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When Loved Ones are Near

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“Hey, I brought you a cookie,” Todd said. He held out a sugar cookie shaped like a Christmas tree. “Winston ate all the reindeer, sorry.”

Elizabeth took the cookie from him and ran her finger along the green sprinkles adorning it. “Thanks,” she said. She looked around the room. Their third grade class Christmas party was in full swing. If by swing, she meant a small group of people, including Caroline and Jessica, making star-shaped ornaments out of popsicle sticks and an obscene amount of glitter. Poppy Christmas music played in the background.

“What do you think you're getting?” Todd asked. He took the seat next to her, in what was usually Ken's desk. “I want a new hoop. My old one's for babies.”

Elizabeth thought for a moment. “I asked for books, but Jess will get me something she wants so she can steal it -”

“You're lying!” Jessica cried, as she walked over to them, her arms outstretched and her hands drooping down in front of her. Drops of glue and glitter splashed to the floor. “Lizzie,” she whined. “I got glue on my hands. Help me wash it off so I'm not yucky!”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “Okay.” She stood up, cookie still clenched in hand. “Sorry, Todd, we'll talk later.”

“S'okay,” he said, and as Elizabeth looked back at him as she walked away, she swore he looked almost a little sad.

Until he got up and bounded across the room to join his friends.

Figured.

it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...


What did you buy for your kind of, sort of boyfriend? It was a question that Elizabeth was pondering to herself as she walked the Sweet Valley mall one afternoon close to Christmas. She had about ten dollars scraped together from doing odd jobs around the place, and she figured she could get him something that he would like – but reading the mind of a thirteen year old boy had never been something she was very good at.

He liked basketball, after all, maybe she could buy him a new basketball, or some book about a famous basketball player. It would help if she could even remember who the popular basketball players were, for that matter.

“Liz!” Todd's voice called out, and she turned to follow the sound of his voice; it came from behind her.

“How did you know it wasn't Jess?” she asked with a laugh as he walked up next to her.

“Because you didn't have the entire Unicorn Club in tow with you, and I know she doesn't go anywhere without at least two of them.” He shuddered. “I can only imagine what running into them would be like.”

“It'd be like running into a group of girls who think they know everything,” Elizabeth said, “especially when it comes to shopping or clothes or boys.”

“Terrifying.”

“I really could use their advice right now, though,” she said. “I'm trying to do my Christmas shopping so that I don't put it off until the last minute, and I don't think everyone wants koosh balls from the drugstore. Or whatever else I can find there that's cheap.”

“Those would be awesome!” he exclaimed. “Don't worry too much about it, Liz, I'm sure whatever you get me, I'm going to love.”

“I take that as a vote of confidence.”

“No problem. Hey,” he said, “I'm trying to do my Christmas shopping too, and, uh,” he held up a bag from Merry-Go-Round, with a sheepish grin, “I hope you like your present?”

“I bet I will.” It tickled her that he would go shopping for her – and if she was guessing right, he wasn't going to take the easy way out and buy her books, which tended to be everyone's go-to present for her. Of course, he would be more thoughtful than that.

Even if he was a thirteen year old boy.

it's the happiest season of all...when friends come to call...


Of course, when Lila threw a party, she went all out – on her daddy's credit card, Elizabeth knew, but it was still much more opulent than anything that anyone would put together down in the valley. Which was probably why she continued doing it in the first place. Little white lights twinkled merrily on the bushes, and festive garlands of green pine served as the trim to the decorations. And the food was excellent – knowing Lila, it was probably catered in from some fancy restaurant.

For a high school party, it sure felt like they were adults.

She was pretty sure that could Lila have swung it, she would have brought in fake snow from some high-end snow company and they could have fake snowball fights like people in Minnesota did.

She downed a glass of sparkling cider in one gulp, and made her way back over to the refreshment table for more of the petit fours. The chocolate ones were especially good. She'd have to ask Lila who made these, to remember for her graduation party next year.

She knew Todd was supposed to be here – they would have driven up together, but his practice had run late that night. She scanned the room. Everyone else from their class was there, just about. She could see Bruce chatting up Lila with a devilish grin on his face, and she could see her twin, as sparkling as ever, making her way from one group of socialites to the next.

And then she saw Todd making his way across the room. “Sorry, I'm late,” he said, kissing her on the cheek. “Coach didn't seem to accept 'the annual Lila Fowler Christmas party' as a valid excuse to miss out on another series of drills.”

She laughed. “I really doubted that he would, and I can't believe you ever thought that was a possibility.”

“I wanted to be here with you instead,” he said. “Can we dance?”

Laughing, she took his hand in hers and led him in the direction of the dance floor, where she could hear violins playing Christmas carols. Typical fancy Lila, she thought to herself. “Tonight, we can do whatever you'd like.”

what a bright time, it's the right time, to rock the night away...


It was hard to be alone on Christmas.

Her family had decided that a ski vacation in Vail was just what the family needed – one week, all five of them, fun and skis and snow in abundance. Jessica was probably hooking up with a ski instructor as she spoke. However, her job at the station demanded that she stay put for the holidays. Just in case there was some breaking news story that she absolutely needed to cover, and her backup anchor had mono. And mono trumped Vail, according to the hierarchy of “reasons to take time off work” that the bosses had instituted. Much to her chagrin, of course.

The dingy little tree in the corner of her apartment looked sad and wilted, much like Charlie Brown's tree. She shook her head. Apparently, she didn't have whatever gene was necessary to maintain a Christmas tree for very long. One of the branches drooped low enough to where the ornament brushed against the floor.

She was about to get up and start preparing the tiny Cornish hen she had bought for her Christmas dinner, when she heard a knock at the door. “Who's there?” she called out.

“Ho, ho, ho! It's Santa Claus.”

The voice was familiar, although she had not heard it in a few years – since her last year at SVU, she thought – and she almost could not believe her ears. She walked over to the door and opened it. Standing on her doorstep, red Santa suit and all, was Todd.

“Come on in, Santa,” she said. “I didn't know you knew where I lived.”

Todd laughed. “Santa knows where everyone lives,” he said. “I have presents for you. I hope you've been a good girl this year.”

“I would hope Santa would bring me presents, and yes, I have been. I don't have any milk or cookies to give, though, so you're out of luck there.”

Without a word, he took three small boxes out of his sack, wrapped in brightly-colored wrapping paper and decorated with sparkly bows.

“Mrs. Claus must know how to wrap really well,” Elizabeth said, taking the smallest of the boxes in her hand and turning it around.

“There's no Mrs. Claus,” Todd said, “just the really nice gift wrapping people at the mall.”

“So the elves did it.” She ran her finger through the packaging and tore off the paper. It was a small jewelry box. She flicked the lid open, and her jaw about dropped. “Todd, it's gorgeous,” she said, taking a small pearl pendant out of the box.

“Put it on,” he said, and she did, fumbling with the clasp a little but still managing to get it on just right. She looked down and admired it – it really did look stunning, a perfect pearl.

The second box was a matching set of earrings, and then there was only one box left. It was by far the largest, and was relatively flat and rectangular. Was it a book of some sort?

She opened it, and saw that it was a flat, black portfolio. “Look inside,” he said, rocking forward on his hands and knees, almost as if he was anxiously awaiting her reaction.

What she saw inside made her have to bite back a more vocal reaction. There were pictures of them together – she recognized that picture as being taken on their second grade field trip to the farm, and another from when she came over to his house to work on a fourth grade project. It was as if she was watching the evolution of their relationship come alive on the page. There they were at the seventh grade winter dance, her wearing that green dress that Jessica said made her look like human moss.

(She stood by the fact that it was a really cute dress, and the fact that she caught Jessica wearing it a couple months later was proof to that point.)

The pictures became fewer and further between after they left their high school years; a couple of snapshots from their SVU days, and one from the last time they had seen each other, at the five year high school reunion, but there was nothing to indicate that they had been a part of each other's lives in quite some time. “Todd,” she said, “you had to have put a lot of work into this. And I – I don't know what to say – you brought back a lot of really happy memories.”

“I know we're not a couple right now, but,” he paused for a moment, “I wish we were? I miss you, Liz. And I'm not expecting you to say yes, and you can kick me out of your apartment if you want, but I don't want to spend another Christmas without you.”

She felt tears begin to well up in her eyes. “I'm not making any promises,” she said, “but if you don't have any plans, I have a Cornish hen that I was about to prepare, so we can share that and see where it goes from there?”

“That sounds great.”

this year, to save me from tears, I'll give it to someone special...


A year later, on Christmas Eve, Elizabeth curled into Todd's side on the couch. The Christmas tree was illuminated perfectly – apparently, Todd was better at tree maintenance than she could ever hope to be. She could see gifts under the tree, that she knew were for her, and she had a collection of presents hidden away in her office at work, to avoid his prying eyes.

The downside to working the Christmas morning newscast: it meant working Christmas morning. The upside: she could keep his presents there until she got off work, and then they'd have the rest of the day to be together.

“I have a present I want to give you early,” Todd said.

“It can't wait until tomorrow?”

“No, it can't wait a single more minute,” he said. He handed her a tiny box wrapped in sparkly silver paper. “Open it.”

She did so, and inside was a tiny velvet jewelry box. “Todd – is this – is this what I think it is?” she asked, and she opened it.

Inside the box was a stunning diamond ring.

“We've known each other since we were kids,” Todd said. “And no matter how many times we're together, it always feels right. You're the one, Elizabeth Wakefield, and I'd love to ask you if I could have the honor of being your husband. Will you marry me?”

“Yes,” she exclaimed, and she kissed him, long and hard, her lips melding against his in a perfect storm of emotion. She didn't need mistletoe above her head to kiss him, not at all, not when he was right there and perfectly willing, and she felt his hand traverse her leg, and she snuggled into him deeper.

She was going to be Elizabeth Wilkins. Or Elizabeth Wakefield-Wilkins, maybe, because she'd always seen herself as the kind of person who would hyphenate. And that was the best Christmas present she could have ever asked for.

I just want you for my own, more than you will ever know...all I want for Christmas is you...