Chapter Twenty Three
He bought her a tree. A real tree so tall it brushed the ceiling of her apartment and made the place smell like Christmas.
Mia was enchanted. “Kissmass.”
Roxy was equally enchanted. Right now every day felt like “kissmass.”
She barely noticed the cold, the scratchy fairy costume, the lengthening line of people waiting to see Santa or the way her feet ached. Her head was too full of thoughts and dreams and all of them involved James.
Sex had never been like that for her. That night had meant something. She knew it had. During the week leading up to Christmas they stole kisses and conversations, talking about everything, sharing anecdotes and secrets. Everything except their feelings. She kept waiting for him to say something, and when the days passed and he didn’t, another wisp of cloud floated across the blue sky of her happiness. Excuses, explanations—they flowed across her tortured brain like a balm. She told herself that he was busy, had things on his mind, was waiting for just the right moment. But that moment never came and gradually she forced herself to accept that he didn’t feel the way she did. She’d known pain before, but nothing like this. It was so intense that if it hadn’t been for Mia she wouldn’t have dragged herself out of bed in the mornings.
Christmas Eve passed in a cloud of preparation and on Christmas day she was up early, baked cinnamon cookies following Eva’s instructions carefully and spent time with her daughter. Mia’s reaction to the princess castle was everything she’d hoped it would be, and an hour before she was due to join all her friends for Christmas lunch at their favourite restaurant, Romano’s, James arrived carrying a huge box wrapped in silver paper for Mia.
“You should let her open it now because it’s from all of us and the others will all want to know if she loved it.” Everything about him made her melt with longing—his deep voice, those strong shoulders, his kindness to her daughter. His actions said that he cared, and yet to her he’d said nothing to indicate that his feelings for her had deepened. She was confused and hurt.
She wasn’t sure how she was going to make it through the day without anyone noticing that her heart was breaking. Eva would notice. She noticed everything.
She helped Mia open the box, and it was a big box.
That didn’t seem to defeat her daughter, who ripped at the paper like a pro and dived inside.
“Book!” There was delight in her voice and Roxy smiled. She wondered how it was possible that you could feel every single one of your child’s emotions as if they were your own.
“More than one book,” James said, and Roxy glanced from Mia’s face to the box.
Books. So many books.
“They’re from all of us,” James said. “You asked me for a list, so we all picked books that our parents read us as kids. They’re all in here so you can read the same ones to Mia.”
There was a pause. A silence that Mia broke.
“Mommy crying,” she said. “Mommy sad.”
“I’m not sad.” Roxy almost choked on the emotion as she pulled the books out of the box. Titles and covers blurred in front of her eyes. Goodnight Moon, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Anne of Green Gables, Charlotte’s Web—the books piled up until they rivaled Mia’s Lego tower. She opened one and saw that it was from Eva, and she’d written in it.
Grams read me this when I was nine.
“Ballet Shoes.” It was so typically Eva.
There was The Borrowers from Frankie, The Chronicles of Narnia from Paige.
And another pile, each individually wrapped with a handwritten gift tag and an age written on it. All of them were from James.
Her throat was full. “You didn’t just build her shelves—you’ve given her a library.”
“Now you can read her a bedtime story every night and never run out.”
His thoughtfulness was the final blow to her self-control.
He was everything she’d ever wanted and she hadn’t expected a ring or a proposal, but she’d hoped, desperately, to hear I love you.
In her whole life, no adult had ever said those words to her. Not her parents and not Eddie. Mia was the first person to ever say them and she’d desperately wanted James to be the second. That would have been the best Christmas gift.
But he wasn’t going to say it, and she was starting to wonder if they’d all been right.
What if she really wasn’t easy to love?
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