Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Holidays! It's time for my annual Christmas offering. This is inspired - in no small part - by the nor'easter outside my window as I type. Twenty inches (yes!) and counting. This may be a little...bittersweet, I guess...for a holiday story, I do hope you all will enjoy it just the same. This has not been beta read. So if you see any mistakes, feel free to alert me.
If "peace on Earth" could be described, tonight was it.
The sky held no stars this night. Instead, nature had seen fit to cast the pinkish/orange hue a winter sky gets as snow flies in a frenzy. And, alone, in a back yard, Bobby Goren closed his eyes, held out his hands, letting the fluttering flakes fall on his gloved hands. The cold air was bitter, yet invigorating. Still, he just took it in. The cold cleared his head and he welcomed the temporary silence.
Only the sound of approaching footsteps crunching in the ever-accumulating snow made him come back to the moment.
"Bobby," Alex's voice held a mixture of curiosity, hesitancy, and worry. "I wondered where you took off to."
If one strained their ears over the wind, the sound of the usual holiday revelry emanated from the Eames household, now with the faint echoes of a very off-key version of "Jingle Bells", bolstered by good cheer, both natural and alcohol induced. But Alex tuned it out, focused more on the broad figure in the snow that she had been searching for for the last twenty minutes.
"Thought you left without saying goodbye."
Bobby turned and saw Alex, bundled like an Eskimo against the elements. Her wool hat made her look so young, and the cold reddened her cheeks. Their breath came in icy puffs, swirling about. He immediately felt bad, making Alex stand here. Yet, he wasn't ready to go back in.
He shook his head. "No! Your family is…is great. I just…" he waved his arms. "I needed to get some air." He took one of Alex's own mittened hands and gave it a squeeze. "I'm sorry I worried you."
Alex squeezed back and gave a slight laugh. "I get it. I love my family, but all of them at once?" She shook her head and smirked. "Crazy…"
Bobby smiled. He shrugged then, as they just watched the snow. He looked up at the sky. "You're lucky." As much as he tried to, he could not quite keep the wistful note from his voice.
"You miss your family." Alex said. It was not a question.
Bobby was right. She was lucky. The stark contrast between herself and Bobby family wise came into sharp focus on the holidays. As much as what she said was true, that her family could drive her crazy, she would not trade them for a moment.
Bobby nodded. "I know…I know they had their problems and issues…" He sounded defensive. A habit he still had not yet learned to break.
"But you still loved them and they were your family." Alex placed a mitten on the sleeve of Bobby's coat. "You don't have to explain it to me, Bobby." His dark wool cap was fast turning white, but it didn't faze him. Flakes stuck to his impossibly long lashes. He didn't bother wiping them away.
Even as the words flew from Alex's mouth, a small part of her still wondered at Bobby's love for them when he got so little returned. But she would never give voice to that. Even as she still thought that, just maybe, he was better off. She shook her head then, dislodging such thoughts.
Bobby looked down at Alex's hand, then gazed at her steadily. "If anyone understood it, Eames, I knew it would be you." He sighed. "Before the schizophrenia took hold, my...my mother used to take Frank and me to midnight mass. Then she'd cook up a feast fit for a king, Italian style."
Alex felt her insides warm, in sharp contrast to the biting wind. "Did you serve as an altar boy at any of them?"
Bobby gave a short, shy nod, looking down, as his boot kicked at the snow. "Once or twice. And no, I never drank any sacramental wine!" He laughed.
Alex felt his happiness spread to her. She gave a beleaguered sigh and said, "What fun is that?" Smiling back, her hand slid down his arm and held his hand. If Bobby seemed to notice, he gave no indication.
"My mom liked to go to midnight mass with my father and the rest of us before she died, too." Alex shook her head. "But we would help with cooking before then, instead of after." She made a face. "As you can guess, my cooking efforts weren't that good. Mom eventually put me in charge of cutting vegetables and cheese or whatnot."
Bobby shook his head. "Wow, you…you mean there's something Alexandra Eames doesn't excel at?" He winked. "I…don't buy it!"
Alex shook her head. "Be glad! If I made anything for this party, you'd be spending it over a basin at St. Vincent's."
Bending down to whisper in her ear, Bobby simply said, "Then thank you!" This caused a bark of laughter to come from Alex as she swatted at his shoulder.
They laughed in the wind a moment more, but then Bobby sobered.
"Alex, I'm…I'm sorry I never talked to you about your mom." Bobby raised a hand to smooth the bangs from Alex's eyes that the breeze seemed determined to keep there. "I'm always so wrapped up in my own shit that I'm never there for you. Your mom was a great woman."
Alex's gaze intensified. "She was. And she liked you, Bobby." Alex sighed.
"The stroke…no one expected it. And then…" she shrugged. And, even a few years out now, Alex felt her eyes pool.
Without thinking, Bobby pulled Alex into a hug. Alex was grateful for it. Not just for the comfort it gave, but because his broad frame was a true barrier against the freezing temperature and the snow.
"And you've been there for me more than you know." Alex's voice was a bit hoarse, a bit muffled in the wool of Bobby's ever-present long overcoat. "If not for the job and especially you, I don't know how I would've made it through."
The rumble of Bobby's voice emanating from his chest against Alex's cheek as he spoke further relaxed her. "I guess this is the time of year it's both easy – and hard – to remember people we cared about that aren't here anymore."
Alex felt the sensation of Bobby's lips on her head. She didn't want to ask or look and let herself just remain in the moment. But after a few minutes, she reluctantly pulled back, though not completely away from Bobby's warmth.
Looking up into his face, Alex nodded. "But I think it just makes us appreciate those that we…care about…who are still here even more."
Wrapping an arm around Alex – for both warmth and support – they watched the flakes and the sparkle the snow gave.
"I know I do." Bobby finally said.
"I don't show it as much as I should. But I do."
In silent response, Alex leaned her head against Bobby's arm. The companionable silence lingered, the wind the only entity giving voice until Bobby whispered, just enough for Alex to hear.
"Merry Christmas, Alex."
"Merry Christmas, Bobby."
And still they didn't move, huddled against each other, watching the snow fall.
Johnny Eames stood in the back hall and stared out his screen door. He had wondered where his daughter and Bobby had went off to, ready to call them in as the entrees were ready to be served. Instead, he decided the food would keep for a few more minutes.
Closing his eyes, he looked at the sky and blew a kiss. "Merry Christmas, darlin'".
Again peering out into the snow at the two figures arm in arm, he sighed. "Maybe they'll get it right yet…"