Cordi felt like such an idiot. Was this some kind of game being played at her expense? She had really liked Russ, and now? Well, now she didn’t know what to think.
She had taken a cab to get to Marta and Jake’s house that evening, and it was going to be a long wait or a long walk in the freezing cold. Now that she thought about it, it probably hadn’t been a good idea to just run out on everybody. It was an impulsive move that she already regretted.
“Cordi, wait!” She could hear Russ calling after her, or was it Graham? She didn’t know what to call him now, and wasn’t sure it even mattered.
She turned to see him jogging toward her, as quickly as he could in the snow and ice. When he caught up to her, he slowed, as though he were afraid he would scare her off once again.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Please come back inside. I’d like to explain myself if you’ll let me.”
The lights from the house and neighboring houses blinked, and their glow shone on his face as she looked up into his eyes. Could she trust the look of sincerity, or did Christmas lights make everything look pure and magical? She hesitated, not knowing what she should do, and began shivering as her breath formed a fog of ice crystals in front of her.
Russ shrugged out of his coat and moved to wrap it around her over her own. “Here. Please, it’s freezing out here. Let’s get you back inside where it’s warm and we can talk,” he said, hoping she would allow it and go back in with him.
At last, she conceded, and he wrapped an arm around her as he walked her back inside.
Once they got back in, he suggested they go talk in an empty bedroom. “Go ahead, and I’ll meet you there,” he said. “I’ll get us something warm to drink and I’ll be right in.”
When he came in with two cups of hot cocoa, he found her standing at the window, looking out onto the snow covering the front yard. She turned to see him and took one of the cups from him, letting it warm her hands.
“Why didn’t you just tell me who you were at the diner the other night?” she asked in a calm, resigned voice.
“I know it looks bad, but I wasn’t trying to deceive you. At least, not in a bad way. Wait, that didn’t come out right.” He was fumbling with what to say, and he had a feeling he was only making things worse. She said nothing, but her eyes widened.
He sighed, frustrated with himself, and sat down on the bed. “What I meant was, I just wanted you to feel comfortable talking to me, and I wanted a chance to get to know the real you without the expectations that go along with being on a date,” he explained.
“Expectations? How do you know what my expectations would have been if you don’t even know me?” she asked. “You know something, though? Maybe you were right, because the only thing I expected going into that date was to be disappointed. Turns out, I was right.”
Russ stood and went to her by the window. “Don’t say that. The truth is, I had a great time with you that night. I’ve just had a lot of bad dates, and didn’t know what to expect, myself.”
That resonated with Cordi, and she found herself slowly warming to him once again. She thought back to the carefree banter they had shared that night, and had to admit that it would have undoubtedly gone a lot differently had she known that Russ was the guy she had been there to meet.
She looked down to her feet, and when she looked back up at him, he could see the warmth that had returned to her eyes. He took her hands in his and moved in closer so that only inches were left between them.
“Can we start over?” he said, barely above a whisper, as he looked at her expectantly.
She nodded her consent. “I think I would like that,” she said.
When they rejoined the party, another Tim Halperin song filled the room, Under That Christmas Spell. Russ and Cordi were hand in hand, and Marta squealed in delight as she watched them approach.
“I knew you two would work it out,” Marta bragged as she snuggled up to Jake who stood beside her.
“I guess we owe you a thanks for introducing us,” Russ said to Marta, before smiling back at Cordi. Cordi’s heart warmed even more.
Marta gasped as though she had just gotten a grand idea. “Oh! Come over here by the fireplace. I want to show you something,” she said, and darted off for the others to follow.
Once they got to where she wanted them, a mischievous grin spread across her face.
“Marta, what is it?” Cordi asked, suspicious of what her friend was up to.
Marta didn’t speak, but her eyes trailed up to the ceiling. They all followed her gaze and realized she had them standing beneath mistletoe that had been hanging from an exposed wooden rafter.
Russ and Cordi chuckled, but Russ looked down at her, a question in his eyes. Cordi nodded, excited at the thought of their first kiss, and Russ decided to go for it.
He brushed a thumb across her cheek as his mouth drew closer to hers, and her eyes closed in anticipation. Then their lips pressed gently together, and she could taste the sweet cocoa on him as he moved in and pulled her closer to him.
It was over all too soon, and when Cordi opened her eyes again, she couldn’t wait until the next one.
Mistletoe and fire glow, she thought, as the fire warmed them from the hearth, her growing feelings for Russ warmed her from within, and Barbara Mandrell sang to them what began their first of many Christmases together.