“I hope you’ll stay for Christmas dinner,” said Liberty. “I baked a ham. Well, it’s tofu ham, actually. Callen’s a vegetarian.”
Al’s stomach churned at the thought of tofu ham, but if it meant he could spend more time with Liberty, he would have eaten moldy bread and sauerkraut, if it was on the menu.
“So are you going to keep him?” asked Callen. Al looked down with surprise at the stray dog, who hadn’t left his side since he’d found him.
“I don’t exactly live around here,” said Al. “Would you like to keep him?”
“Yeah!” Callen’s face lit up. He knelt down to scratch behind the dog’s ears. “Now I have to come up with a good name. Yoda? Nah. How about George? Loki? Mr. Bean?”
Al laughed. “Take your time,” he said. “I’m sure you’ll come up with the right name.”
“So how old are you, Callen?” Al asked during dinner.
Callen gave him a strange look. “You mean Mom hasn’t told you yet? I’m fifteen.”
Al blinked. It had been sixteen years since he’d last seen Liberty. Could she have met someone and had his baby soon after they’d broken up? He studied Callen’s face again, and it suddenly occurred to Al why the boy had seemed so familiar. His chin, his nose, the shape of his eyes…
Al sucked in a sharp breath and turned to Liberty. “Are you trying to say–”
“That Callen is your son?” Liberty nodded. “I’ve been trying to find you ever since I learned I was pregnant. You’re his dad.”
For a moment, Al was speechless. Then he let out a whoop of excitement. “I’m a dad! I have a kid! Oh my god, this is crazy!”
After dinner, Liberty asked Al to stay and open presents with her and Callen. They listened to jaunty holiday tunes and sipped peppermint cocoa while the still-nameless dog chomped on leftover tofu ham. Then Father Christmas appeared with gifts for everyone — new jewelry for Liberty, a bicycle for Callen, and a genuine ham bone for the dog to gnaw on. He even had a gift for Al. But when Al opened the package, his face fell.
“Seriously, Father Christmas?” He held up the present — a CD of Phil Collins’ Greatest Hits.
Father Christmas shrugged. “Sorry, kid. But you’re on my naughty list for not tracking down these two much sooner.”
After Christmas, Al decided that he wouldn’t be separated from Liberty or Callen ever again. He made arrangements to work from home and set up his computer in the guest room at Polly’s house. Then whenever he had free time, he was over at the farmhouse, getting to know Callen, and getting to know Liberty all over again.
When Al learned that Callen had a talent for music, he brought over one of his old guitars. He hadn’t played much since his mysterious loss of talent. But as soon as Callen began to play his violin, Al could feel the urge to play rush through him. He picked up his guitar, and next thing he knew, he was jamming like he used to at the height of his music career.
“Maybe you were my lucky charm all along,” he told Callen.
Three days after Christmas, Callen decided to name the new dog Rain. “Because it rains so much in Oregon,” he explained. “And because you guys met in a rainforest.”
Three days after that, Liberty asked Al if he would move in with them.
The rest of the winter felt more like spring, despite the freezing temperatures. Everything was like new again. Living in his hometown felt like new. His relationship with Liberty felt like new. Being a parent definitely felt like new. Was it normal for teenage boys to be so gloomy and lifeless?
Al was more in love with Liberty than ever, and he told her so. They spent every spare moment together, walking in the snow, ice skating, even having snowball fights, like they were kids again.
By the time the snow began to melt, Al had made up his mind. “Will you marry me?” he asked Liberty.
Liberty’s eyes filled with tears. She dropped to her knees, too, so they she and Al were on eye level. “I can’t marry you, Al,” she said. “Not yet. There’s something we both have to do first.”