The start of the chapter is from Kenna and Bash's view as they realise that this is the first Christmas without Anastasia. The last part returns to Francis and Mary coming to terms with her recent ordeal. Get ready for a difficult one with lots of tears.
Christmas is at Charlie's this year. It couldn't be at Kenna and Bash's, they are still reeling from the sudden death of their daughter. It couldn't be at Francis and Mary's, Mary is still recovering from her breast cancer. No one was willing to travel to London to see Claude or Spain for Leeza and Hercule's place was small and not big enough for the whole family so Charlie it was.
"Kids, hurry up! We'll be late, there's already traffic," Bash calls up the stairs before turning to his wife who fixes her heels on by the front door. "I'm sorry I'm forcing you to go."
"It's fine," she says indifferently. "I doubt Mary and Francis will be there, but it will be nice to get to know Charlie's newest girlfriend. And see Catherine."
Bash smiles wryly and rolls his eyes when he turns back to the stairs. "Audrina, Adrien and Alexander, if you do not get-"
All three kids hurry down the stairs and smile meekly.
"We had to get all the presents," Audrina explains, handing him a bag full of small gift boxes.
"Oh," Bash says. "Right. And where did you get the money to buy these?"
"Nonna," Alexander replies. "We've been saving up!"
"Great," Kenna says, attempting at a smile before grimacing and grabbing the car keys. "Out you go."
It's an hour and thirty-minute drive and as he drives down the motorway, Bash sneaks a glance at his wife and checks the rearview mirror to see all three children fast asleep.
"Are you alright?" He asks his wife, placing a hand on her knee but she tenses up. "Kenna?"
Staring out the window, she shakes her head. "It's cold," she mutters, turning the heating on and sighing heavily. "God, I forgot the presents."
"It doesn't matter. We can hand them out when we next see them and the kids can open theirs when we get back home," Bash says as she tuts. "I know... I know it's hard-"
"She loved Christmas," Kenna whispers, looking down at her lap. "She loved every holiday. She was perfect..."
"I was never perfect enough for my parents," Kenna says, sniffling. "They didn't care." She wipes her tears and sighs. "They'd leave me at boarding school during the holidays. I'd be alone, not good enough for them. Useless. I am still useless because I couldn't save my daughter."
Bash bites his bottom lip as tears spring to his eyes. "You're not useless, Kenna. There was nothing either of us could do."
"Bad daughter, bad mother. What's next, huh?" She asks, turning to their youngest children. "I screw up their lives too?"
"God, no," Bash breathes out, grabbing her hand in his and pressing a kiss on the back of it. "Kenna, you're not a bad mother and your parents never saw the potential you had in you. You are wonderful and I don't deserve you. I'm sorry..."
Kenna closes her eyes and she sighs. "I-"
"Daddy, I need to pee!"
Bash sniffles and clears his throat before eyeing Adrien from the rearview mirror. "I thought you went before we left, kiddo."
"I need to go again!" Adrien whines.
Mentally cursing, Bash indicates to the nearest fuel station and after all of the children have emptied their bladders with a few snacks along the way, they are back on the road and awake now.
Bash eyes his wife. This conversation isn't done, he mentally tells her and she nods once before eyeing the view out the window again.
"Bash, Kenna and terrible triplets!" Charlie exclaims. "I thought you weren't coming!"
"Well, couldn't miss the opportunity to meet your new fling," Bash replies as they enter and turn to Francis, Mary and their kids in surprise. "You're here."
"Yeah, my other unexpected guests," Charlie mutters with a sigh. "I guess I will get Hercule to pop to the store with me and buy more food. All the turkeys would be gone by now and we settled for a tiny one because we weren't expecting-bah!"
Kenna chuckles wryly. "I'm vegan so you don't have to worry-"
"And I have to find a vegan substitute?" Charlie asks warily. "I hate this family sometimes..." He grabs his coat and says he will be back soon as Hercule quickly greets them and leaves right behind Charlie.
"We've ruined his day, haven't we?" Bash asks, amused as he gives Francis a hug and then a tighter one for Mary.
"We thought you weren't coming," Kenna says, hugging Francis and then Mary last as the kids excitedly greet each other and immediately start playing.
Mary chuckles softly. "Yeah, same here, but Francis forced me to come."
Kenna raises an eyebrow, both women turning to their conniving husbands. "Sebastian forced me to come." But she smiles and gives Mary a tighter hug. "I'm glad I came now."
"Is that Bash, Kenna and the kids, I hear?" Catherine asks, exiting the kitchen as she wipes her hand with a kitchen rag. "Hello, darlings."
"Hi," Bash says, kissing her cheek and giving her a brief hug so she can hug Kenna and then the kids.
"Would you like champagne?" Catherine offers. "With juice for the children?"
Bash nods. "I'm down," he says as Catherine turns to Kenna hopefully.
Kenna blushes and shakes her head. "I'm on antidepressants," she admits and Mary's eyes widen a little as Francis shares a glance with his brother.
"Oh, that's fine. We have sparkling juice," Catherine waves it off before giving her a small smile and heading back into the kitchen.
"I can help-"
"No, I don't want anyone else in the kitchen!" They hear Charlie's girlfriend call out. "Just relax, everything's fine!"
Kenna laughs and turns to the other couple. "Is she nice?"
Francis pulls a face. "A bit pushy but, she's nice."
"Lovely," Bash says before he and Francis head to the dining room for some snacks.
"So, how have you-"
Both brothers laugh when they pull the same card and Francis gestures for Bash to go first.
"Uh, I'm good. As can be," he says simply. "And you? How's everything going on your end? Is Mary good?"
Francis nods. "Y-Yeah, she's better. Recovering. Regular appointments and all."
"Good. I'm glad," Bash says.
Francis lifts a plate. "So, Kenna's on antidepressants now?"
"She's been getting worse," Bash admits. "Maybe it's because of Christmas, I don't know. But I thought coming here and spending time with family would help because apart from this family, she has no one. Not even her parents but I want to make sure she knows she's loved. It just... It's all shitty, really."
Francis inhales deeply and releases it shakily. "Yeah, things are really shitty for us too," he says quietly. "Sure, Mary's fine but it's just hit me that... I could have lost her-"
Bash pulls his brother into a tight hug. "It's okay."
"I don't mean to... Oh, God," Francis breathes out. "I mean, you lost your daughter, my wife's still here but... I never wanted her to see me like this because she'd blame herself and... I could never let her blame herself."
"She's alright now, she's better," Bash tells him. "And well, the same for Anastasia. She's not in pain, I guess. She would have wanted us to be happy, but I just can't find myself being so. It's too much."
"Yeah," Francis nods against his shoulder. "I know where Charlie keeps the strong stuff."
Bash lets out a laugh. "Yeah, I'm down."
Outside with a blanket over their laps as they sit on the bench, Mary brings Kenna's hands in hers.
"I know it's stupid to even ask, but... how are you?" She asks gently.
Kenna shrugs. "I don't even know these days," she says. "I don't even go back to work because I might scream the place down. Bash had to go back otherwise we would have killed each other when the triplets are at school. I prefer the silence right now, I just can't be around people."
Mary nods. "I understand," she says tearfully. "Sure, I'm okay now and I give the kids smiles every day and kiss them to sleep, but I just need solitude. To let it sink in."
"Yeah, exactly," Kenna says sadly. "I feel like I'm a bad mother." She wipes her tears and looks up at the sky. "I can't let her go. If I stop grieving, she's gone. Forever and that's it. Her story's done."
"No, Kenna. The memories, they still follow you," Mary breathes out. "God, I thought all the pain would end when my mother died... I met Francis, fell in love, had a kid, got married, had more kids, graduated from university, began my dream job... I was happy, pain-free. But no... The pain never ends. Something around the corner always comes when we least expect it but we have supportive husbands to get us through those hard times."
Kenna bows her head. "The last thing Anastasia said to me was..." And she pauses to sniffle. "If she and Anne could go on a double date with her sort-of boyfriend. I mean, I didn't even know she had one." She laughs now. "But she really liked this guy and was terrified that Bash would hurt him if he found out."
Mary laughs. "Men and their daughters."
"Right?" Kenna chuckles. "Anyway, I told her 'yes'. I said I'd buy her the prettiest dress so his eyes were on her at all times. I'd do her hair up, paint her nails... And you know her, she hated that prim and proper stuff when she hit ten because she was a proper Daddy's Girl and she didn't sweat the small stuff. My little princess became her daddy's mini-me now. Deep down, I knew she appreciated it and I think she knew... she was..."
"She was a great girl," Mary whispers. "I think about her every day. I'm trying to be fearless. You did really well with her, Kenna. You're a great mum, despite the cards you were dealt with."
Kenna nods shakily and wipes her cheeks when Audrina steps outside with a gift box in her hand. "Hey, darling. Are they opening gifts already?"
Audrina nods sadly. "Yeah... It's for Ana."
"Oh sh-" Mary cuts herself off, turning to Kenna apologetically. "We forgot. Anne told us she wanted something way before... We ordered it-I didn't think, all of the presents were in the same bag, and we just took it here. Kenna, I'm sorry."
Kenna swallows hard and shakes her head. "It fine," she whispers. "Let's head inside."
Indoors, Francis and Bash are allowing the kids to open one gift each and Catherine excitedly comes to help the little ones open theirs from her. Audrina hands Ana's present to Bash and he pales.
"Anne, wh-what did we get Ana again?" Mary shakily asks her daughter.
Anne's eyes widen and she turns to her uncle and aunt. "Oh, i-it was a book. A-About a warrior princess who can... well, she can... do it all."
Bash hands her the present. "She would have wanted you to have it," he says as Kenna heads upstairs.
She easily finds the bathroom and locks herself in it, staring at her puffy eyes through the mirror on the medicine cabinet. Splashing some water to fix her face and finding some makeup in the cabinet since she forgot her makeup bag in the car, she eyes something shiny that catches her eye.
Like an old friend, she runs her finger across the edge lightly and swallows hard, eyeing her wrist. With a heavy sigh, she returns the blade and slams the cabinet shut, shaking violently and fixing up her face and hair.
Never again, she thinks.
Once they arrive home, Mary sends the kids up to bed as Francis heads into the kitchen to pour himself a glass of wine. She tentatively follows after and leans against the archway, watching him take a relieved sip.
"I know," he mumbles. "I only had the one at Charlie's, because I was designated driver."
"I love you, Mary," he whispers, his voice cracking.
Sighing softly, Mary wraps her arms around his waist and rests her cheek on his back. "I love you too, Francis." She swallows hard. "What aren't you telling me, my love?"
Allowing a few tears to fall, Francis takes another sip of his wine and sighs. "This year has been a shitty one. A really shitty one. And I'm scared that next year will be too. I'm scared I'd lose you. I'm scared that no one's ever going to be happy again or the grief never ends and..." He turns to face her. "I never wanted to put all of this on you."
Mary's lips waver. "Francis, we're honest with each other-"
"You were sick-"
"I still want to know!" She cries out, cupping his cheeks and thumbing his tears away. "I knew it. I knew you were dying inside, but I couldn't handle it then. I can now."
His face breaks and he sobs. "I tried to be the husband you needed. I tried to be strong for you. And I tried to be a good brother and I feel like I'm failing everything. I'm even sucking as a father because I didn't know that LJ double-knots his laces now. Like since when?"
"It's a new thing, don't worry about it," Mary chuckle softly, making him chuckle too. "But you are a good husband, brother and father. We all love you and value you. But you don't have to do it all. Share the burden, Francis."
Placing his wine glass down, he wraps his arms around her and kisses her deeply. "I love you so much," he whispers, resting his head against hers. "You always know what I need."
"I'm doing the bare minimum," Mary says guiltily and it makes him laugh. "What?"
"God, waking up beside you every morning is more than the bare minimum. Just being my wife..." He grins. "You're amazing and beautiful-"
"Francis," she drawls, blushing.
"Wonderful," he continues, kissing her neck. "Strong."
"Be careful or I might just have my way with you on the kitchen island and our kids eat there," she jokes.
He smirks. "We have a bed for a reason and it is still Christmas..."
She feigns an exasperated sigh. "Christmas sex, it is," she says, making him laugh. "I'll check in with Kenna later. I just need to show my husband some loving right now."
"Amen to that," Francis replies, nuzzling her neck.