Author's Notes: This story came at last minute when I told Emeraldteardrops I regretted never making a Christmas chapter for DitD. So here it is. It is supposed to take place between chapters 9 and 10.
in the Doorway, Monsters Down the Hall
By: Ghost of the Dawn
Bonus Chapter - One Last Christmas
Cye paused when he heard a shuffling sound coming from outside. It sounded like something was rummaging through the trash. He had seen a stray cat wandering around lately and he silently hoped that wasn't the case. A wild dog, he could handle. But there had been a big mean cat in his old neighborhood. It bit him once and he almost had to get some shots for it. Ever since then, Cye was scared of cats.
Currently, he was in the sanctity of his house so he could at least look outside without getting hurt. He pulled his small body up on the kitchen counter and crawled over to the little window above the sink. Cye peeked out and was surprised to see it wasn't any kind of animal. It was a little girl about seven years of age- his age- rooting around through their trash. Cye watched curiously, wondering what on earth she was doing, before the girl shoved a few things in her pockets and scrambled back over the snow covered fence. Then she ran off into the wooded area behind the house.
Cye pressed to the window as she went, trying to see. But it was getting dark outside and the window was really small. Quickly, Cye climbed down and then ran over to the glass doors that led to the back porch. He gazed out through them, but he didn't see anything else. Night was closing in fast as it always did during the winter months and it was getting darker out by the second.
The young boy was pretty sure he knew who it was. The Mouri family had recently moved into the neighborhood a few weeks ago. The girl he had seen in his trash lived next door. He had only seen her a few times since they moved there, but she was very easy to pick out. She had the strangest color of hair. Cye had never seen red hair before. Neither of her parents had that color. She was always playing outside alone, Cye had also noticed. He didn't see much of her because she usually climbed over the fences and ran into the woods and would be gone all day. Cye wasn't allowed to go that far out by himself so he had no idea what she did out there. But she would be gone all day if she could. It was as if she didn't want to go home.
This confused Cye even more. It was cold outside. Who would want to be out there all day long? Especially when all she wore was a torn coat with a broken zipper that hung to her knees. She didn't wear a hat or gloves or anything else his mother insisted he wear when he went out to play in the snow. None of it made any sense to him.
Cye didn't realize he had been sitting by the glass doors for so long until he heard a gruff, male voice coming from next door. His neighbor called angrily into the night air and a few moments later, the red haired girl ran out of the trees up to the porch, panting. Her father grabbed her arm, shaking her and yelling at her. When she refused to look at him and acknowledge his anger, he slapped her hard across the face and then shoved her into the house.
The young boy's eyes went wide when he saw this. He scooted away from the door, his heart beating a little faster. His head swam in confusion, unsure of what he had witnessed. It seemed wrong, but an adult did it. Cye was taught to always give adults respect. So what was he supposed to do? Should he tell somebody or was it something in the adult world he was not supposed to know or talk about?
"Honey, there you are," his mother said as she walked into the kitchen and saw him. "Sayoko's already decorating the tree. You should go help her." She paused when she noticed the state her son was in. "Cye, Honey, are you okay? You're shaking a bit."
Cye looked up into his mother's worried eyes. She looked sad. Cye couldn't have that. She had been too sad for too long after Cye's father died. He couldn't give her something else to worry about and put a smile on his face.
"I'm fine, just kind of cold, Mom."
"Well of course, those doors aren't that well insulated. It's very drafty right there."
"Yeah," Cye grinned sheepishly. "I know. I'll go help Sayoko! That will warm me up!"
His mother watched him go, shaking her head. Her son acted so strange sometimes.
"So what exactly are we doing to this baby?" Kento asked as he stared at the tree in Cye's living room. He had come over to help haul it in and set the thing up right. Now it was standing proud and green, but so far, didn't have a thing on it.
"Lights," Ryo grinned as he stepped out from behind the tree. "I brought lots of lights!"
"I think we have some old ornaments from a few years ago I could dig out," Cye offered from the kitchen.
"We need an angel or something to go on top," Kento suggested. "Then we should string popcorn."
"Oh no!" This time, Cye poked his head into the living room to speak. "Pop corn plus pine needles is too much mess. No stringing popcorn."
"Can we at least make popcorn?" Kento asked hopefully. "Robyn said something about melting marshmallow on it. I want to try that."
Cye regarded the request for a moment. "That, I can do."
Kento silently pumped his fist. Cye smirked as he returned back to the kitchen. Leave it to Kento to get excited about popcorn. He and Ryo had both been acting like anxious little kids since they got there. Cye thought they were being silly, but his mother, who was in the kitchen with him, obviously enjoyed the enthusiasm.
Christmas really wasn't too big in the Mouri house these days with the children all grown up. Last year they didn't even have a tree. If Sayoko had still been living at home, they would have. She was really into celebrating the holidays. Cye, not so much. He was the practical one. And ever since that odd summer when he turned fifteen, Mrs. Mouri noticed her son had suddenly and unexpectedly stepped into the world of adults. He hardly acted like a kid any more these days.
Even now while she was cooking dinner, Cye was right there with her, helping to prepare everything. It wasn't that Mrs. Mouri minded the help, but there were times she wished her son had stayed young a while longer so she, in turn, could stay young through him.
Luckily, her son had some friends to help keep him from growing up too fast. She hadn't expected either of them to show up, but Mrs. Mouri was hardly disappointed that they were there. Mrs. Mouri had always wanted a house full of children. But due to her husband's death and her frail health, she was blessed just to have two. So she hardly minded when Cye's friends came over despite it being Christmas Eve.
Kento's family, though hardly religious, were Buddhist and didn't celebrate Christmas. So Kento had no special family obligations and was happy to come over for a holiday party. Ryo was a surprise when he showed up on their porch. He lived with his grandmother, but she had given him her okay to leave. She was going to visit an old friend who didn't have any family and Ryo was free to do whatever. Then the two would spend Christmas day together instead.
Cye's other friends; Sage and Rowen, probably wouldn't be by. Sage, from what Mrs. Mouri understood, had a strong tradition of getting the entire extended family together for Christmas. Mrs. Mouri wasn't sure what Rowen's family did for the holidays, but she knew the lanky teen was still recovering from surgery and wasn't going anywhere.
Still, three in the house wasn't bad. It would be four when Robyn got home. Mrs. Mouri had a feeling that was part of the reason Kento and Ryo were there. To celebrate Robyn's first Christmas back in Japan with her. Part of the reason she let Robyn leave the house despite the fact she was still recovering from an illness herself was so they could surprise her with the tree when she got back.
However, some of them were waiting for her more patiently than others. Mrs. Mouri frowned as she saw Cye glance up at the clock for the third time in ten minutes.
"That's not going to make her come back any sooner, love," she teased.
Cye shot her a look. "Sorry if I worry Mom, but Robyn is still sick. I can't believe you let her go out by herself. You should have told me she was leaving. I would have gone with her."
"Nonsense," his mother insisted. "Robyn's fine. She just has a little cough now and I made sure she bundled up proper before she left. Besides, that girl hasn't been outside in over a month. She was going stir crazy staring at these walls and our faces all day. Give her some time alone. She'll be just fine."
Cye looked less than convinced, but let it drop. They wanted to surprise her with the tree, but Cye was expecting her back in time to help decorate it. However, from the sounds in the other room, it seemed Kento and Ryo were already getting to it. That didn't seem right. Cye went off to properly yell at them for trying to nab all the fun of decorating HIS Christmas tree.
Mrs. Mouri chuckled as she listened to them. It sure felt like the holidays.
Cye sat at his window seat, a blanket around him with hot chocolate at his side. He was taking some time to read before bed. It was an exciting time for him. He was starting to get into chapter books that had hardly any pictures. Now he could read long pages before bed like his mother did.
"Time for bed now," his mother said as she poked her head into the room.
"Okay," Cye agreed. "Let me finish here first."
"Don't start another chapter," his mother warned. "Go right to bed."
"I won't. Night Mom."
Cye found a stopping place and was careful to save it. He was about to slide off and go brush his teeth when he noticed someone outside the window, standing in front of their house. It was that neighbor girl. She was standing on the sidewalk, watching the lights on their Christmas tree through his living room window. Cye had asked his mother just the day before why the house next to theirs didn't have any lights or a Christmas tree inside. His mother had responded that not everyone celebrates Christmas and that there was nothing wrong with that. But to a seven year old that had known Christmas every winter of his young life, it was a hard concept to wrap his mind around.
Even then, as he watched the girl standing in the show and watching his tree lights, Cye thought she looked like she wanted one.
The girl turned her head and looked surprised to see Cye watching her in the other window. He smiled at her and waved a little. The girl looked even more surprised then. Hesitantly, she raised her hand a bit to wave back. Half way through, she thought better of it and backed away a few steps before turning and running off into the darkness.
Robyn breathed out the cool, crisp air as she stepped out of a small craft store. The automatic doors closed behind her and she coughed lightly in the chilled air before she pulled the thick, heavy scarf over her mouth and nose again. It wasn't too cold for a December night. The winter had been quite mild that year. But it was getting late and Robyn was still fighting off a bit of sickness. She felt good enough to walk around, but the cold didn't help her to feel better. Robyn was glad Cye's mother had made her dress so heavily. She was sure she looked kind of silly with others walking around in lighter coats, but as long as she was warm, she didn't care.
The bag she was carrying bumped against her leg as she wandered off. Her shopping was done, but she wasn't feeling ready to go home yet. Not only was this her first day of freedom in she didn't know how long, but she also had a feeling something was waiting for her when she got home. Knowing Cye, he had planned something to make her Christmas spent with his family "special". Robyn wasn't really looking forward to it.
She stopped as she came upon the giant Christmas tree in the shopping plaza. Around it was an ice rink where skaters were enjoying themselves. Robyn set down her bag and leaned her arms and chin on the hand rail, sighing. She didn't want to seem ungrateful about not going home. She appreciated what the Mouris did for her, really. But she just didn't get it. She didn't see the point of attempts to make any "special memories" with anybody. There was no magic in this holiday for her. There hadn't been for a long, long time. Even more disturbing was the thought she had come to accept that this might be her last Christmas. Ever.
Her eighteenth birthday was in the spring. That would end it all. They would easily find her then. Though she wanted to believe it, even an ocean couldn't stop them from finding her with as badly as they wanted her. When they did find her, it would be over. She would run again, but she knew deep down they could catch her this time. Especially if she still had this stupid bronchitis. It was going to slow her down for sure. Robyn coughed lightly as she watched the giant, glittering tree. It gave her no hope, no joy, no magic. It would be her last Christmas and she saw no point in trying to force it into something spectacular. She didn't want to make something to remember, she wanted to be someone to forget. That way, no one would be sad when she disappeared.
A woman's voice caught her attention and Robyn turned around.
"It is you," the woman smiled. "I thought it might be with that hair peeking out."
Robyn looked the tall woman over. It took her a moment to place her. Next to her stood a Japanese girl, black shoulder length hair, a few years younger than Robyn was. On the other side of the woman was Sage and that put everything in perspective.
"Oh Doctor!" Robyn exclaimed. "I didn't recognize you at first."
Sage's mother smiled. "That's right, you've only seen me in scrubs, haven't you?"
Robyn nodded. Dr. Date was a breathtaking woman when she dressed up and styled her hair.
"So this is Robyn," the teenage girl stated. She leaned forward to get a better look. "Wow, you have the biggest eyes I've ever seen!"
"Satsuki," Sage's mom warned. "That's rude."
Properly chastised, the girl backed off.
"So what are you doing out here by yourself?" Dr. Date then asked. "Keeping warm?" She teased.
Robyn chuckled. She was aware of how much gear she had on: hat, ear muffs, scarf, gloves, the works. And it wasn't that cold out. "Yeah, Cye's mom made me dress like this before I went out. I've been sick lately."
"Oh, that's right," Dr. Date recalled. "I believe my son mentioned that. Though try to get anything out of him these days." She playfully jabbed Sage in the side with her elbow. In return, all he did was move away from her and didn't respond. His mother looked a bit disappointed she got so little reaction, but then turned back to Robyn. "It's good to see that you're doing better." Then she looked around as if realizing for the first time. "Are you here by yourself, dear?"
Robyn balked a bit. The last thing she wanted was Sage's mother fussing over her because she was out after dark by herself.
"Oh it's fine, really. I was just about to go home," Robyn lied. Really, she was supposed to be going home, but she had been stalling. And she could stall more if she could just move away from the Date family and go sulk somewhere else.
Sage's mother put her hands on her hips. "That won't do at all. Sage, why don't you make sure Robyn gets home safely?"
Robyn cringed on the inside. She didn't want someone, especially Sage, making sure she got home. For his part, Sage just turned to his mother and raised an eyebrow to her.
"Unless it's too inconvenient for you?" Sage's mom then challenged of her son.
"...no, it's fine," Sage finally spoke. "I guess I'll see you later on tonight then."
Dr. Date grinned approvingly. "Take your time," she said with a wink. "You only slow us down anyway."
Sage just nodded.
His mother gave a suffering sigh and then turned to wander off with her youngest daughter.
"Honestly Satsuki," she said as they went. "Sometimes, talking to your brother is like talking to a wall. I hope he appreciates what I just did for him."
Satsuki glanced over her shoulder at her Sage talking to the small redhead. She knew her mother was referring not so much towards the person he was left with, but that he was just left. And she had a feeling that he really did.
"Were you really planning on going home?" Sage asked when they were alone.
"Yeah, but not for a while," Robyn admitted. "I was kind of stalling to tell the truth."
Sage lifted his head and gazed around the place. Robyn took a moment to admire how his breath came out in calm puffs and how the lights from the holiday decorations danced on the perfect, pale skin of his face. Robyn always liked to think she was a little bit better than all the shallow girls that ogled him. But that may not have been true. Just like any other female on the planet, she still had to sneak a look.
"Let's stall somewhere warmer," Sage then spoke.
Robyn quickly grabbed her bag as Sage grabbed her arm and steered her off in a different direction. Robyn had never been aware of how wide Sage's strides were until she had to keep up neck and neck with him with limited lung capacity. But he did get her to a warmer place. There was an area of the plaza that was held inside and filled with small stores around several large walk ways that all led to a big fountain at the middle. They hadn't made it inside very far before Robyn tugged on Sage's arm.
"No further," she panted. "I have to rest."
Sage watched as she threw herself onto an empty bench and sat there, breathing heavily. He took a moment before carefully sitting himself next to her. Robyn then started coughing harder than she had earlier, seeming to have some difficulty breathing, Sage let a worried expression cross his face. Robyn fumbled through her coat pockets and pulled out an inhaler. She breathed in a puff before leaning back and closing her eyes tiredly.
"An inhaler?" Sage couldn't help but ask.
Robyn opened an eye at him. "You ever had bronchitis, Sage?"
The blonde shook his head.
"It's like instant asthma. For a while I couldn't even make it up the Mouri's stairs. This thing is actually prescribed by the doctors."
"So how did you get way out here then?" Sage wondered.
Robyn gave half a smile. "Little by little."
The corner of Sage's mouth ticked up only slightly. "So does that help?"
"Yeah, believe it or not," Robyn looked at the contraption before putting it back in her pocket. She then paused to swirl her tongue in her mouth. "Tastes awful though. Like chalky air."
Sage sat quietly for a few seconds, then excused himself. Robyn let him go, glad for the quiet and rested for a moment. Even just walking took a lot out of her and she was getting tired. Her eyes slowly began to feel heavy and she was about to doze off when Sage came back.
"Here," he said, handing her a steaming cup of hot chocolate.
"Wow thanks!" Robyn exclaimed, brightening right up. She fought with the hot chocolate for a while as it was too hot to gulp down, but she did her best to drink it as fast as she could. Sage would never admit it out loud, but he found it amusing how adamant she was about it despite it burning her mouth.
"Much better," Robyn sighed as she had consumed most of it. "Takes the taste right out."
She leaned back on the bench and sighed happily, looking quite content. Sage continued to be silent, tapping his finger on the side of his cup. He had hardly touched his own chocolate.
"I don't want to go home, either," he suddenly admitted in a quiet voice.
Robyn opened her eyes and looked over at him, surprised at the comment. "How's that?" she asked.
Sage let out a breath like thinking about it hurt his head. Robyn began to wonder if she was being too nosy in asking. But then Sage replied anyway.
"I don't get along with too many of my family members. Satsuki, my little sister, has cousins her age that she hangs around with. I'm usually cornered by my grandfather and some of the other family elders and we have long serious talks about family tradition, honor, and responsibility. Not to mention I'm sure you've already heard the horror stories about Yayoi."
Robyn couldn't help but chuckle. "I'm sorry," she said, not sounding like she really was. "Well, if you want to help me stall, I'll help you stall, too."
Sage looked thoughtful and then nodded. He slowly nursed his hot chocolate while Robyn finished off hers and tossed it in the trash near by. Then she dug into her bag and started pulling out various items. Sage watched her curiously. He assumed she had Christmas presents in there, but she was already tearing into and opening the different things she bought.
First came out what looked like the empty skin of a stuffed animal. It looked worn and well used. Robyn ripped open a new bag of cotton and began stuffing the skin. Slowly, it started to take on the shape of a teddy bear and Robyn held it up when she felt it was properly padded inside.
"Looks good?" She held it to Sage to confirm.
He blinked at her and then nodded. Satisfied, Robyn then dug into her bag again and pulled out a needle and thread and began sewing up the bear's back.
"I wanted to fix him up tonight," Robyn explained without being questioned. "But I doubt I'd have time once I got home. Who knows what Cye has got waiting for me there."
Sage chuckled lightly. "You make it sound like a horror movie." Then he added as Robyn finished her project. "That thing looks loved."
Robyn blinked at him and then took a good look at the state of the thread bare toy. "Yeah, I guess so," she laughed and then coughed a little. "I've had him a really long time. He was way past due for a cleaning and new stuffing." She put the bear to her nose and took in a sniff. Then made a face when she realized her nose was too stuffed to really tell "Well, I'm sure he smells better anyway."
Sage held out his hand and Robyn handed the bear over to him. She was a bit surprised he actually breathed it in himself.
"Smells like laundry detergent," Sage confirmed.
"Well then, it's an improvement, trust me."
Sage nodded and handed it back. Robyn held the bear tightly to her and swung her legs back and forth. Sage sipped on his chocolate.
"Sage?" Robyn asked quietly. "Do you know how Rowen's been lately? I haven't seen him since before the operation. I haven't been able to visit him because I was sick. Is he doing okay?"
"He is recovering well, last I heard," Sage replied. "In fact, if you want to--"
"Oh! Look at that cute couple sitting under the mistletoe!"
Two old ladies were talking amongst themselves and Robyn looked around to see who they were talking about. But the women were both looking at her and Sage. How could that be? Robyn looked up. Sure enough, above the bench was mistletoe that neither she nor Sage had managed to notice.
"Sonofa..." Robyn said quietly.
"Well go on," one of the old women coaxed. "Can't break tradition."
Nosy old bats, Robyn thought. Don't they have any thing else better to do?
"No, I can't," Robyn said out loud, pulling her scarf back over her mouth. "I've been sick lately. I wouldn't want to give him anything."
"That's not a good enough excuse," the other one tittered.
Robyn couldn't believe what she was hearing. Why wouldn't they leave her alone?
Then, two hands grabbed her shoulders and turned her. Robyn looked up wide eyed and horrified as Sage turned her towards him and then leaned forward. Robyn didn't move. She kept her scarf tightly around her mouth and closed her eyes. They opened again when she felt his mouth press against her forehead. It was there for only a second. But that was enough to satisfy the nosy old ladies and they went off again, gossiping about old loves and other nonsense.
Sage then let her go and Robyn quickly faced forward again, feeling her whole face grow warm. She was so embarrassed and tried to hide further into her hat and scarf. If she ever made it to an old lady, Robyn decided, she would go around embarrassing teenagers, too. It would be her revenge. She was surprised she didn't gross Sage out. Heck, she grossed herself out. She couldn't even remember when she had washed her hair last.
The chuckling next to her caused Robyn to turn her head and stare. Sage thought this was funny?
"Your face is really red," Sage confirmed, trying to hide his laughter behind a gloved hand.
If Robyn hadn't been so embarrassed, she might have realized that it was the first time she had ever heard Sage Date make any kind of noise close to laughter. But she was too busy wallowing in her own humiliation and misery to notice.
Right then, Sage stood up and offered her a hand. "Come on."
Though she was still mad at him and embarrassed, she took his hand anyway and let him pull her to her feet.
Cye had gotten so involved decorating the tree that he had forgotten to watch the clock. By the time he remembered again, almost two hours had passed. And from the fact that Cye was now angry instead of worried, he had a feeling Robyn was out there dragging her feet somewhere. Cye wished his mother would have given her a time she needed to be back. Otherwise, it was anyone's guess when Robyn would show up and he had no idea where to go look for her.
"Dang, it's about dinner time. You'd think she would have come back by now," Kento spoke aloud Cye's thoughts.
"She will," Ryo confirmed. "I would be out procrastinating, too, if I had been locked inside for so long. But I'd still be back for the food."
Kento nodded in agreement. "So what do we do until then?"
"Do you wanna tell Christmas stories or something?" Ryo offered.
Kento shrugged. "Like I know any. What about you, Cye?"
From where he was sitting on the window seat, Cye looked out into the night. Snow was starting to lightly fall. He did know of one Christmas story...
It was Christmas Eve day and ever since school had been let out for the holiday, Cye had been waiting for this chance. It took several days of keeping an eye on his neighbors and his coat ready, but it had finally payed off. He almost missed her, but he managed to catch a quick flash of red out the window. That was all Cye needed to grab his coat and run out the door.
Cye paused when he reached the wooded area behind his house. His mother told him not to go out there alone. But he wasn't really. She was out there, too. He just had to find her. And since she was the only one who did go out there, it was easy to follow her tracks.
It wasn't too far into the woods when he found her. Just far enough away so their houses were out of sight. The second he saw movement, Cye ducked behind the thick, snow dusted bushes, watching intently through the bare branches. The neighbor girl must have heard him for she looked around for a moment. Her head turned the other way and Cye could see a large bruise across her cheek bone. But Cye sat perfectly still and the girl with the bright red hair let it go.
Once satisfied she was alone, the girl wandered over to a specific shrub and crouched down next to it. Cye had to adjust his hiding spot so he could see what she was doing. She reached into the pockets of her dirty, oversized coat and pulled out two origami animals folded out of battered, colored paper. She attached them with bent paper clips to the bush that had a few other such similar ornaments. The girl frowned when she found one had fallen off in the night and worked to reattach that as well. Then she sat back in the snow, pulling her knees up to her chin, and just watching her holiday decorations out in the middle of the woods.
It grew quiet and still. Cye shivered a little, his muscles starting to shake from couching in the snow. He was debating on whether he should say hi to the girl or sneak back home when he heard a sound that made him freeze.
The girl heard the sound, too, and she perked up. To Cye, it was a horrible sound. Some may have thought that the sound coming from this species of animal could be cute. But not from this one. The sound was cracked and hoarse and not appealing at all. Still, the girl smiled as the owner of the sound approached her; a stray cat.
Cye frowned at it from behind the bushes. He didn't like cats. And he knew they could tell he didn't like them. This one, however, was just disgusting to him. It was as a nasty mix of black and grey with orange specks. It was thin and scrawny, it's fur matted and some parts even bare. The ears were torn from fights and the tip of its tail was missing, leaving a nasty looking stub. Cye made a face, he would never touch a creature like that. But the girl smiled happily at the pathetic looking creature and petted it with a dirty hand. The cat, in response, let out another grating meow and purred with a motor that sounded water logged and badly due for a tune up.
The girl reached into her pocket and pulled out a wadded piece of paper. She unfolded it to reveal a nasty mixture of contents that looked like it had been dug out of the trash. From the times that Cye had seen her rummaging in his own garbage, he was sure she probably had. The girl presented the wadded mess to the cat, who ate it heartily.
Cye shifted in the snow. The cat made him nervous. That was his mistake. While the girl may not have noticed him, the cat perked up its ears and looked straight in his direction. The girl followed its gaze and got up, walking over to the bushes where Cye was hiding. Knowing he had been caught, Cye stood up and the girl's eyes went wide when she saw him.
"Who are you?" the girl demanded. Her voice was rough, possibly from the cold or just from misuse. "What are you doing here?"
Cye dug the toe of his boot into the snow, feeling embarrassed. "I live in the house next to yours," he said in a small voice. "I saw you go out here so..." he trailed off for a moment, looking around. "I like your Christmas tree."
The girl's posture instantly changed. She shrank back from the compliment, looking worried.
"I...I have to go," she said, and then turned and ran off into the woods before Cye could stop her.
The cat as well, startled from the girl's retreat, also bounded off into the snow. Cye was left alone in the small clearing with the tree shaped shrub. He walked over to it and inspected it closer. The ornaments she had folded out of colored napkins and newspaper. Cye stared at it as his young mind turned. If that girl's family didn't believe in Christmas, why was she trying to make a tree? She was a child after all and Cye had a hard time accepting that any child did not believe in Santa Clause. And Santa wouldn't know where to leave the presents if there wasn't a tree. Cye was pretty sure the neighbor girl didn't have a tree in her house. But he also doubted Santa would be able to find such a small "tree" out here in the woods.
Taking one last confused look at it, Cye turned and trudged back home.
Robyn looked dubiously at the apartment complex across the way. "Are you sure about this?" she asked. "I mean, shouldn't we have called first? It IS Christmas Eve."
"It will be fine," Sage assured her as he started off. Robyn reluctantly followed.
"Watch out here, it looks pretty icy," Sage then said. He took a careful step onto the questionable patch of sidewalk and then offered a gloved hand to Robyn. She took it and proceeded as carefully as he.
Sage was right, it was very icy. The two slipped and slid most of the way. At first, it was kind of scary, but then Robyn found it amusing how horrible they were doing and started laughing. That, unfortunately, made her footing worse. Especially when the laugher was mixed in with coughs and she was practically clinging to Sage who was trying to keep them both from falling down. He finally managed to catch the hand rail and pulled Robyn towards the steps that were wonderfully ice free. Then, Sage slipped again as he finally pulled himself up and Robyn laughed.
"I'm glad you found this so amusing," Sage glowered as he climbed the stairs and adjusted his coat.
"Seriously?" Robyn replied. "This has been the most interesting thing to happen to me in like a month. I have been so bored Sage, you have no idea."
"Fine," Sage relented with a stern voice. He stopped by the desired door and knocked on it. "But if I fall on the way out, you're not allowed to laugh at me."
Robyn's response was cut off when the door was thrown open by woman Robyn had never seen before. She, of course, saw Sage first, as all women did, and cried out happily as she threw her arms around him. Robyn guessed this was Rowen's mom. She would have almost guessed she was his older sister had she not known Rowen was a single child.
"Sagie!" the woman squealed, sounding like a high school girl. "I'm so glad you dropped by! Come in!"
Sage took the embrace stiffly, but with an air of tolerance as if he were used to it.
"I'm sorry to drop by unannounced," Sage said politely. "I brought Robyn with me. She's a friend of Rowen's."
It was then Rowen's mother finally noticed Robyn standing there. She blinked at the small girl practically drowning in winter gear and then leaned forward to get a better look.
"So this is the Robyn I've heard so much about."
Robyn looked at her dubiously. Rowen talked about her? With his mom? A lot? Why?
"Well, come in, both of you," Rowen's mother then said as she shuffled them in. "I hope you didn't have too much trouble trying to get through that icy patch. It's just dreadful. All the snow melts and then freezes right there. I've tried calling facilities about it. But you know how hard it is to get anyone to do anything on Christmas Eve. Here, let me take your coats and I'll tell Rowen you two are here."
Sage removed his coat and gloves. Robyn allowed Rowen's mother to take her hat, coat and gloves. Everything but her scarf which she kept wrapped around her chin.
"Well, now I can see there's actually someone under all that," Rowen's mother said as she took all of Robyn's gear and smiled at her.
Robyn blushed a bit. "I've been sick," she said in a small voice. "Cye's mom made me dress this way."
Rowen's mother, however, didn't seem to hear. She was already off down the hall. Robyn fidgeted for a bit, wondering what to do when Sage placed a hand on the small of her back and guided her to sit down on one of the two couches in the living room. She did so and Sage sat beside her. A few moments later, Rowen slowly walked into the room. He was dressed in sweats and carried a pillow under one arm.
"Hey guys," he said lightly as he slowly lowered himself to the couch. He looked healthy enough, but his movements stayed careful. He still had a large bandage at the base of his skull and Robyn could easily tell he couldn't rotate his neck at all.
"How are you feeling?" Sage asked.
"Not too bad," Rowen replied with a half grin. He propped his pillow gently behind his neck so he could lean back and still look at them. "I'm on less medication now. It's good to be coherent again."
Robyn allowed herself a small smile. She remembered Cye telling her about the first time he visited and how Rowen hardly even realized they were there and all the weird things he said.
Rowen couldn't move his head, but his eyes swivelled over in her direction. "What are you doing? I can barely see your face."
Robyn jerked back a bit, but pulled her scar further over her mouth and nose. "I've been sick," she repeated for what seemed to her like the hundredth time. "I don't want to give it to you and make you worse."
"I'm not sick, I had surgery, Robyn," Rowen informed her. "They're totally different."
Grudgingly, Robyn slowly pulled the scarf away from her face. When Rowen finally got a good look at her, he felt a bit of sympathy. Her skin was still pale and her eyes kind of glassy. She really did look like she had been sick for a month. And yet she still came all this way out here to see him with Sage and... wait.
"What are you two doing out here together?" Rowen asked suspiciously. "You go out on a date or something?"
Robyn snorted. "No we did n--"
"Yes," Sage said quietly. "We went out on a date." Rowen's eyes went wide. As did Robyn's.
"We had a romantic evening at the shopping plaza, kissed under the mistle toe..." Sage's voice turned sarcastic. "Then we went to came to see you because nothing finishes off a nice date like a third wheel."
Rowen found the logic in Sage's sarcasm and let the topic drop. His eyes wandered back over in Robyn's direction and then down at the bag at her feet. A brown, furry head was poking out of it.
"You like teddy bears, Robyn?"
"Oh, not really, just this one," Robyn said as she fished the bear out of the bag. "He's been my friend for a long, long time."
Rowen held up his hands as a sign he wanted Robyn to toss him the bear; which she did. He caught it and looked it over.
"Wow, you have had this a long time."
"Yeah, it's about the only thing I've kept with me through all the different years and families and moves," Robyn confirmed. "It's really been my only constant. Haven't had the heart to part with it yet."
Rowen, since he couldn't really look down, had to hold it up higher to look at it. He briefly wondered what all those plastic eyes had seen. Years of a life that Rowen himself could only guess at. He put the bear in his lap and looked at Robyn again.
Robyn looked a bit surprised at the request, but did as she was asked and sat herself on the opposite couch next to Rowen. He didn't move his sitting position to look at her, but he raised a hand to her forehead to feel her temperature and checked it by feeling his own at the same time. The teddy bear remained in his lap.
"You still feel a little warm," he told her. "I hope you're not going outside too much."
Robyn threw him a sidelong glance. "No mom, I've been good."
"Hey, sorry for being concerned," Rowen defended. "At the rate you were going, I was starting to wonder if I'd get better before you."
"Yeah," Robyn grinned weakly. "I guess I'm on the slow side when it comes to this. Though I have to say, I've never been this sick before. It sucks."
Robyn coughed a bit and Rowen couldn't help but feel a bit guilty. Would it really have made a difference? If he hadn't invited her out that night, would she not have gotten sick?
"Oh well," Robyn then said. "At least I got an excuse to pilfer Cye's closet and wear his sweaters." She grinned, tugging at the oversized sweater she was wearing.
Rowen frowned. "You shouldn't wear men's clothes all the time. You're a girl. You should wear cute girl's clothes."
Robyn looked down at herself dubiously. Cute girl clothes were for cute girl bodies. Of which she did not have. She was flat and way too skinny. Being sick for a month didn't help any either. Robyn glanced across the way at Sage. He remained quiet. Any opinion he had on the matter was never revealed on his face.
"But I like them," Robyn insisted. "They keep me warm. And Cye's sweaters always smell good." Cye was one of those people who liked to dress in layers. Robyn usually aimed for the top layer. They weren't exactly dirty, but they still smelled like him. She liked his smell.
"This is dorky," Robyn admitted. "But they kind of make me feel safe, too."
Rowen looked at her for a moment. He leaned forward and carefully removed the sweater he was wearing.
"Gross," Sage commented, easily seeing what his friend was up to.
"I just showered like an hour ago," Rowen defended as he plopped the sweater in Robyn's lap. "Here."
Robyn's eyes brightened. "Really?" she asked like a kid on Christmas. She hugged the material and brought it up to her nose. Then she frowned when she remembered her sinuses were still stuffed. Disappointed, she looked over at Sage.
"No," the blonde insisted. "I am not smelling THAT for you."
"It's a trade," Rowen said, holding the bear again.
Robyn's eyes went wide in worry. She didn't mean for it to go like that. She didn't want to give that bear up ever. It was too special to her.
"I meant just for a while," Rowen assured her. "Since he helped you get better, maybe he's good luck." He winked at her.
"Okay," Robyn then agreed. "I'll let him keep you company over the holiday. You can give him back when you come back to school."
"Done deal," Rowen agreed, looking pleased.
Sage rolled his eyes. Why was his best friend so weird?
"Do you two want to stay for something to eat?" Rowen's mother called from the kitchen.
Robyn slapped a palm to her forehead. "Dinner! They're probably waiting for me and they don't know where I am! I have to get home!" She jumped up to gather her things and put her winter gear back on.
"Wait for me. I'll take you home," Sage said as he calmly got up.
Rowen got to his feet as well.
"Hurry or I'll leave you behind," Robyn insisted. She already had Sage's coat in her hands and was shaking it at him insistently.
Sage allowed her to put it on him and then set about putting on his gloves.
"Thanks for dropping by, guys," Rowen called after them.
Robyn was in such a hurry, she didn't really think too much about it. She just needed to end the good-byes and leave. So she did it the fastest way possible.
"By Rowen," she said as she hugged him quickly around the waist. "Get better, okay?"
Robyn ran out the door while Rowen remained there, stunned. He could still feel her arms around him. Sage shot him a sly smile.
"Merry Christmas," he said meaningfully and then followed out the door.
Cye didn't know why, but he would always remember that Christmas morning, even when he had grown and was no longer a child. He remembered sneaking out of the house at the crack of dawn before his mother and sister were awake. It had been dark, but Cye never remembered being scared or cold. And he had returned to the house and climbed back in bed before anyone knew he was gone.
He also recalled later that morning, his mother's confusion. She said over and over she was sure she had gotten her son a teddy bear and placed it under the tree. But it had never been found. His mother had long since accepted the possibility that it had been lost among all the discarded boxes and torn wrapping paper and accidentally thrown out.
Cye, however, still wondered to that day what that neighbor girl's face looked like when she found that teddy bear under her little make shift tree. Cye also hoped that stupid, ugly cat never touched it.
Cye heard the door open, breaking him from his thoughts. Robyn was hardly inside when she was swept up in a pair of strong arms.
"Bless you for coming," Kento told her as he hugged her. "Now we can eat."
Robyn laughed as she pulled away. "Sorry for taking so long. I went to visit Rowen. And I brought someone back with me."
Sage stepped off the porch and inside.
"Hey Sage!" Ryo greeted as he came in.
"Would you like to stay and eat?" Cye asked before he called into the kitchen. "Mom, do we have room for one more?"
"Always room for one more, love," his mother's voice sang happily from the kitchen.
"I guess I must stay then," Sage relented, not looking too disappointed. He could just picture his grandfather and some of the other elders taking the opportunity to loudly voice their disappointment with his decision not to show up and pay his respects. But right then, Sage didn't care. It was Christmas for him, too. And as far as he was concerned, he had been spending it with family.
The group went into the dinning room and all sat around the large table. It was a table Mrs. Mouri had bought in her early days of marriage with high hopes of eventually filling all the spaces with family. She had yet to see that happen. She had been even more disappointed that year when Sayoko called her and said she and her husband were traveling to stay with her in-laws for Christmas.
Mrs. Mouri had worried it would be another small, quiet holiday. But as she eyed the table now, Mrs. Mouri couldn't help the huge smile on her face. Cye, being the youngest, was the person she least expected to fulfill this wish for her.
And yet, here it was. Her house was full of noise and happiness and life as everyone talked and ate merrily. All because of her son and his unique power of pulling others to him. He had made her one wish come true without even realizing it. This truly was a very merry Christmas.
The party didn't last too long so everyone else could go home and spend some family time before the night was over. After dinner, Cye's mother pulled out her other love, the karaoke machine and everyone had their proper turn to feel stupid in front of their friends. Except for Robyn who was unable to sing because of her throat and was not able to participate. (Mrs. Mouri offered to take her turns for her. She really loved her karaoke.) Robyn, however, did get to nearly turn blue from coughing so hard when she fell into a fit of laugher from Kento attempting a duet with Sage.
But now the party was over. Even one had left and with his mother retired to bed, Cye stayed up in the living room reading. He finished his chapter and turned off the light. There, in the darkness, he watched the twinkling lights of the tree he and his friends had decorated. They were calming and beautiful. And the stillness was nice. Cye allowed himself a few peaceful moments alone with the dancing lights.
Movement caught his eyes and he turned his head in time to see Robyn crawl up onto the couch with him. She grabbed a pillow to place on his thigh and the comforter off the back of the couch to pull around herself. Then she curled up next to him with her head on his leg.
"Did you have fun tonight, Cye?" she asked softly.
"I did," he replied. "It was a lot of fun."
"I'm glad. And thanks for not getting mad at me for coming home late."
Cye smiled down at her. "No, it's fine. That was nice of you to go visit Rowen." His hand fell to her shoulder and the oversized sweater she was wearing.
"Robyn are you wearing my– wait this isn't one of mine."
"No," Robyn said sleepily as she yawned. "It's Rowen's."
"Why are you wearing Rowen's clothes?!"
Robyn just chuckled. Cye let it slide for now.
"Robyn? I was wondering, do you still have that bear? The one I gave you for Christmas?"
There was a slight pause. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean, Cye."
"Oh come, we both know it was from me," Cye insisted.
"If you want to take all the magic out of it," Robyn retorted. "Yeah, I still have him. I recently gave him a washing and new stuffing. He's looking pretty good now."
"Oh yeah? I want to see it."
"You can't right now. He's visiting Rowen for a while."
"What?!" Cye squeaked. He couldn't believe his ears! The sweet memories of his childhood were in the hands of that--that..person!
"It's okay," Robyn said in assurance as she patted his knee. "I have you right now so I can live without him for a while."
That comment settled Cye down a bit. The room went quiet again and Robyn let out a deep breath before closing her eyes. Cye leaned back into the couch, hand still on her shoulder. His eyelids drooped as he watched the tree lights flicker and dance. Robyn's comment still hung in the air.
"And you'll always have me," he whispered to the tree.
Robyn's eyes were closed, but she had heard him. It gave her some courage to hear those words. She didn't want to get Cye involved, but knowing he was on her side might be enough. He would always have her, too. At least, in spirit, if she did not make it another year.