I'll Be Home For Christmas

A light snow fell from the gray sky coating the streets and sidewalks with a white dusting. Dressed in jeans and a white sweater underneath his unzipped winter coat, Andy sat in one of the booths of Johnny C's Diner nursing a coffee as he stared out the window watching the lazy snowflakes drift their way to the ground. It was mid morning and the diner was in the lull between the end of the breakfast rush and the beginning of the lunch demand.

Through the window Andy noticed a tall woman in a long red coat hugging her scarf close around her neck hurrying toward the diner's front door. He squinted trying to make out her face because he had a strange feeling he knew her. The woman had her arms folded across her chest as she pushed through the door with a sigh of relief.

"It's cold out there!" The customer laughed to Sandy the waitress who was standing behind the counter.

"Well, it's warm in here!" Sandy laughed as she poured the woman a large coffee to go without being told.

Sandy was a short woman in her early fifties with sandy blond hair tossed up carelessly in a bun, wide hips, and a tired face. "How are you this fine snowy Christmas Eve morning, Rowan?"

Ah-ah! He was right. How many Rowan's could there be in Hillsboro!?

"Counting the hours until Christmas is over" Rowan replied heavily as she finished brushing the snow out of her auburn hair that hung down to her shoulders.

"What's the matter, don't you have your Christmas shopping done yet?" Sandy laughed.

Rowan let out a groan as she stepped to the cash register sitting on the counter to pay for the coffee. "It's impossible to ever be done!"

"Don't I know it!" Sandy laughed.

"Merry Christmas Eve!" Rowan said as she took the coffee cup from Sandy and started to leave the diner.

Rowan happened to glance at the guy sitting in the booth and she was surprised to see that he was staring at her with his graying bangs hanging across his forehead. She recognized the face right away even though she hadn't seen it in twenty years.

"Andy!" Rowan said loudly. "Holy shit."

"Hello, Ro, how are you?" Andy asked with a grin on his face as he brushed his bangs out of his eyes.

Rowan looked into those all too familiar blue eyes and she was surprised to realize that she was blushing as her heart skipped a beat. He was as handsome as ever.

"I thought you said you'd never speak to me again!?" Rowan said wryly once she stopped herself from gawking at him.

"I think twenty years is long enough, don't you?" Andy replied warmly.

"What are you doing here?" Rowan asked, somewhat in a daze.

"Having a cup of coffee," Andy replied with a smile, lifting his mug.

"I didn't know you were back in town," Rowan said, caught completely off guard.

"I just got in the other day," Andy revealed. "I feel a little like a fish out of water."

Rowan stared at him and she noticed how weathered and rugged his face looked. For a moment, she was confused and she realized she had no idea what she was supposed to do. Should she just smile, say have a nice day, and walk out of the diner, or should she engage him in a conversation? Rowan sucked in her breath as she slipped into the booth bench across from him, pulling her black wool gloves off her hand after setting her coffee on the table. "Are you still in the Navy?"

"Retired," he announced proudly as he flashed her his trademark grin.

"Oh, wow, congratulations!"

"Thanks," he said.

"And thank you for your service."

He nodded but didn't say anything.

"I didn't think you'd come back here," Rowan admitted, unable to take her eyes off of him.

"Me either," he admitted.

The sound of his voice sent shivers down Rowan's spine and she couldn't stop staring into his intense blue eyes. She smiled sheepishly.

"How are you doing?" Andy asked with interest.

"I'm okay," she said. She lifted up her left hand to show him her naked ring finger. "I got divorced," she announced sadly.

"I'm sorry to hear that," Andy replied.

"Are you really?" She asked cynically.

"Well, maybe not," he smirked. "I'm sorry it didn't work out though."

"We had a good run," Rowan replied with a shrug. "And I have two beautiful wonderful children even if they are in their terrible teens now!"

Was it fate that her old high school boyfriend whom she hadn't seen since she dumped him would show up on her lonely Christmas Eve? Rowan wasn't looking forward to a lonely holiday and the fact that her first love was sitting across from her had her head spinning.

Rowan glanced out the window and she noticed that it was still lightly snowing. Andy took the opportunity to study her beauty. The freckles from her youth had faded but her skin was still silk white with puffy red lips and a nose that was thin and long. Her eyebrows were waxed and her bangs hung lazily across her forehead.

"I love the snow," Rowan said. "I was listening to Christmas songs in the car coming over here and I was thinking how nice it was to have the holiday here even though my kids are spending it with their father." She turned back to face Andy. "The bastard took them to Aspen this year."

"You can still have a happy holiday," Andy reminded her.

"No I can't," Rowan sighed. "It's just not the same without them."

Andy had a smirk on his face.

"What?" Rowan frowned when she noticed.

"I guess it's kind of ironic that I'm here!"

"Yes," she agreed. "Extremely ironic!"

She couldn't look away from his blue eyes staring at her and it almost felt like she couldn't breathe.

"So, you're still a regular here even after all these years," an amused Andy said.

"Best coffee anywhere," she bragged. "I teach at St. Anne's Catholic and I stop here most mornings on my way for a large." She gestured to her cup. "We're on vacation so I slept in."

"It's really nice to see you, Ro," Andy told her sincerely.

"I never thought I'd see you again," Rowan admitted. "After what I did to you."

"That was a long time ago," Andy said.

"Aren't you with anybody?" Rowan had to ask although she wasn't sure why.

"Not currently," he revealed. "That's one of the reasons I'm here. I didn't have anything stopping me."

"You working?"

"Not yet," Andy said. "I'm still on terminal leave."

Rowan had sipped enough of her coffee to get a small buzz but a part of her wondered if that feeling was caused by something else – like seeing Andy again. She felt fidgety and she realized that she was drumming her fingers on the table top.

"You okay?" Andy asked, picking up on her nervousness.

Rowan was annoyed by the sparkle in his eye. "I'm fine." She brushed her hand across her face hoping the blush on her cheeks didn't give her away.

"I wasn't even sure if you were still around," Andy admitted with a sly grin.

"I hope you didn't come back here looking for me," Rowan said with a frown.

Andy's laughed. "Oh, no, of course not," he smirked.

Rowan nervously shook her head. "The last thing I need right now is some man in my life," she stated forcefully.

"I understand," Andy said innocently.

Rowan raised an eyebrow. "Do you?" She challenged. "Because the rules of engagement still apply even after twenty years, Andy. The dumper still has the final say."

"I never got over being the dumpee," Andy remarked truthfully with just a pinch of sadness in his voice.

"I'm sorry," Rowan said awkwardly.

"Are you?" Andy tested.

Rowan sighed. "We're not really going to dig up the past are we?"

"Yeah, I suppose that would be boring," Andy replied.

Why was Rowan panicking about seeing Andy again after all this time? It wasn't as if she was going to involve herself in a relationship with a guy whom she hadn't seen in twenty years. How ridiculous would that be!? A lot had changed since the last time they were together. She had changed and she knew twenty years in the Navy had certainly changed Andy. Besides, she was pretty sure he would never truly forgive her for dumping him all those years ago.

Rowan became aware that Andy was giving her a weird stare.

"You sure you're okay?" He asked.

"Why wouldn't I be?" She asked defensively.

"Because you look like you're having a stroke," Andy observed.

Rowan made a tsk sound.

"What kind of plans do you have for Christmas with your kids being out of town?" Andy asked.

"Family gathering at Lisa's house," Rowan answered. "You?"

"No plans," he sighed. "There's nobody left."

"I was so sorry to hear about your grandmother, Andy," Rowan remarked with sincere sadness. "She was always so nice to me."

"I think of her and all those wonderful Christmases growing up here and I feel kind of sad," Andy admitted.

Rowan studied him for a long moment. "You really didn't come looking for me, did you?" She asked suspiciously.

"I thought about you," Andy confessed. "But I didn't know you were divorced."

"It's slightly awkward teaching at the Catholic School being a divorcee," Rowan admitted. "I've applied at a few other places but the market's tight right now."

"I'm sure it will all work out," Andy told her.

Rowan let out a sigh. "I hope so. I don't want to be one of these women approaching their forties with their life in the toilet."

"You'll be fine," Andy assured her.

"What about you?" Rowan asked with interest. "A lot of changes in your life, huh?"

"I'll be fine too," Andy told her with confidence.

Rowan smiled because she knew it was true. He had survived being dumped by her and he survived twenty years in the Navy so she was sure he could deal with anything else that came up too. There was a long moment of silence between the two, both trying to figure out how this situation had come to be.

"Do you believe in fate?" Andy finally asked.

Rowan frowned. "Should I?" she wondered.

"It's Christmas," he shrugged.

"You shouldn't be looking for Christmas miracles, Andy," Rowan warned.

"That's kind of a sad outlook to have, Ro," Andy told her.

Rowan exhaled an irritated sigh.

"Cheer up, Kid," Andy urged. "Can't you at least pretend you have some Christmas spirit in you?"

Rowan scowled. "I do have Christmas spirit in me," she protested defensively.

"Could have fooled me," Andy observed.

Rowan groaned as she sat back in her seat. "Okay," she sighed with resentment. "I'll admit that I've been feeling sorry for myself not having the kids here to share the holiday with."

Andy smiled and Rowan tried not to blush again. What was that annoying fluttering feeling in her stomach? She peered at him for a long moment remembering everything that they used to be.

"You left awfully fast after graduation," she finally said.

"There wasn't any reason to hang around," Andy replied. "I told the recruiter to ship me out as soon as possible."

"To get away from me," Rowan pouted.

"I was the dumpee, remember?" Andy remarked.

"You never came back," Rowan sighed.

"I slipped into town a couple of times stealthy to see my grandmother," Andy revealed. "But I kept a low profile. And then she moved to Florida and there was no reason to come back."

"No reason at all," Rowan agreed sadly.

"What about you?" Andy wondered.

"It all worked out pretty much as planned," Rowan shrugged. "Dirk and I went to Green College together. We moved in together. We graduated together. We got married. He took over the family business. We bought a house. We had two kids. I thought we were going to live happily ever after but then he found someone else. And now we're divorced." She looked at him and tried to fight the tears from coming.

"His loss," Andy said softly.

Rowan felt awkward, embarrassed and even ashamed. She was now the dumpee in her marriage but she had been so self-righteous and cruel when she was the one doing the dumping, telling Andy that Dirk was her "true love" and "my perfect match". She slept with Dirk even before she broke up with Andy and she still felt guilty about that betrayal.

There was a prolonged period of silence while Rowan thought about what she had done to Andy, feeling all the guilt coming back while still not quite believing that he was actually sitting in Johnny C's with her after so much lost time.

"Tell me about the Navy," Rowan said, desperate to forget the sorrow and the pain.

"Went to boot camp in San Diego," Andy said. "Then off to diver's school in Little Creek, Virginia. Kind of a depressing place in the winter with ice on the harbor. We'd swim every day. Frosty wetsuits and pretty damn cold! Then it was off to Hawaii for three years and I decided to make it a career."

"Any regrets?" Rowan asked.

"Just one," Andy replied, throwing her a look and she wanted to die. "But I had a lot of cool jobs and I learned a lot of neat stuff. I was assigned to a Naval Special Warfare Unit and a Special Boat Unit both in California. I got to operate neat small boats. I taught Escape and Evasion to SEALs in SERE training. I fired a lot of weaponry. I trained on tactical small boats and served onboard USS Yosemite. I worked at a Deep Submergence Unit. I went to Italy for 18 months and served with a NATO Unit. I was in an explosives diving unit as an EOD diver. Went to Iraq twice."

"Wow," an impressed Rowan remarked. "Tell me some stories about what it was like."
"You mean like swimming in cold ass water at two thirty in the morning looking for explosives?" Andy grinned.

"Yeah, that," Rowan laughed.

"I trained to do serious stuff," Andy remarked. "But I was in the best shape of my life. I could swim and run faster than most of the other guys. There was the drinking and the women of course, all part of the Navy life I suppose."

"I suppose," Rowan said disapprovingly.

"I got Sailor of the Year twice and a bunch of Navy Achievement and Navy Commendation Medals but I was just doing my job and trying to make Chief," Andy told her. "Being a Navy Diver was the hardest thing I've ever done but when I think back on all the things I've done in my life none will ever be neater than to say 'I am a U.S. Navy Deep Sea Diver'."

"Good for you," Rowan said with a smile. "But what are you going to do now?"

Andy shrugged. "I could be a commercial diver or a merchant marine captain or a fire boat operator," he said.

"Not a lot of opportunities for any of that around here," Rowan said.

"I'm also qualified to be a fire fighter," Andy told her.

"That you could do around here," Rowan smiled.

"The Navy gave me the confidence and motivation to accomplish anything I put my mind to so I'm not worried about the future."

"What are the some of the things you learned?" Rowan asked.
"Always do the best you can in every situation you find yourself in whether it's cleaning commodes or commanding a ship," Andy answered. "Listen before talking, take advantage of your skills, never give up, don't be an asshole or a know it all, remember that you're never too smart to learn something new, treat everyone the way you want to be treated, have fun and stay out of trouble, and always act honorably. I've served with some real heroes, men of character who knew their stuff. I'm lucky to have enjoyed the camaraderie and I'll take those lasting memories to my grave."

"Well, I'm proud of you, Andy," Rowan told him. "You got out of town, saw the world, had some meaningful experiences, and grew into quite a remarkable man."

"I wish you could have gone with me," Andy blurted out and they both blushed.

"I chose my life here," Rowan replied honestly. "Can't look back now."
"Guess not," Andy agreed.

Rowan glanced out the window and watched the lazy snow still falling lightly from the sky.

"What were you going to do today?" Andy asked. "Besides have a cup of Johnny C's java?"

"I was going to finish my last minute Christmas shopping," Rowan replied.

"I'm not doing anything," Andy said. "Can I tag along?"

"Why would you want to do that?" Rowan asked with genuine surprise.

"Why not?" Andy smiled.

Rowan couldn't believe he still made her melt into a puddle just like he could before Dirk came along.

"Folks, if you're just drinking the coffee I'm going to have to ask you to move along," Sandy announced as she passed their table. "The Lunch crowd is starting to come in."

"Wow, time flies when I'm with you!" Andy laughed as he glanced around and noticed more people in the diner.

"That was one long cup of coffee," Rowan agreed.

"Do you want to have lunch here before going shopping?" Andy asked.

"Why would you want to do that?" She asked again.

"Why not?" He smiled again.

She eyed him for a long moment. "Okay," Rowan finally decided. "Might as well."

"Just like the old days," Andy smiled.

Rowan nodded in agreement. Sandy stopped by the table with two menus and they ordered lunch. Rowan glanced at the short order cook behind the counter.

"This is the first Christmas that I haven't had to cook in a while," Rowan said. "Feels kind of weird. I made cookies for Lisa's gathering but that's about it. I hardly even decorated the house knowing the kids weren't going to be around. I wrapped their presents before Thanksgiving and we had a sort of lame pre-Christmas celebration last week. I put up a fake tree with a bunch of cheap plastic ornaments and multicolored lights. It's kind of sad."

Andy reviewed some of his all time worst Christmases over the years - lonely watch standing on the holiday so the married guys could be home with their families, far off duty stations with no real Christmas cheer, and lots of volunteering in nursing homes and other lonely places.

Their meals arrived during Andy's Christmas recounting and they ate as Andy continued to regal her with his Navy sea stories. Somebody put Christmas songs on the juke box and Andy laughed.

"What's so funny?" Rowan asked.

"Oh, nothing," he replied. "It's just that these songs are supposed to make you feel cheerful and merry and happy but when I'd hear them I usually felt like crying!"

"Remember that time when we went out singing Christmas Carols with the Chorus?" Rowan asked with a nostalgic smile.

"It was snowing like it is now," Andy recalled as he glanced out the window. "You had such a wonderful singing voice." He turned back and gave her a look. "You don't teach music by chance do you?"

"No," Rowan replied. "History."

"Does history really repeat itself?" Andy asked with a raised eyebrow.

Rowan felt herself blush again. "Surprisingly, quite frequently," she said.

Andy grinned. "So, there is hope."

"We haven't seen each other for an awfully long time, Andy," Rowan said. "We're different people now."

"Are we?" Andy asked.

"We don't even know each other anymore."

"Listen, you were feeling pretty miserable when you walked in her this morning, weren't you?" Andy asked.

"Well," Rowan muttered, feeling embarrassed and exposed. "I am missing Christmas with my kids."

"Do you feel better now that we've chatted?" Andy asked with interest.

She shrugged but didn't respond.

"I thought about you quite often," Andy told her. "I was always looking for you in the women I met."

"Did you ever find me?"

"Not until today," Andy answered.

Rowan started nervously fidgeting again. "Don't try to make me feel seventeen again, Andy" she warned.

"You shouldn't be worrying so much," Andy smirked. "Hell, its Christmas. Don't you believe in Christmas magic?"

"Don't try to make me blush either," she complained.

He couldn't help but smile. "Don't you still like me?" He teased.

"Don't you still hate me?" She countered.

"You're the nicest person I've ever known," Andy told her.

"Oh, please!" Rowan replied, rolling her eyes. "I meanly dumped you."

"We were kids," Andy said. "You're still the girl in my eyes."

"I'm worried about you," Rowan remarked sarcastically. "You're clearly delusional."

She noticed the sheepish expression on Andy's face and she really did feel like she was seventeen again, before Dirk, sitting at Johnny C's with her high school boyfriend.

Rowan and Andy grew up with Dirk Kanaley. His family operated one of the county's oldest trucking companies and Kanaley's was one of the more financially successful businesses around. Dirk went off to the Sunrise Lake School for Boys prep school for high school and Andy basically forgot about him. He and Rowan had been 'pals' for a long time and they began going out together Freshman year, a romance between two friends that involved their loss of virginities and some happy times between two 'kindred spirits'

But Rowan bumped into Dirk at a Valentine's Dance senior year and for some reason something clicked between the two. Dirk successfully seduced Rowan who liked the excitement of something new and the feeling that came from being swept off her feet. She ended up making love with Dirk at the Kanaley's summer home one spring weekend but it was weeks before she had the guts to tell Andy that she had fallen for another guy.

Rowan dumped Andy a few weeks before prom (she went with Dirk of course) and Andy's sense of betrayal and rejection cut him to the bone. He refused to even look at Rowan for the rest of the school year let alone talk to her. He boycotted the prom and skipped the high school graduation ceremonies, getting his diploma handed to him a few days before the ceremony by the principal. It was a pathetic way to end his high school career and his life in Hillsboro.

Andy was raised by his maternal grandmother. His bio father left when Andy was young and his mother had drug and alcohol problems that made her an unfit mother so it was Grandma Williams who took care of Andy. He was able to overcome his family problems and personal challenges to succeed in school and play sports. Grandma Williams was strict, stubborn, disciplined and demanding but it gave Andy a sense of belonging and responsibility. Rowan was the best thing that ever happened to Andy and he was willing to spend the rest of his life with her before she chose another.

He ran away to the Navy to forget about the only girl he ever loved but of course she never left his thoughts no matter how many women he met. When his Navy career ended, Andy had no place to go with Grandma Williams dead (and his mother's whereabouts unknown) so on a whim he put all his belongings in storage and drove to Hillsboro (from Pensacola Florida) just to see what he might find or who he might bump into. His fantasy, of course, was to run into Rowan (which he did) but he hadn't expected that she would be divorced and, in theory, available.

Rowan's presence across the booth was comforting. There was something warm about seeing her again that made Andy feel hopeful. He had been depressed recently, painfully reminded of how lonely he was without the Navy as his mistress, his defeated mood dragging down his would be Christmas spirits. But now here was Rowan rejuvenating his attitude and he knew he couldn't let this opportunity pass him by. Rowan always had the ability to make him feel happily contented and now as he looked at her blue eyes it was like he was stepping into the past.

"I'm glad we bumped into each other," Andy told her.

"You shouldn't be," she warned.

"Why not?"

"Why do you care about me?" Rowan asked with uncertainty.

"You're the best thing that ever happened to me."

"Right," she said sarcastically. "You were ready to kill me the last time we spoke."

Andy gave her a smirk. "I'm not going to let you walk out of my life again."

Rowan stared at him as he reached his hand across the table and brushed a strand of hair off of her forehead, his fingers brushing against her cheek. There was silence between them and then she sighed.

"I can't do this," she finally whispered.

"Why not?"

"What if you hate me all over again?"

"Never," he promised.

She gazed at him and then shook her head with confusion. "We should get out of here," she finally said.

"Okay," he agreed, sliding out of the booth.

Rowan patiently waited while Andy paid the bill and then she let him escort her out of the diner.

"My car's over there," Rowan said, gesturing to some vehicles parked across the street. "Do you really want to go Christmas shopping with me?"

"Yes," He assured her.

### ### ###

There were plenty of frantic shoppers inside Greenville's Donovan's Department Store when they arrived despite the light snow still falling from the sky. Andy tagged along as Rowan performed her last minute shopping. They made small talk, cracked humorous remarks about some of their fellow shoppers, and had a good time together, just like the old days. The festive Christmas music playing in the store combined with the holiday decorations and general good cheer of those around them added to the sense of merriment.

When they were done with the shopping, Rowan drove Andy back to his car left behind at Johnny C's Diner.

"Thanks, that was fun," Rowan said with a smile. "So," she said, glancing at him. "Maybe I'll see you around."

Andy leaned across the seat and Rowan allowed her lips to meet his in a sweet and innocent kiss. His lips were as she remembered - softly smooth against hers and she definitely felt like she was seventeen again after a failed marriage and nearly a year of existence as a divorcee. Not surprisingly, the kiss opened a floodgate of feelings, emotions and memories that both had buried deep within themselves.

"You shouldn't have done that," Rowan said when she pulled away from his lips.

Andy stared blankly at her. "Why not?"

"We just met."

"We just re-met," Andy corrected her.

"Dirk cheated on me," Rowan revealed with a heavy sigh. "That was hell to go through. I'm not sure if I can ever trust a guy again."

"I went through hell too," Andy reminded her. "But I got through the other side."

"Could you ever trust me again?" She wanted to know.

"I already do," he told her.

Rowan sighed with confusion. "I don't know what I'm supposed to say to you, Andy."

"You always know what to say to people," He smiled.

"Not anymore," she said weakly.

He looked at her for a long moment. "What are you really afraid of, Ro?"

"I don't really know," she sighed. "This, I guess," she said, making a motion between the two of them as they sat in her car in the parking lot of Johnny C's Diner.

Andy ran his hand through his hair. "What's there to be afraid of?" He wanted to know.

She sighed with defeat. "Christmas used to be my favorite time of the year."

"It still can be," Andy reminded her.

"I'm a divorced mother of two," Rowan said. "My kids aren't even here."

"But I am," he said softly.

"That just make's it worse," Rowan sighed.

"Do you remember Annelise's Christmas party senior year?" Andy asked.

Rowan nodded her head affirmatively as she wiped a tear from her eye.

"Her house was all decked out in all sorts of holiday decorations," Andy smiled. "Christmas music was playing on the stereo and you were singing along in that amazing voice of yours, enjoying the Christmas cheer."

"That was a nice party," Rowan fondly recalled.

"They had the biggest hugest Christmas tree I've ever seen," Andy grinned.

"That was a wonderful Christmas," Rowan smiled. "We had a great time, didn't we?"

"That was our last Christmas together," Andy said softly.

Rowan wanted to cry at that realization.

"But it doesn't have to be our last Christmas together ever," Andy said hopefully.

"I just want a chance to prove myself to you."

"You don't have to prove anything to me, Andy," Rowan said. "But I have everything to prove to you."

Andy leaned in again and placed his lips on hers, a gentle yet passionate kiss and Rowan gladly returned the gesture. Andy's tongue licked along her bottom lip and she opened her mouth like she was seventeen again while letting her hands find his hair. They made out like two teenagers until they lost track of time and their lips began to hurt.

"Someone could see us," Rowan worried when she finally pulled away from his wonderful face.

"Where do you live?" Andy asked gently.

"Mrs. Peterson's old house over on Alfonso Drive in the flats," she said breathlessly. "We moved into his late Uncle's house after we married but he bought me out as part of the divorce settlement."

"From a fourteen room Victorian to a dinky little ranch?" Andy asked with surprise.

"I didn't care," Rowan replied. "I wasn't about to stay in that house."

"Can I follow you home?" Andy asked hopefully.

"Where are you staying?" She asked.

"The Greenville Super 8," he said.

Rowan sucked in her breath and nodded nervously. "Okay," she said.

He smiled and slipped out of the car. Rowan waited until she saw him get into his vehicle and she watched through the rear view mirror as he followed her. She had no idea why she said yes and she wondered what in the hell she thought she was doing but it was Christmas Eve and she was incredibly lonely. She pulled her car into the driveway and the automatic garage door opened allowing her to drive the car into the protection of the garage as the snow continued to lightly fall, covering the driveway in a thin layer of white as if it was sugar on top of a pop tart. Andy pulled his car to a stop on the section of the driveway that had once served as a small basketball court when Mrs. Peterson's boys were growing up years ago.

Rowan was smiling as she stepped out of the garage and greeted Andy, feeling like a school kid on her first secret date. That's how they lost their virginities together, actually. Grandma Williams had gone out of town for a friend's funeral over a weekend and Rowan spent the night with Andy.

Andy glanced at the house as she led him toward the back door. The house was painted white with green shutters and the house got lost in the white of the snow as dusk began to fall. The ranch was a single story older home. Andy remembered Mrs. Peterson the librarian but her two sons were much older and he didn't know the boys at all.

Rowan knew that bringing Andy home was scandalous but she didn't care.

"So," she said, breaking the silence as she led him into the kitchen. "Home sweet home."

Rowan hadn't done much work to the house since moving in a year ago. She couldn't afford a lot and although the house was older Mrs. Peterson kept it in immaculate condition. Rowan had painted over the more hideous wallpaper and ripped out some stained carpets to reveal some nice wood floors underneath but other than some cosmetic touch ups in the bathroom the house was basically the same as when Mrs. Peterson lived (and died) in it. The kitchen had a yellow checked linoleum floor from the 1960s with hulky cabinets and a huge stove.

Rowan gave him a quick tour. There were three bedrooms down one hall, two with the cluttered look of teenagers, the third Rowan's master bedroom. There was a bathroom, an awkward shaped living room where Rowan had put up the Christmas decorations, and another small room that served as a computer room.

"I still feel like I'm visiting Mrs. Peterson's place instead of living in my own home," Rowan sighed as she dropped onto the couch in the living room. "The kids are too busy and active to care and they're at their father's house up on the hill half the time anyway but I still feel like I'm a fish out of water too." She gave Andy a long look as he stood in the doorway peering at her.

"Give it time," he suggested.

"I can cook us some dinner later," she said.

"That sounds good," he agreed.

"We used to be with Dirk's family on Christmas Eve and mine on Christmas Day," Rowan explained as she glanced at her small Christmas tree. "Seems kind of strange to be home on Christmas Eve without the kids."

"I'd do Christmas Eve with Grandma and then go over to your place for Christmas dinner on Christmas Day," Andy recalled.

"I remember," Rowan smiled

"Your family was very nice to me, a kid from a broken home."

"Why don't you have a seat?" Rowan suggested as she stood. "I'm going to change."

"Okay," Andy agreed as he replaced Rowan on the couch and watched as she left the room.

"Oh God," Rowan said to herself as she closed the bedroom door behind her. "Am I a total fool!?"

She pulled the blue wool turtleneck sweater off over her head and slipped on a much thinner yellow sweater. She kicked off her shoes and wiggled out of her Christmas green slacks, pulling on a pair of gray sweat pants instead. She slipped her slippers onto her feet and glanced at herself in the large mirror over her dresser as she added a bit of makeup to her face. She stared at herself for a long moment.

"You have lost your mind," Rowan said aloud as she brushed out her hair.

Rowan left the bedroom and passed the living room, stepping into the kitchen where she poured two glasses of wine and then she returned to the living room, taking a seat next to Andy on the couch and handing him one of the glasses. In her absence, Andy had turned the Christmas tree lights on as well as the window decorations. There was also Christmas music softly playing in the background.

"Thanks," Andy said, taking the glass from her.

"Merry Christmas Eve," Rowan said with a forced smile, lifting her glass in a toast gesture.

Andy met her glass with his and he smiled before they both took a sip. "I wasn't sure what I was going to be doing this Christmas Eve," he admitted. "Nobody seems to have recognized me and I didn't see anybody I knew either. Except for you, of course."

"You've been gone a long time," Rowan reminded him.

"It's still a pretty small town relatively speaking," Andy said. "Everybody used to know everybody at Johnny C's."

"They still do," Rowan smiled. "You just have to show up once in a while."

"I guess you're still remembered, huh?"

"I'm starting to teach the kids of the kids we went to school with," Rowan groaned. "That's not good!"

Andy laughed. "Don't worry, we're not old...yet!"

Rowan rolled her eyes and took another sip of her wine.

"So, why teaching?" Andy wondered

Rowan shrugged. "It's a noble profession," she said. "I had teachers who made a positive difference in my life and had a profound influence in my outlook and intellect. I wanted to give some of that back."

"You enjoy it?"

"For the most part," Rowan replied. "It seems to get harder each year but the kids who want to learn will always be tuned in to what I'm trying to do."

"I bet you're a damn good teacher," Andy said.

"I try," she smiled.

They silently sipped on their wine for a few moments, each eyeing the other while the Christmas music played softly in the background. It was completely dark outside now and only the lights from the Christmas decorations lit the room. They couldn't even tell if it was still snowing outside.

"Who did Dirk leave you for?" Andy asked.

Rowan sighed, glancing away to stare at the Christmas tree for a few moments. "Some sales rep he works with," she sighed. "I guess she knew more about trucks than I did," she added sarcastically.

"I'm sorry," Andy offered sympathetically.

"I guess I was foolishly naive or something," Rowan said unhappily. "I thought things were going well. The kids were getting older. We were both settled into our respective careers. Things were fine at home. I had no idea he was having an affair."

"Betrayal is difficult," Andy said.

Rowan chewed on her lip as she threw him a look. "Now I know how you must have felt," she said as her eyes watered.

"We weren't married," Andy pointed out.

"Yeah, violating your wedding vows is pretty major," Rowan agreed.

"No chance to salvage the marriage?" Andy asked.

She shook her head no. "There was no point. He wanted out. They're getting married."

"How do the kids like her?"

"She's almost closer to their age than Dirk's," Rowan remarked with annoyance. "They think she's cool."


Rowan downed the rest of her wine and then popped off the couch. "Come on," she said. "I'll start dinner."

Andy followed Rowan into the kitchen. She refilled their wine glasses and Andy leaned against the counter watching Rowan prepare a salad. He told her a couple of Navy chow stories and that made her laugh. When the salad was done, Rowan set the table and they took seats at the kitchen table with two large cereal bowls full of salad (with chicken meat), some French bread, and of course, more wine.

"If someone had told me yesterday that I would be spending my Christmas Eve with you I would have told them they're crazy!" Rowan remarked as they ate.

"I didn't know what I would find when I came back to Hillsboro but I'm glad I found you," Andy replied.

Rowan smiled but she didn't say anything as she ate. But she knew she hadn't felt this content in a very long time even though a part of her knew she was crazy for bringing him home only hours after bumping into him for the first time in twenty years. She hadn't done anything this bold, daring and spontaneous since she make out with Dirk at that stupid Valentine's party all those years ago. Maybe she though she owed Andy for her betrayal but wouldn't letting him stay be betraying her own moral code?

"You okay?" Andy asked when he realized she was lost in her thoughts.

"Yeah," Rowan replied with a strained smile. "I'm fine."

She told him about her two children so she could stop thinking about her fantasy indulgences. Tom was sixteen and Christina was fifteen. Dirk and Rowan had both been raised Catholic (Andy was a non-attending Lutheran) and Rowan raised the kids Catholic even though Dirk stopped practicing the Faith. Now that she was divorced and scandalized, Rowan had stopped going to church out of shame and mortification but she insisted that the two kids be confirmed before they decided how they were going to live their future Faith lives.

Tom was into sports and Christina danced. Dirk bought Tom a brand new car for his sixteenth birthday against Rowan's wishes and Christina was dating an older boy that Rowan wasn't quite sold on yet.

"Do you regret not having kids?" Rowan asked once she was done giving Andy the basic low-down on her kids and her current challenges as a mother.

"Sometimes," Andy admitted. "But I knew I wasn't going to be around much and I didn't want to be an absent dad. I knew how it felt not to have a father around."

"Yeah," Rowan sighed. "I'm grateful that my kids are old enough now to deal with it reasonably well. And it helps that Dirk is just up the hill."

The salad was long eaten and the bottle of wine was empty. Rowan opened a second bottle and Andy helped her clean up and wash the dishes before they adjourned to the living room. By now, neither were feeling much pain thanks to the wine and the Christmas lights and music only made the surroundings all the more surreal. Rowan found a red Santa Christmas hat left on the back of the couch and she put it on her head as she slumped onto the couch, trying not to spill her wine.

"Hey there, Santa," Andy smiled as he slipped onto the couch beside her.

Rowan set her wine glass on the coffee table and stared into Andy's eyes. "I'm a little tipsy," she admitted.

"Christmas cheer," Andy said.

"I can't tell you how lonely I am," Rowan revealed.

"You can't be any lonelier than I am," Andy replied.

"Yes, I suppose I can't be as lonely as you since I have kids," Rowan agreed. "But you know what kind of lonely I'm talking about."

"Yes, I do," Andy said.

"Are you supposed to be my Christmas present?" Rowan frowned.

"Are you supposed to be mine?" Andy smiled.

"I don't know," Rowan admitted.

"Maybe we're Christmas presents that were worth waiting for," Andy said.

"I must have been really good this year," Rowan said, biting on her lip. "Or is all of this some sort of cruel joke?"

"It's not a joke," Andy assured her.

Tears began to spill from Rowan's eyes and she tried to stop them from flowing. "Oh God," she groaned. "I obviously drank too much wine."

"You've got a lot going on in your life," Andy reasoned. "It's okay to be a little melancholy on Christmas Eve."

"Melancholy?" Rowan looked at him incredulously. "What are you talking about, melancholy!? I'm miserable!"

And then she broke into sobs, surprising Andy who wasn't quite sure how to react. He let her slump against him and he wrapped his arms around her and let her cry. It reminded him of the time in high school when Rowan's beloved grandfather died and he got to be the consoler on a rainy afternoon, sitting on a couch much like this and holding her tight. They were fourteen then but to him it felt like it happened yesterday.

Andy wasn't sure how long Rowan wept but he stayed quiet as he brushed his hand through her hair and she lay collapsed against him. There was nothing he could say that would ease the hurt and disappointment she was feeling. He had been there and felt that and sometimes the best words of wisdom were silently unspoken.

Rowan was surprised that she had lost control so unexpectedly but maybe she finally felt comfortable being able to let go. She was crying for Andy and Grandma Williams, for her betrayal and for her being betrayed. She was crying because she missed her kids and the true meaning of Christmas. But when her sobs started to dissipate, she started to realize that it really wasn't such a bad Christmas Eve after all. The snow made it feel like Christmas and with Andy (of all people) holding her she wasn't alone on this night. She stared blurry-eyed at the Christmas tree and decorations and Rowan realized that she wasn't quite so miserable after all. She let the Christmas music and the warmth of Andy beside her sooth her raw emotions.

Rowan knew that they couldn't spend the night on the couch. The question was did she want Andy to spend the night with her. She was tipsy but she was in control of her faculties enough to know that drunken sex on their first day reunited was probably not the best idea she could come up with. Yet the thought of being alone on Christmas Eve depressed the hell out of her too. She began to drift in and out of sleep and she didn't fight it when she felt Andy lifting her into his arms and carrying her into her bedroom.

Rowan curled up snuggly on the bed when he placed her there. "Turn on the television," she said. "Stay until Santa comes."

She didn't remember much after that. She was aware of the sound of the television and of a presence beside her on the bed but she was soon asleep and nothing else mattered.

Andy kept an eye on the sleeping Rowan while watching the George C. Scott version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol on the television on the dresser at the end of the bed. He debated whether or not he should slip out of the house and return to the depressing lonely motel but the thought of leaving Rowan saddened him. He liked watching her sleep and he was honored to be next to her on her bed after all these many years. It was a Christmas dream come true and he was convinced he was drawn back to Hillsboro for this specific moment.

Andy didn't remember kicking off his shoes or turning off the television or laying down next to Rowan on the bed or falling asleep. What both Rowan and Andy remembered next was waking up next to each other on Christmas morning. They awoke almost simultaneously together. Rowan was surprised to find Andy next to her in her bed but she couldn't help but smile when he flashed a cheerful grin.

"Merry Christmas," he said, reaching his arm out to brush her hair from her face.

Should she be panicked? Horrified? Offended? Or relieved? Happy? Content. She realized that she was still dressed (and so was he) so that was probably good news. However enjoyable this movement was, it was good to know that they hadn't done anything stupid other than sleep (sleep) together.

Rowan gazed at Andy for a long moment before finally pushing the covers away and sitting up on the side of the bed with her back to him. She glanced at the clock on the bedside table and saw that it was after eight o'clock.

"What are we doing?" She asked as she waited for the sleepiness to leave her.

"It's Christmas, Rowan," Andy replied. "That's what we're doing."

She looked over her shoulder at him. "What are you doing for Christmas?"

"I have no plans," he admitted.

She sucked in her breath. "Do you want to go to Lisa's with me?"

"I'd like that very much," he said.

"Come back here at noon," Rowan instructed as she stood.

'Okay," he agreed with a huge grin on his face.

Rowan nodded. "I'll see you at noon."

Andy took that as his cue and rolled off the bed. He put on his sneakers, smiled, and left the bedroom. He heard the bathroom door shutting behind him as he walked down the hall. He found his coat from the night before and he left the house, brushing off the snow on the car in the driveway before driving to Greenville.

It was Christmas morning and downtown was deserted. It wasn't until he drove past the surprisingly opened CVS Drug Store that Andy realized he didn't have any Christmas gifts for Rowan or her family. He did an immediate 180 in the middle of the road and returned to the CVS which was empty except for the one cashier at the front counter. Christmas music played on the store's stereo system and Andy grabbed a shopping cart. His adrenaline was pumping and he felt like an idiot shopping in a drug store on Christmas morning but he honestly didn't expect to be invited to a Christmas gathering!

Andy was hoping that a flare of creativity would strike him as he wheeled the cart through the aisles looking for gifts. He grabbed some rolls of wrapping paper, some holiday gift bags, and a roll of tape for starters, along with some gift cards from the few remaining selections left. Christmas candy boxes was an easy choice, as well as gift cards to the CVS Store and Applebee's but he needed a stroke of creative Christmas shopping to truly capture the spirit of the day.

He grabbed some extra large travel coffee mugs, some lottery tickets from the automated distribution machine, a tote bag, a huggie bathrobe, Pin ItPin It some flavored candles, a Green College Sweatshirt, special editions of Time Magazine, Life Magazine, and People Magazine, some cross word puzzle books, body scrubs and lotions, perfume, lip balm, a wicker basket, a paperback copy of 'A Teacher's Life', cocoa, cookies, stationary and specialty pens, a journal, thermal underwear colored t-shirts, a DVD of "It's A Wonderful Life," an eight inch portable television/clock/radio/police scanner, an electric blanket, some key rings, and a gloved ice scraper for a windshield.

The cashier gave Andy a strange look when he dumped his purchases out onto the counter.

"Procrastinate much?" She asked sarcastically.

"I just woke up from a coma," Andy replied with a grin, feeling like Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Morn'.

The bored counter girl assumed he was being sarcastic but the truth was Andy did just wake up from an emotional coma that had been dogging him for twenty years. This was the first Christmas in a long time that he actually felt cheerful.

"Merry Christmas, young lady," Andy said cheerfully when she was done bagging his purchases.

"Sure, whatever," she replied disinterestedly.

Andy brought the gifts to the motel room where he carefully and methodically wrapped each and every one. The ones meant for Rowan were separated from those intended for the rest of her family. Then Andy took a long hot shower and he put on his best clothes he brought for the occasion of Christmas with Rowan's family.

Rowan's head was killing her. She drank way to much wine on Christmas Eve and she was paying the price for it now. She threw up and involuntarily cleared out her bowels for a good hour after Andy left. She took some Advill and some Alka-Seltzer and she soaked in a hot bubble bath for an hour and that slowly brought her back to life.

Rowan congratulated herself for not getting naked in front of Andy, for not trying to seduce him the previous night in her haze of wine, and for not succumbing to her temptations, desires, and fantasies. She still wasn't sure what in the hell she was doing inviting Andy to Lisa's for Christmas but the idea of him sitting around the Super 8 in Greenville on Christmas alone struck her as torturously lonely. ]

The kids called at nine (Aspen time) to wish their mom a Merry Christmas and Rowan appreciated their efforts and thoughts. They could have forgotten all about her frolicking on the slopes so the gesture warmed her heart. Rowan got more "dolled up" than usual knowing Andy was coming over. She picked out a tight Christmas-green dress that highlighted her figure, put on her favorite necklace, and added a little more makeup than usual.

She was actually in the Christmas spirit when the door bell rang promptly at noon and she smiled when she opened the door to find Andy on her door step with several bags full of gifts.

"You didn't have to do that," Rowan said when she realized he had brought gifts.

"I know," he replied. "But I didn't want to go to Lisa's empty handed."

"I told you I made cookies!" Rowan laughed.

"These are for you," Andy said, lifting up the bags in his right hand.

'You really didn't have to do that!" Rowan said. "But put them under the tree, I guess."

Andy did what she asked while Rowan grabbed her coat.

"Might as well take one car," Rowan reasoned. "I'll drive."

"Great," Andy replied.

Rowan gave Andy the quick run down on her family's status during his twenty year status. Lisa was married to a psychiatrist and they lived in one of the Victorians on the hill.

"Do you think they'll shit when they see who you're with?" Andy asked as she pulled the car to the curb in front of a huge yellow house on the hill.

"Everybody always liked you, Andy," Rowan assured him as she carried her cookies up the front walk along side him with his packages.

"Twenty years ago," Andy worried.

Lisa's house was liberally decorated with Christmas cheer including a festive wreath on the front door. Yesterday's snow was long gone. The sky was blue but it was only in the 20s and they could see their breath in the air.

"They're probably going to think I'm nuts though," Rowan realized as they stood in front of the door.

Andy laughed and wrapped his arm around her waist to give her a warming squeeze. "Relax, Ro," he advised. "It's Christmas."

Rowan rang the doorbell and a few moments later the door swung open and a petite woman wearing a white turtleneck sweater greeted them with a happy smile.

"Rowan!" Her sister Lisa exclaimed. "I didn't know you were bringing somebody."

"Not just anybody," Rowan replied.

Lisa studied Andy for a moment. "Holy Christ," she finally said when she recognized him. "It's Andy Morrin!" Lisa smiled warmly. "I don't believe it!"

"Me either," Rowan muttered.

Andy glanced at Rowan and laughed before returning his attention to her sister. "Hello, Lisa. Merry Christmas."

"You too!" Lisa laughed. "Come on in!"

The large house was bustling with a flurry of excitement and activity, full of people of all ages and Andy began to feel overwhelmed until Rowan squeezed his hand gently for reassurance.

"They'll be happy to see you," she said as she and Lisa escorted him into the large living room.

"Hey, Everyone, look who's here!" Lisa announced mischievously.

"Rowan!" Several people yelled out.

"She didn't mean me," Rowan deadpanned as she received several hugs and kisses from various family members.

The younger generation had no idea whom the guy was standing next to their Aunt was and several curious youngsters and teens were staring at Andy awkwardly trying to figure out if they should be impressed and if he was somebody important. Most of the in-laws had no idea who he was but Rowan's siblings and parents definitely had a clue as they stared at Rowan's unexpected guest.

Rowan's other sister Karen recognized her sister's old boyfriend right away. "Oh, Wow!" She said with bemused surprise. 'It's….Andy!"

"Who's Andy?" One of the younger generation wanted to know as the older family members encircled Rowan and Andy, giving both hugs and hand shakes and pecks on the cheeks.

"Andy used to be Rowan's boyfriend way back when," Lisa explained to the others.

"Does Uncle Dirk know?" Somebody joked.

Oncethe initial greetings were exchanged and hellos given, the group went back to what they were doing before Rowan and Andy's arrival Rowan gave Andy a quick tour of the house complete with its large stone fireplace with sockings, gigantic Christmas tree, and endless decorations. Christmas music was playing in the background, a soothing fire warmed the fireplace, and the entire house was engulfed in warmth and happiness.

Andy chatted with Rowan's delightful parents were so kind to him in his youth as well as with Lisa and Karen and Rowan's brother Craig. He was introduced to Lisa's husband, Karen's girlfriend, and Craig's wife along with their children – Lisa's three and Craig's two.

Andy told the same story several times – about his Navy adventures and how he came back to Hillsboro because it had always been home to him. The family expressed their condolences for his grandmother and Craig (an investor and property owner) let Andy know about a furnished apartment available at the first of the year if he was interested.

Karen had always been extremely nice to Andy and she hugged him tightly.

"Hey you," she grinned. "Welcome home!"

"It's really great to be home," Andy smiled with relief. "This is great."

"I bet Rowan peed in her pants when she saw you!" Karen laughed. They were talking alone in the hall by the stairway.

"She was surprised," Andy grinned.

"She's been so miserable," Karen said, scratching the butch-haircut top of her head. "I was getting worried about her."

"The divorce was hard?" Andy guessed.

"Not so much the divorce as the shame and disgrace that came with it," Karen said. "Personally, I think she's better off without the jerk."

"Doesn't the jerk live right around the corner from here?" Andy asked.

"Luckily, I live in Miller City," Karen replied. "But I know Rowan misses living so close to Lisa." She gave Andy a long look. "So, what's the story with you two?"

"Nothing," Andy shrugged. "We bumped into each other at Johnny C's yesterday."

"Hmm," Karen grinned. "I wonder how that happened."

"Just a fluke of fate," Andy inisted.

"Sure," Karen said, rolling her eyes. "And how long did you sit there hoping she might come in?"

Andy turned red faced. "I always liked Johnny C's," he said.

"Right," Karen laughed, poking him in the ribs. "Relax. I think it's great. She finally looks happy."

Andy mingled among the family, getting reacquainted with Rowan's siblings and parents while meeting the in-laws and nieces and nephews. Everybody was in cheerful and merry moods and Andy wondered if this was how Christmas was supposed to be.

Rowan wasn't sure how her family was going to react to the return to Andy and she was relieved when they responded as if they just saw him yesterday instead of twenty years ago.

"Well, he did get vaporized back then," Lisa remarked to her sister in the privacy of the kitchen. "One minute he was your boyfriend and the next minute we never saw him again."

"We're not together or anything," Rowan insisted. "But I didn't want him spending Christmas alone."

"Well, you're both here now," Craig said as he came into the room. "It's great seeing Andy again."

Andy sensed the Christmas spirit among the family and he was thrilled to be a part of it. He watched Rowan from across the room and whenever their eyes met she smiled and it felt like they were seventeen again. It had been a long time since Andy had been in a house full of decorations at Christmas time with Christmas songs playing on the stereo. He enjoyed looking on the ornaments on the tree and reading the Christmas cards taped to the door frames. It made him think of the Christmases of his youth with Grandma and Rowan and her family too. It was a Christmas to remember after years of lonely ones.

Although Rowan had announced there was nothing going on between them, in her head she was trying to figure out just what in the hell was going on between her and Andy. Were they destined to be just good friends or was there any possibility that they could actually pick up where they left off? Kissing him in the car outside Johnny C's got her blood stirring again and after more than a year of a chaste celibate life she found herself thinking about sex for the first time in a long time.

"Christmas can be romantic, don't you think?" Rowan's mother asked when the two were by themselves in one of the unoccupied side rooms.

"I thought it was about family," Rowan sighed. "I didn't want to come here without one so I brought Andy."

"Isn't Andy family?" Her mother asked with raised eyebrows.

"He used to be," Rowan admitted.

"Maybe he could be again," her mother smiled.

"You'd be okay with that?" Rowan asked with surprise.

"Don't you think you'd be okay with that?" Her mother wanted to know.

"I'm glad he's here," Rowan confessed honestly.

"Do you want to be his girlfriend again?"

The question caught Rowan off guard. "I don't know, Mom," she replied. "Aren't I getting too old to be somebody's girlfriend? Besides, I barely even know him anymore."

"Don't be ridiculous," her mother laughed. "You two know each other better than anybody else. You've been friends forever."

"He probably still hates me for what I did," Rowan sighed.

"I don't think he'd be here if he hated you, dear," her mother observed. "I doubt he would have come back to Hillsboro if he didn't want to see you again."

"Ho! Ho! Ho!" The voice of Santa (as played by Rowan's Dad) boomed from the living room signaling the gift opening part of the day.

The family gathered and received their gifts as presented by Santa (usually with commentary or a joke introduction) and Andy enjoyed the festivities. Several people apologized for not having presents for Andy but nobody knew he was coming. Those who received gifts from him were greatly appreciative. Andy sat in a large lazy boy and Rowan sat on the arm next to him.

The gift opening was an exhausting but enjoyable event and everybody was happy with the exchanging. And then it was time to eat!

Lisa had gone all out with the Christmas meal. There was enough food to feed an Army. The kitchen counter was full of various prepared dishes and the large dining room table was decorated with lit candles, poinsettias, and beautiful holly. There were more people than chairs so once folks self-served their plates it was first-come-first-serve as far as seating arrangements went.

Rowan and Andy ended up sitting in the family room with some of the nieces and nephews. It had been a long time since Andy had been around family on the Christmas holiday and he felt relaxed and strangely at home.

"You two really like each other, don't you?" It was Lisa's youngest daughter, fourteen year old Emily.

"Why would you say that?" Rowan asked innocently.

"Because all you do is look at each other and smile," Emily observed.

Rowan blushed but she didn't say anything.

When they were done eating, Rowan and Andy brought their plates into the kitchen and Rowan felt Andy's hand wrap around her waist as they stood at the sink, squeezing her against him. He put his mouth near her ear.

"Thanks for inviting me," he said quietly if not seductively.

"I'm glad you're here." Rowan replied honestly as she leaned in and kissed him.

The rest of the family Christmas celebration went well and slowly some of the guests began to leave. Rowan's parents were the first to go, followed by Craig and his family and then Karen and her girlfriend, leaving Rowan and Andy as the last to leave.

Lisa and Rowan exchanged goodbye hugs as Rowan and Andy headed for the door. Andy was carrying all of Rowan's presents! All sorts of cheerful and happy farewells were swapped with many "Merry Christmas!" well wishes shared.

Rowan drove them back to her house and Andy helped carry Rowan's presents inside.

"Do you want to say and watch me open the rest of my presents?" Rowan asked, gesturing to the gifts Andy had brought earlier.

"Sure," he said happily.

Rowan was amused and appreciative of the gifts Andy had gotten her.

"I know they're kind of lame but it's hard to Christmas shop on Christmas morning," he said.

"No, this is great, you're very thoughtful," Rowan said happily. "But I didn't get you anything," she pouted.

They were sitting on the couch together with her presents strewn all around.

"Sure you did," Andy smiled. "These last two days have been wonderful because I got to spend them with you."

Rowan smiled. "Did you have any of my Christmas cookies?"

"I don't think so," Andy replied. "There were so many goodies there."

"I saved some in the kitchen," Rowan said. "Come on."

He followed her into the kitchen. Rowan pulled a tupper ware bin from the cupboard and Andy stepped by behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist.

"Merry Christmas," he whispered into her ear.

Rowan turned to face him, her eyes watery. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him on the mouth. "Merry Christmas, Andy,"" she said as she stuck one of her cookies in his mouth.
He leaned in and she bit on the part of the cookie that was still outside of his mouth. They both laughed at the semi-erotic gesture and then they began making out the way they did in the car outside of Johnny C's Diner. Andy moved his hand down to the top of Rowan's buns and gave her a little tap there.
"Do you want to stay?" She asked breathlessly.

"Yes," he nearly sobbed.

Rowan nodded her agreement. She took the cookie bin and Andy followed her down the hall and into her bedroom. She put the bin of cookies on the bed and Andy sat on the end of the bed as Rowan kicked off her tall black boots. She looked wonderful as she stood in front of him still in her tight green dress.

"I used to be so young," she sighed. "When we were together."

"You look great, Ro," Andy assured her.

"I'm almost twenty pounds heavier than I was when we were seventeen," she sighed.

"It's okay."

She looked at him. "I'm heavier than I want to be."

"You look great in that dress," he said.

"But not so great out of the dress," she moaned, moving her hands down to her abdomen. "I have a pooch," she complained.

Andy leaned in and kissed her stomach through the dress. Rowan put her hands on the back of his head and pushed his face into her belly as Andy circled his hands around to her backside and gave her buns a squeeze. Rowan pushed him back on the bed and lay on her side beside him. She reached over and slipped a cookie from the bin, taking a seductive bite from it as she stared into Andy's eyes.

"I thought this was going to be a horrible Christmas," she admitted. "I was so pissed off at Dirk for taking the kids off on that damn trip."

"But it turned out okay?" Andy asked hopefully.

"It turned out great!" Rowan smiled. "Even though it's not supposed to."

"Why not?"

"Twenty years, Andy," she sighed. "You can't just erase twenty years."

"No, but you can start over," Andy theorized.

The phone rang and Rowan rolled over to answer it. Andy buried his chin on the top of her shoulder.

"Oh, hello Christina!" Rowan greeted her daughter. "No….I'm fine!" Rowan laughed.

Andy could only hear Rowan's side of the conversation. "It went well….everybody's great…yes, they missed you…..no, I'm fine, really. I miss you and Tom but I had a nice day…really….I sound cheerful?" Rowan glanced over her shoulder at Andy and smiled. "Well, I am cheerful! It's Christmas!...Okay….Merry Christmas to you too, sweetie. Say hello to your brother ….All my love….yes…..really…everything's fine. Hurry home. Love You too."
Rowan laughed as she hung the phone up and fell onto her back, turning to face Andy. "Poor Christina thought I might be sad missing her!"

"Maybe she misses you," Andy said.

"You think?" Rowan smiled.

"Maybe Christmas in Aspen wasn't so great after all," Andy remarked.

"We can only hope," Rowan deadpanned.

"Am I going to see you out of that dress?" Andy asked.

"Well," Rowan giggled as she rolled off the bed and stood over him. "It is Christmas."

He watched as she pulled the dress off over her head.