An Everything She Ever Wanted Holiday Short Story
One screaming baby in Santa’s arms was cute for all of one second. Two babies in unison? Not so much, especially when they’re mine and I almost have a panic attack trying to retrieve them from the beleaguered man’s arms. Whoever thought it was a good idea to have a commemorative picture taken with Santa clearly didn’t know my babies. But before I can get to them, Dax is already there, scooping up red-faced Anita Pearl first and then Dax Nathaniel who’s probably crying only because his twin sister cried first. As Dax makes his way towards me, they look like oversized squirming footballs nestled in his arms, with their matching Christmas outfits and hand knitted caps. But they’re our squirming footballs.
“I think everyone got at least one picture of that little Santa adventure,” he says, laughing as he hands me Anita Pearl who quiets down immediately, nuzzling her cold nose into my neck. Behind me, the twins’ great grandmother, Anita Drexel, asks if I need her to pass me a bottle from the nursery bag and I shake my head. I know the twins aren’t hungry; at least, not yet. They’re probably overwhelmed by all the attention from Dax’s friends and relatives who’ve join us for the annual Yuletide caroling and tree lighting at the Taos Plaza.
We’ve been here since the event started and after walking around and catching up with everyone who knows the Drexels—Dax, his grandmother Anita, his sister Sarah and her partner Benny, and their son, Dyami who performed with his schoolmates on stage—I’m ready to return home. The twins shouldn’t be out in the cold this long anyway, but none of us wanted to miss the lighting of the Town Christmas tree. It’s also a Drexel family tradition every year to come. Even his father is with us, only he’s staying with friends at the La Fonda for the night while the rest of us return home. Dax and I plan to return to town again next week to experience the bonfires on Bent Street while Anita and Sarah babysit the twins. It’s really date night for us the Taos way, and it’s just the way we like it.
I used to catch myself thinking of New York and the things I used to do during the holidays, but those moments are fleeting now. It’s a different time and place—and a different Harlow. Instead, this Christmas will be spent at the Pearl like last year although this time, it’s with the twins. Already we have a tree in the living room that’s lit up with tiny solar lights and filled with decorations. It’s as if the stars in the night sky have decided to spend their time in the Earthship we call home and I love how the twins are so entranced by the sight.
Dax wants to take me to the Taos Pueblo again on Christmas Eve, and if it’s anything like last year, it will be magical. There was no Santa Claus as I recall, just ancient traditions come to life, of hundreds of farolitos, paper bags filled with sand and a candle lighting the way and bonfires. I still remember how it felt watching the procession of Puebloans emerge from St. Gerome Church just as the sun set. How can I forget how the sky lit up with this magical glow just before the snow fell? In my second trimester then and filled with constant fear that something bad would happen, I remember how I knew that everything would be all right with my pregnancy. It was like a blessing given upon me and I will cherish that memory forever.
“What are you thinking, mi amor?”
Dax’s voice snaps me out of my thoughts and I see him sidle up with the double stroller. Dax Nathaniel looks like a bundled up marshmallow, his eyes closed as he drinks from a bottle. He’s mellow just like his father while Anita Pearl may just have inherited my frazzled nerves.
“Christmas eve at the Pueblo,” I say as Dax takes our daughter from my arms and tucks her into the stroller. Anita takes over immediately and he lets her, taking my hand and bringing it to his lips.
“We’ll do it again this year and every year after that,” Dax says, his beard tickling the back of my hand. Before I can say anything, he pulls me towards him and kisses me on the lips. His mouth is warm and soft.
“Oh, you two! Get a room!” Gabe says behind me and I laugh though I don’t pull away from Dax. His friends love to tease us but I know they all mean well. They love him and by extension, they love me, too. And there’s nothing like being loved for being me. It’s taken me some time to get used to it, of people loving me as Harlow James, not the transplant surgeon but just as me. It’s a feeling I wouldn’t trade for the world.
“All right, guys, we’re heading home,” Dax announces to no one in particular.
With the twins needing to be back inside where it’s warm, we split up. It’s movie night for Benny and Dyami while Gabe and his friends say their goodbyes and head towards the Taos Inn to see the different themed Christmas trees in the lobby and then hang out at La Fonda Hotel.
Anita commandeers the stroller and we follow her as she walks through the crowd towards the biggest SUV I’ve ever seen, or what Dax prefers to call the Mini-Me-Mobile. It’s the only way we can fit everyone whenever we leave the Pearl even if it’s a short ride into town. I never realized just how much stuff one has to have on hand going around town with a baby, much less two of them. Thank goodness, ever the boy scout, Dax is always prepared. Most times, he’s better prepared than I am but it’s also why I love him.
“There you go, my good doctor, disappearing on me again,” Dax murmurs in my ear as he drapes his arm over my shoulder. In front of us, Sarah has joined her mother. She found some handmade Christmas tree decorations and is entertaining the twins with them, dangling them above their faces.
“I was just thinking how you’re all man… and all mine.” I’m glad he unzipped his parka, revealing the denim shirt he wears over a white t-shirt. As I slip my arms under Dax’s jacket and bury my nose in the base of his neck, I hear his chuckle rumble through his chest.
“You keep doing that and we will need to get a room.”
“Would you like me to stop?” I ask as he tightens his hold over my shoulder.
As he speaks, his breath forms white clouds in front of him. It is cold—too cold for six-month-old twins to be out and about—and darkness has fallen. A few blocks away from the Plaza, we get to the SUV and Dax pulls out the SUV remote from his parka to unlock the doors.
I feel Dax’s body tense as I unwrap my arms around him and turn to face my ex-husband, Jeff Gardner. He’s standing on the sidewalk two cars away from us, next to the passenger side of a blue sedan. His companions, one of them a young surgeon I recognize from Miller General, nod in my direction before they get into the car.
“What the hell is he doing here?” Dax’s voice is a growl but I squeeze his hand, casting him a faint smile. Though my man is perfect in my eyes, he is often too quick to respond negatively to any situation. It worked when my then-lawyer showed up to intimidate me into signing away the Hamptons estate I owned with Jeff; it didn’t when Dax learned I almost shot myself in the home he built to honor his mother’s memory.
“I’ll just be a few minutes.”
As Dax glares at Jeff, I see his gaze soften as he turns to look at me and nods. Anita and Sarah seem to ignore the situation, getting the twins and their paraphernalia into their car seats.
“Don’t let him hurt you or I’ll hurt him right back, mi amor.”
“I’ll be okay.” I can feel Dax’s eyes follow me as I make my way towards Jeff, who meets me halfway.
As I tuck my hands into the pockets of my parka, I hope Jeff didn’t come here to stir trouble. It’s been over a year since I’ve seen him and he hasn’t changed too much. Or that’s what I tell myself. After all, I haven’t seen him for more than a year; in fact, almost two years now. The last time was in the lobby of our lawyers’ offices in Midtown Manhattan, with the rest of the case handled without requiring me to be anywhere near the Tristate area. When Collin said his associate was good, he meant it. She was, getting me the best possible settlement anyone could have gotten me.
“What are you doing here?”
“That conference you turned down happened two weeks ago in Santa Fe,” he replies, cocking his head towards his companions who have started the car. “So Jerry got the invitation instead.”
“Good for him,” I say. I’m too busy nursing twin babies to want to drop everything and come up with a two hour talk about the latest immunological advancements in pediatric kidney transplants. But I need not tell him I’m part of another conference happening next year in Connecticut. I’m sure he already knows that. “But why are you really here, Jeff?”
He shrugs. “I had to check out the lighting of the tree, and I saw you in the Plaza. You looked so happy and so different from the Harlow I used to know. We would have said hello, but you were surrounded. Your husband’s quite famous around here.”
I almost laugh out loud. “Just as I’m sure he’s infamous in New York, thanks to you and your lies.”
“I didn’t come here to argue, Harlow.”
“So why are you really here two weeks after conference? Shouldn’t you be back in New York already?”
“I’ve been advising a case in Albuquerque for the past week and my colleagues and I thought it would be a good idea to come up here. We stopped by Santa Fe but it’s gotten too commercial. Tourist buses and all that. We almost got run over by one.”
“Well, there’s not much here compared to Santa Fe but I hope you enjoyed it.” I hear the SUV start and know I don’t have much time. It’s also cold. “It’s nice seeing you again, Jeff.”
“You look happy, Harlow. I’m really happy for you.”
I stare at Jeff, perplexed. He’s never this nice, at least, ever since our marriage crumbled years before it officially did. “Thank you.”
Jeff shakes his head, looking perplexed. “But I don’t understand how you can leave your career just like that. For as long as I’ve known you, it was all you ever wanted.“
“Then you never knew me at all, Jeff. What I always wanted is right there,” I turn to look at the SUV behind me, its engine idling. Dax stands by the passenger door watching us, his hands in the pockets of his parka. “A man who loves me for me without all my credentials, and a family who’ll always be there for me, no matter what happens. Who knew all I wanted were the simple things in life?”
“Too bad we made it complicated, didn’t we?” Jeff says. “I’m sorry I never acknowledged it when we were together.”
“Harlow, we have to go,” Dax says behind me, his voice bearing an edge of anger.
“I hope you’re happy, Jeff. I really do,” I say. “We all deserve it.”
Jeff takes a deep breath and exhales, steam forming in front of his face. I notice how the lines along the outside of his eyes are more etched now, deeper somehow. I heard he’s still with Leilani and their little baby girl, whose name I can’t remember at the moment. “Thank you for saying that, Harlow. I won’t keep you any longer. I wanted to bury whatever we had that made us bitter towards each other.”
Oh boy. I could say so much about the why’s to that sentence, but I don’t see the point. Some chapters are better left alone once you’ve finished them. “Goodbye, Jeff. Merry Christmas.”
I don’t wait for him to say anymore for he’s said enough and I know Dax is about to lose it. I make my way back to the SUV as he opens the passenger side door for me.
“Is everything okay?” he asks as I step inside.
“It is now.” I kiss him on the lips, his beard tickling my face. “I love you.”
I feel Dax’s hand on my face, his fingers cool against my skin. He smiles. “Te amo, mi amor.”
Dax Nathaniel suddenly grunts and I hear Anita laugh. “I think someone just went number two.”
Dax shuts my door and gets behind the wheel. Within seconds, the Mini-Me Mobile is out of the parking spot and on the road back to the Pearl. I don’t even look back to see if Jeff has gotten back into his car or not, but I don’t have to. I see him in the rearview mirror. He’s still standing outside his car, watching me go.
* * *
That evening, we all enjoy another one of Anita’s excellent dinners. This time, it’s green chile posole, a recipe she passed on to Kathy, my clinic manager, who tells me she makes it once a week or her husband will leave her. But she’s joking. They’ve been married for forty years and they’re coming to stay with us in a few weeks.
There is no mention of Jeff at all throughout dinner, but Dax is quieter than normal. I can’t blame him. I learned that Jeff had shown up at the Pearl the day I first left, and it had taken all of Dax’s willpower not to hit my ex-husband. Even when Jeff tried to smear Dax’s reputation by calling him my boy toy, Dax has always kept his cool. In the end, Jeff made a fool of himself while Dax’s custom furniture only got more exposure.
As he and Sarah help tidy up, cracking jokes at each others’ expense like they always do, Anita helps me get the twins ready for bed. Some nights she stays over but not tonight. She has to prepare for her son-in-law’s stay this weekend. It’s refreshing to see Daniel Drexel loosen up every time he returns to Taos. It’s as if he leaves his New York armor at JFK and puts it back on only when he returns. Once in Taos, he’s Taos’ son through and through. He laughs more and even looks younger especially when Anita makes him his favorite dishes. Dax tells me he’s never taken up with any other woman since his wife’s death, even though he’s not exactly celibate. It’s a Drexel trait, he tells me. They’re fiercely loyal.
By the time Benny and Dyami come by to pick up Sarah and Anita, the twins are fast asleep in their cribs. Goodbyes are quick this time, the night air too cold to stay outside too long, not when the Pearl is comfortably warm. As I set the baby monitor on the dining table, Dax pours me another glass of wine.
“Are you all right? You were quieter than usual tonight.” I take a sip of the wine and allow him to pull me down on the couch next to him.
“I think he regrets letting you go.”
I don’t need to know who he means. I lean my head on Dax’s shoulder. “I think he’s just curious.”
In front of us, the tree looks almost ethereal, all decked in white lights and glitter, with twigs I’ve picked along my walks sticking out in various places. Behind it, there’s darkness outside the glass windows, serving as the perfect frame. We’ve already taken our pictures in front of it for the Christmas cards, along with everyone in the Drexel family, even Daniel who came in early just for that. With Dax, it’s an all or nothing deal—and I wouldn’t take it any other way.
“About us. About me being really happy being like this with you when the only Harlow he knew wore a lab coat and designer clothes meant to impress.” I take another sip of my wine and hand it to Dax so he can set it on the coffee table next to his. Then I move my head on his chest as he leans back against the couch. “Or maybe he just wanted to know why I turned down the conference this year when I didn’t have to.”
“He’s partly right,” Dax says, frowning. “You could have gone if you wanted to, Harlow. The conference was in Santa Fe.”
“I know, but not this year. This year is for us, Dax. You, me, our children. Our family, as extended as it is.”
Dax says nothing. He pulls me closer and together, we gaze at the tree in silence. The Earthship is decorated for Christmas, and it’s where the Drexels and their friends are all spending the holidays. Even the Villier brothers are coming, promising to bring homegrown macadamia nuts dipped in homemade dark chocolate. Dyami and Benny made paper snowflakes, hanging from the ceiling in various corners and in the nursery, while the scent of pine is everywhere, in the wreaths and boughs gracing the doors. It’s heaven on earth and I count myself lucky it’s ours.
I can hear his heart beating through his shirt and feel his abdominal muscles tighten as I run my hand over them through his shirt. His breath tickles the top of my head as he speaks. “Never let anyone stop you from pursuing what you want, Harlow. Not even me.”
“You never have,” I say, looking up at him. Suddenly, I want the mood to lift, all talk of Jeff’s reappearance into our lives threatening to cast a dark shadow over our evening. I try to remember a joke I used to tell my young patients. “Knock, knock.”
“Who’s there?” Dax asks, grinning as I look up at him.
“Bless you!” This time I tickle him and Dax laughs, grabbing hold of my wrists to keep my hands away from his waist where he’s most ticklish. We wrestle on the couch like teenagers on babysitting night, failing miserably at being quiet until he kisses me deeply. No more giggling, no more games. It’s just us now and I love the feel of his mouth on mine, his tongue slipping between my teeth to taste me further and tease me with a promise of more.
I let Dax pull me to him so I’m straddling him, our bodies pressing against each other. Before him, I never encountered that feeling people sing so much about, of wanting someone so much as if he were the air I breathed, when his absence made my chest ache and the nearness of him made the reverse signaling of the vagus nerve from my gut to my brain go haywire… or otherwise known as the butterflies in my stomach.
“Come on,” Dax whispers as he deposits me back to my side of the couch and stands up, taking my hand and leading me into the bedroom. Doing it in the living room is like playing with fire. We run the risk of waking up the twins, and pay the price. But as long as the baby monitors are on in the bedroom, we can at least make noise in there.
Dax is tender tonight, making love with everything he’s got—mind, body and soul. I used to think it was impossible to feel such things, of how much someone was so into you—well, in that metaphysical sense—but maybe it’s just something that seeps into one’s bones the longer they stay in Taos, away from the distractions of the big city where the illusion of success was everything. Or maybe it’s just what happens when you’re in love, when you’ve found the one man in the universe who’s meant only for you and that until your paths meet, you’re like a star on a long journey, not knowing what you want—or just how much you deserve.
But I know what I want now, and I know what I deserve. It’s the man in my arms who never fails to make me smile, our babies asleep in the next room, and a few miles in town, the extended family that took me in as one of their own. It’s this and so much more, the perfect gift anyone could ever ask for. Love in all its guises.
Who knew it was what I had been looking for all along?