Authors: Elena Aitken
After a few laps around the pond, Andi said, "Okay, I think I can do it on my own."
"Are you sure?" Colin didn't think she would fall again, but he didn't want to let go of her hand. He liked the way it felt in his. It fit.
She nodded. Her mouth fixed in a determined line. Andi was stubborn, Colin was learning. If she wanted to skate, she would.
"Okay," he said and released her hand. "I'll stay close. Just in case."
Her face still fixed in concentration, Andi pushed ahead with her right foot. Then, slowly slid her left foot up. She did it a few more times. Shuffling awkwardly across the ice, Andi managed to move a few feet. "I'm doing it," she cried and spun herself around so quickly, she would have crashed if Colin hadn't reached out and grabbed her around the waist again.
"Yes you do," she whispered. Her voice was husky and incredibly sexy.
He should have kissed her then. Her lips were only inches from him. He only had to bend down and they would meet. The flush on her cheeks, was it from desire or the exertion of skating? Would she respond? Or would he ruin their holiday together?
"You should try again," he said and pulled away from her, releasing her waist.
He heard her sigh, or at least he thought he did, and she turned away from him, putting her arms out to her sides. Andi resumed her skate-shuffle and after a few steps she started lengthening her stride and even gliding a little.
"You're doing great," Colin said. He skated beside her. Close enough to help, but not too close. The urge to grab her, kiss her deep and put a real flush in her face was strong. But as much as he wanted to, he couldn't risk making their arrangement awkward. He was finally having a traditional Christmas, and enjoying it. That would disappear, and so would she, if Andi didn't reciprocate his feelings. Besides, the last thing he needed was a relationship, and Andi was definitely not the one night stand type of girl.
Together they skated around the pond and after a few more laps, Colin said, "How about a break?"
"No way," Andi said and quickened her pace. She had improved at a remarkable rate. "I'm doing awesome. This is so fun." She smiled and turned to look at him but in the process lost her balance and wobbled on her blades. Her face returned to a mask of concentration and within seconds she'd regained her composure. "Don't tell me you're getting tired?" She didn't turn to look at him, focusing instead on what she was doing.
"Not tired," he said. "But thirsty. Besides, we have more planned for today."
"We do?" she said.
"Of course. You didn't really think this was it, did you?"
She smiled, but didn't take her gaze off the ice.
"I'll tell you what, I'll go find us some water. You make a couple more laps."
"Thanks, Colin. I'll be fine. Honestly."
He laughed and watched her go ahead. He almost followed her again, the draw towards Andi was undeniably strong. But he didn't want to appear to eager, so after a few moments, he turned and skated towards the bench where he'd left his shoes.
Colin sat down on the bench next to another man taking his skates off.
"Your wife's first time on skates?" the man asked.
Colin looked over at him while he undid the laces. "Yeah," he said, not bothering to correct him. "Can you believe she hasn't skated since she was a kid?"
"Well she seems to be doing pretty good now," the man said. "I'm Kirk by the way." He extended his hand which Colin took. "I'm up here with my family, we just taught my son to skate too."
Colin looked to where he pointed, a woman was loading a baby into a sleigh wagon while a little boy made snow angels. "Did he like it?" he asked.
Kirk laughed. "He did, but I think he liked the promise of hot chocolate after even more."
Colin tugged his first skate off. "I'd have to agree with him. Hot chocolate sounds good."
"Hey, why don't you two join us?"
Colin looked over to Andi, who was still doggedly skating around the pond. He smiled at her dedication. For a woman who hadn't wanted to try it, she was doing amazing.
"The Lodge was going to set up a big bonfire down by the toboggan hill later," Kirk said. "There'll be hot chocolate, apple cider and snacks, according to my wife. Should be nice."
Colin took another glance at Andi before looking back at Kirk. "It does sound nice. I don't remember seeing that on the schedule they gave me at the front desk yesterday."
"Apparently, that schedule of events is out the window."
"What do you mean? I thought this place had the best Christmas activities around. Better than the North Pole, even."
Kirk pulled his boot on and grabbed his skates. "They do. We come here every year for the holidays. But from what I understand, the event coordinator up and quit yesterday. So, they're winging it. So far so good, though."
"Sounds like it," Colin said and turned his attention to his other skate. "That's really too bad though, I had a whole thing planned for us for the next few days."
"Well, like I said, they're still going to have stuff going on. But Carmen at the desk was pretty frazzled when I saw her earlier." Kirk stood. "Anyway, I should get going. But maybe we'll see you guys later? The kids are great, but some adult company would be good too. I'm sure our wives would get along too."
Colin was about to tell him that Andi wasn't his wife, but something stopped him. "Yeah," he said. "We'll see you later. Hot chocolate sounds perfect. Besides, I have to rethink my itinerary as it turns out."
Kirk laughed and returned to his family. Colin watched him kiss his wife on the cheek and ruffle the boys hair. Something in his chest tweaked. Was it longing? There was no way he wanted the happy family lifestyle. Colin hadn't given relationships much thought since the mess with Patty. Over the years he'd learned it was so much easier not to get too deeply involved with women. Anything longer than a week was reason for trouble.
Besides, whenever he thought of what a healthy, loving relationship should be like, he thought of his parents. Since they were teenagers, they'd been deeply in love, and everyday of their life together they didn't hesitate to show it. But when his mom died unexpectedly in a car accident, sixteen year old Colin watched while his father deteriorated and threw himself into work, until he was a different person all together. He might as well have been an orphan. It wasn't until two years later, when Colin moved out, that he lost his father officially. His dad had never been able to heal after losing the love of his life and finally he just gave up. How could someone love another person so much that they simply chose not to live without them? Colin couldn't understand it. Nor did he want to experience it.
But he couldn't deny that seeing Kirk and his family together sparked something in him. Maybe at thirty-five, things were finally changing?
"Hey," Andi said as she skated towards him. Colin looked up just in time to catch her as she crashed into him, toppling Colin and the bench. Andi landed on top of him, knocking the air out of him. He expected her to be apologetic and tripping over herself with embarrassment, instead she broke into laughter.
"Good catch," she managed to get out. "I have a little problem with stopping."
It took Colin a moment to get his breath back with her weight on top of him. When he was able to, he said, "Having fun?" He grabbed her around the waist and hoisted her to the side and off him.
"I am," she said between breaths. "This is great. We'll have to do this again."
Colin stood and pulled Andi to her unsteady feet. "Absolutely. We can come back and skate again." As soon as the words left his mouth, he swallowed hard. He shouldn't have assumed she'd want to spend more time with him. After all, she was here on her own holiday too. "If you want to, that is," he added quickly.
"Are you kidding? Of course I want to." She sat down on the bench that Colin had righted, and started unlacing her skates. "I'll kick your butt next time." She laughed.
"You have an amazing laugh," he said, and before she could respond, he added, "Here, let me help you." Colin dropped to his knees and expertly unlaced Andi's skates.
"So, what's next?" Andi said.
"Oh, so now you're into this mission I have to make you enjoy Christmas?"
She shook her head. "I wouldn't say that," she said. "In fact, I still don't think that ice skating qualifies as a festive activity. But it was fun. So if you have anything else equally fun planned, then I'm game."
Andi looked up at Colin as they walked into the clearing. "Okay, this is over the top Christmasy."
The fire was roaring and situated among the pine trees. Picnic tables had been cleared of snow and were clustered at one end of the fire. They held thermos of hot chocolate, apple cider and an array of snacks and toppings for the drinks. Log benches encircled the fire, occupied by adults and children alike. A man playing the guitar sat on a log, strumming carols that the group was singing along to as they sipped their drinks.
"You'll enjoy it, I promise," Colin said and squeezed her hand again.
Every time he did that, it sent a thrill through her. She loved the feel of his hand in hers. It felt like it belonged there. She would happily hold his hand all day. And if that meant going along with his crazy plan to convert her into a fan of the holidays, she'd go with it. The time she'd spent with Colin had been the most enjoyable she'd had in a while and she wasn't in a hurry to stop it.
"We'll see," she said.
"Hey, Colin," a man said, noticing them as they made their way to the tables.
"Kirk." Colin let go of her hand and reached out to shake the man's hand. He was wearing a baby strapped to his chest in a snuggly. A baby in a pink snowsuit. Andi's stomach flipped.
"You two know each other?" she asked.
"Well, not really," Colin said. "We met back at the pond." He turned to Kirk again and said, "Kirk, this is Andi."
"It's nice to meet you, come meet my wife," Kirk said as he shook her hand. "There's tons of room at the fire."
Andi glanced over at Colin, who shrugged. She didn't want to spend time with strangers, especially if they included a baby, but she didn't want to be rude either, so she followed Colin's lead and went with him to the fire.
"Sarah, this is Colin and his wife, Andi."
Wife? Andi looked up at Colin, who had the decency to blush and offer a sheepish smile. When he didn't correct the man, Andi turned to the woman who'd just stood from the bench.
"Hi," she said.
"It's you," Sarah said. "What a nice surprise. Kirk told me about meeting your husband, but I had no idea it was you."
Again, Andi shot Colin a look before turning and smiling warmly at Sarah.
"You've met?" Kirk asked.
"We met last night," Andi said.
"She was the woman who helped Noah when he got lost."
"I thought you looked familiar," Kirk said. "Sorry I didn't recognize you, it was pretty dark. Thank you for helping our son."
Andi nodded. She remembered the happy family scene vividly. Sarah seemed like a nice woman, but the proximity of the baby was unsettling and she kept her body turned slightly away.
"Where is Noah?" Colin asked. "I'd like to congratulate him on his first time skating."
He liked kids? Andi felt something inside her stir. She couldn't remember Blaine ever asking about a child before. He'd been excited about their pregnancy, sure, but he'd never gone out of his way to befriend anyone else's child. Not that it mattered, she told herself. She wasn't in a relationship with this man. And she didn't have children. It didn't matter.
"That's so sweet," Sarah said. "He's playing reindeer games in the field with some of the other kids."
"Reindeer games?" Andi asked. Things were looking more Christmasy by the second.
Sarah nodded. "Isn't it great? They've thought of everything up here. It's the perfect place for families."
Andi tried to smile. She hadn't considered that fact when she'd fled to the mountains.
"Why don't you two sit," Kirk said. "Colin and I can grab some drinks."
"Hot chocolate okay?" Colin asked.
Andi nodded numbly and squeezed onto the bench where Sarah pointed.
The fire was hot even from her position a few feet away and it only took a few seconds before she was warmed through and had to take her gloves and hat off.
"Isn't it funny that our husbands found each other?" Sarah asked. She was excited, and from only the few minutes Andi had chatted with her, she could tell that Sarah was one of those people who were genuinely happy and sweet. Andi wouldn't be responsible for ruining her mood.
"I think it's great," Andi said, with as much sincerity as she could muster.
"Almost like we were meant to be friends," Sarah said. "You know, I just love coming up here for the holidays, but it's always nice to meet new people."
Andi stared into the flames. "How long have you been here?"
"Oh, only a few days. We're leaving on Boxing day to spend some time with Kirk's family. All of mine are out East. We could fly out to see them, but it's become a bit of a tradition for us to come here. And I think traditions are so important for young families, don't you?"
"We don't have children." Andi swallowed hard.
"Well there's plenty of time for that yet," Sarah said. "The two of you look so in love and cute together. I understand wanting to wait. You can never get those years back. Not that I'd trade it now, of course."
"Of course," Andi agreed. Sarah continued to talk about her kids and how wonderful they were, but Andi only half listened. Her mind was still on the comment Sarah had made about how she and Colin looked to be so in love. Really? What would she think if she knew they'd just met?
Before Andi could dwell on it any further, the guys returned with mugs of hot chocolate. "I was just telling Andi how you two have plenty of time to think about having kids," Sarah said.