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Evergreen Dream (F/M, Illness, Fluff)


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Phew! I can't believe I made it. I had the idea for this Christmas-themed story in July, and started writing it in November, but I got SO busy that I didn't know if I could even finish it before Christmas! Since it's so seasonal, I had to start publishing parts before Dec. 25 :lol: I mean, who wants to read a Christmas story in January... But yeah, since I was in a mad rush to finish, please excuse any typos or general lack of quality. I usually like to let the story sit for a few weeks before editing, but it just wasn't possible this time :unsure:

As always, this is a story heavy in plot, full of fluff and care-taking, and this is one is particularly cheesy à la Hallmark Christmas movies. I won't apologize for that :lol: It's also long (as per usual with me), so I'll be posting it in parts.

Merry Christmas, and I hope you enjoy!


Evergreen Dream - Part 1

“Don’t we have more spruces in the storage lot?” asked Lily Morris, pen hovering over an inventory sheet. She looked around the darkened parking lot that she’d been calling “home” for the past three weeks, now a maze of pines and firs waiting to be picked up by a family looking for the perfect Christmas tree.

Aiden shook his head and peered at the sheet. “Looks like you’ve got the wrong list. This one is from November 19.” The college student pointed at the mangled date in the top corner, scribbled with difficulty by Lily’s gloved hand two weeks ago.

“Shit.” Lily slapped her hand on her mouth and looked around, making sure no one was within earshot. Thankfully, customers seemed too busy wrangling their excited children and examining trees to have heard her.

Aiden flashed a mischievous grin. “You really have to watch your mouth, Ms. Morris.”

“Pot calling the kettle black, kid.” She tucked the pen behind her ear and started walking back to the checkout stand. “And stop calling me Ms. Morris, for god’s sake! I’m only 30!”

“Only when you stop calling me ‘kid’!”

Lily chuckled. When Evergreen Dream Ltd. had contacted her to ask if she would take up the managing position at a lot in Wisconsin, she’d scoffed at the idea. She’d been working at a Seattle lot for five years now, in a location only a few blocks away from her apartment. The thought of spending winter in the cold Midwest, especially without friends or family, was unthinkable. But they’d sweetened the deal with quite a bit of cash, and Lily hadn’t been able to resist. The job was seasonal after all. What was two months out of the entire year?

The first few days had been brutal. The humid cold seeped into her North-Westerned-raised bones like the icy breath of death, and her colleagues had turned out to be a bunch of college kids already friends with each other. Lily had instantly missed her Seattle lot and its many familiar faces.

Thankfully, the crew quickly warmed up to Lily, and now treated her like an aunt. Not that she particularly enjoyed feeling like an aunt, but she’d already grown fond of what she called “the kids,” even though they were less than ten years younger than her. There was something uplifting and inspiring about working with a group of young adults looking forward to the endless sea of possibilities ahead of them.

But the cold. Ugh. Nothing could make her love the weather.

Lily reached the checkout stand, relieved to feel the heating lamp’s glow on her frozen nose. She bent down under the counter and ruffled through a pile of inventory forms looking for the latest one. Her mind raced as she wondered exactly how long she’d been using the wrong sheet, and how many trees they actually had left. She’d need to order a new shipment as soon as possible. The busiest time of the year was already upon them.

“You have a lovely voice,” said a man from the other side of the counter.

Lily stood up, confused. A customer in his late 30s smiled at her. He had the looks of a Hallmark movie star: a nice-looking “guy next door” with a warm smile and a rugged, nonchalant style. His nose looked quite red and chapped, and he wore a thick green knitted scarf around his neck.

He pointed at the old speaker attached to a lamp post behind Lily. The thing was blaring “The Christmas Song” with great difficulty. “I was referring to your singing. You know? ‘Chestnut roasting on an open fire...’” he tried to sing, but his hoarse voice couldn’t carry the tune.

Finally, a light bulb went off in Lily’s brain, easing her furrowed brow into a look of understanding. “I was singing out loud against my will again, wasn’t I?”

The man laughed. “I’m afraid so. But don’t worry, you sounded great. You should really be a singer.”

“I kind of already am, actually,” Lily said with a smile. “This is just my seasonal job. You know, the one that actually pays the bills?”

“Now it all makes sense. But what happened to Mrs… What’s-Her-Name?”

“Oh, apparently she retired. They shipped me here from the West Coast because she waited until the last minute to tell the company, and they couldn’t find anyone to replace her on such short notice.”

“’Company’? You mean to tell me this isn’t owned by a lovely local family and passed down from generation to generation?” the man said with a tinge of sarcasm.

“Oh no, Evergreen Dream Lot #124 is totally a family-owned business built with love and Christmas magic,” Lily shot back with a grin. “I’m Lily Morris, by the way.”

She extended her hand towards the customer, but he shook his head. “I’m just getting over a cold and I wouldn’t want to make your job even harder in this weather,” he apologized. “My name is Ezra Norton. I co-own Honey & Cream, a café downtown. I’m actually here to buy a tree to display in our store.”

Lily’s smile widened. “I’ve actually been to Honey & Cream once! Great cranberry muffins.” She turned to grab a paper cup and filled it with hot chocolate from the insulated dispenser. “I’m sorry you’re feeling under the weather, but hopefully this will keep you warm while you browse. I’ll get Aiden to help you pick a tree.” She handed the cup to Ezra and used her walkie-talkie to page Aiden.

Before entering the maze of evergreens, Ezra turned back to Lily and said, “By the way, I’m glad you’re replacing Mrs. Grinch. I’m pretty sure she took pleasure in sucking the Christmas spirit out of everyone.”

Lily laughed, pouring herself a cup of hot chocolate. “So I’ve heard,” she said, glancing towards Aiden emerging from the trees.

“That’s an unnecessarily nice way to put it, Mr. Norton,” said Aiden, gesturing for Ezra to follow him.

Lily heard Ezra’s faint voice as he disappeared behind a huge fir. “Oh come on Aiden, since when do you call me ‘Mr. Norton’?”



When Ezra came back to pay for his massive 10 feet scotch pine, one of the best in the lot, he and Lily chatted a bit more about the town and the weather. While Ezra looked through his wallet for his credit card, Lily took a sip of hot chocolate, eager to warm up.

As she put down the cup, Ezra gasped. His face paled as he looked at the cup with wide eyes.

“What? What’s wrong?” Lily said, panic rising in her chest.

“I’m afraid this was my cup,” he said, pointing at the hot chocolate.

Sure enough, Lily noticed her own cup waiting for her behind the counter.

“Oh no, I’m so sorry! I can give you another one!” she said, scrambling for a new cup.

“No, no, that’s not it! I’m just worried you’ll catch my cold.”

Lily stopped in her track and laughed. “That’s why you made that face? I thought you’d seen a ghost!”

Ezra chuckled. “Well, I’d feel terrible if I passed this on to you,” he said, pointing at his nose.

“I’m the one who hijacked your beverage, so it’s absolutely not your fault! But don’t worry, I’ve got an amazing immune system. I’ll be fine.”

“I hope so,” Ezra said, a look of uncertainty in his eyes.

“Guys, look!” interrupted Aiden a few feet from them. He was still wrapping Ezra’s tree in mesh netting, but had stopped midway and was now staring at the night sky. “The first snow! Finally!”

Lily looked up. Sure enough, a few puffy snowflakes floated lazily in the glow of the Christmas lights hanging between the lamp posts. A groaned escaped her lips. She wasn’t ready for snow. But then again, when would she ever be?



The snow didn’t let up for a full 24 hours, forcing Lily and the crew to move all the trees on the show lot about four times during the day so that the snowplow could clear the ground. And of course, snow meant a dramatic uptick in customers, who finally felt in the mood to decorate for the holidays. Nothing quite as magical as picking a noble fir while big cottony snowflakes danced in the air around. But for Lily, it only meant a grueling day of shoveling the stuff whenever she had a free moment. Definitely no magic in that.

She’d also gotten up early that morning to schedule a delivery, and had had to call her bosses to explain her mistake so that they would approve a rush charge from the supplier. Needless to say, they were not happy with her. Lily worried that it would affect her position in Seattle next year. This temp job was the only thing keeping her afloat on her meager singing gigs salary. She occasionally took up other jobs as necessary, but the Christmas tree lot was by far the most lucrative, especially since she’d been promoted to a manager last year.

When it was finally time to close up shop at 10 pm, Lily grabbed her shovel, repressing a sigh. Aiden offered to help, but she refused. “Don’t you have finals soon?”

Aiden shrugged. “Yeah, but I’m majoring in History and I have an excellent memory. My finals are 95% memorization, 5% critical thinking, so…”

“Oh yeah?” Lily huffed as she pushed the shovel through a pile of snow. “Who was the president of the United States in 1943?”

Aiden rolled his eyes. “Easy. Roosevelt.”

“OK. When did Canada declare independence?”


Lily stopped shoveling, concentrating on finding another question. “Hmmm…” Her head was pounding, making it even more difficult to think straight. It also didn’t help that she knew very few historical facts. “How long was Al Capone’s prison sentence?”

Aiden’s victorious smile turned into a frown. “Uhh…”

“Ha-AH! See? You obviously need to hit the books. Go!” She used the shovel to shoo him away towards the parking lot.

“Wait, so how long was his prison sentence?” asked Aiden, defeated.

Lily shrugged. “Do you really think I would know that?”

“Did you even know any of the other answers?”


Aiden shook his head, laughing. “I’ve been tricked. Fine, I’ll go home and brush up on the Prohibition era. New York in the 1920s is one of the coolest eras anyway.”

Lily resumed shoveling. “I’ll take your word for it. Now go prosper and all that, and get out of my sight.” As she finished her sentence, a tickle bloomed deep within her sinuses, forcing her to drop her shovelful of snow and burry her nose in her scarf.


“Bless you Mrs. Morris!” said Aiden with a laugh, a reaction Lily was used to by now. No matter how hard she tried to control the sound of her sneezes, she had never been able to suppress what could only be described as a high-pitch voice crack before the release. People either found it adorable or hilarious.

“Good night, Aiden,” Lily said in a stern voice, shooing him away once again with the shovel.

After Aiden’s car turned the corner, silence fell upon the Christmas tree lot. Snow still tumbled out of the sky, but at a slower rate. Lily resumed shoveling, the flat blade occasionally grating against the asphalt underneath, filling the air with a loud rustling. Now that everybody was gone, Lily found the activity quite calming.

When she was finally done, her cheeks red and frozen, her fingers numb, she headed towards the RV rented for her by the company. It definitely lacked the comfort of an hotel room, but she didn’t mind it too much. It allowed her to be around whenever the kids needed her, even on her days off. But it wasn’t exactly the best place to sleep in the middle of winter. She longed for a deep, hot bath instead of the lukewarm dribble her shower provided.

As she unlocked the door, another tickle formed at the back of her nose, freezing her in place. It developed slowly this time, torturing her as she tried to inhale cold air to set it off. Finally, she turned to her side and sneezed openly towards the ground.


The sound echoed in the dead of night, as if mocking her.



“Unfortunately, we don’t have any of those in stock at the moment, but let me show you a few better options.”

Lily bit her bottom lip as she heard Tommy try the new canned response that she’d taught the kids that morning. It was now late afternoon, and she’d heard the line a thousand times, cringing inwardly every time.

“Any news?” asked Aiden as he passed by the checkout counter carrying netting.

Lily shook her head. “Still nothing.”

Two days had passed since Lily had rush-ordered a new shipment of trees. It had been scheduled to be delivered the previous morning, but bad weather had pushed the delivery window to this morning. However, the truck had never shown up, and no one could get a hold of the driver.

In the meantime, business had flourished and the supply was dwindling fast. They barely had enough trees to satisfy the demand for the next four days. But worse than that, they had run out of the most popular types, and some customers were leaving empty-handed and unhappy.

Lily could barely function, checking her phone every two minutes and feeling too frazzled to focus on a task.


“Bless you,” shouted Aiden as he kept walking. “You should take something for that.”

“For what?” she shouted back distractedly as Aiden disappeared in the show lot, but he didn’t reply.

Lily tried calling the truck driver for the hundredth time, no longer caring whether or not all the missed calls would make her look like a psycho stalker. When he didn’t pick up, Lily felt the same mix of emotions as all the other times she’d called: worry that something had happened to the driver, and anger because he probably just had had too much to drink the night before and was sleeping off a hangover. There were no other options in Lily’s mind; it had to be one or the other.

“I’m back for more,” said a voice Lily didn’t recognize at first. She lifted her head to see Ezra standing once again in front of the counter, only this time, his nose no longer looked chapped and his voice sounded deep and strong.

Lily tried to rally herself and managed to pull off a natural smile. “Welcome back! Addicted to Christmas trees, I see?”

“Guilty. But this time, I’d like one for my house. So… a little smaller.”

“As long as you don’t want a douglas fir or a blue spruce or a scotch pine, I’m sure we can find something.” Lily regretted her sarcastic words as soon as she heard them coming out of her mouth. This wasn’t very professional, and not at all what she’d taught the boys to say. But she had this odd feeling of familiarity with Ezra, and it had fooled her into being too frank.

“I don’t know what any of this means, but as long as it has branches to hang ornaments on and smells like sap, I’ll take it,” said Ezra, laughing. “Has business been a little too good to you?”

“Well, yes and no. It’s mostly my mistake. I ordered a new shipment too late, so we’re running out of trees. But it’s all good, the truck should be here today. Hopefully. Except the driver disappeared.” She grabbed her walkie-talkie and shoved it in front of her mouth to stop the deluge of honesty from spewing out. “Aiden, could you help Ezra pick a tree please?”

Ezra gave her a sympathetic look. “That sounds awful, I’m sorry. Hopefully he’s just sleeping off a hangover and he’ll show up soon.”

“That’s exactly what I was thinking!” said Lily with a little too much enthusiasm. “It must be that, right? The guy had to stop for the night, went to a local bar and got smashed. That’s all.” She really did not want to think of the alternative.

Ezra nodded. “Must be it!”

“I just can—can’t belie— hhh… Hold—“ Lily’s breath hitched as a tickle nestled itself deep within her nose. She turned to her side and muffled a sneeze in the crook of her puffy coat-covered elbow.


“Bless you!” said Ezra with an endeared smile.

But Lily wasn’t done. She immediately launched forward with another one of her signature sneezes and barely enough time to draw breath.


“Oh, bless you again!” Ezra’s smile faltered and a frown appeared on his face. “I hope I didn’t get you sick after all?”

Lily sniffed. “No, no, don’t worry. It’s just…” she gestured around her. “I must be allergic to snow.”

“Hey there!” interrupted Aiden, shaking Ezra’s hand. “Did Melinda send you for another tree?”

Lily’s ears perked up at the mention of “Melinda.” Who was Melinda?

“Yeah, she’s been wanting one for a while but we’ve been busy at the café. She says the house is gloomy without it.”

Lily felt a wave of disappointment hit her, which left her puzzled. Of course, Ezra was cute, but she hadn’t been consciously aware that she found him attractive enough to be disappointed that he was taken. She raised an eyebrow. This was definitely a first.

A buzz on her phone reminded her that she had more important things to worry about. Sadly, the text was from a friend back in Seattle, not from the supplier.

Before following Aiden back on the show lot, Ezra turned to Lily once more. “Listen, I was wondering if you were free tomorrow night?”

Lily looked at him with a blank face, confused.

“Oh I… I should explain,” said Ezra, his cheeks flaming red. “We’re having our traditional Christmas Evening at Honey & Cream, and we usually just play some Christmas radio station over the speakers, but I thought it would be nice to have live music.”

Now understanding where this was going, it was Lily’s turn to get red-cheeked.

“We’d love to hire you for the event if you’re available,” continued Ezra. “And if you sing Christmas songs at all.”

“Of course! I know all the classics, and I even have my guitar with me. I’d love to sing for you guys!”

Ezra beamed. “That’s great. Let me pick out a tree and we can discuss the details.”

As she watched Ezra walk towards the trees, Lily couldn’t help but smile. Landing gigs always made her happy, and she hadn’t expected to get any job offers in the middle of Wisconsin. For a blissful moment, she even forgot about her predicament.

Until she heard Tommy in the background: “Unfortunately we don’t have any scotch pines in stock at the moment, but let me show you a few better options.”

Lily resisted the urge to smack her head on the counter, and decided to count that as a victory.



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I'm reading this on a very cold and rainy night.  It gave me the warm fuzzies despite the weather outside.  I love the thorough development of the characters.  Waiting with baited breath to find out about this Melinda......

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This is so nice. Your holiday stories have always been great, and this is no exception. Lily's sneeze is super cute, and I'm interested to see how her little predicament plays out. I love her "I must be allergic to snow" line. It's nice to see that she has a bit of a goofy side to her too.

Looking forward to part 2!

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@Alyssa1146 I'm so glad you liked it! And don't worry, you're about to find out who Melinda is :lol:

@CharliesGirl Thank you so much! :blush:

@sickprincess Glad you're enjoying it! This part will only give you a glimpse of what's to come at the party, but don't worry, tomorrow's part 3 should make up for it :D

@Blah!? Thank you!! I love writing Christmas sneeze fics. And I really tried to have a little more fun with Lily by giving her a unique sneeze. Hopefully it works :lol:

@Privatedancer, @Heather, @M214186 Thank you so much for leaving a comment :wub:

Here's part 2!


Evergreen Dream - Part II

“I just don’t know what I’m going to do, El,” whined Lily as she prepared the cash register for the day, her cellphone tucked between her ear and the faux fur of her hood.

It was the next morning, early enough that none of the college kids on schedule that day had made it to the lot yet. A cold wind rustled through the remaining trees, the sun shining brightly on the blanket of snow. Too brightly for Lily’s eyes, which were oddly sensitive, exacerbating the low-level headache she’d been putting up with for the past two days. Stress always affected her like that.

“So let me get this straight…” said Ella at the other end of the line. She was one of Lily’s dearest friends and a very opinionated woman, which made her the perfect person to call when things went wrong. Lily found it cathartic. “This idiot drove his truck into a ditch, damaged all your trees, didn’t get hurt but took an entire day to remember to call someone?”

“Yep. Apparently he thought he could ‘fix it.’ I guess he was scared to call his boss and admit that he messed up.”

“I bet that sucker was driving too fast. Or drunk.”

“God I hope not,” said Lily, closing the cash drawer with a satisfying clang. “I’m glad no one got hurt, but what am I supposed to do? The supplier is sending another shipment, but it’ll take too long to get here. I’m running out of trees! And that’s the only thing we sell here. I can’t exactly be like, ‘Oh sorry, we don’t have any trees in stock, but can I interest you in a nice roll of mesh netting? Or a flocking machine?’” She stopped and raised an eyebrow. “Wait, what if I offered flocking services?”

Ella laughed. “You’re joking.”

“I mean… I’m really desperate here. I’ll flock anything for cash. I can flock a mailbox, I can flock a car, I’d even flock a damn turkey.”

“Lily, this is me virtually shaking you by the shoulders right now. Get a grip, and for the love of all that is holy, stop saying ‘flock.’ It’s way too early for that. You know it’s 7 am here, right?”

“I’m ju—just… Ho—hhh—hold on,” said Lily, fighting against her hitching breath. She barely had time to pull the phone away from her ear before she bent forward with two harsh sneezes. “Iih—tsheeew! Iih—TSHEEEW!”

“Bless. This is the second time you’ve sneezed since you’ve called.”

Lily sniffed wetly. “So?”

“Are you coming down with something?”

“No, Mama Bear, I’m fine. It’s just much colder here than back home. It’s constantly below freezing. Can you imagine?”

“Yeah, I can imagine that it would get you sick pretty easily. Listen, don’t get your tinsel in a bunch about this whole thing. You’ll run yourself ragged, I know you. It’s not your fault if the trees didn’t show up. Just call your bosses and tell them what happened. I’m sure they have a few tricks up their sleeves.”

“I don’t know,” said Lily, sniffing again and briefly pinching her nose. The sneezes hadn’t gotten rid of the tickle. She could still feel a light, feathery tingle in the back of her sinuses. “If I hadn’t made a mistake with the inventory, this would have never happened. I need to fix it on my own, otherwise I might not get my job back in Seattle next year.”

Ella groaned. “You realize you’re doing exactly what that stupid driver did, right?”

Lily shrugged, waving to Tommy has he drove by on his way to the parking area, the beat of rap music vibrating the ground under her feet. “I guess he had the right idea, he just didn’t execute it correctly. Listen, I gotta go, we’re opening soon.”

As Lily lowered her phone to end the call, she heard Ella’s faint voice muttering her disapproval. But that was the thing with strongly opinionated people: One could always ignore their advice and chalk it up to their passionate dispositions.

The tickle suddenly surged like a gust of wind, reducing Lily to a hitching, gasping mess as she fought the sneeze—and lost.




Lily spent most of the day on the phone, calling every tree farms in the area to secure a new shipment. But because she was so late in the season and couldn’t promise a long-term deal, no one was willing to quote her a reasonable price.

Time was running out, and so was Lily’s hope to resolve the matter by herself. She slumped on the stool near the cash register, sighing heavily.

“Still nothing?” asked Aiden, his eyes fixed on his phone.

“Nothing good at least. Bunch of Scrooges. No one is willing to give me a good price.”

Aiden scoffed. “Maybe from their perspective, you’re the Scrooge. Making them work so close to Christmas for mere pennies. I’m sure they have a family to feed and kids to take care of.”

“You’re the worst devil’s advocate ever,” said Lily, shaking her head. The motion woke up her nagging headache, making her wince.

“No one likes to hear the truth,” said Aiden, shrugging.

Lily rolled her eyes and went back to looking for more farms to call, widening her search area even more. The idea of explaining her situation to yet another farmer and begging for help made her feel completely exhausted. Plus, her throat had begun to hurt from talking all day; not a good thing considering she was scheduled to sing later that night.

Her mind drifted off to Seattle and her cozy apartment. She missed going out for a beer after work with Ella. By this time, their group of friends would no doubt be organizing Christmas gatherings and activities, and Lily was missing out on all of them. Is the extra money really worth all of this? she wondered.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a fierce tickle deep within her sinuses. She scrunched up her nose and sniffled wetly, which did nothing to abate the tickle. It kept on expanding, forcing her to shut her eyes and tilt her head back. She waved a gloved hand in front of her face, her breath hitching for what felt like an eternity. Finally, she launched forward with a harsh sneeze.


“You’ve been doing a lot of that today,” said Aiden absentmindedly, still occupied by god-knew-what on his phone.

“Doing what?” said Lily as a shiver wracked her body. Damn this cold weather, she thought, and glanced at the heating lamp, wondering if it had a higher setting.


Lily laughed. “Have you been counting my sneezes?”

“Not really, but I should have.” He gestured towards the almost empty lot. “It’s not like I’ve been really busy today.”

“Yeah w—well… hhh… May—Maybe you… Iih—sheeeew!”

“That’s two. I’m starting right now,” said Aiden with a smirk.

“You know, Aiden, if we don’t have trees to sell, that means I have to cut your hours, which means no salary for you.” Lily sniffed, waiting for the full effect of what she’d said to erase the smirk on Aiden’s face. When it did, she smiled sweetly and said, “So how about you use all your free paid time to help me locate a tree farm instead?”

“Yes, ma’am. I’m on it!”

Iihh—TSHEEEEW!” Lily quickly lifted her head after the third sneeze, shooting a warning glance towards Aiden. “I swear to god, if you—“

“Shhh! I’m busy looking for trees online,” said Aiden, repressing a laugh.



An hour before she was due to sing at the Honey & Cream, Lily stood in front of the cold medicine aisle of a grocery store.

It had taken her that long to realize that all of her symptoms were indicative of a burgeoning cold. The headache, the shivers, the sore throat… and the sneezes. But it was only when her nose had started to run that the veil of denial had fallen. And here she was now, holding a crumpled tissue to her nose while looking for the perfect syrup that would allow her to survive the night.

She didn’t want to cancel; the singing gig was the only good thing happening to her at the moment. Even though she felt under the weather, she knew singing would bring back some much-needed happiness into her heart. She could do it, too. She’d sung with worse than a cold before and knew all the tricks to avoid damaging her vocal chords. But medicine always helped.

She grabbed a bottle of generic cold medicine and headed for the tea aisle for some throat coat, when a familiar voice called her name behind her.

It was Ezra.

Lily instinctively hid the cold medicine behind her back when she turned around, not wanting him to know she was sick. Partly because he’d given her this cold and she didn’t want him to feel bad, but mostly because she was worried he’d cancel the show tonight.

She cleared her throat and hoped for the best. “Hey Ezra! Fancy seeing you here!”

Ezra chuckled, pushing a cart full of a variety of drinks towards her. “We severely underestimated the number of people coming this year, and we’re already running out of drinks.”

“Keep them happy; it makes my job easier!” said Lily, aware of how awkward and overly joyous she sounded. That was the only way she knew to compensate for her lack of energy.

They both stood in silence for a few seconds too long, not knowing what to say. An old Nat King Cole Christmas song played in the background above the hum of the refrigerated displays next to them. Lily wondered just how sickly and pale she looked in the sad, yellowish light of the grocery store, standing right next to a wall of raw meat. Lovely. She tried to think of a way to end the conversation and extricate herself from this situation, but her mind was blank.

And of course, that’s when her nose decided to start tickling.

“Everyone is very excited to hear you sing,” said Ezra, breaking the silence. Unlike Lily, he sounded completely comfortable and relaxed. “I’ve already gotten a few requests.”

Water rose in Lily’s eyes as the tickle grew more intense. “I can’t wait!” she squeaked, trying to control her breathing.

“Oh, do you need a lift to the coffee shop? I’m ready to checkout, so if you want to, you could come with me right now and have a drink before the show. We’ll have plenty of options,” he added, pointing at his cart.

Unable to think straight because of the itch, Lily nodded vigorously, which only made matters worse. “That’d b—be great… Hhh….” She gestured towards the exit in a ‘lead the way’ motion.

Ezra nodded and turned the cart around. As soon as he had his back to her, Lily ducked to the side and stifled a quick double in the crook of her elbow.

“Hhh—Iih—chxshh! Iih—chxxshh!”

Ezra turned around. “What was that?”

Lily stood up straight and stopped moving, as if caught red handed. “What was what?”

Ezra’s eyes scanned the area around Lily. “I heard a weird noise. I thought you’d drop something.” He smiled and turned back around, resuming his walk to the checkout line.

Lily exhaled and sniffed, quickly swiping her used tissue under her nose before hiding it back in her pocket. When she was sure Ezra wouldn’t turn around again, she shoved the box of cold medicine on a shelf, knowing there would be no way to purchase it without Ezra seeing it. She shot the box a longing look as she walked away, promising herself that she’d be back for it the next day.



As they were pulling out of the grocery store’s parking lot, Lily regained enough brain power to remember her guitar. “Crap, do you mind stopping by the RV? I’ll need my guitar.”

“No problem. It’s only a few blocks away anyway.” He put on the heat at full blast, glancing at a shivering Lily. “Who’s in charge of the lot while you’re out?”

“One of the kids,” said Lily, warming her hands over the vent. “They should be fine though… Not many trees to be in charge of at the moment anyway.”

“Are you still waiting for that lost shipment?”

Lily sighed. “That shipment is lost forever. I’m waiting for a replacement. I’d love to find a local supplier to get a small shipment until then but…” She shrugged and shook her head. “I won’t bore you with the details. I’ll figure something out.”

As soon as she moved her hands away from the vent, a blast of hot air blew in her face, which felt nice on her frozen nose, but also triggered another annoying tickle. Lily quickly adjusted the vent away from her face and pinched her nostrils to squash the impending sneeze.

“I’m sure you’ll—“ Ezra glanced at her and stopped mid-sentence, amused. “You OK there?”

Lily lowered her hand and nodded, then quickly shook her head no as her mouth slacked open and her eyelids fluttered. “Go—Gonna sn… sneeze—IihhIih—tsheeew!”

“Bless you! If you need tissues, there’s a packet in the glove compartment.”

“Thanks,” said Lily, fetching the packet and plucking a tissue out. She dabbed at her nose gingerly, not wanting to blow and make a disgusting sound that would give her away.

Ezra glanced once again at her. “Are you feeling alright?”

She smiled. “Yep! It’s the snow…”

“Ah yes. Allergic to snow, right?” said Ezra with a chuckle. He turned into the Evergreen Dream’s lot and stopped in front of Lily’s RV. “Here you are!”



As Ezra and Lily walked to the back door of Honey & Cream, their hands full with bags of clinking glass bottles, muffled sounds of laughter, conversation and Christmas music saturated the night air. Butterflies rose in Lily’s stomach, anticipating the moment she’d be on stage in front of this cheery crowd. She couldn’t help but smile.

“After you,” said Ezra, holding the door with his elbow and moving his bags out of the way.

Lily walked into a dark and narrow hallway, a wave of comforting heat enveloping her. At the other end of the corridor, she could see people chatting, and the orange glow of a fireplace. Images of Christmas when she was a child instantly filled her memory. Her grandpa’s living room with the giant brick fireplace. The entire extended family gathered in one room, laughing and talking animatedly. Tables filled with food and desserts. Comfort, warmth and happiness.

“Sounds like quite the crowd in there,” said Lily as she neared the end of the hallway.

“Yep,” said Ezra proudly. “The party gets bigger every year.”

When Lily reached the main room, she couldn’t believe her eyes. She remembered the café being quite spacious and cozy when she’d visited a few weeks ago, but it had been completely transformed from a modern, minimalist space to a Christmas wonderland. A fire roared in the huge stone hearth on the right side of the room. Pine garlands scalloped the entire length of the walls, peppered with holly and ornaments. A huge chandelier made of thousands of dangling crystals in the shape of snowflakes glittered in the dimmed lights.

A few hundred people had gathered at the Honey & Cream in their best attire, with people sitting at the decorated tables or standing in small groups, crowded together for a lack of space. The chorus of voices sounded cheerful and relaxed, which immediately put Lily at ease. She noted a small area in the left corner of the room with a stool and a mic, and behind it, a huge Christmas tree beautifully decorated—the 10 feet scotch pine she’d sold Ezra a few days ago. This would be her spot for the night, and Lily couldn’t have been happier.

Ezra guided her towards a double swivel door behind the counter. “Can you drop off the bottles in the kitchen? I’ll go grab your guitar real quick.” He set down his own bags near the door and darted back towards the hallway.

When Lily pushed the double doors, the smell of glazed ham, pepper gravy and green bean casserole welcomed her despite her congestion. The small professional kitchen was a mess of dirty dishes and flour, forcing Lily to stack a few mixing bowls to make room for the alcohol she was carrying.

Behind her, the double door swung again, and Lily turned around to come face to face with a tall blonde carrying a tray of empty mugs.

“Oh!” the woman said, a warm smile illuminating her face. “You must be Lily! I’m Melinda. I’d shake your hand but…” she nodded towards her tray and swept passed Lily. “Sorry it’s such a mess in here. I hope my brother told you it’s not always like this. Please don’t call the health inspector on us!”

“Brother…? Oh, Ezra? You’re Ezra’s sister?”

Melinda stopped in front of the sink and started unloading the mugs. “Yep! Sister, roommate, co-owner… All of those things. And we’re not even twins.” Once done, she swiveled and started grabbing clean mugs from a shelf and placing them on her tray. “When he told me he’d found someone to sing at our Christmas party, I was ecstatic. Live music is really the only thing that was missing, but we hadn’t realized it. Do you know ‘Christmas Time’s a-Comin’ by Emmylou Harris? It’s not a well-known song but my mom loved it and played it on a loop every Christmas at home. I’ve always wanted to hear it live. If you don’t know it, it’s fine too!” She hurried around the counter and placed the tray on a stack of clean plates, then started filling the mugs with hot chocolate from a thermos dispenser. “Oh shoot, we’re running out.”

Lily watched her flutter around the kitchen, unable to place a word as Melinda chatted animatedly, seemingly more to herself than to Lily. Lily tried to keep up, but her mind still clung to the fact that Melinda was Ezra’s sister, not lover. It felt like such a silly trope that only happened in romcoms, and yet it had just happened to her.

“… and he said you had the voice of an angel. That’s a huge compliment coming from Ezra. He doesn’t like any of the singers on the radio these days. I keep telling him he’s just too old to get it.”

Lily turned her attention back to Melinda just in time to hear the compliment, and her heart swelled. She blushed and sniffled, feeling her nose running a little. Unfortunately, as it often happened to her when she had a cold, sniffling sparked a torturous tickle that nothing could stop. She scrunched up her nose and tried to pinch her nostrils shut anyway, but when her breath started hitching, she knew there was no way out.

“…seem to be having fun, but you never know for sure. What do you think?”

Suddenly, Melinda stopped filling the mugs on her tray and looked at Lily expectantly.

“I… Hhh… I uh… Ehh…” Not only did Lily not know what the question was, but she was also fighting off the sneeze with all her might, embarrassed at the fact that Melinda was just staring at her.

“Are you alright?” said Melinda with a frown.

Lily lifted her index finger and quickly swiveled towards the door, her head tilting back as she took in a big breath. She covered her nose and mouth in her scarf and launched forward with two itchy, irritated sneezes.

Iihh—tsheeeew!... Hhh—Iiih—tsheeeew!”

“Bless you, my dear!” said Melinda with a chuckle before busying herself piling mini marshmallows and crushed candy canes in each mug. “Boy do I wish I had a cute sneeze like that. Mine sounds like a tornado warning, and then comes the tornado, if you know what I mean. Yours is like a kitten sneeze. It’s so cute.”

And just like that, Melinda was back to a whirlwind of chatter, hurrying around the kitchen to prepare the drinks. Behind Lily, the double doors swung, revealing Ezra, guitar case in hand.

“Ezra!” said Melinda, briefly looking towards her brother before focusing back on her task. “We were just talking about you!”

Ezra chuckled. “I bet you were doing most of the talking, as always.” He turned to Lily and handed her the guitar. “Can I get you something to drink before the show?”

Lily hesitated. Her throat felt a bit raw and she could really use a coat throat, but didn’t want to admit being sick. She wanted to ask for chamomile tea with a lot of honey, but that seemed like a dead giveaway.

“A glass of water would be great.” She clenched her teeth as soon as she heard her own voice. Heavy congestion had settled after the sneezes, and she really needed to blow her nose. “Also, is there anywhere I could go to warm up my voice?” And blow my nose in peace, she thought.

“Yeah sure! You can use my office.” Ezra headed back out of the kitchen. “Follow me.”


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@Alyssa1146 One party, coming right up! :D

Here's part 3!


Evergreen Dream - Part III

Lily spent half an hour doing vocal warmups while walking around Ezra’s office. In-between “hums” and “aahs,” she admired the cleanliness of the room. She hadn’t pegged Ezra as being so orderly. Everything had its place, from the piles of papers neatly arranged in stacked trays to the three pens of different colors aligned next to a notebook.

Lily scrunched up her nose and sniffled, annoyed at the returning tickle. The inside of her nose permanently felt on fire. She grabbed a tissue from a nearby box and folded it over her nose. Her eyes closed as the tickle etched deeper and deeper into her sinuses, sending a little shiver down her back. Her head shook lightly as she drew a breath and sneezed into the tissue.

“Hhh—iihh—sheeeew! Ugh…”

She knew the squeak wasn’t good for her voice, but she couldn’t help it. At least she didn’t feel too sick. Sure, her head was heavy and achy, her throat was irritated and her sinuses were on fire, but she didn’t feel feverish or exhausted. Not only that, but after warming up her voice, Lily felt confident that she could pull off her set. She sang a little deeper than normal, but didn’t crack at all. If she played this right, nobody would notice anything.

A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. “Come in!”

Ezra’s head peeked in from a crack in the door. “Are you ready to go? I think the Christmas cheer has reached maximum capacity out there.”

Lily smiled. The butterflies hummed with excitement in her stomach. “Let’s give them something to cheer about.”



“Alright everyone,” said Ezra in the mic, tapping it a few times to test it. “This year, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful singer with a beautiful voice who agreed to perform Christmas songs for us tonight. So please be nice to her, and maybe she’ll come back next year.”

Lily smiled when Ezra looked towards her with pleading eyes. She quieted the voice in her head whispering that she’d be back in Seattle next year, maybe without a job. Stay in the moment, she told herself. You’re about to go sing. Her heart pounded with nerves, but her smile grew bigger.

“Put your hands together for Lily Morris!”

Lily walked to the stool and sat down, adjusting her guitar strap. When the clapping died down, she leaned towards the mic. “Hey everyone, I’m the one who sold most of you a Christmas tree this year,” she said, then pointed over her shoulder. “Including this monster right there.” The crowd laughed, and Lily felt her nerves melt away, leaving only excitement. “How about we sing some Christmas songs?”

She started with “Chestnut Roasting on an Open Fire,” one of her favorites. As she strung the first notes on her guitar, she remembered that this was the song she accidentally sang when she met Ezra for the first time. She glanced at him and saw that he was grinning from ear to ear, as if he was remembering the same thing.

A split second before she was meant to start singing, worry bubbled in her chest. She couldn’t help but fear that her voice wouldn’t cooperate. Thankfully, the words came out effortlessly, smooth and clear. A smile grew on her lips as she relaxed into the song.

Lily lost herself in the music during the first half hour, going from jazzy classics to upbeat carols. The crowd was so into it, clapping and singing along, that Lily forgot all about her cold and overdid it a little bit. She belted out “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” doing her usual runs. When she finished the song, people cheered and applauded while she took a big gulp of water, feeling the wrath of her irritated throat flaring up.

“Alright folks, how about a slow one?” she said, her voice sounding a little rough. “Anyone here knows ‘Where Are You Christmas’?” People cheered and nodded.

Lily took another sip of water. “Not that we need to ask ourselves where Christmas is, because it’s obviously all here. All of it,” she said, making people laugh again. Lily giggled, but it turned into a small cough. She leaned away from the mic and cleared her throat, catching Ezra’s worried gaze on her. She smiled reassuringly at him.

Lily starting singing, closing her eyes. She always loved doing “Where Are You Christmas.” It was such a beautiful song with a powerful build. Sure, it wasn’t the most cheerful, but it resonated with Lily. After moving to Seattle, away from her family, Christmas hadn’t been the same. Her family had stopped organizing huge gatherings because of a petty fight between her aunts and uncles, and Lily had eventually stopped going home for Christmas altogether because of her new job at Evergreen Dream. Her parents understood that she had to make ends meet, but it still felt bittersweet every year to be spending the holidays selling Christmas trees to happy families, while she had no family of her own to celebrate on December 24th.

“Where are you Christmas, why can't I find you, why have you gone away,” Lily sang, looking at the crowd in front of her. Some people were putting their heads on their neighbor’s shoulders, or holding hands. They all looked like a big, giant family, and Lily still had trouble wrapping her head around the fact that this city had such a tight-knit community. It was incredibly touching.

Lily concentrated on the vibration of her guitar against her body, trying not to choke up. Emotion rose in her chest and fizzed in her nose as she tried not to cry. But something worse than tears happened: The tickle returned.

At first, she kept singing, hoping adrenaline would take care of it. But it didn’t. The tickle grew to a persistent prickling sensation buzzing slowly down her nostrils. In between verses, she tried to wiggle her nose, which didn’t do any good.

“Where are y—you Christ—hh…mas, do you… hhh...—member, the one you used— tohhh…”

Her lips parted, her eyes closed. She kept strumming, but could no longer sing. She fought her hitching breath once, twice, until it was too much. She turned her head in time, but the mic still picked up her sneezes perfectly, down to the little gasp.

Iihh—tsheeew! Hhh—ihh—tsheeeew!”

A chorus of bless you and giggles burst from the audience. Lily couldn’t help but laugh, too. “I’m so sorry guys,” she said, her face hot with embarrassment. “I tried so hard, but I couldn’t fight these off.” She kept on strumming the same notes in a loop, trying to recover from the situation. “Although I must say, I’ve never been blessed by so many people at once. I feel really… well… blessed actually.” The crowd erupted in laughter again.

Lily managed to finish the song and play a few more, but she could feel her voice weakening. It even cracked during a folksy version of “Jingle Bells,” but thankfully no one heard it because the crowd was singing louder than her.

She ended with a very simple rendition of “Silent Night,” and was surprised to discover that it sounded better with her raspy, lower voice. As soon as she finished the last note, the crowd whistled and applauded for a full minute, leaving Lily speechless and incredibly touched. She had never sung for such an enthusiastic crowd before. Most of her gigs involved small gatherings, or bars where customers still chatted loudly with each other as if she didn’t exist.

A few people even came up to welcome her to the city and tell her how much they loved her voice. Ezra waited for everyone to disperse before he walked up to her.

“You were wonderful,” he said with such honesty and admiration that Lily felt her insides melt.

“I had a blast!” Her voice sounded deeper and rough around the edge. She cleared her throat. “You’ve got such an amazing group here. I can’t believe how many people turned up.”

“This town is crazy about Christmas,” Ezra said, turning around to gaze upon the mingling crowd like a proud father. “There are tons of other activities organized in town and in neighboring cities. Next week, the old drive-in is even going to reopen for a Christmas movie marathon. Everyone will build their own bonfire and cuddle up with blankets and hot cocoa. Should be fun.” He looked at her sideways. “You should join us.”

Lily smiled. Was that an invitation? “I’d love to.”

But her smiled faltered as a tickle came out of nowhere. She barely had time to muffle the sneezes in her elbow, her head bobbing down with each release.

“Hhh—iihh—sheeew! Iiih—sheeew!”

“Bless you,” said Ezra, his tone more serious. He paused for a moment, surveying her. “Are you sure you’re feeling alright?”

Lily sniffled and nodded with a smile. “Yeah. Just tired. I’m still trying to figure out my little ‘problem’ at work and—“

Ezra snapped his fingers, his eyes lighting up as if he’d just thought of a cure for world hunger. “OH! That reminds me! I think I can help you with your Christmas tree problem.”

Lily raised her eyebrows. “Seriously? What do you have in mind?”

“Well, I haven’t worked it out fully yet but—“

“Ezra?” called out Melinda from the counter, her panicked voice rising above the chatter. “Little help please?”

Poor Melinda was struggling to serve drinks and desserts to the crowd that had formed around the counter, ready for something sweet after the show. Lily could understand their excitement. If the dessert was as tasty as the cranberry muffin she’d had last time, she’d be dying to get a piece of it herself.

“Shoot,” said Ezra, already moving towards Melinda. “Listen, are you free tomorrow morning? I can come by and tell you all about it then.”

Lily nodded. “Sure, we’ll talk tomorrow.”

“Thanks again for the show,” Ezra said, his smile warming up the room. “Have a hot chocolate and enjoy yourself.”

Lily smiled back. A hot chocolate sounds heavenly right about now, she thought, shivering in spite of the ambient heat. And with any luck, this cold will be gone after a good night’s rest.



The night brought anything but good rest to Lily. She spent it tossing and turning on her cheap mattress, shivering under the blankets and sneezing her poor little nose off. By the morning, her bed was littered with used tissues, and she’d only managed to doze off a few hours, at best.

She stood outside in the light of dawn, coffee mug in hand, surveying what was left of the Christmas tree lot. Steam from her coffee rose in the chilly air, mixing with the mist of her breath. She sniffled wetly, bringing a crumpled tissue to her nose. Her nostrils were chapped beyond repair, and she knew nothing could be done to make herself look presentable before Ezra’s arrival.

She walked between the few trees still available on the show lot, her boots crunching in the snow. Worry wrapped around her chest like a corset bound too tightly. If Ezra’s solution didn’t work out, she’d have to call the bosses and admit her fault. Not only had she messed up in the first place, but now she’d lost a good two days of sales trying to fix it by herself. She’d made it worse.

No wonder this lot is so important to them, Lily thought. It had been incredibly popular since the start of the season for such a small city. After talking with Ezra the night before, Lily understood why. Evergreen Dream had found the perfect gem: A series of small towns and cities with deep-rooted Christmas traditions, and no other Christmas tree lots to compete. The stakes were higher than she had thought.

Lily shivered in the relentless cold, and scrunched up her nose as a tickle formed. She fished for her tissue in her coat pocket, covering her nose just in time.

“Hhh—iihh—sheeeew! Ugh… Iihh—sheeew! Iiih—TSHEEEW!”

Behind her, she heard a car make its way into the lot, most likely Ezra’s. She turned around, still clutching the tissue to her nose with one hand, and holding her coffee in the other. A black truck with a trailer attached slowed down near the entrance. It wasn’t Ezra’s Toyota, but the windows were so frosted that Lily couldn’t tell who was sitting in the driver’s seat.

The door opened and Ezra came out. Lily’s heart flipped at the sight of him. She watched him walked to her RV, not knowing that she stood ten feet away on the show lot.

“I’m right here,” she called, except her voice didn’t cooperate. What came out was a pitiful squeak, only hitting a few syllables in full voice, the rest lost in a whisper. She put her hand to her throat, surprised. Had she lost her voice?

Thankfully, it had been enough to catch Ezra’s attention. “Hey,” he called out as he headed towards her. “I was afraid you’d still be sleeping.”

“Your text said 6 am,” she squeaked, her raspy voice still not able to form full words.

Ezra walked up to her with a pained expression. “Oof, you really don’t sound good.” His eyes scanned her face, stopping at her bright-red nose. “I got you sick, didn’t I?” he said softly, his tone full of guilt.

“I think this weather is what did me in,” Lily said, pointing at the gray skies above threatening to unleash a fresh coat of snow. “I’m alright though.”

Ezra looked at her, unconvinced. “You sure you’re up for this? I can come back tomorrow and let you rest.”

Lily shook her head. “If you’ve got a solution, we need to do it now.” She looked at the trees around her. “We’re losing money becau—because of… hhh…”

Lily felt the sneezes coming, hard and fast, the tingle catching fire in her irritated sinuses. But she couldn’t locate her tissue. She put her coffee mug on a crate nearby to free her hands, then checked her coat pockets, her jeans pockets… to no avail. Understanding what was happening, Ezra dug into his own pockets, and came up with a travel packet of tissues, managing to get one out and handing it to Lily just in time.

Iiih—tsheeew! Hhh—iihh—tsheeeew!”

“Bless you,” Ezra said, his voice warm and soft. “At least let’s get you into the warmth of my truck. I had the heat on full blast. It should still be toasty in there.” He guided her to the passenger side and opened the door for her, closing it behind her.

Lily welcomed the heat with relief, blowing her nose while Ezra circled the truck to get to the driver seat.

“There, this should be better,” he said as he sat down and started the truck, reviving the heating vents. Forced air rushed out with a loud wooshing sound. Ezra turned the heat down to quiet them. “I had a hunch you were under the weather yesterday, but I didn’t dare to ask,” he said, sheepish. “It was a bit selfish of me. I really wanted to hear you sing.”

Lily smiled. “Don’t feel bad. I didn’t tell you because I was afraid you’d cancel the gig.” She grimaced at the sound of her voice. “I sound worse than I feel. And it was totally worth it.”

Ezra nodded. “Alright then, let’s go get you some trees. That’s at least one problem I can fix.”

He put the truck into gear and started turning around in the parking lot, but Lily put her hand on his arm. “Wait, you haven’t told me how we’re going to get the trees yet!”

“Oh, you’re right!” Ezra laughed. “Sorry, my mind has been all over the place these past few days.” He stopped the car. “I’ve got a friend whose cousin owns a tree farm about two hours from here. I explained the situation and he got his cousin to give you a good deal on the trees. At least I hope it’s a good deal,” he said, suddenly unsure. “I’m not exactly in the tree-buying business, but my friend assured me it was a wholesale price.”

Lily beamed. “At this point, I’m willing to pay more if it means getting trees on the lot. How many can we fit in your truck?”

“I brought lots of rope so I’m hoping we can stack them fairly high. Maybe 40 of them with the trailer?”

Lily calculated in her head, her mouth forming the numbers silently. “I think that would be perfect. It should tide us over to the scheduled delivery, and maybe recoup some of the losses.”

Although her voice still sounded hoarse and raspy, it was gaining strength as she used it more, waking up her vocal chords from the difficult night she’d had.

“Thank you so much for doing this, Ezra,” Lily said, putting her hand on his arm once again. “Not only did you get me a singing gig, but now this? You must be a Christmas angel or something.”

Ezra laughed. “It’s the least I could do for passing on that awful cold to you.”

“Hey, I’m the one who stole your hot chocolate, remember?”

“Fair enough,” said Ezra, easing off the brake pedal and maneuvering the truck around. “But I’m still partly responsible and—“


“—bless you—and nobody should be without a tree on Christmas anyway.”


Ezra glanced at her sympathetically. “Bless you again.”

Lily dabbed at her nose. “You’re going to run out of ‘bless you’s at this rate.”

“I’m sure we can find a supplier for more of those, too.”



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I love your stories...the writing...the plot..ALL OF IT!!! I just read this entire thing in one sitting, and I'm craving more!!!!

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This is adorable! Lily sneezing during the performance was even cuter than I hoped it would be. I'd be totally fine with seeing more of that. In the meantime, I'm really looking forward to part 4!

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Merry Christmas everyone! I come bearing the gift of Part IV! :santa:

@HideAndGoSneeze I am BEYOND happy that you're enjoying this, because I'm still so much in love with the Red Umbrella and I'm glad I can sort of repay you for your gift with this one :lol: Although I feel like you are spoiling me a lot more with yours! I probably owe you like three fics at least.

@Alyssa1146 I actually wasn't sure if I should post a part on Christmas Eve, but I'm glad I did! I love that it was your Christmas Eve bedtime story:lol:

@sickprincess I'm so glad you're still enjoying it!! :wub:

@M214186 I think Lily does too... and so do I :blush:

@Blah!? Sneezing during a performance has to be the best thing ever. Sadly, her voice is too messed up for her to sing again during this fic, but I'm definitely toying with the idea for other fics :yes: I'm glad you liked it too!!

Only one part left after this one :o



Evergreen Dream - Part IV

They drove for about half an hour, making light conversation at first. As the warmth of the car settled, easing Lily’s shivering, the conversation took on a more warm, familiar tone.

 “I really like this city,” Lily said with a longing sigh.

Ezra glanced at her. “Oh yeah? You don’t hear that often from West Coast people.” He chuckled. “But I can’t imagine a Christmas without snow.”

“I grew up in a small country town, although it rarely snowed there. I just miss the community. The fresh air. I miss knowing your neighbors and stopping by for a visit.” She looked outside at the snow-covered fields, her eyes following the few lonely trees in the distance as the car rushed passed. “And I guess snow does look really nice.”

“And now that we know you’re not allergic to it…”

Lily laughed and playfully pushed him on the shoulder. “I rarely get sick, so there’s still a case to be made about the snow and the weather doing… this to me.” She motioned towards her throat and sinuses, grimacing. “Seattle is fine. We do get a bit of snow every year but it doesn’t last and it’s just chaotic. Some streets in my neighborhood are steep, which is a total nightmare when it gets icy.”

“I’ve actually never been to Seattle before,” said Ezra. “Or much of anywhere to be honest.”

Lily looked at him in surprise. “Were you born here?”

“Yep! Born and raised… and anchored, apparently.” He fiddled with the heating knob, increasing it a little. “My parents bought the Honey & Cream when they were in their 20s. That wasn’t its original name though. They called it ‘Expresso.’ It drove Melinda crazy. She’s a coffee nerd.”

Lily could easily imagine Melinda ranting about the term “Expresso” to no one in particular, averaging 30 words per second without losing her breath. She made a mental note to ask Melinda about it next time she visited the coffee shop.

“So how did you both become the owners?”

“My parents retired early. My dad’s heart wasn’t doing so great. I don’t think he was cut out to be a business owner. Now they live in Florida, his heart is doing much better, and my sister and I are co-owners. The first thing we did is change the name, of course.”

“I really like ‘Honey & Cream,’” mused Lily, scrunching up her nose. “It’s modern, but also soft and soothing in a way.” She picked up a tissue from the travel packet Ezra had given her, feeling another sneeze coming on.

“It was Melinda’s idea. She’s the baker and coffee addict. I take care of the business side of it. That’s what I studied in college, knowing my parents were thinking of selling the coffee shop. I didn’t want it to leave the family, and I’m—“

Ezra stopped talking when he heard a little gasp coming from Lily, warning him of an impending sneeze. He glanced at her with a sad smile. “That tickle won’t leave you alone, huh?”

Lily shook her head, her eyes half-closed, her lips parted, struggling with a torturous buildup. She wiggled her nose again, which seemed to do the trick. Her head titled back, and she bent forward under the force of the sneeze, burying her nose in the tissue.

“Hhhh—ihhh—TSHEEEEW!” She remained bent over her lap, the tissue still secured around her nose and mouth, knowing another sneeze was coming. “Hhhh—iiihh—tsheeeew!”

Bless you!” said Ezra, surprised at the force of the sneezes. He slowed down the truck, turning into a gas station. “I think we need some supplies. Let me get you something warm for your throat. Any preference?”

Lily dabbed at her chapped nose and sniffled. “Coffee.”

Ezra raised his eyebrows. “Not to go all ‘doctor’ on you, but wouldn’t tea be better in your condition?”

“You’re right,” said Lily, relenting. “Throat coat would be great, but if they don’t have it, chamomile with honey should work.”

“Throat coat…,” he repeated, committing it to memory. “I’m on it!”

He opened the door and got out as quickly as possible to avoid letting too much cold air in, but a burst of icy wind still made its way to Lily. She shivered and readjusted her scarf around her neck, fluffing it up. Reaching for her purse, she checked her phone to see if Aiden was doing alright back at the lot. She’d left him in charge again while she was gone.

Lily: Everything OK over there?

Aiden: Yep. I’m telling people to come back this afternoon. They don’t seem too mad.

Lily: Good. Thank you!

Aiden: How’s it going with Ezra?

Lily: What do you mean?

Aiden: I mean you’re spending half a day on a road trip with the hottest bachelor in town, surely you won’t waste this opportunity?

Lily: Aiden!! Seriously?!

Aiden: Sorry Ms. Morris :P

Lily repressed a laugh. Maybe her growing attraction to Ezra had been apparent to everyone but herself. But this was a professional work trip, and she was in no condition to put on the charm anyway. She would be lucky if Ezra ever thought she looked attractive after seeing her like this.

She put down her phone, realizing that she was alone and could finally blow her nose properly. She had been dabbing at it, too embarrassed to blow in front of Ezra. The process took multiple tissues, but it relieved a lot of pressure in Lily’s sinuses, easing her headache. She managed to take a couple of breath through her nose before another tickle took hold.

She reached for the packet of tissues, but realized she’d used the last one. As Lily battled the oncoming sneeze, Ezra came back, sending another rush of cold air into the car and flaming the tickle in Lily’s nose.

“I got you a—oh!” Ezra noticed the empty packet and Lily pinching her nose, her breath hitching. He put down the two cups of hot liquid in the cup holders and rummaged in the plastic bag, but Lily could no longer hold the sneeze in. She covered her nose with her scarf.


Ezra fished out a box of tissues from the bag and ripped it open, passing Lily a bunch of them. She took them gratefully, her eyes still shut as the tickle triggered another sneeze. She buried her nose in the thick, soft fabric.

“Hhh—ihh—tsheeew! Iihh—tsheeew!”

“Bless you!” Ezra said, moving the bag out of his seat so that he could sit down and close the door. “Poor thing, you sound so sick. Hopefully this will help.” He took out a box of cold medicine and a box of throat coat tea. “I got you a cup of hot water for the tea. The lady at the counter looked at me weird when I asked for ‘throat coat.’ I think she thought it was some kind of sex thing.”

Lily burst out laughing, her nose still buried in the tissues. Ezra joined in.

“I’m just glad I found it so I could show her what it is,” he said, picking up the box to read the text on it. “What even is this? What’s in it?”

“Slippery elm,” said Lily, sniffling wetly and removing the lid from the cup of hot water. “It coats your throat and makes it feel less raw and tickly. Too bad they don’t make it for your nose, too,” she mumbled.

Ezra fetched a tea bag from the box and sniffed it. Grimacing, he gave it to Lily. “What does it taste like?”

Lily dumped it in her cup. “Mostly like a sweeter, more subtle version of licorice. It’s not bad if you don’t hate licorice.”

“Oh, I hate licorice,” said Ezra. “Thankfully I’ve got the perfect chaser right here.” He produced two packets of tree-shaped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups from the bag.

Lily beamed. “I loooove Reese’s! Especially the trees—“

“Because they have more peanut butter, right?” said Ezra, grinning.

“Yes, that’s it!”

“I always stock up after Christmas and Easter. They’re the best.” He opened one packet and took a bite of the chocolate tree. “I’m sure your tea won’t taste as bad if you eat one of these with it.”

Lily laughed. “It’s OK, I’m used to it. I always drink it when my throat is irritated before a show. It’s a singer’s best tool.”

Ezra was pensive for a moment. “You were really wonderful yesterday. I can’t believe you sang like that with a cold.”

“To be fair, I didn’t feel as bad as I do today. I could not sing with this voice,” she said, pointing at her throat.

“You definitely need some rest today.”

They sat in the car in silence for a few minutes, Ezra sipping coffee and eating Reese’s, Lily drinking her tea. Ezra stole a glance at her. “Did you always want to be a singer?”

Lily shook her head, blowing on her tea. “No, I actually wanted to be a hockey player.”


“Yep. I played from when I was five years old all through high school. I quit when I went to college to study music.”

“Do you still skate sometimes?” Ezra put down his coffee and started up the car, turning on the heat.

“I haven’t been in a few years, but I do miss it.”

“Me and my buddies play on a frozen pond in the park during winter. You should come sometimes.”

Lily smiled, feeling the butterflies waking up. “I’d love to.”

Ezra put the truck in reverse, turning his body around to see where he was going. “I’m a pretty good goalie though, so don’t get your hopes up. No puck gets through me.” He glanced at her with a mischievous grin.

“We’ll see,” she said, returning the grin.


Lily soon fell asleep, unable to keep her eyes open in the warmth of the car and the lull of the tires on the snow-covered streets. Ezra woke her up gently once they reached their destination.

“Sorry,” he said after whispering her name and tapping her on the shoulder. “I would let you sleep but you have to sign and pay.”

Lily fought to stay awake, rubbing her eyes and stretching. “No, no, it’s perfect.” Her voice had gone back to a pitiful squeak, which earned a frown from Ezra. “I’m sorry, I’m the worst road trip buddy in the world.”

Ezra laughed. “It’s alright. You needed it.”

Lily met with the owner of the tree farm and agreed to the wholesale price. It was more than Evergreen Dream usually paid, but much lower than the quotes Lily had been getting on the phone. Once she saw the stack of trees ready to go near a warehouse in the back, she felt instant relief. This was really happening! Her problem had been solved, thanks to Ezra.

She looked on as Ezra and two employees discussed how they would load the trees on his truck and trailer. Now that she no longer had to worry about work, she couldn’t help but turn her full attention to Ezra. She gazed at his warm smile as he laughed with the employees, at his strong arms when he lifted up a tree. There was an undeniable attraction, but was it really a good idea to pursue it? She’d be back in Seattle at the end of the season, which was fast approaching.

Her phone rang, interrupting her thoughts. She checked the caller ID and saw Ella’s photo, probably calling for a little ‘I told you so’ reminder. Lily looked back at Ezra and figured it would take a while to load all the trees, so she had time for a quick chat.

“Hey El,” she said, her voice beyond hoarse.

“Oh my god, Lily. You sound absolutely terrible.”

“I know, I know.” Lily walked a few steps away from the warehouse. “Turns out you were right about everything. The cold, the boss… everything.”

Ella sighed at the other end of the line. “You know I usually like to hear you say I’m right, but this time, I’m just worried.”

“Don’t, I’m currently fixing it. Well, actually, Ezra is fixing it for me as we speak.”

“Ezra? The cute guy who offered you a singing gig?”

“Yep, the same one!” Lily looked back at Ezra. He was still hauling trees into the bed of the truck.

Ella laughed. “Girl, I can hear the dreamy tone even with your voice all fucked up. Are you guys hitting it up?”

“El! Come on! We’ve just met, and I’m not like that. You know me.”

“Lily, I’ve been telling you this for years. Have some fun, for christ’s sake. At least take the guy on a date or two while you’re there. What’s the harm?”

Lily rubbed her nose with her gloved hand. “What if I want more?”

“Then you can call me and we’ll figure it out. You already took a chance with this job, why not embrace it fully and live a little?”

“I just—hhh… Da—damnit… I hhaave to… sn—“

She moved the phone away from her face, covering her nose with her scarf.

“Hhh—iihh—sheeeew! Iihh—tsheeew! Hhh… G—god… Hhh—iih—TSHEEEW!”

“Bless you,” said Ezra not too far behind her.

Lily jumped and turned around. Ezra was walking towards her with a deep frown on his face. She brought the phone back to her ear long enough to blurt out, “I gotta go.” She could hear Ella’s faint voice yelling at her to “get some rest, for Pete’s sake.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt,” said Ezra, examining her with soft eyes. “It’s just… It’s really cold out here and… I noticed that you were shivering.”

Lily hadn’t even noticed, but he was right. Her whole body was shaking, and she realized just how cold she was. The humid wind blew right through her, chilling her to the bone.

“Why don’t you go wait in the truck?” he added gently. “I don’t want you to get worse.”


Thirty minutes later, Ezra and Lily drove off with the forty Christmas trees secured in the truck bed and on the trailer. Lily felt giddy with relief. She couldn’t wait to see the happy faces of customers coming in to buy the tree they actually wanted, instead of seeing their disappointed look as they left empty-handed. She never knew a Christmas tree lot could become so depressing, and she never wanted to experience it again.

“I don’t even know how to repay you,” said Lily.

“It was nothing, really. I enjoyed this little road trip.” Ezra kept his eyes on the road, as if stricken by shyness.

Lily remembered Ella’s advice on the phone, and before her brain could even catch on, she heard herself say, “How about we test your goalie skills tomorrow night?”

Ezra turned his head to look at her, his smile so warm it threatened to catch fire. “That sounds great!” He thought for a moment and added, “But are you sure you’ll be better by then?”

Lily nodded, confident. “For sure. I’m never sick more than one or two days. I already feel better!” It was a little lie, but she knew that with her anxiety gone, she’d be able to sleep and would be as good as new in the morning.

“Tomorrow night it is, then!”


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Dead. I.. You.. It.. - Here lies HIDE. R.I.P-


You are such an amazing writer! I love the detail and how Ezra went out of his way to look for tea tissues and cold medicine... My heart... You... AHHHHHHHHH *HUGS*

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This continues to be super cute. I think everyone else has captured my general feelings already, but now I'm really looking forward to the skating moment that you've teased. If the rest of this story is any indication, whatever happens next will be adorable.

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Oh my gosh I completely forgot to post the last part today, I'm sorry if anyone was waiting for it! I got totally spoiled for Christmas and got a Nintendo Switch, so I spent the better part of the day playing Super Mario Odyssey :lol: Not a good excuse but... what can you do :blush:

@HideAndGoSneeze I'm so glad you're still enjoying it :hug:

@sneezelover32 Thank youuu!! :heart:

@M214186 I hope you'll like the last part! :D

@Alyssa1146 I love to think that Aiden is the audience :lol: Especially in this next part!

@CPG Yaay I'm glad you like it!

@Blah!? I hope it lives up to the expectation :D 

@Privatedancer That's EXACTLY what I was going for! Like a Hallmark Christmas movie for the SFF community! I still don't understand why Hallmark has never had anyone with a cold in their Christmas movies actually. They make so many of them, you'd think they'd at least work it in as a plot device or something! :lol:

Alright guys, this is the very last part. I hope you enjoyed the whole story! Thank you for everyone who has left comments; they always make me feel so happy and encourage me to write more in the future, knowing other people enjoy the same things I do. I already have a new idea that has to do with figure skating (thanks to this next part), so I'll be working on that next :yes:

Happy New Year to all of you!


Evergreen Dream - Part V

“Just go back to bed,” said Aiden, leaning back on the counter, watching Lily down cold medicine tablets with a sip of coffee. “You’re obviously not better.”

It was the next day, well into the afternoon, and the lot was as busy as ever. But Lily hadn’t woken up as good as new, as she’d expected. In fact, she definitely felt worse.

“I’m fine,” she squeaked.

“That is definitely not the sound of a ‘fine’ person,” mocked Aiden.

Lily turned around quickly, grabbing tissues from a box nearby. “Iihh—tsheeeew!”

“Also not a ‘fine’ sound. Just FYI.”

Lily glared at him over her tissues. She did not have the energy to banter with Aiden. Her throat hurt, her head throbbed, her sinuses felt heavy and hot. She had on about four layers of clothes, but couldn’t seem to get warm. However, since they’d brought in more trees, they were dealing with an uptick in customers, and Lily couldn’t afford to stay back. Especially since Tommy had called in sick and nobody else that wasn’t already working today was available.

“Suit yourself,” said Aiden, raising his hands in capitulation.

Since her voice was too hoarse to try to sell trees, and she didn’t want to risk infecting customers by handling their money, Lily had decided to take on the job of wrapping the Christmas trees in mesh and resupplying the lot when trees sold. It was a grueling, physical job that drained her already limited energy, but it was the most logical decision. She managed to take a few breaks during the day, sleeping in the RV whenever she could, but she still worked on the lot from opening ‘til close.

When 10 pm rolled around and the lot had finally closed, she sat down on a stool, exhausted, while Aiden counted the money.

“Now you can finally go to sleep,” said Aiden, writing down the amount on an inventory sheet.

Lily shook her head. “Can’t.”

“What? Why not? Don’t tell me you’re going to clean up the lot, I swear to god…”

Lily laughed, which caused her to cough a little. “No, it’s not that. I’ve got a… thing.”

Aiden gave her a knowing smile. “A thing, huh? With who?” He shook his head. “Actually you know what? It doesn’t matter who. You should definitely cancel.”

Lily had debated canceling all day, but she really wanted to go. She had already taken another dose of cold medicine and knew it would kick in long enough for her to enjoy her date. Since Ezra was picking her up at 10:30, she figured they would play hockey for an hour or two and call it a night. After a day of dragging trees around, ice skating sounded like a lovely, relaxing time.

And she really wanted to see Ezra.

“I’m not going to cancel. He’s already seen me sick anyway.”

Aiden squinted his eyes. “Wait… Is it Ezra? It’s Ezra, isn’t it?” He started laughing. “You’ve got a date with Ezra. I knew it!”

“Oh shush,” said Lily, wiping her nose for the millionth time. “We’re just going to hang out for a couple of hours. It’s not really a date per se.”

“I think you guys look cute together,” mocked Aiden, batting his eyes. He zipped the cash pouch and handed it to Lily. “Have fun on your *cough* date *cough*.” He gasped, overplaying an expression of surprise. “Oh no, I think you got me sick!”

Lily smacked his arm with the envelope, and Aiden fake-coughed as he walked to his car. “I might have to call in sick tomorrow like Tommy *cough* *cough*.”

“Wait, is he not actually sick?”

Aiden turned around and shrugged, still walking backward towards the parking lot. “I promised I wouldn’t say anything,” he shouted as he reached his car. “Feel better!”

Lily shook her head, trying not to get mad at Tommy. She breathed out and headed to her trailer to freshen up. Of course, Ezra had seen her sick the day before, but this was an actual date—no matter how much she’d downplayed it to Aiden.

She splashed cold water on her face from the small kitchen sink, and managed to put on enough makeup to look presentable. She kept on her layers of clothing, dreading even the idea or removing them and feeling the cold on her skin. Thankfully, the pills had started to take effect and her headache eased. Her nose also wasn’t as runny. It’ll be fine, she thought. Just as she finished up, she heard Ezra’s car driving into the lot and went outside to meet him.

Ezra waved to Lily as he got out of the car. Lily waved back, but a prickle hit deep in her sinuses, forcing her to divert all of her attention to it. She murmured a quick “oh!” and brought her hand to her face, ready to catch the sneezes.

“Hhh—iihh—tsheeeew! Iih—tsheeeew! Iihh—TSHEEEEW!”

“Oh no,” said Ezra as he reached her. “I was going to ask if you’re feeling better, but I guess I have my answer.”

Lily sniffled, reaching for tissues stashed in her coat pocket. “I’m fine,” she said. “Still getting over this cold but I really want to play hockey.”

Ezra hesitated, surveying her face, as if for any signs that she wasn’t well enough. “Are you sure you’re up for it?”

Lily nodded with big, hopeful eyes as she dabbed at her nose.

“It’s hard to resist that look,” said Ezra, chuckling. “Let’s go.”



Snow had started falling by the time they arrived at the location. It was a small natural preserve with hiking trails snaking through a dense wooded area. The place was quiet and the path well lit, creating a magical atmosphere with the puffy snowflakes dancing in the light. They walked beneath tall and narrow trees, the sound of their boots crunching in the snow filling the air.

“The pond is about two minutes that way,” said Ezra, pointing forward. He was carrying two pairs of ice skates slung on his shoulder, their blades occasionally clinking together.

“It’s so quiet,” murmured Lily. “Whenever it snows at night, it always feels like I’m in a monastery. Like I should keep my voice down and pay my respect to Mother Nature.”

“I know what you mean,” said Ezra. “All the sounds are muffled. It feels like we’re walking into a tunnel, and we’re about to step into outerspace at any moment.”

They kept walking in silence for a bit, until the wind picked up and sent a flurry of sharp ice flakes on Lily’s face. Somehow, a few of them hit her sensitive nostrils, and she gasped as a wave of prickles assaulted her nose. “Oh no,” she whispered, before bending away from Ezra to sneeze.

“Hhh—iihh—sheeew! Iihh—TSHEEEW!”

The last sneeze had been particularly loud, and it echoed in the forest around them. Ezra cracked up, managing a “bless you” in between laughs. “So much for the monastery peacefulness,” he said, and Lily burst out laughing as well.

When they finally reached the pond, Lily gasped in admiration. It was a small patch of ice in the middle of a clearing, surrounded by the same lanky trees from the trail. Warm Christmas lights had been strung on their naked branches, creating an intimate, breathtaking ambience.

Ezra guided Lily to a large horizontal trunk on the side of the pond that people had been using as a bench. As they both sat to tie their skates on, snow stopped falling and the clouds started clearing, letting in a bit of moonlight.

“Do you think skating is like riding a bike?” Ezra asked as he bent behind the trunk to retrieve two well-used hockey sticks and a puck.

“I hope so,” Lily said before standing up and awkwardly walking to the ice. She put her first skate on the ice, apprehensive, and then the other. The first few kicks were a bit wobbly, and Ezra stayed by her side just in case, but Lily soon got her bearings and glided around the ice like it was second nature. It felt great to be back.

They circled the pond a few times, Lily reacquainting herself with the techniques and trying a few things like skating backward and pivoting.

“How does it feel?” asked Ezra, watching her with a delighted smile.

“Amazing,” said Lily, feeling the rush of adrenaline as she picked up speed.

Ezra handed her a hockey stick when she skated by him. She grabbed it and started playing with the puck.

“Where’s the goal?” she said, sniffling.

“We usually use branches. Here,” Ezra said, skating to the edge and hopping in the snow to gather a few branches. He placed them on the ice in the shape of a two-dimensional goal.

Lily laughed. “Did you guys run out of money after buying all the lights?”

“Did I mention we were unofficially playing hockey?” said Ezra, chuckling. “But I meant what I said about being a good goalie. Show me what you’ve got.”

They played for a good twenty minutes, Lily scoring goal after goal as Ezra tried to keep his branches from sliding away. They both laughed so hard that soon, none of them could even hold up the hockey sticks.

“How about a break?” asked Ezra, out of breath.

Lily nodded. Fatigue hit her like a ton of bricks, her energy finally reaching the “Empty” gage and sputtering. She wondered if the medicine had stopped working early, too, because all of her symptoms were back. It didn’t matter, though. She felt happy.

She sniffed, trying to keep her nose from running, but instead caused cold air to hit too deep. She felt a burning sensation that turned into another irritating prickle. She let go of the hockey stick, which clattered on the ice at her feet, and dug for tissues from her coat pocket.

“Everything OK?” asked Ezra, sitting on the ice near his goal.

Lily nodded. “Just—hhh got… gotta—hhh… Iihh—TSHEEEEW!”

The sneeze overpowered her small frame, and she bent forward under the force of it, losing footing. Her reflex was to counterbalance and straighten her back, only causing her to slip further and fall flat on her butt.

Ezra shot up to his feet, rushing to her side. “Are you OK?!”

Lily laid all the way back on the ice, laughing. “This is ridiculous,” she said, giggling and coughing a little. “I’m such a mess, I can’t believe you even agreed to this.” She brought the tissues back up to her nose to wipe it.

Ezra laid next to her on the ice. “You’re not a mess,” he said with a smile. “You’re adorable.”

Lily stopped laughing and blushed, her eyes fixed on the sky. Clouds had completely cleared, uncovering a night full of stars, so many stars that Lily couldn’t take them all in.

“I forgot about the stars,” she said, breathless.

“It’s the best part.”

Lily turned her head towards Ezra. “I’m glad I came here.”

“Me too,” said Ezra, looking into Lily’s eyes.

They both inched closer to each other, their lips almost touching. “What about my cold?” whispered Lily.

“The one I gave you?” Ezra whispered back, a hint of a smile on his lips, and all Lily wanted was to taste it.

Their lips touched in a shy and delicate kiss, until Ezra removed his gloves to cradle Lily’s face in his hands. Their kissed instantly took a passionate turn... That is until Lily gasped and moved her head away. Her breath hitched as they were still inches apart. She quickly brought her scarf over her nose and ducked away from Ezra.

Iihh—tsheeew! Hhh—Ihh—sheeeew!”

“Bless you—“

Iihh—thseeew—Iihh—TSHEEEW! Hhh—ihh—TSHEEEW!”

“Oh, Lily… bless you,” said Ezra, frowning. “You’re so sick.”

They both sat up, and Lily brought out more tissues to wipe her irritated nose. “Sorry about this,” she said, embarrassed.

“Don’t be. I just…” he looked at her closely, and his concern only seemed to deepen. He put his hand on her forehead, gently. “I figured. You have a fever, sweetheart. Let’s get you home.”



Ezra held the door to the RV open for Lily, and followed her in.

“Do you need anything?” he asked as she removed her beanie and her gloves.

“No, I should be alright. I still have some of the medicine you bought.”

Ezra looked around with a shocked expression that made Lily wonder if she’d left something scandalous out in the open. But then again, she didn’t exactly have anything scandalous to leave out.

“Is this really where you’ve been sleeping since you’ve arrived?” asked Ezra in disbelief.

“Yes…” said Lily, not following. It wasn’t exactly luxury, but it was tidy enough.

“It’s incredibly drafty,” he said, pushing on the door and putting his hand around the frame to feel for cold air. “No wonder you got sick.” He moved to the window in the kitchen area and checked there too. “And no wonder you never got better.”

Lily shrugged. “I spend most of my time out there near the heating lamp. In here, I just sleep under a bunch of blankets.”

“That’s not enough if you’re sick,” said Ezra, worried. “Why don’t you come sleep at my place?” And then, as if he realized that what he’d said sounded lewd, he added quickly. “I’ve got a guest room, of course.”

Lily laughed. “I think you’re overreacting a little bit.”

“I just hate the thought of leaving you here with a fever,” he said, looking so sad that it almost broke Lily’s heart. “I’ve got a fireplace. And hot food.”

Lily imagined sitting in front of a fireplace, and suddenly, the RV felt as freezing as a dead cold heart. And if she was honest with herself, she knew she didn’t have the energy to spend the entire night battling a fever in the RV. She would probably sleep in her winter coat to avoid the dreaded feeling of slipping into a cold bed.

She nodded. “A fireplace sounds very nice.”



The thermometer beeped, and Ezra took it out of Lily’s mouth. He frowned and touched her forehead again, then her cheek. “You feel much warmer than it says,” he murmured. “Is this thing broken?”

They sat on Ezra’s couch in front of the beautiful stone fireplace of his small chalet-style home. A huge window covered the front wall of the house, reaching up to the second floor, and Lily couldn’t stop gazing out at the tall snowy pines swaying in the wind, enthralled by the gorgeous winter view.

“Your hands are still cold from being outside,” said Lily, smiling. “It’s not that bad, don’t worry.” She put her hand on Ezra’s arm, hoping to ease the worry lines etched on his forehead. “I promise.”

Ezra gave her a sad smile. “You’ve been saying that since the start, but you just get worse.”

Lily gestured around the cozy living room. “How can I not get better now that I’m here?” She resisted the urge to say ‘with you,’ wondering if it was a bit too cheesy, even though she meant it. “I still can’t believe you live here.” The other Christmas tree she’d sold to Ezra stood next to the roaring fire, elegant and sparsely decorated, which let the natural branches shine.

Ezra chuckled. “I’m used to it by now, I guess. It was our parents’ home after Melinda and I both moved out. I bought it from them when they retired, and Melinda has been staying here for now.” He put the thermometer back on the coffee table and readjusted the blanket on Lily’s shoulders. “Relationship troubles,” he whispered, even though Melinda was fast asleep in her bedroom upstairs.

“It’s like living in a vacation chalet all year-long,” she mused. Her breath caught in her throat as the persistent feathery tickle at the back of her nose flared again. She bent down to retrieve a few tissues from the coffee table and let her breath hitch, no longer having the energy to fight them.

“Hhh… Hhh—ihh—tsheeeew!” Lily covered her nose with the tissues, jerking forward with the force of the irritated, exhausted sneezes. “Ihh—tsheeeew!” She gasped, expecting a third sneeze that didn’t materialize. She felt Ezra's hand on her back rubbing in circles as she waited, her nose itching furiously, her head titled back and her mouth parted slightly. “G—god… Hhh… Ihh—TSHEEEEW! Ihh—TSHEEEEEW!”

“Bless you.” Ezra shook his head, still rubbing Lily’s back. He gazed in her watery, feverish eyes. “It’s killing me how sick you look. I just want to hug you and make it all go away.”

Lily wiped her nose and groaned, melting into Ezra’s hand on her back. He shifted closer to her and opened his arms. She gratefully put her head on his chest as he embraced her tenderly and kissed the top of her head. “I have to say, you are the most adorable sick person I have ever met in my life,” he said, chuckling. “Down to your cute squeaky sneeze.”

Lily laughed, which turned into a small cough.

“Sorry,” whispered Ezra, rubbing her back again. “I shouldn’t make you laugh.”

“Isn’t laughter the best medicine?” asked Lily, getting sleepier by the minute.

“Rest is the best medicine,” said Ezra. “You should get some sleep. You need to get better so that you can taste my delicious turkey on Christmas Eve.”

Lily smiled, imagining spending Christmas in the chalet with Ezra. She drifted off to sleep with a contented sigh, listening to the crackle of the fire.



She awoke early the next morning in the guest bedroom, still fully clothed but underneath the covers. She got up, shivering, her head still full of cold, her throat still hurting, but her spirits high. She tiptoed downstairs to the kitchen/living room area. Nobody else was awake yet. She stood in front of the large window, in awe. Huge snowflakes fell from the sky like strands of silk, covering her entire field of vision. The only thing she could see through the white blanket was the pines, strong and proud, their green branches peeking through as if nothing could defeat them.

She wiggled her nose, feeling a sneeze brewing. She cupped her hand over her mouth and nose, hoping to stifle as to not wake anyone up. She hitched a few times until the sneezes tumbled out of her.

“Hhh—ihhh—NNGXXShh! Ihh—NNGXShheew! Iihh—NNGXXXShh!”

“Bless you,” said a voice at the top of the stairs.

Lily turned around to see Ezra in a t-shirt and flannel pants coming down the stairs, looking sleepy and gorgeous. Her heart flipped in her chest.

“You should still be in bed,” he said with a warm smile, as if he were glad that she wasn’t. “Are you feeling OK?” He didn’t wait for her answer, and put his lips near her temple. “You don’t feel too warm. That’s good,” he murmured.

Lily smiled and embraced him, nuzzling her head in his chest. Ezra put his arms around her, and she felt instantly safe. “I was just thinking,” she said, glancing back at the window. “I think I love snow after all.”

Ezra chuckled. “I’m glad you do.”

They stood there in the early morning light, watching the snow fall.

“I could get used to this,” said Lily.

There was a small moment of silence, as if Ezra was holding his breath.

“I hope you do,” he finally said, and Lily could hear the warmth of his smile filling his voice.

She decided it was all the warmth she would ever need.



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