It Started One Christmas(5)

By: Susan Mallery

“Roll over,” she said in her most forceful tone.

He complied but didn’t open his eyes.

Lizzy, her calico cat, raced into the room, meowing her complaints about Keira being gone for so long. Keira picked her up and snuggled her close.

“Hey, pretty girl. I missed you.”

Lizzy rubbed her head against Keira’s chin and purred loudly.

“I’m home for the holidays. We’ll be together every day, I promise. Oh, and I got you something wonderful for Christmas.”

Lizzy gave her a quick kitty kiss before jumping onto the bed and sniffing Dalton.

“I can explain that,” Keira said. “Or maybe not.”

She left him in Lizzy’s capable paws and went back downstairs. Callie met her in the foyer, and together they carried his duffel, the meds and his backpack upstairs.

“What’s he like?” Callie asked.

“He thinks he’s really smart, but he’s stupid when it comes to women.”

“That’s very judgy of you.”

“I call them as I see them.”

Callie chuckled, but her laughter faded when she walked into the guest room. “He’s totally out of it.” She crossed to the bed and felt his forehead. “He’s got a fever. Go get the thermometer. It’s in the linen closet on the second floor. Also, get the Tylenol and that small basin on the second shelf. I should have everything else I need up here.”

“Callie, no. I’ll take care of him. You have enough to do.”

Her sister smiled at her. “I’m going to spend about an hour with him, getting him settled and comfortable. Then you can take over.” She glanced at her watch. “Hurry. In ten minutes you need to wake up Adalyn and Logan.”

Because a schedule was a schedule, Keira thought. She smiled at her sister.

“You’re amazing and I love you very much.”

Callie smiled back. “I love you, too. Now get my supplies.”


KEIRA CHECKED ON Dalton every hour until midnight, then went to bed. Friday morning his fever was about the same, but Callie said to give him another day to see if it broke. Dalton rallied enough to drink tea and sip soup before falling back asleep. Lizzy kept him company, curling up on the corner of his bed.

After breakfast, the rain slowed enough for Keira to take her niece and nephew down to the lake. She bundled them up and took stale bread to feel the intrepid ducks who dared to winter in chilly Seattle. Once the ducks were fed, she would take the kids to the park.

“It’s almost Christmas,” four-year-old Adalyn reminded her. “Santa’s coming!”

“I know. I’m trying hard to be good. Are you?”

Adalyn’s brown eyes widened as she nodded. “I’m trying extra hard.”

Logan grinned. “Santa! I want a train.”

So much for the subtleties of the season, Keira thought. She glanced up at the third-story windows and hoped Dalton was going to be okay. At least he was keeping his liquids down and sleeping, right?

Callie had been her usual organized self, helping Dalton out of his clothes and into borrowed pajamas. She had him on a schedule with regular doses of Tylenol, cold compresses on his forehead and plenty of soup. Keira had followed her instructions, using the Vitamix to liquefy healthy vegetables and adding them to the chicken broth.

After a half hour of feeding ducks and playing in the mud, she, Adalyn and Logan walked back up toward the house. She got the minivan keys and was starting to buckle everyone in their car seats when a sleek E-class Mercedes pulled into the circular driveway. Keira smiled as her brother parked and got out.

“I heard you were back,” he said, holding out his arms.

She grinned as she ran toward him, then let herself relax into his tight, welcoming embrace.

“Hey, you,” he said before kissing her cheek. “It’s good to see you.”

“Good to see you, too.”

Malcolm was the oldest of the three siblings. He’d moved into the big family home when he was twelve. For over twenty years, he’d thought he was the only bastard Jerry Carlesso had fathered. At first he’d been unsure about welcoming two half sisters, but they’d become a family, and now they were inseparable.

“I miss having you around,” Malcolm told her.

“The college is maybe twenty minutes from your house. I see you at least twice a week.”

He chuckled. “It’s still good to have you back. You seem farther away when you’re at college.” He glanced over her shoulder at the two children in the minivan. “Taking the munchkins to the park?”

“I’m giving Callie some time to keep moving on the Christmas craziness. It’s the least I can do given that I sprang unexpected company on her.”