I turned my phone back on to check the time. I’d to start making my way to Cayden’s parents’ house, but he still hadn’t texted me with directions. I started to text him when my phone pinged again. I expected another text from Brad, but it was actually Cayden with directions.
Right on time, I texted back. He responded with a smiley face emoji. I was determined to have a good time with him tonight. Brad could not ruin this.
I arrived at Cayden’s parents’ house feeling nervous. I hadn’t met someone’s parents in such a long time. I hoped they would like me. I was also nervous about meeting Austin. Although I was okay with dating someone who had a child, I was still nervous. What if Austin didn’t like me? If Austin didn’t like me, I knew it would make dating Cayden even more challenging.
I knocked at the front door and Cayden answered.
“Merry Christmas Eve,” he said, opening the door wide. I walked in and smiled. His parents’ house smelled like Christmas – fresh pine mixed with spices. Their house was decorated beautifully, too. It was everything that a stereotypical Christmas was supposed to be like. I felt like I’d stepped into the set of a Hallmark Christmas movie.
“You look gorgeous,” Cayden said. I turned to him and smiled. He had no idea how badly I needed to hear that after the past couple of days. Cayden never spoke down to me like Brad did. He always gave me compliments and made me feel like a supermodel. Cayden was an angel and Brad was a devil, but why could I not let Brad go?
“Thank you,” I told Cayden. “Speaking of gorgeous, your parents’ house is amazing.”
“It really is,” he said. “My mom loves the holidays.”
As soon as he finished the sentence, his mother entered the room.
“Hi, Tiffany,” she said, greeting me with a hug. “My name is Alice.” She stepped back, and I could see where Cayden had gotten his good looks from. She was beautiful.
“Hi, Alice,” I said. “Thank you for inviting me to your house and including me in your tradition.”
“You’re more than welcome, honey,” she said. “I am so glad that you are here. We’ve heard a lot about you.”
I turned to Cayden and he was blushing. It was a look that I hadn’t seen on him before. It was cute.
Suddenly, Austin burst into the room. He turned the corner so fast that he nearly slid off his feet and hit the floor. He had quick reflexes, though, and was able to regain his balance.
“Hi!” he greeted me. Cayden was right. He wasn’t shy at all.
“Hi, Austin,” I said to him. He smiled.
“She knows my name,” he whispered to his grandma. She smiled at him.
“She does. This is your daddy’s friend, Tiffany. They work together.”
Austin looked me up and down.
“You’re pretty,” he said.
“Thank you,” I responded. I felt my heart burst with happiness. It was one thing for Cayden to say that I was pretty, but it was another for his son to say that. Little kids didn’t lie about things like appearances. They had no reason to. If you wanted someone to tell you the truth, you had to seek out a little child. Their opinions were completely unbiased and true.
Soon, Cayden’s dad met us in the foyer.
“I’m Mike,” he said, extending his hand. Cayden looked like his dad, too. His whole family was gorgeous. They looked like they could have stepped out of a catalog.
“Are we all ready to go?” Cayden’s mom asked. We all nodded.
“I am so excited!” Austin ran out the door. “Santa is coming tonight!”
Watching Austin become so excited about Christmas ignited the Christmas spirit inside of me. It had been a long time since I’d been excited about anything related to Christmas. My mom had stolen that away from me a long time ago.
The four of us walked down the stairs, with Austin a bit ahead of us.
“It’s just a nice night,” Alice commented. She was right. Despite a little chill in the air, it was a perfect, cloudless night. The stars had already begun to come out. It was like they were eagerly awaiting the Christmas tree ceremony as well. We walked down the street and I noticed a small group of people forming by the tree. Cayden was right. It was simple and low-key. It was something that I needed. Nothing crazy, just a bit of Christmas spirit to prevent me from turning into a complete Scrooge.
We reached the group of other people and I watched as Cayden interacted with his family. His parents were obviously still in love with each other, judging from the way they held hands and exchanged gentle looks that held years’ worth of tenderness. His mother was polite and quietly spoken. His dad was similar to Cayden, very talkative and nice.
“I’m ready for the lights,” Austin exclaimed as we stopped walking. Cayden laughed.
“In a minute, buddy,” he told him. He bent down and kissed Austin on his forehead. It was a treat, watching the two of them interact together. I knew that Cayden had to have been a good father but seeing him in action cemented the idea in my brain. Cayden was a great father.
All of a sudden, the tree began to light up with soft, white lights. The crowd was quiet as the lights traveled up the tree until the whole tree was lit up. It was gorgeous to see – a large pine tree, covered in Christmas lights against the night sky. As I looked at the tree, I felt Cayden grab my hand. It felt nice and warm. I didn’t even want to fight against it. I wanted to hold his hand. I wanted to be a part of this family moment with him.
Christmas music began to come over the speakers as the crowd applauded. I’d lived in Miami my entire life but had never participated in this particular ceremony before. It was beautiful. Some of the crowd began to take pictures. Austin ran in circles around Cayden, me, and Cayden’s parents. He was very excited.
“Can we go home and wait for Santa?” he asked Cayden. Cayden laughed. I wasn’t sure what our plans were next. I’d planned to stay out with Cayden for a while, but I wasn’t sure I was comfortable spending Christmas Eve and the following morning with his family.
“Actually, honey, I’ll take you back to my house,” Alice said, grabbing Austin’s hand. “We can get ready for bed and set Santa’s cookies and milk out. How does that sound?”
“Yay!” Austin squealed. His good mood was infectious. Alice leaned into me and Cayden.
“You two should spend some alone time together,” she whispered. “Merry Christmas.” She gave me another hug. I could see where Cayden got his warm personality from. Alice may have been the warmest person I’d ever met. She made me feel welcome and made all of my insecurities disappear. She was a far cry from my own mother, and I was grateful for that.
Cayden squeezed my hand as his parents and Austin walked away. We didn’t say anything for a while, we just stood, holding hands and looking at the tree until most of the people had left. I hadn’t wanted to leave. It felt perfect standing there, holding hands on Christmas Eve. It was the first time I remembered feeling so safe and secure so close to the holiday.
“Thank you for coming,” Cayden said. “I hope it went okay for you.”
“It was great,” I told him. “Thank you for inviting me. I hope Austin liked me.”
“I’m sure he does,” Cayden said. “My mom really seems to like you, too. I would say that you did pretty well.”
I smiled and looked up at him. He had no idea how badly I needed a night like this. Although it may have been a small moment of time for him, for me, it was a game-changing evening. I suddenly knew who I needed and wanted to be with.
“What do you want to do now?” I asked Tiffany. I hadn’t expected my mother to offer to take Austin back to her house, but I was grateful that she had given Tiffany and I some time alone. We needed it. Tiffany shrugged as we walked down the street back to my parents’ house.
“Shit.” I suddenly remembered that I’d left one of Austin’s present from Santa at my house. I would need to go back to get it, so he had it in the morning.
“What’s wrong?” Tiffany asked. I shook my head.