Hartford Parker held his cell phone to one ear while pressing his index finger into the other, in an attempt to hear his sister, Katie, on the line. The entire block of 34th Street and 7th Avenue was packed with camera crews, security, and bundled up tourists, the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan ramping up to the grand finale.
"Yes! She's about to perform any minute. I saw the girls lining up outside the trailer." A brisk wind hit him in the face, and he shrugged his chin deeper into the folds of his plaid scarf, looking cautiously up into the late-autumn sky. Numerous balloon floats bobbed dangerously above him as they passed by in a parade of handlers. Luckily, officials implemented a measure to keep the balloons closer to the ground during windy conditions, and this Thanksgiving was no exception. It was also the coldest parade on record, the below-freezing temperatures bringing out spectators in multiple layers, hats, and blankets.
Hart worried about Gia dressed in her tiny little bedazzled costume and hoped her muscles were warmed up, thrilled she was chosen as one of the dancers for this classic presentation. The broadcast was nearing the end, the grand finale featuring the iconic Rockettes of Radio City Music Hall performing the last act before the arrival of Santa Claus to ring in the Christmas and holiday season.
Hart laughed. "Katie, I promise you, her nipples won't freeze off. She's covered in all the right places, okay?"
A college marching band energetically turned the street corner near where he was standing, the noise of the brass instruments and drumline deafening. "Katie, I gotta go! She'll be somewhere in the center of the formation, that's all she told me. Look for the center of the chorus line!"
Not able to hear his sister's reply, he chuckled and shook his head. "Bye, Baby Girl!" Ending the call, he was excited knowing his entire family back in Atlanta was glued to the television, ready to cheer for Gia during her Rockettes debut performance. His dad was probably sitting comfortably in his recliner as his mother doted on him with Thanksgiving morning mimosas and cinnamon rolls, while Katie and Clay snuggled on the sofa.
Shoving his phone into his wool coat pocket, he cupped his bare hands in front of his face and blew hot air into them before putting his gloves back on. Making his way through the crowd to the other side of the street in front of the flagship store, Macy's Herald Square, he held up his special pass to a security guard and shouldered his way to the VIP section where he could watch his fiancé up close.
Straining his neck to see over the heads of spectators and parade officials, he spotted the thirty dancers lining up on either side of the large parade emblem painted on the street. A rush of love swept through his body when he spotted Gia, her dark hair, and legs-for-days a magnetic beacon to his pulsing heart.
Thank god the dancers were mostly covered in vibrant red, long-sleeved Santa jackets with fluffy white trim edging the deep V collar and cuffs. White gloves were also noticeable, and pretty pillbox hats were cocked in unison on each lovely head of hair pulled into a tight bun. Gorgeous. Fishnet tights, long lashes, red lips, and custom LaDuca dance shoes completed the troupe's uniform look, and each girl seemed flushed with excitement (or was it the cold?) as they huddled together waiting for their signal to get into position.
"Don't they look adorable?" An older woman parked next to him said out loud. "It wouldn't be the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade without the Rockettes."
Hart couldn't help the goofy, lovesick grin donning his face, and nodded in agreement. With his focus on Gia, he watched as she scurried into the second row of three into her starting position. A loud introduction was announced over the outdoor speakers, and the crowd immediately applauded. Bright lights turned up on the girls, and they were ready for the countdown. When the medley of classic Christmas music began, the spectacle started.
Blinking his eyes rapidly, Hart took it all in, never taking his eyes off Gia. She'd been in constant rehearsals since October, training for the annual parade and for the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes. Every day she'd come home and relay the day’s events to him while soaking in the tub or cooking a late dinner together, her excitement infectious. And here she was, in the moment, living the dream she'd had since she was a child dancing in her aunt's rundown ballet studio in Atlanta.
With each precise kick and twirl, hand movement, and head turn, Gia looked like she was flying high and enjoying every single second. Hartford breathed heavily, as if flying high right beside her, his immense pride filling every molecule of his being. Their life in New York was everything he ever imagined it could be, both of their careers going exceptionally well, and their spring wedding plans coming along nicely.
The crowd oohed and ahhed, clapping excitedly when the girls positioned into a chorus line of their best-known routine of eye-high leg kicks in perfect unison. The elation in Gia's expression was evident, causing Hart's breath to hitch and his wide eyes to water. God, he was so fucking proud of her.
As the performance ended with a standing ovation from the spectators, Hart pulled off a glove and stuck two fingers in his mouth to produce a shrill whistle. The lady next to him covered her ears with a laugh, and he could see Gia crane her neck in the direction of the familiar sound he made. When she spotted him in the crowd, she motioned with her gloved hand for him to follow the group back to the trailer.
"Excuse me," he politely mumbled, anxious to leave the stands. Zig-zagging his way through the mob, it took him a hot minute to get to the roped-off section near the corner of 7th Avenue and 34th Street where he flashed his pass again and was allowed to enter. A few of the dancers milled about, chatting with fans and family while taking selfies. Hart spotted Gia's dark head and waved. "Gia!"
She turned, and her megawatt smile was instant. Prancing toward him with her outstretched, white-gloved hands, he caught her as she leaped like a reindeer into his arms. Twirling her around in a circle, he kissed her hard on the mouth, the frigidness of her smooth cheeks and button nose stark.
"You're freezing," he mumbled against her full, ruby lips, setting her back on the pavement. "You're also fucking amazing. I’m so proud of you."
Her blue gaze held heat, and his unquenchable desire for her ignited immediately. Opening his coat wide, she snuggled against the hard planes of his chest as he sheltered her from the cold.
"Mmmm," she hummed. "The perfect cabana boy." Skating his lips across the shell of her ear, he couldn't help but stand a little taller and smile, ready to do just about anything for the woman he loved and adored.
As the joyous Christmas music and Santa’s unmistakable “ho-ho-ho” echoed in their ears, the first, fat snowflakes of the season started to fall romantically from the sky. Every moment with Gia felt like he was floating like the pristine snowflakes in a lovely dream. Only, it wasn't a dream. It was his reality. And he was wide awake—for all of it.
Copyright © 2020 Kelly Genelle Fletcher
All rights reserved.
Edited by Vicky Burkholder
This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
The novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and plot are all either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons – living or dead – is purely coincidental.