"That will be all for now. Have a good holiday, all of you."
Erik Destler sighed as he dismissed the actors for the last time for the Christmas holiday. Where it had been silence only moments before, a faint murmur passed through the Palace Theater as the company went to retrieve their things. It had been a taxing couple of months. They were preparing for opening night of Wagner's Faust. The opera was legendary and like everything else he did, Erik demanded nothing less than perfection from the cast.
"Well, Erik. Yet another successful season about to begin." Nadir Kahn came up beside him The dancers are right on step, the orchestra is finely tuned and the singers know the opera backwards and forwards." He clapped Erik on the shoulder. "Something tells me this could be our most promising season yet."
The masked mad cast a side-long glance at his assistant and life-long friend. "Perhaps, Nadir. At this point everything seems in order, but opening night is still two weeks away. Much could happen."
"You don't have to sound so sure of yourself."
Erik gave a slight nod to some of the cast who wished him a Merry Christmas on their was out and then glanced at him. "I've been in this business long enough to learn not to hold my breath until the curtain goes up at the premiere. Until that moment, anything and everything matters."
"And the maestro is ever confident."
"Don't mock me, Nadir. All it takes is a single word and you'll be without a job.
"Two words actually. And you wouldn't fire me."
Erik arched a brow. "Why are you so sure?"
His friend smirked. "Because I'm the only one who puts up with you. Come on, let's get out of here." He picked up his briefcase and left his stunned employer standing in the front row.
It was only a matter of minutes before Erik caught up to him and the two fell into step as they discussed their plans for the holidays. "Saman will be coming home tonight from school. While he loves the University, he is quite eager to come home for the holidays. He says he misses 'the real winters' here. Apparently the California weather is only appealing for so long."
Erik offered a slight smirk. "And how does the boy like USC?"
Nadir grinned. "He loves the campus, if that's what you mean. They have a wonderful teaching program. He is doing exceptionally well. He made the Dean's list this first semester, something that is uncommon for freshman."
Erik nodded. "His is certainly intelligent. A quality of his mother, no doubt."
He received a rather nasty in return. "Watch it. I can't be a complete moron, otherwise you would even refuse to acknowledge my presence.'
He shrugged. "I take who I can get."
Nadir simply shook his head. They had reached Erik's apartment complex and Nadir offered a final invitation. "Come have dinner with us tonight. Suri is making more than enough food and Saman would love to see his uncle."
Erik shook his head. "I appreciate the offer, my friend, but I can't. I have too much work to do."
"All you do is work, Erik. Take some time off."
"There is no such thing as time off in this business."
Nadir sighed. "I know this show matters a lot to you, but you've been at it for nearly five months now. You deserve some time off."
His eyes darkened behind the mask. "They only thing that ever mattered to me was lost a long time ago."
"That's it." He grabbed Erik by the arm and unceremoniously began dragging him down 5th avenue.
"What do you think you're doing?" Erik muttered as he wrenched his arm free from the Persian's grasp.
"I am talking some sense into you. That was almost two decades ago, Erik. Don't you think you should be moving on with your life?"
"Since when is working day in and day out moving on with you life? I know you loved her, my friend, but that part of your life is over." His expression softened. "Come to the house. Your sister has been after me for weeks to get you to come over. She misses you." He smirked. "And she threatened me bodily harm if I didn't bring you home with me tonight. So for the sake of my life, will you please come have dinner with us?"
Erik only shook his head and started in the direction of Nadir's complex. It was nearly six when the reached the penthouse, a wedding present from Erik. As they rode the elevator, Erik had the chance to study his friend. The years had been good to him. His jet black hair was still the same midnight shade as when he had met him over twenty years ago. Faint lines crinkled when he smiled were the only indicator to his forty years.
"Hello!" Nadir called as they entered the penthouse. "There are two very hungry men in the living room. Is there something that can be done to resolve that?"
"One of them better be my brother!" A female voice rang though form the kitchen. Suri Kahn, Nadir's wife and Erik's sister, came out wiping her hands on the towel. "Erik, I thought we would have to beat you over the head and drag you here before you would ever come. It's good to see you."
He enveloped his sister in a hug. "My apologies, Suri. Work has gotten the better of me these past few months."
Suri released him and greeted her husband with a kiss. "Come, you two. Saman has been home for nearly two hours. He is eager to see his father."
At that moment, the son in question appeared in the hall. Saman was the picture of his father, save for the blue eyes inherited from his mother. A freshman at USC, he was an education major with a passion for helping others. But above all else, he was his father's pride and joy.
Nadir enveloped his son in an embrace and Erik shook his nephew's hand enthusiastically before they sat down to dinner. As he watched Saman excitedly discuss his college experience, Erik felt something nip at his heart. A mix of jealousy and regret. This scene could have very well been him and his family had not fate stepped in and tore his dream of a family to shreds. To thus day it still haunted him.
Suri glanced up from her plate just in time to see the wistful expression on her brother's face. "You're thinking about them again."
"Excuse me?" Erik immediately snapped out of his daze.
Suri placed her chin on her hand. "Christine and Danica. You were thinking about them again, weren't you?" He opened his mouth to protest, but she cut him off. "Erik James, don't you even try to deny it! I know you better than that."
He promptly sat back and closed his mouth.
She was right; she was always right.
"They were my life, Suri. I can simply forget they ever existed."
She shook her head and placed a comforting hand over his. "No one would ever ask you too. Have you ever considered searching for them?"
He shook his head. "That was part of the deal. No contact ever again. I had to make a choice and I chose what was best for my wife and daughter" A slight smile crossed his face. "Danica would be eighteen now. I wonder what she will endeavor to do."
Nadir raised a brow. "If she's your daughter, no doubt something with music. Both her mother and you are involved in music of some kind."
Erik shook his head as he sipped his water. "Not the last I heard. Christine sang in New York for a while. That was when I was finishing my master's at UCLA. After that she just seemed to disappear."
Saman knew the situation full well. "Do you think you'll ever see them again, Uncle Erik?"
He glanced up at his nephew innocent question. "I don't know, my boy. I honestly have no idea. Even if I wanted to find them, I have no time these days. I have Faust opening in January and then I have the UCLA production of Aida at the end of January until April."
The young man tilted his head to the side. "It could still happen. Sometimes when you least expect it."
His uncle stifled a smile. "Perhaps Saman. Trust me, I would love nothing more than to find my daughter, but I have to be realistic. The odds of that happening are slim to none." He sighed. "Perhaps it is time I tell myself that as well.
"Jules! Hurry up! We're going to miss our flight!"
Danica stuffed the last of her cloths in her suitcase and zipped it shut. Since when had going home for Christmas become this hard? "Jules! Where are you?" She poked her head into the hallway to see her best friend fighting with the door to the stairs. "What are you doing?"
The blonde smiled sheepishly. "I bought some stuff at the mall the other day and I can't get my suitcase to close. I was going to try to bring it downstairs and ask some of the guys for help, but everything fell out. I'm trying to get the blasted thing back up to our room, but it's stuck."
Danica peered around her friend and her mouth fell open. Her roommates cloths were strewn across the stairwell and her suitcase lay open and empty on the floor. She groaned. "Come on, Jules. Our flight leaves in just over an hour. It takes us forty minutes to get to the airport. We'll never make it."
"Yes we will!/" Julia dragged her out to the hall. "Help me pick everything up. We can still make it."
Working together, the two were able to remedy the situation in about seven minutes, Danica constantly reminding her friend that she didn't need to bring her entire wardrobe with her for a three week vacation from school. They then retrieved Danica's suitcase and hailed a cab to LAX.
On their way to the airport, Danica let her head fall back against the seat. "Well, Jules one semester down, only seven more to go."
Her friend snorted. "Maybe for you. Girl, I have at least seven years of school left before I even think of graduating."
Danica opened one eye. "You're the one who chose to be a doctor."
Jules shrugged ."Yeah, but it'll be worth it. I love working with kids and I love the medical field." She smiled. "A pediatrician just seemed like a natural choice."
"You'll be great at it. I just hope I make something of myself before too long after I graduate. I know it's a big dream, but I want to be on Broadway like my mom. She is such an incredible vocalist. I just want to make her proud." And my father too.
"Which gate, ladies?" The cab driver asked them.
Both girls immediately jumped to attention. "United Airlines."
He only nodded and pulled alongside the cub. Danica went to get their suitcases while Jules paid the cab driver. "Come on, Dani." Jules slammed the trunk shut and they took off toward the terminal. "We only have twenty minutes!"
They were standing in line for the security checkpoint when they heard it over the loudspeaker.
"United flight 1845 from Los Angeles, California to Denver, Colorado is now boarding at gate 12."
"Crap." Danica tugged her friend forward. "Julia, that's our flight!"
Julia glanced at the line ahead. "Wait here."
Leaving Danica with both suitcases, she walked straight to the front of the line and tapped the security guard on the shoulder, much to Danica's horror. She returned a few moments later and took hold of her suitcase. 'Come on. They're letting us by."
"How did you-?" Danica let the question hang.
"He's a friend of my dad's." Jules said as she placed her bag on the belt.
Danica only stared.
"What can I say?" Jules shrugged. "It helps to have connections."
Danica grabbed her bag and the two took of sprinting for the gate. Hearts pounding and adrenaline rushing full force, they raced through the terminals as the last call for boarding sounded through the airport.
"Gate 12! Right there!" Jules pointed to the right.
They turned sharply, barely missing a post. Just as the door was about to be closed, they reached their destination, receiving a knowing look from the flight attendant as they showed their tickets. "Have a Merry Christmas girls."
They nodded their thanks and took their seats. "It's a long flight. I'm going to sleep." Jules placed the pillow behind her head and closed her eyes. "Wake me up when we get to Denver, will you?" she asked, not waiting for an answer.
Danica nodded and turned to look out the window. The clouds looked like big marshmallows, soft from being roasted by the fire of the sun in the late evening sky. Brilliant colors painted it's canvas as the sun set and Danica smiled. She loved sunsets. Sunsets and roses. Those were her two favorite things in the world.
She looked down at her necklace. A perfect gold rose. Her mother had shown her it's twin. The only difference was it had a ruby that made it red instead of gold. And one day it would be hers. "You have an aunt whose name means 'red rose' is Persian." Her mother had told her once. "Your father named her. He used to say 'there is nothing quite as beautiful as a perfect red rose.' In fact, he wanted to name her Rose, but his parents wanted a name that reflected his mother's heritage. So they compromised. That is also how you received your middle name. He used to call you his suri. His "rose'." Danica loved that story. She often wondered if she would ever meet her aunt and namesake.
The rest of the flight passed quickly as Danica passed in and out of sleep. Jules snored lightly next to her and she only shook her head. How could her roommate sleep so easily? The girl was blessed. When the pilot at last announced they were landing, Danica unbuckled her seatbelt and nudged her friend awake. "What's up?" Jules asked, her voice think from sleep.
"We just landed in Denver. Come on. My mom will be waiting for us."
The girl retrieved their luggage and made their way to the terminal and to baggage claim to get their checked suitcases. "Mom said she'd be waiting in the reception area." Danica said as she slung her bad over her shoulder. "Be sure to keep an eye out for her." They scanned the crowd looking for the familiar face.
It was only a matter of moments before Danica spotted her mother in the sea of people. She too was scanning the crowd, her brown eyes narrow and sharp seeking out her daughter. Her brown curls fell in a sea down her back, accenting the long peasant skirt she wore with her tan denim jacket. Her mother never looked her age. "There she is." Danica pulled her friend through the crowd. "Mom!"
Christine turned at the sound of her daughter's voice and a smile lit her face as she saw them coming toward her. "Dani!" She pulled her daughter into a tight hug. "It's so good to see you again. The house seems so empty without you."
Danica laughed as she hugged her mother once again. "I've missed you too, Mom. Schools great, but I miss you cooking."
Christine smiled. "Well, I have three weeks to stuff you full of home cooking. By that time , you'll probably be begging got get back to UCLA." The exchange continued for several more moments before Christine greeted Jules and the three of them made their way to the car.
"This is how is should be." Christine said as she placed an arm around her daughter. "Your Aunt Meg is waiting at the house. We'll all be together for Christmas."
Danica managed a smile. Not quite how it should be. Dad should be with you. Meeting me at the airport, walking with his arm around me. As much as we want to, the whole family isn't here for Christmas. As long as it's been without him, to me we still won't be complete until he is here. Hopefully one year he will be. "Yep. All one big happy family."