Renee glanced at the thermometer on the dash. The temperatures had been in the high forties all week and today was supposed to get up to fifty degrees outside. Mama has sent her to get the ham for Christmas dinner. At the store, she had had to maneuver around the crowds. The check-out lines stretched into the clothing section beyond the aisle. Christmas Eve was tomorrow, and everyone was doing their last-minute shopping today. Renee had to laugh to herself. Her parents had gone shopping a few days ago to get Christmas supplies, and even though it was on her mother’s list, she had forgotten to get the ham. She and her family often had a hickory smoked ham with roasted potatoes and green beans for Christmas dinner. Renee pulled into the garage and stepped out of her vehicle.
“Mama was wondering when you were ever getting back!” Bobby poked his head out the door. Renee laughed.
“She didn’t text me, though.” She grinned and followed her brother into the house. Moving into the kitchen, she set her bag on the counter and began unpacking the paper bag. She and her family almost always used paper bags. They believed that it was better for the environment. They did what little they could with recycling and composting. Balancing the ham in her left hand, she grabbed the fridge handle with her right hand and opened the door.
“Thanks for getting the ham, Renee.” Mama ambled into the kitchen around the corner from the laundry room.
“Of course!” Renee slid the milk a few inches to the right on the shelf and then lifted the ham into the open space. “All the shoppers are out today.”
“I can certainly imagine!” Mama shook her head. “I’m glad you could go. I wouldn’t want to be in the stores today; too crowded for me.”
Renee raised her voice with the rest of the congregation. It was a small group, but they made a joyous sound. They sat around the living room at the pastor’s house with the overhead bulbs dimmed. The floor lamps in the corners provided most of their light for reading the program. Renee had invited David to attend, but he had already made plans with his family for Christmas Eve. She would probably see him again in a few days after Christmas. He had already given Renee her Christmas present, but she wasn’t to open it until tomorrow morning.
The keys were smooth beneath her fingers. She followed the music before her, but she knew her arrangement so well, she barely needed it. She let the melody wash over her as she played. When the last note died away, she heard a collective murmured “Amen” from several people. She closed the book and returned to her seat.
Renee leaned against the wall; her feet tucked under her on the cushion. She gazed out the window. Starlight sparkled on the whiteness of the snow.
“I love the winter.” Rose, the pastor’s daughter, climbed onto the window seat next to Renee. The blonde-haired teenager handed her a brownie. Renee looked at it suspiciously. Is this safe? She quirked an eyebrow in Rose’s direction.
“Mama made it.” The budding young woman laughed. “So, it is gluten free.” Jessica, Rose’s mom had been gluten free for a while now. She had very sensitive digestion. Renee raised the treat to her mouth and took a bite of the chewy, yet soft deliciousness. The rich flavor burst across her tongue.
“What did your mom sweeten it with?” Renee queried gently.
“Agave nectar and sucanat.” Rose turned to face Renee and sat on her feet.
“It is very delicious.” She put the last bite into her mouth and savored it. Sometimes the healthier foods tasted really good.
Renee watched as Bobby grasped a loose edge of the paper and ripped the wrapping off the box. His facial expression changed from anticipation to surprise.
“Boots!” He flipped the lid up and pulled out a cowboy boot. “It looks like it’ll fit.”
“Well, then, try it on.” Mama urged. Bobby complied and slid his foot into it.
“It fits!” He exclaimed! He soon had both boots on his feet. “I’m gonna wear them all day!” Everyone laughed.
“Here, Renee.” Dad sat up from reaching under the Christmas tree. “This one is for you.” Renee took the small package. It was a little box. She slid her finger under the tape and carefully unwrapped it. It was a jewelry box. Opening it, she saw a delicate, silver necklace. Six tiny pendants filled with pink gems decorated the chain. Matching earrings sat alongside the necklace on the velvet.
“It’s very beautiful!” Renee carefully closed the box and placed it alongside her other presents she had opened. “Thank you, Mama and Dad.”
After putting her gifts away in her room, Renee returned upstairs. Bobby was sitting in the living area, putting together one of his presents. Her brothers were nowhere to be seen.
“Where did George and Jay go?” Renee reached up and grabbed a mixing bowl from the cabinet.
“They went outside with your father to practice with their new targets.” Mama glanced up from her saucepan of milk. The dark cocoa box sat next to the stove. Renee’s brothers each had a gun as well as her dad. They enjoyed hunting and target practicing. A few years ago, George had shot a deer. It had been very delicious!
“I’m going to start making the biscuits.” Renee grabbed the gluten-free flour from the pantry.
“Good idea.” Mama continued stirring. “I’m gonna get this chocolate pudding finished for dessert.”
On Christmas morning, Dad usually helped Mama with the meat for dinner and the breakfast preparations. After eating breakfast, they opened their presents. Dad then hung out with Renee’s brothers while she helped her mom with the rest of the dinner prep. She enjoyed this tradition.
“I’m just about done with the biscuits.” Renee started cutting out round shapes from the rolled-out dough.
“Awesome.” Mama glanced at the double oven. “Did you preheat the top oven or bottom oven?”
“The top one.” Renee quirked an eyebrow at her mom. “The ham is in the bottom one.”
“Oh, right.” Mama shook her head. “I’m getting old; forgetting things.” She teased.
“You’re not that old.” Renee grinned. “Only fifty.” Her parents had had her when they were young. Mama had been only twenty-four when she had birthed Renee.
“Yeah, but I’ll be fifty-one in January.” Mama winked.
“Yep.” Renee slid the biscuits into the oven. “I’ll be twenty-seven in February.”
“Oh, stop it.” Mama smiled and hugged her oldest child. “You’re amazing.”
Later that afternoon, Dad’s phone rang. After glancing at the touchscreen, he snatched it up and winked at Renee. He walked into his and Mama’s room and shut the door behind him. Renee wondered what the call was about and why Dad had winked at her. She curled her feet under herself on the couch. Pooh Bear snuggled against her leg. She stroked his smooth hair. She had given him a bath the day before with their silky dog shampoo. He hated baths. They had a dog bath station in the mud room with a cabinet next to it filled with old towels of various sizes. He always ran away from her when she called him for his baths. Renee had grabbed the little dog and used the small spray nozzle on him. Pooh Bear stood there trembling, even though she had used warm water. Renee kissed him on the top of the head, smiling at the silly animal.
Dad emerged from the bedroom. Renee looked at him quizzically.
“That was David.” He approached her. “He asked. And I asked him lots of questions and at the end of it, I said ‘no.’” He then turned and walked into the kitchen, but not before Renee caught the twinkle in his eye.
“You’re joking, right?” She called after him, uncertainty rising up inside her. Yet she hoped she had seen correctly that he was kidding.
“Of course!” Dad laughed. “I said ‘yes.’” He gave Renee a one-armed hug. Renee hugged him back.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” She squealed.
The next few days passed very slowly. The temperatures remained in the fifties for the whole week, which was very unusual for Michigan. Renee messaged with David a lot. They had talked about his conversation with her father, though David had not given one hint as to when he was going to ask her. Finally, that Saturday, she had gotten a little bit of an inkling. I’ll come ride with you there on the 29th, if you like. I’d like to talk with you. Renee grinned as she replied to his text. I don’t have anything planned. They then made plans for him to arrive at two in the afternoon.
A gentle breeze ruffled the brown shreds of grass. Puddled dotted the barnyard as Renee crossed in her boots. She pulled open the man-door on the barn and stepped inside. David would be arriving in just a few minutes. She hurried about the barn, getting ready for him. Soon she heard tires crunching on the gravel. She rushed out of the barn to meet him. He stepped out of a Ford F250 truck, a grin on his face.
“It’s good to see you again.” He gestured at the truck and trailer. “I have this for when I pull my trailer and do heavy work stuff.”
“It’s nice!” Renee admired the black vehicle.
Sunlight filtered through the screens and pooled on the sand. Heat rose in the fresh air. Renee stopped Cinnamon near the hooks on the wall and dropped her reins. She pulled her sweatshirt over her head and hung it by the hood.
“Warm?” David rode up next to her.
“Yep!” She grinned as she swiped a little sweat that had beaded on her forehead. She took up her reins and directed her horse back towards the cones she had been working with. There were four set up in a square. Cinnamon had accomplished the figure-eight pattern and now she had moved on to the clover pattern.
“You do really well with him.” David rode Murray in a circle, working on his flexion.
“Thank you.” She grinned, warmth filling her stomach. “I take my classes seriously.”
“I can tell.” He moved his horse into a trot, and they proceeded to the other end of the arena.
Renee slid the saddle off Cinnamon’s back and placed it on its rack. Then she returned to him and began brushing him down. She smiled to herself as she worked. She really enjoyed spending time with David, but she wondered when he was going to ask. I must be patient. She chided herself.
“So, I was wondering…” David approached the wash stall where she had Cinnamon cross tied.
“Yes?” She stood up from cleaning the dirt out of her horse’s hooves.
“Would you like to be my girlfriend?” His eyes flitted nervously.
“Yes!” Renee stepped up to him and looked up at his face. His eyes sparkled happily.
“May I give you a hug?” His chivalry was amazing. Renee answered by hugging him briefly. He chuckled.
“Brief hugs and holding hands are okay.” Renee tucked her fingers into his.
Renee slid between her sheets and reached up to turn off her lamp. David had left shortly after supper. She was so happy. They were now dating, but she wasn’t going to get her hopes up too high. Not every dating relationship ended in marriage, but she was looking towards that. She really hoped her relationship with David would progress to that, though. She closed her eyes with joy in her heart
© 2020 Tori Leumas