2008 Christmas Challenge by Friday Challenge
Summary: 2008 Christmas Challenge
Categories: Scarecrow and Mrs. King Characters: Amanda King, Lee Stetson
Genres: Fluff
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 8 Completed: Yes Word count: 20780 Read: 46303 Published: 07/02/09 Updated: 07/02/09
Story Notes:
The Challenge: To write a holiday, festive or seasonal story using at LEAST TEN of the following: MISTLETOE, ORNAMENT, UNWRAP, ELVES, COOKIES, EGG NOG, BAH HUMBUG, CHOCOLATE, SLEIGH, TEDDY, BOXERS, CANDLES, NEEDLES, BLACKMAIL, GLITTER, SNOW, RIDE, POLE, RUM PUNCH, CANDY CANE.

1. Christmas Past - Anne by Friday Challenge

2. Twas the Night Before Christmas - Chel by Friday Challenge

3. I’ll Be In Heaven For Christmas - Angela C by Friday Challenge

4. Just Another Christmas - Just Another Christmas by Friday Challenge

5. Chapter 5 - Sue by Friday Challenge

6. Lee's Reading—a season seven extra by Friday Challenge

7. A Wonderful Christmastime - Jennifer C by Friday Challenge

8. Operation: North Pole - Cheryl by Friday Challenge

Christmas Past - Anne by Friday Challenge
Christmas Past

The final chords of a Bing Crosby Christmas tune could be heard
coming from the record player in the living room. The vinyl record
skipped as it came to the end. The whole house smelled on
gingerbread, vanilla, and pine. Bright red CANDLES burned on the
fireplace mantle. Shiny ornaments hang on the tree, while fresh pine
NEEDLES had fallen on the brightly wrapped packages, which lay
underneath.

A small boy sat on a sofa, staring outside the window, watching
snowflakes fall to the ground. He sat there watching, waiting. He
sighed heavily as he sank back further into the sofa, feeling a dull
ache in the pit of his stomach.

He could hear his grandmother on the telephone in the kitchen. "I
wish I know what to do for the boy. He seems so sad—"

The boy turned to his attention back to watching the snowfall, no
longer interested in his grandmother's conversation. Outside the
weather was getting colder and he shivered.

Marie had just finished making EGG NOG, then putting a pumpkin pie
into the oven; she pulled off her festive patterned apron with
winterberries, holly and MISTLETOE, hanging it on the hook behind the
kitchen door. Leaving the kitchen, she saw her grandson sitting in
the sofa in front of the window watching the snow falling. She went
over and sat next to him, patting him on the knee.

"Lee, what's wrong?" she asked trying to hand him a CANDY CANE. She
soon gave up, putting it back into her pocket. Lee seemed not to hear
or see her. He was too engrossed in the falling snow. She turned
her attention to the winter scene outside the window, too. The
moonlight reflected off the now SNOW covered streets. Everything was
quiet—maybe too quiet.

"It's beautiful outside," she whispered several minutes later,
looking over at him.

He nodded his head. "Yes," he finally replied, breaking his silence.
Lee continued staring out the window watching, as the flakes got
bigger.

"It's Christmas Eve. Any idea which present you're going to UNWRAP
first?" she asked him.

He looked up at her and shook his head.

"Me either," she replied. She then unfolded a blanket from the back
of the sofa, and covered them both. He snuggled up to her. "Lee, I
know you're lonely, but things will get better, you'll see." She
paused for a moment before continuing, "How about you come into the
kitchen and help me make some COOKIES?"

Lee reached up, taking his grandmother's hand and after they both
stood up, she led him into the kitchen.

He sat on his knees on a chair at the kitchen table, mixing a bowl of
cookie dough. His grandmother opened a bag of CHOCOLATE chips and he
poured them into the mix, continuing to stir the dough. Then his
grandmother lay a cookie sheet down in front of him. "Now only a
spoon full—will do it." He scoped up a spoon full of dough placing it
on the sheet. "That a boy, Lee. Keep doing it like that," she said,
then going to the oven she checked on the pie.

A gust of wind blew through the kitchen as the front door
opened. "Daddy's home," Lee heard as he turned around to see his mom
and dad enter the living room. He hoped off the chair and ran over to
his dad, who tossed him into the air.

His grandmother came into the living room, taking Jennie's coat,
brushing off the snow. "I'm so glad; you were able to make it home
for Christmas. Lee has been pretty lonely without you."

"I missed you daddy," Lee said putting his arms around his dad's
neck.

"I missed you; too, buddy and I hope we're never separated on
Christmas again."

"I sincerely hope you mean that, Matt," Marie told him. "I think it's
time you and Jennie think of retiring—for Lee's sake. He misses you
two when you are gone."

"Mother, that's emotional BLACKMAIL." She gave him a stern
look. "We'll talk about it, okay?"

"That's all I ask." She patted his cheek, then heading off towards
the dining room she asked, "Now who's ready for dinner?"

Matt still carrying Lee, smiled as he put his arm around Jennie's
shoulder and they all followed grandmother into the dining room for
Christmas Eve dinner.
Twas the Night Before Christmas - Chel by Friday Challenge
Stomping the clumped SNOW from his feet, Lee shook his head as a flurry of white
crystals fell from his hair and shoulders. “It just keeps coming.” His voice
was muffled by the scarf Amanda had protectively wrapped around his neck and
lower face moments before as they exited the corvette.

“Ooo, it’s cold too. Feels like the wind chill is down around ten degrees,” Amanda
admitted with a nod to her head as she shut the door behind them. Despite their
attempt to kick the worst of the wet mess off their shoes before entering, a
large pudding was starting to form amid the chunks of ice in the foyer of their Rockville home.

Lee grunted his agreement as she shivered roughly despite the thick coat snuggly
wrapping her small form. “I don’t think I’ve seen it SNOW this hard in years.
We’re lucky it didn’t take us longer to get home.”

“I was so worried about you two,” Dotty West, Amanda’s mother exclaimed as she
rounded the hallway bend, making a bee-line for the two snow clad forms. “I was
scared to death you’d end up in a ditch, or worse… wrapped around a telephone
POLE.”

“Your faith in my driving skills leave a lot to be desired,” Lee teased as he shed
his coat and opened the closet door. “You should know I wouldn’t let something
like that happen, Dotty.”

“Lee, you know me better than that,” Dotty scolded with a frown. “But you can’t help
the fact that there’s a two inch sheet of ice out there. NO vehicle can get
traction on that type of surface. Regardless of your driving skills, it’s
dangerous out there.”

“The ice is buried under snow Dotty,” Lee calmly explained as he helped his wife off
with her outerwear. “As long as they don’t scrap that off the road we’re in no
danger of losing traction. You just have to drive like you have a little
sense.” He smiled at her sweetly, turning back toward the closet. “I doubt
their going to be getting out too many salt trucks tonight anyway. They’re
going to wait until this calms down.”

“From what the weather man says that’s not going to be until sometime later this
week,” Dotty muttered shaking her head as she reached out for Amanda’s purse as
her daughter continued to disrobe from the layer of protective clothes. “I
personally think none of us should be going anywhere until New Years.”

Lee chuckled. “We’ll see what happens.”

Closing the closet door he stomped his feet again to clear the loose snow
before stepping onto the cream colored carpet that covered the remaining flooring
of the house. “Where’s Jamie and Phillip?”

“In their rooms. I think they’re wrapping the last of their gifts.”

“I figured they would be out in the snow when we came home,” Amanda admitted
shaking the snow out of her hair.

“They tried,” Dotty returned. “But I cut them off after yesterday. I didn’t want to
spend Christmas Eve in the hospital waiting for them to defrost from a sever
case of Frost Bite.”

“Good point,” Lee muttered as they walked through the house. He still remembered how the two of them had looked after spending the day out with their friends
‘playing’ in the fresh fallen snow. Both had ruby cheeks and wind burned faces.
They had their SLEIGH out all day long. It had taken three cups of hot
chocolate and warm baths to get the blood circulating through their veins
again. “It’s probably for the best.”

“Well, they’ve been waiting for the two of you to get home,” she continued as she
stopped near the dinning room and Lee and Amanda continued through the house
toward their bedroom. “It took all I had to keep them away from that tree.”

“Let us get out of these wet clothes and we’ll get the festivities started,” Amanda
said smiling. “I know they’re as excited as I am.”

“The ham’s done,” Dotty called cheerfully down the hall. “I’m keeping everything
warm so just let me know when you’re ready.”

Amanda stopped and turned back to her mother, giving her a sweet smile. “Have I told you lately how wonderful you are mother?” she asked sincerely. “I don’t know
what Lee and I would do without you here taking care of us and the boys.”

“You’re welcome honey. I’m just doing what any other mother would do for her children.”

“Thank you,” Amanda whispered. “It means a lot to us.”

Dotty smiled softly. “I know. Now go and change. I’ll get everything together in
here.”

As Amanda stepped into their bedroom and closed the door Lee was shouldering out
of his suit jacket and taking off his shoulder holster. “That ham’s making my
stomach growl,” he said grinning. “I haven’t eaten since that cup of coffee
this morning at the office.”

“That’s not eating. I told you, breakfast consist of food, something you chew,” she
teased. She swatted his arm lightly as she stepped past him. “But I do agree
with you. It smells delicious. Mother said it was ready whenever we were.”

“Hmmmm…” he stepped up behind her and wrapped his arms tenderly around her small frame.

“A delicious meal waiting for me… a warm wife to snuggle against. This is
turning into the perfect night,” he whispered, leaning in to kiss the side of
her neck. “All I need is a little MISTLETOE and I’ll be all set.”

Amanda laughed as she turned her head to allow him better access. “Why in the world do you think you need MISTLETOE, Scarecrow? Seems you’re doing a fine job on your
own.”

She felt him smile against her skin. “Just wanting to keep in the season is all.”
With a sigh he relaxed against her and just held her close. “I’m so glad you
agreed to marry me Amanda. Have I told you thank you lately?”

“Only every other day,” she admitted with her eyes closed. “And as I recall you
didn’t have to twist my arm much, Stetson.”

“Hmmmm… not much, he whispered. “Can I share a secret with you Mrs. Stetson?” he asked kissing her earlobe.

“If you keep doing that you can do anything you want.”

“Tonight, after the boys open all their presents… I have something in here for you from just me. Something I really don’t want to share with the rest of the family,”
he whispered seductively.

She grinned. “You give me that every night honey,” she teased rubbing her behind
against his body until she heard him growl low in his throat. “You know I look
forward to it.” She ran her hand down the length of his leg. “Can we light some
CANDLES?”

“Yes we can, but that’s not exactly what I was referring to. I do like the way your
mind works though,” he said.

Amanda turned in his arms as he released her slowly rubbing his hands up her arms
until they rested on her shoulders. “Then what do you have in mind?”

His sparkling smile caused her heart to flutter. “A special present,” he confessed.

She frowned. “What special present?”

“Your special present.”

“Are you going to give me a hint?” she asked.

Lee’s grin widened. “Nope. You have to wait until later.” With that he released her
and stepped away, turning his back on her as he moved to their closet.

“Lee Stetson, you come back here,” Amanda demanded smiling. “You can’t tease me like this and then just drop it. Tell me what you’re talking about.”

“Nope, you have to wait.” He shook his head as he unfastened his tie and opened the
closet door.

“That’s not fair.”

He shrugged, glancing at her over his shoulder. “Tough.”

The knock at their door interrupted what Amanda was going to say next. With a grin,
Lee looked toward the door. “Come in,” he called.

Jamie opened the door, looking in. “Grandma said you were home. How were the roads?”

“Snowy,” Lee admitted.

“Were you and your brother good for your grandmother today?” Amanda asked.

“Yep, we helped her make COOKIES,” Jamie returned.

“Which ones?” Lee asked expectantly. “Did she make those CHOCOLATE ones I like?”

“Sure did and those nuts and peanut butter ones Phillip likes.” He grinned. “I think
Phillip ate half the batter before they even hit the oven.”

“You think she’ll let me have one before supper?” Lee wondered aloud.

“She might. She’s getting the EGG NOG and RUM PUNCH out of the icebox now,” Jamie informed him. “If you catch her quick you might be able to steal one.”

Lee jerked his tie the rest of the way off and pitched it into the closet. “I’m
heading for the kitchen.”

Amanda laughed as he disappeared out the door. “Just don’t spoil your dinner,” she
called loudly. “Where’s your brother?” she asked the grinning boy.

“He’s finishing up a present he had to UNWRAP.”

“UNWRAP?”

Jamie shook his head. “Don’t ask. Something about forgetting to put a special CANDY
CANE inside. It’s for Joyce.”

“Ah,” Amanda said knowingly. Phillip had talked about Joyce for the last two weeks. She was this month’s girlfriend. “A special CANDY CANE?”

Jamie nodded. “That’s all I know. I’ve learned not to ask too many questions. He gets
all weird when he talks about her.”

Amanda laughed. “Have you heard if she’s going to come over tonight?”

Jamie shook his head. “She wanted to but her dad said no. Phillip said it was snowing
too bad.” He shrugged his shoulders. “It’s just going to be us tonight.”

“Well let me get changed and we’ll have supper. If I don’t get out there soon, Lee’s
going to eat every one of those cookies your Grandmother made.”

Jamie nodded stepping back out of the room. “Okay, I’ll tell Phillip you’re home.
Merry Christmas Mom.”

“Merry Christmas, Jamie.”

* * * *

The boys lay on the couch as Lee wrapped his arm around Amanda and followed them
into the living room from the dinning room. Each one had acted like they were
in an eating contest and determined to take first place. Lee couldn’t
understand where they put all the food they were consuming. Dotty brought up
the rear carrying a coffee pot and cups on a small tray. “Let me take that,”
Lee offered trying yet again to take the tray away from Dotty.

“No, no, I’ve got it. You two just sit down and relax, you’ve worked hard today.”

“So have you,” Lee interjected. “Those COOKIES were delicious by the way.”

Dotty smiled at him, motioning them to the second couch with her head. “You’ve told
me that twice now Lee. I appreciate the kind words. You know I enjoy seeing you
eat.”

“I think he ate more than his share, Mother,” Amanda calmly commented as she
reached over and tenderly rubbed her husband’s stomach. “I think they all did,”
she admitted looking toward her two clearly full teenagers.

“You can never get too much of a good thing,” Lee returned with a grin. “Isn’t that
right boys?”

“I need to digest a while,” Phillip groaned holding his stomach. “Maybe a nap
after we open presents.”

Amanda laughed. “I heard you had a little bit of cookie dough today. Think that might
be part of the problem?”

“Nah, I’m good. After I open a few of these presents you’ve been teasing us with over
the last week, I think I’ll be find,” he commented knowingly.

“We haven’t been teasing you with them,” Lee chuckled taking a drink of his coffee.

“What do you call leaving them out in the open like this?” Jamie admitted waving his
hand toward the GLITTER covered tree and ornaments. “Unprotected, unmarked, and
just sitting there? You’re teasing us,” he finished sitting up.

Amanda and Lee exchanged grins before looking back at the two boys. Dotty couldn’t
help but laugh from her easy chair. “They do have a point. Even though they
haven’t touched anything, they’ve been swarming around this tree every free
second they could find,” she confessed. “Course it would have been nice if you
two could have shared with me whose presents were who’s,” she muttered with a
look.

“Now mother, if we had done that then you would have known which presents you had under the tree,” Amanda corrected with a smile. “How fair would that have
been?”

“Yeah Grandma,” Phillip interjected. “That’s not fair.”

“Hey, I’m the grandma, I should know,” Dotty corrected toward him.

“I don’t think so,” Jamie said shaking his head. “You don’t get heads up if we
can’t.”

“Of course I do.”

When both boys and Dotty started cheerfully arguing over who should have had
privileges over the presents Lee finally had to set his cup down and hold out
his hands. “Hey, tone it down you three!” he commanded loudly. “This is exactly
why we didn’t share with you!” When they all stopped and looked toward him, he
grinned. “We wanted everyone to be surprised. Now do you want to open them or
continue to fuss over the fact that you don’t know who gets what?”


“Well of course we want to open them,” Phillip confessed. “But we don’t think you
should do it like this next year. We deserve to at least know which ones have
our names on them.”


“Yeah, then we can try and figure out what’s in the boxes,” Jamie added.

“But they’re supposed to be a surprise,” Amanda corrected. “When you guess what it
is before you open it that kinda takes the fun out of it for us. We put in a
lot of time shopping and picking out those gifts. We want to see your face when
you open them.”

“We never know when you shop,” Phillip complained. “We never even saw you carry
anything in the house.”

“Because we’re that good,” Lee gloated pleasantly.

“It’s because you’re sneaky.”

“That too,” Lee laughed.

Phillip grunted, “You’re not supposed to use work tactics on us.”

“Keeps you on your toes,” Lee commented grinning. “Jamie why don’t you
get down there and hand out the presents? Just ask me or your mother who they
go to.”

“Are they coded?” he asked sliding down on the floor next to the tree and its colorful assortment of boxes. An ORNAMENT slid off the branch and fell to the floor before he could catch it. Luckily it didn’t shatter.

“Careful, that’s the one your father sent last year,” Amanda scolded. “You don’t
want to break that.”

“I know,” Jamie confessed, carefully picking it up and replacing it on the tree. “It’s okay, I didn’t damage it.”

“Did the boys tell you that Joe called them today?” Dotty asked.

“Oh yeah,” Phillip said as Jamie began sorting through the boxes with Lee’s instructions. “He said they were all doing fine and he wished us all a Merry Christmas. He said he was sorry they couldn’t be here this year but our presents were in the mail and should be here next week.”

Jamie stopped and grinned. “He said he sent us BOXERS. I’m pretty sure he was kidding.”

“Maybe he sent you a TEDDY bear,” Lee teased.

“You are so funny,” Phillip returned shaking his head.

“Are they all doing well?” Amanda asked.

Jamie nodded. “Everyone was fine. He said they were healthy and well.”

“That’s good. I wish I could have been here to talk to him,” she continued.

“We can try and call them tomorrow,” Lee assured her. “You can talk to him then if we can catch them in.”

Amanda smiled. “That would be nice. It’s been nearly three months since I’ve spoken to Carrie. I know Stephanie is getting big. She’s almost 9 months old now. I wish they could have been here this year,” she admitted wishfully. “It would have been wonderful to have a baby around for the holidays.”

Dotty nodded. “It would be nice,” she hinted with a look.

Lee cleared his throat, refusing to look at either woman. “So Jamie, let’s see that present right there. Yeah, that’s the one. Give that to your grandmother.”

Phillip laughed at his quick distraction.

Lee gave him a look. “You think it’s funny now. Just wait a few more years and you’re going to be the one under the gun.”

“Nope, I don’t think so. I’m not planning on getting married. I’m going to be a bachelor the rest of my life. If you two want grandkids you gotta look at Jamie and stop looking in my direction.”

“Hey, I’m only 15. Don’t wish me married too soon. I’ve still got to get through college,” Jamie complained.

“And College you will go,” Amanda announce firmly. “I’m not worried about grandkids. I want you to get your future lined out before you think about settling down. Besides the both of you have your whole lives ahead of you. We are not going to pester you about grandkids or marriage,” she continued, looking toward her older son. “Of course as you get older, you might change your mind. You never know who you’re going to meet in your travels, Phillip.”

Lee grinned, “I can contest to that. I had the same thoughts until four years ago when your mother stepped into my life and look at me now…” He leaned over and kissed Amanda. “Happily married with two step sons and a mother-in-law,” he finished pleasantly.

“Well that’s you. I am not getting married,” Phillip said firmly. “It’s too much fun having girlfriends.” He grinned triumphantly. “It’s like living in a candy store. I’m looking forward to the RIDE.”

Lee held up his hand quickly before Amanda could rebuttal that comment. “Don’t say anything. Just let it slide. He’ll grow out of it. I did.” With that, he nodded to Jamie after giving his wife a knowing look. “Go ahead sport. Let’s get the rest of those presents handed out.”

Phillip slid down into the floor and began helping Jamie hand out the pile of presents. Dotty watched them asking Lee and Amanda who’s was who’s as they quickly separated them out. “They’re like a couple of little ELVES,” she said pleasantly. “Santa would be proud.”

“All they need now is a set of green tights,” Lee teased.

“I don’t think so,” Phillip muttered shaking his head. “I’m not wearing tights for anyone.”

Jamie laughed shoving him sideways. “That’ll be cool. I could take a picture and hold it over your head for the rest of your life. Anytime I needed anything I’d just threaten to show it off.”

“You would too, wouldn’t you?” Phillip asked grinning.

Jamie nodded. “Sure would. What’s a little BLACKMAIL amongst family?”

Phillip laughed, handing the last present to his mother. “Here Mom, this one is from me and Joyce. She said she wanted you to go ahead and open it tonight even though
she wasn’t here with us.”

“Well, that was very sweet of her,” Amanda commented taking the small box. “Thank you both very much.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Okay, everyone have all their presents?” Lee asked looking at the boxes sitting around everyone. The boys nodded quickly, picking theirs up and twisting and weighing them in their hands.

“Before we open them, we’re forgetting one thing,” Dotty interjected, holding up what Lee was about to say next.

“What’s that?” Lee inquired.

“Our traditional reading,” she explained as Amanda sat forward next to Lee.

“That’s right, we almost forgot. Phillip, go get the book and bring it here,” Amanda instructed, pointing to the wall shelf.

“I got it,” the boy exclaimed as he rose and quickly recovered the book his mother was pointing to. He brought it back to the couch, threading his way around the boxes on the floor. “Here ya, go.”

He handed it over to Amanda, who took the book and smiled toward her husband. “I think you should do the honors.”

“Me?” Lee asked taking the book slowly from her hand.

“Yes, you. Every year I am the one that reads the story before we open our presents. Now I’m turning that honor over to you,” she explained, leaning back in the couch. “You read it.”

Lee glanced at the boys and Dotty who were all settling back to listen intently to the story he held in his hand. With a deep breath he too leaned back, settling against his wife as he opened the book slowly, turning the pages. “’Twas the night before Christmas…” he began as Amanda smiled.

* * * *

It was nearly midnight when Lee and Amanda finally stepped into their bedroom and shut the door. “I had a wonderful night,” Amanda breathed smiling toward her husband. “The boys and mother acted like they loved their gifts. We did good.”

“We did great,” Lee corrected, wrapping his arms around her. “Your mother even loved those crochet NEEDLES that Phillip got her. They were cute stocking stuffers. I would have never thought of that.”

“Me either. All and all we had a great day, honey. We actually got off work on time, was about to slide out of the Christmas party on time and came home to a wonderful family meal and gathering.” Amanda sighed. “This was a picture perfect day.”

Lee hugged her to him as they rocked softly to the silent music. “Yeah, the only thing that I could have done without was listening to Francine go on and on all afternoon. BAH HUMBUG this and BAH HUMBUG that. She’s awful grumpy when she doesn’t have a Christmas date isn’t she?” he asked with a smile.

“Yes she is. But I refused to allow her to get me down,” Amanda breathed closing her eyes.

“Me too.” Lee just stood there a few moments, holding his wife close.

Suddenly he pulled back, jarring her from the almost hypnotic state their bodies were
lulling her into. “What?” she exclaimed seeing the wicked grin that appeared on
his face. He released her suddenly, leaving her standing alone in the middle of
the room. “Where are you going?” she asked as he hurried to the closet.

“You’re special present,” he returned, disappearing inside.

“You hid it in the closet? Wasn’t you afraid I was going to find it?” she asked
smiling.

“Nope.”

He reappeared a few moments later with a fairly large box in his hands. It was
decoratively wrapped with a beautiful red ribbon tied along the top. “How long
has that been in there?” She asked in surprise.

He grinned. “Almost a week. I hid it well.” He sat it down on the bed and motioned
her over. “Come on, open it up. I can’t wait to see your reaction.”


“So this is for both of us?” she asked smiling as she stepped next to him.

“Oh yes, I guarantee it.”

As he laughed, she took the bow off quickly and ripped the wrapping paper off the
box with flourish. Without hesitation she opened the box and pulled back the
paper inside. “OH Lee…” she whispered seeing the contents lying inside.

“I knew you would like it. Merry Christmas, Amanda, I love you,” he whispered
leaning over to kiss her softly on the cheek.

The
End
I’ll Be In Heaven For Christmas - Angela C by Friday Challenge
Timeframe: Christmas 2008

Disclaimer: The usual. The characters don't belong to me, blah,
blah, blah. You know the rest.

Notes: I know that Lee and Amanda are now in their late 50's or
60's And I know that they wouldn't have a child still in school at
that age. So, for this story to take place I'm gonna say that they
are still in their late 30's, early 40's at this time. I'm also
saying for this story that Phillip and Jamie are late teen early
20's. Also this story is a tribute to Beverly Garland. We will
never forget her in our hearts. May she rest in peace.

SMK SMK SMK SMK SMK SMK SMK SMK SMK

Amanda stood at the kitchen counter looking through a recipe book.
She had told her daughter, Jennifer that she would bake Christmas
COOKIES for her class at school.

Jennifer stood next to her mother to help her. Looking up at her
mother she said. "Mommy, will grandma be able to come home for
Christmas?"

Amanda's eyes glistened with tears as she looked down at her
daughter. "I don't think so sweet heart, she's very sick."

"Maybe Santa's ELVES can make her better. It won't be the same if
grandma's not here for Christmas."

Amanda knew Jennifer didn't understand that Dotty was not going to
get any better. She avoided looking at her daughter if she asked
anymore questions about her grandmother. She looked at the SNOW
through the kitchen window as it was rapidly coming down.

She wished her husband and sons hurried home. They were picking out
a Christmas tree, a tradition Lee had with the boys since he became
a permanent member of the family.

Amanda was still looking out the window when the french doors
leading to the patio opened.

Lee and Phillip carried the tree through the doors, being careful
not to get poked with pine NEEDLES.

Jennifer ran to the living room with excitement. "Daddy, you're
back!"

As Jamie held the door opened he said. "Stay back squirt, it's cold
outside. We wouldn't want you to get sick. Remember, you're
supposed to go see Santa next week."

"Okay." Jennifer went back into the kitchen to help Amanda.

Amanda stepped away from the window and was now heading toward the
refrigerator to grab the butter. Taking a bowl out of the cupboard,
she also grabbed the sugar.

After Lee had the tree in the stand, he went to the kitchen to see
what Amanda and Jennifer were doing.

Lee stood behind Amanda, wrapping his arms around her, careful not
to touch her with his cold hands, which he knew was very
tempting. "Have you heard any news on how your mother is doing?"

Amanda started mixing the sugar and butter together. "Not since
this morning when we woke up. I thought I would call once I put the
COOKIES in the oven."

Lee headed back to the living room where Phillip and Jamie were
standing by the fireplace to warm up. "You guys wanna help me get
all the Christmas decorations out of the attic?"

At the same time Phillip and Jamie said. "Sure."

After Lee and the boys got all the boxes from the attic, they
stacked them in the living room by the tree.

Lee opened the first box, it was the lights for the tree. The
second box contained a MISTLETOE. Lee hung it above the steps
leading into the kitchen. He thought mischievously that he would
move it later to the bedroom above the bed.

Jamie pulled an ORNAMENT out of the box. "I remember grandma giving
this to me when I was little."

Phillip looked toward the kitchen to his mother and said. I just
wish grandma wasn't in the hospital. Maybe she'll be well enough to
come home and spend Christmas with us."

Lee pursed his lips, looking at his wife and said. "Yeah, we all
do. But as sick as your granmother has been, I doubt she will be
with us much longer."

Jamie opened up a huge box that contained a BAH HUMBUG light up sign
for the front yard. He looked at the sign and said. "I don't
remember seeing this before."

Phillip laughed. "I remember it. Mom brought it home and put it in
the yard with all the other decorations. Grandma thought it was
strange cause mom was never the scrooge kind."

Lee laughed and said. "It's mine, your mother had given it to me.
I was never into Christmas. When I met your mother she thought I
was acting like a scrooge. I lived in an apartment and had no place
to store it. So your mother kept it here with all the other
decorations." They continued digging into boxes getting things out.

After Amanda placed the COOKIES on the cookie sheet, she put them in
the oven to bake.

Jennifer washed her hands and said. "Can I go outside and play in
the SNOW?"

Amanda put the mixing bowl in the sink along with all the other
dirty dishes. She wiped her hands on a towel, turned towrd her
daughter and said. "Yes, you can. Remember to zip your coat and
put a hat on. You should also wrap a scarf around your neck and put
it over your nose to keep the wind out of your face."

Jennifer went over to Lee and said. "Daddy, can you get my SLEIGH
out of the garage so I can RIDE down the little hill in the
backyard?"

Lee looked at his daughter and said. "Sure."

He put his coat back on, heading out the back door to the garage.
Jennifer followed him as soon as she was bundled up.

Phillip and Jamie went into the kitchen and found a plate of
CHOCOLATE fudge Amanda had made.

Lee came in the back door as the phone rang. He stomped his SNOW
covered boots on the mat as he took his coat off.

Amanda picked up the phone and said. "Hello......"

A minute later, Lee noticed a tear running down her cheek. He
motioned for the boys to follow him to where Amanda was standing in
the kitchen.

"Thank you for all you have done, Merry Christmas."

Amanda had hung up the phone and found Lee and the boys looking at
her.

"She's gone, my mother, your gradmother is gone."

Lee took her in his arms as she started sobbing.

Phillip and Jamie stood behind her, wrapping their arms around her
from behind.

This would be a Christmas they would never forget

THE END
(In memory of Beverly Garland, October 17th, 1926 – December 5th, 2008)
Just Another Christmas - Just Another Christmas by Friday Challenge
Just Another Christmas

4247 Maplewood Drive

Saturday, December 23, 2000

6:20 PM

"Damn it!" Lee swore as the wrench he was using to tighten the bolts
slipped, smacking him across his already bruised knuckles. "I swear,
Amanda— this wrench has it in for me."

"Maybe because you're using the wrong one? Here—this should work a
little better." Amanda handed him another wrench.

"Thanks," Lee carefully tightened the bolts as far as they would go.
"You know, when Jenna showed me a picture of this in the catalog I
thought it looked like it would be pretty easy to put together, but this—"

"Not so simple?" Amanda picked up the paper which held the basic
assembly directions, looking at it as she spoke.

"Not so simple," Lee repeated. "I finally got the top part connected
but I can't keep the thing upright to get the wheels on. I want her to
be able to RIDE this thing on Christmas Day."

"Lee, the best way to keep it upright is to keep the bottom part of
the metal frame on."

"What?" Lee said. "How do you know—"

"It's right here at the bottom of the page." Amanda said. "See? If
the scooter is a complex model that comes packaged in a metal frame—"

Lee snatched the paper from her hands and looked at it. "Typical," he
said. "They put it at the bottom where you won't see it—that way they
can make it as difficult as possible. It's a plot."

"Sweetheart, I'm sure that's not the way they think."

"Isn't it?" Lee ran both hands through his hair. "I just hope I can
get this together by Christmas Eve."

"We will," Amanda told him. "But in the meantime you should get
ready—this party starts at 7:00 PM, remember?"

"I haven't forgotten." Lee stood up. For a moment he was at a loss
for words as he stared at his wife. The black dress she wore
accentuated her slim figure, and the simple diamond pendant at the
throat added just the right touch. Her dark hair was pulled up,
tendrils of curls escaping and falling to her shoulders.

"Amanda you look—" Lee's voice trailed off— at a complete loss for
words. Amanda smiled and Lee wrapped his arms around her, pulling her
close.

"Maybe we'll meet our contact early," he told her. "Hmm? And then we
can get back here and start enjoying our Christmas early."

Amanda ran one hand lightly up and down his arm. "Sounds like a plan
to me, Stetson," she said. "But we need to get going soon or else
we'll be late."

"We have plenty of time," Lee bent his head down, his lips meeting her
own.

A tap on the bedroom door startled them and Lee stepped backwards,
upsetting the scooter, which fell on his foot. Lee put his hand over
his mouth, muffling his cry of pain.

"Mom? Dad?" Jenna's voice. "Grandma told me to tell you that she has
Dad's dress shirt ironed and ready."

"Thank you, sweetheart," Amanda called out as Lee hopped over to the
bed and sat down, massaging his foot. "We'll be right down."

"Is everything okay?" Jenna asked. "I thought I heard something fall."

Lee finally managed to speak. "Everything's fine, munchkin. Really. Go
tell Grandma that I'll be right down."

Jenna's voice sounded doubtful. "All right. Oh, and I'm making sugar
COOKIES in case you want one later."

"That would be great, sweetheart," Amanda said.

Lee listened for Jenna's footsteps going down the hall and down the
stairs before he spoke, pointing at the scooter. "I'd swear that
machine's got it in for me."

"Listen," Amanda said. "When we get back here we'll finish assembling
it together—it'll be fine. Just picture Jenna's face when she goes to
UNWRAP it Christmas morning."

"She'll love it." Lee's hand brushed the side of Amanda's neck. "And
then after we finish that tonight do I get to unwrap my present?"

"Definitely, big fella."

SMK SMK SMK SMK

D.C. Community Center

6:58 PM

"Mr. and Mrs. Stetson, welcome," said the woman at the table near the
door. She wrote each of their names on tags which were shaped like a
CANDY CANE and festooned with plastic MISTLETOE, handing one to each
of them.

"The children colored these themselves," the woman explained. "It's
something we let them do every year—and if you look at the tree in
corner of the hall you will see that they each made a special ORNAMENT
as well."

"They're beautiful, thank you," Amanda removed her coat and pinned the
nametag to her dress, helping Lee to fasten his to his jacket lapel.

"Would you like to join the raffle?" the woman asked them. "It's only
two dollars apiece and all the money goes to benefit the women's
shelter."

"Here," Lee pulled out a five. The woman handed them two tickets and
gave Lee back a dollar.

"Thank you very much," she said.

The hall was very festive, decorated with tinsel and tiny winkling
lights. In the center of the banquet table stood a candelabra
festooned with electric candles. The tree that the woman had been
talking about sat in the corner. Amanda was about to step forward for
a closer look when a familiar voice stopped her in her tracks.

"Mr. and Mrs. Stetson," Augie came towards them, holding a plate
filled with food. "So glad to see you here."

"I'm surprised to see you here, Augie," Lee said. "A charity benefit?"

"Hey, domestic and child abuse is a very important cause, Lee." A
flush crept up Augie's neck. "Also my restaurant provided a portion
of the food as well as the CHOCOLATE fountain over there. Everything's
tax deductible, remember."

"Yeah I get it." Lee nodded. "So, do you have something for us?"

"Oh it's not me," Augie pointed. "It's that woman over there—she came
to me but she's a little nervous. It might be best if just one of you
approached her. She doesn't exactly trust people, if you know what I'm
saying."

"Yeah I know what you're saying," Lee said. "Come on, Augie—Amanda
I'll be right back, okay?"

"Okay," Amanda said. Lee and Augie left and Amanda went over to the
tree, studying the tiny and brightly colored paper ornaments, each one
marked with a child's name. She loved these homemade ornaments—over
the years she'd managed to save the ones that Phillip and Jamie had
made, along with Jenna's. She was so lost in her thoughts that she
didn't even notice the soft footsteps from behind.

"Can I get you some EGG NOG?" a man's voice asked.

Startled, Amanda turned around to see a tall man, wearing a suit. The
man had dark brown hair and eyes which were a startling blue color—for
some strange reason she found herself thinking of icicles. The man
smiled.

"Sorry if I startled you." He extended his hand. "My name's Gary
Johnston—councilman Gary Johnston if you want to get formal about it."

"I'm Amanda Stetson." She shook his hand.

"If you don't like egg nog there's always RUM PUNCH." Gary said.

"No, I'm fine, thank you."

"So, are you here alone?"

"No, my husband's just over there." Amanda pointed.

"My wife wanted to come," Gary said. "Unfortunately she's not feeling
too well at the moment. But we have an eleven-year-old daughter, so
this is a cause near to both our hearts."

"I understand," Amanda said. "I have an eleven-year-old daughter too."

Taking his wallet out, Gary showed Amanda a photo of a red headed girl
with big brown eyes. "That's our Marcie—she had it taken this October."

Amanda opened her purse and took out her wallet. "This is Jenna—it was
from her recital this year."

"Good photo." Before Amanda could say anything Gary took the wallet
from her hand. He said nothing for a few moments as he studied the
photo closely.

"She's a beautiful child," he said as he returned the wallet.

"Thank you." Amanda put her wallet back in her purse.

"It's so hard, isn't it?" Gary said. "To imagine that someone could
hurt a child like that? And yet it happens every day."

For some reason the words sent a chill through Amanda. "Yes," she
said quietly, "it is very hard to believe."

"What's up?" Lee put a hand on his wife's shoulder.

"This is councilman Gary Johnston," Amanda said. "We were just
sharing pictures of our children—he has a daughter Jenna's age."

"Nice to meet you," Lee told the man. To Amanda he said. "We should
go—I need to check something out before going home—at work."

"So soon?" Gary said. "Well I guess it can't be helped.

"It can't," Lee said.

"It was nice meeting you, Mr. Johnston," Amanda said.

"Gary, please." The man took her hand again—she was struck by how
cold his fingers were. "Perhaps we'll meet again, Mrs. Stetson—someday."

SMK SMK SMK SMK

4247 Maplewood Dr

9:00 PM

Amanda stood in the doorway, just looking at her daughter.

Jenna lay on her bed, in her pajamas, engrossed in a book. Her blond
hair curtained over her face and she swung her feet back and forth as
she turned the pages.

`To imagine that someone could hurt a child like that'

The councilman's words came back to her, causing Amanda to shiver
involuntarily. Something about him was—but maybe she was imagining it.

"Mom?" Amanda saw that her daughter was now staring at her. "Was
there something you wanted?"

"Not really," Amanda said. "I just wanted to say good night—you are
going to bed soon, right?"

Jenna grinned. "Yeah, after I finish this chapter. Did you have a nice
time? At the party?"

"It was pretty nice, yeah." Amanda sat on the edge of her bed.
"Looking forward to Christmas?"

Jenna nodded. "Always." She yawned, rubbing her hand across her face.
"I can't wait to give you and dad the presents I bought."

"And get your presents, don't forget."

Jenna grinned. "Yeah, that too."

"Amanda!" Dad called. "I could use some help."

"Sounds like Dad needs you."

"Believe me, he does. Well I should let you get to bed, sweetheart,"
Amanda smoothed her daughter's hair. "Good night."

Jenna hugged her. "Good night, Mom—I love you."

Amanda hugged Jenna tightly. "I love you too, sweetheart."

The End
Chapter 5 - Sue by Friday Challenge
~~~~SMK~~~~

Christmas.

BAH, HUMBUG!

For as long as he could remember, he had hated this holiday, dreaded
it with every fiber of his being. The only way he had survived was to
hole up in his apartment for the duration. He passed the time
polishing off a bottle of Dom and stuffing his face with guacamole,
idly watching one college football game after another.

Amanda changed all that right from the moment she had barged into his
life full of holiday spirit and homemade COOKIES.

That first year, enemy soldiers surrounded them, trapping them in a
remote cabin in the woods, and she still managed to make Christmas
special. Another year, toy makers peddling stolen tank designs held
them captive, but her holiday spirit never dimmed.

When international intrigue took a day off, they battled crazy
shoppers at the mall. One thing's for certain, since Amanda came into
his life, Christmas was no longer just another ordinary day.

Now, five-years later, she was his secret wife, and he went to great
lengths to give her the Christmas she deserved. Just like one of
Santa's ELVES, he decorated the apartment leaving no space untouched.

Across his entry table, old St. Nick steered his SLEIGH through fake
SNOW. Fat, striped CANDLES sat atop his mantel. He even managed to
get his hands on some authentic MISTLETOE, which he tacked in every
doorway in the apartment.

The scrawny tree he rescued from the supermarket sat in front of his
window, dropping pine NEEDLES faster than he could sweep them up.

As he nestled one more surprise for her underneath the fragrant
boughs, his blood hummed with excitement. He had some special plans
for tonight. After Christmas Eve dinner with the family, he would
whisk Amanda back to his apartment for their own private celebration.

She would never believe he wrapped all the boxes himself, even going
so far as to place a GLITTER bow on one, and a CANDY CANE on another.
He pictured the look on her face as she opened them. Of course, she
would show him how very much she loved everything, including him.

Just thinking about he and Amanda alone, snuggled by the fire,
unwrapping their gifts and each other, heated his blood, tightening
his groin, making his pants uncomfortable.

Derailing that train of thought, he dashed into the kitchen and mixed
up a batch of his world-famous EGG NOG, carefully sliding the full
bowl into the fridge to chill for later.

He had just finished washing the dishes when he heard her key in the
lock. He dried his hands, tossed the dishtowel over his shoulder, and
stood in the kitchen doorway, watching while she snuck another
festively decorated box under the tree.

Everyday, it seemed, the stack of treasures grew a little more than
the day before, and he had to fight the urge to UNWRAP a corner of
the boxes and peek inside, but he promised to be patient and wait
until they got back to his apartment tonight.

She noticed him standing in the doorway and glided across his living
room, stopping in front of him. Wrapping his tie around her fist, she
tugged him down and rubbed her lips across his.

"Mistletoe," she said against his lips.

He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her closer deepening
the kiss. She traced his lips with her tongue. He opened for her
granting her entrance. Her tongue danced with his, and a soft moan
escaped.

Reluctantly, he broke the contact. "Yum, CHOCOLATE." He gently kissed
her once again. `Good morning."

"Good morning to you, too. Mother made hot cocoa with breakfast. I
slept through the alarm, so I took mine to go. There is some left in
the thermos in the car, if you would like some. Are you ready to
leave?"

"Sure. Just let me grab my coat and we can go."

He slipped on his suit jacket and overcoat, and followed her out the
door, snagging the shopping bag he had packed with some last minute
presents as he exited the apartment.

~~~~SMK~~~~

It seemed everyone had decided to stay home today and get a jump on
the holiday. The RIDE into work only took a few minutes and they even
found a parking space right in front of the Georgetown entrance.

After clearing up some long overdue paperwork, they headed down to
the bullpen and the annual Christmas bash.

The festivities had already gotten underway. Francine rushed over to
them, running her usual Beaman avoidance pattern. Duffy had one glass
of RUM PUNCH too many and tried his tired pick-up lines on the girls
in the steno pool--without much success.

A very married Ray Saunders-a glass of the spiked beverage in one
hand, and a leggy, blonde from accounting wrapped around him, stood
over in the corner. Lee would have to find out her name, and file
this little tidbit away. You never know when a little piece of
BLACKMAIL would come in handy.

Francine ducked out of the party, successfully eluding Beaman and his
wandering hands. He and Amanda circulated around the office, shaking
hands and exchanging holiday wishes with their colleagues.

Looking around the crowded room Lee spotted his boss standing near
the buffet table outside his office. Judging by the red suit and
white beard Billy sported, he must have lost another bet on the last
Redskins game. With his hand resting on the small of Amanda's back,
he guided her over toward Billy.

"Ho, ho, ho, Santa, how are things in the North POLE?" Lee teased.

"Stow it. Scarecrow," Billy growled, then turned to Amanda, and with
a smile on his face, wished her a Merry Christmas.

She handed him a plate of her freshly baked cookies and a small gift
box wrapped in pretty, green paper. "Merry Christmas, Sir."

Lee could not resist the urge to tease Billy. "So tell me," he made a
show of looking under the desks and inside Billy's office
window, "where did you park the reindeer?"

"I'd button it if I were you. There is still that opening in the Nome
office. The transfer papers are right there on my desk just waiting
to be filled out and signed."

"Okay, okay, I get it. Go ahead open your present. It's from Amanda
and me."

Inside the box, nestled between red and green tissue paper, sat two
tickets to the Miles Davis concert at the Kennedy Center.

Billy's face lit up like a Christmas tree, his grin stretching from
ear to ear. He kissed Amanda on both cheeks before pulling Lee into a
manly embrace and thumping him firmly on the back.

Lee ended up with a face-full of fluffy white beard, and after
returning Billy's embrace, stepped back brushing the offending hair
off his cheeks.

Billy presented them with the two days off the duty roster, a dinner
for two at Emilio's, and the traditional fruitcake his wife, Jeannie,
baked for the office. Surprisingly, Lee had enjoyed last year's cake
very much and looked forward to sharing this year's version with his
family.

Billy's phone rang, and he entered his office to answer it. They took
the opportunity to escape.

Timing, as they say, is everything, and for today, at least, fate
smiled upon them. The elevator doors closed just as Dr. Smyth stepped
out of the elevator on the opposite bank, shielding them from a round
of bad nursery rhymes and phony holiday cheer.

No doubt, Smyth's usual offering of GCs—gift certificates, lined his
pockets. Two of which would be waiting for them on their desk when
they returned to work after the holiday.

With a wave and a final Merry Christmas wish to Mrs. Marston, they
left work and headed home.

~~~~SMK~~~~

The mouth-watering aroma coming from the kitchen reached out to them
as soon as the stepped into the foyer. The air redolent with the
homey scents of fresh-baked cookies and the savory-seasoned Christmas
goose roasting made his stomach rumble. He could not wait to dig into
Christmas dinner.

Amanda hung their coats in the hall closet, and went to help Dotty in
the kitchen. He took his bulging shopping bag into the family room
to hide his gifts under the tree, just little extras that caught his
eye, and one special present for his entire family. Even Amanda had
no clue about his extraordinary gift. They had decided to open
presents all together on Christmas morning, before Amanda's famous
Christmas waffle breakfast.

Hefting the huge box out of the bag, he leaned over the spruce and
secreted the package behind all the others. The tree shuddered and
sent baubles tinkling. One ORNAMENT tumbled from the branches and
only his quick reflexes kept the fragile orb from smashing on the
floor.

Gently, he set the trinket back on the tree. He took a moment to
admire his handiwork then went to find his wife.

A little later in the afternoon, he and the boys piled into the
Wagoneer and went to pick up Aunt Lillian at the train station. He
loved the train station. A long ago trip there changed his life, and
he would be forever grateful to twenty-five men in red hats.

He pulled into the first available parking space and the trio when in
hunt of their charge.

"I can see her luggage!" Phillip pointed out as they walked among
departing passengers.

"Really, which?" Lee inquired.

"The purple paisley bags, two of 'em!" Phillip squealed, ending in a
giggle.

Sure enough, he saw Aunt Lillian stooping to pick up the bags. Lee
and the boys had arrived just in time. They rushed over to greet her.

"How about we take those for you, Aunt Lillian?" Lee asked her.

"Oh, Lee! I am so glad to see you all again!" Lillian exclaimed
enveloping them in a cloud of cloying perfume as she hugged them one
by one.

He gallantly offered his arm, held his breath, and escorted Lillian
to the waiting Jeep. Philip and Jamie, each toting a suitcase,
trailed behind them, well out of range of the odorous cloud.

They all piled into the Jeep for the drive home. The boys opened both
windows in the back, and even though he was freezing, Lee refused to
ask them to shut them. They needed the fresh air to counteract
Lillian's perfume.

Once back home, Lillian went to the guest room to settle in and
unpack. Dotty rushed upstairs to help. The sisters secreted
themselves in the bedroom until Amanda called them down to dinner.

He looked forward to this meal with his family since Thanksgiving.
Secretly, he had been happy when Joe announced on Thanksgiving he
would be going back to Africa and would not be back for at least six
months, maybe longer. He suspected he was the only one pleased to
hear that, and hid his glee from the other guests. He could never
hide anything from his wife, so he did not even try.

A part of him felt bad for Amanda. He knew how much Christmas meant
to her, and for her sons not to see their father for the holiday
upset her greatly. Nevertheless, for him, spending Christmas with his
family, not having to share them, meant more than he could say.

Amanda placed the golden-brown goose in front of him. He could swear
he heard the table groan under the weight of all the food she and
Dotty prepared for dinner.
He took the carving knife and began to slice into the succulent bird.
A chorus of oohs and aahs rang around the table. He passed the
platter around the table, and took the next one handed to him,
serving himself from each dish, until his plate overflowed.

Good food, good conversation and plenty of laughter made this the
best holiday he had ever spent. He had eaten too much food, and
groaned slightly as he stood up from the table. Since the women did a
fantastic job on cooking, Lee volunteered the men of the family to
clean up.

As soon as the last dish made its way into the dishwasher and the
last plate of leftovers stored in the fridge, Phillip and Jamie
shanghaied Dotty and Lillian for traditional Christmas Eve trip to
the movies.

He and Amanda declined the invitation to join them, opting instead to
tour the neighborhood decorations on the way back to his apartment.

~~~~SMK~~~~

He poured two glasses of eggnog, topping each with some freshly
ground nutmeg, set them on the tray next to the pitcher and carried
the tray out into the living room.

Amanda had started a fire in the fireplace and waited for him on the
couch, a pile of unopened presents next to her. Once he set the tray
on the coffee table, he turned on the stereo and the smooth, mellow
voice of Johnny Mathis crooning about a Marshmallow World filled the
room.

He dimmed the lights and lit some candles before snuggling up next to
his wife. She took the glass of eggnog from him, gently tapping it
against his. "Merry Christmas, sweetheart."

"Merry Christmas," he returned. They each sipped the potent potable
sealing their wish. He took the glass from her hand, set them both on
the coffee table and took her in his arms.

She wiggled closer, draping her legs across his lap. He kissed her,
softly at first, one kiss after another until he needed more intimate
contact.

Her hand rested against his cheek, gently caressing him. He tugged
her closer until she sat on his lap. Her fingers tangled in his hair,
massaging his scalp.

He buried his hand in her hair, tilting her head just a bit and
kissed her, sliding his lips across hers, lightly at first then with
ever-increasing pressure. He glided his tongue across her lips and
she eagerly opened for him. He took her up on her offer and delved
inside her warm, sweet mouth, deepening the kiss.

Her soft purr of pleasure reached his ears and he lay her down on the
couch, stretching his body on top of hers. His big, clodhopper feet
knocked over the stack of presents. The resulting crash had her
pulling away and sitting up, forcing him to back to his own side of
the couch.

The romantic mood broken, he sighed, "I guess we should see what
Santa brought."

"Okay." She reached into the pile and pulled out a box wrapped in red
paper with white snowflakes and dancing Santas. "Here, open this one
first."

He tore open the package, tossing the paper over his shoulder,
revealing a set of his favorite aftershave and cologne. "Thank you. I
needed this." He leaned over and gave her a quick peck.

Sitting back, he handed her the box decorated with the glitter bow.
She giggled like a schoolgirl and accepted his offering. Plucking off
the bow, she stuck it on his shirt, directly over his heart. Piece by
piece, she carefully peeled the tape of the paper, and then smoothed
it out before placing it on the coffee table.

"Come on, already open it." The suspense was killing him and he knew
what the box contained. He wanted to see her face when she exposed
his gift.

She lifted the lid and placed it under the bottom of the box, setting
them one inside the other. The tissue paper rustled as she moved it
aside. "Oh my gosh!" Her eye lit up, twinkling like two stars, a huge
smile split her face. She stood, lifted the burgundy, velvet gown out
of the box and held it up against her. "It's absolutely gorgeous."

"You're gorgeous." He took her hand and tugged her back to the
couch. "That comes with an invitation to the White House New Year's
Eve party. So, will you go with me? Make me the envy of every man
there."

She squealed and threw herself into his arms, squashing his bow. "Of
course I'll go with you." She kissed him thoroughly. Her reaction to
his surprise eclipsed his expectations.

Back and forth they went, each opening a gift. She had given him new
cufflinks in the shape of a train. In honor of their first meeting.

He handed her the box with the candy cane garnish to open. His
traditional gift nestled inside. No ordinary present, he had bought
her a cashmere scarf in pink and reds to accent the black wool coat
he had secreted in a box under the tree on Maplewood Drive.

He opened an eel skin wallet, she a bottle of his favorite perfume.
She blushed when she opened the box from Rebecca's Fantasy. He hoped
she would model the sexy red lace negligee for him. He could not
decide on this one or a black lace TEDDY. The wide ribbons on the red
one made the decision for him. Amanda hated to have the scar on her
chest exposed. It did not matter that her scar would be the last
thing on his mind when she modeled this outfit for him.

She had also presented him with a hand tooled leather belt, a snowy-
white tuxedo shirt, a very good bottle of white wine, a book on
strategies of the Civil War battles, and silver shirt studs. A
chuckle escaped when he opened a small box that held three pair of
holiday BOXERS.

He would wear the black ones with the jingle bells on them tomorrow.
With any luck they would not ring when he walked, he would have to
pay attention to that when he dressed, no sense embarrassing himself
in front of the whole family.

She gushed over every box she opened, a pair of red gloves, and a
wallet, new slippers she could keep in the apartment, and diamond
heart earrings that matched her pendant.

Once she opened the last box, he scooped up all the paper into a ball
and tossed it into the fire. He refilled the glasses with eggnog and
wrapped his arms around his wife snuggling on the couch to watch the
paper burn.

He placed a soft kiss on her temple. "I loved everything you gave me.
You did not have to buy so much. You are present enough for me."

"I love you, Lee."

"I love you, too."

"Show me."

He did not need another invitation. Immediately, he stood, took her
hand in his and led her to the bedroom, closing the door behind them.

End.

Author's Note- Here are the links to the cufflinks, and shirt studs.
Also for Marshmallow World, this happens to be one of my favorite
songs.

http://www.cuff-daddy.com/polished-button-style-silver-cufflinks-
studs.html

http://www.cuff-daddy.com/unique-freight-train-cufflinks-in-chrome-
silver-finish.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yueQR28Eoto
Lee's Reading—a season seven extra by Friday Challenge
December 27, 1989. A small Georgetown restaurant.

"A-man-da! I don't know about this…" Lee was uncomfortable as they
finished their lunch.

"Do you want a CHOCOLATE cookie?" She offered her husband the plate
of assorted COOKIES they had ordered for dessert.

"Yeah, thanks." He took a cookie and ate it.

"Hello, Amanda! Lee." The young colorfully dressed tarot reader sat
at their table and laid her cards down in front of her.

"Hello, Annie." Amanda greeted her contact warmly and offered her the
plate of cookies.

"Thanks." Annie took one, ate it and then turned to Lee. "Are you
ready for your reading today?"

"Y'know, that's more Amanda's thing…"

"Go on, Lee." His amused wife urged. "You never know—maybe she'll
give you some much needed insight."

Both women were smiling at him expectantly. He knew when he was
outnumbered. He could put it down to humoring his pregnant wife. "OK,
whatever." His tone was not enthusiastic.

Annie pulled her tarot deck from the bag she stored it in. "Here—
shuffle and think of a question. Stop when you feel its right."

Lee rolled his eyes but dutifully shuffled the cards. All he could
think about was why they were there. Annie had left a message for
Amanda that she had some information.

Eventually he stopped shuffling and at Annie's direction he cut the
cards into three piles, using his left hand.

"Which do you like best?" The reader asked.

He pointed to the middle pile feeling distinctly foolish. Then the
right pile.

Annie collected the cards and dealt five cards in a row face
down. "Don't worry. It isn't the end of the world." She reassured
him. Lee remained stoically silent.

The first, left-most card was of a woman standing in a marsh, bound
and blindfolded with eight swords stuck into the ground around her.

"You were in a situation where you felt crowded—restricted—not enough
room to move."

Lee's mind was a blank. He couldn't think of anything that matched
that description.

The second card was of a tower struck by lightning. It said "The
Tower" at the bottom.

"Then something totally unexpected happened—some sort of disaster—
possibly a fire or some other sort of destruction?"

The fire! The garage! But Lee hadn't been thinking about his home
situation…

The third card showed a man at a workbench carving a pentacle. Seven
other pentacles were around him.

"And now there is work—construction—something new is being created."

How did she do it? Could she have stacked the deck? He hadn't seen
her do anything suspicious—he'd done all the shuffling and cutting of
the cards.

The fourth card was of a woman sitting up in bed, holding her head in
her hands. Nine swords floated in the blackness above her.

"This indicates some distress—something's gonna happen that causes
someone—a woman I think—a great deal of upset and distress. She'll
come to you for help."

Lee immediately exchanged a look with his pregnant wife—was she going
to be OK? So far the pregnancy had gone well—but things could always
happen…

"It isn't Amanda. It's some other woman close to you." Annie assuaged
his fears for their unborn child.

Lee thought furiously—Francine? Who else could it be?

The last card showed a man dancing and juggling two pentacles—he
looked distinctly off-balance.

"Someone's gonna come to help—but there will be a bit of double-
dealing—someone's going to try to pull a fast one on you."

"What! That's impossible…" Lee was indignant.

Annie looked Lee in the eye—she seemed to be thinking. Then she
fanned out the deck and offered it to him. "Why don't you pull
another card? Let's see if there's more to this."

Lee looked dubiously at the deck—then carefully pulled out one card.
Annie took it and laid it face down.

Amanda placed her hand over the card before Annie could turn it
over. "Annie. Why don't you tell us why you called us here."

Annie sat back and shuffled the remainder of the deck as she talked
to Amanda and Lee.

"I did a party at the house of a British diplomat last night—Boxing
Day. Though I didn't see any BOXERS there at all."

"It's a British holiday—Boxing Day—the day after Christmas." Lee
filled her in.

"Oh. Well, the place was nicely decorated. They had a huge tree with
ORNAMENTS, GLITTER, MISTLETOE. And CANDLES everywhere. There was this
display with a TEDDY bear sitting in a SLEIGH all dressed up like
Santa, driving through the SNOW. He had a CANDY CANE in his paw. It
was really cute."

At Lee's impatient glance, Amanda quickly spoke up. "It sounds very
nice. Did something happen at the party?"

"Oh yeah. I was sitting in a corner doing my readings—people would
come and go. During one of the quiet times I heard two men talking.
One of them musta had a bit too much RUM PUNCH—he sounded a bit
sloshed. He's a Senatorial staffer—an aide for one of the senators on
the Senate Select Intelligence Committee. He was talking with a
Russian—at least he sounded Russian anyhow."

Amanda nodded. "Go on."

"The Russian was threatening the aide. I think it was BLACKMAIL. The
aide was supposed to photograph some documents the senator was going
to get. He didn't want to but the Russian said he'd kidnap the aide's
mother and take her for a RIDE and then tie her to a POLE and stick
hot NEEDLES under her fingernails. The aide finally agreed to do it
and the Russian handed him a small package. Then the Russian left. I
watched the aide UNWRAP it. It was a really small camera." She looked
distressed. "That's all they talked about. The aide left after that."

"That's very good, Annie. Do you know the name of the aide?" Amanda
asked.

"He mentioned boring—bow rim? Something like that."

"That would probably be Senator David Boren—the head of the
Committee." Lee offered.

"Yeah—Boren—that could have been what he said." Annie agreed.

"What did the aide look like?" Amanda tried to get more information
out of the young woman.

"He was young—sort of Page of Wands."

"Page of Wands?" Amanda was lost.

Annie nodded. "Blonde, tall, somewhat earnest but not too bright. He
had a big Adam's apple."

"We can check the staff of Senator Boren. I bet we'll find your young
man soon enough." Lee affirmed.

"Thank you for coming to us with this information. We appreciate your
help, Annie." Amanda smiled warmly at her new family member.

The reader shrugged. "You asked me to help—and like I said—I hear
stuff from time to time. I just feel sorry for this guy—he's in way
over his head and he's scared."

"We'll find him and make sure it turns out all right." Amanda assured
her.

"That Russian was a real BAH HUMBUG guy. And you're the ELVES who are
going to make it all right. So let's look at this last card, OK?"

"Whatever." Lee replied—though he was intrigued to see that last card
in spite of himself.

The extra card showed a seated man clutching a pentacle tightly in
his arms. Two more were under his feet, and another was over his
head. He looked smug and self-satisfied.

"The four of pentacles. Looks like the scam won't work. You'll be
able to hold on to what's yours—and maybe make a little extra on the
deal. You sure don't like to be beaten or swindled. Just don't get
too physical with the guy, OK?" Annie chided Lee.

Amanda repressed a smirk. That sounded like an angry Lee for sure.

"Thank you, Annie. That's a very interesting reading." She handed the
reader her fee, and they left the restaurant.

In the car Lee asked his wife something that had been bothering
him. "Have you had her checked out yet?"

"Oh yeah—first thing. She's clean as a whistle."

"But what about those cards—what's up with that?"

"What do you mean?" Amanda asked innocently—even though she knew what
Lee was trying to communicate.

"Did you tell her about the garage fire?"

"No Lee. This is the first I've seen her since the Henderson case.
She called and left a message with the switchboard, and I arranged
we'd come to see her at lunch. We didn't talk about anything else."

Lee was silent for a while. Then he changed the subject. "We'll visit
Senator Boren's office, and bring some fake documents for his aide to
photograph. That way the aide won't know anything and the Russian
will get something, and maybe we can spread a little false intel to
keep the Russians busy chasing a wild goose."

"That sounds like a plan. And we can keep an eye on the aide, too.
Make sure he and his mother are safe."

"Yeah sure. That too." He looked over at his wife. "You always think
of others, and want to make sure they're safe, don't you?"

She shrugged. "Isn't that why we do what we do? To keep the rest of
the world safe from the bad guys?"

"Yes it is." He took her hand and kissed it. "Let's go do our bit for
mom, apple pie and the American way."

"Then we can go home. Mother made EGG NOG."

End
A Wonderful Christmastime - Jennifer C by Friday Challenge
Author's Notes:
*the usual disclaimers apply— a belated Christmas story for New Year's
Eve, just hope it's not a total mish-mosh—thanks to everyone who
answered my strange questions and to Anne and Ermintrude for their
help with this. References made to `One Flew East' and `Forgive Us
Our Trespasses' written by Two Ladies By the Shore. *
A Wonderful Christmastime

345 Cunningham Ave.
Los Angeles, CA.

7:00 AM

"Have everything you need?" Sandra asked.

Jamie wrapped his arms around Sandra, pulling her body close to his.
"Pretty much," he said. "There's just one more thing I'd like to take
along with me."

Sandra sighed. "Jamie, we've been over this—"

"My dad's out of town for Christmas with Carrie's family— but you'd
love to meet my mother—and I know she'd love you. My stepdad's great too—"

"Right—and your brother?"

"Well, Phillip's okay when he's not being a dork—and there's my little
sister Jenna, my Grandma and her husband."

"Quite a family."

"They really are. So what do you say? You and Caitlin could be packed
and ready in twenty minutes."

"I think you know the problem with that," Sandra said. As if on cue,
a door slammed upstairs.

"Caitlin," Sandra raised her voice slightly. "Why don't you come down
here and say goodbye? Jamie's just about to leave."

"I don't want to say goodbye to Mr. King," Caitlin called. "I don't
like him and I'm not going to."

`I don't like the guy. I'm never going to like the guy.' In his head
Jamie could hear his own voice saying those words about Lee so long
ago. He winced.

Sandra closed her eyes, pressing her hand against her forehead. "I
swear, that girl.—"

"Sandra, it's okay, really," Jamie said. "We'll just give Caitlin some
space and everything will be fine."

Sandra smiled. "I love you, Mr. King."

"Love you too."

Sandra's lips met his in a brief but passionate kiss. "Call me when
you get there, okay?"

"Count on it," Jamie said.

Sears—Ballston Common Mall

11:30 AM

"This is the new Kenmore Ultra Wash 665, sir." The young salesgirl,
who was named Lindsay and dressed as one of Santa's ELVES, pointed to
the machine. "It has a top consumer rating and plus it's
ultra-quiet."

"Ultra-quiet and ultra wash, huh?" Lee said. Lindsay said nothing,
just stared blankly at him with her heavily-made-up blue eyes. `Jingle
Bells' played in the background, reminding everyone of how much fun it
was to ride in a one-horse open SLEIGH. Lee, who had been to three
appliance stores in the last hour, had a sudden urge to shout `BAH
HUMBUG!' at everyone.

Back in the old days it had been so much easier just to buy everyone a
scarf. He ran a hand back through his hair, drew in a deep breath and
blew it out in a giant whoosh.

"At the moment it's the best model we have," Lindsay replied,
parroting phrases learned at some sales seminar and completely
oblivious to how Lee was feeling at the moment. "Kenmore's a very
reliable brand-name."

"How much is it?" Lee asked.

"Well it's already a bargain at only $649—but I'm sure that we could
work out an in-store discount—like maybe ten percent or a reasonable
payment plan."

Lee hesitated. They really did need a dishwasher—despite Amanda's
jiggling of the blue wire the old one was over twenty years old and
beginning to fall apart. But then his mind went back to Tiffany's and
the open-heart diamond pendant he'd found there. He pictured Amanda's
face and how she would smile when she went to UNWRAP it on Christmas
morning—the way the diamonds would glitter against her skin when he
placed it around her neck—

Was it possible to afford both? Lee wasn't sure.

Yep, scarves had definitely been easier.

"Sir?" The salesgirl's voice broke into Lee's reverie. "What do you
think?"

"I—ah—I'll have to think about it," Lee told her.

SMK SMK SMK SMK

4247 Maplewood Dr.

12:00 PM

"I really don't think that Captain Curt would do that to you, Mother."
Amanda balanced the cordless between her neck and shoulder as she
scraped the food from the plates.

"To be honest I'm not sure either," Dotty sniffed. "I mean, I have a
feeling, but sometimes feelings can be wrong. They tell you on all
those talk shows to trust your instincts, but I've seen so many women
on those shows be completely wrong. How would you really know?"

"What makes you think that Captain Curt is cheating on you?"

"Well he's been very secretive lately. He's sneaking out at all
hours—making strange phone calls—and yesterday he left his cell phone
here and a strange woman called asking for him. I told her that I
could take a message, but she hung up on me. I asked Curt about it, of
course."

"What did he say?"

"He said there was a rational explanation, but that he couldn't tell
me what it was."

"There probably is," Amanda said. "Maybe he's planning a special
Christmas surprise for you."

"I certainly hope that's all it is, Amanda—personally I have a bad
feeling about this."

"Mom?" Jenna appeared at the entrance to the kitchen. "Can I ask you
something? It's kind of important."

Amanda put her finger on her lips, signaling for Jenna to wait. "I'll
have to call you right back, Mother—Jenna needs to talk to me about
something."

"All right—we'll talk later." Dotty said. "I love you."

"Love you too, Mother," Amanda said. "And don't worry—I'm sure that
everything with Captain Curt will work out just fine. Goodbye." She
hung up the phone and turned to Jenna.

"Are Grandma and Captain Curt okay?" Jenna asked.

"They're fine," Amanda said. "What did you want to talk to me about?"

"Well there's this party tomorrow night—it's at Michelle Mardis' house
and a lot of people are coming— Lisa and a lot of my friends are going
too—we've all been invited. Can I go?"

Amanda sighed as she stacked the plates in the dishwasher. "Jenna,
exactly how long have you known about this?"

Jenna stared down at her feet. "I got the invitation about a week and
a half ago."

"Then how come I'm only hearing about it now?"

"I was putting off telling you because I wasn't sure what you'd say."

Amanda put detergent into the dishwasher and closed the machine,
starting the cycle. "Sweetheart, you've been to parties before—what's
so different about this one that you're telling me at the last minute?"

"It's not exactly the last minute," Jenna said. Amanda gave her
daughter a look and Jenna sighed. "Well the different thing about this
party is that boys are invited too."

"Sweetheart—"

"But it's going to be chaperoned by Michelle's parents—they'll be
there the whole time."

"Okay," Amanda said. "Do you have anything to wear?"

"That dress I wore for the school play—the one with the GLITTER
designs on the bottom, you know—that would look nice. So—can I go?"

"You know the answer, Jenna—your father and I will have to discuss it
and make a decision together."

"I was worried you were going to say that," Jenna said. "Mom, he'll
never say yes."

"You don't know that."

"Maybe if you don't tell him about the guys—"

"No," Amanda shook her head. "We are not going to lie to your father.
I'll discuss it with him later and we'll make a decision then. All right?"

Jenna's voice was low. "All right. Um—Mom—the floor—"

"Oh my gosh," Amanda watched as soapy water poured from the bottom of
the dishwasher. "Jenna, go upstairs and get some towels." At that
moment the doorbell rang. "No, I'll go get some towels and you answer
the door—it's probably either Phillip or Jamie."

SMK SMK SMK SMK

"Jamie!" Jenna gave her brother a hug. "How was the flight?"

"Not bad." Jamie returned the hug and then held her at arms length as
he looked at her. "How are you doing?"

"I'm okay."

"Are you sure?"

"Why?"

"Mom didn't give me any details," Jamie said. "But I kind of got the
impression that you had a rough time this summer."

Jenna hesitated, her face flushing slightly. "Well there were some bad
things, but I did get to go on vacation to London and see Emily—that
was fun." Her gaze fell on the paper bags in his arms. "What's in
those?"

"Just some stuff I picked up at the grocery store," Jamie said. "Some
EGG NOG, COOKIES, CHOCOLATE and stuff for that RUM PUNCH that Grandma
likes—most of this needs to be refrigerated."

"Okay," Jenna said. "Just be careful about the water on the floor when
you go in the kitchen—don't slip."

"Jenna, why is there water on the floor?" Jamie asked.

SMK SMK SMK SMK

7:30 PM

"I'm sorry the dishwasher overflowed," Lee said.

"It's okay." Amanda put the dinner dishes in the sink, filling the
sink with water and suds. "I mean it's over twenty years old—I was
just so used to jiggling that blue wire that I guess I thought it
would keep working forever.

"I understand," Lee said. "Amanda—can I ask you a strange question?"

Amanda nodded. "Sure."

"If you had the choice of getting a present you wanted or a present
you needed, which would you pick?"

Amanda was silent for a moment. "I don't know," she said finally. "I
would hope that maybe they'd be the same thing, but either wouldn't be
bad. Does that help?"

"A little," Lee said. "Did you manage to get a hold of Phillip?"

"Yes I did," Amanda said. "He won't be coming until tomorrow—he told
me that his flight had been cancelled because of all the SNOW in
Norfolk but that he was hoping to catch a flight to Dulles early
tomorrow morning. If that doesn't go through he'll just drive."

"Sounds good," Lee said. "Hey, is Jenna all right? She hardly said a
word during dinner."

"Well that's what we need to talk about," Amanda said.

"About what?" Lee began to get an uneasy feeling in the pit of his
stomach. "What's going on?"

"Jenna was invited to a party tomorrow night—over at Michelle's
house—you remember Michelle."

"Sort of." Lee had a vague memory of the group of giggly girls that
had made up Jenna's thirteenth birthday slumber party—he was pretty
sure that one of them had been named Michelle. "What about the party?"

Amanda rinsed and scrubbed the dishes one by one, putting them in the
drainer. "It's going to be supervised by Michelle's parents," she
said. "It starts at six and is supposed to end by ten o'clock."

"Amanda, there's something you're not telling me. What is it?"

"This party doesn't just include other girls, Lee—boys were invited
too."

"Boys?" Lee shook his head. "No way—she's too young for that."

"She's thirteen—in another month she'll be fourteen." Amanda countered.

"It's still too young. We agreed—no dating until she was sixteen."

"We let her go out with Geoff and his friends in London, remember?"

"That was different."

"In what way is it different? And anyway, a party isn't dating.
Personally I don't see a problem—I trust Jenna –I'm sure she'll be
just fine."

"I trust Jenna too," Lee said. "It's the boys I don't trust. I used to
be a boy that age, Amanda—I know what's on their minds."

"Urges." Amanda said. "Lee you've told me this before."

"Because it's true—I don't want Jenna around that."

Amanda finished the last of the dishes and turned around to face him.
"What if you could be there too? To supervise?"

Lee stared at his wife. "Be there? How do you mean?"

SMK SMK SMK SMK

8:00 PM

"Mom you didn't." Jenna's eyes were wide with horror. "Please say you
didn't."

"I did." Amanda said. "Mrs. Mardis said she was looking for chaperones
and I volunteered your father."

"But that's –Mom, isn't there some way that you could chaperone
instead?"

"I can't, sweetheart," Amanda said. "I've got a lot of errands to run
tomorrow, plus the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners. You and
your dad will have a good time, trust me."

"There has to be some other way—" Jenna said. "Maybe dad could run the
errands instead and you could—"

"Munchkin, that's enough," Dad said. "This was the compromise we came
up with. Now do you want to go to the dance or not?"

Jenna's eyes brimmed with tears. "No one else's dad will be there, I
bet. You're treating me like a kid."

"Only because you're acting like one," Lee said. "Now do you want to
go or not?"

"Sweetheart—" Amanda started to say but Jenna didn't reply. Instead
she whirled around. Her feet could be heard as they pounded up the
stairs—the entire house shook as she slammed her bedroom door.

SMK SMK SMK SMK

Monday, December 23, 2002

2:30 AM

"Couldn't sleep?" Lee asked Jamie as he walked into the kitchen.

"It's not that," Jamie took another sip of his coffee as he sifted
through the pile of photographs. "I'm just burning the midnight
oil—have a deadline the week after Christmas."

"I understand," Lee said.

"What about you?" Jamie asked. "I heard you and Jenna arguing
earlier—you can't sleep?"

Lee sighed. "No, I guess not."

"Does Jenna always go to sleep with the lights on?"

Lee ran a hand through his hair as he sat down at the kitchen table.
"Well she had a pretty rough time this summer."

"That's what Mom told me too—but she didn't really give many details.
Neither did Jenna."

"Let's just say that Jenna found out what your mom and I really do for
a living—it landed her into some pretty hot water."

"How so?" Jamie asked.

"Someone broke into the house and kidnapped her again—kidnapped all of
us."

"Oh my God," Jamie said softly.

"Yeah, " Lee said.

"I remember when I found out—back when Mom was pregnant with
Jenna—things got bad, but not that bad. How is she coping?"

"She was in pretty bad shape right after—flashbacks and nightmares—it
was one of the reasons we took that vacation—to help her heal."

"And is Jenna? Healing, I mean?"

Lee nodded. "I think so— she's not completely there yet—we still have
issues—but I think she'll get there."

"Good to hear." Jamie said.

"So why didn't Sandra come down with you?" Lee asked. "From the way
your mother talks about her you two are practically engaged."

"We are," Jamie said. "It's just—she has a daughter—her name's Caitlin
and she's nine years old."

Part of Lee wondered where the time had gone—when had Jamie become old
enough to date a woman with a child? "That sounds okay," he said.

"It's not okay," Jamie said. "Caitlin can't stand me— she thinks that
I'm trying to take her father's place. I try to talk to her, but—"

"She shuts you out, right?" Lee finished the sentence and Jamie nodded.

"I don't know what else to do. If she was a boy it might be easier,
but girls—I mean, how do you deal with girls?"

"I'm not exactly the expert," Lee said. "My own daughter's not very
happy with me right now."

"You've always been a little overprotective of Jenna."

"Well there are times when she's given me good reason to be." Lee
sighed. "I know that Jenna probably thinks I'm being mean right now,
but I'm just—I'm having trouble getting used to the idea of her being
a teenager, being interested in boys and dating—I remember the things
I got into and how I was at that age and I just want to protect her
from some of that."

"Believe me Lee, I understand." Jamie paused. "Do you think you ever
will get used to the idea of Jenna being a teenager?"

"Maybe— when she's about thirty," Lee said. "But seriously— the only
advice I can give you about Caitlin is to be patient—take an interest
in her life, listen to her, talk to her from your heart—and
eventually she'll come around."

Jamie fell silent for a moment. "Is that what you did with me?"

Lee nodded. "Pretty much, sport—and look how you turned out. Give her
time."

Jamie smiled. "Thanks, Lee."

SMK SMK SMK SMK

3:45 PM

"Finally made it," Phillip said as Lee opened the door, dropping his
bag in the entryway. "Ended up having to drive here, though—all the
flights were either delayed or cancelled. Where's Mom?"

"Upstairs with Dotty—helping Jenna to get ready for her party. Where's
the wormbrain?"

"Phillip, don't—"

Phillip grinned. "Sorry Lee—couldn't resist."

"I'm in here, dorkbreath," Jamie came in from the kitchen. "What took
you so long—did you get lost or were you just delayed by one of your
many girlfriends?"

"Hey, I'm not the one who came all the way from Lala land."

Now was the time, Lee thought—there wouldn't be another chance.
"Guys," Lee said. Phillip and Jamie both turned to look at him. "I
think we need to have a talk."

"Sure," Phillip said. "What about?"

"Your mother's Christmas present."

SMK SMK SMK SMK

5:30 PM

"Munchkin, your Mom asked me to see if you're ready." Lee said.

Jenna turned around. For a moment Lee couldn't speak—he just stood
there looking at his daughter.

"Jenna," he said finally. "You look—"

Jenna's face fell. "I knew it—it's awful, isn't it—I look
horrible—the make-up's all wrong and I told Mom I didn't want my hair
up like this—" she started to reach her hands up but Lee stopped her,
taking her hands in his.

"What I was going to say is you look wonderful."

Jenna smiled. "Really?"

"Really," Lee said. "Can we sit down and talk—just for a minute?"
Jenna nodded and they sat down on the edge of her bed.

Talk from the heart, that's what he'd told Jamie. Lee took a deep
breath. "I know you're not very happy about me being a chaperone."

"Dad, it's not like that—" Jenna began but Lee held up his hand.

"It's okay, I understand. I mean you're getting older now—the last
thing you want is your parents hovering around you all the time." Lee
took a deep breath. "It's certainly the last thing I wanted when I was
your age. The thing is that I made a lot of mistakes back then, when I
was a teenager and a young man—I'd like to keep you from going down
the same path."

Jenna nodded. "I understand."

"I also want to keep you from being hurt by anyone," Dad said. "So if
I seem a little overprotective, that's the reason."

"Because you love me," Jenna said. "I love you too, Dad—but you can't
protect me from everything, and you can't protect me from
mistakes—anyway, my teacher says that stupid mistakes are how
teenagers learn."

"I know all that— but it doesn't stop me from wanting to protect you."

Jenna didn't reply, staring down at her hands. Lee took a deep breath.

"So, how do you want to play this tonight? You want me to pretend I
don't know you or something?"

Jenna grinned. "That would be silly," she said. "Just give me some
space—if a boy asks me to dance don't go all crazy."

"We're talking about regular dancing, right? Not any weird kind of
dancing."

"Dad, it's just regular dancing," Jenna said. "Maybe some slow
dancing."

Slow dancing. Lee could feel sweat beading on his forehead. "Exactly
how many boys are we talking about here?"

"Not very many," Jenna said. "But I don't know. Lisa said there were
a couple of guys she wanted me to meet, so—dad are you okay?"

"Fine," Lee said. "Really. I'll be okay. We—um—we should probably get
going before we're late."

They stood up. Jenna grabbed her clutch purse and Lee wrapped the
shawl around her shoulders. He held out his arm.

"Ready?' he asked her.

Jenna smiled, taking his arm. "I'm ready. I love you, Dad."

"I love you too, munchkin."

Wednesday, December 25, 2002

9:30 AM

Christmas morning. Amanda stood in the middle of her bedroom with the
door closed. Usually they would be having breakfast in the kitchen
right about now, and getting ready to open their presents. Instead,
her husband had pushed her in here, telling her to stay put and wait.
When Amanda had asked him what she was waiting for, he'd just winked
and smiled.

"It's need to know," he'd said. "Don't worry about it."

From downstairs she heard a thud.

"Jamie, don't bang it into the wall," Jenna said. "You'll dent it."

"I'm not trying to," Jamie said. "It's Phillip that's not holding up
his end."

"Very funny, wormbrain." Phillip told him.

"Jenna let me take that end, okay?" Lee's voice. "I'm a lot stronger
than you—just stand to the side."

"Yeah munchkin," Phillip said. "Let the men handle this."

Jenna's voice rose. "That's not fair!"

Another thud. Just what was going on? Amanda was about ready to march
downstairs and find out when the phone rang. Amanda picked up the
cordless. "Hello?"

"A new car!"

Amanda held the phone away from her ear slightly. "Mother, what are
you talking about?"

"That's what Curt was planning—that's what all the sneaking around was
about, and the woman on the phone was the saleslady." Amanda tried
to keep up with her mother's rapid-fire speech. "Oh dear— and I
practically accused her of being the other woman, I hope she
understands."

"I'm sure she does," Amanda said, hearing the sound of footsteps on
the stairs.

"Call it woman's intuition—I just had the feeling that something was
going on behind my back. I'm glad to know that it was something good."

"Yes, Mother, I know the feeling." Amanda saw Lee's face appear
around the corner. She opened her mouth to say something but her
husband shook his head, putting a finger over his lips and motioning
to her.

"I—um—I need to let you go—someone wants me for something."

"All right, darling," Dotty said. "It's just so wonderful—I'm going
out to drive it right now and we'll be over with presents later,
Amanda—Merry Christmas!"

"Merry Christmas to you too, Mother." Amanda said.

SMK SMK SMK SMK

"Right this way, Mrs. Stetson," Lee murmured into his wife's ear.

"Lee I still think that blindfolding me is ridiculous," Amanda said.
"If I trip over something—"

"You're not going to trip over anything, not while I'm holding you,"
Lee said. "Don't you trust me?"

"Yes, up to a point, Stetson." Amanda said.

"Good—now just turn right this way—" Amanda could hear Jenna giggling
in the background. "We're almost there."

"Almost where? You've turned me around so many times I don't know
where we are."

"That was the whole idea. Now look." Lee removed her blindfold.

Amanda looked. The dishwasher sat in the middle of the kitchen floor,
a giant red bow resting on the top.

"Lee, it's—" For a moment Amanda was at a loss for words. She felt a
smile spreading over her face."This is just what I needed."

"Someone is coming tomorrow to install it for us," Lee said. "I just
thought you'd like to see how it looked in the kitchen."

"Well it looks great." Amanda said.

"Why don't you open it?" Lee asked her.

Amanda looked at her husband. "There's more?"

His dimples deepened as he smiled. "Open it and find out—go on."

Amanda opened the dishwasher, looking inside. "Lee, I don't —" Then
she saw the pale blue box with the ribbon tied around it.

"Oh my gosh." With trembling fingers Amanda took the box and slowly
opened it, looking at the open heart pendant—the diamonds shining
against the gray velvet background.

"It's beautiful," she said. "But Lee—how did you afford—"

"It's from all of us, Mom," Phillip said. "We all chipped in, even
Jenna contributed a little bit."

"Thank you," Amanda said. "All of you."

"Here, let me." Lee took the pendant from the box and placed it around
her neck. "Merry Christmas, Mrs. Stetson." He bent down, his lips
gently brushing hers. "I love you."

"I love you too, Mr. Stetson."

The End
Operation: North Pole - Cheryl by Friday Challenge
Operation: North Pole


Friday, November 10, 1989

“Okay, people. I’ve called this meeting to let you know it’s the Agency’s turn to organize and perform in the annual Christmas Charity Extravaganza.”

Billy heard a lot of groans from the attendees. They were a bunch of scrooges. Lee wouldn’t even look up from the table. He just stared at his hands. Well, this year he’d make sure everyone participated, including Mr. Scrooge himself.

“For those who were hired after the last benefit, let me tell you about the Christmas Charity Extravaganza. Several years ago, some agents with the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, and the Agency came up with an idea to help collect money for two very worthwhile charities. The first is Birchwood, which is the retirement home for many governmental employees. The other is the fund for spouses and children of those lost in the line of duty.”

Billy noticed a raised hand. “If you’ll wait a few minutes, I’ll open the floor for your questions. I have a few other things I need to tell you. As always, the general public will be allowed to attend the event. The more money we can raise for both causes, the better. I’d also like to tell you that this year the Agency, in the guise of its alter ego, IFF, will film the event for a documentary on charities. Only agents in full costume will be filmed so that their covers will not be compromised. Now, any questions?”

Several hands raised, and Billy pointed to Agent Baker.

“Can my husband participate?”

“Yes, all family members who would like to join in helping us make this year the largest grossing event ever will be more than welcome. Next question.”

“What kinds of jobs would we be doing?”

A girl from the steno pool, who’d been hired recently, had asked the question. Now what was her name . . . It finally came to him. Jan.

“If you want to dress up and be one of the actors, that’s fine, Jan. Or if you’d rather be behind the scenes in another capacity, you can do that also. There will be a lot of things that need to be accomplished--from helping with set decorations to sewing costumes. Next.” Billy pointed to a woman in the back row.

“When will the Christmas Charity Extravaganza be held?”

“Friday, December fifteenth through Sunday, December seventeenth. Thank you, Monica, I should’ve stated that at the beginning of the meeting.”

Billy couldn’t wait to see one particular agent’s face when he made the next announcement. “Now I’d like to introduce the agent in charge of what we’re calling ‘Operation: North POLE.’ Amanda Stetson.”

The room filled with the roar of clapping. Billy watched Lee’s face as Amanda rose from her seat to come to the front of the room. His expressions ran the gambit, from surprise to shock. Like every other year, he’d found one way or another to get out of participating. Billy silently chuckled. Scarecrow would be on the front lines this Christmas, so to speak.

Amanda placed several clipboards on the table in front of the podium. “Thank you, sir. With everyone’s help, we’re going to make this year’s benefit the most successful charity event ever. When you leave the room, please sign one of the clipboards. One is for working behind the scenes; the other is for the actors that will be stationed throughout the benefit. Also, if you have family members that would like to help, I need to know by Monday morning. We have almost four weeks to make dreams come true.”

Thursday, December 14, 1989

The North Pole

Amanda stood at the entrance, staring in amazement. What was once a huge empty warehouse had been transformed into The North Pole, home to Santa Claus’s Village, a winter wonderland for adults and children. It had been a stroke of luck that she’d found this space. The owners of the company had planned a total renovation after the New Year and had moved their entire inventory to a temporary location. Graciously, they’d donated the space for the Christmas benefit.

She’d worked hard this past month, making sure everything would be perfect and coming up with ideas that would generate money for the charities, in addition to the money collected at the entrance.

Thankfully, Billy had seen to it that their caseload had been almost nonexistent. Lee, of course, grumbled at first that they were needed in the field. After some careful persuasion on her part, which she didn’t mind in the least, he had soon become caught up in the magic of the holiday.

She glanced at her list of actors. Even some of the Agency’s retired employees had volunteered to participate. Especially since their home would be one of the beneficiaries.

But first she needed to make sure each exhibit was ready for tomorrow evening’s grand opening.

A large sign with huge snow-topped letters proclaimed: You Are Now Entering the North Pole, Home to Santa Claus’s Village. Large candy canes dotted the path that led through the village. White lights twinkled from the rafters of the black ceiling, giving it a starry night effect.

The workers had done a marvelous job transforming each area into the specific rooms she and her planning staff had envisioned. Temporary walls had been built to make each room. Admittance to the separate rooms would be part of the admission price. The only extra expense would be photographs. And whatever the visitors wanted to purchase in the arts and crafts area.

As she walked along what she called CANDY CANE Lane, she came upon the mural that had been painted on one of the walls. Mrs. Marston had spearheaded the project. Unlike her questionable skill with a machine gun, she had proven to be a marvelous artist. Also, several agents and clerical staff had revealed previously hidden artistic talents. They’d painted Santa’s reindeer flying through a starlit sky, a full moon beaming down on them as they crossed over rooftops.

What truly fascinated her was how they’d incorporated a real SLEIGH into the picture. At one end of the mural sat Santa’s sleigh, black and shiny, with bright-red cushions and a huge green sack brimming with colorfully wrapped presents. The reindeer appeared to be pulling the sleigh. A sign invited visitors to “Come Take a RIDE in Santa’s Sleigh.” Children and their families could sit in it and have their pictures taken, making it look as though they were flying through the air delivering presents.

In the center of the warehouse was the place every child wanted to go first. Santa’s House. There they would sit on his lap and tell him what they wanted for Christmas. If they brought along their Christmas lists, he had a special bag to hold them. Then he’d give the children a candy cane and wish them a Merry Christmas. This, of course, would be the second area where photographs could be purchased.

After checking all the public areas, Amanda went to the costume room to make sure all the costumes created by the various employees who had volunteered for sewing duties had been delivered. She checked off the last item on her list.

Everything was ready.

She hoped all the “actors” were, too.

Friday, December 15, 1989

“Operation: North Pole” was in full swing. Parents and children filled the warehouse the moment they opened the doors. Now, several hours later, Amanda checked each area and the volunteers. They worked in shifts, but sometimes Mother Nature called, and she filled in for them until their return.

Christmas carolers, garbed in Victorian dress, strolled the North Pole. They stopped periodically, and everyone joined them in singing a carol.

The “Elf Shoppe” was the first stop on Amanda’s rounds. Inside, children watched in wonder as ELVES made toys for Santa. Crossing behind the crowd, she made eye contact with one of the elves. She arched her eyebrow and mouthed, “Is everything okay?” When he nodded, she smiled and stayed to watch the demonstration for a few minutes. Several agents were expert whittlers, and they were showing how to make different toys out of wood. The Agency held a wealth of untold talent.

Her next stop was the “ORNAMENT Emporium.” Jeannie Melrose and her daughters were helping children make stars to hang on their Christmas trees. They had shiny gold, silver, red, and green paper cut in the shape of stars, and they helped each child write his or her name on the star in GLITTER. Seeing that everything ran smoothly, she left the Emporium.

As she passed the Christmas tree lot, she noticed some NEEDLES had fallen under one of the trees. Amanda made a note on her clipboard to have them swept up later. She was glad she’d decided to have live trees. A local department store had offered to donate fake trees, but she’d just accepted their offer of ornaments. Luckily, she’d found a tree farm willing to donate live trees. She inhaled deeply. Only the scent of pine could make it truly feel like Christmas.

Eight trees were trimmed in different themes: Angels, Santas, snowmen, The Nutcracker Ballet, a Victorian Christmas, a tropical one with ornaments made out of seashells, Christmas all over the world with decorations from various countries. And one adorned in burgundy and gold ornaments, which were the Redskins team colors. Several of the decorations even bore their logo. The men had decorated that particular tree. She circled each one, making sure nothing had fallen off.

Children scurried from place to place. With the entire event held inside, parents didn’t have to worry about lost kids. And if the weather took a turn for the worse, it didn’t matter. Also, what the attendees didn’t see were the security cameras that were strategically placed to record every nook and cranny. Ernie the Camera manned the command center that they’d installed next to the dressing room. He and several of his assistants monitored them in shifts. Just in case any bad guys decided to make an appearance. No one was going to spoil the event on Amanda’s watch.

Amanda followed the path and stopped to look in the window of the “Christmas Enchantment Nest.” In reality, it was a reading room. A big, comfy chair sat in front of a fake fireplace, with pillows on the floor for the children to sit on. She saw Emily reading from one of the books she’d checked out from the library. She’d gotten an assortment of stories: ‘The Night Before Christmas,’ ‘The Polar Express,’ ‘The Little Match Girl,’ ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas,’ ‘The Mitten,’ ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas,’ along with a variety of other books. From the corner of the room, Rupert waved at her, and she waved back. He and Emily, along with several others from Birchwood, took turns reading to the children.

The “Reindeer Café” was her next stop. She really could use a hot cup of coffee. Lois and Glynis Mendelson manned a small counter, dispersing hot chocolate or coffee to all, along with small bags of popcorn or roasted chestnuts.

“Could I have a coffee, please?”

“Why, of course, dear.” Lois handed her a cup.

“Amanda dear, this has been the most fun Lois and I have had in ages. I’m so happy you asked us to help.” Glynis grinned.

“Tell your handsome husband I have a hot cup waiting for him when he has his break.” Lois winked.

Come to think of it, Amanda hadn’t seen Lee since they’d arrived earlier that day. She hoped he was enjoying the part he played. “I will, as soon as I see him.” After one last sip of coffee, she threw the empty cup into the trash. “I’ll check on you again later.”

Closing the door behind her, she heard a man clear his throat. “Miss.”

“Yes, sir?”

“Could you tell us where the ‘Snow Cave’ is?”

“Yeah, I wanna make a snowman,” a little girl said, jumping up and down.

“I’ll do better than that. I’ll show you. Follow me.”

A few moments later, Amanda stood in front of a door. “Now remember it’s cold inside, so you have to button your coat.”

A blast of cold air hit her as she opened the door. Inside, real SNOW fell from the ceiling intermittently. In the center of the room, several children were making a small snowman. They were aided by two figures dressed as Frosty the Snowman.

“I guess I’d better help my daughter.” The man pulled a pair of gloves out of his pocket and put them on.

“Hi, Mom,” one Frosty said.

“Are you and Phillip having a good time playing with the kids?”

“Yeah! We’re having a blast!” Jamie exclaimed.

“Make sure you don’t get cold.”

“Mom, we’re covered head to foot in these crazy costumes.” Phillip placed his hands on his hips.

He was right. They wore more clothing than they would if they were dressed for the outside world. “Have fun.”

Upon leaving her sons playing in the snow with the children, Amanda went to the next checkpoint on her list. “Mrs. Claus’ Kitchen.” Inside the kitchen, she found T.P. taking a sheet of fresh-baked COOKIES out of the oven. Her mouth watered as the scent of gingerbread wafted over the room.

“Why, hello there, Mrs. Stetson. Could I interest you in a hot cookie and a glass of EGGNOG? Non-alcoholic, of course.”

“I’ll pass on the drink, but I’d love a cookie. They smell delicious.”

“How ’bout a little RUM PUNCH.” He winked.

“Don’t let him fool you, Amanda.” Her mother handed a CHOCOLATE chip cookie to a little boy. “The punch doesn’t have any alcohol either.”

“Tut, tut, Mrs. West. I have a secret recipe just for special friends hidden behind the counter.”

“I think we better wait to taste that after everyone goes home and we’re alone.”

“Never fear. I have enough for all.” The oven timer sounded. “More gingerbread men are ready for their debut.” T.P. rubbed his hands together, before opening the oven door and extracting a cookie sheet.

Amanda couldn’t resist the temptation of a gingerbread man. She picked up one from the cooling rack and took a bite, closing her eyes as the cookie titillated her taste buds.

“Have you seen Phillip and Jamie?” Mother poured eggnog into plastic cups.

“They’re having a blast, to quote Jamie.”

“I knew they would.”

The door to the kitchen opened, and several families swarmed inside. The parents took cups of eggnog, while the children surrounded her mother as she passed out cookies.

“I’ll see you both later,” Amanda called out.

She followed the path to the gazebo. The carolers congregated there every hour and sang for ten minutes, before strolling on their way. Boxes of instruments sat in one corner. A small band joined the singers during some of the performances. Christmas lights and garlands were entwined around the railing. One strand was blinking. This normally wouldn’t be a problem, but these lights weren’t supposed to blink. Hopefully, it was just a loose connection. She found the strand and wiggled the wire. The lights blazed forth. Jiggling the blue wire always worked. Okay, in this case the wire wasn’t blue. But jiggling still worked. She was about to leave when she heard a sneeze.

The gazebo wasn’t huge. How had she missed the figure crouched behind the instruments?

“Francine! What are you doing in here?”

“Amanda, please, you have to help me. He won’t leave me alone. He thinks I look sexy. How anyone could think someone dressed up as an elf was sexy is beyond me.” She shook her head in obvious disgust.

“Beaman?”

“Who else? And what’s worse he’s carrying MISTLETOE, trying to catch me under it. I don’t know where to go. What to do.”

Amanda stifled a giggle. Beaman had been chasing after Francine for years and couldn’t take the hint that she wasn’t interested in him.

“Amanda, have you seen Francine?”

She looked up at the “Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” who held a sprig of mistletoe in his hand. “Isn’t she taking pictures of children sitting on Santa’s lap?”

“No. A bunch of hooligans surrounded and distracted me. When I turned around, she was gone.”

“Oh, look.” Amanda pointed toward the Christmas tree lot. “Isn’t that her?”

“Thanks.” The “Grinch Who Was Beaman” sprinted off after his prey.

“Okay, you’re safe for the moment.”

“Thanks, I owe you one. Now where can I go to keep him out of my hair?”

“I have an idea. Phillip and Jamie need to take their breaks. You can relieve them. First one, then the other. That way you’ll be totally in disguise as Frosty the Snowman.”

Francine’s forehead furrowed for a moment, and then she sighed. “You’re right. I just hope my hair doesn’t get too mussed up in the costume.”

“Think of the alternative.”

“You’re right. I can go to the hairdresser tomorrow. Is the coast clear?”

Amanda glanced at the green figure of the Grinch and saw him enter the Christmas tree lot. “Go. Now.” She waved her hand behind her.

“Thanks,” Francine whispered. She skulked off toward the Snow Cave, hiding behind anyone who happened to be taller than she was.

“BAH HUMBUG.”

Amanda closed her eyes and slowly counted to ten, then turned to face the head of the Agency. She almost burst out laughing at the sight of him, but she managed to control herself. Dr. Smyth stood before her, clad in a long dressing gown and cap. Ebenezer Scrooge lived.

“Bah. I’m off. I’ve had enough of this playacting. Time for me to toddle on out of this winter maze.”

Amanda opened her mouth to speak, but Smyth held up his hand. “Say nothing. I’ve done my part. You go check on the other worker bees. The king bee is going to find some nectar of the gods.” He turned and walked away.

She just shook her head. Why in the world had he even agreed to play the part of Scrooge in the first place? Although she wished she had a camera. Lee would love to have a picture of Smyth in his costume to use as BLACKMAIL material in the future.

Her journey led her next to several “stores” where items could be purchased, with fifty percent of the proceeds going to the charities. She entered the “TEDDY House.” Here children and adults could build their own teddy bears and dress them in whatever they wanted--from Santa Claus suits, ballerinas, and cowboys, to Christmas-themed BOXERS. Glancing over the heads of many children, she saw Leatherneck manning one of the three stuffing machines. She watched as he expertly stuffed a bear. Not wanting to disturb him or the other workers, she backed up and closed the door.

The “Candy Cane Store” was next. Inside, ladies from Birchwood handcrafted candy canes in various flavors. She watched in awe for several minutes, as they deftly rolled strips into a rope shape. Then they twisted two ropes together, making the hook on top. The completed canes were then placed on a cookie sheet to harden. Once they were set, plastic was wrapped around them and they were put in numerous bins, according to flavor.

Amanda couldn’t make up her mind which flavor she wanted. The traditional peppermint? Or maybe butterscotch? Or one of the fruit flavors? In the end, she decided on one of her childhood favorites. She picked up two spearmint canes, made her purchase, and pocketed them.

Her rounds were almost complete. Soon she’d be able to take a break, and she hoped to take it with her husband. The “Candle Shoppe” was the last store to check. The cinnamon candles filled the air with the aroma of a fresh-baked apple pie. There were only a few customers inside, and she didn’t have to wait long for them to leave.

“Are you all right now, sir?”

Billy scratched his nose. “Yeah, after I stopped burning that one candle called ‘Holiday,’ my sneezing went away. I must be allergic to something in it.”

“I’m glad you’re all right.” She checked her watch. “I’ve arranged for Mrs. Marston to relieve you in an hour, and you can work with Jeannie and your daughters in the Ornament Emporium.”

“Thanks, but I know my wife and I think I’d rather join the strolling carolers. But I’ll help her and the girls for a bit, then tell them Billy Blue Note is needed.”

Amanda laughed. The door opened, and a family entered. The children went immediately to the candles shaped like Santa, while the man and woman looked at candles shaped like trees.

Now she needed to check on the man himself. Santa. She began the journey that would lead her to the one man all children wanted to see. As she walked down the sparkling path, overhanging branches covered with fake snow and wrapped in twinkle lights added a magical touch.

A small line waited at the front door to the house. She walked around to the side door and entered. Inside, Mrs. Claus entertained the children until their turn to sit on her husband’s lap. Workers dressed as elves collected money for photographs and snapped the pictures.

“I’m having a wonderful time, Amanda.” Christina patted a little girl’s head. “Thank you for inviting Harry and me to participate. He’s having the time of his life.”

Amanda looked over at Santa. Harry Thornton boomed a hearty “Ho Ho Ho” as a little boy sat on his lap. His eyes sparkled with joy, and his cheeks were pleasantly pink. The fake white beard was expertly combed; his black boots highly shined. A perfect Santa.

A toy soldier stood at attention behind Harry’s chair. Another stood guarding the exit. Whenever anyone left, he saluted.

Another soldier entered from the employee entrance and marched over to the exit.

“Looks like it’s the changing of the guard.” Christina bent down and asked a little girl if she had her Christmas list.

“Perfect timing.” Amanda waited while the two soldiers executed a little ceremony of handing over the guard. They saluted each other, and the departing one handed his replacement a toy gun. “I’ll see you two later.” Amanda waved to Christina and caught Harry’s eye. He winked in return.

She followed the soldier out. They walked through an area designated “employee’s only” that led to the break and dressing rooms. “Having fun, Stetson?”

Lee took off the costume head. “Barrel of laughs. It’s hot in this thing. I’m glad I’m not on soldier duty anymore today. It’ll be a breeze wearing Victorian clothing and singing.”

Amanda felt in her pocket and pulled out one of the candy canes she’d bought earlier. “Here’s a present for all your hard work.”

“I’d rather UNWRAP you.”

“I know you would. You’ll have to wait till tonight.”

“But I don’t have to wait to do this.” His hands wrapped around her waist, and he drew her to him. His lips slowly descended to hers.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she whispered when their lips parted.

“Only what we’re supposed to do here.”

Amanda looked up and found they’d walked into the Mistletoe Grotto someone had set up. Mistletoe hung from everything it could be tied to. “More later.” She kissed the tip of his nose.

Monday, December 18, 1989

Amanda sat in one of the chairs in front of Billy’s desk. She’d waited all day to hear the final tally of the funds raised for the charities by “Operation: North Pole.” Billy would only tell her that they’d have it sometime this afternoon.

Her fingers danced along the arm of the chair. Butterflies flew in her stomach. Billy had called her to his office ten minutes ago. She reached out and grabbed Lee’s hand. “Where is he?”

“I’m sure he’ll be here soon. You’ve been anxious all day.”

“I know. It’s just that I’m the agent in charge, and I really want it to have been a success.”

“You got me dressed up as a toy soldier and singing Christmas carols. I think that in itself was a success.”

The door opened, and Billy walked in, holding a folder.

She bit her lower lip. “Is that the final total?”

Billy sat on the edge of his desk, frowned, and looked down at his hands.

Suddenly he looked up, and a huge smile crossed his face. “I can’t keep you in suspense. This year’s charity event has been the highest grossing one ever.”

“Oh My Gosh!” She felt a warm glow flow through her.

Lee stood and held out his hands to her.

She rose, and he enveloped her in his arms. “I told ya,” he whispered in her ear.

“You’ve put so much effort into making this one of the best events ever,” Billy went on, “and Dr. Smyth seems to be in such a good mood that he’s decided to give you the rest of the week off. I’m sure you can use the time to catch up on your own holiday activities.”

Usually, by this time she’d finished her shopping and had the presents wrapped. This year she only had half of what she needed. The time off would allow her to get back on track.

“In fact, I don’t want to see you until next year. The second day of January to be precise. And since Lee’s handled what little I’ve thrown the Q Bureau and done the reports needed and not let them gather dust during your absence, I also don’t want to see him until next year.”

“Billy, you mean us both?”

“Get out of here, Scarecrow. Take your wife home and enjoy your time together.”

“Merry Christmas, sir.” Amanda hugged Billy tightly and kissed him on the cheek.

“And Happy New Year,” Lee added, as he placed his hand on the small of Amanda’s back and guided her out of the office.


The End
This story archived at http://www.wickyarchive.net/viewstory.php?sid=586