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Greg pick up his cell phone with a heavy sigh. The phone beeped in reply as he accepted his wife’s call.
“So…” he began, already knowing what he was about to hear. As he waited for Gina’s reply, he pushed aside the curtain and stared out at the fluffy snow piling up in heavy mounds on the grass, driveway, and street in front of his house. The wind swirled it about, intermittent sheets of thick white obscuring his vision.
“Have you seen how it looks?” Gina asked, voice already ripe with apology.
“Does it look as bad there as the news is making it seem?”
With another heavy sigh, he admitted, “Yeah…it’s pretty thick. Still coming down.”
“Greg…I’m sorry. I really thought it’d be fun for the kids and you know how my parents love to do the five o’clock mass out here.”
“I…” he took a moment to gather himself. He could hardly blame his wife for the weather. Even the local news in all its love of snow hysterics, had not accurately estimated how hard this storm would hit. “I know. I just really love Christmas Eve dinner. Going from having your Mom and Dad and Dad and Mindy here with us and the kids to me all alone is sad.”
“Your folks aren’t coming anymore either?”
“Not til tomorrow. It’s not safe for them either.”
“I really am so sorry. I really thought this storm would be no big deal and the kids would walk in to a huge Christmas spread and they’d be so excited.”
“Nothing to be done now, Gina. It’s brutal out there. Stay with your folks tonight and you guys and my parents will all get here tomorrow and we’ll make up for it.”
“Are you going to be okay?”
“I kind of have to be. Can’t stop the snow and I’m not going to have anybody drive this to keep me company.”
“I guess, at least, you don’t have to worry about all the cooking.”
“Well, that’s something at least. Can you call me before the kids go to bed so I can read them the Night Before Christmas and say good night.”
“Of course…I doubt they’d let me forget.”
“Good. Well, I love you all. Talk to you tonight.”
“Love you Greg. Stay warm.” Greg hung up his cell and dropped down into a kitchen chair. After another long sigh and a glance around the room, he muttered, “Happy Christmas Eve. Now what?”
As her husband disconnected, Gina paused a moment to contemplate texting Mallory, alerting the babysitter to Greg’s isolated state. After a brief war with her conscience and her sense of jealousy, she typed out a quick message and rejoined her family. She tried not to dwell on the potential “gift” she was sending to her husband.
“Green or red, Mom?” Mallory yelled from the attic, knotted strings of garish fake garland.
“Whichever’s uglier! We want it to look awful for the grab bag,” her mom replied.
Giggling, the coed opted for neither, choosing a ratty looking gold strand instead. Despite having an apartment five minutes away, she was glad that she decided to spend the few days around Christmas with her family for moments like these. Plus, an empty apartment was providing no distraction from her obsessive dwelling on accepting Gina’s deal.
“Here we go,” she announced feeling as good as she had felt in more than a month.
Her mom took one look and with a hearty laughed declared it, “Perfect! We’ll have the ugliest box by far!”
Mallory’s father shook his head as he sipped his coffee on the couch, “All these years, I still don’t understand your family’s traditions at all.”
“Because you are no fun. It’s a wonder I ever married you,” Mrs. Rich teased back, tossing a cheap pink bow at her husband.
“It wasn’t supposed to be this bad, was it?” Mallory asked no one in particular as she stared at the snow coming down outside.
“Don’t think so. Perfect for the season though,” Mr. Rich replied before chasing his wife into the next room.
She cackled loudly until shouting, “Truce!” while Mallory smirked at her parents’ playfulness.
Glancing back out the window, she felt her cell phone buzz on her hip. She checked the text, butterfly spawning rapidly in her stomach. Gina was alerting her to the lack of “supervision” Doc would have tonight.
“You okay Mally-gal?” her flush cheeked Mom asked as she re-entered the room.
“Huh? Oh….yeah, yeah. Doing fine.”
“You sure? You looked so worried for a second.”
“Just…you know…boy stuff.”
“Ahh, I remember it well. That man over there,” Mrs. Rich gestured to Mallory’s dad, “Certainly put me through things.”
“Hey,” he objected, “I was only giving what I got!”
“Thanks guys. This is…different though.”
“It always is,” her mom said, giving her a gentle side hug, “But we’re here when you need us.”
“Thanks,” Mallory sighed, resting her head on her mom’s shoulder, “It’s not something I can really explain though.”
Greg hauled wood from the backyard into the garage as the wind and snow stung his eyes. He doubted he’d need it, but if this storm was anything, it was expectation defying. So better to have wood close by if the power went out than to have Ağrı Escort to have to make a trek into an even darker, colder yard if things went pear shaped.
Which, he reminded himself, it would not. It was all going to be fine. He’d have the “Saddest Christmas Eve of All Time,” watch some Christmas movies, go to bed, and wake up to well packed snow without ever having to deal with loss of power. And then, that excess wood could be used for a Christmas Day fire just for haha’s. He knew the kids loved that, so it’d be perfect.
Reassurances against today getting worse in place, he went back inside to prepare a meal to go along with the “Saddest Christmas Eve of All Time.” He wasn’t sure what it was going to be exactly, but it probably was going to involve steak and, perhaps, brownies. Stiff hooch would almost certainly make an appearance as well.
“Mom,” Mallory yelled as she tossed clothes left and right out of massive Rubbermaid bins, “Have you seen my elf costume?”
“Have you tried the blue bin?” the reply floated down the stairs.
“With the old holiday lights?”
“That’s the one!”
Scuttling along the wall, Mallory eventually reached the bin in question and following a dramatic tossing of the lid, was rewarded with the sight of a folded up green dress and red and white candy cane stripped socks.
“What are you looking for that for?” her mom asked, suddenly right behind her. Mallory jumped, startled.
Fighting down a blush, she met her mother’s eyes and lied her near perfect ass off, “Well, I thought I’d visit the kids tomorrow and they’d get a kick out of it.”
“Yeah. You know, later in the day. If that’s okay?”
“Oh, of course. They’re only a few minutes away and you know after two we all get lazy and just kind of sit around here anyway. I wasn’t sure if you were even babysitting for them anymore. I hadn’t heard you mention them for a while now.”
“Yeah, well, they haven’t needed me much. Which is why they said I should feel free to come by. See the kids and all that.”
“That’s great Mally, very sweet of them and you to do that. I don’t think you are going to be able to fit into that outfit though. You aren’t 13 anymore, you know. Mr. Clark might just get an eyeful.”
Mallory laughed nervously in reply, blush no longer contained. “Well, umm, ju—just thought, you know, worth a look,” she stuttered.
“Sure, dear. Just don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t fit.”
Realizing steak not on the grill would be nothing but a disappointment, Greg instead decided to go ahead and eat some of what he intended for Christmas Eve dinner. Just because it wasn’t happening for everyone didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy the Swedish Meatballs he had intended to serve. He hummed along with the carols emanating from the living room and tried to ignore how empty the house felt.
As the opening strains of a particularly bombastic version of O Come all Ye Faithful filled the house, Greg awkwardly spun and danced across the room. He dumped a handful of ingredients into the pot, wafting the odors of the thickening sauce. Continuing to strut around the kitchen, the doctor grabbed his phone. Handling it one handed to keep from smearing ingredients on it, he attempted to open the camera to send a photo of his masterful cooking to his wife, kids, and in-laws with something pithy like “Wish you were here.” A little something to give them a laugh and let them know he was keeping busy. Instead, his thumb landed a bit too low and, rather than click the shutter, opened the Saved Picture folder. There, in the lower left, was the thumbnail he recognized right away.
Without thinking, he pushed it, the thumbnail filling the screen. There was Mallory, smirking teasingly upward, arm outstretched to take the selfie. He remembered the moment distinctly. The babysitter had shown up to attend church with the family and somehow that seemingly innocuous event led to the two of them fucking in an under renovation balcony without the benefit of air conditioning. Afterwards, he and Mal, both giddy from dehydration and sex endorphins, were laughing and speaking in double entendres obvious to them and no one else. The coed had demanded his phone to commemorate the event and Greg’s wife and children aided and abetted her, knowing how jealously the doctor protected him phone from other people’s meddling. And that’s how, sweaty, wearing a white and yellow floral sundress that dipped delightfully to offer a generous view of her breasts, Mallory took a picture of herself in front of Greg’s entire family for him to look back on and remember how they had passed the service moments prior. And did so with the family’s encouragement to boot.
His stomach turned as he remembered that day and the days that came before and after it. He blushed with shame, anger, and arousal nearly simultaneously, each fueling the other emotions in a sort of cyclical build up of ambivalent emotional misery. With an attempt at a cleansing sigh, he placed the phone down heavily, taking a picture of his Ağrı Escort Bayan meatballs no longer appealing to him.
“Saddest Christmas Eve Ever,” he mumbled to himself as he pulled down a bottle and rocks glass from the liquor cabinet.
“So, does the elf costume still fit like it did when you were in that show?” Mrs. Rich asked as she passed daughter the mashed potatoes.
Mallory shook her head, “Nope, you were right. I guess I didn’t stop growing at 13 after all.”
The teen was being truthful, just not fully explaining that it fit exactly as she hoped it would. Back in seventh grade, Mallory had worn it for a local community theatre production. Something about Santa’s Workshop…she couldn’t remember quite what. The costumer had dressed she and six other kids around her age in green or red velour costumes—green for girls, red for boys—in various styles.
Mallory’s outfit consisted of a green velour tube top and skirt with matching plaid cropped jacket, all of which were lined with white fake fur. Below the skirt she had worn red and white striped “candy cane” socks that, at the time, were so tall they actually stretch beyond the full length of her legs, the excess cotton awkwardly bunching underneath her skirt. Her “elf” boots, complete with the distinct curl at the toe, were similarly ill fitting, a situation only rectified by wearing multiple layers of tube socks to make the boots fit snugly enough for her to gawkily box step around the set.
Now though, six years later, the fit was…decidedly more snug. Mallory had grown a few inches taller during eight grade so the skirt was no longer a demure knee length but rather a tantalizing upper thigh hem. Those too long socks were just perfect, reaching to about an inch below the skirt. The boots, once the bane of her dancing attempts, now hugged her feet perfectly. She was pleased to find as she strutted around her room that she had also gotten considerably better at walking in heals in the six years since the show.
Her height had also converted the tube top from a full length shirt to one that nicely revealed her taut stomach and her newest navel ring, a snowflake. Furthering the effect was that although her breasts were rather small now, she had virtually none as a 13 year old. Thus, the top now swelled rather provocatively. Deliberately forgoing the jacket ensured that no one could mistake the purpose of wearing the velour and fake fur shirt.
Still, her mom didn’t need to know all that so Mallory simply ended the conversation by adding, “I don’t think I’ll be letting the kids see me in that one.”
Prone on the floor, glass of scotch perched precariously on his chest, Greg happily listened to his children, in stereo, regale him with stories of the car that apparently was driving too fast past their grandparents’ house and ended on the neighbor’s lawn.
“Grandpa said they were damn idiots,” Shelly dutifully reported.
“Well, it sounds like he’s right, but you know what your mom and I have said about saying ‘damn.'”
“But…Grandpa said it!” she objected, her little brother giggling at his sister getting in trouble.
“And if I was his dad, I’d talk to him about that. But I’m yours and you know your mother and I’s rules.”
“Good. Now I won’t have to send Santa back to the North Pole with all your presents.”
“Daddy,” she squealed, recognized the joke, “You would never do that to me!”
“Lucky for you, we won’t find out this year. Now blow me a kiss and head to bed you two. I’ve got to get some cookies out for Santa.”
Shelly and Martin giddily blew him multiple kisses before simultaneously shouting, “Merry Christmas, Daddy. We miss you!”
“I miss you guys too, but I’ll see you both before you know it. I love you both a bushel and I know tomorrow’s going to be great. Give mommy the phone now so I can tell her good night too.”
After a moment of awkward static, Gina was on. “Hey Honey, you set for tonight?”
“I think so,” Greg reassured her, “Power’s still on and I have wood in the garage in case it goes out. I already made food for tomorrow so no worries there. I’m just gonna snuggle under a blanket, drink, and watch a movie or two.”
“Anybody stop by?” Gina couldn’t stop herself from asking. She never heard back from Mallory and found herself obsessing over if anything might be happening, if Mallory was still on-board, and so on.
“In this weather?” Greg replied with confused incredulity.
“Like, you know, a neighbor. Or the Riches…they’re just a block away,” she bit her tongue a moment too late. If she wasn’t careful, he’d know she was up to something.
Greg sighed loudly on the other end, “Can we not talk about Mallory right now? I agreed to consider allowing her to babysit Martin and Shelly again and I will. But it’s Christmas Eve, Gina.”
“No, I know. I’m sorry. I just…she’s a good kid.”
“I’m not so sure.”
“It was one time, Greg. She’s a college student who got drunk once. That’s not remotely interesting even.”
“Please, can Escort Ağrı we just have Christmas be Christmas right now and leave arguments about child care for some later date?”
“Yes. Yes, of course. Please don’t miss us too badly tonight, okay?”
“I can make no promises but I will try. Merry Christmas Gina.”
“Merry Christmas, hubby. See you tomorrow.”
With that, she hung up and Greg was alone once more.
The plan was simple. Mallory was waiting until her parents went to bed and then she was sneaking out, wrapped in the warmest blanket she could find. A quick jog down the street and over would put her at the Clarks quickly. Hopefully, so quickly, in fact, that her body wouldn’t fully process how cold it was.
Her heart raced as she lay in bed, wearing the costume under the covers, and waiting for that moment when they were really, truly, fully going to sleep. The last time she was this amped up on Christmas Eve was the night she decided she would sneak down and wait for the Santa next to the tree. Instead, six year old Mallory had fallen asleep almost immediately after getting downstairs and Santa Claus once again evaded her. This time, though, she promised herself, she would fulfill her clandestine Christmas Eve plan.
She strained as she heard her parents’ footfalls rising up the stairs. They whispered to each other in hushed tones, giggling from a bit too much holiday cheer. The hall lights snapped off and the bedroom door closed with a muted click.
Holding her breath to stay calm, she slid out of bed and pulled the blanket tightly around her body. Creeping with delicate care, Mallory eased out of her room and down the stairs. As she crossed the living room, the fake candles in the window went out. With a gasp, she froze in fear, convinced she was caught. After an endless moment of stock stillness, she allowed herself to glance around the room. From the living room, she could see into the kitchen. Where she should’ve seen the microwave clock glowing green there was nothing but black.
Feeling a bit safer, she walked to the back of the house and tried the light in the back bathroom. Nothing. The power was out. The teen allowed herself a relieved smirk. Then she remembered why she was skulking around in the dark and her stomach flipped once again. Time to get going.
“Are you kidding me?” an annoyed and, yes, buzzed, Greg shouted at his house as it plunged into darkness.
“You couldn’t even let me see the end of A Muppet Christmas Carole?” he muttered to the swirling snow outside as he grabbed the flashlight and headed to the garage.
Grabbing an armful of wood, he stomped back inside, talking to myself and feeling the familiar heat of alcohol in his blood. He wobblingly lowered himself on to the hearth, pulled open the fireplace doors and began to feed the empty maw the jagged pieces of timber. Getting the fire started seemed to take an interminable amount of time but finally, with an aggressive amount of crumpled newspaper and the application of several long fireplace matches, the flames roared to life.
Satisfied that it would not be snuffed out the moment he stopped prodding it, he went to the closet down the hall and produced the heavy sleeping bag that he and Gina had bought years earlier when they were entertaining a winter camping trip. News that Gina was pregnant with their daughter derailed that plan and with the exception of occasionally using it as a blanket at concerts in the fall, it had lived an existence that left its purpose largely unfulfilled. He found himself somewhat giddy to finally use it for warding off cold weather while he slept.
Spreading it out on the floor, he arranged it for the perfect distance from the fire to get the heat without being overwhelmed and from the tree so as to not accidentally roll into it while he slept or stumble into it if he needed to leave the sleeping bag for the bathroom. When he was finally confident of its placement, he pulled the oversized pillows from the couch and arranged them at the head of the bag. Then, he half zipped into so he’d be able to enter with ease and zip it up around him with little effort.
His sleeping arrangements near perfection he returned to the fire to evaluate its progress. We shifted from foot to foot, evaluating if the pile of wood already inside would be enough. With a shrug he decided more wood would probably be a good idea and left the room once again to gather the remaining pieces.
His earlier annoyance forgotten, the doctor was now full of pride and a long-lasting childhood love of fires in the fireplace, he bounded back into the room only to stop short. Like a bad movie cliché, he dropped the pile of wood at his feet, lucky to not crush his toes in the bargain.
“What are you doing here?” he forced out of his lips haltingly.
Backlight by the fire, Mallory turned slowly around to face the married man. She was bundled tightly in a thick layer of blanket, crystals of snow twinkling in her blonde hair as they melted.
She felt awkward and vulnerable. As exposed as she could remember with him even though she was still wrapped in a blanket. Sneaking into his shower those few months ago was no big deal in comparison to how this felt now. Still, she screwed up her courage and willed her inner sex kitten back to the surface.
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