Aria's staff begins the transformation of her castle into a holiday wonderland for the guests. Sophie had almost forgotten how close Christmas was on the calendar, this is not the way she envisioned her first Christmas as Nate's other half but this will certainly due nicely. Sometimes location is everything, this is the closest thing to a traditional English Christmas that she has had in over a decade. She had almost forgotten the magic that this season could bring as she watches the castle's transformation with all of the trimmings of the season.
Sophie has learned a great deal about Aria from her staff. The Christmas tree that they have set up in the main room is a virtual tour of Aria's life. The tree is decorated with ornaments obviously collected over a lifetime. The decorations are filled with meaning and hung with consideration and care. Sophie never realized that Aria had a sentimental side, Russian and Irish tradition blend with much loved German pyramids scatter about the rooms. Many of the decorations have the patina of time which only adds to their beauty. Aria's tastes are European, Sophie always knew this of Aria. Aria's castle has always felt like home and like holidays from Sophie's own past, a past she is oddly missing at the moment. The staff has told her the stories behind the decorations also that Ms. Aria has rarely been around to enjoy them.
As Sophie enters the dining room, she spies a box on the table. To her surprise, the box contains elegant old world Christmas dishes… an elegant service for at least 40 people. Nate can see the twinkle in her eye as he enters the room. Aria did tell them to make themselves at home and the holidays are coming. Nate exits the room as a move of self-preservation sensing the wheels spinning in Sophie's mind. Sophie runs her fingers over the dishes as she picks up her cell phone.
The days pass in rapid succession in the march towards the holiday as Sophie prepares her surprises for all including her indulgent host. She has reached out to those closest to Aria which includes her own wayward little family to celebrate the holiday. It had been a while since they had all been together and there is no more perfect reason that the holidays to get together again. What disturbs Sophie is the fact that Aria has suddenly fallen off everyone's radar.
As morning breaks guests begin to arrive, Sophie finds that she is not the only one with surprises. Sophie is rendered speechless by the appearance of a pregnant Parker. Eliot arrives with his very pregnant wife and child in tow. It is a most refreshing feeling among those who she considered like her children. Sophie now feels like the matriarch of her own little growing family. She is relishing in the warmth and joy of the moment as Vance and Mack arrive with their families along with Shelley and his son. Sophie is becoming quite aware that their host has not yet arrived but she knows Aria and Aria operates on her own timetable and she is enjoying playing host in her place.
Sophie is in heaven with the events of the day and the anticipation of days to come. As she enjoys the chaos of the company, there is a ring of the doorbell. Sophie operates on the assumption that it is Aria coming to join them when Eliot reminds her of the question as to why Aria would ring the doorbell in her own house.
Everyone has gathered between the main room and kitchen enjoying refreshments and company. Eliot approaches the door with caution since they are at the home of a rather well known assassin and spy. Checking the scene, he opens the door to reveal a courier in the threshold. The courier, dressed in a rather elaborate costume, announces that the package is for Sophie. He presents Sophie with a box which is elaborately wrapped in glided paper. The courier quickly vacates once the package is conveyed to the designated party.
Instead of continuing to attract unwanted attention, Sophie takes the package into Aria's study, placing it on her desk. Something within her tells her to open it in solitude and solitude is hard to come by at the moment. A short while later, the others head outside to partake in sledding and snowmen, Sophie again steals away to Aria's study. She sits before the gilded package for a few moments taking in the all too familiar crest across the front of it. She knows the contents all too well. She knows that the time has come for her to fulfill a promise made long ago. She gentle takes the ribbon and gives it a tug as the wrappings fall away.
Sophie opens the lid of the delicate package to see what she had expected to see, the family tiara tucked among the velvet interior. It is at that moment that Sophie spies an expected guest emerging from the darkness as Aria walks out from the shadows. By now, Sophie is no longer startled or surprised by ghosts in the shadows. Between Eliot and Aria and the various cast of characters that have come into her life, this is has become the new normal but she is happy that Aria has finally arrived.
Sophie holds up the Tiara on her fingertips. "Should I even ask how you got this?" Sophie takes it into her hands and smiles down with fondness. The memory of her Gran wearing this at the Christmas gala wanders into her thoughts as Aria takes a seat upon the couch in the study. Sophie joins Aria as she places the box upon a table in front of them. Aria kicks up her feet as she takes in Sophie's reaction. She appreciates what Sophie has done. Sophie has made her home look beautiful and she knows in her heart this will be a magical holiday with the presence of everyone she treasures in the place that is the closest thing to a home that she has ever known.
"Let's call it a Christmas miracle." Aria smirks over her fingertips as her fingers pyramid in front of her lips.
"So are you the ghost of Christmas, past?" Sophie runs her fingers over the jewels with a sentimental sigh. Aria laughs at being scrooged. "More like Christmas future, we both have lived lives of our own design, Sophie. Perhaps, it's time we both became who we were meant to be instead of who we think we should be."
Aria's words interest Sophie. She and Aria are truly so much alike that the similarities are hard to ignore. Both of them have lived a life in the shadows. They each took a road less traveled. The link between them was none other than Eliot Spencer. In a way their lives are forever intertwined out of love. Where their families have failed them, they chose to build their own and in a odd way Aria is almost a sister.
"They weren't looking for me so much as they were trying to find me." Sophie realizes that it was MI6 looking for her but not for the reasons that she thought. Aria nods to confirm Sophie's thoughts. Sophie realizes that Aria made a stop on her way home to the States and she wonders just how much Aria knows.
The silence of Sophie's thoughts are interrupted by another ring at the doorbell. Sophie eyes Aria as the door is answered by the others. Aria smiles as Nate enters room to fetch Sophie. Sophie quickly realizes that Aria has evaporated from the room leaving her alone with Nate. "Sophie, there is someone here to see you." Nate's expression holds a certain level of shock and awe as he leads Sophie into the receiving area. Sophie walks towards the hall to see her Aunt Emily. "Happy Christmas, Catherine." Sophie glances over her shoulder knowing that Aria has vanished into the main room and Nate now knows her actual name. With everyone outside, Sophie is thrilled to have a few moments alone with her beloved Auntie.
Aria appears at the threshold of the doorway as the snow begins to fall. She is taking in the Currier and Ives scene before her eyes. The activities have moved outdoors with the whim of the kids to sleigh ride and enjoy the winter wonderland that Maine has to offer at this time of year. Aria leaves the house and wanders towards the barn to get a better vantage without attracting too much attention quite yet.
For as much as this all delights her, this scene also scares the hell out of Aria. After taking in the sight of her beloveds enjoying what she can effortlessly offer, Aria wanders back into the house to gather blankets for the shivers that will follow sledding and to tend to the fire on the terrace.
The scene of Sophie pacing between the ballroom and the dining room like a tennis match greets Aria as she heads towards the terrace doors. Aria can't help but smile since it has been so long since her house was filled with this much joy and Sophie is the perfect hostess. As Aria has suspected, Sophie has realized that they now have a dinner for well more than 30 people with the inclusion of Aria's staff, she is panicking as to where on earth they will host dinner Christmas Day.
The ballroom is nice but it just doesn't fit her vision for Christmas. Aria is quite amused by Sophie's reaction but remembers that she did tell her to make herself at home and this is not in her own wheelhouse of expertise. Aria takes in the scene of Sophie pacing the ballroom floor like a twisted waltz. With a smile, Aria motions for Sophie to follow her. Aria leads Sophie down an unfamiliar hallway that is tucked in the shadows.
"I think I may be able to remedy the situation." Aria stops suddenly and lays her hands on a set of handles of heavy wooden double doors. All the time she spent in the this castle, Sophie had not ventured to this part of the house.
Aria smiles back at Sophie, Aria has never used this room. Eliot's wedding was in the ballroom, this room she was saving selfishly for herself but the moment feels right to share. As if summoned on cue, Bedford appears out of the shadows with a smile taking a position next to the door. "You sure about this?" Bedford smiles at Aria as he ask the question. They have all been waiting for this moment for so long, Aria is changing before their eyes. She is opening her world up and allowing a family other than the staff in. It is a big and bold move for Aria.
Sophie is intrigued by the mystery behind the doors. Aria nods. "I am." Aria takes one handle while Bedford takes the other opening the door to a large elaborate solarium. Sophie enters the room sparkling in the sunlight. There is abundant furniture draped in white sheets. The center of the room has an absolutely immense table with chairs at each end, there are massive stone fireplaces.
Sophie's eyes light up brighter than the sunshine streaking in through the windows. "Oh my." Sophie walks around the space. "Oh, Aria, this is beautiful." Aria and Bedford exchange a look that tells Sophie, this is the space. Bedford offers with a wink. "It will be ready for tomorrow Miss Aria." He is thrilled to finally use this space. He exchanges one final look at Aria. "and the chandelier?" Aria glances up. "Light it up and tell Miss Ellie she can break out the crystal." Sophie had not looked up. There is an extravagant crystal chandelier hanging over head that will only make this place even more magical in the evening. Aria walk out to the terrace to be with the others.
Eliot had noticed Aria return with her lingering at the railing watching the activity as he pulls John and Shelley's son on a sled back up the hill. Eliot had made Shelley aware that Aria has arrived with a subtle motion. Nearby, Wendy catches Eliot's eye as she joins them walking up the hill. Wendy offers her thoughts. "You know it is a tactical advantage to have a mom who can kick the ass of every other mom on the PTA." She pushes Shelley gently on the back. Shelley resists the urge to head straight for Aria for a while longer to play with his son in the snow and to sort the thoughts in his head.
As Aria makes her way onto the terrace, she finds Mack and Vance comfortable in the lounge chairs sipping hot chocolate as they pass a flask. The bliss is evident from the banter between them. Aria takes a chair and joins in with the conversation as the others begin to gather on the terrace to warm themselves by the fire.
Aria is surprised by an unexpected turn of events rapidly occurs. As the various kids cuddle into laps near the fire, Shelley's son, Lucas climbs onto Aria's lap snuggling into the blanket draped over her legs. Though, Aria is not a stranger to children, this moment touches her in a way she has never felt before.
Aria can't help but be aware of the attention drawn by Lucas' action but honestly she doesn't care. It has been a long time since someone so innocent sought comfort with her. She leans down as she wraps the blanket around the boy. Lucas smells like cold mixed with baby shampoo and fabric softener. Aria pulls him closer basking the what she can only imagine is the scent of innocence.
Eliot watches Aria and then Shelley's reaction as he cuddles his own child in his arms. Shelley heads to the kitchen so he can linger in observance of Aria and his son with out attracting attention. Shelley's expression is hard to read as Wendy and Sophie take in the scene between the pair of wayward lovers. Sophie and Wendy exchange a warm expression between them that the final domino may fall yet. The romance novelist may finally have her own story to tell.
As the sun goes down and the air takes on a crisper feel, the activities move indoors with the couples naturally pairing up. Aria knows that this includes the expectation of her to be with Shelley. Mack and Eliot cannot help but notice the change is Aria. This is a woman that has stared down death with each of them and yet here she is before them obviously nervous and vulnerable. There is a softness to Aria emerging that they have never experienced. They joke with each other that they are not sure if they should be touched or afraid, very afraid.
The night winds down with sufficient mischief and mistletoe for all, the children and assorted teenagers are amusing themselves in the dorm as they have done so many times before. The couples head to their accommodations as Sophie steals away to the study to linger over tea with her beloved Aunt leaving Shelley alone in the main room. Shelley walks over to tend to the fire with a glance back at Aria. "So are you going to linger in the shadows or are you going to join me?" He walks towards Aria taking her by the hand. Shelley pulls her close like he as done so many times before. He holds her face within his hands. "Until the sky falls down." Shelley leans down and gently kisses, Aria. Aria smiles as he points up to the strategically positioned mistletoe above Aria's head.
It is at this moment that Shelley notices the tear rolling down Aria's face. He knows it is not a tear of sadness but one of Aria being overwhelmed. Shelley takes Aria's hand into his own. "Come on, those youngins will be up with the sun." Shelley leads Aria to the staircase. Before ascending the stairs, Aria takes a look back at the tree with the presents surrounding. Her house feels complete when it is full and at the moment it is full of everyone she loves. Her past, her present and future all are all here under one roof the irony is that she honestly never thought she would live long enough to have an experience like this. In the hall, Shelley walks Aria to her room. He has every intention of being a gentleman but lingers at her door with the hope that his night with Aria is not over. He cannot contain the smile as Aria takes his hand leading him into the room. Aria wants to bask in Shelley's presence a while longer.
The morning begins with kids rousing their parents out of bed dragging them down to the Christmas tree to open the abundance of gifts that lies beneath. Shelley to find himself alone in Aria's bed as Lucas rouses him from his sleep as he lands on the bed next to his father. Shelley follows his son downstairs to gather with the others in the main room. Shelley expected to see Aria downstairs, he is surprised that she is not among the crowd. Bedford can see the confusion and offers clarification to Shelley as he pours a coffee.
"If you are looking for Miss Aria, she is out near the cliffs. She goes there every morning." Bedford motions in the general direction of the sea. "She will be along any minute." Bedford winks at him as he pours a coffee for himself and heads to the main room. Shelley looks out the window for a few minutes before being beckoned back to the main room with a tug at his hand by Lucas.
The frenzy of gifts gives way to children at play as Aria appears in the room. Shelley circles closer to Aria under the watchful eye of all. He takes in her scent, Aria smells like coffee and cold as he gives her a kiss on the cheek. The day lingers with the joy of Christmas as the sun begins to hang low in the sky, Sophie walks into the room that will provide the venue for dinner. Nate follows Sophie as she steals away to the "secret" room, Nate is also surprised that he did not notice this hallway before.
Sophie is misty at the sight of the room. It is beyond magical upon the reveal. She looks up to see the coffers in the ceiling illuminated by the dazzling chandelier. The table is set with the Christmas dishes and cut crystal. There are ruby red table cloths and emerald napkins trimmed in gold at each place setting with gold chargers mirroring the light through the crystal. Nate is shocked as he wanders about the space.
"Isn't it lovely?" Sophie twirls to face him. "Yeah." is the only response that Nate can muster as he takes in the sight. "It is as beautiful as any palace that I have seen." Sophie muses as Bedford comes in to check the room. "This has always been my favorite." He gives Sophie a wink. "I understand why." Sophie is thrilled beyond her ability to express it verbally but her eyes say it all.
Everyone has dressed for dinner and are gathering in the main room. Sophie and Bedford enter the main room to guide the guests to the chosen venue. All become awestruck entering the incredible space that none of them knew was there. There are fires roaring in the massive stone fireplaces, the chandelier casts a warm glow that twinkles off of the crystal. Large candelabrum are scattered around the room with the massive windows glowing with the light glistening off of the snow. The world outside the room looks like a shaken snow globe. Even Parker displays emotions of awe entering. Eliot gives Aria a smile. "You have managed to out do yourself this time." Aria gives him a soft smile, their reaction was worthy of the share of her scared space. "I didn't do anything other than provide the real estate, my Love."
The dinner is a glittering family affair which even managed to impress Sophie's Auntie. Sophie has a glow about her that entrances Nate. The evening could not be more perfect as the joy winds well into the evening.
As the room quiets, Shelley steals a moment with Aria. "You missed one this morning." Shelley holds a small gift as he extends his hand toward Aria. Aria eyes the gift and Shelley before opening it. The size of the box was a giveaway as Aria opens it to reveal a ring. Aria instantly recognizes the ring and is unable to hide the visible expression of shock. She knows there is only one place were this ring would have come from. "You..." Shelley places a finger over Aria's lips to temper whatever words are about to follow. "Aria, I love you. I want to spend the rest of my days with you. I am here. As long as it takes, I will be here."
"You went to see my father?" Aria is stunned. She has not seen this ring in decades. Shelley looks down as he smiles. "What can I say, I am old fashioned that way." Aria quickly realizes that their conversation is not as private as they originally thought. Lucas makes a beeline to the couple bounding into Shelley's arms. "So is Miss Aria going to marry us?" His voice is echoes in the space as only a child's would in a room full of parents and parents to be.
Aria is painfully aware that all eyes upon them with what is quite clearly a ring box in her hand. The shock of his statement hits Aria. This question requires an answer, a reaction other than the stunned silence that is enveloping her. Aria's eyes dart around the room with the go to reaction of a cornered assassin.
Shelley went to see Paddy and Paddy gave him her mother's ring. She could only imagine what that conversation was like. Her father gave Shelley the her mother's ring the shock of that action alone hits her in waves, the only mother she ever knew. Aria thought the ring was lost to the ashes of her mother's life and was buried with her. Now, it sits in the palm of her hand with the promise of a love she never thought she could have.
As she takes in the room, she realizes she was never quite alone and never as alone as she always felt. Each person in this room had walked the same this same path and had found their match. Aria looks up at Shelley with a soft smile. "Well, if you are actually going to ask me the question, I want to be wooed. After all, I am old fashioned that way." Aria gives him a wink. Shelley looks down at Lucas as he places him on the floor. "You ready to do this, buddy?"
Both Shelley and his son get down on a single knee to propose as their friends surround the couple. With the answer of a yes to the looming question, Bedford and Miss Ellie fetch champagne to celebrate a moment worthy of cracking open the good stuff that has been gathering dust for far too long.
Sophie stands with Aria as the room returns to the joy of celebration. Sophie raises her glass to Aria's. "Princess." She smiles at Aria. "Duchess." They clink glasses as they gaze out towards their collective family. "Thank you, Sophie." Sophie looks at her confused. "For what?"
"For convincing me that I am worth of all of this."