At the end of the night, Freddie is watching the snow fall through the hole in the window, and Spencer is saying, this is not how I wanted the night to go. Freddie wants to say nothing ever goes the way any of them plan, why should today have been any different?
The wind coming in whips around the candles, making their flames dance.
But it's Christmas, Spencer would say. But that doesn't count for anything anymore.
The stereo is playing soft, sweet music. Not Christmas music, really, but the kind that burrows right into your chest and then you are warm, everywhere, despite the cold lurking right outside. Carly is tangled in yards of twinkle lights, and Sam comes through the door, red lips and redder cheeks, snowflakes caught everywhere in her wind-swept hair.
There is something growing between the three of them, not hanging over them at all but instead everywhere they turn, blocking all exits. Do not pass go. In another week the new year will come, and then, only a few short months later, the end of high school. And then the wide open future.
And where that leaves them, Freddie's not sure anymore. Graduation used to be a far away place for kids much taller, more shapely, with much more facial hair then him. But now it's right around the corner, lurking, ready to strike. And when they say goodbye to Ridgeway, and the summer is over, well.
Freddie doesn't remember who he is without Carly and Sam - he's not even sure he's anyone at all. He might as well loose an arm, or both his legs.
"Freddie?" Carly says, sighing. "Can you help unravel me?"
His fingers brush against Sam's as they try to untangle Carly and she snaps her hand away, pushes her hair out of her face.
Christmas Eve was for his mother's sister, first and second cousins and his grandmother's brother, but tonight is for Freddie (and the only people he's ever felt at home with). His mother brings over three trays of food, mashed potatoes and stuffing, all the things that have Sam lifting the corners of the tinfoil and sighing dejectedly when Carly tells her to wait. Marissa helps Spencer take the ham out of the oven, and while he carves it, Socko spikes the eggnog. Somewhere across the room Carly and Sam are laughing, and the sound is like bells, like comfort and safety and scarves on chilly days. Carly looks up at him and smiles, and he smiles back without meaning it.
"Whatever it is, it will still be there tomorrow," Spencer says, slinging an arm around Freddie's shoulder.
"Yeah," Freddie says. "Yeah, I know, it's just -."
"Tomorrow," Spencer repeats, and pokes Freddie in the face with two fingers, lifts the corners of his mouth into a smile.
Socko is left-handed, and he asks to switch seats with Sam so he's sitting to Spencer's left instead of his right. Sam moves without compliant, and Freddie spends the rest of the meal staring at Socko and Spencer's hands, folded around each other on the table. Watching the small circles Spencer's thumb is rubbing across Socko's knuckles, and the gentle way Socko intertwines their fingers - it makes his own fingers itch for something, a palm pressed against his own, someone who doesn't want to let go of him.
Carly passes the string beans to Marissa, and Sam throws a roll across the table that Freddie catches with one hand raised high above his head. Things are -.
"Merry Christmas, everyone," Carly says, and her eyes are wide and glassy with tears.
And Freddie knows he's not the only one who's feeling alone six months too soon.
After dessert, after another glass of wine and a second helping of mashed potatoes, Marissa kisses Freddie's forehead goodnight and for once doesn't ask what time he thinks he might be home. She tells him Merry Christmas, and when she wraps her arms around him, Freddie tells her he loves her.
It's not long after that Socko dries the last dish, and finishes off the last of the Jello, and says, "God, I'm stuffed."
Spencer leans in close to Socko's ear, and thinking no one can hear, whispers, "And ready to be mounted?"
Socko laughs, and they disappear into Spencer's room, a flurry of goodnights and love yous and merry Christmases trailing behind them. Again, Freddie can feel that longing in his chest, but he smiles despite himself.
Carly rolls her eyes in her brother's wake, and turns off the lights, she says, "Can we just sit, for a little while?"
Freddie nods, and Sam doesn't say anything, just just keeps her eyes on the Christmas tree, sitting crossed legged on the floor in front of it. Freddie falls asleep fast, listening Carly singing along to the music and watching the light from the tree play across Sam's face.
When he wakes up, some unknown amount of time later, Spencer is in the kitchen with Sam, divvying up the rest of the pie onto small, snowflake print paper plates. Socko pours even more rum into the eggnog and he smiles when hands Carly a glass. "By accepting this glass, you are agreeing to the terms of service," he says, ruffling her hair.
"I agree on behalf of the three of us," she says, pouring two more glasses. "No leaving the house. No over-doing it. No lampshade hats."
"Good girl," Socko says.
"Pie, Freddo," Sam says from the kitchen. "If you're not here in five seconds you forfeit your piece to my stomach."
"I'm awake," Freddie says. "I'm awake."
He doesn't mean to say it. It's just it's all he's been thinking about all night, this big horrible-wonderful thing sitting in the back of his head, and they are across from him, laughing and smiling, and he just can't bring himself to join in. But he tries, he tries, and when he opens his mouth, he says, "I got early acceptance to NYU."
He watches the emotions on Carly's face, she's always been so easy to read - pride, then realization, and oh, then sadness in her eyes and at the corners of her mouth. But she says, "Oh, wow, Freddie. That's great! I'm really happy for you."
When she circles the table and hugs him, he keeps his eyes on the blank look on Sam's face, and how she's not looking to him at all.
Carly moves away from him, and Spencer claps him on the back. "Congratulations, kiddo," he says, and means it.
It's not until Spencer and Socko head to bed, and Carly excuses herself for a minute to use the bathroom, that Sam finally speaks to him. Her voice is sharp, strained, and she says, "Why did you have to ruin everything?"
He doesn't bother to pretend not knowing exactly what she's talking about. "The night wasn't going that great before I told you."
"But we were trying, at least, to be happy," she says, her voice rising. "And then you just go and - and! Like there wasn't enough on our minds. We all have shit we're carrying around - Carly's dad, my fucking mother - and then you just. Like it's no big deal!"
"What does it even matter to you where I go to college," Freddie shouts back. "All of a sudden you're interested in my life."
"Fuck you, Freddie," she shouts. "Six years and you still don't get it at all. You really are the stupidest kid I've ever met. NYU must have their heads up their asses."
"You know what? Fuck you, Sam," he shouts back. "I really try with you, but all you give me is shit. Nothing I do is good enough, you've changed with everyone but me. And I don't care what you think. It's my life. And I'd go to fucking Russia if it meant getting away from you!"
The glass she throws flies right past his head, past the bottle robot, and shatters through the window.
"Go fuck yourself," she says, and slams the front door behind her.
"Okay," Spencer says from the hall, just as Carly comes running down from the second floor, "what just happened?"
They clean up the glass together, and Socko finds a sheet of plywood that will at least keep out the cold and snow until the morning. "Please try not to break anything else, okay," Spencer says tiredly. "In fact, go to bed. Both of you. It's almost four in the morning." Socko pulls Spencer back to bed, and both of them shuffling barefooted down the hall.
"She exploded," Carly says matter-of-factly, plopping down on the sofa next to Freddie.
"Yeah, but so did I."
"She's just -" Carly shakes her head, tries again, "she's just scared, that's all. You're going across the country, I'll be going off to some college, wherever. And you know Sam, she doesn't like to think that far ahead. She never knows where she's going until she's there."
"I can't stop my life because she's scared, Carly," Freddie says, rubbing his forehead. "I don't know what to do with her. She's made it plain to everyone, for years, that she can do without me around. But it's like -."
"It's like?" Carly presses.
"I don't know," he stressed, letting his head all back against the couch.
Carly sighs and stands up, leans over him and presses a kiss to his temple. "Go home, Freddie. Get some sleep."
It's still snowing, and Freddie shoves his hands into his pockets, turns away from the bitter wind. It's almost 7:30, and soon the sun will be coming up and he can officially say goodbye to the day.
He doesn't regret what he said to Sam, not at all. Whatever game she's been playing with him, he's tired of it, right down to his bones. He's tired of everything. The winter already seems too long, he feels too old for his age. He tilts his head back and closes his eyes - almost falls right off the fire'scape when a pair of bare arms circle around him from behind, locking over his arms and across his chest.
Her bracelets clank together, and she buries her face in the back of his coat and doesn't say anything.
"Where is your coat, Sam?" he sighs, shaking his head. She just shrugs. Freddie moves to take off his coat, but she holds him tighter, says, "Don't."
She says, "I can't look at you when I say this, okay."
So he waits. She's shivering against his back and all he is thinking is how she needs to get out of the cold.
"I'm so proud of you, Freddie. And I'm so, so happy you know what you want to do with your life."
"Sam, no one knows what they want -."
"Let me finish," she says, gives him a warning squeeze until he looses his breath. "I'm not one of those people. And I know after next summer Carly's going to leave here, and so are you, and I'll have nothing. And I've spent the last six years burning every single bridge you tried building with me, and now I'm down to the wire."
She quiet for a moment, then she says, in a voice so small Freddie's not sure it's her at all, "And I'm terrified you'll stop trying, after you're gone. And I'll find all this time I spent pushing you away worked, and I don't. I never knew how to be Carly, Freddie. I can't be Carly, I've tried."
"I don't want you to be Carly, Sam," he says, taking a deep breath.
"But I don't know how to love you."
And there it is. Sam lets her arms fall away from him and Freddie turns to her, unzips his jacket and pulls her inside, wraps it around both of them. He says, "The first step is insulting me less."
She laughs against his shoulder, raw and wet-sounding, and he realizes, amazed, that she's crying.
They climb back into his apartment through the window, and he finds one of his old polo shirts for her. After she's changed (his shirt, her boxers), he makes no show of pulling her into his bed, covering them both with his blanket. It's just as awkward as he would've imagined, but she doesn't turn to run, and that, maybe, is the first step.
She's lying on her back and he's on his side, against her side, and she says, "Can I do this?" and presses the palm of her hand against his, laces their fingers together. Freddie smiles at her, and makes the decision that eventually, before graduation, he's going to ask her to come with him to New York. Eventually.