The significance of what he was about to do wasn’t lost on Ethan Greene. It was a big moment in his life; it would be in any man’s, he guessed.
But as he battled through the Manhattan crowds on possibly the busiest shopping day of the year, he wished that he’d chosen a better time.
Christmas Eve on Fifth Avenue? He must be mad.
Taking a deep breath of the cold air, which was refreshing and not as damp as it usually was in London, he couldn’t help but think how little had changed since the last time he was in this city and, at the same time, how much had.
Arriving in New York only two days earlier, he’d surprised himself by how well he remembered the landmarks and how easily he found his way around. The jostle of the subway ride from midtown to downtown and back again, the scent of well-worn vinyl taxi seats and the endless hum of a billion sounds – human or inanimate – buoyed him. The unmistakable buzz of the place put a new spring in his step, something he hadn’t felt in years.
But now Ethan was in a hurry and acutely aware that the minutes were ticking by and the crowds seemed to be growing thicker. There wasn’t much time left.
Alongside him Daisy squeezed his hand briefly as if sensing what he was thinking, yet she couldn’t possibly know what he’d planned. All he’d said was that he needed to make one more stop before they returned to the warmth of their hotel. Conscious of how much he hated crowds (and shopping for that matter) she was probably just trying to put him at ease.
How would she react? OK, so the idea had been on the cards for a while and had been mentioned more than once recently, so by rights today shouldn’t really be too much of a surprise. While she seemed keen, Ethan now realised that he really should have spoken to her about today – it was unlike him not to discuss such matters with her in more detail – but the truth was that he was nervous. What if her reaction wasn’t as positive as he’d anticipated? As he wondered, an anxious lump appeared in his throat. Well, he’d find out her reaction soon enough, especially when they reached their destination.
She looked especially pretty today, he thought, wrapped up in a multitude of layers to keep out the teeth-chattering cold, her blonde curls creeping out under a dark woollen hat, and her red nose appearing above a black embroidered scarf. Despite the cold, she was loving New York just as he’d known she would, and everyone knew there was no better time than Christmas to visit the city that never sleeps. Yes, this was a good idea, Ethan reassured himself. Everything would work out fine.
Finally, having negotiated their way through the mass of last-minute shoppers, they reached the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Seventh Street. He looked at Daisy, and her eyes widened in surprise as he took her hand and steered them both towards the entrance.
‘What’s going on?’ she squealed, glancing at the familiar nameplate beside the doorway, its typically clean-line wording on polished granite today surrounded by verdant pine branches especially for the Christmas season. ‘What do we need here?’
‘I told you – I need to pick something up,’ Ethan replied, leading the way and giving her a brief wink as the revolving glass doors deposited them in the hallowed halls of Tiffany & Co.
Daisy was immediately captivated by the vast, high-ceilinged sales floor and its column-free design, and she gazed in amazement at the long rows of glass-fronted cases, their precious wares twinkling alluringly under the spotlights.
‘Oh wow, it’s all so beautiful,’ she whispered in awe, standing in the middle of the aisle as crowds of equally spellbound shoppers and tourists milled around her, each one fascinated by the breathtaking jewellery displays. The store was one of the few in Manhattan that didn’t utilise lavish festive decoration; its sparkling wares required little embellishment, and combined with the unmistakably romantic Tiffany’s allure this was more than enough to create that magical Christmas feeling.
‘It is, isn’t it?’ Ethan agreed, his nervousness dissipating somewhat now they were here. He took her arm and guided her between the various display cases and down towards the elevators at the back, his tired feet temporarily soothed by the soft-carpeted floor.
‘Where are we going?’ she asked, moving forward reluctantly. ‘Slow down a bit! Can’t we take a look around? I’ve never been here before and … Where are we going?’ she repeated, bemused, as the elevator doors opened.
‘The second floor, please,’ Ethan requested.
‘Certainly, sir.’ The besuited lift attendant complied, graciously bowing his top-hatted head. He smiled at Daisy. ‘Madam.’
‘But … why would we be going there?’ she asked, her voice hushed, and he deduced she’d read from the directory display overhead what was on this particular floor. She was certainly taken with the place, but however enthralled she’d been downstairs, he knew she would really be impressed by the second floor.
Ethan’s heart began to hammer in his chest as the elevator doors closed. Would she be OK with this? Again, he probably should have just come right out and asked, but he figured that she’d enjoy the surprise, and he also thought it was important that she felt very much a part of it.
His voice was light. ‘Like I said, I need to pick something up.’
Now Daisy gazed open-mouthed at him. ‘You’re not…’ she gasped, immediately understanding, but from her expression Ethan still couldn’t quite gauge her reaction, and he guessed the presence of the attendant was intimidating her into asking no further questions.
Within seconds, the elevator doors reopened and he and Daisy stepped out into the wood-panelled room on Tiffany’s famed Diamond Floor, where he had come to collect his purchase.
‘I can’t believe this!’ she was saying as they approached one of the hexagon-shaped wood-and-glass display cases, her head swivelling from left to right as she watched various happy couples around the room being served champagne while they made what would arguably be the most important purchase of their lives. ‘I really can’t believe it! This is what you’re picking up?’
Ethan smiled nervously. ‘I know I should have said something but—’
‘Ah, Mr Greene.’ An elderly and distinguished sales assistant addressed Ethan before either had a chance to say anything more. ‘Pleasure seeing you again. Everything is in order and ready to go. We weren’t sure, and I forgot to ask on the phone, if you preferred your purchase already gift-wrapped, or wanted to show the lady first…’ He smiled at Daisy, who beamed back at him, wide-eyed.
‘Oh yes, let me see, please!’ she exclaimed and then put a guilty hand to her mouth, conscious that she really should be showing a little more decorum – especially in a place like this.
Ethan hid a smile.
‘Well, here we are,’ the older man said, his voice low and gentle as he presented them with the world-renowned little blue box. Placing it ceremoniously on the glass display in front of Daisy, he pulled back the lid to reveal the platinum marquise solitaire Ethan had chosen a couple of days before.
The ring had needed to be sized correctly, which was why he was picking it up today, and now considering it afresh he was pretty sure he’d made a good choice. It was the classic Tiffany setting: the diamond lifted slightly above the band and held in place by six platinum prongs in order to maximise the stone’s brilliance.
‘So what do you think?’ he asked Daisy, but it was pretty obvious that she was captivated by the beautiful ring, although that wasn’t really the question Ethan was asking.
But when she turned to look at him, her delighted expression told him everything he needed to know.
‘It’s the perfect choice, Daddy,’ Ethan’s eight-year-old daughter assured him, ‘and Vanessa is going to absolutely love it!’
* * *
Thank goodness her reaction had been positive.
All day – no, strike that, all month – Ethan had worried about how Daisy would feel about this. Especially when this New York trip held a special significance for both of them.
Earlier that day, over a couple of hot chocolates in a midtown café, he had watched his daughter pick at an iced lemon cupcake, and known that something was on her mind. Just as her mother had always done, Daisy got that squinty look in her eyes and offset her jaw ever so slightly when deep in thought.
‘Did you like Times Square?’ he asked, fishing. ‘With all the lights and everything?’
‘Everything’s just so beautiful,’ she replied and then paused, looking out of the window at the bustling street. ‘Mum said Manhattan was like one big Christmas tree at this time of year. She was right.’
‘You really remember how much your mother talked about it, don’t you?’ he asked.
She gave a little smile. ‘I know I was only small, but I loved hearing about it.’
Ethan nodded. ‘Of course, she was right about it being like a big Christmas tree. Your mum was right about lots of things.’
Suddenly, the significance of sitting here with his daughter in the city that her mother had adored so much washed over Ethan and almost took his breath away. Swallowing hard, he tried to gather his thoughts.
‘You know what else she was right about?’ Ethan added, and Daisy looked intently at him as she always did whenever he had something about her mother to relate. It wasn’t lost on him that his daughter was seldom more attentive than when he offered some piece of the puzzle, whose parts probably seemed quite scattered to her; to him it was as if she were an archivist of some sort, gathering and assembling the pieces of a great legacy and putting them in order. Ethan continued with a smile, ‘She was right that you would grow into a bright and beautiful girl.’
Daisy grinned and turned back to the window to watch the goings-on of a very busy Fifth Avenue on Christmas Eve.
It had been nine years since his last and only other trip here. Jane, Daisy’s mum, had convinced Ethan to see the city and, making the trip from their home in London, see it they did.
Jane was a born and bred New Yorker and just couldn’t bear to spend another springtime ‘without a stroll through Central Park as the leaves begin to change’. She said dramatic things out of the blue like that every now and then, to which Ethan usually responded by asking if it were actually she and not he who was the English language lecturer. ‘No, Professor,’ she would say with a wink. ‘You’re the brainy, creative one around here, whereas I’m just a born romantic.’
Jane’s parents had retired to Florida in the meantime, so she didn’t get to visit the city of her birth as often as she’d have liked.
Daisy had been conceived in the Big Apple during that visit. The running joke between Jane and Ethan – one that Jane had no problem sharing with their friends and family – was that Daisy existed because they’d taken the expression ‘the city that never sleeps’ quite literally.
As a personal trainer and nutritionist, Jane did her best to keep Ethan in tip-top shape, a fact that was all the more ironic when she developed ovarian cancer and discovered that, unless the chemotherapy worked a miracle, she had only mere months to live.
Daisy was five at the time. Jane and Ethan were head over heels in love but had never got round to getting married, and he’d wanted to change that, especially once they heard the news.
‘Don’t be ridiculous, sweetheart. We’ve been happy so far; why change now?’ Jane insisted. ‘Besides,’ she added jokingly, ‘soon I won’t have enough hair left to wear a veil!’
By then Ethan would have gone along with anything she wished and Jane had several last wishes.
One of them was that he took their daughter to visit New York at Christmas when she was old enough to appreciate and enjoy it. She had spent hours weaving for Daisy tales of the magic of Manhattan and of her own childhood Christmases there.
When, a few months back, Daisy herself started talking about making the trip, Ethan knew it was time.
One evening over dinner he mentioned the idea to his girlfriend, Vanessa, who he hoped might be keen to join them. Although he knew the trip to the city would hold particular significance for him and Daisy because of its association with Jane, he also felt it was important that Vanessa be included. Their relationship had taken a serious turn over the last six months, and maybe, just maybe, it was meant to be that the three of them should spend time in New York together.
Perhaps this trip would be a kind of rite of passage into the next stage of his and Daisy’s life? It was three years since Jane’s death and Ethan was pretty certain they had her blessing to move on; another of her last wishes was that he shouldn’t remain alone.
‘Go and find a woman who’ll bake you bread,’ she’d laughed, in what Ethan knew was a reference to a long-standing joke about their dietary habits. Jane’s strict healthy-eating obsession meant that they rarely ate heavy refined starchy foods like bread or potatoes, something a carb fan like Ethan had always struggled with. And in the end, it hadn’t mattered what any of them ate; the cancer had taken her from them anyway.
But he knew there was a metaphorical element to the remark too, and although at the time he couldn’t bear the thought of moving on with someone else, as the years went by that feeling lessened. A woman who’d bake him bread? Ethan wasn’t sure if this described Vanessa exactly, but he did know he loved her and felt she would be the perfect female role model for his rapidly maturing daughter.
And when Ethan had suggested the three of them spend Christmas in New York together, Vanessa was all for it. She knew the city well, often travelling to Manhattan on business or to visit friends.
‘Do you think Mum would be proud of me?’ Daisy asked then, bringing Ethan back to the present. He looked at her and cocked his head inquisitively. ‘She always said she was proud of me every time I trusted myself and tried something new,’ his daughter continued. ‘And here I am in her favourite place, trying something new.’
‘I can guarantee it, buttercup,’ Ethan told her softly, his blue eyes watering slightly.
Then, checking his watch, he realised how late in the afternoon it actually was. He thought of Vanessa, remembering she would be back from visiting her friends soon and he, true to form, still had some very important shopping to do.
Madness really, he thought. It was all so last minute. Daisy was tired, and focused on her mum, but they were expecting him at the store.
So the debate had continued in Ethan’s head about whether to finish what he’d set out to do, or to retreat to the comfort of their room at the Plaza hotel. That buoyant feeling he’d had about it all over the last few days was now starting to ebb a bit and he was feeling nervous. Get it together, he told himself.
‘Do you know who else is proud of you?’ he asked Daisy.
‘Yes,’ she replied without hesitation, before finishing the last of her hot chocolate. ‘You are. And Vanessa is too. She told me on the plane.’
Ethan smiled. That was all he needed to hear.
Now, as he and Daisy waited together for the Tiffany’s assistant to gift-wrap his purchase, he was relieved that everything seemed to be working out. Of course, there was still the small matter of Vanessa’s reaction to all this, but he was pretty certain he knew what that would be.
To the ring, if nothing else.
He’d learned from Jane, who used to wax lyrical about Tiffany’s, that the famous little blue box was almost a by-word for true New York-style fairy-tale romance. According to her, there wasn’t a woman in the world who could resist it;, the store and its wares enchanting the dreams of millions.
Something from Tiffany’s had certainly always made Jane go weak at the knees, and Ethan’s one big regret was that he’d never had the chance to present her with one of their famed diamond rings.
He hoped Vanessa would appreciate it just as much, and he was pretty confident she would, given her appreciation for the finer things in life. Her dedicated work ethic ensured she was able to afford the best and, as far as Ethan was concerned, the best was exactly what she deserved.
Thinking about the cost of the ring, he gulped, once again thankful for those stock options that had come good a few months ago. The shareholding had been a gift from his father, and it was only because of that lump-sum windfall that Ethan had been able to spend so much on the diamond, or indeed a suite at the Plaza hotel.
‘Would you prefer our classic white ribbon for the box or perhaps something a little more festive for the holiday?’ the assistant asked him. ‘A red bow, perhaps?’
‘Daisy?’ Ethan urged, letting her decide.
She seemed to think for a moment. ‘Definitely the white.’
‘Ah, classic Tiffany’s style,’ the assistant agreed with a smile. ‘Good instincts, young lady.’
Daisy grinned again and looked from the assistant to her father. ‘My mum used to tell me about here,’ she said shyly. ‘She told me that Tiffany’s is a very special place filled with magic and romance.’
The assistant looked at Ethan and he smiled, silently acknowledging that Daisy was at the age where this kind of fanciful stuff was important.
‘Daisy’s mum is no longer with us, but she was very much a Tiffany’s devotee,’ he told him. Ethan knew that Jane would no doubt have waxed lyrical to Daisy about the store in the course of her many tales about New York. The love of his life had been a romantic old soul, the type who believed in whimsical things like fate and the mysteries of the universe.
For all the good it did her, he thought, but lately some of that seemed to be coming through in Daisy. Then again she was an eight-year-old girl who had posters of princesses and unicorns all over her bedroom walls, so he supposed this was normal enough.
In any case, Ethan was relieved to discover this more imaginative side of his daughter; since her mother’s untimely loss, she could sometimes be a solemn, fretful little girl, prone to worrying about the slightest thing.
‘Ah.’ The man nodded, as if understanding. He hunkered down to Daisy’s height. ‘Well yes, this is a special place, and as you can see, there’s lots of romance happening right here at this very moment.’ He indicated the other customers, all enclosed in their own starry-eyed bubble.‘And I must admit I myself have experienced a few magical moments throughout my time here. Like meeting you today, for instance, young lady,’ he added with a wink and Daisy blushed happily.
Ethan looked on, his heart soaring at the sight of his little girl’s smile.
Then, when the all-important package was nestled safely in the small robin’s-egg-blue bag, and the assistant handed Ethan his purchase, Daisy beat him to the punch and grabbed the soft handles herself. ‘Can I carry it?’ she asked, staring at the bag as if it contained something rare and precious.
Which indeed it did.
‘Of course you can.’ Ethan was beaming as he put the accompanying documentation into his jacket pocket. He couldn’t have hoped for a better reaction, and felt more certain than ever that he, Vanessa and Daisy being together in New York was merely the first step on the wonderful journey they all had ahead of them.
Then, taking his daughter’s hand, he wished the friendly Tiffany’s assistant a merry Christmas and he and Daisy headed back outside to rejoin the crowds on Fifth Avenue.
Copyright © 2011 by Melissa Hill
MELISSA HILL is the #1 international bestselling author of ten novels, including The Truth About You, Please Forgive Me, Before I Forget and The Last to Know. Her books have been translated into 18 different languages. She lives with her husband Kevin, daughter Carrie, and dog Homer in South Dublin.