The snow was coming down hard, quickly blanketing the ground as it fell. Rachel Connors sat on her window sill, watching it fall. The tears rolled down her face, as the thought of going back home haunted her. She hadn't seen her parents in five years, and wasn't completely positive she was making the right decision in going back now. She needed to be near family now more than ever. Rachel decided to keep her medical problems to herself. There was no sense in making her parents worry about her. She would tell them nothing.
The sound of the cab's horn jarred her out of her thoughts. She wiped the tears away and grabbed her bags. She would be staying with her parents until after the holidays. The doctors didn't need to see her until the new year. How am I supposed to forget everything and enjoy a vacation at a time like this? Rachel sat in the back seat of the cab as it headed to the airport. It would be a long plane ride from Colorado to her parents' ranch in Tennessee, an hour and a half outside of Nashville. It was always beautiful there. They always teased her growing up about being a singer, but she never had any interest in singing. She always wanted to be a talent agent. She wanted to be the one who found the talent, which was exactly what she did. She was very successful at it, until she received a job offer to manage a friend’s ski resort in Aspen. It was a great escape from the harsh realities of the past, and she grew to love her new life.
Rachel took a long nap on the plane. She had been under a lot of stress lately. It seemed like only minutes after her head hit the pillow that she heard the flight attendant say they were landing. She looked around and saw that they were coming onto the runway. She rubbed her eyes and stretched her arms before standing up.
Kyle Landers waited for her in the terminal, holding up a sign for a woman he had never met. How do I get myself into situations like this? he thought as he started to pace back and forth. He couldn't tell Sue and Tom that he wouldn't go pick up their daughter for them even though he knew he wouldn't like her. He couldn't understand how she could stay gone as many years as she did knowing her parent's missed her. Kyle would do anything for Sue and Tom. They took him in four years ago when he didn't have anywhere else to go. He had no family and them gave him a job on the ranch. He looked back and forth for Rachel. He had seen many pictures of her over the years. Kyle decided he didn't want to give some stuck up, too good to come home to her family, uptight woman a ride. He dropped the sign into the trash can and walked out. He would tell Sue and Tom the flight must have been delayed. He felt a little bad lying to them, but he knew that their daughter could use a good lesson on how you treat people.
As she entered the terminal, Rachael looked for her ride. Her parents told her a man named Kyle would be picking her up. Not seeing him, she thought he might be outside, or in the luggage area. As she left, she saw a large cardboard sign lying in the trash can with her name on it. Where was he? Why didn't he wait? The plane was right on time.
She collected her luggage and walked out of the building, hopeful of catching a cab. Rachel walked up and down on the sidewalk trying to hail someone, with no luck. All the cabs were busy and she wanted to go home. She grabbed her bag and started to walk. Surely somebody would give her a ride within an hour and a half’s distance, she thought. As she looked around for prospects, she saw a young man getting ready to get into his truck. “Excuse me, sir. My name is Rachel Connors. Can you please give me a ride to my family’s ranch? I'll pay for the gas and if you can't take me all the way there, I would be happy with anywhere close. My ride didn't show up to pick me up and I can't seem to get a cab.”
Kyle shot her a look that let her know he wasn't in the mood to talk. He couldn't believe his luck. Of all the people wanting a ride it had to be the one person he wanted to leave at the airport. “Let's go. I have a lot of work to get done back at the ranch.”
Rachel didn't know what to think. “Okay,” she said, as she glanced down at the ground.
She jumped up into his truck not saying a word. Rachel felt a little uncomfortable being with him. Once she buckled in, she looked over at him. “Excuse me, but you haven't even told me your name.”
“Kyle. My name’s Kyle,” he said as he continued to drive.
“Have I done something to offend you? I don't even know you, but you seem to dislike me for some reason.” She said, as she played with her hands nervously. “Wait a minute. Are you Kyle Landers? The same Kyle Landers that works for my father? Why were you going to leave me here at the airport? I wasn't late.”
Kyle really didn't want to get into it with her right then, but it was going to be an hour and half ride back to the ranch. He knew he would have to talk to her at some point in time. “Why don't we stop to eat? I haven't had lunch yet.”
Rachel wasn't sure if he was trying to be nice now or if he was just hungry. “That sounds good to me,” she said even though she was still angry at him for leaving her there.
They drove for another thirty minutes in silence before turning into the parking lot of a small restaurant. Rachel had eaten at there before and remembered them having good food although she hadn't been eating much of anything lately. She hoped the trip back home would take her mind off her problems, but not bring up bad memories in the process. They found a table in the back away from everyone.
Kyle sat down and picked up a menu without speaking. When the waitress walked by he waved her over to him. “I'll take a cheeseburger, fries and a coke please.”
Rachel saw the waitress look over at her. “I'll take the same. Thanks.” She looked over at Kyle. “How long have you worked for my father?”
“Four years.” He said without adding anything more.
“That's great. My father really needed help after Bobby. . . . Well, never mind. I'm glad my father has you.” She took a sip of her soda trying to hold back the tears as she thought about her brother.
Kyle looked surprised to hear that Tom had somebody else work for him. He hadn't ever heard them talk about anyone else. “Who's Bobby? I've never heard the name before.”
Rachel looked surprised by the question. “Oh, well. . . Bobby was my brother. You would have liked him. He died six years ago in a car accident.”
“I'm sorry to hear that.” He felt bad for asking now.
The food came and they ate in silence. When they were finished, they started back to the ranch. Neither of them spoke. Rachel couldn't help but wonder why Kyle seemed to dislike her so much. How could he make a judgment so fast without even knowing her? She sat there staring out the window thinking about when she was younger. She remembered how her and Bobby would go on long walks exploring the entire ranch or taking the horses out across the range. He would run the horse like he was in a race that he had to win. She could remember staying back, watching him go. He feared nothing and embraced life to the fullest. Rachel could feel the tears starting again. She hadn't been home in so long that she had buried the memories deep down. She always thought about Bobby during the holidays, but more so this year. Bobby would have handled the news from the doctors better than she did. Rachel wiped a tear from her eyes.
Kyle glanced over at the saddest person he had ever seen. He was beginning to think maybe he misjudged her. Could she have good reasons for not coming around? Did it have something to do with Bobby? He knew that he didn't know anything about her, but the same time he knew that he wanted to. “Is everything all right?” he asked.
Rachel wiped her eyes and sat up straighter. “I'm fine. Just memories catching up,” she said with a little smile.
Kyle could tell that she didn't really want to talk about it and he wasn't sure that he did either. “It's not much further,” he said as he wished he could take the words back. Of course she knew it wasn't much further. She grew up there. He always got flustered when he got nervous. He stared at the road, trying to focus on his driving.
Rachel could see her parents’ house coming into view as she got more excited. She couldn't wait to see her mom and dad. It had been a long time. They had visited her two years ago in Colorado, but she just couldn't bear to come back home after Bobby died. She’d stuck around home for about a year after his death and then she had to get out of there. He was not only her brother but also her best friend. She didn't know how to live without him. She knew that learning how to was one way she could remember him.
The truck stopped and Rachel jumped out as fast as she could. She saw her mother standing on the porch with a smile on her face. Rachel ran to her and threw her arms around her. “I missed you,” she said to her mom.
“I missed you too, baby. I'm glad you're home, even if it's only for the holidays,” Sue said, hugging her tighter.
“Where's Dad?” Rachel asked as she looked around.
Sue pointed into the house. “He threw his back out again. That's why Kyle had to pick you up.”
“Is he all right now?” she asked. Looking back at Kyle, she said, “Thank you for driving me home.”
Kyle nodded his head. “No problem. I'll talk to you later, I'm sure.”
Upon entering the house, Rachel found her father lying on the couch with a heating pad behind his back. “Dad, how are you feeling?”
Tom sat up with a smile. “You made it. I'm glad you're here. How was the trip?”
“It was fine. I don't think Kyle likes me much, but the trip was fine,” she answered.
Tom gave her a smile. “Kyle just takes a little getting used to. He's a good man.”
They talked for hours, sitting in the living room around the fireplace. Her mother had made hot chocolate and apple spiced cake. Her mother always made the best cakes in the world. At least that was what Rachel always thought. She loved being home again and hated to think about leaving. She decided to go take a nice long, hot bubble bath before going to bed. She needed it after all the stress she had been under lately. She planned to get up bright and early to go riding on the ranch. It had been too long time since she’d had the chance.
The next day Rachel got up and dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. She walked in to the stables to pick out her horse, and saw Kyle brushing one of them.
“Good morning,” she said.
“Hi,” he said. “Going riding this morning?”
“Yes. It's been a while. I can't wait. Would you like to go with me?” she asked, then blushed. The words came out of her mouth without thinking.
Kyle didn't know what to say. “Sure. I have time. Let me saddle up a couple of horses.”
Rachel went over to one of the stalls and started brushing a midnight black horse. Its coat was shiny and smooth. “This is my horse, buttercup. I haven't ridden her in a while. I'll get her ready for me to ride. If you don't mind?”
“No. Go ahead. I'll saddle up Ranger for me.” He walked over to the brown horse in the last stall and started getting the horse ready.
Ten minutes later, they headed off across the land. Rachel loved the feel of the wind hitting her in the face as she galloped across the fields. Thoughts of her and Bobby racing their horses flooded her mind.
She pulled up at a creek to let her horse have some water and a rest. Once dismounted, she looked back to see if Kyle was still there. He was coming up behind her at a slower pace.
“You ride great,” he told her as he jumped off his horse.
Rachel smiled. “I love to ride. I never get a chance to anymore. The only thing I ride now is a snowmobile.”
She walked over and sat down on a big rock and watched her horse drink from the creek. Glancing up at Kyle she said. “It's okay though. I get paid good money to do what I do.”
“Money isn't everything though. You need family too.” He still wasn't sure why she moved away, but he was starting to think she had reasons, and maybe he was wrong to misjudge her the way he did. He could tell that she loved her family. Why did she leave? He wanted to know, but didn't want to come right out and ask.
Rachel sighed. “I know, and I do miss my family. It was really hard on me after Bobby died. I stuck around for about a year afterwards, but then I had to get out of here. Now I don't know what has been keeping me away. I wish more than ever that I lived here near my parents.” She looked away with a tear in her eye. She didn't want to cry in front of him, and she didn't want this complete stranger to know anything about her medical problems.
“I'm sorry if I upset you. I didn't mean to do that.” Kyle felt horrible.
Rachel wiped a tear away. “You didn't upset me. I always get emotional around the holidays. More so now than before.”
Kyle didn't know what she meant by that, but he could see a sadness in her eyes. He stood there staring at the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was about five foot, five inches tall with long brown hair. She couldn't be more than a size six. He couldn't believe that he was looking at her that way. It was only a day ago that he had decided that he didn't like her. Things were changing for him too. He looked over at her. “I guess you and your brother were close?”
Rachel smiled as the thoughts of Bobby came back to her. “Yes, we were like best friends. We did everything together. It was really hard for me when he died. We had spent the whole day together that day at a baseball game in Nashville. That night Bobby wanted me to go to the store for him and get him some ice cream, but I was tired and said I didn't want to. He left to go get it himself, and on his way home he was hit by a drunk driver. I can't help but blame myself. If I had gone to the store, then maybe he would still be here with us. It's my fault he’s dead.” Rachel couldn't stop the tears from falling. They were coming down like rainfall.
Kyle went over to her and took her into his arms. “It's not your fault, Rachel. You can't blame yourself. Is that why you have stayed away so long? If it is, then I think you need to come home to your family.”
Rachel wiped the tears away and walked back to her horse. “You don't understand. I can't leave Aspen right now. I have to be there. I wish I could, but I can't.” She walked over and got up on her horse, riding away without looking back.
When she returned to the stables, she removed the saddle and brushed her horse down, thinking about how great it would be if she could move back to the ranch now. But no—she needed to hear from the doctors first. Rachel was snapped out of her thoughts by the sound of Kyle walking in with his horse.
“I'm sorry I upset you. Sometimes I put my whole foot in my mouth,” he said as he walked the horse to the stall.
Rachel laughed. “You’re fine. I just get a little emotional sometimes. It's not your fault.”
“How about you let me take you out tomorrow night for dinner to make up for it?” Kyle had no idea where that came from. He was usually a little on the shy side with women.
She looked at him with a little surprise in her eyes. “I would love to go out with you tomorrow night, but I can't. Mom and Dad are going out of town to the cattle sales, and I promised that I would get some baking done for Thanksgiving for her. You’re welcome to come over and let me cook you something if you would like. We can watch a movie while the cakes are baking.”
“Sounds good to me.” Kyle said. “I'll see you then.
Rachel couldn't believe she had made a date with him. She barely knew him, but she couldn't help but think how great looking he was. He was six foot tall with sandy blond hair and a great complexion. She could tell that he worked long, hard hours out in the sun—he was well muscled and tan. She walked in the house and saw her mom over by the stove cooking. She went over to her and gave her a hug. “Something smells good.”
Sue smiled over at her daughter. “It's beef stew. One of your many favorites.”
Rachel laughed because she loved to eat. She told her mom. “Guess what I'm doing tomorrow night.”
“I have no idea, dear.” Sue answered.
“I'm cooking dinner for Kyle while you’re gone. He asked me out and I told him I had to do the baking for you, but that I would cook him dinner. He said yes.” She seemed to be talking a mile a minute.
Sue hadn't seen her daughter look that excited about anything in a very long time. “I'm glad honey, but I would be careful not to lead him on. You’re still leaving at the end of December aren't you?”
“Yes, Mom. We won't get serious. It's just one date.” Rachel tried to make herself believe it more than her mother. She went over to the cabinet to get the dishes down to set the table. Then she went to get her father for dinner.
They all sat down at the table together to eat. Rachel made small talk with her dad about the ranch and the horses. “How's it going around here lately?”
Tom looked over at his daughter. “Well, I could sure use a good manager to run this ranch. Do you know anyone that can run a whole business, like maybe a huge resort, that might be interested in the job?”
Rachel had no idea that her dad wanted her to run the ranch with him. “Dad, I can't believe you are asking me this. I would love to, but I can't right now. I have some stuff that I have to take care of back in Aspen. Hopefully I can get that all taken care of in a few months and then I would love to move back here.”
Sue’s face could have lit up the whole room. Happy didn't come close to the way she felt at that very moment. She would do anything to have her daughter back home. “What do you have to take care of?”
Rachel nearly choked on her iced tea. “What? Oh, I just need to give a notice at work. Help train somebody. That could take a few months. Then pack everything that I own and move it here. It might take me some time to get things in order, but I will work on it as quickly as I can.”
After they all finished eating, Rachel went to take a long hot bubble bath. She filled the tub to the top, and then sank down in the steaming hot water. She felt so relaxed for a few minutes. She laid there in the tub, and before she realized what she was doing, her hand reached up and fell on her breast. She couldn't help but touch it, but when she did the tears came flooding from her eyes. The doctors had found the lump in a routine exam. They told her that it may be nothing but they would have to run some blood tests and CT scans. If that didn't give them the results that they wanted then she would have to have a biopsy. Rachel laid there in the bathtub crying until her water went cold on her. She didn't know how long she had been in there but she knew she didn't want to get out.
After what seemed like hours, Rachel got out and dried off. She stood there looking at herself in the mirror for a few minutes. How could somebody as healthy as she had always been be sick now? It didn't make sense, and it didn't seem fair. Was she being punished for something? That was all that she ever thought to herself. She got dressed and crawled into bed. Maybe thinking about spending time with Kyle would help take her mind off other things.
Rachel woke up to the smell of bacon cooking. She had truly missed being with her family. She usually grabbed something quick and easy for breakfast. It had been a while since she had a nice home cooked meal like the one she smelled downstairs. She threw her robe on and headed down the stairs. When she made it to the bottom, she saw Kyle sitting at the table. She turned around and ran back up the stairs as fast as she could. She couldn't let him see her like that. She had to make herself beautiful. She ran over to the dresser and started combing her hair and putting some make-up on. She grabbed a red t- shirt and some blue jeans. When she finished getting dressed, she walked into the kitchen to find only her mother there. Her father and Kyle had already left to get started on the ranch work.
“Didn't I hear voices down here a few minutes ago?” Rachel asked as if she hadn't seen Kyle sitting there.
“Yes, you did. Your father and Kyle already went out to the back field to gather the cattle for tonight’s sale. They will be gone for most of the day. I'm sorry that you missed them,” her mother told her.
“It's no big deal. I was just wondering.” Rachel said as she acted like she wasn't really interested. “I think I'll go into town today and do some sightseeing. It's been a while since I've been home.”
“That sounds like a great idea, dear.” Sue was glad to see her daughter thinking of it more like home. She had wanted her to move back for many years now.
Rachel spent the whole day in town going from store to store looking around. She went into the music store and spent hours in there. She remembered going there with Bobby many times. It had a new owner now, but everything looked the same. Rachel picked up a couple of CDs to buy. After she left the music store she went into a small general store. The first thing that grabbed her attention was a pink ribbon pin for sale for one dollar to help promote breast cancer awareness. It seemed like she noticed more things like that now then she ever had. Rachel walked past the pin without picking it up. She didn't need any reminders telling her that she might have cancer. It was scary enough thinking about it on her own and knowing that she was going through it alone. Rachel couldn't tell her parents they could lose the only child they had left. She spent the rest of the day in town and then headed back home. She wanted to say goodbye to her parents before they left for their three day trip. They had asked her if she wanted to go with them, but she didn't want to leave the ranch. It had been too long since she had been back there. Rachel didn't want to think about leaving. She only had six weeks before she had to go back home for her doctor visit. That's when she would get the results to the CT scan and blood work. She didn't understand why the doctors couldn't get the results before the holidays, but they said the lab was overloaded with work and they were way behind. She didn't like it, but she understood.
She pulled into the driveway and saw the cattle trailer hooked up to the back of her father’s truck. She had made it just in time to say goodbye before they left. Rachel walked in and found her mother in the kitchen making notes. “What are you doing mom?”
“I'm making you a list of pies, cakes, and breads that I would like you to make for me while I'm gone. I'll be delivering them to the church when I get back. They are making baskets for needy families.” Sue told her as she handed her the list.
“Wow, Mom. You have enough stuff on this list to feed the whole state. I'll be busy all night and tomorrow too.” Rachel pretended to be angry, but the whole time she loved every minute of it. She hadn't done any baking in years. She used to love making things with her mom. It was going to be fun being in the kitchen all weekend. She walked over and gave her mom a hug. “I love you. Have a good trip.”
“We will. You have a good weekend too.” Sue hugged her daughter and then turned and went out to the truck.
Rachel went back into the kitchen to try to figure out what she wanted to fix for dinner that night. She wanted it to be perfect for Kyle. She put some chicken breasts in the oven to cook. Then she peeled some potatoes to make mashed potatoes. She sliced one of her mom's fresh loaves of bread and put some butter on the table. Rachel had everything almost finished when she heard Kyle pull in. She ran upstairs to spritz on her favorite perfume before he walked in. After double-checking her hair in the mirror, she hurried downstairs to the kitchen.
Kyle knocked on the door before walking in, seeing Rachel standing in the kitchen putting chicken on the table. “Everything smells great.”
“Thanks. I used my mom's recipe. I hope it turned out as good as hers.”
“I'm sure it's better,” Kyle said as he walked over to sit down.
Rachel poured him a tall glass of iced tea and then put a piece of chicken onto his plate. She felt a little nervous since she didn't know him that well yet. She sat down and said. “Tell me about yourself. How did you meet my parents?”
Kyle took a drink of his tea before beginning his story. “Well. Let's see. I needed a job and your dad had an ad in the paper. I came over for an interview and he hired me on the spot. I don't have any family. My mom died of cancer three years ago.”
Rachel's face went completely white and she collapsed to the floor. She didn't know how long she had been out but she woke up on the couch to the sound of Kyle's voice. “What happened?” she asked.
“That's what I would like to know. One minute we were talking and the next minute you were lying on the floor.” He said with concern written all over his face.
Rachel sat up. “I'm sorry. I haven't eaten at all today. I got busy and I guess I forgot to eat.” The whole time she was thinking about his mother dying of cancer. What are the odds of that? She couldn't escape it. Everywhere she turned she had some reminder of the big C word. She came to the ranch to get away from her worries not have it smack her in the face everywhere she turned. “Why don't we just put a movie in?”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Kyle asked.
“I'm fine.” Rachel tried to make him feel better about it as she walked over and put a DVD into the player. She said, “I'll get us something to drink and I'll be right back.”
Kyle put his hand on her arm. “Why don't you rest and let me get that?” He walked into the kitchen and refilled their glasses of tea. When he walked in, he grabbed a throw off the end of the couch and put it across her legs. “Here, go ahead and get comfortable.”
Rachel loved the way he was taking care of her, even though she felt stupid passing out. She needed to take better care of herself, especially now. “Thanks for taking care of me, but I'm fine now. I just forgot to eat. I'll be fine.”
They stayed up most of the night watching movies. Rachel didn't know when she fell asleep, but she woke up the next morning in Kyle's arms. They had dozed off on the couch together. Kyle had his arms around her and she couldn't remember ever feeling that safe and comfortable. His arms felt warm wrapped around her.
She didn't want to move and risk waking him. She wanted to stay in his arms all day. She felt him begin to stir as she turned to look at him. “Good morning. I'm sorry I fell asleep on you.”
“Don't worry about it. I didn't mind,” he said as he smiled down at her.
Rachel rose and went to the kitchen to start some coffee for them. “I didn't get anything on Mom's list done last night. I guess I'll be baking all day.”
“Do you want some help?” Kyle offered.
Rachel was surprised to hear that. “You bake?”
“Sure, all the time. Okay, maybe not all the time or at all, but I can help. You tell me what you need and I'll do it.”
Rachel laughed at Kyle as he put one of her mother's pink aprons on. “You look very cute,” she giggled.
The two of them worked in the kitchen for hours baking and wrapping all of the cakes, breads, and pies that her mother wanted done for the church. Rachel had not felt that at home in a long time. She felt guilty not telling Kyle any of her medical problems, but she didn't need him feeling sorry for her. She could take care of herself.
It was time for a long break. Rachel was tired of standing in that hot kitchen. She wanted to spend some time having fun with Kyle, not just working all day.
“Do you have plans for the day?” she asked him.
“No, what do you have in mind?” he wondered.
“Let's go for a walk down by the pond and maybe we could do some fishing,” Rachel suggested as she dried her hands on a kitchen towel.
Kyle laughed as he looked over at her. She was excited as a kid going on summer vacation. “You want to go fishing in November?”
“Okay, it's not a great idea, but it would be fun. I'll settle for just a walk down by the pond,” she said as she smiled at him. She didn't know how it had happened that fast, but she was really starting to like Kyle. How could she tell him that she might have cancer? She wouldn't. That was all there was to it. He could never know. She wouldn't make him worry for nothing.
Kyle smiled at her as they started their walk to the pond. He had never felt that way about anyone before. He had only known her for a few days, but it seemed like they had known each other their whole lives. It felt right with her, unlike with any other woman he had been with. They arrived at the pond and sat down on the swing that was under the huge oak tree.
Rachel loved it there. Seeing something. she jumped up and ran to the edge of the pond. “Kyle, look,” she said as she pointed at the water. “Right there. See that huge goldfish? When I was eight, Bobby and I went down to the bait shop and bought a dozen goldfish for a quarter each, and brought them back here and put them in the pond. They’re huge now, and every now and then you’ll see one.” She was all excited and not paying much attention to where she was stepping.
“Rachel, watch out!” Kyle barely got the words out before she screamed as she slipped and fell into the water. She laughed so hard that her stomach hurt. She reached for Kyle's hand that was stretched out to her. “Is something funny?” she asked as she pulled him into the water with her.
Kyle laughed as he hugged her. “We're going to be sick if we don't get out of this cold water and dry off. I'll race you back to the house.” They took off running toward the house.
Rachel went to get Kyle some of her father's clothes to wear until she could get his washed and dried. She threw their wet clothes into the washer as soon as he finished getting dressed. Rachel made each of them a roast beef sandwich with chips. They sat down at the table and ate lunch together. Rachel thought to herself how right it felt being with him. She knew he probably didn't feel the same about her as she did him. How could he? He barely knew her, and did she want to be thinking about getting serious with somebody now? She had to go back to Aspen in a few weeks. Was that fair to him?
Kyle looked at Rachel and asked, “Is everything okay? You look like you are deep in thought.”
Rachel glanced up at him. She hadn't realized that she was thinking that hard about it. “Oh, I'm sorry. I was just thinking about everything I needed to do for Mom for Thanksgiving dinner. She won't be back until tomorrow and will be busy. I want to help out with whatever I can.”
Kyle couldn't help but think that there was more to it, but he knew she didn't seem to want to talk about it. “I can help you with whatever you might need.”
“That's great.” Rachel said. “We already have the baked goods finished for the church. Now we need to work on the ones that Mom wants for Thanksgiving dinner. She will want two of everything. Apple pie is Dad's favorite and Mom's is cherry. What’s your favorite?”
Kyle never really thought about it. He had never had anyone ask him before. “I guess I would have to say apple.”
They spent the next hours making desserts for Thanksgiving. Kyle could see the joy in Rachel's eyes. She looked a lot happier than she did the day that he picked her up. He wished that she would open up and tell him what's bothering her. He could tell that she was holding something back. He didn't want to push her though. After the whole day and most of the night together, Kyle decided he should go home. He didn't want to, but he didn't her to think he was crowding her.
The next day Rachel's parents came home. It was Thanksgiving and they wouldn't have missed having dinner with their daughter for the world.
It had been years since Rachel had a real Thanksgiving dinner. She lived alone in Aspen. It didn't make much sense to cook a big meal for herself. She usually went out to a restaurant for dinner.
But now they felt like a real family again. Rachel wondered if it would be okay to invite Kyle to dinner.
Sue must have been reading her mind. “Rachel, why don't you call Kyle and see if he would like to join us?”
Rachel was happy to do that. She called him immediately and was glad to hear he would be there. “Kyle is coming over,” she said to her Mom.
Sue gave her daughter a smile. She was glad to see her finally happy. “That's great, dear. You two seem to be hitting it off well. Kyle is a great guy.”
“I know. I like him a lot and I think he likes me too.” She talked to her mother about Kyle for about an hour. It felt like she was a teenager again.
There was a knock at the door, and Rachel went to answer it. She opened the door to Kyle holding a dozen red roses for her. “Wow, these are beautiful. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. I saw them and thought of you,” he said as he leaned over to kiss her on the cheek.
She walked over to the sink to put her flowers in some water. Her mother had a crystal vase in the cabinet that had belonged to her grandmother. She got it down and put the roses in it. They smelled wonderful.
Dinner was ready and they all sat down at the table. Her mother said grace as they all held hands around the table. It was their family tradition for her father to carve the turkey. He always saved the wishbone for Rachel and Bobby to break.
Tom turned to Rachel and handed her the bone. “Would you and Kyle like to break it this year?”
Rachel smiled at Kyle. “You can't win. I'm the champion.”
“It's on now.” he said as they twisted and turned until the bone finally broke.
Rachel jumped up and down. “I won. I warned you that I'm the best at this.”
Everyone started laughing. They moved to the living room to sit around the fireplace. They told stories and talked into the night. It was getting late, but they all hated for it to end. Sue and Tom couldn't remember when they were that happy. They had missed Rachel, but they understood that she had to be on her own for a while. They always hoped and prayed that she would come back home soon.
Rachel fell asleep on the floor in front of the fireplace. Kyle took one of the throws off the end of the couch and covered her up as she snuggled into the blanket. Then he left to go home.
The next day Rachel woke up on the floor. She looked around but didn't see anyone around. When she went into the kitchen she saw her mom at the table drinking coffee and reading the paper. She walked over and kissed her on the cheek.
“Good morning,” Sue said as she fixed Rachel a cup of coffee.
Rachel rubbed her eyes and stretched her arms up high. “Good morning. I can't believe that I slept on the floor the entire night. Why didn't somebody wake me?”
“You looked to peaceful. Kyle covered you up with a blanket,” Sue said with a smile.
Rachel's face turned a little red with embarrassment. “That was nice of him.”
Rachel spent the day decorating the house for Christmas. Every year she started decorating as soon as Thanksgiving was over. She wanted to go into town and buy some extra lights. Her parents hadn't done much decorating in the years since Bobby’s death. But now Rachel planned to make this Christmas the best one ever.
Rachel took her dad's truck and went into town. When she got to the hardware store she saw Kyle standing in the Christmas light aisle.
“Hi. How are you this morning?” she asked.
Kyle looked up and saw Rachel standing there. “Hi. I didn't see you there. I'm trying to decide what the best Christmas lights are. I like the multi-colored ones, I think. What do you think?”
Rachel laughed at the way it seemed to be a very hard decision for him. “I like the multi- colored ones too. I was thinking about grabbing some lunch. Do you want to come with me?” She hoped she wasn't being too forward.
Kyle didn't hesitate at all. “Yeah. Of course, I would love to.”
They went to the local diner. It was Rachel's favorite place to eat. She never liked the fancy restaurants. It was always down home cooking that she preferred. They walked in and found a booth in the corner. Rachel looked her menu over for a little while.
“I know exactly what I want.” she said.
Kyle looked at her, thinking to himself that it was nice to see a woman actually eat. Most women that he dated never wanted to eat in front of him. He liked the fact that she was a real woman. “What are you going to have?” he asked.
She smiled and said. “I've been craving their world famous mushroom and Swiss cheeseburger and an order of cheese fries. I've missed that since I've been gone.”
“Wow. You have quite an appetite,” he said, laughing.
As they ate and talked, Rachel was thinking that she was really beginning to like Kyle a lot. She wanted to spend more time with him, but she didn't want to be the one to ask every time. She wanted him to ask her. They paid the bill, splitting it. Rachel wanted to finish her shopping so she could get back home to decorate.
Kyle said, “I hope we can do this again sometime.”
Rachel was glad to hear that. “I would love to. Come over to the house later and check out my decorations.”
“I will,” he said as he walked to his truck.
The next few days Rachel spent decorating the house and baking cookies. She seemed to bake all the time around the holidays. Baking always seemed to bring more Christmas spirit in the house and the house smelled great. She was enjoying herself for the first time in years. Rachel couldn't wait until she could see Kyle again, but she didn't want to come on too strong and ruin it before it even started.
Kyle had to work on the ranch all day that day. He hoped that he would have time to see Rachel, but he had to get the stables cleaned out for Tom. He couldn't let his chores fall behind because he was falling for the boss' daughter.
Rachel had seen Kyle go into the stables that morning. She waited until lunch time and then she fixed him a turkey sandwich with cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pickles. She packed him a thermos of iced tea and grabbed a bag of chips for him. She knew he had been working hard all morning. When she got her picnic packed she carried it up to him.
Kyle heard somebody come in. When he looked up from his work, he saw Rachel standing there holding a picnic basket. “Is this for me?” he asked.
Rachel laid down a blanket on the hay bales and then laid out his food. “Yeah, I thought you might be hungry.”
Kyle was happy to see her. He ate all of the lunch that she packed for him. “Thanks a lot. You didn't have to do that.”
“It was no problem. I didn't mind at all,” she said.
The next few days went by quickly. Kyle and Rachel seemed joined at the hip. They went everywhere together. They went to a movie almost every day in a row for a week. They ate out together at least one meal a day and Kyle spent more time at the ranch than usual. Rachel was starting to fall in love with him. She hoped that he felt the same way about her. She knew that they hadn't known each other long but they seemed to be a really good match for each other. They were spending more and more time together as time went by. Sue was even beginning to see a change in her daughter’s attitude.
“What are your plans for the day?” Sue wondered.
“Well, I would like to go cut down a Christmas tree,” she said.
“You’re going to cut down a tree all by yourself?” Sue wasn't too sure about that idea. How was she planning to do that and then how would she get the tree back home?
Kyle came walking in carrying some wood for the wood box by the fireplace. “Good morning, ladies. How are you this morning?”
“Great,” Sue said. “Would you like some coffee?”
Kyle walked over and dropped the firewood into the box. “I would love some. What are your plans for today?”
Sue sighed and waved over at her daughter. “Well, my crazy daughter has decided to go chop down her own Christmas tree this year.”
Kyle looked at Rachel with questions in his eyes. “Are you kidding?”
“No, I think it would be great to go cut down a tree and drag it back and decorate it all up. Doesn't that sound like fun?” she defended herself.
“Would you like some help with your project? I think I can make some time to cut down a tree this morning,” he said with a chuckle.
“Sure, that would be great. I know you think that I'm crazy, but it will be much better this way. It'll mean more and we’ll have more memories to share. Doesn't it sound better that we cut down our own tree instead of going into town and buying one?” Rachel sounded like a kid defending some crazy idea that she had.
They saddled up a couple of horses and headed off to the back section of the ranch where there were a lot of pine trees. Rachel picked out the one she wanted, which luckily was in the front of the bunch. She jumped off her horse and started to untie the chainsaw.
Kyle jumped down behind her. “Hold on there! Why don't you let the man do that?” he said, grinning
Rachel laughed, “Have you ever done this before?”
“No, but neither have you.” he said as he climbed up on top of a big rock.
“What are you doing on that rock? Be careful,” she said.
“I want to cut you that big one right there.” He said as he pointed to the tree he had all picked out. “It's beautiful and will look perfect in your Mom's front room.”
Kyle turned to the left a little too far and his foot started to slip out from underneath him. He tried to grab a branch but it broke off in his hand. He came down fast and landed flat on his butt.
“Kyle, oh my God! Kyle! Are you okay?” She ran to him.
Kyle looked up at her. “I’m fine. My ego is a little bruised and possibly my butt too.” He laughed as he got up.
Rachel couldn’t help but laugh. She walked over and put her arms around him to help him up.
Kyle pulled her in closer as he leaned down and gently kissed her.
Rachel didn't want that moment to end. The touch of his lips on hers set her heart on fire. She was falling in love with him. She broke away from his lips after what seemed like an eternity. “I love you,” she said without thinking. The words just came out. “Um . . . I think we better get going.”
Kyle was a bit stunned but he genuinely liked hearing those words come from her mouth.
She got back home and went straight to her room to take a long, hot bath. She needed to relax a little and think. There was only two weeks until Christmas and she hadn't bought a thing yet. She was planning on buying some gifts tomorrow. She got out of the bath and wrapped up in a huge bath sheet. She was drying her hair when she heard her cell phone ring. It's probably not important, she thought. She decided to wait until after she was dressed to check it.
Rachel went into her bedroom and looked at her cell phone to see who called. She didn't recognize the number but there was a voice mail.
The voice said, “Ms. Connors, this is Doctor Murphey. It is very important that you return my call this evening. Thank you.”
Rachel dialed the phone with shaky hands. “Hello. This is Rachel Connors. I had a message to call you.”
“Yes. Like I said, my name is Doctor Murphey. I have been going over your blood tests. They are inconclusive. We will need to go forward with the biopsy to determine whether or not the lump in your breast is cancer or not. We do have some good news though. I have an opening tomorrow at four o'clock. If you can't make that appointment, then we will have to wait until January as planned.”
“Yes, Doctor. I'd like to make tomorrow's appointment. I don't want to wait any longer than I have to. I will see you tomorrow.”
She went over to the dresser and started gathering clothes to put into a small suitcase. She didn't know how many days she would have to be gone. She went downstairs to find her mom.
“Mom, I need to go back to Aspen for a couple of days. There's a problem at the resort. I shouldn't be gone more than a day or two. I will be back before Christmas. Can you please tell Kyle that I'm sorry I didn’t say bye before I left. Tell him that I will be back in a couple of days.”
Sue looked a little surprised but she understood that her daughter’s job was important to her. “Okay. I’ll tell him and you be careful. Get yourself back here before Christmas.”
Rachel hugged her mom just as the cab pulled up to take her to the airport. She went out the door as quickly as she could. She hated lying to her mother, but she didn't want to upset her. She had to get out of there before the tears came.