Part Four

Thursday 24th December 2009

I couldn't help but smile softly as I watched Max struggle to put up the newly acquired Christmas tree in my apartment. I'd offered to help him do it, but he'd insisted that I should relax and let him do it himself… except it didn't look like he was having much luck with getting it to stand upright.

It had certainly been an interesting day, to say the least, and I didn't quite know what to make of it. I had left the party last night feeling pretty confused about, well, everything really. Half of me couldn't believe that Max Evans, of all people, liked me and wanted to do such a romantic thing for me and, but the other half was excited about the prospect of seeing him again today. I had barely slept last night, tossing and turning for hours as I tried to analyse the events of the evening and how I actually felt about Max.

This morning I woke up feeling like I'd barely slept a wink and had struggled to get out of bed, but the moment I answered my cell phone while stirring a mug of coffee in the kitchen and discovered Max on the other end of the line, my day brightened considerably. As we didn't have to go into work today, he came to pick me up at my apartment and we went out for lunch. Despite the fact that we'd only really begun getting closer a few hours before, it was a really relaxed and comfortable meal; we talked about everything, from our favourite foods and films to how we got into journalism in the first place. I even found myself telling Max about my goal of writing for a paper like The New York Times.

After lunch, we found ourselves hitting the stores to buy decorations to go with the lights and Christmas tree that Max had bought for me, and then we went to pick up the tree that was Max's Secret Santa present to me. It was early evening by the time we returned to my apartment, tree in hand, and so after we'd managed to get it up the stairs and into my living room, I'd offered to make some drinks while he insisted on putting up the tree. So now I watch sitting on the couch watching him work, with a glass of hot mulled wine in my hand… and I hadn't felt more peaceful or at home at Christmas in years.

"Are you sure you don't need any help?" I asked for about the fifth time as he let out a soft curse when the tree wouldn't balance the way he wanted it to.

"No, I'm fine," he ground out between gritted teeth as he caught the heavy tree as it began to fall. "You just sit down and relax."

I rolled my eyes, placing my wine glass on the coffee table before making my way over to him, "Come on, Max, let me help."

"No, Liz," he tried to insist, waving me away with his hand, but I just shook my head and stepped forward to steady the tree.

"Stop trying to be all macho about it," I smirked. "I'm helping you. Deal with it."

He let out a reluctant sigh as he kneeled down to position the base of the tree, "Okay, fine."

I couldn't help but give a small chuckle at his putout expression, "What is it with guys and their need to prove their manliness all the time?"

He looked up at me from his position on the floor and raised an eyebrow, "Well forgive me if I wanted to do something nice for you."

My heart skipped a beat at his expression, but I still couldn't let it go, "That's sweet, Max, but I want to help you… it's festive, you know?"

He smiled then, and nodded, "Yeah, okay… I know."

We returned our attention to the tree and within no time, it was standing upright and ready to be decorated. As I pulled out the lights from the gift box he'd given me last night, he reached over for them and our hands met, much like they had on Friday night when we'd been in the office, sending thrills down my spine. Except this time, the atmosphere between us was much more relaxed and as our eyes met, we both let out a small chuckle.

"Déjà-vu," I commented softly.

"Yeah," he smiled, holding my gaze for a couple of moments, before nodding to the tree. "Let's put them up, huh?"

"Sure," I nodded. "But shouldn't we check that they're all working first?"

He grinned, "Don't worry, I did that before I wrapped them."

"Okay, then," I murmured, touched by his thoughtfulness.

We wound the string of lights around the tree, making sure that they were evenly spread out and then Max handed me the box of decorations that we'd purchased earlier that afternoon. Fifteen minutes later, the tree was fully decorated and Max and I collapsed onto the couch, glasses of wine in hand.

"Look, it's snowing again," he murmured softly.

"Yeah?" I smiled, turning my head to look out of the window.

Sure enough, large white flakes of snow were falling outside. I let out a soft sigh and settled back against the couch as I watched the pretty scene before me. I couldn't help but smile as I felt Max's arm come around my shoulders, pulling me close, and I let my head rest against his chest.

"I guess this is your 'Lights and Snow Moment' then, huh?"

"Yeah, I guess it is," I murmured softly, feeling a swell of emotion rise up in my chest at the intimate moment. "Thank you, Max."

"My pleasure, Liz."

We sat in silence for several long moments and I savoured the feeling of being with this wonderful man.

"Wow, it looks great, doesn't it?" I breathed in awe as I gazed up at the tree. "My first Christmas tree."

Max lowered his head slightly and frowned, "You haven't had a tree before?"

"Well," I shrugged, "not since I moved to Long Island anyway."

"How come?"

I shook my head, "I just never really felt all that festive, I guess."

"Something to do with your family?" he enquired softly.

I turned to look at him in confusion and he shrugged with a small smile.

"I told you I heard you tell Maria about your Christmas moment… well, I kinda heard you mention something about your parents splitting up and about someone called… Daniel?"

"Ahh," I nodded, feeling slightly uneasy about his mention of my family situation. "Yeah."

"You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to," he backtracked quickly.

"No… it's okay," I responded with a shake of my head. "It's just… sort of hard to talk about."

I took a deep breath before continuing, "Daniel is… was my older brother. He died in a car crash when I was fourteen."

"Oh," came Max's gentle voice from above my head as his arm tightened around me. "I'm sorry, Liz."

"He was driving home to Roswell from college in Colorado and had been delayed by heavy snowfalls," I began, willing my voice to remain steady as I recalled the events of that day. "He called us from a gas station on Christmas Eve to say that he was gonna do everything he could to make it back by morning… but a couple of hours later, he hit a patch of ice on the road and the car skidded…" I paused, sucking in a breath before continuing, "He hit another car head-on and was killed instantly."

"God, Liz…" murmured Max, the pain present in his voice causing my eyes to well up with tears.

I shook my head to clear it, "We used to have wonderful Christmases at home… we would all decorate the tree together and Mom cooked an amazing Christmas Dinner, while Dad would try to entertain us with stories of when he was a kid. But after that Christmas, things were never the same again. Daniel's death was really hard on my parents and they started arguing a lot… eventually, everything came to a head and by the next Christmas they were separated and filing for divorce. Christmas in our family was never the same again.""

I let out a heavy sigh, settling further into Max's arms as I felt him press a gentle kiss against my hair.

"I'm so sorry that happened to you," said Max. "No wonder you don't like Christmas."

"Well," I shifted so that I could look at him face to face. "I think that might be starting to change."

"Really?" his expression was a mixture of hopeful and surprised.

"Yeah," I nodded, moving to place my wine glass back on the coffee table before reaching up to run my fingers along his jaw. "I can't thank you enough for my present."

"Liz…" he murmured, his voice barely above a whisper.

Before I realised it was happening, his hand was cupping my chin and his mouth was descending towards mine. Of their own will, my eyes drifted shut and I parted my lips slightly in anticipation. A small sigh escaped from my mouth as his lips covered mine, caressing them gently in a soft kiss. My heart began pounding in my chest as I melted into his embrace, savouring the feel of him surrounding me.

Everything around me became magnified… the warmth of his body seeping through his clothes, the softness of his mouth against mine, his wonderful smell… a perfect blend of aftershave and spices from the wine. God, this was everything I'd been missing all this time. It was perfect.

I finally had my perfect Christmas lights and snow moment.

The End