Hailstones and Mistletoe

by TeeJay
and GermanJoan

--...----...----...--

Summary:
It's Christmas and Carl and Adam are invited to join the Girardis for dinner. Just a little Christmas story GermanJoan and I thought we'd whip up for you to get into the spirit. Merry Christmas, everyone!

TeeJay's Author's Note:
I wonder why no one's written a JoA Christmas story this year. (Or did someone do that and I missed it?) So I thought since there wasn't one, I'd write one. I consulted with GermanJoan and we ended up coming up with ideas and so we co-wrote it.

I don't really have much to say about it at this point, except that it's (predictably) a mainly Joan/Adam story. I will be moving to a new apartment next week, and I'm surrounded by boxes and chaos, so unfortunately I didn't have as much time and energy to put into it as it may have deserved, but I hope the result is still presentable. Enjoy it while it lasts, I will not have internet access for a couple of weeks after next week, so please don't expect any updates or new stories for a while.

And last but not least: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, everyone! Or Happy Hanukkah or whatever else you might be celebrating at this time of year.

I'm adding this after the story is finished. And after reading it again, I have to admit, I'm getting kinda bored with my own stories. I have the feeling I'm repeating myself, and that can never be a good thing, right? I don't mean to say that this story is bad or anything, I'm just saying I don't like it that much (no offense, GermanJoan!). Maybe I'm just not in the mood right now. We're gonna post this story anyway, so we'll let you be the judge of whether it's good or not.

GermanJoan's Author's Note:
Ok, most of this story belongs to TeeJay, but I am happy to work as a co-author with her. The idea came up when we talked about something like a "contest" on a forum the other day. So TeeJay suggested writing a Christmas Story and I asked her if we could do this together.

So, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah (is there anything else?) and a Happy New Year to all of you!

Disclaimer:
These characters and settings are not ours. Nor are we claiming they are. They are property of CBS, Barbara Hall Productions, Sony or whoever else they might belong to. We're not making any money out of this, although we wish we were.

--...----...----...--

Tiny Christmas lights illuminated the trees and hedges across the cemetery as Adam and Carl Rove got out of the car and walked the way that was sadly familiar to both of them. While Christmas was the holiday of love and celebration for most people, for the Roves it would always be laced with a bittersweetness that subdued the festivities and joyous jubilee that seemed to scream from every shop window display in town.

Silently walking alongside his son, Carl had to remember the first Christmas after his wife's death; he remembered how he had tried to make up for the gaping hole that his wife's death had left behind. He had gotten a magnificent Christmas tree, decorated it together with Adam the way Elizabeth always used to. They exchanged presents under the tree on Christmas morning, lit candles with cinnamon scent—and still, it hadn't been the same. None of them had admitted it, but both felt in their hearts that a vital part was missing.

Elizabeth's parents had not been there that year, it was a sad and lonely time for both Carl and Adam. Carl remembered how he had helplessly been hovering outside his son's bedroom door, listening how Adam was crying himself to sleep. Grace came by the next day, deliberately ignoring his Adam's red and puffy eyes when she was bringing some home-made apple latkes, just like every year. Everyone was trying so hard to stick to the routine. It had worked to an extent, and they had made it through somehow.

Carl and Adam stopped in front of Elizabeth Rove's grave and Carl watched as Adam knelt down to place a small sculpture he had made in front of the headstone, murmuring, "Merry Christmas, Mom." Adam got up again and stood next to his father on his left, who placed a comforting hand on Adam's left shoulder. And then Adam did something that Carl did not expect; he leaned his head on his shoulder, seeking the physical comfort. Carl squeezed Adam's upper arm a little tighter and both remained standing there for a few minutes in extended silence, their breaths condensing in the cold December air. No words were needed between them, they had covered everything that was to cover before. They just bathed in their mutual silent memories and loss.

Minutes passed and Carl felt Adam lifting his head, hearing him say carefully, "You remember that Mrs. Girardi invited us to dinner tomorrow? Are we going?"

Carl wasn't sure how to respond. "Do you want to?" he asked his son.

Adam kneaded his gloved fingers in front of him. "I don't know," he said hesitantly.

Carl wasn't exactly sure why Adam was so reluctant, but he knew that his son and Joan Girardi weren't a couple anymore, and he guessed that must have something to do with it. But the more he thought about it, the more he was warming to the idea. Christmas hadn't felt like a true family event for a long time, maybe spending time with an intact family on Christmas wouldn't be such a bad thing. "I think it'd be nice," he told his son.

"Yeah," Adam then said, not sounding enthusiastic at all.

"Look, we don't have to go, Adam," Carl said. "If you don't want to."

"No," Adam then replied. "You're right, it'd be nice."

"Okay then," Carl acknowledged.

As they made their way back to the car, Carl turned his head to face his son. "Adam, if there's anything you need to talk about, you know that I'm here, don't you?"

Adam slowed down a notch, looking at his father, his brow furrowed in a confused frown. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I know."

Carl slowed down as well to match Adam's pace. He was hoping that this would move Adam to talk about what was obviously bothering him—had been bothering him ever since the summer, or maybe the spring, but Adam remained silent.

Carl sighed as he finally stopped. He looked his son in the eyes and said, "Look, Adam, I think something happened between you and Joan that you don't want to talk about, but I just want you to know that if you do, you know where to find me."

Adam looked down to the ground, scraping at some of the gravel with the tip of his right shoe. "Yeah, Dad, I know. It's just... I messed up and... I don't really wanna talk about it."

A worried shadow crossed Carl's face as he listened to Adam's vague confession. "Okay," he resigned. Adam clearly wasn't going to go into it, and there was no use pressuring him anymore. "But you and Joan are okay? I mean, if it's awkward to go, we can eat out tomorrow night."

"No," Adam assured his father. "Joan and I... we're okay. Kind of. I want to go. Really. It's fine."

"All right. We'll go." Carl said. "Come on, let's get home."

--...----...----...--

The scent of cinnamon and oranges wafted in from the inside of the house as Will Girardi opened the door to greet Carl and Adam Rove, two rare but not any less welcome guests. Adam felt a slight tingle run down his spine—this reminded him of the last Christmas with his mother.

"Good evening, Mr. Girardi. I brought some red wine, I hope it's gonna go with the main course," said Carl and handed Will the wine bottle he had taken. He looked slightly uncomfortable to Will, everyone felt slightly uneasy at the unfamiliar situation. This was the first time that both Adam and his father had been invited here together.

"Thank you, Mr. Rove. And, please, call me Will," Will replied and smiled a friendly smile, trying to cover for the awkwardness.

"Carl," Carl said and held out his hand which Will shook.

Carl and Adam stepped into the corridor where Will took both their coats and accompanied them to the dining room. "My wife will be here any second. Why don't you take a seat in the meantime," Will explained to them and left them standing in the dining room.

Adam and Carl were overwhelmed by the sight that presented itself. Adam lifted his eyebrows in awe as he studied the scene in detail. The rectangle, opulent dinner table looked ready for a sumptuous feast, like something straight from those expensive restaurants Carl and Adam could never afford, only this felt much more real, more personal.

A dark red table cloth was draped over the oblong table. Three of the eight places were set opposite each other, two more were arranged at the far ends of the table. White plates with a golden rim stood on black table mats made from bast fibers. A normal drinking glass and a wine glass stood next to each plate, the wine glasses set on smaller, also black coasters. To the right of the plates the knives and tablespoons were arranged, to the left the forks and teaspoons. The napkins were skillfully folded and stood in the middle of the plates.

The center of the table was lined with a narrow red and golden cloth, on which small, dried twigs and leaves lay. Two candle holders were placed at a distance, holding dark red candles. In the middle stood a vase with larger twigs, from which cinnamon sticks and cloves hung loosely but tastefully. Adam looked at his father and saw that Carl was just as impressed.

Before father and son could admire the opus in its entirety, Helen rushed in from the kitchen, carrying a big, steaming pot from which an exotic scent of meat and spices emanated. She was still wearing her apron and you could see that she was a little embarrassed by it.

"Oh, there you are. Welcome, Carl. Hello Adam," Helen greeted the both of them and set the pot down on a big coaster. "Dinner will be ready in a second."

She turned around to face the kitchen door and called, "Joan, what's keeping you? Where's the sauce?"

"Coming," Joan said from the kitchen door, sounding slightly annoyed. A second later she came into the room with a white gravy boat. "Mom, chill, it's Christmas."

She put the gravy boat down in one of the vacant spots on the table and turned around to face Adam and his father. "Good evening, Mr. Rove. Hi, Adam," she said and smiled at the both of them.

Adam felt a quick stab of unfamiliar nervousness settling in his stomach. "Hi, Jane," Adam replied in that gentle voice of his. He wondered if this had been Helen's or Joan's idea to invite him and his father. For a while he had thought he would forever stay a persona non grata in the Girardi household. Maybe he had underestimated their potential for forgiveness.

And then no more conversation was possible since at that moment Luke entered the dining room, followed by Kevin and Lilly. Will came back from the kitchen with the uncorked wine bottle as Helen added the missing side dishes on the table.

"Please, take a seat everyone," Helen invited guests and family. "Dinner is served."

--...----...----...--

Dinner had been absolutely delicious, and everyone had eaten just a little too much. While the grown-ups resorted to spirits to help digestion, Joan felt like she had to move her legs, otherwise she thought she might explode. A scene from a particularly grotesque Monty Python movie came to her mind and she pushed her dessert bowl back before she stood up.

She half-hearted carried a few dirty dishes into the kitchen, but no one followed suit, so Joan didn't feel like clearing the whole table on her own. She stood in the kitchen by the window, looking out into the dark night, feeling the dessert resisting digestion inside her stomach. "Gee, I shouldn't have eaten that much," she muttered to no one in particular.

"Yeah, me too," she heard a familiar, soft voice from behind her. Turning around, she saw that Adam had entered the kitchen without her noticing. She didn't know what came over her when the words came over her lips. "Hey, you wanna take a walk?"

Adam looked unsure for a moment, then smiled slightly and said, "Yeah, sure."

A sharp and frosty wind swept through the suburban streets as Adam and Joan walked along the sidewalk some ten minutes later. Joan pulled her scarf tighter around her neck, trying to keep the cold out.

So far all they had exchanged after they had left the house was meaningless small-talk banter, mostly about school. She stole a glance at Adam walking next to her and wasn't sure whether she should feel uncomfortable or not. It had taken her weeks to pull herself together enough to not make her stomach lurch every time she looked at him. And suddenly she realized that, after more than half a year, she was finally comfortable enough to simply walk beside him without feeling hurt or betrayed.

She turned her head to look at him as she said, "So, what'd you get from your dad for Christmas?"

Adam looked back at her. To Joan's relief, he didn't look very uncomfortable either. He smiled slightly as he said, "A new welding helmet. The old one broke the other week. You?"

"I got a digital camera from my parents, a matching memory card from Luke and a bag for it and rechargeable batteries from Kevin. Then some clothes, a novel, uhm... a DVD, oh, and the Children's Illustrated Bible from Lilly." Joan laughed. "Guess it pays off sometimes to have a big family." Joan's gaze had been directed at the sidewalk in front of her, but she looked at Adam again as she asked him, "Do you sometimes wish you had siblings?"

Adam's face took on a thoughtful expression. "I don't know. I guess it's kinda hard to say when you've never had any. I mean, sure, there were times when I longed for a brother or a sister, but I don't think I ever really missed out on anything. After all, being an only-child can also have its advantages."

"Oh yeah," Joan said with conviction. "No whining little brothers, no condescending older brothers. No one barging into your room when you're doing something embarrassing, no one to loudly fight over something completely irrelevant when you're trying to concentrate. Consider that a blessing. Really," Joan laughed and Adam had to chuckle as well.

Just at that moment, Joan felt a raindrop hitting her forehead, then another. Thunder had been rolling in the background for a while now, but neither Adam nor Joan had really been paying attention to it. Joan looked up at the sky and saw that no stars or moon were visible, the sky was as dark as the literal night sky in a thunderstorm.

More raindrops were falling now and the sidewalk in front of them was rapidly being mottled with dark, round spots.

"Looks like it's gonna get ugly in a few minutes," Adam said to Joan, now also looking at the sky.

"Come on," Joan said and tugged at Adam's sleeve. Their house was maybe half a mile away now, so Joan fell into a light jog so they might have a chance to make it home relatively dry.

Adam easily gained on Joan and together they ran in the direction of the Girardi's house. When the Girardi home came into view, the rain suddenly turned into hail. Big, ugly gray-white hailstones by the dozen came down in torrents on Joan and Adam and they quickened their step as another clap of thunder roared, now much closer than the previous one.

A particularly big hailstone hit Joan square on the head and she yelped. "Ouch!" They were just entering the Girardi's way to the front garden and ran up the last steps to stop underneath the roof of the front porch, panting and out of breath.

They both looked at each other and laughed. "Wow, that was touch and go," Joan said in between breaths.

Adam replied, "Unchallenged," and shook his jacket sleeves so that a few hailstones fell off it.

Joan picked one up from the floor and held it in her palm to show to Adam. It was about the size of a pea and began melting in Joan's warm hand. "Look at that," she said. "I don't think I've ever seen hailstones this big."

"Cool," Adam replied half in admiration as he picked it up from Joan's hand.

"Wait," Joan said and she reached for Adam's hair to brush a few more hailstones from it that had caught in his thick, dark curls. His hair was slightly wet from the rain earlier and as she ruffled it with her hand, Joan felt familiar emotions welling up in her. All too familiar emotions, emotions she had tried pushing away to a secret place ever since she had broken up with Adam over half a year ago.

She stopped in mid-motion and her hand lingered in his hair for a second. Her sudden hesitation made Adam look up and the smile on his lips slowly ebbed away as his face took on a more serious, expectant expression. Their gazes met and for a split second Joan thought he might lean in and kiss her.

But he didn't and Joan blinked once, retreating her hand from Adam's hair. She let it lightly fall to her side. A heavy silence crackled in the air like electricity. Time was decelerating to slow motion. Adam's gaze pierced her, asking so many questions, yet also conveying a sad, subdued fervor and a silent plea for forgiveness. She could see he wanted it too—to kiss her, to hold her.

But did she?

Joan took a step backwards and immediately Adam's eyes glazed over with reticent disappointment and quiet sorrow for an ever present longing not fulfilled. Immediately, Joan felt sorry for him, but then there was this devilish voice inside of her that said, 'Why should you be sorry? He cheated on you.'

She mentally muted the voice out. Breaking the awkward silence, she prompted Adam to look at her by very softly saying, "Hey."

Adam's head came up as Joan continued, "Adam... I... I know... I know you would like this to be different, but I don't think I can. Not yet," she stammered. "Maybe not ever," she added in an even lower voice.

Joan thought it wasn't possible for Adam to look any more disappointed, but her words had managed for him to do just that. "I'm sorry," she whispered, now averting her gaze. If she had to look at him another minute, she might just throw all caution to the wind and shower his soft lips with kisses like she secretly longed for at night before she fell asleep sometimes.

Adam now studied the wood beneath his feet as well and mumbled. "Yeah. I mean... I sort of understand. But... I can't help feeling this way. And I don't want this to be... to be any more awkward than it already is, so I'll just... I don't know... stay out of your way, okay?"

"No. I mean, if you want to do that for your own sake, then maybe you should, but I'd really like to stay friends. I don't know if that's even possible, but I really wish it could." She now looked at Adam again as she asked, "You think we can stay friends?"

Adam met her gaze and hesitantly said, "I don't know."

"Do you want us to not see each other for a while?" Joan asked. She really wanted to make this as easy for Adam as possible, because she could see he was suffering more from this situation than she was.

She studied Adam's face. It bore a pained, strained expression—this decision didn't come lightly to either of them. "Jane," he started, and there was a certain, silent desperation in the way he said that name. "It's been so long and... and I guess I kept hoping that things would change eventually. But like you said, maybe they never will. I want you to know that I don't blame you. I mean, it was me who did this, and I don't know what I would have done in your position. It's just... hard sometimes."

Joan had started rubbing the sole of her left foot on the wet wood of the front porch's flooring, staring at it with a pretended fascination. "Yeah," she answered. "I know."

Adam lifted his head to look at her now. "Do you... do you remember when you destroyed my sculpture?" he asked, out of the blue.

Joan met his gaze, a little surprised. "How could I forget?" she asked back, still a little ashamed.

"I was mad at you for a long time," Adam admitted. "I was disappointed and betrayed. I never wanted to speak to you again. And then you said you never meant to hurt me." Adam had turned away from Joan, walking a few steps away, as if he couldn't stand looking at Joan, being close to her.

He went on, his voice becoming quieter and ever so remorseful. "I never meant to hurt you either. But I did. I wasn't aware of how much until it was too late. You know, I didn't do this out of revenge or as a provocation."

Adam was now standing with his face to the front door, looking down at his feet, so all Joan could see was his jacket-clad back with its wet shoulders and raindrops clinging to it that glistened in the dim lamp light coming from above them. Unperturbed, he continued, "I don't know why I did it. It just happened, you know? Kinda like when you just want to try a tiny crumb of the cake your mom prepared for the party, but then you end up eating a whole slice, ruining it—but it just tasted so good, you couldn't stop.

"God, Jane, I should have stopped before it was too late. But I didn't, and now it's only fair that I face the consequences." After a short pause, he added, "I just wish it wasn't so hard."

Joan involuntarily had to swallow. This was as close to an explanation as she had ever gotten out of Adam after the spring. Not one she was happy with, and not one that would make forgiving him any easier, but an explanation nonetheless.

Adam still had his back turned towards her. She wasn't sure if maybe he was crying and trying to hide it from her. It certainly would seem like an Adam thing to do. She stepped closer and lifted her arm but stopped just shy of touching his shoulder. Instead she stood next to him, leaning her back and her head against the wall of their house.

"Look," she began. "I know that I hurt you when I smashed your sculpture. And even though I didn't mean to, I still did. But... what you did, that was much, much worse. Not only did you cheat on me, you also lied to me, to my face. I mean, I can sort of understand how would give in to Bonnie coming onto you—because that's what I think happened, right? But telling me you were working when you were really—" Joan choked on the words, but then gathered the courage to say them out loud, "sleeping with her. Adam, that's so much worse than me smashing a piece of your artwork."

Adam now turned around, and Joan was surprised to find his eyes not shining with tears but with an expression that hovered somewhere between guilt and shame and yet cold determination. "Yeah," he whispered coldly. "Yeah, it is." It was as if he was saying he was a piece of scum and shouldn't even deserve to be talked to.

He lowered his head, a lock of his long hair falling into his face, but he didn't bother brushing it away. It was as if all the energy had left him, and Joan couldn't help but try to find placating words. "Adam... I think we both know that it happened and that we both regret that it did and that it won't go away. I... I didn't mean to say that I can't forgive you. Maybe I already have. I mean, this is Christmas, right? The time of compassion and warmth and love. I want to share some of that with you."

Adam turned his head to look at Joan now, and some of the grim coldness in his eyes had been replaced with what Joan thought was a flicker of hope. And before she fully realized it, Joan heard herself say, "Adam, I still like you. Maybe more than like you. Let's leave it at that for the moment, shall we?"

He nodded his head, saying in a low voice, "Okay."

Joan repeated, "Okay," trying to give Adam a warm smile as another crack of thunder roared somewhere not too far away. "Come on, let's get back inside."

--...----...----...--

The house still smelled pleasantly of roasted meat and fruity cinnamon, which intensified when you entered the kitchen. Joan saw her mother standing at the sink, so she sidled up to her. Helen was washing up dirty dishes. "Mom, what are you doing? It's Christmas. This can wait."

Helen looked at her daughter and smiled. "I know. But I needed the alone time for a few minutes."

"Are you okay?" Joan asked worriedly.

The smile didn't leave Helen's lips when she said, "Yeah, I'm fine. It's just Christmas—with all the guests and the house filled with people you hardly see for the rest of the year, it can get a little overwhelming sometimes."

Joan took a tea towel and started drying a few items that Helen had put in the dish drying rack on the counter. "Yeah, I know what you mean."

Now it was Helen's turn to look worried. "Did something happen with Adam?" she asked, well aware that Joan and Adam had taken a walk alone and Joan was now spending time in the kitchen instead of being with her friend.

Joan looked out the window in front of her, saying carefully, "No, we're okay. I mean... It's just so complicated sometimes. I know that he wants to get back together, and I kinda want to too. But then, every time I think I'm ready, I have to think of what he did in the spring." Joan sighed, now looking at her mother. "And I'm afraid that it'll always stay that way. Because I don't want it to. I mean, would it be the right thing to do? Mom, do you think I will ever be ready? And if I am, how will I know?"

Helen put another plate into the drying rack as she answered, "I know it's hard, and I know it's not an easy decision. But that's how life works, it's not always hunky-dory."

"Do you think Adam deserves a second chance?" Joan asked her mother.

Helen breathed in and held her breath for a second. "I doesn't really matter what I think, but for what it's worth, I think he realized what a big mistake he made, and I also think he regrets it to this day. We all make mistakes, and I'd like to think that we should try to exercise forgiveness as much as we can. God does too. And if you're ready, you'll know when you are, trust me."

Joan nodded, thinking about what her mother had just mentioned on the side. God exercises forgiveness. Did that mean that God didn't have a conscience? Because how could He exercise forgiveness for some of the things people did—where what Adam had done wasn't even the worst thing to do in the big scope of things. And if God was so forgiving, why hadn't he told Joan to get back together with Adam? Or at least nudged her to. And if God didn't give her any indication that it was the right thing to do, did that mean that it wasn't?

Just at that moment, as if by divine intervention, through the window Joan saw a figure standing in the backyard, a figure she could only just make out in the hazy light but still recognized right away. The frock coat and spiky hair was unmistakable—Goth-God. She put the tea towel down and said to her mother. "I'll be right back."

Helen looked at her with a quizzical frown, but didn't say anything as Joan left the room.

In the backyard, Joan walked towards the person that looked too familiar, yet still a little weird to her. Was He even a person? She wondered if these people were always God or if they were usually normal people whose bodies were taken over by Him when he thought convenient.

As she approached Him, she couldn't help but take on a sarcastic undertone. "Great timing, Christmas and all. You've been making yourself scarce lately. You know, as much as I hate to admit it, sometimes a little divine guidance isn't the worst thing in the world."

Goth-God didn't look taken aback by her snide comment at all—Joan hadn't expected him to. "People often rely on me," he said in that tone that sounded much too wise for a guy in a punk outfit with piercings all over his face. "And I lend a hand as much as I can, but if you start waiting for my advice before you make your decisions, then I think you're missing the point, Joan."

Joan made a face and a dismissive gesture with her hand. "Free will. I know. You've told me, like, a million times."

"Then why is it you're asking me to tell you what to do?"

"I'm not."

Goth-God raised one eyebrow. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't that what you were just thinking when you were drying the dishes?"

Joan sighed in frustration. "Yeah, maybe a little," she admitted. "Is it so wrong to ask for guidance, for assurance when there's something you're not sure about?"

"No, that's never wrong, but ultimately it will have to be your decision. Because you will be the person having to live with it. You know, Christmas is also known as a time of reflection, a time of contemplation. Some would even call it soul-searching. People use the festive season to look inside themselves and then base their decisions on what they find there. It's important to know where you stand, so watch where you step, Joan."

Sounding sarcastic again, Joan retorted, "Oh, gee, thanks. Cryptic as usual. Can't you, for once, give me something substantial, something clear-cut?"

Goth-God now smiled a mysterious smile. "And where would be the fun in that?"

Joan now gaped. "God is having fun?"

But Goth-God didn't comment, He merely said, "Merry Christmas, Joan." Then He turned around and gave her His usual, half-hearted wave.

"Great," Joan muttered. She wrapped her arms around her torso, because she hadn't taken a jacket and it wasn't exactly warm enough outside to feel comfortable in only a thin cardigan. She walked back inside, trying to make sense of what God had just told her.

--...----...----...--

Joan stopped just in front of the doorframe as she waited for Adam to put on his jacket. Will and Helen were already by the front door, seeing Carl out. Adam stepped back into the dining room, stopping in front of Joan. "Thanks for the dinner," he said to Joan.

Joan looked pleased, but told him, "Hey, I had nothing to do with it. It was all my mom's doing. Okay, maybe I cut some of the vegetables."

Adam smiled slightly. "Okay, so I'll see you in school next year?" he asked, his voice now a little more subdued. He knew Joan and her family would be going to Chicago to see family over New Year's Eve.

"Yeah, sure," Joan affirmed, unsure if Adam was maybe welcoming the fact that this might be a good time to take a break and not see each other for a couple of days. She couldn't help but pull him into a quick hug. "I'm glad you came. Happy New Year to you and your dad."

"To you too," Adam replied as he pulled back after a few seconds. "See ya, Jane."

Just at that moment, Luke and Kevin came back into the room, seeing Adam and Joan standing by the door. A sly smile spread on Kevin's face as he stated, "Oh, this should be good."

Joan and Adam both looked at him uncomprehendingly.

Kevin pointed at the doorframe above Adam and Joan and "Mistletoe. I think your duty is clear."

Joan and Adam's gazes went up and they saw the green leaves with a bit of red decoration woven in between. Joan's expression turned into a warm smile. For a split second she didn't know whether she should plant a quick kiss onto Adam's cheek or kiss him full on the lips. And then she suddenly remembered Goth-God's words: "Watch where you step, Joan." Was this the hint she had been waiting for? She pulled closer to Adam and almost automatically, her lips found his and she once more secretly admired how soft they were.

The kiss was superficial and to say it had been passionate would be a major exaggeration, but as Joan quickly pulled back, she was suddenly overcome by the urge to lean in again and make it a kiss worth remembering. She quickly got a grip and took a step backwards. This was not gonna happen here, under the scrutinizing eyes of her brothers, who both stood there with stupid smirks on their faces.

She gave their brothers a condescending glance and told them, "Roll credits, show's over."

Luke looked at Kevin and said, "I feel cheated, I want my money back. You?"

A smirk was still plastered on Kevin's face as he said, "Totally. We missed out on all the juicy bits."

"Not gonna happen," Joan told them and she steered Adam out of the room, who looked slightly sheepish, feeling Luke's and Kevin's eyes on him and Joan.

Away from her brothers' curious glances, she turned her attention back at Adam. "See now why it pays off to not have any brothers or sisters?"

Adam had to smile. "Unchallenged."

From the corridor at front door, Carl was calling his son. "Adam, you coming?"

Adam and Joan went to join Carl, Will and Helen, apparently already having said their goodbyes. Adam turned to Helen and said, "Thanks for the dinner."

Helen looked at him and saw that softness and gratitude in his eyes that she had refused to notice ever since he had wreaked havoc on her daughter's feelings. She lightly touched his arm as she told him, "You're welcome, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Adam honestly replied, "It was great." And was it just Helen's imagination, or did it sound like he was adding between the lines, 'I haven't had this wonderful a meal for a long time'?

"Well, a Happy New Year to you, then," Helen said as Adam and Carl stepped outside through the front door. Joan followed them onto the front porch and Adam hung back as his father walked towards the car.

"See you in the new year then," Joan said awkwardly.

"Yeah," Adam said, his voice a little more uplifting than she had expected. "Have a great time in Chicago with your family," he added.

"Oh, it's probably gonna be really boring."

"It's only a couple of days, right?" Adam tried to reassure her.

"I'll send you an e-mail if it gets too boring and if I can find an internet-capable computer somewhere."

"Okay," Adam replied.

"Well, have fun on New Year's Eve then," Joan said cheerfully.

"I think Grace it gonna try and drag me so some lame party," he replied unenthusiastically.

"Hey, you should go. Who knows, it could be fun."

Adam gave her a grin. "Let's see."

Joan's glance went to Mr. Rove who was just getting inside their car. She gave a nod in his direction. "I think you should go, your dad's waiting."

Adam's gaze quickly flickered in the same direction. "Right. Okay." Adam turned around to go and join his father. "Goodbye, Jane," he said.

"Bye," Joan saw him off.

As she watched Adam leave, she made a vow to do something that God had nudged her to do. To take the time away from home and look inside herself and decide where her relationship with Adam was going—if anywhere at all. She decided to come up with New Year's resolutions that would include Adam. One of them would be to try and see if the old Adam, the pre-Bonnie Adam could be recovered—and if it would be worth finding him again.

She sighed as she felt the cold of the chilly night air penetrated through her clothes. Wrapping her arms around her torso, she stepped back inside, closing the door behind her with a more positive attitude about the trip to Chicago than she had had before. If it was important to know where she stood, then it was time she charted the territory around her.

There were so many things to consider for the coming year. It would be a year of major changes, a year that would close chapters in the book of her life, and open others. High School would end, and then what? College? A job? Moving away from Arcadia? Sometimes these prospects threatened to overwhelm her in a way that really frightened her. But she also looked forward to the excitement the change they would bring.

And if they would involve Adam or not, she would simply have to see. Some things had a way of sorting themselves out. Perhaps this one would too.

--...----...----...--

THE END.