“Jay should be here.” Liam was bouncing from foot to foot looking out the front picture window of his parents’ house. The front lawn and sidewalks were covered in a blanket of fresh snow. Christmas lights twinkled up and down the village streets. “Bethie, did you hear from Mac yet?”
She sighed, watching her brother like he was an excited puppy waiting for his master to arrive home from work. “Not since the last time you asked me, two minutes ago. Would you chill? They’ll be here.” Headlights filter through the frosty glass and into the living room. “Is that them?” Bethie ran to the door.
“It’s Judah.” Liam’s tone deflated. “Maybe their plane got delayed.”
“You checked the schedule five times already. It wasn’t delayed. I’m sure Mac is taking his time on the roads.”
Judah opened the front door, sending a gust of wind through the foyer of the Evans’ home. “Ho ho ho, Happy Holidays.”
Liam and Bethie hugged him and he handed off a bottle of wine to their mother. Lights flashed once more through the living room window, and Liam nearly knocked Judah over to get to the door. “They’re here,” he yelled.
“Guess I’m no longer Santa’s favorite,” sassed Judah. Bethie leaned in and hugged him again.
Mac and Jay carried two duffel bags and an Evergreen, velvet, drawstring bag, bulging with boxed objects. “For me? You shouldn’t have,” Judah joked before taking the bags out of their hands so they could shed their coats and boots.
“Hey Judah, Happy Christmas,” said Jay.
Mr. and Mrs. Evans came out to greet the new arrivals and invite everyone to the table for dinner. “Liam has been an absolute mess waiting on you two boys,” said Mrs. Evans. “You’d think he never had guests here before.”
They had added the middle leaf to the dining room table to make it large enough to accommodate friends and family alike. Judah’s parents sat at one end with Judah and Bethie, while The Evans’s sat on the opposite end and the boys filled out the middle. The room was boisterous with mixed conversations and the various aromas of ham, homemade rolls and pineapple stuffing. Jay was full of energy, even after the long flight in. His eyes were brighter than normal and his smile was an ear to ear grin.
“So how did the classes go?” asked Mr. Evans to no particular student at the table.
Judah was the first to respond. “Awesome. Mac and I just finished a survivalist course and a business management course we took together. Next semester we are taking a hiking course and adventure leadership. Right, Mac?”
Mac gave Judah a thumbs up while his mouth was overstuffed with gobs of mashed potatoes.
“You boys thinking of going into the same profession?” continued Mr. Evans.
“Actually, we’d love to come back here and set a shop for equipment sales, rentals, and then offer some adventure tours. New York is a great central hub for all seasonal activities. You have your downhill and cross-country skiing, white water, hiking, adventure races, kayaking, zip lines. It’s all here and in the surrounding states.” Judah’s tone was excited, motivated.
“Yeah, you can even get some surfing and sailing in,” added Mac. “I think the two of us will make an awesome team and my dad’s already planning to help back us with the start up after graduation.”
“That’s wonderful, Eugene,” piped in Mrs. Evans.
“Mom,” both Liam and Bethie chimed in, mortified. Jay giggled behind the napkin he held in front of his mouth.
“It’s okay, Mrs. Evans. My granny and my dad call me Eugene.” Mac smiled at her respectfully.
“Jay, what’s your father doing this Christmas?” Mrs. Evans changed the subject.
Jay choked on a bite of ham, being caught off guard. “Um, he’s taken holiday back in Reading.”
“And you didn’t want to go with him?”
“No.” Jay didn’t offer anymore. The table grew quiet and for a few minutes all they heard was the clink and clatter of silverware on china.
“So, Beth,” started Judah’s mother. “How’s school going for you? Any romances brewing?”
“Mom,” interjected Judah.
“What?” She stared at her son. “Judah won’t share anything with me when it comes to dating. I need to get my love stories from somewhere?”
“The soaps aren’t enough for you, Mother?” Judah huffed.
Bethie smiled across the table at Mrs. Morgan. “It’s okay, but no, I’m sorry. I’m too busy with classes and work to date anyone this semester. Judah got me a job at the Surf and Sun.”
“Well, being the manger has its perks.” Judah gave her a wink. Under the table he tickled the side of her foot with his, causing her to giggle.
“Now wasn’t there a boy, you were interested in last semester? Seems your mother or maybe Judah mentioned it last year.”
Bethie’s face filled with heat and she glanced across the table at Jay. “Um, yeah well it wasn’t meant to be anything more than a friendship and we’re both good with that.”
“Well, he missed out on a good catch if you ask me,” inserted Judah’s dad.
“Dad. Why would you say such things? Beth is more than a ‘good catch’. That’s so degrading.”
“I didn’t mean... I’m simply saying a young man missed out,” he stammered.
“It’s okay, really. He and I are great friends and I know for a fact that he’s with the right person now.” Bethie winked at Jay. Liam smiled at his sister.
“That is so sweet of you, Beth, and the right boy will show up when you least expect it.” Judah’s mother laid her hand on the back of Beth’s. Bethie wanted to crawl under the table and disappear. Judah’s face was as red as hers felt.
Mac cleared his throat. “You want to know what I think?”
“No,” all his friends echoed out over the table.
Mac raised his eyebrows. “Well, that’s a fine Merry Christmas to you. Bunch of Bah-Humbugs. I think we should break out the pie and open the presents.”
Later, amongst the torn wrapping paper and discarded boxes, Mac sprawled out on the floor, groaning about how full he was. Jay and Liam were on the couch watching It’s a Wonderful Life, and Bethie was seated on the floor, her back propped up against the coffee table, thumbing through the new novel Jay had gifted her. Judah popped his head through the arched doorway and silently signaled for her to join him in the kitchen. She set the hard-covered book aside and slipped out of the room.
The dishes had all been washed, dried and put away. Judah’s parents departed and the Evans’ retired to their bedroom. Judah took her hand and led her into the dimly lit dining room. Flickers of Christmas twinkle lights reflected off the polished surface of the dining room table and matching furniture. The scent of pine, cinnamon and poinsettias were heavy in the air. Judah wrapped Bethie in his arms, there in the dark. “Hi.”
Beth smiled and opened her mouth to say something. Judah cut her words short with a kiss. Her body melted in his arms and she returned the embrace.
“I’ve been waiting to do that all night,” he said in a hushed tone. Bethie bit her lip and looked around behind her, making sure no one was coming up behind them. It was a habit she developed over the last semester when they stole kisses in the hallways of the dormitory or held hands while sitting in a booth at the pizzeria. Liam and Jay were so open with their personal displays of affection and if she were being honest, she was jealous of her brother’s relationship.
She cupped Judah’s face and stood up on her tiptoes, kissing him with more passion, once more. When the embrace ended. Judah took her hand. “I have a gift for you.”
Bethie’s eyes went wide. “But you already gave me that beautiful sweater.”
Judah smiled, while his hand dipped into his pocket. “That was for them, for the group exchange. This is something from me to you, because...” His fingers lifted the lid of a jeweler’s box. “because I want us to be official, not a secret. I love you Beth Evans and I think it’s time everyone knew the truth.”
The glitter of the silver chain in the box reflected in a sparkle in Bethie’s brown eyes. Her fingers trembled when she extracted the necklace from the pillowed bottom of the box. A tiny silver kayak charm spun around at the end of the fine chain. A diamond set in its bow sent out fractures of reflected light. Bethie gasped. “Will you help me put it on?”
“Do you like it?” Judah asked, fastening the clasp beneath her lifted hair.
“Jude, it’s beautiful. I love it.” She turned back around, fingering the metal charm that rested in the hollow of her throat. “Are you sure?”
“About what, that I love you? I’ve always loved you, so yes I’m one hundred percent sure.”
Bethie blushed and tried not to cry. “I love you too, Jude, but are you sure you want everyone to know?”
“I want nothing more. Merry Christmas, Beth.”
“Ugh,” groaned Mac, scrubbing his face with his hands while he passed by on his way to scoring another slice of pie. “With you two lovebirds in here and those two kissing out there...” He pointed back towards the living room. “I’m the one that needs to go get a room. Yuck, all this couples crap is spoiling my appetite.” He groaned again and declared he was calling it a night and heading down to the basement’s spare room to go to bed. His head popped back in for a split second. “About freaking time you all came out about it, gees, most obvious freaking relation... ” His words trailed off as he walked away still grumbling. Bethie buried her face in Judah’s chest, laughing with embarrassment.
Around two in the morning, Judah left Beth sleeping in the living room, on a chaise, while Jay and Liam shared the couch. An hour later, the light from Jay’s cell phone screen illuminated the dark room. “Happy Christmas, Dad.”
“Did I wake you?” he whispered.
“No, it’s eight in the morning. I’m certain you realize that, or you wouldn’t have phoned.”
Jay grimaced. “Well, I only wanted to wish you a pleasant day.”
His father remained silent on the opposite end.
“I’m sorry. Dad, I hope one day you can understand-”
“Jay, until you change your ways, and get yourself right, there’s nothing further to discuss. Thank you for calling.” His father’s face disappeared, and the screen went dark.
Jay got up, leaving Liam and Bethie both sound asleep. He walked out onto the back porch and stood watching the falling snow. Shivering in bare feet, jeans and a buttoned up shirt, Jay swiped the hot tears off his cheeks.