“I wasn’t going to do much this year. With the promotion I’d have stayed home, done the research. Watched something on television. I like watching Christmas movies,” Ivan said.
“I happen to love this time of year.” Ivan smiled as he talked.
“I find that hard to believe,” she said.
“I do. I love the lights, and the color and I happen to also like tinsel.”
This made her laugh. “You do?”
“Yes. I’m not good when it comes to cooking but I’m always willing to learn.”
“I don’t know. I had this ideology of what I expected Christmas to be like. Now, I find myself more disappointed with what I don’t get.”
“This is scary,” she said.
“I know I don’t participate in the card swapping or the secret Santa, but I do like Christmas. I just don’t think Christmas likes me.”
“I doubt that.”
“I got dumped at Christmas.”
“A few years ago. I wanted to have a wedding during the festive season. Everything was going great. I had the whole thing set. It looked absolutely magical. The night before the wedding, I catch my fiancé with another woman and another man.”
“Yeah. I didn’t even know who they were but they looked pretty cozy to me. The whole thing got called off.”
“Not all guys are like that. You gave up on Christmas?”
“I decided to throw myself into my work. I was marrying a guy I realized I knew nothing about. Work is easy. Work is something that doesn’t leave me alone.”
The silence stretched on.
“Are you afraid of being alone?”
“Are you?” he asked softly.
He held Delaney, both of them naked, the blankets wrapped around them, the heat and lights still off. The silence stretched out as he thought about her question.
Was he afraid of being alone?
“It’s okay if you’re afraid. It’s human and natural.”
He glanced at her but didn’t say anything.
“I’m sorry about asking. Wasn’t my place,” she said softly.
He pulled her in closer, rested his chin on the top of her head, and stared out at the snow falling behind the floor-to-ceiling windows.
“You can ask me anything,” he said honestly, meaning it. “To be honest, I’ve been alone my entire life.”
She shifted slightly and tipped her head back to look at him. “Really? You have so much family, so many friends.”
He chuckled humorlessly. “You’d be surprised how alone someone can be when surrounded by people.”
They were silent for long seconds.
“I know being alone frightens me.” The tone of her voice told him that that was something she had never admitted before, maybe not even to herself.
“At one point, I thought I was afraid to be alone.” He’d never admitted that out loud. “My whole life, I’ve been surrounded by money and people, social gatherings, socialites, parties and professional events. And all of that, being covered in wealth, knowing the friends I had weren’t genuine, yeah, I’d never felt more alone.”
Shit, he just got real with her.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
He held her tighter.
“But now,” he said just as softly, “I’m not afraid of being alone. I embrace it, make it my own. I’m used to it, know that I can survive despite that.” The silence stretched on between them as he told her the truth.
“I have a feeling this is the realest you’ve ever been with someone.”
They didn’t move, didn’t speak, but the air around them was comfortable.
It was real.
“I just assumed someone with your wealth and status couldn’t be anything but happy.”
“Money doesn’t buy happiness, that’s for sure.”
She stared at him for long seconds, and despite the darkness in the room, he could see she was empathetic, even understanding.
“How about we get dressed and I find some flashlights?” He wanted to change the subject, because even if he was used to the loneliness, of isolating himself from everyone and everything, when it came to Delaney, he didn’t want that.
Her fire had him feeling alive, as if he weren’t just this ornamental piece and his family’s legacy. Her witty retorts and attitude made him happy, told him that she was strong. The women in his life, his mother, his sister, everyone … they hung out, put on a show, a façade. They pretended to be happy, played the part, smiled and cooed at what their husbands said.
It was all a lie.
He saw their unhappiness, their loneliness when they didn’t think anyone was watching.
They were miserable, but would never admit it.
He recognized it because he’d felt the same way for years.
For his entire life.
“I’m really sorry you felt that way.”
Her voice was soft, sweet. He felt warm, whole when he was with Delaney in this moment. It was strange, to be honest, to feel so connected to someone, this switch turning from a love-hate relationship to something more.
And he wanted to tell her that, to say that despite their banter at work, their goal-oriented lives, he felt something more for her, something so much stronger than he’d ever thought possible.