Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Virgin River Christmas - Robyn Carr

Virgin River Christmas
A Writers Vineyard Holiday Treat


Marcie stood beside her lime green Volkswagen, shivering in the November chill, the morning sun barely over the horizon. She was packed and ready, as excited as she was scared about this undertaking. In the backseat she had a small cooler with snacks and sodas. There was a case of bottled water in the trunk and a thermos of coffee on the passenger seat. She’d brought a sleeping bag just in case motel bedding wasn’t to her standards; the clothes she packed in her duffle were mostly jeans, sweatshirts, heavy socks and boots, all appropriate for tramping around small mountain towns. And she was itching to hit the road, but her younger brother, Drew, and her older sister, Erin, were stretching out the goodbyes.

“You have the phone cards I gave you? In case you don’t have good cell reception?” Erin asked.

“Got ‘em.”

“Sure you have enough money?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Thanksgiving is in less than two weeks.”

“It shouldn’t take that long,” Marcie said, because if she said anything else there would be yet another showdown. “I figure I’m going to find Ian pretty quick. I think I have his location narrowed down.”

“Rethink this, Marcie,” Erin said, giving it one last try. “I know some of the best private detectives in the business – the law firm employs them all the time. We could locate Ian and have the things you want to give him delivered.”

“We’ve been over this,” Marcie said. “I want to see him, talk to him.”

“We could find him first and then you could–“

”Tell her, Drew,” Marcie said imploringly.

Drew took a breath. “She’s going to find him, talk to him, find out what’s going on with him, spend some time with him, give him the baseball cards, show him the letter, and then she’ll come home.”

“But we could–“

Marcie put a hand on her older sister’s arm and looked at her with determined green eyes. “Stop. I can’t move on until I do this, and do it my way, not your way. We’re done talking about it. I know you think it’s dumb, but it’s what I’m going to do.” She leaned toward Erin and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Erin, so sleek, beautiful, accomplished and sophisticated – so nothing like Marcie – had been like a mother to her since she was a little girl. She had a hard time leaving off the mothering. “Don’t worry; there’s nothing to worry about. I’ll be careful. I won’t be gone long.”

Then she kissed Drew’s cheek and said, “Can’t you get her some Xanax or something?” Drew was in med school and no, he couldn’t write prescriptions.

He laughed and wrapped his arms around her, hugging her tight for a moment. “Just hurry up and get this over with. Erin’s going to drive me nuts.”

Marcie narrowed her eyes at Erin. “Go easy on him,” she said. “This was my idea. I’ll be back before you know it.”

And then she got in the car, leaving her siblings standing on the curb in front of the house as she pulled away. She made it all the way to the highway before she felt her eyes sting with tears. She knew she was worrying them, but she had no choice.

Marcie’s husband, Bobby, had died almost a year ago, just before Christmas, at the age of twenty-six. That came after over three years in hospitals and then a nursing home – hopelessly disabled and brain damaged, with injuries incurred as a marine serving in Iraq. Ian Buchanan was his sergeant and best friend, a marine who Bobby said would do twenty. But Ian exited the Marine Corps shortly after Bobby was wounded and had been out of touch since.

Since she knew Bobby would never recover, since she had grieved his loss for a long time before he actually died, Marcie would have expected to feel a sense of relief in his passing – at least for him. She thought she’d be more than ready to step into a new life, one that had been put on hold for years. At the tender age of twenty-seven, already a widow, there was still plenty of time for things like education, dating, travel – many possibilities. But it had been just shy of a year and she was stuck. Unable to move forward. Wondering, always wondering why the man Bobby had loved like a brother had dropped out of sight, never called or wrote, estranged himself from his marine brothers and his father. Estranged himself from her, his best friend’s wife.

So, there were these baseball cards. If she stretched her imagination to the limit she couldn’t come up with anything her lawyer sister would find more ridiculous than wanting to be sure Ian had Bobby’s baseball cards. But since she’d met Bobby at the age of fourteen, she knew how obsessed he was with his collection; there wasn’t a player or stat he didn’t have memorized. It turned out that Ian was also a baseball nut and had his own collection; she knew from Bobby’s letters that they had talked about trading.

In the deserts and towns of Iraq, while they hunted insurgents and worried about suicide bombers and sniper fire, Bobby and Ian had talked about trading baseball cards. It was surreal.

Then there was this letter that Bobby wrote to her from Iraq before he was wounded. It was all about Ian and how proud it would make him to be like Ian. He was a marine’s marine – the guy who got into the mess with his men, led them with strength and courage, never let them down, hung with them through everything – whether they were up to their necks in a fight or crying over a dear John letter. He was a funny guy, made them all laugh, but he was a tough sergeant who made them work hard, learn and follow every rule to the letter so they’d be safe. It was in that letter that Bobby told her he hoped she’d support him if he decided to make it a career. Like Ian Buchanan had. If he could be half the man Ian was, he’d be damn proud; all the men saw him as a hero, someone on his way to being a legend. Marcie wasn’t sure she could part with the letter, even though it was all about Ian. But he should know. Ian should know how Bobby felt about him.

In the year since Bobby had moved into a quiet and peaceful death, she had passed his birthday, their anniversary, every holiday, and still, it was like there was this unfinished business. There was a big piece missing; something yet to be resolved.

Ian had saved Bobby’s life. He didn’t make it out whole, but still – Ian had braved death to carry Bobby to safety. And then he’d disappeared. It was like a hangnail; she couldn’t leave it alone. Couldn’t let it go.

Marcie didn’t have much money; she’d had the same secretarial job for five years, a good job with good people, but with pay that couldn’t support a family. She was lucky her boss gave her as much time as she wanted right after Bobby was wounded, because she traveled first to Germany then to DC to be near him, and the expenses had been enormous, far more than his paycheck could bear. As a third year enlisted marine, he earned less than fifteen hundred dollars a month. She pushed the credit cards to the max and took out loans, despite the willingness of Erin and Bobby’s family to help her. In the end, military life insurance hadn’t gone too far to pay on those bills and the widow’s death benefit wasn’t much.

The miracle was getting him home to Chico, which was probably entirely due to Erin’s bulldogging; many families of military men who were 100 percent disabled and in long-term care actually relocated to be near the patient because the government wouldn’t or couldn’t send the patient home to them. But Erin managed to get them CHAMPUS, a private nursing home in Chico paid for by the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services. Most soldiers were not so fortunate. It was a complicated and strained system, now heavy with casualties. Erin had taken care of everything – using her exquisite lawyer’s brain to get the best benefits and stipend possible from the Corps. Erin hadn’t wanted Marcie to be stressed by benefit or money worries on top of everything else. Erin had done it all, even paid all the household bills. In addition to all that, she was somehow managing the cost of Drew’s medical college.

So, for this excursion, she couldn’t take a dime from her sister. Erin had already given so much. Drew did have some pocket change, but being a poor medical student, he didn’t have much. It would have been far more practical to wait till spring – until she’d had a chance to put aside a little more – to head into the small towns and mountains of northern California looking for Ian Buchanan, but there was something about the anniversary of Bobby’s death and Christmas approaching that filled her with a fierce longing to get the matter settled once and for all. Wouldn’t it be nice, she kept thinking, if the questions could be answered and the contact renewed before the holidays?

Marcie meant to find him. Give peace to all the ghosts. And then they should all get on with their lives....

This has been an excerpt from A Virgin River Christmas
Robyn Carr is the Rita Award winning author of over twenty-five novels, including The Grace Valley Series and The Virgin River Series. The American Library Association's Booklist Reviews named Virgin River one of the top ten romances in 2007. Robyn lives in the Las Vegas area with her husband, chocolate lab, dusty treadmill and no living houseplants.
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