A Winter Tale
Safe Haven was a beautiful picturesque town nestled in the mountains of Colorado. It was the kind of place that photographers flocked to, especially around the holidays when it was all lit up for the local festivities. It reminded twenty two year old Julie Carver of the old fashioned Kinkaid paintings that hung in her aunt's house. No matter where she ventured a glimpse of the popular artist always seemed to give her a warm glow inside. Even in the dead of winter with the snow flying outside her door she felt comfort and warmth and a deep sense of home. There was nowhere else in the world she wanted to be.
Looking out the windows of "Haven's Nest" the diner she and her family owned, she marveled at how the shoppers rushed through the streets excited to get home with their gifts. It was December 21th, and everyone was eager to get their shopping done before the big blizzard that was predicted began to fall.
"Julie, a little help please?" She heard a male voice call from behind the counter.
She turned around and smiled up at her father. "Sorry daddy, I was just thinking about how great our little town looks during the holidays."
"Yes sweetie it does, but if we don't finish decorating this little tree I will be late picking Zack up at the airport." Justin Carver explained to his oldest daughter. "If that happens Rick will never let the matter drop."
"Yes he will."
The man raised an eyebrow giving her an odd look. "Have you met my brother," Justin chuckled. "We are talking about the same person right?"
"Why do you have to be the one to pick this guy up anyway." She pouted trying not to sound like a whiney seven year old.
"You know why, Uncle Rick is stuck up at the cabin all day fixing that broken pipe in the bathroom for your grandmother and can't make it." He replied trying to keep a smile on his face, although he felt a little annoyed knowing it had been his brother's idea to ask Kurt for help in the first place.
Kurt had made it big in the music business a few years before and appointed Zack their band manager. Which in turn, made his eldest son the go to guy for any type of favor that crossed Kurt's desk. It killed him to know that things had gotten so bad that Rick would even think about asking for help.
"Who is this guy anyway?" she asked.
She was annoyed that this stranger would choose the holiday season of all times to reaffirm that their family business was indeed in trouble. A fact which she had been made painstakingly aware of when unbeknownst to her father she had accidentally opened a letter from the Safe Haven Bank and Trust a few months before.
"I told you his name, Zack Martin. Rick and I used to play in a band with his father years ago. We still keep in touch and Kurt thought it might be a good idea if Zack came to visit for a while."
"But why now, he obviously has family." She questioned. "Shouldn't he be spending Christmas with them?"
"Honey I want you to be polite." He instructed his strong willed daughter. "Like I said, he's the son of a good friend of mine. So we will make him feel welcome. Do I make myself clear?"
"Fine, I just don't see why he has to be here now." Julie wanted nothing more than to forget about their problems if even for a few days during the holiday season. "Why he has to be here at all." She added under her breath. Julie knew that her father was trying to spare her family the bad news, but she couldn't help but comment with the hope that he would confide in her.
Unfortunately that didn't happen as her nine year old little brother came barreling through the restaurant at break neck speed.
"Whoa there road runner. What's the hurry?" Julie watched as her father took a hold of the little boy and placed him over his shoulder making the young child wail with laughter.
"Dad, put me down!" Dwight pleaded with him as he gently did what was requested.
Justin placed a hand on each of his shoulders so that the rambunctious child would be forced to look him in the eyes.
"So what's the hurry," Justin repeated jokingly. "Who's chasing you?"
"Mr. Caulfield." The child replied lowering his gaze to the floor.
"Ah Dwight, what have you done now?"
"It wasn't my fault." Dwight added in a rush. "It was Billy Barkley."
"Carver!" Edward Caulfield stormed into the diner with an angry and determined look on his face.
Dwight immediately stepped behind his father in an attempt to hide from the older man. Justin faced the incoming trouble with a frustrated sigh knowing it wasn't the first time his young son had caused a ruckus for the owner of the small market that stood two doors down.
"That boy is a menace." He roared walking over to the two individuals. "What he needs is a long overdue date with a belt."
"We'll talk about the proper punishment after you tell me what my son has done." Justin said with agitation.
"Your son and that Barkley boy were goofing off in my store and tipped over an entire Christmas display of chocolate bars." He barked. "Ruining the entire batch in the process and making them unsellable. I demand restitution."
"Dwight is this true?" Justin quietly asked his son.
"Kind of…" Dwight whimpered still glued to his father's back. "We were just playing. We didn't mean to tip it over. I swear!"
"I think it would be a good idea if you apologized to Mr. Caulfield." Justin looked down into the nervous eyes of his child. "And offered to clean up the mess, I think that would only be fair don't you."
Dwight slowly walked around to his father's side.
Justin placed a hand on his son's shoulder in encouragement. "I'm sorry Mr. Caulfield." He whispered with a sigh. "We were just goofing off. We didn't mean for it to fall over."
"It's good of you to apologize, but the truth is the damage has already been done." Edward told the child. "And it won't replace the merchandize I lost. You're a delinquent and if you don't shape up you'll end up in real trouble."
"Dwight why don't you go into the back room and call Billy. Have him and his father meet us here." Justin watched as his son rushed out of the room to do his bidding.
Turning back toward Caulfield he gave the man his full attention. "You listen to me, my son made a mistake and he's willing to fix it by cleaning up the mess. Now I will pay you back for the damage he has done. But don't ever talk to him like that again or you and I will have problems."
"He's old enough to know the truth. If you'd discipline him like you're supposed to he wouldn't be such a nuisance." Edward Growled. "Now I know how badly things have been since Karen passed away. After all, contrary to popular belief I'm not completely heartless, therefore I want you to know my offer still stands if you should choose to accept it." He added.
"That's not necessary." Justin said through clenched teeth as he fought the urge to physically throw the man out of his diner.
"Don't be foolish. I admit we've had our differences in the past but my offer is a fair one and more than you could hope to find anywhere else."
"We are doing fine, thanks anyway."Julie, who had been silent while watching this interaction, exchanged a saddened look with her father who immediately turned away.
As her attention returned to the older store owner she had to force herself not to openly glare at the man.
"Dwight come in here buddy." He called and watched the little boy walk toward him with downcast eyes. "Let's head on over and see what we can do." Dwight immediately perked up when Justin held out a hand for him to hold.
"Dad," Julie interrupted. "What about Zack, the airport."
"Oh, I almost forgot." Justin turned toward his daughter while rubbing his temples. "Could you do me a favor sweetheart, take the truck and pick him up."
Although she wasn't thrilled with running the errand she knew this wasn't the time to argue. "Alright." Gazing over at the old man still standing in their diner in a tizzy, she reminded herself why he was known as "Scrooge" in certain circles.
Thirty minutes later Julie pulled up in front of a little airport just outside of town. She never understood why Artie and Millie didn't want to expand. But she figured they were the owners and they probably knew what they were doing. So the fifteen seater plane would have to accommodate the local population which consisted of approximately two hundred or so individuals. As soon as she walked into the small waiting area she was beckoned over to the lunch counter by a smiling woman with a happy demeanor.
Before Millie and Artie married she worked as a cook for the diner and occasionally took on the added duty of being her babysitter.
Julie immediately rushed over giving the other woman a big hug.
"Julie what brings you too our neck of the woods." Millie asked as the young girl sat down.
"I am here to pick up a passenger." Julie rolled her eyes her annoyance apparent in her expression.
"You don't look to happy about it. Is it someone I know?"
"Zack Martin." She said. "Uncle Rick and my dad used to play in a band with his father, maybe you know him, Kurt Martin."
"I know of them, and from what your family has told me they seem like really nice people." Millie studied Julie's face for a minute. She had known her far too long not to know when something was bothering her. When her mother died unexpectedly in a car accident, Millie had become like a surrogate mother to a young girl who couldn't understand why the woman had been taken from her.
"Tell me the truth." She asked, suddenly very concerned. "Is the reason you're upset really have anything to do with this young man or is it something else?"
"We might lose the family diner." Julie told her with worry in her eyes.
"Haven's Nest. But that diner has been here since I was a child." Millie told her stunned with the news. "I remember when your grandparents were in charge. I'd stop in everyday after school and they would have a special treat waiting for me, sometimes I can almost hear your grandfather's laughter when I go inside. Your family can't let this happen."
"What do you suggest we do." she asked pleading with her. "I have brainstormed it all. Short of robbing a bank, I don't see what we can do."
"Well you know Artie and I will be happy to help in any way we can." Millie offered. "How much is the debt? How long do you have to come up with the payment?"
"Forty seven thousand by the fifth of January." Julie answered. "And on top of that we have to babysit some guy from the city."
"That's a lot of money, what do Rick and your dad have to say?" She suggested. "If I know your uncle he already has a plan in the works."
"This is the one time I wish he did." Julie admitted. "But instead he asks his friends son to come for a visit. It doesn't make sense."In the next moment an announcement came over the PA system and the passengers began to embark on the small lobby. "Well here we go." Julie looked around at the various people making their way through the terminal and searched for a tall dark haired man.
"Do you know what he looks like?" Millie asked her.
"No, but I saw a picture of his father once, all I remember is this dark tan and crop of brown hair."
Just then they noticed a man walk into the terminal with his luggage. They watched as the Medium built blond haired stranger stood in wait at the check in desk.
"Wow, it's too bad that's not him." Millie whispered. "He's adorable and looks to be around your age."
"Would you stop, that is the last thing on my mind." Julie stated. "Besides we need to keep an eye out for this Martin guy."
Millie picked up on the slight animosity and continued the conversation as the young stranger took a seat on a stool at the other end of the lunch counter. Setting his bags down beside him he picked up a menu and scanned it.
"Why do you dislike this guy so much?" Millie asked. "You don't even know him."
"Maybe not, but I know his type." Julie told her friend.
"His type," the older woman replied looking at her quizzically. "And what exactly is his type?"
"You know the big city know it all who thinks he's too good for us country folk." She answered making the young man at the counter smirk. "When I left for college I met them all."
"You're talking about Ralph." Millie supplied. "You can't base every man you meet from the city on that no account snake."
"I can and I will." Julie gazed at the clock on the far wall and let out an exasperated sigh. "Case in point, that was the last passenger. He didn't even bother to show up. No phone calls, no e-mail, nothing. You would think in this day and age he would find a way to cancel politely."
"Look I know that Ralph put you through quite a bit." Millie said returning back to the subject at hand.
"That's an understatement." Julie replied biting her lip to keep from elaborating as she thought about the tall red headed gym instructor and his female assistant. Not to mention the empty bank accounts, the eviction notices, the negative marks on her credit report. And the overall humiliation…
"Are you listening to me, you're far too young to be so bitter. It would be better if you thought of him as a bump in the road that you've tackled and moved on from."
"You just don't understand." Julie smiled leaning over to place a quick kiss on the woman's cheek. "But I thank you for trying."
Julie again gazed at the clock and her attention returned to the absentee visitor her father had requested she pick up.
"Why don't you call Rick and see if you can get a number." Millie suggested as she grabbed a pot of warm coffee off its waiting machine. "I'm sure there was just a mix up."
As Julie walked off to make her call, Millie smiled in polite conversation as she poured the hot substance into a mug in front of Zack. "So what do you feel like having?" She asked him noticing he had a friendly smile. "The tuna salad is delicious, as well as the grilled chicken sandwich."
"The grilled chicken sandwich sounds perfect," he told her while taking in the scenery. "This is a nice place you've got here."
"My husband and I own it, built it from the ground up." She stated with a hint of pride in her voice. "Being up here on the mountain the only way down is to drive and during the winter that makes traveling nearly impossible. So we saved up enough money for a deposit and turned this old place into an airport of sorts."
"It was well worth the investment." Zack smiled noticing all the details that went into the craftsmanship. "I am guessing you both did a good amount of the renovations?"
Before Millie could elaborate Julie walked over to the two. Holding her cell phone in her hand she ranted and raved about how she'd been right. "Who does this guy think he is?" Flipping open her cell phone she dialed the number her uncle had given her. "Not even a phone call. All city boys are the same and Zack Martin is no different. I am determined to give him a piece of my mind." She continued frustrated with her circumstances. "It's inconsiderate, rude and very irresponsible not to even call and get in touch with us. If I had known I'd waste my time, I wouldn't have driven out here in the first place."
Zack's cell phone began to beep. Flipping it open he answered the caller.
"Hello, Zack here," Zack smirked. "Can I help you?"
Julie slowly closed her phone and blushing in embarrassment watched as he put away his own. Millie grinned as Julie profusely apologized for the misunderstanding.
"I think I'll go make you that sandwich now." Millie smiled making her exit.
Julie sat down at the counter next to him, a light awkwardness filling the air between them.
A couple minutes passed before he extended his hand. "How about we start over," he smiled at the pretty pink blush appearing on her cheeks. "I am Zack Martin and you must be Julie Carver."
"Yes." She meekly replied as she returned the greeting and shook his hand.
"So how's your father, I haven't seen him in a few years." He asked as she nervously fiddled with the strap on her purse which was now sitting in her lap.
"He's fine." Noticing the way he was watching her, her blush deepened.
"He's up at my grandmother's cabin. Her pipes were leaking awhile back and one finally cracked. So he's fixing it up for her." She took a deep breath and tried to ease into conversation. An act she found quite difficult as he continued to study her.
"Rick always was a jack of all trades." She nodded in agreement.
An unfamiliar energy surrounded her and she couldn't quite tell if it was just nerves or the way his eyes sparkled when he smiled. Julie forced herself to put the brakes on such dangerous thoughts, knowing full well they would only lead her down a troubled road. She was determined to keep a clear head in order to avoid another collision. After all he will be gone in a few days and she didn't need the headache. Or the heartache her mind added.
When Millie walked out with his sandwich a moment later she relaxed a little bit.
"Sweetheart, would you like anything for the road?" The young girl smiled and ordered her favorite. Millie returned with a sandwich and a thermos filled with hot chocolate.
"Is he still running the diner with Justin?"
"Since the day my grandparents retired." The clear affection in her voice not lost on him.
Zack watched her face light up more and more with the mention of her family, and it was clear how much she adored them as she continued to describe their business.
He hadn't seen his father's old band mates since Karen's funeral. The Martin family had been saddened by the news, remembering all the times he and his brother had spent with the band when they were little. They'd flown in to lend their support and pay their respects. He remembered a sad twelve year old girl sitting in the background on the verge of tears and trying so hard not to let them fall. As well as a grieving father holding a newborn baby and trying to be strong for the three of them.
"Zack, are you alright?"
"Sorry, I was just thinking about how delicious this sandwich is." Zack lied. "Millie I commend you."
The older woman immediately refilled his coffee mug. "Thank you kind sir, flattery will get you everywhere." She laughed as she handed him a warm chocolate chip cookie. "Baked them myself," she offered.
"Well then how can I refuse." He returned the smile and placed a couple of the treats on his plate next to the half finished sandwich.
"Actually we should go soon. There's supposed to be a snow storm tonight and we don't want to get caught up in it." Julie stated grabbing a handful of cookies for the road. "Don't forget you're joining us for Christmas Dinner. Are you still up for some shopping?"
"Are you kidding I wouldn't miss our annual Christmas shopping adventures for the world." She replied. "Be sure to pick me up the day after tomorrow around nine."
"How could I forget every year you call me bright and early to remind me," Julie laughed. "Sometimes, maybe a little too early."
"Oh you're hilarious."
"As for Christmas Dinner, Artie and I have been looking forward to it for the past couple of weeks. You can expect us around three as usual." She added gazing out the window, concern etched in her features as she pushed them toward the door. "Now I don't mean to rush you but I think you're right about the weather. I see the storm clouds looming overhead. So please don't take it the wrong way when I say, get out of my airport so I can lock up and you can make it home safely."
Zack pulled out his wallet to pay only to feel a hand gently reach out to stop him.
"That's not necessary." Millie smiled. "Consider it an early Christmas present."
"But surely I owe you something." Zack tried to hand her a large bill only to have it waved away.
"No you don't owe me a thing now both of you get moving." She stated clearly worried as she watched the snow begin to fall. Taking their cue, they bundled up and headed out the doors and into the cold weather. The wind chill factor was below freezing and the snow began to fall more rapidly.
"We better hurry because we still have to pick up my dad and Dwight from the diner. Then hopefully we'll be able to beat the storm home." She emphasized as they made a mad dash for the waiting truck.
"That man has no compassion." Justin told his friend as he and their son's walked back into the diner.
It had taken a good forty minutes to clean up the mess made by the two young boys, yet the way Edward had been barking order's you would think the world was coming to an end.
"That man could use a little humility." David Barkley stated as he accepted the offered cup of coffee. "And a good kick in the…"
"Dad!" Billy shouted as he jumped onto his father's lap making the older man halt in mid sentence. "Dwight said we could come over for Christmas if we want to, even mom."
"That's great," David told the excited child. "Are you sure that's alright?" He asked Justin as the man placed several slices of pumpkin bread in front of the exhausted group.
"David we've known one another since before we could walk." He smiled. "Your family and family doesn't need an invitation. Besides, Mom's been baking like crazy."
"This is her favorite time of the year." David supplied as Billy jumped off of his lap and ran over to the tree with Dwight in hot pursuit. "As much as I love my wife, we all know she has no talent in the kitchen."
"What was that?" Sally asked as she walked into the diner. "Was that a negative remark about my cooking skills?"
"No, no, of course not sweetie," David stuttered as she walked over and stood beside him. "I love your cooking; who knew tater tots were meant to bounce," he chuckled as he gave her a kiss on the cheek. "I think there much easier to digest that way."
Sally gave her husband a playful slap on the arm just as Billy ran over and wrapped his arms around his mother's waist. She lovingly gazed down at her child returning the affectionate hug.
"I wonder what's taking Julie so long." Justin peeked through the blinds covering the window. "They should have been here by now."
"I'm sure she's fine, she knows how to handle herself in this kind of weather." Sally stated knowingly. "I'm sure they'll walk through that door any minute."
"I hope so, it's also after four and in a couple of hours it will be pitch black out there."
"Give her another half hour and if they aren't back by then we'll go out and look." David advised. "But until then why don't we play a board game while we wait." He suggested thinking about the boys.
"You're right, but just to be on the safe side I'll flip on the weather channel." Remote in hand he flipped on the local news and watched as the weather alerts filled the bottom of his screen. As the call for severe weather changes echoed into the room Justin's mind could not help but return to his wife and the night she died. He could still remember Fred and Clarisse knocking on his door to inform him of Karen's death. There was an awful blizzard that night too. He had begged his wife to stay in a motel until it was over. But after some last minute holiday shopping she wanted to make sure the kids received their gifts from Santa on time so she treaded up the mountain. She never made it home. Which was why unless everyone was safe and accounted for, blizzards had a tendency to make him severely nervous.
"Daddy, she'll be home soon." Dwight wrapped an arm around his waist and Justin looked down into the smiling eyes of his son. "Nothing bad will happen." The child said understanding the circumstances.
"Let's play some Monopoly." Justin smiled dragging his son across the diner as he was still attached to the older man's waist.
Still, he found himself taking one last backwards glance out the window.
He sent up a prayer and prepared himself for a long wait.
"Are you sure you don't want me to drive. I have driven in snow storms before in fact coming from the northeast there pretty much a given."
Zack noticed the way she gripped the wheel in order to keep the truck steady on the icy road. The snow was now falling so hard their window of visibility was slowly shrinking and soon there would be a complete white out.
"And I don't?" Julie asked. "I grew up on a mountain top, so snow is pretty much a given here too."
"Since you apparently don't know what an accelerator is for, and don't know how to use one. We would be much better off if I drove." Zack argued causing Julie to glare at him.
"You know that is so typical." She shouted. "Why do all men think alike?"
"What is that supposed to mean?" Zack retorted.
"I mean, you seem to think that just because we weren't born with a second brain we have no way of getting through situations without you to guide us." She stated and was a little angry when he began to laugh.
"Is guy bashing something you enjoy?" Zack asked. "Seriously do you wake up in the morning and think of ways to put the whole male population down?"
"I do not put down the entire male population, just the ones who deserve it." She argued.
"Meaning me, so why am I one of the lucky ones?" he asked. "Let me guess, I'm a big city know it all who thinks I'm too good for you country folk."
"You were listening." She said a little sheepishly and felt bad when he nodded. "I'm sorry. I guess I do tend to sound that way. It's been an interesting year. But that's no excuse to bash all men in general."
"So who was Ralph?" He wasn't sure what made him ask her that question, but it was too late to take it back so he figured he might as well roll with it.
"First of all I don't know what makes you think I would even answer that question." She angrily stated. "And furthermore it's none of your business anyway."
"Just curious, because frankly you're much too pretty to be so bitter about romance." Zack stated as a matter of fact. "Isn't that reserved for old spinsters and cat ladies?"
Julie smiled in spite of herself. "I'm not bitter…just careful." She corrected him and glared when he snickered.
"And I'm guessing your demeanor is the result of what this guy may or may not have done to you." Zack's statement was received with silence. "Alright no more Ralph." He smiled. "For now, that is."
"For now…I repeat, none of your business." She emphasized business with air quotes.
"We'll see." He corrected, alert to the dangers around them as the weather rapidly worsened.
"You're being rather arrogant aren't you?" She shook her head. "Listen up, and listen good, I don't believe my love life is up for discussion. You and I will get along a lot better if you remember that."
"We'll see." Zack replied again knowing it would get a rise out of her. She was too damn cute for her own good, especially while she was arguing with him.
"No we will not…how dare you suggest that you have any right to know about…" Julie began angrily taking her eyes off of the road for a split second as she turned her full attention to her passenger.
"Julie look out!" Zack Shouted and grabbed a hold of the steering wheel as they skidded across the ice.
"It's been long enough. I'm going out to look for them." Justin announced just as the door flew open and he rushed over to greet the two new arrivals. "Where did you two come from, I thought you'd still be up at the cabin?"
"The phone went out and Mom got worried when you didn't arrive on time." Rick explained as he took his parka off and hung it on one of the hooks near the door letting his brother help their mother out of hers.
"Man it's freezing outside. The snow is flying every which way, the wind is hallowing, and I'm surprised we made it into town without a scratch."
Rick suddenly looked up and noticed how silent everyone was, and along with his mother wondered what was going on. He looked to his brother and saw the worry and fear in his eyes. He had only seen that expression one other time. He immediately acknowledged all the faces in the room and realized there was someone missing.
"Where's Julie?" Francine Carver asked her son before Rick had a chance to voice the question. "What happened?" She directed her question more to Justin than anyone else.
"I should have never let her go." he stated. "This is my fault. If anything happens I'll never forgive myself."
"What are you talking about?" Francine placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"I couldn't make it to the airport to pick up the Martin boy and I sent her over instead."
"Has anyone called Artie or Millie to see if she's still there?" Francine calmly asked. "How long has she been gone?"
"Yes, a few minutes ago, but there was no answer, I'm sure they locked up and went to bed. She left about two and a half hours ago." He answered with worrisome eyes.
"Two and a half hours ago!" Rick bellowed. "It only takes a half an hour to drive there each way. So she's been missing for an hour and a half in this weather and you didn't even bother to call us. We would have come sooner and helped you look for her."
"We tried searching but couldn't find them, and don't yell at me, She wouldn't have needed to go to the airport if you hadn't called Kurt for help." Justin barked. "So if you're going to blame anyone, blame yourself."
"I was trying to help save the diner." Rick shouted trying to defend himself. "But then you wouldn't know anything about that because all you can do is mope around and feel sorry for yourself."
"That's enough, this isn't helping anyone." Francine chimed in when the argument looked like it was getting heated. "We have to stay calm and focus on what needs to be done. Now has anyone called Fred or Clarisse?" she asked while the two brothers calmed themselves down.
Sally and David chimed in. "We called a while ago but they said that do to the bad weather they couldn't put out a search for them just yet, at least until it subsides a bit." Sally sighed obviously frustrated. "Also they have to be missing at least twenty four hours before they can do anything anyway."
"That's so like them, always by the book." Rick exclaimed hugging Billy and Dwight to him than walking over to the TV Set that sat on one of the countertops. "What do they expect us to do, just sit here and wait while my niece could be lying somewhere hurt. Not to mention Zack, has anyone called Kurt?"
"We were hoping they'd get here soon and we wouldn't have to do that. We didn't want to worry anyone." Justin said as Rick turned up the volume on the screen and they all huddled around to hear the latest reports.
"Bro, not to be the bearer of bad news but I don't see that happening anytime soon." Rick chimed in as the meteorologist confirmed their worst fears. "If they don't get here soon, I think it would be a good idea to call Zack's family."
"Looks like this is going to be a long night," David interrupted, taking a seat next to the them.
"Come on Sally let's go make some fresh coffee something tells me we'll need it." Francine told the young woman as they headed into the other room.
"Do you think everything will be alright?" Sally asked.
"I don't know, its looks pretty bad outside. But I do know one thing my granddaughter will not take this lying down."
"No Julie is nothing if not stubborn and determined." Sally laughed remembering her as a child. "I just hate to see your family go through this again, I mean after what happened with Karen it just doesn't seem fair." Sally covered her mouth with her hand in shock. "Oh, Francine…I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply that this will end…badly…I."
"It's alright it isn't something that hasn't crossed everyone's mind." Francine told her sadly as she poured the water into the Coffee maker. "Let's just hope our prayers are answered and they both walk in safely. Okay?"
"Okay," Sally replied even as uncertainty clouded her eyes.
"Now I think everyone must be pretty hungry. How about you make some roast beef sandwiches, I'll take care of the chicken soup, and we'll have some dinner." She recommended, trying to take her mind off of the situation.
The two occupants lay motionless and quiet as the wind whirled around them, protected by a shield of metal and glass from the elements outside. The truck stalled in a snow bank on the side of the road. The ice and snow buried the wheels below them and left them in a dangerous situation.
"Damn my shoulder," Zack moaned as he awoke and looked around noticing the small frame sitting beside him with her head lying against the steering wheel. "Julie, Julie can you hear me?"
Zack rubbed her shoulder and gently pulled her back against the seat and away from the round piece of metal.
As he placed his hand on her face and pulled her bangs away from her eyes he noticed a slight cut on her forehead.
"Julie wake up?" Zack asked more urgently. "Julie come on I need you to wake up."
Suddenly he heard a small moan and a distinct whimper, "What happened, where am I?" She asked a bit disoriented.
"From the looks of it we ran off the road into some sort of a ditch. But that's not what is worrying me right now. How do you feel?" he asked her wanting to make sure that she didn't have a concussion.
"I think I'm okay." Julie stated situating herself so that she was sitting up a little better.
"Do you have a headache, are you dizzy, how many fingers am I holding up?" he asked placing two fingers in front of her face.
"I have a slight headache, but no I'm not dizzy." She replied as he moved his fingers so they were a little closer to her line of vision. "You're holding up two fingers, anything else you'd like to know Dr. Martin?" She smirked.
"Name, age, address, blood type, current year, current president?" he emphasized.
"Will you stop bugging me if I answer?" She asked rolling her eyes to the cabin's ceiling.
Julie gave him the necessary information. "Happy."
"Yes," Zack told her tightening his jacket around himself. "I'm going to grab the first aid kit inside the tool box in the bed of the truck, but first I'm going to take a peek around the body and see how much trouble we're in."
It took all of Zack's strength to force open the passenger door, with the wind working against him it wasn't an easy task but he finally managed to squeeze through a tight opening. Making his way around the large vehicle he realized that half the wheels had been buried under a pile of snow in a matter of minutes. Grabbing the necessary item from the back he thankfully managed to get it as well as himself back inside the cabin. "Let me see that cut." He opened the first aid kit and pulled out the antiseptic and a bandage. "Sit still." He advised as he moved closer to her.
"What do you think you're doing?" she asked raising an eyebrow.
"What does it look like I'm doing," Zack asked a bit annoyed with her question. "I'm going to clean and bandage your cut so it doesn't get infected. What do you think I'm going to do, jump you, no offense lady but I think I'd rather take on a large grizzly bear with a migraine, at night."
"Don't tell me it didn't cross your mind," Julie stated and Zack bit his lip to keep from saying something he'd regret. "Just make sure you keep your hands where I can see them."
As he tended to her wound Zack Martin found himself wondering whatever possessed him to say yes to his father's request in the first place. He could have just as easily refused and sent a cashier's check in the mail. That would have been the intelligent thing to do. Unfortunately for him, Kurt was worried about his oldest and dearest friends, and had asked his son to leave the comfort of his home to journey to a mountain top during a bad winter storm just so he could check up on the family and make sure they were alright. He found himself thinking about his list of regrets and was curious to find out if this little excursion would be placed at the top.
Turning his attention back to the insufferable pain in the butt, he made the distinct mistake of looking into her eyes.
As she looked up to meet his, for a moment time froze as he gazed into them. They were a warm chocolate brown and he almost got lost in them. A pretty blush swept her cheeks and he smiled. As the feeling continued his gaze drifted to her lips and he felt an undeniable longing to taste them. A need arose in him that he wasn't accustomed to and a little afraid of, and he turned away as if something had shocked him out of a trance. Apparently a little startled she turned away also.
The atmosphere around them became slightly uncomfortable as an awkwardness set in. Still trying to regain his thoughts he didn't quite catch what she was saying.
"What?" he asked her puzzled at what she was getting at.
"I told you," he heard her say.
"Told me what?"
"That you were thinking about making a move on me," she smugly replied making Zack grin.
"Okay seeing as we're probably going to be stuck with one another for awhile. Is there something I should be made aware of…you know like past head wounds, medications you should be taking, you know stuff like that." Zack asked half jokingly.
Julie laughed at that comment, "No luckily for you I'm not due back in the psychiatric ward until just after the holidays. But I'll make sure to give you a head's up once I start to hear the voices again." She added making Zack laugh, surprising Julie with the thought of how much she enjoyed the sound.
A minute later they composed themselves enough so they could truly assess their situation. "Okay now for more serious matters." Julie advised. "We have a couple of blankets behind our seats as well as candles, a lighter, a portable radio, batteries, a flashlight and some rope. We have crackers and a few cans of soups as well as a gallon of water and a couple of tea bags."
"What no can opener?" Zack teased, only she obviously didn't get the jest of the comment because she smiled as she held it up for him to see. "Why am I not surprised," he replied genuinely impressed. "As much fun as spending the night stuck in a small enclosed space with you sounds, we need to figure out where we are and if there's any place nearby where we could take shelter from the cold."
"We stay in the car." She flatly stated. "It's the safer of the two options."
"If we stay in here another hour, there's a good chance we will be buried under a mountain of snow and ice. Now I don't know about you but suffocating is not an option, and there's something very unappealing about freezing to death. Any thoughts?"
"I see what you mean," Julie replied. "Let's see we left the airport around three forty five and ended up in this ditch about forty minutes later…"
"You know we probably would have made it in less than a half an hour if you had let me drive." He pointed out.
"Do you want to hear this?" She asked annoyed. "Or would you rather have another argument about my driving skills."
"What skills," Zack mumbled under his breath receiving a rather intimidating glare. "Sorry," he recanted, putting his hands up in surrender while he smiled sheepishly.
Returning to her train of thought she continued to calculate their whereabouts from the time they left the airport to the time they landed in the ditch. Taking out a map from the glove compartment she opened it up and smiled, and despite their circumstances he found himself returning the infectious grin.
"I know where we are."
"I'm all ears." He told her.
"We were headed north and if we leave the truck and turn right we should be able to run into the old abandoned Emerson barn. It's only half a mile off the road which means we'll be there in no time. But we'll have to hurry." She added excitedly.
"Okay and if you're wrong?" Zack asked.
"I'm not." she piped in confidently.
"But if you are?" he asked again.
"Then we freeze to death and no one will find our bones until the snow thaws out in the spring…that is if the wolves don't get to us first!" She added as an afterthought.
"Comforting," he stated. "I don't know."
"Come on, you were the one that said we couldn't stay here much longer." Zack rolled his eyes, knowing she had a point.
"Okay this is what we'll do…God help us if we're wrong." He added with a frustrated sigh.
"This is gone on long enough, blizzard or no blizzard I'm going out there to find my daughter." Justin grabbed his Jacket off the hook and headed to the door.
"Are you crazy, so we'll have to form two search parties, I don't think so?" Rick told him, blocking his path.
"I can't just sit here anymore, it's been hours and if you haven't noticed its pitch black outside." He said urgency in his steps. "Now get out of my way."
"Look Justin I think Rick has a point we should stay put and wait for morning like Fred advised." David intervened. "Besides we need to make that call."
"Rick can make the call. I'll see you later." Justin again began to leave but froze at his mother's statement.
"And what happens to Dwight if something happens to you?" Francine told her hard headed son. "If you end up killing yourself out there your son will grow up without a father. Do you want that? Please think about this more clearly, he's already lost his mother."
"That's not fair you're asking me to choose between my daughter and my son." Justin slumped down in a nearby booth his voice filled with raw emotion and his eyes filled with unshed tears.
"Honey, Julie is an adult and old enough to fend for herself. Dwight is still a baby. You need to remember that he still needs his father to look after him." Sitting down beside him she placed an arm around his shoulder and whispered words of encouragement and hope. "You need to have a little more faith in your daughter. She'll make it home, trust me, she's just as stubborn and determined as her father."
"It never ends does it."
"Nope, some folks think that being a parent ends when your children are grown and off on their own, in truth it's a forever gig filled with a lot of sacrifice and a lot of nights like this one. But for the most part it's the most rewarding and joyful thing a human being can do. And prayer helps…a lot." The two adults shared a warm look of understanding while Dwight climbed onto his father's lap.
"Shall we," Francine took his hand as one by one the others did the same. And for a few minutes even the weatherman's voice was drowned out by the silent voices of passionate prayer.
"Cody honey could you get that I'm trying to get Shawn in the bath tub." Barbara cried from inside the bathroom.
"Sure thing," He answered as he slung his daughter over his shoulder and walked over to the ringing telephone. "Hello, Martin residence."
"Hi, is Kurt in?" the voice on the other end of the phone asked.
"No I'm afraid not he and mom are out Christmas shopping." Cody replied. "Can I take a message?" He asked as he gently deposited his daughter onto the nearby couch.
"My name is Rick Carver," the voice began.
"Rick hi, this is Cody."
"Hey long time no talk too. I am used to just talking to Kurt or Zack how have you been?" Rick asked. "How are Barbara and the twins?"
"Barbara is doing great, still at Harvard, and Shawn and Adele are seven now and as wild as ever," he replied. "How have you been?"
"We've been doing okay considering." He stated. "But hey, I have some news."
"Okay…" Cody stated curiously.
"Well it's about your brother," Rick began. "I'm sure there's nothing to worry about, but…"
"But what," Cody asked as he placed two fingers over his lips, indicating to his daughter that it was quiet time. "What happened?"
Just as he was about to get an answer Kurt and Carey walked into the room laughing like school kids. Adele immediately jumped up with joy, forgetting all about what her father had asked her to do a minute before and ran over to her grandfather, the child squealed with laughter as he picked her up in his arms and swung her around. A minute later Shawn ran out of the bathroom followed by an exhausted looking Barbara as he too wanted a turn.
Cody placed a hand over the receiver and waved his other arm around in an attempt to quiet the room down long enough for Rick to answer his question.
"Now what happened to Zack?" Cody asked getting the attention of everyone in the room.
"Something happened to Zack?" Carey rushed over to the phone followed by everyone except the twins who were currently trying to peek into the shopping bags.
"That's what I'm trying to find out," Cody said frustrated and a bit anxious as a pit began to form in his stomach. "Sorry, Rick what happened to Zack, and what do you mean by you're sure it's nothing to worry about?"
"Early this afternoon my niece Julie went to pick Zack up at the airport and neither has returned yet." He took a breath before he continued. "Now normally that wouldn't be cause to worry but unfortunately there's a mean blizzard outside and it looks like it won't be letting up until morning."
"So you're saying their stuck in a blizzard," Cody verified. "So why isn't anyone looking for them?"
Rick relayed the message that Fred had given to them. "I'm sorry there's nothing they can do until morning, or until the weather let's up a bit." He replied to a worried sounding Cody.
Rick filled them in on all he knew which wasn't much.
"Alright we'll be there first thing tomorrow morning. But in the meantime let us know if anything else comes up." With plans made Cody hung up the phone and turned to his family.
"Zack's in trouble." He told the small group. "Shawn Adele, bed."
"Why is Uncle Zack in trouble?" Adele asked curiously.
"Yeah, what did he do, will he get a time out, like we do?" Shawn added.
"Grown ups don't get a time out, stupid." He's sister told him.
"Yes they do, and don't call me stupid." Shawn told her.
"No they don't."
"Yes they do."
"No they don't."
"Aha, I know for a fact that they do, because my teacher says she gives her boyfriend one all the time." Shawn explained making the adults in the room laugh. "And their old!"
"Shawn honey, your teacher's only a few years older than me." Barbara told her son.
"Yeah…Old!" The little boy answered as if it were obvious.
"Bed, go!" Barbara told her young son. "Now!"
"But why can't we stay up?" he whined. "I promise we'll be good."
"Yeah, we wanna know what happened to Uncle Zack," Adele interrupted. "Please."
"We'll tell you all about it tomorrow, now bed." Cody exclaimed pointing toward their bedroom doors.
As the twins entered their bedrooms Barbara stopped them by placing a hand on her hips.
"Ahem…forgetting something?" Shawn and Adele immediately ran over to their grandparents giving them each a kiss and a hug.
"We'll be there in a minute to tuck you both in." Cody called. "Love you!"
"Love you!" The twins chimed in unison as they had done every night before entering their respective bedrooms.
"Now, let's talk." Kurt ushered everyone onto the couch. "What's going on?"
Zack tied one end of the rope around her waist and the other around his own, and then wrapped one blanket around each of them. As she carried the flashlight, he held on to the emergency kit with the food and other items needed to survive the night.
"I can't see anything yet," Julie shouted above the roar of the noise. "How about you?"
He held up his own flashlight but it was nowhere near as bright or powerful as hers.
"Not yet but we've been walking quite awhile, are you sure you know where we're going?" Zack screamed, even though the question was pointless by this time.
"I'm sure the barn is just up ahead, I can feel it."
"Is this a fact or women's intuition?" He yelled at her. "If this is the latter, I don't think its working."
"Save your breath, you may need it later." Julie knew that probably wasn't the case, but decided she'd rather listen to the storm pounding against her ears then the sound of his voice complaining.
"I think you may have made a mistake, we should go back." Zack called but in the next instant he slammed into a solid wall. "Shi…"
"There it is." Julie pointed happily while Zack groaned and rubbed his forehead.
"Very funny," he sneered. "Come on follow me, we need to feel for the door."
A few minutes later once they'd barricaded the barn door against the weather outside by pushing a few haystacks against it. The two were finally able to relax. As Julie got comfortable by lying on the soft hay and wrapping herself up with a blanket, Zack lit the two candles they had found including an old lantern that was left in the barn. Pulling out the can of soups he opened two and waved them over the flames. A few minutes later they had soup and crackers along with some tea.
"Be careful you don't want to burn the place down to the ground with us in it."
"You mean it's not safe to light a candle with all this hay surrounding us inside an enclosed space that looks like it hasn't been touched in a century." Zack stated sarcastically. "Didn't even cross my mind until you mentioned it."
"Smart ass." Julie huffed under her breath while finishing up her soup and beginning to feel the effects of the warm substance. "Well that was a treat."
Zack laid down beside her and wrapped both blankets around them only catching her expression a minute later. "Don't look at me like that. This is the easiest way to keep warm."
"Okay, just remember…" She began.
"I know, I know, keep my hands to myself." He rolled his eyes which he found he'd been doing a lot in the last few hours.
"No, don't hog the blankets and no snoring or you're sleeping outside." She pointed out.
As they snuggled deeper under the covers, they finally felt the comfort they'd been missing since they left the airport.
"So I heard you tell your friend that you attended college in the big bad city. Where did you go and what was your major?" he asked trying to keep their minds off the weather.
"I attended Denver Business College. I earned my degree in small business management. I wanted to be ready when…" Julie stopped for a minute as Zack quietly watched her. "It was my turn to take over the family diner. If it was still a possibility."
"Why didn't you like it," he asked. "Was it the college or the people?"
"What makes you think I didn't like it?"
"Big city know it all…"
"Sorry about that."
"It's okay," Zack replied. "Bad experiences aren't easily forgotten."
Julie was silent for another minute before she answered. "I loved the classroom setting. I learned a lot and met a lot of people I wouldn't have otherwise." She smiled as she thought about all her friends and the courses she'd taken. "I just didn't like the atmosphere once I left school. Everything was so fast paced and it seemed no one took the time to really care about anyone other than themselves. I guess I just missed home, but then you know what they say, you can take the girl out of a small town but you can't take a small town out of the girl, or something like that." She laughed.
Zack loved her laugh and noted there was a lot about the raven haired beauty that he found fascinating. "So what's going on with the diner. You said you didn't think it would be possible to take over, why not?" Zack knew the inner workings of the loan the family had with the SH Savings and Loan. He had made sure to learn all he could before he paid the entire sum off and took over ownership of the small diner.
"We may lose it, we owe so much money." She said sadly.
"How much is so much?" he asked her.
"You don't want to know, it's pretty high. Suffice it to say come January 5th, Haven's Nest will no longer exist. Fifty years gone in a matter of minutes."
"And your family hasn't taken steps to try and save it?" He thought the question would anger her but it had the opposite effect. Such a sadness came over her that his heart broke a little at the sight. The realization that he was falling for her set in and it's wasn't an unwelcome one. Fighting the urge to wrap her in his arms and fill her in on what he'd done he instead encouraged her to continue. "I'm sorry I shouldn't have said that, I know how much it meant to your family," he said affectionately.
"No I've been wondering the same thing."
"Maybe the new owner will want to keep it open."
"It doesn't matter it could never be the same," she sighed. "I'm sorry, why don't we talk about you for a bit. How do you like being a band manager for your father?"
"Just okay," she replied.
"It has its moments. The music, the groupies and the different places we travel. The craziness on stage is nothing compared to what goes on behind the scenes." He told her. "I've heard people say they envy my life, how it must be so thrilling."
"Your very perceptive."
"I don't know if it's for me, long term, being away from home for several months out the year, waking up in a new city surrounded by strangers who pretend to like you because they're paid too. Half the time you don't know whether you're coming or going."
"That's terrible." She stated sympathetically.
"I have to say I was looking forward to the holidays, being home with my family."
"What are they like?" she asked and noticed how he immediately smiled.
"Well there's my mom who works at the Tipton, but takes the summers off to tour with my dad. They were remarried a few years back and I've never seen two people more in love or more committed to one another."
"That must have come as a surprise," she said. "Not many couple's get remarried."
"There was a situation a few years back and I think it cemented the bond they once had," he told her. "You see my brother and his girlfriend learned they were going to be parents when we were fifteen." He grinned when he saw the surprise look in her eyes. "Crazy huh? When he found out, we were both attending Seven Sea's High aboard the S.S. Tipton." He paused when he saw her mouth drop open.
"Tipton as in Tipton industries, have you ever met London Tipton?" Her eyes danced in wonder and she bit her bottom lip reminding him of his niece on Christmas morning.
"London is actually a very close family friend." He then proceeded to explain his family's connection to the youngest Tipton and why they would forever be in her debt. "In fact I would say she's considered an honorary Martin by the members in my family."
"That's amazing. I guess you really can't believe everything you read in print."
"Touche…" the word left her voice on a whisper and she felt her closed off heart begin to open just a bit more.
"I must be boring you."
"No please continue." She watched his eyes light up as he continued to recount the story.
"Cody and Barbara went through hell when they first got wind of the pregnancy. Between being disowned by her family, learning she was having twins, learning her mother was dying from breast cancer, realizing her father wasn't her father at all, well I think this story is better left for another day. I admire my little brother, he was able to persevere. He takes night classes online, is up for a promotion to become the next hotel manager of the Boston Tipton and is about to become a father for the third time. I'm really proud of him. And yet envy him all at the same time, make sense?"
"Yes, it does." She smiled. "You know I think I may even have you pegged."
"Really," Zack smirked looking into her eyes. "I'm waiting."
"I think deep down you want a quieter life." She said. "A wife who loves you and a few kids running around the yard chasing the family dog. You want your own little corner of the world filled with the people you love and who love you."
"So you've learned my secret."
"So why don't you have that yet?" She asked shyly. "I mean, I'm sure you've had plenty of opportunities to meet the right girl."
"I've met many girls, but not exactly the settling down kind." He explained. "I've met a lot of wild party girls, a lot of business sharks. Let's say at twenty six there aren't a lot of prospects. The girls I've known are still sewing their wild oats. Not to say there isn't a few out there who are ready for a committed relationship but in my line of work I don't meet them very often, if ever."
"That's a shame." Julie sighed quietly.
His face was an inch away from hers and the attraction was infallible. Just like in the car she again felt the urge to kiss him yearning to feel those lips move against hers.
But as he leaned in, she turned her face away. She knew her fears were unfounded. Zack wasn't Ralph but Ralph had shattered her heart and who's to say Zack wouldn't do the same. It took a long time to find all the pieces she could never quite mend. She couldn't go through that again. Forcing herself to ignore her pleading heart she again locked it away and closed herself off.
"We should get some rest, the storm should be over tomorrow and hopefully we'll be able to hitch a ride into town."
"Goodnight," he whispered.
"Goodnight Zack." Both lay silent wrapped up underneath the covers.
Zack's mind filled with thoughts of Julie, and Julie's mind filled with thoughts of Zack.
"Cody what are you doing out here?" Barbara asked as she snuggled down next to him on the couch. "Still worried about Zack?"
"I hate not knowing. I called the diner a few minutes ago and Justin told me there hadn't been any word yet. Not only that, but that the weather hadn't changed for the better."
"He'll be okay." Barbara whispered while caressing his stomach with her fingers, knowing it always had a soothing effect on him. "Zack is capable of getting out of the craziest situations you can attest to that. What time does your flight leave?" She asked him.
"Not until 6am. That's if all's clear and the flight doesn't get cancelled due to bad weather." Cody took a deep breath and let his fears show on his face. "I just don't know how to reach him and that's the scariest feeling I have ever known. If something ever happened to him. Barb I don't know what I would do."Barbara reached up and cradled his head in her arms letting him cry. "Tonight when I got that call, it was like a mat had been pulled out from under me. I never thought about it before, it was unthinkable, what life might be like without him and it terrified me. I can't lose him." Cody sat up and cleared his thoughts wiping his eyes as he did so. "I think I'll get dressed and head over to the airport now."
"I wish I could go with you." Barbara whispered as she kissed the remaining tears off his face and placed her forehead lightly against his.
"No, sweetheart Shawn and Adele need you here, I promise I'll be home soon."
"You better be, because the kids need you too, you remember that."
"Just the kids," Cody said with a cocky grin.
Barbara wrapped her arms around him and pulled him down for a very intimate kiss. Cody picked her up in his arms and deepened the kiss as she felt her feet dangle off the floor.
"Ahem…hem, hem, hem," Cody gently put Barbara down on her feet and looked over toward his parents who were grinning from ear to ear. "Oh, please don't stop on our account." Kurt added feeling Carey pinch his side.
"Come on Codester, I called in a few favors, throw some clothes on so we can head out." Kurt exclaimed, as he walked over to the kitchen and got the coffee maker ready, so he could fill three cups of coffee.
Cody grabbed a hold of Barbara's hand and pulled her with him into the bedroom, where they continued their goodbye kiss in private.
Three hours later Kurt, Carey and Cody sat in a private jet anxiously waiting for the signal for takeoff.
The next morning the Martin family arrived at the small little airport in Safe Haven. Kurt had made arrangements with Justin to have the small aircraft from town meet them at the airport in Denver, unsure if the jet would be able to land once they arrived at their destination.
"Artie, you are a very gifted pilot." Kurt complimented the older man. "I have to be honest. I was a little doubtful that we'd be able to get through. Thank God the weather cleared."
"The weather was a bit heavy for a spell, but Julie is like a daughter too us and we would do anything for her." He replied with a worried look. "Let's just hope Millie has good news and the search party has found both her and your son."
"I agree," Carey replied placing a hand over her heart. "A mother can only take so much."
They all walked into the lobby and met up with the pilot's wife and business partner, who returned their greetings with a weary smile.
"So there hasn't been any word at all?" Cody asked her.
"I'm afraid not."
"Look the snow storm just cleared up a couple of hours ago and I'm sure the search party will start looking soon." Artie added. "We will find them."
"Can you guarantee that?" Cody demanded.
"Cody!" Carey looked to her son in disapproval.
"I'm sorry I didn't mean to snap at you. I'm just on edge."
"It's alright, I understand." Artie nodded.
"I made some coffee as well as some ham and cheese croissants for the ride into town. I think we should get going." Millie directed the last part to her husband who nodded in agreement.
"Sounds like a plan." Kurt draped an arm over both Carey and Cody's shoulders as they followed Artie and Millie out the door.
The diner was filled with chaos that morning as more and more volunteers piled into the small business. Everyone was half shouting trying to get a word in edge wise and figure out where to begin.
"If everyone will calm down and be quiet for a few minutes we can continue." Fred half shouted over the voices in the room. "Now pay attention, you will each be assigned an area to search."
"I don't understand why we don't just cover the distance between the airport and town," One man shouted. "Wouldn't that be the most logical place to start?"
"Clarisse and I, as well as the Carver's have been up and down that area and we haven't found anything. So I would assume either they went off the road or they turned off somewhere." The Sheriff explained and received a small gasp in return.
"If that's true then they could be buried under a mass amount of snow," Stated another. "Have Caleb and Kyle starting clearing those roads?"
"They began early this morning as soon as the storm let up." Clarisse added. "It's also a possibility that they could have left the truck and tried to walk to a safe place."
As the meeting continued routes were assigned to everyone in groups. After gathering provisions and receiving their instructions everyone finally headed out a few minutes later in search of Zack and Julie.
Meanwhile, Zack and Julie lay sound asleep in the secluded barn not five miles from town. In their state of slumber they were completely unaware of the search party that had formed earlier that morning and were now scouring the countryside looking for them.
Half asleep Julie snuggled deeper into Zack's embrace trying to gain some warmth. He wrapped his arms tightly around her nuzzling his face in the curve of her neck. Not realizing what she was doing she pulled him down for a rather passionate kiss. Zack returned the kiss eagerly forgetting all about where they were and who he was with. When they separated a minute later Julie sighed in contentment.
"Mmm…morning," Zack whispered smiling into her ear.
"Morning," she replied with a grin.
They were suddenly wide awake as they both sat up with a jolt. Julie turned away not knowing what to say.
Apparently Zack didn't share the same issue. "Julie you don't have to be embarrassed." He told her with a grin.
"I'm not embarrassed."
"I can see it on your face," He said knowingly. "What just happened is perfectly natural. It's obvious you're attracted to me therefore you just couldn't help yourself."
"I couldn't what?" she sat surprised and insulted by his comment.
"I simply mean that I get this all the time. Women throw themselves at me on a daily basis."
"Throw myself at you!" Julie shouted standing up and glaring down at him. "Throw myself at you!"
"That's what I said, so really you don't have any reason to feel bad." Zack stood up and whispered the next part. "I get it, besides…well you know."
"No I don't know!" Julie said angrily.
"I'm sure it's been awhile," Zack stated seriously and then smirked noticing how her mouth hung open as he walked away.
She stood there in shock as he moved the straw blocking the entrance. Before she knew what she was doing she threw the first thing she could think of at his head, which just happened to be an empty can of soup. She found herself wishing it had been full when she heard a distinct groan.
"Was that really necessary?" he asked her rubbing the back of his head. "How about this," he added in mock surrender while walking over to stand in front of her, "I forgive you for trying to take advantage of me."
That did it, Zack raced around the room with Julie right on his heels as she shouted every profanity known to man at him. He was quite impressed. He didn't think she had it in her to curse. He dashed out the door just as she picked up a pitch fork and sent it flying. He laughed as he made his way outside.
"Now now, is that anyway for a lady to behave?" he called to her just as he heard a loud crash and a soft cry. His heart lodged in his throat as he dashed back into the barn, panicked and confused, he looked around the room for her. "Julie, Julie where are you?"
In the next moment he heard a giggle and looked around just as a gust of wheat came flying at him full force. Covered from head to toe he shook his head at her and placed his hands on his hips.
"Now that's funny!" She said laughing at him while he tried to dust himself off.
"Alright truce." He smiled extending his hand as she eyed him warily. She cautiously did the same. When he shook it she felt confident he was being on the level. That is until a moment later when he returned the favor with a bag of wheat of his own.
"This is crazy," Justin told his brother. "I still think we're looking in the wrong place."
"Look I have this feeling," he replied. "Something keeps telling me that we're missing something."
"Rick I know these feelings have been fairly accurate in the past, but we've been down this road before, they're not here."
"Justin trust me, I know…" He paused for a moment as he strained to see an object half buried on the side of the road.
"What," Justin watched as Rick pulled the car over. "What are you looking at?"
"Come on grab an ice pick and a snow shovel from the trunk."
"We're wasting time when we could be…"
"Just do it!" Rick shouted to his thick headed brother.
Justin did as he was told and grabbed the necessary tools shaking his head as he followed Rick down the road a bit. It didn't take long for him to spot the distinct piece of metal protruding from the snow that covered it.
No, no, no those words clouded his mind as he ran toward his truck. Please God No his heart pleaded as they began to dig the truck out, but it was a slow attempt.
"Justin, Justin stop." Rick shook his brother and waited for him to answer. "We need more help, we're not going to be able to dig them out alone."
"Artie!" Justin exclaimed.
"That's a good idea, but I don't know if he's back…" Rick paused turning in the direction the other man was pointing. "Oh, Thank God!"
The two men waved the jeep down as it came toward them, "Artie, Kurt!" Rick exclaimed.
Kurt extended his hand to the other man as he eyed the situation. "What's going on?" he asked, adding to the already panicked looks on his friends faces.
"We've found Justin's truck, the one Julie was driving. But it's buried under a mountain of snow and we need help digging it out." Rick half shouted answering the question.
"Well what are we waiting for?" Artie pulled over and jumped out along with his wife. "No Millie you need to head into town and get some help."
"But Julie might be down there," Millie cried trying to rush around her husband.
"Millie we need help. We can't do this alone, you have to go into town, take Mrs. Martin with you."
Carey over heard them and objected, "Not on your life, my baby may be down there." She shouted pulling a shovel out as well.
After a bit of arguing Millie went into town and the five men as well as Carey proceeded to unearth the mass amount of steel. After a few minutes they were able to remove enough snow to see the top of the cab as it peeked out.
"Alright let's keep going, if we are able to loosen the snow packed around the windshield we'll be able to take a look inside." Kurt advised.
The five adults worked mercilessly to try to get to the windshield. Progress was slow moving as they encountered the thick ice that sat frozen on the large piece of glass. But they continued diligently determined to reject their fears and prove that their loved ones were safe.
"I've broken through the ice." Kurt shouted. "The glass is brittle and I think I can smash it open. Hand me the pick axe in the truck."
"I'm on it," Justin ran to grab the tool.
"Can you see anything inside?" Carey asked her husband.
"I'm afraid not sweetheart," Kurt replied just as Justin handed him the axe.
Kurt picked it up and said a silent prayer before bringing it down hard directly on the center of the glass. The glass cracked with the impact forming a spider like pattern, but didn't completely shatter. So he took another swing bashing in the window and hoping that it wouldn't cause the kids any injuries when it shattered.
Finally Kurt leaned in and sighed with relief, "They're not here!" He shouted to everyone's complete joy.
Zack and Julie were quite a sight as they made their way out of the barn and across the snow covered field. After they finished their escapades they decided it would be a good idea to head back toward the road in hopes they'd be able to flag someone down for help.
"Do you think anyone will be out on the road this early?" Zack asked her.
"I'm sure they will be, it's Safe Haven, not much happens in this town that the entire population doesn't know about within minutes of the occurrence." Julie responded with a smirk.
"You've never lived in a small town have you?" She laughed. "Okay, meaning that I'm sure they have a search party out looking for us by now."
"I hope so." Zack sighed cracking his back as he leaned back and twisted his shoulders. "The sooner I finish what I came here to do the sooner I'll be able to head home and take care of a few things."
"Yeah," was all she could manage to say as the thought hit her full force. "Then we should probably hurry."
"I'm right there with you." He replied softly, not noticing the hurt look on her face. "Besides I'm sure you'll be happy to finally be rid of me."
"Right." Julie said just above a whisper.
Zack stopped and was now studying her forlorn expression and a small glimmer of hope spread through him.
"I mean it's not like you want me to stay." He stated quietly as he stood in front of her and gently placed a stray strand of hair behind her ear. "Do you want me to stay?"
Julie thought back on her relationship with Ralph and realized something. She had asked him to give up his life in the city to be with her, and in doing so could she have pushed him away. Could the main reasons for their breakup have come from her? Was she the one to blame?
"Julie," he sighed quietly as he tenderly pushed her chin up so she would be forced to look him in the eyes. "Do you want me to stay?"
She wanted so badly to say yes, but she knew he would ultimately hate her for it.
"Zack I think you better go home." She said as she turned away.
"Is that what you really want?"
"Zack under certain circumstances…when two people are caught in a situation…well sometimes…" Julie stopped and tried to think logically for a minute so she could put her thoughts in order before she continued.
This was crazy. She'd only met the man a little over twenty four hours ago, to think she could have formed such deep feelings for him so quickly was insane. But when she turned to look into those warm hazel eyes that gazed into hers she knew in her heart that she had indeed developed deeper feelings for him…but was it love?
"Julie if you ask me to go I'll do it, but you can't deny that you have feelings for me."
"I do have feelings for you Zack," she began. "You've become a good friend."
"A friend," Zack took a step back defeated and jaded. "Is that what I am?"
"I'm sorry if I lead you to believe that there could be anything more between us then just friendship," She stated trying to fight back tears. "I didn't mean to hurt you, I hope you know that?"
He composed himself as best as he could before answering. "Then we better go, I'm sure that everyone will be worried about you," he told her as he turned and began to trudge through the snow.
The coldness that over took her had nothing to do with the weather as she slowly followed behind in silent heartbreak.
"Okay they obviously left the truck behind, which means they couldn't have gotten very far on foot, especially during a blizzard." Rick stated.
"But which way would they go?" Carey asked. "Is there someplace nearby where they could have taken up shelter for the night?"
"There's the Helmsley Barn to the west, and the Emerson Barn to the east." Justin supplied.
"How far out is each one from the road?" Kurt questioned.
"I'd say a mile or two give or take." Justin replied. "So we'll have to pile in and search one and then the other, and in the meantime keep an eye out."
"What about Millie and the search party?" Carey asked. "We can't just take off they won't know where we went."
"Okay here's the plan. Cody you and your mom stay here and wait for the search party to arrive, let them know where we've gone too."
"Kurt you can't expect us to stay here and wait for you." Carey told him as she pulled him aside so she could talk to him privately. "I think it would be best if we all go."
"Carey I'm worried about Cody, he hasn't said more than two words since we boarded the plane in Boston." They both eyed their son with concern. "I think it would be a much better idea if you stayed here with him, in case…this doesn't have a happy ending."
"Just be careful." She added not wanting to address the last part of his comment.
"I love you," he whispered into her ear as he placed a soft kiss on her cheek.
"I love you too." Carey smiled giving him an affectionate hug.
Suddenly all five looked up toward a movement in the distance. Not sure of what they were seeing at first they didn't recognize the two figures over the hillside. Then everyone's eyes widened in surprise as they jumped to their feet and ran toward the two people making their way over to them.
The silence inside the truck was deafening. Despite the happy reunion a few minutes earlier, the atmosphere inside the truck was somber at best. It was obvious to everyone that something had happened between Zack and Julie to affect their mood but what, was anybody's guess. So when Rick finally pulled into a parking spot in front of the diner, they were all ready to escape the small confined space that held them.
When they opened the doors they were met with a rush of people relieved to see that the two were safe. The smiles that surrounded them gave Zack a warm welcoming feeling as they were rushed inside, enveloped within a cocoon of bodies. He knew that the concern was mostly directed toward his female companion, but it still made him feel good inside.
"Okay everyone back away so I can give my granddaughter a proper welcome." Francine hollered over the noise of everyone gathered around.
Soon the two were sitting in front of the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate in their hands and warm blankets wrapped around them. After a lot of cuddling from everyone the crowd began to dwindle until all that were left were The Martin and Carver families, which included a few family friends.
"I don't understand why they won't even look at one another?" Carey asked Francine who was watching the two intently.
"Well it's obvious that they have something between them,"
"I won't disagree with you there," Carey replied.
"You know Christmas is in a couple of days," Francine exchanged a look with her friend that was filled with conspiracy. "And its magic has been known to work miracles."
"So what exactly are you suggesting?"
"Well you are all here and we do have a rather festive looking cabin." She said. "Staying there wouldn't be a problem."
Cody walked over to sit down beside the two women and smiled. Glad that it was his brother's love life they were meddling in and not his.
"Mom as much as I want to help Zack, I have a family at home waiting for me." Cody explained. "They need me there."
"Cody we can call Barb and have her fly in with the kids," Carey said. "After all weren't you the one who said that you wouldn't mind getting away from the Tipton for your vacation this year?"
"Well I do seem to get interrupted a lot," Cody looked up into his mother's eyes and smiled. "Let me call Barbara and see what she says."
Grabbing his cell phone he pushed a button and waited. After a few rings the line was answered and he heard his wife's voice come on the line. Explaining the situation she agreed to fly there.
The plans were set and everyone was spending Christmas in the Colorado Mountains.
The next couple of days went by in a blur for Zack and Julie, soon it was Christmas Eve and everyone was getting ready for dinner. The tree was decorated as presents lined the space beneath. The stockings were hung on the mantle while holiday music played softly in the background. The glow from the fireplace added warmth to the room as everyone gathered around the table to give thanks. The conversation filled with talk of Christmas and what the New Year had to offer. No one mentioned the diner or the fact that they may no longer own it. But it was on the tip of everyone's tongue.
As the stories continued and dinner came to a close everyone gathered around the fire as Artie was handed a volume of Christmas Stories to be read aloud as per tradition.
As the night wore on Zack and Julie continued exchanging looks from across the room. Neither ate much dinner nor was able to really enjoy the festivities as their minds recalled the conversation they had on the mountain. They both fell asleep with a heavy heart.
The following morning there was a cool breeze kissing the mountain tops as the family piled into the truck that took them down to the church.
Everyone engulfed in the events of the previous few days and the excitement of planned Christmas festivities, mainly pageants, caroling, and food. And in the minds of the young at heart, the presents under the tree left for them by Santa Claus. So engulfed in fact that no one noticed when Zack and Julie slipped out into the icy garden that surrounded the little church.
"I know you don't want me here, I get that. But I think you owe me the truth. I know you feel something; I'm not saying it has to be love. I just need to know I'm not in this alone."
"Alright Zack, I have feelings for you," Julie stated sadly. "But you don't really want to stay so I won't ask you too."
"What makes you think I don't want to stay?"
"Ralph taught me…"
"Ralph taught you what." Zack was beginning to get angry. "What does he have to do with us."
"I can't get hurt again," Julie whispered. "It almost killed me the first time and I won't go through that again."
"Julie I'm not Ralph, I don't know what he did to you and right now it's not important," he sighed. "But I have feelings for you and I need you to realize that you're becoming very important to me."
"I don't know what to say," Julie bit her bottom lip to keep from crying. "What do you want me to say that I should forget about how he ripped my heart out, how he cheated on me with one of my best friends while they pranced around behind my back spending my money on all their whims?"
"He stole from you?" He asked.
"It wasn't the money as much as the laughter, his friends, my friends, they all knew. Yet no one bothered to tell me about it, no one cared enough. Tell me how to get over that?"
"Everyone has had their heartbroken at least once or twice in their lives."
"So that's supposed to make me feel differently."
"I'm simply saying that life goes on and we move on."
"I know that but it still doesn't make it any harder to take." Julie sighed. "The day I let him go, he just kept walking, he didn't look back once, we were together for five years, he was my whole world and I thought I'd be with him forever. And He didn't look back. I have never felt so worthless in my life. You don't know how that feels."
"He didn't deserve you."
Julie began to laugh, "Yeah, that's what everyone says to make you feel better, but it doesn't. He was supposed to be the one, the be all and end all. Now I don't know which way to turn, I'm so afraid of getting hurt that I've forgotten how to love."
Zack took her hand in his and kissed it tenderly, "Then we'll take this slow and I'll help you remember." She smiled timidly. "I like this side of you," He said.
"Which side is that, the cry baby," she sighed.
"No the one who's open to taking chances."
She smiled. "Will you stay?"
"I guess I better," He laughed. "Who else is going to put up with your driving skills."
"We're back to that." She stood and he followed.
Before she could fully react he had her in his arms, pressing his lips to hers as she smiled into his mouth. The kiss was electrifying and her body came alive with excitement at the prospect of his touch. Separating slightly he smiled down at the goofy expression on her face as he pulled out a thin manila envelope out of his pocket.
"So how do you feel about becoming partners?"
"Huh?" She whimpered as he handed her the paper.
Julie's eyes widened as she opened the flap, inside she found the deed to the café as well as a bank receipt in the amount of forty seven thousand dollars paid in full.
"Merry Christmas, partner." He grinned before leaning in for another kiss.
All Julie could do was stare at him in wonder and return the heated kiss that held so much promise.