Leila's office was stifling hot and it was only eleven in the morning. She hated the air conditioner but it was time to switch it on again for some relief from the heat. If I leave at twelve I'll be there by six thirty and everyone will be so busy with dinner preparation, I will just be able to blend in without too much of an ado.
She was looking forward to having some time away from all the paperwork and clients that keeps her busy throughout the year but not sure about this trip back to her tiny hometown in the Karoo. It has been ten years since her last time back home and that was when her younger sister, Emma, married. It had been the event of the century to have the daughter of the top attorney in town, marrying her high school sweetheart who had then returned to the town with a medical degree. It was so all so countryish but Leila had attended the wedding because her sister had asked her to be her Maid of Honour. There had been no getting out of that one but the day after the wedding, Leila was on her way back to the city. Thankful that she had decided to study and move out of the small town where she had grown up.
Emma begged Leila to join them for Christmas. This time the invitation to join the family was riddled with guilty tripping innuendos. "You have to join us this year. You have never met you nieces in person, Leila. Skype is not enough, don't you care about your family down here?"
Leila had been happy enough to stay in the city after she did her law degree and the small-town living did not entice her back. She had also been so busy with her degree and then setting up her practice that there was no real leisure time but this year she was going to do the trip everyone wanted her to do.
Once she hit the N1 highway, Leila felt herself starting to relax. It was highway driving all the way and she had to be careful not to exceed the speed limit.
There was plenty of sunlight left in the day as Leila pulled into the driveway of Emma and James' home. She stopped in the driveway, the front door opened and her two nieces came scrambling across the lawn.
"Aunty Leila, this is just fabulous to actually have you here in person for Christmas. It's going to be really special!" exclaimed Tracy, the eldest, she was eight years.
"Real special!" echoed Lucy who was six.
"I agree. Help me get packed out and find your mother. We have some catching up to do."
"Wait till you see what we have planned for you!" Tracy was definitely the talkative one. Lucy just watched her aunt with doe eyes and let her sister do all the talking.
"I've come for some peace and quiet so no shenanigans from you," Leila hugged the girls and helped them with the presents and luggage.
After Emma settled Leila into the guest bedroom they fell into a comfortable chat in the kitchen whilst preparing for dinner. "I'm really happy the girls will wake up tomorrow morning, to a Christmas with you here Leila." Leila watched as Emma expertly saw to dinner.
"You've become very efficient in the kitchen since I last saw you. You are very good at this."
"So I have and I love it. We entertain often and prefer doing it at home. Not too many restaurants in this town as you know," Emma laughed. She looks so radiant. I'm very pleased she is happy.
"Is it just us for dinner?" Leila asked as she started setting the table.
"You can set for one more person. James has a friend that will be here in a while. Leila, pour us a glass of wine while we wait. Again, I must say I'm so happy you are here with us. We are going to have dinner at about seven and then the girls can get an early night. They will be up way before dawn to open the presents."
The extra setting at the dinner table was for Jason, James' room mate from varsity. Leila was seated next to him. Is this a bit of a conspiracy to introduce me to someone? thought Leila.
"You are every bit as beautiful as Emma said you were!' was Jason's first sentence as he was introduced to Leila. Here we go, one of those charmers. Leila wanted to roll her eyes but that would have been rude.
Jason clinked his glass with a fork. Once he had everyone's attention he took Leila's hand and turned to her. "Leila, you have left me breathless. Will you marry me?"
First there was silence and then Tracy let out a long "Coooool!" Everyone burst out laughing.
"Behave Jason. The night is yet young!" Leila played along with the game.
Dinner was delicious and the conversation went on about everything from when Leila, Emma and James were youngsters to where their lives were now. The nieces joined in and loved all the stories about family. Jason shared varsity escapades and after packing the dishwasher putting the nieces to bed.
Leila stepped out onto the porch for a breath of fresh air. She stared up at the sky. It's been quite some time since I've seen a night sky such as this.
"You really are all that Emma said you were, Leila." Leila spun around. She had not noticed Jason sitting on the couch. "I am serious, will you marry me?"
"Jason, don't be an ass. I'm going in."
Emma stood in the doorway, "Wait out there for me, Leila, I'm going to top up our wine. We still have three hours to wait for Christmas," and went back inside to fetch the wine.
"We are destined to be together, Leila. You can't escape me and this is no joke. Will you marry me?" Jason was so smug that Leila would have loved to put him down in front of her family but she didn't want to spoil Christmas by creating a scene, so she ignored him and turned her back on him. The nieces were really looking forward to opening all the presents in the morning. She couldn't spoil that by arguing with Jason.
James came out onto the porch with a bottle of Meerlust Merlot. "We have keeping this bottle for a special occasion for some time now and this I reckon is a very special occasion with Leila joining us for the Christmas holidays." Emma gave each one a glass and James opened the bottle.
"Leila, this night was made for us. I'm going to ask you again - will you marry me?" Jason butted in in-between the pouring.
Leila rolled her eyes and Emma was now really annoyed with Jason.
James had also had enough of Jason. "Stop being an absolute jerk Jason. You are embarrassing Leila." James looked mischievously at Leila. "Would you like me to punch his nose for you and get him to stop nagging you?"
"Now that's the best proposal of the evening. I was considering doing it myself!"
"Every year I try to find my bride on Christmas Eve but year after year - no such luck. I am still single. Sorry Leila, I won't ask again. I get the message."
When he's being himself and not being so smug he is actually quite pleasant and I've just realized how handsome he is when he's not putting on a show. Leila was looking at Jason chatting to James.
That's what happens when you come from a small town. You start to panic that you are going to end up on the shelf. Poor Jason, he's worried he is going to end up on his own. As for me, in a day or two, Ill be back in the city attending to my business. I have outgrown this country town life - but he is rather handsome. Leila giggled at this thought and Jason looked over at her and gave her a cheeky smile.
I just might stay another day.