“Three… two… one!” Valentine whispered as the second hand on her brass ship’s clock ticked down the year from its place on the mantle. She knelt, holding Aubrey’s hands in hers over the coffee table in her front parlor. He sat cross-legged, his back against the squashy suede couch under the front window.
The evidence of the Solstice snow was long gone, but the lingering magic of Christmas remained. The bungalows and shotgun houses on Val’s street still twinkled with lights and window-candles.
“And here I was, hoping for a midnight kiss,” Aubrey teased, opening his eyes and looking into hers.
Val blushed and gestured to the matted drawing on the table. The rendering of his staircase lay between them, but this time Val had drawn it hung with laurel garland and scarlet ribbon. She’d festooned the watercolored and penciled railings with white pine, winterberry, and holly.
“Valentine,” he breathed.
“I imagine you’re missing home this time of year–” she began.
“It’s perfect.” He pressed a finger to her lip. As she closed her eyes, the drawing came to life in her imagination: a pair of dark-haired boys in flannel pajamas flying down the stairs towards a soaring Christmas tree with candles and sparkling glass icicles, piled with boxes.
She opened her eyes. Aubrey was watching her, his expression sparkling with curiosity.
“What did you see?” he asked, “just then.”
Val’s cheeks flamed. “Nothing,” she stammered.
Aubrey only smiled, as though he knew a wonderful secret.
“Happy New Year,” he said.