It's a good thing Deidre's father was in jail. If not, I would have hunted him down and beat the shit out of him just as Larry had. Taking Deidre to the lights was the next best thing, though. We took pictures at each display. Mildred walked through with us, telling Deidre the history and how much went into the displays we passed. When we got to the Christmas tree, I put our hot chocolate cups on the ground and pulled her to it.
"Mildred, could you take a picture please?" I asked, handing her my phone.
"Well, of course I will!"
I smiled and put my arm around Deidre. I guided her face to mine and we kissed. Mildred simpered and I heard the shutter click several times.
"Oh, you'll have to send me some of those!" she said and I grinned, taking the phone back as Deidre picked up our hot chocolate.
"Of course," I said. "I'll email them to you when we get home."
"It was good to see you again," Deidre said. "Thanks for letting us come through. How late are you open tomorrow? I want to bring my mom through here after work."
"What time does she get off?"
"Ten," Deidre said and I sighed quietly.
They closed at 7. Mildred was staring at Deidre, though.
"Bring her on by," she said with a smile. "It'll be nice to meet the woman who raised such a wonderful daughter."
Deidre blushed but thanked her. We walked back to my car. Deidre paused by the snowman we built and smiled fondly at it. I put my arm around her and she leaned into me.
I couldn't believe it when Janine had told me what Deidre thought. How could she think I would say those things about her? Janine said it wasn't uncommon but it still bothered me.
"What time do you go into work tomorrow?" I asked.
"8:30," she answered. "Can you-?"
"Why do you keep asking?" I laughed. "Of course I'll drop you off."
She smiled and got in, putting the cup in the holder as she buckled herself in. When we got back, I showed our mothers the pictures of the snowman we built.
"We're going to go to the park tomorrow after work," Deidre told her mom.
My mom frowned. "But I thought they closed at-"
"Can we all go?" I asked and my mom frowned at me.
"That would be wonderful!" Janine said. "I'll see if I can get off early but, with it being the holidays, I probably can't."
"Mildred said it's okay," Deidre promised. She looked at the clock on the oven. "Oh jeez. It's almost midnight. I'm going to go to bed or I won't sleep at all."
She hugged her mom and mine. She grabbed my hand and led me up the stairs. We stopped outside of her door and stood on her toes, kissing me again. She held on tightly and I did my best not to push her against the wall. I wanted her so badly but, not only had I made the promise to myself, I definitely didn't want to touch her after what happened this afternoon.
"I can't thank you enough," she whispered.
I smiled and gave her a polar bear kiss. "You don't have to, Deidre. I love you."
"I love you, too. I'll make it up to you."
I laughed. "Forgiving me for being a complete asshole about Julia is worth more than you'll know."
She smiled and hugged me. "I never thought we'd get here."
I hugged her tightly. "I didn't, either. Good night, Deidre."
With a last kiss, she slipped into her room.
When my mom and I got into the office, there was a magazine on the desk. It was two pictures: The first was of Deidre's dad at our door and the other was Deidre and I kissing in front of the snowman. The headline said CHARITY CASE CHEATING.
"Oh, that's just disgusting," my mother snarled and tore the cover off, shredding it. "If they knew the truth...."
"Let's hope they never find out," I sighed. "That will just make things worse. When do we make the announcement?"
"I was going to do it after Thanksgiving," she answered, "so next Friday. After this, though.... Not only will there be problems here at the company, they'll destroy her life."
My phone buzzed.
What do we do?
I rubbed my eyes and sighed. "Deidre's seen it. She just texted me; she wants to know what we're going to do."
"We'll let Larry get out there," she said after thinking for a while. "I hired him a few days ago so it's the perfect time to put his skills to the test. I'll give him a call and make sure he doesn't mention why her father was at the house."
Mom is going to get all the details to Larry.
Okay. I get off at 8. Want to meet me here then we'll go get my mom?
You bet. I love you. Have a good day.
We ate at the restaurant where Janine worked while we waited for her to clock out. Larry was with us, going over last minute details with my mom.
"I've called a few news crews," he said. "We'll be doing it outside of your office building. I thought that would be better than your house." We nodded in agreement. "Like you asked, I won't say why he was there. This is all I'll say: it was her father, he was visiting because he heard about her being in a relationship, and he left."
"What if they ask about the police?" Janine asked as she put our plates in front of us.
"I'll say that he was trespassing," he answered. "We'll have to confirm that you don't have a good relationship with him, though, Dee."
"That's okay," she sighed.
We had to whisper about this in case anyone was listening in. Deidre and I didn't even know that there was anyone taking pictures of us while we were building the snowman. The damn parasites could be anywhere. The thought made ma angry and I stabbed at my vegetables. Deidre put her hand on my knee under the table.
When Janine got off work, she put her jacket on and we all went through the lights. The Chases were giving us the star treatment. Tears were flowing down Janine's face and I could tell Christmas displays must mean a lot to her. I hung back with my mom while Deidre pointed out her favorites and, again, Mildred gave explanations for each display.
"Are you okay?" my mom asked and I nodded quickly. "Be honest, Artemis."
"I'm just worried about her," I sighed, watching as Deidre and Janine took a picture at the Santa and reindeer display. "That magazine article.... Like you said, if this isn't ironed out, they'll ruin her life. I don't want her to leave again."
"I don't think she will," my mom said. "Not after everything that's happened between you two since Julia." When I still wasn't convinced, she passed me something. "Here. It was your grandmother's."
I opened the box. It was a beautiful diamond ring in the shape of a heart. I smiled at her and kissed her cheek.
"How do you want me to do it?" I asked, pocketing the ring.
She sighed and stopped walking. I did the same, frowning at her. She was looking conflicted. For a few minutes, she watched Janine and Deidre laugh over a joke Mildred said.
"If we were talking about this two months ago, I would say in a crowded place with a lot of media." She looked at me. "But I want you to do it however you want. Do it in private, in public, I don't care."
I smiled and hugged her tightly. "Thank you for trusting me," I whispered.