Disclaimer: Not mine, much as I might wish they were.
AN: Just a harmless bit of Hallmark channel inspired AU holiday fluff. 12 chapters in total, going up one a day from now to NYE.
Maybe I'm crazy to suppose
I'd ever be the one you chose
Out of a thousand invitations
Aah, but in case I stand one little chance
Here comes the jackpot question in advance
What are you doing New Year's
New Year's Eve?
~ What are you doing new year's eve, Ella Fitzgerald
Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, jingle all the way...
Rick stifles a groan as the door of the Starbucks swings shut behind him. Still two days left before Thanksgiving and already he cannot escape the relentless onslaught of Christmas cheer around every damn corner. The thought of having to suffer through another thirty-five days of carols and decorations and sappy holiday movies makes him want to lie down on the floor and throw a tantrum that would put any toddler to shame.
The metal handle of the door bumps into the laptop bag slung over his shoulder. Rick steadies the bag with one hand and steps forward, taking his place at the end of the line.
"Sorry about that."
Rick acknowledges and dismisses the apology with a raised hand as he looks back over his shoulder at the woman now standing behind him in line. A mint green beanie hugs the top of her head, the color popping against her dark hair and black pea coat. Pink stains her cheeks and her arms loop around her own waist as she sways a little back and forth on heels that have to be at least three and half inches.
"It was my fault for loitering in the doorway," Rick says. "I deserved it."
The woman chuckles, a rasping little sound that makes the hair on the backs of his hands lift against the soft lining of his gloves.
"I wouldn't go that far."
A chime rings out from her hip and she pulls out her phone, tugging off one glove so she can manipulate the screen. The corners of her mouth turn down and Rick looks away in spite of his innate desire to snoop. Some of his best character ideas have come from what his mother would call eavesdropping on strangers.
A gaggle of teenagers, probably close to Alexis' age, clump together in front of him, shopping bags clutched in their hands and their voices almost loud enough to drown out the dulcet tones of Andy Williams as he enumerates the many ways Christmas is just so freaking great.
"The most wonderful time of the year, my ass," Rick grumbles, pulling off his own gloves and tucking them into the pocket of his coat.
The woman laughs again and Rick looks back over his shoulder on the off chance that he was the cause. She still has her phone out but her eyes meet his.
"Not a Christmas fan?"
"The day itself is fine," Rick concedes, angling his body back toward her. "The two months of this -" He gestures around the coffee shop, every surface festooned with garland or snowmen or little tiny Rudolphs with actual light up noses - "Not so much."
The line moves and they shuffle forward, heels scuffing against the floor. The teenagers start to order, and Rick imagines that he's seeing the last of the cashier's will to live drain out of her index finger with each frappe she rings up.
"I'm with you," the woman says, hands tucking into the deep pockets of her coat. "This is overkill. And not to sound like a cliche, but I swear they're starting it earlier and earlier every year."
Rick nods, the too-long hair at the nape of his neck rustling against the collar of his coat.
"I saw a Christmas movie on the tv guide on Halloween. Halloween," he stresses as she shakes her head, one side of her mouth pulling up into what might be a grin. "The ghosts and goblins and serial killers who prey on teenagers at camp can't even get their own full day anymore."
"Poor Casper," she says, hazel eyes sparkling with playfulness. "He tries so hard to be friendly and this is how we treat him."
"And don't even get me started on Thanksgiving," Rick barrels on. Careful to maintain a reasonable distance, he leans closer and whispers, "I actually heard someone refer to it as pre-Christmas the other day. What the hell does that even mean?"
The soft scent of lavender floats off her coat, competing with the strong acidity of roasted beans and tickling the inside of his nose.
"I don't think I want to know," she says and Rick nods.
"Right? What was so wrong with November just being November? Why wasn't one month enough?"
The woman shrugs. "Because people are always going to want more. It's our nature." She gestures to the board displaying the thirty different drinks in four sizes. "Do they really need that many options? Probably not. But -"
Her head tips toward the group of teenage girls moving toward the bar to wait on their blended drinks. Rick follows her gaze and then looks back.
"Wow, you're even more jaded than I am." He nods, flicks an eyebrow. "I like it."
She laughs, one long finger lifting to point at the cashier not so patiently waiting for him to step up to the counter.
Rick moves forward, hand reaching for his wallet. "Sorry for keeping you waiting," he says, smiling at the young woman.
She smiles back, hand hovering over the stack of red holiday cups at her side. "It's no problem. What can we get started for you today?"
"I'd like a grande cappuccino with an extra shot, please," he says, watching as the cashier pulls out the appropriate size of cup and scribbles on it with a marker.
A voice from behind him answers before he can. "Scrooge."
Rick turns around, finds the woman in the mint green hat grinning at him. "Yep," he says, directing his answer toward the befuddled young woman behind the counter. "That's me. Scrooge."
"Whatever," the girl mumbles, setting his cup in line and typing the order into the computer. "Your total is four eighty two."
Ricks hands over a five dollar bill, tossing the loose change plus an extra dollar into the tip jar. He gives one last smile to the woman behind him and walks away, eyes scanning the crowded cafe for a seat. He spots an empty two top near the pick up bar and veers toward it, fingers working on the buttons of his coat.
The barista calls out for Scrooge just as he's gotten his computer out and powered on. Rick grabs the drink with a nod of thanks and settles in, thumb swiping across the trackpad. He opens up one of the documents on his desktop, trying hard to ignore the words - or lack thereof - that populate the screen.
"Grinch," the barista calls, his voice lifting the last syllable in a question. "Order up for Grinch."
The woman in the beanie steps up and takes the cup. She slides a cardboard sleeve around it, gives him a grin. Rick tilts his own cup in a salute and she lifts hers in return. Her heels click against the tile floor as she makes her way toward the door and out into the blustery November afternoon.
Rick's eyes drift back to the blinking cursor on the screen. His fingers hesitate on the keys for a moment before he starts to type, a character with warm hazel eyes and a sly smile suddenly coming to life on the page.
The smell of fresh-from-the-oven baked goods wafts out from under the front door of his loft. Rick fishes his keys out of his bag and smiles, mouth already watering at the thought of trying whatever recipe his daughter is working on perfecting now. She's been obsessed with baking ever since they binge watched The Great British Bake Off together over the summer. His waist doesn't appreciate being a taste tester nearly as much as his mouth does, but he's definitely not going to let that stop him.
"What is that heavenly scent?" Ricks calls out as he lets himself into the loft. "And please tell me it's cool enough to eat."
"As though you have ever let that stop you before," Martha Rodgers clucks, descending the stairs like the grande dame she believes herself to be. "Really, Richard, you should forego the pastries." One bony, bejeweled hand pats her own flat stomach. "They wreak havoc on the silhouette."
"I like my silhouette just fine, thank you, Mother."
The blunt end of a finger pokes at his modest gut. "You might, but I don't see the eligible bachelorettes of New York City beating down your door."
"I do just fine with the bachelorettes," Rick says, reaching for the plate of sticky buns.
Well, he would.
If he tried.
He plucks a pastry from the top of the pile, smiling at the trail of thick, syrupy sugar connecting it to its brethren. The first bite practically melts on his tongue, butter and sugar and cinnamon coming together in a glorious symphony of delicious decadence. He swallows the moan that comes inching up his throat, unwilling to give his mother any further ammunition.
"You last went on a date around the same time you last finished a book," his mother says, finding a spare cache of bullets all on her own. "What was that? About three years ago now?"
Rick sighs and walks past her, cinnamon roll in one hand and the strap of his laptop bag in the other. She follows him through the living room and into his office, chattering all the way, completely oblivious, as always, to his silent treatment.
"Really, darling, this is getting worrisome. You've gone through your backlog of completed manuscripts." Martha perches on the edge of his desk, shrewd eyes watching as he unpacks the laptop and charger, stuffing the bag into one of the empty desk drawers. "Your agent is already threatening you with increasingly creative forms of torture if you don't turn in something that can pass for a novel soon."
Rick takes another bite of his roll and looks up at her.
"The book coming out in January is your last one, kiddo. You've got to get out of this -" The stack of gold bangles on her wrist jangles as she waves a hand at him - "funk you've been wallowing in since Meredith left. It's been almost five years, Richard."
His mother stops, eyebrows knitting together to form a crease she'll never admit to having.
"Why are you silently glaring at me?"
Rick shakes his head, tucking the last bite of his snack into his cheek and wiping his sticky fingers along the leg of his jeans. "Just waiting for you to either say something I'm not already painfully aware of or run out of steam."
Martha stands and smooths the minute wrinkles out of her skirt. "I'm only worried about you, darling. You're far too talented and handsome to become a middle-aged has-been."
"Your concern is touching, Mother," Rick says, eyes flicking up toward her before darting back to the screen. "Truly." He places one hand on the lid of his laptop, thumb pressed against the seam where top and bottom meet. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to try to stave off becoming a depressing double hyphenate for a little while longer."
Martha huffs a little sigh and glides from the room, leaving behind her usual cloud of Chanel No. 5 and disappointment.
Rick opens the computer and double clicks on the document he started at the coffee shop. A dozen pages worth of text fill the screen, more than he's written in one session - hell, at all - in at least two years. The words buzz in his fingertips, a swarm of angry little bees stabbing through his skin from the inside out. Taking a deep breath, he places the cursor at the end of the document and lets his hands hover over the keyboard.
He starts slowly, pecking out single letters that turn into words and then sentences. Before he's really aware of what's happening, he's fingers are flying over the keys, pounding out paragraphs as fast as his brain can spin them. He gets lost in the story, in the world he's created. The world that revolves around a tall brunette with sadness behind her eyes and a slanted smile. He swims through the story, only coming up for quick gulps of reality when he absolutely has to.
The backs of his eyes sting when he breaks the surface for good, shoulders aching and neck stiff. Lights glow beyond the bay window in his office, the city lit up for a good time. Rick stands with a groan. He presses his fists into the small of his back and stretches, relishing the deep burn of his muscles. Satisfaction and pride simmer low in his gut and he walks out of the office with his head held high for the first time in - well, longer than he can remember or cares to admit.
"Whoa, it walks."
Rick bends at the waist as he passes the corner of the couch his kid has tucked herself into, pressing a quick kiss to the damp crown of her head.
"I'm aware," Alexis says, putting her copy of Catcher in the Rye facedown on the coffee table and wrinkling her nose at him. "You're smelly."
"I'm aware," Rick retorts, flicking the tip of one of her ears. "Food then a shower. Speaking of food," he says over his shoulder on the way into the kitchen, "those cinnamon rolls are delicious. You really nailed the dough this time."
"Thanks. I found this article online that said adding mashed potato to the mixture makes it extra soft."
"Mashed potato? Weird. But hey," he says, pulling open the refrigerator door and reaching for the packet of sliced ham he picked up at the deli the day before, "it worked."
Alexis unfolds herself from the couch and follows him into the kitchen. She sits at the counter and watches as he throws together a hasty sandwich, slapping the ham and a slice of pepper jack between two pieces of rye. His mustard knife clatters in the sink and she jumps a little.
"You okay, Pumpkin?"
She nods, her wet hair swinging in clumps against her shoulders. "Yeah, I'm good. How was your writing?"
Rick doesn't need to tap into his super special dad senses to know she's deflecting but he lets it slide anyway, answering her question around a mouthful of sandwich.
"Good. I got myself into a groove and it just flowed." His whistle when he looks at his watch sends little rye crumbs flying across the countertop. "Really flowed," he says, dropping the sandwich and reaching for a bottle of water. "It's almost eleven. Shouldn't you be in bed?"
Her yawn comes almost on cue. "Yeah, I'm heading up in a minute. I was waiting to talk to you first."
Ricks slides his plate and water around to her side of the counter and hoists himself up onto the stool next to hers. He takes another bite, trying like hell to keep up the cool dad persona he's worked so hard to cultivate over her almost fifteen years of life.
"Talk away, Pumpkin."
"So," Alexis starts, right index finger picking at the cuticle of her left, "Mom called this afternoon."
Alexis nods again, eyes darting around to focus on anything other than him. "Yeah. She wanted to tell me that she's coming here for Christmas."
Finishing off the last of his dinner, Rick puts his hand over his kid's, stilling her nervous fidgeting. "That's great, Alexis. I'm happy you're going to get to see your mother on Christmas."
She looks up at him, her eyes apologetic. "It's not just Christmas, Dad. She's going to be here the whole month of December. She has some auditions and some big party she says she needs to go to in order to impress some director whose movie she's trying to get into. But it's not just her," Alexis continues, barely inhaling as the rest of it rushes out. "Bryan is coming too. And, Dad, they're engaged."
Anger flares inside Rick's chest. Not because his ex-wife is going to be in the city for an entire month or even that she'll be there with the man she left him for. He doesn't care about that anymore. Much, anyway.
It's the look on his kid's face, the worry and the anxiety he can see creasing her forehead, that pisses him off. Leave it to Meredith to assign a fourteen-year-old the task of delivering news she knows he doesn't want to hear.
Hell, it's a wonder she didn't have Alexis be the one to tell him she was leaving.
"That's great news," Rick says, injecting as much cheer into his voice as he possibly can.
Alexis looks at him, head cocking to one side in obvious disbelief.
"Of course," he tells her, squeezing her hands. "I want your mom to be happy, Alexis." Preferably on the other side of the country but... still. "And if she's happy with Bryan, then I'm happy for her. For them."
A beat passes and Alexis stares at him, her wise beyond their years eyes picking apart his face, searching for any hint of dishonesty. Finally she relaxes, her shoulders dropping down from their station near her ears.
"Okay," she says, nodding and stifling another yawn. "Good."
"Very good," Rick reassures her, standing up and pressing his hands against her shoulders to nudge her off the stool. He pushes her toward the staircase. "Now go to bed, my little Mary Berry. Dream of dough and tents and all the delicious holiday treats you're going to make your old man."
"Night, Dad," she says, waving one hand as she trudges up the stairs. "Love you."
"Love you too, Pumpkin."
Rick waits for the snick of her bedroom door before putting his plate in the sink and shutting off all the overhead lights. He leaves the light over the stove on, an old habit from when Alexis was little and too scared to come downstairs at night if there wasn't at least one light burning.
His shower is quick and rote, an autopilot scrubbing of his hair and body. Flannel pants and a long sleeved t-shirt, his standard winter pajamas, hang off a hook on the back of the bathroom door and he slips them on over still mostly damp skin before shuffling out into the darkness of his bedroom. The sheets are cool and a little slippery against his bare feet and he sighs at the simple pleasure of it. He's almost asleep, brain in that woozy, in and out state of near unconsciousness, when the full weight of it hits him for the first time and his tired eyes pop open.
His ex-wife and her fiance are going to be in New York for the entire month of December.
Just when he thought he thought he couldn't dislike Christmas more.
Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always appreciated.