"Veronica," Leo said once he'd opened the door.
"I knew there was a reason my dad hired you back."
He smiled. "What are you doing here?"
She picked up the bag that she'd set on the ground to wait for him to answer. "I brought Christmas dinner."
"What makes you think I don't already have my own Christmas dinner?"
"I guess I don't," she said with a frown. "Do you?"
He chuckled softly. "No. I was just going to heat up some pizza or something."
"Well, see, I saved you from the curse of the dreaded frozen Christmas pizza."
"Yes! If you eat a frozen pizza for Christmas dinner you're doomed to bad meals for the rest of the year."
"Considering that's only a week, I'm not sure that's such a curse."
She shook the bag a little. "Are you going to invite me in or what?"
"It does smell good."
"It tastes even better."
"Did you cook it?"
"Dad and I did, yeah."
"Well then," he said. He started to step back and then paused. "You know Tina's here."
"Yes, I brought enough for both of you."
"Yeah," she frowned again. "Do you think I'm that shallow?"
She held up a hand. "Okay, maybe you shouldn't answer that. I want to meet your sister, Leo. I wouldn't have come here if I didn't."
"All right. We've been watching A Christmas Story."
"Oh, yeah, the marathon."
"Tina likes it," he said with a shrug. "It makes her laugh."
"There's nothing wrong with that."
He stepped aside and she took the opportunity to go inside. "So, we have turkey and all the usual trimmings. I hope you like traditional."
"I love it," he said, leading her to the kitchen.
"Then you're in luck. I forgot something," she said, watching as he started to get things ready for serving up food.
"What could you have forgotten? This is great, Veronica. Thank you, really."
"It's in my car, I'll be right back."
"All right," he said. "I'll work on getting Tina fed first. Just come on in when you're ready."
"Okay," she said, returning to her car to get the pie and whipped cream. It had been hard getting her father to part with practically the whole pie. It was only after she promised to buy him another one that he'd given in.
She set the pie on the counter and the whipped cream in the fridge before walking toward the living room. She watched from the doorway as Leo helped his sister eat some stuffing and potatoes. She imagined he'd put turkey in there, too.
"It's a full-time job, isn't it?"
"Yeah," he said softly, sparing her a glance before returning his focus to Tina. "She is, but she's worth it."
"I can see that," Veronica said, and meant it. Tina clearly loved her brother. Veronica hadn't seen Tina before to know how she responded in other situations, but Veronica knew trust when she saw it. She imagined the way Tina looked at Leo was much the way Veronica looked at her father.
"You sure you want to hang out here with us?"
"You probably have something better to do on Christmas then hang with us?"
Veronica walked into the room then and took a seat. "I couldn't think of anything better to do."
"What about Echolls? Or that other guy?"
"I think Logan and Dick are off in Mexico and Piz," she shrugged. "He went home for Christmas."
"So you two?" he asked, taking Tina's dishes and walking toward the kitchen.
"We're friends. He's sweet and all, but just doesn't get my life."
"I see," Leo said, glancing at her again. "That's kind of a tall order to fill, V. Don't you think?"
"You get it."
She'd taken him by surprise there. He had good cop eyes, but she read them easily enough.
"I'll be right back."
She sat back and watched A Christmas Story. She and Tina both found scenes to laugh at.
"You brought pie, too," he said from the kitchen.
"Well, of course, Christmas dinner isn't complete without the pie!"
"Veronica," he said. "What am I going to do with you?"
"I don't know."
He came and sat next to her on the couch.
"Aren't you going to eat, too?"
"In a bit."
"You're not hungry?"
Tina laughed at something on the TV, Veronica wasn't paying attention any longer.
"Did you mean that?"
"That I get it?"
"Yeah. I mean, it took me a while to get that you did. Seeing you back at the station is what made me start to realize it. I think being gone all summer really did the trick, though."
"I'm glad your dad hired me back then."
"Me, too. If this is a bad time, though, I get that."
"Well, with your sister and all?"
"She's not going anywhere, Veronica."
"Oh, I know. I didn't mean it like that."
He smiled then and leaned in, kissing her. She'd forgotten what kissing him was like. His weren't conquering and bruising like Logan's and they weren't uncertain like Piz's. They were just Leo's. She hadn't been ready for that when they'd first met. She wasn't even sure she was entirely ready now, but she knew that she was in a better place. A summer away helped.
"You're here, I couldn't think of a wrong time for that to happen." He kissed her again. "And in case I forget, thanks for dinner."
"You're welcome. Merry Christmas."
"Is that from the sheriff or his daughter?"
"It's from the Mars' family."
"We're working on it. Is that all right?"
"That's just fine."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com