Eight years ago
"MOMMY!" Torchie came running into the room, flinging herself onto Susan and Reed's bed.
"Mmmpf," Reed mumbled. "Torchie, it's too early to be up." He glanced over at the digital clock by their bedside. It read December 25th. That explained Torchie's excitement. "It's only five thirty…"
Torchie tilted her head and poked Reed in the forehead. "Daddy, let's open presents," she exclaimed, bouncing excitedly on the bed. She jumped up and down, her small body squishing Mr. Fantastic's.
"Oof," Reed smiled gently. "Ah, Torchie, don't! You're crushing me! You're – AHHHHHH!" he pretended to scream as he stretched out in the shape of a giant cushion, bouncing his adopted daughter.
Torchie giggled while bouncing on this makeshift trampoline. She loved Reed.
This continued on for the next five minutes, but all of a sudden, Torchie seemed to remember her mission, and sliding off, she put her hands on her hips and addressed Reed:
"Daddy, I wanna open presents!" She stamped her foot on the floor impatiently, making Susan crack up. It had been a while, but Johnny was the same way when he was Victoria's age.
Suddenly, Reed and Susan's two children, Marin and Richard, ran in the room. Richard was three years older than Torchie, eight, and he had stopped believing in Santa since he was age three. Marin, being seven, and not having inherited her father's genius mind like her brother, still believed in Santa. She was a little sprite of a girl with blue eyes and soft, walnut brown hair. Richard had the same color hair, although tousled quite a bit, but his eyes, which were the same shade of blue as Susan's, were magnified by his thick glasses.
Susan laughed, seeing all three children assembled in her room. Rolling out of bed, she went downstairs to make breakfast, the children following her.
"What do you want to eat for breakfast?" she asked Richard. Normally, Susan would just make the children whatever she decided they should eat, but today was special.
Richard regarded his mother with large, intelligent eyes. "May I have ice cream, please?" he entreated. Marin and Torchie tugged at Susan's arms, begging to have ice cream, too. Susan complied. She normally would have refused the trio, but today was Christmas. She couldn't possibly say no.
When the children finished their ice cream, they all ran down to the tree, excited to be able to finally open the brightly wrapped boxes and see what they had all received. Susan stared at the little people still decked out in their pajamas. Torchie had on red footie pajamas, Marin seemed to float in her white princess nightgown, and Richard's shirt was too long, his pajama pants too short. She was content for a moment, but staring at the kids, she felt an odd feeling.
I wonder what could be wrong, she thought to herself. Then she realized what it was. Torchie, with her white blond hair, stood out from the other two children with their dark locks. She was happy and animated, while the other two were more serious. People might have assumed that she was simply younger, but Susan knew better. Torchie would never grow to be as mature as Richard or even Marin. It wasn't in her blood.
Before any of the children could get their presents open, though, the doorbell rang. Susan heard a surprised gasp from Reed, and his baritone saying, a little hesitantly, "Er… Welcome home, Johnny…"
The two men entered the room where the children were still gathered around the tree. Torchie was the first to notice the stranger with her hair and eye color.
She walked over and gazed at him for a long time, and Johnny gazed back wondrously. A silent conversation seemed to pass between the little girl and her father, who she didn't know. Then, the connection broke.
Torchie's face split into a smile. "I'm Torchie. That's short for Victoria. I want a doll for Christmas," she told him.
Johnny continued to watch his daughter, but he smiled weakly. "Hello, Torchie. I'm Johnny. Johnny Storm."
Torchie looked from Johnny to Susan, and back to Johnny. "You look like Mommy," she chirped. Chattering to Johnny, she walked back over to where her present awaited her.
Johnny didn't need to open any presents. He didn't need to find something in a stocking hanging over a fireplace. It was enough to know how his little girl was okay, how she was a happy, sweet little girl. It should have been the best gift a father could ever have, so he wondered, why did he feel so heartbroken?