Writing Challenge: Waiting Under the Tree

The last of the turkey leftovers are finally being finished off, and homeowners across the continent are throwing off the restraint that just barely kept their holiday home decorating in check. That’s right, it’s December and the most wonderful time of the year is just around the corner!

Christmas, for those who celebrate it, is a momentous, heartwarming occasion to spend with friends and family, but it’s also a stressful one. For many of us, one of the primary sources of stress lies in the holiday’s central tradition: gifts.

Gifts that have to be bought…


…and then given, without any guarantee that the recipient will even like it!

The gift that we’ve chosen to give to you is one final writing challenge before 2019 comes to a close. You have three to five paragraphs to describe your hero or heroine bestowing their true love with a token of their affection. Whether or not they’re successful is entirely up to you!

I’ve tried to push your creativity these past few months, so for this challenge I’d like the gift to be something that’s hard to wrap. This may seem quite subjective to the wrapping paper whizzes (as well as the less adept) among you, but try to take it at face value.

This is a chance to think of all the presents you may have wanted to give, and all the ones you wished you were given! Gift giving may not be your love language, but it’s one you’ll have to try writing.

Your deadline is the end of the day, Sunday, December 8th, 2019. The following day we’ll take a look at the submissions and announce our Editors’ Choice Top 3, so be sure to check back and see if you were one of the lucky winners!

UPDATE: Our gift this season was 19 incredible submissions to read through, and we enjoyed every single one. After a short discussion we were able to narrow our Editors’ Choice Top 3 to these wonderful writers:

In 1st Place is Sam, whose submission featured a delightful fakeout, as well as an adorable puppy!

Joice snagged 2nd Place by describing a grand, sweeping gesture, while also providing a little history lesson at the same time.

3rd Place belongs to Wendy, since the mental image of this man lugging a four-foot tall cactus almost made me laugh out loud.

You all really committed to the conceit of having the gift be difficult (or impossible!) to wrap, and from tattoos to pickup trucks, you truly delivered. We also loved the sentiment that some of the best gifts are puppies and babies, someone to love you back as much as you love them.

This marks my last post (and final writing challenge) for 2019. There’s more of both in the next year, and I can’t wait to see you all then!

-Evan Yeong

23 replies on “Writing Challenge: Waiting Under the Tree”

Zak took one last glimpse of the gold-framed photograph sitting in its special place on the fireplace mantel. Why not? He grabbed the photo and took it to the den to wrap in Anna’s favorite color wrap, blue with shiny silver stars. If this didn’t throw her off, nothing would. They were to exchange only one gift this Christmas. Not because money was tight but to get back to the true meaning of Christmas. It was not giving the gift; it was what was in the gift giver’s heart that counted. His heart was full of all the experiences that had brought Anna to him in a short six months’ time.

The front door closed with a bang, announcing Anna’s return home from a trip to the grocers she swore was needed. He chuckled at the thought she’d waited until the last minute to find something for him and used food as an excuse when he’d had his plan in place for a while now. He grabbed the package and picked up the tiny bonus to hold behind his back, wanting to meet her in the kitchen where she would go to unload whatever she deemed it impossible to celebrate Christmas without. She turned as he entered the room, surprise on her face.

“I thought we promised to wait until tonight at dinner.” She stepped in front of the large paper bag at her feet and looked up at him with a smile. “What are you up to, Zak?”

The time had come to say what was in his heart, to let her know just how much she meant to him in every way, and to secure their future together. He handed her the wrapped package and struggled with the one hidden behind his back. She carefully opened the framed photo and tears welled in her eyes. “Before you say a word, let me explain. I’ve longed to meet the girl of my dreams, the woman who made every day worth living. I found that person in you, Anna. Please say yes.”

He brought the tiny orange kitten from behind his back. Around its neck was a red satin ribbon with an engagement ring tied on top. She wept as she cuddled the kitten to her chest, a kitten that resembled her favorite childhood pet in the photograph. She nudged the large brown bag toward him and he bent to open it. Inside was a sleepy white Labrador puppy, exactly like his childhood friend. “I guess we both were thinking of things we loved the most as kids. I change my offer now. Will you, your kitten, and my puppy become one family for as long as we all shall—”

“Yes!” Anna’s lips met his in the sweetest kiss ever, one that assured him they were meant to be together for this Christmas and many more to come.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Jm reached into his truck and pulled the box closer. Trying to balance it on his injured arm, it tipped, the contents sliding to the corner, and tipping it more.

Keeley grabbed on, holding the rapidly disappearing box. Between the two of them, they managed to upright the errant package.

“Careful,” Jm whispered, “there’s a little something in here for you.”

“For me?” Keeley asked.

“Yes, made especially for you.”

The scent of Strawberry-rhubarb pie filled the space between them, warming Keeley’s heart as much for the pie as for his thoughtfulness in bringing it.

She walked behind him, stepping in the imprint of his black boots. Her Solstice gift, he had told her, was outside. In the truthwood. She followed without hesitation, even though a silence fell over the feasting hall, edged with uneasy murmurs about bears and wolves and worse. Truth.

Still, she slipped away from the holly wreaths and roasted goose and dozens of beeswax candles, into the clear, still forest. Black boots, black sword, black cloak skirling behind him. The tips of his elven ears pinkening in the cold.

She felt the weight of her loveless widowhood, her shameful childlessness, the bond of her human life the most onerous burden of the alliance bargain between her clan and his.

“Here.” he said, his glove resting against the largest tree she had ever seen. An aeon’s arrow pointed at the heart of the sky. “Yours for the length of her life, not yours.” She only had time to blink up at the soaring branches before he added: “Now tell me. Would you wed me of your own will?”

She clasped her hands over her mouth to keep the words in, but the magic of the forest would not allow it, and it was spoken and spoken and nothing could take it back. All of it spilled from her– from the first time she had seen him striding into the great hall, to the time he had saved the twins from the Invaders, to the way his jaw was rougher than others of his kind, and his eyes as black as bitter truth. And then she was weeping, because she had never felt the foolishness of her short, heavy body more keenly, and because love was only duty and duty was the only lovely thing in life, she knew this, she knew this, she knew . . . his arms were around her, and his mouth on hers, and the truth they gave each other was made of more than words.

Adeline laid on her back with her pillow on her chest. She didn’t realize she had tears in her eyes until she heard a knock on her door. She quickly picked up and tucked the papers beside her under her pillow and pretended to be asleep. She knew it was Kane, her…guardian? Well, that is like the most proper description for their relationship. Boxing day, fifteen years back, when she was just four, her mum, Andrea had passed away just weeks before her wedding to Kane. Life came to a standstill for both Kane and Adeline who was left orphaned at four. Her jerk of a father had never showed up and Kane took it upon himself to raise her. It was the best he could do for the woman he loved. For Andrea Kane was the most amazing man alive. He, and Jane, the woman he married five years later were the best things that happened to her. Adeline’s heart swells with love just thinking about how lucky she is to have Kane and Jane in her life. She had planned for over a year on her Christmas gift for them this year. She was looking forward to another Christmas with them, they were the only family she has, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. It was 24 December already and the only gifts under the Christmas tree were the ones from Kane and Jane. That was odd, but so were Adeline’s attitude these past two weeks. Jane’s sisters and Kane’s childhood friends will be spending Christmas with them. They arrived in the evening, and with them, the Christmas tree had suddenly become more ‘fruitful’.

Twenty-fifth December was as eventful as ever. Church service and Christmas lunch with a full house felt wonderful. Adeline, Jane and Jane’s sisters spent some time in the evening preparing and marinating the items they got for the boxing day barbecue. They went to bed tired after an eventful day and looked forward to boxing day. Jane felt it will be odd asking Adeline why she didn’t get any gift for her and Kane, so, she decided not to push the matter. Barbecue was great on twenty-sixth; there were a few friends from church, three of Jane and Kane’s closest colleagues. Everyone was relaxing around the tree. Time to open the gifts. Teddy bears, earrings, bracelets, undies, chocolates and other amazing gifts were shared. Adeline got a new phone from Jane and a mini-aquarium with two tiny goldfish from Kane. She had wanted that forever. With no more gifts to open, all eyes looked questioningly at Adeline. She cleared her throat and with tears in her eyes, she got up to speak.

She started, addressing Kane and Jane, ‘I couldn’t come up with the right gift to give both of you’ everyone tried to look as expressionless as they could as she continued. ‘When I eventually found the best I could come up with, and the one I will love to give, it wouldn’t fit in a box. So I decided not to bother about wrapping papers this year.’ She paused, stepped closer to the tree and picked up some papers hanging out of one of the Santa socks. ‘Here is my gift, it is the biggest and the best that I can give both of you. Exactly fifteen years ago, you rescued me Kane, and ten years ago, Jane came into my life. Both of you have been nothing but amazing. I can’t ask for better parents. So, I don’t really have a gift to give you. But I have a request. On top of all you have given me, I am asking for the ultimate Christmas gift from both of you. I love you so much and it will complete my joy for a perfect Christmas if you accept this.’ She gave the papers to Kane who opened it, desperately wondering what it contained, with Jane standing close and looking at the papers too. Adeline continued, ‘I have been working on getting these official documents for some time. I decided when I turned 18 last year that I need to do this. I am sorry that I didn’t ask your permission, I took it for granted that you will be okay with this, she added, smiling for the first time. ‘Will both of you please be kind enough to accept this as the best Christmas gift that I can offer, and will you be willing to sign those adoption papers and become my legal parents?’

The realization of what was happening drew a tonne of ‘Wow!’ from everywhere in the room. No one saw it coming. Kane was dumbfounded. Jane was looking at the papers and shivering. Adeline had taken them totally by surprise. As if on agreement, they both started to cry as they got up to hug Adeline. Kane was kissing her all over her face like she was a toddler. The three of them were a sight to behold. One of Kane’s friend was smart enough to take a picture with his phone. It was an emotional sight to behold. Adeline’s sisters were both crying and Kane’s friends were close to tears as well. For several minutes, nobody could say anything except ‘wow!’. This is the best Christmas ever, the best boxing day ever and the best gift ever. ‘Wow! Merry Christmas’ was all Kane could whisper in Adeline’s hair as he held on to her and Jane, shivering with emotions and crying like a child.

Finding the perfect present was easy. Who wouldn’t want a trip for two to New York City to see the Rangers at Madison Square Garden? Richard would love the gift but how to wrap it was the problem. Giving him a box with a paper in it was lame. Everyone would be at the party giving him exciting gifts present in cool ways. She didn’t want to be a complete embarrassment. Richard’s family was known for the perfect gift wrapped up in the most unique packaging. Anna wanted to fit in because she loved Richard so much.
Rumor had it they had given Richard’s sister a necklace that had been wrapped in a small box and attached to the dog’s collar. It had been the hit of the party when the dog had shaken the collar loose and chewed the box open. Other gifts had been presented in the bottom of wine glasses, on the tree disguised as an ornament and even one had been worn as a hat. This gift had to be presented just right. Anna began to plan to the props she would need to pull this off. She gathered a hockey stick, puck and net. What better way to get her true love’s attention than to set up a little street hockey that caused him to see the box taped to the net when he hit the puck?
Anna had arrived early and set her scene complete with a wrapped box hanging from the net. She lured Richard out to the dead end near his parent’s house where she had the scene set to give him his gift. Smiling shyly she handed him the stick and the puck indicating that he should hit it into the net. As he turned her heel caught a patch of ice and her legs slid out from under her. Her leg bent at an angle, her head hit the pavement. Richard screamed. The neighbor called an ambulance. Anna woke in the hospital with Richard at her side. She tried to lift her head to ask if he had found the tickets but the pain was too great.
Back on the dead end street Richard’s nephews knocked the puck into the net finding the shiny package attached to the net. Delighted to find tickets to the game they assumed it was for them and placed the tickets in their pocket.
“Best gift ever!” they screeched to their parents who stood by in confusion.

I didn’t expect that humorous twist at the end, Renee! 😀 At least someone’s going to enjoy the tickets and they won’t go to waste.

Merry Christmas!

“Packing already? I thought you had promised us another chance.” His deep, husky voice, full of his grammar schooling, sleepy regrets, and a twinge of the unguarded sorrow he had displayed only a few hours earlier, drifted from behind her. Directly behind her. Selma flinched when his hands grasped her arms. Then softened her body a few seconds later back into his hard-planed chest as his lips brushed her cheek, his mouth angling to deliver his next message into her heated ear. “Don’t leave all that we could be.”

She shuddered, her heart melting at how raw and vulnerable he sounded. It was sexy and sweet and… God, she thought, was she ever predictable. Selma accepted she was weak to Umar but to have allowed him to propose this crazy idea. To allow him to bed her before marriage. She blinked rapidly against the needling heat at the back of her eyes.

“It’s Christmas, and I’m spending it in the desert with a Sheikh. A Sheikh who doesn’t believe in Santa,” she said, hoping it opened his eyes to how impossible a marriage—even a contracted one—could be between them. They weren’t only East and West; they were everything that couldn’t be. And it broke her heart.

“Very well. Before you leave at least humor me and let me show you the desert through my eyes one last time.” He dropped his hands, appeared before her and held out his palm for her to accept. It was her choice; just like it was her choice to abandon the opportunity to be his. Even if it was only to be his contract bride and sheikha. Selma smiled, felt the edges of her mouth wobbling with near tears, and took his hand. Umar guided her to the balcony of their third-floor bedroom. Dawn embellished the sky in soft pink, purple-and-blue hues. But it wasn’t this final sunrise in Umar’s desert that robbed her of breath. It was the bed of diamonds the sun-brushed, early-morning sky illuminated.

Diamonds, hundreds and thousands of them, were meticulously strewn out below the balcony. From above Selma saw they were of various sizes. Yet each precious stone gleamed its resplendence under the brightening desert sky. And it was easy to read their messages even through her tears. The mosaic of jewels spelled her name. They were a part of the desert…like she would be if she married Sheikh Umar.

It had become their Christmas tradition, making love under the 12 foot tree. It really was magical gazing up at the twinkling lights, shining baubles and glittering tinsel. Almost like making love under the stars, which in Decemver in Montanna could end in frostbite in vital places.

Sarah snuggled in her husband’s arms, having already bestowed his gift upon him. The gift of time. “My grandfather’s watch. Where on Earth did you find someone to fix it?” Sarah revelled in the joy on his face. Ward had adored his grandfather and had been devestated when the watch had been broken in their last move. Ward gazed at her lovingly, caressing her naked arm and admiring how the tree lights danced across her pale, silky skin. “It’s been such a hectic year, and with this new promotion and moving gain next week after only being here a year…” As his words dropped off she couldntg help being a little disappointed hadnt gotten her a gift this year, but supportive as always, Sarah teased, “Oh, I see my gift.” Her hand teased him intimately, as she welcomed the familiar caress of his lips on hers that never failed to send tingles down her spine even after almost twelve years together. “It just needs a little wrapping.” Ward cupped her face gently, “No more wrapping.” Sarah frowned in confusion, “I’m sure I bought some more last week.” He grinned, his grey eyes sparkling, “What I am trying to say my loving, organised, supportive wife, is that for Christmas this year I’d like to give you the gift of chasing YOUR dreams for a change.” Sarah’s frown lines melted away as her jaw fell slack as her husband whispered her most longed for dream, “Let’s make a baby.”

The cold air squeezed Rose’s lunges, and she puffed her way to the peak of the mountain. It wasn’t the way she used to spend Christmas morning. Since moving to Gold River, far from her old home in Vancouver, BC, nothing was normal. But normal was synonymous with shitty in her past life, so every not-normal event was like a gift. It had been Christmas every day since she met Kye, and it seemed there was no end to the surprises in her new life. There was sadness too. Her grandfather had shuttered their family automotive repair business and moved to Gold River along with her. Her father was, well, out of the picture.
She missed having a space to work on car projects with her grandpa, but was glad to have him in her new life. She was happier now than ever before.
“Kye, wait,” Rose called down the trail. She wanted to take in this Christmas morning view. Hore frost covered the bows of the giant Douglas firs and the Hemlocks with their elf-like, curved tips. On the other side of the valley, the sun was warming the top of the trees, the moisture from the melting frost was rising in magical foggy wisps.
“Come on,” Kye shouted back. The pine needles absorbed and deadened the sound making Rose feel like they were the only people in the world.
“I have one more gift for you,” Kye made hard right off the path and into the bush.
“Wait, I don’t know my way around this mountain like you.” She had an irrational fear of mountain lions that made her quicken her step. When she made it to the spot she thought Kye turned, he was nowhere in sight.
“Kye?” She shouted into the grove of old-growth giants.
“This way! Over the hill, straight ahead.”
Rose carefully worked her way between trees and boulders over the pine-covered hill.
A huge smile spread across her face when she saw Kye. There he was, perched on the hood of a rusted and mossy 1945 Ford pick up. A magical time capsules from a bygone era abandoned at the end of the logging boom.
Rose jogged toward Kye, “I love it!”
“I got you a project for Christmas. You and your gramps can work on it. I’ll bring out piece by piece to the shop for you. “
“It’s perfect.” Tears rimmed Rose’s eyes, and she blinked, trying to keep it in.
Kye hopped off the hood of the trunk and took her in his arms. He kissed her deeply, then looked into her eyes, “Look under the hood.”
“The engine will be completely seized,” Rose said.
“I know, but just have a look.” Kye lifted the rusting bonnet. She moved in front of Kye as he held it aloft. He leaned forward and fit his body to hers as her trained eyes scanned the rusted block and degraded lines, then she froze. Amid the decay, there was a blue velvet box, open and sparking. She stared at the ring, simple and perfect. She turned to face Kye, looked straight into his eyes and uttered one word.

Maisy slipped her hand into Matt’s, and he drew her as close as the truck console would allow, nuzzling her cheek. She breathed in the spicy scent of his aftershave as her skin met his.

“You drove us to a secluded spot in the woods to make out with me?” His tone teasing, and yet interested.

“Maybe, later,” her mouth curved up as she tipped her head up to look at him. “First I wanted to give you your Christmas gift.”

Matt laid a warm kiss on her lips. “Okay,” he said and leaned back. His careful reserve back in place, but he retained her right hand.

Even now, Maisy could see he didn’t quite trust her. No, that wasn’t, it. Matt didn’t trust he could be happy, not after the life he’d led. Matt had told her once he didn’t deserve it. To her that was so wrong and she was determined to change his mindset.

She looked into his watchful hazel eyes. It was silly, but she was a touch uncertain about his reaction, even though her gut told her it was the right thing. “You gave me the most amazing gift this morning, when you asked me to marry you.” Maisy squeezed his hand with her right as laid her left hand over her heart. The diamond from his ring refracted a rainbow into the interior of the truck. “My gift to you, well, it was hard to wrap.” She turned her head to the view.

A rolling vista of river valley stretched out below them, cluttered with towering fir, maple, and Sitka spruce. In the background, the snow capped Coastal mountains glinted in the sun.

“What am I looking at?” Matt asked, a small frown creased his brow.

“Two hundred and fifty-eight acres. Now you can build your dream, it’s yours.”

He swallowed and blinked. “No.” Matt shook his head. “It’s ours, to build our home, together.”

It was Christmas Eve in 1680. For Albina, the saddest in her life. The kitchen of her small house in Velké Losiny smelled of dried herbs. Outside the window, big snowflakes dropped silently to the ground. Albina watched this great celestial theater. But tears flowed down her beautiful face.
She held two packages in her hands. On for her Mom and one for Karel, her boyfriend. Neither of them was there. The homemade fragrance for Mom would remain unopened. Leather coin pouch for Karel also. Maybe forever. Her mother had been in prison for weeks. Inquisitor Boblig accused her of witchcraft. To be a healer was not allowed.
And Karel. Albina sighed and wiped her tears. Karel was a young man from high society. Handsome, smart, and wealthy. A friend of the Earl Maxmilian. May be he didn’t want to date the witch’s daughter anymore. Albina tossed her head rebelliously. “If he doesn’t, so he doesn’t,” she thought. But tears spilled into her eyes again.
She was so terrified that something terrible had happened to both of them. She put the presents on the table and cried out loud. What if she never felt her mother’s caress again? What if Karel never kissed her again? Despite crying, she couldn’t hear the door opening. She winced as she felt someone’s hand on her shoulder.
The next second she was holding Karel in her arms. With a smile, he pushed her away. Now she could see another snowy figure. Mum! Mom! Yes, it was her. “My Christmas present for you. Impossible to wrap, but —,” Karel said with a broad smile. Albina laughed and cried at the same time. Karel held them both in his arms. The small kitchen was cozy again. She was never so happy. Though she knew there was a long way to be all really safe.

Leaving the party behind them, Sarah followed Marco into his study and marvelled at how different it felt now to when she had first walked in here twenty-four days ago.
She sank into the plush armchair on the guests’ side of the desk, crossed her legs, and focussed on presenting an outward image of calm.
Marco swivelled his chair to face sideways to her and tapped his thumb on the smooth timber surface between them. He had yet to make eye contact.
“Thank you, Sarah.” His voice sounded remote and cool. Gone were the murmurs of humour and intimacy that had rippled over her skin, and her conscience, from her first assignation as his fake girlfriend. Now, his commanding tones were businesslike. A repeat of the day she signed the contract that paid off the crippling debts she had incurred for her father’s Alzheimer’s care.
“You have a lovely family, Marco. I hope they won’t be disappointed when you announce our break-up.”
His blue eyes, deep and mesmerising, looked at her and she saw the past three weeks of complicity, wonder and latent heat in their depths. She stared back, daring him to deny what had flared between them.
Marco turned his head away and withdrew an envelope from his inside jacket pocket. The scraping sound as it slid across the desk filled the room with the reminder that this was a bargain. A contract of money earned for services rendered.
A cheer followed by boisterous laughter floated to them through the cracks around the closed door, reminding her his family’s Christmas party was still underway. The exuberance of it showed she had performed her duties well.
“I have transferred the final instalment of your payment to your account as promised.”
She stared at the bulging envelope slinking towards her under the directive of fingers that had slinked along her collar bone not twelve hours ago.
“This is a bonus. A Christmas present, if you will. It comes with your freedom.” His lips twitched. “Which was hard to wrap.”
Sarah willed him to look at her and he did. Their connection had been uncanny that way, but it had made their charade a heck of a lot easier to pull off. “I’ll accept the release. It is midnight on Christmas Eve, and the end of our contract, after all. But I won’t take the extra money.”
“Geez, Sarah!” He scrubbed his fingers across his scalp. “I can’t leave you with nothing.” His stony façade cracked.
“Then don’t.” She swallowed, though her mouth was dry. “I have a present for you.”
He tilted his head. A quirk that she learned meant he was paying attention to every sound, sight, smell… and breath.
“My gift…” she lifted her chin, looked into those eyes that read her soul, and smiled. “Is my love. For you.” She raised her brows. “Also hard to wrap.”
He remained motionless. A statue for five seconds. Then, within the space of a heartbeat, he was around the desk, holding her in his arms, and kissing her like he never intended to stop.

James left Rebecca with a look of curiosity on her lovely face as he slipped out to retrieve her gift from the trunk of his car. Nearly impossible to wrap, and even more difficult to maneuver, he slipped on his leather gloves and struggled to safely remove the gift. Wanting to impress her with his creativity and ingenuity in the area of both gifts and proposals, he had put together the perfect plan. At least, he thought it would be perfect, if everything went accordingly.

Lumbering up to the house behind a four-foot tall prickly pear cactus, he was beginning to think that perhaps he had gone a little too big. A smaller cactus might have done the trick, but here he was. Hearing Rebecca’s exclamation as she opened the door for him, he couldn’t quite tell if it was one of delight. Only too late did he realize the reason for her exclamation, as his foot missed the first step. Tumbling backwards, he released the cactus, sending it flying into the snow – all but one small chunk that broke off to land precariously across his exposed wrist. Sprawled out on the ground, the breath knocked out of him, he groaned.

“James, are you alright?” Rebecca asked, bending beside him as he lay sprawled across the snow, cactus spines sticking out of his wrist. Before he could answer her, she ran to the house, calling back to him, “I’ll get some tweezers.”

By the time she had returned, he had managed to pull himself up to a sitting position. As she knelt beside him, taking his hand in hers to pull out the spines, he decided not all was lost. He would finish what he started, so he hastily began his rehearsed speech, before he lost his nerve, “Rebecca, I know how much you love cactus and that it reminds you of your childhood home. I thought it would be a great way to surprise you. I want to ask you, will…ouch….I just wanted to….oww. Please let me….yipes. Rebecca, stop! I am trying to ask you to marry me!”

Letting go of his arm, she stared at the ring he had quickly pulled from his pocket. All was silent, then the corners of her mouth turned up as if she was trying not to smile, then she began to chuckle. Soon, she was laughing wholeheartedly, doing nothing to ease James’ fears. Finally, she replied, “Oh, James, is that what the cactus is about? I wondered what you were doing. That is so sweet of you. Yes, my answer is yes.”

The helicopter descended into the empty field, the movement of the main rotor blades making the tall snow burned grass whirl, from the window on her left Susannah watched as the helicopter landing skids smoothly touched the ground for the first time, she loved flying, but right now she was tired, and a little grumpy. They had taken a fly of 3 hours between London and Kiev and after that tooked the helicopter for another hour and a half, so she had come from London to God knows where in Ukraine in less than 5 hours, but it really seemed like had taken days. “Welcome to Sataniv.” Her husband Kyle stated solemnly. But she was not impressed, there were no traces of civilization in sight, and beyond a few rocks piled at a distance nothing to see but snow and grass. “Remind me again why we are here?”
“You’ll see.” Was his mysterious answer, but that was beginning to wear off, since he had dragged her from her family to a crowded airport in the eve of Christmas for crying out loud! “Whatever.” She mumbled, low, but not low enough that he wouldn’t hear. When he only smiled at her she felt childish, and she decided to stop behaving like a ungrateful dolt, after all, this trip didn’t seem to have been cheap, with all the fanciest of two first-class tickets and a helicopter rental. So what if the destination wasn’t some tropical paradise she would have loved to meet unlike some God forsaken butt freezing place? She tried to remind it was Christmas, a time of peace and love, and at least he had brought the right kind of coat for the freezing cold that was making. So she smiled all the time that took for them to get out of the helicopter and walk to the pile of stones. Only they were not piled stones, but ruins, not too old to be antiquities, but not too young either. “This is your Christmas gift.” Kyle said with a flourish and continued sheepishly. “Sorry, it was a little difficult to wrap.”
“Wow.” She started, but that didn’t sound grateful enough so she continued. “These are real nice ruins! The best really!” This time Kyle really chuckled, the son of a bitch was making fun of her. “Not the ruins, this!” He explained and pointed to the ground. And for the first time Susannah saw what should had been almost impossible to hide if she wasn’t so distracted being a jerk. It was a big plaque of cooper, and it was shining for recent polishment, so for certain it was very new, almost like yesterday new. But what really caught her attention was the inscriptions on the board, and her throat choked while her eyes filled with tears. “Kyle?” Was all she could say, and she looked to him seeking confirmation. His eyes were filled with tears too while he nodded a yes. Losing strength in her legs she knelt in front of the plate, half disbelieve, half reverence. And while she sobbed, her eyes couldn’t stop reading the inscriptions over and over again.
‘In memory of Benjamin E. Campbell, loved husband, unfurgettable father and remarkable grandfather. 16/04/1914 – 04/01/1945. And in the memory of all those who gave their life in the name of freedom. Rest in peace.’
For a moment Kyle let her grieve in private, let her have a moment with her pain and she really loved him even more for this. And then when she thought she couldn’t stand this alone, he joined and hugged her while she cried for her almost 40 years of search. “How?” She asked when she found enough strength to talk again. “It only took me 15 years. But since the day you told me I couldn’t stop thinking about him, about your grandmother, that she had been waiting for him for almost 60 years. I had to find him for her, for your mother, for you. So I started looking, asking people, and I didn’t told you anything because I didn’t want to give you any false hope. But them 2 years ago a detective I had hired found some interesting papers in Germany, that led him direct to here, to Sataniv. You see, Sataniv was a jewish village till january of 1945, and somehow they had managed to survive 4 years of war. But in the beginning of 1945, Germany had been losing the war so they starting to obliterate everything that the Russians could come to use in the case they retrieved Ukraine, Sataniv was one of those things. In less than 24 hours German soldiers erased an entire village from the face of earth, it’s estimated that almost one thousand people died here, including some few british soldiers. Your Grandfather was one of them. He died defending those people, defending what he believed. They were all buried here, in a mass grave, under this plaque. It took me almost 2 years to persuade the Ukrainian government to turn this place into a memorial, but last week I did it and this plaque will stay here forever, so they’ll never be forgotten.”
They cried together, comforting each other, and then he helped her get up, and still holding his hand she walked in silence for the ruins of Sataniv, the desolation of the place now greater than anything. “We need to bring my grandmother here.” She said softly, as if words could disturb the sorrowful atmosfere. Her grandmother was almost 99 years old, but was still strong as ever and would surpass the mark of 100 years by many years with ease. “Actually, about that…”
“I already brought her here, almost 2 years ago. You see, she had waited far too long to find him, I couldn’t make her wait more. Everything I did here was with her blessing. She got a bit angry when I made her promise she wouldn’t tell you, but I did it ‘cause I wanted it to be perfect for you, you know?” Susannah watched him tenderly, she never had felt so much love for other human being as she felt for him in that right moment. “Are you angry? Because I lied to you… I mean, because I hided it from you?”
“No.” She answered, and she was sincere, how could she be angry with him when he had showed her how much he loved her? “No.” She repeated and hugged him. “How can I be angry with you when you gave me the best gift of my life?”
“You mean this really was the best gift of you life?”
“No.” She answered and he looked confused. “*You* are the best gift of my life. The best gift you ever gave to me was your love. Thank you for being in my life. I really love you, you know?” He blushed, a little for embarrassment, a little for pleasure.
“Even without a nice wrap?” He joked.
“Shut up.” She said smiling, and kissed him. The best gift she had never dreamed of asking for.

*The ruins of castle fortress in the town of Sataniv (Satanov) which was once home to a large Jewish community and was annihilated, brutally, by the Germans during the Second World War in the Horodok Raion, Khmelnytskyi Oblast, Ukraine is real. Everything else was made up by my overly imaginative mind, so I apologize for the inaccuracy of historical facts.

Sophie looked around at her family and told herself she should feel happy. The lights from the Christmas tree twinkled in the eyes of her niece and nephew as they ripped colourful paper from gifts and bestowed grateful hugs on the giver of each new book or toy. Her sister’s cosy living room, warmed by the dancing flames of the log fire, was filled with her loved ones, all enjoying the festive season together. The was no reason to feel anything but joy, and yet…
And yet Sophie couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing, there was something she knew in her heart she should have but her Christmas wish had not been granted. That morning she’d excitedly checked out all the gifts tagged with her name under the tree but none were the right size and shape. The scarf that her sister had given her was soft and beautiful and the chocolates from the kids were always welcome but it was Danny’s gift that she’d been hoping would make her dreams come true.
Sighing deeply she rose from her position curled up on the sofa, needing some headspace.
“Would anyone like a drink?” she asked the room and was inundated with orders.
“I’ll help,” Jo smiled and followed her into the kitchen, shutting the door behind them.
“Are you disappointed?” Jo asked gently, looking closely at Sophie’s face. Sophie had never been able to hide anything from her sister, even as kids. She nodded and looked down at the counter top, ashamed of the feeling of loss she felt on such a happy day.
Jo put a comforting arm around her, “Maybe it’s too soon,” she said rubbing Sophie’s back, “You’ve only been together six months, even if things are moving fast.”
“I know,” Sophie said and tried to pull herself together, “I’m being silly. I’ll get over it.”
The door suddenly opened and Danny strode towards them and dropped a casual kiss on Sophie’s nose.
“Hey babe, can I help?” he smiled and Sophie grinned back at him. He really was the best thing ever and she should be grateful she had him in her life. Snaking her arms around his neck she pulled him in for a proper kiss.
“Ugh, get a room you two,” Jo’s preteen daughter Tilly said in disgust as she passed them to get to the fridge.
Sophie giggled as Danny leaned down, “Meet me outside in ten minutes, I’ve got a surprise for you,” he whispered before releasing her and leaving the house via the kitchen door. Jo’s eyes widened and met her own as her hands flew to her mouth to stifle an excited scream. Could this be it?
Ten minutes later, Sophie was barely able to contain her excitement as she walked across the snowy garden to where she could see Danny standing under a tree. He was gazing out over the loch to the mountains beyond but Sophie registered nothing but him. As she approached he turned and Sophie felt her heart twist with love for this man. He held out a hand and she went to him.
“Sophie, I know you’ve been waiting for something and I feel the time is right so I wanted to give you this,” he held out a small velvet jewellery box and Sophie’s heart stopped. Her mouth fell open and she felt her heart now drop into her fur lined boots. Oh God, did he think she’d wanted an engagement ring? What was she going to say? Tentatively she lifted the lid of the box and let out an involuntary excited squeal at what lay inside.
Danny grinned at her, “What did you think it was?” he chuckled, a knowing glint in his eyes. Sophie lifted the diamanté collar tag in the shape of a bone from the snowy white cushion and turned it over, “Lola,” it said and she looked up at Danny in surprise.
He nodded, “You can change her name if you want to but I think it suits her.”
“Oh my God, she’s here? I thought……where is she?” tears were pricking the back of Sophie’s eyes as she scanned the garden. Danny nodded to his car in the driveway and Sophie was instantly running. Reaching the car she glanced in the back window and two big soulful brown eyes gazed back at her. Wrenching open the back door Sophie gathered the puppy into her arms and buried her face in the soft fur sobbing her joy that Danny had granted her Christmas wish. Lola’s tiny pink tongue licked the tears from her face as Danny strolled over and wrapped them both in a giant hug.
“We’re a family now,” he said as Sophie’s heart burst with love.

Sarah stopped at the last pen in the animal shelter. The holiday adoption events of the last few weeks had cleared out all the shelter dogs. All except one. A tan and white spaniel mix curled into a fleece blanket beside an empty food bowl. Despite the shelter’s many attempts, no one had wanted to take Cocoa home.
Cocoa stood and wagged her tail. “Come on.” Sarah clipped the leash onto the dog and picked up the fleece blanket. “You’re going home with me for the holidays for a few days.” Her heart lightened knowing not one shelter dog would be left this year alone for Christmas and she would have a companion for the next two days, a two-days which promised to be lonely without family nearby. At the doorway, Sarah crashed against a tall man. Sarah looked up into the eyes of Tyler. Her heart beat a little faster. Tyler was the last person she expected to see.
“Sarah,” Tyler swallowed. “I want to adopt a dog to give to my nephew, Kyle. I have been working so much and haven’t had a chance to get here.”
Sarah’s emotions swirled. Just a few weeks ago, she had believed she and Tyler would be spending Christmas together. But as their relationship headed toward commitment, he felt his job as an undercover special agent was too dangerous and he couldn’t give her the life she deserved. Cocoa whined and pulled on the leash. Sarah didn’t want to give up Cocoa. Without the dog, she would be by herself at Christmas. But she couldn’t keep her when there was a family waiting for her.
Tyler finished the paperwork and took the leash from her hands. Cocoa whined and stared at her. “I think Cocoa is trying to tell you he doesn’t want to spend Christmas without you. “Tyler cleared his throat. “And I was wrong. If you will have me, I don’t want to spend Christmas or any day of the year without you either.”

It had seemed like a good idea at the time.

He’d promised Ellie exclusive, legal and permanent. They were leaving in a few days to get married. He wanted to prove to her that he would keep his word.

He couldn’t wear a ring. He was a drummer, and any jewelry interfered with how he played. His upper torso was covered in tattoos. None on his hands, though, since he wouldn’t risk them, not without risking his career, his identity.

For her though, he had. He’d had her name tattooed around his ring finger. But how was he supposed to wrap that? He wanted to surprise her tomorrow, on Christmas Day. She’d been visiting her family and was flying in tonight.

He frowned at the bulky bandage he’d managed to wrap around his finger after three tries. Not exactly the pretty package she’d expect. But he couldn’t wrap a ribbon around it and put it under a tree.

He heard the buzz of the gate opening. He tossed the spoiled bandages in the garbage.
He hoped she’d like it. As far as he was concerned, her return was the best present he could remember receiving for Christmas. If she didn’t like it, he’d make it up to her, somehow.

“It was a festive Christmas gala and not the setting for one to be left so alone in a corner. A waiter came walking toward her carrying a tray of champagne and Lauren stood ready to receive him. She leaned down to lay her silver clutch on a table and when she turned back, her flute was being handed to her by a tall and very handsome dark-haired stranger.
“What is an exquisite beauty doing here standing alone?” She was drawn in by the deep voice and looked up at him. His steel blue eyes met hers and she stepped back as she felt overpowered and seduced by a strange coldness. An elegant creature was before her and Lauren felt very small and insignificant in his presence.
She softly thanked him and his hand wrapped around hers as she took the glass. Her fingers heated up as he moved in closer on Lauren and slowly isolated her further into a corner.
“To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with?”
Lauren was absolutely charmed, “My name is Lauren Strathmore”.
He tilted his head to one side, “I am Stephen Wentworth. Are you related to Amanda Strathmore? We are members of the same clubs here.”
“Yes, she’s my father’s sister. She still uses her maiden name. My blood isn’t as blue as hers is these days.”
“I think she is on her third husband now. She is definitely one of the Palm Beach darlings. Quite the socialite.” Stephen laughed…
…He then took her glass and walked her over to the orchestra leader. He put his hand on the man’s shoulder and made a request. The music quickly changed from an upbeat tempo to a slow and romantic pace.
“Do you always get your way?” Lauren joked.
Stephen led Lauren straight into the middle of the floor and held her at arm’s length as they lightly waltzed. He didn’t say a word as he looked down at her. Lauren had a curious look on her face, as his remained indifferent, but his eyes never left hers.”
Ashley Westwood

“Nothing,” she’d told him when he’d asked her what she wanted for Christmas. Nothing would take the sting out of not being able to buy her grandmother’s cozy little cottage surrounded by the heirloom flowers, the climbing floribunda rose she and her nana had coaxed back from the dead the whole summer she had been sixteen. Nothing could possibly replace the peafowl that had roamed the gardens, the cock that had spread his colorful tail and showed off for the ladies. Absolutely nothing. Not even the god-awful green and blue metal peacock lawn ornament he had pointed out at the garden center the day before.

“I have your Christmas present,” he announced, his mischievous smile beckoning for her to follow him. “You may even like it.” She made up her mind she wouldn’t for he could give her nothing that would pull her out of her dark despair, cheer her up, make her forget that all was lost. No, nothing would accomplish that. “Come and see.”

She became suspicious when he led her outside. Doubly so when she saw what sat in the middle of her sidewalk wrapped awkwardly in overlapping layers of red Santa paper held together with long strips of clear tape. Her brow furrowed and she frowned when the monstrosity before her looked too much like a fat squatting peacock, its feet encased in a large block, its tail fanned out behind him, all of it covered in the wrapping paper. No, not that god-awful metal thing he thought could take the place of real live peafowl. She fought back tears.

“I’m sorry. It was the best I could do.”

She nodded, knowing he told the truth. Had he been able to, he would have bought Nana’s house for he knew what it meant to her. The metal peacock would become the focal point of her small flower garden. Maybe she would name him Apollo in honor of the one that had ruled Nana’s yard. Carefully she pulled the wrapping paper from the bird’s head. It didn’t feel right. Instead of the stiffness she expected from the metal, the head and neck gave a little, bent beneath her fingers as she gripped the paper in an effort to pull it away from the figure. The blunt end of a green stem showed. She yanked the paper, exposing more green canes, thorns, small leaves until she’d uncovered it all. “Nana’s rose.”

“I talked to the guy before he tore down the house. He said if I dug it out of there, I could have it. I had to cut back the stems so it was manageable. With the taller ones in the back it looked like a peacock so that’s how I wrapped it. Is it okay?”

She threw her arms around him and hugged him tight. “It’s perfect. Nothing could be better. Nothing.”

I have no idea how he convinced me to do this. Obviously, my heart is further gone than my brain is admitting because somehow, I’m blindfold in the passenger’s seat of Holden’s work truck, trying really hard to appear calm despite how fast my heart is pounding. The sweat pooling in my palms is going to be a dead giveaway of just how much of a paranoid freak I am if I can’t calm down, but I’ve never allowed anyone this much control over me! It’s new… this trust thing. The funny part is, I could never imagine Holden hurting me in anyway that didn’t involve my heart and if I’m honest with myself, he definitely has that already.

Next thing I know, I feel the cool December breeze as he opens my door, letting in all kinds of laughs and squeals from behind him. At least the laughter is comforting, but I could do without the screams. Someone out there is terrified, halting me for a second as I start to swing my legs out into the night air. My nerves are stifling behind the silk scarf he tied to blanket me in darkness, but they calm immediately when Holden takes my hand gently tugging me into the unknown.

“Look, I know we agreed to be creative with our Christmas gifts and I hope you like this one. I wasn’t sure—” He pauses as he slams the door behind me, placing his hand on the small of my back and increasing the warmth around me with a gentle nudge toward the squealing sounds, which thankfully now sound like excitement, not fear. “Part of me thinks I should have played it safe and gone with some diamond earrings. Its safer to get women jewelry, right?” The nervousness in his chuckle sooths me into wanting to comfort him, forgetting that I have all my trust in this person at the moment. This is the man I’ve spent the last few blissful months with: he’s great with kids, great with my dog, and great with me.

“No.” I turn toward his voice, shaking my head enough to get through to him that I want whatever he has planned. I manage to actually wiggle the tie loose behind my head in the process and see the first sign of lights above me. “I want to see what you planned. I promise.”

Instantly, I feel my blindfold being released from its knot and instead of darkness, I’m looking into the hesitant eyes that I’ve fallen so deep for, while he stammers out the explanation for our night in a mash of words like I would run away with my pants on fire if he didn’t talk fast enough.

“I know this is a little crazy but there was that night that you said you wish you could have some crazy fun for once… and you said that when you were a kid you wanted to run away to join the circus—” he waves his arms wide, showing our surrounding of trampolines and trapezes, harnesses and safety wires, “so… I just thought it might be cool… well… if we could pretend for the night. Go for a fly.” His sweet smile immediately puts me at ease, and I throw my arms around his neck, so he stops wondering if he messed up.

“I love it, Holden.” I exhale, feeling my nerves turn to excitement. “This is the absolute coolest gift ever! I can’t wait to fly on the trapeze!”

The Christmas tree catches my eye. Should I? Maybe I should wait? I’ll do it.
“Hang on a second.” I start for the tree and hear the clink of cups.
“I’ll take these to the kitchen.” Quentin takes a step.
“Wait. Please.” I hold up a hand in Quentin’s direction.
“Is everything alright?” He sets the cups on a table and they make their way over to where I’m standing.
“Yeah.” I take an envelope from the tree and clutch it in my hands.
At our first Christmas, we decided to write down something we were thankful for and place it in an envelope on the Christmas tree. On Christmas day, we would each read what we were thankful for to one another.
“I wasn’t sure if I could wait until Christmas day to tell you both what I was thankful for this year.” I continue, holding the envelope. “I want to tell you now.”
Quentin and Jasper exchange glances. This was a break in tradition. They shrugged simultaneously and waited patiently. I wasn’t sure if they noticed how much alike they were becoming. It was as life was truly making them the brothers they wanted to be.
“What is it, my love?” Quentin steps forward, glancing at the envelope.
“Whatever it is, we will face it together, like we always have.” Jasper reassures, taking my other hand.
I look to the envelope and hold it out. “Would you both read it together?”
They exchange glances and drop their hands.
Quentin takes the envelope from my hand and Jasper comes to his side. Shoulder-to-shoulder they stand together as Quentin tears open the envelope.
They take their time reading it and then look my way. Quentin’s eyes mist over as Jasper stares.
“Are you sure?” Hope laces Jasper’s question, and I nod my head.
“When did you confirm it?” Shock registers on Quentin’s face when he looks up, tears glisten in his eyes.
“A couple of weeks ago.” I watched my love drop the letter as a tear treads down his cheek.
Jasper rushes and wraps his arms around my shoulders, lifting me from the floor. I grasp his shoulders, watching Quentin. My love stares at the letter as if he’s unable to believe the contents. Jasper whirls me around once and sets me on the floor. He smacks a kiss to my lips. “We’re going to be dads again, Quen. Can you believe it?”

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