Hotch handed her the box of tissues and Beth smiled. She pulled one and blew her nose in quite a dramatic fashion.
“I feel silly.” She said.
“Why? I've seen you cry at the end of movies before. You’ve even seen me cry at the end of one.”
“That was adorable.”
“Its not the usual thing but I was feeling emotional that day and…” Hotch sighed. “OK, it’s not the first time I've cried at the end of The Wizard of Oz. I'm a sucker for home being where the heart is.”
“And I'm a sucker for George Bailey.” Beth grabbed another tissue. “When I was growing up people used to call my dad that. And it was even funnier because my mother’s name was Mary and we lived in the draftiest house in human history. My dad was just this everyman but he impacted so many people’s lives for the better. And no, my life wasn’t like some amazing Capra film but sometimes art imitates life and it smacks you right in the feels?”
“Where are the feels located exactly?” Hotch asked. He was already cleaning up the remnants of an intimate family Christmas Eve.
“I have no earthly idea.” Beth shrugged. “Ellen, one of the women I work with, says it all the time. I'm starting to think its somewhere between the soul and small intestines. Anyway, that movie got to me tonight.”
“I haven’t seen it from start to finish in a long time. Sometimes you forget how powerful and simple the message really is. Do you want tea, sweetheart?”
“I think this is a job for wine.”
“If we have too much Jack will come out to half-wrapped gifts. I don’t think he’s going to fall for Santa being three sheets in the wind. You're not supposed to drink and drive.”
Beth laughed. She covered her mouth as her laughter got louder. Jack had been in bed since eight; he was eagerly anticipating Santa’s arrival. He still believed even if the condo building had no chimney. While Beth thought the idea of a man coming through the air ducts was a bit creepy, maybe she’d seen too much X-Files in her time, Jack accepted it as truth. Lots of kids didn’t have chimneys, he reasoned. Santa visited all of them too.
“We’ll have a two glass minimum.” She said. “And then we’ll eat the cookies and drink the milk. What kind do you have this year?”
“Jack says Santa only wants them fresh and I tend to agree. I didn’t think I would have time this year so I stopped at Potomac Pastries; Dave recommended it. I ordered the red velvet Cakester cookies. I think Santa will be impressed.”
“Please tell me he’s not the only one who’s gonna be eating them.”
“I bought two dozen and Santa will have four.” Hotch went into the kitchen. He poured a glass of Moscato from the bottle in the refrigerator. Then he grabbed the milk. It was time to make Santa’s plate. “The rest will go with us to Sam and Jessie’s tomorrow. I have a feeling they will be a hit.”
“I know I'm going to like them.”
Beth got up from the couch and went over to the closet. She found the nondescript bag sitting right next to some boxes that Hotch had never unpacked. How could Jack not have found it in there? She was sure he was one of those kids who did the treasure hunt for Christmas gifts. Beth actually wanted to ask him about it but didn’t want to give him any ideas. Maybe he never searched the front closet because it seemed too simple. It wasn’t a completely inspired choice but still a good one. Score one for Dad.
“I think I might be a fan as well.”
When Hotch came back into the living room he had their drinks. He also had a plate with two Cakesters. Beth smiled as she pulled the gifts out of the bag.
“Oh, I like this airplane. Jack is going to lose it when he sees it.”
“I know.” Hotch smiled, showing his dimples. “He's really good at building things. I think I might have a future engineer on my hands. That would surely be better than the FBI.”
“He just wants to be a hero like his father.” Beth said.
“I'm no hero.” He shook his head.
“Well you won't be if we don’t get some wrapping paper and tape. These gifts aren’t going to wrap themselves, Agent Hotchner.”
“Oh it’s in the bedroom. I've been so busy; it’s been so crazy.”
“Its alright.” Beth reached for his hands. “I know I can't tell you to let it go. I don’t think you ever let it go. But for just one more day it can't have your focus. We’ll get the gifts wrapped, have some ridiculously fattening food, get a workout that makes our bodies forget we had the fattening food.” She smiled. “It’s going to be good.”
“It's gonna be good…after I get the wrapping paper and tape.”
Hotch leaned to kiss her nose, getting up from the couch. While he was gone, Beth pulled the rest of the gifts from the bag. She drank half her wine and started on her Cakester. It was thick and sweet and delicious. Then she got up and went over to the satellite radio.
Beth knew she didn’t want to hear Christmas music. She’d actually been avoiding it for the entire holiday season, which was no easy feat. This was her second Christmas without her father. Last year Beth was still in shock. She and Aaron had just met and she used that happiness at something new to not have to focus so much on what she’d lost.
This year, as hard as she’d tried, she couldn’t help but think about it. Don Clemmons loved Christmas music. He was the kind of guy who played it from Black Friday to New Year’s Day and wasn’t bothered if other people didn’t like it. Her father loved everything about Christmas; his happiness was infectious. They all said she was so much like him.
Beth always loved Christmas. Being with Jack made her love it more. Still, it was going to take a lot to fill the hole in her heart this year. She’d keep filling it with disco if she had to. KC and the Sunshine Band was a good start.
“This is festive.” Hotch smiled as he slipped his arms around her from behind. He kissed the nape of her neck.
“I haven’t really listened to much Christmas music this year. Last week I accidentally heard Sleigh Ride on the radio and burst into tears.” Beth said. “Try explaining that one to your co-workers.”
“I'm sure it wasn’t easy.”
“I'm going to be OK.” Beth replied. She rubbed his hands. “I have two really awesome helpers.”
“I love you.” he whispered in her ear.
“Mmm,” she turned in his arms and smiled. “I love you too, Aaron Hotchner. We better get to work because I'm willing to bet someone who lives here is going to be up at the crack of dawn looking to see what Santa left. I want to at least look presentable in the abundance of pictures that are gonna be taken.”
“OK.” He kissed her and they went back over to the couch.
Hotch grabbed one gift and Beth another. She was a bit ashamed to admit that he was a much better wrapper than she was. It didn’t matter much since Jack was just going to tear off the paper anyway. He wanted what was underneath.
“Hey Aaron, what did you get me? I hope I don’t like it.”
“What?” he looked at her.
“Gonna give me a hit about any of my gifts?”
“Nope.” Hotch shook his head. “But could you grab the bows for me. I think they're in the bottom of the gift bag.”
Beth made a face, laughed, and turned to look in the bag. She shuffled around the tissue paper and a couple of other plastic bags.
“There’s just paper in here. I don’t think, oh wait…”
She reached and touched the velvet box. Beth felt her fingers start to shake as she gripped it and pulled it out of the bag. She looked at Aaron; he still had a slightly whimsical look on his face. Tears pricked the back of her eyes. She closed them and one fell.
“Where did that come from? Maybe you should open it and see what it is.”
“Sometimes; but I don’t like to brag.”
Beth laughed some, covering her mouth. Then she opened the box. There was nothing she could do but gasp. The ring was beautiful. It was a round cut diamond surrounded by smaller diamonds and diamonds on the band. There were no words for it; it was the most amazing thing she’d ever seen.
“Hmm, it seems a little cliché.” Hotch said as he took the box gently from her hand.
“What's that?” Beth managed to squeak out the words.
“A guy gets his girl a ring on Christmas Eve.” He got down on one knee. “But this is one thing I don’t mind being cliché about. Elizabeth Clemmons, will you marry me?”
She looked at him. Beth just sat there and looked at him. He really was a beautiful man; that was the first thing she noticed about him. She noticed his raven hair and hazel eyes and perfectly pressed clothes. Before she knew anything about his kind heart, strong soul, and amazing being she knew that.
Now he was on one knee in front of her. How could this be happening? Never in a million years when she chased him down in the park did Beth think this could happen. She actually thought the whole thing would be a bust. But she had to ask him.
He was handsome and she wanted to at least try. She’d given up on trying a long time ago. She loved Aaron. She loved Aaron and Jack. It would be a lie to say she didn’t often fantasize what a great little family they would make.
He was the right guy. Times may not be right, circumstances could be off, and moments could be less than perfect. But there was nothing that could convince Beth that he wasn’t the right guy. They just had to make the rest work the best way they knew how.
Love was easy. It was incredibly so. Relationships took work, sweat, and sacrifice. When you were in love it was worth it. Aaron Hotchner was worth it.
“I really want to.” she whispered.
“Is that a yes?”
“I…wow, I didn’t see this coming.”
“Sweetheart, I have no idea if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”
“Some women have awesome profiler skills when it comes to this sort of thing. Aaron, I love you so much.” Beth caressed his face in her hands. She leaned and kissed him.
“I love you too. I love you very much.”
“We live apart, in different cities and…”
“None of it matters.” Hotch shook his head. “We’ll work out the details, scan the fine print, review the terms and conditions, whatever. I love you. I want you to be my wife and someone Jack can love and grow up with and…you can be a wonderful mother to him.”
“Yes.” She nodded and threw her arms around him. “Yes Aaron; yes, yes.”
Hotch held her. He held her and would never let go. It was easy to smile when Beth kissed his neck. When she pulled away, he took the ring from the box and took her hand.
“It’s so beautiful.”
“Not as beautiful as the woman who’s going to be wearing it.”
“I can't even believe…I'm a little speechless right now…”
“It’s a good color on you.” Hotch grinned.
She laughed, admiring her ring. Then she pulled him up on the couch in a passionate kiss. Hotch smiled against her lips, kissing her again.
“You know, we could get up early and…”
“No!” she pushed him away and laughed. “We have to wrap these gifts. We have to have our Cakester and listen to pop music and get some sleep. We’ll be in bed soon enough. And when we are, Agent Hotchner, I'm going to remind you of one of the 534 reasons we are so good together.”
“They’re 534?” Hotch asked. He picked up the wrapping paper.
“So far…and yes I am counting. #535 is giving me a whole new reason to love Christmas Eve.”
“I'm hoping there are a lot of reasons to love a lot of days to come.”
“Do you think you can finish this, Aaron? I want to take my snack and call my mom. I’ll probably wake her but I can't think of a better reason right now.”
“Go.” He smiled.
Beth got up from the couch and kissed him. Then she disappeared down the hall. As hard as he tried, and it wasn’t that hard, he couldn’t stop smiling. Hotch sang along to the non-Christmas songs on the radio.
He wrapped Jack’s gifts, enjoyed his snack, and made sure that he signed them from Santa. After putting everything under the tree, Hotch even left crumbs and a bite on of the Cakesters on the plate. Jack wasn’t going to believe this story for that much longer. His father was preparing to give him something he could believe in for a lifetime.