Let It Snow
Episode 10 of Relativity
by Michelle and James Lehmann
Sara Wolff sat at the table, craning her head to see out the front window. She recognized Michael’s silver sedan as it pulled up to the valet station. Catching sight of her through the window, he waved and hurried in.
“Sorry I’m late. Were you waiting long?”
“No, only a few minutes.”
Seating himseld, he fumbled with his napkin. “I want to apologize again for how I acted at the wedding. I still feel terrible.”
Sara knew the pressure she felt as Dark Flame, she could only imagine how much harder it was being Black Torrent. “It was your friend’s wedding. Having a few drinks and relaxing is what you’re supposed to do. Besides, we managed okay.”
“This is on me,” he said as the waiter took their orders. Once the man was gone, Michael grabbed the bag he had come in with. “For you. Happy Birthday.” Inside was a small blue box with a yellow bow.
“You didn’t have to get me anything.”
“Of course I did, you’re my sister. I’m giving it to you now because I won’t be here on the 23rd.” He folded his hands. “Open it.”
Sara carefully undid the ribbon and tied it around her wrist. Pulling off the paper, she opened the box to reveal a silver watch. It was a Venona, and she realized the price tag was easily five figures.
“Michael. This is beautiful. Thank you.”
Her brother smiled and gestured to her wrist. “I saw your watchband was fraying, so I figured you needed a new one.”
It never ceased to amaze her how observant her brother was. He seemed to notice everything, and that made the gift even more special. “So where are you going on the 23rd?” she asked as the waiter served their salads.
Michael sprinkled pepper on his endive. “We’re looking to purchase a chain of hotels in northern France. It’s a huge deal that will expand our European holdings. Both Yule and I are going.”
The Obsidian chain of hotels was one of the largest in the world. It awed her to think that her family was the power behind it.
“What are you doing for Christmas?” he asked as he took a sip of his tea. “How does that work at the Home?”
“Well, most of the foster kids and the staff celebrate with their families on the 25th, so we do our Christmas on the 24th. We have a guy who comes in as Santa and brings gifts. There’s a big dinner. It’s nice.”
“Then, you could come over and spend Christmas day with Dad and me?” Her brother’s cheeks flushed and he shifted in his chair. “I mean, if you want to.”
“Of course I want to. Honestly, I wasn’t sure you and Dad would want to see me on that day.”
“Why not? You’re a part of the family now.”
“I don’t know, I just...” She smiled and grabbed her brother’s hand. “Then it’s Christmas together.”
Squeezing her fingers, Michael nodded. “Wild horses couldn’t keep me away.”
* * * * *
Sara stepped into the dining room and saw the Home’s staff and children lined up, cone hats on their heads. Every year they threw her a surprise party, which wasn’t quite a surprise after the second year. Still, it was a lovely sentiment, and she always acted like she wasn’t expecting it.
“Thank you, everyone,” she said, dabbing the corner of her eyes.
The next two hours were filled with fun and games. The kids insisted she play “pin the tail on the donkey,” and Sara blushed when she removed her mask to see she’d placed the tail on the animal’s nose. Once the sandwiches and chips were gone, someone dimmed the lights and they lit the candles on the cake—all 27 of them.
“Happy Birthday, dear Miss Wolf. Happy Birthday to you!”
After making sure everyone was settled with a piece of cake, the administrator walked over to the gift table and began to look through the cards. Most were made from colored paper and hand-drawn by the kids. There were a few formal ones from the staff and friends. The last one in the stack was a plain white envelope with a Gale postmark but no return address.
“I think that came in today,” Madge said. “I didn’t want to open it for you.”
Pulling on the flap, Sara slid out the card. It was a simple design, with a cartoon bear holding a balloon on the front. Her heart skipped a beat when she read the message inside.
“I still think about you. Hope your day is great. Love, Martin.“
Fingers trembling, she closed the card.
“Are you all right?” Madge asked, placing ar hand on her friend’s arm.
“I’m fine,” she said with a forced smile. “How about another piece of that cake?”
* * * * *
Madge placed the bowl of popcorn on the coffee table. “What should we watch next?”
Every year, Sara celebrated her birthday with a special girls’ night filled with low-budget DVDs and lots of junk food. She and Madge had just finished the first movie in the “Star Wrangler” series and were debating between Plan 9 from Outer Space and Space Coppers.
“Let’s see what’s on t.v.” she suggested as she weighed her options.
Madge switched on a tabloid show featuring Hollywood news and fashion. Model Tapioca Smith strutted across the runway wearing a skin-tight ski-suit. The assistant giggled. “Seriously, if you wore that on the slopes, it would rip the first time you made a sharp turn.”
Sara grabbed a handful of pretzels. “I think that’s for back at the resort, after the guys come back all hot and sweaty.”
The scene switched to a premier for the newest blockbuster in theaters. Starlets and leading men walked down the red carpet. A dark skinned man with shoulder length hair and a thin beard bordering the edges of his face wrapped his arm around his date and smiled for the camera. Monique Castilla was rail thin, with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a smile that could blind someone from across the room. She was Hollywood’s hottest commodity, and the perfect date for Tony Toronto.
“I can’t believe your brother knows him,” Madge said, popping a chocolate covered peanut into her mouth.
“Michael went to school with him, I know that much. But every time I mention his name, he gets all defensive. I don’t know what happened between them, but there’s a lot of bad blood.” She smirked and looked the man over. “He is sexy, though.”
“I think your brother is cuter.”
“What?” Sara gasped, turning to face her friend. “You like Michael?”
“I mean, I don’t like him, like him. But he is incredibly good-looking. And his body? Ooh, baby.“ Madge giggled as Sara hid her face in embarrassment. “It’s too bad, though. It would be cool if you could meet Tony Toronto. Get next to that dark Italian stallion.”
“And end up as one of his string of floozies? No thank you.”
“I bet he’s amazing in bed,” Madge purred.
Sara switched the channel, shaking her head. “I still can’t believe you’re hot for my brother.”
“I’m not hot for him. I just admire his looks.” Madge paused and thought about it a moment. “Actually, your dad’s not that bad looking, either.”
“Oh my gosh,” Sara said, flushing red. Grabbing the remote control from the table, she headed to the DVD player. “Okay, Plan 9 it is.”
Madge pulled her legs up onto the couch. “Should we order the pizza now?”
Before Sara could answer, the cell phone on top of the bureau sprang to life, giving a strange chirping noise. Sara rushed over and grabbed it.
“What is it?”
“Hold up at one of the drive-thru bank branches. The city’s short on cops for the holidays—they want help from Team Torrent.”
Madge’s brow furrowed. “What does that mean?”
“Melody and Ravenswood are on their honeymoon, and Michael’s in France.” She swallowed. “That means me.”
Her friend’s eyes widened. “You’re Team Torrent.”
“I’m afraid so.” Watching the text continue to scroll, she sighed. “Can we get a raincheck on the movie?”
“Of course.” Madge rose and headed for the bedroom. “I’ll get your uniform and help you get dressed.”
* * * * *
Wild horses couldn’t keep him away, but Michael didn’t plan on snow.
“They’ve cancelled all flights,” Yule said, returning from the ticket counter.
“There’s a snowstorm on the way. Limited visibility. They expect two to four inches.”
“Two to four...? That’s nothing. We get that all the time in Gale.”
“Yeah, but this is Paris. They’re lucky if they get four inches all month.” The elder man stared out the large bay window. “Looks like it’s starting to come down pretty hard.”
Michael sighed in frustration. “Well, when do they expect flights to get going again?”
“Depends on the weather.”
“I can’t believe this,” hel groaned. “I don’t want to miss our first Christmas with Sara. This is important to her.”
Yule raised an eyebrow.
“All right,” Michael admitted. “It’s important to me, too.”
“Well, there’s nothing we can do now. Why don’t I go and see if we can get a hotel room?”
“No,” Michael snapped. “I don’t want to leave. If a flight opens up, I want to be here.”
“All right.” Removing his coat, Yule laid it on the back of the chair. “I’m heading over to the gift shop to get a magazine or something. It’s going to be a long night.”
* * * * *
“I don’t see any storm?” Sara said as she looked out the window.
The connection was bad, and it was hard for her to make out Michael’s voice. “Not there, here. All the airports are shutting down. They don’t know how long it’ll be.”
Sara felt her heart sink into her stomach. “Well, there’s not much you can do then. If you can’t get home, it’s all right.”
“No,” her brother said, firmly. “We’re going to try. Just don’t make any other plans, all right?”
“All right. Just be safe, okay?”
Sara hung up the phone just as a red-suited man entered the room. The kids all rose, jumping up and down.
Bill, the nighttime security guard, made a great Santa. He had a deep hearty voice and a pudgy figure. He gave a “Ho, ho, ho,” and started to open his bag.
Forcing herself to focus on the moment, Sara smiled and moved to the man’s side.
* * * * *
“Je demande pardon. Nous n’avons pas de nouvelles informations.”
Yule glanced at the clock on the wall and nodded to the ticket agent. “Merci.” Returning to his seat, he looked around the room. The airport was getting packed with stranded travellers, desperate to get home for the holiday. With the storm picking up outside, it didn’t look promising.
Michael had resorted to playing poker on his cell phone to occupy himself. Losing the hand, he sighed and stared at the snow falling outside the window. Yule could see how much he resembled Sally—his ashy blonde hair, blue eyes, nose, and mouth.
A deep sigh escaped his own lips. He had forgotten. This wasn’t the first time a snowstorm had dampened his Christmas.
<<< Sally stared out the window, wiping a tear from her cheek. Matt came up behind her, pressing his lips to her bare shoulder.
“Don’t be upset. It’s just snow.”
The woman pulled away, sniffling twice. “Yeah, and that snow ruined everything. I wanted to spend Christmas with my parents. I’m always there. My mom and gram bake pies, and there’s always lots of gifts around the tree.”
Cringing a little, Matt glanced at their tree. It was the best one he could get at the commissary—three feet tall and half of the pine needles were missing. It was pathetic, as were the handful of gifts underneath.
“I know,” he said. Sally’s belly was quite large and he couldn’t hug her too close. “We can still make the best of it. We can play some Christmas CDs, make dinner, and maybe watch a movie.”
“You know I’m not good at cooking.”
“That fettuccini you made last week was amazing. You’re getting much better. Besides, we could go on base for dinner, if you want. They always have a great spread for Christmas.”
“But I want to be home.” She fell into his arms and started to sob.
Even though his wife was distraught, Matt was happy the storm had hit. He had worried about taking a plane trip when she was eight months pregnant. “But you are home. Our home.”
Sally pulled back, her eyes meeting his. “Oh, gosh, Matt, I’m sorry. I insisted we celebrate with my family. Now we’re stuck here and you won’t get to see your brother or parents.”
“All that matters is that we’re together, okay?” Moving to the tree, he pulled out a small box and brought it to her. “Open this.”
She tore off the green foil paper to reveal an ornament. “Our First Christmas” read the description, and there was a painting of two bluebirds cuddling on it. She smiled, more tears coming. “I’m being such a brat, aren’t I?”
“Just a little,” he whispered. “I still love you, though.” Pulling her close, he pressed his lips against hers just as a forceful thump came from her abdomen.
“Oh my gosh,” she giggled. “I think baby is jealous.”
“Or hungry,” he said. “C’mon. Let’s go in the kitchen. We’ll make dinner together—the three of us.” >>>
“What are you thinking about?”
Yule glanced up, snapping back into the present. “What? Oh. Nothing important. I was actually thinking about your mother.”
“Really? What about?”
“Do you remember those bluebird ornaments we had on our tree?”
“Oh, yeah. There were a ton of them. There had to be three or four dozen.”
“That was our tradition. I used to buy them for her, and then other started to. The tree looked pretty cool with all of them on there.”
Michael leaned back in his seat. “I remember there was an ornament that was like a little cuckoo clock and a bluebird used to peek in and out.”
Yule nodded. “Your uncle gave that to Sally for her birthday. I think that was her favorite one.”
“It was mine, too. I remember looking at it for hours...”
<<< Michael pressed the button on the bottom of the ornament, watching it spring to life. It was a clock face and two tiny arms travelled around the front. As they both hit twelve, a door opened and a small bluebird popped out. It tweeted, spun in a circle, then went back in. Giggle to himself, he pressed the button again.
“Mikey, you’re gonna break that thing. Come back over here.”
The boy returned to the couch, snuggling next to his brother. It was still mostly dark outside and the glow of the Christmas tree lights threw the room into a rainbow of red, blue, yellow, and green.
“I hope I got a police car,” he said.
“I want a soldier’s set. Dad said he would get me one.”
“You can’t shoot a gun, you’re too little.”
“Not a real gun. It’s one that shoots these soft squishy bullets that don’t hurt you.”
Michael nodded, though he didn’t know what his brother was talking about. He didn’t care. He was excited no matter what presents he got.
There was a small noise by the stairs and their parents appeared from the doorway. His mom was dressed in a long flannel gown, and his dad wore pajama pants and a sweatshirt.
“Mommy! Santa came!” he called, rushing into his mother’s arms.
“I see that. Why don’t you open one.”
The boy squealed and leapt down, running to the larger of the two boxes. He quickly pulled off the gold paper. “A toy cash register and money.”
Matt chuckled. “Guess Santa thinks it’s never too early to learn financial responsibility.”
Sally elbowed him in the side.
Stephen pulled the paper off of his gift. “Wow, a Black Torrent action set with a motorized Torrent Cruiser.” The boy smiled ear to ear. “This is great. Torrent is my hero.”
Matt gave Sally a surprised look. She smiled and squeezed his hand.
“There’s something else Santa brought, but he told me I have to bring it in.” Michael’s father disappeared into the kitchen and came back holding a large box with holes on the top. Scratching noises came from inside.
“What is it, Dad?” Stephen asked.
“Open it and find out.”
Both boys pulled off the top to reveal...
The cocker spaniel jumped from the box, covering Michael with slobbery licks.
“Get him off me.”
Stephen pulled the dog to himself, petting its head. “This is the best Christmas ever, Dad.”
“Me too!” Mikey said with a nod.
“What should we name it?” Sally asked, scratching the puppy’s ear.
“I like Milo.” Rising, Matt grabbed Sally’s hand and motioned to the boys. “C’mon, let’s go get Milo something to eat.” >>>
Yule laughed, shaking his head. “That dog was nothing but trouble. Your mother resented me for getting him.” His voice dropped a bit. “Not that she needed much reason to resent me at that point.”
Michael sat back. He never did find out what happened to the dog after the blast in Switzerland. “That was the last good Christmas we had together.”
“Yeah.” Rising, the man motioned to his son. “C’mon, I’m getting hungry. Let’s see if we can get something at the food court.”
* * * * *
Sara turned the knob, pushing the door open. Michael had given her a key to the penthouse when she had visited for a tour of the Control Center. She had been hesitant to drop in without him or her father being there, but Madge had insisted she spend the night, just in case they managed to make it back.
The large front room seemed so empty and foreboding. She switched on the radio and found a channel playing non-stop holiday music. “That’s better. So what should I do now?”
A creaking sound came from the second level and she stared at the ceiling. Grabbing a wrought iron poker from the fireplace, she pulled it close. “Maybe I should go make sure I’m alone first.”
After a bit of a search, Sara discovered that a small water heater in the laundry area had created the noise. Forcing herself to relax, she glaned at the doors to the nearby bedrooms.
“I really shouldn’t snoop around,” she whispered to herself. “Maybe if I just look at what’s out in the open...”
Michael’s room was closest. His mossy green walls and brown accents suited him well. There were two jewelry boxes and a silver tray for his keys and wallet on the bureau. Several bottles of cologne were lined up neatly next to a brush and comb. On the mirror, three photos were tucked into the frame. One was a picture of her, dressed in a floppy summer hat Martin had given her. The second was Sally with her boys at the beach. The last was a photo of her brother and a pretty woman with short brown hair. She glanced at the back. “Michael and Carrie,” read the feminine script. Carefully replacing the picture, she took one last look around then headed out the door.
Down the hall was Yule’s room. When she has first toured the penthouse, she’d been taken by the beige colored walls and muted floral bedspread. It made her smile to think that her father, who was always so manly and determined, also had a sensitive side. The dresser was much more sparse than Michael’s. There was a small crystal bowl to hold his watches and rings. Next to it sat a sole bottle of cologne—Sea Sailor. Opening it, Sara inhaled deeply. It smelled musky, a bit salty, and her mind raced back.
<<< “Here’s one for you, Sara.”
The girl smiled wide. “Is it from Santa?”
Tammy shook her head. “No, this one is for your birthday. It’s from Mommy and Daddy.”
There was a small card on it and Sara opened it, handing it to her sister. “What does it say?”
“’You’re four now! What a big girl! Happy Birthday!’”
Sara ripped open the package, tossing the bow aside.
“No,” Tammy cried. “Don’t throw away your birthday ribbon. You wear in on your hand for good luck.”
“Oh,” Sara said.
The girl tied the red bow on her sister’s wrist.
Sara opened the box to reveal a miniature tea-set. She ran to her mother. The woman was seated in a recliner, dressed in a housecoat, her eyes half shut.
“That’s nice,” the woman mumbled.
Her sister stood up. “The rest we’re gonna wait and open when Daddy comes home. He had to work last night, but he’ll be back soon.”
The girls went into the kitchen. Tammy opened the cabinet, pulling out boxes of instant mashed potatoes and stuffing. “Can you get the eggs out?”
Sara ran to the refrigerator and pulled out the carton. In the distance, there was the sound of an opening door and a “Ho, ho, ho.”
“Daddy!” Tammy squealed.
The sisters ran into the front hall. A man was there, dressed in a military uniform. He scooped both of the girls into his arms. “There’s my princesses. Merry Christmas.”
As the man hugged her, Sara sniffed. He smelled nice, like the ocean. “Merry Christmas,” she said, placing a kiss on his cheek.
“What were you girls doing?”
“Making dinner!” Sara chimed.
The man’s eyebrows furrowed. “Why? Where’s your mother?”
“She’s sick again,” Tammy said, sheepishly.
The man set them down, peering into the living room. “You girls go back into the kitchen. I’ll be in to help you in a minute.”
Sara ran back. Her mother was sick a lot. Tammy said she wasn’t fever-sick, but sick in the head. Sara didn’t know what that meant, but her mom usually just sat on the couch or laid in bed.
“Do you still need the eggs?” the tiny redheaded girl asked.
“You lazy, fucking bitch!” The screams came from the living room. “Seriously, can you stop taking those drugs for one day? It’s Christmas and you’re ruining it for our kids.” There were several loud cracks, followed by her mother sobbing.
Tammy stared across the room. Sara could tell her sister was scared; she was scared, too. Sara was always scared when her dad hit her mom... or when he was drunk.
The man stormed into the kitchen, his face in a deep scowl. Tammy turned and continued to gather the food. Sara watched as her father moved to the cabinet and poured himself a tall glass of whiskey. He turned and saw her frightened stare.
“It’s okay, baby. Don’t be upset.”
Sara looked down, wringing her fingers.
The man knelt next to her. “What did you get for your birthday?”
“A tea set,” she whispered.
“Tea set?! Well, that means we need to have a tea party, right?”
Her father seemed happy and that made Sara happy. She nodded.
“Tammy, why don’t we have a birthday tea party with Sara.”
The older girl nodded. “Okay, but first I want to get these cookies in the oven.” >>>
Sara stared at the bottle, her fingers trembling as she replaced the cap. Looking in the mirror, she wiped the tears from her cheek.
“Cookies,” she whispered. “Christmas cookies.” Turning, she headed back downstairs.
* * * * *
“Oh, my gosh. You’re Michael Bruce!” The woman rushed up to him, pulling her young daughter behind her. “I saw you once at one of your hotels. We were staying at the Royal Kahana, and you were there with this beautiful girl. You signed an autograph for us and everything.”
Michael blushed and glanced around to see how many people were looking. “Really? Hawaii? That had to be six or seven years ago.”
“Oh, yes, easily.” The woman batted her eyelashes. “I was wondering. Could you sign my autograph book?”
“But I thought you said I signed one before—”
“Oh, you did. But that was just a piece of paper. I have an actual book I carry around with me now. See?”
She handed it to Michael and he flipped through it. “Cameron Dohar. Derek Lake. Julia Vanguard. Wow, you have a lot of famous people in here.” He turned to a page near the back, a familiar signature greeting him.
“That’s Tony Toronto,” the woman said wistfully. “I met him in Cancun. He was with some tart. I don’t remember her name.”
“He probably doesn’t either,” Michael muttered.
“He was so nice,” the woman continued. “He’s the nicest, most charming guy. I’m really proud of that autograph.”
Scrawling his signature on one of the pages near the front, Michael handed the book back to her. “There you go.”
“Oh, thank you!” she swooned. She gave him a kiss on the cheek, then hurried away, pulling her daughter behind.
Yule walked up, an amused smirk on his lips. “Celebrity?”
His father sat next to him. “I overheard her mention Tony.”
“Nice and charming?”
“He was. He is.” Michael stared out the window. “He always was the charismatic one.”