Rating: PG (at most)
Feedback: Yes, thank you.
Spoilers: Through Lost episode 4.5 "The Constant"
Distribution: The Blackberry Patch and . If you're interested, please let me know.
Summary: Penny on Christmas Eve 2004.
Author's note: Yes, this is romantic, slightly angsty, over-written, shmaltzy fluff, but after that amazing episode, come on, enjoy the dang fluff.
Disclaimer: All characters are owned by the creators of "Lost." Kindly do not sue me, please, as I am terrified of you. Thank you.
Christmas was here again, and the temptation to give up flickered in the back of Penny's mind. This was always the hardest time of year, when images of the times they'd had together haunted her like phantoms. She would remember silly things, like the time Desmond had redecorated their apartment while she was out and she returned to over fifty strategically placed sprigs of mistletoe dangling from the ceiling, tucked into bookshelves, and even tacked with a magnet onto the freezer door, each one another excuse for a kiss from her crazy boyfriend. But there were other memories, too, times when he was conspicuous in his absence. The last two Christmases had been spent looking, searching for scraps of information about an island that seemed like a cross between a fairy story and a nightmare. She questioned her own sanity sometimes, and last Christmas Eve she had spent the night staring into the fireplace, ignoring her father's repeated phone calls that would, as usual, have been filled with platitudes that he knew better than she did in these matters and all had worked out for the best.
It was only this morning that she had decided to put up a tree. There'd been no need of one or even the desire for one for a long time, but hope fluttered softly in her stomach with fragile dragonfly wings. She knew she was probably a fool, but it was Christmas Eve 2004, and maybe, just perhaps, it was the one time of year when a fool could hope for miracles and they could be granted. She had ventured to a roadside tree seller, an old man who could have been Father Christmas's twin with his long white beard and eyes that crinkled in a merry smile at her when she pointed to the fir tree decisively.
On the drive home, the tree tied securely to her car roof but odd branches swaying into view in her rearview mirror like hands frantically waving hello, Penny glanced at the shoppers rushing along the sidewalks in the morning snowfall. It was like something from a Christmas card, the kind people sneer at as being too sentimental but secretly smile at fondly. Steel still flowed through her veins, though. Tonight would decide things one way or the other. There had been a thousand moments of hope that had come to nothing like a string of lights for a tree that, when plugged in, proved to be blown out and worthless, leaving her in disappointed darkness. Tonight could be the worst yet, or, a small voice whispered faintly, the best.
She lugged the tree from the car, up the steps to the door, and into the front room. After propping it into the stand, she clipped the restraining twine free, and the tree opened, spreading a green, living scent around her. She twisted it this way and that until the best bit was facing out, then bent to the boxes at her feet. Carefully, she took out the glittering baubles she had so carefully put away and not touched for years. The lights went first, wound in spirals around the branches, chain upon chain, reaching from the floor to the topmost branch. She left them unlit. Somehow, in spite of calling herself a coward, she couldn't bear the thought of them failing. Ornaments, most of them in pale gold or pearly white, were hung delicately, a gentle glow seeming to emanate from them, and she remembered hanging them before, remembered the scent of fresh popcorn, only slightly burned, from the microwave, remembered the sounds of the Carpenters' Christmas album playing on the phonograph Desmond always insisted sounded better than any CD player. She remembered squabbling and laughing over whether the ornaments were evenly spread over the tree, culminating in a garland fight that left them both breathless from laughter, then breathless from kisses. She remembered, and the sweet pain of the memories bit into her heart.
She stood back and looked at the tree appraisingly. It was waiting. Every bit of garland, facet of crystal, and smooth bulb was patiently waiting for her to flick the switch and turn the lights on in a glorious display of Christmas happiness, the image of home and hearth. She took a breath, shaking herself slightly.
"Get on with it, then," she said to herself aloud. "It's only a tree, not an oracle of doom."
Still she hesitated, her hand poised on the switch, then bit her lip and flicked it.
Immediately, the whole room was plunged into darkness.
"A blown fuse," she muttered, frustration making the words taste bitter. "Bloody brilliant."
She stumbled down the stairs into the cellar and groped blindly for the fuse box. The cold, unyielding metal somehow brought her back to reality with a thud. With a shuddering sob, she leaned against the wall tiredly, suddenly exhausted bone deep. A minute passed before Penny sniffed determinedly.
"Today is no different than yesterday and won't be any different from tomorrow," she said to herself. "You keep putting one foot ahead of the other, and if it all comes to naught, then you forget it and move on. The world still spins."
She flipped the fuse back on, and with the return of power a shaft of light angled down the cellar stairs from the fixture in the kitchen above. She began to climb back up when she heard it.
Christmas Eve 2004.
She dashed up the stairs, nearly falling backwards down them when she stubbed her toe on one of the risers in her haste, wasting precious seconds. She ran to the front room where she had stupidly left her phone and answered it with trembling fingers.
"Hello?" she said, hope threading in rainbow colors through the word.
Behind her, the Christmas tree was blazing with a thousand diamond-bright sparkles of light as though stars had come home to rest in its branches.