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Horses in the City Ch 06
Horses in the City Ch 06
(C) 2010 All rights reserved

As Christmas approached, Emma found herself ever busier at the diner. One of the waitresses slipped and fractured her leg, and Millie couldn't find anyone to cover, so everyone worked extra hours. Luke was deep in his novel when he wasn't driving the carriage, and their time was limited, although he made a point of walking her home after her shift. It wasn't much, but Luke would come up and they would talk for a while, and kiss for a while more.

Emma smiled as she thought about the kisses. Luke made her smile, she thought, and it was a good feeling. He'd been right; everything with Sam and Lila was in the past, and whatever fault was hers, she couldn't pay penance for the rest of her life.

One night, to her surprise, she found herself wanting to write a song.

She debated for a moment, then took a deep breath and turned to face the piano. It stood there, as it had for two years, but this time it wasn't taunting her, reminding her of what she'd lost. Instead, she thought, it was inviting her to start getting things back.

She walked over, laughing at herself when she saw her hands shaking. It was silly, she thought, that she should be afraid of the instrument that had brought her--and Lila--so much joy, and fun. Especially at Christmas.

Running her fingers over the yellowed keys, she recalled Christmases when they were younger. They would sing songs, solo and together. As they got older, they would teach their younger cousins the words. She'd tried writing Christmas songs, but they'd all seemed too treacly, and had decided that the traditional carols were the best. Instead of writing new songs, she and Lila had tried making their own versions of their favorites, and "Do You Hear What I Hear?" was the one they'd liked best.

So, Emma thought. She sat down and winced at the sound of her first chords. I can't write Christmas songs, but I can write a song for the man who helped me find my songs again.

x-x-x-x

Luke yawned and stretched as he sat in front of his computer. The stretch only served to underscore how sore the muscles in his neck were, so he stood and rolled his shoulders. In an automatic move, he saved his work before going into his small kitchenette for a drink.

The novel was flowing, as he'd expected. And it was good, he was sure it was. Rough, but good. He was confident but not arrogant; every writer needed an editor. He would make as clean a copy as possible, and he knew someone would go at it with scissors, if not shears, but damn it--he'd make them work to cut anything.

Emma was infiltrating the novel. He couldn't help it. He shook his head and smiled at himself. She wasn't just finding her way into the novel, but into his life, into him. Some days it was torture to tear himself away to write when he wanted to be with her.

He rubbed his eyes as he reached into the fridge. The milk was bad. The beer wasn't. He dumped the milk and drank the beer.

He hated leaving Emma in that small, blank apartment. Not that his was much better, he thought. It was messy. Guy messy. Lived in, he corrected himself. He hadn't bothered with Christmas decorations, even, since he'd been so immersed in his writing. At least Emma had found herself the little Santa tabletop decoration, complete with sleigh and reindeer.

Inspiration struck. It was too close to Christmas to bother decorating his place--but he could decorate Emma's. He had a box of stuff in storage that he could use, and he was sure he could cadge his way in somehow. The trick would be getting into her apartment, and he couldn't think how he'd get a key, but he was set now that he had a plan.

Emma had forbidden herself Christmas for the last couple of years, but he was going to change that.

x-x-x-x

"It's Christmas Eve. Go home already." Millie planted herself in front of Emma. "You've worked a shift and a half already. We're closing soon and I can handle it."

Emma looked around. Only two booths were occupied, and one man sat at the counter, a friend of Marco's. Christmas carols drifted through the quiet.

"I can stay, Millie. I mean, what if there's a last-minute rush?"

"Rush?" Millie made a noise between a snort and a laugh. "I've had this place longer than you've been alive. We ain't never once had a last-minute rush on Christmas Eve. And I'm closed tomorrow, so you'll have to find something else to do."

"I think..." Emma almost couldn't believe she was saying it. "I think Luke and I will spend the day together."

"Well, then." Millie slapped her towel on the counter in approval. "It's about time."

"I got him a present. Made him one, I mean. I don't know if he'll like it. Maybe I shouldn't. It might not be ready." Emma's words tumbled out in a rush. "I might not be ready. I don't know. I--"

"Oh, hush up, girl." Millie scowled. "It's a present. He'll love anything from you."

The door open, bells jingled and cold air blew in as Luke and Sol entered the diner. "Merry Christmas, ladies." Luke flashed a grin and Emma felt her heart skip a little.

"Yeah, yeah, Merry Christmas and close the damn door." Millie put her hands on her hips. "If I wanted to be cold I'd turn on the air conditioning."

"Ah, Millie. I couldn't wait to see you today." Luke strode over and kissed her on the cheek before she knew what happened. Emma had to slap a hand over her mouth as Millie did the unprecedented and blushed.

Sol roared. "Good one, boy! About time someone did that!" He laughed all the way back to his seat.

"You, either." Luke turned to Emma. "I was hoping you might be able to leave a little early. I have a surprise for you."

"Oh. Well." Emma blushed, too, and cleared her throat. "Millie was just trying to make me leave, so I guess I can."

"Good." He kissed her. "Just let me get some food in me and I'll be good to go."

"Sure." Emma nodded and Luke walked back to join Sol. She turned to Millie, who was frozen in place. "You okay, Millie?"

"I don't know whether to thank him or smack him." Millie shook her head to clear it. "My God, I haven't been surprised like that in...a long time."

Emma laughed. "It's Christmas. Time for surprises, right?"

"Not for me." Millie was brusque. "Now, you go get their orders so we can all go home. I've had enough of this. It's Christmas Eve, for God's sake, and my bunions need a rest. I'm putting up the closed sign."

Emma ignored her nerves until Luke and Sol were finished and Luke was ready to walk her home. Then they surfaced with a vengeance.

"Ready to go?" Luke smiled as she went back for her coat. She found herself blinking back tears when he held it for her, a gentlemanly gesture she hadn't had from anyone in longer than she could remember.

"Yeah, I think so." She did up the buttons and pulled on her hat and gloves. "Good night, Sol. Good night, Millie. Merry Christmas."

"Yeah, yeah, Merry Christmas." Millie looked up from the register. "Remember, we're closed tomorrow so you can't hide in here."

"Ignore her, Emma." Sol came up and, much to Emma's surprise, gave her a grandfatherly kiss on the cheek. "She's just an old grump, like me. You have a nice Christmas."

Luke stared at his friend, stunned.

Sol scowled. "What? I'm overwhelmed by the Christmas spirit." He pushed the door open and left. There was a moment of silence, and then Luke and Emma burst out laughing. Even Millie couldn't keep her lips from twitching.

"Go on, get out of here." Millie jerked her head towards the door. "I'm closed."

Still laughing, Emma stepped out while Luke held the door for her. Luke draped an arm around her shoulder. "I wish I'd had that on camera. Evidence that Sol has a heart."

"Of course he has a heart." Emma elbowed him in the side. "He just likes to cover it up. He has more fun being a curmudgeon."

"Curmudgeon is a tactful way of putting it." Luke stopped at the corner and took her hands in his. "Okay, enough talk about Sol. Let's talk about us, and Christmas."

"Okay. What about it?" Emma looked at him, curious and a little apprehensive.

"Well, I'd like to spend it with you." He kissed her forehead. "If that's all right." He gave her wry grin. "If you don't want to, I can say okay, I'll be the suffering artist but I'd much, much rather be with you."

"I would really like that." Emma looked down at their intertwined hands. "I am so...tired of being lonely and sad on Christmas."

Luke could imagine, all too easily, what her last couple of Christmases had been like. He was determined to change it, for both of them.

"Then come on. Let's go inside, have some hot chocolate, sit by a tree and listen to some music." He tugged her hand and they crossed the street.

"Wait." Emma was puzzled. "Where are we going?"

Luke grinned. "You'll see."

To be continued . . .
Submitted by:
PennLady

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