Sorry I'm unable to respond to the "Guest" reviews, but I do appreciate your support. As always, thanks to LouiseX for being my guinea pig and testing out the stories before I post them!
"That was fantastic Linka!" Gi says.
Everyone else agrees and offers their compliments to her.
"Hey, what about me?!" Wheeler asks.
"Oh yes of course Wheeler...you did a good job too...what exactly did you do? Watch Linka?" Gi teases.
They all laugh at his expense.
"I mashed the potatoes!" He says proudly.
"Ah...that explains the lumps," Joe says.
"I LIKE THE LUMPS! Adds texture," Wheeler responds.
"He was actually very helpful," Linka says, patting his thigh under the table. "He put the turkey and ham in the oven for me, and then took them out when it was time because they were heavy. He also kneaded the dough that I used to make the rolls and pie crusts, and he rolled out the pie crusts for me, as well as put the filling in. It was a joint effort and I could not have gotten it all done without him."
She puts her arm around him and pulls him closer to kiss his cheek.
"Speaking of pies...where are they?" Mishka asks.
"Really? Already?! Are you not full?" Linka asks.
"Da...but I always have room for pie...especially if you used grandmother's recipe for the strawberry pie."
Linka stands to start bringing in the assortment of desserts.
"Wheeler must have been saving room for dessert," Kwame says, pointing to Wheeler's plate and the food he had barely touched. "That is unlike you my friend."
The truth was, the closer the evening got to the end, the more nervous Wheeler got about his planned proposal.
"Bozhe moy! Are you okay, Lyubov?" Linka presses her lips to his forehead to test his temperature.
"Fine...I'm fine," he says nervously.
"You feel clammy," she says, putting her hand on his cheek and smoothing her palm over it.
"Just a little stuffy in here, that's all."
The majority of the people in the room have a feeling they know what is bothering Wheeler. Just a nervous young man about to pop the question. No big deal.
"I was only kidding about wanting dessert," Mishka says. "Perhaps Wheeler just needs to step outside and get some fresh air?"
"That is a good idea," Linka says.
"Why don't our two chefs go relax while the rest of us clean up and put the leftovers away?" Kathy suggests.
Gi speaks up,
"No Kathy, you all go relax. Kwame, Ma-Ti, and I will take care of the clean up. We know where everything is and where it goes and it would be rude of us to expect our guests to clean up. Wheeler and Linka made dinner, we will clean up. That's how it works."
"We can be helpful too," Nadia says. "But I do not suppose arguing with you will work?"
"Nope, all Kovalevs can go join all the Wheelers and Talbots in the common room. We usually watch A Christmas Story after dinner, a tradition Wheeler has gotten us into!"
"Ok, if you insists dear," Kathy says.
"I do! And Wheeler, I'll just cover your plate and put it in the fridge in case your appetite returns, as it usually does," Gi says with a wink.
"Come on," Linka says, taking his hand and leading him outside to the covered porch attached to the common area.
Once outside, he rests his hands on the railing around the porch and takes a deep breath, filling his lungs with the brisk sea air.
"For what?" She asks, putting her hand on his back and rubbing soothing circles around it.
"Your lumpy mashed potatoes did not ruin dinner," she jokes.
He laughs nervously.
"I meant everyone was having a good time chatting at the table and then it all changed when they started making a fuss and worrying about me."
"We all care for you...of course we would worry...do you not feel well? Being out in the cold the last few days can not have been good for the immune system. I am surprised we are all not coming down with something."
"I'm not sick."
"Did you not like the food?"
"It was fine. Great actually...what I did mange to eat. It all tasted delicious. I don't know why I suddenly didn't have an appetite...maybe I like food more when I'm not helping to make it...by the time it's ready to eat, I've seen enough!" He tries to cover.
"Ok...and I did catch you sneaking pieces of ham and turkey and a roll!"
"You saw that? Why didn't you bust me then?!"
"Because I was doing it too! You just did not notice! The fact that you ruined your appetite just means that you were stealing more than I saw...but that does not explain why you felt cold and clammy." She takes his hand and examines his palms. "At least you have stopped sweating now that we are out here."
Oh, I'm still sweating, he thinks to himself. He turns to face her and takes her hand in his.
"You know how when we were decorating, you said that I was all you wanted for Christmas while you were singing along to the song?"
"How much did you mean it?"
"You did not get me anything?" She says with a hint of disappointment.
He hangs his head, unable to look at her.
"No. I'm sorry Babe."
"It is ok."
"I feel REALLY bad."
"I know. I feel really bad too," she says.
"It's not because I forgot or because I didn't WANT to. I had every intention of searching for the perfect gift...I just...ran out of time."
"I know you did not forget...that is not why I feel bad. I feel bad because...I did not get you anything either."
"Oh...well you shouldn't feel bad. I wasn't expecting you to get me anything...I just wanted to get you something because...well, because it's our first real Christmas as a couple, since last year we spent it apart with our own families because we'd already made plans with them prior to getting together..."
"Nyet, I had PLANNED on getting you something. You know how I like to plan ahead...I would have had your present WEEKS ago...I just could not figure out what to get you. Like you, I was planning on searching for some last minute inspiration at the store, but the mission...it put a stop to those plans."
He chuckles as he places his hands on her hips and pulls her to him.
"We saved seven lives...that was a gift."
"Da...and you are harder to shop for than I thought you would be!"
"Me? No way! YOU'RE the one that's impossible to shop for...nothing is good enough for you. I'm easy. I already have the best present," he says, resting his forehead against hers.
She smiles up at him.
"Da, me too," she says as she lifts her lips to his. "I told you that you were all that I wanted. I meant that."
He takes her hand in his.
"Good...because you've got me." He gets down on his knee, produces the ring box, and flips it open with the hand that's not holding hers. "Permanently?"
Her hand flies to her mouth to stifle a surprised gasp.
"Wheeler! Are you serious?"
"Uhh, I may not be the smartest guy in the world, but I know you shouldn't joke about something like this to a girl. Yeah, I'm serious. This is a real ring, not a gumball machine prize. I picked it out just for you. Now I just need to know if I should return it, or put it on your finger."
"'Da' what?! Which one?"
"Put it on!"
He slides it on and as soon as he does, she falls to her knees to get level with him and kisses him. After a while, she lets out a happy sob and pulls back, but not far, leaning her forehead against his. He cups her face in his hands and wipes away her tears with his thumbs.
Wheeler's eyes are filled with tears as well.
"I'm amazed when I look at you. Not just because of your looks, but because of the fact that everything I've ever wanted is right in front of me."
"Me too...I love you so much Jason Wheeler."
"I love you too."
He stands up and brings her with him.
She finally looks more closely at the ring.
"This is beautiful. Is it a family ring? Did your parents bring it with them?"
"No, it's new. I saw it and immediately knew it was the perfect ring for you."
"How long have you been planning this?" She asks.
"Since the day I met you."
"That must have been when you started saving up for this beautiful ring."
He just smiles at her. He doesn't want to ruin the mood by admitting it was actually his parents who funded the ring purchase.
"I had to get one that matched your beauty...one that was worthy of it."
"I promise I will not lose this one!"
"I have a confession, Babe...I saw you drop your ring and I picked it up. I was gonna give it back to you, but then it hit me, maybe someone at the jewelry store could get a good estimate of what size ring I should get you based on this."
"Wait, you got this while we were on the mission?"
"When we went to pick up the pizza."
"You sneak! Wait, did Ma-Ti and Gi know?"
"Yeah, they weren't supposed to, but when they insisted on coming with me and Pop, I had no choice...I'm really surprised Gi didn't tell you...or are you just really good at acting surprised?"
"Nyet, she did not say a word!"
"Wow...guess I owe her dinner...and an apology."
She smiles at him, not too upset that he didn't trust Gi, she's actually surprised the Water Planeteer was able to keep quiet.
"Not that I am not happy to spend the rest of the night out here, alone with you, but I cannot wait to tell my family! And yours."
Wheeler laughs a bit uncomfortably.
"Uhh...well...the thing is...they already know."
"Does everyone know?!"
"Well, my dad was there when I bought it and it was him that made me realize that this is what I wanted. We had a good talk on the way up the mountain to toss the meat down to the wolves...so of course we had to tell Ma, and then I asked your Grandma and brother for permission...Oh, and Gaia...there's a small chance Kwame and the Talbots will be surprised by the news! Unless Ma-Ti or Gi mentioned it to them."
She laughs and he joins her.
"Well then, they must all be in suspense if they knew you were going to propose tonight."
"They might even have their ears pressed to the door right now, or sitting under the windows trying to hear."
"Then let us not keep them waiting any longer. We should go inside to join them and share our good news...we have even more reason to have a celebration tonight."
"Agreed," he says, bringing his lips down to hers once more before going inside.
When they enter the room, everyone stops what they're doing and turn their attention to the couple.
"She said yes!" Wheeler announces as he holds up her hand triumphantly.
The group shouts out their excitement and congratulations.
"I'll get the champagne and sparkling cider," Gi offers.
"Nyet, that is for New Years," Linka says.
"So we'll just have to go out and buy some more," Gi counters. "New Years happens every year. You two finally getting engaged is a once in a life time thing and it feels like we've been waiting for this moment for FOREVER!"
"I'm with Gi on this one. Tonight, we celebrate!" Wheeler says.
"The first day of the rest of our lives," Linka adds.
The couple share a loving kiss, not minding the audience or the teasing whistles and whooping sounds. This Christmas celebration with family and friends turned out to be more perfect than either of them could have ever imagined.
Merry Christmas everyone. Or whatever you celebrate or don't celebrate. I hope you enjoyed it and that the year long wait was worth it.