And here is the winning entry:
Hayley couldn’t wait to open her present, the biggest box under the tree. When the moment finally came, she ripped it open to reveal . . . another box. Then another, and another, each gift smaller yet wrapped with exquisite paper and an elaborate bow. She held what she hoped was the last one on her lap, and dared not look at her family, warmth invading her cheeks. Why did I have to act so greedy, like the kid I haven’t been in years?
“Aren’t you going to open that one?” Lindsay’s lips curled. Her younger sister must harbor a delicious secret.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Hayley said, her smile nervous. From the expressions of those sitting around the room—her mom and dad, aunt and uncle, various cousins and her older brother Chase and his wife—they all shared the secret, privy to what lay nestled inside the tiny package. She turned it in her hands, pretending to study it from all angles. “It’s the most beautiful gift I’ve ever seen. How do I even know it’s for me? There was no tag, after all.”
“It’s yours.” Her mother sounded weary after the busyness of the last couple of days preparing the North Carolina mountain cabin for everyone’s arrival, airing out and cleaning the bedrooms, and cooking up a storm. The aromas of the feast they’d enjoyed still lingered. In her mother’s countenance, she glimpsed the deep contentment and joy stemming from her faith and love for her family. Hayley hoped her smile conveyed her gratitude, especially since she’d been chained to her Nashville desk and only arrived the night before.
“It’s wrapped so pretty, I think I’ll just leave it under the tree.” As a reminder to accept each gift as a blessing, especially the ones that can’t be wrapped in a box with a pretty bow.
“Not if you want to take the next important step in your life.” The deep but quiet voice came from the man sitting beside her on the sofa.
Hayley’s eyes met Brandon’s—blue and clear as the stream running beside the cabin. His words apparently signaled the others. The room emptied in seconds, but her father paused with one hand on the swinging door leading into the kitchen. With a wink, he disappeared, and she overheard excited, muffled voices from behind the door.
Brandon chuckled. “I thought they’d never leave.”
“They seem pretty excited about what’s inside this box.” Hayley's heart hopscotched when he moved closer and wrapped his hand over hers. How she loved this strong, handsome man. Glad she’d waited to find him, grateful he sat beside her now, thankful the Lord brought them together.
With a smile, Hayley unwrapped the gift. An empty jeweler’s box.
“This gift represents my heart. I love you, Hayley. We’ll pick out a ring together. Will you take life’s journey with me?”
She raised her eyes to Brandon’s, glimpsing their future as she leaned into his kiss. “Always, my love.”