Emma became distant after Mr. Fiorello’s death. She became withdrawn and quiet, staring at nothing for hours at a time. I would try to get her to talk to me, but she refused to respond. In fact, she didn’t seem to want me around. When Emma’s mother packed her bags and left for Italy, nothing felt the same anymore. One day, as we were sitting in a cold, uncomfortable silence in our living room, I asked Emma if I could take her out to dinner or the movies- anything to get her out of the house. Her empty, abandoned eyes met mine and with out a word, she left the room. I found her curled up in bed, the blankets pulled over her head. I didn’t know what to do or say, but it sure looked to me like we were facing a long, cold winter.
I bought an engagement ring for Emma and planned to give it to her on Christmas. As the holidays grew closer, Emma seemed to cheer up more and more. Once or twice, I caught her smiling and for a brief moment I hoped that things were returning to normal. Each time, though, her eyes became stoic and she’d stare at the wall. Each time, my heart broke all over again.
Something had happened, beyond her father’s death. It couldn’t just be her mother’s leaving the country; Emma hadn’t been all that close to her. I just didn’t know what had affected her so much that she had completely changed from joyous to despondent. I desperately wanted to know so I could help her.
One week before Christmas, a letter arrived from Emma’s mother, stating that she had met a man named Leonard who was showing her the high-life: fancy dinners, expensive wines and fine jewelry. He had asked her to move in with him. Cassie informed us that times had changed and she was no longer going to live by the constraints of a family. She wanted to enjoy what was left of her life and she was going to take advantage of Leonard’s invitation. She wished us a “Merry Christmas” and closed the letter, “Ciao! Cas”
Silent tears slid down Emma’s face as she read the letter out loud. I internally vowed to make this the best Christmas Emma ever had— a tough venture since it was her first Christmas without her father and now her mother had really and truly abandoned her.
I decided the best way to escape this reality was to take her away from this town, our families and the memories, so it could be just the two of us, embracing the season and beginning our future life together.
I made reservations at the Little Rock Winery Bed and Breakfast, nuzzled at the foot of the Shenandoah Mountains in Virginia. It looked quaint and cozy and I envisioned us drinking wine by a fire. I planned to give Emma our engagement ring and let her know that we would begin our life again, as a solitary couple. I wanted her to realize that we didn’t need anyone but us to live a secure and happy life. If some people chose to be selfish and superficial, that was their choice and we could choose otherwise.
When I told Emma my plans, she seemed excited and even gave me a hug. I held her in my arms and kissed her forehead. It felt so good to hold her again. I closed my eyes and prayed that this was going to be a changing point for us- a new beginning in a hopeful direction.
On Christmas Eve, we arrived at Little Rock at nine in the evening. The mid-Atlantic rarely had snow on Christmas, but this Christmas had turned out to be a white one. It took five hours to accomplish the three-hour drive to the winery. Cars were spinning out everywhere and my hands were tired from clenching the steering wheel as the car spun out for the final time in the unshoveled driveway at the B&B. I turned to see Emma frown and I started to doubt that this trip was a good idea.
I left Emma in the car and walked up a slight hill to the farmhouse to check in. The farmhouse loomed over the farm, its white paint peeling, but in an appealing, homey kind of way. Warm light poured from the windows and illuminated the snow along with the white Christmas lights adorning the well-pruned holly bushes along the front of the house. A man-sized folk art Santa Claus sat on the porch swing, smiling at me in holiday cheer. A large wreath hung on the door, covering the brass knocker. Unable to reach it, I banged on the old red, farmhouse door. The door opened, and I was greeted with a warm hello and laughter, the sound of “White Christmas” playing in the background. I was given the keys, some instructions and then wished a “Merry Christmas” and before I knew it, I was walking back to the car to retrieve our luggage and Emma.
I opened the trunk, pulled out our two bags then helped Emma out of the car. Our hiking boots cracked through the snow and Emma grabbed onto me as she slipped on the stairs to the cottage. She huffed and anger filled her eyes. I wondered if I should offer to take her home, but it would have been ridiculous to turn around now. It had started to snow again. The cold, bitter wind whipped at Emma’s hair as I opened the door.
The warmth of the cozy room greeted us, changing my mind and quieting my doubts. I knew we were in the right place.
A blazing, hot fire romantically lit the cozy bedroom. A full sized bed covered in a ton of pillows looked inviting and artwork of wildlife and the Blue Ridge Mountains decorated the walls. A Christmas garland along the mantle of the fireplace surrounded six wrought iron candlestick holders holding red candles. A small Christmas tree decorated with white lights and animal ornaments of all kinds stood next to the couch. An open bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, Emma’s favorite, two wine glasses and a tray of chocolate covered strawberries waited on the coffee table.
I turned to look at Emma’s face, which glowed in the light of the fire. Her frown had disappeared and there was a look of relief and peace in her eyes, something I had not seen in a long time.
The ride to the Bed and Breakfast sucked and I was pissed: pissed at my Dad for dying and leaving me with a horrible burden, pissed at my mom for being a bitch and blaming me for something I had no control over then abandoning me for fine wines and jewels, pissed that I had no one to talk to about this mess, and pissed that we were out in the snow, risking life and limb to get away from it all. Everything seemed ludicrous.
Jared had checked us in, then helped me out of the car and up the stairs to the cottage, which I slipped on in the stupid snow that we haven’t had on Christmas for as long as I could remember. As I waited for him to open the door, cold wind whipped my hair and bit my nose, freezing every inch of me. I felt like having a tantrum. I wanted to stomp my feet and scream like a two-year old, but all I could muster was a snort.
Jared finally opened the door and I watched as he walked inside. His back darkened as he entered the cottage, but the front of him became haloed in an orange glow. I followed him inside and closed the door. It was beautiful. A fire was gently burning. There was beautiful artwork and a cozy bed. I was surprised to see a Christmas tree and immediately noticed two of my favorite things, Cabernet Sauvignon and chocolate covered strawberries, waiting on the rustic coffee table. My eyes ran over the warm, beautiful surroundings then fell upon the man who had done this for me. My heart melted as I realized how much I truly did love Jared. He was starring at me, his freshly shaved head and face and his gorgeous blue eyes gleaming at me, angel-like in the fire’s orange glow. I ran into his arms and the tears that I had repressed came to the surface and erupted from me as Jared held me close.
As the pain in me drifted away, I could feel Jared’s strength and love, holding me as if he would never let me go. I knew then, how lucky I was. I had a good man. He wasn’t Eric, no one could ever be, but he was Jared and that was more than enough for me.
“Jared, I’m so sorry.” I said.
“It’s okay, honey. I know.” He replied as he stroked my hair.
“No, you don’t…” I sighed.
“Well, maybe I don’t, but I’m here.”
I pulled away from him so I could look him in the eyes. “I know, and that means everything to me. I have to tell you something.”
“Okay, tell me,” He smiled patiently.
I told Jared everything my father had said. I watched him closely, like I did so long ago when I told him about my past, searching for any hint of distress or disgust, but there was none.
When I finished telling him, Jared shook his head in understanding and surprised me by saying, “Well, that makes sense.”
Never expecting to hear this, I asked, “What do you mean by that?”
He explained, “Well, the first time I met your father, he asked me if I knew about your past.”
“Yeah, and…” I encouraged.
“Well, I said yes and he said something like ‘Emma doesn’t know it, but I took care of it.’ I didn’t feel like I knew him well enough to ask him what he meant, and the subject never came up again.”
“Oh. Wow.” Was all I could respond.
“So, have you told anyone?” Jared asked.
“No, not a soul, except for you.”
His eyes filled with understanding. “So that’s what’s been wrong? It’s not me?”
“No, it was not you. It was that, and it was sort of you. I just didn’t feel I could tell you.”
“Oh.” Jared looked upset.
Trying to lessen the blow, I said, “I’m sorry. It’s just…um…that was a very difficult, horrible time in my life. I know you accepted it all, but sometimes I don’t feel like you could ever really understand like…well, anyway, I didn’t want to burden you.”
Jared said, “You are never a burden. Stop.”
“Okay, I’m sorry.”
Jared understood my pause too well, “I know I’m not Eric. I’ll never be and I’ve never been through what the two of you have, but that doesn’t mean I can’t handle it. I hope you realize that I love you and I am here.”
“I know, I should’ve known. I’m sorry.”
“No more secrets?”
I smiled, “No more secrets.”
Jared pulled me to his body and held me for a bit.
I pulled away. “Do you mind if I go take a shower?”
“No, go ahead.”
As I walked into the bathroom, I said, “I love you.”
Jared smiled, “I love you, too.”
Emma left to take a shower. Once the bathroom door shut, I fumbled around in my bag and found the engagement ring I had hidden. I opened the box and stared at the tiny, little ring that would hopefully go on Emma’s tiny, little finger. The diamond seemed large on it and glowed in the fire’s light.
What Emma had just said echoed in my head, like gunfire in a canyon. I got a headache just thinking about it. I twisted the ring back and forth between my thumb and forefinger as I sat down on the couch.
It wasn’t the fact that Emma’s dad killed her rapist that bothered me. It was Eric. Eric had a hold on her heart. Did I fit there? Did she, could she, love me as much as she loved Eric?
I thought of the life we had together so far. It was pretty much perfect. Deep down, I knew she loved me but I was also very painfully aware that she would always love Eric. There was no changing that. He had been too important in her life for that to change.
I inhaled deeply and told myself, “But, he is gone and I am here now. I am her present and her future. He is her past and he is gone.”
I heard the shower stop and a few moments later, Emma came out, wrapped in a fluffy white towel, her brown hair was damp and clean, her skin flushed pink from the heat of the shower.
I quickly stood up and hid the ring in my pocket. She looked gorgeous and I couldn’t help myself from walking up to her, pulling her sweet smelling, soft body close to mine. I ran my hands over her bare back and softly embraced her. As I bent forward to kiss the curve of her neck, a startling question arose in my mind and I could feel my stomach clench. What if Eric came back?
I walked out of the bathroom, wrapped in a luxurious towel and Jared greeted me with a huge hug and a kiss, melting away the remaining cold ice that had frozen my soul since my father’s death.
I had told Jared what my father had confessed. He wasn’t shocked and he cast no judgment. I was the luckiest girl alive. As Jared kissed me, I smiled. Jared kissed me even harder. Then he pulled away and said, “I love feeling you smile when I kiss you.”
I replied, “ I love it when you kiss me.”
Jared unwrapped the towel from my body and it fell to the floor. He gently caressed my shoulders then ran his fingers along the curve of my breasts as I unbuttoned his pants. As they fell to the floor, he stepped out of them and quickly removed his T-shirt. He wrapped me in his arms and carried me to the bed. We became lost among the pillows and blankets as we made love for the first time in months. “We” were back and I felt whole again.
As we laid on the bed in silence, my head resting on Jared’s chest, he twirled my hair around his fingers.
“I love you, Em.”
“I love you, too, baby.”
“I’m so happy to see you smile again.” Jared said.
“Me, too. I feel much better now.”
Jared gently pushed me aside and got out of bed. He went to grab his jeans. Surprised I said, “Leaving so soon?”
“No, I…” he walked into the bathroom with his jeans, then came back out naked and crawled back into bed.
“What was that all about?” I asked as he laid back down and pulled up the covers.
Jared pulled me back down to his chest, “Emma, I know it’s Christmas Eve, but I’d like to give you your present.” I lifted myself up so I could look him in the eyes.
“Yes, now.” He smiled. “Em, before I left for OCS, I asked you to marry me,” he touched a bit of my hair and then started twisting it gently. “And when I asked you, I asked you from the bottom of my heart and my soul.”
Tears formed in my eyes, and I nodded my head, “Yes, I know.”
Jared continued, “And you said yes.”
I chuckled through the tears and said, “Yes, I know.” I leaned down and lightly kissed his chest.
His face tightened and his eyes got serious for a moment, “And…”
I put my finger to his mouth to stop him from speaking. My eyes searched his and I said, “And I want you to know that I want to marry you with my entire heart and soul.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I couldn’t be more sure of anything.”
Jared’s face relaxed, his chin quivered and a tear rolled down his cheek. “It’s just that…”
“I know, I’m sorry. He was an important part of my life.”
“But, what if he shows up again? What if he comes back?”
I smiled, “Well then, I would have to say, ‘Eric, I’d like you to meet my husband, Jared’ and the two of you would become the best of friends.”
He scoffed, “Uh, I don’t know about that….”
“You would. You would both really like each other. Trust me. And anyway, he won’t come back.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Because, it’s been years and years and he never has.”
“So,” Jared asked again, “You wouldn’t go back to him if he did?”
“No, never. We were never meant to be. He is my past, my very special past, but you are my here and now, my glorious, fantastically…” I start to kiss his stomach, “…Sexy…” I kiss even lower, “…Future.”
Jared groaned with pleasure then pulled me up to face him. “Then, Emma? Will you marry me?”
“Of course I’ll marry you.” I answered. He pulled his hand out from under the cover and slipped an engagement ring on my finger. It was simple and gorgeous, exactly what I dreamt it would be. We made love again, then snuggled next to the fire late into the night, enjoying the chocolate covered strawberries and wine.
In the midst of so much loss, we let our love back in for the most romantic Christmas ever.
Causes Courtney Filigenzi Supports
American Cancer Society
Army of Women