A Short Story by Lizabeth Scott
Patting his pants pocket for the thousandth time, Christian calmed slightly at the feel of the familiar bulge of the ring box. Tonight was the night. Everything was planned, right down to the music that would be playing later in the restaurant. Nothing could go wrong; it had to be perfect—the perfect proposal for the perfect woman.
Once again his eyes landed on the wide screen near the airport terminal entrance. Cynthia’s flight was on time. She would land in thirty minutes. After claiming her bags, he would whisk Cynthia away to Geovanni’s where they would have a delicious meal and then he’d pop the question. He didn’t love Cynthia, but she was a perfect match for him. She was well bred, beautiful, spoke eloquently, and had a high social standing which would be influential for his business. His parents were right; it was time he settled down.
Christian’s day dreaming was stopped abruptly by an annoying voice blaring in his ear.
“Would you move your flowers so I can sit down?”
Nails on a chalkboard couldn’t have grated on his nerves any worse than … Christian’s thoughts came to a screeching halt when he got a look at the woman behind the voice. He had to laugh at the ridiculous Christmas sweater she wore. There wasn’t any way his eyes could bypass the tacky creation. A red knit sweater with a snow-covered green Christmas tree decorated with real flickering colored lights covered her chest. Tiny wrapped presents dangled under the tree and around the hem of the sweater.
Christian really couldn’t get his gaze to go willing above the shimmering eight point star topping the tree. To complete her festive ensemble she’d chosen a short, tight blue skirt and red cowboy boots which highlighted her bare, shapely legs.
“Mister, move your flowers before I sit on them. If you haven’t noticed, the room is packed and your precious flowers are taking up the last seat.”
Finally, Christian’s gaze moved upwards to address the annoying woman. She could stand for all he cared. He certainly didn’t want to sit near that tree. Who knew? It could short-circuit at any time and electrocute those nearest to her branches. Christian snickered at that image and almost choked when he gazed into the greenest eyes he’d ever come across. Currently those green eyes were most assuredly livid. Her head was covered in strawberry blonde corkscrew curls making her at least half a foot taller than what he estimated to be barely five foot three. He knew that term from playing with his niece, Kelli. Barbie Merida had curls just like the horror in front of him.
“This seat is saved,” Christian replied, as he squinted against the glaring light illuminating her sweater.
“For who?” The woman tossed her curls left and right looking for the invisible seat owner, “I haven’t seen anyone with you.” The creature crossed her arms and challenged him.
“He’ll be back,” Christian smugly answered.
Her bright green eyes turned into slits of rage. “Well until he does, move your flowers.”
Eyes crashed and horns locked, neither willing to give in or compromise.
“No,” Christian taunted pleasantly, crossed his arms, and looked away, bored with the conversation.
The rustle of cellophane was the only warning he had before Cynthia’s flowers were crushed under the bad-mannered woman’s bottom. “What? You crushed my bouquet!”
“Bouquet?” the woman huffed. “What type of man says bouquet.”
“The type that’s going to push your butt to the floor if you don’t get up!” Christian ranted and attempted to “fell” her tree covered body off his flowers.
Raising one perfectly formed hip, which Christian couldn’t help but notice, she pulled his tattered flowers from beneath her.
Christian took the wrecked flowers and scowled at their flattened condition. “You could have moved them before you sat down.”
“You’re right. I could have, if you hadn’t been such a jerk.” Curls bobbed erratically, as she made her point.
Christian knew his mother would be very ashamed of where his thoughts were currently going. But watching that smirky smile fade from her face as he squeezed the last remaining breath from her body was a powerful thought—one he would never act on, but one he could dream about. Instead of life in prison, Christian chose to ignore the woman, turning his back on her, and putting temptation as far away as he could.
Reaching his hand into his pocket, he removed the ring box and flipped the lid open for another peek. Cynthia would be there in only a few minutes. Something flopped on his back sending him scrambling to keep his hold on the precious ring.
“Oh. My. Gosh! You’re not one of those sappy guys that’s going to propose in an airport are you?”
Christian felt the woman’s breath on his cheek as she leaned on his back to peer over his shoulder. The minty fragrance wrapped around his senses, and her tree pressed into his back making him all too aware of her curves. The bulge forming in his pants surprised and horrified him.
“Not that it’s any of your business, but I’m proposing in a very nice restaurant.” The indignation dripped from Christian’s voice.
“Lemme see,” the woman motioned for him to give her the ring box.
Against his better judgement, he handed the box over. Another woman’s opinion would be nice. He just wished it wasn’t “that” woman.
“Two carats, bead set, princess-cut diamond with a platinum band. Very ostentatious.” She snapped the lid closed and handed it back.
“What? You don’t like it?” Christian turned sharply in disbelief.
“Ehhh. It’s not my cup of tea.” Her curls bounced like live wires as she dug inside a mammoth gold handbag.
Christian sat back and glowered. Why was he even listening to fashion advice from a walking Christmas tree? His mother and sister loved the ring.
“Here.” Her search over, she unwrapped a chocolate bar and broke it in half. Holding the two pieces beside each other to compare size, she then offered him the smaller piece. “Want half my candy bar?”
“Sure,” Christian shrugged. He had missed lunch, and took the offered half, careful not to touch her creamy skin. As he took a bite and chewed slowly, he contemplatedwhy the woman wouldn’t like a fifty-thousand dollar engagement ring. Her mass of red hair kept invading his space, tickling his ear, and messing with his concentration. Coconut, he decided. Her shampoo smelled like coconut. “Thanks.”
Both chewed in silence while Bing Crosby sang about a white Christmas in the background. People scurried through the terminal hallways trying to make their next connection or hurrying home after reaching their destination.
A dainty hand snaked in front of Christian’s face making him jump.
Christian’s lips flattened, as he shook Miranda’s hand and instantly knew he shouldn’t have. He would be proposing in only a few short hours. He had no business getting a charge out of the flighty mess beside him. “Christian Chadwick.” Christian regretfully replied before releasing her hand like a hot potato. He hadn’t seen Cynthia in over a month; that’s the reason for his reaction to her.
Miranda took a big bite of her candy bar and asked as she chewed, “So your girlfriend is flying in for Christmas?”
Christian grimaced over Miranda’s appalling manners. “Yes. She is.”
“Where’s she been?”
“She lives in London. I met her this summer while over there on business.”
“So you’re going to propose to someone you’ve only known for what, six months?”
Christian’s chin went up a fraction, “It was love at first sight.”
“Sure it was,” Miranda rolled her eyes and took another bite.
“You don’t believe that could happen?” Christian challenged her and waited while she finished chewing and made a production out of swallowing.
“How much can you really know about a person after spending so little time together? I bet you don’t even know her favorite color?
Christian had to think. Cynthia wore lots of black, but would someone choose that as a favorite color? He didn’t know, but he didn’t want to admit that to Miranda. “Red.”
“When’s her birthday?”
Why didn’t he know something as trivial as her birthday? Again, he filled in the blank. “March eighteenth.”
“What exactly do you know about her?”
“Cynthia is…” There was no way he was telling Miranda how talented Cynthia was in the bedroom. Or how his parents thought she would be an asset to the family. “She dresses very exquisitely. She wouldn’t be caught dead in an outfit like that.” Christian cut his eyes to Miranda’s horrendous outfit and sneered.
Miranda grabbed her chest to fake being crushed by his remark. “You don’t like my sweater? I’ll have you know, I’ve won the ugly Christmas-sweater contest four years running. Tonight, I plan to claim my fifth.”
That certainly explained a lot, “You’ll win by a landslide.”
Miranda’s leg brushed against his hand sending a wakeup call to a particular appendage that should remain dormant. He adjusted the ruined flowers in his lap and made the mistake of catching a glimpse of her eyes as they focused on the rising flowers sending his already excited libido into overdrive.
Time seemed to stop when their eyes met. Christian saw within the depths of hers something he never would have guessed
—longing so deep he felt it to his very core. He knew without a doubt that the Miranda sitting beside him wasn’t the person she portrayed herself to be. He had to know, “Are you meeting someone tonight?”
Christian thought he saw moisture enter her eyes before she looked away under the pretense of checking the flight schedule.
“My parents are coming in tonight. We’ll have a huge Christmas dinner with my whole family. Grandma and Gramps will be there along with my brother and sister and their children. After stuffing ourselves on steak and shrimp, and my mother’s famous cheesecake, we’ll play games before opening presents. That’s when I’ll smoke everyone by winning again. Then each one of us is allowed to open one present. We’ve always gotten the same gift since we were little. Mom gets us each a new pair of pajamas.” Miranda stopped and smiled. “She wants Christmas morning pictures to coordinate. Then tomorrow morning we’ll have a huge breakfast, and the younger kids will open their presents from Santa.” Miranda’s eyes glazed over and sparkled the entire time she described her family’s Christmas plans.
Again, Christian got the feeling that not a thing she said was true. “Do you live in town?”
“No, over on Bouchard Drive. There’s a lovely park; it’s a perfect place to raise a family. Do you know the area?”
“No, not really.” Bouchard was a nice suburban neighborhood but wasn’t anywhere near his parents’ mansion or his downtown penthouse.
“I think your flight’s in,” Miranda nodded towards the gate.
“Yeah, I see them unloading. Are your parents on this flight?”
Miranda curls bounced, “No, a later one.”
“Ok then,” Christian made no attempt to leave. “Thanks for the candy bar.”
“Sure, no problem. And, good luck with your proposal tonight. She’d be crazy to say no.”
“Thanks.” Christian could see Cynthia looking around for him, yet he didn’t move. His eyes raked-over his almost fiancée and saw her a bit clearer than he had before. Cynthia’s shoulder length blond looked as if a plastic hair-hat sat on her head. The tailored jacket and slacks she wore were fit perfectly to her five-foot-eight-inch body. And she had a body that he knew for a fact was surgically enhanced and trainer toned. Had her lips always been that big? What had he really seen in Cynthia? His eyes moved down to her chest…oh.
His eyes went back again to Miranda’s bouncy curls. Her green eyes were questioning his inability to get up and welcome Cynthia to his city and into his life.
Christian looked back at Cynthia. She was who he wanted. It was logical to marry someone like Cynthia. Shaking his head to clear all the silly notions rolling around inside, Christian stood and took a step before turning back. Christian held Miranda’s gaze for perhaps a moment too long, and smiled. “Merry Christmas, Miranda.”
Miranda smiled back, those glorious blonde curls framed her pixie face and intensified the golden flecks in her emerald eyes.
“Merry Christmas, Christian.”
Only seconds went by, as silent messages were passed—a message of regret and bad timing and what could have been. With one last look, Christian took a step towards Cynthia. His future.
Christian stopped and turned back to Miranda.
“It really is a beautiful ring. She’s one lucky girl.” Miranda’s smiled, but her emerald eyes weren’t quite as sparkly.
Christian smiled, and nodded before making his way to Cynthia who pouted at his less than enthusiastic welcome. He placed a brief and unmoving kiss on her cheek. Gathering her bags they made their way to his car, Cynthia complained the entire time about the rude people on the plane and how incompetent the flight attendants were. On paper Cynthia looked perfect for him. The ring he’d been so excited to give her-now weighed heavily in his pocket.
As Christian rounded the car he caught a glimpse of a red flickering sweater in the distance walking towards the bus stop. Miranda got on the waiting bus which, by the illuminated address showing, wasn’t going anywhere near Bouchard Drive. In fact, the bus’s destination was in the exact opposite direction. Where were her parents? He knew something about her didn’t add up.
On a whim, Christian changed his plans for the night. He dropped a stunned and tearful Cynthia off at a hotel. Her tears dried up instantly when he pre-paid for an all-inclusive week at the plush hotel and offered his driver during her stay. Dismissing Cynthia from his mind, he called to cancel his reservations at Geovanni’s on his way back to his car. His next call was to his security firm requesting an immediate background check on Miranda James.
Two hours later he was pacing the floor in his penthouse when the call came in. A few minutes after hanging up, he knew what he had to do.
Christian pulled up to the address he’d been given. The dark and lonely apartment building didn’t look very welcoming or safe for that matter. Cautiously he made his way to the third floor and knocked on three “C.”
The sound of locks scraping against metal echoed through the dimly lit hallway. Finally the door cracked open, but was still held secured by a single chain.
The door snapped closed and he heard the final chain scratch, and then Miranda opened the door.
“Get your coat and come with me,” Christian smiled and said to a very stunned Miranda.
“What? How did you find me?”
“I’ll explain everything once we’re in the car. Hurry up, we’re running late.”
Miranda backed up shaking her head. “Christian, I don’t know what type of game you’re playing, but I’m not going anywhere with a man who I met in an airport and who stalked me home.”
Christian took both of her hands into his, thrilled that she allowed him to, and surprised once again by the zing that passed between them. He waited until he had those gorgeous emerald eyes focused solely on him before he spoke. “Miranda, I would never hurt you. I’m asking you to trust in a…Christmas gift. Please, come with me. I promise to bring you safely home whenever you ask.
Christian could tell she wanted to come, but was afraid to take a chance. After what he’d read about the life she’d led in the report from his security people, he couldn’t really blame her. He waited patiently for her to make the call, and smiled when she did.
Miranda returned in only a few moments with her bag and coat draped over one arm. Christian took her elbow as they descended the three flights of stairs.
“There’s no parents or grandparents or siblings, are there?” Christian asked softly and felt Miranda’s arm tense.
“No, just me.” Miranda kept her eyes on the stairs.
“How long have you been on your own?” Christian noticed her curls weren’t quite as bouncy as before.
“Since I was four.”
“All those things you told me about your Christmas, was it the way it used to be?”
“No. I don’t remember anything from before foster care. What I told you…those are my Christmas dreams. You know, the perfect Christmas.”
“Why the airport?” Christian asked as he helped her into his car.
She waited until he pulled onto the road before continuing. “Every year I choose a happy place to spend Christmas Eve. This year, it was the airport. It’s fun to watch families re-unite for the Holidays. If you watch really closely, the moment they find each other in the crowd…you can see what love looks like.
There was nothing Christian could say or add to that.
With Christmas songs playing on the radio, the remaining trip was made in peaceful, reflective, silence.
Two hours later, Miranda sat on a sofa in Christian’s parent’s house and took in the scene before her. The whole family was there—his mom and dad, two brothers and a sister, who had four nieces and two nephews among them. She didn’t even try to keep the names straight. And they all had on some of the ugliest Christmas sweaters she’d ever seen.
The noise level ranged from loud to ear splitting as everyone tried to talk at once, but Miranda smiled through it all. Her gaze landed on Christian from across the room. Their eyes spoke volumes before Miranda nodded and mouthed, “Thank you.”
Christian smiled and raised his glass of spiced cider to her. Later, before the children went to bed, Christian’s mother handed out one gift to everyone. Tears filled Miranda’s eyes when not only her box, but everyone else’s contained red footie pajamas. She laughed through the tears and clutched those wonderful pajamas to her chest. Christian had given her the perfect Christmas Eve. She had no idea how Christian had pulled it off or even why. She chose to believe it was Christmas magic that helped bring her dreams to life.
Christmas Eve * One year later
Christian rubbed his sweaty palms on his slacks and patted his pocket one last time. This time the ring was a white gold band which would join the single perfect diamond solitaire already on his bride’s finger. Nothing about these rings screamed ostentatious.
Taking the box from his pocket, he handed the ring to his father. As the music began to play, he turned and lost his breath as his exquisite bride entered the sanctuary on his brother Matthew’s arm, and walked slowly towards him.
Her springy curls, he was sad to see, had been somewhat contained into what he was sure was considered a magnificent up do. But, he missed the wildness of her curls. Their eyes connected and stayed together through the long walk to her place beside him.
Christian frowned as he examined the top of her head. “Nope, this won’t do.” Finally locating what he needed, Christian pulled the hidden pins from Miranda’s hair. Instantly her curls sprang free and cascaded down her back. The blonde ringlets framed her face, deepening the golden flecks shinning in her green eyes. “Perfection.”
Miranda reached up and brought Christian’s head down to whisper in his ear, “Thank you. Allthat hair pilled on one side…I was listing a little to the left.”
Christian laughed, and simply couldn’t stop himself from planting a kiss on her sweet lips.
The pastor cleared his throat, “Dearly Beloved…”