Home > A Little Christmas Romance(3)

A Little Christmas Romance(3)
Author: H.M. Ward

Chris turns so he’s standing next to me and bumps his shoulder against mine. “Got somewhere to be?”

“Not really, I just—” For a second I wonder if I can tell him, if he’ll understand. My heart flutters and my stomach dips in a way that makes the pain real again. My mouth opens and snaps shut again, and I shake my head. It’s not that I don’t want to tell him, it’s that I can’t say it. I don’t want to admit it, and verbalizing the whole thing just makes it worse. I glance at him out of the corner of my eye and see him watching me.

Chris steps back in front of me and looks down at my arms, which are folded tightly across my chest. My jaw is locked, steeling me against the pain so I can swallow it back down. Chris touches my arms lightly. “Tell me, Brooke.” He offers a crooked smile, which makes me smile in return.

I don’t think about it. I just rip the words out of my mouth like a band aid, hoping it’ll hurt less. “Being here, now, it makes me miss her, you know?” I hug my middle to try and seal the hole in my heart. Holidays suck and Christmas is the worst.

At least I have my aunts and uncles, but it’s not the same. My Mom won’t be around for stuff like this again. She won’t be here ever again, and every holiday just reminds me of that fact. She won’t be here this Christmas, or Easter. She won’t be here to help me pick out a wedding dress or watch my non-existent kids grow up. She’ll never see their faces and she’ll never know that part of my life. She’s just gone. Her death left a gaping hole in me and I don’t know how to heal it, so I ignore it. I try to pretend that it never happened, because that’s all I can manage. But nights like tonight remind me of everything I’ve lost.

Squeezing my arms tighter, I mutter, “Holidays are hard. That’s all.”

He nods and steps toward me, shoving his hands in his back pockets. “Your Mom’s funeral was the last time I saw you.”

I know, and I remember him there and at a loss for words. Before I left, Chris sat next to me on those long horrible days. One day I got in my car and drove away. I ditched my old life, looking for something new, something I couldn’t find. Eventually I came back, but I didn’t have the nerve to call him or any of my old friends after that. “I should have said good-bye.”

He glances down at me. “That’s not why I said it, Brooke. I meant what I said in the mall.”

I roll my eyes. “What? That you want to nail an elf?” That makes him smile, but it’s the sweet version and it feels more like a hug than a look.

“No, not that. I missed you. When I walked by and heard your voice, well, it was the perfect Christmas present.” He puts his santa hat back on and tilts his head to the side, looking at me out of the corner of his eye. The expression makes me want things that I shouldn’t have.

Walls up. Come on, Brooke. Don’t fall for his shit. All that charm isn’t Chris. I slap his chest to break the moment. “You’re a cornball. You know that right?”

“You have intimacy issues.” He looks away, annoyed.

I nearly choke. “Me?” He nods and my voice gets shriller. “Seriously? Me? I have intimacy issues? So what does that make you?”

He shrugs, but there’s a serene smile on his face. “I don’t know. Lucky.”

“Yeah, you were always getting lucky.” The bitter tone in my voice is too harsh, but I can’t hide it. It shouldn’t matter what he did or who he did. The truth is, seeing him scares me. He reminds me of the life I lost. He’s part of my past, but I buried my past along with my mother.

He doesn’t look at me. “Not really. The one woman that mattered to me most, well, let’s just say I never even had a shot with her. I messed things up.” The placid smile stays on his face, and he looks at me. “There’s no such thing as second chances, huh?”

Second chances? Is he serious? There’s no way he had feelings for me. I must have hit my head one too many times. I shake my head because I don’t know what to say. He liked me?

Chris doesn’t press me for an answer. Instead he walks over to Jimmy, asking him if he needs anything. Rachel takes the moment to sit next to me as one of the little kids in the kitchen screams about bedtime. “He’s really into you.”

“No, he’s into everyone.” I try not to watch Chris, but I can’t help it. I almost wish Rach was right.

Rachel bumps my shoulder, so I look over at her. “No, honey. He hasn’t flirted with anyone all night, except you.”

Glancing at my hands, I tell her, “Avoiding crazy people isn’t the same thing as being into me.”

Rachel pushes her hair out of her face and leans in closer. “He’s sitting with Nick and Jimmy. That’s the epicenter of crazy, and he’s sitting there for you.”

Nick is my flamboyantly g*y cousin and his hand is about to touch Chris’s back. People are so nasty to Nick, especially because he’s so touchy feely. Some women have slapped him in the face for it, so it surprises me when Chris grabs Nick’s shoulders and puts him in a headlock. He ruffles Nick’s hair and shoves him aside while Jimmy laughs his ass off. All three guys seem happy.

Rachel sighs dramatically. “What do you have against the guy?”

“Nothing.” And that’s the truth. I have nothing against him, I just don’t want to have more people to lose. It sounds mental, but I’d rather be alone than be devastated when things don’t work out and he leaves. Or something horrible happens and I lose him entirely.

Yeah, I’m f**ked up, but I’m dealing with it. This is the way I’ve learned to cope with reality. I sealed myself away from the world. I’m picking up the pieces and most days I’m fine. But this isn’t most days, and I’m far from fine tonight. I volunteered to work, and I’d still be there if it was possible. It’s better than being left alone to think.

I do my rounds, and say goodbye to Rachel and everyone else, before I grab Santa by the ear. “Come on Mr. Claus. Your wife will be missing you.”


After we’re back in my car, Chris gives me directions and I drive to his apartment. I look over at him confused. “You didn’t leave your car at the mall?”

He gets a silly look on his face and scoots down in the seat a little. “Well, actually, I was with a group of guys, so I didn’t take my car. It’s still in front of my house.” He touches his bottom lip with his finger. It’s something he used to do when we were younger, when he was thinking about something that was bothering him.

There’s a lot of snow tonight, so leaving the car in the road wasn’t a good plan. “You left it in the street?”

“Yeah. Not a smart move. The plows are going to bury the thing.”

“No kidding. I did that once and it took half the day to get my car out. But it’s nice, the snow. The flurries are light right now. The sky has that Norman Rockwell painting look, like a Christmas card.” I have a sappy smile on my face as I look around. Trees line the sides of the road with tons of barren branches covered in a dusting of white. The moonlight makes it look magical. Chris raises an eyebrow at me. “What?”

“Nothing.” He smiles and sighs. “Turn right up here. It’s the last unit on the end.”

I pull into a parking lot and drive past a row of narrow condos. When I stop in front of his, I can’t help it. My jaw drops open and I blurt out, “Really?”

“What? You thought I had no Christmas spirit?” His front door has a wreath that looks like a decapitated snowman, complete with a top hat. The front banister is covered in so many Christmas lights that it looks like the glowing end of a flashlight, and there’s a pretty tree inside, decorated, and glowing softly. You’d think he had kids with the number of decorations up, but I know he doesn’t.

“Dude, your railing is glowing like a fireball and you have Frosty’s head plastered to your front door.” I laugh softly and tuck a piece of hair behind my ear and glance over at him out of the corner of my eye. “I just thought you’d be a plastic pipe-cleaner tree sort of guy.”

He glances at me, appalled. “Don’t be silly. A live tree is the only way to go. Besides, once in a while there’s a squirrel still living in it. Double the fun.”

“Yeah, I suppose a plastic squirrel isn’t the same thing.”

Chris snorts and the charming grin I love so much lights up his face. “No, not so much. So, tell me, what kind of tree adorns elf-girl’s apartment? Silver with a big pink bow on top?”

“Oh gross. Please, if you’re going to take a guess, at least be realistic.”

Chris offers a serious look. “The goth tree, complete with genuine burnt bark, ashen ornaments, and a dead rat for the topper.”

“Psh, you’re so wrong. It’s a live bat. Totally different.” I’m smiling. I can’t help it.

“How could I be so off base?” He bumps my arm with his elbow. “Seriously, Brooke. What is it? Plastic or real? I know how you can’t stand fake stuff—or people—so my guess is real.”

My gaze is suddenly focused intently on the dashboard. “Uh, well…”

“Well what?”

“I didn’t get a tree.”

“What?” He cocks his head at me like a labradoodle. “You can’t be serious. You were going to skip Christmas?”

“No.” He tilts his head to the other side and gives me a don’t-lie-to-me look. I sigh, “Yes.”


“You can’t skip Christmas.”

“Seriously, I can. It’s fine, Chris. Go inside and hug your squirrel.” I put my hand on the gearshift, like I’m getting ready to leave, but he just sits there.

“No. I’m not leaving you alone with no tree and no chance of rabies.”

This feels uncomfortable, but I don’t want to get into it. Christmas is great for people who aren’t alone, but for people like me, it sucks monkeys. Chris won’t understand, and I don’t want to get into it. With all my elf make-up on, if I cry, I’ll look like one of those sad clowns trapped on a velvet canvas. The guy who painted those was beyond disturbed by the way. There’s no way you can be sane and stare at one of those things day after day.

Chris reaches over and turns off the engine, yanking the key from the ignition. If I wasn’t in a parking space, I’d have a problem. “Hey!” I reach for the keys, but he shoves them into his pocket and grins. Hesitating, I think about going for it, but that requires getting a little too up close and personal with Chris. The f**ker. I mash my lips into a thin line and huff, “Give them back.” I shove out my hand, palm up.

“No. Not until you’ve had a mini Christmas, inside, right now, with me and my squirrel.”

“That’s not a good name for Little Chris.” I swallow a laugh, but Chris gives me an odd look. “Sorry, I thought we were talking about your tree.”

His lips part like he’s going to say something, but he doesn’t. There’s a strange smile on his face, like he has no idea how to respond to me. He blinks and laughs, before he reaches for the door and shoves it open.

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