Every Christmas gift Will and Dinah exchange is a symbol of their love. The tradition begins on their very first date in 1968, when Will arrives with an exquisitely wrapped present that shows he, unlike everyone else in her life, believes in her dream of becoming a chef. It continues through every holiday season after that--whether they're together or apart. But the tradition ends when tragedy strikes. After that, only an unexpected gift can make things right.
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November 30, 2007
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Excerpt from Christmas Presents and Past by Janice Kay Johnson
The cough and choke of Will O'Keefe's 1952 Chevy brought Dinah racing to the front window. This was the second time he'd picked her up, but their first real date. The other time they'd been going to that jam session at Miguel's and Will had just been a ride--although it hadn't turned out that way, since they'd stuck together the whole night as if it was a given.
By the time she peeked around the drape, he'd slammed the car door and started up her steep driveway. That's when dismay punched her in the chest. In his hands was a gaily wrapped Christmas present with a bright red bow atop. It had to be for her!
But they'd only met two weeks before, at Terri's party. They'd talked there for hours, and then again at Miguel's. But that didn't really count, did it? They weren't going together or anything, so why had he bought her a Christmas present?
Her mind raced. Had she bought anything for her brother or father that she could pretend was for Will? But neither present was right. The album she was giving Stephen maybe, but she had no idea whether Will liked Country Joe and the Fish, and anyway... She didn't have enough money left to buy Stephen something else before Christmas! If only she'd thought to bake cookies, or make fudge, and had some saved for him. Since it was almost Christmas.
The doorbell rang. She was out of time.
Dinah took a deep breath and opened the door. "Hi," she said brightly, then looked at the gift as if she hadn't already seen it. "Oh, no! I didn't get you anything."
"Why would you? We just met." He offered her the smile that had made her heart skip a beat when Terri introduced them. It was genuine, even sweet, not marred by pretence or self-consciousness.
Will O'Keefe wasn't exactly handsome. He was only a few inches taller than her five foot seven, maybe five-ten. He was actually pretty skinny, although he had big hands and feet that gave him a puppy-dog look. And his face was, well, the kind her eye skipped over in a crowd. Just ordinary.
It was definitely the smile that had gotten to her. The smile, and his eyes, an amazing shade of blue, all the more unusual with his dark hair.
"Then why..." she asked, gesturing at the gift in his hand.
"Why?" He looked down. "Oh. I got stuck with my Mom the other day while she was Christmas shopping. And I saw this, and thought of you." He thrust the package at her as if to get rid of it. "It's no big deal. It was probably a dumb idea. I just thought..." His shoulders moved in an awkward shrug.
She glanced at the Christmas tree near the front window and the gifts piled beneath it. "Should I save it? Or, um, open it now?"
"Now," he said. "Since I'm here. Unless you want to save it."
"No. Now's fine. Do you want to sit down?"
"Sure." He shut the front door behind him and chose a place on the Danish modern sofa with the olive-green upholstery fabric that made Dinah's legs itch if she was wearing shorts.
She perched at the other end of the sofa, turned to half face him, glad no one else was home. Her mother would have raised her eyebrows at some boy she'd never met buying her daughter a present, her dad would have nodded in approval because Will's hair was short and Stephen would have given her a hard time about going out with a guy who looked so square. He wouldn't believe her when she said Will wasn't, that he'd cut his hair so he could be on the wrestling team at his high school. According to Will, his coach was like this Nazi, who practically measured every strand of hair to make sure his wrestlers looked like these perfect, all-American boys.
Dinah hesitated. Will smiled encouragement and she tore the paper to find a plain box inside. He looked nervous, she saw out of the corner of her eye. He really wanted her to like whatever he'd bought. She opened the box and stared in puzzlement at folded white canvas, like that of a sail.
"I had to wad it up to get it in," he apologized. Dinah lifted it out, then breathed, "Ohh," as she saw what he'd bought because it made him think of her.
An apron. A chef's apron. A real one, the kind professionals wore, extra wide so it would wrap around her and long enough to reach her knees.
"When I picked you up Saturday you were wearing that little flowery apron." Will gestured at his front. "And after you'd told me how much you love to cook, and how you'd like to be a chef or caterer, I thought you should look like one instead of wearing your mom's apron."
Her eyes filled with tears. "You believed me."
"Why wouldn't I?"
"My parents don't. They want me to go to college, not culinary school." She hugged the apron to herself and sniffed. "Thank you. I love it."
"Really?" With hopeful eyes, he looked more than ever like a puppy.
"Really." She scooted across the sofa and kissed his cheek.