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christmas happy ending

CHRISTMAS HAPPY ENDING

It was December 11th, two weeks before Christmas, I waited a little impatiently for the traffic light to change after finishing what I thought was the last of my gift buying for my parents, siblings, and their families. It had snowed overnight and the streets were now slushy, the hiss of slow moving cars on the wetted pavement greeted my ears. I stood there congratulating myself. Thinking how well organized I had been about shopping this year—not waiting until the last minute for a change. My thoughts were disturbed by the sound of slush spattering upon the sidewalk as a fast moving car approached the intersection close to the curb. Too late! I was going to be covered in icy, cold, discolored, snow and water. I closed my eyes, averting my face from what was coming, thinking my knee high boots and long winter coat would offer some protection. I could hear the slush hitting around me. But amazingly, none hit me. I opened my eyes to find I was looking at a blue winter nylon coat just inches from my face. Then a deep male voice spoke.

"Glad I was able to step in front of you in time."

I took a step back and found myself looking into the most beautiful hazel eyes I had ever seen. I stepped backwards another half a step, still not believing what had happened. When I did a handsome face with a full, short trimmed beard and mustache materialized. He was dark haired, about four inches taller than me His smile radiant, his teeth white and well ordered. I had been close enough to get a hint of cologne, or perhaps of shampoo, from the medium length brown hair visible inside his parka. I managed to compose myself after a few seconds and smiled.

"Thank you. I was sure I was doomed to be a mess. I just didn't notice in time."

"My pleasure. It's not every day I manage to save a damsel in distress," he replied cheerily.

With that he walked away, the back of his coat covered with wet, half-frozen globs of dirty slush. I called after him.

"Thank you again."

I crossed the street and walked to the parking lot thankful there were still gentlemen left in the world. Chivalry wasn't completely dead. The vision of his eyes came back to me. They were so dreamy. Then a vision of them looking down at me as he loomed over my naked body appeared. I pushed the thought away. Four months after my breakup and I was starting to want a man in my life again and his manly odor had triggered something inside me. My god, he hadn't even touched me and I was off in fantasy land.

I arrived at my apartment less than an hour later and proceeded to wrap the gifts I had purchased. I was ready for Christmas! I had even managed to find something I was pleased with for the 'Secret Santa' drawing at work. Which was especially nice, as the office Christmas party was this afternoon at a restaurant in town. Okay, so maybe some of my shopping was last minute.

I was looking forward to the party and at the same time wasn't. There were several men I worked with that would be knocking on my door so to speak. It was common knowledge I had ended my relationship and was available. Each of them had expressed an interest in me in one form or another over the past two months. But I didn't find any of them particularly attractive. I knew I would deal with it—I always had in the past, even in high school. I was still gun shy after my breakup and had just started dating again after being asked several times by men I didn't work with. In a way, my icy encounter on the street bothered me—I had now fantasied about a man I had met for but a few seconds. Was I getting desperate?

I had showered earlier so I went into the closet and started to look at what I would wear. It being cold outside, my first thought was a nice pant suit. Then I remembered the party last year when I had worn one. The room had gotten warm and I had started to perspire after a while and felt uncomfortable for the rest party—no reason to endure that again. I found my navy blue pencil dress with a plunging neckline that showed enough cleavage to make me interesting, but not so deep as to make it too daring, suggesting desperation for attention. It would look nice with a light weight off-white shawl, and a pair black shoes with one inch heels. My black leather envelope clutch purse would be a nice addition. Having made my selection I elected not to wear panty hose and opted to simply shave my legs again to give them a nice smooth attractive appearance after applying moisturizer.

At work, I tried to dress conservatively so as to not emphasize my features too much—mostly by wearing clothes that fit just right. For this event however, I chose to look entirely feminine. I thought to myself—Dana this is the best you're going to look all day, not a bad look, professional, yet feminine.

I gathered my long winter dress coat and put it on, picked up my gift, and walked out to my car. Half an hour later I arrived at the restaurant, walked in, being greeted in the lobby by several of my female coworkers, who pointed me to the room where the party was being held. After greeting a few others, I headed to the cloak room I had spied on the way in. Feeling upbeat, ready to enjoy myself, I stepped confidently forward.

I walked to the dimly lit cloak room and found there was no attendant on duty. I walked in and went towards the back, found an empty hanger and hung my coat. I had my clutch purse in my hand and managed to drop it on the floor, then kicked it under the filled rack of coats. I cursed silently to myself and kneeled down, only to find the bag had bounced all the way to the wall beyond easy reach.

Disgusted, I got down on my hands and knees and crawled in far enough to snag the purse with my fingertips and started to back out. It was then I felt myself bump into something. I hesitated, then moved my butt over a bit, then started to back out again. My head had just cleared the overhanging clothing when I found a hand stretched out to help me stand. I grasped it and it closed firmly around my hand, gently tugging me upwards. I gained my feet and looked—warm hazel eyes met mine. They were unmistakable. It was him! It was the man that had protected me from the slush this morning. I felt my face flush hot. This was more than a little embarrassing—I had pushed my tooshie right into his leg. He had a broad smile on his face.

"Well, it looks like we meet again. Nice view I might add. Not that this morning wasn't pleasant."

I stammered out a reply of sorts. My face felt hot. I finally I managed a small, embarrassed smile and a feeble, "Thank you for helping me. I'm sorry I didn't see you standing there."

"Again, my pleasure," as his eyes swept across me.

Totally embarrassed, I moved past him and quickly went to the room in which the party was being held as the thought came to me—Damn! What were the chances I would see him again?

I mingled for a while, and it didn't take long before the meal was served, my embarrassment left behind. After selecting a table, I was joined by the two men I hoped most to avoid. Fortunately, two female friends quickly filled the remaining seats, engaging me in conversation. The bar was open and I began to think it was time to get a glass of wine to go with my meal. I noticed almost everyone already had a mixed drink in hand. My female companions continued to divert the attention of the men, I was thankful for the small respite. I knew the worst was probably yet to come as the alcohol would surely loosen the men up—it always did.

Everyone finished eating and soon everyone was mingling and drinking. As much as I tried to avoid my interested male coworkers they seemed able to maintain contact with me one at a time—almost as if it were a tag team event. Jake was the worst offender—being in sales he was an extrovert regardless of the situation. He was starting to get on my nerves—after several drinks he was more aggressive than usual, and after several rather crude jokes, I decided to seek refuge in the ladies room. I started to walk out of the room, Jake following me into the corridor, talking all the way. I finally turned to him, giving away my last bit of patience.

"Jake, I don't need any help using the restroom. Maybe you should go back to the party and I'll see you a few minutes."

"Dana, I'm sure we could find something interesting to do in there together," with a suggestive tone and laugh.

"That's not going to happen, Jake. I think it's time you lay off a little," I replied sharply in exasperation.

There wasn't an indication Jake had understood the hint. That is, if he heard me at all. I was relieved to find myself alone in the restroom. For a moment, I thought Jake might actually come in with me. I waited five minutes, hoping Jake had elected to rejoin the party. I was wrong—just as soon as I stepped out I saw him standing nearby and quickly took a few steps to avoid him while he was looking at another woman in the opposite direction. I hoped to put some distance between us. I didn't see the man who had just stepped out of the men's room located just across from the ladies restroom door. I ran right into him, his hands came to my shoulders to brake my momentum before I collided hard chest to chest with him. As it was, my breasts had met him square on. I stepped back and started to apologize. Oh my god no! It was him, again! His hazel eyes warm, inviting, paired with his wonderful smile appeared once more amid his well-manicured beard and mustache.

"Maybe I shouldn't have stopped you. The impact would have been a soft one judging from what I felt," he said quietly.

I gave him a rueful smile, then stammered in a quiet voice as I felt the heat grow on my face.

"I...I was just trying to get away from Jake. I'm so sorry," as my gaze shifted in Jake's direction. He looked at me with what I took as an empathetic expression, and leaned towards me slightly and said quietly.

"I think I understand. Shall we walk off a short distance to get you some breathing room?"

"Yes, yes please. That would be helpful," feeling that my embarrassment was the lesser of two evils when it came to Jake.

We walked down the hallway to an area with several chairs and a cushioned bench. He turned to me with an engaging smile.

"Since this is the third time today we have...shall we say...run into each other, perhaps we should at least exchange names. We just can't keep meeting like this, I mean we could, but it seems embarrassing for you. My name is Andrew Hudson, everyone calls me Andy."

He proffered his hand and I grasped it, thinking this was probably the least embarrassing way to end this latest klutzy episode. I felt my heart rate jump as I held it and looked into his eyes. This time, something unexpected happened—the electricity I felt surge through me was incredible, creating a different warmth that washed my embarrassment away. I swallowed hard, then slowly formed a response in my mind, struggling to hide my reaction to his touch.

"Dana Endicott. I guess I should say it's a pleasure. But the last two times we have...well...all...I seemed to feel is embarrassment."

He gave me a smile. "Well if it happens one more time I will have experienced almost every part of your anatomy to some extent."

I started to blush with the thought of his hands on me, on bare skin. I saw Jake approach as I sought to avoid looking into Andy's eyes. I was afraid my expression would reveal that our last encounter was not without a feeling of pleasure on my part as his strong hands had held me firmly, suggesting something more in my mind.

"Dana. I didn't see you come out. Do you want to go back to the party or are you ready to go home with me?"

I felt indignation and disgust well up inside me. Then something closer to anger as I clenched my fists at my sides. Before I could reply Andy spoke up, "Honey, I'm really sorry I was late getting here. Why does this guy think you would go home with him?"

I caught on instantly. I stepped to Andy and put my arm into his, then looked to Jake with a hard stare, "I really don't know. Why would I want to go home with you Jake?"

The look on Jake's face changed to one of near panic. He was clearly nonplussed, the drinks surely added to his state of confusion.

"I'm sorry...I...I didn't know you invited a date. I was only kidding anyway. I'll see you later Dana," as he slowly walked backward, turned, and almost ran towards our conference room.

"I guess I own you again, Andy. Thank you, he's one of the men I'm been trying to avoid. A few drinks and they get a little...well...uninhibited. I'm glad it's not that way on a daily basis at work or he wouldn't last long."

I had no sooner removed my arm from Andy's and stepped away when a female voice came from the direction of the other conference room. Two attractive twenty something young women walked straight to Andy. Each taking one side of him, putting their arms into his. They didn't appear to notice me—it was as if I were invisible. They were perhaps two or three years younger than me and certainly dressed to impress in very revealing dresses.

"Come on Andy. We've been waiting for you. A few more drinks and you'll have to pick which one of us you take home tonight," the busty blonde said softly with a blue-eyed wink.

The redhead leaned on him a little with a sexy smile. "You know you could just take both of us home for the night. We wouldn't mind. We can share. A three-some might be interesting."

I looked at Andy. He didn't look at all pleased. I decided to take a chance I was reading the situation correctly. I said with a hint of dismay and irritation.

"Andy! I thought we were spending the night together! You better not have changed your mind!"

The two women looked at me for the first time, then slowly removed their arms from Andy's and stood silently, befuddled. Then they looked at Andy as if to ask—who the hell is this woman?

"Dana, I haven't changed my mind. These girls are really just trying to flirt a little," as he looked at me.

Andy turned to them. "Aren't you?"

The two women quickly mumbled something and left. I looked at Andy with a grin. Then, we couldn't hold it in any longer and started to laugh quietly. I looked at him with a smile as he proffered his arm. I couldn't resist teasing him a bit.

"Do women throw themselves at you like that all of the time?"

The smile left his face and became serious. I recognized as soon as the words left my mouth the question wasn't the best one to have asked. How would I feel if he had asked me the same thing? What do you say that doesn't make you look conceited, vain, or worse?"

"Pretty much."

"Pretty much?" I repeated not knowing what else to say.

"Well, even if they throw themselves at me I don't have to catch them."

I looked at Andy as we walked back towards the room my party was in. Andy looked about three or four years older. I felt good in his company now that we had laughed together and supported one another. Why shouldn't I? He was a very attractive man who was having an effect on me, a very nice effect. Then a thought came to me. Why not?

"Andy, would you mind spending a little time with me? I just want to stay another half hour and then leave. We're expected to stay through the Secret Santa gift giving. I would really appreciate it. I know you have your own party to attend, I'd be willing to attend yours for a little while to thank you for helping me."

Andy looked at me. Then a smile crossed his face. "A mutual protection pact of sorts?" he asked.

"You could think of it in those terms I guess. But I don't mind being seen with a handsome man on my arm either."

"Was that a compliment?"

"It's a statement of fact. I don't want you to think I'm throwing myself at you," I replied confidently.

Andy stopped walking and looked at me with a grin.

"Dana, I would surely catch you."

I felt my face flush. I knew he meant it. What in the world was going on? I was taking a complete stranger to my office Christmas party to use as a foil against other men who were interested in me. This was insane! What was even more insane was I had offered to do the same for him and he had accepted.

We walked to the cash bar and Andy offered to get me a drink. I elected to have a small glass of wine, intrigued to see he had ordered a cola for himself. He noticed my expression and leaned over to whisper into my ear.

"You know alcohol rises the level of estrogen in men and makes them less aggressive, while alcohol in women raises their testosterone level making them more aggressive, especially when it comes to wanting sex."

I looked at him. Then smiled. "So you think you might get lucky?"

He raised an eyebrow, returning my smile. "No, but you might."

I looked at him while biting my lower lip seductively, then we both laughed.

"Touché!" I replied.

It didn't take long before several of my female coworkers sauntered over. They were obviously curious. I introduced Andy and told them he was an ecologist with a consulting firm. He'd shared that information while standing in the hallway. What I didn't know at the time was not only was he their Senior Ecologist, but he was one of three principals in the firm.

I noticed he seemed at ease in dealing with this unusual social situation. When a man approached he gave me a glance to see if I wanted his arm. When Leonard approached, I looked at him and we seamlessly stepped to one another as I placed my arm in his. Leonard, rather quickly, decided to simply say a few words and moved on.

I was amazed we were able to read one another's mind so easily. But then he knew why he was with me. Still, it seemed uncanny. After the secret Santa gifts were given out we slowly headed towards the door and down the hallway to his party. Andy introduced me to a number of his colleagues and they asked me a number of questions regarding what I did for my company in more detail. Andy stood and listened intently.

Afterwards he whispered to me, "Very impressive indeed. I can see you're quite an asset to your firm."

I couldn't help but feel good at such a compliment. Not everyone held that high an opinion of what I did for a living. But my company had won an award for our programs on affirmative action and community relations. I knew some of the credit was mine. A few would rightly say it was because of me.

Finally, one of the women pulled me aside as Andy was conversing with several others, "We didn't know Andy was seeing anyone. How long have you two been involved?"

I wasn't expecting the question. What should I say—since this morning? Since about two hours ago? I didn't want to make it sound as if we had a serious relationship that might hint he was off the market. I answered, "Not all that long. We're just getting to know one another. Nothing serious at this point. Why do you ask?"

It was at that moment I noticed the wedding ring on her finger, "Just curious. Most of the single women in the firm have their eye on him. He has a good reputation for the quality of his work and he is so down to earth. You would think a man that handsome would take advantage of the situation if he could."

"Take advantage how?" Asking as if I hadn't already formed an opinion.

"Just watch. It won't take you long to figure it out if you haven't already. He could pretty much have the pick of almost any woman here."

I looked at her. Any woman? That seemed something of an exaggeration. But as I glanced around there were not that many women in attendance. Most of them about my age or younger. After a while I noticed how many wore engagement or wedding rings—five out of fifteen. The older women in attendance were obviously married to the principals and managers. There were easily forty five men in the group and I had to admit Andy was where the female eyes were directed most often. Mutual protection pact indeed!

Dana, my name is Carla. I'm married to one of the principals in the firm. Andy is an important partner of our business. He is talented in so many ways. If he has a flaw it's that he works too much, though he doesn't know it. He loves what he does and he's good at it. It won't take you long to appreciate his work ethic and sense of humor. He also has an insatiable curiosity.

Andy leaned over and whispered into my ear, "Had enough?"

I nodded in the affirmative. I had glanced at my watch a few minutes earlier and found it was getting towards seven o'clock—past the time I had planned to leave. But I had been having a pretty good time. The conversions were polite and interesting. It was a little different from what had I expected. Maybe it was because it was a new group of people that made it interesting.

I learned quite a bit about Andy from listening to comments made by others, particularly the women. Though I was sure they were at least a little guarded in what they said in my presence. There had been a good many glances directed my way as I stood near Andy when we first arrived. I understood quickly I was an item, or rather, Andy and I were an item. Nevertheless, his coworkers were friendly and easy going. We walked out together and went to the cloak room. I retrieved my coat and was surprised to find Andy ready to help me on with it. I handed the coat to him with a smile.

"You really are a gentlemen aren't you?"

"Let's just say my mother would approve," he chuckled.

It was just this kind of response that had endeared him to me during the party. I watched as he put his coat on as we left the cloak room and wondered what it was I should do now. I really didn't want the day to end just yet. At least not the part that included Andy. How should I approach this? After all, I didn't' want to throw herself at him as the other women had. But I knew I wanted more time with him.

"Come on. I'll walk you to your car," he offered.

I automatically looked for his arm and found it waiting. I felt my heart race again. Damn it! It had taken a while for it to beat normally and now it was pulsing hard in my ears. How could this be happening all over again? I thought I was over this kind of response after spending almost three hours with him. Arriving at my car I pushed the key fob to unlock the door. He opened the door for me and smiled.

"Dana thank you for...er... your protection. I really enjoyed our time together."

"Me too. I mean...well...you know."

As I turned to get into the car seat the foot that held my weight slipped on the ice and I fell forward past the door. His arms caught me as I fell fully and firmly—my head coming to rest onto his chest. His arms fully encircled me and held me upright as I regained my balance. I looked up at him, my face beet red. Not again!

"You know that shade of red makes you look so adorable. I could grow to like it."

"Andy. You know I'm really not this clumsy. I mean...I'm really not."

"Dana. Are you free for dinner tomorrow evening? I think you need to prove to me you're not. Think about it. Here's my business card. Call me if you want me to take you to a nice restaurant. Don't even think fast food."

I sank down into the seat and Andy closed the door for me. I saw his gorgeous hazel eyes and lips that beckoned my own. My emotions were going all over the place. I managed a small wave as I pulled out slowly. My heart raced; my face still flushed. All I could think—I was one very happy klutz. He had asked me out. That incredibly handsome man had asked me out!

As I drove home I came to the conclusion Andy really did need protection. Only next time it might be from me. I knew I was completely infatuated with him. What a hunk! An incredibly intelligent, handsome man who could make me laugh. At least, when I wasn't somehow bumbling into him in some fashion.

I thought about the events of the afternoon and evening after I got home. In terms of affirmative action the behavior of the men interested in me were not much different from the women interested in Andy. If it had been in an office environment it would have been a problem. Maybe it still was. But being away from the office, having drinks, and an opportunity to release stress while at the party had to be taken into account and given consideration too. For the most part, the Christmas party had been enjoyable enough.

Jake had been obnoxious, but he was never that way while at work. His behavior after a few drinks simply didn't make a good impression. Probably something one of his friends would relate to him later. He was certainly not the kind of man I was interested in. I stepped out of the shower, took off my shower cap, and decided not to wear anything to bed. I slipped into bed and fell asleep with the memory of Andy's strong arms wrapped tightly around me. His odor played in my mind—a man smell that attracted me as if a pheromone.

December 12th dawned cloudy and colder. I fixed breakfast and got dressed for work. I took my car keys and wallet out of my clutch purse and when I did Andy's business card fell out onto the floor. I picked it up, looked at it, and placed it in my wallet. I fully intended to call Andy and accept his offer of dinner. It was the first thing that came into my mind when I woke. The mere thought of it warmed me and sent a wave of excitement surging through my body. This wasn't like high school or college where I had dated quite a few men though. I thought over those years—when was the last time a man had affected me so strongly right from the first time I had laid eyes on him up close? That wasn't hard to answer—never!

After I had attended my morning meetings I returned to my office and completed a draft memo, setting it aside to look at later. I opened my desk drawer, pulled out my purse and took Andy's business card out of my wallet. My heart rate jumped up as I picked up the phone and started to dial the number. Their receptionist answered the phone, asked who I wanted to speak to, and my name. When I gave my name there was a long pause.

"Are you the woman who was with him at the Christmas party?"

"Yes. Andy asked me to confirm our plans for dinner tonight. If he's in a meeting I'd like to leave a message for him please."

"No. I'll put you through."

"Thank you."

"Dana, I was hoping you would call. I wasn't sure you would, given the unusual circumstances of our meeting," his voice friendly and deep.

"Andy, I understand. But I enjoyed our time together. It certainly made the party more fun as opposed to having to avoid people."

I heard him chuckle a little. "I know exactly what you mean. Good, I enjoyed it too. Do you have a preference in terms of a restaurant? I was thinking Italian. But Tex-Mex would work too."

"Italian sounds delightful, Antonio's is nice."

"Antonio's it is."

We talked for a few minutes, set a time, and I gave him my address and cell phone number just in case something went awry. I hung up the phone feeling elated. This was going to happen! I was excited, not only because I was going out with him, but he hadn't flinched at the mention of eating at Antonio's. It was pricey, but it was absolutely the best Italian in town. Apparently, he felt I was worth it even on a first date. Maybe he was trying to impress me—if so, it was working.

But then I started second guessing myself—perhaps I should have suggested another restaurant. Maybe it wasn't wise to appear as a high maintenance woman. Well, it was too late now. I finished my day handling rather routine matters and left for home in a good mood. I had a date to get ready for. As I got ready my mind wandered.

At the age of twenty six I felt I was accomplished in not only my profession, but also in dealing with men. Or so I thought—my breakup was something that had taken me a long time to accept. My boyfriend of almost two years had left me for another woman without so much as an attempt to remedy what he thought was wrong with our relationship. It had been a severe blow to my ego—as the woman was hardly as attractive as I was, at least in my own estimation. After a while I knew my estimation was not the one that counted.

I found out the real attraction had been in shared interests, not entirely on physical beauty. Men might like a good looking woman at first blush, but when it came down to picking a potential spouse the criteria could change. It was true, we didn't share much in common when we first met, but I thought we had tried hard to find things of mutual interest as our relationship matured.

Six years earlier, I had become interested in watching birds and I had tried to interest him in that activity. I thought being outside with him would be something he would enjoy as a man. It turned out not to be the case—he disliked the time we spent on the activity and never told me. He simply decided not to join me when I went birding with one excuse or another after a while. The fact I never caught on was telling—our communication was poor and not entirely honest, I should have seen it.

I selected a pair of burgundy dress slacks with a navy blue jacket combined with a white and burgundy striped blouse with a plunging neckline, a pair of black, fashionable low heeled shoes set the ensemble off. I freshened my lip gloss and clear nail polish, and selected a silver necklace. I had never been comfortable wearing much makeup, but then I had a skin color and complexion that was radiant without it. I decided to wear my hair long, not putting it up in a bun as at work. I combed it out until it gleamed. I added just a hint of dark blue eyeliner and trimmed a loose eyebrow hair or two.

I was ready about ten minutes before Andy was due to pick me up. I selected my black clutch bag and placed my apartment keys and wallet inside. I noticed a condom package was still in the bag and decided to leave it in—not that I thought it would get used, I was still on the pill. I heard the doorbell ring, walked to the door, looked out the peep hole, and saw Andy standing outside. I opened the door with a broad smile, my heart ticking faster with excitement.

"Hi! Hope you found me without too much trouble."

"No trouble at all. You provided excellent directions. Here, let me help you on with your overcoat. It's cooled down some and the wind is up."

I looked him over as I slipped on my coat. He wasn't wearing a tie. The attractive gray sweater over a light blue, button-down collar dress shirt, and dark gray slacks looked classy. He looked absolutely delicious!

At the Christmas party we had shared basic personal information to introduce themselves. I was surprised to find Andy was but two years older than I was. Being with him at the parties revealed he had the poise and maturity I usually attributed to an older man. It didn't surprise me why women at his firm found him so attractive.

I felt my heart beat tick upward at the touch of his hand on my arm as we walked out the door to the car. He was such a gentleman. This promised to be a wonderful night, I could feel it. We arrived at the restaurant and walked into the elegant lobby.

The hostess smiled warmly, "Good evening, Mr. Hudson. Your table is ready."

"Thank you, Angela. You look wonderful tonight."

Angela beamed. "Why thank you."

There wasn't much doubt he frequented this restaurant often. Once seated our waitress appeared almost immediately, smiling broadly as she approached the table.

"Mr. Hudson, nice to see you again. Will you be interested in wine with your meal this evening?"

"Yes, Lynda, you know my preference. But I'm afraid I'm not familiar with what the lady would like."

The waitress looked at me with a smile and handed me the wine list. I looked at the list and made my selection.

The waitress smiled. "Very well, two glasses of Taylor's Vintage Port, 1985."

Andy smiled. "You have excellent tastes. I'm impressed. Most women prefer a Chablis."

"Not fruity enough for me. But what I intend to order influences what I select." I wasn't a wine snob, but I was somewhat knowledgeable.

"Indeed."

I found our conversation easy and relaxed. It didn't seem Andy was trying to impress me as many men attempted to do on a first date. They usually went overboard. But he already had just by being himself. He asked about my family, education, and interests. I told him about all but one of my interests—the one I most often received ridicule for. After a while it seemed as if I had told him my life story. He had listened closely and had asked additional questions as I revealed myself.

It was so different from the majority of men I had dated who tended to talk more about themselves. It was refreshing. The meal was every bit as good as I thought it would be and when the check came he paid with his credit card. I noticed he added a sizable gratuity for the waitress. He tipped well.

He helped me on with my coat and proffered his arm as we stepped outside. I took it as it had started to snow again while we dined. I didn't need to slip and fall in my slick soled shoes. It would be nice not to fall into his arms accidentally for a change. It took twenty minutes to get back to my apartment and I invited him in. There was no way I wasn't going to after that wonderful meal and stimulating conversation. The only thing I regretted, I hadn't found out much more about him, he seemed a little reluctant to reveal too many personal details. He seemed cautious.

We sat on opposite ends of the sofa facing each other and talked. He looked at the coffee table, smiled, and picked up the field guide to the birds I had been reviewing earlier in the week.

"So how many species on your life list?"

"You know about life lists?" I said somewhat surprised.

"Yes. Mine stands at 503 species. I hope to add to it in the next few months."

"I'm not anywhere close to that. I have 291 species. I've birded in Michigan and in Ohio a little bit, with a few short trips to Florida while visiting family."

We spent the next hour talking about our favorite birding locations and the nuances of identifying specific species and groups. I appreciated how competent he was. No wonder his company found him such an asset. It was at the end of our conversation I learned he would be leaving to establish a new office in California at the beginning of the year.

I also learned he was the newest principal in the firm. He had mentioned it matter-of-factly when I asked why he was selected to establish the new office. He would likely be gone for two months, maybe more, before returning home. I felt disappointed, I would probably not see him in the future. The chances of getting to know one another well enough before he left seemed to not offer much potential to establish a long-term relationship.

It had been a wonderful evening as I walked him to the door. We were within three steps of the door when my foot snagged the edge of the rug and I tilted forward. Andy caught me under my arms and held me upright. The thought flashed through my mind that this was now the second time I had found myself in this position. I felt my face go red as his strong arms held me close. Once again, my breasts pressed firmly against him. Once I regained my feet, he slowly released me. He smiled as he reached for the door knob.

"You know, I really would like to see you again. I think it would be nice to take you dancing—I would like to hold you for a while longer. Just catching you like this is a little awkward for both of us."

I smiled through my flushed face, feeling like a klutz all over again. "I would like that, I managed to get out.

I watched out the window as he walked through the falling snow to his car and drove off. I still felt terribly embarrassed. I just couldn't seem to go any length of time without doing something stupid in his presence. I was left again with a reminder of his manly aroma and the feel of his strong arms around me. It wasn't quite an hour later when my phone rang. I wasn't sure who in the world would be calling this late? It was almost nine. Maybe it was bad news—my parents calling to tell me Uncle Matthew wasn't doing well again.

"Hello, Dana speaking."

"Dana this is Andy. Would you be up to doing some birding tomorrow? I was planning on going to Port Huron to check the river, my last birding trip before leaving. I realize this is sudden. But I thought if you didn't have other plans you might be interested. I would have mentioned it while we were talking about birds, but thought it would be poor form to ask on such short notice. Then, I realized, I was probably overthinking the whole thing. If you can't, or don't want to go, I completely understand."

I felt myself go warm with excitement. "I would love to go. What time do you want to pick me up?"

"Are you willing to leave early? Say by seven?"

"Yes, I'll be ready."

"Great! See you at seven. Sweet dreams."

I put the phone down, walked to the sofa and lay down. I didn't know exactly what to think. This was moving so fast. I jumped up from the sofa and almost ran to the bedroom. I got my clothes around for the next day and checked to make sure my shoulder bag with my binoculars and notebook was ready. I walked back out to the coffee table, picked up the field guide and returned to the bedroom to place in my bag.

I felt stupid. I hadn't mentioned my interest in birds during the entire evening despite all of his questions. Why didn't I? After all he was a biologist. Why wouldn't he have been interested? I should have realized that. But I knew why—none of the men I had dated had done anything but make fun of my interest in birds. It suggested I was someday going to be one of those stereotypical old ladies in pink tennis shoes that stalked birds in the city park. If I hadn't left the field guide on the coffee table I would be sitting home tomorrow until I called a girlfriend or found something to do. Probably birding or shopping.

Then it occurred to me. Why hadn't I known he was interested in birds? I realized hadn't asked about his interests specifically. We had talked about our jobs and other topics, I hadn't asked what he liked to do when he wasn't working. I set my alarm and tried to fall asleep as a vision of his wonderful soft eyes came to me again. Then the feeling of his arms around me. It was the last thing I remembered as sleep took me gently into the peaceful world of dreams.

The display read December 13, 6:25 AM as I got up before the alarm went off at 6:30. I quickly showered and got dressed, ate breakfast, and made sure to make use of the bathroom just before Andy was due to arrive. I saw his car pull in and quickly grabbed my hooded coat and shoulder bag and headed for the parking lot so he wouldn't have to walk up to get me. I reached the car just as he started to open his door. He closed the door, staying inside once he saw how close I was.

"Good morning, Andy," I said cheerfully as I was slid into the passenger seat.

"Good morning. I stopped and picked up a coffee for both of us. As I remember, you like yours black just as I do."

"Yes, I do. Thanks. I ate a light breakfast but didn't make coffee. I hope you had something to eat too."

"I did. But you know we can stop anytime and get something to eat if we want. It's not like we're chasing a rarity and have to make as it soon as we can to maximize our chances of seeing it."

"Are you into that?"

"No, not really. I prefer to find my own rare birds. For the most part, I don't get a lot of satisfaction chasing birds others have found. I like seeing something new, but I enjoy seeing the same species in different locations even if I have seen them many times before. Does that make sense?"

"Yes, I can understand that. It's just like anything else. You always get more satisfaction out of something you have worked for or found yourself."

Two hours later we pulled into the parking lot at Lighthouse Park where Lake Huron empties into the St. Clair River. It felt good to stretch my legs. I leaned back into the car and grabbed my binoculars. I noticed the spotting scope lying on the backseat and decided to get it out while Andy got his gear around.

I opened the back door, reached for the scope by grasping the tripod legs. I started to pull and found it was snagged on the far edge of the seat. I decided to extend the legs so I could gain more leverage and pull it over the seat edge. With all of the legs extended and locked I grasped the legs as far up as I could and pulled towards me so the legs would miss my body. The scope caught just a little and I pulled just a little harder. The scope released and shot out as I started to fall backward. I heard a yelp behind me as the scope came to a sudden, but firm stop. I turned my head to see Andy holding his crotch folded over in pain. I realized immediately what had happened. I stood there helpless not knowing what to do.

"Andy, I'm so sorry. I didn't know you was standing behind me. I'm so sorry," my voice almost frantic, no hint of embarrassment, just a sick feeling growing in my stomach. I wanted to reach out and touch where he was hurting, my one open hand flailing the air as I realized it was not a place a woman should touch a man in public.

I watched as he slowly came to the front of the car and leaned over the hood. His face showing pain, his eyes closed as he winced. After a minute, he opened his eyes, turned, and placed his behind against the fender as he took a number of deep breaths.

I was unsure what I should do. I wasn't sure if he would be mad or not. I realized I was still holding onto the tripod tightly. I backed away from him a few steps and set the scope up, spreading the tripod legs wide in the adjacent parking space. After another minute, Andy stood upright.

"Andy, I'm so sorry. Are you going to be all right?"

He looked at me evenly. "Yes, it'll be a few minutes yet. My privates still hurt."

It was less than a minute later before he took his first step. He looked at me as he adjusted the binocular strap around his neck and took a few more steps.

"Maybe I should carry the scope."

I didn't reply. I couldn't blame him. I had just rammed him squarely where a man just doesn't want to get hit. I felt more than embarrassed now. If I had been able to find a hole to crawl into I would have done so. I didn't know what else to say.

I followed him as he headed towards the St. Clair River through four inches of fresh snow and stopped near the bank. Andy set the scope up and took a quick scan of the water as it flowed past filled with chunks of bluish tinted ice. At least six species of waterfowl and at first blush, four species of gull, were present. I was standing at his side feeling as small as I had ever felt in my life.

"Dana, it's okay. I know it was an accident. I was just in the wrong place at the right time."

I didn't know if it was relief I felt knowing he didn't blame me, or knowing he was going to be okay. Another first in my life—I had hit a man in the nuts. I felt my eyes start to water, then a tear rolled down my cheek. I wiped it away with the back of my gloved hand. I really didn't want him to see me cry. I looked towards his voice, his face a blur. Then I felt his hand on my shoulder.

Then, with a light laugh, "Come on. I'm going to be fine. I know you feel bad about what happened. Now let's put it behind us. We came here to see birds and have fun. If it makes you feel any better my plans to get a motel room and make passionate love to you isn't going to happen. You're safe."

I wiped my eyes and saw he was smiling at me. I knew he had forgiven me and I felt the burden lift from my shoulders. Now, if I could only forgive myself. I didn't want to serve as a wet blanket after all. I had to lighten things up. I looked at him with a weak smile.

"Are you trying to make me feel better or worse?"

"Better, I'm interested in being with you, I think you should know that."

I knew what I intended to say was more than flirting. Just as I knew what he had said was more than just trying to make me feel better. He was testing the waters to see if I was interested in being more than we were at present. We hadn't even kissed yet, but I knew. I looked at him with a coy smile and placed my hand on his arm.

"Being with me or in me?"

"Yes," he said quietly.

I watched him as he put his eye to the eyepiece of the scope and scanned across the icy waters of the river. Even with his knit hat pulled down around his ears he looked good to me. After the amount of time we had spent together the physical attraction was as strong as ever. We both knew it. But so, far neither of us had been willing to put ourselves out far enough to accept the risk of rejection for something more.

I couldn't help but wonder if my trail of stupid accidents wasn't part of the problem. Never in my entire life had I been involved in so many incidents like this. What if he saw them as being symptomatic of something larger? Maybe I was too much of a klutz. At first, somewhat amusing, but now a potential source not only of embarrassment, but of physical injury. I had to admit I was beginning to feel insecure.

"Dana, here take a look. I'll check my field guide while you get a good look. Tell me what you think it is."

He stepped back from the scope as I moved in to put my eye into place. I adjusted the focus slightly and saw a gull resting on the edge of the ice. I studied the bird for almost two minutes and then gave him my identification as I continued watching.

"I'm not completely sure, but I would go with Little Gull. But I need to check the field guide to know for sure."

I stepped back from the scope and looked at him as he handed the field guide to me with the plate for gulls open. He stepped to the scope and put his eye to the eyepiece. I looked at the gull plate and compared the species it illustrated. I smiled to myself—Little Gull!

"Looks as if we agree. I don't know about you, but this is a lifer for me. I'm glad it's an adult bird. It makes an ID much easier."

I was excited as I knew it was a lifer for me too. He turned to me with a huge smile and we stepped to one another and shared a brief hug of congratulations as I announced it was a lifer. We had been standing in the cold and wind now for almost an hour and I was getting cold, particularly my feet. I felt my body shiver again.

"Dana, are you getting cold?"

"Yes. My feet are getting cold. I just have my jeans on with nothing on underneath and these boots don't stay very warm to just stand in."

"Okay. Let's head back to the car. I'm starting to feel it too."

We walked back to the parking lot, Andy carried the spotting scope as I walked next to him. The scope was placed into the back seat and we took off their winter coats before getting into the car, placing our binoculars inside on the dashboard. Andy started the car and before long the heater was providing a steady flow of warm air. Andy headed for the park located under the bridge spanning the river where we could watch for birds from the comfort of the car. We watched the steady stream of gulls and mergansers as they floated downstream with the current as others flew upstream to land and float downstream again. There were birds in the air all of the time, a swirling maze of white, black, grays, and a few brownish immatures that were mesmerizing while in flight.

"Dana, are you ready for lunch? I'm starting to feel hungry."

"Yes, I was just starting to think the same thing."

We walked into the restaurant fifteen minutes later. The sign indicated we should seat ourselves and we found a table along the wall with windows overlooking the river. I felt good, my feet had warmed up while in the car. We placed our order and then went to use the restrooms, Andy was already sitting down when I got back.

"Andy, what are you going to do for Christmas? I'm going to visit my parents for a few days. I plan to arrive early the day before, open gifts Christmas Eve, spend most of Christmas day with my family, and head home in the afternoon."

"Sounds pretty much like what I have planned, except I'll be staying a day longer after Christmas to visit with my brother and his family. Then, I'll be back to the office to review the end of year financial statements and work on a draft report I want to get done before flying to California."

We ate our meals discussing what we had observed, paid our bills, and headed home. It took just over two hours before we pulled into the parking lot at my apartment. Outside of the incident with the spotting scope it had been a fun day. But the ride home had been quiet with little conversation between us after a while. I was disappointed when Andy begged off spending time with me, saying he had last minute Christmas shopping left to do. I got out of the car and watched as he drove off after I had opened the door to my apartment. He hadn't walked me to the door this time.

I wondered now if I would see him again. Once inside, I tried to put the best face on it I could. Maybe he was tardy in getting his shopping done, just as I had always been in the past. I realized how much I was attracted to him and remembered how Jed, my last boyfriend, had become silent the last few days we were together. Men often didn't say what's on their mind when it comes to expressing feelings—especially those things that might hurt. I was certain I had blown it.

A call from Andy hadn't come. It had now been over a week. I was disappointed. I had hoped each day he would call me.

Eleven days later, December 24th, I looked over the packed suitcase one more time to make sure I hadn't missed anything. Then I checked the large cardboard box to make sure all of the gifts were inside and then closed the flaps with a satisfied grin. I carried the box out first, placing it in the trunk of the car, then returned for my suitcase, placing it on the back seat. I walked back into my apartment, sat down, and picked up the book I had been reading the day before—should I take it along and finish it, though maybe I would be too busy to even look at it. I was mulling it over when my cell phone rang. I picked it up and looked at the number. I didn't recognize it. Probably a solicitation call, though the number looked local, maybe I should take it. I decided to answer, sighing it was a call I would regret taking.

"Dana speaking."

"Dana, Andy. Have you left your apartment yet?"

"No, I'm still here. I was going to leave in about fifteen minutes," feeling both elated to hear his voice and dreading what he might say after such a long time.

"Would you mind waiting until I get there before you leave? I'm about ten minutes away."

"No, of course not. I'll wait," wondering why he wouldn't tell me he didn't want to see me again over the phone rather than in person.

"Okay. I'll be there as quickly as I can."

I put the phone down with a frown. I hadn't heard a word from him in almost two weeks and now he was coming over? He was leaving for his parent's home today wasn't he? I looked out the window and saw snow had started to fall. For a change the weather report was correct.

My emotions were mixed. Was he going to act as a real gentleman and tell me he didn't think it was wise to continue to see me? In all likelihood, that was the reason. After all, he hadn't called me to say he had enjoyed our last date. All of the men I had dated before had done that almost without exception. At least he was going to be a man about it. But I felt disappointment creep in with the thought. I decided not to take the book with me and returned it to the bookshelf after making sure the bookmark reflected my progress.

I walked to the window and drew back the curtain to look out to the parking lot feeling melancholy. A few minutes later I saw Andy's car pull in and park. Andy got out and walked straight to my door. I opened the door and tried to put on a bright, happy face despite feeling anything but cheerful.

"Hi, I didn't expect to see you before I left to see my family."

He smiled at me, "No, I expect you didn't. I'm sorry I didn't call you earlier, but frankly I've had some things to work out. You know since meeting you I'm been a bit distracted and unsure of myself. But I wanted to wish you a merry Christmas before you left and give you a little gift." He pulled out a small, narrow oblong box with a bow tied around it and handed it to me.

"Merry Christmas. You should wait and open it with your other gifts on Christmas Eve. That way, I know you'll be thinking of me."

I felt myself relax, releasing stress I hadn't realized was there. This was so sweet! This was hardly what I had expected. My heart filled with promise. A gift! I took the box from his hand and looked at it, then up to his face. Those wonderful eyes met my gaze, soft and tender. But more than the gift was the realization he wanted me to think of him. The gift was meant to keep us engaged while we were apart. It told me so much about how he felt. Though it didn't provide an answer as to why he hadn't been in touch in almost two weeks.

"Andy, I don't know what to say. I don't have a gift for you. I mean, I just didn't think about getting one for you."

"Dana, that's quite all right, you have already given me a gift. The smile on your face when I handed the gift to you was more than enough. Now, both of us need to get on the road if we're going to arrive on time. Be careful driving. It's starting to get slick out."

"I will, if you will."

I felt unsure about what to do next. So I gave him a quick hug and released him with a smile. I wanted to do more. But this hardly seemed the time for it. He opened the door and walked out. I closed the door and went to the window to watch him as he walked to his car, got in, and drove off. My heart still beat faster than normal. There didn't seem a good reason for it, after all a man doesn't give you a gift for nothing if he isn't ever going to see you again. Does he? My thoughts raced in circles, then stopped.

He still wants to see me! Damn! He wants to see me! I should have given him a kiss. Five minutes later I chided myself for thinking the worst regarding our relationship as I locked the door and walked to my car. We hadn't even been together but three times—why should I not have thought it was over. In my experience three or four dates was often a critical point when a decision was made to keep seeing one another or not. This was definitely a sign he was interested. I was fully aware I was interested after hugging him again. I wondered about his comment regarding having to work something out and being unsure. Well, it was true I hardly knew him. What should I expect? That he didn't have concerns and problems of his own to deal with?

The drive to my parent's home took longer than expected. The snow covered roads slowed traffic down to a crawl at times. When I pulled into the driveway I saw faces looking out the front window. I pulled my suitcase out of the back seat and walked in to the loving arms of my parents and family members. My father asked if there was anything else I needed from the car and I handed him the keys to the trunk of the car. A few minutes later my father walked in with the box of gifts and we proceeded to place them under the tree.

We settled down to drinks of apple cider and hot chocolate and spirited conversation. Later, I took my suitcase up to my old bedroom that now served as the guest room and reminisced about my childhood. After dinner we sat and talked, looking at photographs of years past. Of course, there was always the same questions posed by my mother—was I dating anyone? Was I happy with work? Was there someone I was interested in? There always seemed to be an expectation I would someday arrive with a man in hand. This time, I smiled as I revealed I was dating again. I was pleased my mother hadn't asked why Jed and I had gone our separate ways.

"Yes, I just started dating a man named Andy. He's an Ecologist at a consulting firm."

"So how many times have you gone out with him?"

"Actually, only twice. But we met one time before and I'm not counting that."

"So, you're just getting to know him?"

"Yes, Mother. He seems really nice. I expect to see him when I return home. But he's going to leave just after New Years to open a new office for his firm in California. He'll be gone anywhere from two to three months. So, it may not last long."

My mother looked disappointed at the comment, but didn't say anything more. At least those questions were over and not likely to be asked again, at least not this year. Dinner was lively and festive with good food and drink. After dinner we converged on the family room and prepared to open gifts.

The younger family members were tasked with distributing the gifts and when all were delivered, the adults watched the youngsters as they tore into the gift wrapping with loud enthusiasm. Cries of joy and surprise erupted with each unwrapped gift. As the children amused themselves with their new toys the adults began to unwrap their gifts, sharing their enjoyment and saying thank you. The only gift I had yet to open lay at my side.

"Come on Dana. You have one gift left to open. Who's it from?" my sister asked.

I smiled. "It's from Andy, the man I just started to date. I don't expect it's much as we hardly know one another. Just the same it was terribly sweet of him to give me one."

I removed the bow and slowly torn off the wrapping paper. Inside was a black plastic box, when I opened it I gave a little gasp—a beautiful twenty-two inch gold braided necklace glistened from the soft velvet cranberry interior. It was absolutely gorgeous, undoubtedly expensive. Inside was a small envelope. I opened it to find a handwritten note—'A beautiful woman deserves something equally as beautiful.' I put the box down into my lap and simply looked at the necklace, almost dazed. I saw his smile and those dreamy hazel eyes. His handsome face smiled at me as if he was sitting at my side.

"Aunt Dana, are you going to try it on?"

"Yes, of course," I replied. Though my instinct was to put it back into the box as it was too expensive a gift. I mean men just don't give gifts like this to someone they hardly know. In a way, it was a strange reaction on my part, it wasn't like I hadn't benefited from my relationships in the past. I had always been given ample consideration by the men I dated. I knew it was due to my physical attractiveness and their desire to influence me. I walked to the bathroom and placed the necklace around my neck while looking in the mirror. I was astounded with how I felt when I saw it hanging gracefully from my neck. It was stunning! I walked out and sat down. My mother walked over and inspected the necklace along with my sister and niece.

"Honey, this is a gift from the man you have just started to date?"

"Yes, I wasn't expecting a gift from him. I'm not sure what to think."

"Dana, it's beautiful, no man gets a woman a gift like this unless he has serious intentions."

My sister looked at me with a mischievous grin. "You must have made quite an impression on him!"

I didn't know what to say. I wasn't about to reveal how we had met the first day, and the incident while birding was not something I wanted to even think about. So much of how we met was so embarrassing. What to think of this? I honestly didn't know.

I had dated so many men over the years but none of them had ever come close to giving me a gift this expensive. I'd spent weekends in a motel or hotel with a man where he had paid for most of it. But those trips were taken after months of getting to know one another and I had gone with the full knowledge we would be intimate, and I wanted to be.

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