“Shit.” I mutter, the car slipping on yet another patch of ice.
The tires aren’t gripping, the ice on the road too thick. Butterflies start their wild storm in my belly. The car slides and I’ve lost control.
Next thing I know my car is plunging towards a snow drift on the side of the road. I scream and slam on the brakes, the exact thing my father warned me not to do.
“Ease off the gas, Mir, let the car glide. Whatever you do, don’t slam on your brakes.”
His sweet voice rings in my head. My car lurches headfirst into the snow drift and a huge chunk falls on my windshield. I jump, my heart racing, tears springing to my eyes.
“Fuck!” I puff out a breath. Therefore, I moved to California. No snow.
I put the car in reverse, hoping to easily slide out. Nope. Not happening. Nothing but tires spinning and snow flying. My car doesn’t budge.
I grab my phone and think. If only dad were still around. Mom and Aunt Ruth can’t shovel snow, my two sisters and I aren’t the best at it, and my sister’s husband is a selfish prick who can’t even be bothered to shovel their own driveway never mind come rescue me.
His face fills my head and a lump forms in my throat. He’s the last person I want to come help. Honestly, I was hoping to avoid him this entire trip. Looks like that’s not going to happen.
My phone lights up in my hand, my mom’s face smiling on the screen. “Hey mom.”
“Mir, darling, where are you? It’s getting dark and stormy out there, I thought you’d be here by now.” Her voice is etched with concern.
“I’m stuck in a snow drift.” I close my eyes and shake my head.
“What? Oh no, sweetie. Anthony’s here, I’m going to send him to help you.”
Anthony’s there? At my parents’ house?
I hear rustling in the background, my mother speaking in hushed tones. A deep voice sounds in the background, the one I’d know anywhere. A tingle runs down my spine and I shake my head. Now is not the time, you trader.
My inner slut holds herself back as I wait for my mother to answer. What in the actual fuck is going on?
“He’s coming to get you. What street, Mir?”
I love how she dodges my question completely. “Wait, mom. Why is he there?”
“Oh, he wanted to see you. I told him you were arriving today. You know, he’s such a nice young fellow, he comes here and helps aunt Ruth and I out a lot. We can’t rely on John to get anything done. It’s such a shame what happened. You and--”
I cut her off. “Let’s not talk about that. I’m over by the old police station on Westport Lane. I’ll see you soon, mom. Thanks.”
I hang up before another word is said.
Why did I ever agree to come back here?
Last time I landed back here was for my father’s funeral. One of the worst days of my life. And I hate the memory. That was one year ago, and I haven’t been back since. My mother begs me time and again to come home. She finally threatened me if I didn’t come home for Christmas, I won’t get my share of my father’s estate.
Yep, she went that low. And it worked.
A knock on my window pulls me from my thoughts. My door pulls open, Anthony’s large, tall frame filling the entire space.
“You okay, panda?”
His nickname for me pisses me off and turns me on all in the same moment. I move past him, giving him access to my car as I backup towards the road.
“Watch out, cars fly around that corner.” He looks at me before sliding into my car, the door closing behind him.
“I don’t need your help,” I cross my arms and stomp towards his truck, helping myself to get in. I climb into the warm cab, the smell of him filling my nose. A heady mix of aftershave and beer. Memories flood my system, my heart pounding at top speed.
I ignore my feelings, scrolling through my hundreds of emails. I try to distract myself but it’s no use. My eyes won’t stop watching him.
He works hard and quick, the tow on his truck yanking my tiny car out of the snow. I go to jump out, but he’s already in the cab, his hand on my arm.
Warmth spreads up my body, a reaction I only have towards him. “I’m driving you back.”
“What about my car?”
“It’s still attached.”
I turn around and sure enough, it’s on there. I’m relieved in a way, but at the same time, I’d rather be anywhere but here.
“I always loved how beautiful you are when you don’t get your way, panda.” He smirks at me and I scowl back.
“I’m not panda anymore, Anthony. I’d appreciate it if you stopped calling me that.”
“Ok, ok, don’t get your panties in a twist.” He flicks on the radio and classic rock tunes fill the air, our conversation over.
He loved to rile me up and apparently, he still does.
We ride in silence but it’s as if we are speaking a million words between each other. His confuse me. I told him we’re over.
We pull up to my parents’ house, everything the same as the day I left. Anthony cuts the engine and reaches over, his hand covering mine. “I’m glad you finally came home, panda.”
I lift my head, my eyes meeting his. His drop to my lips and my belly clenches. Sexual chemistry pops between us, emotions and feelings swirling around, my head light and dizzy. How does he still do this to me?
He leans forward, his tongue darting out to lick his bottom lip and I freeze.
He’s going to kiss me, he’s going to kiss me...
A pile of snow hits the top of the truck and the moment is broken.
“We’re just friends, Anthony.” I hop out of the truck and slam the door.
Eggnog and music. Gifts and food. Family and hugs. My mom and aunt fuss over me while my sisters roll their eyes. Ah, nothing like being home.
I busy myself, avoiding Anthony and everyone else’s questioning looks. When no one’s watching, I sneak out the back with my warm cup of tea. I love coming out here. The view of the woods and our property is breathtaking, the land stretches out for miles.
There’s a small cottage in the back, one we played in as a kid, or watched our father paint. He was a dreamer and an artist, his paintings inspirational.
Small snowflakes fall around me, the air cold with the smell of fire lingering.
“Gorgeous night.” Anthony’s voice washes over me and I turn to see him looking me over.
I laugh and turn back. “Some things never change.”
He’s next to me now, his smell intoxicating. “Whys that?”
I shake my head and sip my tea. “You’re still a big flirt.”
He tips his head back and laughs, the sound soothing to my soul. “Only to you, panda.”
“Come on, I know you must have plenty of women.” Not that I care or anything…
He shakes his head. “No, not really. I’m waiting.”
His eyes flash and he looks away.
Oh, man. I don’t want him waiting for me. I set him free. Twice.
I hurt him when I left for school.
I broke him when I left after my dad’s funeral, my job offer waiting for me...
Surely, he can’t mean…
He picks up my hand and places a small box inside it. My stomach free falls. This can’t be...please tell me he isn’t…
“Open it, panda.” He whispers. Our faces are mere inches apart.
I swallow as he takes my cup of tea and places it on the porch railing. I slip the top off the box and a key is nestled inside. I lift it out and frown.
He nods and takes my hand. “Follow me.”
I trail behind him as he leads me down the path, through the backyard, and into the woods. We stop when we reach the cottage door and now, I’m really confused. Why would he give me the key to this cottage? My mother keeps it in the pantry with all the other keys.
“What’s going on?”
Anthony takes the key from me, slides it into the lock, and opens the door. He takes my hand. “Cover your eyes, panda.”
He leads me inside and flicks a light on, the brightness leaking through my fingers.
I drop my hands and my mouth drops open. Tears fill my eyes and leak down my cheeks as I take it all in.
“But...how…?” I choke on a sob.
Anthony wraps his arms around me, tucking my head under his chest. “Merry Christmas, panda.”
The entire cottage has been redone, my father’s paintings framed and hung on the walls. His art supplies are set up neatly, a shrine to his memory. Another area has new painting supplies, including an easel and fresh paint. All new furniture has been brought in and the place feels cozy and perfect. Just like my father would’ve wanted.
“You...you did this for me?”
Anthony nods. “I know how much this cottage means to you, how much your dad’s memory and art means to you. It took me the entire year, but I finally finished.”
I pull back, tears freely falling down my cheeks and onto his shirt. “Anthony...I...I.. don’t even know…”
He presses a finger to my lips. “Shhh, don’t say anything. But, just know this, I’ve never stopped loving you panda, and I never will. You’re it for me. The one I’m waiting for. I’ll wait for as long as I have to and no matter how many times you tell me not to, I’ll still wait for you.”
Before I can respond, he presses his lips to mine, his tongue sweeping through my mouth, and my knees buckle.
It’s as if no time has passed between us. Seconds instead of years.
Years we should’ve been together.
Our kiss grows deeper and I know.
I know what I’ve known all along.
I love him as much as the day I left.
I never stopped. And I never will.