Emily was in the kitchen just after dawn, humming along with the carols on the radio as the bacon sizzled and when Stani crept up behind her at the range, she let out a little sigh. “You didn’t really think you could startle me? I could feel you coming all through the house.”
“Feel me?” He lifted her hair and nuzzled her neck, his hand finding the little bulge at her waist.
“You’re radiating something this morning. Christmas joy, maybe? I could hear it echoing in your footsteps.” She turned in his arms, a twinkle in her eyes. “Besides, I heard you banging around in the hall closet. What is it you have hidden in there, anyway?”
“Christmas surprise. But not until after breakfast.” His kiss was meant as a reminder of all the past breakfasts they’d shared, including the one on Christmas morning only a year ago.
They didn’t rush through the meal, and John joined them while they were still at the table, pouring a cup of tea and helping himself to a chunk of cinnamon bread. “What’s on the agenda this morning?”
His eyes widened as Emily went down the list. Open a few gifts, dress for church. Have a quick lunch after church, then start dinner preparations, which would involve a list of things all its own.
“No just sitting around the fireplace with our feet up? Yesterday was hectic enough. I could use a day off.”
Their voices rose in unison protest. “John, it’s Christmas Day! This is the real celebration. Friends and family all gathered for a meal, music and gifts. Tonight, when we’re all so full we can’t move, then we’ll sit by the fire.” Emily was on her feet, pulling at Stani’s hand. “But right now, I want to show you something, darling. In fact, if I don’t, I’ll just explode. Get your coat. Hurry!”
Laughing and rolling his eyes at John, he let her lead him to the front door. “Really, love, you want me to go outside now? It’s snowing!”
“Only a little flurry. And there’s nothing much on the ground. It won’t take long!” Her excitement was tangible, as she bundled into her coat. And it was infectious. He realized his own heart was racing as he did the same.
He took a moment to tie her muffler high around her ears. “Are you sure you can’t just tell me what it is I’m supposed to see, without running out into the yard yourself?”
She grabbed his hand and pulled him through the door. “No! I want to see your face.”
He followed her across the yard toward the gate, struck by the stark winter scene that spread in every direction from the high ground on which the house was situated. Beyond the surrounding valley, the distant ridges were nearly obscured by a blue haze. The ground underfoot was covered with a light dusting of dry snow, and huge flakes drifted lazily through the air. Near the gate, a lone pair of cardinals took flight, their bright wings a startling intrusion of color into the gray landscape. The silence was profound, and he took a moment to appreciate the peace of this place. And then Emily pulled him through the gate and came to an abrupt halt, steering him around until he stood facing the house again. The satisfied smile on her face suggested they had reached their destination, but he couldn’t imagine what he was expected to see.
“Look, Stani!” She nodded toward the fence, or was it meant to be toward the house? Still, he couldn’t grasp this marvelous thing she was showing him so proudly.
Finally, his eyes fell on the sign. The large oval that bore the name of Valley Rise Farm. It had been newly painted, the letters a fresh, crisp green against the white background. Beneath, scripted in red, were the names of the farm’s proprietors. Now, instead of the former “J.E. Haynes,” it read “S. and E. Haynes-Moss.” When he couldn’t find words, she hugged his arm and said softly, “James brought it out and hung it last night. Do you like it? I decided to use our names the way you did for the foundation.”
He took another moment to recognize what this really meant to her. It was her farm, her legacy from her parents. Now she was adding his name to the most treasured thing in her life. “I love it, darling girl. You know, I even had a thought about it, when we were shopping for the caretaker’s home. But then I decided it was too much yours to ever change it. Haynes has always been here, and for some chap named Moss to move in was just too overreaching.” He wrapped her in his arms, staring into the intense gray depths of her eyes.
“Not overreaching at all. It’s yours now too. It’s ours, Stani. And that J.E. Haynes person is gone forever.” Her kiss was deep and sweet and for a time he was lifted off the cold hillside, swept away by the miracle of this girl in his arms, who carried his child deep inside her, whose love had brought him to a place he could call home.