“Mom! Look! It’s Carlos.”
Sami turned in the direction Ben pointed. Carlos’s unmistakable silhouette stood almost a full head above the crowd gathered in the town square waiting for the snowfall heralding the opening of Winter Wonderland.
The Christmas Eve festival promised hot cider, lights, caroling, and the new family traditions Sami was determined to create. “I think it is,” Sami said, tightening her grip on Archie’s hand in the crowd. Penny leaned against her side. Her suggestion that they go say hi froze on her lips as Carlos’s head bent down to the petite brunette next to him.
The woman turned and laughed up at him, her profile perfection and her face filled with love. Unexpected jealousy churned Sami’s stomach.
It had been two week since their disastrous date that had ended in with a smile and a hug. Two weeks of working together, talking as if nothing had occurred between them. If she’d been worried about losing his friendship, the last two weeks had proven that he felt nothing to her except friendship.
Which is why she’d noticed nothing except his broad shoulders, his easy grin, the warmth in his eyes.
Sami sighed. She was being ridiculous and she knew it. “Let’s go say hi,” she told her children. They wove through the crowd until they were within arm’s reach.
“Sami!” Carlos leaned to give her a kiss on the cheek. “I didn’t know you would be here.”
Sami eyed the beauty at his side. She was exactly what she’d envisioned Carlos’s girlfriend to be: trim, gorgeous, young.
“This is Arabella,” Carlos said, pulling the woman forward with an arm wrapped around her shoulders.
Sami pasted a grin on her face and wished she wasn’t wearing an oversized flannel and jacket and instead looked half as stylish as the woman reaching for her hand with a grin.
“It’s nice to meet you.” Sami had perfected the art of the false greeting while married to Franklin.
“I’ve heard so much about you,” Arabella gushed.
Sami’s cheeks warmed. What had she heard in the secret conversations between lovers? She wanted to say she’d never heard of the woman, but pettiness was ten years and three children ago. Instead she smiled.
“Bella has always wanted to check out the snow,” Carlos said.
Instantly, Sami’s shoulders relaxed. Bella. “I’ve heard so much about you too,” she said honestly, smiling fully at Carlos’s favorite cousin.
Penny, not to be ignored, pushed her way between the adults. “Mama said it was going to snow, Carlos!”
Carlos laughed and lifted her high above his head, setting her on his shoulders. Sami bit back a protest that she was too big, realizing that to him, she’d always be small. Bella wrapped her arms around Sami in a tight hug, whispering in her ear. “I’m so glad to meet you, finally.” Bella pulled back and leaned down. “This much be Archie. Have you seen the snowmen?” Archie shook his head, his natural shyness evaporating in the warmth of her voice. “Come! I’ll show you.”
Archie looked to her with hope in his eyes. Sami nodded and the two of them disappeared into the crowd. She was left with Ben at her side and Penny on Carlos’s shoulders, her arms wrapped loosely around his neck. They looked, she realized, like a family. She pushed the thought back into the recesses of her mind and instead focused on the present.
“Are you going to the Misfit Christmas?” Carlos asked referencing the Christmas dinner Mark Buchon had started a year before.
“We are,” Sami confirmed, ticking another tradition off her growing list. “What about you?”
“My family has a huge fiesta,” he said with a laugh. “We’re misfits too, but all related in some way.”
“That must be nice,” Sami said, wistfully, shifting in the crowd, “having a big family at the holidays.”
“Nice and chaotic,” Carlos grinned. “There will be at least forty of us, cousins siblings, grandchildren, friends, and people who I think just wander in.”
They were quiet a moment until Carlos reached out, tentatively, “You could come.”
“To your family’s house for Christmas?” Panic surged.
“There are so many people there and we’re friends, right?”
“Well, yeah,” Sami said, hesitating. For some reason, since their date, she hadn’t felt like friends. It had felt like something…more.
“Then come. My mom is making tamales.” As if guessing the moment she started to fold, he added, “She only cooks once a year. Miss it now and you won’t get tamales until next Christmas.”
“Can we go, Mama!” It was Ben’s pleading that made her cave. His slip into ‘mama’ melted her like hot butter.
“What can I bring?”
Carlos knew her better than anyone else. “Bring cookies. And wine. There can never be too much of either.”
Sami smiled slowly. “We’ll be there.”