Cloud nine was an understatement. I was above cloud nine if there was such a thing. Whatever it was, I was there.
“You think he meant for me to find the receipt, right? He had it just out in the open like that.” I was talking a mile a minute, pacing my apartment. “We had such a perfect night, and things have been going so well… That has to mean that Jameson’s going to propose right?!”
I turned back to Sierra who sat on the couch. She stared at me with a raised brow. Two long braids dangled in the front of her face like an added accessory. She was my best friend—I could tell her anything and she could tell me anything—like if I’d gone off the deep end. “I mean, it could?” Sierra said after a moment. “You might be getting a little ahead of yourself, Allie. I mean, did the receipt say what it was for? You can pick up anything from a jeweler.”
I deflated a bit. “Fair, but it wasn’t just any jewelry store. It was from Diamonte. Jameson knows I love that store!” I sat beside Sierra on the couch and slid down until my head hit the back of it. “It said it was for thousands of dollars,” I emphasized. “It has to be a ring. Otherwise, I don’t know what else could cost that much.”
“It might just be your Christmas gift. An extravagant gift, but you know,” she said, shrugging. “Speaking of gifts, what is all this?”
I looked where she was pointing. “Oh!” I got up and brought over the various shopping bags I’d brought home. “Sexy, right?” I asked, pulling out a pair of panties and then the matching lacy bralette. Of course, I had to stop on the way home from work to buy all new lingerie. Jameson couldn’t see me in something he’d already tore off if we were going to celebrate after he proposed.
“Oh, that is cute.” Sierra took it from me and then her eyes widened as flipped over the price tag. “Alice! You don’t think this is over the top? At least a little bit? A smidge?” she laughed as she tossed them back to me and I handed her the black slip I’d gotten too. “How much did all this cost you? Is this silk or viscose?” Sierra teased as she rubbed the fabric on her cheek.
I snatched the slip back. “Okay, maybe it was a little out of my price range but I’m getting engaged, and on Christmas! How could I pass it up?” I stuffed the items back into the bag. “Do you know if Liam got you anything special?” I pursed my lips as I waited for her answer. Sierra was practical, and I knew she’d never ask for something extravagant, but Liam was a big time romantic. “Wait! Let me guess, six months’ worth of massages after working so hard to land your big promotion?”
“Ha ha, don’t jinx it,” Sierra said. I made a mental note to actually look into a spa day for her. She deserved it, if I could afford a decent one after the lingerie splurge… “Actually, Liam and I are saving for a down payment on a condo so we agreed to keep Christmas light this year. You know, sweaters, exclusive versions of our favorite reads, stuff like that. Being with him is enough for me this year though.” She smiled.
“I know what you mean,” I grinned, thinking of Jameson. “But wait, have you heard anything about your promotion?” Sierra was the smartest woman I knew. Graduating at the top of our class, she was always more focused on the books than the boys. But then she’d found Liam when she was least expecting it.
“No, not yet and I’m honestly starting to doubt myself. Being an associate software engineer right now is challenging enough. Do I even have what it takes for more?” I’d never put my hands on anyone in my life, but I wanted to right now to slap some sense into her. Instead, I grabbed hold of her shoulders and brought her in for a tight hug. I held her there and she melted into it.
“Yes. You’re going to crush it. You’re going to knock the code off them,” I said. She laughed. “You’re more than capable, S.” We pulled apart and I tucked a pretty braid behind her ear. “You’re going to get that promotion and your kickass condo.”
“I hope so,” she said.
“You are! And I’m going to get engaged! And we can plan a joint wedding party and, hell, get condos next to each other,” I said, smiling from ear to ear. “We’ll have so much to celebrate when I get back.” It was a beautiful chapter for us, considering we both came from eating ramen noodles in our dorm rooms just a couple years ago. “We’re on top of the damn world!” This time, Sierra pulled me in, hugging me tight.
“You know what? You’re right,” Sierra said, nodding. “And you know, Jameson is so lucky to have you in his life…he better make you happy or I’ll shove his balls down his throat.”
I laughed with her. “Don’t worry. I know he will.”
The afternoon was settling in and so were the wintry winds. Picking my feet up through the snow and tossing the overstuffed bag into the trunk was a workout. If it wasn’t so cold, I would’ve broken into a sweat. Sniffling, I turned for another bag that sat at my front door and adjusted my ear buds.
“An engagement?!” My mom squealed on the other end of the call. After putting another bag away, I turned the volume down on the call in case she thought to squeal loudly again.
“I think so!” I said. I’d just told her my theory and safe to say this was the opposite reaction to Sierra’s. And much louder.
“Finally! Oh, Alice you’ll be such a beautiful bride! I didn’t think it was ever going to happen,” my mom said. Snow piled on top of my car again so I grabbed the snow brush from the back seat—another workout. I’m going to need a warm shower by the time I get upstate.
“Mom!” I chastised. I brushed the snow off the top of my car, and then off the windshield and hood. “I’m twenty-six. There’s plenty of time, but I’m definitely as excited as you are!”
“I already had you by the time I was twenty-six…” My mom went quiet before she gasped. Loudly in my ears. “Is that WHY? Are you pregnant?! Alice Joy Rossi, tell me right now! Oh, god what will your father say when he hears?” I couldn’t help but laugh. Janet Rossi was certainly a character.
“Mom, stop! I am not pregnant!” I said. Shout out to that little pill I took daily. “I’d like the ring first. And maybe a wedding.”
“Well, plenty of people have honeymoon babies.”
“Oh, I know, you’ll have them when you’re ready, blah blah. Let a mother dream, will you?” she asked. I laughed. “Oh Alice, I’ve got to go! I’ve got so many calls to make!” My mother paused again then hummed. “I’ll get my wedding dress out of storage first and then—”
“Mom, pull the brakes,” I interjected. She had to bestopped. “I’m so grateful you’re happy for me but please give Jameson time to propose before you tell anyone. I don’t want him to freak out.”
Mom sighed. “Of course sweetheart. I’ll keep it zipped. I’m just so relieved you’re finally settling down. We’ll have such a good time together planning your wedding.” She sniffled loudly on the other end. “I’ve been looking forward to this since the day you were born.”
Tears welled up in my eyes and I couldn’t blink them away. “It’ll be the wedding I’ve dreamed about since I was little… I just…can’t believe it’s happening. He’s going to propose.”
I was going to be Alice Ellsworth.
Or Alice Ellsworth-Rossi?
I’d figure it out.
“True love is something you can never take for granted,” Mom said. “You choose each other every day, through the good and the bad. Your father is the love of my life.” I wiped a stray tear from my face as I threw the snow brush back into the car and shut the doors, locking it up before I’d go on the road.
“And Jameson is mine.”
Alone in the car, I blasted the radio, singing along with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” I couldn’t hit all the same notes but I sang my heart out anyway. I pulled off at the exit. I was getting a lot closer to the rental in Holly Grove now. As I drove through the winding side roads, the conversations of the day replayed in my head. Jameson’s seduction, his promise of a surprise at the cabin…even my mother’s remarks about having children.
I chewed on my bottom lip. Jameson and I hadn’t talked about kids much, if at all. He was a master at changing the subject or avoiding it all together, but I knew what I wanted. A house full of kids—sports, dance classes, school plays… The look on their faces when they saw gifts under the tree and knew Santa had come. That was what I wanted more than anything.
A smile pulled at my lips as I imagined them running around Jameson’s fancy apartment with wrapping paper strewn everywhere. Then I frowned. His apartment wasn’t exactly childproof. Okay, scratch that. Sierra’s probably onto something with the condo idea.
“Alice, relax. The guy hasn’t proposed yet.” I tried to talk myself down but couldn’t help but think about what my mom said. She wanted to give me her wedding dress. In her and my dad’s wedding photos, she looked incredible. I always wanted to look that way on my wedding day. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Would I use her dress or get another one?
Poofy or fishtail? Maybe strapless? Should I wear the same dress all night or change outfits? I thought. I could see everything the way that I’ve always envisioned—the sleek aisle, the strewn flowers and the man at the end of the aisle who loved me with all of his heart, not just from the bottom.
Jameson would be waiting for me at the end of the aisle, but in my daydream, his face wasn’t appearing as the groom. It was Ken, as in Barbie and Ken. I snorted. “It’s Jameson. Work with me here, brain,” I said aloud. “And what would his tuxedo look like?” Probably something timeless like black, or maybe he’ll wear a white coat and black slacks? I could almost see him and I sighed. His hair would be pushed back like I liked it, and he’d be smiling that knockout smile he knew how to do best when he wanted something from me. The first time he smiled at me, he told me he wanted me. The rest was bliss.
There was a sign for Holly Grove and I turned toward it. Snow and trees stretched before me, the road getting curvier, and a bit more steep—something zoomed out front of my car. I slammed on the brakes. Immediately, I skidded, the brakes pushing back on me so the car wouldn’t lock up.
With a screeching spin, my car slammed into the thick snowbank across the road. I was physically fine but my hands shook violently. What the hell was that? It’d sped by so quickly. I stepped out of the car on wobbly legs and walked around the front to find some guy in a helmet pulling his snowmobile out of the snowbank just a few feet away. Oh my god. Had I hit him?!
I hurried over to him. “Are you alright?!” I started. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you!” The guy’s helmet matched the snowmobile, both were red. His face was too when he flipped the face shield of his helmet up. But his eyes were this golden-whiskey color. Despite myself, I felt my cheeks warm.
Then I remembered he was pissed at me.
“You almost killed me. What the hell are you doing going that fast on this road?” the man said. His voice cut through the crisp wind like a blade.
His tone shook me. “I wasn’t going that fast! And it’s not like there are any signs here.” The guy pointed over to a yellow sign nearby. It was bright and the only thing surprisingly not covered by the thick snow.
“Really? Not a single sign?”
Shit. I was embarrassed. No, you’re mortified. How could I say that I was daydreaming about my wedding on a snowy road so I missed a snowmobile crossing sign? By not saying it at all.
“Oh,” was all I could muster. “Look,” I breathed. “I’m a responsible driver and I said I was sorry, okay? Besides, it looks like you and your snowmobile are fine.” Just as I said it, the snowmobile’s engine VROOMED as he pressed on the gas pedal.
“Oh, you’re sorry. I’m glad your conscience is clear,” he said as he revved the engine again. He looked ready to take off.
“Wait! My car is still stuck in the snow!”
“Maybe it’s safer that way,” he said.
I gaped at him. “You’re actually going to leave me stranded?”
He pointed behind him. “There’s a garage up the road. They can help.” Then, he was gone, taking off down the snowy road in a red snowmobile. I didn’t know they could even go that fast! My blood boiled as I watched him leave.
Asshole. It was the first interaction with anyone in Holly Grove and I wasn’t off to a great start.
My legs ached by the time I reached the garage the asshole mentioned—Yeung Motors. My clothes were freezing, and I was sure my makeup was smudgy. The garage was warm when I stepped in and I was grateful for it as I rang the bell on the desk. As I waited, I rubbed my hands together—they were freezing. How long before I caught frostbite?
“Hello?” I called out, ringing the bell again. “Is anyone here?”
“Coming!” A man came out from underneath a car and strode over to me. The closer he got, the more I could see that he was pretty easy on the eyes. Wiping his hands on his jeans, he flashed a lopsided grin.
“Hey, my name’s Beau Yeung,” he said, extending his hand for me to shake, “what can I do for you?”
“My car is stuck in a snowbank.” I said, reaching my frozen, shaking hand toward his.
“Ahh, yeah, I got a call that a young woman might be stopping by for some help,” Beau said, giving my hand a firm shake. “Come on back.”
Someone had called about me?
Beau led me through the door on my right. It was an office, with vending machines, a coffee maker and a couch that was looking more inviting than ever. Another man was sitting cross-legged in the lounge area sipping on what smelled like coffee. He looked like he was around my dad’s age. He turned to face me and smiled as he took a sip from his steaming cup. I tried to smile back, but I was still reeling from what happened nearly a half hour ago.
“This is Ben Bailey,” Beau said. “Mr. Bailey, this is…”
“I’m Alice,” I said.
“Looks like you’ve been walking through the snow, Alice,” Ben said.
“What happened?” Beau asked. “You said your car is stuck?”
I nodded. “I was making my way to a rental, clearly minding my own business, when some jerk on a snowmobile came out of nowhere and drove me into a snowbank!” Even recounting it had me fuming. “Even when I checked to make sure he was okay, he was such an ass and left me there!” I still couldn’t believe someone could be so mean. Granted it was my fault but wow. “It wasn’t my fault really, and now I’m freezing and—!” I felt like crying. Beau quickly grabbed a nearby blanket and draped it over my shoulders. “Thank you,” I said, hugging the blanket tight.
“A stuck car I can help with. Why don’t Mr. Bailey and I head down to your car to see what we can do?” I nodded, too cold to speak and too embarrassed. I sat down on the couch and cuddled up in the blanket. Mr. Bailey, who was sipping his coffee, stood and grabbed his coat beside him. “We’ll be back.” Beau said. I nodded again and closed my eyes. “Coffee’s pretty good, have a cup.”
I did, grateful for some kindness. I nursed my hot coffee while I waited for them to come back. I tried calling Sierra to tell her what happened, but she didn’t pick up. Luckily, it didn’t take long for Beau and Mr. Bailey to return with my car in tow.
“Oh my god, thank you,” I said. “Really, thank you so much.”
“I’ve got some bad news though. You’ve dented your frame and could have done some bad mechanical damage to the car hitting that snowbank,” Beau said. My nightmares…they were coming true. “I need to look at it from top to bottom.”
“Shit,” I said under my breath. “But it’s fixable?”
“Definitely fixable but will need some real tending to,” Beau replied. I sighed big, blowing off steam. How could my day get worse? “Is that the okay to bring it into the shop?”
“Yes…please.” It was all I had left in me. Mr. Bailey stepped forward then, smiling at me as if I hadn’t just dented my car in a fucking snowbank and wasn’t stranded in a town by myself and nowhere to go.
“You need a lift somewhere?” Mr. Bailey asked. I chewed on my bottom lip, hoping, praying that this guy would be able to help me.
“Could you take me to Holly Pine Cabin? I have the address somewhere on my phone.”
He nodded, the smile never leaving his face. “Of course. In fact, I know exactly where it is. It’s not too far from where I’m going. Why don’t we go pick up your bags and I’ll take you there?” I nearly jumped for joy and followed him out to his car. It was warm inside, like he had it running and ready to rescue me from my woes. I nestled into the seat as he drove.
Soft Christmas tunes played on the radio. Mr. Bailey didn’t blast them like I had been doing when I ran into the asshole—I mean—when the asshole ran into me.
“Thank you so much, Mr. Bailey,” I said. “I really appreciate this.”
“Not a problem at all. We have to help each other out, especially this time of the year,” he said. “And please, call me Ben.”
I smiled. “Okay. Thanks, Ben.”
“So the snowmobile that almost hit you, did you see the color?” Ben asked.
“Bright red, and the helmet was too,” I said. “Only a jerk would drive around in a bright red snowmobile like that.” Ben was quiet for a moment before chuckling.
“Or someone who doesn’t want to be hit.”
“True, but that doesn’t make that guy any less of a jerk.”
“Agreed,” Ben nodded. “He shouldn’t have left you in the snow.” I crossed my arms over my chest. The anger was creeping back in.
“Trust me, you don’t want to meet this guy.” I closed my eyes and counted to five. “But I am grateful for you and Beau’s help. Thank you, really. I wish there were more people like you and less pieces of shit out there. Oh, shit. Shit! I mean shoot.” Ben laughed.
“In my experience, sometimes the pieces of shit are just good people having a bad day,” he said as we continued down the snowy road.
An old stone house tucked away on a gorgeous plot of land surrounded by pine trees came into view after fifteen minutes on the road. This was Holly Pine Cabin. This was where Jameson and I would spend our Christmas together. This was where he was going to propose to me. I was finally here and could not stop staring. It was gorgeous.
The house sat beneath the stars and the lights around it made for a great accessory with the darkened sky. Gargantuan pine trees surrounded the home and they were covered elegantly in snow. There wasn’t a single print or speck of imperfection anywhere. It was picturesque, more beautiful than I could have imagined. My mouth hung open as I stepped out of the car.
My legs moved for me, closer to the house that looked more like a quaint castle. I was swept away with its beauty, in awe at what I was seeing.
“Head down the shoveled path,” Ben’s voice cut into my trance. “Your place is around here.” I nodded and smiled, thankful he stopped me, and even more thankful that he was carrying my bags to the front door of a small cabin that was equally as beautiful but not as grand as the old stone house. I didn’t mind, as long as I got out of the snow.
I walked down the stone path, passing a sign that read Holly Pine Cabin. Dammit, I thought as I fumbled with my phone, searching for the instructions on how to check in. I waved it back and forth in the air. It was without a signal, but I was hoping it would work. Ben grabbed more of my bags, passing me repeatedly and unknowingly adding pressure. How was I going to check in? Was I going to be stranded again?
The back door of the the first house slammed open. “Are you checking in?” The voice was familiar but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
“Trying to!” I called back, still staring at my phone. I turned around and immediately the sight of the cherry red snowmobile came into view.
My jaw dropped.
I looked up and found myself staring at a very handsome man.
His eyes widened.
“You!” We said simultaneously.