No Mistletoe Required – Unpublished Epilogue
Dan sat with his back to the headboard, watching Anna wake slowly, surfacing through the darkness of her dreams into the light of the bedroom. He always loved watching her wake in the morning. Sleepy-eyed, with flushed cheeks and a confused look like she didn’t know where she was waking up or why. She’d moved in to his place two months earlier, though they’d spent enough time at her place before that to know she woke the exact same way in her own bed.
She screwed her eyes shut and tried to pull the covers over her head.
“Nah, not today. It’s Christmas. We have things do this morning before we get to your parents’ house.”
She sat up slowly, as if she were sixty years older than her real age. With a cough, she reached for the bottle of water she left on her nightstand and took a drink. Not that it helped when she spoke. Her voice was still rusty. Drove him crazy with lust to hear it every morning. “We head to see your parents first.”
He loved her for that—and a million other little things—that she so easily mentioned seeing his parents, despite the visit being to a gravesite instead of a cozy home. She never complained, only found a bouquet of flowers to bring and held his hand through each trip.
“Yes, my parents first.” He kissed her nose, because he couldn’t resist.
“But what else do we have to do?”
She shook her head and took another sip of water. “We do gifts at my parents’ house.”
“Naturally, the bulk of the gift opening will commence at the Smith residence. But I thought you might want to open this one just by ourselves.” He reached under the bed and grabbed the wrapped box, setting it in her lap. It was the size of a shoebox—because it was a shoebox—and it landed on the comforter covering her legs with a thump. The paper was a little uneven, and he’d had to use more tape than he wanted. Hell, Anna wrapped all his gifts for him because she didn’t trust him not to mangle it. Gift wrapping…so not his thing. But this, this he did himself. Even if it did look like a drunk preschooler got a hold of the scissors and tape…at least he’d done this one alone.
She gave the box a bemused look. “Stick to gift bags, babe.” But she pulled at the tape on one corner before stopping. “I left your gift at Mom and Dad’s the last time I was there. It’s under their tree. I don’t have anything for you to open now.”
“That’s fine.” He nudged the box a little. “Keep going.”
With a sigh that spoke a thousand words—several of which informed him she would indulge him this once, but don’t pull it again—she opened the gift. And came up with another box. “Oh Lord. You didn’t, did you?”
“Wrap fourteen different boxes,” she asked, holding up the much smaller box that almost fit into the palm of her hand. Well, it would have, if she didn’t have such small hands. It was sort of comical how big the small box still looked in her delicate hand.
“Honey, if you think thirteen more boxes will fit in there, you’re mistaken.” No, he hadn’t. The only reason he wrapped it up in the shoebox was to disguise the obvious shape of the real gift, which she would have recognized immediately as—
“Oh, Dan,” she breathed.
Cracking the lid to the small box, she stared at the ring. He took it gently from her lax fingers and removed the band itself, then shifted until they were facing each other.
“Let me get this all out, and then you can talk. Okay?” With her nod, he kept going. “It’s not your two year mark yet. I know that. But I want to do this now. Before you hit the two years. Because I want you to know that I don’t care what happens tomorrow, or next week, or next year, or next decade. You are the most important thing in my life and I love you. So I wanted you to know, before your time was up, that I want you no matter what happens. There are no guarantees in life, and I’m fine with that. As long as you’re with me.”
She opened her mouth and he stalled her with a finger over her lips. “Not done yet.”
Her eyes narrowed but she settled back, silent.
“Every family has traditions for Christmas. The past several years, mine was to sit around alone, let myself slip into a horrible attitude, and alienate everyone around me. Or just escape to some vacation spot where nobody knew me. That was the shittiest idea I’ve ever had. So I want to start a new one. One where I wake up next to you every Christmas morning. And I get to remind you how much you mean to me. How much I love you.”
Anna’s eyes glazed with tears, but he just wasn’t finished yet.
“So, Anna Jo Smith, I need to know. Are you ready to spend the rest of your Christmases with the Grinch?”
She laughed, then covered a hand over her mouth as if she couldn’t quite contain it otherwise. Then she nodded, but immediately shook her head afterward.
“Which is it?” he asked with a smile.
“Just you. I don’t want the Grinch. Just Dan.”
She threw herself into his arms and snuggled against him. “Best Christmas ever.”
“I’ll work on topping it next year.”