Chapter 23:  Winter Wonderland

On the night before Christmas Eve, Olivia opened her door to find Alex standing there shivering with two large gift bags.


“Did you bring tidings of great joy?” Olivia teased.


Alex laughed.  “Well, I certainly hope so!”  She shook the snow off herself and wiped her feet on the doormat before making her way inside.


Olivia took the bags from her so Alex could take off her coat, scarf, and gloves.  She’d always thought that lavender was a great color on Alex in the same way that Alex thought it was a great color on her.  Her lavender sweater and scarf really brought out the blue of her eyes, and her light wash denim jeans perfectly highlighted legs that never seemed to end. 


“Staring at my ass?” Alex joked, looking over her shoulder.


“I was just admiring your jeans,” Olivia said with a smile.


“I dressed to impress,” Alex responded with a wink.


Olivia went over to the couch and sat down.  “So what’s in these bags?”


Alex looked in one of the bags and pulled out a large silver box with a blue bow, which she presented to Olivia.  “Santa asked me to make a special delivery for him.  He said you’d been a very good girl this year.”


Smirking, Olivia untied the bow and pulled off the lid.  Her eyes began to water when she saw what was inside.  “A pair of skates?”


Alex beamed widely.  “Well, I remembered your story about how you and your mom would skate at Rockefeller Center when you were a kid.  So I thought we could make some new memories while you get to relive some of the old.”


Olivia picked up the white figure skates and turned them over in her hands.  “These are so beautiful!  They remind me of the ones I had when I was a little girl!” 


Alex nodded.  “I bought myself a matching pair.”


“These look custom made,” Olivia commented.


“They are,” Alex replied.


Olivia’s mouth dropped open.  For a few seconds she was speechless.  “Alex…you didn’t have to go to all this trouble.”


“It wasn’t any,” Alex insisted, smiling into her eyes.


Olivia brushed away the tears that had started to fall down her cheeks.  “Thank you!” she exclaimed, grabbing Alex and pulling her into a crushing hug.


Alex held Olivia in her arms and felt her own tears prick the back of her eyes.  A hug had never brought her as much pleasure as it did at that moment.  She hadn’t known that the skates would move Olivia to such emotion, and it made her heart overflow her with happiness to know that they did.  “I’m glad you like them,” she whispered in her ear.


“I can’t wait to try these on!” Olivia exclaimed, pulling back from her and stroking her new skates.  She took the guards off and cautiously ran a finger down a blade.  “They’re so sharp, too!”


“And that’s not all,” Alex said, pulling three packages out of the second gift bag.


Olivia tore off the wrapping paper and opened the boxes.  One package contained a white cashmere scarf with matching beanie, another contained a blue v-neck cashmere sweater, and the smallest one contained a pair of black leather gloves that matched Alex’s own.


Olivia laughed and ran her hand over the scarf and sweater.  “I feel like a kid on Christmas morning!”


“Well, we’re only two days away, so it’s close enough,” Alex said with a grin.  She picked up the beanie and put it on Olivia’s head.  “Gotta keep you warm on the ice.”


“It fits snug,” Olivia commented, smoothing the beanie over her hair.


“Good,” Alex replied.


Olivia put her skates in the custom saddle bag that came with them.  “I can’t believe you monogrammed my initials on this bag!” 


“I thought it would be a nice touch,” Alex replied.


“So what’s on the agenda for tonight?” Olivia asked, taking off her beanie.


“I got a private skating session for us,” Alex said. 


Olivia’s eyes widened.  “Private?  This close to Christmas?”


“Yes; I took care of everything last week.  What can I say?  You deserve the VIP treatment.  Then we’ll have dinner at Sea Grill and go on a carriage ride through Central Park.”


Olivia laughed; she was delighted at what Alex’s plan entailed but wanted to make sure there wasn’t a catch.  “And just what do you expect in return for all this?”


Alex placed a hand gently on her shoulder.  “Nothing but your company.  Just think of this as an early Christmas present.”


Olivia looked down at Alex’s hand and then back into her eyes.  “Well, in that case, let’s get this party started.  Just let me go change.”


She came out of her bedroom a few minutes later.  As soon as Alex laid eyes on her, she stood up.  Wow, she’s absolutely mesmerizing, Alex thought, trying to quell the ache in her heart and the butterflies in her stomach.  She quietly admired how Olivia’s jeans hugged her hips and how her red sweater showed just enough cleavage to entice her but not enough to drive her absolutely crazy. 


When she could finally force her mouth to form words again, she said, “You look great.”


“Thanks,” Olivia replied, pulling on her coat and gloves.  She looked in the mirror and adjusted her beanie over her ears.


Alex began putting on her outerwear again.  She then picked up Olivia’s scarf and wrapped it around her neck.  “Ready to go?  I have my car with me.”


“Ready if you are,” Olivia said, grabbing her skates. 


Alex held the door open for her.  With a warm smile, she said, “After you, Detective.”




When they got to Rockefeller Center, scores of tourists and natives were already gathered around the tree.  They slowly navigated the crowd until they’d made their way to the front.  “Oh, look how beautiful it is tonight!” Olivia exclaimed, looking up at the massive tree with its 30,000 sparkling lights.  The Norway spruce stood at 74 feet tall, 42 feet wide, and weighed 9 tons.


Alex smiled and placed a hand on her back.  “I know.”


Olivia leaned into Alex and pointed to the 9 ½ foot Swarovski crystal star.  “My mom used to let me put the star on the Christmas tree.  But it was never as striking as this.”


“And I bet not nearly as heavy,” Alex mused.  “Every year I used to fight with my brother and sister over who got to put the star on our tree.”


Olivia chuckled.  Next, she pointed to the trumpeting angels that lined the Channel Gardens.  “Aren’t they gorgeous?”


“Yes,” Alex agreed breathlessly.  “They’re pristine.”


“I feel like crying,” Olivia revealed.  “This is all just so…just so…”


Alex softly brushed her cheek.  “I’m afraid your tears would freeze.”


Olivia turned to her and laughed.  “Yeah, they probably would.”


“Are your hands cold?” Alex asked.


“No.  These gloves are really warm.”


“Good.  I didn’t want you to get frostbite out here,” Alex joked. 


Olivia deeply inhaled the fresh scent of the spruce needles.  Memories from her childhood flooded back as she thought about how she’d pick some up that had fallen off the tree so she could take a piece of the scene home with her.  She looked around the plaza.  With all the people bustling about—laughing, talking, eating, singing, and gazing—it seemed to be a city within a city. 


Alex pulled her digital camera out of her pocket and asked a man near them, “Would you mind taking a few pictures of us?”


The man smiled and took the camera.  “Not at all.”


Alex and Olivia wrapped their arms around each other’s waists and smiled brightly into the lens.  Next, they tried a few different poses.  After the pictures were taken, Alex thanked the man and showed Olivia the pictures.  “Aren’t these great?” she asked.


Olivia looked at the pictures and laughed.  “Yeah.  Elliot will flip when he sees these!” 


“I especially like this one where we’re looking into each other’s eyes and laughing,” Alex said, pointing to the screen.  “You always look so beautiful when you laugh.”


Olivia pressed the arrow to get to the next picture.  Their foreheads were pressed together and they were smiling at each other as if neither had a care in the world.  “We look so—”


“In love,” Alex finished softly.  “Sometimes I forget we aren’t a couple anymore.”


I do, too, Olivia thought.  She tried to joke it off to lighten the air.  “Just make sure your lips and hands don’t forget it.”


Alex laughed and shook her head.  “You’re somethin’ else, Liv.”


After spending a few more moments looking up at the tree, it was time for their skating session.  They went downstairs and Alex turned in their admission passes.  Once they had put their things in lockers, they put on their skates and headed out to the rink.


Olivia looked up at the crowd that had gathered around the railing.  “I think we’re gonna be celebrities tonight.”


Alex laughed.  “Oh, come on.  Both our faces have been in the newspapers and on TV plenty of times.”


“That’s true,” Olivia said.


Alex presented her hand to Olivia.  “We have the rink to ourselves for 30 minutes.  Wanna skate together?”


Giving her a lopsided grin, Olivia accepted her hand and they slowly started skating around the rink.  “Don’t use this as an excuse to pull me down flat on my ass.”


Alex smiled at her and replied, “Afraid all the sightseers will laugh at you?”


“I just would prefer not to have a sore tush tonight.”




Olivia gave her a serious look.  “No, you’re not gonna rub it, kiss it, or any combination of the two.”


Alex threw back her head and laughed heartily.  “Who says I was gonna volunteer?”


“Are you saying you wouldn’t jump at the chance?”


“Is that a trick question?” Alex teased.


Olivia shook her head and skated off ahead of Alex.  She thought about how much bigger the rink seemed without so many others on it.  “Don’t fall, Cabot!” she called out.


“Hey!  Get back here!” Alex ordered, speeding up to catch up to her.  She put her hands on Olivia’s waist and said, “Keep skating.”


Olivia looked over her shoulder at Alex’s grinning face.  She couldn’t stop her heart from skipping a beat at Alex’s rosy cheeks that contrasted perfectly with her porcelain skin.  A glow seemed to surround her entire face.  “If those hands go any lower…”


Alex’s grin widened.  “I’m just making sure I don’t fall.”


Olivia continued to push forward with Alex right behind her.  She really didn’t mind Alex’s hands on her waist; in fact, she found their soft weight comforting. 


The light scent of Olivia’s perfume wafted back to meet Alex’s nose.  She smelled so delicious.  Alex wanted to snuggle in as close as possible to her but didn’t want to make her uncomfortable.  She was content to just have the privilege of touching her at all.


After they made a few more rounds, Olivia reached back and gently removed Alex’s hands.  Alex moved to her side again and Olivia clasped her hand.  They both felt like they were on top of the world as they skated hand in hand around the rink.  The wind stinging their cheeks and the sound of their crisp blades hitting the ice was exhilarating.  The lights of the Christmas tree shone brightly and reflected colorful designs upon the ice.    


When they reached the statue of Prometheus, Olivia turned around to face Alex and grabbed her other hand.  Then she started skating backwards.


Alex let herself glide as Olivia propelled them backwards.  “Getting bold, Benson?”


“Oh yeah,” Olivia said with a nod.  She looked over her shoulder and started to speed up.  “Think you can keep up?”


Alex gripped Olivia’s hands tighter as they rounded the bend.  “I like a challenge.”


Olivia’s blades kicked up shavings as she glided effortlessly across the ice.  “Well, in that case…”  She began to skate even faster.


Alex suddenly felt her hands start to slip out of Olivia’s grasp.  “Whoa, Liv!  Slow down a little!”


“I thought you said you liked a challenge!”


“Yeah, but not at the speed of light!”  She tried to tighten her grasp on Olivia’s hands but instead started to lose her balance.


To keep Alex from toppling backwards, Olivia grabbed her hands and sharply pulled her forward.  However, she pulled a little too hard and Alex ended up plowing into her, which in turn made her lose her own bearing.  She fell back onto the ice with Alex falling right on top of her.


Both of them burst out laughing.  “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you had this planned all along!” Olivia joked.


“To almost break my neck skating?  I don’t think so!” Alex said, collapsing into another fit of laughter.  “It’s a good thing you caught me!”  She smiled down at her.  “You’re always saving me,” she continued softly.


Olivia’s laughter dissolved into a soft smile that mirrored Alex’s.  “Yeah, I guess I am.”


They suddenly both became silent.  Their lips were less than an inch apart.  So close, Alex thought.  At that exact moment it was as if no one else existed in the world but them.  She wanted so badly to kiss Olivia, and she could tell by the way Olivia was staring into her eyes that she felt the same way.  However, she had to control herself.  She had to respect Olivia’s limits on their friendship and prove to her that she could honor them. 


A million thoughts were going through Olivia’s head at that moment.  What’s she gonna do?  Is she gonna kiss me?  Can I stop myself from kissing her?  Will this mess up our friendship?  Will we end up making love again?  Should I look away?  Should I say something?  Should I attempt to get up and start skating again as if nothing happened?  Does she know how many people are watching us right now?  Does she care?


Luckily, Alex made the decision for her.  Slowly and regretfully, she pushed herself up.  She reached down to offer her hands to Olivia.  Smiling up at her with a still racing heart, Olivia gladly took her hands and let her help pull her up. 


“Sorry about your tush,” Alex said with an apologetic smile.


“It’ll be ok,” Olivia responded, brushing the ice off her ass.


Alex reached for her hands again.  “I haven’t had this much fun in ages.”


Olivia started spinning them around on the ice.  “I haven’t either,” she admitted.  She felt a familiar feeling of euphoria, enhanced only by being on the ice with Alex.  As the world whizzed past them, Alex’s face was the only thing that wasn’t a blur.


“I think I’m getting dizzy!” Alex announced.


Olivia laughed.  “I’ll slow us down then.”


Once they came to a halt, light snow began falling again.  Olivia thought Alex looked especially beautiful with the flakes settling on her long eyelashes.  With each blink, the little flakes would vanish—only to have fresh ones appear when her lids rose again.  The whole cycle reminded her of death and rebirth.


A snowflake fell on Olivia’s nose and Alex tapped it with her finger.  “Sorry, I couldn’t resist,” Alex insisted.


Olivia unwrapped Alex’s scarf and pulled her forward by the ends.  “You can’t resist a lot of things, huh?”


Alex stretched her arms out at her sides to balance herself.  “Make sure you don’t pull me down flat on my face!”


“Don’t worry, babe.  I got ya,” she assured her.  Suddenly, she got a wicked idea in her head.  She pulled Alex’s scarf off her neck and sailed off with it.


“Hey, come back here!” Alex demanded, hurrying after her.  She smiled to herself at hearing Olivia call her “babe.”  She wondered if Olivia had realized the term she’d used or if she really hadn’t given it a second thought at all.  Don’t read too much into it, she warned herself.


Olivia laughed and skated faster.  “Catch me if you can!”


Alex caught up to her and retrieved her scarf.  “Got it!”


“Here, let me help you,” Olivia offered.  She wrapped the scarf around Alex’s neck.


Alex blushed at feeling Olivia’s fingers brush against her throat.  Of course, this did not go unnoticed by Olivia, who gave her a shit-eating grin.  “Feeling a little warm?” she asked.


Alex smiled.  “I can’t help it,” she said sheepishly. 


“Just don’t get too warm.  Don’t want your body heat making the ice melt,” Olivia teased, skating off again.  She then lifted her left leg and extended it straight back as she continued to glide across the ice.


“You look so graceful, Liv!” Alex called out, watching her in awe as she skated past Prometheus.


With her leg still poised in the air, Olivia returned to Alex and started skating around her.  Alex turned around so that her eyes could follow her; she was amazed at her dexterity and elegance on the ice.  When Olivia dropped her leg and grabbed her hand, Alex raised her arm above her head and twirled Olivia clockwise under it.  She then twirled her in the opposite direction and titled her backward over her arm so that one leg was raised to the open sky.  Alex’s breath caught in her chest as the light hit Olivia’s blade at just the right angle and caused it to twinkle.  Applause and cheers erupted from street level.


When she had both feet back on the ice, Olivia turned around and hugged her neck.  “A little ballroom dancing, Counselor?”


Alex wrapped her arms around her waist and replied, “Just thought I’d have a little fun with ya.”


“Speaking of fun, wanna try something?”


Alex was so happy to be with her that if Olivia had suggested bungee jumping off the Empire State Building, she just might have agreed to it.  “Sure,” she said with a glowing smile.


“Ok.  Try skating on one leg,” Olivia suggested, letting her go.


Alex skated a few paces and then cautiously lifted her leg back a bit.  “I’m a little nervous about this.” 


“Come on, lean forward and just carry your leg back.  I’m not gonna let you fall,” Olivia promised, giving her an encouraging smile.


That smile was all Alex needed.  She lifted her leg all the way back and felt a rush go through her as she glided across the ice.


“You look great, Alex!” Olivia said. 


Alex skated back toward Olivia and asked, “Can you do a figure-eight?”


Olivia grinned.  “I thought you’d never ask.”  As she skated, she crossed her legs over one another to gain speed.  Then she tilted her leg back again and skated into a figure-eight.


“That was perfect!” Alex said, applauding.


Olivia came to a stop right in the center of the figure-eight.  “Thanks.”


“Can you do it backwards?” Alex asked.


“I aim to please,” Olivia answered.  She started doing a backwards crossover and when she felt comfortable with the speed she’d gained, she stretched her leg out and did a backwards figure-eight.


Alex clapped again and many of the people watching from above did as well.  “Absolutely beautiful.  Can you help me do one?”


“Sure.  Just give me your hands.”


Sticking her leg out again, Alex held out her hands to Olivia.  “Ok, I’m ready.”


Olivia pulled Alex forward and guided her into a figure-eight.  “That’s it.  You’re doing great.”


After completing the figure-eight, Alex stood up straight again.  “Thank you.”


“No problem,” Olivia said, flashing her another smile.


After a few more minutes, their session was up and they both hated to see it end.  “I had a really great time,” Olivia told Alex.


Alex sighed happily.  “So did I.  We’ll have to do this more often.”


Olivia laughed as they stepped off the ice.  “I don’t think you’ll wanna spend that kinda money on a regular basis to get us private sessions.” 


Alex smiled and linked her arm through hers.  “It would be totally worth it.”


Olivia took her things out of her locker and began unlacing her skates.  “Alex, I really appreciate you doing this for my Christmas present…but just because you have the money doesn’t mean you should always spend it.”


“But if I’m gonna spend it, I can’t think of another person I’d rather spend it on.”


“Alex, what drew me to you in the first place wasn’t your wealth, but it was the fact that you were a remarkable, strong, confident woman who secretly has a big heart under that tough exterior.  I liked the fact that your wealth didn’t define you like it did so many other people who came from rich backgrounds.”


Alex put her hand on her knee.   “That hasn’t changed.  I just think you deserve to experience the finer things in life.”


Olivia smiled.  Other people had started piling in, so she leaned in and whispered, “But remember?  We’re just friends.”


Alex moved closer to her on the bench to avoid being squished by kids pushing and shoving.  She whispered back, “Friends who are madly in love with each other.  That makes all the difference.”


Olivia looked at her with a special softness in her eyes that Alex hadn’t seen in a long time.  “Yeah,” she agreed.


Alex put her skates in her saddle bag and stood up.  “Ready for dinner?  Our reservation is in 15 minutes.”


Olivia stood up, too.  “I guess all that skating worked up an appetite.”


When they arrived at the Sea Grill, the maitre’d cheerily greeted them and requested that they check their coats.  After Alex checked their coats and skates and put their claim tickets in her purse, the maitre’d asked what name their reservations were under.  Alex told him, “Cabot, party of two.”


The maitre’d checked their reservation and nodded.  “Yes, of course, Ms. Cabot.  Right this way.”  He led them to a table that offered a perfect view of Prometheus and the skaters on the ice.


“Great location, Alex,” Olivia remarked.


“I know.  Now it’s our turn to watch the skaters make a fool of themselves.”


The sommelière showed them the wine list.  After she had offered her opinions of the wines and their complementary foods, she asked if they wanted to make a selection.


“What would you like, Liv?” Alex asked.


“The Pinot Grigio will be fine,” Olivia said.


Alex looked at the sommelière and smiled.  “I’ll have the same, please.”


The waiter brought them a plate of the restaurant’s special cheese toast and the sommelière promptly returned with their glasses of wine.  Their waiter then proceeded to explain the dishes of the prix-fixe three course holiday menu and the seafood bar platters.  After they had placed their orders, he took the menus and went off to service another table.  Alex took a sip of her wine and said, “This is very good.”


“So is this bread,” Olivia said, taking another bite and washing it down with a sip of water.  She looked around.  The soft, sophisticated, frosted blue decor of the restaurant with its bubbled floor tiling made it seem as if they were dining underwater. 


Their glasses of water weren’t even a quarter empty when the busboy came to refill them.  “Wow, that was quick,” Olivia said.


Alex laughed.  “Well, at least we know our glasses will never be empty.”


The waiter returned a few minutes later with their first courses.  He presented Olivia with the trio of tuna tartare and Alex with the Sea Grill chowder with lobster, shrimp, and clams.  Olivia’s tuna tartare was topped with a tiny half shell quail egg.  A member of the waiter’s support staff placed two Kumamoto oysters topped with sturgeon caviar beside each of their appetizers.


“That looks beautiful, Liv,” Alex said, scooping up some of her chowder and admiring Olivia’s tartare.


“I’m sure it tastes just as beautiful,” Olivia said.  She tasted one of the delicate little mounds and nodded appreciatively.  “Yummy.  How’s your soup?”


Alex wiped her mouth with her napkin.  “Good.  I like that it’s not too dense.  Perfect texture.  Wanna try some?”  She held her spoon out to Olivia and cradled her hand underneath it.


Olivia took the spoon into her mouth.  She’d never really liked it when other people fed her, but Alex had always been the exception.  “That’s great.”


“Taste your oysters,” Alex requested after trying one herself.


Olivia scooped one of the oysters out of the shell.  “They’re so fresh.”


“I know.  It’s like they just caught them,” Alex replied.


“And the caviar is a very nice touch.  Delicious,” Olivia added.


Several minutes later, the waiter and his staff brought out their entrées, which consisted of the jumbo lump crab cakes with grainy mustard sauce, fennel fronds, and Yukon gold potato chips for Olivia and the wild striped bass a la plancha with arugula, sweet potato purée, and orange Yuzu sauce for Alex.


The sommelière returned to see if they would like another glass of wine to complement their meals.  Alex politely declined since she was driving.  Olivia, however, requested a glass of Alsace Riesling, which the sommelière quickly brought her.


“This wine goes great with this crab,” Olivia said.


Alex smiled.  “Kinda makes me wish we’d taken a cab.”


“Well, you haven’t even finished your glass yet.  You can get some with dessert and just take a couple sips and you’ll be fine.”


Alex swirled her wine in her glass and then washed down a bite of her bass.  “Just wanna make sure we get home safely.”


“I’m sure we will.  Would you like some of my crab?” Olivia offered.


“Yes, please,” Alex replied.


Olivia scooped some up on her fork and held it out to Alex.  Alex’s eyes rolled back in her head as she exclaimed, “Oh my gosh, that is divine!  So plump and sweet!” 


“I guess next time you’ll have to get the crab cakes,” Olivia said.


Alex returned the favor by feeding Olivia some of her bass.  “How do you like it?”


“It’s pretty good,” Olivia said, wiping her mouth.  “But not a match for my crab,” she added with a grin.


While they were eating their entrées, the maitre’d came over to their table and asked, “How are you lovely ladies enjoying your meal this evening?”


“It’s superb,” Olivia complimented.  “The crab cakes are the best I’ve tasted in the city.”


“Absolutely delectable,” Alex added.  “The bass is really tender and the plating was beautiful.”


The maitre’d smiled.  “Glad to hear that.  Were your dishes delivered promptly?”


Alex nodded.  “Yes, the service has been impeccable.  Thank you.”


The maitre’d nodded.  “Good, good.  Well, enjoy the rest of your meal and do let me know if you encounter any problems.”


Olivia looked out at the skaters.  “If I had a dollar for everyone who’s fallen in the past 10 minutes…”


Alex chuckled.  “They are quite comical, aren’t they?  It’s a good thing we didn’t have to share the ice.”


After the busboy cleared their dishes, the sommelière brought out their wine and desserts—chocolate soufflé with pistachio ice cream, accompanied by a glass of Sandeman Port.  Their waiter brought them each a cup of cappuccino.


Alex sipped her cappuccino and dug her fork into the decadent soufflé.  “Oh my, heaven can’t even taste this good!”


Olivia waggled her eyebrows and tasted her own.  “I have to agree with you there.” 


Alex held up her glass of Port to toast Olivia’s.  “To a wonderful evening, wonderful cuisine, and a wonderful woman.”


Smiling, Olivia held up her glass and proceeded to clink it against Alex’s.  “Thank you for the best Christmas present ever.”


“And thank you for sharing this evening with me,” Alex replied.


After Alex paid for their meal, they both graciously thanked the maitre’d.  Then Alex turned in their claim tickets to get their things and they exited the restaurant and took the elevator up to 49th Street.


“That was the best seafood I’ve ever had,” Olivia said as they got off the elevator and started walking to the parking garage.


Alex smiled.  “I’m glad you enjoyed it.”


Olivia put her hands on her stomach.  “God, I’m so full!  It’s a good thing we didn’t eat before skating.”


Alex laughed.  “Yeah, because when we fell down on the ice I don’t think we would’ve been able to get back up!”


After they put their things in Alex’s car, they started walking up 5th Avenue for their carriage ride.  When they reached the corner of 5th Avenue and 59th Street, there were several carriages lined up from which they could choose.


“Go ahead.  Pick one, Liv,” Alex said, putting a hand on her back.


Olivia looked over the row of horses and her eyes settled on a beautiful dappled gray Percheron, who snorted and stomped his hoof impatiently on the pavement as if he was aching for her to choose him.  “This one’s perfect,” Olivia said, smiling at the horse.


“Fine choice,” the driver said, giving her a bright smile.  “He’s the best horse out here.”


“He’s beautiful,” Olivia said, petting him.  “What’s his name?”


The driver, who was dressed in the customary long coat and top hat answered, “Goliath.” 


“It’s very fitting,” Olivia replied.


After Alex had paid and discussed the route she wished to take, the driver helped them up into the plush velvet-lined carriage.  “Watch your step, ladies.”


They huddled together to keep warm while the driver took his seat.  With a crack of the whip, the carriage rumbled off.  Alex tucked the blanket that she’d gotten from her trunk comfortably across their laps.


“How come we never did this when we were dating?” Olivia whispered in Alex’s ear.


Alex turned to her and replied, “You know…I really don’t know.  But better late than never, right?”


“Right,” Olivia said.  Before she knew it, she’d placed her hand on top of Alex’s under the blanket.


Alex thought her heart would leap out of her chest.  She smiled softly into her eyes and Olivia smiled back.  For a few minutes, neither of them said anything.  The rhythmic beating of the horse’s hooves on the pavement coincided well with their melody of silence. 


It started snowing again.  Olivia held out her tongue to catch a few snowflakes and Alex followed her lead.  Alex brushed some of the flakes off the ends of Olivia’s hair.  Olivia breathed deeply to inhale the aura of the atmosphere.  The snowflakes danced in the air before gracefully weaving a light blanket over the streets.


Central Park was a magical place during Christmastime, especially at night.  The pleasant atmosphere transformed the park into a whimsical sanctuary away from the thrumming hubbub of the city.  When they passed Wollman Rink and the zoo, Alex asked, “Do you remember when you, Elliot, and I joined Katie Tolliver and her mom at the zoo?”


Olivia nodded; she remembered the day vividly.  “Katie was such a sweet girl.  She always loved a trip to the zoo.”


After passing the carousel, they marched toward the Tavern on the Green.  Bright white Christmas lights wrapping every inch of the trees and bushes, Japanese lanterns, and the elaborate decorations on and around the restaurant only served to increase the ambiance of their ride.  The colorful lights that covered the menagerie of animal topiaries made them seem to come to life and join them on their journey through the eclectic Xanadu. 


“This place is like something out of a fairytale,” Olivia marveled.


Alex relished watching Olivia’s face light up for what seemed to be the hundredth time that night.  She wanted to put her arm around her and hold her closer, but she thought she should get her permission first.  So cautiously lifting an arm, she asked, “May I?”


Olivia smiled.  What the hell, she thought.  “Sure.”


Overjoyed, Alex placed her arm around her shoulders.  “Thank you for making my first Christmas back home the best of my life.”


Olivia looked at her.  “It’s not exactly Christmas yet.”


“It is to me,” Alex responded.  With her free hand, she pulled the blanket up more and then began playing with Olivia’s rings under it as the carriage approached Strawberry Fields.


The glow from the Tavern on the Green followed them to other parts of the park.  Next on their path were Cherry Hill and Bethesda Fountain.  Although the fountain ran dry for the winter, the bronze angel remained on duty to guard her cherubs and the terrace.


After they enjoyed the serenity of the park for a little while longer, it all seemed to be over too soon as the driver returned to the spot where he’d picked them up.  He helped them down from the carriage, thanked Alex for her generous tip, and bid them good night.


Alex looked at her watch as they began walking back toward Rockefeller Center.  “Well, it’s officially Christmas Eve.”


“Yep,” Olivia said.  She presented her arm to Alex, who gladly accepted.  Warm lights and plentiful decorations glittered in store windows, and they stopped from time to time to comment on ones that particularly stood out to them. 


As they continued to walk, a lesbian couple walked toward them.  Hand in hand, they were laughing and kissing each other as they strolled happily through the snow.  As their eyes met Alex and Olivia’s, the women gave them a nod and a knowing smile.  Alex felt a familiar longing in her heart, wishing she could be as free with her beloved as they were with each other.


Olivia glanced over her shoulder after they passed and commented, “They’re a pretty cute couple.”


“Yeah…” Alex agreed.  Little did she know, the couple was saying the same thing about them…




“It’s freezing!” Olivia said, rushing over to her thermostat and turning on the heat.


Alex shivered.  “I have to agree.  But we’ll be warm soon.”


“How about I make us some hot apple cider to speed up the process?” Olivia suggested.


Alex smiled.  “I’d like that very much.”


Olivia returned a few minutes later with two mugs of warm apple cider.  Alex nodded her thanks and eagerly took a sip.  “Mmm, Liv…this hits the spot.”


“Apple cider always does,” Olivia replied, sliding off her boots.


“Are your feet sore?” Alex asked.


Olivia shook her head.  “No.  They just need to breathe a bit.  By the way, those skates were really comfortable.”


“Good.  Didn’t want your feet to get blistered.”


Olivia downed the rest of her cider.  “Before I forget, I have a couple presents for you, too,” she said, getting up and retreating to her bedroom.


Alex hadn’t really expected Olivia to get her anything, so she was pleasantly surprised when she said she had.  Olivia returned shortly with two gifts. 


Alex tore off the wrapping paper to the first one and laughed when she saw the bright orange yoga mat.  “It’s a yoga mat!”


“Well, you mentioned a couple weeks ago that you were thinking of starting yoga as a New Year’s Resolution, so if you do sign up for classes, you’ll already be prepared.”


Alex gave her a tight hug.  “Thank you.  I’ll make sure to put it to good use.”


“And who knows?  Maybe I’ll take a class with you or something,” Olivia said with a grin.  “How have your self-defense classes been going lately?”


“They’re fun.  Maybe you and I can practice so you can see how tough I am now.”


Olivia laughed.  “Cute.  I’m sure you’ll have me down on the floor in no time.  Does Serena still take tae-bo?”


“Yeah.  She’s been taking it for years now.  Her body’s in such great shape.”


“You should go rock-climbing with me sometime at the gym.  It’s quite a thrill.  Monique Jeffries and I still do it together from time to time.”


Alex grinned; the proposition certainly piqued her interest.  Not to mention that the thought of Olivia all sweaty with her hair pulled back into a ponytail as she climbed the wall was quite titillating.  “As long as you promise not to laugh at me if I fall.”


“Aw, Alex, why take all the fun out of it?” Olivia responded with a wink.


Alex gave her a playful shove and then unwrapped the second gift.  Gasping and throwing a hand to her mouth, she stared at the oil painting before her in awe.  It depicted yellow taxis on a Manhattan street during the daytime and an American flag flying valiantly from one of the brick buildings.  A skyscraper could be seen looming in the background.  “Liv…this streetscape is so gorgeous.  I’ll have to hang it in my office at work.”  She leaned in and gave her a soft kiss on the cheek.


“Yeah, nothing says New York City better than the taxis.”  She tucked a leg underneath her and pulled a pillow in her lap.  “I’ve loved every second we’ve spent together tonight.”


Alex placed the painting gently on the coffee table and replied, “So have I.”


Another hour and a half had passed before Alex looked at her watch again.  “It’s really gettin’ late.”


“Time flies when you’re having fun,” Olivia responded.  She stood up and stifled a yawn.


Alex stood up and gathered her things.  “I don’t want this night to end,” she murmured, clasping Olivia’s hands.


Olivia looked down at their hands and met Alex’s eyes again.  “I don’t either.  But you know all good things must come to an end.”


“Yeah…” Alex said, sighing deeply. 


“Call me to let me know you got home safe and sound,” Olivia said, leaning in and kissing her on the cheek.


Alex felt herself flush red all over.  When Olivia’s lips left her cheek, she leaned in and planted a long kiss on her forehead in return.  “I promise.”


Olivia could still feel the imprint of Alex’s lips on her skin as she left her apartment.  Closing and locking the door, she leaned against it and smiled.  What a night, she thought.


She had just gotten out of the shower when her phone began ringing.  She quickly threw a towel around her and ran to pick up the phone.  “Hello?” she answered, trying to catch her breath.


“Hey, it’s me,” Alex said into the phone.  “In a hurry?”


“Yeah, I just got out of the shower,” Olivia said with a chuckle.  “You just gettin’ in?”


Alex sat down on her bed and took off her boots.  “Yeah.  I can’t wait to take a nice hot shower myself and get into my pajamas.”


“Hold on just a sec,” Olivia told her.


“Ok,” Alex responded.


Olivia searched her drawers for the pajamas Alex had given her and slipped them on.  She picked the phone back up and said, “Ok.”


“Are you all tucked in now?”


Olivia threw back her covers and settled into bed.  “Getting there.”


“I wish I could be there to tuck you in,” Alex said softly.


Olivia smiled.  “How many friends tuck each other into bed?”


“Friends who care as much as I do,” Alex countered.  “You know I do have a nurturing side.”  Even if you’re the only one who sees it, she thought.


Olivia laughed.  “Well, Elliot cares a lot about me and if he ever tried to tuck me into bed…”


“He’s a different type of friend.  Partners are like blood.”


“Yeah…so what time are you leaving tomorrow?”  She looked at her bedside clock.  “Or rather, what time are you leaving today?”


Alex sighed.  “I still need to pack, but I’m too high off our night to do it now.  I’ll probably head up there sometime in the afternoon.”


“Be careful driving up there.  It’s supposed to snow again.”


“I will.  Before I leave, I’ll email you those pictures.”


“Thanks.  I’d appreciate that.”


They talked a few more minutes before hanging up.  Olivia fluffed her pillow and sighed happily.  She still couldn’t believe what a miraculous night she’d had.  She wondered if it had all been a dream and then decided, If that was a dream, it’s the best I’ve ever had.  Their experience had made her nostalgic of the relationship they used to have before everything started to unravel.  She was grateful to have a night where things weren’t complicated between them.  Their relationship over the past few weeks had improved significantly, and she hoped that things would only continue to get better.  She couldn’t wait to tell Elliot about everything that had happened, but at the same time she wanted to treasure it all to herself for a little while longer.  As the events of the evening cycled through her mind, she closed her eyes and drifted off into the most peaceful sleep she’d had in months.