White-Hot Holiday

By: Coleen Kwan

Naomi tweaked the hem of the sweater Carol had pressed on her not long after she and Aaron had arrived in Mecklenburg a few hours ago. Her sweater was a colorful riot of fat snowmen, splendidly complementing the florid sweaters worn by Aaron and his parents.

“It’s perfect,” she said.

Carol grinned even wider. “I know they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s very sweet of you to humor me, especially this Christmas.” Rubbing her hands together, she peered out the window at the garden. Outside the sun had already set, and a thick blanket of snow glimmered in the dusk. “Where are those men of ours? Still fixing those Christmas lights?”

As she spoke, crunching footsteps sounded on the porch, and a few seconds later Aaron and his father entered the house, bringing with them a flurry of snowy cold.

“Look at Naomi,” Carol declared when the two men came into the living room. “Doesn’t she look darling in that sweater?”

Naomi met Aaron’s gaze and grinned at him.

“She sure does,” Aaron’s dad said. “She looks like part of the family now.”

Aaron lifted his eyebrows at her, and the brown depths of his eyes warmed. Part of the family. His parents had no clue how much a part of the family she was about to become. Aaron moved over and put his arm around her, and she hooked her thumb into the waistband of his jeans. As she snuggled into him, the small box shoved into his jeans pocket nudged her hip, reminding her of its precious contents. She’d been reluctant to take off the platinum-and-diamond ring, but Aaron wanted to announce their engagement to his family at the right time on Christmas Day, so until tomorrow they would be “just dating.”

“Just dating” didn’t adequately describe their relationship over the past twelve months. There had been wonderful times, like the first two weeks in New York, and the trip to Hawaii in July, and the video recording where Aaron had declared how much he loved her. There had been some troubled times, like saying good-bye and missing calls and coping with the frustrating time difference. And then there had been some truly wretched times, like their first real argument, and Aaron’s pain when she’d turned down his marriage proposal two months ago, and her desolation at hurting the man she loved. Thank God he hadn’t given up on her. He’d allowed her time to consider and conclude that, no matter what continent they lived on, their future lay with each other.

She had proposed to him, thankfully he’d accepted, and now they were planning the details of their life together. As soon as her visa was arranged, she would enroll in a certification program enabling her to teach in New York. Aaron had already cut back on his workload during the year. He wasn’t earning the big bonuses anymore but had become a regular competitor at chess tournaments, where he was gaining a fierce reputation.

As his parents bustled around the eggnog bowl, Aaron pulled her closer and brushed his lips against her forehead.

“Everything okay?” he murmured. “You look lost in thought.”

She touched the dimple in his cheek. “I’m thinking how nice it will be to spend a whole week here. I love Mecklenburg. It reminds me of home.”

Concern flickered across his face. “You aren’t too homesick, are you? You know we’ll be flying back to Oz as often as you want. Hell, who knows? We might move there in the future.”

“You’d really do that for me?”

“If it’s important to you, then it’s important to me.”

She bit her lip. “Thank you. That means a lot to me.” Her voice shook.

Laughter lines spread from the corners of his eyes as he grinned at her. “Just making sure I’m on Santa’s nice list this year.”

She rested her forehead against his. “Naughty or nice, you’ll be getting a very special present from me.”

“Honey, I can’t wait.”

* * *

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