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The past should be behind her, but for Bri McAndrews, it keeps sneaking up in the worst ways. Lies, vicious plots, and manipulation follow Bri everywhere she turns. All she wants is to pick up the pieces and move on with her life, but the mistakes she’s made continue to haunt her, hurt her, pull her under. And with the sting of Trey’s latest betrayal still very fresh, Bri doesn’t know if she can truly trust him with her heart, leaving her at a crossroads she’s not ready to face.

The future should be bright, but for Trey Donovan, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. Trey has more regrets than he can count on one hand. To find atonement, he’s had to own up to the things he’s done, creating a rift with Bri he can’t seem to mend. Trey only wants the life with Bri he sees in his mind, but it keeps evading him, remaining just out of reach—especially when they find themselves standing between two of the most important people in their lives.

You need darkness in order to see the stars shine, but when a storm
blows in, leaving a thunder cloud that blocks any semblance of hope, will two hearts become one, or have they become too tarnished to find their someday?



A loud knock on my door made me curse under my breath. Light streamed in from my partially open curtains. I peeked my head out from under my pillow just enough to check the time. Noon. It was later than I had expected, but still far too early for anyone to be pestering me to get up.


Another minute passed by, and the pounding became louder with each ring of the doorbell. Throwing my pillows to the other side of the bed, I snapped, “What is it?”


Kylie poked her head inside. “Sorry to wake you up, but someone is at the door.”


Sitting up and tossing a hand in the air, I grumbled, “I gathered that much. Why aren’t you answering it?”


Placing a hand on her hip, Kylie shot back, “Because it’s for you.”


I flopped back down. “The only person you wouldn’t let in is Trey. Can’t you tell him I’m still sleeping?”


Her face was firm as she said, “I’ve told you more than a few times, I’m not getting in the middle of what’s going on with you two. If you don’t want to talk to him, you’re going to have to go downstairs and tell him. I’m not a damn owl from Harry Potter. Put your big girl panties on and go deal with him.” 


Giving her my puppy dog eyes, I pleaded, “Please, Kylie. He’s going to end up waking up Mia and that will end in disaster. Can you please tell him I’ll talk to him later and get him to go?”


“Sorry, Bri. I’m not telling him to get lost on Christmas Eve. I might not be his biggest fan, but I’m not a heartless bitch. If you want him to leave, you make him. And Mia is still passed out face first on her bed. I don’t think a tornado could bring her out of her stupor,” Kylie replied, her eyes narrowed for me to move my ass.


I gaped at her in disbelief while shoving my covers aside. “Since when are you in Trey’s cheering section?”


“I’m not. I think what he did to you was wrong, but it’s Christmas. Even if you’re not ready to forgive him, the least you can do is talk to him.” I opened my mouth to remind her I’ve been speaking to him, but Kylie glowered as she said, “I meant for more than five minutes without a scowl on your face. Everyone deserves to have their own version of a Christmas miracle. I’m pretty sure if you gave him more than a couple minutes of your time, you’d make his Christmas.”


Hearing the lack of knocks caught our attention. I hopped up to gaze out my window. Trey shook his hand several times while taking a seat on the top step. My chest tightened as I watched him bury his head into his hands while resting his elbows on his knees. 


Kylie cleared her throat. “You’re focusing far too much on the past.” I whipped around, ready to point out why that was the case, and she held up a hand. “I know his choice impacted your life tremendously, but you can’t change it. The only thing you can do is try to fix what went wrong. There’s too much history between the two of you to throw it all away.”


I gave her a wary look on my way over to my closet. “Why are you so damn optimistic this morning?”

A humorless chuckle fell from her lips. “We all can’t be scrooges. Mia’s life is, for lack of a better phrase, completely fucked up. Yours has been better. Peyton’s is anything but great. One of us has to have some sort of hope things will turn around soon.” 


“Where is all this coming from? And tell the truth this time.”


A sheepish smile spread across her face. “After we helped Mia get to bed last night, I couldn’t fall asleep. Seeing and hearing how much pain she’s in broke my heart. I needed a pick me up, so I turned on the Hallmark channel. Those movies seriously must get some sort of kickback from Kleenex for the number of tissues you go through. Anyway, they got me thinking about all the things to be grateful for rather than focusing on what can’t be undone.”


“Sounds like Matt has really done a number on you. If you’re watching that channel willingly, I can’t help but think love is in the air,” I teased.


Kylie stuck out her tongue. “Don’t try to steer me off topic. Go downstairs and talk to Trey.”


“Okay, I’ll go talk to him. Any more holiday cheer, wisdom, or those googly eyes you get whenever Matt’s name comes up is going to turn my stomach,” I replied, flashing a playful grin.


Without another word, she disappeared down the hall. After tossing on a pair of faded jeans and a red cashmere sweater, I slipped on a pair of black boots, pulled my hair into a messy bun, brushed my teeth, and padded downstairs, stopping long enough to put on my pea coat. I stepped out onto the front porch and closed the door behind me. 


“Merry Christmas, Bri. Before you even say it, I’m not here to talk about us,” Trey said in a rush.


“Well, as long as we’re clear on that much.” My eyes drifted to the stack of presents sitting next to the door. “What’s this all about?”


Tiny flakes of snow swirled around us, and I couldn’t help but grin at the way all the tree branches glistened. Winter was my least favorite season, but with the way the sun made the fresh snow glimmer, it was hard not to smile.


“Since Mia won’t come to our house, Mom wanted to make sure her presents got to her on Christmas. She wanted to bring them herself, but I couldn’t pass up a chance to see you. She included a few gifts for you, as did the kids.”


Hearing the despair in his voice tugged at my heart, and I sat down next to him. “I should’ve anticipated your mom doing something like this. I hope she doesn’t take it personally if Mia doesn’t open them right away. She’s not exactly in the holiday spirit. Hell, if she’s got anything locked down right now, it’s the title of ice princess.”


His eyes were hopeful as he murmured, “Maybe it might help if I talked to her.”


“I don’t think that’s a good idea. Besides, she’s still passed out from her trip to the bar last night. She won’t surface until the sun goes down. She’s taken on vampire hours these days. Well…when she decides to sleep at all.”


“Sounds like the drinking is getting worse. What worries me the most is her willingness to keep spiraling downward.”


Resting my head on his shoulder, I slid my hand in his and gave it a small squeeze. He jumped, startled by the small gesture.


“Let’s face it, the holidays are hard for anyone who’s trying to deal with emotional turmoil. She’s dealing with that on a level neither one of us can understand. I know you want to be there for her, but believe me, your distance is for the best for now.”


He studied me carefully for a minute, no doubt wondering if I was talking about Mia or myself. I was aware he knew I wasn’t dealing with what Spencer and Sterling did to me very well. As his eyes lingered on me, it was clear he wanted to ask, but he sealed his lips. A memory tried to claw its way to the surface, but I grasped onto every shred of strength I had and pushed it back down. Somehow, I managed to plaster on a genuine smile I was positive he saw right through, but it seemed to be enough to appease him.

“Every memorable Christmas I’ve had has been with Mia and Micah. It’s surreal to me neither of them will be at our table this evening or chasing the kids around tomorrow after they open presents,” Trey muttered, releasing a ragged breath.


I circled my thumb around his palm. “What was your favorite Christmas with them?”


His face was thoughtful as he said, “Probably when we were around seven. That was the year Micah and I figured out our parents were Santa Claus.” I arched an eyebrow for a better explanation. Flashing his dimples, he clarified, “We were sneaking snacks from the kitchen to my room and caught Lyla and my mom wrapping presents. We snuck into my mom’s room the next day and saw them in the closet—all labeled from Santa. I really wanted to break the news to Mia. Plenty of kids at school were already saying he wasn’t real, but Micah wouldn’t have it. She still believed in him, and he refused to take that away from her. She didn’t have a lot of faith or trust in anything yet, so we kept up the pretense for her.”


 “What did you guys do that reinforced the notion he existed?”


 “We sent our lists of all the things we wanted off to the North Pole. I made sure the cookies Mom baked with Mia were half-eaten and the milk was gone. On Christmas morning, I pretended to be just as excited as her when I opened all the gifts from Santa. My folks bought Mia a basketball that year and gave it to her as a Santa present. You would’ve thought she got a hundred bucks for how wide her smile was when she opened it,” Trey replied, a shadow of a grin on his chiseled face.


“After Micah opened his presents with his family, he ran over to our house with the presents Santa left for Mia at his house. He made a big production of how Santa knew she lived at both our houses most of the time and that was why she got twice the amount. By the time she was done opening them, Mia was practically bouncing off the walls. She got everything on her list. It was really nice to see because she didn’t smile a lot those first few years,” Trey explained, his eyes glistening.


His grip on my hand tightened. “The next year, Mia figured out Santa wasn’t real, but it became a weird tradition for the three of us with my younger siblings. We made them all believe Santa left presents at our house, Micah’s, and the loft. We were determined to make them believe for as long as possible, even if a kid at school said otherwise. They ended up carrying on that innocent belief a lot longer than we had. I was looking forward to keeping up the tradition with Trevor and Tighe, but I guess that won’t be happening.”


“You can still keep the tradition going, Trey,” I pointed out, my face sincere.


Trey softly brushed a few snowflakes from my cheeks, and a swarm of butterflies I hadn’t felt in a while sprang to life. Color crept up my neck as he trailed his fingers down to my jaw before removing them altogether. Grief replaced the fraction of a smile on his face before he said, “I’ll do my best, but it won’t be the same without Micah and Mia.”


“How are the kids holding up?” I asked around a heavy sigh.


“Mom hasn’t outright told them Micah left town or that he and Mia are no longer together. I keep telling her they probably already figured that much out, but I think she’s trying to make the most of the holiday season before she explains what’s going on and why they won’t be seeing either of them any time soon.”


“I wish I could tell you otherwise, but I won’t push Mia into doing anything she isn’t ready for. Right now, I’m just happy she gets out of bed and doesn’t cry the entire day. That first week was brutal.”


Trey caressed the inside of my palm, sending a wave of warmth through the center of my chest. “I always knew things would change, but I never imagined it’d be like this.”


I opened my mouth several times, but couldn’t find the words to reassure him things would get better. The truth was I still wasn’t ready to let him back in. I sure as hell didn’t know when Mia would finally turn a corner. Rather than keeping up the pretense things were okay with us, I gave his hand a parting squeeze and dusted the snowflakes from my jeans and coat before standing up.


“I’m sure your mom needs your help at home. Tell her thank you for the gifts. She didn’t need to get me anything, but I appreciate her thinking of me. That’s more than I can say for my parents this time of year.”


His eyebrows furrowed. “Speaking of them, are you going home today?”


I shook my head. “Since your scuffle on campus, Jackson couldn’t get out of going home or talking Mia into coming with him. I managed to get out of Christmas festivities, but they’ve got me locked down for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. My folks will be caught up with all their socialite friends at those galas, so I stand a shot at dragging Mia to them.”


“How are you going to get Mia to go with you on New Year’s?” 


“Open bar. I don’t encourage her drinking, but she’ll drink that night anyway. I might as well use it to my advantage,” I muttered, massaging my temples.


“That’ll certainly do it,” Trey replied, scooping up the presents as I opened the door. 


After setting them down in the hallway, he retrieved two packages from inside his jacket and pressed the poorly wrapped small squares in my hands. “These are for you, Bri.”


“You really shouldn’t have. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about today. I still need more time,” I forced out, my voice cracking at the end.


Leaning forward, he pressed the softest kiss I’d ever felt to my forehead, making my heart leap out of my chest. His gray eyes twinkled as he kept a firm hold on my chin and whispered, “You already gave me the best gift I could’ve asked for. The best gifts in life aren’t the ones we hold in our hands, but the ones that fill our hearts. Thanks for taking a few minutes to talk with me. It means more than you’ll ever understand.”


Trey disappeared out the door, leaving me out of breath and gripping the wall to keep from toppling over. Once my wobbly knees were somewhat under control, I retrieved the presents, placed them under our Christmas tree in the living room, and set Trey’s gifts for me on the coffee table. 


I was more than happy to stay lost in the variety of colors on the tree than deal with the mess of emotions swirling through me. Having my heart tear apart and swell a few sizes at the same time was a bit more than I could handle—and a big reason why I knew I wasn’t ready to let Trey back in yet. A few minutes later, Kylie coasted into the room and flicked on the television, which was still on the Hallmark channel. 


“There’s no way in hell I’m spending the rest of today watching those sappy movies. If you expect me to embrace this holiday season, you better fill our cooler with some ice and a case of beer. We’re watching a movie that truly speaks to Christmas and is by far one of the all-time greats.”


Arching an eyebrow, Kylie asked, “And what movie is that?”


My jaw dropped before I sputtered, “I can’t believe I even have to say it. Have you no Chicago pride?” 


Kylie shrugged. “I don’t memorize movies the way you and Mia do.” 


National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation,” I deadpanned, ditching my boots and jacket.


“You’ve got a devious look in your eyes that has me a tad on the nervous side,” Kylie remarked, twisting a strand of her long blonde hair around her finger.


Shooting her a devilish smirk before heading upstairs, I retorted, “Let’s just say I stumbled across a fun drinking game you can play while watching that movie. You wanted me to get in the holiday spirit—this is my way of doing that. And don’t forget the eggnog. I’m going to take a shower and toss on some comfy clothes.”


“It might be a bit early to start a drinking game.” I paused mid-step and pinned a look on her that said I was not to be argued with. She raised her hands. “What I meant to say is it’s five somewhere.”


After taking a quick shower, pulling my hair into a messy ponytail, and putting on a pair of flannel pajama bottoms with one of Trey’s light blue Cubs t-shirts, I returned to the living room. Plopping down next to Kylie on our black leather couch, I tossed a red fleece blanket over me and gestured for a beer.


Kylie handed one over, grabbed one for herself, and pressed play. “So, how does this game work?”


“There are quite a few chances to drink, but I figure we’ll only stick to a few of them. Otherwise, we’ll end up in the hospital. We’ll only drink when Clark is referred to as Sparky, whenever we see a calendar door opened, and when an animal wreaks havoc on the festivities,” I explained, popping open my beer and setting it on the coffee table next to Trey’s presents.


My eyes lingered on them for a minute. Kylie opened her mouth to ask about them, but before she had a chance, Peyton stormed through the front door and closed it with a loud slam. Jerking out of her jacket, she kicked off her boots on her way into the living room.


“I thought you were having brunch with your parents and didn’t plan on being back until tomorrow night,” Kylie spoke up, pausing our movie.


A fierce glare settled in her eyes. “That was the plan, but when I showed up without Jackson, they were quick to point out how I can’t sustain a relationship. I didn’t want to listen to them go on about all of my shortcomings when it comes to men, so I cut it short.”


“How about that movie?” I suggested, motioning for Kylie to hit play.


Peyton snatched the remote from her, gestured for a beer, and sniped, “You know what really gets me? Jackson didn’t even try to fight for me. He’s obviously in love with Mia.”


“Jackson’s not in love with her. He wants Mia to snap out of the funk she’s in. He’s trying to be a good friend,” Kylie pointed out, passing over a beer.


With how many times I’d heard that line in the past few weeks, it gave a new meaning to a broken record. “All Jackson’s trying to do is repair some of the damage that was done. When he isn’t trying to be there for her, he’s trying his best to figure out who got her expelled.”


“And that’s gotten him nowhere. All he’s done is pissed off even more people around campus. What he fails to understand is his inability to let it all die down is making things worse for everyone. And when Mia finds out what he’s been up to, she’s going to be livid. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to deal with that version of her. The hostile one living here now is more than enough,” Peyton shot back, scowling.


“He’s making some headway. Jackson found a few substantial leads in the socio-political groups. Plus, none of us are all that certain the Greeks didn’t have a hand in it. There’s a lot to be looked into,” I replied in a gentle tone.


That was a white lie. Jackson questioned a lot of people from at least ten different groups and they’d sworn they’d had nothing to do with it. Taking them for their word wasn’t Jackson’s style. He took it a step further and confirmed their whereabouts the night of Mia’s expulsion, and they really hadn’t had anything to do with it. 


“With the frats still pissy, it’s all the more reason to lay low. I don’t know how he hasn’t gotten booted from Phi Kappa,” Peyton griped, finishing off her beer.


“His dad would never let them kick him out. Jackson hasn’t been staying there much anyway. He’s been at Shane and Trey’s when he’s not here,” I admitted, taking a sip of mine. 


“And since we had a major blowout last week about him ignoring me when he is here and spending all his time with Mia, he hasn’t set foot in this house. He picks Mia up and takes her to the bar. I get Micah broke Mia’s heart, and that being expelled totally fucked up her future, but bending over backwards for someone who won’t even help herself isn’t exactly helping our own futures, especially with all the shit I’m still trying to overcome. I still can’t sleep a full night without having a nightmare. Therapy is helping, but Jackson’s insistence to keep poking at the frats isn’t going to make things with them go away,” Peyton bit back, tossing her empty beer can into the cooler.


“Why is the sun so damn bright?” Mia groaned, rubbing her eyes as she stumbled her way to the bathroom.


Peyton shot a homicidal glare her way. My eyes widened, as did Kylie’s, and she pulled Peyton up from the recliner. 


“We can’t play a drinking game this early in the day without having some take-out to feast on. Let’s go grab some Chinese,” Kylie suggested, dragging Peyton to the door.


“It’s Christmas Eve. There’s not going to be a lot open,” Peyton pointed out, attempting to squirm free.


“We live in the third largest city in the United States. I’m sure we’ll find something,” Kylie replied, shoving Peyton’s jacket in her face.


“Chinese sounds awesome, but maybe grab a deep-dish and some tacos too,” I spoke up, my eyes encouraging Kylie to take their time. 


“I like where your mind is headed. We’ll make the rounds and be back in a bit. Don’t start the movie without us,” Kylie said over her shoulder on their way out the door.


I sauntered over to the large bay window to watch them go. Peyton had her hands in the air while she shouted at Kylie. As they pulled out of the driveway in Kylie’s Mercedes, my eyes scanned up and down the street, and my skin began to prickle. 


Sterling slices another piece of flesh. I want some sort of ache to consume me, but I barely register the cut. Blood trickles from my right arm. He moves on to a different spot, carefully studying it with the tip of the blade. His soulless eyes center on me, and a snakelike smile curls from his mouth.


A chick I convinced to smoke pot with me at a fall party my senior year steps in front of me. What seems like dread fills my pores, but I can’t be sure with how numb my body feels. I know she’s about to sock me, so I try to move, but the hold of the guys off to my side tightens. 


She lands a direct blow to my stomach. “Because of you, I got kicked out of sports, lost my college scholarship, and had possession of an illegal substance slapped on my record. You got to keep everything after we were busted, but my life got ruined. You deserve everything that happens tonight. The law will never be enforced on you, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that we stepped up to execute our own punishment.”


Sterling grabs her arm to prevent her from punching me again. “That’s enough for now. I told you all I’d let you get your shots in, but I’m not done yet. Wait your turn.”


She steps to the side, her eyes full of malice. Sterling drags the side of the knife along my left arm finding the exact same spot he cut on my right one. More tears pour from my eyes and I scream, but the only sound that fills the room is a tiny wail that won’t be heard. 


Sterling executes another cut. Sweat trickles from my temples while I wait for the pain to hit, but just a burning sensation slides across it. My sluggish body struggles to remain upright. I can’t pass out. If I do, I’ll never see the light of day again.


As the memory came to an end, I curled my hands to stop them from trembling. Once my wits were somewhat intact, my eyes drifted up and down the street again to ensure nothing appeared out of the ordinary. There wasn’t a car in sight. Taking several deep breaths, I pulled the curtains shut and sat down on the couch. This was PTSD behavior, but I wasn’t about to talk to a quack about it. It would go away eventually—I hoped anyway. 


Mia staggered her way into the living room, crawled up next to me, and promptly rested her head in my lap. 


“Feeling a little rough this afternoon?” I asked, massaging her scalp.


“That’s an understatement,” Mia mumbled, shifting around to get more comfortable.


“Well, when you try to outdrink the regulars, or any two-hundred-pound man, you’re bound to pay for it the next day,” I replied, stifling a giggle at the way her face turned a slight shade of green.


Mia quickly sat up and winced from the movement her body wasn’t ready for. She bit her lower lip before she said, “Peyton’s really mad at me, isn’t she?”


My eyes flickered around the room, but Mia gripped my face. “Please tell me the truth, Bri. Kylie left with her in pajama bottoms. She never goes out without the perfect outfit and her makeup pristine.”


I sighed. “Technically, she’s mad at Jackson.”


“And that would be because of all the time he spends with me, so she really is angry with me,” Mia concluded, her face pensive.


Even though Mia was all over the emotional spectrum, I never lied to her. I curbed the truth on occasion, but never with the big stuff. Until she was somewhat like herself, I took each day as it came because I refused to find her passed out in her own blood ever again. Just thinking about that night still made my stomach drop to my knees.


Her gaze shifted around the room before she noticed the presents under the tree. I hastily poured a glass of eggnog for her and shoved it in her hand. “You know the best way to get rid of a hangover is to start drinking again. ’Tis the season for some nog. Bottoms up.”


“You’ve been chastising my drinking every day for the past two weeks and now you’re encouraging it? What’s going on?”


“It’s Christmas. Consider me not nagging you about it my gift to you.”


That came out more like a question, and Mia shot me a disapproving look. Releasing a drawn-out sigh, I admitted, “They’re from Lillian and the kids.” She pointed to the ones on the coffee table. “Those are for me from Trey. He delivered them a little while ago.”


“Oh,” Mia rasped before taking down her eggnog and refilling her cup, adding some extra rum to it.


Mia finished off that glass just as fast, then set it down and crawled over to the tree. Her hand glided over a few of her gifts before she turned to me. Tears stemmed in her eyes as she confessed, “I miss them a lot. I know I should be there today and tomorrow. I just can’t bring myself to do it. It’s not fair to them, especially Trevor and Tighe, but I’m not ready. There are too many memories that will surface, and I won’t be able to handle them without having a meltdown.”

This was the version of Mia I could handle. Kneeling next to her, my heart ached. “It’s okay. They’ll understand. It’s important you do what’s best for you right now.”


Her chin quivered. “I don’t think I can open these.”


“You can do it. They may make you feel better.” She shot me a skeptical look. I held up my hands. “Okay, that’s a bit far-fetched. I’ll make a deal with you, though.”


Raising an eyebrow, Mia inquired, “What kind of deal?”


“If you open yours, I’ll open what Trey brought me. Things are far from fine with us, and I really didn’t want any gifts, but if it gets you to open yours, I’ll do it,” I countered, reaching for the eggnog and filling up my glass.


“Can we do a shot or two? My heart already feels like it’s being ripped out of my chest. I’d love to numb it before having it pureed even more.” 


“Of course. I wouldn’t mind taking the edge off either.” She shot me an expectant eyebrow to elaborate. Waves of unease rolled over me as I mumbled, “Trey and I talked for more than ten minutes for the first time in over a month. It took a lot out of me.”


She opened her mouth, but I simply shook my head and headed to the kitchen to get our bottle of Fireball and some shot glasses. After pouring two shots, I pushed one toward Mia, along with her stack of presents, and picked up my shot. 


“Cheers,” I spoke up, clinking my glass with hers.


Mia grabbed a present off the top of the pile. Picking up the smaller of the two from Trey, I turned it over a few times and glanced at Mia, who was still unsure about doing this. “On three,” I murmured, ignoring the way my heart twisted with uncertainty.


After we counted down, we ripped open our presents. I ran my hand over the top of the words on the CD case.


Bri, I don’t always have the right words, and usually screw them up when I say them, but with music, I can always find a song that sums up exactly how I feel. Every song on this disc is just a start on showing you how much you mean to me and how much I need you in my life. x T 


My heart swelled, and I couldn’t help but smile as I picked up the sterling silver necklace with a token hanging from the chain. It wasn’t anything fancy, which was what made it perfect. He remembered how much I loved receiving simple trinkets. Seeing the inscription in the middle made my heart melt even more.


Bri, you’ll always be the best part of me. x T


Tears pricked my eyes, and I wiped away a couple that escaped. Mia shoved a shot in my hand and tossed hers back. I took mine down in a gulp, got two more glasses of eggnog, and added some rum. 


My eyes drifted over to all of Mia’s gifts, ranging from handmade cards and clays from Trevor and Tighe to her favorite perfumes and bath salts. Lillian included her favorite baked goods and tickets to some upcoming Bulls games. Several presents remained that must’ve been the ones Lillian sent with Trey for me. 


Mia snatched the CD from the table and popped it in the stereo. Trey’s deep voice filled the room as he belted out “Collide.” A fuzzy sensation filled my head, and my heart beat out of my chest. I grabbed the remote for the surround sound and hit pause. I had no doubt the rest of the CD contained songs that had a special significance to Trey and me. Without a doubt, I’d end up crying while listening to them and I didn’t want to do that in front of Mia. 


She squeezed my hand, bringing me out of my daze. “I’m going to ask you something and I want you to be honest with me.”


My eyes were wary as I nodded. “Are you keeping your distance from Trey because of me?”


I nervously chewed on my lower lip. Her eyes narrowed for an answer. “I know you’re not ready to be around him, but I’m also not ready to let him back in.”


A thoughtful look spread across her face. “I don’t want to be a factor in your decisions with him. You need to follow your heart and leave me out of it.” I opened my mouth to dispute, but she pinched it shut. “You’re absolutely right. I can’t be around him yet. Right now, it feels like my insides were shredded to fine bits all over again, but that doesn’t mean I regret opening these presents. If anything, it did me a lot of good. I know I can’t set foot in Trey’s house without having an onslaught of memories of Micah consume me. I don’t know when I’ll be ready to take that step, but I don’t want you pushing off what you want for your life because you think it’s the right thing to do by me.”


“Mia, I…” my voice trailed off.


With a stubborn shake of her head, Mia reiterated, “I mean it, Bri. Don’t use me as an excuse. Right now, I take each hour as it comes and pray the pain is a little less than it was the hour before.”


“Okay. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop being here for you. I don’t want you to shut me out.”


“I know you’ll always be here for me. And I know I’m not making it easy for you. Whether you believe it or not, I’m trying my hardest every day. I really am. It’s just really fucking hard when I can barely breathe most of the time.”


“You’re stuck with me. I wish you were this side of yourself around everyone else.”


A watery mist filled her eyes. “It’s easier with you. I don’t know how to explain it, but you’re the only person who looks at me without pity in your eyes. That’s about all the sharing I can do for today. Right now, I’d like to put a bigger dent in that eggnog. My head doesn't feel like it’s splitting in two, and I’d like to keep it that way.”


She refilled our glasses, and we’d more than likely be tipsy before Kylie and Peyton returned, but I was fine with it. Even though it was a very small step, it was a rather big one for Mia to open those presents and share a little more with me. That hadn’t happened all that much in the past few weeks and was why I approached everything with her with caution. One wrong move could wreak havoc on her healing. 


Kylie and Peyton burst through the door minutes later. After Kylie spotted us and a half a bowl of eggnog, she shook a finger.


“You were supposed to wait.”


Plastering on my most innocent smile, I replied, “We didn’t watch the movie, but we had to fill the time somehow.”

Peyton was a hell of a lot calmer as she set down the pizza box and a bag of tacos. Mia handed her a glass of eggnog with a timid smile on her face. Peyton gave her a half-hearted one before tossing it back. Her face scrunched up before she sputtered, “Holy shit, that’s strong. Is there any eggnog in this?”


I laughed. “It’s turning into more rum than nog, but I doubt either of you mind.”


Gesturing for another round, Peyton’s smile grew. Kylie set down several Chinese containers and grabbed a glass for herself.


“How about we get to that movie? I think Ellen says Sparky within the first ten minutes,” Kylie spoke up, her eyes flickering between the three of us.


Peyton raised an eyebrow in challenge. “I’m pretty sure it’s five. Whoever loses has to take a shot of Fireball.”


“And then Max cried, ‘Let the wild rumpus start,’” Kylie replied with a giggle.


As far as Christmases go, this was by far the oddest one I’d had, but it was quickly turning out to be the best. My heart burst with love as I settled further into the couch, more than ready to get lost in another person’s world and share plenty of laughs with some of my favorite people in this world.



Reading Order ​

Fighting for Someday

Waiting for Someday

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