Using the trash grabber Ava supplied her with, Emmie poked at an empty paper coffee cup left discarded on the beach

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Using the trash grabber Ava supplied her with, Emmie poked at an empty paper coffee cup left discarded on the beach. The tide had pushed it up the shore, lodging it between two barnacle-covered rocks. She deposited it into her garbage bag. It was already almost half full even though she'd been out on the beach for barely thirty minutes.

"Amazing what people leave behind, isn't it?" Trisha approached her from a few yards down the beach. "I found several examples of utter grossness that made me very happy to have this trash picker thingy."

"I'm not surprised, unfortunately."

"Not much faith in humanity today, huh?"

Sighing, Emmie hopped over a pile of driftwood, her eye set on a bit of glittering metal. Its brashness was glaring when juxtaposed with the neutral tones of the sand and rocks surrounding it. "I go back and forth, to tell the truth. There are people that don't mind polluting, but there are also people like Ava who are willing to organize clean-ups like this one. And then there's all these volunteers..." She gestured to the several dozen people lined up and down the beach as well as in the grassy area separating the beach from the road.

"There are always good people out there Emmie. I hope we offset the bad ones."

Emmie smiled. "You do, at least for me. I don't know how I'd manage without you and Ava and our other co-op friends." At Trisha's encouragement, Emmie had told the whole group a few weeks ago that she was pregnant. In fact, pretty much everyone knew now: Iola and the other employees at the diner, her regular customers, even her favorite checkout clerk at the grocery store. Everyone had been so understanding and no one had asked her to explain who the baby's father was. Maybe they were curious; she imagined they speculated amongst each other, but they didn't bother her with their questions or theories. Instead, they gave her advice, genuine sympathy, and hand-me-down onesies.

"Don't think you're getting out of having a baby shower," Melody told her sternly when the words "I'm pregnant" had finally escaped her lips.

            "Don't think you're getting out of having a baby shower," Melody told her sternly when the words "I'm pregnant" had finally escaped her lips

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"I knew it," Ava had given her a hug. "Your boobs are huge, girl!"

They'd all laughed. No one was upset that she hadn't told them sooner. No one thought her odd that there was no husband or boyfriend in sight. Even if they had questions, they refrained from prying. That unconditional acceptance hand brought her to tears.

Now, standing on the beach, having secured yet another old soda can in her trash bag, tears threatened once more. She still missed Ryker – not just for the sex, but for the man who brought her pizza and tried to make her laugh; the man who had dedicated his life to inventing things that would help others; the man who had been willing to work past his arrogant, jaded hang-ups in order to make a go of it with her. She missed every aspect of him and regretted handling things the way she had. But her circumstances were unusual, to say the least, and she'd forgiven herself for the mistakes she'd made with him.

She couldn't force Ryker to reconsider. She couldn't make him stop avoiding her, even staying away from his family's diner so he wouldn't have to see her. She couldn't change him. Her focus now had to be on her baby as well as on the wonderful friendships she'd made.

"Are those hormonal tears or did something happen that I'm not aware of?"

Emmie turned to her friend. "No, I was just thinking about how lucky I am to have this community and, well... you know how I get." She wiped at her damp cheeks.

"That I do. Speaking of community, have you thought about my invite?"

Several weeks ago, Trisha had asked her to join her family for Christmas Eve dinner. So far, Emmie had been non-committal.

"Well..."

"Look, I know why you're hesitating, but I have news on the front. Ryker won't be there."

"He won't?" That was a relief. A slightly disappointing relief...

"His old roommate from college is in Salem where his brother's family just moved. I think I have that right. Anyways, Ryker's planning on spending Christmas with him."

"I hope he's not ditching you because he doesn't want to see me."

"No, it's not that, I promise. In fact, I didn't think you'd say yes so I told him you wouldn't be there. Don't look so glum. It's his choice and has nothing to do with you. I see him all the time, anyways. I can survive Christmas without him just fine." She put her hand on Emmie's shoulder. "And so can you. So, what do you say?"

Emmie weighed her options. She already knew that without Trisha's invite, she'd spend Christmas alone with a book and the thirty-dollar artificial tree she'd bought at the pharmacy. She could have lived with that, honestly, but the empty apartment would remind her of who she would never be able to spend the holidays with again: her mother, her sister, and niece. They'd be celebrating together back in Chicago. There would be snow and gingerbread houses, and hand knit Fair Isle stockings hung over her mother's mantel. Maybe she'd still hang up Emmie's, just as she had ever since Emmie was born.

Tears fell once more and this time, they were not the happy kind.

"Shit, Emmie, I didn't mean to get the waterworks going again. If you can't make it, I'm not going to take it personally, so..."

"No, it's... it's not that. I want to come. You have no idea how much so." She took a deep breath to compose herself. "What time's dinner?"

 "What time's dinner?"

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A/N: okay... rare glimpse into Amber's personal life. That's my house this past December. I wrote this chapter around the same time the picture was taken and the stockings were inspiration for those Emmie is remembering from her mother's house. I made the ones in this picture about eight or nine years ago....

Any guesses as to how Christmas Eve is going to go for Emmie?

Thanks for reading this update! Votes will be given to efforts to clean up the beaches of Moon Beach as well as beaches everywhere!

Today's dedication is for my writing group, WPC2014 otherwise known as the Wattpadres. We have weekly Twitter chats (8 pm EST on Tuesdays) about various writing topics. You are all welcome to stop by and join us! Use the hashtag #Wattpadres to follow along :)

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