It Started One Christmas(6)

By: Susan Mallery

“I heard.” He wiggled his eyebrows. “A boyfriend. Good for you.”

“No. Not a boyfriend. A friend. Actually, an acquaintance. What is it with you two? Stop trying to pair me up with someone. I’m not ready.”

He hugged her again. “I love you, Keira. What makes you happy makes me happy.”

“Good. Then come with us to the park.”

* * *

THE DAY PASSED QUICKLY. After the visit to the park, Keira checked on Dalton, but he was sleeping. She used the ear thermometer and discovered his temperature had dropped to ninety-nine, which was encouraging. He rallied briefly around lunch to drink more broth before going back to sleep. She helped the kids pick out three toys to donate to a local charity in honor of Christmas. Adalyn was all in, but Logan couldn’t quite grasp why he had to give up something of his own.

After that, they frosted cookies and then Keira put them down for their nap. Callie arrived home at three and announced herself ready for the upcoming holiday.

Keira went upstairs, where she carefully dragged her six-foot fake tree from her bedroom to Dalton’s. She was on her second trip with bins filled with ornaments when she realized he was awake.

“How are you feeling?” she asked, setting down the bin. “You look better and your temperature’s down.”

Dalton reached for his glasses and slipped them in place, then frowned at her. “Do I know you?”

She laughed. “Really? Still? I’m Keira Carlesso. You were the guy stuck being the lab assistant on the last day of makeups.”

“That I remember.”

“And Mandy?”

He winced. “Yes, she went to Aspen without me.”

“But with your ski equipment and your ticket.”

His frowned faded. “You said I couldn’t spend the holidays in my car. You brought me to your home. That was very kind, but you barely know me.”

She shrugged. “Does it matter? You’re here, and it’s only a couple of days until Christmas. You might as well stay.”

“What if I’m an ax murderer?”

“My brother-in-law is a pretty strong guy. I think he could squash you like a bug. No offense.”

“None taken.”

“Besides, aren’t you too intelligent to be an ax murderer? If you’re all you claim to be, I would think you’d be more the serial killer type. You know, getting one past the police.”

He cleared his throat. “I said I was intelligent?”

“More than once. You’re also going to cure cancer and you have a thing for beautiful women.”

He looked chagrined. “Is this where I mention the fever?”

“I would if I were you.” She motioned to the tree. “I brought it in to brighten up your room. It’s my traditional Disney tree. I love it, so no snarky comments. Before I get started, are you hungry? You’ve been living on soup and tea. I wouldn’t suggest a full meal, but Callie said you could have some crackers if you feel up to it.”

“Crackers would be wonderful. Thank you.”

“Give me five minutes and I’ll be back.”

It took her closer to ten, but when she returned she had fresh tea, soup with actual noodles, a handful of crackers and a gingerbread cookie, because it was the season.

Dalton sat up in bed. He’d washed his face and combed his hair. Santiago’s pajamas were too big for his thin frame, but somehow they still looked good.

Keira set the tray across his lap and showed him how to lower the feet.

“Very fancy,” he murmured. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” She walked over to the tree, made sure the three sections were locked together, then plugged in the cord. The white twinkle lights came on.

“There’s a remote,” Keira told him. “I keep the lights steady when I’m decorating, but after that you can use the twinkle function.” She pulled the remote out of the first bin. “There is a color-morphing function. What you do when I’m not here is between you and your God, but when I’m in the room, you will have the tree on the white twinkle function.”

One corner of his mouth turned up. “That seems reasonable.”

“I’m glad you think so.” She nodded at his tray. “Eat your lunch. I’ll talk, and then when you’re finished, you can talk.”

She unwrapped her ceramic holiday Winnie the Pooh and carefully placed him on the tree.

“I’m Keira, as I told you. I’m a freshman at U-Dub, and I’m majoring in marketing.” She glanced at him over her shoulder.

“What?” he asked.

“Just seeing if you were going to say something snarky.”

“Why would I do that?”