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Baxter raised his head when Mary approached and tried to thump his tail. She cooed at him, stroking his ears. In the background, she could hear, Aileen Lee, Ethan Donahue’s fiancé, talking on the phone.
“Yes, Mrs. Cooper, I’m sure. The x-ray was lit up like a Christmas tree.” Mary could hear the smirk in Aileen’s voice. “The cancer’s definitely spread. I was right.”
When Mary heard the call end, she turned toward the petite woman, who was now humming. She knew she shouldn’t say anything, but felt the words escaping her mouth before she could stop them.
“You were smiling as you told that woman her dog’s cancer had spread,” Mary said.
Aileen shrugged. “I was right.”
“Way to go, babe,” Ethan Donahue said as he passed by, bending down to give Aileen a kiss on her cheek.
Mary’s mouth fell open. Dr. Santorelli caught her eye and shook her blond head, her eyes suggesting that Mary keep quiet. Mary closed her mouth and turned back toward Baxter.
“He’s really improving,” Ethan said. “He should be good to go in a couple of days. It’s a shame he has to go back to the shelter.”
Mary nodded while wondering how he could have been so blasé about Aileen’s conversation. “Maybe he won’t have to.”
As Mary waited for Adam to pick her up from the clinic, she replayed the conversation she’d had with Tammy the evening before regarding the fact that it felt like Adam’s asking her to the tree lighting was a date. A date? With Adam?
“You do realize that although we’ve been calling ourselves sisters, we aren’t really sisters?” Tammy said, teasing.
“Duh. But Adam’s your brother.”
“Well, ye-es. And you’re, again, not my sister so it’s all good. Also, there’s the fact that he’s always had a crush on you.”
“How is that even possible? I would have noticed.”
Tammy laughed as if that were the funniest thing she’d ever heard. “Oh, Mary, more than half the time your head’s in the clouds. The other times it’s lusting after the impossible, like Ethan Donahue.”
“Adam is sweet and kind.”
“So, give it a try. What do you have to lose?”
“My friendship with him?”
“That won’t happen.”
Now, as she saw his sensible Prius pull up outside the door, she felt a strange expectation build inside. Juggling three jobs and school left so little time for a social life that the last time she had dated had been a year and a half ago. That had been a flying disaster because the guy expected her to put out as if she owed him for paying for dinner. Forget the fact that he chewed with his mouth open and quelled any attraction that she might have originally had for him as pasta sauce coursed down the side of his mouth like drool. “Your legs are long and beautiful like a horse’s and I want them wrapped around my waist as you scream how much you love my—.” She’d cut him off there.
She changed from pink scrubs to narrow-wale black cords, a bohemian-style red blouse that she topped with her favorite black pleather jacket. A jaunty purple beret slanted on her head. She even applied eye liner and shadow, which she hardly ever did. When she saw Adam’s expression, she was glad that she had gone to a little extra trouble.
“You look beautiful,” he said.
She smiled, feeling inexplicably shy. This was Adam whom she had known for over ten years. “Thanks. You, too.”
He raised an eyebrow. “I’m looking beautiful?”
“No, silly. Good. You look good.”
“I did go to the trouble of showering this morning,” he said.
“That accounts for the fresh smell in the car.”
She grinned at him. Maybe this wouldn’t be so weird after all.
Mary usually didn’t go to the tree lighting. Her father had never understood what the fuss was about, plugging a tree in and watching it light. Maybe he hadn’t been the most sentimental man, except when it came to his love for her mother, but he’d always been there. Many of her friends barely knew their workaholic fathers.
A choir sang Christmas carols and encouraged the gathering crowd to participate. Mary joined in singing “Silent Night.” Adam clasped her hand and squeezed. She looked from his hand to his eyes. He’d always been taller than her, which wasn’t the typical case for boys in high school who hadn’t hesitated to call her an amazon, that is, until they began to appreciate her long legs.
It had been forever since she’d looked into his blue eyes, appreciating how mesmerizing they were, their color like the autumn sky. Lately she just teased him about looking like The Arrow.
The town’s mayor thanked everyone for coming and then flipped a switch. The tree twinkled to life with magical color, blue and silver ornaments sparkling against white and multi-colored lights. Bright red poinsettia flowers were draped on the evergreen branches. Mary stared up at it, sighing. It was beautiful, enchanting.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” she asked. “So beautiful.”
“Yeah,” he said softly. When she turned, he was staring at her. Her heart skittered and the shyness returned.
He grinned. “Dinner?”
“In a sec. I just want to enjoy this a little longer.”
The choir was singing “O Christmas Tree.” Mary squeezed Adam’s hand and he returned the pressure gently. Besides seeing Baxter resilient, this was the best moment Mary had experienced in a very, very long time. She felt lighter inside as if she had let go of tension and stress that she hadn’t even known she’d been holding.
She glanced at Adam who was staring up at the tree and wondered if she had really been walking around with her eyes closed when she had felt like she was so present, so in the moment. Time would tell. It always did.
end 12/20/2017 Sascha Darlington