Chapter 1: Christmas Dinner
“Tony, I’m nervous,” she comments as they get out of the car.
“What are you nervous about?” He questions as she points to the house.
“Meeting your mom and your sister. What if they don’t like me?” He then walks around to her side and wraps both arms around her.
“You don’t need to worry about that as I’ve told them all about you already and they love you. They’re excited to meet you. there’s no need to be nervous.” She then brings her eyes to glance over the ring once again as a smile forms on her face. They had only been engaged for less than 12 hours and it felt great. But, it also brought forth a bucket of nerves.
“Not even about this?” Tony lets out a sigh and shakes his head no. he knew that the engagement was suddenly and would definitely catch his family by surprise, but he wasn’t about to back away from it. He truly believed that she was the one, and was glad to officially call her his fiancé.
“They may have some things to say, but I wouldn’t worry about it. It’ll blow over and things will be fine.” He then leans in and lightly kisses her lips. “Now, can we head in before we both get cold?” She shakes her head yes.
The pair then walk towards the house as Willow takes a nervous breath.
She could never handle family that well, whether her own or meeting other peoples. It was an instantly anxious feeling that she felt without any thought. It was due to what had happened in her childhood….shaking her head, she couldn’t let that enter today. She wanted to enjoy the thought of being engaged, being with the love of her life and being surrounded by those that loved him.
She just hoped that they loved her also.
She takes a nervous breath once again as she watches the door crack open slightly from Tony’s knocking and immediately catches the eyes of an older lady. This must be his mom, Pam.
“You made it!” Pam lets out as she immediately pulls Tony into a hug. “It’s so good to see you.”
“Mom, you know that no matter what I wouldn’t miss Christmas,” he tells her with a smile as she takes a step back and glances at him.
“Oh really, Anthony?” Tony lets out a sigh. She still hadn’t let it go.
“Okay, so I missed a Christmas due to racing. I’m sorry. When are you going to let it go?”
“Never, because you know that you should always…..” Pam’s voice trails off as she glances over at the female alongside her son. She wasn’t too keen on the girlfriends of Tony’s past. They had been after one thing or another, and never truly took her boy for granted. While Tony had assured her that things were different with Willow, she didn’t know whether to believe him quite yet. “You must be Willow, right?” Willo shakes her head yes as she holds out a hand.
“Willow Salone is the name,” Willow states in a quiet voice. “You must be Pam Boas. It’s nice to meet you.”
“It’s nice to meet you as well,” Pam replies as she shakes the young lady’s hand before turning her eyes to Tony. “This is a surprise. You’ve never brought your girlfriends home for Christmas.”
“I told you that she was someone that meant a lot to me, and was special,” Tony tells her as they enter the house. “For that reason, she gets the honor of being here with us for Christmas.”
“Still would’ve been nice to get some warning. I’m sure your dad will be surprised.” Pam then heads to the kitchen to check on the food as Willow glances over at Tony.
“You didn’t tell her what I was coming?” Willow questions as she slips off her coat. Tony hangs it up before looking back at Willow.
“Of course I told her,” he answers. “However, I also told her that a couple others would be coming in the past and they never showed. Guess she figured it was one of those cases.” Willow shakes her head, understanding, before her eyes return to the ring. The edge that she saw in Pam’s reaction to her being there had that anxious feeling set to boil over.
“Maybe we shouldn’t tell them…” Tony then looks at her surprised.
“Willow, I know things are off to an awkward start but trust me when I say that we should tell them. They’re going to love to hear the news.” He then pulls her close and kisses her once again as Willow tries to let it go and simply smile. “Come meet my dad. I promise that’ll go smoother.” Willow then follows him to the living room and immediately stops as an older gentleman looks up at her.
“So this is Willow?” The gentlemen asks and Tony shakes his head yes.
“This is Willow,” Tony states before sitting down. Willow goes to follow, though is caught off guard when the man comes over to her. “Nelson Stewart. It’s great to meet the lady that has stolen my son’s heart.” He shakes her hand before motioning to the couch. “Have a seat.”
“Thank you,” Willow simply comments before sitting down beside Tony. Tony pats her leg and lets a small smile form of assurance as Nelson sits back down.
“I may be hard on Tony – actually, was hard on him when it came to growing up and racing. But there was one thing I learned – love is tender and sweet. Every tough man needs a sweet woman in his life to balance him out. Based on what he’s told me, you seem like that girl.” Willow could only smile as that meant that she had his father’s approval. She just hoped that it was that easy with Pam and Natalie.
“I can promise you that I’ll take care of your son, Nelson.” Nelson sits back and relaxes.
“Oh, I know you will based on what he’s told me. it seems that you both care for each other a lot and talk about everything.” Willow looks at Tony in his eyes, before returning her eyes to Nelson.
“He’s been a great help with so many things. I….I don’t know what I’d without him. He’s helped me find me.” Without saying much more, she knew that she owed a lot to Tony for how much he had simply sat and heard her frustrations out, and offered her the support that she had been missing all these years.
“That goes both ways as she’s been there for me since we met,” Tony comments as Nelson just smiles with a glance between them.
“So no more girls that are after one thing and one thing only?” Tony shakes his head no.
“Don’t remind me of those, Dad. So when is Natalie going to show up?” Nelson checks the clock.
“She said that she was running a little late so probably in another hour. She said she was looking forward to seeing you, and meeting Willow. She wanted to know how could a sweet woman as she sounded fall for someone like you.” Tony shakes his head as Natalie was always finding one way or another to pick on him about something. “You should go talk to Pam.” Tony goes to stand up and Nelson holds up his hand. “I’m speaking to the lady.”
“Oh…okay…” Willow says quietly as she slowly stands up and heads towards the kitchen.
“Do you want me to come with you?” Tony asks and Nelson shakes his head no.
“They need to have a conversation without you,” Nelson states as Tony looks back at his dad while Willow heads for the kitchen. “She noticed the ring on Willow’s finger without you even announcing it. She also knows your track record. She’s worried. Let Willow prove to her that she’s the right woman for you.”
“She shouldn’t nee-”
“Every lady has to prove that they’re right for a mother’s baby. Pam has been like a mother to you and goes along those lines, Tony.” Tony lets out a sigh as he glances towards the kitchen. He understood what his father was saying, but also understood the nerves that Willow was going through. He also knew that it was useless arguing with his father, no matter his reasons. The only thing he was left to do was to keep his eyes and ears open.
As she entered the kitchen and saw the lady that she was about to face, there was no comfort throughout her. Instead, she felt as though this was a showdown. That was something that she had vowed to stay away from since seeing how that played out as a child.
She freezes as she watches the woman before her turn around away from the stove to look at her. There was no way of predicting what would come out of Pam’s mouth, whether caring or anger or whatever, and that left Willow even more anxious.
“Can I help you?” Pam asked as Willow takes a deep breath. She knew that she could blurt out that Nelson told her to go to the kitchen, but that wouldn’t sound right. She needed to show that she was there willing to stand by Tony.
“I came out to talk to you,” Willow starts quietly as Pam keeps her eyes locked on the lady before her. Taking a glance over her, she could tell that at least this one was closer to Tony’s age. She also didn’t dress in a sexy, submissive way so perhaps she had her guns in the right pocket. Or, perhaps she decided to dress classy due to this being a family dinner.
“What about?” Willow could tell that she was being given the once over and wanted to dart away as soon as possible, but knew that wouldn’t be right.
“My relationship with Tony. I could tell at the door that you weren’t as approving, so I wanted to talk to you about that.” It was nice to hear a female companion of Tony’s actually care about the mother’s feelings and come out to hear them. Perhaps this girl was truly caring as Tony had described.
“You have to understand that I care a lot about Tony and his well-being. For that reason, it’s hard to accept just any girl with him – especially considering his past female companions. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories being around the garage as a journalist, and I’m hopeful that you’re not a repeat of that. If you are, you might as well leave right now.” Willow took a deep breath, letting herself process the words that were just spoken. She had certainly not heard the stories from being around the garage, but she knew of the way the racecar driver life brought. It brought fame, and with fame, there were pit lizards and somehow those lynches found themselves in the bed of drivers. She could understand where Pam was coming from.
“Ma’am, I can assure you that I am not like those girls in any way. I’m not here with Tony because of the money as I have my own money and can afford the things that I want. I’m not with Tony for the fame because fame isn’t something that means anything to me. I’m also not here with Tony for the simple reasons of sex as our relationship goes much deeper than that. We truly love each other and can talk to each other about anything.” Pam crosses her arms as she gives Willow another glance over, remembering how Tony spoke about her in the past couple of months.
“And you’re not with him to try and get some inside scoop to make you cool with your paper?” Willow shakes her head no.
“Absolutely not. If anything, being with him as given me a new perspective about him and how so many people misunderstand him.” A slight smile formed on Pam’s face as she was pleased with the answers that she had received so far. She just hoped that this girl wasn’t a good actress.
“And what’s that?” Willow knew exactly what Pam was speaking of without another word being spoken. As Nelson said, the ring was noticeable at the door.
“It’s an engagement ring. Tony proposed to me last night and I accepted. I truly want to be with your son forever, and I truly believe that we’re meant for each other. That’s why I accepted.”
“You’ve only been together for four months. How can you know if you belong together forever?” Willow takes a deep breath as she tries to figure out the best way to explain things, without going into too many personal details.
“I….I’ve been through a lot in my life, and Tony is the first person that I’ve been able to lean on and spill my guts to. I’ve been able to open up to him about everything that I’ve kept hidden, and he’s been able to give me a comfort that no other person has ever given me. I also feel that I’ve been able to give that to him in return as I’ve been helping him with everything that happened at his end. We have a unique comforting connection for each other, and it has drawn us closer and closer. That’s why I accepted and believe that we belong together.” Pam looks away as she didn’t want to be reminded of what happened that past summer. However, it did give her comfort in knowing that her son had found someone to turn to.
“And what if that changes? What if this is just a whole ‘you’re both in a state and need someone’ scenario, and that wares off with time as you both heal?” Willow knew that was possible…but didn’t believe that was the case here. She wanted to believe in a fairy tale for once.
“I don’t believe that is the case. I believe that this is forever. I believe that our connection goes deeper than just that, Pam. Though if for some reason my love does change – not that i see that happening, I won’t drag him along. I will always be 100% truthfully honest with him. I also promise to take my time before tying the knot or thinking of a family to make sure. I don’t want to hurt him. We’ve both been through enough hurt to know that hurting each other wouldn’t be fair.”
“You seem like a great girl. You seem like the perfect person for Tony. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and say congratulations on the engagement. However, it will take a little bit for me to totally warm up to you. I hope you understand.” Willow shakes her head yes as that was perfectly understandable. She was fine with a minor agreement between them as it was better than nothing at all.
“That seems fair and understanding. Hopefully we can grow close.”
So far, so good for the dinner.
“Everything is great,” Willow answers as she turns to face him. “Pam’s really nice. We’ve been talking about anything and everything. She just needed to give me a chance, and I got her to do that. You don’t need to worry.” Tony brushes a bit hair out of her face.
“I’m not worried. I knew that things would go great today to make a great dinner for us both.” She smiles as she keeps her eyes locked on his.
“Thank you….Thank you for convincing me to come, against my original wishes.”
When the pair had originally discussed dinner at his parents, Willow had immediately turned up the idea. She didn’t want to cross paths with anything to do with family. It was the worst possible thought that could cross her mind. For that reason, she was set on leaving all types of family ties behind. She didn’t want to be reminded of what had happened.
However, she was now glad that she had come. The conversation with Pam had been tough, but since then everything had been great. They had actually found some things in common and agreed that more time together would be great. Willow was also thankful that Pam didn’t push the family question when Pam questioned her about her family past.
A knock at the door snaps her out of her thoughts.
“Natalie is here!” Tony yells as he heads to the door first, opening it. “Hey.”
“Hey,” she comments as she enters the house, wrapping her arms around him. “How are you?”
“I’m doing great. everything is going great.” Natalie then takes a step back and with a deep breath, looks over her brother.
“Are you sure about that? I mean…with everything…” Tony lets out a sigh as he knew that she would bring it up. The pair hadn’t talked much since the summer as Tony wasn’t open to discussing things with her.
“Yeah. I’m moving past that in on my own way, Nat. things are great. I can’t wait for race season, I’m having fun and I’ve got a great girl that you have to meet.” Natalie glances over at Willow and gives her a slight wave before returning her eyes to Tony.
“Please tell me that this isn’t like the others.” Tony laughs and shakes his head no.
“Trust me Nat, she’s different. This one….she’s really special. She truly cares about me and is open to discussing everything with me. She’s one of those that helped me. You’ll love her.” Natalie smiles as she had discussed Willow previously with Tony, having heard that he had a girlfriend.
“It’s a miracle! You do have a brain!”
“Hey!” He then wraps his arms around her tickling her as Natalie breaks out laughing. Willow stood back with a smile on her face, admiring the relationship between the siblings.
As she glanced over at Nelson and Pam and saw the love between them, followed by the love of the siblings, she could only smile. This was the perfect little family. Sure, there were some corks amongst it but they were great together.
It made her feel special that each of them were willing to welcome her in without any issues – well, besides Pam’s motherly concerns. With each moment spent there, she felt herself easing more.
“Now you’re making me look out to be rude!” Natalie comments as she finally breaks away from Tony and walks over to Willow. “You must be Willow. I’m Natalie.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Willow says as the pair trade glances.
“I’ve got to tell you this – anybody that sounds as sweet as you that can deal with that is an angel because let me tell you, he’s a pain in the ass.” Willlow shares a small laugh as she glances over Natalie’s shoulder at Tony.
“He can be a royal pain at times – like when he leaves the toilet sea-”
“I’m used to the bachelor lifestyle,” Tony cuts her off as she rolls her eyes.
“Or when he doesn’t bother warming up the pasta in the ca-” She starts again.
“It’s fine cold, too.” Willow just rolls her eyes.
“Or when he leaves his wet towel lying on the bathroom floo-”
“I was going back to get it once I was fully dressed.”
“But no matter what, I love him a lot and I wouldn’t change it.” Natalie just looks between the pair as she beams with as mile. She had never seen her brother look as happy a she was in that moment with another girl, and that truly mean there was something special here.
“No argument….hey, is that what I think it is?” Natalie questions as she looks down at Willow’s hand. Willow takes a deep breath, prepared for her perfect Christmas to come crashing down as she shakes her head yes. “What? When?”
“Last night I asked her,” Tony reveals as Natalie looks between the pair.
“Seriously?” Willow shakes her head yes as Natalie takes a closer glance at the ring. “Uh…wow….I…..Congratulations!!” Natalie then wraps her arms around Willow in a quick motion, causing Willow to look even more surprised as Tony laughs.
“I told you that she’d love you.” Natalie then lets go as she takes a couple steps back.
“Well, I guess I really do need to get to know you then. Perhaps we can go up to the Diary Queen later.”
“Hey! What about me?” Natalie then looks over at her brother.
“I can go see Bob without you, Tony. I’m a big girl now. I don’t need my brother to walk me to the local Diary Queen for ice cream anymore.” Natalie then glances back at Willow. “Besides, I got to give her some good dirt about you if she is going to put up with your crazy antics.”
“Oh yeah, all the time,” Natalie shares as she cuts the car off. “Tony came here more than I did, but he always came and got the same thing. There were weeks that he’d come at least once a day, but most times it’d be like five times a week. He loved the milkshakes….which, they are to die for. However, I always was for the banana splits. So I’d come here at least twice a week – once with Tony, once with my girls – to get one.”
“It’s so awesome that you and Tony are so close.” The pair then get out of the car as Natalie looks over at Willow.
“When our parents separated, we had each other and that meant more than anything. Pam is great, but we had to wait a bit for that to happen. So while Dad worked that out, Tony was the one that I went to. He’d brighten my sad days, threaten to kick all the boys butts and….he’s truly amazing, Willow. We have a special relationship. There’s a lot of times I wonder where I’d be without him during that time.” Willow shakes her head, having known the type of experience herself with her parents. Perhaps that was why her and Tony were able to find such a strong common ground.
“It’s hard to go about it yourself. You were lucky to have him.” Natalie then makes her way around the front of the car.
“Yeah, and now you’re the lucky girl who has captured his heart. A lot of people have tried, but he was right to wait for you by what I’ve seen. Come on…” Natalie then leads her inside.
She could tell that the family discussion wasn’t something that was of topic of discussion with Willow based on how quiet she’d gotten. Natalie understood the reasons for that, having heard a bit about Willow’s background from Tony. She knew that it was a topic that would rather be avoided. Anyways, they weren’t for that….
The pair go inside the Diary Queen and up to the counter as Bob brings forth a smile.
“I still always wonder why you’re open on Christmas,” Natalie comments as Bob grins.
“For customers like yourself who are craving a famous banana split despite it being a holiday,” Bob replies before glancing over at Willow. “And what can I get you, missy?”
“I’ll going to accept Natalie’s recommendation and try that split,” Willow says as Bob smiles.
“If she’s any indication, you’re going to love it – but I keep telling them that its’ nothing special.” Willow smiles as she can already tell why Tony loves visiting that spot for the milkshakes. Beyond the tasty shakes, Bob sounded like the great guy to see. He then walks away, getting a pair of bananas and the ice cream.
“Where’s your brother? I know he’s home for the holidays. He don’t miss a holiday.” Natalie grins as it was normally Christmas tradition to come together.
“I needed some time to get to know his fiancé.” Bob then about drops the spoon as he looks over at Willow.
“Fiance?” He questions and Willow slowly shakes her head yes as Natalie raises her hand to show off the ring. “Wow….okay….I never expected that to happen. How long have you been dating?”
“Since August,” Willow answers as Bob goes back to making his split.
“That’s…not that long. But hey, sometimes it doesn’t take love long to show that it’s meant to be. Congratulations. I guess I should get used to seeing you around here.” Willow hoped that was the case as she wouldn’t mind indulging in some treats with Tony.
“I look forward to lots of tasty treats, I guess.” Bob then finishes making the pair of splits and places them up on the counter.
“Forget the charge – this is on the house. Consider it a Christmas present, an engagement present – whatever you want. When you’re done, come see me because I got that milkshake, too.” Natalie takes a deep breath as she focuses her eyes on him.
“Bob….” She starts as Bob holds his hand up.
“MY treat – don’t start bugging me to pay,” he informs her as Natalie lets out a sigh.
“If you say so, but I still say that it’s not righ-”
“What did I say?” He then walks away as Natalie glances over at Willow.
“That’s Bob for you. The sweetest guy in Indiana. He’ll do anything for anybody. I’ve always come here on Christmas and he never lets me pay.” Willow smiles as she picks her split and follows Natalie to a table and they sit down. “I always want to pay one Christmas, sort of give it to him as a present because I always swear I’m going to throw a bonus in with it. He never lets me.”
“Has he always been here?” Willow wonders and Natalie shakes her head yes.
“Since we were little kids,” Natalie shares as Willow shakes her head in disbelief.
“Okay, enough about that. We’re here to talk about my dear brother. Give me some scoop…” Willow laughs as she should’ve known to expect this.
While she was unsure about this discussion at first, it turned out to be a real fun night out. The girls got through a lot of discussion points. Willow went through the reasons why she loved Tony, how they got close and met, and the general things that seemed to annoy her a little. Natalie could only chuckle at those, seeing as to how her brother hadn’t changed. Natalie told tales from their childhood, from the fun goofy times, to trips, to Tony’s racing career beginning and the caring moments. She also told Willow some of the pesty moments of her brother, in which Willow could only laugh.
As the girls continued to chat about things, it made that comfort level for Willow simply continue to grow as she was really enjoying her time. She was thankful that Tony had welcomed her up for Christmas. She thought his family was great and knew her and Natalie would be great friends. They had already agreed on spending more time together, possibly going on shopping dates or a fun date out to an amusement park.
For Willow, it was a perfect nice escape from the normal lonely Christmases that she had spent in the recent years of the past. With family in places that couldn’t be found and through with her parents, she had grown used to loneliness and treating it like any other day. But now, she was able to find herself back in the Christmas spirit, with the spirit of giving all around her, love from all angles and a new family that accepted her.
She just wished that the feeling would continue to grow in her heart and she could erase the past that she knew lied there.
And the ones we hail
Are the worst of all
Tony could hear her crying as she shivered against him in her sleep. He ran a hand down her back, trying to give her some comfort.
“It’s just a dream….” He tells her quietly as he continues to rub her back. “It’s just a dream, Willow.”
Their Christmas vacation had went great as his family loved them, and she had a fun time. He had certainly lived up to his promise about making Christmas special, too.
She also got her own taste of the Chilli Bowl action in her continued education of racing, and immediately fell in love with it. She could tell right away why Tony loved dirt racing with how wild the midgets were on the short dirt oval. From the dirt being swung up in your face, to how sideways they drove the cars in the corner on the edge but were able to keep it straight. She couldn’t wait to get to some dirt races this season with Tony as he was the owner of a series, on top of his dirt team.
Though now with race season set to start soon, they were back home in North Carolina as Tony put forth the final preparations to be ready for the year. It also started to make her time busy, too, as she had to get the articles written for her paper in setting up the season.
Everything was going great – except for those pesky dreams.
It was something that she had always dealt with since she left home. Sometimes they’d happen every night, and sometimes she’d get away a couple weeks without any dreams. Each dream was different, but always a reminder of what happened. Her mind brought her back to the fights between her parents, the abuse against her – everything that made her hate her parents.
It seemed February was the worst time of the year for her as it was about February back when she was young that she made the decision to leave home. She had Tony that, and he promised that he’d be the one to comfort her through it. He also offered to be a shoulder to lean on, someone to hear her out when she wanted to divulge into the details. He loved her with all of his heart, and he wasn’t about to let her be stuck in this dream world all by herself.
He begins to shake her slightly, wanting to snap her out of her thoughts. It was a process that they’d go through. She’d start to have one and go into this crying/shivering faze, he’d wake her up and get her back calm, before they fell back asleep together. Sometimes there were kisses and other activities to get her mind off of it. He knew that was just a simple avoiding measure and she wouldn’t move forward till she faced it, but he was willing to wait till she was ready.
“Willow…” He says quietly once again, not wanting to startle her awake or yell. He knew that her dreams were frightening enough and a yell wouldn’t be the right course of action to take. It was the yelling and fighting that were in those dreams.
“Leave me alone….” She lets out, still locked in her dream state as the memories of the day stay present in her mind.
“Willow!” He let his voice get a little louder, wanting to grab her attention. He watches as her eyes snap awake as she pushes against his close embrace.
“Let me go!” She was still locked in her dream, thinking that it was her father that was holding her back from leaving. She wanted to leave. She had to leave. She couldn’t stay there.
“Willow, its Tony! Wake up!” Upon hearing those words, he feels her body instantly relax as she rolls over to face him. The tears that had been leaking from her eyes are dried against her skin. “It’s okay…” He keeps her held close as he kisses her forehead.
“Tony, I’m sorry….I….” She felt so bad for continuing to do this. She knew that he needed his sleep due to being busy, and she needed her sleep so she could do the work that she needed to do come morning. It seemed every team wanted to make announcements lately…but that was par to the course with being so close to the season. but yet, here they were, wide awake once again in the middle of the night due to her dream.
“It’s okay. I told you that I’d be here for you and I told you that I’d comfort you. You don’t need to apologize. I love you and want to take care of you, okay?” She shakes her head yes as she buries her head against his chest.
“I just want them to go away!” He rubs her back as he takes a deep breath.
“They won’t just go away. You need to face what happened and discuss it. Till you do that, it’s always going to be there…..” They both knew the truth to the statement more than they wished. He had to do that with the events that happened last year, and she had done that with tons of pieces to what happened. But yet, she couldn’t bring herself to discuss the day that she left. It was the loneliest and scariest day of her life, in her mind. Why should she lie that down on his shoulders? “I know it hurts and I know you don’t want to do it, but you got to do it. The sooner you do it, the better it will be for you. I’m here whenever you want to.”
“Not tonight, okay?” She knew that despite all of her thoughts, he was right. She needed to face that night and recall the events for Tony. But, not tonight. She couldn’t do it then.
“Okay. That’s fine.”
Tony kept her held close in silence, as there wasn’t much else he could say. He couldn’t force her to say something. He could only wait and hope that she did soon.
He hears her breathing even out, knowing that she’s back asleep as he kisses her forehead. He then closes his eyes, allowing himself to drift back off to sleep.