"So, this is Christmas in the suburbs. It's so clean and quiet," Joe said.

She and Joe were enjoying the last of the fire her father had started earlier in the day. The presents were long gone, but there was still wrapping paper and boxes on the floor. She'd wake up in the morning and everything would be spotless again. Her mother couldn't stand the house being messy any longer than necessary.

A couple new pieces had just been added into the mix now that they'd exchanged gifts. He'd seemed to like the cologne she'd given her. Brenda had assured her it was THE cologne to have right now. She wasn't sure why she trusted Brenda's judgment when her friend wasn't exactly a dating machine. Brenda just knew these things, though. A result of a miserable home-life, she spent a lot of time at the mall. So, she'd certainly see what people were buying.

The plate of cookies her mom had set on the table was almost empty. She hadn't eaten any, having had her fill most of the week. He didn't talk much about his family, but she knew he didn't have a mom to make Christmas cookies. Her mom had actually slacked off a little this year, only making seven or eight different kinds. Chris remembered plates and plates of cookies as a girl. It was like a never-ending smorgasbord of cookies, and of course an endless glass of milk to go with the cookies.

"You don't like it?" she asked, brushing some cookie crumbs from his shirt.

"I didn't say that. I'm just not used to it."

"What did you do today?"

"Nothing. You know? This and that. The usual, it was just another day for me."

"You didn't open presents or anything?"

"Nah, nothing really to open until I got here. Some friends and I played some football, but that was about it."

"You and your friends don't exchange gifts?"

He chuckled. "No, not really. We're not that kind of friends. And I don't have a fireplace for Santa to shimmy down the chimney of."

"Oh, we have a fireplace here."

"I see that."

"Maybe next time Santa will know to find you here."

"I'll put in my change of address."

"You know you could have come to dinner."

"Maybe next time. Your parents are still getting used to me, I'm not sure the rest of your family could have handled it."

"Well, they'll handle it if they want to be around me."

He chuckled. "Listen to you, Miss Independent. A semester of college under your belt and already you're telling them how it is."

"Well, considering I had no plans on going to college."

"Why is that anyway? I thought it was automatic for girls like you."

"I don't know really, I just didn't want to."

"I think you'll make a great teacher."

"Really?"

"Yeah," he said, draping an arm around her shoulders. "I'd trust you with my kids."

"Do you have any I should know about?"

He laughed, slapping his knee with his free hand. "No, can't say that I do. Not yet anyway."

"Not yet, huh?"

"Well, you know, the right girl comes along…"

"That's good to know."

"We still on for tomorrow night?"

"Yes, I can't wait!"

"Good. I wasn't sure you'd want to go. I know that night isn't something you like to talk about let alone retrace the footsteps of."

"Well, I met you out of the deal."

"Luck was definitely in my favor, that's for sure."

She ran her fingers along the musical note charm that came with the necklace he'd given her a few minutes ago.

"Why'd you choose this?"

"What?"

"A musical note. If you know me at all, you know I can't sing."

"The same reason I'm taking you back to The Silver Dollar Room. That's when I knew you were someone I wanted to get to know."

"Really? That was the moment, huh?"

"Oh, I had an inkling before then. Watching as you led the kids out of the warehouse. That was gutsy. And I really wanted you to get away. You had me holding my breath until you were clear. But the way you sang, going with it in front of a crowd of people who weren't sure whether to laugh at you or jump you. That was great. A lot of people would have frozen or tried to get out of it."

"I wanted to."

"But you didn't."

"If the kids hadn't been with me I don't know what I would have done."

"Well, they were. And you did what you had to do to keep them safe." He slid a fingertip along the charm dangling from the necklace. She gave a swallow when his finger stopped at the diamond in the center of the circle of the note. His eyes met hers then. "Don't you like it?"

"It's beautiful, I was just curious."

"Well, I hope I settled your curiosity."

"You did," she said with a smile. "Just don't expect me to sing again anytime soon."

"Not even for me?"

"Well, maybe for you."

"What would I have to do to convince you?"

"Oh, I don't know," she said with a smile. He drew closer and she slid her arms around his neck. She closed her eyes in expectation of his kiss. He didn't disappoint her. Then, he rarely did. From the moment he'd shown up at her house weeks after that night until now.

"Merry Christmas," she whispered when they stopped to take a breath.

"It's turning out that way."

"Good," she said, drawing him to her for more.

Who needed a fire when they had heat from each other to keep cozy?

The End