Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Sweet Christmas Kisses 3 - 1st Chapter of SECOND CHANCE CHRISTMAS by Merrillee Whren

Tennis is a sport that I love to play and watch. You will find me on the tennis court at least three times a week, sometimes four or five times. I got an injury last spring right before Memorial Day that prevented me from playing for nearly three months. After weeks of physical therapy, I'm happy to say I'm back on the courts. Because I enjoy tennis so much, I've always wanted to write a story in which one of the characters was a professional tennis player. When the opportunity came about to be part of the Sweet Christmas Kisses 3 boxed set, I knew exactly what my contribution would be. Second Chance Christmas is a heavily revised version of something I wrote years ago. I've always loved this story, and now I can share it. My hero has an injury that ends his professional tennis career, and he has to make some life-changing decisions. I hope you enjoy reading this first chapter.



Chapter One
Melanie Reid fingered the piece of paper in the pocket of her tennis dress as she traipsed down the hallway of her parents’ Amelia Island vacation home. “Chris, where are you?”
“Out here,” her sister called from the cedar deck at the back of the house.
Looking out the wall of windows in the family room, Melanie spied Chris sitting on one of the blue-and-white striped chairs surrounding an umbrella table. As Melanie opened the French doors leading to the deck, the folded paper seemed to burn a hole in her pocket. She wondered what Chris would think when she saw it.
“Hi.” Approaching the table, Melanie wished she could summon the courage to tell Chris her discovery, but Melanie didn’t want to hear Chris’ vehement denouncement of her foolish past. “Where’s Danny?”
“Believe it or not your, live-wire son is out for the count. He had a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, and now he’s taking a nap.”
Melanie smiled. “What did you put in the peanut butter? Tranquilizers?”
“I think I wore him out at the beach. How was your tennis lesson?”
“Fine.” Melanie touched the paper again.
“Have you had lunch?”
Melanie shook her head as she pulled out a chair. “Is there any of that fruit and cheese left?”
“Sure, I’ll get it.”
Moments later Chris returned carrying a tray containing Melanie’s lunch and two glasses of iced tea.
“Thanks.” Biting into a strawberry, Melanie savored its sweet juice.
“You’re certainly quiet. Something on your mind?” Chris raised her eyebrows so they disappeared beneath the fringe of light-brown bangs.
“They were handing these out this morning at the pro shop.” Melanie offered the paper to Chris, who took a seat beside her.
“Tennis clinic, featuring instruction from one of the world’s best tennis players, J. D. Reid,” Chris read aloud as she looked over the flyer. “Well, what do you know? My wonderful brother-in-law has returned.”
“Don’t be sarcastic.”
“What do you expect me to be? Overjoyed at his appearing?”
“No.” Melanie sighed, twisting the plain gold band on her left hand.
“I’m sorry, Mel.” Chris reached over and patted her sister’s hand. “You know just thinking about JD makes my blood boil.”
Melanie gave Chris a faint smile. Swallowing a lump in her throat and closing her eyes, Melanie fought back the tears.
“What do you intend to do?” Chris asked.
“I’m going to talk with him.” Melanie steeled herself against the hurt. She didn’t want to face him, but she had to.
“You’re going to talk with him? I hope you let him have it with both barrels.”
“I don’t want to fight with him.” Still curbing the tears, Melanie pressed her lips together. What did one say to an estranged husband? “I’m going to talk with him about Danny. It’s time he dealt with the reality of the son he’s ignored. I just want a chance to talk with him and show him some pictures—”
“JD didn’t respond to a whole year’s worth of pictures. Isn’t that enough to tell you he’s not interested in his son? Trying to force Danny on him will be a big mistake.” Chris frowned. “Why do you think anything will be different now? You can’t do that to Danny. It’ll break his heart.”
“Danny won’t know a thing about it unless JD wants to see his son. Besides, I’m tired of skirting the truth. We can’t continue to let Danny think his daddy can’t be with him because he’s too busy traveling the world playing tennis. JD’s tennis days are over…at least on the pro tour.”
Melanie sat without speaking for a few moments. The sound of the waves breaking on the beach at high tide filled the silence. Could Chris ever understand any of this? Melanie wondered whether she understood it herself. Her rebellion against her family had led her into this marriage. Now that she had reconciled with them, what did it mean for a marriage that hadn’t been a real marriage in years?
“You know what surprises me?” Chris asked, breaking Melanie’s train of thought. “That after four years of ignoring your existence, suddenly he shows up where he knows your family has a vacation home.”
“He wouldn’t know we’re planning to spend Thanksgiving week here.”
Chris narrowed her gaze. “You aren’t still in love with him, are you?”
“No!” Melanie sat up straight. “When he first left, I thought I’d never stop loving him. When I realized he wasn’t coming back, I stopped caring.”
“Doesn’t sound that way to me.”
Melanie paused. Was Chris right? Melanie pushed the question away. She wasn’t going to deal with those feelings now. “You won’t understand. I still think there’s a chance he’ll accept Danny.”
“You were always hopeless when it came to JD.” Chris glared at Melanie with an incredulous expression. “I know you like to see the best in people, but thinking JD will welcome Danny with open arms is stretching it.”
Melanie held up her hands in protest. “I need to hear it from his own lips that he’s not willing to have Danny in his life. I need this closure.”
“In my opinion, closure would be ending this farce of a marriage.”
Taking a deep breath, Melanie stared at her sister. Melanie wanted to do the right thing, especially in terms of how it affected her son. He needed a father. “I know that’s what you think, but I have to do this, Chris. I want to talk with him. Maybe this doesn’t have anything to do with Danny. Maybe I just want to see JD again and show him what I’ve done with my life since he left me. Maybe I want to see the look on his face when he sees me again.” Melanie lifted her chin in a defiant gesture.”
“I guess I can’t do or say anything to change your mind, but I hope you aren’t making a mistake.” Chris knit her brow.
“I appreciate your concern, Chris. But you’ve got to admit things can’t go on like this indefinitely. As Danny gets older, his father’s absence won’t be as simple to explain. Now that I know where JD is, I might as well confront him.” Melanie sighed. “If nothing else, maybe I’ll find out why he’s never asked for a divorce.”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” Chris said with a disgusted grimace. “The whole family thought it was a mistake for you to marry him in the first place.”
“I know. You thought I couldn’t make a decision for myself. That’s one of the reasons I married him. I wanted to quit college and get away from what I considered this family’s efforts to control my life.” Melanie stood, eager to end the discussion. “Do you mind keeping an eye on Danny while I take a walk on the beach? Maybe fly a kite?”
Chris chuckled as she rolled her eyes around in mock disbelief. “And here I thought you’d finally grown up.”
“Me? Never.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.” Chris shook her head.
Melanie gave Chris a big cheesy grin as she hurried into the house.
A few minutes later Melanie returned dressed in workout shorts and a T-shirt emblazoned with love means nothing to a tennis player printed across the front. She plucked a kite from the storage chest that sat near the pool. “I’ll be back before Danny wakes up from his nap.”
The boards of the deck were warm beneath her bare feet as she made her way toward the beach. When she crossed the warm, loose sand near the dunes, the breeze ruffled her hair in several directions. Watching the waves chase each other on the incoming tide, she came to the ocean’s edge, where the cool water flowed over her feet and eroded the sand out from under them.
Wriggling her toes down into the soft wetness and letting out a deep sigh, she looked ahead at the bright-blue sky and cotton-puff clouds, a scene fit for a postcard. She’d been looking forward to a few relaxing days here leading up to Thanksgiving with her extended family, but what would happen now that JD was here, too?
Finally, she tore her gaze from the ocean and started walking toward the hotels and condominiums. People strolled along the beach. A few tourists were stretched out on beach chairs or sitting under brightly colored umbrellas. She paused to watch a family engaged in building an elaborate sand castle. The father and son worked side by side as they built the wall. She wanted Danny to have the chance to share these kinds of moments with his father. Was there any chance that JD had grown up and changed, as she had since she’d seen him last? Could she hope that he would finally want those things, too?
She shook the wishful thoughts from her head as she walked toward the water. Holding the kite high in the air, she let out a few feet of string. The breeze caught hold of the kite, and the reel of string unwound in her hand. The colorful kite soared higher against the blue sky. She ran along the beach, her eyes on the kite.
Suddenly she crashed into a well-muscled male body, jarring the breath from her lungs. A large hand dug into the tender flesh of her upper arm, and the kite escaped her grasp. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw it flutter to the ground near the dunes where sea oats swayed in the breeze. Finally catching her breath, she turned to the man. Her apology died on her lips as she gazed into a pair of familiar, angry brown eyes.
“Don’t you kids ever watch what you’re doing? You think you’ve got the whole beach to yourself?” His irate voice echoed in Melanie’s ears. She’d heard those same angry tones the last time JD had spoken to her four years ago.
Her legs nearly gave way, and she was thankful for the support his grip offered. She searched his face for some sign that he knew her, but there was none. Her stomach clenched, and she couldn’t think of a thing to say. He doesn’t even know who I am. Had he conveniently wiped her from his memory, or didn’t he recognize her because her appearance had changed considerably since he’d seen her last? She wanted to think the latter was the case, but still, resentment welled up like the waves on the shore.
“I’m sorry. I should’ve been paying attention to where I was going.”
“Sorry. I didn’t need to speak to you that way. I see now you aren’t a kid at all.” His features softened when he released his grip on her arm.
Melanie waited for recognition to dawn, but it didn’t come. She followed him toward the dunes, where he retrieved the kite. When he handed it to her, his brow lifted in a puzzled expression as his gaze roamed her from head to toe.
“At my age, I don’t mind being mistaken for a kid once in a while.” She gazed into his eyes and saw the admiring look of a man appraising a pretty woman. She laughed, then watched as the admiring look changed to one of disbelief.
“Melanie?”
“Hello, JD. I wondered how long it would take you to figure out who I am.” Staring at him, she took in the brown hair, pushed back from his face, so different from the way it used to fall across his forehead. His five-ten height had always seemed tall from her five-foot vantage point.
JD shook his head, an incredulous look stealing across his face. “What have you done to yourself?”
She looked down at the sand and then slowly lifted her gaze to meet his. “What does it look like I’ve done? I’ve lost forty pounds.”
“I didn’t mean it like that. It…it was such a shock running into you like this. You…you really look great.”
“Thanks.” How many times had she dreamed he would say those words to her? Now that the dream was a reality, why did it seem so empty?
“Why didn’t you tell me who you were?”
Melanie looked toward the ocean in an effort to hide the anger and hurt she was sure he would see in her eyes. Despite all her prayers and thoughts of forgiveness, the idea of blasting him off the face of the earth ran across her mind. At the same time, she wanted her son to have a father. Making JD angry wouldn’t help that cause.
“I don’t know. I guess I was shocked to see you, too. And when I realized you had no idea who I was, I didn’t know what to say.”
He continued to stare at her.
She narrowed her gaze as she contemplated her next move. “I have some very important things I want to discuss with you, but not here. Can you meet me somewhere to talk?”
“I see one thing about you hasn’t changed. You still like to get right to the point.” The smile he gave her somewhat tempered the statement about her bluntness. “How about tonight?”
“That’s fine with me. The sooner the better.”
“We could go out to dinner. I can pick you up around seven.”
Melanie shook her head. “No, I’ll meet you.” She didn’t want to take the chance that Danny would see JD and recognize him. “Where should we meet?”
“How about that restaurant out on the main highway right after you come over the bridge. Do you know which one I mean?”
“Yeah. I’ll meet you there around five.”
“I’ll see you tonight.” Melanie tried to sound confident even though her heart pounded and her stomached churned like the nearby surf.
“Sure.” He turned to go.
Shaken, Melanie meandered down the beach until she came to the steps of the boardwalk that crossed the sand dune and led to the house. She could hardly believe she’d just talked with him. After all this time, it seemed like a dream. They had talked like casual acquaintances. How strange. What had she expected?
Stopping at the hose, she washed the sand from her feet. She wished she could wash away her feeling of uncertainty as well. She walked into the kitchen, then plopped down onto one of the white wicker armchairs surrounding the glass-topped table. Closing her eyes, she leaned her head against the back of the chair.
“What’s wrong with you?”
Melanie opened her eyes and stared at her sister, who settled in one of the chairs at the table. “Is Danny still sleeping?”
“Yes. Why?” Chris looked puzzled as she pushed a strand of light-brown hair behind her ear.
“I don’t want him to hear this conversation.”
“Why not?”
“I saw JD on the beach just before I came into the house.”
Her mouth hanging open, Chris placed her glass of tea on a coaster. “Did you cut him off at the knees?”
“I didn’t have a sword.”
“Real funny. Give me one, and I’ll use it.”
Melanie released a long, slow breath. “Come on, Chris. I’m not out for revenge. I’m meeting him for dinner tonight, and I’m going to tell him about Danny.”
“I don’t know how you manage to be so civil.”
“I’ve done a lot of praying.”
****
A few hours later Melanie drove along the street leading to the main highway. Huge oaks with Spanish moss hanging from the limbs like old men’s beards and tall palm trees lined the street. As she drew closer to the restaurant, her stomach rode the waves of her anxiety until she was sure she could eat nothing.
When she finally arrived, she took a deep breath and said a little prayer. Once inside, she gave her name to the hostess, who led her to the deck that overlooked the marsh, where the setting sun rested just above the tree line. Waiting at one of the tables, JD sat silhouetted against the sky, awash in pinks and oranges. He stood as she approached. He was dressed casually in gray slacks and a long-sleeved cotton shirt.
“Hi, Mel.” He smiled.
“Hi, hope I didn’t keep you waiting long.” Her heart racing, she slipped into the chair he held out. He was even more handsome than she remembered. His eyes mesmerized her. Fighting against the overwhelming physical attraction she still felt for him, she glanced around the deck. How could she feel this way after all the hurt he’d caused her? She must be out of her mind. She had to keep her head clear. Dwelling on old memories now would only make things worse. She had more important matters to consider.
Danny.
****
After the waitress took their order, JD stared at Melanie and remembered how her laughter had triggered his recognition at the beach. So much was the same—her smile, her voice, her twinkling chocolate-brown eyes, and the sprinkling of freckles across her nose, but she hardly looked like the same woman he’d walked out on four years ago.
She took a sip of water, then set the glass on the table. She ran her finger down the smooth surface and wiped the condensation away. “Why are you staring at me?”
“I can’t believe it’s you.”
“What do you mean?” She laughed nervously.
“You know. The way you look.”
“I’m still the same person, JD.”
“I’m sure you are, but I can’t get over how different you look.” He continued to stare at his wife. His wife. The thought brought him to the sober reality of the situation. Was she here to put an end to their marriage? She had every right. Did she hate him for what he’d done? He wouldn’t blame her if she did. What could he say to make up for the terrible way he’d handled things? Probably nothing.
“Why did you want to talk to me?”
“I want to talk about Danny.”
JD frowned. Who was Danny? Surely she wasn’t living with someone. She’d always been somewhat of a free spirit, but her straight-laced parents would never allow her to live with her boyfriend in their house. “Who’s Danny?”
Melanie laughed harshly. “What kind of game are you trying to play? How could you forget the name of your own son, even if you didn’t want him?”
Puzzled even further, JD leaned forward in his chair. “My son?”
“Yes, Danny, your son. Or maybe you think of him as James Daniel Reid, the Fourth. You know, the baby I sent you pictures of for a year. Don’t play dumb with me, JD. He’s the reason I’m here talking with you. I don’t care how you treat me, but I’m not going to let you ignore your son any longer.” Her eyes blazed with anger.
He sat there, his mind a whirling mass of confusion as he tried to grasp the situation. “Pictures? Letters? I never got them.”
“You got the one about selling the house.”
“That’s the only one I ever got. When it came, I thought it was divorce papers because it came from your lawyer.” Staring out the window, he tried to comprehend her announcement. “Let me get this straight. You’re telling me that you and I have a son?”
“Yes, he’s almost four.”
“Why didn’t you call when I never answered the letters?”
“I was so upset and angry I figured you didn’t deserve to know anything more about Danny.” Her voice raised a pitch.
“So why are you letting me know now?”
“Because I realized Danny needs a father. The day he came home from daycare crying because another little boy said he didn’t have a real daddy, I knew I had to convince you to see your son.”
“I can’t believe you think I’d ignore my own son.”
“What was I supposed to think when you never responded to a year’s worth of letters except for the one about the house?” She glared at him, her brown eyes still sparked with anger. “You always told me you didn’t want any children. You didn’t want me or our child.”
“You’re wrong. I wanted children. I just didn’t want them while I was traveling the world chasing after fuzzy yellow balls and the money they could bring.” Not wanting to see that look in her eyes, he put his elbow on the table and leaned his head in the palm of his hand. How could he undo this mess? He waited for another denouncement, but one never came. Finally, he forced himself to look at her again. This time sadness tempered the fury in her eyes.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” He wished with his whole being that things were different.
The waitress brought their order, and for a few minutes their conversation halted. They ate in silence. Melanie barely touched the crab cake she’d ordered.
He ate because he didn’t know what else to do. He had a son. He and Melanie had a son. Never in his wildest imagination had he thought she had asked to meet him tonight to tell him this. If only he hadn’t blocked all his social media contacts with her, then maybe he would’ve learned about his son sooner, despite the missing letters. What happened to those letters?
“Mel?”
She glanced up. “What?”
“Will you let me see Danny?”
With his pulse pounding in his head, JD watched Melanie close her eyes and place her hand over her heart. She didn’t say anything for what seemed like a century. She almost looked like she was praying. Was she going to say no? He held his breath as he waited for her answer.
Slowly, she opened her eyes, and a big smile spread across her face. “Yes.”
“Thanks.”
“I’m so glad you agreed.” She clasped her hands in front of her. “I want him to get to know his father. He’s a wonderful little boy. He looks just like you. He’s got your brown eyes and hair and your nose. And he juts out his chin just like you do when you’re angry.”
JD sat in amused silence while Melanie rattled on with barely a pause to catch her breath. “He loves tennis already. He used to watch you when you played a match on TV. But since you haven’t been playing any matches lately, he watches the tennis matches we recorded.”
JD gazed at Melanie with sadness surrounding his heart. “Does he wonder why I’m never around?”
“Since he’s been old enough to know about daddies, I’ve explained to him that his daddy is a famous tennis player who travels all over to play tennis. I showed him who you are on TV. Whenever there’s an article about you in the newspaper, Danny and I cut it out and put it in his scrapbook.”
“Why were you so nice?” JD knew he hadn’t deserved what Melanie had done for him.
“I did it for Danny, not for you. He needs a father.”
Melanie’s response hit home. Of course, for Danny. JD had been stupid to even consider she had done it for him after the way he’d treated her. “How’d you keep your family from saying bad things about me? I’m sure your parents didn’t have many kind words for me after I walked out on you. They weren’t too thrilled to have me for a son-in-law.”
“You’re wrong. Mom and Daddy always liked you. They just didn’t like my quitting college to get married. They wanted us to wait. They knew how badly spoiled I was and tried to tell me after the newness wore off I’d be unhappy living out of a suitcase week after week.”
“I always thought your parents never approved of me. I’m sure they don’t know.” JD let out a harsh breath as he rubbed the back of his neck. “I thought they felt the same way as Chris and Jon. They dropped enough hints to let me know they didn’t think you should marry a tennis bum.”
Melanie’s eyes widened in surprise. “I know they tried to talk me out of it, but I never realized they said anything to you.”
“Seeing how it all turned out, I suppose you should’ve listened to them.”
“No.” Melanie shook her head. “Then I wouldn’t have Danny.”
“You always did have a Pollyanna outlook on life.”

“Not always. You just chose to see that side of me. You know the old saying about the jolly fat person, happy on the outside, miserable on the inside. That was me.” Melanie shrugged her shoulders and looked him directly in the eye. “Would you like to see Danny now?

Merrillee Whren is the winner of the 2003 Golden Heart Award presented by Romance Writers of American. She is married to her own personal hero, her husband of  thirty-five plus years, and has two grown daughters. Connect with her on her Facebook page and sign up for her newsletter





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2 comments:

  1. Love it, Merrillee! Can't wait to read all these wonderful stories!

    ReplyDelete