Kate & Henry’s Sleigh Ride
by Cindy C Bennett
Characters from Heart on a Chain by Cindy C Bennett
“Where are we going, Henry?” Kate bounces up and down in excitement in the passenger seat. I grin at her, threading my fingers through hers and bringing her hand up to my mouth for a kiss.
“It’s a surprise,” I say. “You’ll just have to wait.”
“I hate surprises,” she says, her shining eyes and wide smile belying her words.
When we get close, I pull over. She glances out the window at the snow covered trees in confusion. “Where are we?”
“Not there yet,” I say, leaning over to kiss her. Her enthusiastic response has me wanting to laugh aloud.
Man, I love this girl. I reluctantly pull back and hold up a scarf. “This is a total surprise. You get to wear this so you can’t see until I say.”
“Okay,” she agrees.
Anyone who doesn’t know Kate, with her history of abuse at the hands of her mother and severe bullying at the hands of her previous classmates, wouldn’t think anything of her easy capitulation. However, I know the story too well and understand how momentous it is for her to trust me so implicitly. I almost decide not to blindfold her based on that alone. She makes the decision for me by taking the scarf and tying it around her eyes.
“Let’s go then,” she commands happily. I laugh and comply.
When we arrive, I lead her from the car across the snow packed ground, holding her tightly to keep her from slipping. Well, that and just for the purpose of holding her tightly. We stop and I say, “Ready?”
She nods and I remove the scarf, standing in front of her to watch her reaction. Her eyes take in the scene in front of her and widen. She turns her gaze to me, questioning.
“You did this for me?”
“I did,” I say proudly. I hoped she’d like it. I should have known that, as usual, I underestimated how much she loved every new experience that she’d previously been deprived of.
“Henry, it’s a sleigh,” she says in awe. “A real, live sleigh . . . with real, live horses. And bells!” She walks up to the horse, reaching out to jingle the bells and nuzzle the nearest horse.
“Wanna go for a ride?” I ask.
She turns to me, pressing against me, wrapping her arms tightly around my waist. “Thank you, Henry. I love you.”
Deciding that deserves a kiss, I oblige her.
We climb into the sleigh, tucking a heavy blanket around us. As the sleigh begins to move, Kate laughs happily. Even the snow kicked up by the horse doesn’t dim her joy. I wrap an arm around her and hold her close, wanting to keep her warm. My thoughts flash back to the time I found her outside my house, bloodied and broken, and nearly frozen in the red stained snow. I push the thought away. I won’t let anything like that happen to her again. I’ll always keep her safe and warm.
We ride in the sleigh for half an hour before our designated stop. My nerves kick in. I didn’t think I’d be nervous when the time came, but I am. Almost as nervous as the first time I kissed Kate when we were twelve. Or when I took her on our first date to the football game—I’d had to talk hard to convince her to go with me. Or when I went to the college she attended to beg her to take me back.
“We’re stopping here?” she asks.
“Just for a little while,” I say, climbing out of the sleigh and helping her down.
I lead her up the incline which is steep and slippery. We laugh as we make slow progress from our continual slips down the icy hill. As we near the top, the light becomes obvious.
“What is this?” she asks, hearing the music.
We step through the copse of trees into the opening. Kate gasps at the sight of the trees all wrapped in twinkling, colorful lights. The music plays from a battery powered stereo. In the center of the clearing a fire burns, warming the area. A small table holds the makings of hot cocoa and Kate’s favorite, s’mores.
“Henry, this is too much. How in the world did you arrange everything?”
“I had help.” My family loves Kate almost as much as I do. It wasn’t hard to convince them to help me.
We sit next to the fire, roasting marshmallows and sipping our cocoa.
“Remember Christmas two years ago when we were in Florida?” she asks. How could I forget? That was the year Kate first told me she loved me. It was also the year she was nearly killed by her own mother.
“Of course I do,” I say, pushing the bad memories away and holding onto the good. “Your first time seeing the ocean.”
“I’ll never forget that Christmas as long as I live, Henry. You showed me what a family is supposed to be. You taught me that I was loveable. When you told me you had a surprise for me tonight, I didn’t think you could top that. But this . . . this is pretty amazing.”
“Have I topped two years ago?”
She smiles at me. “Close.”
“Give me a minute, and maybe I’ll change your mind.”
Her eyebrows lift in question. I swallow nervously. Now is the time. I set down my cocoa, and take hers from her hand, setting it next to mine. Then I move to kneel in front of her.
“Henry?” she asks quietly.
“Kate, I love you. I’ve loved you most of my life. I don’t deserve you, I know that. But I’m going to try to keep you anyway, for the rest of my life.” I repeat the very thing I was thinking in the sleigh. “I promise I’ll always keep you safe and warm.” I pull the little square box from my pocket, and Kate squeaks, covering her mouth with her hand. I open the box and hold it up to her. “Would you consider marrying me? Spending the next several years living like paupers while I become a doctor, and listening to my sappy declarations of love every day?”
Tears spill down her cheeks, glistening like diamonds in the firelight. The song changes and plays, Baby, It’s Cold Outside. I grin at Kate and she laughs, dropping her hand from her mouth.
“Yes, Henry, I’ll marry you.” She laughs again. “I can’t believe you’re asking me. I never thought I’d be lucky enough to have someone like you in my life. I love you so much.”
She throws her arms around my neck and I pull her close, pressing my mouth to hers as we kneel together on the snow. I don’t notice the cold. Kissing Kate is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced in my life.
She manages to pour every ounce of love and passion she has into even the simplest of kisses.
When I pull back, I take the ring from the box and slip it on her finger. She admires it in the firelight, a soft smile on her lips. She glances up at me from beneath her lashes and I’m struck by the beauty of this amazing girl who loves me, of all people.
“You win,” she says.
“This Christmas is better.”
Later, as we ride back in the sleigh, Kate nestled happily against my side, I look up to the sky. A bright star twinkles in the dark sky. I give thanks for whatever powers brought Kate and I together, and that will keep us together as long as I have any say in it.