A Home Christmas
Notes: The characters from the show are not mine. Sampson and Chamberlin are both canonical characters whom you may remember from season 4, as the only recurring assistant district attorneys. Sampson is the young, blustery fellow played by H.M. Wynant, and Chamberlin is calmer and perhaps ten years older, played by Robert Karnes. Their families, and Sampson's given name "Gregory", are my own ideas. I wanted to explore writing for Sampson a bit more, so this happened. Merry Christmas!
The mansion was just as he always remembered it being at Christmastime: brightly decorated with strings of white lights. To an outsider it appeared warm and inviting, just as the occupants wanted it.
But it was all for show, really. If not for that, they would not bother. They did not even put up the lights themselves. Every year they hired out for a special service to take care of it.
He sighed to himself as he parked and turned off the headlights. He was here mostly to be polite. He came every year, for the same reason, and left feeling just as empty as he had before the Christmas Eve dinner.
Taking up his trenchcoat and three small gifts, he eased himself out of the car and headed up the walk to the large porch. Although he still had a key to the house, he knocked.
Marietta was soon opening the heavy door. "Master Gregory!" she smiled. "It's good to see you here again."
He smiled back and stepped inside, laying a hand on her shoulder. "Oh, but it's just Gregory, Marietta," he chided lightly. "I've always told you that."
"Well." She shut the door and patted his hand. "You are still Master Gregory to me. How are things at the office? Are you being treated well?"
"Just fine," he said, thinking it strange and sad that the maid asked questions his mother would not. "And it smells like you've outdone yourself, as usual."
She beamed. "Your parents are waiting in the dining room," she said. "I just put dinner on the table. I'll take your coat."
"Thank you, Marietta." He slipped out of the coat and let her take it. "And this is for you." He handed her one of the gift boxes.
She gazed at it in awed amazement. "Oh, Master Gregory, you shouldn't have," she smiled.
"Well, of course I should, for my best girl," he smiled back.
"Thank you," she said, holding it to her heart. "I'll save it for tomorrow, when I'm home with the family."
"It will be more pleasant then, I'm sure," he remarked before he went into the dining room.
His father and mother looked up as he entered. "Son." The man got up, walking around the table to shake his hand. "You were almost late."
"I'm sorry, Father." He accepted the handshake. "I was working late at the courthouse."
His father's expression darkened just slightly, but enough to be noticeable. "Proving some other poor fool guilty, I suppose."
"Protecting the innocent from his barbarism, Father." He spoke firmly and without hesitation. He believed in his words.
His mother smiled with at least a bit of genuine happiness to see him. "Gregory . . ." She gave him a worried look. "I'm sure it's interesting, but let's not bring this up here, shall we? It's time to eat, anyway."
"As you wish, Mother." He placed a hand on his mother's back as they went back to the table.
He really had no intention of talking about it here. His occupation had been a source of contention in the family ever since he had first announced his plan to join the district attorney's office. His father had immediately tried everything he could think of to dissuade him, from trying to set him up in an expensive defense attorney's firm to threatening to disinherit him. But nothing had swayed him, and at last realizing he was fighting a losing battle, the older man had grudgingly accepted that his son was determined to be a prosecutor. He still, however, loathed any mention of it—or of district attorney Hamilton Burger, whom his son idolized.
The dinner conversation was polite but little else. Gregory spoke when spoken to, but mostly tried to eat in silence. He was extremely passionate about his work. If the conversation steered in that direction at all, he would find it difficult to abandon the topic without saying something. And there was no telling what small sentence might set his father off, which was exactly the sort of fireworks show his mother was worried about.
There had always been a certain amount of friction between him and his family. When he had been a wild and playful teenager without any real sense of direction for his life, his father had hated that too. Oh, Gregory certainly didn't blame him for that; he detested the memory of those years. The problem was that when he had finally found his direction, his father had still been unhappy. All he had ever wanted was for his son to carry on the family name in a way he felt befitted their social status. Wild party boys and assistant district attorneys were both, he insisted, the wrong things.
Presently his father said, "The stockholders' meeting at the company went smoothly today. I met with the lawyers and we looked over the new contract terms for the upcoming year."
Knowing he was being baited, Gregory only said, "That's nice."
"It certainly is," the older man declared. "And there's going to be a spot opening up on the board of directors. Why you don't pack up that losing job of yours, Son, and come to the company?"
His mother cringed. "Charles, no."
"Well, why not?" Charles grumped. "We're all thinking about it, Matilda. Why keep pussyfooting around the subject?"
"Because it only causes trouble," Matilda retorted.
Gregory set down his napkin. "But it is what we're all thinking about, Mother," he said. "Indeed, why try to avoid it?" He looked to Charles. "I'm sorry, Father, but I will not leave my job to join your company. It isn't a losing battle. Every criminal we put away is one less roaming the streets, hurting people."
"Bah! Four take his place. And completely aside from that, I know what assistant district attorneys earn. It's barely enough to live on!"
"For you, perhaps," Gregory retorted. "I can manage quite well. But your concern isn't really how I'm managing, is it?"
Charles glowered at him before replying. "No, it isn't," he said at last.
"Charles!" Matilda scolded.
"It's what he's doing to the family name," Charles said. "He knows it and we know it. Just imagine the shame and scandal of it—Charles Sampson's son and heir on the county's payroll!"
Gregory refrained from remarking that many politicians had gotten their start in the district attorney's office. That was not his interest either, and he did not want his father getting any ideas of trying to push his son into a political career.
"And you've still got that impulsive streak," Charles barreled on. "You're an embarrassment when you bluster about the courtroom, demanding answers from witnesses."
"I didn't think you paid enough attention to know what I did in the courtroom, Father," Gregory answered bitterly.
"Oh, I've seen you. Friends of the family have seen you. I've heard about you from some of my lawyer friends."
"Defense attorneys I defeated, no doubt."
"Some of them," Charles admitted. "But some of them defeated you."
Matilda had long ago given up, covering her face with a hand. This happened every time. They were all sick of it, but those feelings could not prevent it from continuing to happen.
"I have shortcomings and weaknesses," Gregory said now. "Does that make you happy, Father? That I'm admitting it? Mr. Burger has told me the same thing about my conduct in court. And I've been trying to better myself. When was the last time you or anyone you know saw me?"
Charles glared at his mostly empty plate.
"Was it any time sooner than six years ago?"
"Once," Charles grumbled. "Five years ago."
"Such an improvement." Gregory stood up from the table. "You have no idea if I've changed in five years. How can you judge me or my behavior in court without knowing?"
". . . Some things will always be a part of your personality."
"And believing this, you would want someone as impulsive as I joining your board of directors?"
"I would be an embarrassment to you anywhere, if you really believe that about me." Gregory peered at him. "Or do you? Maybe you're trying to fool me into believing that I'm a worthless prosecutor." He placed his hands on the table and leaned forward. "I know I'm not."
Charles finally looked up, sullen, still glowering. "You're not," he conceded. "I just want you to leave that thankless job behind."
"I won't, Father. And do you know why?" Gregory straightened. "I believe in what I'm doing. I believe in the good people of this county. I would be miserable in your company, or any company. That isn't where I could do the most good. I'm not a businessman. I'm not a defense lawyer. I'm an assistant district attorney. And I say it proudly."
He stepped away from the table. "This evening has descended into bedlam enough." He sighed, looking to Matilda. "I'm sorry, Mother. It would be best if I left."
She looked up at him. "I know," she said quietly.
"Merry Christmas, both of you, if it doesn't sound like too much of a joke." He headed for the parlor. "I mean it in all sincerity."
"If you did, you would give me what I want," Charles retorted, but did not attempt to follow.
"Father, now you're being juvenile." Gregory accepted his coat from Marietta and allowed her to help him put it on. "All your life you've had whatever you wanted. You can't accept that this is something you can't have."
Now Charles came to the doorway. "You've had whatever you wanted too, Son," he snarled. "All your life you've done exactly what you wanted, from being a party animal to prosecuting pathetic scum."
Gregory hesitated. "No, Father," he said at last. "I haven't always had what I've wanted."
"If you're thinking about that missing Griffith boy again . . ."
"I think about him every day," Gregory interrupted. "And how my participation in that mindless, cruel prank helped drive him away. That incident turned my life around. I can only pray that wherever he is, he's managed to make something of himself that he's proud of.
"But no, Father, I wasn't talking about him a few minutes ago." He looked the older man in the eyes. "I was talking about my relationship with you and my mother. It isn't the way I want it at all. And maybe some of that is my fault, but I won't take the blame for it all!" He pulled the coat tight around him and fastened the belt.
Charles' face flamed red. He turned, storming back to the dining room.
Marietta looked to Gregory with regret. "Master Gregory, I hate for you to go away upset," she said.
He managed a smile. "It's alright, Marietta. It isn't the first time. Anyway, Victor invited me to a Christmas dinner party at his house. I think I'll go back there and catch some of it."
She tried to smile too. "Your father will understand about you someday," she tried to say.
"Maybe, but I'm afraid I stand a snowball's chance in you-know-where of being around when it happens." He bent down, kissing her on the cheek. "Merry Christmas, Marietta."
"Merry Christmas, Master Gregory," she said softly as he drew back.
He left the gifts for his parents on the table near the door and headed out into the chilly night.
Deputy District Attorney Victor Chamberlin's house was a great deal smaller than that of Gregory Sampson's parents, but it was also cheerier. Sampson smiled a bit to himself as he parked in front of the familiar residence. The Christmas lights blinked and twinkled across the top of the house and down its sides. Through the living room window, a tree laden with multi-colored lights and ornaments beckoned invitingly.
He got out of the car and went around to the trunk, unlocking it and lifting a small stack of wrapped gifts from inside. As he approached the porch, the door flew open and three sugar-wired, excited kids leaped out and down the stairs towards him. "Uncle Gregory!" they chorused.
Chamberlin followed his kids to the door, regarding them in fond amusement before looking to Sampson. "So you made it after all," he greeted.
"Did you really think I wouldn't?" Sampson returned, balancing the presents with one arm while affectionately patting the kids' heads. They scurried after him to the porch.
"I wasn't sure how long your father would keep you around," Chamberlin said. What he didn't say aloud was that he knew exactly why the elder Sampson would be keeping his son around, and that it wouldn't be for any enjoyable celebratory reasons. But he said it with his eyes.
"I removed myself from that situation before it could escalate to the lengths it has some years," Sampson said. "And how is everyone here tonight?"
"Everyone's fine," Chamberlin smiled. "As you can see, the kids are basically jumping jacks. And Carol has dinner ready."
"I was counting on your dinner being later," Sampson smirked. "I ate over there, but after what happened, I'm hungry again."
"Yeah!" the oldest girl, Betsy, cheered. "You can eat with us now!"
"Lots and lots of good food." The middle girl, Susie, grinned, revealing a missing tooth. "I helped!"
"Have a candy cane," the youngest boy, Myron, chirped. He held one up.
Sampson took it in gentle amusement. "Thank you," he said. "And you helped, Susie? Then I'm certain the meal is exceptional."
As they went into the house, Carol came to the dining room doorway, drying her hands on a dishtowel. "Oh, Gregory," she smiled brightly. "We're so glad you could make it."
Sampson set the presents under the tree and took off his coat. "So am I," he declared. "This house is a breath of fresh air."
Myron sniffed. "Smells the same as always."
Chamberlin chuckled. "That isn't what he meant."
"Smells good, though," Myron hurried to add.
It certainly did. And as everyone headed to the kitchen, visiting and enjoying each other's company, Sampson smiled.
Everything was such a contrast here. These people were a real family, not just several human beings who happened to be related and were eating at the same table. And as far as they were concerned, Sampson was a full-fledged part of the family. He felt genuinely welcome here.
It was a good way to spend Christmas Eve.