Monday, December 21, 2015

Her Christmas Future by Alicia Dean

Part Three – Conclusion

Olivia’s stomach was tied in knots. She hadn’t seen Holden in a year, but there he was, standing in her mother’s kitchen. She allowed herself the luxury of just staring at him…the way his muscles challenged the fabric of his snug green Henley, the way his worn jeans hugged his thighs…
He lifted his head and caught her staring. His grin sent her heart thumping. He moved across the room and took her hands in his. “Olivia, it’s so good to see you. How’s Rome?”
Lonely, devoid of you…
She smiled. “It’s fantastic. You should come visit me.”
A shadow crossed his face, and he released her hands. “I would like that, but, under the circumstances, it’s probably not a good idea.”
“I waited so I could tell you in person." His jaw tightened. "Marci and I are engaged.”
Somehow, a smile stretched her lips, one so brittle, she thought her cheeks might shatter. “That’s wonderful! I’m so happy for you.”
“Liar,” Clarissa whispered.
Olivia made a face at her.
The next scene unfolded, showing Olivia at her Rome office, although she almost didn’t recognize herself. She’d lost the extra twenty pounds she always carried, plus some. Her cheeks were gaunt, her hair drawn into a tight bun, emphasizing the thinness of her face.
Her assistant stood in front of her desk. “Can I leave early since it’s Christmas Eve? My daughter is in a pageant.”
Olivia didn’t look up. “I’m sure someone is videotaping it. We have work to do.”
Olivia gasped. “Did I really just say that?”
“You heard it yourself.”
Guilt tore at her. Had she really become this miserable tyrant?
“Well, at least tell me Holden is happy with Marci.” Although, truth be told, the thought of it clawed at her insides like a feral cat.
“Judge for yourself…”
The scene opened into the living room of a magnificent home with a gorgeous tree at one end.
Holden sat on the edge of a love seat next to Marci, his hand resting on her knee. Jealousy pinged Olivia’s chest. 
An older couple sat across from them on a sofa drinking eggnog. The woman peered at Marci. “So, when are you two going to give us grandchildren?”
Marci placed her hand over Holden's.  “We’re trying, Mother.”
Olivia gritted her teeth. Holden fathering children with someone else? How could she possibly stand that?  Olivia turned to Clarissa. “Okay, that’s enough. He’s happy. That’s all I needed to know. I don’t have to keep watching.”
“Oh, but you do.”
“Sadist,” Olivia muttered.
Now, the scene was a large bedroom…their bedroom. Olivia’s stomach tightened. She did not want to see this.
Holden had stripped down to black boxer briefs. Dark hair spattered his chest. His shoulders and back were tight with muscles. Her breath caught. He looked so damn good…
“So, that was embarrassing.” Marci strode into the room, arms crossed over her breasts. “How do you think it made me feel when my mother asked about grandchildren?”
Holden let out a weary sigh. “I don’t know, but I’m sure you’re about to tell me.”
Marci flung her arms in the air and let them drop to her sides. “Oh, great, Mr. Sarcasm. Real helpful. It made me feel like crap, that’s how. What was I supposed to do, tell her my husband can barely stand to touch me, that he doesn’t even know if he wants to be married to me, let alone have children with me?”
Olivia’s shoulders slumped. He wasn’t happy after all?
A few heated words were exchanged, then Marci stalked from the room.
Holden walked to a safe in the wall and opened it.
“He does this every Christmas Eve,” Clarissa whispered.
Frowning, Olivia continued to watch.
He withdrew a small box and flipped up the lid. Nestled inside was the ring he’d had at her apartment that night. He touched a finger to the diamond and dropped his head back, eyes tightly closed.
Olivia brought a hand to her mouth. “Oh my God, he’s not happy. He still loves me.”
“Right.” Clarissa nodded. “You not only ruined your life, you ruined his.”
“Okay…you’ve convinced me. You’re right. It was a bonehead decision.” A shudder racked her body. God, she’d been such a fool… “How do we undo this?”
Clarissa’s mouth twisted. “Oh, I’m afraid we can’t.”
“You…what do you mean can’t? Isn’t that what this is all about? Showing me the future so I don’t make the biggest mistake of my life?”
“No, dear.” The pity in Clarissa’s blue eyes was almost as frightening as her solemn tone. “I’m sorry, but what’s done is done. I didn’t show you the future, I showed you the past.” She gestured toward the window. “Look.”
Olivia faced the window. The scene had disappeared. Behind her, a Christmas tree blinked. A Teddy Bear ornament hung in the center, its round belly painted with 2018. From the glass, her reflection stared back at her. Gaunt cheeks, deep grooves beneath her eyes, a body so thin, the collarbones protruded at the neck of the robe. “No!” The word was wrenched from her strangled throat. “Please…why did you even bother to show me if I couldn’t change anything?” Olivia wrapped her arms around her body to still the shaking. “Why?”
“I’m sorry.” Clarissa backed away, toward the window. In seconds, she faded through the glass, into the darkness, and disappeared.
Olivia stood for several moments, unmoving. Tears rolled down her cheeks. What had she done? What kind of life would she have now?
The same life you’ve had for the past three years since you refused Holden’s love…
Yes, she had success, but her dream job was a hollow victory. Success couldn’t keep her warm at night, curl up with her and watch sappy Christmas movies, give her children…
A sob seized her chest, but she swallowed it back. She wouldn’t cry. The time for crying was over. Now there was nothing to do except live with her decision.
On leaded feet, she headed down the hallway to her bedroom. Although she didn’t expect to sleep, she had no energy to do anything other than crawl into bed. The lights from outside made wavering shadows on the ceiling. They merged into shapes that looked like grinning mouths…taunting…mocking… A large, empty chasm opened in her heart.  Tomorrow was Christmas. And she’d be alone. Forever.
She wasn’t aware she’d fallen asleep, but some time later, she woke. A glance at her nightstand clock showed she’d slept for nearly two hours. She threw off the covers and climbed from bed. No way would she be able to fall back asleep.
She brushed her teeth and stumbled toward the kitchen for coffee. In the living room, she halted. Something was different… The tree. Light reflected off the gifts held by Santa on the ornament hanging in the center...2015.
Her stomach clenched, and her pulse raced. She whirled toward the sofa. A man sat on the edge of the sofa.
He swiped a hand over his stubbled jaw. “Hey. Couldn’t sleep?”
She rushed to his side. “Oh my God, you’re here.”
He grinned, his beautiful sleepy eyes blinking slowly. “Yeah, you told me to crash here.” He cupped her cheek. “You okay?”
She gripped his hand and squeezed her eyes shut. “I can’t believe it.” She glanced around, and relief swept through her. “We’re at my apartment in Chicago.”
He chuckled. “Uh, yes, where else would we be?”
“I—I don’t know. I had a dream. The most awful dream.”
“You’re shaking.” He pulled her into his arms and held her close to his warm body. “It’s okay, sweetheart. I’m here. It was just a dream.”
She lifted her head and pressed her lips to his. He hesitated a moment, surprise in his eyes, then returned the kiss. “What was that for?”
“I’m sorry. About what I said. I love you, and I don’t want to lose you.”
He smiled. “I don't want to lose you, it would kill me. I barely slept, thinking about it. And, I have an idea. I can check into getting my medical license in Italy.”
Her eyes rounded. "You would do that? Move to Italy to be with me?"
He pressed another kiss to her mouth. "I would go to the ends of the Earth to be with you."
"Oh, Holden." She blinked back tears. "Are you sure?"
“Absolutely positive." He brushed her hair back from her face. "I don’t want to stand in the way of your dream, your future.”
She let out a choked laugh. “You’re my future, Holden. You’re all I need.”
He wrapped his arms around her and settled back into the sofa, pulling her with him. “Damn, that must have been some dream.”
A long sigh escaped her. “You have no idea.”
She shifted closer to him. A muffled, tinkling sound rose. Something hard pressed against her hip. She reached behind her into the sofa cushion, and her fingers closed around a hard, metallic object. She retrieved it and held it in front of her face. A gasp left her throat as she stared at the shiny, silver bell. She squinted to read the inscription etched on the side—Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.
“What’s that?” Holden reached for the bell.
Olivia handed it to him with a grin. “Proof that miracles happen everywhere, not just on 34th Street.”

 ~ End ~

I hope you enjoyed "Her Christmas Future" and I hope you have a Merry Christmas! Please tune in tomorrow for a Christmas read by Barbara Edwards.


Margo Hoornstra said...

Thank you, thank you for the happy ending. Love how you wrapped this all up. Merry Christmas!

Leah St. James said...

Ditto on the thank you for the happy ending! What a great story.

Alicia Dean said...

LOL, Margo, were you worried? :) I'm so glad you love how I wrapped it up. Thank you so much. Merry Christmas to you!

Aw, thank you, Leah. I appreciate the kind words. I love that I had you guys worried. That's what we're supposed to do as writers, correct? :)

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

What a neat twist that had my heart skipping a beat in sadness. I loved how you did that. Awesome. Thanks!

Brenda Whiteside said...

Great ending. Nice twist. Bravo, Alicia.

Susan Coryell said...

A Dickensian Christmas Carol kind of story with a lovely, happy ending. Sets a good mood for the holiday. Thanks!

Rolynn Anderson said...

Whew! Gripping last third, Alicia...even if you did foreshadow with the movie mention. Holden is a KEEPER...he's willing to go to Italy for her...and by having Holden in her life, she'll live a more balanced life in Italy. Excellent finale!

Jannine Gallant said...

Sigh. I really loved this. Thanks, Ally!

Alicia Dean said...

Oh wow, you guys are making my day! So glad you enjoyed the ending.

Vonnie, I love that I elicited sadness, and that I ended to your satisfaction. Thank you!!

Thanks a bunch, Brenda. I love it when a twist works. I'm never sure.

Susan, thank you! I love that it was 'Dickenish.' Very cool! You're welcome!

Thanks, Rolynn. I appreciate the kind words so much. It's so funny, I hadn't watched Miracle on 34th street in decades, if ever, but a few nights before I posted this story, I watched it, just so I could reference some specifics. As it turned out, the 'theme' worked perfectly for my story. Isn't it funny how writing works that way? How it sometimes just magically comes together? I seriously already had the mention of the movie in my story, not even knowing for sure what it was all about.

You are most welcome, Jannine...thank you! I'm thrilled you enjoyed it. :)

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Loved it!


Diane Garner said...

Great, great story! Loved it.

Diane Burton said...

What a conclusion, Alicia! You really had me going there for a moment. I thought neither one would get their HEA. You know how to jerk the heart strings. Great story!!!

Alison Henderson said...

Oh, I loved it! I waited to read the whole thing at once, and now I know the suspense would have killed me. What a wonderful combination of Christmas storytelling traditions. For me, Christmas isn't Christmas without the original version of Miracle on 34th Street. I'm glad to know another fan. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Kara O'Neal said...

Loved, loved, loved it! So sweet and heartwarming! Perfect for this time of year.

Darcy Flynn said...

Oh my gosh! I loved it! Thanks for sharing such a heartwarming story! Merry Christmas!

Alicia Dean said...

Than you, Pamela and Diane G, so happy you enjoyed it.

Ha, I'm glad you were worried, Diane B. :) Thanks so much for the kind words!

Aw, Alison, thank you. Yes, I do love that movie. I kept looking for it on my Apple tv and found other versions, but I was determined to watch the original. And I finally rented it. I'm glad I did. Everyone was perfect in their roles. I'm thrilled you enjoyed the story and the blend of traditions.

Thank you, Kara. I love this time of year, and it was fun creating a story with so much 'Christmas' in it. :)

You're so welcome, Darcy. Thank you! I'm happy you enjoyed it. Merry Christmas!!