Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

*This came to me while working on another Christmas challenge story and I had to write it. It is a prequel of sorts to an earlier story, Lost and Found. The usual disclaimers apply, hope you enjoy *

Just Another Christmas

4247 Maplewood Dr

Saturday, December 23, 2000

6:20 PM

"Damn it!" Lee swore as the wrench he was using to tighten the bolts slipped, smacking him across his already bruised knuckles. "I swear, Amanda— this wrench has it in for me."

"Maybe because you're using the wrong one? Here—this should work a little better." Amanda handed him another wrench.

"Thanks," Lee carefully tightened the bolts as far as they would go. "You know, when Jenna showed me a picture of this in the catalog I thought it looked like it would be pretty easy to put together, but this—"

"Not so simple?" Amanda picked up the paper which held the basic assembly directions, looking at it as she spoke.

"Not so simple," Lee repeated. "I finally got the top part connected but I can't keep the thing upright to get the wheels on. I want her to be able to ride this thing on Christmas Day."

"Lee, the best way to keep it upright is to keep the bottom part of the metal frame on."

"What?" Lee said. "How do you know—"

"It's right here at the bottom of the page." Amanda said. "See? If the scooter is a complex model that comes packaged in a metal frame—"

Lee snatched the paper from her hands and looked at it. "Typical," he said. "They put it at the bottom where you won't see it—that way they can make it as difficult as possible. It's a plot."

"Sweetheart, I'm sure that's not the way they think."

"Isn't it?" Lee ran both hands through his hair. "I just hope I can get this together by Christmas Eve."

"We will," Amanda told him. "But in the meantime you should get ready—this party starts at seven, remember?"

"I haven't forgotten." Lee stood up. For a moment he was at a loss for words as he stared at his wife. The black dress she wore accentuated her slim figure, and the simple diamond pendant at the throat added just the right touch. Her dark hair was pulled up, tendrils of curls escaping and falling to her shoulders.

"Amanda you look—" Lee's voice trailed off— at a complete loss for words. Amanda smiled and Lee wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close.

"Maybe we'll meet our contact early," he told her. "Hmm? And then we can get back here and start enjoying our Christmas."

Amanda ran one hand lightly up and down his arm. "Sounds like a plan to me, Stetson," she said. "But we need to get going soon or else we'll be late."

"We have plenty of time," Lee bent his head down, his lips meeting her own.

A tap on the bedroom door startled them and Lee stepped backwards, upsetting the scooter, which fell on his foot. Lee put his hand over his mouth, muffling his cry of pain.

"Mom? Dad?" Jenna's voice. "Grandma told me to tell you that she has Dad's dress shirt ironed and ready."

"Thank you, sweetheart," Amanda called out as Lee hopped over to the bed and sat down, massaging his foot. "We'll be right down."

"Is everything okay?" Jenna asked. "I thought I heard something fall."

Lee finally managed to speak. "Everything's fine, munchkin. Really. Go tell Grandma that I'll be right down."

Jenna's voice sounded doubtful. "All right. Oh, and I'm making sugar cookies in case you want one later."

"That would be great, sweetheart," Amanda said.

Lee listened for Jenna's footsteps going down the hall and down the stairs before he spoke, pointing at the scooter. "I'd swear that machine's got it in for me."

"Listen," Amanda said. "When we get back here we'll finish assembling it together—it'll be fine. Just picture Jenna's face when she goes to unwrap it Christmas morning."

"She'll love it." Lee's hand brushed the side of Amanda's neck. "And then after we finish that tonight do I get to unwrap my present?"

"Definitely, big fella."


D.C. Community Center

6:58 PM

"Mr. and Mrs. Stetson, welcome," said the woman at the table near the door. She wrote their names on candy-cane shaped tags festooned with a sprig of plastic mistletoe.

"The children colored these themselves," the woman explained. "It's something we let them do every year—and if you look at the tree in corner of the hall you will see that they each made a special ornament as well."

"They're beautiful, thank you," Amanda removed her coat and pinned the nametag to her dress, helping Lee to fasten his to his jacket lapel.

"Would you like to enter the raffle?" the woman asked them. "It's only two dollars apiece and all the money goes to benefit the Women and Children's Shelter."

"Here," Lee pulled out a five. The woman handed them two tickets and gave Lee back a dollar.

"Thank you very much," she said.

The hall was very festive, decorated with tinsel and tiny winkling lights. In the center of the banquet table stood a candelabra festooned with electric candles. The tree that the woman had been talking about sat in the corner. Amanda was about to step forward for a closer look when a familiar voice stopped her in her tracks.

"Mr. and Mrs. Stetson," Augie came towards them, holding a plate filled with food. "So glad to see you here."

"I'm surprised to see you here, Augie," Lee said. "A charity benefit?"

"Hey, domestic and child abuse are very important causes, Lee." A flush crept up Augie's neck. "Also my restaurant provided a portion of the food as well as the chocolate fountain over there. Everything's tax deductible, remember."

"Yeah I get it." Lee nodded. "So, do you have something for us?"

"Oh it's not me," Augie pointed. "It's that woman over there—she came to me but she's a little nervous. It might be best if just one of you approached her. She doesn't exactly trust people, if you know what I'm saying."

"Yeah I know what you're saying," Lee said. "Come on, Augie—Amanda I'll be right back, okay?"

"Okay," Amanda said. Lee and Augie left and Amanda went over to the tree, studying the tiny and brightly colored paper ornaments, each one marked with a child's name. She loved these homemade ornaments—over the years she'd managed to save the ones that Phillip and Jamie had made, along with Jenna's. She was so lost in her thoughts that she didn't even notice the soft footsteps from behind.

"Can I get you some egg nog?" a man's voice asked.

Startled, Amanda turned around to see a tall man, wearing a suit. The man had dark brown hair and eyes which were a startling blue color—for some strange reason she found herself thinking of icicles. The man smiled.

"Sorry if I startled you." He extended his hand. "My name's Gary Johnston—or councilman Gary Johnston if you want to get formal about it."

"I'm Amanda Stetson." She shook his hand.

"So, Amanda Stetson, do you want some egg nog? If you don't like egg nog there's always rum punch."

"No, I'm fine, thank you."

"Are you here alone?"

"No—my husband's just over there." Amanda pointed.

"My wife wanted to come," Gary said. "Unfortunately she's not feeling too well at the moment. But we have a young daughter, so this is a cause near to both our hearts."

"I understand," Amanda said. "I have a daughter at home too."

"Really? How old?"

"She's eleven—about to turn twelve before too long."

"What a coincidence—I have a child the same age." Taking his wallet out, Gary showed Amanda a photo of a red-headed girl with big brown eyes. The girl was staring into the camera, her expression solemn. "That's our Marcie—she had it taken this October."

Amanda opened her purse and took out her wallet. "This is Jenna—it was from her recital this year—I've been showing it to everyone lately."

"I can see why—it's a good photo." Before Amanda could say anything Gary took the wallet from her hand. He said nothing for a few moments as he studied the photo closely.

"She's a beautiful child," he said as he returned the wallet.

"Thank you." Amanda put her wallet back in her purse.

"It's so hard, isn't it?" Gary said. "To imagine that someone could possibly hurt a child like that? And yet it happens every day."

For some reason the words sent a chill through Amanda. "Yes," she spoke quietly. "It is very hard to believe."

"Hey—what's up?" Lee put a hand on his wife's shoulder.

"This is councilman Gary Johnston," Amanda said. "We were just sharing pictures of our children—he has a daughter Jenna's age."

"Nice to meet you," Lee told the man. To Amanda he said. "We should go—I need to check something out before going home—at work."

"So soon?" Gary said. "Well I guess it can't be helped.

"It can't," Lee said.

"Well it was nice meeting you, Mr. Johnston," Amanda said.

"Gary, please." The man took her hand. His fingers were icy cold. "Perhaps we'll meet again, Mrs. Stetson—someday."


4247 Maplewood Dr

9:00 PM

Amanda stood in the doorway, just looking at her daughter.

Jenna lay on her bed, in her pajamas, engrossed in a book. Her blond hair curtained over her face and she swung her feet back and forth as she turned the pages.

'To imagine that someone could possibly hurt a child like that'

The councilman's words came back to her, causing Amanda to shiver involuntarily. Something about him was—but maybe she was imagining it.

"Mom?" Amanda saw that her daughter was now staring at her. "Was there something you wanted?"

"Not really," Amanda said. "I just wanted to say good night—you are going to bed soon, right?"

Jenna sat up. "Yeah—right after I finish this chapter. Did you have a nice time? At the party?"

"It was pretty nice, yeah." Amanda sat on the edge of her bed. "Looking forward to Christmas?"

Jenna nodded. "Always." She yawned, rubbing her hand across her face. "I can't wait to give you and dad the presents I bought."

"And get your presents, don't forget."

Jenna grinned. "That too."

"Amanda!" Dad called.

"I think Dad needs you," Jenna said.

"Yes he does. Well I should let you get to bed, sweetheart." Amanda smoothed her daughter's hair. "Good night."

Jenna hugged her. "Good night, Mom—I love you."

Amanda held her daughter tightly, briefly closing her eyes. "I love you too, sweetheart."

The End