Coming from a troubled home where no one loves her, Miya Jenkins turns to the only people who ever cared – the Walkers. Her best friends, Cate and Caden, always have her back and their parents treat her like a second daughter. She’s smart, dedicated to her education, and focused on success. Miya learns to trust her instincts and never relinquish control, all while enjoying what life and men have to offer. Trust is a hard thing to come by for Miya, and she refuses to open up her heart. Like the willow tree under which she lost her innocence, she bends but doesn’t break.
Caden Walker – always there for her, always protective, always a comfort, but wanting more.
Miya refuses to reveal her inner self, not even to him, and she’s not willing to sacrifice their friendship. She wants a normal life, to feel anchored in the safety of someone’s arms, but she wonders if anyone can ever tear down the high walls built around her heart. Is it possible the walls already began to crumble beneath that willow tree? Will all of her successful endeavors lead her to the one she thought most unattainable?
“So? What now? Did you think of something?”
“Yeah. Get your coat and boots on.”
“Why? Where are we going?” I stood up from the couch wondering what he had planned. The last thing I really wanted to do was go out in the cold.
“Just trust me. Bundle up, okay?”
When we reached the entryway, we grabbed our winter garb. I put my scarf and hat on too. Caden opened the door, bag in hand, and he indicated for me to exit first. It was just after eleven o’clock at night. There was about two inches of snow on the ground.
“Where are we going?” I asked him again as he closed the door behind us. “It’s late and very cold.”
“Are you cold already?”
“No, not at the moment but it is cold out, and I am sure I will be freezing soon.”
He grabbed my hand and we strolled down the lighted sidewalk together. The Christmas lights on the houses were breathtaking. Some of the houses were pitch black inside obviously a sign of everyone all nestled in their beds waiting for Santa to come. Still, others were all lit up in the midst of parties. Some had a few lights on. I wondered if they were parents getting ready for the next morning.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
Just because I was thinking about something didn’t mean I wanted to share it. I sighed. Caden squeezed my hand and looked at me waiting for an answer. “I was just picturing the moms and dads putting presents under the trees for their kids, and then how happy the kids would all be in the morning when they came downstairs to see all the surprises.”
We were walking toward the park. “Miya, you are going to have that someday too.”
“It would have been nice to have it when I was little. As for the future, I don’t think so, Caden. It’s not for me. It’s not what I know.”
He pulled my hand, halting me, and turning me around to face him. “And why not? Don’t you want that kind of life someday?”
“Ah, see that is where the difference between wanting and being capable of having come into play.”
“You can have anything you want, Miya. You just have to want it. Don’t ever want anything less because you think you aren’t capable of it. You are stronger and smarter than that.”
I turned away and continued walking with him in silence. All I could think about were the Christmases I had growing up. For me, they were just another day on the calendar. There was one thing though. Somehow, every Christmas morning, there was a present waiting on the front porch for me. I wasn’t sure who it was from or how it got there. When I was little, I always pretended Santa left it there instead of inside since we never had a tree. As I got older, it remained a puzzle. I never questioned it aloud, but I was always grateful for the surprise.
Once we got to the park, Caden opened up the bag and pulled out a blanket. He set it under the weeping willow tree, the same weeping willow tree under which I lost my virginity — to him. I smiled at him.
“What are you doing?” A quiet, nervous laugh escaped me. I tried to control the butterflies in my tummy, but my best friend’s sweet gestures were getting to me. My mind and body had to stay on the same playing field. He is my best friend, I reminded myself.
“We’re having a picnic.” He went about setting everything up.
“You do realize that it is really late, in Ohio, in December and -” I looked up at the sky as the snowflakes started falling lightly on my face. “And it’s snowing.”
“Yep.” He patted a spot on the blanket next to him, and then handed me a thermos. I took a sip of the delicious hot chocolate just the way his mom made it.
“Good, huh? I put ten mini marshmallows in it, just like you like it.” He took a sip of his own.
“Perfect.” I took another sip. I don’t know how I came to prefer that number of marshmallows. When I was little, I always thought ten was the perfect amount. The warm treat felt so good traveling down my throat, warming my insides. “What else you got in there?” I tried peeking into the bag, but he was already digging some goodies out.
“Cheese and crackers, and cookies too.”
“Well, look at you, Caden Walker. If we weren’t best friends, I would think this a very romantic date.” My words served as a reminder for myself, and for Caden. We were best friends and I did not want anything to change.
He sighed with a grin, leaned up against the tree pulling me close. He pressed a kiss to the top of my head. We sat there for a while just taking in our surroundings, and enjoying our hot chocolate and snacks.
Then Caden finally spoke. “I know you are still thinking about what I said, and I will say it again and again if I need to. You just have to want it, Miya.”
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