Lots of activity on Christmas Eve Day.
She hugged him back laughing. “Well Happy Christmas Eve to you too, Mikey Boy. You seem awful happy this morning.”
He released her then stood back. “I am happy, damn happy. Tonight is gonna be great.” He filled a mug with coffee then handed it to Holly. “And you know having you and M here is just making it all that more special. I can’t wait to play Santa.”
“You can’t wait to eat Santa’s cookies.” Holly teased. “But don’t forget you gotta drink the milk too.”
“Hey I think that should be your job.” He said as they walked towards the table then took seats.
“So Donna and Alicia aren’t up yet?”
Mikey grinned, “Well Alicia’s was pretty tired after last night.”
Holly rolled her eyes. “Oh Lord.”
“Hey, just working on starting that family.” He laughed.
Alicia heard his comment as she walked into the kitchen. She went directly to him and settled herself down on his lap. “Yeah, my boy’s been working hard.”
Holly rolled her eyes again. “Perhaps I should leave you two alone?”
“Nope.” Alicia laughed. “Got to much to do today. What time is Christa picking you up?”
“At nine.” Holly said glancing at the clock. “Crap, I better get ready.”
When she left the room Mikey kissed his wife. “I love you.” He whispered against her lips.
“Love you too.” She said with a sigh of content.
Gerard awoke on Christmas Eve morning to find himself alone in bed. His fingers moved to the other side of the bed. The sheets were cold telling him his wife had been gone for some time.
As he dressed he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. “What are you going to do?” He asked his reflection softly. He had no answer.
“Good morning.” Lindsey said as he walked into the kitchen.
“Morning.” He muttered making his way towards the coffee machine. “How long you been awake?”
“Hours.” She answered before taking a sip from her cup. “Bandit’s still sleeping.”
“Still asleep too.” She answered. “I’ve got some things I want to do today. Are you gonna stick around the house?”
He nodded wishing she’s ask him to go with her but knowing that wouldn’t happen. “Yeah, maybe I’ll get some work done on the comic.”
Lindsey nodded, “I’ll be home in time to leave for Mikey’s.” She said then finished off the last of her coffee.
He watched as she placed the cup in the sink then turned to leave without another word. Sadness filled his soul as he realized this would be the first Christmas Eve since they married that they wouldn’t be spending the entire day together.
Christa and Holly had arrived several hours at the shelter before lunch was to be served because they had offered to wrap Christmas gifts for the children. Now as they were just finishing up the last of the presents Joan walked over to them.
“Holly, thank you again for making this possible.” She said taking a seat at the table.
“I’m just happy I was able to raise enough money for this to be possible.”
Joan sighed, “You know a lot of the kids who come here….well this is likely to be the only gift they get.”
Christa shook her head sadly. “That’s hard to imagine.”
“Not so hard when you really think about it.” Joan said picking up a small race car to wrap. “So many people are out of work now. So many need help especially during the holidays.”
“Joan do you know much about Safe Harbor? Do they give gifts to the kids there?” Holly asked. She noticed that Christa looked up in surprise at the question.
“They do. All of the shelters try to help each other out as much as possible. I was just talking to Camille, she’s the director there this morning. She was telling me she’s afraid they might not have enough gifts for all the kids. Damn, I hope that doesn’t happen.”
“Me too.” Holly said softly.
“Okay well here you go.” She handed Holly the race car seeing she was finished with the gift she’d been working on. “Looks like this is the last one and you wrap much nicer than me.”
Holly grinned, “I like to wrap presents.”
Joan stood. “Well as soon as you're done I’ll send over some helpers and we’ll get all the gifts put out of sight until after we serve. We’ll pass them out to the kids as they are leaving. Would you and Christa like to do that?”
“Oh yes.” Holly nodded. Christa agreed.
“Great. Just remember green paper girls and red boys gift but since you guys just wrapped so many for the past hour I’m sure you’ll remember that.”
“Yeah, we will." Christa laughed.
Donna and Molly were watching “Miracle on 34th Street” while Mikey and Alicia worked on making potato salad in the kitchen.
“I think Ma should be doing this.” Mikey grouched picking up another potato to peel.
Alicia laughed. “Yeah, it is her special potato salad.”
His peeler stilled as he listened to the conversation in the other room. A few minutes later he smiled, “Just listen to that. Molly is explaining the movie to Ma.”
Alicia giggled, “I know, it’s that sweet? I guess since you and she watched it she thinks she’s an expert on it now.”
“God, she’s a good kid.” Mikey said beginning to peel again. “Think ours will be that good?”
“Of course they will.” Alicia smiled at him. “Mikey I hope it happens soon. Having Molly here has made me see how wonderful it is to have a child in the house, she just fills it with love.”
He looked up, “Yeah, I know what you mean. I didn’t get it before now.” He paused then added, “But I do now.”
“Okay, we’ll take over now.” Joan said as soon as she and another volunteer walked up to Christa and Holly who were on the serving line. “Some of the folks are finishing up and you two need to position yourselves by the door so you can hand out the presents.”
“Oh, okay.” Holly handed her the ladle.
Soon she and Christa were by the front door passing out the gifts to the children as they were leaving.
“Here you go, Merry Christmas.” Holly smiled to a small child.
The little girl gave her a beautiful toothless grin then continued on.
For the next hour they passed out gifts and Christmas greetings. When the last of the patrons had passed through the doors Holly looked down. She still had two large black trash bags full of gifts. She noticed the Christa still had one untouched bag.
Joan walked up to them. “How many gifts are left?”
“Quite a few.” Holly answered. “There didn’t seem to be as many people here today."
Joan nodded, “I hope that means they found somewhere to spend the holiday.” She sighed, “Camille just called from Safe Harbor. They have a much larger turn out then they expected.”
Christa looked over at Holly instinctively knowing what she was thinking.
“Should these gifts go there?”
“I was thinking that myself. I’ll have to try to find someone to take them and that might be hard. I’d do it myself but I have to finish up here.”
Holly looked at Christa briefly then said, “I’d be happy to take them down there.”
Joan looked surprised. “Do you know where it is?”
“Yes.” Holly nodded.
“And you have no problem taking the gifts there?”
Holly smiled, “Not at all.”
Soon the huge bags were loaded into Holly’s car.
“Thank you so much for doing this.” Joan said. “I called Camille and told her you’re on the way.”
Holly got into the car then turned to Christa. “I’ll drop you off first.”
“Oh no you don’t.” Christa said shaking her head. “I knew you’d try that. I’m going with you.”
Holly sighed, “Look I understand Ray is uncomfortable with you going to that shelter. I’ll just drop you off first then head down there.”
Christa crossed her arms. “We’ll take them down there together. Now get driving we’ve got presents to deliver.”
“Son, are you just gonna mope around the house all day?” Don asked.
Gerard pulled his attention away from the TV. “What?”
“Go out and do something.” His father said.
“Dad, I’m hanging with you. It’s Christmas Eve you know. Just seems like I should be spending time with my family.”
Don’s eyes were full of compassion. “Well B is napping and to tell you the truth that’s what I think I’m gonna do too. So why don’t you get out for a bit? I can take care of B when she wakes up.”
Gerard sighed, “Ain’t got nothing to do, no where to go.”
“Where’s Lindsey?” Don asked softly.
“Don’t know. She just said she had some stuff to do today.”
It saddened Don to realize that Gerard and his wife seemed to be living separate lives. “Well then you should have some stuff to do too. I’m sure your brother wouldn’t mind help getting ready for tonight.”
“Maybe.” Gerard nodded. “Yeah, I guess I could drive over and see what they’re doing.”
Don smiled. “Just don’t be trying that Apple Brown Betty.”
“You know Holly’s making it?”
His father smiled, “I was sure you’d ask her to.”
As the shelters volunteers were unloading Holly’s car she and Christa went inside to talk to the director.
“I can’t thank you enough for bring the gifts.” Camille smiled.
Holly immediately liked the small older woman. In her eyes she could see true compassion. “Hope we made it in time.”
Camille nodded, “Oh yes. We serve later than Helping Hands. So people are just starting to finish eating. Would you like to see our facility?”
Holly glanced over at Christa who nodded.
The size of the eating area and the amount of people there shocked Holly. She had thought Helping Hands was large but this was huge.
“We serve five to seven hundred a day.” Camille said over the din. “Today we are serving closer to eight.”
“So many kids.” Christa whispered.
Camille nodded, “Yes, so many children. She tried to keep an upbeat attitude. “But thanks to the extra gifts you brought none of them will leave without something.”
Holly’s eyes were scanning the crowded tables. “Oh." She said when she spotted Connie and her daughter.
“You know someone?” Camille asked.
“Yes.” Holly answered, “I’ll be right back.”
Connie looked surprised to see Holly as she walked up to the table.
“Merry Christmas.” Holly greeted her.
“Merry Christmas to you too, Holly.” Connie smiled. “What are you doing here? I didn’t see you serving.”
Holly smiled at Alice then turned back to Connie. “Well we just brought a surprise for the kids.”
Connie nodded. “That’s awful nice to hear.” Beside her Alice’s face took on an extra large smile.
“Well I need to be going now.” Holly said, “But I just wanted to say hello.”
“It’s good to see you here. Thank you.” Connie said softly.
As Holly walked back over to where Camille and Christa were still standing she decided that somehow she’d try to come back here before she left LA. If for nothing else then just to tell Connie and her daughter good bye.
“Holly’s still not back?” Gerard asked as he walked in the back door. He’d seen her car wasn’t in the driveway.
Mikey shook his head, “She called and said she’d be here soon as she dropped off Christa."
“She better get here soon.” Alicia laughed, “We’ve got stuff to get ready for tonight.”
A few minutes later Holly breezed in smiling. “Sorry I’m late.”
“Was there a big crowd at the shelter today?” Alicia asked.
Holly walked over to the sink to wash her hands. She needed to start peeling apples. “No, not really.” She answered. “Actually there were fewer people then usual.”
“Did you get to give out gifts?” Mikey asked.
“What gifts?” Gerard asked.
Mikey explained to him that because of Holly’s contribution from the sale of her wind chime the shelter had been able to buy gifts for the children.
“Oh that’s nice.” Gerard said. He was watching Holly who had grabbed a bag of apples, the peeler and was moving towards the table.
“Yep Christa and I got to give out the gifts.” Holly said happily.
“And you had enough?” Alicia asked.
“We had more than enough.” Holly picked up the first apple and began peeling.
“Oh, so what did they do with the extra ones?" Alicia asked innocently.
At first Holly was going to skirt the question but decided to tell the truth. “Christa and I took them down to Safe Harbor. They had a large turnout today and not enough gifts. So it all worked out perfectly.”
As she’d expected she saw the Gerard’s eyes had narrowed.
“Safe Harbor? That’s the shelter down in East Compton, ain’t it?”
“Sure is.” Holly was determined not to let him ruin her happiness, not today.
“I thought I told you that place is too dangerous for you to go to.” He said.
“Gee, Holly’s a big girl.” Alicia said. “She can make her own decisions.”
“That’s right.” Holly smiled, “I’m a big girl who doesn’t have to answer to anyone.” She looked directly at Gerard. “So drop it.”
He glared at her.
Holly glared back.
“Uh, I think I’ll go see what M and Ma are doing.” Mikey said pushing away from the table.
“Why are you being such a pain in the ass about this?” Gerard asked.
Holly looked down at the apple in her hand. “Gee, you don’t get it. We had all these gifts left over and they needed them. Can you imagine what it would have been like for some of those kids not to get one?”
“Okay I get that part but why did you have to take them?”
“Because I offered to do it.” Holly answered. “Because I wanted to.”
He exhaled deeply. “Holly you take on too much. You can’t change the fuckin’ world.”
She looked up. “No, I can’t but I can do my part to try to make things better.”
His concern for her was making it hard for him to understand. “There are things you can do that don’t put you in danger.”
Holly rolled her eyes, “You worry too much. Now if a certain person at this table wants to Apple Brown Betty then he better grab a peeler and start helping me peel these apples.”
She wasn’t sure what he was going to do when he pushed away from the table but when he returned with a peeler she gave him a beautiful smile.
Gerard had returned home to find Lindsey was still out. His dad and Bandit were eating a snack in the kitchen.
“Hey, Son.” Don greeted him. “How are things going over at Mikey’s?”
“Just fine.” Gerard smiled. “I’ll have you know I helped peel apples for Holly.”
Don laughed. “I’m sure you did. I’d peel apples myself if I knew Holly’s Apple Brown Betty was involved. So is Molly excited about tonight?”
Gerard rolled his eyes, “The kid is bouncing off the walls. She can’t wait cause she knows Santa is coming tonight.” He noticed that Bandit looked up at him. Leaning down he kissed her on the cheek, “That’s right Baby B, Santa is coming tonight.”
“Next year she’ll really be excited.” Don predicted knowing Bandit was still a little too young to understand it all now.
“Yeah.” Gerard said softly wondering what next years Christmas would be like, sure he’d be alone.
“Hey.” Lindsey said as she walked in. She immediately went to Bandit and gave her a kiss.
“We’re just having a little snack.” Don explained “Because I know dinner’s not gonna be till seven.”
Lindsey nodded, “That’s fine.” She turned to her husband. “Gee, can you help me grab some things out of the car?”
“Sure.” He nodded.
Once they reached the car Lindsey stopped. “Actually I wanted to talk to you about something.” She said softly.
Gerard felt his stomach twist into a knot. Had she decided not to wait until after the holidays to talk about their marriage? “What is it?” He asked slowly.
“I was at the studio today catching up on some e-mails. Do you remember my friend Tara?”
He nodded vaguely remembering the woman was a friend who Lindsey had met a couple of years ago.
“Well she sent me a link to a picture that was posted on one of your fan sights. I talked to her last week and mentioned that Eliza was once again rearing her ugly head and when she saw the photo she thought I’d want to know.”
Gerard frowned, “What picture?”
Lindsey leaned against her car. “Look Gee I just think you should know about it. I’m pretty sure we both know who’s behind this.”
Gerard had a sinking feeling. “What’s the picture?” He asked again.
“It’s a picture of you and Holly ice skating.”
“Hey, that’s the day we took Molly up to Bear Creek.” He started to explain.
Lindsey held up her hand. “I know about that, Alicia told me. I’m not upset, that’s not why I’m telling you. Tara just thought I might want to know what’s being said.”
“Fuck.” Gerard pulled out a cigarette then lit it. “What’s being said?”
“Gee, my guess is Eliza is behind this. I’m sure some fan just posted the picture and she found it. A lot of the anon comments sound like shit she’d say.”
Gerard inhaled deeply from his cigarette. “What kind of shit?”
“That you’re seeing Holly behind my back. That there is something going on between you two.”
He reached out to touch Lindsey’s arm, “You know that ain’t true.”
“I do know that but I have to be honest reading that shit pisses me off.”
“The only reason I brought this up is because I thought you should know. This just reeks of Eliza’s doing and that really pisses me off more than anything.”
“Fuck, that woman just won’t go away.” He muttered.
Lindsey sighed, “No, she won’t. I just hate that Holly is being brought into all of this. I’m not sure how much she does on the Net so maybe it doesn’t matter. It’s up to you if you want to tell her. Truthfully though I hope she doesn’t find out. Some of the anon comments are pretty fuckin’ mean about her.”
“How the fuck would anyone even know who she is?” Gerard asked.
Lindsey nodded, “How indeed? That’s why I’m sure it’s Eliza. Yeah, Holly’s had one art showing and there was a small photo of her in a small paper but I can’t imagine from the photo of you two that anyone recognized her.”
Gerard sighed. “This just sucks. Holly had to put up with so much shit from Eliza before it ain’t right it’s still happening.”
“Yeah, it ain’t right.” Lindsey agreed. “Not at all.” She pushed off the car. “Anyway I got several bag in the trunk.”
Gerard tossed away his cigarette then followed her. In his mind he was trying to decide how to handle this latest crisis. He didn’t want Holly’s name dragged through the mud but sadly he couldn’t think of anyway to stop that from happening.