The first to arrive are my aunt and uncle, Marvin and Lily. They come baring gifts and deviled eggs, as they do every year, as well as eggnog and a chocolate cake. I set the presents under our grand, tall, heavily decorated Pine scented Christmas tree and stuff the food in the kitchen while my mother and father visit excitedly with them. When I enter into the living room, my aunt bolts towards me, immediately wrapping me in a tight, warm squeeze.
"Your dress, Anna! I didn't know you liked yellow," she comments. I peck her cheek.
"Mom picked it out. Yellow is my favorite color," I inform her. Uncle Marvin gives me a warm, approving smile.
The rest of the guests soon arrive; cousins, my other aunt, my other uncle. Grandparents and family friends drop by to hand out presents and try my mother's ham. Nearly everyone comments on my dress, my hair, my lipstick. I thank them over and over and feel a slight ping of warmth that I look so nice, and that my family is approving. I'll have to thank my mother for this dress.
We have dinner and sit at the large, deep brown dinning table that has been in our family for four generations. It's long and sturdy, perfect for a large family like mine. We engage in casual conversation. My father and uncles discuss religion, as they do almost every year. My aunts discuss, with me, the dress, the new job my aunt is thinking of taking, and what I plan to do in the near future. I tell them what I always tell people.
"I plan to write. I'm trying out a few ideas for a novel."
They always simply nod and move on.
Dinner is delicious, as it is every year. After dinner, everyone scatters and continues visiting. A half hour goes by. I stick close to my mother and listen to their chit-chat.
"I'm thinking, in the spring...." my mother says. "I want to plant a large garden in the backyard. It's so empty back there, we have all this space, and groceries are getting to be so expensive-- I thought, why not?"
I tune in and out until something unusual catches my ears.
"Oh, my Goodness!" my grandmother gasps lowly. We all turn, surprised, to see my sister and Daniel standing in the kitchen doorway. The room is painfully still and mute. Daniel is digging something out of his jacket pocket. Marie is blanching. We are all blanching. Daniel drops to one knee and gazes lovingly at my sister. He says, in a soft, yet deep voice, "Marie Sloane..." His confidence is staggering. My jaw is on the floor.
My sister is on the verge of tears.
"Marie, will you marry me?" he blurts, losing his nerve in a hurry. He looks so nervous I nearly giggle. He looks as if he is choking. Marie squeals and hops on her high heels.
"Yes! Yes, yes!" she cries.
This proposal is so unexpected, but we all know it was inevitable. Marie and Daniel are the perfect couple and have been for a long time. My mother and aunts abandon me on the couch and join Marie and Daniel. They hug and squeal with Marie and grab curiously at her hand. My cousins snap photos.
Another half hour goes by. I congratulate my newly engaged sister and our father makes a subtle toast, wishing them as much happiness as he has with my mother.
In another fifteen minutes, we all gather around the tree and my father hands out the presents. I receive three books between my aunts, a typewriter from my grandmother, a necklace with a diamond studded heart jewel from my sister and a package of sultry multicolored panties from my mother. I slip on my necklace and grin at the typewriter. It's an old-fashioned, click-clack, tap, tap, tap typewriter. I place it in my room, along with my panties and books. I decide to place it on my desk, removing books and scrap pieces of paper. As I do this, off in my own little world, the doorbell rings downstairs.
It ring many times, creating a short, erratic tune. Out of curiosity, I leave my new gifts and bounce down the stairs, expecting it to be carolers or a neighbor. I hear voices before I see past my father's large frame as he wrenches open the front door.
"Hello!" a tiny, chime-like voice greets. "Merry Christmas"
"Katherine!" my father says, grabbing a small woman with bronze hair in a tight, yet familiar hug. Katherine? My parents have friends I've never met? I stand on my toes to see. All I can see is the snow in her hair.
"Jessica, look who it is!" my father says to my mother. She pushes past me and gasps when she notices the small woman.
"What are you doing here?" my mother demands happily, returning the woman's hug. Frustrated, I stand back, fuming, to wait.
"Come in," my father says, nearly dragging the woman in. "Tell me you didn't bring--"
"Robert!" my mother interrupts, poking her head out into the cold afternoon weather. Robert... Rob. I feel the blood leave my face. Katherine and Robert Segura. They were our neighbors since I was a child, but moved years ago due to both Robert and Katherine finding better jobs in California. Katherine enters, shaking snow from her hair. She is just as I remember. Short, thin, fragile and beautiful. Her eyes are large, happy and blue, but aged.
I hear him enter, stomping snow off of his shoes before heading inside, straight to my mother. He towers over her, standing at least 6'1 to her 5'4. I stare with that deer-in-the-headlights look, uncertain of what to do as they greet each other. I decide to not face them at all. I turn, quickly heading for the stairs.
"Anna!" Marie calls after me as I pass. "Don't you want to say hello?" Her tone is mocking. She knows I don't want to see them
I don't answer her. I rush upstairs and into my room before I'm seen by anyone else.
I can't believe this is happening. I feel dizzy; I'm so shocked they are here. Why are they here? Why now?
I sit on the end of my bed, beside the books and typewriter, and cover my face with my hands. I see his face behind my eyelids, only his eyes are six years younger and laughing. His laugh echos through my room, turning me into a giggling mess.
This, of course, is just a memory. A memory that took place in this very room when I was fourteen.
I open my eyes and push the thoughts from my mind. I haven't spoken to him in six years; I don't plan on starting now. I rub the lipstick from my lips and work on setting my type writer up on my desk. I stroke it's keys and load it with blank, smooth paper.
I sit and type. I go over writing exercises, describing my perfect day and a joyful memory I had as a child. I choose my swing that still hangs in the backyard. I describe the yellow rope and the thick piece of wood I sat on everyday after school. I describe the wind in my hair and how badly it hurt when I fell out at age eight. As much as I dislike it, that brings back a different memory.
The sun is shining. It's late June. We are getting new neighbors. I hear they have a boy who is only two years older than me. I hear him outside, laughing at something I can't see. I rock back and forth, pushing myself higher and higher on the swing. My uncle Marvin hung this swing on this tree a week earlier, on my eighth birthday. I hear the boy laughing again. His laugh is so funny I start to laugh with him. He stops, hearing me and yells out, "Hello?"
I pause and stop swinging altogether. He heard me. What do I say?
"Hey, you!" he yells, startling me. I see his face then, peaking over the backyard fence. He stares at me. His eyes are deep sea blue.
"What?" I say. He throws one arm over the fence, and then another, climbing over and dropping onto the grass. He's taller than me, larger than me. I sit, unsure of what he wants.
"Were you laughing at me?" he asks. At first, I think he's angry. But then he smiles, grinning from ear to ear with such sweetness I smile back.
A rapping at the door startles me back to the present.
"Annabel?" his voice says. I gasp, covering my mouth with my hands so that he doesn't hear. Go away.
"Hello?" he coos, tapping on the door again. "I know that you are in there, Anna. I know this is your room," he chuckles. His laughter makes my stomach flip.
"What?" I snap at him. The doorknob turns. I hold my breath. He pokes his head inside and I nearly burst. I want to scream and cry and hit something just at the very sight of him. But I don't. I sit at my desk and ball my hands up in my lap. We gaze at each other. He stands, as tall and as handsome as ever, in my doorway. Just like old times. I suddenly feel very young. I feel eight and ten and fifteen all at once.
He finally breaks the dreary silence.
"You look..." He doesn't finish. His dark hair is tousled, too long. He always liked his hair long and it drove me crazy.
I feel as though someone has shoved a metal bar down my throat. Can't breathe, can't talk.
His eyes leave my face and land on my desk. He smirks.
"I'm happy to see you still write," he says. He moves, coming closer. I hold my breath again. He snatches the paper from my typewriter. "You were always the creative one."
"You're leaving?" I rasp. Robert stands, shoulders slumped in front of me. He had just turned seventeen. His jacket hides his dark hair. It's winter. Snow covers us both. I'm freezing but I don't care. I glare up at him, shivering and shaking.
"Why are you just telling me now?" I demand. I'm furious. I'm a ball of anger. He shrugs his shoulders. I ball my fists up by my sides.
"My mom got a job. And I'm going to find one there with her."
"So, that's it, then?" I growl. His eyes soften. I've hurt him.
"No, Anna. I will call you everyday," he declares. "I'll call and write to you and visit you as many times as I can afford."
I shake my head, now staring away from him. I know I'm going to cry.
"It's not good enough."
"Writing techniques?" he asks. I stare at the paper in his hands and nod.
"I remember that swing. Is it still up?" he wonders. His eyes smolder into mine as he sets the paper down.
"Still up," I confirm and swallow hard. I take a deep breath.
"It's surprising to see you here," I say coldly.
"We are moving back," he tells me. "Well, I am. I have already bought a house across town. On Cherry St. You know, the one you always liked," he says in a teasing manner. I know the house he's talking about. We walked by it many times in our early teens. It's a large house, five bedrooms, four bathrooms, winding stairs and large, beautiful windows. I've written about it many times. It's my dream house. And he bought it.
"You don't say much..." he murmurs after a moment of uncomfortable silence. He smiles then, amused. I stand and push past him, moving across the room to the door. I open it and turn to him.
"I have not heard a word out of you for six years, Robert. You don't deserve to hear what I have to say," I growl at him. He stands, his face blank. I don't stop there.
"Or maybe you do!" I shout and slam my door shut. My blood is boiling.
"I have sat in this room balling my eyes out over you. I waited for days, months, years for even a measly call from you. I got nothing! You made me feel like nothing," I tell him, shouting. He stares, face fallen, mouth open, as if the words just won't come out. I feel the tears working their way from my eyes. I sigh, wiping my lashes, annoyed and upset that the one time I wear make-up, I end up smudging it.
"Anna, I wanted to call, I...." he says. His voice is so pained it upsets me more. He crosses the room. I break against his chest, crying into the white button-down shirt. He rubs my back, pressing his face into my hair.
"I'm sorry, Annie," he whispers against my forehead. He plants a soft kiss there. I push on his chest, not wanting to cry anymore, afraid of what he will do next. He holds me there, tightly against his chest and before I can protest, he tilts my head towards the ceiling and kisses my nose. His lips flutter against my skin. His arms tighten around my waist. He kisses my cheeks, nose and eyelids before finally capturing my lips with his. I feel my back against the door.
I pull away from him, feeling lighter than air. My head is spinning, my heart is erratic.
"No," I say, putting my hand on his chest. He halts, waiting patiently. I stare up at him, feeling more emotionally jumbled than I ever have before. I reach behind me and turn the lock to my door. He kisses me again.
"You are as beautiful as ever," he tells me. He lifts me effortlessly, walking until he finds my bed. He shoves my Christmas books onto the floor. He sets me down, gently and I tug him down beside me. All the anger I felt before has evaporated. I feel nothing but joy.
"You're as handsome as ever," I murmur. I can't take my eyes away from his face. I've wanted to see that face for so long and now here he is.
"Annabel, what about the party?" he wonders, amused. "They will think you got so angry that you decided to murder me in cold blood and stuff my body under the floor boards," he laughs, his eyes are liquid and warm. I cringe at my name.
"Don't call me that. Or I'll call you Robert," I threaten, remembering how much we both hated out full names. He groans in disgust and I laugh, hard and loud. He joins in, never taking his eyes away from mine.
"Call me Annie," I murmur, moving close to him again.
"Call me Robbie," he chuckles. I laugh again.
I kiss him. "We should go back to the party..." I whisper. He sighs, but knows I'm right.
We stick close together downstairs, brushing past each other and almost always touching. We talk to only each other. We try to be subtle and not draw too much attention to the unexpected reunion of ours, but my sister and brothers crack jokes about things we did together as kid and teens. We don't mind. We smile at the memories.
Three weeks later, I move into the beautiful old house on Cherry St along with Robert.