Author's Note: I've been looking forward to this chapter for a while. It took on a little bit of a life of its own, but I like the way it turned out. Hope you enjoy it! A big thanks to my beta A Good Witch for helping me clean this up a bit! I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
I had the alarm set for six thirty the next morning. I groaned when the annoying beep started, and ended up hitting snooze twice before finally rolling out of bed. My heart was heavy as I walked into the dark living room to see the abandoned tree with no presents, but then the thought of sitting out the kids' Santa presents to surprise them when they got home made me feel a little better.
That was until I went to go let the dog out back and saw what had happened overnight. I have always held a strong adoration for the beauty of a white Christmas, but snow drifted halfway up the sliding glass doors was not what I had in mind. I looked around to see what had to be at least eighteen inches of snow that had absolutely buried the back yard in drifts that grew to be a couple of feet deep in places.
I quickly used the broom to push back the snow and practically shoved our poor dog out back to take care of her business. I watched as she shivered, squatted right on the deck, which I honestly couldn't blame her for doing, before dashing back into the house.
I bent down to brush the snow off her legs and back with a sigh. "I hope this doesn't keep Edward from getting the kids home. Let's hope they get the roads cleared off quickly."
I got the ham out and started and set the potatoes to soak before pulling on some warm winter clothes, boots, coat and hat and grabbing the snow shovel out of the garage. There was no getting around shoveling snow before dinner. If anybody was able to make it over, and I prayed like crazy that they would, I would need to provide some parking spaces.
I double checked to make sure everything was secure before hefting the shovel on my shoulder and opening the door. I froze, blinked twice, wiped my eyes and looked again…the entire driveway and porch was already shoveled. I shook my head and smiled as I glanced across the way to see Emmett at the end of his drive, just beginning to clear the heavy snow piled there.
It only took me a second to make my decision and open the door to step into the freezing air. He didn't even turn around when I approached. It wasn't until I scooped up my first shovel full of snow that he spoke.
"You really don't have to do that."
I smiled and dumped the snow into the yard nearby before scooping another. "I could say the same to you. Thank you. I have some time before I have to put the potatoes on and I would like to return the favor as much as I can."
"You still cooking just for you?"
I shrugged. "A girl can hope the roads get clear so that her kids can come home. I want to be prepared if they do."
His eyes grew wide. "No! They should just stay another day with their Dad. Don't be selfish, Bella. Tell him to keep them there until the road crews have really gotten this under control!"
I swallowed and closed my eyes, realizing the scenario he was contemplating…and he had a point. After a moment, I just nodded.
"You're right. You're right. I'll do that as soon as we are done here."
He shook his head. "No. Go now. Don't run the risk of missing him."
I sighed. "Okay," I replied, turning to him to rest a hand on my hip, "but you know what this means."
He shook his head looking a bit bewildered. I smiled. "This means you HAVE to come over and have Christmas lunch with me. You really aren't going to make a single mom who is alone on Christmas eat all by herself, are you? Besides, I want to say thanks for shoveling for me."
He frowned and for a moment, I really thought he was going to turn me down. Finally, he sighed, a big puff of mist accompanying the sound.
"Alright, as long as you go inside and call right now and stay there. What time do you want to eat?"
"How about one?"
He glanced at his watch then nodded.
"Okay, don't stand me up," I called as I shuffled back across the street with a smile.
He chuckled and turned back to his shoveling.
When I got inside, I called Edward, but as usual, he didn't answer his phone. I waited for the voicemail message and tried really hard not to cry when the beep indicated it was time to do the talking.
"Hey guys! Merry Christmas! I love you EJ and Ella! I'm really worried about this weather though, Edward. I think you guys should just stay put until the roads are cleared. I don't want you guys risking an accident. We'll celebrate when you guys get back, okay? I love, love, love you guys so much!"
I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing until I had myself under control again, and then sent a text to Edward, hoping if he didn't check is voicemail, as he often didn't, he would at least read his texts. Then I dialed mom. I didn't hold it together so well with her.
"I'm so sorry, sweetie. It was snowing so hard when I got off work last night that I barely made it home. If I'd been thinking I would have packed a bag and come over so I'd be there. This stinks for both of us. I hate being alone on Christmas."
I sighed. "Yeah, me too. I'm glad you didn't get back out last night though. It would have been horrible if you'd had an accident last night. I'm grateful you are at least safe."
We were both quiet for a moment before I chuckled. "Know what I wish?"
"I wish we had teleporters like on Star Trek. Then none of us would be stranded in all of this. Push a button and a few minutes later, Tada!"
She laughed. "Yeah, that would be handy. Then Edward really wouldn't have any excuses for bringing the kids home late."
We chatted a few minutes longer before I sighed. "Well, Mom, I guess I need to go finish making this food. I invited Emmett over to eat since nobody else will probably make it."
"You mean that unpleasant man from across the street?"
I giggled. "Yeah, I mean the confusing man who is rude to me one minute then mows my lawn and shovels my driveway this morning the next. He came to the Candlelight Service last night though, so that was good."
"Well, good, I'm glad you won't have to be alone today after all. I just hope he doesn't become rude again."
"You know, Mom, I really don't think he will. Okay, better go. I love you! Merry Christmas!"
"You too, sweetheart!"
I took a moment to set out the Santa toys just in case Edward decided to ignore me and come over anyway. A part of me hoped he would, but a bigger part hoped he would wait until the roads were safe and clear. I spent the next couple of hours burying myself in cooking. I made mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, and devilled eggs. Then for dessert, I had a pecan pie and fudge that I had made a couple of days before. If the whole family had been there, I would have gotten out the cranberries and warmed the dinner rolls, but figuring it was just Emmett and me, I opted to save them.
I pulled the ham out at 12:30 and exactly thirty minutes later, the doorbell rang. My smile nearly broke my face when I opened it to find Emmett standing there in a button down shirt and tie, brandishing a bottle of wine.
"Emmett! I'm so glad you didn't back out on me! Dinner is just about ready to put on the table."
He stomped the snow off his boots on the threshold before stepping in. He handed me the bottle and began to struggle with removing his boots in the entryway.
"So it's just the two of us?"
I shrugged. "Edward never answered, so I assume so. I told my mom to stay put too. I hate that she's alone today, but I can't really help it."
Finally freeing himself from his second boot, he stood with a smile, "It's days like this you need Scotty to beam people over."
"Oh man! That's what I said to mom! Great minds, I guess…"
He looked at me and shrugged before gesturing to the bottle. "I don't know if you like wine at all, but I had that sitting around at home and thought you might enjoy it."
I looked down at the fancy looking label with a small smile. I wasn't a big drinker and knew jack about wine, but it was a lovely gesture and the wine looked expensive.
"I drink it on occasion, but I have to admit, I don't know much about it. You probably could have brought me boxed wine and I'd never know the difference."
He took the bottle from me with wide eyes. "Oh yes you will know the difference!" He turned around as if lost before catching sight of the doorway to the kitchen and heading that way muttering "boxed wine, confusing a 1995 Chteau Margaux for box wine…no way in hell."
Five minutes later we'd managed to find my corkscrew and a couple of wine glasses. I was nervous as I took my first sip.
"Oh my friggen gosh! It's so smooth and just, wow! I didn't know wine could taste like this!"
"Well, it should. It's worth about $400 a bottle now."
I tried hard not to spit out what was practically liquid gold in my surprise. I coughed a few times before I found my voice again.
"Oh my…Emmett! Why would you bring such expensive wine? That's crazy!"
He shrugged. "It's just stuff, Bella. We had a whole collection of vintage wines like this. I destroyed about half of it in a pity party just before the house was sold. This was one of the ones that survived. It's not like I have a social life to save it for, besides…it's Christmas."
I chewed on my bottom lip, not sure exactly what to feel in that moment. My heart hurt for him, and at the same time, it made me happy to think he thought me worthy of such a gift and sharing such a story.
"Well, thank you, Emmett. I appreciate being introduced to something I never would have encountered otherwise."
He nodded and drained his glass in a few big swallows while I continued to take tiny sips of my glass. After I finished the glass, I laid the food out on the table.
"Wow, Bella, this looks wonderful."
I smiled as I shook out a napkin on my lap. "Thank you."
I was about to suggest we pray for the food when my phone rang. Edward's picture was on the screen, so I answered immediately.
"We're on our way."
"Wh…what? Edward, the roads aren't clear yet, are they? They don't seem to be on this side of town at least."
"Eh, it'll be fine. I have the four by four."
"Edward, you know I want to see the kids today, but I really don't want to have them out in this weather and risk them unnecessarily. Why don't you guys stay in today and just bring them back tomorrow."
"Honestly, Bella, this truck can push through anything. It'll be fine."
"Edward, please, just ugh, if it's bad at all turn around and take them back to your place. I can wait one more night. It's more important that they are safe."
"You have no faith in me at all!"
"Oh for pity sake, Edward! It has nothing to do with my faith in you. Snow and ice can be deceptive and I don't want to take the risk is all.
"Whatever, Bella. I'll just keep them then, if that's what you want."
"You know that isn't what I want, but it's what needs to be done."
I melted into my seat and sighed "Okay. Can I talk to the kids?"
"Um, they're not in here right now." I could hear him turn away from the phone before bellowing the kids' names. After a few seconds, he got back on. "Ella's in the bathroom and EJ's fighting a boss. I'll have them call you later."
"Alright," I groaned. "Thank you. I look forward to hearing from them."
I looked back over at Emmett who was watching me with wary eyes as he balled his napkin in his hand.
"He said he'd keep them there, but he doesn't like it. He thinks I don't believe he's a capable driver. It always turns into being about him."
Emmett sighed, "Well, I'm just glad he's keeping them in."
I nodded and we turned back to our food. We took our time eating and chatting about nothing. It was kind of awkward at times, but not horrible. After we were done eating, we sat at the table for a while discussing sci fi shows after a mention of our earlier Star Trek references was revisited. It was fun to discuss my favorite episodes with someone and we were just breaking off into other series we had liked when the dog shot up and ran to the front door with her tail wagging just moments before the doorbell rang.
I opened the door and my heart skipped a beat as EJ smiled and waved. I smiled and threw the door open, sweeping him into my arms and taking his burden. Ella came trudging up behind him, but the second she got inside she jumped into my arms and hugged me super tight.
"Oh my gosh! What a great surprise! I didn't think the weather was going to let you come home!"
"Daddy said you thought that, but his truck is super tough. We slid through two stop lights and almost went off the road three times, but we made it! It was super fun, Mom!"
"Yeah, fun," I repeated through gritted teeth before putting Ella back down and helping the kids get their boots off.
Edward came in soon after with the rest of the stuff. He was fine until he caught sight of Emmett and his slid into a frown. I wanted to confront him about putting them in danger and tell him that whatever he was pissed off about regarding Emmett was not his business, but there was no time as the kids started heading toward the back room and I wanted to see their expressions when they saw their Santa presents. Squeals of joy filled the air as they ran the last few steps to grab their new toys. Ella immediately tried to mount her new big girl bike I'd scored at a garage sale earlier in the fall while EJ investigated the Lego castle kit I'd found at the same sale. I know many people consider it poor taste to give garage sale finds as gifts, but it's just about the only way I can give my kids as much as I do. Taste, schmaste, I say. As long as it makes them this happy, what does it matter?
I didn't get to indulge in their joy for long before I heard Edward make some snide comment behind me, then I heard a deep voice respond. I rushed back into the kitchen to find Edward and Emmett staring at each other from across the room, the tension in the air so thick you'd need a machete to slice through it. I stepped into the space between them and Edward shifted his cold gaze to my face.
"Worried about the roads not being safe, huh?" He nodded at Emmett. "I see what your concern really was."
I rolled my eyes. "Oh please."
"So much for your high moral standard. First man shows you the slightest bit of attention and you're ditching your kids on Christmas to hook up? Nice, Bella, real nice."
I ground my teeth together so hard, I was surprised the kids didn't hear them in the next room. My hands started shaking followed by my legs and my whole body. The last time I'd been this mad was the night he told me he almost killed himself. When I spoke, my voice was so quiet it was barely more than a whisper and trembled occasionally.
"You don't know what the hell you are talking about, Edward. But, you know what, that doesn't even matter here. You can think whatever the hell you want because you, Mister, do not have one single, solitary leg to stand on. You almost cheated with a nineteen year old. You left me. You hooked up with that chick you met in that chatroom or wherever and facebook relationshipped her the next day, you sure as hell aren't staying celibate. You have no right to know what is or is not going on in this house. Now let's get to the more pressing matter at hand. You had no business getting those kids out in this weather for any reason. I'm glad they are here, and now that you have delivered them, you may leave. I will talk to you later."
"No, Bella, You don't get to just push me out of the door. This is my house too!"
"A house that you haven't lived in for over two years. A house that I have worked to keep up with all on my own. Your name may be on the title with mine, but that's where your power over this house ends. Now, go before we end up causing a scene and ruining the kids' Christmas."
"You're violating our child custody agreement. I'm not going anywhere until we discuss this."
"One. Since you have failed to file for a divorce, our child custody agreement is not legal or binding yet. Two. Even if it were, what is happening here does not violate our agreement in any way, shape, or form. Three. Leave this house, Edward, please, before things get more heated."
"Please! I didn't fall off the fucking turnip truck yesterday, Bella. This is obviously a date!"
I'm pretty sure I heard Emmett mutter something about Edward being a fucking asshole under his breath, but I was too angry to really process it. I sucked in a breath and squeezed my hands so tight I think I made my palms bleed.
"You are such an idiot! This is Christmas. This is our neighbor from across the street. I invited him to join us for dinner a few nights ago when I thought it was going to be all of us. This morning he shoveled the driveway for me and I asked him to come help me eat the food since nobody else would be here to help me eat it. He dressed up…because it's CHRISTMAS. He brought wine because that's the polite thing for guests to do in the real world. We sat down, ate, and discussed sci fi TV. That's it. That's all. And now that I've told you the full story, and you see that it is in no way a violation of our informal agreement, you can now drive home in the mess you just brought the kids here in. While you're at it, you can pray you don't slide through any more stop lights or almost slide off the road three more times on your drive home!"
He rolled his eyes and mumbled "Whatever," before telling to the kids he was going. He turned on the charm as they came running in to give him big hugs and kisses. They waved bye as he backed out of the drive. All four tires spun and he slipped sideways in the road for a second before they caught and he managed to pull away. As he rounded the corner, I thanked God that he didn't slide off the road and get stuck at my house for a night or two.
Once he was out of sight, the kids disappeared to go play with their new toys. Emmett helped me clear that table and do the dishes. When we were almost done, he sighed and turned to lean against the counter.
"I know it's rude to ask, but how in the hell did you end up married to that asshole?"
I laughed. "Well, he wasn't always an asshole. On his good days he still isn't, but unfortunately, his bad days outnumbered his good days a great deal of our marriage."
"Okay, next question. I understand from that conversation you're still married to him. Why?"
"Convenience…health insurance…a couple of years of false hope that things might actually work out. It won't be for too much longer. I finally gave him a deadline. We'll be filing in February…one way or another."
He nodded and then turned back around to grab another plate out of the sink to dry.
"Thank you for helping with the dishes. In all the years we were married, I can only think of a few times Edward actually helped me with them, and most were since we've been separated and he was sucking up for something."
He chuckled. "No problem. Where I come from, the cook doesn't do dishes at all, but I didn't think now was a good time to argue."
I laughed. "Well, thank you all the same."
Once we had all the dishes put away, Emmett thanked me for the night and said goodbye. I waved and watched him cross the street. Even though it created a bit of chaos with Edward, I was glad he'd come over and spent some time with other people. I hoped he would continue to seek out social interaction, either with us or with other people. Maybe Emmett would find some healing eventually, with or without us.
After Emmett made it inside, I locked up and set the kids to work getting ready for bed. Before we tucked in, I asked them all about their time with Dad. Apparently, he had spent a great deal of time on his phone texting with a friend while they spent time at Grandma and Grandpas. No doubt, a good portion of his reaction to Emmett had less to do with me, and more to do with him and his own guilty conscience.
I called Mom and told her about the hoopla with Edward. As anticipated, she got madder than even I did. It was good to have the chance to vent and commiserate and once we were done, I finally felt ready for some sleep, but before I got ready for bed, I pulled out the little bit of wine left in the bottle and poured myself a half a glass of the liquid gold. I sat in my favorite chair and watched the lights of the tree reflect off the dark surface of the liquid.
After a moment, I sighed and lifted my glass to the nativity ornament in the center of the tree. Three small sips and the last of the wine was gone. "Happy Birthday, Jesus," I whispered into the night before shutting off the lights and going to bed.