Holly finally releases the anger she's been keeping inside.
“How come you don’t have pretty lights on your house?”
Gerard sighed, “I don’t know, I should have put some up, I guess.”
Molly nodded, “Yep, mommy says Christmas lights make it easier for Santa to see where he’s going.”
“Well I’m sure he’ll find the house anyway.” Gerard said trying to keep his spirits up for his daughter. “But we could always leave the patio lights on tonight.”
“Those aren’t the same, silly daddy.” Molly sighed.
Gerard smiled, “Sorry Squirt but I promise next year we’ll put up Christmas lights, lots of them.” He knew as soon as he heard Holly’s soft sigh his words bothered her. She obviously didn’t want him making plans involving her and Molly for next year.
“I loved those shrimps.” Molly said happily keeping the conversation going. “They was good.”
Gerard laughed, “Yeah, shrimps are good.”
“Maybe you can make us some on the grill.” Molly nodded.
“Sure.” Gerard answered as he kept his eyes on the road.
Molly pointed out more Christmas lights as they continued on. Suddenly she grew quiet for several minutes. “Mommy?”
“Why are you not talking?”
“I’m just enjoying the lights.” Holly lied. “They’re very pretty.”
“Oh.” Molly smiled.
Gerard glanced over and saw that Holly’s eyes were actually closed.
“Grandma Donna said she’s got a present for me and Bandit.”
“Yep, tomorrow there will be lots of presents.” Gerard answered.
“But the most important is the present from Santa.” Molly said her voice growing very serious.
Gerard heard Holly sigh. He understood that sound completely. They hadn’t found out what Molly wanted from Santa and he hated to think she’d be disappointed.
“Daddy, drive faster.” Molly suddenly urged. “We got to get home before Santa gets there.”
“Can’t drive too fast.” Gerard explained. “We don’t want to break the law.”
“But don’t worry.” Gerard said trying to boaster not only Molly’s sprints but his own. “I’m sure we’ll get there before Santa.”
“Okay.” Molly sat back then her mind went in a totally different direction. “Daddy?”
“What’s for dinner tomorrow?”
Gerard smiled, “Well I got a honey backed ham and we’re gonna have mashed potatoes and corn.”
“On the cob?”
“No, sorry. No cob.”
“That’s okay, daddy. I can pretend it was on there but I took it off.”
Gerard glanced over at Holly. “Uh, I’m not sure about desert.”
Holly spoke without opening her eyes. “I brought everything to make the Apple Brown Betty. I’ll do that in the morning.”
He hadn’t been sure she’d remembered. “Oh, good.” Hearing her say that made it sound like she hadn’t changed her mind and would be staying.
“I like that.” Molly said following their conversation.
“Me too.” Gerard nodded. “Your mommy makes a mean Apple Brown Betty.”
Molly frowned, “Why’s it mean?”
Gerard laughed, “When I say mean that means really good.”
“Silly daddy.” Molly giggled, “Mean don’t mean good.”
He loved the way Molly’s mind worked. “It does sometimes.”
“If you say so, daddy.” Molly looked out the window again and spotted more lights. “Look over there.” She said excitedly. “I like those.”
Gerard glanced over quickly then returned this gaze to the road. “Yep those are good.”
“Yeah, those are mean lights.” Molly said seriously.
Gerard laughed, “Yep, those are some mean lights.” He stole a quick glance over but saw that Holly’s eyes were still closed. Why, he wondered couldn’t she just let herself enjoy this time?
Molly and Gerard did most of the talking all the way back to his place. Occasionally Molly pulled her mother into the conversation but for the most part Holly remained silent.
As they neared the front gate Holly glanced over to see who was in the guard shack. “Is Nick here?” She asked.
Gerard slowed the car to a stop. “Nope he’s not working tonight.”
“Oh I wanted to wish him a Merry Christmas.”
The young man who was working gave a quick wave to Gerard then pushed the button to open the gates.
“Maybe he’ll be here tomorrow.” Gerard said as he slowly started through the gates.
“Hope so.” Holly sighed.
Once they pulled into the driveway Molly excited began bobbing up and down. Gerard reminded her never to release her seat belt until they were completely stopped. However once the car was turned off Molly quickly unlatched her belt and all but jumped out of the car.
Holly’s hand reached for the door handle but Gerard spoke quickly stopping her. “Uh, we need to keep Molly inside for ten minutes. It’s set up so twenty minutes from the time we passed through the gate he’ll drive the golf cart up to the end of the driveway where the views blocked then play the sleigh bells over the PA system. I wanted to make sure we had enough time to sit outside a few minutes before she hears it.”
“Okay.” Holly nodded. “I’ll have her put her jimmies on.”
Gerard frowned, “It’s pretty cold.”
“She can put her coat on over them. That’s how…” She stopped.
“How you did it with Sonja?”
Holly forced her emotions in check, “Yeah, it was always cold where we lived.” She got out of the car quickly then hurried to the door where Molly was already waiting.
Gerard followed them. Once inside he waited for Holly to take control but she remained silent.
“Okay Squirt.” He said refusing to let this night be ruined for her. “Go get your jimmies on.”
“Then we go outside to wait?” Molly asked.
Molly ran down the hallway to her bedroom.
Gerard turned to Holly. “Uh, she’s pretty excited, isn’t she?”
“Yes.” Holly nodded. “Very excited. Thank you for setting this up.”
Her comment struck a nerve. “Why wouldn’t I? I love my daughter.”
Holly folded her arms around her body tightly. “I didn’t say you didn’t love her.”
“Then don’t thank me for shit you don’t need to.” He shot back.
She recoiled as if she’d been slapped. “Sorry, I seem to be ruining everything tonight, don’t I? I think maybe after she hears the bells we should head home.”
His heart sank. “No, it’s too long of a drive.” He sputtered. “Besides you know that would upset her. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snap at you. I’m just trying so fuckin’ hard to make this night perfect.”
“I know.” She whispered sadly. “Sorry I’m being such a pain.”
He smiled, “You’re not a pain. I get this is hard for you. Holly, I really do understand a lot more than you think.”
She looked into his eyes and was about to respond when Molly bounded down the hallway carrying Bobo Bear.
"Hey, what’s he doing here?” Gerard asked.
“Mommy packed him in my bag.” Molly answered clutching the stuffed animal to her. “I want Bobo to wait for Santa too.”
Gerard smiled, “Well okay.” He glanced at his watch calculating how long they had before the sleigh bells were scheduled. “Ready to go outside?” Since he knew the answer to that question he told Molly to put her coat back on.
As Molly ran to the door Gerard grabbed a blanket out of the hall closet.
“Hold on.” He said to his daughter who was preparing to sit on the concrete steps. “Let me put the blanket down first. If not we’ll have frozen buns.”
Molly giggled. “Silly daddy.”
Gerard spread out the blanket and Molly plopped down. “Come on guys.” She whispered.
Slowly Holly sat down beside her, Gerard sat down on the other side.
“It’s so quiet.” Gerard whispered looking out into the darkness.
“That’s good.” Molly whispered back. “We can hear better.” She said as her eyes scanned the skies.
Since the temperature had dropped even more since they’d left his afternoon Holly snuggled closer to her daughter trying to keep her warm. Gerard snuggled up closer to Molly too. His eyes were also scanning the sky now hoping to see clouds passing over to cover the full moon. He still refused to give up hope it might snow.
“I can’t believe how cold it’s turned.” Holly whispered.
Gerard placed his arm around Molly and was able to reach over and pull Holly in closer.
Molly hugged Bobo tightly. “Hurry up Santa.” She whispered her teeth starting to chatter.
Gerard too hoped ‘Santa’ would be heard soon. His leather jacket wasn’t offering enough warmth and he was worried Molly would catch a cold.
Suddenly Molly sat forward. “Oh, listen.” She cried out. “I hear him.”
The sound of sleigh bells filled the night air.
“I hear them.” Holly whispered hugging Molly tightly.
“Me too.” Gerard whispered. “Santa must be close.” The night suddenly became darker. Looking up he saw clouds passing over the moon.
“I can’t see him.” Molly said looking up into the sky.
“That’s because of the clouds.” Gerard said softly. “But he’s up there.”
“Hear that Bobo?” Molly said to the bear in her arms. “Santa is coming.”
Holly smiled, “He is. We heard him.” The sound of the bells was growing softer. “Better get to bed now.”
Molly was still searching the skies. “Okay, me and Bobo gotta get to sleep.”
“That’s right, so Santa can leave your presents.” Gerard said.
Molly glanced at his face through the shadows. “Silly daddy.”
Gerard was confused, “What?”
Molly just smiled as she clutched her bear tighter.
“I don’t understand.” He said slowly.
“Santa does.” Molly giggled.
Holly was just as confused as Gerard but feeling her daughter’s body trembling from the cold she said, “Okay time to go in.”
Gerard expected Molly to object but she jumped up. “Okay.”
Holly followed her in while Gerard picked up the blanket.
As soon as he was inside Molly spoke. “Okay you and mommy have to tuck us in.”
“You and Bobo need tucking in?" Gerard laughed.
“Yep.” Molly ran down the hallway. Gerard and Holly followed at a slower pace. By the time they got to the bedroom Molly had just jumped into the bed.
“Okay Squirt.” Gerard said pulling the covers over her body. “Time to close those eyes.”
Molly giggled. “Bobo can’t close his eyes.”
“Hey that’s true.” Gerard looked at the stuffed animal. “Maybe you should put him under the covers so he can’t see.”
“Yeah.” Molly pulled Bobo down so that only his ears were poking out of the blankets. “There.”
Holly slowly moved closer to the bed. She leaned down and kissed Molly’s cheek then Bobo’s ears. “Goodnight Honey.” She whispered.
Molly giggled. “Goodnight mommy.”
Now Gerard leaned down to place a kiss on Molly cheek. As he started to stand Molly reminded him he forgot to give Bobo a kiss.
“Oh sorry.” He kissed the bear’s ear.
“Now get to sleep.” He said walking over to where Holly stood in the doorway.
“I love you guys.” Molly whispered.
“We love you too.” It was Holly who’d answered.
Gerard snapped off the light then gently closed the bedroom door. By the time he reached the living room Holly was seated on the sofa.
“We should wait until we’re sure she’s asleep before we get started.”
He nodded, “Yeah, I agree.” He sat down on the sofa. “Uh, I’m guessing you have the rest of your gifts in your car?”
“Yep, in the trunk.”
“I got all the ones we bought wrapped.” He explained. “They’re stashed downstairs.” He wondered if Holly was even listening. She was staring at the tree. “Uh, would you like something to drink? Hot tea or cocoa?”
She shook her head, “No thank you.”
“Hey, why don’t I start a fire? It’s definitely chilly enough outside?” When she nodded he walked over to the fireplace. Several minutes later as the fire took off he stood back. “That’s better.”
He walked back over and sat down. Struggling for something to say he finally spoke. “Uh dinner tonight was good, wasn’t it?”
“It was a very nice evening.” She answered still staring at the tree.
“You know at Molly’s age I don’t think I would have even tried a shrimp.” He laughed. “But man, she liked those shrimps.”
Getting her to talk is like pulling teeth, Gerard thought. “Uh, so.” He searched his brain for a topic. “Mikey and Alicia seemed really happy didn’t they?”
Holly nodded, “Yes, they did.”
Suddenly a thought came to him. “Yeah, almost overly happy.” He said slowly thinking back over tonight.
“Well Christmas time does make people overly happy.” Holly said not wanting him to give much thought to this. She knew how much Alicia and Mikey wanted their announcement tomorrow to be a total surprise.
Gerard was still thinking. “Yeah true but maybe it is more than that.” As Holly watched his face is was almost like a light bulb went off over his head. “Holy shit.”
She was afraid to ask. “Holy shit?”
“Yeah holy shit.” He nodded smiling. “How did I not see it before now?”
With a sinking feeling Holly realized he’d figured it out.
“She’s pregnant. That explains it. I mean Alicia is pretty much always happy but damn the woman was glowing tonight. Linds was like that too.” As soon as he said that he saw the look on Holly’s face. “Oh shit.” He muttered. “Sorry.”
Holly blinked, “Sorry?”
“I shouldn’t have mentioned Lindsey.”
“Why not?” Holly asked in a chipped tone.
He searched his brain trying to come up with a way to explain. “Because it makes me feel bad I never got to see you pregnant with Molly.” He finally whispered.
All of the emotions Holly had been trying to suppress were making their way to the surface. “Well that’s because you were married.”
He could see her whole body was tensing. “I just mean..”
Holly cut him off. “Besides you wouldn’t have really wanted to see me pregnant. I fucking cried most of the time. Yeah, I was a total mess.” Suddenly as the words left her mouth her eyes grew huge. “Sorry.”
“Holly don’t do that.”
“Don’t apologize. Be angry. Stop trying to hold that emotion in.”
She clinched her fists. “Be angry? You want me to be angry?”
“Yeah, I fuckin’ want you to be angry. You have a right to be angry. You faced that pregnancy alone.”
“I wasn’t alone. Not the whole time.”
“You know what I mean. I know Sonja tried to help you.”
Her daughter’s name being spoken sent her emotions into a tailspin. “Yeah she did try to help. She tried to understand.” Suddenly there was no way to stop the anger that had been buried for so long. “But let’s face it, it was hard for her. Imagine knowing your mother got knocked up by some singer who married someone else a few months later.”
While he wanted her to release her anger it was still hard for him to hear her words. “Holly…”
“No shut up. You wanted me to be angry. Okay, here it is. I did spend most of my pregnancy alone. Sonja couldn’t take watching me sink further and further into depression. I never blamed her for that. I just couldn’t make myself go to you for help. I worked in a diner in Wyoming standing on my swollen ankles for eight hour a day. I barely had enough money to pay the rent but still I wouldn’t got to you for help. But hey, that’s on me. I get that now.”
“I don’t understand.” Gerard whispered.
“Don’t you see? My whole life I’ve played the part of a victim. Poor old Holly. First I was married to a man who hated me, who only married me because I was pregnant. I put up with his cheating for years.” She couldn’t stop the words that were pouring out of her soul, “Yeah one night, an awkward quick fuck in the backseat of his car and our fate was sealed.”
“You’re ex husband is a bastard.”
“Is he?” Holly challenged. “How would you like to get stuck with someone you didn’t love?” She shook her head, “But who cares? That’s the past. We were talking about my anger towards you, you know that anger you think I need to let go of.”
“Holly I know you’ve been keeping it inside.” He tried to reason with her.
“Oh hell yeah, of course I have. But you know why? That’s because instead of anger I choose to wallow in pity. Poor me was hurt by you. I never loved Al but damn it I loved you. I didn’t want to, I told myself it was crazy but I couldn’t stop.” She blinked rapidly hating the tears in her eyes. “So when you left, when you hooked up with Lindsey once more I played the victim. Instead of anger I chose to be hurt by your actions. I cried when I found out I was pregnant, I cried the first time I felt the baby move in my stomach, I cried when Sonja ran away, I cried the day I got the phone call telling me she was dead, I cried when my water broke knowing you were buying Lindsey a house in LA at the same time.” She paused long enough to take a breath, “I wanted to hate you but I couldn’t and I hated that more than anything about myself.” Suddenly she stood, her eyes flashing. “And damn you for making me say all of this.”
Gerard jumped to his feet as she started across the room. “Holly, stop.”
She shoved her arms in her coat. “I have to get out of here.”
“What?” He tried to grab her arm but she pulled away. “You can’t leave. What about Molly?”
Her daughter’s name was like water dousing a flame. She stood completely still.
“Please don’t leave.” Gerard begged. He’d never imagined Holly’s anger would completely take over and he was afraid.
For several minutes Holly stood completely still. Then as he watched her whole face took on a look of desperation. “I need to think.” She whispered.
“Please, sit back down.” He urged.
She shook her head, “I can’t.” The anger she’d just displayed frightened her. “I…” She forced her mind to think. “I need to be alone.”
“Don’t leave like this.” Her present state of mind scared him.
Holly closed her eyes a moment. When she opened them what he saw scared him even more. She looked completely calm, too calm. Once more he realized she’d turned off her emotions. “I’m going into town. We forgot batteries for Molly’s game.”
“Don’t.” Gerard whispered.
Holly took a deep breath. “Really, I’m fine. I’m just going to get batteries. I’ll be back.” She was out the door before he could respond.
Gerard staggered back to the sofa. Sitting down he covered his face with his hands. What had he done? Was making her face that anger she’d buried been the right thing to do? Would she come back?
“Of course she will because of Molly.” He whispered to himself. But deep down he knew she’d never come back to him.
Holly got to the end of the driveway before he whole body began to shake, it wasn’t the cold temperature, it was fear. The anger she’d just felt scared her.
“I’m fuckin’ insane.” She whispered blinking the tears away.
Slowly she drove down the hill trying to get her emotions under control. Not for herself but for Molly. The love she felt for her child was stronger than any other emotion. As she neared the gate she hoped it would open quickly. However she was forced to come to a complete stop. Suddenly light poured out from the guards shed as the door opened. A figure slowly walked out making it’s way towards her car. She lowered the window.
“Nick?” Holly said in surprise. “What are you doing here? I didn’t think you worked on Christmas Eve.”
He smiled, “Oh I work when I’m needed. So where you headed? Thought you folks were in for the night.”
Holly tried to think. “Uh, just have to run to the store.”
Nick nodded, “I see. Well I wanted to tell you how sorry I am John didn’t make it up to the house. Hope Molly wasn’t too disappointed.”
“What?” Holly was growing more confused by the minute.
“Yeah, he got the call his mom was sick right after you folks got back. He took off even before I got here. Good thing no one needed the gate open.”
“John left.” Holly repeated slowly trying to understand.
Nick nodded, “Yeah and he felt real bad he didn’t get to drive up and play those sleight bells.”
“But…” Holly snapped her mouth shut.
Nick smiled, “Anyway.” He reached into the pocket of his jacket. “Here you go. I’d hate to think of you driving in this weather.”
Holly reached her hand out automatically to take what he was offering. When she saw the pack of unopened batteries she suddenly felt like Alice who’d just fallen down the rabbit hole. “How did you know?”
“Oh I know.” Nick chuckled.
Holly was trying desperately to make sense of everything. “Wait, what weather?”
“Why the snow of course.” Nick smiled, “Got the radar pulled up in the shack. Heck of a snowstorm heading our way.” As he fell silent a huge snowflake splattered on the windshield.
“Snow.” Holly whispered. “But…”
Nick turned his face up to the falling flakes. “Beautiful isn’t it? You know they say Christmas snow is magical.”
Holly nodded her eyes wide. “Uh yeah. My mom used to say that.”
“And your mom was right, Holly Noel.” Nick took a step back then locked eyes with Holly. “You know one of the saddest things in life is an unopened Christmas gift.”
Holly was beginning again to doubt her sanity. “What?”
“Being given a wonderful gift but not allowing yourself to accept it.”
Holly stared at him.
“Well anyway.” Nick said taking another step back. “Still leaving?”
“I…” Holly was trying to think.
Now the snow was really coming down. Nick’s white hair and beard were quickly becoming covered. “You can always take that path right back up the hill.” He said softly.
“The path.” Holly whispered.
Nick’s smile was bright, his eyes twinkled. “For you to decide, Holly. A path, a gift.” With that he slowly turned and walked back inside. Slowly the gate slid open. Holly blinked back tears as she put the car into gear.