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A Shenandoah Christmas | Chapter One

Andy Roberts pulled into the driveway at his parents’ Vineyard Haven home. He typed in his phone passcode and opened the new text message that had come in while he was driving. His sister Tess. Not Allyson. Not Allyson for seven hours.

He flipped down the visor and stared at the picture of Allyson he’d fastened there with two large rubber bands. She was sitting on the massive boulder at Great Rock Bight, her gorgeous blonde hair blowing in the wind, and she was laughing at him as he took pictures while trying to avoid getting soaked by an incoming wave.

His stomach twisted. That was two months ago. Something he couldn’t name had shifted between them after Thanksgiving. He’d asked her a couple of times what was wrong, and she’d shrugged and said nothing. They still laughed, she still smiled at him with a sparkle in her blue eyes, and he still felt that electric bolt of desire and protection every time he held her hand.

He couldn’t nail it down, but something wasn’t right. Did she suspect he was planning to ask her to marry him? Did she have reservations about a life with him? Did she doubt he was the one for her? He didn’t have a single answer, and he wanted them. Now.

He could smell his mom’s homemade tomato sauce before he entered the kitchen. She was making his sister’s favorite dinner, eggplant Parmesan—a homecoming feast for the newlyweds, Tess and Hawk.

“Hey, Mom.”

“Hi, Andy. Have you heard from Tess?”

He paced the kitchen floor. “Just got a text message. She and Hawk are waiting to board the plane in Boston and head for the Island.”

“Let’s hope the weather holds. You know the Martha’s Vineyard Airport will re-route them if it gets too windy.”

Andy mumbled an agreement, then keyed in his password and typed a message to Allyson. Hi, beautiful. How’s your day going? Nearly the same message he’d sent at lunch—one she’d yet to answer. Where was she? And why wasn’t she responding? She’s the one who’d encouraged him a couple of months ago to touch base at lunchtime, said she liked hearing from him. He circled the table while he hit send and waited for a reply.

“What’s troubling you?” his mom asked as she spooned a second layer of her tomato sauce over the breaded eggplant and mozzarella cheese.

“Nothing.” Then he remembered to whom he was talking and that his mother expected the truth. “I haven’t heard from Allyson since this morning.”

Katherine Roberts, elegant in her casual navy slacks, red turtleneck, and green sweater, extracted a wedge of Parmesan cheese from the refrigerator. “I thought she was working.”

Andy shook his head. How could he explain the gnawing feeling in the pit of his stomach? “She is, but we normally touch base throughout the day.”

Reaching into a bottom cabinet, presumably for the cheese grater she kept there, his mom paused. She pivoted to face him. “It’s December twenty-second. Downtown is a zoo. I’m sure she’s been overwhelmed with customers since the stores opened this morning.”

What his mom said made sense—all the last-minute shoppers were rushing around to find dozens of presents and hoping to check each person off their lists. Busy people meant his girlfriend was busy. “You’re probably right.” He spoke the words, not fully believing them.

Mom peeled the plastic wrap from the cheese and set to work, humming along with the Christmas music playing throughout the downstairs of their home.

He wanted to change the subject. The off-season at the sailing office was slow. Paperwork and supply orders were not distracting. He’d spent too much of his day second-guessing what could or might be wrong with Allyson or himself or their relationship. “Do you need us to pick up anything after I get Tess and Hawk?”

“Not a thing. I’ll have all I need when you return.”

Andy heard the longing in his mom’s heart. Though she hadn’t spoken the words aloud, he knew she’d missed Tess. “I’ll put a bow on the brat just for you, Mom.”

“No need. Having them stay here is my gift. I’m glad to have one last Christmas with you and your sister in the house, and with your two brothers and their wives coming over in the morning after church. All my Christmas wishes will be answered.”

His mom didn’t shift her focus from sliding the hunk of Parmesan up and down the grater. Nevertheless, Andy knew she was holding back a slew of sentimental tears.

“Mom, you’re still stuck with me.”

“I wasn’t born yesterday, Andrew Roberts. I know that look I’ve seen in your eyes every day for months now. I watched Todd sort through his feelings for Jennifer, and I saw Jack leap heart-first for Emily. Tess may have pined for Hawk for two years, but once he made his move, they were wed before the ink had dried on their invitations.”

“You mean once Dad gave his consent.”

His mom tossed the rind of the cheese onto the counter. “The timing was perfect, as you well know. After fifty years of sailing his ship, your father was ready to retire as captain of the Shenandoah, though not as ready I was to have him home more often. Hawk was the best man for the job.”

“I know. Sorry. I’m in a foul mood.” Jealous was more like it. He’d been blown away when he discovered Hawk cared for his sister. He’d never suspected that Hawk fell for Tess the first day he met her when he started as first mate.

“Have patience, son. Remember, Tess waited two years for Hawk.”

Two years! Was she kidding? “I wasn’t planning to wait that long, and Allyson isn’t the captain’s daughter.”

“No, she isn’t, but I’m hopeful she’ll be the captain’s daughter-in-law.”

“I hope you’re right, mom.”

“You’ll be married before summer.” His mom winked at him.

Married.

Mom expected him to propose to Allyson any day—literally any day. As in Christmas Eve, Christmas day, or at the latest, New Year’s Eve. Tess was no better. Every time she called or sent him a text message, she asked about Allyson. Whether or not she used specific words, Andy knew his baby sister was asking about more than Allyson’s job search.

Her job, or jobs, was not the problem. He knew it to his core. Now what? Do I hold off on proposing? Do I wait until things feel right again?

“Andy?”

“Huh?”

“I asked you if Allyson will be joining us for dinner.”

Andy shook his head. “I invited her, but she said she already had plans.”

But what kind of plans did she have? And with whom? Now that the gallery was closed and she was working part-time jobs in two of the local stores during the holiday season, he’d thought they’d have more time together. Instead, he’d seen less of her in the last two weeks than he had when she was working forty hours a week.

“She must be putting in extra hours,” his mom offered. “I think the stores on Main Street are hosting a men’s shopping event tonight.”

That might be the answer, but if it was, why hadn’t Allyson told him?

“Andy, is there more to your worry? I don’t want to pry, but have the two of you argued?”

“No, and that’s what I don’t understand. I can’t explain it, Mom. Her feelings for me have changed. I know it, but I don’t know why.”

“Do yourself a favor and don’t jump to conclusions. Make time for an honest conversation. If it needs to be after Christmas, have patience and keep your heart hopeful.”

“I’ll do that.” One thing was sure: whatever was keeping Allyson away from him would still be there after the Christmas shopping season was over. “I’m gonna head to the airport.”

“Drive safe. The roads are bound to be icy.”

Andy drove up State Road and turned left onto the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road. Six months ago, he wouldn’t have imagined he’d be thinking about marriage, never mind buying a ring for the woman who’d won his heart and filled his days with more love and laughter than he’d thought possible.

He switched on the windshield wipers and slid the defroster to high. The light drizzle that had begun before dusk was now turning to ice – a potential problem for the six-seater Island Air Cessna. At least it wasn’t windy. High winds and ice could mean a re-route. As safe as they were, and as much as he loved hopping onto the short flight to Boston rather than driving up, those Cessna 402s were not meant for rough weather.

His mom would be less than happy if Tess and Hawk were late or unable to get home tonight. By now, Mom would have her eggplant Parmesan in the oven. And he had no doubt the scent of pancakes would welcome them all into the kitchen tomorrow morning. Tess, of course, would eat more maple syrup than pancakes.

And if Hawk had yet to witness his bride of two months eating maple syrup with a spoon, dribbles of sticky amber sliding over her chin, he’d see it in the morning. Andy couldn’t help but chuckle.

Married. His sister was married. Memories of her wedding brought a smile to his face.

Hawk and Tess had married aboard the Shenandoah with his parents’ blessings. Tess’s dream had come true. At the end of October, Hawk’s dream came true when he and Tess sailed south for the winter, anchoring Shenandoah in St. John’s Cruz Bay and offering weekly sailing charters. Captain Roberts’s consent had come with one condition: they must come home for Christmas.

Andy signaled and made the left turn into Martha’s Vineyard Airport. The sooner he’d get to see his sister, the better. Watching the change in her from the restless, moody sibling she’d been for nearly three years to the happy and content woman she became after her marriage was one of the greatest pleasures in his life. He didn’t miss those nights when she’d been in a funk and his gut twisted with her pain.

Shifting into park, Andy heard the airplane on its approach. The irony of Tess’s return wasn’t lost on him. Tess was happy, Allyson was now the one in a funk, and he still had a painful, twisted gut.

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