City sidewalks, busy sidewalks
Dressed in holiday style
In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas
December 22nd – 11:00 A.M.
The city sidewalks were crowded as holiday shoppers thronged the gaily decorated streets. Gently falling snow completed the image of the storybook Christmas she had dreamed about since she was a child.
She shivered in the cold and shrank into the warmth of her coat. A glance at the clock over Times Square assured her that she still had an hour before her meeting, so she hurried into the small tearoom next to her office building. She knew that hot tea would not only warm her, but that it would help to calm the butterflies she felt every time she thought about the impending appointment with her boss.
The restaurant was crowded, with several people waiting in line to be seated. Reluctantly realizing that she wouldn’t have time to wait, she turned so that she could slip back out. She stopped abruptly when she heard someone calling her name, and her eyes widened when she recognized the two people hailing her from a booth in the corner.
“Do my eyes deceive me?” she asked lightly, happily surprised to see the twins from her hometown.
“No, but I think mine are,” Bob Hubbell teased. “In a city this size, how likely is it that we would find an old friend on our first day in town?”
“Not very,” she laughed, strangely warmed at his description of her as an old friend. “But I’m glad you did.”
“We are, too,” Barbara assured her, sliding over to make room for her at the table. “You will join us, won’t you?”
She smiled and nodded. “So what brings you to the City?”
Bob explained. “We were invited to be a part of the Home for the Holidays show your network is airing on Christmas Eve. We’re taping this afternoon.”
“And ironically, it means that we won’t be home for Christmas,” Barbara added ruefully. “But it’s worth it, because we always did want to do another national show.”
“I’m sure it won’t be your last,” she assured them, sipping at the chamomile tea the waitress had known her well enough to bring. “One day I’ll be able to brag that I knew the Hubbells way back when.”
Bob chuckled. “Like we already claim that we knew you before you were a national celebrity?”
“It looks like we’ve all reached our dreams, doesn’t it?” she said, her smile losing some of its sincerity as she decided to change the subject. She could see the idealism that the twins still had, and she didn’t want to ruin that by admitting that the reality wasn’t always as pleasant as it seemed to be. “So do you have plans for Christmas? Andrew and I would love to have you spend a few days with us.”
“Oh, we couldn’t impose like that,” Barbara protested immediately. “But we certainly do appreciate the offer!”
“Nonsense,” she replied, certain that her husband would agree. “You wouldn’t be imposing, and we’d love to have you! Besides,” she added with her eyes twinkling, “I know some people who will be very upset if they find out you were this close and I didn’t bring you home with me!”
“How is everyone in Sleepyside?” Bob asked. “We haven’t even heard from any of them since they were all in town for your wedding last spring.”
“We’ve been on the road most of that time,” Barbara explained. “But how are they doing?”
“They’re all fine. Brian talked Andy into helping with a program Christmas eve at the hospital, so we’ll all be getting together at Mart and Di’s house tomorrow night instead. I do wish you’d come; you would be more than welcome.”
“You’re really serious, aren’t you?” Barbara asked in wonder.
She nodded, all too aware that there had been a time when she wouldn’t have made the offer. Two years and differing cliques had kept her from really getting to know them in high school, and her pride had kept her from approaching them as so many others had done after their surprise appearance on television soon after her graduation.
Time had changed so much, she reflected silently. “Yes, I am. They would all love to see you, and I’d like to get more time to catch up with you, too.”
“We’d be glad to,” Bob answered for the both of them.
“Great!” she said, frowning as she looked at her watch. She took a business card from her purse, and scribbled her home telephone number on the back. “I’ve got to be in a meeting in just a few minutes, but why don’t you call me this evening after your shoot? We’ll work out all of the details then.”
“We will,” Barbara assured her, taking the check that the waitress had brought from her. “No, it’s our treat.”
A glance at the younger woman stopped the argument she had been about to make, and she smiled gratefully. “Thank you.”
With a final hug from Barbara and handshake from Bob, she hurried from the tearoom and into her office building. She quickly stopped by the ladies’ lounge to freshen her makeup, and then she rushed up the hall to Mr. Meredith’s office. “Debbie? Is he waiting on me?”
“Not yet,” Debbie grinned. “Laurie was running even later, so he’s still with her.”
“Thanks,” she breathed with a sigh, sitting down in the anteroom. “Her kids again?”
“Yeah,” Debbie nodded. “The oldest has a bad cold, so she had to take him to her mother’s instead of the daycare center.” She lowered her voice. “Mr. Meredith was not pleased.”
She shook her head, but didn’t reply. The network executive had repeatedly made it clear that their careers were to come first in the lives of his employees.
“Ah, Mrs. Belden,” Mr. Meredith’s voice boomed from his doorway mere seconds later. “Won’t you come on in?”
She stood slowly, feeling her resolve beginning to slip as she tried not to watch Laurie rushing from the office in tears. She took a deep breath and she walked into the plush office, sitting down when he waved her to the brocade-covered visitor’s chair. Her gaze lit on an obviously handmade object hanging on the wall, and he shared her smile.
“My little granddaughter’s Christmas project,” he explained ruefully, nodding towards the laminated construction paper reindeer with candy cane antlers.
“I’m impressed,” she replied, chuckling slightly. “My niece made a similar one, but the poor thing arrived home minus an antler.”
“They are something at that age, aren’t they?” he asked rhetorically as he sat down behind the massive mahogany desk. “So, why don’t we get down to business? We’re rather pleased with your work this year, and it’s largely to your credit that the News at Night ratings are so high.” He waited until she smiled her appreciation before continuing. “I’m sorry to say that we can’t offer you much of a raise this year, but we are prepared to do something.”
She took the sheet of paper he handed her and glanced at it for a long minute. Despite his words, the figure written thereon was still more than she had expected, and for a moment she was sorely tempted. A thought crossed her mind, however, and she took another deep breath. “This isn’t easy, Mr. Meredith, because I really do love working for Celebrity Broadcasting, but I don’t want to renew my contract for next year.”
He looked at her in dismay. “I’m sure I can work something out, although there truly isn’t that much money in our budget for the coming year.”
“It’s not that,” she told him as she remembered the telephone call she had received the previous week. “You promised me last year that I would be first in line for any openings on the morning show, and you’ve already filled two positions would have been suitable.”
He frowned. “I’ll be frank with you, Mrs. Belden. You’re too valuable to the company where you are. There’s simply no way we’re willing to risk changing such a profitable program.”
“So you would rather lose me altogether,” she commented dryly. “I’m sorry, Mr. Meredith, but it’s really not the money. The News at Night never bothered me when I was single and living in the City, but now that I’m married, I want to spend that time with my family.”
“I warned you not to get married,” he said mournfully. “Are you certain you’ve given this enough thought?”
Although she knew that she would never truly be ready to give up her career, she thought about the announcement she and her husband planned to make the following evening. It was another step in her life that she wondered if she would ever be prepared for, but she knew that it had to take precedence over all else. “Yes, I’m certain. I’ll be happy to remain a little while until you can find a replacement, but I want a time limit set in writing before my contract expires on the thirty-first.”
“No, we’ll manage something,” he told her. “Although I certainly hate to see you go.”
“Thank you,” she said, standing to her feet. It had been the hardest thing she had ever had to do, but she left his office satisfied that she had done the right thing.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on, our troubles will be out of sight
December 22nd – 3:00 P.M.
“Andy?” she called out, dropping her purse on the table just inside the front door. She glanced twice at the cake-shaped candle that had appeared since she left, sighing happily as she inhaled the soft aroma of gingerbread. “I’m home.”
A door closed softly in the recesses of the house, and she smiled as he came to greet her with a kiss on the cheek. “How was your day?”
“Fine,” she replied, hanging her coat in the closet before returning his gesture. She smiled, gesturing to the candle. “I love the new addition.”
“You should,” he teased. “It’s the one you ordered from Bekah’s school fundraiser.”
“Oh. I’d completely forgotten about that.” She laughed softly. “You won’t believe who I ran in to, though.”
He raised his eyebrows in concern. “Please tell me it wasn’t that lunatic that was on your broadcast last night.”
“Which one?” she asked.
Andrew looked at her, a resigned smile behind his mildly reproachful look. “You’re not helping, hon. You know I worry about you, especially now.”
“I know you do,” she admitted, allowing him to lead her to the sofa. “But trust me, a flasher dressed as Santa Claus isn’t exactly on my list of things to see, either.”
He chuckled despite his obvious efforts to remain stern. “Not even when they’re yelling ‘Santa comes but once a year?'”
“Especially not then,” she assured him. Her eyes twinkled mischeviously as she added, “So don’t go getting any ideas.”
“I will be fully clothed during my appearance at the hospital, I assure you,” he said dryly, patting her hand. He leaned closer to her, his breath the barest of whispers on her ear, “Afterwards, however, remains to be seen.”
“Mmm,” she murmured, suddenly frowning as she turned to face him. “But we’re going to have company that night.”
“Oh, we are?”
“Yes,” she nodded. “I know I probably should have asked you first, but like I started trying to tell you earlier, I ran in to the Hubbell twins in the City this afternoon. They don’t have any family up here, so I asked them to spend Christmas with us.”
His smile was genuine as he pulled her into his lap. “You knew I wouldn’t care, hon. I always did like Bob and Barbara, and the kids will be absolutely thrilled.”
She wrapped her arms around him, silently wishing that he would one day stop calling his nieces and nephews “the kids.” The age difference between the two of them had never been an issue, but the fact remained that she was technically in their generation instead of being part of his. “But you never did ask me how my meeting went.”
“How did your meeting go?” he asked dutifully, unconsciously tightening his grip on her. “I’m sure Meredith gave you everything you asked for.”
“He did.” Her eyes met his, and she gently brushed back a lock of hair that had fallen over his forehead. “But I turned him down.”
A look of stunned disbelief crossed his features, and she hugged him tight. “I may still take WSTH-TV up on their offer for a few months, but as of the end of the year, I’ll no longer be employed by Celebrity Broadcasting.”
A myriad of emotions replaced his unbelief, but she was startled to see guilt among them. “I’m sorry, hon. I know how much your career means to you, and I shouldn’t have….”
She placed a finger on his lips interrupting him. “You didn’t, Andrew. Yes, I did love working there, but I love you. I’m no happier than you are when you spend every night worried that something’s going to happen to me before I come home. Besides,” she took his hand and placed it on her abdomen. “There are some things more important than fame and fortune.”
His face softened, and he stroked her hair with his free hand. “I just don’t want you to regret it.”
“I won’t,” she assured him softly, twisting so that she could lay her head on his shoulder.
“I’ll make sure you don’t.” He brushed her lips with a kiss. “I love you so much.”
“I love you, too,” she whispered.
Fireside is blazing bright
We’re carolin’ through the night
And this Christmas will be
A very special Christmas for me
December 23rd – 7:00 P.M.
“Oh my!” Barbara gasped as they pulled into the already crowded driveway of Crabapple Farm.
“My brother and his wife always claimed that the house has stretchy walls,” Andrew chuckled. “When you see all the people that will be here tonight, you’ll believe it.”
His wife squeezed his hand, knowing that he wished that Peter and Harold and their wives could have made the trip from Idaho. She understood all too well; her own family remained several hundred miles away in Iowa.
“I already believe it,” Bob replied, opening his door. “What do you want me to carry?”
“Nothing,” a voice replied from the yard, startling them all. “That’s what teenagers are for.”
“Gee, thanks,” Bobby said, rolling his eyes at his brother as he came forward. “Merry Christmas, all.”
“Welcome to my humble abode,” Mart proclaimed, shaking Bob’s hand and hugging Barbara. “Just make yourselves at home.”
She caught Andrew’s gaze and laughed softly. “Merry Christmas to you, too, Mart.”
Mart grinned. “You, too, you know. Bobby, don’t you dare drop that!”
“Here,” she said, handing the vegetable tray she had fixed that afternoon to him instead of to Bobby. “You carry it.”
“Gladly. You just can’t risk it when it comes to food.”
Barbara laughed. “Will you ever change, Mart?”
“Nope,” he assured her. “Di likes me just the way I am.”
“Good thing, too,” Andrew laughed. “You’d be in trouble if she didn’t.”
“You’re not kidding,” he answered seriously as they walked towards the house.
Although she would never admit it to Andrew, it always took her a few minutes to adjust to the comfortable chaos of Belden family gatherings, and she leaned into him gratefully when he wrapped his arm around her shoulders. They stopped on the porch as the others went inside, and he whispered, “How are you feeling?”
“I’m all right,” she told him, giving him a quick hug. “I just hope they’ll be happy for us.”
“They will, hon, I promise.” He brushed a kiss across her cheek. “Come on, let’s get you inside where it’s warm.”
“I’ve got a better idea,” she replied, trying to keep her voice light. “Let’s get us inside where it’s warm.”
The door opened, and Bobby looked out. “Here you are! They’re getting ready to send out a search party for you two.”
“We’re coming,” Andrew informed him. “Is everyone else here already?”
“Yeah. Well, everyone that planned to be,” he amended, a frown crossing his face so quickly that she almost wondered if she had imagined it. Andrew wordlessly clapped the seventeen-year old on the shoulder, and together they walked into the warmth of the house.
Lively conversation and laughter caused dinner to pass quickly, and almost before she knew it, the group had gathered around the garland-festooned fireplace. “Barbara? Would you and Bob sing for us?” she asked. “We’d love to hear you!”
“We’ll be glad to,” Bob answered for his sister. He grinned at the Bob-Whites. “Remember that night in the apartment? We still can’t believe how fortunate it was that Mr. Meredith overheard us!”
She felt Andrew squeeze her hand, and she smiled up at him. There would be a time to disclose the changes in her career, but other news would come first. She leaned her head on his shoulder as she heard Barbara add, “Good things happen because of the Bob-Whites.”
“No,” Trixie argued, a blush coloring her cheeks. “We were always just in the right places at the right times to see good things happening.”
“I’m with you, Barbara,” Joeanne Frayne spoke up from where she sat beside her husband. “Remind me to tell you sometime just what they did for me.”
“All right, all right, who’s ready to sing?” Dan interrupted gruffly. He held his six-week old son to his chest. “Michael wants to hear We Three Kings.“
“You want to hear it, you mean,” Hallie drawled, hugging eighteen-month old Nora close as she smiled at the visitors. “That’s his favorite carol.”
“It’s one of mine, too,” Barbara replied. “Bear with us, though. We’re not used to singing a cappella.”
Andrew laced his fingers through his wife’s and settled back on the sofa. She leaned closer to him, but remained silent as everyone joined in the singing. “Are you all right?” he whispered.
She nodded slowly, not wanting to admit that she really didn’t feel too well. She squeezed his hand. “I’m okay.”
“Are you sure?” he asked softly.
She smiled at him. “I will be.”
Their eyes met, and he draped his arm around her. Conscious of curious glances their way as the carol ended, she sighed in relief as Bob spoke.
“And if we may, we’ll sing one of my favorites.” He looked around at the children gathered around, and explained, “Michael may be dressed in a Santa suit, but we know the real Santa Claus is coming to town soon, don’t we?”
“Yes!” Rebekah replied in excitement. “Mommy and Daddy took us to see him, too!”
“Have they taught you the song?”
The child nodded.
“Then I want to hear you singing with us, okay? Ready?”
The rousing rendition of Santa Claus is Coming to Town eventually ended, and Billy spoke up. “Bobby teached us a song, too!”
“Taught,” his mother corrected automatically. “Bobby taught you a song.”
“Uh-oh,” Andrew whispered in his wife’s ear, bringing her attention back to him. “This might get interesting.”
She nodded her agreement, her eyes twinkling when Barbara asked them to sing it. “You think?”
“I’d almost bet on it,” he replied as they saw three-year old Danny jump up with his older brother and proclaim that he wanted to sing, too.
Jingle bells, Batman smells
Robin laid an egg
Batmobile lost a wheel
And Joker got away!
“You win,” she whispered, struggling to keep a straight face. She glanced quickly at Trixie, and a small wave of foreboding washed over her as she saw the younger woman’s utter mortification.
“Mommy, didn’t you like it?” Danny asked his mother, his lips beginning to quiver.
Regan scooped him up, and took Billy by the hand. “Come on, boys. Let’s talk about when not to listen to Bobby, okay?” He led them from the room.
Bobby was the first to break the silence that sprang up as his sister glared at him in stunned dismay. “Does anyone have a spare room tonight?” he asked somewhat hopefully.
“Not a chance!” Trixie shook her head emphatically, her face still matching the color of a ripe beet. “You are not getting out of this one.”
“Who wants eggnog?” Diana offered quickly, effectively changing the subject as she rose and went to the kitchen.
Mart explained, “It’s the old Belden recipe, allegedly as old as Crabapple Farm.”
Andrew took two small glasses of eggnog from the tray that Diana brought back, assuring his wife that it was non-alcoholic. “As long as we’ve been together, Andy, I’ve never seen alcohol at a family party,” she reminded him with a soft smile, taking a sip of the cold drink. No amount of acting could cover her stomach’s violent reaction, and she quickly fled the room.
He followed close behind her, and she realized that she was grateful for his soothing touch as he held her hair back with one hand and held on to her with the other. Never had she felt so embarrassed. Never had she felt so sick.
She managed to ignore the soft knocks on the door and concerned questions until she was able to stand. “I’m all right,” she answered tremulously, holding tightly to her husband’s hand as he gently wiped her face with a washcloth he had wet in cool water. She looked at him in the mirror, flushing as she said, “I’m sorry, Andy.”
“For what?” he asked in confusion.
“Embarrassing you – I’ve… I’ve never been sick in public before. I didn’t mean for this to happen!”
“You didn’t embarrass me,” he assured her, steadying her as he again bathed her face. “And you’re not in public, you’re among family.”
“I still should have had more control than that,” she whispered, already dreading having to face everyone. The decision to give up her career had been difficult enough, but it was even more difficult to think that she had broken the image she had struggled so hard to maintain.
He gave her a look that let her know he understood what she was thinking. “Nobody is going to think any less of you, hon. As bad as I feel for putting you in this position, I’m almost certain that it’s to be expected.”
She took his hand, smiling a true smile as their eyes met. “Seems to me that it took both of us.”
He tenderly stroked the plane of her cheek with the fingers of his other hand. “You don’t regret it, do you?”
“No,” she answered softly. “It will all be worth it in the end.”
“Uncle Andrew?” Brian asked through the door. “Is everything all right?”
She motioned towards the door and spoke ruefully. “I think this might be a good time to make our announcement.”
“It’s going to be fine, hon. I promise,” he assured her, kissing her softly before opening the bathroom door. He kept her hand in his as they walked into the sea of concerned faces, and then stood behind her with his arms wrapped securely around her. “Everyone, there’s something we need to tell you.”
“What is it, Uncle Andrew?” Brian was the first to speak, and turned to his aunt by marriage. “Are you all right?”
“She’ll be all right,” Andrew told him, pausing briefly to emphasize his next statement. “In about six months.”
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” Honey squealed.
“Yes,” he answered happily. A smile lit up his face. “Dot and I are going to have a baby.”
Author’s Note: So, were you surprised? *veg* This story is my submission for Jixemitri CWP #9. Elements can be found here, and I’m using the appearance of a secondary character (the Hubbells – among others *g*) from CWP #1 as my carryover element. Songs I’ve used include Silver Bells, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, and This Christmas (which also inspired my title) by Donnie Hathaway. A bit of research online suggests that the song Billy and Danny sing comes from school yards around the nation. *g* As usual, much gratitude is due Cyndi for braving the task of editing for me.