A/N: I know this isn't much in the way of romance, but when I started thinking about a Christmas story, this idea really stuck with me. Hope everyone enjoys it!If you haven't already read If Tomorrow Never Comes, I would suggest reading it either before or after reading this to get a good appreciation of this story. Happy Holidays. :)
The mall was busy with other shoppers, and Chase Lennox was deep in the middle of the bustle. He hadn't forgotten to get his girlfriend Lauren a present – he had a couple packages wrapped and neatly placed under the tree in their shared apartment. Now that it was Christmas Eve, he was getting down to the wire. The items he had already purchased were generic, expected gifts. Chase wanted to have at least one thing to surprise her with on Christmas morning.
He had visited her favorite clothing stores, but found nothing there that would really wow her. The electronics store didn't hold anything that seemed promising of a real surprise gift. He thought momentarily about a designer purse but didn't know which designer was her favorite. He passed by a nail salon, but a gift certificate for a full spa day was already waiting for her in a small but expertly wrapped box back at home.
The jewelry store finally came into view and although he had his hesitations, Chase entered the store. He and Lauren had been dating for a little under a year, so he felt like a ring, although it would certainly be surprising, was out of the question. Diamond earrings weren't what he was looking for, and none of the necklaces caught his eye either.
In the last case he inspected for ideas, he saw it. A white gold charm bracelet with his option of charm jumped out at him. He asked the clerk if he could see the bracelet paired with the heart charm first.
"Very good choice, sir," the clerk complimented.
Chase shook his head. "I think she may already have something like this. Can I see the locket charm, please?"
"Of course." The man carefully placed the heart charm back in the display and removed the locket charm. He secured it onto the chain and laid it out for Chase to examine it. It was perfect.
"I'll take it."
They settled on a price and finished the transaction. He checked his watch and realized that he was now behind scheduled. Hurrying out of the mall, he couldn't keep the smile off of his face; Lauren, he was sure, would love the bracelet and be surprised. Things were working out after all for their first Christmas together.
Lauren was already at her parents' house when he got back to the apartment so he showered quickly before settling down to finish his project. He found a baby picture of himself and a baby picture of Lauren and scanned both of them into the computer to make copies. He cut out the exact size for the locket and placed them in the charm. After placing the jewelry box back into the box the clerk had given him and tying the ribbon around it, he placed it under the tree.
On the drive to the Estes' house, he thought back over the last ten months with Lauren. It had been a sort of whirlwind relationship. One of Wyatt's ex-girlfriends had introduced them after a show. Chase couldn't say he was immediately drawn to Lauren but as he got to know her, he liked her more and more. She was pretty and outgoing and when they weren't around anyone else, she was very sweet. After getting to know each other for about six months, they decided to take things more seriously. Just a few months after that, they had moved in together. It was an odd match, but Chase loved her more than he thought he could ever love anyone.
He pulled into the driveway of the house and turned off the engine. Lauren was waiting for him at the front door and greeted him with a quick kiss on the cheek. His smile was still unwavering, and she questioned him about it.
"Don't worry," he told her. "You'll find out in the morning."
Snow wasn't exactly out of the question in North Carolina, but it wasn't something the state's inhabitants experienced every year. So when Presley O'Brien looked up from her last-minute gift wrapping to see flurries falling to the ground just outside her beach house, she grinned, jumped up, and made way for the balcony just outside of her bedroom.
It seemed the whole ground was already covered in a light blanket of white. Even the sand was being buried under the stuff. Presley leaned over the rail and opened her mouth, trying to catch a few flakes on her tongue. She giggled and went back inside, being sure to securely close the slider behind her.
Walking back up the stairs, she went back to her task of wrapping the last few packages that would be stowed under her tree until the next day when she shared Christmas with her family. Presley glanced at the clock and frowned; her boyfriend was supposed to have called her by now to let her know that he was back from the holiday trip with his family. She reached for her cell phone and dialed Jonathan's number, but it went straight to voicemail. Deciding that she needed to not worry herself so much – if something had happened, he could have called from his one of his parents' phones. She finished her wrapping and then got started on supper.
The meal was just finished cooking when her front door opened and Jonathan came up the stairs to where she was. A small smile graced Presley's features and she walked over to hug and kiss him. He kissed her back as he unzipped his coat.
"Hey, babe. Sorry I didn't call. My phone died so I just went home and got the charger and came over. What are you cooking? It smells good." He walked over to the stove, but Presley took his hand and, grinning, pulled him down to her bedroom and out on the balcony.
"Look," she beckoned.
Jonathan looked off the balcony and shrugged. "What?"
"Jon, it's snowing! Isn't it great?"
"Presley, I know it's snowing – I just drove through it and walked through it coming up to your house. Can we eat now?"
He kissed her again and walked back inside. Presley sighed. After almost three years together, she still hungered for those romantic little moments with Jonathan. She had hoped that the snow would stop him from life for just two seconds so he could stand with her and appreciate it. Shaking her head, she walked back inside to get his supper plate ready.
The sun was barely over the horizon when Chase woke Lauren up Christmas morning. She groaned and tried to hide under the blankets, but Chase was having none of it. He tickled her sides, teasing that he would tickle until she got out of bed.
"Fine, I'm up," Lauren snapped, rolling her eyes. She swatted his hand away and got out of bed without so much as looking at him. She pulled on her robe and allowed him to lead her out to the front room.
He handed her a cup of coffee, but stole a kiss before handing it to her. "Merry Christmas, Laur."
"Merry Christmas," she replied, finally smiling. "Do you want me to make some breakfast?"
Chase shook his head. "Presents first. Then breakfast."
They sat on the floor together with their coffee and together opened their gifts. Lauren had found him a couple of shirts, a new watch, and a couple of rare vinyls he'd really been after for a few months. She opened the gift card and the bottle of her favorite perfume, and then reached for the last box.
"Wait. Lauren, before you open that up, I just want to tell you that I really love you. I'm so happy that we've been able to start this life together and, well, I just want to spend the rest of this life with you."
Lauren gave him a shaky smile. "I love you, too, Chase. Before I open this though, um, it's not a ring, right? I mean, we've only been together for like ten months and I just think that's a little early to really know if we want to spend forever together."
His felt the smile fade away and ran a hand through his messy hair. He didn't think there was anything wrong with already knowing he wanted to be with her for a long time to come, but apparently she didn't share those feelings. Slightly hurt, he motioned for her to continue and said the only thing he could manage to get out.
"Just open it. It's not a ring."
A blush crept up in Lauren's cheeks at the awkwardness she'd created as she untied the ribbon around the box. She took off the lid and removed the smaller box. She opened it up to reveal the bracelet, the locket open so she could see both of the pictures.
"It's really beautiful," she smiled. "Will you put it on for me?"
Chase nodded and clasped the bracelet around her delicate wrist. The moment was anticlimactic for him; he'd imagined she would be so much more excited about it. Even his heart felt heavy with the disappointment that she had brought on in making sure he wasn't proposing. He kissed her forehead and stood up, telling her that would go ahead and make breakfast for her.
"I'm sorry, Chase. I really love the bracelet. Really," Lauren assured him.
"I know," he replied, giving her a tight smile.
Presley arrived at her parents' house in the early afternoon to help her mother and sister with the cooking. Her two sisters-in-law were not far behind her. The five women had the kitchen crowded with all sorts of different cooking and baking projects. Her older twin brothers, Matthew and Malachi, came in the early evening with the Malachi's two sons, Tyler and Nolan. Cody, her sister Kennedy's husband, came just in time for dinner. Her father reappeared about the same time and the eleven of them sat down to enjoy the meal. She kept checking her phone for any sign of Jonathan, but couldn't get a hold of him.
After dinner, Tyler and Nolan played in the living room while the adults all had a cup of coffee to settle their supper. By the time the boys were begging to open presents, there was still no sign of Jonathan. Presley pretended that it didn't bother her and watched excitedly as her nephews and other family members tore into their presents. She thanked everyone for the gifts she received and stayed for a few minutes while everyone visited. Checking her phone one last time, Presley got up and poured herself another cup of coffee and then snuck out to the front porch. She sat on the porch swing and watched the last bits of snow fall from the sky.
She and Jonathan had met the semester she went back to school after finding out she had acute myeloid leukemia. Her doctor had put her quickly into a chemotherapy program and the cancer was gone in a month; no one was quite surprised. She had already beaten another form of leukemia within a month at the age of three and by the time she was eight, she had been declared cured. The AML diagnosis had come as a sort of shock, but she had held her head high, even through the most agonizing moments of treatment. When she went back to school, her figure was still emaciated and pale, and her hair had just begun to grow back. The day she met Jonathan, she'd been eating lunch in the student center. A bright red bandana was secured over her fuzzy scalp. He sat right across the table from her and, while she eyed him suspiciously, told her that red hair was his favorite.
Things had changed so much since then. She would have suspected that a married couple on the edge of divorce showed more affection to each other than Jonathan showed to her. Presley had asked him about it only once, and Jonathan had simply told her it was just the way he was.
"Snow's awful pretty, isn't it?" her father, Craig, said.
Presley looked to where he stood in the doorway and gratefully accepted the coat he'd brought out with him. She set her coffee cup on the ground and steadied the swing while her father sat next to her.
"Your mama had the Christmas radio station on and they were playing that band you used to listen to – you know the one you used to sing all the time to drive your brothers crazy?"
"Lennox," Presley smiled.
"Yeah, that's it. One of their Christmas songs was on the radio and everyone realized you were gone. Whatever happened to that band anyway?"
"They still make music."
Craig nodded. "So the boyfriend didn't show."
"Is that good or bad?"
Presley shrugged. "I guess it depends on how you look at it. I know he's not your favorite, so I guess it's good for you."
"But it's a promise he made to you that is now broken, so it's bad for you," Craig summed up. He sighed and put an arm around his daughter. "You know, sugar, it's not that I don't like Jonathan. I know he's a hard-working man and he'll be able to provide a future for you if things go in that direction. I just want you to have a happy future, and it doesn't seem like he could do that for you."
"He wanted me when I wasn't beautiful, Daddy. That's a hard thing to let go of."
Craig hugged her. "Presley, you've always been beautiful. I know you don't believe me because I'm your father, but it's true. And if he can't love you when you feel beautiful – what does it matter?"
Presley grew silent. She got the point and didn't need him to say anything else. She picked at the chipping paint on the swing, unable to meet her father's eyes.
"Well," Craig said. "You get what I'm saying. As long as you're happy, sugar."
Chase sighed and got out of bed. After a long evening with his family for Christmas, he wasn't able to sleep. Lauren had been ready to sleep before they even made it home. The incident from that morning had been all but forgotten by her, but it was still haunting him.
He knew he needed to give Lauren time and the opportunity to feel like she could spend the rest of her life with him. When he was off recording or doing appearances or touring, it was difficult to get more serious, he guessed. Lauren had accompanied him on all the trips she could, but there was still some time they had to spend apart. Chase wondered if it was possible she was questioning her relationship with him but quickly dismissed the thought – if Lauren wanted out, she would tell him.
He looked out the sliding door that led to their balcony and smiled at the small white flakes falling. He considered waking Lauren up, but after how grumpy she was when he woke her that morning, the thought better of it. Instead he leaned against the glass and watched the frozen particles cover everything outside.
About thirty minutes later, he crawled back into bed, pulling Lauren against him. She sighed contentedly; Chase got a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach that things would be ending soon. He closed his eyes and promised himself that he would hang on for as long as he could. And, if things did have to end, he prayed that by next Christmas, he'd be able to find someone who he could love even half as much as he loved Lauren.
Doubting that such a girl even existed, he kissed her neck and fell into a restless sleep.
More than a thousand miles away, Presley was also trying to fall asleep in her own bed. The difference was that she was alone. Jonathan had called while she was on her way back to Surf City from Beulaville to apologize for not showing up, claiming he had fallen asleep and had his phone on silent. Presley forgave him and cut the call short, telling him she wanted to concentrate on the still-wet roads.
She glanced at the clock. It was after midnight, so Christmas was over now anyway. She had enjoyed the time with her family very much, but she still felt as though the holiday was missing something. She knew that the lack of her boyfriend's presence as well as his affection had a lot to do with that vacancy in her heart. Ending things with Jonathan was a thought that was starting to creep over the horizon of her mind, and she knew that if it was going to happen, it had to happen soon. Maybe by next Christmas, she'd be able to find a boyfriend to whom she would be the whole world. She smiled to herself as she fell asleep, picturing a life with someone who would put his entire life on hold for her, no matter the reason.