There was something very peaceful about the falling snow. The fluffy, white flakes drifted lazily outside the window, catching the orange glow of the streetlamps on the corners. It was even more comforting to watch them float around from inside the warm house, where the fire crackled in the hearth, the hum of "White Christmas" sounded from the radio, and the sweet smell of sugar cookies filled the nostrils of the three girls, who sank deeper into the couch cushions.
Margo removed her glasses to rub her eyes wearily before placing them back on the bridge of her nose. "When did he say he'd be back, Edith?" she asked, turning to her sister.
Edith adjusted her pink hat and sat up straighter, thinking hard. "Um…I know it was sometime tonight."
Margo rolled her eyes. She was too impatient for this nonsense right now. "I know it's tonight. Why else would we be making welcome home cookies?"
"For us to eat!" piped up Agnes, who hopped off the couch and began twirling around in her pink tutu. Edith giggled and jumped up to join her little sister in the game, where they turned in circles as fast as they could until the room was spinning. They fell to the floor in a laughing heap, trying to regain their sense of balance, but only falling back down again and laughing even harder than before. Margo gave up on her younger sisters and headed towards the kitchen to see if the cookies were cooled yet. She clambered up onto the counter to poke a doughy star-shaped cookie. It was warm, but not warm enough to melt the icing they were about to spread onto them. She reached for the bowl of green frosting – a little too green, since Agnes insisted on squeezing half the bottle of food coloring into the vanilla before Margo had to hold her back.
Margo spread the green frosting on a Christmas tree as neatly as she could, wiping off the access with a paper towel as the sounds of her sisters' giggles filled the house. Margo glanced toward the clock every so often, trying to remember when Gru said he would be home. He had only been gone for two weeks, but the girls had missed their bedtime stories and goodnight kisses. Even though Gru had asked Uncle Nefario to tuck them in while he was gone, it was never the same. This business trip he was on seemed much longer than the girls had thought it would be, and it was hard to imagine their first Christmas together without him. Though Margo was happy for Gru moving up in the industry, she wanted him home. She needed him home...for Christmas Eve.
The minutes ticked by rather slowly, past six-thirty, almost seven. Edith and Agnes had joined the cookie-decorating fray, spreading thick frosting sloppily and covering the sugar cookies with glittery white sprinkles .Margo did her best to keep the counter top tidy, but that was obviously never going to happen now. The treats were laid out onto a Christmas plate to wait for Gru, and it was almost seven-thirty by the time the girls were finished. Agnes was starting to yawn and blink heavily. She shuffled over to the corner of the living room where Kyle, their viscous-looking animal they decided to think of as a dog, was snoring soundly. She curled up beside the thing, burying her face in his fuzzy hair. Edith raced toward the window again, glancing around at the street covered in white, hoping to catch Gru's large vehicle rumbling around the corner. But even after faithfully watching the street for over ten minutes, Edith flopped down onto the cushions and folded her arms defiantly.
"He said he'd be home tonight," she pouted, giving a red, Santa pillow a good kick in the face. Margo hurried over to comfort her sister, hopping up next to her on the sofa.
"Don't worry, he'll be here," she said, trying to sound confident. "He did tell us that this conference was important. He's just running a little late, that's all."
Edith did not seem convinced. "But it's Christmas Eve," she whined. "We can't wait for Santa until Dad gets home!" She put on a scowl and stormed back towards the kitchen, covering up the cookies with a terribly wrinkled piece of aluminum foil just as two minions sauntered into the kitchen, wearing Santa hats, and probably hoping to snag one of the delicious treats the girls made. Edith smacked away one of their hands before it could reach under the foil.
"No, Stewart!" she scolded. "These are for Dad! Not you!"
Stewart rubbed his sore hand and grimaced, as the other minion – who Edith could only guess was Dave, for it was difficult telling them all apart – laughed manically at his companion's misfortune. It was at this moment that Dr. Nefario shuffled into the kitchen, chuckling at the antics of the minions. He patted Edith on the head as he passed her, reaching into the refrigerator for a juice box. It was pointless to remind him that those were for their lunches. He always drank them anyway.
"Behave yourselves, boys," he warned the little yellow monsters, unwrapping the plastic from his little straw. "Don't make me inform Gru that you tried to steal his cookies." Nefario glanced over at the sleeping form of Agnes in the corner. She and Kyle were snuggling up to each other under the very large Christmas tree, and the entire spectacle was rather adorable. Nefario faked a frown and took a long sip from his apple juice.
Margo stepped in front of Nefario with her hands on her hips. "Uncle Nefario," she said sternly, causing him to blink in surprise. He was still not used to the girls calling him "Uncle." He always voiced how he disapproved of the name, but Margo knew he secretly liked it. "Do you know where Dad is? He should have been home hours ago, and I'm worried."
Nefario gave a raspy sigh and crushed his juice box in one gloved hand. "I haven't heard from him, my dear. The weather is not looking particularly promising at the moment, though."
"He can't be late! We made cookies 'specially for him!" Edith kicked the Santa pillow across the room again and sat cross-legged on the floor rebelliously. Margo crouched down next to her sister and placed a hand on her shoulder. She completely excused Edith's behavior, because she actually felt like throwing a tantrum, herself. Tomorrow was Christmas. What if Gru didn't make it home in time? What if they were forced to wait for Santa without him? What if they had to read the Christmas Story without him? Uncle Nefario had only read to them once this week, and the girls prayed it would never happen ever again. He rushed the words and never did the funny voices like Gru did. It only caused the girls miss Gru more and more each day. This made Margo wish for a moment that she was not the responsible older sister and could kick that jolly Santa pillow in his grinning face as well.
A loud ringing interrupted Margo's thoughts and made everyone jump. (Dave toppled backwards, causing Stewart to burst into a fit of giggles.) Little Agnes was suddenly wide awake, jerking up so fast that Kyle yelped with surprise.
"It's Daddy!" she squealed, jumping up and running as fast as her little legs could carry her towards the kitchen, where Nefario picked up the receiver calmly. The three sisters held their breaths as Nefario cleared his throat and spoke.
"Gru? Is that you?" he immediately asked. There was a moment of silence, and then a sudden laugh. "Gru! Bloody hell, boy! Where are you? The girls are worried sick!"
Margo was so relieved to hear her dad's name that she had forgotten to cover up Agnes' ears at Uncle Nefario's language. The sisters leaned forward to see if they could hear their dad's voice on the other end. All that could be heard was very fuzzy, like when the cable went out and the television made that horrible ripping sound. Nefario covered up his other ear and leaned in closer to the phone, even though no one was making a sound around him.
"Gru...Gru! I can't understand a single word you're..." He frantically motioned for someone to turn the radio down, which was now playing "I'll be home for Christmas." Margo turned it off quickly, and then helped her sisters onto the counter so they could all lean in to the phone and attempt to hear what their father was saying. Nefario waved the girls away and squinted his eyes under his goggles, as if that would help him hear things better. "Erm...do you really...? I mean, the girls have been...Come now, boy, it's Christmas Eve for Pete's sake..." He listened for a full minute, while everyone held their breath expectantly. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he nodded his head very slowly. "Well...if you are quite sure. No, no, I understand. You just keep yourself safe, y'hear? For the girls' sakes, at least."
The sound of the phone clicking off was so loud, so final. It echoed throughout the now quiet house...it was too quiet. Too tense...
Nefario cleared his throat huskily and shooed the girls off of the counter top. "Well, girls, it looks like Gru won't be home tonight – "
There was a wave of loud protests, with each girl rambling at a mile a minute.
"What do you mean he won't be home?"
"What about the Christmas Story...?"
"What about the cookies?"
Nefario tossed his empty juice box into the trash can before speaking again over all the noise. "Gru said he would try to be home in the morning...if the roads clear up," he paused to see if the shouting had died down. "The wind is too strong to fly with the ship...But he is staying at the Harrow Hotel, and then we'll see if the winds have calmed down in the morning."
Agnes suddenly burst into tears, wailing so loud Kyle started to howl with her. Margo rushed over to sooth her, but Agnes would have none of it. She collapsed to the ground, her eyes wet, and grabbed poor Kyle around his neck and yanked him towards her. The poor dog's fur was completely soaked by the time the minions pried Agnes away.
Angry tears surged in Edith's eyes, but she quickly wiped them away with her oversized sweater. Even Margo had almost never seen Edith cry before, and she found it hard to hold back her own tears as well. Nefario hesitated, then reached down to scoop up Agnes in his arms.
"There, there, little one," he said gruffly. "Let's get you off to bed." Nefario carried the sobbing girl towards the stairs, with the minions trailing worriedly behind.
"I want Daddy," Agnes sniffled one last time before disappearing around the corner.
"Me too," muttered Edith, rubbing her eyes with her fists again. She dragged her feet over to the Christmas tree and poked an ornament shaped like a mace – it was her favorite one. Margo sighed and came to stand next to her sister.
"Well...at least we know he's safe," she tried. "I mean, who knows what could have happened out there?" They both glanced over at the frosty windows, observing the fluttering flakes of snow. It really did not look too bad on the other side. There were people trudging through the knee-deep snow, hurrying home to their families and the late Christmas dinner that was probably waiting on the tables for them. Margo's heart flip-flopped into her stomach, and for a single moment, all of her emotions bubbled up to her eyes. She wiped a tear and stifled a sniffle. She could not let her sister see her lose it; she was the one her sisters looked up to now.
Edith wiped her nose and began to make her way up the stairs. She had never gone to bed this early in her life. It was so odd to see her moving in such a sluggish manner, but that was the effect that Gru had left on these girls. Something hot rose up in Margo's chest, and she hated him for a second.
"You're only an hour away," Margo huffed. "Couldn't you have walked or something?"
As soon as she said it, she felt terrible, but with a slight hint of satisfaction. Snow should not be keeping their family apart on Christmas. What was snow? Cold water? If he bundled up and trudged through it, he would make it home within the hour. Margo would wake her sleeping sisters, they would eat cookies and drink hot cocoa, and then Gru would fall asleep while reading the Christmas Story, complete with the pop-up pictures and everything.
That was the vision Margo had had in her mind all month, and nothing was going to stop it.
Especially not a little flurry of snow.
Her mind buzzing with nonsense and her insides filling with adrenaline, Margo scampered over to the hall closet and suited up. She slipped her feet into her snow boots, zipped up her coat, wrapped a scarf around her neck, and fitted a hat onto her head. She was heading out the door as quietly as she could, slipping on her gloves.
He's not going to desert us on Christmas, she thought, closing the door behind her and stepping out into the winter world of swirling snow. Not if I have anything to say about it.