom and super-genius