The madness of New York City on Christmas Eve is admittedly a little too much for my OCD brain to handle. I mean sure it’s pretty and bright, and everywhere we go there’s either festive music or awe-inspiring decorations, but I couldn’t even begin to estimate the actual number of tourists blocking the streets, loitering around the biggest attractions like a horde of cattle.
I’m given a deep appreciation for the NYPD when trying to fathom responding to a crisis among the chaos. With all the madness going on in the world, it’s impossible not to come up with a handful of different scenarios. It’d be too easy for a terrorist to wipe out a hundred people with either a car, or even a homemade IED. My stomach drops with the thought, all at once reminding me of the myriad of reasons why I want to protect my country.
Huffing out a slow breath, I snuggle deeper into the knit scarf wrapped around my neck. Hard to say if the chill slithering down my spine’s from my overactive imagination, or the bitter East Coast winds. “Don’t these people have families to visit over the holidays?”
“Maybe they’re all like us, and metaphorically orphaned by eccentric parents.” My sister giggles beside me, hooking her arm through mine. “Would you relax? We’re here to have fun, and you’re crazy tense.” With the most dramatic sighs, she steers me away from the crowd, back toward the street. “That’s it, new plan. You need a shot.”
I mumble a little protest under my breath, knowing Harper won’t take no for an answer no matter what I say. I love my twin more than anyone else on the planet, but she’s known for being the pushy and shallow one, while I’m the one known for being thoughtful and cautious. We may look identical on the outside, but we’re cut from totally different cloths.
In some ways, we’re mirror images of our parents. I’m driven by the promise of success, much like our father who made his legacy by owning one of the biggest lumber mills in the nation. Harper’s more like mom—intent on spending money to make herself look good. I imagine there will come a day when Harper follows in her footsteps with cosmetic surgery, but probably not until she finds the rich husband she’s been on the hunt for as long as I can remember. Our parents are good people, just not so good at parenting. They’re always throwing money at us, thinking it’ll somehow compensate for their lack of guidance and attention.
Harper navigates through the busy sidewalks like she’s lived in the Big Apple her whole life. But we’re both new to the city. After two days I have yet to form an opinion on the experience. Aside from the throng of tourists, the famous borough oozes charm and personality. Each day we’ve absentmindedly walked nearly a dozen miles, so focused on sightseeing that we haven’t really paid the distance much attention until returning to our hotel. While I was smart enough to wear tennis shoes, Harper’s fashionable boots haven’t faired as well. I’m in awe she’s still able to walk with a bounce in her step after watching her soak her blistered feet the night before.
Thankfully we don’t have too far to go before we come across a cozy corner bar with OPEN flashing in neon lights above the bright red door. Inside’s nearly as disorderly as the city’s Christmas displays, jazzy holiday music and the scent of cinnamon filling the air, patrons shoulder-to-shoulder, and a wall-sized fireplace making it a comfortable temperature in stark contrast to the bitter cold. I have to admit I adore the decor of exposed brick walls and barn wood, only because it reminds me of the bars and resorts back home.
“Stay put,” Harper demands with one of her mischievous grins. “I’ll get the usual.”
As she leaves me to make a bee-line for the bar, I begin unwrapping my scarf while taking everything in. The crowd’s mostly our age, maybe some a decade or two older. Everyone seems to be in good spirits, and noticeably relaxed. Immediately I wonder how many live here in the city and don’t have family nearby, opting to celebrate with friends instead.
Now that I’ve acquired my bachelor’s degree, I’ve considered starting my career somewhere new. I’m starting police academy training back home after the holidays, so at least I have time to choose. Either way, I’m not convinced I have the big city mentality needed to thrive somewhere this massive.
New York has been a fun place to visit for the most part, but I’m not sure I could ever call something so disorderly home. Relocating to Minneapolis was a big enough step the way it was. There’s a part of me that clings to the idea of staying in the Midwest the rest of my life anyway.
If I’m being completely honest with myself, which I almost never am when it comes to matters of the heart, I’m still secretly pining after a certain farmer in Minnesota, hopeful he’ll one day change his mind about giving a relationship with me a fair chance.
When I met Hunter Kendall two years ago as the friend of a friend, he was a shameless flirt. Although he came off as being another player at first, after I put him in his place he was a total gentleman. In fact, he was the first guy in forever to treat me respectfully, like I wasn’t merely a piece of ass.
I hadn’t met anyone with his humor and confidence who also seemed to have a big heart. It was clear the way he talked about his siblings and their babies that he values family, and that’s another thing I’ve struggled with when dating guys from the city. And he’s not at all what I pictured as a stereotypical farmer. He once told me he doesn’t own a cowboy hat, nor does he care for country music. He’d look more at home standing front row at a rock concert, or in my bed.
Exactly a year after we met, when Hunter appeared at the same resort where Harper and I chose to spend our Christmas, I fell hard. He’s witty, charming, hardworking—everything I value in a good man. Although he basically admitted he wanted me too, he was adamant that a relationship wouldn’t work between us because of my career, and his plans to stay rural due to his obligations with his family farm.
But I convinced him to kiss me, and oh man, did he ever. He did it in a way I’ve never been kissed before—a way I doubt I could ever forget. With passion and adoration. Like I was special, worthy of being worshipped. I swear it’s the only time in my life I’ve felt a full out-of-body experience, like I was an outsider watching the kiss, or that I was even watching a glorious dream.
I was so lost in the kiss that I would’ve given myself to him right there in front of everyone in the resort’s lobby. I didn’t care if anyone watched, because I was ready to offer Hunter Kendall anything he wanted.
Then he told me goodbye, and I haven’t seen him since.
I’ve had more dreams about that damn kiss, some while wide awake. I’ve pretended that I don’t have time to date between graduating college and starting at the academy. I’ve become an old spinster in my new apartment, telling myself it’s for professional reasons. I’ve kept in touch with Hunter on social media even though he’s hardly on there at all anymore, forcing me to pour over a handful of old pictures.
“Merry Christmas, beautiful,” a deep voice rolls beside me.
For a second I’m frozen in place by the sound, believing by some miracle I managed to summon the very object of my affection. It wouldn’t be completely unheard of, considering we’ve run into each other on Christmas Day, two years in a row. We even joked that it’s a standing date. Could I be so lucky?
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