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They found a fancy coffee shop a few blocks from the diner. Laughing all the way at the absurdity of Christmas lit palm trees, sandy snowmen, and surfing Santa Clauses.
"I really miss home this time of year," Sarah said, enjoying her Chi Tea Latte. "My mom really knew how to make Christmas special. She loved this time of year. Not just Christmas but the whole season, you know?"
Noel couldn't believe his good fortune. He didn't know what happened between this morning and dinner but Sarah seemed a completely different person and finally began to open up and share.
"Just you and your Mom then?"
"Yeah," Sarah said with a shrug, "Dad was never quite...in the picture. Left when I was really young. I couldn't even tell you what he looked like if you asked."
"Sorry." For Noel it seemed the appropriate thing to say.
Sarah just chuckled. "For what, you didn't do anything. It was his choice and a rather dumb one in my opinion as my Mom and I are pretty terrific girls. So, his loss. Mom is my hero. She really had to struggle to keep us afloat sometimes but she never gave up. She had been so proud when I got my scholarship to art school. I miss her so much. It's my plan as soon as I get the promotion at work I'll be making enough to get my Mom out here with me. She deserves someone taking care of her for a change."
Sarah smiled just thinking of her and Mom together again. When her eyes met Noel's he had a strange expression, one she couldn't place. "You okay?" she asked, thinking perhaps she was talking too much, shared too much.
Noel grinned at her, "Yeah fine." But his smile didn't quite meet his eyes and she wondered.
"Well," looking at her phone, "It's nearly Christmas." Flashing him her screen that showed it was nearly eleven. "Guess we had best call it a night. If we aren't in bed by midnight Santa may not come."
"May I see you home?" Noel asked, it was late and he didn't like the idea of her traveling alone.
Sarah smiled, "Your Mama really did raise you right. Sure why not?"
That made Noel laugh, that deep throaty laugh, Sarah found she really enjoyed the sound of.
Sarah didn't live very far from work, the diner, and coffee house. When Noel came to the steps of her apartment he realized she was taking him for a tour of her new neighborhood. Most likely choosing all her favorite places on purpose to be sure the night went well. Secretly she had been orchestrating the entire evening without even realizing she was doing it.
Sarah stopped on the bottom stair and turned to face him. Being on the step brought them closer to the same height and she could look him in the eye when she said, "Thank you for tonight. I had fun."
Noel smiled. "You're welcome. I only wish you could say that with a little less surprise in your voice."
Sarah giggled. "Can you really blame me?"
"I guess not," Noel admitted.
Sarah ran up the last couple of stairs and opened her door.
"Sarah," Noel called to her before she could disappear. "It's Christmas," he said pointing to his watch.
Sarah smiled. "Merry Christmas, Noel."
"Thank you," Noel said, "but you forgot something."
Confused Sarah shrugged and Noel jogged up the steps to stand before her. "Your present. It's Christmas. Am I at least going to get see you open it?"
"Oh," Sarah said sheepishly as she had forgotten all about the gift again. "Right, um." She dug around in her bag but was having trouble locating the small package in her backpack. "I know it's in here somewhere. Look why don't you come in to wait while I get a proper look."
"Okay?" Noel never thought he could be this fortunate.
Sarah walked through a small foyer and turned to the right. Noel shut the door behind them. She used her foot to hit a button on a power strip and her living space suddenly turned into a winter wonderland.
"Wow," Noel exhaled.
He couldn't believe how she had decorated her apartment. Her tree, dressed all in white lights, glittered and shimmered off the beautiful glass ornaments of icicles, snowflakes and shining stars. Garland hung on the rails of the staircase leading up to her loft bed, decorated with hand cut snowflakes doused in glitter. All sparkling in the glow of the star string lights she tacked up around the perimeter of the room. A collection of stuffed snowmen and single Santa bear adorned the back of her sofa. Everything was light and soft and delicate just like her.
"Found it!" Sarah exclaimed, coming out of her kitchen with package in hand.
"Sarah, this is...this is amazing," Noel said, in astonishment.
Sarah felt a little shy. She didn't expect anyone to see her masterpiece. She just missed and loved the snow so much that she thought she would try and create it artistically to make it feel more like home.
Sarah glowed in the soft light, her blond curls and blue eyes shimmered and shinned. She could be mistaken for a Christmas Angel. She stood before him and held the small package between them.
"Open it," Noel urged.
Sarah tugged on the red silk ribbon and gingerly lifted the lid. "Oh, Noel. It's beautiful," she gasped holding up a snowflake, set in a crystal heart, dangling from a silver chain.
"It's the real thing. Perfectly preserved. No two are alike. It's one of kind just like you."
Tears stung Sarah's eyes. "How did you...? What made you...?"