A Christmas Memory

The night was still young yet already pitch black by the time the airplane made it to its destined gate. I paced between the two areas for exiting passengers up the large and long hall of the Will Roger’s Airport. The airport isn’t a huge one, but with only one plane left to arrive for the night and only one passenger I needed to see right away, the hall between both exists is long for my five foot two stature. Thankfully, before I can walk a trail into the tile, I see a few people emerging from the exit on the left.

He’s here, I thought, suddenly more eager than before if it was possible. I gripped the strap of my purse nervously. Why was I nervous? I shouldn’t be nervous. But I couldn’t stand still, shifting from foot to foot as I searched every travel-weary face that came through the exit, some greeted by others who had waited with me, other passengers heading straight to the escalators that would take them to baggage on the lower level.

Finally, I see a familiar face and my heart somersaults in my chest. My breath lifts and holds in my chest as our eyes meet and a spark snaps between us as he hurries towards me and I start fast walking to meet him halfway. Unperturbed joy bursts as I see his broad grin and hear his laugh as we finally touch, arms embracing and our coat-clad forms press tightly together. Two puzzle pieces finally connected again after months of computer video calls and cellphone texts. Overnight chats and hours worth of phone calls that could never amount to actually being together, being able to smell his cologne or feel his strong arms keeping me safely close against him.

Don’t leave me again, I want to say, but I know that his stay is only for a week. I swatted the unwanted thought away. The point was that he was there and we were together again. That’s all that mattered.

We kissed hurriedly as if afraid the other would disappear. It was obvious we didn’t care about the sparse crowd moving around us. It was only us then and there.

Thrumming with excitement and the warmth of him, I pulled back and reflected his happy smile. “Missed you.”

“I missed you, too, Beautiful.” I would never get over hearing him call me that, like it only rang true when spoken by him.

We grasped hands, fingers lacing as if one of us would float away from the other if not properly tethered together, and we made the walk to the escalators.

Our sides brushed as we walked, his hand letting go of mine to wrap around my waist and hold us together as we walked to baggage claim. Standing and waiting for his suitcase, I leaned my head against his shoulder. At home, I always tried to picture that my pillows were him, too much like a sixteen-year-old girl and not a twenty-something woman in her final year of her bachelor’s degree. But the pillows were too soft, and the hard feel of his shoulder beneath a tough leather jacket proved to me how much there wasn’t a comparison at all; he would always be better.

We didn’t stop smiling, talking about nothing and everything from his flight to my driving through Oklahoma City to pick him up, and when we had his bag and walked to my car, we decided to grab a late night bite to eat.

“Let’s go down to Bricktown,” he said, snapping his seatbelt securely. “To that area by the fountain.”

Bricktown is the entertainment area for OKC, with the Harkins Theater and its beautiful plaza with a large fountain and trees planted by the canal that looped around the shops and restaurants. It would be dark and freezing, but it should still be decorated for the holidays with strings of lights turning the leafless trees into glowing beacons. But it would be frigid and eerily silent, even if I did prefer no crowds of people with children running and screaming everywhere.

But he could have asked to eat airport-bought sandwiches by the baggage belt and I would have said yes. I only wanted to stay beside him for every moment I could.

The drive was pleasant, despite that I hated driving in the dark, but OKC’s streetlights made it doable. That and the warm, large hand that held mine in between the driver and passenger’s seats.

“Oh, no.” He sighed as we drove out from under the underpass that led straight into the Bricktown area, the buildings and street lined with red brick. Then I saw why he sounded let down; the plaza was off, dark and unlit. They must have shut the fountain off so the water wouldn’t freeze in the thirty-something degree night air. “Oh, well. We can always come back tomorrow.”

IHOP was still aglow, a cheap yet welcome refuge in the otherwise lifeless city. We weren’t the only patrons, and the overnight staff were used to a crowd despite the late hour, so thankfully our waitress was nice as we sat and ordered, not grumpy and though probably wishing to be home like anyone would be.

He sat on my side of the booth, a small tradition we enjoyed, all so he could keep his arm around my shoulders, hugging me to his side as we sipped on bland yet hot coffee and had dishes of eggs and ketchup-covered hash browns. After everything is eaten and the last few sips of coffee left in our mugs has chilled, we decide to turn in for the night at his hotel room.

In the car, I feel full and satisfied. With the handsome, dark-haired man in my passenger seat, everything is right for a few moments. Any problems I had with undergrad courses or my upcoming capstone project or other nonsense felt just like that: nonsense that was far away.

We started up the street, but as we passed the plaza…

“It’s lit up, it’s lit up,” he said, like a kid discovering Disney World on the roadside. “Turn around, turn around!”

In no way was the U-turn I created on the barren street legal, but luckily, we were the only vehicle and people there. I found a paralell spot that otherwise would have been impossible to get during the busy shopping weekends. Now, the entire street and plaza were as silent as winter snow and just as cold. My coat wasn’t too thick, but my breath was light and head dizzy by the idea of what he had in mind. Bringing us to where our first date, a movie at the Harkins Theater, had been.

My mind quickly spun from that to the freezing wind as it caught my hair and blew it into my face once I stepped out of the car. God, it was so freaking freezing!

I clutched my arms across my front and gritted my jaw as he came around and took one of my hands. For a moment, he hesitated when he saw my tense face. “Oh, sweetheart, is it too cold? We can just come back tomorrow_ _”

“No, no, I’m fine, really!” I tried to smile but it was a grimace. I hated the cold and the feeling was mutual. My skin already felt raw and lips chapped. But no, I was going to deal with it. I wanted to see what was next, if my inkling was correct.

He led me up the sidewalk, to the glowing haven of the plaza, the water fountain gushing its spouts and a gorgeous haze surrounding it from the string lights covering every tree in dazzling colors of red, green, and white. It was our private escape, though I was shivering hard, my gloved hands gripping and ungripping for blood to flow through my numb fingers.

He pulled out his cell phone, thumb swiping over the screen before a song began to play: Nora Jones’ Come Away With Me.

That was the song we had danced to after the movie, in that very spot by the fountain, and at its end of our first slow dance together, he had pulled an arm around my waist to lower me in a dip, kissing me with perfect timing. There were crowds of people that day, but they didn’t exist in that moment. It might as well have been empty as it was on this night.

I didn’t think about the cold as he took my hand, lifting it as he wrapped his arm around me again. I put my free hand on his shoulder, and we swayed together, very little space between us as we smiled at one another, frostbite be damned.

He began to speak then, to tell me about how life had changed so much for him since meeting me, that he thought his life was settled and fated to be missing something forever. Maybe he had done something in the past to deserve it, and perhaps it was okay to be forever unsatisfied. But then he met me, and he knew God was giving him that missing piece.

“I can’t tell you how happy you make me, and how much I want that for the rest of my life.”

Gently, he kissed me, lips warm and thawing mine as his hand gripped mine tighter. All at once, he pulled away, ducking down, and I blinked to see that he was bowed on one knee, his hand reaching into his leather jacket pocket.

“Abigail Lauren Vestal,” he said, smiling so endearingly, his voice a warm hold onto my heart. His hands held up a small box, its lid open, a diamond ring gleaming in the Christmas lights. “Will you marry me?”

I choked, surprised at myself, but I couldn’t help a tear escape down my cheek. I swiped the tear trail away before it could become frost against my skin, and I felt my head nodding before realizing I was moving at all. My voice was low and choked with tears, but my lips trembled into a smile as I answered him, “Yes!”

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