Billy glanced at the time on his computer and sighed. There was at least two, maybe three, hours of work left to do on his desk before the end of the calendar year and he was the publisher–it was his responsibility.
The office was quiet, the hallways dark. He’d sent everyone else home to celebrate with their families over an hour ago. He’d stayed. His eyes fell on the framed photo on his desk. One look at his little girl and everything else faded away. At only two years old, Alexandra was a force, her fiery, red hair and green eyes were the spitting image of her mother. Her fiery attitude and stubborn streak were, at least according to Phyllis, all Billy.
This picture showed her other side, the precocious girl with a heart of gold. She sat so still and proud on Santa’s lap with the perfect smile and pose for the camera. He’d missed this day, a meeting a work demanding his attention. Now instead of the memory, he only had the moments.
Phyllis hadn’t been upset with him and she’d assured him Alexandra had been far too preoccupied with the chocolate advent calendar to notice his absence, but he still struggled with guilt.
He looked back at the computer screen, suddenly shaking his head and closing the laptop quickly. It could wit–and it would…Phyllis and his daughter couldn’t and he wouldn’t ask them to, not one more moment
“Daddy!” Billy scooped the little girl up in his arms, picking her up and holding her closer to his chest.
“Hey sweet girl,” he smiled, giving her a squeeze. “You having a good time with Mommy?”
She nodded, shoving the iced sugar cookie in her hand.
“That looks yummy. Is it for me?”
Alexandra smiled broadly, her eyes sparkling at him in exactly the same way her mother’s did. “Mine,” she whispered, another grin spreading across her face as he placed placed her back on her feet.
She ran off towards Phyllis who was sitting on the floor by the tree, watching both of them. She leaned down, grabbing another cookie off the plate.
“Here, Daddy,” she said, handing him a cookie.
Billy smiled at her, always surprised by the simple gestures that showed what a sweet child she truly was.
“Thank you,” he whispered, taking a bite before sitting down on the floor beside Phyllis.
He pulled her close to him, the stress of the day literally melting away as he surrounded himself with what truly mattered. “Hi,” he mumbled, nuzzling into her neck, “I missed you.”
She smiled. “I missed you too. In fact, I didn’t expect you home that early. I know you had all that end of the year stuff you wanted to finish.”
“Yeah, I did, but then I remembered that I had the most beautiful woman and little girl waiting for me at home and all of a sudden the work just didn’t seem so darn important.”
Phyllis smiled. Sometimes, when he looked at her like that, she’d swear her heart would stop, and yet it never did…it just filled with love for him.
He glanced over at the little girl, who struggled to contain a yawn. He pointed at her, looking at Phyllis, “This one been going strong today?”
“You know it. We spent the morning shopping for some last minute gifts and then we went for hot chocolate and cookies, didn’t we?” She smiled at her daughter who nodded happily.
“Wait a minute!’ Billy feigned astonishment, exaggerating a gasp and clasping his hand over his chest. “Are you telling me you didn’t make thee delicious cookies with your own two little flour-caked hands?”
“Were you following fire trucks here?” Phyllis teased? “No, I didn’t make them and trust me, you don’t want me to.make them. Besides, like I told Ally, Santa will probably appreciate the variety. We sprung for macaroons and madeleines.” She smiled at him.
“I hear those are Santa’s favorites,” Billy grinned.
“Really?” Alexandra’s eyes sparkled.
“Absolutely,” he sighed, “But you know what, you have to go to bed or Santa won’t come anywhere near this place.” Billy smiled as he saw the little girl’s eyes widen. “So what do you say, you ready for a brushing teeth, story, and bed?”
Alexandra nodded, smiling as Billy lifted her and started up the stairs. Phyllis smiled as she followed them upstairs.
Billy leaned down, adding wood to the fireplace. He only had a few minutes before Phyllis would be downstairs. Ally had used her powers of persuasion to get one more story out of her. Billy had used the opportunity to come downstairs and set the scene. He opened the desk and shuffled the magazines around pulling the wrapped package our. She checked the tape and paper. No sign of tampering. He carefully placed the package behind a framed photo where he could easily grab it later.
Quickly walking around the room, he lit the candles he’d strategically placed on the coffee table and the mantle. The pillows and blanket were already laid out on the floor and the bottle of wine was open and breathing. Two glasses were ready. He glanced around the room again–one final check. Everything looked perfect. He heard footsteps coming down the stairs and he walked to the landing, meeting her there.
Her sharp intake of breath as she looked around the room was exactly the reaction he’d hoped for. They deserved this. He’d been working far too much and while he’d hated to miss the time with his daughter and the time with them as a family, he’d also really missed the moments when it was just them. She smiled at him, the eyes he saw in their daughter sparking up at him.
“What did you do?” She whispered, her eyes already tearful.
“I just thought this would be a nice way to spend Christmas Eve. Ally’s asleep. I thought maybe we could have a little wine, sit by the fire,” He leaned in, brushing his lips against her before pulling back and smiling, “see what happens.”
“That sounds really wonderful, but…”.she grinned at him, “that’s kind of why I came downstairs….she decided she wants her Daddy to read her the story.”
Billy sighed, deflating slightly. “Oh.” He ran his hand over his face, the best substitution for a cold shower in a pinch. “Okay…Daddy duty.” He smiled at her, kissing her again, quickly. “I’ll pick the shortest story.”
She grinned at him as he headed up the stairs.
“Mission complete,” Billy said quietly, as he headed down the stairs. He neared the bottom, hearing nothing. “Phyllis?” His eyes fell on the bannister, his lips curving into a slight smile. “It’s not nice to mess with me,” he smiled. He reached out, grabbing the silk, red robe she’d draped on the banister.
“Now why would you think I’m missing with you?”
He heard her voice and turned, stepping off the landing and into he room. She was wrapped in the blanket, sitting in front of the fireplace, a glass of wine in her hand. He smiled broadly as he saw the red ribbon tied in her hair. “What are you doing all the way over there?” He whispered.
She slowly stood, allowing the blanket to pool at her feet. She stepped closer to him. “Well,” she said softly. “I got some gifts for you today, but I just wasn’t sure any of them would be just right, but this,” She leaned in closer to him, smiling as she saw his mouth slightly agape, “I was pretty sure this wasn’t something you’d return.”
He took her hands in his, quickly leading her back to the blanket. The fire crackled behind them, the flames bathing the room in a warm glow. The wine may have spilled, but tonight, neither of them cared.
Phyllis sighed, her fingers languidly dancing across his chest. The feeling of his hands in her hair, stroking her back, his arms around her, his lips gently kissing her forehead–it was all perfect–the perfect night.
“You’re quiet,” he whispered.
She shifted slightly, not wanting to move, but allowing her eyes to glance up at him. “It’s perfect,” she sighed. “I don’t want to mess with it.”
He kissed her forehead again. “It’s almost perfect.”
She smiled, “You want to lodge a complaint?”
His chest rumbled, a soft laugh emanating from within him. “No, this was…you were…”. He stopped, leaning in and kissing her, letting that serve as his answer. “I just..there was something else I wanted to do tonight.” He stretched over her, his hand just able to reach behind the picture frame.
“This is for you,” he said softly.
“Billy,” she smiled. “I thought we were doing gifts in the morning with Ally.” She moved to stand, “Let me get yours.”
“No.No..” He grabbed her hand. “We are…this is a special one. This one is for tonight. Go ahead. Open it.”
She smiled at him, never one to turn down a gift. She carefully unwrapped the package, a white box underneath the wrapping. Her eyes looked at him, confused.
“Go ahead,” he encouraged.
She opened the white box, her eyes widening immediately as the black velvet jewelry box sat inside. “Billy,” she sighed, pulling out the box. “Is this?”
He reached for the box, taking it from her trembling hands. “You gotta let me do this ok?” His voice was already beginning to crack. “I’m gonna try to get through it.”
She smiled at him, the tears already streaming down her face.
“Our relationship…it’s never been typical. You and I, we didn’t start out like most couples do. We didn’t date. We didn’t get to know each other in the conventional way. It wasn’t about the little things–about favorite movies, or favorite foods. I didn’t get to talk to you about your childhood crushes or your favorite vacation spots, but I got to learn what makes you smile and I got to learn the kind of strength you have inside you and the amazing heart you have. I learned to trust you, to depend on you. I loved you, not for things we had in common, or for memories we’d made, but for you–for the person you were, for the person you are, for the person you make me want to be.”
He opened the box, revealing the flawless round count diamond engagement ring. “I don’t have all the answers and I’ll never claim to, but the one thing I know for sure is that you and our daughter are the most important thing in the world to me and every second I’m with you makes me realize how lucky I am to have you in my life. So tonight, the very best gift you could give me,” He paused, smiling at her, “Not that the gift you just gave me wasn’t wonderful, but the other best gift you could give me is a yes to this question.”
He dropped to his knee, pulling the ring from the box, and holding it out in front of her. “Phyllis Abbot, will you marry me?”
Phyllis sat for a moment, her eyes simply staring into his. “Yes,” she whispered through her tears, as she struggled to keep her hand still long enough for him to place the ring on her finger. He pulled her to him, her face buried in his chest as he held her close.
She had no idea what she’d done to deserve this man, this life, this much happiness, but right now she didn’t need to know. All she needed was to be present, in this house, in this life, in this moment…with this man.