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Friday, December 28, 2012

A New Year's Kiss by Paty Jager

New Year’s Kiss
By Paty Jager
Edda Rae Bartlett paced the parlor. All day callers had stopped in at her parents’ house on the edge of town wishing them a prosperous coming new year. What had her in a thither was the fact Cort Haywood hadn’t been among the callers. He’d more or less told her at the last church picnic that he had something to tell her before the end of the year. Well, midnight tonight marked the end of the year and she was still waiting for him to arrive.
The parlor door opened and her best friend, Katie Aiden, hurried into the room.
“Gather your things, Edda Rae, we’re going to Priscilla’s house.” Katie didn’t even remove her leather gloves as she crossed the room.
“I can’t. I have to stay…” Amid Edda’s sputters, Katie, placed her hands on Edda’s back and began forcefully pushing her toward the parlor door. Edda tried to dig in with her heels but she was no match for her determined friend.
“I have a new game I discovered while traveling abroad with my aunt and I’m not letting you mope around here like a spinster waiting for a man.” Katie stopped pushing when they stood beside the hall tree at the front door.
“I’m not moping and I’m not a spinster.  I’m only twenty just like you. Who do you think I’m waiting for?” It wasn’t a secret she and Cort had been sparking. In fact, Edda relished the fact the other eligible women in Aidenville knew Cort had chosen her.
Katie handed Edda’s coat to her. “The whole town knows who you’re waiting for. And I happen to know he is over at Priscilla’s helping her brother set up their barn for the dance tonight.” She held out a muffler and gloves. “Now hurry up, or we’ll get there after dark and no one will want to play the game, they’ll all be sneaking drinks and dancing.”
Edda didn’t know why it was so important to her friend that they play a game. With Katie’s past there was reason to believe the game would be something scandalous and make Edda blush. Her light complexion was prone to turning all shades of red when embarrassed. And while she loved her friend dearly, Katie was usually the cause of her rosy cheeks. Knowing it was a game Katie learned while abroad… gave Edda more reason to believe it was a game her preacher father would not condone.
This knowledge made the game and the trek with Katie all the more exciting. She loved her parents and the values they taught her, but she also liked to tempt her fate. Like the night she and Cort pulled to the side of the road when returning from a dance and lay in one another’s arms, kissing and touching… Her face heated and she tamped the memory down for fear Katie would notice and ask questions.
Katie ushered her out the door and across the yard to one of her father’s buggies. As the leading stockholder in the town bank, Katie’s father was considered the wealthiest man in Aidenville. A town named after his family who founded the fertile Oregon valley. That was one of the reasons Edda’s parents allowed her to be friends with Katie. Their small church and congregation had been the benefactor of many generous endowments from the Aiden family.
“Wrap this around your legs. This last day of 1879 is a bitter cold one.” Katie took up the reins and the buggy lurched forward, the horse moving into a fluid trot.
“I’m happy you made it back to help us bring in the New Year.” Edda smiled at her best friend. She had missed Katie as her friend traveled to places Edda knew she would never see. She didn’t care to travel. Well, maybe if it was on Cort’s arm. But he would never leave this valley. His family’s ranching roots went as deep into the fertile soil as the Aiden family’s money went into the town’s growth.
Katie glanced at her and smiled. “I’d never miss bringing in the New Year without my best friend and my family.”
The Thomas ranch was only a half hour ride from town. Though a short ride, it didn’t keep the cold from seeping into Edda. To her delight, Priscilla’s brother, Jed, and Cort met the buggy when it arrived. Cort’s blue eyes and welcoming smile warmed her heart. His large hands wrapped around her waist and he lifted her out of the buggy, thawing her bones.
“Have you missed me?” he asked, still holding onto her waist after her feet touched the ground.
“What do you think?” she asked, watching little lines crinkle beside his sparkling eyes.
“As much as I’ve missed you.”
She wanted to kiss him. Her body started to lean toward him…
The sound shook sense into Edda. It wasn’t proper to kiss in public. Especially someone you weren’t married to.
Mrs. Thomas stood on the porch. “You girls get in here and let the boys take care of the buggy and the horse.” The woman gave her a stern look.
A squeeze on her waist before Cort’s hands slipped away brought her gaze to his.
“I’ll only be a few minutes,” he said, following Jed as he led the horse to the barn.
“My, my. It seems you and Cort are doing more than sparking, you’re throwing sparks,” Katie said, and nudged her with an elbow before entering the Thomas house laughing.
Edda followed behind, wondering how she would get through an evening of games before she could dance around the barn in Cort’s arms. And receive a kiss at midnight.
Inside, Katie and Priscilla had their heads bent together. Three other young people she knew from the area stood in the parlor conversing. Mrs. Thomas took Edda’s coat, gloves, and muffler and ushered her into the parlor with the others. Within minutes Cort and Jed returned.
Edda’s insides fluttered at the proprietary glint in Cort’s eyes as he crossed the room, barely acknowledging the others and stood by her side.
“Quiet. I’m going to teach you all a game I learned while abroad with my aunt. It’s simple, yet so scandalous.” Katie danced on her toes in her excitement.
Priscilla crossed to the parlor door and closed it snugly. Edda’s heart thumped against her ribs. How bad must this game be if Priscilla shut them away from her mother’s hearing and sight? She peered up at Cort, who winked. What was going on?
“Everyone take a seat, boy, girl, boy, girl, please.” Katie took a seat and was immediately flanked by Jed and Toby Hutchins. 
Cort held the chair out next to Jed for her, and then he sat beside her. Did he know how to play the game? It was as if everyone knew what was happening but her.
Katie tossed a small fluffy ball of cotton into the middle of the round wood table. “Everyone clasp your hands in front of you, like this.” Katie put her hands together as if she were going to pray.  “And place your arms on the table edge, sliding your elbows to meet the person’s on either side of you.”
Edda glanced at Jed, but he was too busy making sure the elbow on his other side was touching Katie’s. Cort’s elbow touched hers and she smiled. She liked this game knowing the rules allowed them to touch. She glanced from their touching elbows to Cort’s face and caught him watching her. His lips tipped into a smile.
“The object of the game is to blow the cotton away from you. If it touches you, you have to either tell a secret or kiss one of the people next to you.” Katie peered at everyone around the table, winking at Edda.
Her friend’s bold antics made Edda’s face flame with heat. Cort chuckled and nudged her with his elbow. Edda glanced at Cort.
“One, two, three, blow!” Katie announced and everyone started blowing.
Before Edda could fathom the game had started everyone stopped blowing and stared at her.
She glanced down. The cotton ball rested against her arm.
“Tell us a secret or kiss someone,” Katie said.
Edda’s throat went dry as all eyes watched her intently. Heat rose up her neck, scalding her chin, cheeks, and even her scalp. She had to be as red as the Santa suit Mr. Thomas wore to the Christmas Eve service.
“Do you have a secret to tell?” Cort’s husky voice next to her ear changed her embarrassment to smoldering desire.
How could she want to kiss this man when a table of people sat watching?
“Let me help.” Cort raised a hand and held her chin. “She’ll take the kiss.”
His lips touched hers and she forgot where they were and what her parents would think. All that mattered when he kissed her was the love and warmth that wrapped around her heart and eased her mind.
“That’s enough. It’s supposed to be a penalty not a pleasure.”
Katie’s comment and laughter straightened Edda’s spine. She peered into Cort’s eyes and was rewarded with a wink. They resumed their places with elbows touching and the game continued. The cotton landed against Priscilla’s arm.
“Secret or kiss?” Katie said.
Priscilla studied the young men on either side of her and said, “Secret. I saw Cort visiting Reverend Bartlett when Edda was helping Doc Wyland.”
Edda’s head pivoted on her neck and she searched Cort’s face. He just smiled.
“Resume the game.” Katie ordered and everyone began blowing at the cotton ball.
Edda’s head was spinning with why Cort would visit her father and how everyone could keep pushing the cotton with their breath. Blowing so much made her lightheaded.
She was still blowing and lost in her thoughts when Katie’s voice stopped her pathetic attempt at pushing another breath of air from her lungs. “Secret or kiss?”
The buzzing in Edda’s head from lack of air took her a minute to register that the voice saying secret belonged to Cort. 
Cort once again took her chin in his cupped hand. “My secret is I’ve fallen in love with Edda Rae Barlett and I asked her father for her hand in marriage.”
Her head still buzzed from the lack of air. Edda shook her head to clear it.
Cort’s face came into view. He looked crushed.
She placed a hand on his cheek. “What’s wrong?”
“You don’t want to marry me?” His whispered voice shook.
“Why would you think that?” she asked, still trying to grasp the full content of what he’d said.
“You shook your head when I said I asked your father for your hand.”
Elation popped the last of the haze from her mind. “I was shaking my head because all the blowing made me lightheaded.” She flung her arms around Cort’s neck. “Yes, I’ll marry you. I love you.”
The whole room exploded with whoops and whistles as Cort kissed her until she was dizzy again.