It’s been two years since the two of them started their affair, which inevitably lead to a relationship. Two years since Gloria’s first try at the gym challenge, where she made it all the way until the very end, but she did not claim the title of champion that day. Neither of them went easy on the other, and it was close, perhaps the closest match that Leon has ever had, but he managed to defend his title a little bit longer.
Though she was disappointed, Leon helped take her mind off it as soon as he could get her alone, and she’s spent a fair amount of time training since then. While Hop, a bit discouraged after losing to her in the semi-finals, has chosen a new direction in life and taken a job as Sonia’s assistant, Gloria has spent her time training, and each year, Leon has asked her if she’s preparing to take on the gym challenge again. They both know that once she does, things are going to get serious again, and that she has an even stronger chance of defeating him this time.
Every time that she tells him she isn’t ready yet, he groans and says he’s getting impatient and that he really, really wants to battle her again, but she can usually distract him with other things until he drops the topic entirely. The two of them have kept up their relationship in secret, with only a few friends knowing about it, and with Hop being the only one from either family that knows about them. It gets harder and harder to sneak around to see each other, but Gloria doesn’t mind, happy just to be able to see him.
But things are going to change soon. It’s nearly Christmas, with the gym challenge far from either of their minds, but still she decides to tell him, “Next year, I’m going to be ready again.”
“You really mean it?” asks Leon. “You’re not going to change your mind?”
“Not a chance,” she replies, and neither of them mention that she’s a bit older now, that she’s at an age where a relationship between the two of them wouldn’t raise nearly as many brows. Still a few, considering the circumstances under which they met and that it’s common knowledge he’s known her for a while, but considerably less than before.
“Is that right? Well, then, I guess it was a good thing I was considering asking this either way,” he says. “How about this Christmas, we spend it together?”
Typically, they take some time together around Christmas, but on the actual day, that time is spent on their respective families. Since only Hop knows about her, she hasn’t been able to visit their family as his girlfriend, and she has spent the past few Christmases with her family pretending to be single. The fact that he’s suggesting they spend Christmas together can only mean thing.
Leon is ready to tell their families about this.
Gloria agrees to this and they make their plans with their families, both deciding not to tell anyone who they’re bringing, just that they’ve met someone and will be bringing a date to Christmas. It would probably be better to prepare them ahead of time, but they both agree that it’s more fun this way, and Leon tells Hop to continue keeping it to himself, to which Hop replies that he’s done fine with that so far, so they really don’t have anything to worry about.
Christmas Eve, they fall asleep together, and wake up together on Christmas morning, with plans to visit Leon’s family for lunch and presents, and then Gloria’s family for dinner and presents. Both families say that they wish they knew what to get the mystery date, but Leon and Gloria both tell their families that their date won’t mind not getting a present from them, and isn’t expecting anything.
“I know for a fact my mum is going to give you a scarf and glove set,” Gloria says as they make their way to Postwick. “She never did tell me who she was giving it to, but I know it’s going to be so that you don’t feel left out. It’s very plain, I guess so that anyone could wear it.”
“Plain, huh? Maybe you should have told her it was me,” he teases. “I have a feeling you’re going to have to open something similar, though. Maybe if Hop helped her pick it out, then he might have been able to hint at something you’d like more without mentioning that it’s you.”
“I really don’t mind,” she replies. “Besides, does Hop even spend that much time at home? He’s usually at the lab, right?”
“I guess so. I’m not home much, but it does sound like Sonia keeps him working all hours.”
Soon enough, they’re at the familiar front door, and Gloria wonders what her mother would think if she happened to be outside, looking down the road at that moment. In a few hours, she’ll get to find out that Gloria has turned her childhood fantasy crush into a reality, but for now, she’s about to tell her best friend’s parents that she’s dating their older son.
Leon could probably just open the door and walk right on in, but he decides to knock, and it isn’t long before Hop’s mother opens the door with a smile. “Leon! You actually managed to get here early, isn’t that something!” She pauses for a moment, looking between the two of them. “And you ran into Gloria? Hello, dear, did you need something?”
There is a brief silence, with Gloria not quite knowing what to say, before his mother says, “Lee, I thought you were bringing...someone with you?” It slowly begins to dawn on her, as Leon grins and throws his arm around Gloria.
“I probably should have mentioned you know her pretty well!” he says. “Come on in, Gloria, let’s wait for my little bro! He’s going to lose his mind when he sees that I got here first!”
His mother watches them with wide eyes for a few moments before her smile returns and she says, “How long has this been going on? Really, I had no idea!” She seems entirely sincere, which is good. Gloria has to admit that she’s a little worried about the reactions they’ll get as they become more public with their relationship, but their families approving is a good place to start.
“For a bit now,” Leon replies, not giving the exact timeline but not exactly lying either. “We wanted to keep things to ourselves until we knew where it was going, because it just sort of happened. And it might not look so good if…”
“I know, I know, a champion and a champion hopeful,” she says, waving her hand. “Imagine the tabloids if that one got out! Well, you’re going to have to deal with the third degree from your grandmother, she’s been absolutely dying to meet this girlfriend of yours. She just adores Gloria, so I’m sure she’ll be thrilled!”
And so, they spend the rest of the time waiting for Hop sitting with Leon’s grandparents. As his mother predicted, his grandmother has a lot of questions about their relationship, some that they have to lie their way through, not wanting to get into the complicated parts of it or say anything that might leave her disappointed. She talks to them for a while, and things only start to get awkward when she says, “I just always thought little Gloria here would end up with Hop , but I guess she had different ideas!”
They laugh at her remark, because there isn’t much else she can do, but then she adds, “Hop is bringing his girlfriend today too. Honestly, when Gloria came in the room, I thought he was already here! I wonder what she’s like...what’s with you boys and keeping all these secrets?”
At that, Leon and Gloria exchange a look. Hop has a girlfriend? How long has that been going on? He’s never mentioned it to either of them, and they talk to him pretty often. As the first person to know the truth about them, Gloria wonders why he would keep his own relationship a secret. She doesn’t recall him mentioning meeting anyone new recently, either, so it’s all a huge mystery, one that she can’t wait to figure out.
Fortunately, they don’t have long to wait before there is another knock at the door, and their mother heads off to answer it, muttering to herself about how her own sons don’t have to knock like they’re strangers. Neither she nor Leon get up, but they both strain to hear as his mother says, “Oh! Well, isn’t this a...surprise?”
A voice that definitely belongs to Hop says something in response, and a voice that is definitely feminine responds, and one that is a little familiar, no less, but Gloria can’t quite place it. She is about to ask Leon if he knows who it is when Hop comes running into the room. “Lee, you’re already here?! No way!”
“I had Gloria to make sure I stayed on the right path,” Leon responds. “So, who’s this…” But he trails off before he can ask, because Sonia follows Hop into the room, answering his question.
“Hey, you two,” Sonia says, but then her eyes go wide at about the same time that Gloria’s do, and she jumps. “Wait, Gloria?! Don’t tell me that you’re the girl Leon has been hiding away?”
Once again, Leon puts his arm around her, beaming. “Sure is! What, wasn’t it obvious? I figured Hop would have slipped up and told you during one of those late nights at the lab...which, by the way, what about all this ?”
Sonia blushes, likely at the potential implication of his words, and replies, “I-I’m surprised Hop didn’t slip up and tell you , actually.”
“We didn’t know a thing about it. Today’s the first we’ve heard about him having any sort of girlfriend.”
“So, the important thing to take away from this is I am way better at keeping secrets than anyone gives me credit for,” Hop says, stepping into the conversation with a grin to match his brother’s. “One thing led to another, and me and Sonia have gotten a lot closer lately. Today’s the first time we’ve told anyone about it.”
“Well, congratulations!” Leon rises to give Hop a pat on the back, while Gloria still sits, looking between the three of them in surprise. But, the more she thinks about it, she probably shouldn’t have been surprised. Hop really hasn’t had the chance to meet anyone new, and the only reason she never thought anything of how frequently he talked about Sonia is because they work together, and she’s older than them so she never felt like an option.
Which is definitely rich, coming from someone in Gloria’s position.
“Today is just full of familiar faces,” their grandmother speaks up, joining back in the conversation. “It’s funny, I definitely always thought little Sonia was going to end up with Lee, but the two of you really switched things up, huh?”
At that, Hop, Sonia, and Gloria aren’t sure what to say, shuffling awkwardly, but Leon just laughs it off, grinning like always. He manages to be the only one to not find this situation the least bit awkward, just happy to have everyone together. Gloria can imagine the way he must see it, that one of his best friends and one his brother’s best friends are becoming a part of the family, and that’s all that really matters to him. Well, since it’s Christmas, maybe it is better to look at things that simply.
“Nah, me and Sonia haven’t had anything going on since we were kids,” Leon replies, which causes Sonia’s face to even redder while Hop stares intently at something on the floor. Gloria considers asking him what he means by that- but later, when they’re alone, rather than in front of everyone, because unlike him, she does possess some tact- but decides against it.
She remembers feeling a little jealous when she first met Sonia, and even a few times after, whenever she was reminded that she and Leon have known each other when they were kids. There’s always been a part of her that’s suspected something went on between them, especially considering the past Leon had before he settled down with her, but ultimately, none of that matters now. Leon has told her before that nothing he did meant anything before her, and there’s nothing that can be done about the past. Not only that, but now Sonia seems happy with Hop, and since she has never been anything but nice to Gloria, she couldn’t hold any ill will towards her either way.
So, she decides to let it go, and only hopes that Leon can refrain from making further remarks like that and making this family gathering any more awkward than it already is. Fortunately, that is when their mother decides to step in, saying, “Alright, how about we open presents before we eat? If I’d known it was you two, I might have been able to pick out something better…”
From that point on, the awkwardness diffuses as the four of them settle in to open presents. Now that both secrets are out, Gloria wonders if the four of them will spend more time together, and, after the fun that they have during presents and then lunch, she decides that she would like that a lot.
After that, it’s on to her house, where her mother manages to recover from her shock alarmingly quickly, welcoming Leon like a part of the family despite only meeting him a few times. Everything went smoothly enough, and so, when dinner is over and she has Leon alone again, he says, “Make sure you don’t back out of doing the challenge this year, alright?”
“I’m not planning on it, Lee, I already told you,” she replies, shaking her head.
“Alright, kid, but you better get serious about winning. Then we get to meet up with our families again.” He says the last part casually, like she’s supposed to know what it means, but when she presses him, he doesn’t offer any further explanation.
Gloria wants to hope that it means one thing in particular, but Leon tells her that she’ll just have to wait and see. Though she says it isn’t fair that he hold out on her on Christmas, when he asks, she also agrees that this is the best Christmas she’s had, and a great first Christmas spent together.