"baby, it's cold outside...", reindeer stockings, blinking christmas lights, hot cocoa with marshmallows on a snowy afternoon

For: Natalie, blighted stars

reminiscing over younger days

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Snow falls in tiny, delicate flakes, each its own crystal palace. It coats the landscape outdoors, glazing every bit with a pure, endless white. The sun is out, high in the sky, and its rays bounce and shimmer off every individual snowflake.

Wind bites across the scenery, sending the snow into a flurry—large gusts of powder fly through the air, coating the bare branches of a nearby tree. Another blast of air comes… and then they're off, swirling around until they fall upon another destination.

Sally tightly rewraps her shawl around her shoulders, as she watches the nature from the window of her home. Just being a mere outsider, watching from the inside, brings chills down her back. But she cannot tear her eyes away from the beauty of Mother Nature at its finest.

She turns around to see her husband, Paul Blofis, setting up the fireplace. He had just gone outside, amongst the snow, the wind, and the sun, to retrieve an icebox full of logs that lay underneath a canvas to keep dry. Now, he kindles the blazing fire to its height, before shutting the door of the fireplace to keep the soot and ash within.

He catches her observing him, and he smiles, removing his fire gloves and wiping his hands down on the front of his trousers. Then, he approaches where Sally is standing, coming behind her to wrap his arms around her small waist, his front to her back. And together, hands entwined, they watch the snow fall and fall and fall.

"They'll make it on time, won't they?" Sally worries, a crease forming in between her eyebrows. With all that snow… she isn't sure of the veracity of their estimated time of arrival.

Paul squeezes her hands gently. "Surely they will."

She leans her head backwards so it rests on her husband's shoulder. "I hope they arrive safely."

He slightly cranes his neck down to kiss the top of her head. Although her hair is graying, and his face is wrinkling, their love for each other had never blighted, instead continuing to shine like newborn stars. "Don't worry, Sally," Paul soothes. "Of course they will."

The two of them remain like that, his chin resting on the top of her head, until they see a black, compact car pull up onto the newly shoveled driveway. Sally holds her breath as the driver's door and then the passenger's door opens. Two heads appear, one full of black hair, the other blond, but both with wide, broad smiles that stretch from cheek to cheek.

Sally rushes to the door, opening it before they even ring the doorbell. She immediately embraces the closest one—her son, Percy—while Paul gives Annabeth a warm hug, before they both turn to hug the other. The light layer of snow on the young couple transfers to the clothes of the older lovers, but that doesn't dim the joyous aura that surrounds them all.

Ushering the two in, she fusses about the cold, shutting the door closed and gathering their jackets from them.

As Percy and Annabeth move to sit in front of the fireplace, Sally stops Percy with a firm, maternal voice. "What do you think you're doing?"

His eyes widen comically, and he gestures to pillows set up around the fire. "Umm… sitting?" Annabeth nudges at him to get up, which he warily does.

Sally shakes her head with a deceiving smile. "Go prepare hot chocolate for all of us. Paul, you go too!" Both men protest, and Annabeth silently laughs. The men playfully scowl, but begrudgingly head to the kitchen and submit to Sally's request.

Once they're gone, Sally pulls a book down from the bookshelf and moves to sit beside Annabeth. It is only when Sally is completely settled down that Annabeth realizes what the book is: a photo album. Her eyes light up mischievously, and she asks, "Is that what I think it is?"

Nodding with a secretive, almost sly grin, Sally opens the album. "Pictures of Percy at Christmas time? I believe it is."

The two women huddle over the book, flipping through the pages, as an unaware Percy prepares them hot chocolate. The first page shows Percy as a baby, his sea-green eyes wide and too big for his chubby face, as he reaches for a dangling set of colored stringy lights. The photograph clearly shows the large, innocent look in his eyes, that Sally could still find to this day if she looked deep enough.

On the next page, there's a picture of baby Percy sitting on "Santa's" lap, bawling his head off. His chubby baby arms are outstretched, reaching for his mother. "Poor baby," Annabeth coos, subconsciously stroking the picture gently.

Sally laughs, recalling the day she had disturbed nearly the entire mall with Percy's fussing. "He was scared of Santa when he was little." Scared, being an understatement.

Another picture shows a tiny baby, Percy, sleeping inside a large reindeer stocking, using it as some sort of a sleeping bag. Annabeth glances up at the fireplace, noticing the very same stocking hanging there!

Seeing Annabeth's reaction, Sally says, "It was his very first stocking… he loved that thing to death." She smiles nostalgically, remembering that very day and how she could barely take that thing out of his little baby grip! She wonders when her son and husband will come back out of the kitchen.

Annabeth bursts out laughing, a hand coming up to muffle the sounds. "He looks so cute!" she exclaims, pointing at a picture. Sally squints at what she's pointing at, a smile gracing her lips. It was Percy in a bathtub full of bubbles, wearing an obnoxiously red Santa hat that was way too big him, so much that it nearly engulfed his entire face.

There's a loud groan from behind them. "Mom, please don't tell me you've brought out the Christmas album again."

They turn around to see Percy and Paul, each holding two mugs of steaming hot chocolate. The older of the men chuckles, crouching down beside Sally and handing her a mug. "I believe she did, Son."

Percy gives his other hot chocolate to Annabeth, whose eyes twinkle in the light of the fire as she graciously accepts it. "We were only giggling about this picture…" Annabeth says softly, leaning upwards to kiss his cheek.

He takes one look at the picture and almost spews his warm beverage all over the carpet, staring at Sally in disbelief. "Mom," Percy whines as if he was a teenage boy again. "I thought I finally got rid of that picture!"

A smile forms on Sally's lips as she leans into Paul's shoulder. Her daughter-in-law nudges Percy in the ribcage with her elbow.

"Oh don't be a baby, Seaweed Brain," she teases. "I think it's rather adorable!" She leans in close to Percy's ear, whispering something quietly that only he can hear, and it causes his cheeks to flame. Paul chuckles, and Sally's smile broadens.

As the day progresses, the falling snow gradually begins to lighten up, and the members within the household chat over cookies, hot chocolate, and coffee, simply enjoying Christmas afternoon together. They talk of memories and current events and future plans, with nothing but high, jubilant spirits. Somewhere in the midst of their discussing, someone had turned on the radio to a Christmas station, and the soft, melodic tunes accompanied their conversations harmoniously.

And before any of the four knew it, the sun had fallen, and Percy and Annabeth were to head home.

Sally's spirits fall as she watches them depart from the window. The snow had lightened considerably, the wind had died down to almost nothing, and there was not an ounce of doubt in her heart that her children would return back to their home safely.

Yet her heart yearns for them, wishing that they could stay longer, wishing that they'd never grow up. But watching them grow and develop and become their own person warmed her heart much more than anything else ever could.

A tear falls from her eye, and Paul comes up behind her, turning her around to face him. Sally smiles sadly up at him, holding him close to her, and she reminisces over younger days. Her neck cradles his face, his warm breaths of air filling her with life and love and happiness, as he softly hums along with the current song on the radio.

"Baby it's cold outside…"