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The Holly King

By S.E. Schott All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Fantasy

Blurb

You want thrills? Don't come to Oklahoma. This is a quiet state, full of quiet, realistic, practical people. If American states were to be defined by astrology, Oklahoma would be a Virgo. Or maybe a Capricorn. Perhaps, on a good day (involving football, I'm sure), Okies might rate a Taurus – but not likely. Even at our best, Taurus is a little too lively. The typical Oklahoman doesn't believe in magick. It's just not part of our mental make-up. Our idea of magick (or a miracle, if you want to look at it that way), would be a year without tornadoes. And since that will never happen, it's just not something we hold our breath waiting for. And we most certainly do not – ever – believe in Pagan gods. Even, on the odd chance that we did, we would never believe that those gods could – and would – walk among us.

Part 1: Commissioning Memories

As a general rule, the American populous doesn't give much thought to Oklahoma, except, maybe, in terms of college football. We Okies are quite proud of our Sooners (especially when they beat the stuffing out of Texas), but as a general rule, we're happy to be left alone by the majority of national thrill seekers.

You want thrills? Don't come to Oklahoma.

This is a quiet state, full of quiet, realistic, practical people. If American states were to be defined by astrology, Oklahoma would be a Virgo. Or maybe a Capricorn. Perhaps, on a good day (involving football, I'm sure), Okies might rate a Taurus – but not likely. Even at our best, Taurus is a little too lively.

Yup, we're just plain, down-to-earth, hard-working, thoroughly-set-in-reality kind of folks.

At least, I am. And having had the unique opportunity to travel outside of my home state and observe my fellow Okies from the outside, I'd say I'm pretty typical.

And the typical Oklahoman doesn't believe in magick. It's just not part of our mental make-up. Our idea of magick (or a miracle, if you want to look at it that way), would be a year without tornadoes. And since that will never happen, it's just not something we hold our breath waiting for.

And we most certainly do not – ever – believe in Pagan gods. Even, on the odd chance we did, we would never believe that those gods could – and would – walk among us.

I probably shouldn't speak for the whole population of my rambling-farm state. But I always considered myself pretty run-of-the-mill. Nothing to really set me apart from any other Okie, except my lesbian twin and a strong aptitude for art.

So when I got a request for a personal portrait, I didn't really think much of it. Well, no – actually, I did. But not beyond the passing thought that it was a strange (and slightly cruel) twist of personal fate.

I got the call on my birthday, June 21st. Later, I would recognize the significance of that date (besides it being the date of my arrival into the world) – it was Midsummer's, the longest day of the year. A magickal date, when (according to certain people) two mythical god-kings battled it out for supremacy of the sun. A day when one King died and the other took reign, ushering in the slow changes of Darkness, Autumn, and Winter to our doorsteps.

But I didn't know that then. I was blissfully ignorant of any dramatic changes in a realm I couldn't see, touch, feel, or hear. The only thing I knew was that it was a long, hot, bright and dusty day in Guthrie, Oklahoma, and I was taking a call from a woman I hadn't seen since my college graduation.

“Hello, Holly Art Studio. Holly speaking.”

Yeah. My mom named me “Holly.” Contrary to the assumptions that every new person made throughout my life, I wasn't born anywhere near Christmas. Mom claimed that she just liked the name. I had my suspicions about that later.

“Hello? Is this Holly Privette?” a cultured, well-balanced female voice queried through the line.

“Um...yes it is,” I nodded, even though I knew the woman on the other end of the phone couldn't possibly see my gesture of affirmation.

“Oh, hello! This is Mrs. Janice Argylle. I believe you went to school with my son – Yule Argylle?”

Even after sixteen years of knowing the boy, my heart still did a hopeless little flip-flop over the name. You'd think that by the age of thirty – and after eight years of having gone our separate ways – I'd be over my school-girl crush.

Nope. Not me.

I guess it's true what they say – Hope springs eternal. In my case, Hope was a damn nuisance that plagued my hopeless love life.

“Yes ma'am,” I answered dutifully into the phone, after a short pause I'm sure Mrs. Argylle mistook for an attempt to place the name.

I wasn't about to admit to any breathing soul (except maybe my sister, who would know anyway) that I had never forgotten Yule Argylle.

“Good, good,” it was Mrs. Argylle's turn to pause and my spidey senses tingled on the edge of an uncomfortable plunge into something I didn't want to hear.

“Well...I'm afraid I'm not calling with good news –”

I wrinkled my nose. I hated it when I suspected shifts in mood – especially bad ones.

“I don't know if you know or not...”

I probably didn't. I hadn't heard a damn thing from Yule in eight long years.

“But Yule died in Afghanistan a year ago. A year ago today, as a matter of fact.”

A very long pause followed that bombshell. I'm sure Mrs. Argylle interpreted this silence correctly. I was stunned.

For a very long moment, I stared into nothing, through the filmy white curtains that covered the window in front of me. Yule Argylle was dead? In Afghanistan? Wait...there was only one way I could think of that could end in his death in the Middle East. When did Yule join the military?

I hadn't realized I'd spoken my thoughts out loud until Mrs. Argylle replied in a very gentle voice.

“He joined the Marine Corps about a year after that trial. I thought you knew. It was in all the papers. His funeral, too.”

“Oh...” the blanket response rushed out of me in a rough exhale of breath – I tried not to think about “that trial”.

I still felt guilty over “that trial”.

And I wouldn't have known about the funeral. I'd been in Europe this time last year.

I didn't know what to say. The world had narrowed itself down to this moment, to this phone, to the voice on the other end of the line, to the sunlight filtering through the curtains.

Yule was dead. And I hadn't even known until a year later, from a random phone call.

Funny how life works.

I guess I was officially unlucky.

“Well, anyway,” I could hear Mrs. Argylle gathering her dignity in typical Okie resignation. “I was calling today to request a commission from you. I understand you...paint...now.”

She said it like it was an unusual profession, reserved only for foreign North Easterners or crazy Californians.

“Yes, ma'am,” I nodded again, to an invisible audience.

“I've heard you do very nice portraits on commission, yes?”

Here it was – the heart of the phone call. That tentative feel-out to determine if what she'd heard was true.

I got it all the time. The majority of an artist's work came by word-of-mouth.

“Yes, ma'am, I do. I just need a good photograph and a clear description of what you want,” I resigned myself to business mode – there would be time to think about Yule when I was staring at his face, trying to render his likeness in canvas and oils.

“Oh, very nice,” Mrs. Argylle sighed as if relieved to discover that her information was correct. “Can I send you a picture by email?”

“Yes, ma'am,” I glanced over at my computer, eying my brand new photo printer that was still in the box.

Guess it was time to unwrap that puppy and put it to use. Good timing on Daryle's part – he always had that sixth sense that knew when I would be needing something. I'd just gotten the printer that morning, as a birthday present.

Which reminded me. I still had to get him a present. Another line on my growing to-do list.

“As long as the photo is good quality, I can print it out and use it,” I continued, turning back toward the phone stand and glancing around for the pad of paper I kept there.

Where did I put it this time? I wondered absently – my damn pens and paper pads were notorious for growing legs and relocating themselves throughout my second-story loft.

Daryle always joked that it was faeries, playing tricks on me. My brother was weird like that.

“Okay. I have his boot camp picture – I think that would be best,” my client was probably nodding on her end of the line, too.

It sounded a bit like she was talking to herself, so I let her ramble as I frowned about my apartment, trying to spot my notepad.

“I'd like a Christmas portrait of him if I could,” Mrs. Argylle continued without prompting.

Yup, she was talking to herself. I cursed mentally as I failed to locate an immediate piece of paper. I gave up – since it was detracting from my attention to her – and decided to ask her to include that same information in her email.

“...He loved Christmas so much. I'm sure you remember that?”

How could I forget? It was Yule's signature thing. Besides being a gorgeous, All-American football quarterback hunk with a penchant for bimbo cheerleaders.

Not that I was bitter about that. Much.

Mrs. Argylle continued without waiting for me to affirm my memories. Apparently, she had that much faith in Yule's ability to leave a lasting impression.

Her faith wasn't misplaced. Yule had always had a talent for being noticed and remembered.

“He was always playing Santa Claus. Every year, from the time he was old enough to pull it off. It was that deep voice of his. He always had such a mature voice.”

Boy, did he ever. Of course, maybe “always” wasn't the right choice of words. I remembered when he was a weedy little snot in elementary school. He had a voice like Urkel. I remembered teasing him mercilessly about it – come to think about it, that was probably why he never gave me a second's notice in high school. Or college. Or ever.

“Apparently, he continued to play Santa Claus, even in the Marine Corps,” her voice took on that proud tone that all mothers had when speaking of their child's accomplishments. “I never knew why – maybe it was his name? It was always the funniest thing to me, you know? He wasn't born anywhere near Christmas. Today's his birthday, too – same as yours, I believe?”

“Yes, ma'am.”

Sheesh. She sure knew how to hit where it hurt. Not that she would know. No doubt, today hurt her more than the memory of sharing Yule's birthday ever would for me. Her son's birthday – forever shadowed by the knowledge that he died on the same day he was born.

Wow. It was enough to make me start crying.

I blinked my stinging eyes rapidly. I didn't cry. Ever. I wasn't about to start now. I might indulge myself later when it finally grew dark and I was safely tucked in bed and away from the world. But not now. Not on the phone with his mother.

“Anyway...” she took a deep, steadying breath – maybe I was putting my own emotions on her, but it sounded like she was trying to keep a few tears at bay herself. “I never took a picture of him as Santa Claus. Not once. Not even in the school plays or in the college parades. Silly of me, now that I think about it.”

Not so silly, perhaps. Humans, as a species, never think to do the simple obvious, except in hindsight. There were many times that I'd wished for a picture of a particular person during a particular event, long after the fact. Come to think of it, even I didn't have a picture of Yule dressed up as Jolly Old Saint Nick. Not unless it was hidden away in one of my many yearbooks. Which I doubted. I had a memory that kept useless information similar to the manner in which a sticky burr held onto clothes. Having been on every yearbook team since ninth grade (which was about the same time Yule's voice turned into a passing impression of John Wayne), I was pretty sure I'd remember if I had a picture of him-turned-Santa.

Though, I'd go hunting through the old yearbooks later just in case.

I was a sucker for self-inflicted emotional pain, after all.

“...I was thinking about that the other day when I ran into a client of yours – Mrs. Hunnington. I believe you did a piece for her and her husband?”

“Yes ma'am,” I pulled my thoughts off of Yule's John Wayne voice long enough to focus on what was being asked.

“She had high praise for your work and she showed me the piece. You do exquisite detail.”

Whoa. High praise from an established, higher-class Okie rancher's wife? Maybe miracles did exist.

“Thank you,” I stuttered into the phone, turning a bright shade of pink that (thankfully) she would never see.

“So, I thought maybe you could do a Santa Claus portrait of Yule? He was always at his best, then, wasn't he?”

“Yes, ma'am.”

How could I disagree? First off, this was his mother I was talking to and second off – I had always harbored that same thought myself.

“Excellent. Could you have it done by Christmas? Is that enough time?”

Six months to do one portrait? Oh yeah. Too easy.

“Yes, ma'am. That's plenty of time. Do you want to go ahead and set a pick-up date in December?” I chewed on the end of my cheap black-ink pen as I drifted across the loft toward the free Easter Seals calendar that I kept tacked up by my computer desk.

“Oh...let's say...December 15th? I'll pay you on completion of the piece?”

“That's pretty standard, ma'am. Not a problem,” I flipped through the months until I hit the last page of the calendar and leaned forward to scribble a tiny note in the blank square set aside for the 15th.

“Oh, thank you,” Mrs. Argylle gushed (if that was, in fact, an accurate description of the relief that sighed through the phone line. Did she think that I wouldn't jump at a chance to honor Yule's memory?) “May I have your email address, then? I'm at the computer now and I can send that along in just a moment.”

“Sure,” I gave her my address and then asked, just to make sure - “Do you have any requests for the portrait? Any particular way you want him sitting in the portrait? Any sort of light? Any type of props or anything besides just a general 'Santa Claus'?”

“No...no, I don't think so,” I could hear the clicking of keyboard keys on the other end of the line as she entered my email address. “I'll leave it to your 'artistic discretion'.”

We would both come to regret those words. Big time.

“Okay,” I wasn't sure whether to be relieved or worried – that sort of blanket license to do what I wanted could be a godsend or a quick way to bite me in the ass.

A brief, nagging feeling in the back of my mind ordered me to pressure her for specifics, or else I'd be getting the later response for a “thank you” on the 15th of December. But, as I usually did with any sort of “unexplainable feeling”, I pushed it aside and decided to be grateful for the chance to remember Yule in my own way, without someone else's preconceived vision.

“Well, that should be sent,” Mrs. Argylle announced the send-off of her email and I settled myself down in my computer chair in anticipation. “Thank you for taking this commission – I know it may not be the easiest one.”

She paused – was that something like sympathy in the voice of the famous Mrs. Argylle, undisputed queen of several hundred acres of prime Oklahoma cattle grazing plain? Wow. Even the wealthy heiress – who I remembered as always being distinctly aloof around us lesser, un-landed peons – had a side of humanity to her.

Funny how a loss can bring that out in a person.

“I know you and Yule knew each other from kindergarten all the way through college –”

True. Then again, half the state of Oklahoma could claim the same. At least, from high school and up.

“So it can't be easy doing a portrait of an old classmate.”

True that, too. Though, it hurt more than she would ever know.

“But I wanted someone who knew Yule to do this. I guess it's lucky you became an artist after all.”

Sure. If pursuing a life dream meant conveniently fulfilling the desires of the richest woman in Oklahoma, then who was I to complain about having to paint the portrait of my deepest, most secret, life-long crush? Sure, if that made me lucky, I guess.

A twisted part of me piped up gleefully with the lucky fact that at least I wasn't painting a happy couple's portrait for his wedding. I'd have had to turn down the commission (which was sure to pay handsomely), for fear of rendering a biased likeness of the gold-digging bitch...er...happy bride-to-be.

Bad Holly. Bad!

Better I had been asked to paint a picture of Yule alive and married, than single and dead.

But at least he died single!

Ugh. Time to terminate this conversation.

“Thank you for considering me for this commission, Mrs. Argylle. You know I'll do my very finest for this piece. Yule was special to all of us. It's my pleasure to do this.”

I'd gag myself later for saying that.

“You're a darling, Ms. Privette. I'll see you in December and please, don't hesitate to email or call if you have any questions.”

And that was that. I punched the “call” button with my thumb and set the silenced phone down beside my computer monitor. I'd logged into my email while bidding Mrs. Argylle goodbye and now I sat and stared pensively at the bold black line that indicated an unchecked email. The little paper clip to the left of the address heralded an attachment – Yule's Marine Corps boot camp picture.

As a general rule, I didn't believe in a god. Except in masochistic moments like this, when I decided that, if there was indeed a Higher Being, He delighted in rubbing my nose in those very things that hurt the most.

And if Daryle's belief in reincarnation was true, then I wondered in which past life I'd peed on His cosmic shoe, to deserve such cruelty in this life. He certainly knew I hadn't done anything in this life to deserve the likes of Yule Argylle.

In kindergarten and first grade, we'd been friends. I'm not sure what happened after that (probably Mrs. Argylle and her distinctly Victorian views on social hierarchy, which changed, by the way, only when she wanted something from us lesser mortals) but from that moment on, Yule and I fought on epic proportions matched only by Okies and Texans at a football match.

By the time ninth grade came around, I'd like to think that we had reached a passing level of maturity that brought the bickering to an end, but in reality, it was just puberty. I couldn't even blame it on differing school schedules since Yule was an AP student too and therefore, we were both doomed to circulate in the same classroom circles for four years.

It was puberty that made the difference – at least, in the way that I began to view Yule Argylle. His voice deepened, his shoulders broadened, he shot up about two whole feet, and he started growing facial hair. Unfortunately for me, the advent of his puberty brought about a changed difference in his interests as well. His favorite past time changed from tacking my braids to his desk (some things never change, it seems), to football and those rites of passage kept under skimpy cheerleader skirts. And I began to wish for those braid-tacking days, since then, at least, he was paying attention to me.

I was the kind of pathetic sucker who would take negative attention over no attention at all.

My four years of high school were spent mooning hopelessly over Yule (along with every other high school female) while he chased every skirt that the rest of us self-respecting girls passionately despised. I guess one would wonder why I had such a crush on him – after all, Yule hadn't given me any reason to like him, except for those two years in our early education. But, as my mother had often said, you couldn't fathom the heart. It was going to feel the way it felt, regardless of rational thought and common sense.

Maybe what drew me to Yule was his ready smile and larger-than-life personality. Maybe it was his physical features (they certainly called to my primal instincts to win the fittest). Maybe it was because all of the other girls wanted him, too. Maybe it was the way he pointedly overlooked me until college.

Who knows?

When it came to my hopeless affections for Yule, our college years were the hardest. I had happily looked forward to the end of our senior year when I was certain that I'd be rid of Yule Argylle for good. Everyone thought he'd be recruited by some big college out East. But, as he announced graduation night, he had decided to stay home in Oklahoma and had accepted a scholarship to Oklahoma University, in Norman.

Good old OU. Where I, too, had won a scholarship. For art and interior design.

Our paths, thankfully, separated there. At least, academically. I went into the art and interior design programs; he took on history as his major. Popular opinion assumed he chose history since it was an “easy major”, so I was shocked to find out that he was getting a double major in religion.

Forget that he was studying religions. He was working on a double major. On top of a full-time college football training and gaming schedule.

Yule Argylle, above all things, was the definition of Over Achiever.

The true, All-American athlete and scholar.

It was enough to make anyone gag over his perfection. I swooned.

Occasionally, our paths crossed in the beginning, during our basic freshman classes. One day, in early October, we both ended up early outside of our biology 101 class. For whatever reason, after four years of ignoring my existence, Yule suddenly struck up a conversation.

“So, what are you majoring in, Holly?”

It was the basic, introductory question of all college freshmen, but I drew a complete blank, thanks to the shock of discovering that he not only remembered my first name but actually used it.

“Uh...um...” I'd stuttered for a good minute, before he continued on, without waiting for me to collect my thoughts.

“I remember something being said at graduation about you getting an art scholarship. So you're an art student?”

“Yeah,” I finally squeaked, pausing to clear my throat and made a new attempt not to sound like pubescent girl. “I'm specializing in oil paints and taking a minor in interior design.”

“Cool,” he nodded and we fell silent for several long minutes.

Some of our fellow classmates were starting to filtering up to the door – including a cute, dyed-blond bunny who immediately started fawning over Yule in the manner I'd come to associate with his sex-toy-of-the-week. I politely turned away – as would any self-respecting person in that situation – and figured the conversation was over when Yule tapped me on the shoulder.

“Say – you should come to a game or somethin',” he flashed me one of those winning smiles and I foolishly opened my mouth and admitted one of my great secrets.

“Oh...I always do.”

It was true. I didn't particularly care for football, but I hadn't missed one of Yule's games since tenth grade.

Thankfully, the professor showed up and ushered us all into the classroom. But, Yule wasn't done with me.

As the bimbo blond next to him wished my death through her expression, Yule flashed an even bigger smile.

“Well, hey! Why don't you come down to my place off campus Friday night for the after-game party?”

And that's how an easy acquaintance started between us. Maybe Yule guessed that I was a big fan of his, or maybe he just assumed, but for one reason or another, shared classes and a shared interest (even if it was mostly on his side) in football brought us together. We weren't friends like we'd been in kindergarten, but he wasn't tacking down my braids or ignoring me, either. And yeah, it hurt to watch him get into relationships with all of the pretty, popular girls (mostly cheerleaders – I think, by the end of it all, Yule had dated every single girl on the team), but I was happy (mostly) with the chance to bask in the fringes of his glory.

But, then, I grew too comfortable in our acquaintance and asked something of him I should have only ever asked a friend.

I asked him to get involved in family drama.

In our senior year of college, my sister finally came out about the personal hell she'd been living through for almost a decade. Our father was an abusive drunk, but Mom and I hadn't suspected him capable of anything else. Or, at least, I hadn't. So when Darci (as we called him, then) came out and accused our father of first molesting and then raping her (she hadn't come out as him, yet), all hell broke loose.

The three of us who had lived under Dad's abusive ways banded together. The rest of the family? Not so much. Suffice to say, we hadn't heard a damn peep from his side of the family or from our maternal grandparents since he'd been incarcerated two years after Darci and I graduated from OU.

Of course, cynic that I am, I'm not entirely certain that my dad was found guilty of his charges because of conclusive evidence. In a lot of ways, I think the shooting of Yule Argylle had a lot more to do with his sentencing than most would want to admit.

Yeah, my dad shot Yule Argylle. Mind you, he was aiming for me and my sister and I'm the only reason Yule was there in the first place. But my father is singularly responsible for putting Yule out of the running for the professional leagues.

And, unfortunately, if the attorneys had any hope of a fair and unbiased jury with that charge on the sheets, they were looking at relocating the trial to another state entirely.

And certainly not in Texas, either. Try Maine. Or maybe Florida.

So, with that being the case, my dad's fate was decided in Oklahoma. By a jury of Oklahoma football fans.

I guess fanatic football fans are good for something after all.

In the end, though, I lost contact with Yule. He stuck around for the trial and testified against my father, on our behalf, but after that – poof. Nothing. I guess he couldn't forgive me for calling him in to play bodyguard.

Even though it got my father behind bars, I couldn't help but carry around a massive amount of guilt for ending Yule's career. Darci had called me one night, hysterical, not too long after she'd come out about what dad was doing. Mom had promptly kicked him out of the house - “you can hurt me all you want, but you're never laying another hand on my babies!” - but we still caught him lurking. It made Darci nervous and Mom had put in the paperwork for a restraining order, but the ruling hadn't come through yet.

So, the night before Halloween, Darci called me, begging for me to come pick her up in Midwest City. She went to OU, too, but had been invited out to a friend's house, to “get away from things” and to have a little fun at a private party away from all of the All Hallow's Eve ruckus on campus.

I couldn't blame her, but the good intentions backfired.

I knew I should have kept her close to me.

As it was, she called me, insisting that Dad had been stalking her all day and now there was someone trying to break into her friend's house, which sat toward the outer skirts of town.

Where Dad was involved, I wasn't about to venture without some backup. I tried calling some of my ROTC buddies, one of whom I was casually dating, but no one answered the phone. Or, at least, no one answered the phone sober.

After a moment of long deliberation, I decided to call Yule. He'd given me his number once, randomly, with the smiling insistence of “don't be afraid to call me if you ever need me.” I figured if I ever needed a big, strong, athletic, intimidating-in-the-dark kind of guy, now was as good an excuse as any.

I should have just called the police, but at the time, I hadn't wanted to involve them any more than they already were.

To my surprise, Yule answered the phone – sober – and agreed to drive with me, when I explained the situation. I guess he proved, then, what I had always suspected all along. He was a good guy, underneath it all.

Maybe that's why I'd always been a sucker for his smile.

We got to Midwest City and to Darci's friend's house without any incident. As we drove up to the house, we didn't see anything or anyone suspicious, so we got out of the car and walked toward the front door without a thought.

But then my sister and her friend screamed and Yule reacted with a linebacker's rush to the front door. My dad fired his loaded 9-mil the instant the door thundered off of its hinges – thankfully, he hadn't been aiming and Yule had been traveling forward at a countering speed, so a bullet landed in his shoulder and not his head.

I think shock at seeing Yule Argylle burst into the scene of the crime is the only thing that kept my father from utilizing the gun in a more accurate fashion. Goodness knows he had the skill and the bullets to do the deed right. As it was, Yule overpowered him, took the gun, and pointed it at my dad's head while yelling orders at the rest of us to call the police.

Yule was hailed a hero, but his shoulder injuries kept him from finishing out his final season at OU. And, as a result, kept him from making draft picks for the pros.

After my father's trial, he just...disappeared. I guess, if I had bothered to ask the right people, I would have found out about him. But my sense of guilt kept me from following up on Yule's life. I figured, after I had wrecked his chances at making it big, by trying to involve him in my life, it was best if we just kept our separate ways.

But even in death, Yule couldn't leave me alone. Because here I was, staring at his mother's unopened email, remembering the past and trying to find every reason not to open up that attachment and see his face again.

Thankfully, the phone gave me a good excuse to delay the inevitable. It was Daryle, calling from the Blue Bell Saloon next door.

“Hey, Holly?”

“Yeah,” I minimized my Internet screen and stretched.

“Say...I hate to do this to you on your birthday and all, but I've got to go over to Wal-Mart and pick up some more paint. Can you help Jake with the painting while I'm gone?”

“Sure,” I scratched my nose and pushed myself to my feet.

Any reason not to sit in front of my computer and think about Yule Argylle.

“And...hey...is something wrong?”

Damn twin instincts to hell.

“No,” I lied.

“Okay. Well, tell me about it later,” Daryle was so not fooled. “I'm only going to be gone an hour or so. Is that okay?”

“Sure,” I sighed – more over the fact that I couldn't fool my brother into thinking everything was okay than for any other reason. “I'll be down in a minute.”

I hung up the phone and sighed deeply one more time. What a strange, surreal sort of day this was turning out to be. In some ways, I wished it was Daryle's birthday, too, so maybe I'd have someone to share the misery with.

Even though we were twins, Daryl was born at 11:30 pm. June 20th and I was born 12:30 am., June 21st. Two completely separate days, in the eyes of our mother. I guess she felt it was a way to help us establish separate identities or something like that. Mom was a psychiatrist, so who knew what went on in that mind of hers at times.

Then again, she was the one who pushed us out, so I guess if anyone had a say in who's birthday was when it was hers. At any rate, Daryle and I had never complained, even though it was dreadfully awkward trying to explain to people that yes, we were twins, but no, we didn't share the same birthday.

It always made sense to us. Then again, we were our mother's daughters.

I reminded myself for the tenth time that morning to find the time to slip out of Daryle's sight long enough to grab him a late birthday present. As we got older (and started living together), it became easier to just celebrate our birthdays on the same day. We alternated every other year; then again, it didn't matter when Daryle's birthday got celebrated, I was always late with his present.

I think he'd resigned himself to it by now, but, the same as every year before, I didn't want to be late “this time”.

Maybe I'd get him that handyman's tool kit he'd been wanting since Christmas. I think I had enough to afford it...

And so, I pushed thoughts of Yule out of my head, replacing them with birthday plans and sisterly schemes. There would be other times to think of a single Marine-and-one-time football player. But not on my birthday.

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Julia Summers PA: Reading this now. It's fun, hilariously fabulous yet taste of what you desire in a unusual read. I will post an actual review when I am finished. But so far loving the flow and the story seems to keep me drawn

LouiseJ2: I enjoyed the detail you went into with regards to the case. It made the UNSUB appear believable. The crisis in the middle of the story was my favorite part, very dramatic but not over the top. I feel like sometimes pairings can be overdone but I liked that some of the relationships were a little...

Atractivo Sumit: The story is an amazing blend of what we call natural, plain romance along with subtle emotions and interesting twists. The plot is so beautifully interwoven.

Animeviewer: It is one of the best stories I've ever read. This story will have you riding a roller coaster of emotions and nearly dying to know what happens next.You will get very attached to the characters and in my case I relate well with some of their very traumatic or emotional experiences, Just Juliet f...

Kayla Wentz: This book had me hooked from the beginning! I kept coming back for more. It only took me a day to read! I couldn't put it down! Absolutely A-Mazing! This book keep the story going and there's never a dull moment!

263Adder: Okay so I adore this story. I only knocked one star off plot for historical inaccuracies because I'm a bit of a stickler for that. The ending broke my heart though, considering you already changed history couldn't you (SPOILER) change it a bit more and have them together!!!! I want an alternative...

Nadine Willard: I loved this story so much! I generally can't stand super girly romance stories, but this one was so relatable! I could not stop reading this, I read it straight through!! I wish this was a series, not just a single story 😊

MegaRogueLegend666: I love this story so much. It's impossible to describe my excitement with each new chapter in words. The author has such a good writing style, very good descriptions of the fighting and character descriptions/emotions. the plot is also amazing! This fanfic could be a side anime show or novel ......

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Jordan Young: *ALERT FOR POSSIBLE SPOILERS* Where to start? I don't know how to sum up this review, this story was absolutely sensational. Brilliant. Flawless. I loved every single bit of this story, it is truly amazing. I read this story in fifteen hours, it is magnificent. I loved everything about it, the p...

MavisMcQueen: "To Live Again" is a well crafted, highly engaging, heart vibrating tale surrounding our favorite Elven King. The author will keep you engrossed until the very end and by that time you will feel so strongly for Clara and the other characters that you will never want it to end...like ever. Thrandu...

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FreakyPoet: "you made me laugh, made me cry, both are hard to do. I spent most of the night reading your story, captivated. This is why you get full stars from me. Thanks for the great story!"

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Sara Joy Bailey: "Full of depth and life. The plot was thrilling. The author's style flows naturally and the reader can easily slip into the pages of the story. Very well done."

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Ro-Ange Olson: "Loved it and couldn't put it down. I really hope there is a sequel. Well written and the plot really moves forward."