1981--December 24 6:30 pm
Lance Corporal Leroy Jethro Gibbs was tired. Men on base always took the holidays hard and here at Quantico sometimes it seemed as if it was the Wild, Wild West. He'd broken up enough fights and dealt with enough angry men to exhaust even him. And he was a Marine to the core.
He considered staying home tonight, but Shannon had opted to spend Christmas here in Virginia rather than in Pennsylvania with her family. She was going to college in DC so that she could be close to him and he couldn't disappoint her. He'd promised her a romantic dinner together ... and more, but she didn't know that yet.
Jethro had left a bag at her small rental. He had seventy-two hours leave and just one thing to pick up. Ten minutes later, he'd changed and was in his car, making his way to DC and what he hoped was the next phase of his life.
Shannon was in her last semester, student teaching. She'd been leasing an apartment with her college friends but they were all away, either on trips with their boyfriends or visiting their families on the last college break before adulthood and jobs took them away.
But Shannon, she was different; she wasn't interested in all that stuff. For some crazy reason, she'd held a torch for a boy she'd met when she was a teen. Him. And he hoped she'd make him the happiest man alive.
He'd been saving ten percent of his pay for almost a year now, in the hopes of buying her a beautiful ring. He just purchased it last week, an entire carat in a simple setting. He knew he probably could have asked Jack for his mother's ring, but it wouldn't have seemed right. He wanted his future wife to have something uniquely and totally hers, something he'd saved up for, something that would tell her at first look how much he cared about her.
If only he was sure she'd say yes...
Shannon Thomas checked the roast ten times before she sat down, jumping up a moment later to put the Christmas channel on the radio. Tonight just had to be the night! She and Jethro had been sweethearts almost since the moment they'd met at the train station. She'd written him every day when he was in boot camp and had been so excited when he'd been sent to Quantico two years ago. It was only an hour away and she could see him almost every weekend.
They'd been involved since she was sixteen and she was twenty-one now. The stammering boy she'd met had become a man, with a man's confidence and sense of purpose. And in the last six months, she'd passed every important day waiting and hoping. She knew Jethro wanted to marry her—she could see it in his eyes. But something had happened between his parents that had caused shadows to creep in. He never discussed it, never wanted to go home. The best she could get him to do was call his younger brother Alex once a week. Alex idolized Jethro and Shannon wouldn't have him disappointed because of whatever had happened with his family.
Her family loved him, had taken him in like their own. Her younger sister Maggie talked to him about everything and her mom and dad thought of him as the son they'd never had.
All she needed now was a ring—any ring, she wasn't fussy—and the chance to be Mrs. Leroy Jethro Gibbs. She'd broken Rule Number Seven for him, which was never send a boy a love letter, and Rule Number Eighteen, which was never say "I love you" first, but he was special. He was making her have a whole new code to live by.
She looked at the tree. She'd hand chosen it, hand decorated it, and all the presents underneath were for him. Her parents had a bushel of presents for him too, but these were once she'd saved up for and they were what he'd open on their holiday together. Her family had a tradition of opening one present on Christmas Eve and she intended to keep that tradition for her family. Her family! It had to happen tonight! If it did, she might break Rule Three, which was never let a boy see you cry.
Shannon took a deep breath, staring at her nails. She wanted to chew them to bits but she knew she couldn't. What if ... what if!!!
She wandered over to the tree now, separating one present from the rest. If it didn't happen, she didn't have to give him this present. It could be returned or fixed.
When there was a knock on the door, she ran to open it. "Jethro!" she said, hugging him tight. He looked wonderful all dressed up in a black button-down shirt and black pants, looking spiffy and handsome. It had taken her a long time to get used to the Marine haircut but she was so in love with him that it didn't really matter any more.
"Hey," he said softly, giving her a tender smile. "Merry Christmas, sweetheart."
She was usually the more romantically aggressive one, but this time he pulled her into his arms and kissed her deeply, literally taking her breath away. "I can't wait to eat but I have to do something first. Can I use the phone in Sally's bedroom? Long distance."
She nodded, beaming at him. "Tell Alex I said Merry Christmas. Did you get him anything?"