A Sing-ular Tradition
A few times Derrick had walked into Kenzie’s office on his daily mail run and caught her wearing a wistful expression as she either gazed straight ahead or contemplated the ceiling. More often than not when he came through the doorway, she was too busy to even look up at him. With her head down and full attention focused on whatever task was at hand in front of her, she’d mumble a distracted thank you and that was it.
Though he always meant to talk to her, asking ‘what’s wrong?’ wasn’t the best way to open a conversation with someone you’d only just met. But, she wasn’t bent over a paper strewn desk now. At this moment, she was focused totally on him.
Dude, quit staring at her and use your advantage. He winced in response to the devil perched on his shoulder. Don’t rush me. I got this.
“How did you wind up in the sunshine state? Even though you hale from the north, you’re a little young to be a snowbird.”
“A job offer I couldn’t turn down arrived at just the right time. I needed to get away from things in my old life for a while.”
“What kind of things? Problems?”
The wistfulness returned to those big blue eyes as her gaze strayed away from him. His heart stuttered at the idea maybe he’d gone and destroyed their light-hearted mood. Caused her to call up old and maybe unpleasant memories.
“I was engaged. Briefly. Until I discovered my so-called fiancé was still married to someone else.”
“That had to hurt.”
“All I could think was how could he do that? To me was one thing, but to his wife? Not to mention the two innocent little girls I found out they had together.”
“I can relate. It’s been a pretty tough year for me too.”
“Why’s that?” Lowering her eyes, she took a hasty sip of punch. “It’s okay if you’d rather not say.”
“No. I don’t mind.” That she seemed to care enough to want to know spurred him on to share something he hadn’t told anyone around here. “I spent six seasons playing minor league baseball. As a pitcher.”
“That would explain your arm strength.” Eyes wide as if she’d just surprised herself, she took a breath. “Sorry.” As pink dotted her cheeks, she gave a little head shake, looked away then back at him. “Go on.”
“I was so confident my arm would take me to the big show and million dollar endorsement contracts. When that didn’t happen and I was unexpectedly cut from the team, I had no other life skills to fall back on.”
“One heck of a wake-up call, I’m guessing.”
“You have no idea.” He picked up their empty glasses and the napkin and tossed them into a nearby trashcan. “Then my wife left me for a teammate of mine. One of the guys who did make it to the big leagues with the million dollar perks.”
“Oh, Derrick, I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah. Thanks. Luckily we had no kids.”
“Even so, you’re no stranger to heartache.” She slid her hand over to cover his. “Like me.”
“So there you have it.” He immediately flipped his palm up in acceptance then twined his fingers with hers. “More stuff we have in common.”
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas drifted over the patio. Deciding to go solo, Derrick picked up on the lyrics in a clear voice, mimicking as best he could the slow crooning style of Frank Sinatra’s velvety tenor.
When he came to the parts about troubles being gone, and the advice to lighten your heart, he leaned closer to Kenzie and lowered his voice for emphasis.
She rewarded him with a huge smile at the finish. “More instructions I need to pay attention to, I suppose.”
“Yes, you do.” His fingers tightened around hers.
“I’ll try.” Her wistfulness may have come back, but the sadness in her eyes was nowhere to be found. “I’m glad I came tonight, Derrick. If only for us to have a chance to get to know each other better.”
“My sentiments exactly.”
“Hey, Everyone. Santa will be here soon.” An unknown voice made the announcement before a raucous rendition of Here Comes Santa Claus erupted between them.
Derrick glanced toward the noise then back at her. “Shall we go inside? This is the point, or so I’ve been told, where they pass out little gag gift presents and we can all go home.”
“Go home.” The smallest hint of sadness was evident in her tone.
“I can tell you’re still a little homesick.”
She gave a half smile and nod. “Both my parents are back in Michigan. My two brothers and younger sister live nearby. The family should all be gathering at Mom and Dad’s tomorrow early to be together.”
Sympathy for her being away from the family she obviously loved tugged at his heart, and he had an overpowering urge to take her in his arms and make all the sadness in her life go away. Figuratively pitch every bad thing that had ever happened to her into some virtual trash heap somewhere. So he could fill the void with happiness and whatever else he had to offer.
“My last name is Winters, by the way.” He didn’t bother to release her hand as they stood. “If that helps to make you feel a little less homesick.”
“Actually I think it does.”
As they walked side by side, putting his arm around her waist seemed like the most natural thing in the world to do.
She glanced up at him and smiled, then slid her arm into place around him. “Merry Christmas, Derrick.”
“Merry Christmas, Kenzie. With many more to come.”
“For both of us, many more.”
Relishing the sound of their shared promises, he opened the door and ushered her in front of him then happened to look up. “Wait just a minute.”
Just inside the entrance he stopped then put both hands on her shoulders and turned her to face him. “We’ve come so far, wouldn’t want to break with tradition now.”
Brow furrowed in question, after a hasty glance upward, her frown cleared. A second sprig of Mistletoe hung above them. Eyes sparkling, she met his gaze and grinned. “No. We certainly wouldn’t want to do that.”
Those words coincided with both arms she brought to rest around his neck.
Her response was so swift, and couldn’t have been more perfect. Derrick smiled briefly as he closed his lips over hers. It wasn’t long before he was lost in the sweet and thorough enjoyment of a warm and inviting mouth.
This was the absolute last time he kissed anyone else under the mistletoe.
For good reason. No other kiss for the rest of his life could possibly surpass the wonder of this one.
Come back tomorrow and enjoy the first installment of All The Right Moves by Jannine Gallant.