It was the first Christmas since the war, and Heather had insisted on hosting. That, and Jericho’s central location among the family made it a no-brainer. She’d outdone herself; the house looked amazing. He’d tried to tell her to take it easy; morning sickness was not kind to her, but she was irrepressibly cheerful. She’d had a smile seemingly stuck on her face like it had been affixed with superglue.
Which is why, when he spotted Heather over in the corner, sipping her eggnog without that smile, he was immediately concerned.
“Heather!” he called. It got her attention, but she didn’t reply, just gave him an odd look. He hadn’t gotten a look quite like that from her before, and he quickly crossed the room to her.
“What is it?” She made a little noise, trying to dismiss it. It was as close as she ever came to the clichéd ‘nothing.’ He turned to face her squarely. “Heather, what is it?”
“How much do I remind you of Isabel?”
“Wha-?” he asked, blindsided. “Why -?”
“Nevermind.” She downed the remainder of the eggnog in one gulp and went into the kitchen. He didn’t miss the glance she gave his aunts Frannie and Ethel, however, who were cheerfully chatting over cookies and brandy. He immediately walked over to them and interrupted their conversation.
“What did you say to her?”
“Excuse me, I thought Maria had raised you better. We were in the middle of a conversation.”
“Sorry.” He said, momentarily chastened. But he pressed on. “I just wanted to know why Heather’s – ” he broke off, unable to come up with the right word. Their chiding manner had disappeared when they got a good look at his expression.
“Heather’s what, dear? And why would we have anything to do with it?”
“Well, she asked me how much she reminded me of Isabel.”
“ ‘Oh’ what?” he demanded.
“We didn’t actually speak to her… but she might have heard a comment out of context.”
“We were discussing how you boys have always gotten the beautiful women. It’s possible she may have overheard a snippet of conversation and misinterpreted it.”
“Sorry, Ed. You want us to talk to her?”
“Maybe. Lemme think about this one for a few minutes.” He ran a hand through his hair, as if that could jump-start his brain.
“As you wish.” They nodded. He’d always been one to think things through before discussing them.
A few minutes late, he walked into the kitchen.
“Hmm.” She mumbled, attention on the cheese she was slicing.
“Give me a minute?”
She sighed and put down the knife.
“Thanks.” He steered towards the pantry for a measure of privacy. “I wanted to – well, you don’t look like Isabel and you don’t sound like her.”
“But?” she asked, sensing more to come.
“You do have one thing in common with her. And I hope you’ll forgive me for saying that it’s what attracted me to both of you.” She just looked at him. “Your spirit, your attitude towards life is the same. You’re optimistic, hopeful, maybe a little naïve, but you’re always sure you can make things right if you work hard enough. And you’re stubborn enough in that belief to challenge my cynicism. And I love you for it.”
Heather looked at him as she absorbed that.
“So… you love me for my personality?”
“Well, yes. The fact that it comes wrapped in such a nice package is just a welcome bonus.”
A slow smile crept onto her face; he returned it. She giggled, causing him to grin.
“Now come on back to the party. Granddad’s about to make a toast, and that’s something you don’t want to miss.”
“They’re different every year, and always amusing. Last time it involved drunken elves. Now come on, or we’ll miss it.”