This is dumb.” I whisper as I rummage through my closet looking for my snow clothes. “I should just cancel, right?” I say as I look up and see Janessa sitting there at the foot of my bed. She’s grinning, flipping through my photo album. “Hello? Earth to Jay.” She laughs and glances over at me. “You know it’s not a big deal. It’s not like you’re getting married Charli. You’re just going to the Christmas Tree Lighting.”
“Well duh, I know that. But like, what if it sucks? What if he realizes that he made a mistake and he doesn’t want to be home anymore?”
“He won’t.” She smiles wide and pulls a photo out of my photo album. “Look, does this look like a guy with many mistakes? Nope, didn’t think so.” I get up and walk over to her. I grab the photo and instantly smile.
I flip the photo over and it reads:
Charlotte and Jackson
Junior Year, Snow Day
In the photo I’m sitting atop a bright red sled. The snow was so high that year that we had skipped school and took his truck up to Snoqualmie Pass and spent the day drinking cocoa and sledding. We had just flipped the sled and were covered in snow. We laughed until it hurt. A passerby had asked if we were alright, we laughed and told her that we were just fine. She then asked us if we minded that she took our photo. She said that she was a photographer and thought that we would like to enjoy this moment. We agreed. So there we were sitting on the sled, covered in snow, grinning from ear to ear. She counted to three with her fingers and as soon as she held up the third finger, Jackson turned and kissed me. She got the shot. This photo has always been my favorite memory of us.
“But that was ages ago. Maybe my feelings this time are of just that, mine.” I placed the photo back into the insert in the photo album. “You’re over thinking too much again. Jackson wouldn’t have asked you to go, if he really didn’t want to be there with you.” She shrugs. “It’s meant to be. Besides, photos say a thousand words without really saying them.” Is she right though? Does he really want us to be together this time? I mean he was the one who left me in the beginning. So why should I put myself through all those feelings again? Oh yeah, maybe because Jackson has been the love of my life since we were 4.
Childhood friends turned to best friends. Best friends turned to boyfriend and girlfriend. Boyfriend and girlfriend turned to prom king and queen. And then bam! Just like that he joined the marines and left me. It’s been 12 years since he has been back home. This time he says he is back home for good. So maybe this time he really does mean it. I stand up and grab my snow boots, my gloves, hat and my snowboarding jacket. The tags were still on it from the trip to Crystal Mountain with a group of friends. I rip it off and place it on my dresser. “Whatever Jay, maybe he just wants to get lucky.” I say as I huff a breath and pull my hair back into a hair tie.
“Nah.” My sister says as she stands up and heads to my bedroom door. “He’s not the kind of guy you just get lucky with. He’s the kind of guy you marry.” She grins a warming smile and then the doorbell rings.
“Oh crap!” I say as we both laugh and head out of the room towards the front door. “Just have fun, be yourself. And remember, It’s just Jackson.” I open the door and there he is. Tall, dark hair, chin scruff, and those gorgeous green eyes. Yeah, there’s no canceling this today. My eyes meet his and he smiles. Oh man, those damn dimples. I grab my keys and my phone off the hallway table. My sister walks over to the door to see me off. It’s become something we do ever since we moved in together.
“Be good to her Jackson. I know your momma.” She says with an arched brow. He laughs. “Hey Nessa. Don’t worry, I will. I promise.” I shake my head at her and we say bye and head out.
We put our stuff in the back of his truck and hop in, ready to take the 2 hour ride to Leavenworth. We chat, laugh, listen to our favorite music and have some serious conversation on the way. We use to go every year to the tree lighting. His family and mine would go and spend a good four days there. Enjoying the snow, the lights and all the fun that it has to offer. After he left, it just wasn’t the same and we never ended up going back as a group. I was okay with that though because it really wasn’t the same there without him.
“Man, there’s a lot of people here for sure. I don’t remember it being this packed with people.” He says as he looks around and tries to find a parking spot. “There we go. We can park right there near the Bavarian Ritz, that way if it gets too late we can just stay here. I mean, if you’re okay with that?” He asks as he pulls into a parking spot. We got lucky. “Yeah, that’s okay with me.”
We get out, grab our snow gear and start getting ready to bear the cold. “Let’s go have some fun shall we?” He excitingly says. We head off and spend the day laughing, taking silly photos, meeting new people, and hopping from pub to pub. Making the most of a day that I was almost going to cancel.
The sun finally made its way down, and the weather must have dropped a good ten degrees by the time we realized it was time for the tree lighting. “Ooh, we gotta go now if we’re gonna get close up to the tree. Let’s hurry.” He grabs my hand and we take off running towards the giant tree in the center of town that everyone is standing around. We duck around, saying excuse me and finally making it pretty close to the tree. I watch Jacksons face as we wait patiently for all the lights to go off, that’s when they do the countdown and light up the tree. It’s a pretty special moment if you ask me. We have always loved it. He’s like a little kid on Christmas waiting to see what gifts he got from Santa.
“You really wanted to see this huh?” I say to him with a smirk. “You have no idea. This tradition is one of the things that led me home. We spent so many years growing up here Charli. I couldn’t imagine seeing this again for the first time without you.” He smiles and stands behind me, puts his arms around me and then the lights go out. “Here we go!” He says, resting his chin on my head. The announcer begins counting down from ten, I chime in at “Three.. Two.. One!” The tree lights up brighter than I could remember. The star at the top, gorgeous as ever. Jackson hollers aloud “Woohoo!” And gives a good clap.
All the lights begin turning back on one by one until the town is all lit up again. “See, it was well worth it. It comes down to the memories Charli. It’s all about the memories and I have one more. Come on!” He grabs my hand and starts to walk towards a snow covered hill. “Where are we going?”
“Do you trust me?” He says as he stops. “Yeah, of course I do. Why wouldn’t I?” Puzzled with not knowing what he’s doing, I try not to let it bother me. I do trust him. Whole heartedly. I always have and I always will. “Okay good. Here, turn around.” He places my scarf around my eyes and starts walking me toward an unknown area.
“Jackson where are we going?”
“You’ll see when we get there, just give me a few minutes.” He stops me. “Don’t move or take the scarf off until I tell you to, okay?” He squeezes my hand and then lets go. “You better not be leaving me here Jackson! That’s a pretty shitty memory if you ask me.” I say aloud and I can hear him laugh. Glad he thinks this is funny. “Just a second, hold on.” A good minute goes by.
“Okay, ready? Keep your eyes closed.” I feel his hands on the scarf, removing it from my eyes. He turns me around and tells me to open my eyes. “What the heck, Jackson!” I laugh and step forward. There lit up under the lights is a bright red sled. Just like the one we rode on in our junior year in high school. I look back at him and he’s just staring at me. “You sound just as excited about this as I was with the tree lighting.” He steps closer and laughs. “Ready to take a ride?”
I grab his hand and shake my head. “Uhm, yeah! Let’s go!” The sled guy walks over and prepares us for sledding down the hill. I get on first and then Jackson gets on behind me, his legs surround me and then he puts his arms around me. “Alright, we’re ready.” As the guy gets ready to push us off and down the hill, I start to freak out a little.
“Wait! No, wait!” He stops and Jackson looks down at me. “You okay? What’s wrong? I thought you were ready?”
“Jackson I haven’t been on a sled since before you left me. This is a big hill dude. What if something happens? I just don’t want to get hurt” I say as I begin to second guess everything. “We’re fine.” He takes my hand in his. “I promise Charli, we’re okay. You just have to trust me. You do, don’t you? Trust me?” I let out a sigh. “Of course I do. I’m just a little nervous is all.” Suddenly I’m not sure if we are talking about the sled ride anymore, or if we are talking about our feelings here. He lets out a chuckle. “Okay, well take a moment and let me know when you’re ready. We won’t do this unless you’re ready. Okay?”
He gives my shoulders a squeeze, puts his arms around me and grabs onto my hands. I hate that he makes me feel so safe. I know it’s not the sled ride that is making me nervous. It’s my feelings, and the last time we took a sled ride, it turned my best friend into my boyfriend. I don’t know why I over think everything. Maybe my sister was right. It’s Jackson. “Alright, I’m ready. Let’s go.”
I let out a breath and the guy pushes us. We both scream as we make our way down the hill. His hand still in mine. The rush causes my hair to fly around and we laugh as we head towards the bottom. Just as we get to bottom and no longer on the hill, Jackson presses on one side of the sled and it causes us to drift sideways, flip and roll. Sending our bodies through the snow. We both come to a stop and sit up.
“What the hell?” I say as I laugh, trying to be serious. Jackson can’t stop laughing as he gets up and walks over to me. He extends his hand and I reach out for it, pulling his back down to the ground. “Come on Charli, I just had to.” I shake my head as we continue to laugh. “Excuse me.” A lady says. “Do you mind if I take a picture of you?” I glance over at her baffled at what she just said. “I’m sorry, what did you just say?” I look from her to Jackson and he’s just smiling. Like he always does.
“Yeah, you can definitely take a picture of us.” He says to her. He looks over at me, stares at me for a moment and then gets up. He walks closer to me and then sits down besides me. “I told you. It’s all about the memories, Charli. And this is my favorite one.” He moves a piece of hair from my face and wipes melted snow from my nose.
“You planned this? All of it?” I wait a second and think back to my bedroom. “Jay knew, didn’t she? She went straight to that photo of us on the red sled.” He runs his hand down my cheek. “Let her take our picture. I’m sure she’s getting cold.” He turns back to her and tells her that we are ready. She counts down.
“Three..” “You better not leave me this time Jackson Cole.” I say to him
“Two..” “I don’t intend to, Charli Rose.” I turn to him and smile. There’s something about when he says my name like that.
“One..” At that exact moment, he kisses me. She got the shot. “This moment just became my favorite memory.” He says as we laugh, looking at the red sled that started it all.