When the wheels of the plane touched down on that Alabama Tarmac, Ginger and I could finally breathe a sigh of relief. I couldn’t wait to fill my lungs with some of that southern humid air and give my momma a big hug.

She had paced the floors for two days, worried I wouldn’t make it home, but now all of that was behind us…we were finally together again. I was anxious to get in the car and fill her in on all that had happened to me in the days previous and get her feel for things. “we’ll Mom”, I said, “you’re not going to believe what happened to me this week.” curiously she said, “what?” “do you remember me telling you about my friend Devin?” I said, “the hunter?” she asked. “yes” I said regrettably, “I don’t know that he is a big hunter but…yes…the one that I wanted you to meet but he was gone hunting.” I desperately tried to downplay the whole hunting thing so that she wouldn’t get a wrong first impression of the guy I was falling in love with. “Well, he took me out before we left and gave me a Christmas present”, I explained, “then he gave me a card…and in the card he told me how he really felt about me. “She turned around in her seat so she could see me talking in the back and to watch my expression as I told her my story. I could tell she was anxious for more information, so I said, “Mom, he told me that he loved me…and then asked me if I would consider dating him!” “Are you serious?”, she said with a smile, “What did you do? What did you say? Did you have any idea this was coming?” The questions started pouring in…we were like two school girls laughing and giggling. I spent most of the drive home telling her all that had transpired. She could tell by my tone and my expression that this was a little different from any of the other relationships I had been in. And I could tell by her tone that she was just as happy as I was. Then came the dreaded question, “what about hometown boy?” she asked, “Are y’all still talking?” “yes” I said with unease in my voice. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do Mom, I just don’t think it’s going to work between us but I can’t hardly stand thinking about how I’m going to tell him”. My mood suddenly changed from excitement and joy to that of confusion and dread. I quickly shook the bad thoughts out of my blond head and tried to focus on the good, remembering Devin’s reassuring words, “it’ll be alright.” I sure hoped he was right.

Waking up on Christmas morning at home, in my own bed, surrounded by my family was the best present I could have asked for. All of the stress and uncertainty from the days prior were now behind me and all of the comforts of home were mine to enjoy.

It felt so good to wake up to the smell of wood burning in the fire-place, the sounds of mom banging around in the kitchen, the warmth of Chrissy, my beloved poodle, curled up in a ball at my feet and the anticipation of homemade biscuits and bacon waiting for me at the breakfast table. All of these things, flooding my senses, told me I was home…finally home.

For as long as I could remember, Christmas in the Kittrell household, was a big deal. The food, the christmas music and the gifts…oh the gifts! My mom always went a little overboard when it came to buying and gift giving. I noticed the night before that the Christmas tree was practically lifted off its stand from the crowding gifts underneath…seeing that told me…this was gonna be a great Christmas!

I rolled out of bed on christmas morning and stumbled into the living room, where my mom had laid out all of my ‘Santa Clause’ gifts. Yes, at 19 years of age my mom still pretended there was a Santa…and just for fun..I played along. Everything was so neatly and thoughtfully laid out on the floor under the tree. I spied with my Christmas eye…cozy sweaters, assorted jewelry, Halston cologne, make up, colorful socks, a cute little gold watch, a pair of black boots, a purse, a couple of albums and a stocking chocked full of wonderful surprises. The spread of Christmas loot was clearly enough for three teen age girls…but instead…it was all for me.

After we had exchanged our gifts and ate breakfast, our plans were to drive just across the Mississippi line and spend the remainder of our christmas day at my grandparents house with the rest of our extended family. But as exciting as all of that was, I couldn’t stop thinking about Devin and our last night together. We had discussed when would be a good time for him to call. I gave him my home number and the plans were made for him to call on Christmas morning.

Right on time, just as he said he would, the phone rang. I ran through the house, down the hall and back to my room where I had my own private phone line and a bright yellow phone to match my bright yellow room. I took a flying leap, landing with a bound, on my bright yellow bean bag and grabbed the phone as I had done a thousand times before. “hello?” I said as my heart raced, “hey there”, he said. Ahhh, there it was again…that calm, soothing voice that made me melt like warm butter. I felt a sensation of excitement and pure joy start at my toes and work its way all the way up to my flushed face. “hey!” I said through a beaming grin, “Merry Christmas!” “Merry Christmas to you too”, he said, “we’ll, I see you finally made it home.” “yep!” I said….I told him about all of the crazy events in the airport and about how happy I was to be home. Then I said, “well, what all did you get for Christmas?” with zero expression or excitement in his voice he said, “well, let’s see, I got a flannel shirt, a pair of Jersey gloves and a box of shotgun shells.” I patiently waited for him to finish telling me all he had gotten, but there was nothing but silence on the other end. “hello?” I said, “are you there?” ” yeah I’m here”, he said. “oh, well you didn’t finish telling me what all you got for Christmas”, I said. “Yeah I did”, he said.

My mind raced to what he had rattled off…a shirt…shotgun shells…and Jersey gloves? I don’t even know what Jersey gloves are I thought…That’s it? “oh!” I said feeling kind of stupid, “I didn’t realize you were finished…so you just got three things?” “yep.” he answered. Then he said, “well, what all did you get?” I took a deep breath and began to list all that Santa had brought, “I got a watch, some jewelry, a couple of sweaters, some cologne,” and as I paused to take another breath in order to finish telling him my list, he butted in and said ” wow, sounds like you had a good Christmas!” “I’m not finished telling you all of it yet”, I said. “there’s more?” he replied, this time there WAS emotion in his voice…shock… as he said, “man, how much stuff did you get?”

I’m not sure who was more stunned by the end of our conversation. Him, at the sheer volume of stuff I had received or me at the pitiful gift selection he had received…I mean…seriously? Shotgun shells and a flannel shirt? This was the first clue to us both, that we were an odd match to say the least! We continued our conversation a little while longer, then regrettably ended our phone call so we could continue with our Christmas festivities, but not before scheduling our next phone time.

Not too long after I hung up, my phone rang again. I knew it had to be the hometown boy. This time I didn’t run with excitement as I had done just the hour before…no…this time I felt dread. Not because of who it was…but what I had to do. “hello?” I said slowly, “well look who finally made it home!” the baritone voice said on the other end, “hey”, I said, ” how are you?”

It was good to here from him and to hear that deep voice that had never uttered a cruel word to me or anyone else for that matter. He was just a good, all around nice guy that had been taught how to treat a lady and to make her feel special. In the months we had dated, I never had any red flags to go off in my head warning me that he was not the one. Nothing staring me in my face as a sign. There was nothing I could put my finger on…no big annoyance that pushed me away. That’s what made this so hard for me. I just couldn’t explain it…not to myself…or anyone else for that matter so how in the world was I going to explain it to him? “when can I see you?” he said, “I have your Christmas gift!” After some discussion, we decided to meet later that night and exchange our gifts.

The rest of my day drug on…knowing what was ahead made me sick to my stomach.

Finally, later that evening, the hometown boy came out to my house to pick me up, as he had done many times before. There he stood, tall and thin with dark curly hair. His deep voice and prominent Adam’s apple coupled along with his boyish smile and slothful manner reminded me that he was not particularly pleasing to the eye…but he somehow still managed to still my heart at one time. We enjoyed long wonderful conversations over our Christmas dinner. We laughed and talked about anything and everything. The evening was nice and easy…but I knew it wouldn’t last for long.

After dinner, we walked to his car, he opened my door and let me in, closing the door behind me. He walked around the front of the car to the driver’s side and sat down beside me. Before he started the car he reached behind my seat and pulled out my Christmas gift. The look on his face led me to believe that this gift was special. His smile was slowly growing bigger with each passing second. With his deep voice he said, “merry Christmas, I hope you like it.” I could here my heart in my head…pounding like a drum. I reached out and took the gift from his hand and softly said, “thank you!” He seemed to be getting more anxious by the minute as I struggled to open his gift…holding it under the interior light of the car. As I pulled away the paper, I saw a small square box. The drum in my head was now louder than ever…picking up the pace with each second that passed. With hands shaking I opened the box…and there it was.

A ring.

To be continued…