As the television screen mounted across from me begins to roll the credits of The Big Lebowski, I grip the blanket wrapped around my waist and pull it up tightly under my chin. Even with my legs curled up beneath me and a blanket covering ninety percent of my body I still feel cold. The glow from the laptop beside me illuminates the small spot on the couch I have claimed for the better part of the day. Josh is sitting beside me, mac book propped up on his lap as his legs and feet extend to the coffee table where they rest, crossed and relaxed. I lean to the side and nuzzle my head under his elbow until he finally relents and lifts his arm, allowing me to nestle into his side. His hand falls around my shoulder and comes to a rest, his fingers just underneath the blankets edge.
“Will you go with me?” I whine into the soft cotton of his t-shirt.
He chuckles softly as he adjusts to using his left hand only to click through the website he’s on, “To New York? Don’t you think Nick would be a little pissed off? Besides, aren’t your parents going with you?”
“Yeah, but I don’t want to go period. I just want to stay here. We finally get to hang out again and I’m off doing press or you’re off doing Claudia.” I try and hide the way my voice drops off at the end, but he catches me, like he always does.
I try not to let his relationship with Claudia bother me, but I can’t help the faint hurt that resonates in my heart when I think about it. I know we both decided that whatever we had brewing earlier this year was amazing, but we were both afraid to ruin it. Too much time away from each other, being separated by continents, it’s what ruined Nick and I last year. Josh and I didn’t want to see us get to that point. Neither of us foresaw what was coming.
Claudia really took a liking to Josh. I can’t blame her; there isn’t anyone I’ve ever met who doesn’t love him within five minutes of meeting him. According to Josh, it started out innocent enough. She was playful, almost like a school girl. And he was really relying on her as a guide and language expert, but soon she was his friend. She was someone who would spend dinners talking his ear off, or breaks in between shoots teaching him something new. Things I used to do. It progressed slowly and finally in June he called me to tell me that they were dating. I was happy for him. As much as I missed him, I knew that he was having a rough time in Panama and he told me Claudia was making the difference. That was enough for me. If she made him happy, I was happy for them.
While Josh was busy falling for Claudia, Nick and I were rekindling our friendship. I was happy to have him around again. We both heavily debated whether we should give our relationship another try. The biggest issue we had between us was that neither one of us really had been devoting enough time to the other. We both took stock of our schedules and decided that if he was ready to try, I was too. It’s a comfortable familiarity with Nick. I love him. I know this. I always will honestly. He was the first man I considered a future with. But if I’m being honest with myself, he’s not the only man I’ve seen a future with. When before all I was daydreaming about were blue eyed children running around a quint countryside home on the outskirts of London, now sometimes I find myself picturing hazel eyed children chasing after their dad as they bounce up and down on matching four wheelers in rural Kentucky.
During the latest press tour for Catching Fire, I was reminded of just how deeply Josh is attached to me. I missed him like crazy before, but now, even with a day or two in between our schedules I feel like I’m missing a limb. It’s put me in a rather precarious position. Nick and I are doing well, Josh and Claudia are doing well, but I am yearning to dive head first into a conversation of ‘what-if’s’ with Josh. See how he’s feeling about us. About what we had, about where we could go. Does he even think of me like that anymore?
Until I muster the courage needed to engage in such a talk, I’ll just keep him planted as near to me as possible. We basically spend every waking moment we can with each other. If I can’t have him as more, I’ll be damned if he doesn’t remain my best friend.
“…scheduled for tomorrow.”
I look up at his illuminated features and realize he’s been talking and I have completely zoned out.
He turns his focus from the screen and looks down at me with a coy smile, “You didn’t hear a thing I just said did you?”
I let out a breathy laugh and lay my head against his chest as his hand begins to caress my shoulder, “Sorry.”
He kisses the crown of my head, “You’ll be fine. You’ll see Brad and David and everyone else. You’ll have a blast. I know you will. Then you can go shopping with your mom. Go see the tree in Rockefeller. New York during the holidays is so much fun.”
“See, you should come with me! That way we can go have fun! And when I bust my ass ice skating you’ll be there to laugh at me.”
I feel his chest vibrate with his laugh and it brings a smile to my face. As a quiet moment falls over us, I allow my eyes to roam the living and dining room of my rental house here in Atlanta. It’s a nice place, but lacking in holiday spirit. It’s kind of depressing actually. “It doesn’t even feel like Christmas.”
“What do you mean?” he muses as he continues clicking through the vintage stocks on a clothing site.
“I mean, there’s no decoration, no snow. It just feels blah. Mom and Dad’s house it decked out to the nines right now.”
“Last year we were in Hawaii and you didn’t complain.”
“Hey, they at least put stockings in our trailer. We got noth’n this year.”
He pokes my side with his elbow, “Hey now, don’t go crying. You’ll make the face.”
“I’m not crying.” I state stubbornly, “And what face? I make a face?”
He laughs gleefully, “You know! The platypus face! The one you make when you’re fake crying or full on crying. You know, it makes deciphering when to laugh very difficult.”
I punch him playfully in the chest, “Nu-uh!”
“Come on Jen, do it!”
“Please? For me? Pretty please?”
I look up and see his eyes shining as he smiles at me. Finally I concede, “Ok. But this is your Christmas present.” I scrunch my face and then puff my lower lip out.
He laughs and kisses my cheek, “Best Christmas present ever. Thank you.”
I bury my head in the crook of his neck, “Asshole” I mumble.
“You love me” he breathes out.
I don’t say anything back, fearful that I’ll betray myself in the moment, so I elect to stay quiet. The air between us settles and silence takes over before I sigh with longing.
Josh leans forward a bit and closes the laptop before sliding it onto the table, “What can I do to make you happy?” He’s not being snarky, he’s not being facetious, his tone is genuine and it nearly causes a flood of confessions regarding my feelings to come pouring out of my mouth.
With another heavy sigh I reply, “Nothing. I’m just being whiney.”
“Here,” he says while reaching for his laptop again and opening it, “Maybe this’ll help just a little.” He types in some phrases and soon the bright luminescence is replaced by a screensaver with a crackling fire, a twinkling Christmas tree, and snow falling silently out the small window in the scene. He reaches forward, pulling me with him, and sets it back atop the table to play before us. Then he pulls his cell phone from his pocket and launches his Pandora app. The sounds of Josh Groban’s “Believe” fill the air and he drops the phone beside the laptop. We fall back against the plush couch and he pulls me tighter to him. He finds the remote and turns the television off.
I pull the corner of the blanket from behind me and wrap it around his broad shoulders and drape the excess over his legs until we’re both covered. The warmth that radiates from his body seeps into my own like a sweet poison, coaxing me into a lulled state of relaxation. I watch the small screen in silence for a few minutes, taking in just what a beautiful gesture this was. I allow myself a moment of bravery and I let my hand crawl across his solid torso and grip his side, holding him to me.
“Thank you Josh,” I whisper into the quiet room, “for everything.”
“Anything to make you happy Jen.”
“You…” I pause to release a new found yawn and then continue, “…make me happy.”
I close my eyes as his lips find my forehead and allow the soft sounds of Christmas as well as the gentle breathing beside me take me under into a dreamless sleep.
+ + + +
I’ve been in New York six hours already, done fourteen press junkets, and have yet to eat lunch. I am not a happy girl. I get that some people want to live off water, but I am not one of those people. And if I have another person offer me protein shake, I’m gonna scream. Mom and Dad have been with me since the airport and I’m grateful they are. Mom has managed to sneak me a donut or two from the press room. Bless that woman. Dad can see me beginning to break; he’s pulled me aside and given me about three pep talks today. It’s not that I don’t want to promote the film, or that I’m not glad to see everyone, I’m just exhausted. I feel like all I’ve done is promote films. Even with a ten day break, I still feel like I’ve done nothing but go, go, go.
My mood wasn’t enhanced this morning when I woke up alone. Apparently, at some point in the night Josh carried me to bed. I woke up wrapped in the blanket we were cuddled in and his scent lingering on the material. I crept out of my room, bringing the blanket with me, wound tightly around my frame, hoping that I would catch a glimpse of him sleeping on my couch. But he was gone, and all the warm feelings he gave me last night along with him. The house was cold and empty.
Not the best way to start a press day.
I did have a bright spot in my day however. I was able to sit down with my other Josh, or that’s what I call him anyway. When I saw the schedule bore the name Josh Horowitz, I released a sigh so loud it caught the attention of nearly everyone in my suite. He was next to last on the list. My bright spot in the day. The interview was fun, as it always is. It did make me miss my Josh though. We’re nearly always together when Horowitz is interviewing. And it didn’t help when Horowitz threw in a “This or That” question between Josh and Bradley. Of course I didn’t make my choice known, I love both those guys dearly, but my love for Josh is much deeper and on a different level completely.
So now, at one o’clock in the afternoon I am sitting in my suite combing the room service menu and contemplating how much of everything I can shove into my mouth before the premier tonight. I hear the door open and I lower the menu to peek at my newest time requirement. Liz walks furiously toward my mom and dad with a look of confusion on her face. I just pull the menu back up and pretend not to care too much. I’m sure it’s nothing.
My publicists strained voice catches my attention, “Yeah?”
Liz steps before me and sits down on the table where my legging covered feet are resting, “We have a problem.” She sighs heavily and stares me down.
“Liz, you’re making me nervous here. Spill it…” I wait.
“Okay, here’s the deal. There is a snow storm coming down out of the north and it’s going to delay all flights out of LaGuardia after tonight.”
“Oooookay….” I pause to see if she’ll go further.
“Basically it means that if we stay for the premier, and through tomorrow like you planned, you’ll be here three to four days instead of just two.”
I sit up and lean forward, dropping my feet from the table and rub my temples, “But I’m scheduled back on set Monday morning. I was planning on being back in Atlanta tomorrow night.”
“Right” Liz says as she pulls her phone out and scrolls through the planner, “If we stay for the premier tonight, you push your filming schedule back a little. But if we book a flight now back to Atlanta, you’ll miss the premier but production will stay on schedule and you’ll avoid the storm.”
I can’t help but feel the small seed of excitement growing exponentially within me at the notion of being back in Atlanta tonight, more so hanging with Josh again. But I know that if I don’t show at the premier, there will surely be backlash. I don’t want to be the one to make this decision. I know it’s selfish of me, but I just don’t want this stress.
“So, what do you suggest?”
“Well, I talked to your mom and dad and we all agree that it’ll probably be best for you to just call it a day and head back to Atlanta. Are you okay with that?”
It takes everything in me to not hop out of my seat and hug the life out of Liz. Of course I’m alright with that! I’m more than alright, I’m fucking ecstatic! “Yeah, sure. That sounds good” I say calmly.
“Alright, I’ll start booking the flight and calling the agencies to notify them that you won’t be attending tonight due to scheduling conflicts. Do you need to pack?”
I snort, “I never got a chance to unpack.”
“Okay, well just be ready to go in the next hour or so.” She gets up and begins dialing numbers.
“I’m eating first. K?” I shout after her and she just nods as she begins speaking to the booking agent.
My will power fades somewhat when I catch my feet doing a somewhat “happy” dance as they bob back and forth on the table to imaginary music.
As I wait for my food to come, I pull out my cell phone.
Jen: Hey you! Guess who’s coming home tonight?!?!
Josh: What????? I thought you were there through tomorrow night??? Why are you headed back?
Jen: Gotta hot date or something? Geez, it seems like you don’t want to see me :(
Josh: Of course I want to see you, just didn’t think you’d be home till tomorrow is all.
Jen: Do you have plans?
Josh: I gotta go, but let me know when you get home and I’ll drop by later.
Jen: Alright. I’ll see you later then I guess.
Josh: See you soon!
The rest of the afternoon is spent with me feeling odd about the text conversation I had with Josh. He seemed, off. I don’t know. Normally our conversations, even text’s aren’t as quipped. I’m sure I’m just tired and reading way too much into this, but I can’t help that it bugs me so much.
We landed in Kentucky and I said goodbye to my Mom and Dad. I had asked them to come back to Atlanta for a few days, but they said that the weather in Kentucky was supposed to get bad as well and they wanted to be home in case anything happened.
Another hour and a half and we were landing in Atlanta. Three flights, fourteen interviews and a confused mind make a very explosive combination in the area of mood. The entire car ride home I can feel myself on the verge of tears. I’m so tired. I can’t seem to process much without crying lately. I hold it in until I’m alone, and then I can’t seem to stop it. I keep telling myself to hang on, I’ll be home soon, and then I can let it all out. I’ll fall into bed and forget today all together, disappearing back into the events of last night.
When the car pulls up to the house I see no lights are on at all, I huff as I scold myself under my breath for not at least leaving a porch light on. The driver helps me to the door and then he bids me good night. I adjust my overnight bag on my shoulder and as the door opens, I push through into the warm air. I stuff my keys in my jeans pocket and re-alarm the house using the lighted keys to guide my fingers. I drop the bag on the arm chair beside the entry way and its then that I see a soft glow coming from the living room, just past the kitchen. “What the hell?” I wouldn’t have left the TV on. As I walk through the dining room I begin to feel a rise of panic. What if someone broke in? “The alarm company would have called” I whisper to myself as I try and work this out.
When I step into the room my mind simply goes blank and tears begin streaming freely from my eyes.
Tucked in the far corner of the room is what has to be a 9 foot, Noble Fir Christmas tree. It’s laced with lights varying in color; some blink rapidly, then slow. Others fade from light to dark and the rest burn solid, buried deep within the tree, giving off a prismatic glow. There are boxes settled beneath the branches at the base of the tree. All wrapped in various papers, adorned with ribbons of corresponding colors. Blown glass globes drape the solid limbs of the tree, shimmering in the dark against the pulsing lights. There is a silver star resting atop the tree, its glitter-covered surface gleams. Silver and pearl tinsel hangs loosely off the evergreen needles.
I notice an ornament that doesn’t match the rest of the globes and I step closer to the tree, my hand resting over my mouth as I still process the shock I am currently reeling in. When I reach the tree my free hand reaches out timidly, as if what I am seeing is a phantom. The ornament is a bright yellow star and has “You’re my star” written across its surface. I choke back a sob mixed with laughter. My fingertips finally come in contact with the cool, smooth surface of the star as I rub it gently between my fingertips. I catch a glint of silver and look up to find another ornament, this one is a movie camera with a strip of film coming down. I release another breathy laugh. I step back and as I do, more unique ornaments come into view. One is painted blue and in the shape of Kentucky. Another is a figurine of “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski. When I push the button on its base it says, “Whatever man.” Others are scattered around the tree, all small, but each with a meaning. I find one that is a snow globe, tucked inside is a photograph of Josh and me last year in Hawaii.
We had just wrapped the palm trees outside of his rented bungalow in Christmas lights and Woody snapped the picture. The sun had just gone down and the lights were glowing along with the twilight. I was mounted on Josh’s back as he held my legs. He was wearing a Santa hat and no shirt and board shorts while I was wearing an elf hat and a tank top with shorts. I was kissing his cheek and he had the biggest smile on his face that I had ever seen. It’s one of my favorite photos of us together. I wipe away the tears that have not stopped since I entered the room and sniffle.
I pull back from the tree and glance around the rest of the room. There are two stockings tacked to the wall beside the television. Both adorned with a monogrammed “J”. There is a wreath mounted to the wall on the other side of the TV as well as lush green garland wrapping the entire room. On the coffee table sits an arrangement of poinsettias with three pillar candles that flicker with faux flames. On the couch are three of the tackiest Christmas throw pillows I have ever seen. They scream Josh and me. Each contains an embroidered scene of two reindeer playing: one with a snowball fight, another with them making faces at the other, and the last with them being scolded by Santa Clause. The room smells of pine and cinnamon. I realize I haven’t stopped smiling since I walked in this room. This house is anything but empty and cold.
The clicking of the television turning on startles me and I jump, turning to see the screen as it lights up. It quickly fills with a roaring fire and the sounds of crackling wood and the music of Manheim Steamroller playing in conjunction.
I look around feverishly, “Josh?” I wait and nothing. “Josh? Where are you? I know you’re here…” I begin walking down the hallway, looking in every door, every closet, calling his name. When I walk back into the living room I am stumped. If he’s not here, how in the hell did the TV turn on? He has to be here.
“Josh, come on! I give up! Get your ass out here!” Still there is no sound in the house other than the television. I pull my phone out of my pocket and begin to type a text to him when I hear a knock on the front door. I break into a full on sprint as I hastily wipe the tears from my face, laughing excitedly.
I whip the door open and my smile drops immediately.
“Uh, Hi. I’ve got your pizza here; one pepperoni and sausage, one meat lovers. Oh, and order of cinnamon sticks.”
I stumble on my words, “I – Uh, I didn’t order anything.”
The delivery guy pulls out a receipt -as he does I glance around him, craning to see if Josh is out there-, “Order for Jennifer Schrader? Is that you?”
I meet his stare again, “Uh yeah, but I didn’t…”
He chimes in, “Order placed online. Email, kentuckyballer at mail dot com?”
I release a laugh when I hear the email, “That’s not my email, but I know whose it is. Okay. Hand ‘em over.”
He finally loses the confused look and smiles back at me as he fishes the boxes out of their case, “Here ya go.”
“Hang on, I have to go get you a tip.” I say as I take the boxes from his hands.
“Oh, no need. Whoever your Kentucky Baller is left a generous tip on the bill. But thanks! Have a great night ma’am!”
“Thank you!” I say as I kick the door closed. I walk back into the living room, a little saddened that it wasn’t Josh at the door, but I gather from the pizza he’ll be over soon. Just as I set the pizzas down I hear another knock at the door. I jog back, trying not to get overly excited again.
When I pull the door open, the same delivery guy stands there, “ Hey, sorry. I forgot these.” He hands the cinnamon sticks over and nods before retreating back to his car.
“Thanks again” I shout to him.
I shut the door and turn just as another knock at the door has me rolling my eyes. I sigh and drop the box on the chair containing my bag from earlier, “Yes…” I say exasperated, pulling the door open once more.
This time my breath hitches and I gasp.
Josh is standing just before me, bundled in his jacket, a scarf, and a gray beanie. He’s smiling brightly as he pulls a medium size box from behind his back.
“Okay, so you weren’t supposed to be home until tomorrow. And tomorrow, believe it or not, it’s supposed to snow all day. But here you are, and I cannot control the weather. So I had to figure something else out.” He then reaches in the box and quickly throws his hand in the air above him. A shower of white begins to fall all around him; another handful, another shower. He reaches out and grabs my wrist; his hand is ice cold. He pulls me out the door and down the steps to the grass where he leaves me. I watch him as he walks back up onto the porch and positions himself against the railing parallel to me. I’m still so dumb struck by what’s happening that I can’t mutter a word, I just watch him, tears pricking my eyes with my mouth hanging open.
His hand digs back in the box and he begins to throw the powder high in the air above my head. As it begins to rain down on me I realize, it’s snow! How Josh got snow in a box I don’t know, but he did it. He continues to sling it into the night air as I reach out and begin catching it in my hands, watching it melt when it connects with my warm skin. I can feel the flakes as they hit my eyelashes, my cheeks. I close my eyes and it’s as if I am five again and dancing in the snow. I even allow my tongue to jut out of my mouth in an attempt to catch a few flakes there.
My eyes open again when I hear his hand scraping the bottom of the box. He then lifts the box up and flings it as the remaining bit falls down around me. He drops the box and he wears a smile so big that I can’t imagine his cheeks not hurting him. I know because I mirror him.
“Josh” I breathe out, my breath ghosting in the cold air in a transparent cloud.
“Welcome home!” he chimes. “Come on… I don’t want you to get sick. Again.”
I laugh and walk back up the steps to meet him on the porch. He simply walks past me and enters the house, holding the door for me. I follow closely, my eyes never leaving him. He closes the door and begins taking his jacket and scarf off, draping them over the back of the chair.
I stand still, against the cool door watching him. He finally turns to me, “How was New York?”
Is he insane? Does he really think after what I’ve just experienced-the tree, the decorations, the snow- that I want to chit chat about New York? I don’t know if he’s keeping things platonic or if he’s playing a game. But at this point, I don’t give a damn.
I cross the foyer with purpose, making sure to hold his gaze. I watch at his hazel eyes follow my blue ones until I am standing before him. I stop, only for a brief moment to gather my strength, before I cup his jaw in my hands and crash my lips to his. I pray that he doesn’t pull away, disgusted or mad. When his lips mold to mine and begin a dance we are all too familiar with, I know that my prayers were answered. His tongue sweeps my bottom lip and I grant him the entrance he requests. My tongue dives into his mouth, exploring the contours I have missed so much. We battle each other, fighting for higher ground. His hands dive into the short hairs at the base of my head and he tilts me, allowing him better access. My arms lock around his shoulders, my fingers play at the nape of his neck. One of his hands drops and winds around my back, resting in the dip at the bottom of my spine. He pulls me closer until I am flush against his solid form. I sigh, contented, into the kiss and I try to quell my desperation. Our kiss slows and instead of the fevered fight, our tongues partner and begin a slow and sensual dance that only serves to ignite my need for him further.
After another minute or so, I finally, albeit reluctantly break the kiss, in need of air.
“You brought me Christmas” I whisper against his lips.
He smiles, placing a chaste kiss on the tip of my nose, “I just wanted to see you smile. It’s been missing lately.”
I bite my lip as my eyes trace over the contours of his chiseled face. I swallow hard before lifting my eyes to his, “We’ve been missing lately.”
His forehead rests against mine as he nods, “I know.”
“Josh,” I pause, taking in a breath, “I don’t want to miss us anymore.”
He squares his shoulders and pulls away from my face, determination etched in his eyes, “Jennifer.” I nod, “What do you want for Christmas?”
I can hear the challenge in his question. I know if I answer one way, it’ll mean that I give up my current way of life. If I answer another, it means that I accept my loss and move on. I see the glow from the living room behind him, I feel the cool touch his hands, and I know. I know what my choice is. It’s not even a question anymore.
“I want you.”
His smile returns and he leans, speaking as his lips brush my own, “I want that too. More than you know. I want to give you Christmas ever year. I want to make you smile every day. I want to love you, to kiss you whenever and wherever I want. I want…”
I kiss him to silence him and then I pull back, “You got me. I’m done missing you.”
He leans in for another kiss; a kiss so full of promise that it makes me lose breath, so full of love that my heart beats furiously beneath my chest.
I pull away, “You know what else I want?”
He licks his lips, warming me in ways that leave me blushing, “What?”
“You… under the tree…” I link my arms around his neck and lull my head back, “Aaaaand… Pizza.”
He laughs jovially as his lips find the bend of my neck and he beings placing feather caresses there, “In that particular order?”
“Mmmmm…” his lips feel so good, “I’m pretty hungry. And it would be fuel, so…”
He lift his head and smiles, “Pizza it is. It’ll give me time to move the presents.” He takes my hand and starts pulling me with him to the living room. “You have no idea how long it took me to wrap all those. I mean, who the hell knew it took so much work!” I laugh softly, reveling in the feel of his hand firmly within mine.
Later that night, as he breathes softly beside me with pine needles and presents scattered all around us on the floor, I lift my hand and trace his lips, nose, and brows. We’re wrapped together in a blanket, naked, beneath our Christmas tree. The music is gone, the television off, and all we are left with is the twinkling glow of the tree and the arrangement on the table. The lights dance off his face and give him almost a childish appearance. He’s beautiful to look at; so handsome, yet so innocent. Every once in a while his lips tug upward. I can only imagine what dreams he’s walking through. His hand is draped across my hip and his fingers dance softly across the bare round of my backside as he sleeps.
I know that tomorrow I will make a call to London and I am ready to face the aftermath. Just as I know Josh is ready to call Spain. We will be there for each other, as we always are.
This night has become something that I will remember forever.
He gave me Christmas… is there really anything that can top that? Well, perhaps his heart, but after tonight I know that now rests squarely in my hands and I never plan on letting go.