Where are You Christmas?
|Thanksgiving Day, 2008
Where are you Christmas?
Why can’t I find you?
The lyrics to the song echoed through Trixie’s mind as she stared up at the starry sky. It was only Thanksgiving, and she already felt like this was going to be the worst Christmas of her life. After all, she’d only managed two hours at her parents’ Thanksgiving open house before she stormed off in a temper.
She sighed and sank wearily onto the dock at the Wheeler lake. The gentle breeze barely chilled her, despite running off without her jacket. She was wearing a short-sleeved polo and had been overheated in Moms’ kitchen, so the fresh air felt good. She could feel the temperature dropping rapidly, though. The cold would likely drive her back inside before she got her emotions under control.
Not that this was cold, she thought with a snort. As a police officer in New York City, Trixie had spent the morning working the Macy’s Parade. The unseasonably warm temperatures had made it seem more like the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Fortunately, the good weather had put the spectators in a good mood. Trixie’s crowd-control position had been easy duty today, and she’d actually gotten to enjoy the parade. She had positioned her next-door neighbor, Shawn, and her own two little children, Adam and Beth, right next to her. Even though she was working, she’d eked a family holiday moment out of the morning.
Afterwards, however, the day had returned to the standard chaos of her life. Shawn had taken the children back to the apartment until she had returned from her shift. He’d headed out to see his family, and she’d bustled the kids off to Sleepyside. Upon arrival, the children had been swept off by their grandparents and spoiled rotten. Trixie had intended to be sociable with the guests; however, one polite question from Mr. Lytell about the whereabouts of her ex-husband had sent her scurrying to find busywork in the kitchen, where she could be both helpful and anti-social.
And then Mart had had to open his damned mouth. She loved her brother, really she did, but no one could work her last nerve the way he could. He could set her temper off on a good day, and lately there weren’t a lot of those; on top of that, his persistent I-told-you-so attitude towards her failed marriage was more than she could tolerate. One snide remark from him had stretched her ability to remain polite to the limit. Unfortunately for her best friend, Honey had been the next person to speak to her.
Honey and Diana had been happily discussing their plans for Black Friday shopping. Eager to spend time with her best friend, Honey had grabbed Trixie’s arm and excitedly asked her to join them. It wasn’t Honey’s brightest moment, because everyone in the world knew how much Trixie hated shopping. The struggling, fiercely independent single mother especially hated shopping with her millionaire-heiress best friends, because she always ended up feeling self-conscious about her lack of purchasing ability, or feeling like a charity case when her friends expressed their natural generosity. Trixie’s response had been… less than gracious might be a kind description. She had glared at Honey, shaken off her arm, and made a cutting remark about how some people in the world actually had to work the day after Thanksgiving.
Acutely aware of how rude she’d been, embarrassed, and angry at the world, Trixie had rushed out of the house. Sitting at the edge of the lake, with the moon reflecting on the water and the starlight bathing her soul, she wished for the thousandth time that escaping her problems was as easy as stepping out of the chaos of the kitchen and slipping into the serenity of nature.
She became aware of his presence long before she heard his approach. After all these years it still amazed her the way Jim Frayne could move with such silent stealth, without even trying.
Jim dropped her jacket in her lap before settling down next to her. “Honey feels guilty for asking the question in the first place. She knew you were working tomorrow, and it slipped her mind.”
Cross-legged, elbows on knees, Trixie rested her eyes on the heels of her hands. “Doesn’t give me the right to snap at her.”
“True, but Mart had no right to make the stupid comment he made, either.” Crossing his own legs, Jim stared out into the woods on the other side of the lake.
“He’d be easier to ignore if he weren’t so damnably right.” Her words were laced with weariness and defeat.
Jim ignored her statement. “Are the kids still spending the weekend at the Farm?”
Her tone made Jim turn eagle eyes to study her. “What price did Scott demand in order to agree to that?”
The tears that had been hovering in the background all week long finally began to fall. Trixie angrily brushed them aside. She refused to cry for herself, because she had been the one stupid enough to marry Scott DiLaura in the first place. There was no reason to cry for her children because if she played it right, they would be excited about having two Christmases, and never feel cheated. Giving them that feeling was her goal; finding it in her heart to feel that way about the situation was a whole other story.
Jim’s career of counseling troubled children, not to mention his personal troubled childhood, gave him special insight into how children do and don’t suffer in the situations adults inadvertently thrust upon them. Trixie had turned to him for counsel several times in her efforts to help her children best deal with their parents’ divorce. He understood her philosophy, so he pretended he didn’t see her tears.
“So you get Christmas Eve?”
Trixie nodded. “I’ve arranged to get Christmas Eve off from work. It means working both Christmas Day and Times Square on New Year’s Eve, but it’s worth it. The thing is, we have to stay at our place or I’ll never have them ready for him by eight o’clock Christmas morning. My parents aren’t going to be happy.”
“So?” Jim shrugged. “Lots of grown-ups, even the happily married kind, have to juggle families at holidays. In-laws, out-of-town relatives… plenty of families create traditions around trying to make it work. Find a way to make the 23rd or the 26th your parents’ special Christmas with the kids.”
Trixie offered a half-hearted smile. “Thanks.” She shivered, and finally put on the jacket Jim had brought her.
“Besides, the weekend after Christmas is the Wheeler company Christmas party. You really need to come, with a date.”
Surprised, Trixie looked at Jim in confusion. The obvious twinkle in his eyes only confused her more. “But I’m not dating.”
Jim snickered. “But Mart thinks you are. In fact, he was ranting to Aunt Alicia about how this guy is clearly taking advantage of you, and probably wants nothing but sex.”
Shocked and appalled, Trixie’s eyes were wide as saucers. “Mart thinks I’m dating?”
Grinning wickedly, Jim leaned in to deliver the punch line in a conspiratorial whisper. “Your neighbor, Shawn.”
Expecting just about any other answer, Trixie froze for a full thirty seconds before bursting out into hysterical laughter. Thoroughly enjoying her reaction, Jim begged, “I really, really want to be there when Mart meets Shawn. I’m thinking the Wheeler party would be the perfect venue.”
“Oh. My. God!” Trixie struggled to breathe between words. Imagining the scene Jim was conjuring, fresh waves of laughter overcame her. Holding her stomach, she literally rolled on the ground, cackling madly.
Jim had met Shawn on several occasions, as had Dan and Honey. Brian not only knew him, but was a close co-worker to Shawn’s brother, David. Somehow in the course of the last few years Mart had not only failed to meet Shawn, but had apparently not heard much about him, if he believed he was interested in sex with Trixie. Shawn was a wonderful neighbor, a good friend, a great babysitter, and also very openly gay.
Shawn had a wicked sense of humor and a strong attachment to Trixie. He would defend her in any situation, would attack anyone who bothered her, and was a prince of practical jokes. She managed to choke out a few words. “If I tell Shawn what Mart said…”
Their eyes locked in mutual understanding of what would undoubtedly ensue, Trixie and Jim burst into fresh gales of laughter.
A great many minutes later, when they had quieted down and Trixie could finally breathe again, she lay on her back staring up at the moon. Still holding her stomach, she grinned. “I haven’t laughed like that in a long time.”
Still smiling, he nodded. “Laughter is good medicine for what ails you, my friend.”
She turned her head to look at him, eyes shining gratefully. “Thanks, Jim. I can always count on you.”
|Wednesday, December 2, 2008
In the middle of the following week, Jim Frayne was stopping by the hospital to have lunch with Brian Belden. On his way in, he ran into Shawn coming from seeing his brother.
“Jim Frayne, my new favorite person!”
Smiling in greeting, Jim replied, “Uh-oh. What did I do to earn that title?”
Shawn laughed. “I have a disclaimer; I see all of you Bob-Whites through Trixie’s eyes, and I haven’t met Mart in person yet, so the kindest thing I can say about him right now is that he’s an annoying turd.”
Jim chuckled. “I’m pretty sure I’ve heard Trixie use that exact description.”
“Exactly,” Shawn smiled wickedly. “The fact that you want me to mess with him makes you my favorite person.” Sobering, he continued, “Seriously, though, when she invited me to the Wheeler party, and told me your thoughts on my meeting Mart, she laughed. In fact, her eyes lit up like sapphires and her dimples shone. You brought the sunshine back to my friend, and that makes you my hero.”
Jim glanced away, wistfully gazing into the past. “Years ago, our friend always looked like that.” He shrugged, looking back to Shawn. “I’m just trying to restore order to the world.”
Shawn looked deeply into Jim’s face, as if trying to read his thoughts, before stepping back with a smile. “Thank you for the invitation. I look forward to your party, and to Trixie’s smiles. Enjoy the holiday season, my friend.”
After a quick shake of Jim’s hand, Shawn was gone. Jim stood a moment, feeling bewildered, before making his way towards his destination. Somehow, he felt like he had missed something, and Shawn had gotten much more out of the conversation than he had.
|Sunday, December 7, 2008
Often on weekends, Shawn watched Adam and Beth while Trixie worked, and then stayed for dinner. He never allowed her to pay him for babysitting, but he was hopeless in the kitchen and always welcomed a home-cooked meal. The arrangement worked for them, and gave them both company. After this particular night's dinner, Shawn started watching a Christmas movie with the children while Trixie started the dishes.
Shortly afterwards, he sashayed into the kitchen. “I’m sorry, but I really can’t stand Frosty the Snowman. I’d rather play Truth or Dare.”
Trixie looked up from the sink to glare at his mischievous face. “I’d rather lie down on a bed of hot coals.”
Shawn smiled angelically. “You just hate that I can get you to tell me anything, including the things you don’t even want to admit to yourself.”
Giving him a measuring look, Trixie considered. “What exactly are you after this time?”
Tucking his hands into his pants pockets, Shawn leaned against the refrigerator and crossed his legs in front of him. “Did I tell you I had to have David sign some paperwork on Wednesday?”
Trixie rolled her eyes. Shawn was an accountant who handled his brother’s financial affairs. Mentioning his own brother, however, invariably led him to mention hers. “What did Brian say this time?"
Shawn studied the cracked plaster of the ceiling. “He was meeting Jim for lunch.”
Her shoulders slumped. Sighing wearily, she concentrated on the rest of the dishes. “And?”
“When we first met, when I lived downstairs from you and Scott…” Shawn began.
“When you were living with Chuck, who was a bigger jerk than Scott, so you’re the one person in the world who can’t dare say a word about my failed marriage…” Trixie interrupted.
Shawn stared at her, then slowly raised one eyebrow. “Defensive tonight, aren’t we?”
Trixie pressed her lips into a thin line and said nothing. For a few moments the only sound was the sloshing of the dishwater and the muted songs from the video playing in the next room. Shawn continued to stare at her, while she refused to meet his eyes.
“Anyway…” Shawn drew in a deep breath and tried for a casual tone. “I used to think Jim Frayne was fictional.”
Frowning at him, perplexed, Trixie said, “He’s real. You’ve met him.”
“Yes, I have,” Shawn acknowledged. “He stops by at least once a week, and I occasionally meet him out on the street, like the other day. But I never met him until after you left Scott.”
Trixie finished the last dish and pulled the plug on the drain. Rummaging through the clean dish towels, she kept her back to Shawn. “He was pretty scarce when Scott was around.”
“If he’s been one of your best friends since you were thirteen, why would that be?”
Picking up a saucepan, Trixie studied it closely. “Rumor has it, Scott told him to stay away from his wife,” she said with more than a trace of bitterness.
Shawn studied her just as closely as she had the saucepan. “And you think Jim could be bullied by Scott?” he asked incredulously.
“No,” she shook her head slightly. “But he’s honorable to a fault. Scott was uncomfortable with my male friends, and Jim would have probably respected that. Male code kind of thing.”
“Bull.” Shawn pushed himself upright and walked toward her. “Scott was a possessive jerk. Jim is honorable, but not someone to tolerate Neanderthals. If Scott had said anything, he’d have been staking his territory. I don’t see Jim Frayne respecting that.” Standing nose to nose, he stared her down. “Perhaps you should actually ask him. If you asked a point-blank question, Jim would tell you the truth.”
Trixie blinked first and looked away. Point made, Shawn grabbed the pan and the dish towel. “Now let me dry the dishes, because you should be the one suffering through the sappy, happy snowman with your children.”
Muttering, “Whatever,” under her breath, Trixie fled the kitchen.
|Friday, December 12, 2008
Trixie’s days off tended to fall in the middle of the week; it was rare that she had a weekend off. Mid-December she had one with both Saturday and Sunday off. Naturally, that was Scott’s weekend to have the children. When she arrived home on Friday night, a mere twenty minutes before he was due to pick them up, she was in a singularly horrible mood.
Entering the apartment, she encountered Shawn imitating dental work on several stuffed animals. She glared at him accusingly. “You can’t even stand the sound of Frosty, but you have no problem being Herbie the Elf?”
Unrepentant, Shawn grinned. “He’s a role model for children everywhere. Dental hygiene matters!”
Beth hopped up and down. “Uncle Shawn is the bestest Herbie!”
Adam smiled angelically. “It’s the only time of year that teeth-brushing is fun!”
She just shook her head at all of them. Reluctant to interrupt their fun, she nonetheless felt it her duty to put an end to it. “Kids, go get your things. Daddy will be here in a few minutes.”
A chorus of “Yeah! Daddy!” marked their exit from the room.
Shawn narrowed his eyes; it was his turn for the accusing glare. “You didn’t feel the need to mention it was Scott’s weekend when I told you I had to go out of town on business?”
“Why?” She tossed her coat over a chair, irritation oozing from every pore. “What would you have done? Rearranged your entire business to babysit me? Contrary to popular belief, I’m a big girl.”
Shawn started to speak, but she cut him off. “Don’t. Just leave before Scott gets here. I’m really not in the mood to watch you two square off.”
“How about if I come back later with some wine?” he asked, trying to offer support.
Trixie rubbed her temples. She knew she shouldn’t be taking her bad mood out on her friend. “No, thanks. I’m exhausted. I’m going to collapse the minute they’re out the door. Maybe I can get a few hours of sleep before it sinks in that they’re gone.”
They both knew she barely slept when the children were away. Shawn scrutinized her, and decided she probably could sleep instantly if she tried. Since he couldn’t dispute her logic, he gave her a hug instead. “Call me if you need anything. I mean it.”
Smiling wanly, she waved him off. “I’ll be fine. Enjoy your trip and I’ll see you Monday.”
As he took his leave, Shawn decided to brave her wrath and call in the cavalry.
|Saturday, December 13, 2008
Trixie managed a few hours’ sleep, but not much more. She arose, aggravated, and went on a cleaning spree. By eight o’clock in the morning, her home was spotless but her mood had gone from bad to worse. Thoroughly depressed, she made coffee and sat by the window sipping from her cup. She gazed at the ugly spittle which passed for snow on this particular day and compared her temperament to the bleak winter weather.
Where are you Christmas?
Why can’t I find you?
Why have you gone away?
The refrain of the song played through her mind again. It was fast becoming her personal chant for this holiday season. Her mood only darkened when her musings were interrupted by a knock on her apartment door. Grumpily stomping to the door, she seriously considered retrieving her service revolver and aiming it at whatever unfortunate soul had dared to disturb her pity party.
Throwing open the barrier, Trixie found herself face-to-face with a tall, handsome redhead. She rolled her eyes and walked away, knowing it was useless to try to keep him out. Over her shoulder she groused, “What are you doing here?”
Following her inside and closing the door behind himself, Jim Frayne watched her in amusement. At least she was predictable; her demeanor was exactly as he’d expected. “A little bird informed me that you had two days off, without children.”
“I’ll kill him,” Trixie promised as she threw herself into a corner of the sofa.
Jim just smiled and sat down at the other end. “I was also planning on talking to you about something important, so I thought this might be a good time.”
He was given nothing but a skeptical glare and an unfriendly, “Such as?”
“When I had lunch at Crabapple Farm the weekend after Thanksgiving, Adam said something you should know about. He seems to think that ‘Mommy losted all the Christmas decorations in the divorce’.”
Trixie turned white as a sheet and looked like she wanted to vomit. “Oh, God. He said that?”
“Yeah.” Jim felt horrible telling her, but she needed to know what her children were thinking. He moved closer to her and grabbed her hand. “Listen, I know you hate shopping, you hate lugging packages on the subway, and you’re on a limited budget. I’m offering my Yukon and my services as chauffeur. We’ll head to Jersey, to a discount store like Wal-Mart or something, where you can stretch your dollar for your gifts for the kids.
“As my personal Christmas present to you, I’m buying decorations. If Adam’s even half-right, you need help getting this place in the holiday spirit. And I promise to be reasonable, and not get something that would look ridiculously out of place in your home, like my mother’s Waterford crystal trees.”
Madeleine Wheeler’s Waterford crystal trees were a long-standing joke with the Bob-Whites, and the reference got a chuckle out of Trixie, just as he’d intended. She sighed and looked at him in defeat. “You know I don’t want to go shopping, right?”
“I know.” He shook her hand and gave her an encouraging look. “I know you. If you set your mind to it, you can work magic for your kids in the next two days. But right now all you want to do is sit in your robe and wallow in your misery. So I’m here to kick your butt in gear.” Reaching out to tug her ever-present wayward curl, he said, “Just let me do this for you, okay?”
Gazing at him, Trixie asked herself, not for the first time, how she had ever settled for Scott DiLaura when she knew a man like Jim Frayne. “Why is it that the definition of being a good friend has to include forcing you to do the things you hate most in the world?”
“Because, torture is less painful when shared with a friend,” he said, eyes crinkling in amusement. “Now go get dressed.”
Resigned to her fate, Trixie rose from the couch. “There’s coffee. I won’t be long.”
A short while later Jim parked in front of a coffee shop in Rutherford, New Jersey. Trixie glanced over her shoulder and pointed. “The shopping is over there. If we’re parking here, we might as well have left the car in Manhattan.”
“Don’t be a smart-aleck,” Jim said, unbuckling his seatbelt. “Do you really want to face the dreaded shopping experience early on a Saturday in December without some sustenance?”
Glancing at the coffee shop, Trixie considered. “That looks like the kind of place you dawdle.”
Turning his body to face her, Jim nodded. “Of course. First, a leisurely breakfast. Then, we shop until we drop. Then, we recover over a relaxing dinner.”
“You’ve just got the whole day planned, don’t you?” she asked, eyes twinkling.
“Yep. And tomorrow we decorate and wrap, so you’re all ready for Christmas before the children return.”
“Don’t you have anything better to do with your weekend?”
“Than spend time with you?” Jim’s warm green eyes lingered over her face. “There isn’t anything better.”
He hopped out of the vehicle, leaving her staring after him with a slack-jawed expression. What the hell was that? Was he flirting with her?
The next thing she knew, he was opening her door and extending a gallant hand. “Shall we?”
Eyeing him warily, she nonetheless accepted his hand. “Sure.”
Once they were seated and had placed their orders, Jim casually asked, “So, tell me… did you really lose the Christmas decorations in the divorce?”
“No,” she huffed, concentrating on fixing her coffee just so. “Well… it’s not like it was spelled out in the separation agreement or anything.”
She looked up and found Jim just staring at her expectantly. Knowing she wasn’t going to get out of telling this story, she sighed heavily. “Look, the day I left I just walked out. I didn’t have a plan, or a destination, or even an overnight bag. I went to the daycare to pick up the children, then took the subway all over the city while I tried to decide where to go. I almost hopped a train to Sleepyside, but I had to work early in the morning. Your parents had a benefit that night, so I knew you and Honey were both at that; I knew Brian was working, Mart was out of town, Di was on the West Coast, I had no idea what Dan’s schedule was, but I knew Shawn was home. That’s how I ended up there.”
“And never left.”
Glaring at him, she got defensive. “The apartment across the hall was vacant, and I could afford it. It was just easier.”
“Easier than taking my dad up on the offer of a place in our building.”
Her jaw tightened. They’d had this argument before. She had no idea why he felt the need to rehash it again, and she refused to indulge him. “Anyway… the first time I went back, when I knew Scott was working, I just grabbed clothes for the three of us. I didn’t try to get anything else until after I’d seen a lawyer. I left the kids with Shawn, and I went with my lawyer to the apartment. Scott and his lawyer were both there. We were disgustingly civilized for a while… until we got to the Christmas decorations.”
Jim’s eyebrows shot up. Trixie was grateful to the waitress for arriving at that moment with their food. Once they had dealt with condiments and taken their first bites, Jim brought her back to the subject at hand. “So what happened with the Christmas decorations?”
“He wanted the tree, and I didn’t care. I took my grandparents’ crèche and Great-Aunt Beatrix’s heirloom ornaments, which was fine with him because he hated them.” She twirled her fork through her hash browns, remembering that day. Her gaze blurred and the ketchup became a red haze as she remembered her anger. “I opened the next box, and the ornament on top was an Our First Christmas one. I picked it up and threw it at him. It missed and shattered a mirror. After that, there was all kinds of yelling and screaming, and my lawyer had to physically remove me from the apartment.”
Shaking off the memories, Trixie shrugged. “I haven’t been back since.”
Jim was befuddled. “So the ugly, bitter divorce we’ve all grown to know and hate started over Christmas ornaments?”
“It started when I walked in on him having sex with our neighbor, and he invited me to join them,” Trixie ground out through tightly gritted teeth. “I just didn’t lose my temper until the Christmas ornaments.”
They were silent for a few moments, each focused on their food. Jim had known Scott had cheated on Trixie, and that she’d left when she found out, but he’d never heard the details before. Eventually, he dared to ask, “If you didn’t go ballistic when you caught him, why’d the ornaments set you off?”
Trixie considered her answer thoughtfully. “Our marriage was far from perfect. We weren’t soul mates, and everyone knows we got married because I was pregnant with Adam. We weren’t living a romantic dream, but we got along okay, and we were friends. And we both really love our kids. Last Christmas, we really went all-out to make a perfect holiday for the children.
“It was the perfect family Christmas, and we were happy. I looked at those moments, and I really, really thought that, no matter what, we could make it work in order to give our kids a good life.” Her blue eyes shone with bittersweet memories, and her voice became wistful. “I never wanted my kids to live the life of Mom’s house and Dad’s house, with custody issues and split holidays. They deserve better than that. I thought we both loved them enough to give them better than that.”
She finally looked Jim in the face, eyes flashing fury. “The day I caught him was not even three weeks after that Christmas! Any other time of year would have been less painful; hell, I wouldn’t have cared if it had been our anniversary. That date actually means nothing to me. But Christmas was sacred, and he desecrated it.”
Jim sat back and folded his arms across his chest, weighing his words carefully. He studied her, wondering if she would listen to him or tune him out. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” he said. “And for Heaven’s sake, don’t take it as me defending Scott, because I never would. But I might be able to give you some perspective you’re not seeing.”
“Is this a psychological insight, or a testosterone interpretation?” Trixie asked caustically.
He shrugged. “Maybe a little of both.”
She scowled at him, trying to decide if she wanted to hear him out. Unlike Mart, Jim rarely said things with no purpose but irritating her; she knew he genuinely wanted to help her. His posture indicated caution, a hesitance to upset her. Consciously relaxing her tense shoulders and jaw, she rested her elbows on the table and waved him on. “Go ahead, enlighten me.”
Relieved to see that she was willing to let him speak, Jim also relaxed. Matching her pose, he spoke quietly to her. “The image you described of making a less-than-perfect marriage work for the children’s sake pleased you. Not everyone would feel that way. Scott might also have been able to see your vision of staying in an unhappy marriage for the next twenty years, and been frightened by it.”
Trixie was surprised. Mulling over his words, she could actually see the possibility. She had been told often in the last year that children were not better off in an unhappy marriage, and that a weak marriage could only get progressively worse. Instead of being angry, though, she found Jim’s logic painful.
“If he felt that way, would it have killed him to tell me?” Trying to ignore the hurt, she reached once again for the anger.
Reading the hurt beneath the anger, Jim knew he was about to dig the knife deeper. “Scott always struck me as weak. When did he ever stand up to you?” He paused to let her think a moment, not expecting an answer. “It’s possible – mind you, I’m guessing – that he panicked. For him, the only way out was to make you angry enough to make you leave.”
A chill ran up Trixie’s spine. “He certainly accomplished that.”
“And freed you both.”
“Freed?” Both her voice and the look she shot him were sharp as knives.
Jim cocked his head. “It may not seem like it right now, but…”
Her hand shook as she reached for her coffee. “Am I supposed to thank him?” Her voice was laced with bitterness.
“No.” Shaking his head, Jim gave her a gentle, caring look. “Forgive him. Hating him only hurts you.”
Slowly and deliberately moving her napkin from her lap to the table, Trixie excused herself and fled to the ladies’ room with as much dignity as she could muster.
By the time she returned, Jim had paid the bill and they left the café without speaking. He drove to a nearby Wal-Mart, where they each grabbed a shopping cart and headed their separate ways. Trixie headed toward the toy section, while Jim went to the Christmas aisle.
Jim took his time filling his cart, waiting almost two hours before searching out Trixie. He was surprised to find her in the children’s clothing section with a nearly empty cart. She was staring at a display, chewing on her thumbnail.
“Trix? You’re supposed to be shopping.”
She ran a frustrated hand through her hair. “They need so much…”
Grabbing her by both shoulders, Jim waited for him to look her in the eye. “Your children have an abundance of people who are going to buy they Christmas gifts whether you want them to or not. Let people know what they need. Don’t fall into the trap of letting everyone else get the fun gifts while you only buy practical gifts.”
“Everyone enjoys spoiling them. That’s their fun.”
Jim snorted. “I dare you to tell me that Honey and Di couldn’t have fun buying children’s clothing.”
Trixie giggled. “Those two are sick and twisted individuals. They’d have a ball.”
“So would your mother,” Jim commented. “And mine. My point being, there’s no reason for you to be so practical you don’t get them anything fun. Especially if you want them to remember this as a special Christmas with you.”
“I can’t compete with…”
Jim cut her off. “I’m not telling you to compete with anyone. I’m telling you to stop being pragmatic. Use your heart, not your head; get gifts that will make memories.”
While Trixie was pondering his words, she glanced at his cart. Her own shopping was forgotten as her eyes bugged out of her head. “Are there any lights left in the store?”
Grinning like a playful little boy, Jim said, “I seem to recall you griping a couple of years ago about how much Scott hates lights. What he likes isn’t your problem anymore, and you love Christmas lights.”
Amazed that he remembered that conversation, Trixie started pawing through his cart to see what else he’d picked out. She found garland, ornaments, candles, and a variety of knickknacks. She also found caroling bears, holiday window clings and refrigerator magnets, all certain to entertain Adam and Beth. The next package she picked up gave her pause, and she examined it carefully.
Seeing what had caught her attention, Jim blushed. “I had a set like that when I was a kid and I loved it. It seems kind of homey, which I thought fit you better than the splashy electronics I figured would be more Scott’s speed.”
Caressing the box of wooden paint-by-numbers ornaments, Trixie gazed in wonder. “I had two sets, one Santa-themed and one Disney. I had so much fun painting them, and then I gave them to everyone for Christmas presents.” She looked up, her blue eyes alight with the promise of new memories with her children. “Did they have more of these?”
Jim couldn’t help but smile at the joy in her face. “A pretty decent selection.”
Suddenly she had a new vision of holiday activities with Adam and Beth, full of home-made activities and personal time together. She might not have all the money in the world, but she could give her kids time and attention, something far more valuable to their lives. And she would do so with an abundance of love.
They spent the rest of the day exploring ideas and sharing memories of their childhoods. They finished in one store and moved on to another, and then another, all the while reminiscing about simple things which brought them joy. Trixie purchased stocking stuffers, crafts and toys, while Jim bought more decorations and compiled a mental list of things he would purchase later or drop anvil-sized hints about to his friends and relatives.
When Trixie was broke and they were both exhausted, they declared an end to the torture of shopping. Jim then announced he was starving and whisked her off to a restaurant he’d been wanting to try. They sat down to a scrumptious repast, and discussed their adventures.
During their discussion, Jim asked about something he’d noticed while Trixie shopped. “How come you seemed so undecided about the Barbies and Legos you got?”
Trixie shrugged. “I had to try to remember if the matching pieces were at my house or Scott’s. There are still things that I remember buying for them, but then I remember I don’t have them anymore. I decided that I wasn’t going to get them anything they couldn’t use at home, and I wasn’t going to have any of my gifts walk out the door to Scott’s. I’m tired of being the ogre, and I’m trying to cut down on the ugly scenes.”
“Ugly scenes?” Jim frowned.
“I learned the hard way,” Trixie laughed ruefully. “Things that are at Scott’s tend to stay there. Things that go for the weekend tend not to come back, including half their clothes. I basically have to be a grouch about what they pack for the weekend, and not let anything out the door that I want back. I’ve even started packing too few clothes, because I know how many are already there.”
“That’s not right.” Jim’s face got a stubborn look that Trixie knew well.
“It is what it is,” she said philosophically. “Scott’s never been the detail person, and he considers his place to be theirs, as well. Arguing over how many pairs of underwear come home is stupid; I just need to make sure they have enough, that’s all.”
“Another reason to let my sister go shopping,” Jim snickered.
Trixie laughed. “True. Eventually, I’ll be clear on what’s at my house. It’s just that it’s so new, I keep remembering buying things that I don’t have. I know it’ll get better. I just know that I have enough arguments with Scott – like over Christmas itself – and I have to pick my battles. Sweatpants are not worth fighting over.”
“You’ll all get used to it, you know,” Jim assured her, “and there’ll be less fighting.”
She raised her eyebrows. “You get that impression from your patients?”
He laughed. “Not exactly. I learn from observation, both my patients and other people I know, and I read everything that might help me with my job. What I’m learning is that the people who still fight viciously years later are bitter. You’re just not the kind of person to hold onto bitterness. As the wounds heal, and you get into a pattern of working together for the children’s sakes, it’ll get easier.”
“Good to know,” she teased, raising her glass in a mock toast. After taking a drink, she said, “By the way, while we’re on the subject of my house vs. Scott’s house, fresh wounds, and people not getting along… could you run interference for me with Mart?”
“Okay…” he said skeptically around a bite of pasta. “With what?”
“You see, my brothers are in this grand competition for favorite uncle.” She raised her eyes heavenward. “I wish one of them would have kids of their own and give me a break.”
Jim leaned toward her with a conspiratorially grin and whispered, “Don’t tell anyone, but they’re waiting for your kids to be old enough to be free babysitters.”
Trixie nearly choked on her bread, and laughed until her eyes watered. “Nice,” she said with more than a touch of sarcasm. “Anyway… Rob is cool. He has great taste in toys and fun, sports-oriented things. Brian is more refined. He finds the most excellent books, both things they love now and beautifully-bound classics they’ll treasure forever. He also makes sure to give one of each every time. But then there’s Mart… king of electronics.”
“Oh, yeah,” Jim nodded. “Didn’t he give them an entire game system last year?”
“Yes he did. A Wii.” Trixie’s fingers clenched tightly around her fork. “He’ll probably buy them a slew of new games this year.”
Noticing her tense posture, Jim made an educated guess, “And the Wii is at Scott’s place.”
“Yeah.” She took a deep breath and stretched her fingers to ease the tension. “If I talk to him, we’ll end up arguing about what he thinks I should fight with Scott over. I’m so oversensitive about Mart trying to tell me how to run my divorce that I can’t even listen to him, whether he has a valid point or not. He’s so mad that I won’t listen to him that he picks fights on purpose. It’s just ugly.”
Considering her request, he commented, “If I explain the situation in a way that he’ll listen, the most likely result is that he’ll buy them a whole new Wii system.”
Visibly counting to ten, Trixie pushed back her temper before responding. “I don’t want my children spoiled rotten. I made him agree not to get them every new game for no reason. He agreed to restrict his gift-giving to birthdays and Christmas. But I’m pretty sure he’s been buying the games all year and hoarding them for Christmas presents. He can’t give them all those games and a whole new system. That’s just too much.”
Jim chewed on that for a moment. “Okay, how about a compromise: he can give them the games, and I’ll buy them the new system.”
The look she gave him made Jim suspect he’d fallen into a trap. Her comment confirmed his suspicion.
“On one condition.”
“What’s that?” he asked warily.
“If you give them the system, you forget everything on the mental list you made today while you watched me shop,” she answered, with a knowing look.
Knowing that she’d seen right through him, he acknowledged defeat. “Fine.”
She leaned forward and pressed her point. “The decorations are my present, and the Wii is their present. And you’re done.”
When staring her down didn’t work, Jim sighed. “Fine. I won’t buy anything else.”
Trixie stared at him, not feeling her victory. Somehow she felt that he was going to use the word “buy” as a loophole. Before she had a chance to say anything, though, she remembered her personal vow to choose her battles wisely. Instead, she changed the subject. “Can I ask you something?”
“Always,” Jim said. “We used to talk about anything and everything.”
Diving through the opening he’d given her, Trixie said, “And then Scott came along, and you disappeared. Did he tell you to stay away from me?”
Just the way Jim hesitated before answering spoke volumes, and Trixie’s temper fired again. Jim tried to prevent an explosion. “Hold on, hold on. Hear me out before you get mad.”
Despite the harsh, angry lines of her face, Trixie let him speak. “Do go on.”
“I ignored him the first time he tried to get rid of me, which was a few months after you started dating,” Jim explained. “But he kept trying to get rid of me. For whatever reason, he was seriously threatened by our friendship. When you got married, I decided it might be best to make myself scarce. You were both young, and you were pregnant before the wedding. You had some serious challenges ahead of you. If my presence was such a stumbling block for Scott, it could only be a problem for your marriage. If, as your friend, I wanted to respect your choice to marry him, I couldn’t purposely damage your marriage.
“I didn’t stay away because Scott threatened me. I stayed away to help you.”
Elbows on the table, Trixie steepled her hands in front of her and chewed on her thumb. She stared at Jim for a very long time, trying to figure out how she felt about his answer. For the second time that day Jim had completely turned her perception of things upside-down, and she was flustered. For his part, Jim avoided her gaze and finished his meal. He knew it was best to let her mull over what he’s said for as long as she needed.
Eventually, though, he looked up at her and asked, “Are you going to finish your dinner?”
She gave him an icy glare, but picked up her fork and concentrated on her food. They finished eating in silence.
After Jim had ordered dessert and coffee for both of them without asking her, he asked, “Are you speaking to me yet?”
Flippantly, she responded, “Probably. I’ll have trouble getting back to the city if I don’t.”
He laughed, and the tension broke.
Later, after hauling all their purchases up to Trixie’s apartment, Jim took a thorough inventory of her video collection. His interest perplexed Trixie.
“What are you looking for?”
“When I come over tomorrow to help you decorate, I expect a movie marathon to be playing in the background,” Jim explained. “I’m just trying to decide what DVDs to bring with me.”
“I’ve got A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation, and White Christmas.” Trixie shrugged. “What more does anyone need?”
“You don’t have The Bishop’s Wife,” Jim commented.
Trixie sighed wistfully. “I love The Bishop’s Wife.”
“I know,” Jim said, “and I happen to have a copy.”
“Ooh, bring that!” Trixie’s eyes lit up.
Jim grinned. “I also have It’s A Wonderful Life, The Bells of St. Mary’s, and Christmas in Connecticut.”
“Christmas in Connecticut?” Trixie frowned. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that.”
“Trust me, it’s right up your alley.”
“Okay,” Trixie said. “Bring whatever you want… just don’t bring Christmas Shoes. I’ll hurt you if you bring it. Scott loves that movie, but I hate it. No Scott, no Christmas Shoes. Period.”
Jim laughed and promised. He didn’t want to get hurt, after all.
|Sunday, December 14, 2008
When Jim arrived bright and early in the morning, he found Trixie buried in an explosion of baking. He looked around the kitchen with fright. “Have you been up all night?”
Trixie shrugged as she pulled a tray of cookies out of the oven and replaced it with another. “Not all night. I slept a few hours, which is more than I usually do when the kids are away. But I decided to get this out of the way.” Turning to see his look of horror, she laughed. “Don’t panic. The two bowls of cookie dough cluttering the table are ones that need to be refrigerated at least overnight. I decided that if I mixed them this morning and stashed them, then I could just pull them out one evening with the kids. They’re the things you roll out, sugar and gingerbread, and they both love playing with cookie cutters. All I have left to do with those is cover them and put them away.”
Jim looked only slightly relieved. Trixie calmed him further by handing him a plate full of homemade cinnamon rolls. His eyes lit up and he greedily grabbed one. Taking a bite, he moaned in ecstasy.
“God, I’ve missed these.”
Trixie looked at him like he had three heads. “I know for a fact my mother feeds you brunch at least twice a month.”
“Your mother may well be the finest cook in all the land, and you may be using her recipe, but you’ve always made better cinnamon rolls,” Jim swore. “All through high school and college, whenever I ate breakfast at the Farm I could honestly tell who had made them. I lived for the days when you’d made the cinnamon rolls; they’re my favorite.”
Dumbfounded, Trixie didn’t comment. She poured Jim some coffee, and he happily devoured half the plate of rolls while she went about cleaning up her mess and putting the other batters away. While the last two trays of other cookies baked she scrambled eggs and fried bacon for them both. She’d managed to recover her equilibrium before she sat down across from him to eat.
“You look exhausted already,” Jim commented as he munched on his bacon.
Adding creamer to her coffee, Trixie shook her head. “Not really.” She offered an angelic grin. “This is my third pot of coffee.”
“No more coffee!” Jim scolded.
“No need,” Trixie countered, grabbing one of the remaining cinnamon rolls and holding it up. “I’m switching to sugar.”
They laughed together and then set about making a battle plan. They decided to decorate first, then wrap as many presents as possible before it was time for the children to return home. Wisely, Trixie wanted Jim to leave before Scott arrived.
Working together, accompanied by their movie marathon, they transformed the small apartment into a magical holiday paradise. When it came time to wrap, Trixie took point while Jim set about dispensing with garbage, and carrying things for her. He helped some, but he had never mastered the art of creasing corners on wrapping paper. He was most useful with presents that could go in gift bags.
Still, they made short work of all their chores. When they were finished, they popped in another movie and retired to the sofa with hot chocolate and cookies. Sometime during the movie, Trixie fell asleep with her head on Jim’s shoulder. Without realizing it, he shifted so that she was nestled in his arms. Jim proceeded to nod off himself, his head resting on her curls.
Trixie woke from a dream she couldn’t remember feeling warm, safe and cherished. Reluctant to leave such perfect comfort, she slowly allowed her eyes flutter open. Realizing the position she was in, she attributed the feeling to Jim’s arms around her. Suddenly she began to wonder what exactly he’d meant the day before when he’d told her she was free. Curious, she looked up at him.
Her eyes met sleepy green ones that looked quite content. A soft smile played at the corners of his mouth. “Hi.”
Shyly, she responded, “Hello yourself.”
Just then the room was filled with loud chiming. Trixie jumped up with a growl of frustration. Jim looked at the tabletop grandfather clock on the mantle with a frown.
“That hasn’t rung all day. I didn’t think it worked.”
“It keeps perfect time, but it only actually rings twice a day: six a.m. and six p.m.,” Trixie explained. “I especially hate it on the rare mornings I have the ability to sleep in.”
Jim chuckled, then stood and stretched his tall frame. “I suppose I should clear out before the troops return,” he offered reluctantly.
“Yeah, probably,” Trixie replied, equally reluctantly. “Don’t forget your DVDs.”
“Since you won’t let me buy you anything else, I’m loaning them for the duration of the season,” he said with an impish grin. She just rolled her eyes.
At the door, she took his hands and met his eyes. “Thank you so much, for everything.”
When she reached up to kiss his cheek, Jim wrapped his arms around her. “For you, anything.”
|Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Jim generally had lunch with Brian once a week or so. Nine times out of ten they met at the hospital cafeteria, because it was often difficult for Brian to get away. Every so often they made a point to make reservations and schedule a lunch out. Sometimes they invited a friend or two, sometimes not. This particular week they had specific reservations, and Brian had invited David, who had asked if he might invite Shawn. Jim, Brian and David had already ordered by the time Shawn arrived.
David had been concerned, because Shawn was typically quite prompt. “Is everything alright?”
Shawn, who looked quite tired, shrugged lethargically. He then turned to Jim. “I had planned to spend lunch expressing my profuse thanks for the marvelous work you did this weekend.”
“It was nothing,” Jim said with a nonchalant wave.
Brian’s curiosity was piqued. “Marvelous work? Do tell.”
“Jim was a hero,” Shawn said. “You see, I had to go out of town on business, and Trixie’s only weekend off fell on Scott’s weekend with the children. I was sure she was going to sit there and sulk all weekend, especially since she didn’t take any Christmas things when she left Scott.”
“She didn’t?” Brian frowned.
Before he could get too worked up, Jim clarified. “The only things she took were your grandparents’ crèche and Great-Aunt Beatrix’s ornaments.”
Although he looked considerably relieved, Brian was still concerned. “That doesn’t make for much of a Christmas.”
“Which is where Jim saved the day,” Shawn said. “He took her Christmas shopping, bought some lights and kitsch, helped her decorate, and kept her company. A much better weekend than wallowing in self-pity. She was in pretty good spirits, especially after Scott sent a box home with the children that contained a couple of ‘Baby’s First Christmas’ ornaments and the handmade stockings Honey had sewn for them.”
“That was pretty decent of him,” Jim said. “So what’s wrong?”
“Last night I was invited to help Trixie and the children make Christmas cookies. Everything was going smoothly, until Beth started telling a story from her weekend with Scott.” A dramatic pause was followed by a deep sigh. “To be fair, anyone who works for a big company, familiar with corporate life, but not familiar with the Wheelers, could easily assume that a company Christmas party is not child-friendly.”
Quirking one eyebrow, Jim urged him to continue. “So?”
Shawn’s eyes twinkled. “An acquaintance of Scott’s made the mistake of telling Beth that a corporate Christmas party was no place for little children.”
“Oh, no,” Brian winced.
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” David said, “but isn’t Beth an awful lot like Trixie?”
Jim started to laugh. “I can hear it now.” In a pretty fair imitation of Beth, he squeaked, “I’ve known Mr. Wheeler my whole life, and I always go to their Christmas party. You don’t know anything.”
His imitation was so accurate that the other three men burst out laughing. When the laughter subsided, Shawn said, “Thanks. I needed that. Anyway, I don’t think little Bethie made a good impression on said acquaintance, and it goes without saying that the acquaintance made a very poor impression on Beth.”
“So?” David asked. “You can’t like everyone.”
Growing very solemn, Shawn spelled it out angrily. “Scott’s. New. Girlfriend.”
“That is not good,” David opined.
Zeroing in on the real problem, Jim asked, “He didn’t bother to warn Trixie about this, did he?”
Shawn just shook his head.
“How badly did she take it?” Brian asked.
“She handled it well until after the children were tucked in for the night. I turned on the baby monitor and dragged her across the hall to my place so she could vent freely.” Shawn crossed his arms on the table and slumped dejectedly. “She alternated between screaming and sobbing most of the night. It was awful.”
Jim’s temper was spiking. “What’s the girlfriend’s name?”
“Don’t tell him,” Brian ordered. “He’ll have her fired.” Ignoring the glare Jim gave him, Brian said to Shawn, “Look, I’m off this the rest of today. Why don’t I pick up the children from daycare and stay with them until Trixie gets home?”
Shawn frowned. “Are you sure?”
“Absolutely,” Brian assured him. “You go home and get some rest. I’ll call you if I need anything.”
Once Shawn reluctantly agreed, David decided they needed a change of subject. “So, what makes the Wheeler Christmas party so legendary?”
Gratefully, Brian began to describe the extravaganza. Eventually Jim stopped sulking and joined in, and the rest of lunch proceeded pleasantly.
Where are you Christmas?
Why can’t I find you?
Why have you gone away?
Where is the laughter you used to bring me?
Why can’t I hear music play?
The damned song was back, echoing through Trixie’s brain as she trudged home after work. She dreaded trying to pretend cheerfulness for Adam and Beth, and was trying to figure out how to survive the evening. When she arrived at her door, she paused and pondered running away. Picturing their happy faces brought a surge of love to her heart, chasing away her gloom enough to give her the strength to turn the key in the lock.
She was both pleasantly surprised and perturbed to find the children snuggled on Brian’s lap while he read them Twas the Night Before Christmas. She smiled slightly at their rapt attention before going to the kitchen. There she was assailed by the wonderful aroma of lasagna baking. A loaf of freshly sliced Italian bread rested in a basket on the table, which was already set. Nothing needed to be done except to dish up the plates. Gratefully she did so, calling them to dinner as soon as Brian spoke the last words of the story.
After dinner she sent the children off to get ready for their baths. Once they were alone, she turned to Brian. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“What? I can’t have a desire to spend a rare free evening with my niece and nephew?” he asked innocently.
She gave him a dirty look. “I know you had lunch with Shawn, you know.”
“So maybe I want to give my beloved little sister some brotherly advice.”
“Because I just love brotherly advice,” she muttered while tossing dirty dishes into the sink with entirely too much force.
He wrapped an arm around her and made her look at him. “Remember which brother you’re talking to, young lady. I’m not Mart.”
She sighed and leaned her head on his shoulder, dangerously close to yet another bout of tears. “Sorry. I’m just in a lousy mood.”
Pulling her into a gentle embrace, Brian said, “I know. I also know you want to pick your battles carefully.”
Sniffling, she mumbled against his chest, “What’s your point?”
“Although I agree Scott should have warned you, be careful what you say when you confront him. If you order him to keep his girlfriends away from your children, he could easily demand the same from you.”
“So?” Her tone was belligerent. “I’m not dating anyone.”
“And if he tells you to keep Jim away from the children?”
She looked up at him, troubled and confused. “I’m not… I don’t know…”
He gave her a tender, caring look. “But do you want the chance to find out without starting World War III?”
She hesitated before nodding. He kissed her forehead and said, “Just think before you speak. You’ve gotten much better as you’ve gotten older, but it’s hard when you’re so hurt. And remember that I’m always here.”
Trixie hugged him hard. Then she stepped away and swiped at her eyes. “Since you’re here, how do you feel about helping with bath time?”
“I’d love to.”
For the rest of the evening, as she watched her children enjoy time with their uncle, Trixie was grateful that she had been raised in a home where people weren’t afraid to show that they loved each other. The support of her family and friends had made a difficult time in her life bearable. No matter what happened in the future, her children would always know love. It really was time for her pity party to end.
|Friday, December 19, 2008
It took Trixie three days to work up the nerve, but on Friday she decided to go see Scott. She had checked his shift with his stationhouse, and knew about when he’d be getting home. Even if he had plans for the evening, if she timed it right she could catch him before he went out. When she got on the elevator, her song of the season was playing. She caught it in the middle, and found herself listening to the lyrics.
My world is changing
Does that mean Christmas changes too?
Where are you Christmas?
Do you remember
The one you used to know?
I'm not the same one;
See what the time's done.
Is that why you have let me go?
Trixie thought about how much her world was changing. She certainly wasn’t the same person she’d been during all the Christmases of her cherished childhood memories. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, though.
Thinking about the Christmas she’d spent in Arizona as a teenager, she remembered how different it had been from what she’d always known. At the same time, it had been wonderful and exciting. She’d made new friends, and had cherished memories.
Christmas didn’t have to stay the same to be good.
Feeling better than she had in a while, Trixie approached the door of the apartment she had once shared with Scott. When he answered the door, he was clearly surprised to see her. He stood in bare feet and jeans, with his shirt in his hand. It appeared that he was changing quickly to go out, just as she’d suspected.
Scott’s expression morphed from surprise to wariness. “Um… hi.”
“Hi,” she said quietly. “May I please speak with you?” When he hesitated, she said, “I really only need a few minutes, I promise. I don’t want to hold you up if you have plans.”
“Um, sure.” Still not knowing what to make of her presence, or more importantly of her demeanor, he fumbled for an appropriate response. “Would you like to come in?”
Trixie glanced at the apartment beyond and shook her head. “Not really, no.”
“Okay.” He slipped his arms into his shirt sleeves. “What’s up?”
“Despite the realities of the modern world, I am literally the first person in my entire extended family to deal with divorce. Not only do I not know what I’m doing, I don’t really have anyone I can turn to for advice,” Trixie told him. “I’m pretty sure I’ve bungled a lot of things already.”
As he buttoned up his shirt, Scott contemplated her words. “My parents divorced when I was so young that I don’t remember it. In my earliest memories they were both remarried and pretty friendly. I guess I always thought that was what divorce was supposed to be like.”
She shook her head at his naiveté. “Your mother called me a few months ago. She told me that it hurts a lot at first, but it does get better. She said it gets easier after a while, and even someone you can’t stand to be married to anymore, you can eventually learn to talk to again. At the time I thought she was crazy.”
“My dad told me pretty much the same thing. I wanted to believe he was the voice of experience, but you and my mom are so different that I figured I wasn’t going to have the same luck he’d had.” Scott studied her face. “Maybe what he should have taught me was patience.”
“I’ve never been accused of having that,” Trixie said with a ghost of a smile.
Her attempt at humor made Scott chuckle. “What made you come by tonight, Trixie?”
“I was hoping we could establish some ground rules, or guidelines… regarding dating.”
Scott tensed. The wary look was back. “Oh?”
“I don’t react well when I’m blindsided,” she admitted. “Beth told me about her fight with your girlfriend, and Adam asked if Beth had scared her off. I was kind of shell-shocked.”
Shoving his hands into his pockets, he looked nonplussed. “We had a good talk. I thought I’d answered all their questions.”
It was her turn to chuckle. “Scott, they’re four and five. They never stop asking questions. Usually out of left field when you’re too tired to come up with an intelligent answer.”
They smiled at each other, remembering some strange conversations they’d suffered through together.
Scott leaned against the doorframe. “To be honest, Trix, I figured you’d go ballistic and I was trying to avoid the confrontation. Not to mention you trying to forbid me from letting women near them.”
“That’s probably how I would have reacted.” She blushed and rubbed the back of her neck. “In fact, it’s probably a very good thing that we didn’t speak Monday night.” Rolling her eyes at his knowing look, she continued, “I’ve had some time to calm down, and to listen to wise counsel. I’ve realized that it’s inevitable, and whether it happens now or twenty years from now it will still impact the kids – which will affect me, whether I like it or not.
“I’m sorry I didn’t warn you,” he conceded. “Do I get the same consideration?”
Looking distinctly uncomfortable, Trixie hedged, “I don’t imagine I’ll be introducing the kids to anyone new anytime soon.”
“Because of Frayne.” There was no question, just a matter-of-fact statement.
“I don’t know,” she responded with a frown.
“You’ve always wanted Frayne; you settled for me. Just like you want to be a private detective, but you settled for being a beat cop.” Before she could argue, he cut her off. “Don’t try to sell me the story that it’s valuable experience and you couldn’t get a PI’s license until you’re 25, because you’re now 27 and a half. Your excuse is gone.”
As Trixie was preparing an entire speech about providing for two young children with a steady paycheck and good benefits, Scott nudged her under the chin and forced her to look at him. “Quit settling and go after your dreams.”
That was when she saw the truth in his eyes. Jim had only been half right; Scott hadn’t really been trying to escape… he’d been trying to set her free. Tears welled up in her eyes and she reached up on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. “You, too. Be happy, Scott.”
She turned and headed for the elevator, hoping to escape before she turned into a sopping mess. She’d almost made her escape when he called her back.
Struggling for composure, she half-turned her head, keeping her back toward him.
“I needed to ask you something about the kids’ Christmas presents,” Scott said.
She’d suffer through anything for her children’s sakes, so she forced herself to turn around and walk back to him. “Like what?”
“Look, I know it’s hard to walk the line between being good to your children and spoiling them rotten, especially when they’re going to have Christmas two or three times.”
Trixie was all ears. “Agreed.”
“I was thinking… they’re sleeping at your house Christmas Eve, so that’s where Santa should come.” He looked embarrassed for a moment, but he plowed on. “We started this tradition of them getting ornaments in their stockings. I picked up some really cool collectors’ pieces that I think they’ll love now, and maybe even appreciate years from now. I thought, maybe… if I give them to you, would you put them in their stockings?”
Once again tears threatened, happy tears. “No matter your faults, Scott, you really are a good dad.”
Surprised by the compliment, Scott gave her a truly happy smile. He ran into the apartment and returned a few minutes later looking like a little boy with a new toy. He proudly displayed two very cute stuffed animals, with matching porcelain ornaments tied around their necks. One was a cuddly puppy dog, and the other was a pink elephant. When he looked at her, obviously seeking her approval, it melted her heart. “What do you think?”
Trixie smiled at him. “They’re just perfect, Scott. Thank you. And thank you for giving me a reason not to worry so much about Christmas.” She shrugged one shoulder and admitted, “I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to measure up.”
“Oh, come on, Trixie,” Scott admonished. “You’re the queen of Christmas, and the best mom ever.”
“I’ve been feeling very Grinchy this year,” she offered ruefully.
Giving her a comforting rub on arm, he encouraged her. “Don’t be, Trix. There’s no competition, and we’ll make sure our kids have a perfect holiday despite our own imperfections. Enjoy yourself.”
With the happiest grin she’d given him in years, Trixie hugged him. Collecting his gifts for the children, she said, “Have a very, very merry Christmas, Scott.” She kissed him again and rushed off, feeling lighter than air.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
For the past several years, whichever Bob-Whites were in town and free had gotten together at a favorite pub the Saturday before Christmas. The food was good, the drinks well-poured, and familiar faces abundant. Most of the Bob-Whites rearranged their schedules to attend; Trixie had rarely shown up. She was often working, or Scott was working and she was home with the children.
This year, she decided, was going to be different. These were her best friends, who had seen her through everything over the years. If Diana could make it in from Los Angeles, she could certainly make it across town. A few phone calls later, she was all set.
Her steps were light as she walked down the street from the subway stop. Surprisingly enough, she was even going to be on time. When she was a couple of doors away she saw a cab pull up in front and discharge its passenger. The sight of the handsome redhead gave her a thrill, and she pursed her lips to whistle. She caught herself about to give a catcall, and quickly switched to a bob-white bird call. When he turned in response, she hoped he blamed her red cheeks on the chill air.
Upon seeing her, Jim’s face lit up. “Hey! You made it!”
“I sure did,” she replied with a smile. “I made sure that tonight I’m free.”
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she wondered about her choice of phrase. Had she said that on purpose? What was she implying? And did the heat in his gaze mean he hoped she meant it that way?
When she reached him, he hugged her. It had been their customary greeting for over a decade, yet tonight it felt different. When their eyes met, she felt a tingle all the way down to her toes. The street sounds faded, and there was nothing in the world except the look of hope in Jim’s eyes.
Until Mart, of all people, interrupted them. “Are you two going to block the doorway all night long?”
Trixie turned and fled indoors. She wanted a good night, and she was not going to let Mart spoil it. It was the right choice, too, as she was immediately bombarded by a chorus of happy greetings. After being passed through the arms of her friends, hugging everyone, the slight chaos subsided when they were all seated around a table together.
“Trixie! I can’t believe you got a babysitter for this!” Honey was literally bouncing in her seat, unable to contain her excitement.
“I didn’t,” Trixie shrugged nonchalantly.
Dan looked under her chair. “I don’t see them.”
She smacked his shoulder and laughed before explaining, “There’s a distinct difference between babysitting and parenting. They’re with their father.”
Mart’s jaw dropped. “But it’s not his weekend!”
Trixie shrugged again. Speaking with a maturity they’d never seen before, she said, “No, it’s not. But I really wanted to be here tonight, and one extra night with their father isn’t going to hurt any of us.”
“So baby sister’s all grown up,” Brian nodded his approval, a warm light in his chocolate eyes.
“Thanks to you,” Trixie acknowledge with a return nod. “You helped more than you’ll ever know.”
“I adore your children, Trixie,” Diana said, “but I honestly don’t remember the last time I saw you without them. I’m so excited to have you to ourselves tonight!”
“What time does Cinderella have to be home from the ball?” Jim asked.
Looking directly into his eyes, Trixie said, “He’s keeping them overnight. I’m free until dawn.”
The electricity which sparked across the table was noticed by everyone. Raised eyebrows and meaningful looks flew around, but neither Trixie nor Jim noticed. Brian’s cat-who-ate-the-canary smirk brought a grin to the girls and caused Dan to order another round of drinks. Mart’s only response was to ask where the menus were.
For the rest of the evening, there was food, fun and friends. Many of the other customers who dropped in were friends or acquaintances of one or more of the group. They greeted people, made introductions, offered many toasts and had a really good time. At one point the background music of Christmas selections played Trixie’s holiday theme song. This time, when Trixie noticed, she caught the happier lyrics.
Christmas is here
Trixie smiled, truly happy and filled with the Christmas spirit. She was enjoying the night very much. Her plans with Adam and Beth for Christmas Eve were going to work out nicely. The kids would have a nice Christmas with Scott, and she really didn’t mind working the holiday. The weekend after, she’d take the children out to Sleepyside, where they’d have a wonderful family celebration with her parents. Part of the weekend would include the Wheeler company Christmas party, which was always a wonderful time. And if she happened to run into Scott and his new girlfriend at the party, she’d be okay with it.
There was really only one loose end left in her world right now. Where had that redhead run off to, anyway? Trixie thought as she looked around the crowd. She spotted him at the far end of the bar talking to several people. Wandering his way, Trixie spotted a sprig of mistletoe hanging in an archway. Changing direction, she parked herself directly underneath it.
When Jim looked her way, she gave him a beckoning look, then purposefully looked over her head. When Jim glanced up, he stopped speaking in mid-sentence and immediately walked away from his friends.
When he reached her, they stood toe-to-toe and lost in each other’s eyes. Trixie said, “When I was thirteen, I dreamed about you kissing me under the mistletoe.”
“It might be unhealthy for me to admit how many times I’ve thought about it over the years.”
“Regardless of why it never happened before,” Trixie said, waving aside the past, “what’s stopping you now?”
“Not a blessed thing,” Jim said, slowly lowering his lips to hers.
The kiss started out gentle, with just a hint of a promise of things to come. Her heart pounding wildly, Trixie realized that this soft kiss affected her more than any other she’d ever had. Kissing Scott had been nice, but kissing Jim was… WOW! She leaned in to the kiss and wound her arms around his neck.
That was all the encouragement Jim needed. He wrapped his arms around her and deepened the kiss, parting her lips with his tongue. Each touch, lick and nibble brought waves of joy and excitement. When they finally broke for air, Jim buried his face in her hair, mouth to her ear.
“I was always afraid that if I kissed you, I’d never be able to stop.”
“Please don’t,” Trixie whimpered.
He chuckled, the rich, rumbling sound causing her pulse to skip a beat. “You do know we’re still in Shannon’s, right?”
“Damn,” Trixie looked up at him with an impish grin. “Getting arrested for public indecency wouldn’t be good for our reputations, would it?”
Jim burst out laughing. He picked her up and spun her around, delighting in her happy giggle. “How about if I kiss you goodnight when I walk you to your door tonight?”
“Is that a promise?”
“Do I promise that I can wait that long?” he asked, eyes twinkling.
She laughed. “Don’t strain yourself.”
He gave her one more quick kiss, definitely promising more later. Arm-in-arm they returned to their table, where Dan was just lifting his glass to offer another toast.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Dan announced, “I propose a toast!”
“Again?” several people jokingly chorused.
Amid laughter and catcalls, Dan stood his ground. Waving away the protests, he scolded, “Naysayers, all of you. Grinches and Scrooges! Be gone all of ye without the Christmas spirit!”
Dan and Mart turned expectantly to Trixie. She stuck her tongue out at them and snuggled closer to Jim. “I’ve got plenty of Christmas spirit! I’m staying!”
“Then the world has finally righted itself!” Mart teased, giving his sister a wink and a nod. She smiled, knowing she might even be able to tolerate her brother again. Tolerate, mind you; they’d never truly get along, but they would always love each other.
In fact, love in some form or another was the connection between many of the people in the room. The love of friends, the love of family; there were lovers and brothers, co-workers and best friends; most of all there was a genuine love of their fellow man.
“To Christmas!” Dan announced. “To peace on earth, good will toward men, a song in your heavens and joy in your heart. May you be jolly, have holly, and wassail all night!”
The laughter which ensued was followed by a slew of other toasts both serious and funny. The toasts morphed into singing, and the entire crowd spent several hours caroling together. The small bar was filled to the rafters with holiday cheer.
I feel you Christmas
Trixie looked around and realized that, when she hadn't known where Christmas was, she should have known exactly where to look - wherever there were Bob-Whites, there would Christmas be also.
As per tradition, it is my honor and privilege to kick off the sharing of our Jix Authors' Secret Santa giftfics. This year, when I got my assignment, I was seriously concerned. I was given the Smush Sisters! Writing for one particular person is difficult. Writing for two and still making it personal seemed a daunting task. With all I've had going on this year, I was sure this was going to be the worst giftfic ever. Fortunately for authors everywhere, a tiny detail can inspire entire stories. The questionnaire which accompanies our assignments gives personal memories to help prod the author's thoughts, and that's exactly what happened. Jo remembered painting wooden ornaments, which reminded me of the paint-by-numbers sets I'd had as a child. Our first Christmas that we spent Christmas Eve with my new stepfather's parents, I had no idea what to expect. I felt like I should bring a gift, but I was nine. I gave them each one of those painted ornaments. The following year I still had some left, so I did it again. It then became a tradition, and when I was older I put them on their real gifts as decorations. This also made me think of how I spent Christmas Eve with my stepfather's family, Christmas Day with my mother's family, and the 26th with my father's family (usually hopping on a plane to go see his wife and kids). Despite the upheaval, I have pretty happy memories of my childhood Christmases.
I haven't felt much in the Christmas spirit for a few years now, and yet every year I have a wonderful, memorable holiday with family. The love of family makes the holiday special, and is really what we build our memories on. So to you, my Jix family, thank you for all the years of special memories, and for dragging me (kicking and screaming) into the Christmas season every year. If I didn't have gift-sharing to do here on December 12th, I might stay in my Grinch mode until the last possible second.
Merry Christmas to all of you, especially Jenny and Jo, for whom this story was written.