I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving!
Here is your next installment of Right On Time Christmas. I hope you are enjoying Caylee and Stephen’s story.
Have a blessed weekend!
“Oh, please stay one more day.” Josie leaned over and pulled on Caylee’s arm. They had finished lunch and were starting to clean up the dishes.
Stephen shook his head and headed for the kitchen with hands full of dishes. His sister had a way of getting whatever she wanted. And she wanted Caylee to spend one more day and help put up the tree.
“I really should go home.” Caylee’s gaze darted around, never landing on him, but he could tell she wanted to stay. Was she lonely? She always had someone to fill her time.
“To what? An empty house?” Mom joined Josie. “Stay and put the tree up with us. You can go home tomorrow.”
“If you’re sure.” Caylee looked at him now. For approval again? What was going on with her?
“Yes, we’re sure.” Dad chimed in.
“It’s all set. And tonight we can have a slumber party and you tell me all about your life in Columbus.” Josie jumped.
“There’s not much to tell.” Caylee looked at the floor. Something happened in Columbus. Must be the reason she was back.
Soon they were dragging boxes down stairs and playing Christmas music. It took hours to decorated the tree and the house, Mom had a place for everything.
They ordered pizza for supper and laughed and sang while they ate. It was ten o’clock before they were finished and everyone was tired and ready for bed.
“You have school tomorrow young lady. You need to get to bed.” Mom kissed Josie’s head.
“Okay. Let’s go Caylee.” Josie pulled on her arms and dragged her up the stairs. Stephen hardly talked to her all day. Which was probably for the best. She would leave tomorrow and they could go on living their lives as they had before.
Everyone dispersed and Stephen went up to his room. He slipped on a pair of athletic pants and t-shirt and laid in bed. His mind kept going back to Caylee crying in church. What was up with that? What was really going on with her? His mind made up all kinds of stories.
Finally, he gave up. He headed downstairs to watch t.v. and hope that would put him to sleep. His heart dropped when he saw Caylee sitting in front of the lighted Christmas tree, her knees drawn up to her chin. She almost looked like an angel sitting there.
He stopped and studied her for a minute. He studied her a lot when no one was looking and sometimes he studied her when someone was looking, it was only bad when it was Caylee who caught him looking. Like this morning when he took her in wearing that sweater that hugged her in all the right places.
So many times he had thought she was the woman for him, the girl he would marry. They seemed perfect together. But it never happened. She never returned those feelings.
Her blond hair hung long down her back, almost to her waist. He needed to stop starting.
“Hey.” He cleared his throat and walked toward her and sat down.
“Hey.” She jumped and gave a little smile.
“Nope. You either?” She looked over at him.
“Nope.” Because all he could do was think about her.
They sat side by side staring at the tree, mesmerized by the lights.
“What ya thinking about?” The question slipped out before he could think about the consequences of asking her.
“Hope? What about it?” It was then Stephen noticed the trail of tears on Caylee’s cheeks. His arms ached to pull her close and comfort her.
“I lost mine somewhere along the way. But I think I found it today.” Her voice was a whisper, she sounded so fragile.
“I’m glad to hear it. Mom always says things happen for a reason, maybe you crashed here so you could go to church today and hear that message.” It wasn’t so they would find their way back to each other.
“Maybe you’re right.” She turned toward him and their gazes collided, crashed and something shifted in the atmosphere. Heat seemed to radiate between the two of them. She was beautiful, everything he always wanted and still did.
“I should try to go to sleep.” He had to get out of there before he lost all control and kissed her. Kissed her like he always dreamed about. The way the light from the trees danced in her eyes made her even more attractive.
“Me too.” She pushed herself up and he followed. Caylee lost her balance and he reached for her.
“Woah. You okay?” Stephen wrapped his fingers around her upper arms and made the mistake of looking right into her eyes again, he could get lost there.
“Yes.” The word came out breathy and sent heat rushing through his body.
Silence hung in the air and they stood there, neither one of them moved. But wanted to. Oh, yeah, he wanted to. He wanted to move right onto her lips and end the agonizing mystery of what they taste like. Did she want him too?
“Good night.” And just like that it all ended. She stepped away and ran up the stairs.
Fine. He had a girlfriend. A serious one at that. He cleared his throat and headed for the bathroom. Time for a cold shower.
Caylee fell into bed. What was that? Why didn’t Stephen kiss her? Why did she want him to? What was wrong with her? She needed to get out of this house, the sooner the better.
Yes, first thing tomorrow she would go home. No one would talk her into staying any longer.
She almost lost herself in his blue eyes and that couldn’t happen again.
Caylee pulled the covers over her head and waited for sleep to sweep her away before her thoughts did.
Caylee quickly dressed and headed down stairs. Hopefully, no one else was awake yet and she could get out of the house without talking to anyway, especially Stephan. The feelings he stirred in her were totally out of line. He was dating someone, he obviously wasn’t interested in her. If he was he would’ve kissed her last night and he made no move to do so.
No sounds emanated from the kitchen. Good. She could slip out undetected.
Caylee’s heart jumped to her throat and she froze in the kitchen doorway.
“Um, home.” Why did she feel guilty?
“Why not some breakfast first?” Mr. Meyer smiled over his mug.
“I really need to get home. I’ve been imposing long enough.” Caylee relaxed a little, her shoulders sagged.
“You aren’t an imposition. You’re like family.” He put his mug on the table.
“Well, thank you for that, for everything. You all have been so kind. But I really need to get home.” She stepped closer to the door.
“Okay. If you think it’s best.” Something lay hidden in his words.
“I do. Thank everyone for me and I’m sure I’ll see you around.” She forced a smiled and slipped out the door into the the cold November wind. Freedom. So why didn’t she really feel free? Why did she feel like she was running away?
Caylee made her way through the slushy, barely there, snow that had gotten her into the mess in the first place. She climbed into her car and it started without trouble. Before long she puled into her driveway.
Stephen clutched the steering wheel of his Chevy Malibu. Four days. Four days since Caylee left. Left without saying a word. He missed her and he hated that truth. He had no business missing her.
He made a right into downtown Clearwater, a larger neighboring town next to Holly. After he almost kissed her she hightailed it out of there. Sure, she had called to thank Mom but that was it. Not a word to him.
She didn’t owe him anything. He had a girlfriend. Who would be coming to visit in just over two weeks. Hence, the reason for the trip to the jewelers. He had finally decided it was time to ask Sarah to marry him and he would do it while she visited for Christmas. It would be perfect. His final declaration that he was free from Caylee.
He pulled into the parking lot, shut off the engine and took a big breath. His heart pounded in his chest. Nerves. This was the right move.
He nodded to make himself feel better, it didn’t work, and climbed out of the car. Christmas music filled the air of the small shop. The place was decked out with decorations, Christmas spirit filled the atmosphere.
Glass cases lined the walls. He walked over to one and started looking.
“May I help you?” An older man stood behind the case.
Stephan stood up and cleared his throat. “Yes. I want to buy an engagement ring.”
“Wonderful. A Christmas proposal?” He smiled and wrinkles deepened around the man’s mouth.
“Yes. Do you have recommendations?” Stephen sure hoped so. He had no idea where to start.
“Oh, well, that all depends on the one receiving the ring. Tell me about the young woman you are in love with.” The man’s eyes softened.
“Well, we’ve known each other since before we could walk. I’ve always known I would marry her, even though she didn’t know it. She’s much more special then she realizes and deserves to be the happiest woman I know.” Wait, what? That wasn’t Sarah.
“Then you need something very special. Something unique that will show her how truly one of a kind she is.” The man slide down the case and motioned for Stephen to follow. No way he could admit that he just described the wrong woman.
The man brought out a beautiful princess cut diamond surrounded by several smaller stones. It would look perfect on her long, slender finger.
“What do you think?” The man smiled again and leaned forward.
Stephen turned it every which way, the light caught the diamond and shimmered. “Yes, I’ll take it.”
The words left his mouth without thought. He had just agreed to buy the perfect engagement ring for Caylee.
Saturday night and Caylee sat at home alone. So pathetic. The annual Wassail festival would be in full swing soon. She sat curled up on the couch, wrapped in a blanket and staring at a Christmas tree she decorated by herself. Every time she looked at it she couldn’t help but think about the kiss Stephen almost gave her and how badly she wanted it. In all the years she had known him she never wanted him to kiss her. Wanting him to now wasn’t fair to him and how shallow of her. Because he was better looking, more filled out? Was it because she was lonely? Or could there be something deeper behind her desire? Could now was the right time for them?
That couldn’t be, he was dating someone and he deserved to be happy and she couldn’t do that for him. She only caused him pain.
The doorbell rang and pulled Caylee out of her pathetic thoughts. She tossed the blanket aside and dragged her sad self to the door and swung it open, not sure who could be visiting her.
“I’m mad at you.” Josie’s smile betrayed her words. What a breath of fresh air.
“I’m sorry I didn’t say goodbye.” Caylee did feel bad about leaving so abruptly but she couldn’t risk seeing Stephen, her feelings for him where freaking her out.
“Well, I came to find you and take you to the Wassail festival. So go get bundled up and let’s go.” Josie pushed her way into the house.
“That sounds like fun.” Caylee smiled and hurried to throw on a sweater and thicker socks. She gave her face a quick perusal. Eh, good enough, she didn’t have anyone to impress and Stephen obviously wasn’t with Josie. Or was he? “Hey, you can’t drive yet so how did you get here?”
“How do you think? My sad excuse for a brother was sitting around just like you so I made him bring me. He’s waiting in the car and not very patient, so hurry.”
That changed everything. Quickly Caylee changed into a more flattering sweater, which was silly since she would be wearing a winter coat, but a girls gotta do what a girls gotta do. She threw on some mascara and slid some lip gloss on. She stood back from the mirror. Not great, but better. It would have to do. Josie would know she was trying if she did too much.
“Okay, I’m ready.” Caylee stepped out of the bedroom.
A slow grin pulled across Josie’s lips. “Hm. Interesting.”
“What?” Caylee tried really hard to school her features.
“Nothing.” Josie wove her arm through Caylee’s and pulled her out the door. “Let’s go Wassailing. Whatever the means.”
Stephen gave a little wave as they headed to the car, Caylee waved back, mouth dry, heart pounding. She didn’t want to like him but she did.
“You can ride shotgun.” Josie skipped away and when around the back door.
Okay, could she be more obvious?
Caylee climbed into the front seat and immediately took in the woodsy scent of Stephen that hung in the car. It took all her strength not to take a big whiff.
“Hey.” Stephen gave a small smile. “Sorry, she insisted.”
“I’m glad. I was just sitting around feeling sorry for myself.”
“Same.” Stephen laughed and put the car into reverse.
Josie made excited chatter as they headed downtown. It was dark already, and Christmas lights hung from the lampposts, with wreaths dotting the doors of storefronts. Parking wasn’t easy but they eventually found a spot. People lined the sidewalks. Sanata always made his grand entrance the night of the Wassail festival. Children bounced up and down on their heels in anticipation. Many sat on their parents shoulders waiting for the man in the red suit.
“I forgot how much I loved this.” Caylee let the words slip from her thoughts.
“Me too.” Stephen wore a big, silly grin.
“See, aren’t you two losers glad I dragged you out?” Josie slipped between them and put her arm through the crook of both of theirs.
“Yes, dear sister,” Stephen laughed.
Caylee stared up at him, with his cheeks rosey from the cold his blue eyes danced even more under the Christmas lights. He took her breath away. An ache started in her chest and spread to her throat. She blinked back tears. Why? What was wrong with her?
“Hey, you okay?” Josie shook Caylee.
“Oh, yeah. Just cold.” Oh my, how long had she been staring at him?
“Well, after Santa comes by we can go get some wassail.” Josie smiled like she didn’t believe Caylee for a minute.
“Sounds good.” Caylee nodded and focused on the street.
Soon Santa came by throwing candy and waving at the crowd. Christmas carols filled the air sung by the local high school choir. Memories stirred in Caylee’s heart. She truly did love this town.
“I see some of my friends. I’ll catch up with you guys later.” Josie ran off before Stephen or Caylee could protest.
Now they were alone. Again.
“Should we get some wassail?” Stephen lifted one side of his mouth.
“Sure.” Caylee had never been tongue-tied around Stephen, she was always in control around him, he never had any effect on her and now she couldn’t think of a clever thing to say.
They followed the crowd to the large pots of the hot cider. They each got a cup and gathered around the large bonfire. The spiced cider warmed her insides, even though brushing Stephen’s arm through her heavy coat was having the same, if not more, effect on her.
Several students from the high school choir lead the group in Christmas carols. Soon Caylee found herself joining in and even heard Stephen sing a few off-pitch notes.
They laughed with the group of carolers as they came together in song. Music could do that to people.
After about a half-hour people started heading home. Stephen sent Josie a text asking where she was. She told him she would meet him at the car so they headed back to their parking spot.
Silence hung heavy between them while the walked. The last time they had been together they almost kissed. Where do you go from there?
“Why did you leave without saying goodbye?” Stephen shattered the void with the worse question possible.
Did he really need to ask? Didn’t he know?
“I just thought it would be easier.” Caylee tried to keep the answer generic.
“Easier for who?”
Caylee swallowed hard, heat rushed to her face despite the cold. “For everyone.” For me, I was afraid if I saw you again I would throw myself into your arms and beg you to give me another chance.
“Well, Mom was kind of upset by it. She thought I said something to make you run off.” Stephen turned toward her slightly. “It wasn’t anything I did was it?”
“No, of course not.” Of course it was. He almost kissed her.
“Good. I’m sorry I got so close that last night. I was wrong. I do have a girlfriend.” Stephen’s voice softened.
“Yeah, Joise told me.” Caylee’s throat ached again. What would have happen between them if he didn’t have a girlfriend? Yeah, because her track record with men was so great. She would ruin any hope of a friendship with Stephen. She couldn’t allow that to happen. It was better to be friends then not to have him in her life at all. She needed to remember that. Stephen was a great friend. Always had been. And that’s all he ever would be. “It is serious?”
“Yeah, I guess. I think I’ll marry her.” Boom. A weight fell on her chest. That was it.
“That’s great.” She managed to choke out.
“I bought a ring.”
“Then I guess you are serious.” Caylee bit her lip to keep from crying. “You deserve to be happy.” Her words sounded forced even to her her ears.
“Thanks. So do you.” Stephen bumped her arm
Did she deserve to be happy? She wasn’t so sure.