White Christmas plays in the background; Pete and Jenny unravel a strand of Christmas lights. Pete grabs a chair for Jenny to stand on. She starts at the top placing the lights around the tree while Pete holds onto the excess cord. Finishing with the top part, Pete moves the chair back. As Jenny continues around the tree with the lights, she notices a small white ribbon tied to a branch. "What's this?" Then she looks a little closer.
"What's what?" Pete asks as he looks on with anticipation.
"This ribbon here …" She pulls at the ribbon and it releases from the branch. As the ribbon comes away from the tree she finally sees it. A small ring dangles from the ribbon. She grabs a hold of the gold band and turns it up to look at it when she sees a beautiful diamond solitaire glimmering at her. "Oh, my God!" Jenny gasps. Just then, Pete kneels down on one knee beside Jenny and takes hold of her free hand.
"Jenny, I hope you know I love you very much. Will you marry me?"
Jenny is in complete shock. She feels her heart swell up with pure joy and then an overwhelming desire to scream, "Yes." But before she can voice her true feelings, she pauses. The image of her father flashes through her head. Her fingers wrap tightly around the ring in her hand. Her eyes turn teary. She realizes this dream can't happen. She can't marry Pete. That would just open a door to trouble. Problems that this man she loves doesn't need or deserve. Her thoughts are suddenly interrupted by Pete's voice. "Jenny, did you hear me? Will you be my wife?"
Pete senses something's wrong. He stands up and grabs a hold of her hand now with both of his large warm hands. "Jenny?" comes out in a soft almost pleading tone.
Jenny stares down at their hands and holds her breath. She fights to not shed a tear. She swallows the big lump in her throat before uttering a response. Her gaze goes from their hands slowly to his face. "Pete … I can't. I love you very much, but …" She takes and opens his palm up then pushes the ring into the center of it folding his fingers over the precious token. "I can't," comes out in a faint whisper this time. The action sends a clear message to Pete. In his head, the real question of "WHY?" rings loud and clear.
"You love me, but you can't? I don't understand." Hurt and confusion fill his eyes. This moment had felt so right. He thought they were both on the same page.
"Is it just too fast, and you need more time? Because I can wait."
It's tearing her up inside to see the pain in his face. "No, that's not it."
"Then what is it? You don't believe in marriage? Or just not in me," comes out from a wounded man.
Jenny can't stand to see the disappointment in Pete's eyes. She looks away.
Pete reaches out and gently touches her arm. He asks another desperate question. "Is it because I'm a cop?"
Shaking her head she says, "No Pete. It's not that at all." A lone tear drips down her cheek. "It's not you. … It's me. … I'm sorry." Not wanting to share her buried fears she quickly retreats to her bedroom. Sadie, her Aussie mix, manages to follow her before Jenny shuts the door. She can't hold back the tears anymore and the floodgates open. Jenny is curled up on the bed hugging tight to a pillow. Sadie nestles up right beside her giving solace.
Pete hears her crying and feels at a loss. He glances down at the ring in his hand then stuffs it into his pant pocket. He plops down on the couch and drops his head into his hands. Time seems to stand still. He finally looks up and stares at the unfinished tree. His well-made plans are just shot to hell. For an officer who has been put in harms way many times before these couple words "I can't" have taken a new toll. Pete drags himself up. Not knowing what else to do he finishes putting up the lights on the tree. He plugs in the cord to see the results. There is something magical about Christmas trees. Though beautiful, this tree didn't bear the results he was hoping for. While gazing at the tree his consciousness becomes aware of the song "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" playing. He walks over to the record player and switches it off. Pete slowly walks back to Jenny's bedroom door. He lightly taps and asks, "Jenny, can we talk?"
He hears her moving around then the door cracks open. After a sniffle, Jenny says, "There's nothing more to say."
Pete is stunned. Her words hit him like a punch in the gut. He hadn't expected to be shut out. "Then maybe I should go," he stammers out. He looks deep into her blue eyes for one more fleeting moment before he turns to leave. She stands there holding her breath as the man of her dreams walks out. Grabbing his jacket then stepping outside he pulls the door closed behind him. The creaky screen door swings shut with a pop as he steps forward off the porch. A cold breeze sends a chill through him. He climbs into his Mustang, tossing his jacket on the passenger seat and yanks the door shut. He holds onto the steering wheel with a white-knuckle grip. He closes his eyes for a moment and takes a deep breath. How could I have misjudged the situation so much? He turns the ignition key and the engine starts up. He drives away feeling a new all time low. Not quite knowing what to do, Pete travels along the forested road then finds himself moving through the city streets of Los Angeles for a couple hours trying to clear his thoughts.
A few days have passed and Pete's gut is still twisted in knots. He went back to work, but couldn't stop thinking about Jenny. If he could just understand the reason why she said no then maybe he could move on.
Jim notices Pete's melancholy mood. He peppers him with questions, but only receives abrupt vague answers. Jim knows how private Pete is, but if he can't reach him who can? From his health to his love life, Pete shuts the door on any revealing questions. The day of patrolling drags out, thankfully, it was a pretty uneventful day. The boys head their separate ways after their first shift back together. Pete even refuses a beer at Reed's place wanting time alone.
Pete had hoped he would have heard from Jenny, but no call came. The next morning he thought about picking up a few things he left at her cabin. This might give him another chance to talk with her. He dials her number and after only two rings, she picks up. "Hello?"
"Hi, Jenny. It's Pete."
"Oh, hi. How are you doing, Pete?" She says with a caring tone.
"I'm ok." Not the truth, but he had to say something.
"Are you back on duty?"
"Yeah, I started back up yesterday."
"I'm sure Jim is glad to have you back."
"Probably, but he got to ride with his friend, Officer Porter, while I was out."
"Oh, who's he?"
"He went to high school with Jim. He works part-time as an officer."
"I didn't realize that someone could do that."
Finally getting around to asking, Pete speaks up, "Is it all right with you if I stop by to pick up a few things I left at your place?"
"That's not a problem. I always leave my door unlocked."
Reverting to police officer mode, "You know that isn't the safest idea." Realizing that didn't come off well, "I guess your neighborhood is a bit different than around here."
"You could say that."
"Will you be home in about an hour?"
A bit fearful about another confrontation she hesitates to say yes, but her heart gives in. "I should be around."
"Ok, I'll be by soon."
Pete leaves the city and enters the tall pine forest. The time it takes to travel the winding scenic road to Jenny's cabin gives him time to collect his thoughts before seeing her. Pete is feeling a bit lost and out of sorts. He has never truly opened himself up to a woman like he has with Jenny. Having a woman close the door on him is a new twist. If she needs more space he's willing to give it. He's not quite sure he'll know what to do if it's really over between them.
Knowing that Pete is coming, Jenny goes to her bedroom to fold up his extra clothes he brought over to her place. She holds up his green plaid shirt to her nose and breathes in Pete's familiar scent. "God, you smell so good." She neatly folds and packs it and his other clothes plus a few bathroom items in a spare duffle bag. She starts to have second thoughts of being there when Pete arrives. She carries out the bag and sits it on the floor near the front door. Jenny glances over at the now decorated Christmas tree. Her mind wanders back to the moment she found the ring hanging on the tree branch. "If only my father was dead …"
Sadie noses around the duffle bag. Jenny notices her at her feet. "You miss him too, don't you, Girl? I don't know if I can face him. How about we take a walk?" Sadie lets out a little bark at the mention of the word walk. Jenny grabs Sadie's leash and the two head out the front door. They disappear down the dirt trail leading further into the forest.
Pete finally turns onto the gravel drive up to the cabin. Jenny's red Jeep is parked close to her front porch. It's a sunny cool morning with no real breeze to speak of. Pete swallows the lump in his throat as he turns off his car and slowly climbs out. Dressed in jeans and a long sleeve dress shirt he steps up on the porch. He hesitates for a second before knocking on the door. After no answer for a couple minutes he tries the knob and it easily turns. He walks inside. "Jenny, are you here?" He pauses for a response, but nothing comes. He glances around the open room. He quickly notices the blue duffle bag sitting beside the door. His heart sinks realizing it must be his things packed. I'm not letting you off that easy. Smelling the aroma of fresh coffee still lingering in the cabin, Pete wanders over to the cabinet and grabs out a ceramic mug. He pours himself a cup from the over half empty pot then walks over to the Christmas tree. As he sips the warm brew he takes in the variety of ornaments hanging from the tree. It's a collection of homemade and antique ones. A few look like creations made in elementary school. He gently touches one that is made of Popsicle sticks in the shape of sled. "There must be stories behind every one of these ornaments. I wish I knew them. I wish I knew everything about you, Jenny."
Maybe twenty minutes later, Pete hears someone outside. Then he realizes its Jenny talking to Sadie as they near the cabin. He walks over to the open door and sees her dressed in blue jeans and a gray sweatshirt unleashing Sadie. The dog sniffs around as Jenny looks up and stares at his car parked in front. Pete steps outside to meet her. Sadie buzzes over to Pete. She jumps around at his legs begging for attention. "Hey there, Girl." He leans down and strokes the dog for a moment then looks up into Jenny's eyes. "I hope you don't mind that I waited for you."
"Considerate to a fault, Pete Malloy." That is one of the many things I love about you. "Did you find your things by the door?" She tries to hide her sadness in her voice.
"Yes, thanks for getting them together."
Balking with the question, "Did you want to come in for a minute? I could make a fresh batch of coffee."
"Actually, I already helped myself to a cup, but I would love another one."
Jenny felt a pang of regret offering the coffee. This is only going to make this more difficult, but I don't really want him to go.
The two make their way into the cabin. Jenny hangs up Sadie's leash then bustles around in the kitchen making up a new pot of coffee. Pete grabs his used cup and sits it on the kitchen counter then leans against the counter looking on. No matter what you wear, you're always beautiful. Hair up in a ponytail, no makeup, and wearing hiking shoes, it doesn't matter.
"It should just be five minutes or so before it's ready."
"Sounds good." Another long pause happens as he grapples over the right words to say. "By the way, you did a nice job decorating the tree."
"Well, I couldn't just leave it." After another moment of silence, Jenny says, "It's turning out to be a really nice day outside."
"Yes, it was a nice drive out here. Maybe we can go sit out on the porch and talk for a while?"
"Sure, go on out and I'll bring out your coffee in just a minute."
"Ok." He reluctantly walks outside and sits in one of the rockers. Pete is anxious to know the truth behind her not accepting his proposal.
A couple moments later Sadie and Jenny join him on the porch. Jenny is carrying two cups of steaming coffee. "Here, be careful it's hot."
She naturally takes the other rocker and joins Pete in looking out over the grassy property surrounding the cabin. The quiet is broken up by the sound of small songbirds chirping.
"Jenny, where did all those ornaments come from on your tree?"
She lets out a little giggle before sharing, "Most are from my grade school days. We also had craft projects in Sunday school each year. During the crazy holiday shopping, my mom and I would always take one day to hunt for an antique ornament together. She wanted me to collect enough for the day I put up my very own tree."
Pete stops rocking and leans forward in the chair. "She sounds like an amazing woman. I really wish I could have met her." Sensing Jenny is softened up he goes on to ask the real question, "So tell me what is wrong with you."
Jenny is pulled out of her fond childhood memories and stammers, "What do you mean by that?" Jenny hopes that Pete doesn't notice the flash of fear that crossed her face.
"Tell me the truth, Jenny. Things were great between us until the other day when I proposed. I asked if you believed in marriage, but you didn't answer. I noticed that you looked a little fearful then, just like you do now. I asked if you needed more time, and you said no. I even asked if it was because I'm a cop, but you claimed that wasn't the reason either. You said you couldn't marry me because of YOU. What are you afraid of? I don't want to walk away from the best thing that has ever happened to me!"
Jenny is gripping her coffee mug with both hands. She peers over the cup trying to hide from this conversation. She can see by the look in his eyes that she can't run away from this moment. "Pete, marriage is a lifetime commitment. If we got married than we would have to deal with each other's burdens. I'm afraid that my burdens would destroy you."
Pete gazes at her and feels unsettled by her last statement. Sitting his cup down on the tiny round paint-chipped table between them, he takes her coffee and places it down beside his. He reaches out to hold her hands, "What burden do you think I can't handle?"
The fear returns to her eyes, and then she finally says, "My father."
Pete pauses a second then says, "You haven't wanted to talk about him with me. I know he has a drinking problem. But that doesn't have anything to do with us."
"Pete, there are things you don't know about him."
"Then tell me, so we can deal with it together."
Jenny pulls her hands away and stands up. She starts twisting her hands together wondering how much she can tell Pete. She turns away from Pete to hide the conflict going on inside her. She contemplates where this discussion is going. Finally, she comes to a decision and slowly turns around and faces him. "My father is a drunk. He's the reason my mother's dead. He was driving when he was drunk. He got in an accident, and she was killed. He spent a year in prison, but he was released in just over a year's time."
Pete gets up and comes close to Jenny. "I'm so sorry about your mother."
Jenny goes on. "He shows up every now and then. I tell him to get out of my life for good, but that hasn't ever stopped him."
"Jenny, he has a problem, but it's his and his alone. Don't …"
Jenny interrupts, "Pete, it's more than that. Not only is he a drunk, he's a mean one. If he wants something he'll just take it. He scares me." She swallows that dry lump in her throat. "He's hurt me before."
Pete's brow rises. "Physically hurt you?"
Turning her gaze downward she whispers, "Yes." After a brief pause, "He's cracked a rib or two and broken my wrist before."
Pete hackles are up now. "Jenny, you don't need to face him alone anymore. I want to protect you."
"But who's going to protect you?"
Pete steps even closer and puts a hand on each of her cheeks. "Babe, I can protect myself. Remember? I'm a cop. I've been trained for stuff like this."
Pete can see that just talking about her father has gotten her upset and causes her to shiver. Pete wraps his arms around her and holds her tight. Jenny takes a few shuddering breaths. After a couple minutes, he loosens up and asks if she's ok.
She nods. "Maybe we should go inside. Come on Sadie." They both grab their coffee and head into the living room to continue the conversation.
They settle in on the couch with Jenny on the end, and Pete in the center half turned toward her. "Pete, at least my father doesn't know where I live now. But if he finds out I'm married, he'll come looking for me. My father wants whatever he can get."
"Jenny, I won't let him near you."
She looks at Pete with those deep blue eyes. "I believe you. I just … don't want … you hurt."
"Babe, I will only be hurt if you block me out of your life. I love you, Jenny Walker. I don't want to live without you."
Jenny has a lone tear streak down her cheek. It's a tear of joy. Her mouth softens into a sweet smile. Pete leans in for a gentle kiss. The tenderness sweeps over both of them.
As Pete leans back, he asks, "Does this mean you might reconsider my request?"
"On one condition, that the wedding is very small. Maybe, it could be just us and the Reeds?"
A big grin spreads across Pete's face, "I think that can be arranged. Ok, Jenny, I need to hear you say it."
She blinks away the tears and beams with a huge smile. "Yes, I will marry you, Peter Malloy. I love you so much my heart aches." Her confession is followed by another kiss, but this one is deeper and more passionate than the last.
It's Christmas Eve night and a small ceremony is taking place in a little white chapel. Standing at the altar is Jenny in a beautiful long white gown. Handing her over in place of her father is William MacDonald in his formal police uniform. Pete happily accepts her hand from his superior and close friend. Pete as well as Jim, his Best Man, are both decked out in their formal police uniforms. To Jenny's right stands Jean Reed, her Maid of Honor, holding a small bouquet of red roses for the occasion. A little boy in a black tuxedo holding a dainty pillow wanders between Mary MacDonald and his mother up front. The preacher leads the couple in their marriage vows.
I, Peter Malloy, take you Jennifer, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.
I, Jennifer Walker, take you Peter, to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.
The preacher then leads the two through the exchange of rings. Jim thoughtfully has the real rings tucked in his coat pocket to pass off to Pete. After slipping on each other's rings, the preacher directs Pete to kiss the bride and seal the deal. As they pull back from the touching kiss, she looks into his eyes and says, "This was perfect."
"It's only going to get better from here." Pete sneaks in another quick kiss before the congratulations begin.