Christmas Eve, 1944
"Our first Christmas together" thought Livy, a smile crossing her face. She had never been happier, more content. She had a handsome husband who surprised her daily with the changes she saw in him. Gone was the shy, awkward man she had married. Since she and Ray had professed their love for each other, they grew closer everyday. The shared experience of Danny's birth had bound them together, even though it would be some time before they could truly become 'husband and wife'. Livy's cheeks flamed just at the thought. That was several weeks down the road, and they would deal with that when the time came. Other than that, they were like any other newly married couple...spending time together brought them sheer joy.
Ray came out of the barn and stopped in his tracks, sniffing the air. He swore he could smell the gingerbread cookies Livy was baking. Hank Jr. and Chester came bounding out behind him, rough-housing, and threatening to tackle their uncle and wrestle him down in the snow. Ray just raised his eyebrows...all three of them knew that wasn't going to happen! They started towards the house.
"Okay boys, settle down now. Remember, Danny's probably down for his nap. Your sister will be helping Aunt Liv with cookies and if you behave, I might even see that you get one!"
Chester snorted, "Well, good thing Ruthie's helping 'cause----" Hank, Jr. punched his brother's arm, and seeing the look on their uncle's face brought the boys up short.
"Hey now...Aunt Livy's not the greatest cook, but she's trying and I want you boys to tell her they're the best cookies you ever ate. There's a 50-cent piece in it for you, so....." The boys grinned.
"You bet, Uncle Ray!" said Chester. Hank Jr. added, "Besides, we owe you for taking us down to the pond to skate."
"That's my boys!" Ray slung an arm around each of them as they went up the porch.
"Now remember, I'm counting on you two..." the boys nodded eagerly.
After 'the men' came in, Livy sent them to the front room while she fixed hot cocoa and cookies. Ruth was icing some of the sugar cookies at the kitchen table. As they settled in front of the fire to warm up, Ray admired his living room. What a difference Livy had made. Not just adding her own touches to their home, but she had worked to make it festive for the holidays. The Christmas tree they'd decorated with popcorn and cranberries. The paper snowflakes she'd cut to tape in all the windows. There were bowls of fruit and nuts on the table and she'd even hung stockings for Ray, Danny and herself. He was so proud of her!
"Here you go, boys...Ray. I hope you're hungry, I made LOTS of them!" Livy was beaming as she carried in her tray of gingerbread men. The boys shot each other a look, helped themselves to a cookie and then slowly nibbled at it.
Ray was having a time trying not to laugh at the looks on their faces. He could hardly blame them...most of the cookies were...'well-done' was a polite way to put it. Finally, he couldn't resist.
"Um, Liv? What's with this little man?" He held a cookie up that was missing several limbs. The boys choked, trying not to laugh. Ruth looked up and just shook her head. Oh boy, Uncle Ray had done it now...
"And this one? Looks like this fella was a might too close to the fire..." The second cookie Ray held up was charred on one side, and nearly raw on the other. Livy stood before him with her hands on her hips.
"Raymond Singleton, you best keep a civil tongue in your head, or it'll be a long time before you get another cookie!" Ray bit his lip, then yanked at her apron strings.
"Promise?" he said with a big smile. Livy swatted him with her dishtowel. He couldn't resist pulling her to him and brushing at the flour that was sprinkled across her nose.
"Y'know? You're kinda pretty when you're mad..." and proceeded to kiss her with a loud smack on the lips.
"Ugh....Uncle Ray!! COOTIES!!"
Livy couldn't be mad at Ray, she had deliberately made some 'ugly' cookies to torment them with. Now Ruthie brought out the plate of 'good ones'. Livy laughed out loud at the relief on the boys' faces. She was having such a good time teasing them...especially her husband.
Later, Ray was in the hallway with the kids, preparing to take them home. Livy was getting her kitchen back in order. They'd put the extra cradle in the dining room and Danny was content, not yet fussing for his supper.
"Liv, sweetheart? We're leaving now. Didn't you have a tin of cookies for the boys?"
"I sure do..." Livy called from the kitchen. The boys had raved about her cookies, saying they were even better than Martha's. Livy was so proud of herself! Ray was at the bottom of the steps, hat and coat on. The boys had sat on the steps to get their boots on and now were peering through the railing, whispering behind their hands. Ruth stood by grinning.
The minute Livy looked up at Ray she saw why. The boys had filled the crown of his hat with sprigs of mistletoe! She fought a smile and Ray gave her a puzzled look.
"What?" Livy leaned up and gave him a peck on the cheek. Ray smiled, and as he turned, the mistletoe drooped over his hat a bit, but stayed put. This caused the boys to howl....
"Okay then, let's go kids..." Every time he moved his head or spoke, he jostled the mistletoe so that it nearly fell out, but didn't. By now all of them were laughing but Ray. Each time he looked at Livy, she gave him another kiss.
"Well, I don't know about anybody else, but I'm starting to like this...." Swooping Livy into his arms, he dipped her over his arm for a dramatic 'movie' kiss!
Mistletoe flew everywhere and the kids dissolved into giggles. Ray never let on that he knew it was there all along...
Christmas Eve was the first time Livy had been out with the baby. Everyone at church fussed and cooed over little Danny, but they were well aware of a new mama's nervousness, so no one asked to hold him yet. He slept through most of the service, but when the children began singing carols, he decided to join in. Ray and Livy slipped out of the pew to the back of the church.
"Liv, I've gotta run down and check the boiler....felt kinda chilly in there."
"All right, Ray, we'll be right here" Livy quickly shushed Danny, gently swaying with him...how she loved this sweet baby in her arms! She continued to watch through the glass door as the Sunday school classes put on the Nativity play. She smiled...someday their boy would be up there, too. When the children finished, Reverend Case began making some community announcements. All of a sudden, there was the jingle of bells, and with a hearty 'Ho, Ho Ho!' Santa Claus came through the side door of the church, carrying a large sack. The children's faces--the way they lit up, Livy loved it! Hmm....something about that Santa. She looked back at their pew....no, Hank was there with Martha. Across the aisle, Mr. Hansen was with his family, too. Livy saw the twinkle when Santa's eyes met hers...and she knew. Her heart swelled with love for this man and the goodness he carried for all.
On the ride home, Livy leaned over and plucked a small wisp of white cotton that clung to Ray's hair.
'Um....what's this?" Ray looked at her hand, then her face.
"Reckon it was just some dust...you know how dirty that old boiler is...." They smiled at each other. It was the perfect ending to the evening.
Livy stirred slightly. Wrapped in Ray's arms, his slow, steady breathing told her he was sound asleep. It was still dark, but he'd be up soon--a farmer's work takes no holiday. She hoped he could sleep just a bit longer though, he needed it. She put her cheek against his chest and closed her eyes. The steady thump of his heart and the comfort of his arms made her love him all the more. She thought of what they'd been through to get here. "I think this could work." Sighing, she knew she'd been given the best Christmas gift of all.......
Half asleep, Ray reluctantly opened his eyes, grateful the sun wasn't up yet. He turned slightly, tucking Livy closer to his side. Her breathing was slow and even, and he didn't want to wake her. Danny would do that soon enough and she needed her sleep. He brushed a soft kiss on her forehead. How right she felt here beside him, like part of him was missing until they found each other. "I think this could work." He closed his eyes, thankful for the best Christmas gift of all......
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