Oh well, she thought, in for a dollar and out for a dime. That didn’t sound right, but the gist was she might as well just get started and maybe the words would be obvious. Punching in the number of his cell did little to convince her that was true. She forced a smile anyway as she heard it ring.
“Hey baby.” She heard the smile in his deep voice. She also felt the tingles throughout her body that any connection to Phillip produced.
“How are you?” she asked starting with a cowardly and safe question.
“Busy as hell and missing you more. Are you okay?”
“How about Amos?” His tone shifted a bit, and she heard worry enter.
“He’s cranky as you could imagine so he must be recuperating. The only problem is keeping him out of the barns. It takes Curly and me to do that.”
“Rafe can’t help?”
Helene thought of her handsome cousin who had come back to the ranch after a catastrophic shoulder injury ended his rodeo career. He wasn’t likely to help much of anybody, not even himself, but she tried to think of something positive. When it didn’t come, she simply said, “He’s still recuperating.” She wasn’t sure that was the whole truth as it had been five months since a bull nearly killed Rafe. The physical injuries were as recovered as they’d ever be. Emotional were more iffy.
“I wish I could be there but…” Once again his tone had changed. She knew he was feeling his own pressure. He handled it well, or he wouldn’t be in high stakes finance, but it didn’t come without a physical cost.
“What I wanted to… Well it’ll be awhile longer before I can leave Uncle Amos. He really does need me here as much as anything to be sure he takes his meds and doesn’t overdo.”
The hesitation was brief. “I understand. When will you be back then?”
Having split their living between two homes, one on the ranch and the other in Boston, had a lot of complications not the least of which was going to be this year for Christmas.
“I don’t see how I can until the end of January.”
“No Tahiti then?” His voice was toneless, revealing none of what he was feeling. That was so typical of Phillip when he wanted to drop a barrier between others and himself.
“I’m sorry, love, but I just can’t do it to Uncle Amos. And with Rafe as he is, well they need me.”
“I need you too.” He wasn’t condemning her, but she still knew he’d gone into a defensive mode.
“And I need you. Phillip. I want a Montana Christmas this year with you here too. I know you planned for us to go to the islands again, but can’t you cancel that and come here instead, have a real family Christmas?”
This time there was a definite pause, but she waited before she added, “You know what Christmas means to me. I’ve told you how it always was.”
Phillip had told her what holidays had meant to him-- violent drunkenness from some of his mother’s boyfriends. It hadn’t improved as his sisters grew up and added their own chaos. His experiences had been far from Helene’s-- even though most of hers hadn’t involved parents but rather the ranch and her uncle and aunt. For her, Christmas holidays had been an escape from pressure. Up in the mountains at their ranch, she had always been rejuvenated. She understood how different it had been for Phillip, but she could show him another way if he would give her a chance.
“Please at least think about it,” she said. “I know I just dumped this on you but think about it. If you just can’t do it, well, we’ll work out something.” She had no idea what as she was not going to leave her uncle until he was fully himself again.
“Baby, I won’t say no to you. You know that. All right.” Now his voice definitely took on a humorous twist. “What does this business of a family Christmas—Montana style mean?”