Xander rolled over in bed, blinking groggily. His cell phone buzzed again on the nightstand beside him, interrupting a particularly steamy dream starring none other than the irresistible Annie New. He stretched lazily and reached for the phone, grumbling as he squinted to read the name flashing on the screen.
A dreamy smile spread across his face. Any contact with real life Annie was better than even the the steamiest dream about the imaginary one.
Xander inhaled deeply, enjoying the smell of the sheets. He laid back and stared at the ceiling. Living at home sure had its perks. Aurora was top notch homemaker, which meant clean sheets, home cooked meals, and produce fresh from the garden. Xander sighed – he knew that a future with Annie meant a permanent move to Windenberg. But Xander enjoyed living at home. He liked spending time with his sisters, and he liked watching Lola grow up.
He shook his head, dismissing the negative thoughts. None of that mattered right now. All that mattered was that Annie was coming to visit! And maybe, if he could show her just how wonderful his family was, just how much fun Willow Creek could be, then Annie would consider moving in with them.
So at 1:00, Xander dropped his favorite hat on his head and took a last glance in the mirror. Lookin’ good, he thought. He winked at his reflection, and headed for the door.
When Xander arrived to the train station downtown, Annie was already there waiting for him. He felt his heart leap at the sight of her. He wanted to play it cool, to control his emotions – but his feet had a mind of their own. He ran to her and pulled her into his arms.
“I’m not late, am I?” he asked, once they tore themselves apart. “I thought I was early – I should have been here to greet you!”
Annie laughed her low, raspy chuckle. “You’re not late, the train came in early.” She looked around. “It’s so good to see you, Xander.”
He grinned as he took a long, hard look at her – soaking it all in. He’d fallen in love with her on the very first night they met. He loved her before he knew what her face looked like, before he knew the beauty she kept hidden behind her helmet. DJ Nobody New stole his heart with her wry sense of humor and her effortless brand of cool. It would have made no difference to Xander if she was “beautiful” or not.
But she was beautiful.
Maybe she was even out of his league, which was really saying something, as far as Xander was concerned.
He grabbed her hand. “Come on, babe. Let me show you around!”
Annie loved the outdoors almost as much as she loved the swanky clubs of Windenberg, and Xander hoped to impress her with the natural beauty of Willow Creek. But it was past lunch time now, and his stomach was growling.
Annie smiled as she finished the last bite of her schnitzel. “Thanks for lunch, babe. That schnitzel was out of this world!”
That’s what she said! is what he thought. But she’d handed him an opportunity on a silver platter – so instead, what he said was, “See, Annie? Windenberg isn’t the only place to get gourmet cuisine! Willow Creek has some impressive food to offer, too…”
Xander paid the bill, and soon they were on to the Part Two of “Xander’s Comprehensive Tour of The Amazing Sights of Willow Creek.”
Everywhere they went, Annie smiled ear to ear.
“It’s really beautiful here, Xander. I can see why you love it so much!”
Xander knew this was his chance. She was so happy here! He took a deep breath, and looked into her eyes. “I love you, Annie.” He didn’t give her a chance to respond. He wanted to say it all – to say everything he wanted to say – before he thought better of it and backed down. “I do – I love you, and I want you in my life every day. Not just every few days, not every once in awhile. I want you to meet my family. I want you to be a part of my family. Will you – what I mean is – would you consider moving here to Willow Creek? Would you consider moving in with me? So we can be together?”
Annie looked him in the eye. “I love you, Xander. And I don’t like being apart either!” She looked at the ground, avoiding his gaze. “But I can’t leave Windenberg. My life is there – my job, my clients, my livelihood – they’re all based in Windenberg. I can’t just up and leave. I’ve worked so hard to get to where I am. I won’t leave it all behind, and start all over. You do understand, don’t you?”
Xander blinked, holding back tears. Xander Wahine doesn’t cry.
“Fine, Annie. Whatever. Did it ever occur to you that I have a life here in Willow Creek? I have a family. My sisters need me. And my mother and father won’t be here forever! But I guess you expect me to be the one to uproot my life, to leave my family and my friends – I should be the one to give it all up for you.” He pouted, looking out over the water.
Annie cocked an eyebrow. “That’s not what I mean and you know it. I know you love your family, and trust me, I know how important that is. I don’t have a family – I grew up in an orphanage for crying out loud. And that’s why my career is so important to me – I made it on my own. I clawed my way to the top with no help from anybody. I don’t have family money to fall back on, or “connections” to help me get gigs. But I guess you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you, Xander? You have a mommy who takes care of you, and does your laundry! You don’t even work! And really, Xander? Even if I did move to Willow Creek, do you really think I’d want to live in your mommy and daddy’s basement?! You have to grow up.”
Xander’s face fell. He set his jaw to hide the hurt, the utter desperation that was coursing through his veins. “Well….. I guess we’ve come to an impasse, then. I’m not leaving Willow Creek, and you’re not leaving Windenberg. And I don’t know where that leaves us.”
Annie left on the last train of the night, heading back to Windenberg early. Xander pecked her on the cheek awkwardly, and later he would wonder if that had been the right move. He wanted to kiss her the way he’d kissed her hello, but that no longer seemed appropriate. Neither did a hug, for that matter. They hadn’t broken up, they were still more than friends. Weren’t they? But if he loved her and she loved him, why did that peck on the kiss feel so much like a kiss goodbye?
He climbed into bed feeling empty and alone. A single tear dropped onto his pillow, and opened the floodgates. Xander Wahine does cry, as it turns out. And that night, he cried himself to sleep.
But when Xander woke up the next morning, he didn’t waste any time. He didn’t revel in his fresh clean sheets. He didn’t stop to eat the eggs his mother had laid out for him. He ran straight to the train station, where he stepped straight up to the ticket booth, and hopped straight onto the train. He walked straight to Annie’s house, where he talked to her neighbor. When the neighbor said Annie was working a gig at The Bluffs, Xander hailed a cab and headed straight there to find her.
“We need to talk,” he said. Annie had set the music to autoplay so that they could have a minute alone.
“What are you doing here?”
He stood next to her and took her hand. “Annie, when I said I loved you, I meant that. What I was too stupid – too immature – to realize is that sometimes, love means compromise. And sometimes it even means sacrifice. You were right about me – I need to grow up. And maybe that means moving away from my family, taking care of myself, finding my own way in the world. And I can’t think of anywhere better, or anyone better to do that with, than right here with you….in Windenberg.”
He turned then, and dropped to one knee. “Annie New – Will you marry me?”
Beaming, Annie grabbed Xander’s hand and winked. “I know just the way to celebrate!”
And they all lived happily ever after. Except for Sioban and Sherry.