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The Holiday Surprise

Story by Bri

Written by Annie, Cole, Jeslyn, Liz, Shira

Edited by Liz, Lisa, Tiff, Mark

 

 

Playlist

1. “Where are you Going?” by The Dave Matthews Band

2. “Let it Snow” by Frank Sinatra

3. “Santa Baby” by Marilyn Monroe

4. “Thinking About Forever” by P.O.D.

5. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Tori Amos

6.  “Christmas Day” by Dido

 

 

 

 

Christmas.

 

It has been the sole topic of conversation for the past two weeks.

 

Christmas.

 

The more she thought about it, the more this day called Christmas stood out in Maria’s mind.  She had become accustomed to recalling memories without any feelings.  But all the memories up until now had lacked any striking qualities and were in fact, fairly bland.  Something about these new memories was different though – saturated somehow – colored with an unidentifiable presence.

 

As Maria drifted off to sleep, her mind churned yet again over the so-called feelings everyone said she was supposed to have.  But as the point of consciousness came and went, other, deeper memories began surfacing again.

 

Calypso stared up at the mottled red sky from where she laid back in the cool grass.  A warm northern breeze swept over the knoll, causing the water’s edge to dance lightly in irregular patterns.  She looked up at the three moons hovering in the sky and wondered what in the hell was taking Rath so long.

 

“I figured I'd find you here,” Rath stated as he confidently climaxed the knoll and plodded down the leeward side, looking like some kind of Adonis with his shirt half undone and his hair dishevelled.

 

Calypso leaned towards the water and dragged a finger through its shimmering golden surface,  her back turned to him.

 

“Yeah? When did you figure that out?”

 

Rath smirked and plopped down next to her on the soft grass.  “Hey,” he said softly, tipping her chin up between his bulky fingers.  “I'm sorry I'm late.  You know how things get at the palace on this day…” He trailed and waved a hand towards the sky where four planets were visible.  He then continued in a deep, dramatic voice, “This day of the great planetary alignment.”

 

Calypso rolled her eyes.  “Doesn't it mean anything to you that our ancestors have been celebrating this day for eons and –”

 

“I saw enough celebrating at the palace.  You know what Vilandra got me? A blue tunic.” The irritation in his voice was thick.

 

Calypso smirked.  “You hate blue.”

 

“Exactly.”

 

So...

 

“So...what?”

 

“So what did you get me?” Calypso asked, feigning indifference.

 

Rath smirked.  “It's a surprise.”

 

“A surprise?”

 

“A surprise for later,” he added.

 

“Oh, that surprise.  Well, you know, you give me that surprise every night, so what else did you get me?”

 

Rath rolled his eyes, grasping her hand and brushing a kiss against the back of her fingers.  “It's a different kind of surprise,” he promised.

 

Calypso sighed in defeat, “Alright, well in that case.” She stood stoically and walked over to a stone bench a few feet away.  Lifting a small box off of it, she stared down at the last gift she was ever going to give him, at least in this life.

 

Stepping up behind her, Rath ran his hands down her arms.  “Callie?”

 

Calypso turned suddenly, tears pooling in her eyes as she held up the long, narrow box between them.  Instead of taking the box, Rath watched the tears cascade down her rosy cheeks.  He didn't need her to tell him what was wrong, he knew.

 

Swiping away her tears, Calypso pushed the box into his hands.  “Here, just open it.”

 

Taking the box, Rath pushed the lid off and stared down at a beautifully crafted, gold runed and sapphire-bejewelled dagger.

 

“This is a dagger of the ancients, Cam, I –”

 

“I remembered how much you used to obsess about every new dagger your father would get when we were little,” Calypso explained, the light coming back into her eyes.

 

“How could you possibly afford this? Zan's too cheap to be paying you this much,” Rath speculated.  He carefully took it out of the box and turned it over in his hand, its weight comfortable in his grasp.  The light from the setting sun hit the jewels embedded in the metal and bounced off, creating tiny reflections of light.

 

Calypso shrugged.  “My father helped me out some.  He's getting paid major credits for some big project Zan's administration is putting together.  Highly classified he says,” she added.

 

At the mentioning of the project, Rath wondered how much she knew about it.  He had planned to tell her, but the timing was not right, it was never right, it would never be right.

 

Rath?

 

Rath's head snapped up to Calypso's questioning eyes and he smiled as if nothing was wrong.  Placing the dagger back in the box, he set it back down on the bench and took Calypso into his arms.  “I love it,” he said simply, then leaned down to look at her at eye level.  “But not nearly as much as I love you.  Always remember that.  No matter what happens, I will always love you.”

 

As Maria awoke, those last words echoed through her mind, and for a brief moment she remembered what they were and what they meant.  But as quickly as they had come, they were gone.

 

Maria's eyes filled with wetness, although she had no idea why, and when she opened them, Michael was staring right at her, concern on his face.

 

“Michael?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“You get people things they like for Christmas, right?” Maria asked, and although the random question confused him, he nodded.

 

Maria thought for a moment, remembering something from her dream, a golden lake.  Maybe it was even a feeling - something happened when she gave something to Rath.

 

That memory was just out of her reach, but there was something else that, for some odd reason, she remembered crystal clear.

 

“You don't like blue, right?”

 

“Not...  really,” Michael replied slowly, warily.

 

Maria nodded.  “Okay,” she said simply, but knew a lot more then she was letting on.  She knew exactly what she wanted for Christmas.

 

 

~.~.~.~.~

 

Max looked around at his surroundings.  It was late afternoon; the building was empty except for him and his cohort, and there wasn’t a customer in sight.  Another boring Wednesday.  He was glad to have a job, glad to have legitimate money coming in, but working at the discount video store was not his idea of a good time.  He shook his head and leaned against the counter.  Things were really dead today and there was only so much you could do to keep yourself busy before boredom takes over.

 

“Evans, what movie do you want to watch next?” Kyle motioned to the back of the store, in hopes of brightening the day.

 

Max rolled his eyes.  “I am sick of movies.   We have been working here forever now and I never thought I would say this, but I hate movies!”

 

“Come on,” Kyle goaded, wanting to cheer him up.  “How about we watch ‘Lilo and Stitch’? I saw previews for it and it looks pretty funny.”

 

Max looked at him sceptically.  “What’s it about?”

 

“Well a little alien...  um...  yeah, crashes in Hawaii...  and uh yeah...” Kyle said, throwing Max the cover-jacket.

 

“Aliens, huh?” he said, looking it over.

 

The cartoon character on the cover made Max smile and give a half chuckle. “Aliens.  I’m sick of the real thing, might as well throw this in.”

 

Max loaded the tape into one of the VCR’s, and it began whirring to life.

 

Kyle agreed.  “Nothing like fantasy.”

 

Max turned up the volume and leaned back on the counter.

 

As the movie began to roll, the door chimed and a tall, obese man walked through the door.  Max quickly turned down the volume.

 

“Good afternoon, Mr.  Roberts,” Max said happily as the familiar face dropped a video in the bin.

 

“Anything we can help you find today?” Kyle added, smiling slyly because he knew this customer was a regular of the ‘adult’ section.

 

“No, no thanks.  I’m fine,” he answered awkwardly as he inched his way down the aisle to the back of the store.

 

The door jingled again and two children rushed in just in front of their mother.

 

“Figures, as soon as we start a good movie we get a rush,” Kyle complained.

 

“This is hardly a rush,” Max stated observantly.

 

“Just you wait, your Majesty.  Just you wait,” Kyle said, sidestepping Max and heading to the other side of the counter, where he began sorting videos to put back on the shelves.

 

Before they could say another word, a slew of people came in and the once-dead video store was now packed to the brim with people of all ages.  Max and Kyle took their places at the counter and began to work the registers.

 

“Find everything all right, Mr.  Roberts?” Kyle asked as he scanned the movie jackets.

 

“Yeah, just fine, thanks.”

 

“Well, that will be $4.50,” Kyle said, Mr. Roberts handing him a five.

 

Kyle punched the keyboard, the cash drawer popped open, and he grabbed two quarters, handing them to Mr.  Roberts.

 

“Here’s your change.  ‘Busty Biker Babes Caught on Tape’ and ‘Dancing Dirty’ are both due back on Friday before midnight.”

 

Kyle laughed to himself, the elderly couple in line shuddered as he read the names aloud.  Mr.  Roberts quickly walked out the door.

 

The returned video bin was overflowing now and videos were ending up on the floor.

 

“Hey Max, why don’t you start putting some videos away, I can handle checking everyone else out.”

 

“Sure,” Max said, loading up a cart.  Exiting the counter, he started pushing it down the aisle when he felt a tug on his shirt.

 

“Excuse me, mister?” the little boy asked.

 

Max looked down to see a young boy with huge, hopeful blue eyes.  Max knelt down so he was face to face with the child.

 

“Wha’cha need, kiddo?”

 

“There is no more Stitches left, ya' got any in there?”

 

“Let me check,” Max said as he got up and started looking though his cart full of recently returned videos.

 

“So, you like ‘Lilo and Stitch’, huh?”

 

“Yeah! I saw part of it at my friend Bobby’s house and it was real funny.” the boy said, laughing to himself.  “Aliens are cool! What’s your name?”

 

“My name is Max, what’s yours?”

 

“Alex and I am this many years old,” he said as he held up his right hand and his left thumb.

 

“Wow, you’re growing up fast!”

 

Yup, I am a big boy.  I go to kindergarten now.  How old are you?

 

“Eighteen.”

 

The boy started counting on his fingers, and got stuck at ten twice before giving up. 

 

“Wow, you’re old!” the boy said in awe.

 

Max had finished looking though the cart, and there weren’t any Lilo and Stitch videos.  He knelt back down beside the boy and said, “Sorry kiddo, but we don’t have any more Stitches.”

 

“Oh,” the boy said dejectedly, his shoulders dropping.

 

“ALEX!” his mother shouted.  “I have been looking everywhere for you! Big boys don’t run off!”

 

“But mom, I was asking him if he had any more Stitches!” the boy compensated.

 

“No, buts mister, you don’t run off like that.” She looked back up at Max.  “I’m sorry he was bothering you,” the woman offered kindly.

 

Really, it’s no problem, Max said as he smiled at the boy.  Seeing the boy reminded him of his own son, wherever he may be. He hoped that someday he and Liz would have a child just like that.

 

“Come on Alex, you are going to have to pick out another movie,” his mother said.

 

“But I don’ wanna ‘nother movie! I wanna watch Stitches,” the boy cried as he slowly sulked off behind his mother.

 

“Wait, Alex,” Max said, suddenly remembering.  “We have one behind the desk.  See, it’s playing on the TV up there.”

 

Max watched Alex’s face brighten as he saw the screens above.

 

“You can have that one if you like.”

 

Alex turned to his mother eagerly, bouncing up and down and grabbing a hold of her leg.  “Can we mom?”

 

She looked at Max with a smile.  “Sure.”

 

“Just follow me up here and I’ll check you out,” Max said, leading the mother and her two children to the counter. Max stopped the movie that was playing and threw it in the rewinder.  He took the mother’s card and scanned the jacket of the movie.

 

“Oh, and don’t forget this one,” the woman said as she took a movie out of her daughter’s hands and gave it to Max.  It was an old cartoon that brought back good memories of his childhood.

 

“Gotta’ love Scooby Doo, this one is a classic,” Max said with a laugh, scanning it.

 

He heard the rewinder stop, grabbed Lilo and Stitch, and slipped it into its jacket.

 

“Your total is $4.50.”

 

Max handed her the change and movies.

 

“They are due back on Friday before midnight.  Have a nice day.  Take care, Alex.”

 

Alex smiled shyly.

 

Let’s go, the mother said as she pushed the kids towards the exit.

 

The little boy stopped and looked up at Max, who was now looking out the window thoughtfully.  Alex once again tugged on the end of his shirt.  Max looked down and gave the boy a genuine smile.

 

“Tank you, Max,” Alex said as he gave him a hug and quickly ran to catch up to his family.

 

After Max watched the family walk away, he looked around the video store, and found Kyle leaning against the counter once again, another cart of movies full and waiting to be restocked.

 

“That was a rush.” Kyle said.  “And I see that you gave away our movie!”

 

“I had to.  You can’t say no to a kid.”

 

“That’s your weakness then,” Kyle laughed.

 

They stood in silence for a while, not really knowing what to say.  They had been working together for a few weeks now, but there were still moments when they had nothing to talk about.  Kyle felt the need to break the silence.

 

“So, did you get a present for Liz yet?”

 

“Yeah, well I’ve had it on my mind for a while now so it wasn’t too hard.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Yeah, I figure I owe her so much, you know? Just for coming with me and giving up her life,  college, family. Actually I feel that way towards all of you,” Max said quietly, still staring out the window.

 

“So, what did you get her?” Kyle asked again, wanting to get away from the brooding touchy-feely stuff.

 

“Can’t tell.” Max said with a gleam in his eye, “Very top secret, Area-51 hush-hush.”

 

“Come on.  You really think I would tell her?”

 

1

 

Max wavered.  For some reason he wanted something to share with Kyle.  He had given Kyle a bad rap since he found him and Liz in bed together, and in the end he had been all wrong.  Kyle always helped whom he could, when he could, and he had given up his life and his father to go on the run with people he had little in common with.

 

No, you probably will tell someone and then that someone will tell someone else…”

 

“Scout’s honor,” Kyle said, putting three fingers in the air.

 

“Fine, fine,” Max laughed.  “Even though I know you are no scout.”

 

“Woohoo! I love secrets - well good secrets that is,” Kyle said as he settled himself on the counter closer to Max.

 

“Well, when we were on the run, after the carnival, I got word to Liz’s parents to send a package to a P.O. box outside Fresno.” At Kyle’s pointed look he added, “I was safe about it.”

 

Kyle rolled his eyes. Leave it up to a former king to tell his followers not to do something and then turn around and do it himself. He swallowed any biting remarks and asked, “A package?”

 

“Well, more like an envelope.”

 

With what?

 

“Full of pictures of her family, mom, dad, grandma Claudia and others.  Well with those I made an album, her family at the beginning and our family at the end.”

 

“Wow,” Kyle said nodding in approval. “Good idea.”

 

“Yeah, I thought so.  I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to pull it off, but I did.  And I got her a new journal – leather.  It’s a little like her old one, except this one is purple, with a black strap.”

 

“I am sure she’ll love it.”

 

“Yeah?” Max asked hopefully.

 

“Definitely.  I wish I could come up with something that good,” Kyle shrugged, scratching his chin.

 

“For who?”

 

“Oh, no one in particular, I was just saying I would like to have ideas like yours,” Kyle said, covering his tracks. No one needed to know he had a crush on Serena.

 

“Right.” Max said as he watched Kyle squirm.  “So, anyway, want to bet on what Mr. Roberts returned?”

 

“That’s not fair, we both know it was, you know…”

 

“Yeah, but was it one of his regular favourites or a new release?” Max challenged.

 

Kyle thought for a bit.  “I bet it was one of the new ones.”

 

“No way,” Max challenged.  “I bet it was his favourite, ‘Hole in One.’”

 

“Fine- you’ve got a bet.  I know for a fact he checked that out last week, there is no way he checked it out again two days ago, especially with our wide porn selection,” Kyle laughed.

 

“What do you want to bet?” Max asked, walking towards the bin.

 

“Hmmm...  How about supper?”

 

“You got it.” Max said as he dug into the bin and pulled out the video and showed it to Kyle.  “I guess you owe me supper!”

 

“Whatever, that man is seriously nuts.” Kyle said as he looked at the movie in dismay.  “With all our porn he chooses that one.”

 

“So, you didn’t like this one I take it?” Max asked innocently as he scanned it back into the system.

 

“Don’t go there Max!” Kyle started turning red.

 

“Trust me, I don’t want to go there,” Max said, laughing.

 

The two fell into sorting videos and there was a lull in the conversation. Kyle tapped his foot impatiently.  As much as he liked Max, sometimes he just needed to get away from him.


“I’ll be right back,” Kyle said, grabbing an armload of videos from the X-marked box. 

 

“You do know that you shelve porn almost six times every shift,” Max commented, looking up from the group of videos that had just been returned.

 

Kyle shrugged his shoulders.   “What can I say? I’m a self-respecting red-blooded male.   It’s not only my duty, but also my right.  Buddha states it’s perfectly natural to love women!”

 

Rolling his eyes, Max turned his attention to the pile of videos in front of him.   “Hamlet,” he muttered aloud, tossing it into the box marked Drama.  “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” he muttered again, an eyebrow rising.  That one ended up in the comedy bin, but it took a little thought.  “Hot Hunnies…”

 

Max stopped reading.   “Kyle,” he called out, but it was too late.   The door to the back section of the store was already closed, which meant that Kyle would be occupied for at least a good fifteen minutes.  The bell on the store’s front door chimed.  Dropping the rest of the videos into the ‘to be sorted’ pile, Max looked up at the approaching customer.

 

“Hey Max,” Serena said as she walked towards him.  “Whatcha doin’?”

 

“Sorting videos,” Max answered, a baffled look on his face.   “I thought you were supposed to be at work?”

 

“Well,” she trailed off.   “I was, but…”

 

“You were fired,” he finished for her.

 

“No,” Serena insisted, accentuating the point by sticking up her index finger.   “Just for the record, I quit.”

 

“Why?” Max asked, almost taking on the tone of a parent scolding a child.

 

“You have heard of the hypothesis that the customer is always right,” Serena countered, a completely serious look on her face.

 

Max nodded his head in a silent compliance.

 

“See, I managed to prove that they were indeed not always right, like 1-0=1 except for extremely large values of 1,” Serena continued to explain.   “Anyways, after I brought it not only to the customers attention but the to the manager’s as well, he was polite enough to accept my resignation.  Especially since my scientific curiosity had been cured.”

 

“Layman’s terms,” Max requested, beginning to rub his left temple.

 

“Basically, a woman started arguing with me over fifteen cents that she thought I owed her, which I didn’t,” Serena justified.  “After about ten minutes of explaining exactly what tax was, I told her where she could shove her fifteen lousy cents and kindly offered to draw her an atomically correct diagram to aid her in the process.  Therefore, the manager and I decided that my talents would be of better use elsewhere, perhaps in the medical imaging field.”

 

Max let out a groan of frustration.   “Do you know what this means?”

 

No more blue light specials? Serena said off the top of her head.

 

Max threw a disapproving look over the counter at her.

 

Tossing both hands up in a mock defensive manner, Serena took a step back.  “Don’t worry.   I saw a help wanted sign in the coffee house down the block.  I’d be a natural, mostly because I consume more coffee than any normal human being can handle.  Oh, that, and there’s no tax,” she smiled stately.

 

“Okay,” Max gave up.  “Okay.”

 

“So where is Kyle,” Serena asked, happy that Max was no longer angry with her.

 

A mischievous smile crossed Max’s lips.   “He’s in the back,” he told her, pointing over to the door marked ‘Adults 18 and Over Only.’  “You can go see him if you want.”

 

“Thanks,” she replied with a smirk, heading off towards the back. 

 

“Oh,” Max said, stopping Serena in her tracks.   “And could you take this to him?” he asked, handing her a video.

 

“Sure,” Serena agreed, not looking down to see the video in her hand.  Quickly, she made her way to the other end of the store.  Creaking the door open, she was met the slight sound of moaning and - golf carts?  That was all it took for her to glance down at the video in her hand.  “’Hot Hunnies’,” she muttered.  “I’ll be damned.”

 

With that, she threw the door open.   “I seriously doubt Buddha would approve of your participation in this kind of vulgar indulgence.”

 

Startled, Kyle dropped the videos he was holding, scattering them across the floor.   “Wha – wha - what are you doing here,” he stuttered.

 

“Thought I would stop by to see you,” Serena explained.   “But it looks like you are already occupied.”

 

“For your information, I’m working,” Kyle countered, trying to save a little face.

 

“Since when did your job include previewing porn,” Serena questioned, seeing Max’s wide grin. She shut the door behind her.

 

Kyle laughed nervously.   “It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.”

 

Serena took a quick glance at the TV monitor.   “Yup, dirty just about covers it… just about.”

 

“Aren’t you supposed to be working or something,” Kyle retorted, reaching around Serena to shut off the television.

 

She looked up into his eyes.   “What can I say, they didn’t like my use of colorful adjectives to improve customer relations, I guess they can’t handle real adult material.”

 

One of Kyle’s eyebrows raised on its own accord.   “Is that so?”

 

Nodding, Serena started to lean in closer to Kyle.   His gaze fell on her lips, taking in how full and soft they looked.   Oh, how he wanted to kiss her.

 

Just then, there was a sudden knock on the door.   “Not that I really want to know, but what are you two doing in there,” Max’s voice filtered through. “I heard moaning, and, was that, golf-carts?”

 

Nothing now, Kyle groaned, as he saw Max walk away, a wide grin on his face.

 

Serena couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

 

“What’s so funny,” Kyle asked, only slightly amused.

 

“Nothing,” Serena said, shaking her head.   “What are you doing after work?”

 

Kyle shrugged his shoulders.   “Nothing really.   Why?”

 

“We’re getting coffee,” she informed him as she moved towards the door.  “At the diner.”

 

“Okay,” Kyle agreed, a dazed look on his face.   “I’ll see you at four?”

 

“Four it is,” Serena confirmed.   “I better let you get back to your job.   Try not to get too absorbed in your work,” she teased, walking away.

 

Wait, we who? he said, but she had already gone.

 

Kyle stood there, stunned for a moment, and then he remembered the scattered videos on the floor.

 

“Evans is a dead man!”

 

 

~.~.~.~.~

2

 

Isabel strode into the small store with one purpose and one purpose only.  She needed to find -

 

Suddenly she stopped, an almost Grinch-like smile spreading across her lips.

 

“There you are,” She said slyly to herself.  She bolted to the stand, politely waiting for each person to take their turn, a fake smile or two displayed to a few others waiting beside her.

 

“Oh, screw this,” she muttered, pushing her way through the mass of people.  She needed that globe, but there were a variety - which to choose? She picked up a box and read the label above the sample picture and sat it back down, going over to another one.

 

She sneered.  “Snowmen are too overrated.  It's three balls of snow and a carrot for crying out loud.” Angels? Did she really want Angels in a house filled with little devil hybrids? She thought not.  Finally, she spotted what she was looking for – a reindeer with a red nose, standing in the middle of its glass dome.  She snatched it up, almost greedily, looking at the little old woman picking through the left over globes.

 

The old woman looked up at her and started to smile, until Isabel snapped, “This one’s mine.  It's perfect.  I’m sorry but Christmas is first-come first-served, lady.” She said with a nod, grabbing the box and stalking off.  She held the box close and smiled with satisfaction as looked down at it.  She was so enthralled that she nearly collided with Jesse.

 

“Look, Jesse!” She exclaimed, her face breaking out into an irresistible, insanely large grin.  “I found Rudolph!”

 

“That’s… that’s great, Isabel,” Jesse replied, looking not so excited as he looked past her to the old lady who was shaking her walker at him.  “Sorry ma'am, she just really loves Rudolph,” he said with a shrug.

 

Isabel pretended not to notice and took the globe out of its box, shaking it upside down, watching the fake snow fall on the reindeer.  “Isn’t it great honey?” She said, watching the artificial snow fall. Standing in the middle of the aisle, someone accidentally jostled into her and she nearly lost her grip on the globe.  After securing it in her hands she turned to them, snapping, “Watch where you’re going! Haven’t you heard of the words, ‘excuse me’? It is Christmas after all!”

 

She turned back to Jesse, “You know, you would honestly think that people could be considerate at least one time of the year.  Don't you think?” Jesse nodded, without really hearing.  “I mean it’s Christmas! Christmas is a time for giving and compassion and not who can get to the checkout first and get home before the game.” She ranted.

 

Jesse looked up.  “Do you think we're going to miss the game?”

 

Isabel glared at him.  “You think this is funny? It's a travesty the way people...  people...” She trailed, anger and irritation showing.

 

“Alright, calm down.” Jesse soothed then carefully placed the globe back into its box and gave it to Isabel to hold onto, as he already had way too much in his own hands.  “Here's your reindeer, if it will make you feel better.  Now let's just get out of here,” He said, glancing around.  “People are getting hostile in here,” He added, nearly losing his hold on all of the accessories she had purchased to accent their home during the holiday season.

 

Isabel instantly snapped back into Nazi-mode, pulling out her planner.

 

“Okay, the doorways leading to Max and Liz’s room and the front door are all missing mistletoe.  That is just not acceptable.  Do you remember which store I got it from?” Isabel stood poised with her pen over her planner, which was filled with lists of things to do while out shopping.  It nearly gave Jesse a headache to see that only a few were crossed off.

 

Jesse shook his head no.  “Sorry, Isabel.  You picked those up in New York, remember?”

 

“Yes, I know but you’d figure in a city like Boston they’d have some store that was year-round Christmas.  Not to have one would be unacceptable! Mistletoe is a must you know.  Although in our house kissing partners are pretty much quarantined with yellow tape and a “Do Not Enter” sign, it's still a necessity.”

 

Jesse sighed.  “Alright, alright Isabel.  We'll go find another store with mistletoe.” He looked down at his watch.  “We don't have to meet up with the others for another twenty minutes anyway.”

 

Isabel's eyes narrowed.  “You are looking at this from entirely the wrong perspective.” She said with a shake of her head.

 

“The wrong perspective or the perspective that isn't yours?” Jesse asked snidely.

 

Isabel glared.  “What's that supposed to mean!”

 

Jesse sighed and then shook his head.  “Nothing...  this Christmas has just been a little more stressful then I would have hoped,” he explained.

 

“Oh I'm sorry Jesse that this Christmas isn't everything you wanted it to be!” She snapped.  “How do you think I feel being away from my home, on the other side of the country from my home! Away from my family! On Christmas!”

 

Noticing that they were now the center of attention in the store, Isabel took a step closer to him and whispered, “But you know I actually thought that being away from my family wouldn't be so horrible because I had you.” She backed up a step.  “I guess I was wrong.”

 

With that, Isabel turned and walked from the store, leaving a very guilty Jesse behind; a guilty Jesse who knew now exactly what to get Isabel for Christmas.

 

 

~.~.~.~.~

 

In a thrift shop near Jesse’s apartment, Liz surveyed the store for anything that might be a good gift.  She was originally going to spend the day with Max, since he had a day off work, but the video store called him in at the last minute.  Now, she was shopping with Michael and Maria, and was a little surprised that Michael had actually asked her to join him and Maria in some Christmas shopping.  She guessed he was trying to get some kind of emotional reaction out of Maria by taking her Christmas shopping.

 

She stood; a thoughtful grin on her face while she gazed at some items in the display case beneath the checkout counter.  Watches, bracelets, earrings, and other knick-knacks reminded her of the others, but she couldn’t decide which ones to get.  She looked around for Michael or Maria to get a second opinion.  Michael was looking through a rack of clothes, obviously bored by the selection.  There was a look of constant annoyance on his face as well she noticed, and it bugged her to no end.  She knew Maria would not suddenly express emotion like she used to no matter how badly Michael wanted it to happen.

 

Maria stood motionless, her face stoic while she stared at a display of socks.  Liz thought that Maria looked about as bored as Michael felt.  She decided to suggest they try another shop, but by the time she reached Maria, she didn’t get the chance.  Michael was staring at her friend incredulously and Liz wanted to know why he was seemingly so offended by Maria’s behavior.  He had been caring for Maria since after whatever he had done to her, and absently Liz assumed his feelings were unconditional, the way Max’s were for her.  That day in the store, she realized she could be wrong.

 

“Socks?” he gasped at Maria, “what kind of Christmas present is that?”

 

“I think I need socks,” Maria told him absently, shrugging as if she didn’t know what she really needed.

 

We’re not shopping for ourselves, Michael pointed out, but before he could continue Liz interrupted him, Have you found anything for the others, Michael? Do you have any idea what Isabel might want? I’m not sure what to get her.

 

“Me either,” he admitted sheepishly.  Glancing back at Maria, he said insistently, “Look at something else, okay? Something for someone other than yourself.”

 

“What am I supposed to look for?” Maria said, looking up at him.

 

“Look for something you think would make, um, Michael happy, for example.” Liz suggested.

 

Maria looked at her blankly; she still had no idea what Liz meant.

 

“Look, I’ll give you an example.  I think I’m going to find Max a sweater.  It’s warm, which is good for the winter time when it’s freezing outside, and whenever he wears it he’ll be happy because it reminds him of me.  You know, he’ll smile and be nice to people because he’s in a good mood, which is part of what Christmas is all about.  Do you understand at all?”

 

Maria shrugged again and walked over to the display case under the checkout counter.  Michael looked like he was going to follow her, but Liz grabbed one of his arms, stopping him at least for a moment.

 

“Michael, please take it easy on her.  Any changes she makes won’t be instantaneous, you realize that.”

 

He glanced at her for a moment and took a deep breath.  Then he walked over to Maria and Liz followed, interested to hear what he would say next.  He leaned down and peered into the display case.  After a moment, he spoke to Maria again.

 

“How about that silver bracelet for Isabel?” he suggested.

 

“Junk,” Maria muttered.

 

“What? I bet it’s an antique,” Michael replied defensively.

 

“All useless junk,” Maria spoke a little louder than before.

 

“I don’t know, I liked that bracelet too,” Liz spoke up, trying to help.

 

Maria blinked a few times, but said nothing.

 

“Do you really think Isabel will like it, Michael?” Liz said to him after a few seconds of silence.

 

“I think so,” Michael replied hesitantly, “at least it’s not socks or a dental product.”

 

“What?”

 

“Don’t ask,” Michael insisted and said to Maria impatiently, “Do you see anything?”

 

“I have no idea what to look for,” she said in that same unemotional tone she had adopted since that fateful night they stopped at the strip club.

 

Glancing at Michael, Liz noticed he was hurt by Maria’s words.  Talking to Maria was like talking to a brick wall and she did not like it one bit.  Liz didn’t see right away that it was Maria that was causing Michael all this pain, which was the worst part of the whole situation.

 

“I,” Maria spoke again while she glanced around the store. “I just don’t know.  I have no idea what will make Michael happy.  What is happy anyway?”

 

Michael’s eyes narrowed in anger and Liz gave him a pleading look to calm down.  Maria hurt him again and did not even come close to realizing it.  Liz wanted him to stay, so she tried thinking of something to say that might calm him down.  Maria needed him even if she did unknowingly hurt him with her words.

 

“Michael, she didn’t mean it like that I’m sure.  She’s just -”

 

“Forget it,” he snapped.

 

Before Liz could speak again he stormed out of the shop, the bell ringing extra loudly as the door swung shut behind him.  She didn’t like seeing Michael unhappy because that usually meant Max and Isabel would become unhappy.  Heck, he had already ruined her happy mood.

 

Maria just stood there, as if she didn’t even notice that Michael had left the store.  A stoic expression occupied Maria’s face once more.  Liz sighed unhappily.  She had a bad feeling that Maria might never get better.  The scary part was, that it was as if she had already lost her other best friend.  Maria wasn’t a person – not then.  She was practically a statue.

 

 

~.~.~.~.~

 

As Kyle was approaching the quaint Boston diner, he could see Serena’s form through one of the frosty windows.  Even at a distance, she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.  This was the second time he’d seen her at a diner. Remembering back to Yosemite, he hoped this time would go a little smoother.

 

The door chimed as he walked in, and Serena must have seen him coming because she turned around just as he was walking up to her.

 

Sit,Serena said, motioning across from her at the empty space in their booth.  She looked at her watch.  4:02, not bad.

 

Thanks, Kyle said, taking off his coat and sitting down across from her.  Earlier you said we were having coffee and I didn’t know if you meant just you and me or if Max or someone else was coming as well.

 

 Relax Kyle, Serena said, smiling at him, handing him a menu.  We – as in you and I - are just having some coffee.  Unless you want me to invite Max and the others.

 

Nah, that’s okay, Kyle said with a smirk.  He was going to get even with Max some way, somehow.

 

The waitress making the rounds came to the table, looking at the two expectantly.  What can I get ya'?

 

Refill, Java, black, Serena stated efficiently.

 

Kyle looked over the menu, the waitress waiting impatiently.  I’ll have a double cappuccino please, and the waitress nodded, walking off dutifully.

 

Strong stuff, sure you’re up to it? Serena teased.

 

Well, if I’m not going to get any sleep tonight, I’d better do it with style, right?

 

 

~.~.~.~.~

 

Liz watched as Max trudged up the walkway, his boots gathering the newly fallen snow.   It was truly the first white Christmas she had ever had.   Sure, snow fell in Roswell, but it melted too fast to be appreciated.   In Boston, it stayed, lasted longer, lived awhile.   At first, it was white, pure, and glistening, covering the ground with a delightful innocence.   After a bit of time, it would age, get grey, and slowly turn into water in order to keep the cycle going.

 

“It’s almost like Max and I,” she thought to herself, waiting for him to come in.   In the beginning, there was a genuine innocence to the bond they shared.   It was meant to be explored and cherished at the same time.   Then, life took over, muddying the brilliance and melting the simplicity.   But time brought it back again; recycling what it had to know was a good thing.   Hell, not once, but twice.   “Would this have to be a third,” she wondered aloud as the door opened.

 

“Liz,” Max called out.   “Are you home?”

 

“Yeah,” she called back, slowing rising from the warm spot she had created on the couch in front of the window.   “I’m in the living room.”

 

Max dropped his boots by the door, hanging his coat up there as well.   With quick movement, he fully appeared in the archway to the living room.   His entire face lit up when he saw her.   “I missed you.”

 

Liz couldn’t help but giggle a bit.   “You only had an eight-hour shift,” she mocked, standing up and moving over to him so she could wrap herself in his arms. 

 

All too happy to oblige, Max enveloped her.   “Still doesn’t mean that I can’t miss my wife.   Besides, am I to assume you haven’t missed me at all?”

 

Rolling her eyes, knowing that she had been caught, Liz refused to look at him.   She knew that if she did, there would be nothing than that damn sexy smirk gracing his lips.   With that one look, she might feel the temptation to forget about telling him her secret.   It was always too easy to melt into him.  But he needed to know.

 

“I have something to tell you,” Liz whispered, starting to pull back a bit.

 

Max could feel the change in her mood, but thought he might be able to push the dampening spirit away with a bit more coaxing.   “You didn’t miss me,” he feigned disappointment, also wrapping his arms tighter around her waist.

 

“Every second I’m not with you I miss you,” she told him seriously. 

 

Hearing the tone in her voice was enough to push all joking aside.   “Liz,” he said softly, gently running a finger under her chin in an attempt to make her meet his gaze.   “What’s wrong?”

 

“Let’s sit down,” Liz suggested, taking a step back. 

 

“Not yet,” Max asked as he gently, but firmly, gripped her arms.   Running his hands up and down their length, he could feel her shiver.   “It's tradition,” he whispered, pointing to the mistletoe hanging above them.

 

Liz pushed on her toes, meeting his lips in a sweet kiss, tender and reassuring.   It gave her the last bit of strength that she needed to tell him her findings. 

 

Feeling the shift in her mood yet again, Max pulled away, putting the slightest bit of distance between them.   “What do you have to tell me?” he asked softly, still holding her close, realizing that his fingers had wound themselves into her hair during the kiss.

 

Taking a deep breath, Liz readied herself.   “My cells,” she told him.   “They’re changing.”

 

Max nodded his head.   “You’re changing, I know.”

 

Liz shook her head no.   “I think I always was one of you.”

 

Blinking.   For a second, it was all Max could do.   “What do you mean ‘always was’?  How is that possible?  You had a human mother.   She gave birth to you.”

 

Moving away, Liz walked over to the couch and sat down, resting her head in her hands.   “I don’t know Max.   I’m not sure about anything right now, but I know that this feels like the truth.   Serena thinks it’s possible.   Actually, she thinks it’s the truth too.”

 

Max moved to sit down next to her.   “How long have you suspected this, Liz? And since when have you discussed this with Serena and not me?”

 

Since my birthday, she admitted.   I tested my cells with the kit Hanley gave me.   I think he suspected all along.

 

Anger rolled though his veins as Max took a quick glance around the house, looking for the shape shifter.   “Suspected or knew?  God, when I find him…”

 

“Max,” Liz said calmly.   “He’s not here.   He went… God, I don’t know where, but he knew I had to figure it out for myself.   That I had to tell you by myself.”

 

“Liz why?” Max questioned, trying to hide the hurt in his voice.   It had taken her three months to tell him about this, and he needed to know why.

 

Liz looked up, meeting his eyes.   She knew it pained him that she hadn’t said anything sooner, but she had a good reason.   “I couldn’t hurt you Max.   Destiny has robbed you of so much already that I didn’t want to get our hopes up.   Because, if it were true, it meant that everything that has happened to us never had to.   Everything we suffered was pointless, because in the end, we should have known the truth.   Hell, we did know it.   We knew what we felt for each other, and we still let things break us apart.”

 

He watched the tears slip from her eyes as the rocky ride their relationship suffered rolled though their memories. They lost a lot to be together, but gained so much just because they were.

 

But why are you telling me this now? Max asked, hurt.

 

“I couldn’t ruin your Christmas,” Liz said quietly, looking at the floor.

 

“And Serena? What –” Max said, but stopped when Liz started wiping her eyes.

 

“I’m so scared,” Liz choked out, the sob she was holding back escaping at the same moment.

 

Max softened and cupped her face in his hands.   “Liz, I love you so much.   Nothing is going to change that.   Whether you were sent from some planet to be with me or born here and we found each other, it doesn’t matter.  There is only one truth: we were made for each other.   Fate or destiny, or whatever was so generous by giving you to me – it’s gift that I don’t deserve.”

 

Liz bit her lip, clenching it tight as his words healed her, melted her fears.   The cycle could continue, and they were going to face it together as one.   “Oh Max,” she gasped, crushing her lips to his.   “I… love…you… so… much,” she muttered between each kiss.

 

 

~.~.~.~.~

 

3.

 

“Okay, I called the house meeting for 4:30 pm and look, you two are the only ones who decided to show some Christmas spirit and show up.” Isabel ranted, stalking back and forth while Max and Liz sat obediently on the couch.

 

Isabel glared at the both of them.  “Just you two! This is pathetic!”

 

Max chanced to speak.  “Well, you know, it's only 4:31.”

 

Isabel stopped pacing right in front of them.  “Really, 4:31?” Isabel asked, and then turned on Liz.  “Liz, what time did I call the house meeting?”

 

“4:30.” Liz replied meekly.

 

“Right, and what time did you say it was, Max?” Isabel asked, her irritation becoming blatantly apparent.

 

“4:31, well, 4:32 now.” Max replied.

 

“Which would make everyone now...?” Isabel trailed, and Michael suddenly came through the door.

 

“Late,” Max and Liz finished in unison.

 

Michael glanced from Max, to Liz, then to Isabel and could almost feel the tension.  “Sorry,” he said with a shrug.  “Maria couldn’t decide between socks or junk for Christmas.”

 

“Sorry?” Isabel scoffed.

 

Michael collapsed onto the couch and raised his hands in defeat.  Very sorry?”

 

Isabel screeched in frustration, while Michael turned to Liz.  “Where's Maria?”

 

Liz glanced away from Isabel.  “She went with Kyle and Serena to rent some movies.”

 

“Who also should be back by now!” Isabel added, just before Jesse came in.  Then from night to day, Isabel's demeanour changed.

 

“Jesse! Have you been Christmas shopping?” Isabel asked excitedly, sitting on the edge of her seat as Jesse came to sit next to her.

 

But he only shrugged slightly.  “No, I was just taking care of some business.” He turned to Max.  “I went ahead and picked up the tree, so don't worry about it.”

 

Isabel glared over at Max. “You should have had that tree a week ago.”

 

“Sorry?” Max replied and Michael tried not to laugh, but Isabel heard him anyway.

 

“Well, since you all find this so amusing, let's get on with Christmas business. First - jobs!” Isabel clapped her hands together excitedly while everyone groaned.

 

“A suicide mission is a more accurate description,” Michael quipped, but upon receiving a glare from Isabel, quieted.

 

“Michael, you can be first,” Isabel smarted and held up her list.  “You are in charge of,” she paused for dramatic effect. “Christmas dinner!”

 

“What? No!”

 

“Yes, Michael.  ‘No', is not in your vocabulary today,” Isabel countered.

 

Jesse scoffed, “Well, that eliminates half of what he usually says.”

 

“Isabel, I am not going to spend the next eight hours in the kitchen cooking! Not to mention the shopping I'll have to do!” Michael stood, shaking his head.

 

Isabel walked over to him, her hands put together in a pleading stance, “Please, you know your way around a kitchen, you know what needs to be done, and - you don't have to do any shopping! I already did it all and the ham is already cooking!”

 

Michael was about to decline again, when Max spoke up.  “You know, Michael, she does have a point.  None of the rest of us...  really know how to cook,” he stated.

 

Liz nodded in agreement.  “Yeah, I once tried to make biscuits and...” she trailed.  “Well, let's just say that the Crashdown's stove never fully recovered.”

 

Michael turned to Jesse. “What's your excuse?”

 

“I was living with my mom up until I married Isabel, need I say more?” Jesse asked and Michael sighed.

 

“Alright, I'll do it.  Just let me call work and let them know I won't be able to come in,” Michael replied as he started towards the phone.

 

Liz made a disagreeable face, “You were going to work on Christmas Eve?”

 

Michael nodded with a shrug, “People drink like crazy on Christmas Eve.  It's like one of the 10 busiest days of the year.”

 

“Well, that's pleasant,” Isabel commented, then turned to Max and Liz.  “Alright, on with the show.  Max, you, will be hanging up those boxes.” She pointed to about a dozen boxes in the corner.  “Of lights! All around the apartment and around the tree.  Red box upstairs, blue downstairs, yellow outside, red on the tree.  And Liz you'll decorate the tree with all of the pretty decorations in the big brown box.”

 

Liz smiled, “That sounds like fun.”

 

Michael laughed out loud, “Yeah until you do it wrong and she makes you do it over, and over, and over –“

 

“That's enough Michael,” Isabel chimed diligently.

 

Michael turned back to the phone, “Right.”

 

Isabel turned around to face Jesse.  “Honey, you're going to come with me to finish some Christmas shopping.”

 

Jesse's eyes widened.  “Oh, you mean, leaving? Like leaving the apartment?”

 

Isabel nodded.  “Well, yeah, we can't really shop here, Jesse.”

 

“Well, yeah, I was just waiting...on something.”

 

Max and Liz gave each other a suspicious look, while Isabel was just confused.  “Waiting on what?”

 

“Ah...  a phone call, from...the firm...about a, uh, case.” Jesse stuttered out.

 

“Well, don't they call your cell phone?” Isabel asked.

 

Jesse lifted his cell phone and then nodded in defeat.  “Yeah, yeah they do.”

 

“Well, alright then, let's go.” Isabel said with a smile, and then turned to Max and Liz as she went for her purse.  “Tell Kyle and Serena that they're in charge of cleaning this place up, and I guess I’ll have Maria help with decorations, or with you cooking?” Isabel looked to Michael.

 

Michael nodded.  “That's fine.”

 

“Good, well, we're off.”

 

All hail the Christmas Nazi, Michael said quietly, raising his hand and waving bye.

 

“What did you say?” Isabel asked, stopping in her tracks at the door.

 

“Uh, have fun Christmas shopping,” Michael said cunningly.

 

As Jesse and Isabel left the apartment, a collective sigh of relief came from those left.

 

Kyle and Serena popped their heads out of the kitchen, with Maria close behind.

 

“Is she gone?”

 

 

~.~.~.~.~

 

Max curled with Liz by the fire, marvelling in the path that had brought them to this point.   She was his wife, and was always meant to be so.   No Christmas present ever stood out in his mind more than this.   Liz was his gift, the only one he would ever need.

 

Liz could sense what Max was thinking as he held her close by the fire.   Resting her head against his chest, she angled it so her forehead came in contact with the bare skin of his neck, and she breathed in his scent.   It was rich and smoky with the Christmas Eve fire he’d built and everything around her was buzzing with an energy that made her feel alive and destined to be with him like this.

 

Hating to disrupt the moment, but desperately needing to know something, Liz softly cleared her throat.   “Are we going to tell them,” she asked.   “About me?”

 

Max nuzzled his nose to her cheek.   “Soon.   Let’s wait a few days.  Till after Christmas.”

 

Drawing back to look him in the eyes, Liz’s face gave away what she was going to ask next, “Why?”

 

“You have to admit that this is going to be a bit shocking,” Max explained.   “Let’s have a quiet Christmas for once.”

 

Just then, a loud clamour of pots and pans echoed from the kitchen, followed by Isabel’s voice in a disapproving tone.   “That’s not how you make stuffing!”

 

Liz started to laugh.   “Well, as quiet as we can get with Isabel on a mission.”

 

Laughing as he nodded his head in agreement, Max couldn’t help the wave of worry that washed over him. 

 

“So you’ve noticed it too.   That Isabel seems to be -”

 

“Extra Nazi-like this year,” Liz finished his thought.   “She just wants everything to be nice for everyone.”

 

“More like flawless,” Max corrected.   “It just has me a bit worried.”

 

“Me too,” Liz confessed.   “I was hoping after we found Jesse that things would get better for her.   But lately, she seems to be more stressed about everything.”

 

“They seem to be more distant than before,” Max mentioned, pulling Liz close again.   “Like they don’t know how they feel about each other anymore.”

 

Liz shook her head.   They spent months apart, Max.   A lot of things happened between the time we left Roswell and showed up here.   They’re different.   It’s going to take time for them to get used to each other again.

 

Max began tracing her jaw line with little kisses.   “You didn’t change during the time you spent in Florida,” he pointed out sweetly.   “When you came back, you were still the love of my life, just as you were when you left.”

 

Closing her eyes, Liz could feel her pulse quicken.   “I wasn’t running for my life then.”  Turning to face him, she took his face in-between both her hands.   “I was running from it.”

 

The distance separating them was too much.   The instant those words left her mouth, he crossed it, taking her lips with his own.   Exploring, they took the time to slowly memorize each other with this kiss.   Breaking apart for air, Max leaned his forehead against hers.   “God, I love you.”

 

Liz’s lips curled into a grin.   She could never get enough of hearing him say that.   “I love you too.”

 

“Is it bad to feel like this?” Max asked out of the blue.

 

“Like what?” Liz asked.

 

“Happy,” he told her.   “Just about happier than I have ever been in my life.”

 

“For heaven’s sake no.   Why would you think that?”

 

“Because of everything going on,” Max explained.   “Isabel and Jesse being distant.   Michael worrying himself sick about Maria.   Maria’s not worrying about anything.   I should feel guilty, but I don’t.”

 

“And don’t you dare start,” Liz scolded.   “Things might not be great, but we deserve to be happy Max.   Our relationship is stronger than it’s ever been.   That is nothing to feel guilty about.   I know that Maria would be screaming at you if she heard you talking this way.   Or at least the old Maria would.”

 

Max chuckled at the thought.   “Yeah she would.”  Glancing down at Liz, Max noticed the change in her expression.   “We’ll get her back, Liz.   I promise.”

 

“I hope so,” Liz sighed, moving to get up off the floor.   “I just feel so useless.   There’s nothing I can do to help her, or Michael for that matter.   He seems so lost without her.”

 

Rising to his feet, Max brought his arms around her waist.   “I know.   At least she’s been trying harder lately.”

 

Liz nodded.   “We don’t know if that is because she wants to or thinks she has to.”  Liz allowed Max to pull her to him.   “I miss her so much.”

 

Max brought a hand up, running it though her long silken locks, trying to soothe her, to offer comfort.   “We’ll get though this Liz.   All of us, together.  We have to, it’s the only way.”

 

 

~.~.~.~.~

 

“Ouch, dammit all to hell!” Michael cursed after cutting into his finger while slicing carrots.

 

It was the last straw.

 

He raised the knife, as if to stab the blasted inferior carrot -

 

“Michael!” Isabel shouted and the knife fell from Michael's hand and clattered onto the cutting board.  She was back - and enough was enough.

 

Michael glared at Isabel from across the kitchen.  “You suckered me into doing this whole stupid Christmas dinner and now you won't leave me alone to do it!” He yelled, and a few curious ears perked up in the living room.  “I'm done!” he yelled and attempted to push past Isabel and out of the kitchen, but Isabel raised a hand to stop him.

 

“Michael, let me give you a mental image, alright?” Isabel said sweetly, before her voice turned to venom, “Picture this: picture several broken ornaments, sharp ones, just waiting for your feet tomorrow morning when you roll out of bed, if you don't get your butt back in there and do your job!”

 

Michael's eyes narrowed.  “You wouldn't break an ornament; it's against your nature or something,” he stated.

 

Isabel raised an eyebrow.  “I'll have Kyle break them,” she countered smugly.

 

They stared each other down, until Maria suddenly appeared beside Isabel.  “Hey, Michael, can I help? They said you might need it?” Maria asked.  “Whatever ‘need’ means.”

 

4

 

Isabel's eyes widened.  “Why, Maria, what an excellent idea,” she said sweetly, then directed Maria at Michael.  Maria walked past Michael, and Isabel smirked at him.  “You wouldn't want to deprive Maria of the chance to learn what it means to help someone, would you?”

 

Michael raised his hand and pointed a finger right at Isabel's nose.  “You...” he started.

 

“Yes?”

 

“You're evil,” he finished.

 

Isabel laughed, “Maybe, but you'll thank me, once everyone praises you for your delicious cooking.  I mean, really Michael, why do you think I gave you this job?”

 

“I -”

 

“Exactly.  Now, get to work!” And with that, Isabel was gone.

 

Michael turned towards Maria, who was munching on a carrot.  “Can you believe her?” he asked, as he stalked back to the counter.

 

Maria shrugged.  She's the same way every year; I would think you guys would be used to it by now, she replied.

 

“Yeah,” Michael agreed as he began chopping again, “But it's still just as frustrating every year.”

 

Maria sighed, “Well, I wouldn't know anything about that.”

 

“Yeah, you wouldn't, would you?” Michael bit out, as he nearly butchered the carrots.

 

Spying a bowl of whipped frosting, Maria dragged two fingers into it, collecting chocolate frosting onto them.  “You're not in a very good mood, are you?” she asked.

 

“Nope. Christmas has never been one of my favorites,” Michael replied.  “Last year we weren't even together.”

 

“Are we now?”

 

Michael sighed.  “In a way.”

 

“Hmmm...Well, is there anything I can do to put you in a, more tolerable mood? Maybe... this...?” Maria trailed.

 

“Maybe wh -” But Michael was interrupted by a handful of chocolate frosting being spread across his face.

 

Giggling softly, slowly, Maria covered her mouth with her clean hand, as Michael licked at the frosting around his lips.

 

“I see you haven't lost your sense of humor,” Michael commented.

 

Maria shook her head.  “No, I don't think so, because you look...very funny.” She said and couldn't escape another peal of laughter.

 

“Funny, huh?” Michael asked as he came towards her, pinning her against the counter as he reached his hand into the bowl behind her.

 

Looking up at him, her features turned suddenly confused and she asked softly, “Do you want to kiss me?” she asked, in a confused tone.

 

For a moment, Michael stood still.  He did want to kiss her. He leaned down so that he was only a breath away from doing so, then at the last possible second his hand came up and with a devilish smirk he smeared her face in frosting, eliciting a gasp from her.

 

“Now that's funny,” Michael stated, while Maria started licking at the sticky frosting.

 

Maria hummed softly.  “Tastes...”

 

“Sweet?” Michael suggested, staring down at her rather intently.  This almost felt normal.

 

Right.

 

Arousing.

 

Maria's eyes narrowed at him.  “Why are you looking at me like that?” She asked curiously.

 

“Because now I want to kiss you.”

 

“Oh.” Maria simply said.  “Okay,” as she leaned up closer, her eyes falling closed as she had seen Liz and Isabel do.

 

Smirking slightly with a shake of his head, Michael gently kissed the corner of her mouth, then backed away revealing -

 

Isabel, standing at the doorway, unbeknownst to Michael and Maria.

 

Isabel cleared her throat to make herself known, and Michael and Maria jumped apart.

 

“Well,” Isabel said, eyeing both of the fudge-covered culprits.  “This looks productive.”

 

 

~.~.~.~.~

 

“Well,” Serena remarked wryly, casting a sly glance at Kyle.  “I think we have our work cut out for us.”

 

Standing at the entrance to the living room, Serena’s arms were overflowing with wrapping paper, ribbon, tape, fake plastic bows, and little personal tags – all the stuff Isabel had shoved at her before assigning the two to “wrapping duty.” At the top of Kyle’s stack were a list of presents sorted by person, item, wrapping paper and ribbon color, and the entire column teetered and threatened to fall.

 

In front of them lay piles of unwrapped presents Isabel had bought for everyone.  Liz had also asked them to wrap her presents because she was busy with Maria and didn’t have enough time to wrap.

 

Settling amiss the piles on the floor, Serena dug into what looked like the ‘Max & Liz’ pile.  Kyle randomly picked a package from another pile, and stared at it for a second.

 

No wonder she wants us to wrap the presents, Kyle said dryly.  If she had to do it, it would have to be perfect, and that would take forever!

 

He spied an oddly shaped bottle and picked it up.

 

“Cologne?” He opened the bottle and sniffed it.  “Ugh.  Not even good cologne.”

 

“What are you talking about? Let me smell it,” Serena grabbed the bottle in disbelief from him and sniffed it.  “That’s not that bad.” She sniffed again and began coughing.  “Okay, it’s bad.  Who’s it for?”

 

Kyle glanced at the list.  “Michael.”

 

Serena’s voice dropped an octave.  “Michael?”

 

Kyle shrugged, “Apparently he smells?” He took the bottle back from Serena and proceeded to wrap the bottle in tissue paper and then drop it into one of the pre-folded boxes that lined the edge of the carpeting.

 

“Interesting,” Serena remarked, laughing slightly and shaking her head.  “So, why is Isabel making everyone else do all the work?

 

Kyle carefully looked around him.  He got up and peered out the doorway leading to the living room.  On his way back he whispered, She’s the Christmas Nazi.

 

“The what?” Serena said, smiling.

 

“The Christmas Nazi,” Kyle repeated, whispering again, his eyes wide.

 

Serena started laughing.  “Why are you whispering?”

 

“Because,” Kyle continued, still in a hushed voice.  He looked back at the doorway.  “Isabel is the Christmas Nazi.”

 

“The Christmas Nazi,” Serena nodded, rolling her eyes.  “Right.  You’ve already said that. So, what does that mean?”

 

“Isabel goes around, making sure we all have the perfect Christmas, and nothing will get in her way, hell or high water.  I’ve been spared the last two years, but now…” He trailed off, glancing nervously towards the door again.

 

“Kyle,” Serena said, her eyes twinkling.  “Isabel went out for awhile, remember? She’s not going to attack you.”

 

“Oh no,” Kyle waved his hands around.  “You don’t understand.” His voice dropped to a whisper again and he leaned in close.  “She hears you even when she’s not here.”

 

“Kyle,” Serena leaned in to him also, struggling not to laugh.  “I don’t think she’s going to kill you for calling her the Christmas Nazi.”

 

“Okay, you’re forgetting the part where she has super-human powers.”

 

To that Serena went quiet.  She lowered her gaze and began fiddling with the ribbon on the floor.  “Yeah, I guess I did forget.”

 

Kyle sensed a change in mood and glanced over at Serena, watching her carefully.  She was so beautiful, and smart, and… she was upset.

 

“Serena, are you okay?”

 

Serena wiped her eye hastily and smiled, still not looking at him.  “Yeah, I’m fine.”

 

“No you’re not,” Kyle said, rummaging around in the wrapping paper for a second before saying, “Unfortunately, the only thing here for you to blow your nose with is a snowman, a reindeer or some penguins.  I don’t recommend the snowman.  Your nose will get cold.  The reindeer have antlers.  I don’t think piercing your brain is a possibility.  Your only option is the penguins; however, if you stick them near your nose, they may waddle around in it.”

 

Serena started laughing.  She shoved him playfully with her hand, sniffing.  “You’re such a moron.”

 

Kyle grabbed her hand and immediately dove under it, his fingers going for her sides.  Serena began screeching, trying to pull away from him.

 

“There will be no crying this close to Christmas!” he demanded, reaching around and attacking her other side.

 

Serena shrieked and fell to the ground, trying to get away from him.  “Kyle, stop! Stop it!” she said, between laughs.

 

She rolled to get away from him and he rolled with her, attacking her sides, under her arms, her stomach, the slippery wrapping paper underneath them hindering her retreat.

 

Suddenly something went crunch and they both stopped, panting for air.

 

“Oh no,” Kyle said, looking at the ornament that had fallen off the tree in their tumble.  He looked up and noticed they were right under the tree…

 

…and right under the mistletoe.

 

He looked down at Serena, who was looking up at him.  He leaned down and gave her a soft peck.  Pulling back, he saw that she wasn’t resisting or vomiting, so that was a good sign.  He leaned close again, and Serena leaned upwards, meeting him.

 

This was, by far, the best Christmas present he could ever receive.

 

 

~.~.~.~.~

 

God it was bright in here all of a sudden.  Like the sun decided to rise – instantly.

 

Who the hell was clapping? And yelling? And why?

 

Kyle buried his face into his pillow more, muttering Go away!

 

He wanted to return to the warm arms of Brooke Burke. She was rubbing suntan lotion on his back and his arms all the while, smiling seductively at him. Then she was leaning in towards his face and he was leaning in towards hers and -

 

Suddenly the covers were thrown off him.  He feebly reached an arm back, searching for them to no avail.

 

Kyle, it’s six-thirty.  Up, up, up! Fingers were trying to pry open his eyes.

 

No, go away! came his groggy reply.

 

“Okay, if you want to play that way.” His eyelids snapped open on their own accord and a very annoyed Isabel came into focus in front of him, finger pointed towards his face.

 

“Better.” Isabel smiled.  “It’s time to open presents.” She waved her hand and Kyle’s eyelids drooped, but didn’t close.

 

“Ah, yes,” he muttered.  “The Christmas Nazi is in full force.”

 

Isabel reached down and pinched his cheek.  “For that, you can be the proud Santa Claus today!”

 

Kyle’s eyes widened, suddenly awake.  “What?”

 

Isabel disappeared out the door and returned with a Santa suit in hand.

 

“Because you found it in your heart to be so late to open presents on Christmas morning, you get to be Santa! Here,” she threw the costume at him.  “I’ll be back in five minutes to see if you’re ready to cater to all the darling little children waiting for your presence.”

 

“The crack of dawn?” Kyle shouted.  “You woke me up at the crack of dawn to open presents?”

 

He thought he could hear Serena laughing in the living room.  He was going to seriously maim her - in a good way.

 

“You have no idea how important it is to open presents on Christmas day,” Isabel rambled.  “It’s key to get them in right away.  Hurry up, lest you spoil the entire holiday!”

 

Kyle groaned but sat up, putting the Santa suit on. He muttered to himself the whole time.

 

“Stupid Christmas Nazis.”

 

 

~.~.~.~.~

 

It had been an eventful morning. Wrapping paper had been thrown around the room, littering almost the entire area. In the midst of it all sat the group, happy and relaxed for the first time in months. Even Maria seemed to perk up a bit, feeding off of everyone else’s energies.

 

Liz sighed and leaned into Max. She had gotten an album of pictures from him and she couldn’t be happier to see her family, even if on paper. She looked around at the rest of the group and saw that Serena and Kyle were sitting awkwardly next to each other; Kyle was still in the Santa suit that she was sure Michael wore last year. She had noticed that whenever Kyle and Serena accidentally brushed up against one another, they flew apart like oppositely poled magnets. It had been going on all morning and Liz had stopped at one point and pointed to them with a nod of her head, signalling Max. He had smiled and put his arm around her, kissing her forehead.

 

Maria was sitting next to Michael absently fingering the wrapping paper on the ground, apparently lost in her own world again. When Kyle as Santa had handed her the gifts that everyone else had gotten her, she had just smiled and accepted them, saying a soft “thank you.” Isabel and Jesse were sitting on the couch – in fact Isabel was sitting straight up as if she’d been shocked.

 

Liz’s eyes filtered down to the presents that Isabel had received piled at her feet. There were presents from everyone and she racked her brain trying to figure out why she was one short. Suddenly it came to her.

 

“Jesse, didn’t you give Isabel anything?”

 

Jesse’s face immediately turned pink and he seemed to cave into himself, trying to hide from Isabel’s stare.

 

“No, I got her something. It’s just not quite ready yet,” he put an arm around Isabel’s shoulder. She stayed rigid, her eyes blinking rapidly. Suddenly she shot up and bolted out of the room.

 

Jesse went after her. “Isabel –“

 

“Well, I guess even the Christmas Nazi has feelings,” Michael said, watching the two walk out of the room.

 

 

~.~.~.~.~

5,6

 

All throughout the day, smells of cooking food wafted throughout the house. Isabel had finally taken over in the kitchen halfway through the day when she came in and saw Michael running around with a knife in his hand, threatening rolling potatoes.

 

“Hey, hurry it up Isabel,” Kyle called into the kitchen.   Then, glancing over the table, his eyes met Serena’s.   He saw them flicker for a moment, her gaze awkwardly finding interest in her plate.   “The food will get cold,” he continued.

 

“Yeah sweetie,” Jesse added.   “I think we have everything, come eat.”

 

Isabel’s head peeked out from around the corner.   “No we don’t,” she told them.   “I’m just finishing up the yams, and I am having a hell of a time finding the Tabasco sauce.   Jesse, why don’t you start carving the ham?”

 

Jesse simply nodded his head as Isabel continued rushing about the kitchen.   He knew that when she got like this, there was nothing he could do to stop her.   Isabel wanted this to be the perfect Christmas, but it was lacking something.   Looking up at the clock, Jesse knew it would only be a matter of moments before that something showed up - he hoped.

 

“Where the hell is the Tabasco?” Isabel’s voice reverberated from the kitchen.

 

Michael dropped his head.   “Ah, yes,” he sighed.   “And the Christmas Nazi is back.”

 

Maria stared at him, or in Michael’s mind, right through him.   “Nazi?” she asked blankly, looking for clarification.

 

Max started chuckling then laughing, looking over at Liz as he took her hand beneath the table.   “Isabel sort of gets a little controlling around the holidays.   She always wants to have the perfect Christmas.”

 

Michael snorted a bit.   “Remember last year and the Christmas Village?” he asked Maria, picturing her dressed in the elf costume.   The memory of her frustration about his torments, the way her eyes flared each time he gave her an order.   What he wouldn’t give to see just a sparkle of that in her face light up again, even if it was with anger.

 

Maria just watched him.   She could see the brief happiness on his face, and how it fell into sadness.   He glanced over at her.   The gambit of emotions ran though him as they stared at each other for a second.   Then Max’s voice filtered through.

 

“Yeah, Liz and Maria as Santa’s elves, you being Santa,” he said, motioning to Michael.   “And you as Candy Cane,” Max grinned ear to ear at Liz.   “Man, you in that outfit looked good enough to -”

 

Isabel’s head popped out of the kitchen again.   “I beg you not to finish that sentence,” she ordered.   “It would be too disturbing.”

 

“Not as disturbing as whom my dad was dating at the time,” Kyle commented, seeming a little green around the gills.

 

Finally Isabel came out to the table, carrying two bottles of Tabasco sauce and balancing a bowl of yams on her arm.

 

“I second that,” Isabel laughed slightly, moving to the far end of the table.   She was trying to be happy, to hide her disappointment that Jesse didn’t get her anything for Christmas, but it was hard.   Right now, she couldn’t sit down next to him and maintain her facade.  After all the trouble she had went through to get him the perfect gift.

 

“So who’s going to say grace?” Serena asked, looking across the table at Kyle.   He glanced up for a moment, meeting her eyes.   Then, he turned his attention back to the empty plate resting in front of him.  Kyle shrugged slightly, and Serena nodded, remembering he was a Buddhist.

 

Jesse watched Isabel.   He knew she was upset, but it would only be a matter of time before it was all right again, in fact even better than all right.   Still, he was waiting to hear what she wanted.   Isabel didn’t say a word, just avoided his gaze.   “I will,” Jesse said with a defeated sigh.

 

Jesse sat up straight, bringing his hands together and started a prayer.  Everyone lowered their heads and held hands, Serena looking up for a brief second to spy Kyle doing the same. 

 

“Amen,” Jesse concluded, with pomp and circumstance.

 

Alright, bring on that turkey! Kyle said, eager to sample all of Michael’s culinary work – at least once.

 

Could you pass the mashed potatoes please, Serena spoke in Kyle’s direction, and he immediately grabbed them for her.  Her hand touched his as passed the bowl across the table, and everyone noticed their awkward reaction.

 

Iz, could I have some of the vegetables please, Max said kindly.  They look delicious.

 

They’d better, Isabel commented.  From what I saw, those carrots didn’t go down without a fight.

 

Michael chuckled slightly.

 

Max looked up at him, smiling.  Do I want to know what happened?

 

No.  Just enjoy the dinner.

 

A silence fell over the group.   Liz sat next to Max, his hand still cradling hers, offering comfort, support.   A smile crossed her lips as she realized that her present this year was him; the knowledge that she was always meant to be with him.   With her free hand, she grabbed her drink.   “Here’s to a Merry Christmas, and to a better new year,” Liz said, raising her glass. 

 

Isabel bit her lip, pushing back the tears that wanted to form.   She wasn’t going to give into them, no matter how much she wanted to.   Lifting her glass, she allowed it to collide with Liz’s, then Max’s.  “Merry Christmas.”

 

Merry Christmas, Max said.

 

“Ditto,” Michael chimed in, practically ramming his glass against Isabel’s.  “Great food, by the way, my compliments to the chef.”

 

Serena rolled her eyes.

 

Merry Christmas, Maria said, grabbing her glass and mimicking Michael.

 

A hint of sincerity crept in Isabel’s smile.   “Thanks.”

 

Maria looked around the table.   She could sense the tension between everyone, watching them as their eyes avoided one another.  She even tried to understand it for a minute, but the comprehension was still beyond her abilities. So she decided to follow Michael’s lead, to say something nice.  She thought if she used the word ‘like’ in a sentence, perhaps it would make things better.  Or happier, as Michael put it.

 

“I really like the rolled bread things.”

 

Kyle couldn’t help but laugh.   Maria’s comment just caught him so off guard.   For the entire dinner he had been feeling nervous and confused about everything that was going on.   His life, the feelings he had for Serena, how the others were acting.   Maria’s compliment showed that she was trying.   They all were, and that one little comment summed it all up for him.   The simple things were the most important.   The rest could all be figured out later. 

 

The laughter bubbled, slowly at first, but it grew, and a moment later engulfed the entire table.

 

Even Maria smiled a little.

 

 

~.~.~.~.~

 

“Michael, can you pass the potatoes?” Isabel asked, giving Michael a pointed look.  Michael glanced to the table and found the potato bowl, passing it to Isabel with one hand and stuffing his face with the other.  Max gave him a slight kick under the table and when Michael looked up, Max he motioned with his hand.  He had food on his face.

 

Michael hastily wiped off the remnants of food from his chin with the back of his hand and started stuffing food into his mouth once again.

 

Isabel screeched, “Michael, there aren’t any potatoes left!”

 

“Oh great,” Michael groaned under his breath.  “There are a lot of people here, you know, Isabel,” he said in his regular voice.  “We probably ate them all.”

 

There was silence on the other end.  Tentatively, Michael raised his head.  Isabel was giving him a seething look.

 

“Michael, look at your plate.”

 

He glanced to his plate and back up at Isabel.  “Yeah, so?”

 

“What is covering you plate?”

 

He looked down again.  “Food.  Which I’m eating.  So, go back to your complaining about potatoes and let me eat my food in peace.”

 

“Potatoes, Michael! You took half the bowl!”

 

“Potatoes are good for me.  Gives me strength to watch reruns of the hockey game after dinner.  By the way, did you add milk to them? I could use a calcium boost too.”

 

Isabel stood up, bowl in hand.  She threw her napkin down with flair.  “You know what, is it too much to ask that every year you try just a little bit to not be a complete and utter jackass? I mean, you still haven’t paid me back for the gift I got for Maria last year.  God, Michael!”

 

Michael stopped eating and looked up at her, then over at Maria.

 

“Isabel, why don’t you let me go and re-fill the bowl, okay? You sit down and eat,” Jesse stood and touched his hand gently on her shoulder, offering her comfort.  Instantly, Isabel softened.

 

“Okay.  But make sure it’s the white potatoes, not the sweet potatoes.  Oh, and make sure you don’t fill it completely, only to the –”

 

“Isabel,” Jesse said gently, smiling softly.  “I’ll get them.”

 

Isabel gave a weary smile and slowly sat down, letting out a sigh and avoiding the gazes of the group while Jesse disappeared into the kitchen.

 

Suddenly, the doorbell rang.  Isabel’s head shot up and everyone else immediately stopped what they were doing and sat stark still in their seats, except for Maria.

 

“Why has everyone stopped eating?” she inquired, a puzzled look masking her features.

 

Michael silenced her and nodded to Max, who had already stood up.  They looked at Isabel, whose face was full of fear.  Slowly, she swallowed and stood up.  She looked regal in her dress she’d bought just for this one occasion of Christmas.

 

Max looked to each of them and then they proceeded to make their way to the front door, where there were voices.  He had an intense feeling of déjà vu; this had only happened a few months ago and again, like before, they were not prepared.  Max had tried to put that out of his mind, Jesse’s betrayal.  He would never do that again - Max was sure of it – but still that fear lingered.

 

Isabel could hear Jesse talking and laughing with someone at the door and she wondered briefly if that was the way he had acted when the FBI had shown up at his “law school friend’s” doorstep only a short a time ago.  Her heart stopped in her throat and she tried swallowing, the constriction of her throat making it hard.

 

Then she saw a flash of blonde hair and a pair of familiar blue eyes and all the tension faded away.

 

“Mom!”  Isabel gasped, rushing up to greet the woman, “Mom! What are you doing here?”

 

Max stood up as well, a look of sheer disbelief on his face.  Michael remained standing by the table, but his eyes widened at the sight of Diane Evans at Jesse’s front doorway.  Liz smiled at the woman, but looked at Max as if she was waiting to see what he would do.  Before they left Roswell, Max had been staying at Michael’s apartment.  A lot of time had passed since he had any quality time with the woman who helped raise him.

 

Serena and Kyle looked on with shocked and confused looks on their faces.  Serena had yet to officially meet Diane Evans and Kyle really only wanted to know why she had come instead of, say, his father.  He was envious as much as he was in shock.

 

Maria sat next to Michael, almost unaware of what was happening around her.  She kept thinking about what Liz told her in the thrift shop.  That night she gained a fresh insight on what could make Michael happy, but she didn’t know if she would be right.

 

One evening a couple days ago, Michael took her to his work.  He said that night was karaoke night and she might be interested in being there.  She remembered that she used to sing, but no longer knew why.  For most of the evening, she watched Michael work.  He was wearing a worn out black t-shirt with the word ‘Metallica’ written in white.  She knew that since the shirt was worn out he wore it a lot, which meant he didn’t wear his others t-shirts as much.  One of the employees put a CD in the stereo they used before the karaoke night began.  Michael grinned when the music started while he fixed a drink for one of the patrons.  When his back was turned from the customers, she was sure he was mouthing the words.

 

Since Isabel was ignoring Jesse, Maria snuck out with her the next day.  Isabel had been thinking about getting a job at a music store.  Maria wandered down one of the aisles while Isabel filled out an application and wondered which one she should buy.  Unfortunately, she didn’t know which one would make Michael happy - she was still trying to understand what happy meant.  Isabel found her staring blankly at a bunch of CD's and smirked thoughtfully.

 

“Looking for Michael’s gift?” Isabel spoke to her.

 

“I guess,” Maria said as if it was no big deal.

 

“Try Metallica.  He’s into that hardcore stuff.”

 

Maria remembered Michael’s worn out t-shirt then and nodded her head.  She grabbed the biggest Metallica CD she could find, the box set, and Isabel helped her find some nice wrapping paper for it.

 

Now Maria had a wrapped package for Michael waiting near her purse.  She stood up while the others were still busy talking to Mrs. Evans and retrieved the package.  Michael moved to greet Mrs. Evans, but Maria stopped him, gently grasping his right arm.

 

“Here,” she told him while he turned to look at her.

 

He took the gift from her and looked back up at her for a second.

 

“Is this?” He gestured to himself. Maria nodded eagerly.  Michael seemed stunned for a few seconds more and then proceeded to tear off the paper in one fell swoop.  His mouth fell open when he saw what it was.  “The full Metallica box set!” He grinned while looking at her again, happiness glimmering in his eyes.

 

“Thank you,” he said softly.

 

Maria looked at the CD, nodding.  Michael did like it, a lot.

 

So this is what Christmas was all about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2002-2003 Roswell: The Final Chapter.  Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.  Any similarities to events, real or imaginary, are strictly coincidental.  Roswell: The Final Chapter is in no way affiliated with UPN, the WB, Regency Television, 20th Century Fox, or Jason Katims Productions.

 

 

© 2004-2005 Roswell: The Final Chapter.  Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.  Any similarities to events, real or imaginary, are strictly coincidental.  Roswell: The Final Chapter is in no way affiliated with UPN, the WB, Regency Television, 20th Century Fox, or Jason Katims Productions.

© 2006-2007 Roswell: The Final Chapter.  Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.  Any similarities to events, real or imaginary, are strictly coincidental.  Roswell: The Final Chapter is in no way affiliated with UPN, the WB, Regency Television, 20th Century Fox, or Jason Katims Productions.