Franny listened to Leo’s tale of the raucous, cousin-filled family Christmases of his youth. Another thrill associated with early romance: learning the history of your new partner, imagining how it helps you understand that person, helps you put the pieces of his current self together in a sensible, rational way, full of new insights that your budding love wants you to share, to show how clearly you see your beloved.
And equally, the invitation to share your own past, to see it anew through your beloved’s eyes. Franny searched for a suitable memory to turn into a delightful or moving story to share with Leo. She found herself wanting to show him how she, lone among her past family and friends, understood the true meaning of giving. She wanted to make him believe she was deeper, more introspective, more truly generous than she really had been.
Realizing this, observing herself trying to frame a narrative for her new lover, she let out a snorting laugh, nearly spraying coffee across her small table.
“What’s so funny?” Leo asked, wiping the table with his napkin.
“Me, I guess. My ego. Honestly, there’s only one thing I can remember right now about my own childhood holidays, and it’s not that flattering of a tale.”
“Then I must hear it,” Leo said with an encouraging smile. “Remember, I’ve known your brother a long time. I hope it involves him.”
“Not this time, at least that’s not how I remember it,” Franny said. “We had a lovely elderly great auntie, who made the best peanut butter cookies in the entire world. She was a spinster, as we called single women back then, and she would bake for days in preparation for Christmas time visits of friends and family members. But as an elderly lady, she was a bit frightening to me when I was small. So when we arrived at her small house, I’d go straight to the dining room where the cookies were set out on platters and plates. I’d eat as many peanut butter cookies as I could before a grown-up, usually my mom, came in and found me. Then I’d sit, crumbs all over my face and dress, pretending to pay attention to the conversations until we left again.”
“Well, you were just a little kid,” Leo said. “Nothing unusual in kids preferring cookies to adult conversations.”
“I suppose not,” Franny admitted. “Still, I wish I’d been able to tell her how much I loved her, and her cookies, back then. See, I feel in some ways…” She trailed off, emotion rising unexpected in her chest.
“Yes?” Leo encouraging, expectant.
“In some ways, Leo, my whole life, I’ve been too afraid of people and situations to join in, to really participate, to tell everyone how much I love them. I don’t like being afraid, Leo, and I want, I need to change.”
“You already are, Franny. You’re here, and you love me, right?”
“And you’re not scared, are you?”