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The sweet smell of hot apple cider and sugar cookies coming right out of the oven drifts out of the cracked window. The red brick home is covered in a fresh coat of pure white snow. Christmas lights, wrapped around the edges and across the roof, twinkle and gleam across the wintery blanket of ice surrounding the house. The large wooden door is decorated with an inviting wreath made of pine and those red berries that seem to exist for no apparent reason.
I knock on the door solidly, my knuckles colliding with the oaky surface. The door radiates heat, and I keep my palm flat against the door. Standing by the door, I catch a glimpse through the icy window panes. The Christmas tree sits in the corner, plain and awaiting. Nothing lies under the tree, but I imagine the colorfully wrapped gifts stacked high enough to brush the branches, twisting the ribbons in different directions.
Soon enough, I hear a voice from the other side of the door. The door cracks and a young woman opens the door, smiling wide, eyes shining.
“Come in, come in! My gosh, you must be freezing out there. No jacket? How are you even here? Let me get you some gloves and some hot cider.” I walk in the threshold and she scurries off to the kitchen to grab a glass. I shut the heavy door behind me, locking it to make sure the warmth doesn’t escape. I slip off my shoes, placing them carefully in the corner so as not to track any mud into the house. The fireplace burns brightly, providing an orange-y reddish light that glances off the white drywall. I walk into her brightly decorated living room, finally seeing the tree that had seemed so beautiful from the outside. If possible, it was even more gorgeous. Dark green needles covered in fake frost that seemed to twinkle under the lights of lamps and the fireplace, a sparkling star at the top, a pot filled with fake brown dirt to hold the tree steady.
“So how has your day been so far?” I question. I peer through the doorway into the kitchen to see her and then decide to sit in one of the two chairs and two love seats arranged in a circle around an intricately woven carpet. I plop down on one of the love seats and grab the blanket nestled in the corner, wrapping it around myself like a burrito. I rub my toes through the soft material, worn out by years of use.
“It’s been the same old, same old. Wrapped a couple gifts for my nieces and nephews, which was nice. You know, I found this really great wrapping paper at Target the other day for only a couple dollars! Of course, I had to get at least three rolls… You never know when you’ll need wrapping paper with dogs riding on snowboards. I plan to use it for birthdays, baby showers, weddings, and, well, you know. Other stuff.” Her laugh flows out from the kitchen on the sound waves, bouncing up and down and across the tinsel placed carefully on the top of the doorway.
“Oh yeah. I know.” My laugh, rough and gritty, comes out soothingly. She twirls through the doorway, having put on an apron that says Kiss the Cook. Her skirt spins around underneath the apron, a beautiful faded checkered pattern with reds and blues. Not only does she carry in a bottle of fresh apple cider, but a tray of warm cookies.
“Oh doll, you’re going to love these! I tried a new recipe: peanut butter chips, butterscotch, chocolate chips, sprinkles, and every sugary topping I could find in my kitchen. Actually, thinking about it, these may not taste great. I’ll just put them on the table for a pretty, colorful decoration.” Putting the tray down on the oaky smooth coffee table, she saunters up to me slyly. “How about we get some tree decorating done, if you know what I mean?” Her eyes stare into mine, shimmering with joy.
“Yes. Let’s do it! The actual tree decorating, I meant.” She skips over to the tree, the ribbon in her hair bouncing along with her. The box of baubles rests atop the mantles and she delicately lifts the brown box down from its resting spot. I walk over as she grabs the first, a sparkling red round ornament decorated with glitter stars pasted on the side. I grab the next, a picture frame made by her niece Lily, a school portrait with the words “I love you auntie!” scrawled along the sides. I neatly hang it on one of the branches and it nearly slips, but by a Christmas miracle, it stays put. I turn to Cecily. “I love you very much, you know that, right?”
“Of course silly! What would I do without you and our child-to-be?” She smiles sweetly and comes over to wrap me in a massive bear hug.
“I just love you so much,” I say. I wrap my arms around her, feel the small of her back, feel her shoulders, and find her neck. “Know that I’m doing this because I love you.” I hold, and hold, and hold. No more Christmas cookies for us.