A White (and Black) Christmas
A package from her brother, postmarked Scottsdale, awaited Nona in the mailbox when she got home from work on Christmas Eve. Excitement uncurled in her belly and she let out a tiny squeal. If Kieran had made it to Arizona on his solo cross-country motorcycle trek when the hand-sized box was mailed three days ago, he might make it to Oregon for the holiday tomorrow.
Fingers trembling, she ripped off the outer plain brown wrapper to reveal holly-sprigged paper and a card covered in Kieran’s block printing.
Merry Christmas, sis.
Sorry I couldn’t make it up to see you, but December isn’t the best time to brave the mountain passes on a Harley. Hope this’ll cheer you up for the holidays. Give my best to that big lug of a boyfriend of yours. See you when the snow melts.
She sighed, smoothing the gift’s curly red ribbon, lopsided and crushed from her brother’s usual haphazard packing job. She’d so hoped he’d make it here by Christmas, her first since moving from Maine to Oregon. Her first without any of her family.
She drifted into the study and set the package on the shelf, trying to ignore the homesickness ambush, because really, what did she have to complain about? She had a fun job, a great apartment, and Landon, the best boyfriend ever.
The click of the front door closing announced his arrival. “Babe? You home?”
Landon filled the study doorway, all broad shoulders and rumpled brown hair, the top button of his chef’s tunic undone. He pulled Nona into one of his world-class hugs, chasing away her brief melancholy. He kissed her, slow and sweet, then rested his cheek against her hair.
“Missed you.” His deep voice rumbled in his chest and she snuggled closer. “What’s in the package? The latest cow-of-the-week from your cousin?”
Nona leaned back, lacing her fingers behind his neck. “No. That arrived on Tuesday.” Like clockwork. Xan was nothing if not punctual.
“Why cows anyway?” He backed up to the desk and half-sat on the edge, bracketing Nona with his long legs. “She have a Gary Larsen complex?”
Nona laughed and settled herself against his chest, breathing in the scents that clung to the white cotton tunic — rosemary, lemon, garlic. A hint of cinnamon. “No. Xan’s family runs a dairy farm. When we were eight or nine, we helped her dad search for a pair of twin calves that had been born in a field of waist-high grass. It made such an impression on us that we both started collecting cows afterwards.”
“Mmmhmmm. When I moved out here, I packed them up and stored them in my mom’s attic, but when Mom moved to Kennebunkport, I think Xan got custody.” When she’d started shipping them to Nona at the rate of one a week, Landon hadn’t protested, just shifted some of his books to make room for the growing herd.
“So who’s the new package from?”
“Kieran. He’s…” Her breath hitched in an embryonic sob and she took a deep breath. Remember all that you have, not all that you lack. “He can’t make it for Christmas.”
Landon’s hands tightened on her waist, pulled her close again. “I’m sorry, babe. I know you miss them. Your brother. Xan. Your mom.”
Nona wrinkled her nose. “Not her so much.”
His mouth lifted at Nona’s disgusted tone. “Well, your home at any rate.”
She stroked his determined jaw, his five o’clock shadow rough against her palm. “I have a new home now.”
“Damned straight.” He kissed her forehead. “Let’s see what he sent to compensate for not getting his sorry ass up here.” He reached out with one long arm and grabbed the box from the shelf. “Do the honors, my lady.”
Nona turned, resting her back against his chest, pulled off the ribbon, tore off the cheerful paper, and opened the gift box. Inside, white gleamed from a nest of red and green excelsior.
“What in flaming hell is that?”
Nona lifted the ceramic cow out of the box. “It’s a…I think they call it a moo-cow creamer.”
“I’d call it something else,” he muttered. “I didn’t realize you still actively collected the moo-sters.”
“I don’t. I haven’t since I was fourteen. But Kieran doesn’t exactly pay attention to the passage of time.”
Landon ran both hands through his hair, activating his multiple cowlicks, which was so apropos that Nona was tempted to giggle. “The moo juice glasses I can handle. Even the Shrine of Cows, as long as it doesn’t start attracting fanatical bovine pilgrims. But this?” He took the white ceramic creamer from her, turning it in his big hands and squinting at it from all angles. “There’s something off-putting about a cow vomiting into my coffee. Can we give this one a pass?”
What had Landon asked of her since she’d arrived in Portland as a bedraggled traveler, with no job, no friends, and nearly no home? Not a blessed thing. This, she could give him without a qualm.
She retrieved the creamer and tucked it back in its box. “I’ll send it to Xan. She and her husband have this huge rambling farmhouse outside Montpelier. Plenty of room for a moo-tel. Do you want me to…” Nona swallowed against another twinge of stupid homesickness. “Do you want me to ask her to stop sending the rest of the collection?”
“How many are we talking about?”
“Um…I’m not exactly sure. I stopped counting after seven hundred fifty-two.” His eyes widened and his eyebrows traveled halfway to his hairline. “But some of them are really small.” The anxious edge to her voice made her wince. Men hated wheedling.
He smoothed her curls off her forehead. “Babe, she’s sending you pieces of your past. If they make you feel better, tell her to go for it.”
“You don’t mind? It doesn’t make you think less of me?” Gah! There went the needy tone again.
“Not a bit. Love you, babe.” He kissed her forehead again. Each eyelid. Her lips. “Love you ‘til the cows come home.” He tilted his head and grinned at her. “Which at this rate will be…”
She matched his grin, a glow settling around her heart. “Forever.”