Valentine’s, shmalentine’s. It’s just another day.
That was what I kept telling myself when I hadn’t heard from Andy all day. All freaking day. Not a call, not a note, nada. I kept expecting flowers or chocolates or something to arrive at my door. But as of five-thirty that evening, there’d been nothing.
“Another sigh?” Miss Anna Cate said from the couch where she was sitting, reading a book, a blanket tucked around her. Her coloring looked good, so much better than it had been only a couple of months ago. A fully functioning kidney would be the reason for that. The surgery was a success.
“Sorry,” I said, not even realizing I’d sighed. I plopped down in the armchair across from her. “It’s just that, this is my first Valentine’s with Andy.”
“I thought you said you didn’t care. That it was ‘just a day’.”
“It is . . . I don’t. It’s just . . .”
“It’s just that you had expectations that aren’t being met.”
I huffed. “No. I mean, well . . . I guess. Even though I don’t really care about this stupid holiday, I had some hope of . . . something.”
“What did Piper say?”
I’d just gotten off the phone with Piper. She was getting all dressed up to go on a super hot date. One that her very wealthy boyfriend had all planned out. I was excited for her, but it also rubbed in the fact that I had no plans, and Andy was completely MIA.
“She said that Andy would come through. And something about him being smitten.”
“She was always a smart one, that Piper of ours,” Miss Anna Cate said, giving me a wink.
Piper was smart. But now that she had left her job at the resort where Andy worked and had moved to Nashville to work for her boyfriend’s company, she no longer had real information for me and was only going by her gut.
Miss Anna Cate gave me a knowing smile. “Another sigh?”
“Sorry,” I said. I stood up from the chair. “I guess I’ll go unpack.” At least I had that to keep me occupied.
Yes, there was much unpacking to do. I was officially back in Christmas Falls. All my boxes had been moved from San Francisco thanks to Andy and the longest road trip ever. So many hours in the car. It also didn’t help that my mother had called nearly every hour of the drive to make sure we were okay. Once she knew we were, she’d launch into a lecture about my choices. But when we finally got into the Falls after marathon driving for three days, it was dusk and the streetlights were making the snow on the ground sparkle like it had been dusted with glitter—I was almost overwhelmed by how right it all felt.
A half hour later, I heard the doorbell ring and I jumped up from the floor where I was sorting through junk that I had haphazardly thrown in a box in my haste to pack everything quickly.
“Finally!” I yelled as I ran out of my room and toward the front door. I could hear Miss Anna Cate chuckling as I raced down the hall.
I was going to yell at him. But maybe kiss him first. And then yell at him for making me wait so long.
But when I opened the door, there was no one there.
“Andy?” I called out, sticking my upper body out the door and doing a quick search. There was no sign of anyone, not even sounds of footsteps crunching in the snow as they fled the area.
My shoulders slumped. Of all the times for some stupid high school kid to doorbell ditch us—
Something red caught my eye. I looked down and there on the step was a single red envelope that said open me.
I snatched it up and brought it in the house, shutting the door behind me.
“Whatcha got there?” Miss Anna Cate asked from her perch on the couch. Instead of a book, there was now a teacup in her hand.
“An envelope,” I said, staring at it.
“I gathered that.” Her voice oozed with sarcasm. “Ya gonna stare at it all day?”
I shook my head. “No, I guess I should open it.” I looked down at the envelope as a thought suddenly occurred to me. “But what if it’s for you?” I held the envelope out toward her.
“Honey, I haven’t had a suitor in decades. I’m not anticipating any in the near future either. Open it,” she said with a demanding nod.
I grabbed the envelope and ripped it open, pulling out a folded white piece of paper.
“What does it say?” Miss Anna Cate asked, now sounding a bit impatient.
I looked at the paper with just four simple lines, and read them aloud to the apparently grouchy old woman who was now my roommate.
A poet I am not
But since I like you a lot
Meet me at the place where
The chocolate is hot
P.S. Bring your coat.
“Oh,” Miss Anna Cate said, slapping her leg with her free hand. “A treasure hunt.”
“A treasure hunt?” I looked down at the note. A treasure hunt . . . I bit my bottom lip as I pictured Andy leaving this on the door and running away.
“Well, don’t leave him waiting, dear. Get your coat.”
I grabbed my coat and ran out the door yelling a quick goodbye to Miss Anna Cate as I did.
I had to give Andy credit; this was cute. But the clue was much too easy. Obviously, he was at Tinsel’s Coffee Shop. I raced over as fast as my legs could carry me, huffing in the cold, damp air.
I opened the door to the coffee shop, a smile on my face as the familiar sound of bells jingled. It smelled like coffee and sweetness, and the warm air wrapped around me like a blanket. I could just picture him sitting there, waiting for me. Two cups of hot chocolate on the table in front of him.
But when I looked around, there wasn’t any sign of him. No one with warm hazel eyes and dark brown hair sat anywhere in the vicinity.
“London?” A young teenage girl with curly auburn hair asked from behind the counter.
“Yeah?” I said, walking over to her.
“This is for you,” she said, handing me another red envelope that said open me on the front.
I took it from her and opened it up, taking about as little care as I did with the first one. This note also had four lines.
It’s cold outside
But it’s extra warm where I am
Meet me at the place
The sugar cookies are baked . . . in
P.S. I told you I wasn’t a poet.
I giggled to myself as I headed out of Tinsel’s and ran down the street toward the grocery store where the bakery was. When I got there, once again there was no Andy to be found, but a red-cheeked Mrs. Mitchem had another envelope for me.
This envelope, with as equally terrible of a rhyme as the last, sent me to the diner where Clara gave me another note that took me to Poinsettia Cottage. There I found another envelope hanging on the door, which sent me to the community center.
I imagined the community center, all lit up with twinkling lights, a table for two in the middle. Soft music coming from the sound system. This had to be the final place. The perfect place, really. I’d finally get to see Andy. And I was going to kiss his face off once I found him. All the work he had to do to plan all this . . . This was, by far, the best Valentine’s Day ever.
But when I got to the community center, it was completely dark. Taped to the door was another envelope. This one said:
You’ve done well in your quest
Your journey is nearing the end
Come find me in the place
Where our first kiss happened.
P.S. I’ll be the one in the coat. With the glasses.
The Falls. Of course! Of course that’s where this would end. How did I even think the community center was the perfect spot?
I ran up the pathway and slowed as I came around the corner, my heart picking up its pace. This time he’d be there.
And there he was. The half-frozen falls, tall and grand, were twinkling behind him, the lone lamp lighting up his face enough that I could see that broad smile of his that I adored so much.
My heart did a sputtering jumping thing and an odd sensation washed over me. One I wasn’t quite sure I’d ever felt before.
Love. I loved him.
I freaking loved Andy Broll.
I think I’d been feeling this way for a while, but I hadn’t recognized it because I’d never been in love with anyone else. Not like this, at least. And I was going to tell him right now. I wasn’t going to be one of those girls who kept it in and waited until he told me. I needed him to know now and the words were just waiting to burst out of me.
I walked up to him, put my arms around his neck, and planted a kiss on his lips that was only meant to be a quick kiss, but basically morphed into something quite a bit more than that as his gloved hands moved up my back and pulled me into him. His lips felt like oxygen, which was the cheesiest thought I’d ever had. But it was true. It felt like they gave me air, like they gave me life.
When we pulled away, our rapid breaths intertwining in the cold air, I looked up at him. “Andy, I—“
“I love you, London,” he said before I could get the words out.
“What?” I asked, taking a step back.
“I’m in love with you,” Andy said, the most serious expression I’d ever seen on his face. He wrapped his hands around my arms, not allowing me to take another step back.
I let my shoulders fall and scrunched my face. How had he . . .
“You . . . you don’t have to love me back,” he said, the words rushing out of his mouth, a look of panic suddenly on his face. “I mean, if this is too soon, if you feel like—”
My eyes went wide. “No,” I said, grabbing him around the waist and pulling myself into him. “No, I love you too. I was . . . well, you cut me off.”
“When I saw you standing there at the falls after all this,” I gestured around me, referring to all the plans he had put into place to get me here, “I just knew. I think I’ve known for a while.”
“You love me?” He looked like he was trying to reconcile what I’d said, like he almost didn’t believe me.
“So why the weird reaction?” He cocked his head to the side and I could see his eyes squinting through those square-rimmed glasses of his.
I pushed out my lips in a pseudo-pout. “I was gonna say it first.”
Andy’s mouth pulled up into a broad smile—one that reached his eyes—and I couldn’t help but echo with my own grin.
“Well, I’m really sorry about that,” he said, not looking sorry at all.
He leaned down and placed a soft kiss on my lips. “Say it again,” he said in a quiet voice, his lips hovering millimeters from mine.
“I love you,” I whispered.
“I love you, too.”
He pulled back and we smiled at each other like a couple of lovesick teenagers. This really was the best Valentine’s Day ever. At least, so far. I hoped there would be many more memorable ones to come.
Andy let out a breath. “Did you like it?”
“The treasure hunt?”
“Yeah,” he said, his arms going tighter around me.
“I liked it very much,” I said. “But this part, right now with you . . . this is the best part.” I leaned my forehead against his. “I love you,” I said again, wanting to say it over and over and maybe climb up to the top of the falls and scream it out over all of Christmas Falls.
“Me too,” he said pulling his forehead away and looking into my eyes. “But . . .”
“But what?” I asked, feeling confused. Why would there be a but?
“But when we look back on this day, I think what we both will remember most is that—”
“Is what?” I said, cutting him off. What was he getting at?
“Is that . . . I said it first,” he said with a wink.
And then before I could even protest, he grabbed me and kissed me soundly.