Title: Black Christmas

Author: Megan

Disclaimer: Nothing here is truly mine.

Feedback: Yes, please: shy_grrl@hotmail.com

Archive: www.realmoftheshadow.com/megan.htm (Thanks, Kim)

Summary: A Christmas Day in the life of future Brooke and Sam.

Author's Notes: Not a fluffy Christmas story. Kind of... hmm... how do I put it... It's slightly depressing, but with a twinge of hope, I hope. I'm not entirely happy with the quality of the text. I think it starts to lag somewhat near the end. I wrote it a while ago, though, so I was afraid to do any major changes at this point. Let me know if it is really, truly bad.

The powerful scent of coffee whiffing through the open door. The low murmuring voice of the radio's newscaster. The humming of the microwave. The cold Maine winter pushing inside through the cracks in the walls and the window frames. The wind wailing outside as it tries to bring down everything in its path. And the heavenly warmth of the thick cotton quilt.

Another morning in God's country. I pull the covers tighter around me and try to fight it off.

The love of my life, the apple of my eye, Samantha Gorgeous McPherson. Her presence dominates everything. Her voice rises above all else. "For yoonder breaks, a neew glorious moorn," she quietly sings, "Faaall on your kneees..." almost only whispers.

But I hear her. The way I always have. I see her through my mind's eye. As she was before. In our old high school hallway where she bumped into me, and I took notice of her for the first time. In the cafeteria where she pierced me with her intense stare, and I feared her for the first time. In one of the old classrooms where we were forced to sit together, and I interacted with her for the first time.

"Oh heear the angel vooices..."

As she was yesterday. In this bed. Where I screamed her name out loud while she loved me for the millionth time. I see her as she must be today. Floating around the kitchen. Smiling. Preparing breakfast in her uniquely inept way. Loving every single second of it. Cringing when she tastes the coffee. Because it is again strong enough to wake the dead. And singing, "Oh naaaight divaaine," off key as is her habit.

I want Sam to shut up. I want to sleep more. I want to sleep forever.

I reach over to the nightstand for the stereo remote and unsteadily search for the right button.

Soon the Rolling Stones come to save me. They want it all painted black. I've never agreed more with them. Sam is good. Her voice is deafening even when only a whisper. But she's no match to Mick Jagger. Not when I turn the volume up high enough.

Another Christmas morning in Maine. In a small house in the country, one... two... three... four... five hundred miles away from everything. Sam bought it for us after she wrote the Great American Novel. We got the forest to the north, the river to the east, mountains to the west and nothing at all to the south. It's not really five hundred miles from everything and we don't really own the mountains or the forest. More like fifty and only the house.

She bought it for me. A place to lie down and heal.

And I have healed. It's only today's, when I feel bad anymore. I have learned to accept the love between us. Respect it. I have learned to accept the faults in me. Even the few faults in Sam. I have learned to forget the world beyond our own small universe. It's only Christmas when I ever remember it anymore.

Him. And his hateful words. His disappointed look. His angry denial. His powerful hand smacking my beautiful Sam across the face. Throwing her down to the floor. His blazing eyes sweeping past me and back to my gorgeous Sam. I remember the fear I felt when he moved onwards. I remember the callous way in which he trampled all over my life. The wanton way in which he destroyed the few good memories of my childhood. He only hit her once. I knelt down to protect her from further harm. And he spit on me. Disowned me. He is only Mike now. Not my father anymore. He won't ever be my father again.

Some moments I even remember her. Jane. The way she silently stood in the background, judging us. Cradling the helpless child in her arms. Not lifting a finger in her firstborn daughter's defense.

That happened on Christmas Day in the Year of our Lord two thousand and one. The day I proudly stood in front of my father and stepmother and professed my undying love for Samantha McPherson.

Eight years have passed. I still love Samantha. I still have no father. I've already forgiven Jane because the love of my life so wished. I live in Maine. And I only want to die on Christmas Days anymore...


...The music has already played out the next time I wake up. I'm a little surprised by that. I thought Sam might come interrupt me before. She didn't. She does come now, though. Circles around the bed to my side. Walks into my small field of vision. Smiles, like she so often does now a days. She is carrying a small tray, skillfully balancing it on one hand while the other one is holding onto a cancer inducing smoldering wrap. She slowly slides to her knees and sets the tray on the floor. Right under my nose.

Please don't smoke inside the house, I would say. If it weren't Christmas. Now I only grimace and roll on my back to get away from the reeking smell of the coffee.

"Time to get up, Brooke," she says, wobbling closer to me on her knees.

I don't dare to look at her. She'll be smiling again. And Sam's smile is dangerous. Instead I accept the cigarette she's placing in my hand. "I think I'll sleep today," I say after a quick breath of calming smoke. I close my eyes and let the nicotine flood straight to my head. "Yeah..." I mutter, "I'll definitely sleep today."

"No chance in hell," Sam answers jovially. In a way that annoys me greatly. She crawls even closer, and then climbs up on the bed. Lies down on the nonexistent space between me and the edge. In a way that annoys me even more.

I'm forced to sidle to my right. To Sam's side of the bed. "Let me sleep, Sam," I whine in protest.

"No," she replies.


"It's Christmas, Brooke."

Sam's hand comes and graces my cheek. I quickly brush it away and roll to my side, turning my back on her. In this exact moment I don't care if I hurt her. I only care that I want to be alone. I pull smoke into my lungs once more, and then hand the cigarette back over my shoulder. To Sam. And she takes it away.

"It's Christmas," Sam repeats dejectedly. I don't feel her presence hovering over me anymore. She's lying back, putting enough distance between us that I can relax.

"I fucking hate Christmas," I mumble.

"I know you do," Sam states patiently. She talks calmly. Leaves pauses in the conversation. Lets me falsely think she's going to agree. And then blind-sides me with a deceive argument. She always uses the same tactic. And I always fall for it. I always let her win. "But it's the birthday of our Lord Savior, The Christ," she says and playfully nudges my shoulder.

"And look how well that turned out," I mutter even more incomprehensibly.

Sam doesn't merit it with a response. She probably didn't even hear it. "We need to gorge in his honor," she says in the amused tone of voice.

"Let me sleep, Sam," I beg again.

To no avail. Sam leans closer to me again. She pulls me by the shoulder and rolls me on my back. So that I'm left staring into her face when she lies on her stomach on top of me. "I wanna be with you today," she says determinedly.

"You can be with me three hundred and sixty-four days a year," I answer with a steely gaze, "Let me have this one day for myself."

"No," she whispers. Smiling.

God, she irritates me with that smile! She brings her hand up and tries to brush it through my hair. I'm faster, though. I tilt my head away. And I push her from the shoulders, rolling her off of my body. And I quickly sit up. Hiding my face from her again. "If you want me to punch you, just say the word," I suddenly yelp. Very sure of my own words. "I will do it, Sam," I nod my head once. It's a surprise. Even to myself. I doubt I would do it. Even if I am angry enough for it emotionally, I don't think my body is capable of it physically. Of hitting another human being. Especially one that I love more than myself. But I only need to convince Sam of it. In order to hurt her. Which, of course, is the whole point. To drive her away I need to hurt her.

"Okayy..." Sam says after a short moment, "I guess you COULD use a few more hours of sleep." She gets up from the bed and heads for the door.

I only detect the smallest amount of pain in the voice. It's enough. In this exact moment I care that I hurt her. "Sam...?" I breathe out her name. Trying my damnedest to keep my voice steady. And my eyes dry.

It doesn't quite work. But, because Sam loves me despite my awful flaws, she lets it pass. It is this great capacity for compassion she possesses that I quite possibly love the most about her. She knows that if she pushes me now she can break me down. And she can pull me out of the room. And she can spend the day with me. And she knows I'll make the greatest effort to please her. But, because she knows I'll be miserable inside, she won't do it. Instead, she smiles that breathtaking smile that I love. "Hey, holler when you get hungry," she quips from the door, "I'm gona go see if I can scribble up a few pages of  text that doesn't totally suck." And she's gone.

I lie back down on the bed. And let the overwhelming love conquer the overwhelming sadness. Even if it is only for a little while. I roll to the edge of the bed and glance down on the floor. At the tray. The cigarette is there, still burning in an empty cup. Only, now it's nothing more than a short stub. Next to the cup is a coffee mug. And next to that is a small plate with two halves of a grapefruit and a spoon.

It is the most comforting feeling in the world. To have someone in my life who knows me almost as well as I know myself...


...ROAR! A car's engine screams enthusiastically. Then the sound is repeated twice, but with less force. And then there's a steadier growl, which, I quickly gather even in my somber mind, is the result of Sam slowly guiding the Jeep out of its lair in the back of the yard. It does grow a little louder as the car's path takes it right past the bedroom window. But then it again quickly fades away. Becomes nothing more than a low humming in the background. I barely even hear the sound anymore.

Sam's leaving me, is the first thought to hit me. Thanks to the insecure part of my mind. Good, is quickly followed by it. This one I credit to the depressed part. Brooke's Christmas Head, Sam calls it sometimes. Other times she calls me Grumpy. And then I'll call her Bashful, just because it irritates the hell out of her.

The front door opens. Then Sam quickly stomps her boots on the porch a couple of times. And the door closes again. I pick it all up with my super-hearing. And still all the while keeping tabs on the purring of the engine outside.

Sam's not leaving anyone, the rational side finally takes over. Thankfully it does so before the insecure part has time to induce panic.

Sam's just... rummaging through the kitchen again, I think... Yes, I'm almost sure of it. There's a bang, a shuffle and a rattle... What is she looking? Where is she going? "Sam?" I call out to her.

A short pause in the ruckus. Then, "Yes, Dear?" and the search-sounds continue.

"Don't call me Dear," I hate `Dear'. I hate `Honey'. I hate...

"What is it, Love?" Sam sounds a little impatient. She tries to hide it, though. She often does. And especially so on Christmas. Step, step, step, as she walks to the kitchen table. "There you are," more quietly this time. Not meant for my ears.

"Is it very cold outside, Sam?" I half shout to her.

"It is very cold outside, Brooke," she answers with a heavy sigh.

I sometimes think Sam wishes I hadn't said Maine, when she asked where I wanted to live. I think she wishes I'd said New York or Massachusetts. Maybe even a southern state. Like Florida. Sam doesn't actually hate the cold. She dislikes it. She doesn't actually despise the solitude. She only gets cabin feverish sometimes.

Still, I think she was ready to settle, when I chose one of the fifty states that stand united. In my heart I wanted to go even further away. In her heart Sam knew it. We stayed because she wasn't really ready to leave home. Still isn't. Even if `home' only meant a country she sometimes loves, other times hates. She would've gone with me to the far side of the world, if I'd asked. But I didn't. I said Maine was far enough.

It almost is. In any case, it is home now. Even to Sam, who hates the winters. I kind of love them. The snow makes for beautiful landscapes. I take pictures of them. Sometimes I paint them in my studio on the second floor. We take the best of the paintings to Millinocket, where people pay small bucks for them. Or I give them away to the few neighbors. Who thank me. And then quite possibly use them for kindling. Sam even takes some of them with her to Boston, when she goes to meet with her publisher. She comes home with a wad of cash and says, `Look! This is how much money you made with just two paintings!' I don't know what she does with them. Probably forces her friends to buy them.

I haven't been to Boston in three years. I don't know if I'll ever go again. I don't like people anymore. Sometimes it makes me sad, when I remember how much I used to like socializing. It makes Sam even sadder. She says I shouldn't give up on the world just yet. She says I have an outgoing personality, I should show it more. That I shouldn't suppress that part of me just because I got burned once by the one person I thought loved me the most in this world.

But it isn't about my father anymore. I'm starting to think it never was.

"What should I wear?" I ask from under the blanket when Sam appears in the doorway.

She smiles to me...


..."I'm dreaming of a whiite Christmas, just like the ones..."


"Joyy too the woorld...

"No, Sam."

"Okay, you don't like the classics. I get it... How about this," pause, "Last Christmas I gave you my heart! The very next day..."

"No!" I wince at her horrible use of a beautiful voice. "We're not gona sing in the car. Period."

"Fine," she agrees only slightly dejected. "Oh! I think I have a Christmas cd in the study..."

"No, Sam!" I intercept quickly with that line of thinking. "We're not gonna listen to Christmas songs, either. I HATE Christmas songs."

Sam glares at me briefly under her scrunched brow. I don't flinch under the stare, only drink my coffee calmly. I know I'm a bitch on Christmases, but I try to make up for it the rest of the year. This is the day I get to boss Sam around. The day I don't have to think about her feelings. This is the day I test the limits of her love. It is just sad that every year it gets a little bit more important for Sam to draw me out of my funk. Some year we're gonna have to fight it out. Not for a while yet, though. Sam's not ready. She still backs down easily. I don't understand why she just can't leave well enough alone.

"Maybe I should stay home," I say after a brief silence.

"Maybe you should," Sam mutters irately. So like her. She was excited a minute ago, when I agreed to go dispense Christmas cards to the neighbors with her. She is annoyed at me now, when I'm not fully into the Christmas scene. Even though she had to expect it. Had to know it. But that is my dear, sweet Sam. She lives inside her dreams sometimes. That's why she's such a good writer, I think.

She didn't always wanna be a writer. Or she did, but not the fictional kind. That happened after the fall out with the parents. After the hellish last six months of high school, the ones we lived in Harrison's house.

When we left home, the original one, we went to Berkley in San Francisco first. I pretended to study arts while Sam did the journalism thing. I only succeeded in completing a couple of courses in the eighteen months we spent there. Sam, on the other hand, did loads of work. I used to watch from the sidelines how she drowned herself in the studies. She kept saying she needed to become something. She needed a trade. `We need money, world is much safer when you have money,' she kept saying. I felt bad because I didn't care. I felt bad because I was letting Sam down. But she never pressured me to put more effort in my studies. Though, she had to know I was failing miserably. Back then I was grateful to her for staying quiet. Now I kind of wish she'd made me do it. But it isn't her fault. She worried about me, sure, but she was much more concerned about the future. Our future. And on hindsight... she did everything right.

We went to San Francisco first because it was supposed to be a safe haven. Heaven on earth. Where no one was too weird to walk the streets. I guess it could've been all that and more. I never got to know it. With the exception of the few classes I took, I spent it practically locked inside the four walls of our apartment. I was in too much pain still. Not only because of my father's betrayal, but because of the treatment we got in school when the news hit there. It wasn't pretty. We lost most of our friends. All of mine, of course. That was to be expected. But Sam's friends... Carmen and Lily. I never could've imagined it. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't been there to live it. Harrison was the exception, and I got the feeling that was only because of his mother.

But we survived. With scars. Sam has her share too, mine are just more visible.

"I'll come if you want me to," I say quietly. I don't want to be the bad guy. I want her to tell me to stay home. So that I don't have to apologize for this later on. Maybe a small part of me even wants to go. I'm not sure.

"I want you to come, Brooke," she says forcefully.

I glance up at her. And there's determination on her face. She won't let me off the hook that easily. Not this year. I don't quite have a reply to her. I want to say `No'. But it isn't that easy. So I stay quiet and finish the coffee.

"Look, I'm burning precious fuel out there," Sam goes on after a while, "So if you're not gonna come, just say so."

It still takes me a moment to reply, "I don't wanna come, Sam."

"Fine," she huffs irately. She grabs the cards from the table. And also a bag of bread crumbs from the counter on her way out.

Every single one of the cards is signed `Merry Christmas from Brooke and Sam'. She always writes my name on them. She wants people to think I'm a good person. That I'm thinking about them, too. That I'm not a selfish bitch pathetically wallowing in my own misery.

I get up and flush the coffee mug in the sink. Slowly grovel my way into the bedroom with the full intention of going back to sleep. But before that I glance out the window. And there she is. Bravely struggling against the snowstorm. She inches across the yard. Towards the small, house-shaped bird feeder we put up on the southern field last winter.

She does so much and asks for so little. Only for my love. And I happily give it to her. But I don't go out of my way to show it. Not in the way she does. I should give her more. I should do more for her. Big part of unconditional love is to make the other person happy, putting Sam's feelings before mine, even if doing it isn't always easy. I want to love her unconditionally. I want her to know it. She doesn't. I sometimes treat her like she's responsible for these screwed up emotions inside me. And I think she sometimes starts to believe it. And it is not only wrong for me to let her go on thinking that, it is plain evil.

Sam opens up the small bag in her hand. She starts loading crumbs inside the feeder and spreading them on the fresh fallen snow around it. The wind will blow them all away before the birds come. She doesn't mind...


..."Sam?!" I yell and cover against the wall when an especially hard gust of wind blows past me. I didn't expect it to be quite this cold. Or windy. Snow is blasting against my face even on the porch. I pull up the hood of my white coat and adjust my scarf better. I squint my eyes and take another look at the yard. The black Jeep is still humming quietly there. Sam's slowly making her way towards it. She hasn't heard or seen me yet. I grab the snow shovel next to the door and start descending the steps off the porch.

"Brooke?!" Sam calls back.

I try to lift my head, but out of the immediate shelter of the house the wind is even stronger. It makes me stagger when I step on the slippery ground. "You might get stuck in the snow!" I answer instead of finding her with my gaze. I head towards the car, still pressing my head down, and bring up my free hand to protect my face from the icy snowflakes flying around.

"So you're coming with me, then?" Sam says. Doesn't shout anymore, when we both reach the car. She's on the driver's side.

"Yeah," I mutter, and don't even stop but yank open the passenger's side door. As gently as I can I force the shovel over the front seats and throw it in the back. Then rapidly get inside the car and pull the door shut behind me.

Sam quickly joins me inside the warmed up car. "You should've put on something warmer than jeans, Brooke," she says, rubbing her hands together in front of the heater. "It's very cold."

"I noticed," I say quietly, "But I want to look good in case someone invites us in." There's a short silence, which is then abruptly broken by Sam's smothered chuckle. "What?" I glance at her while pulling down the hood of my coat.

"Nothing," Sam just mutters through her smirk.

She releases the hand brake, puts the car on gear and we're off. Slowly rolling down the yard and towards the road. There is only one way out of our home. And it leads closer to twenty miles down a small gravely road, which then merges in with a bigger one. From there on it's only a short leap to the closest neighbors. I like how we live at the end of the road. So that no one ever has any business coming down it. Unless, of course, they have business with us. Quite rare.

"Is there something wrong with my jeans?" I ask when the smirk refuses to leave Sam's face.

"No, no. It's not... Well..." she says, glancing at me briefly, "They're white," she goes on and then pauses. "And to be honest... you do look a bit ghostly, dressed all in white. With the blonde hair and the, I must say, alarmingly pale face."

I gape at her for a good moment. And then slowly turn to look away, "Oh," I breathe slightly confused.

White has been my favorite color for a long time now. Whereas Sam prefers black. But I've also always thought she liked me in white. Not that I care that much. Not today, anyway. Any other given day I might've been insulted. But today I'll let it slide.

"Do you mind if I put on the radio, Brooke?" Sam asks after a minute or two. Her voice is slightly insecure and much more hopeful. A little scared too. It's gonna be Christmas songs all the way, and she knows it.

`Do you mind if I change school, Brooke?' she once asked me in the same voice. She wasn't sure it was the right thing to do. Afraid to throw away more than a year's worth of studies. Afraid of what the change might do to me. And us. But, in the end, she was more excited about the new possibilities. She was sick of journalism, sick of the real world and its real problems that only get bigger by time. She wanted to study something more hopeful. So we went to Chicago. Sam transferred to Northwestern and changed her major to creative writing.

I didn't see the point in wasting any more money on tuition fees and other oddities and just dropped out. Got a job in the thriving fastfood industry and helped pay for Sam's studies. Leaving California helped cure my agoraphobia somewhat. Though, I guess it was more because of our desperate situation and less because of location. We needed money and I was the only one who had time to work. So, while Sam was studying hard as a girl can, I was busy dealing burgers to hungry customers. And at nights we got to be together. Is there really anything more you could ask from life?

"No," I answer Sam, leaning my head back and closing my eyes, "If you don't mind me sleeping."

"It's a deal," she says.

Moments later an instrumental version of some Christmas song takes over the car. It isn't as irritating as I feared. It actually helps lull me to sleep faster than silence...


..."Every year it's the same thing!" I pick up the hushed words easily. It is an angry voice, but a subdued one at that. I'm not supposed to hear it, but I don't know what it is with my ears today. They catch every possible sound. Even the whispers of the lonely woman in her kitchen, where she's talking to Sam. "He promises he'll make it home in time, and then something ALWAYS comes up..." it's the voice of our closest neighbor, Joyce. This house, where she lives with her family, sits thirty miles away from mine and Sam's. Joyce and her daughter Anne. California refugees, too. As is Joyce's husband, Hank, who works as a high paid something or other in Boston. "Every goddamn year!" Joyce bitterly gripes.

I glance towards the voice, through the open doorway. From my place on the living room floor I only see a small section of the kitchen. I see Sam. Leaning on the sink. Her arms crossed over her chest. She has a compassionate expression on her face. She's about to talk. I don't pay attention to it, though. I concentrate on the brighter voice right next to me.

"Done!" it squeals excitedly, "Your turn."

I return a weak smile to the small girl and take a look at the large sheet of paper she's holding out to me. It's got quite a lot of drawings on it. Crayon-made. A crude house crafted by a child's unsteady hand. A horse-drawn sleigh that is mine. A family of stick figure deer drinking from a miraculously unfrozen pond in the middle of the winter scenery. High mountains in the background, covered slightly in the mist that looms over and around the house. And now a VERY brightly decorated Christmas tree near the pond.

"Oh, you made the tree," I note with another smile to the girl. "Very pretty," I nod once.

She starts nodding her head wildly in response. And the smile on her face is to die for. I've never been good with children. They make me uncomfortable and I try to avoid them to the best of my ability. But this enthusiastic Anne-girl is very smitten with Sam, so I sometimes have to interact with her. And that smile... it awakens something warm even in my cold, cold heart.

I pick out the black crayon from the pack. Its tip is slightly dulled already. "What are you gonna make?" Anne asks me while I'm still pondering whether to choose another color or just go with the imperfect black one.

"Hmm..." I mutter and furiously try to think of christmassy things. Then I just lower the crayon on the paper, choosing a spot between the pond and the Christmas tree. "I'll draw Mary and Baby-Jesus," I say and start drafting soft outlines for the figures. "Okay with you?" I ask glancing at the girl under my brow.

"Sure..." she answers with a frown.

Then there's a silence. And I have to listen to the other people in the house again. "Of course it's important," Sam is saying. I glance towards the kitchen again, but even Sam's disappeared out of sight by now. "But it's also just a couple of days in a year. You have to remember that what matters in the end is how he treats you the rest of the time," her voice still carries over to me.

"Yeah, I know," Joyce replies. "I know. He is a good man. He works hard to provide for us, but..." the woman tries her best to sound reasonable and not ungrateful, but in the end it comes out as sad, "Anne is just SO disappointed every time... It breaks my heart."

This time even the girl hears the voice. Hears her own name spoken. Hears her mother's saddened tone. And she starts to fidget around nervously.

Sam's response to Jane's voice is very similar. I can always tell when she's talking to her mother on the phone. She paces around the house like a mad woman. Though, her words are usually kind now a days. After all, they've been on speaking terms for five years. Jane got in touch with us when we were still in Chicago. Just called out of the blue and asked for forgiveness. Sam complied pretty easily. I tried to wash my hands from the whole damn mess. But then when Jane came to visit for the first time I had to do something. More accurately I needed to forgive her too. Because that's what Sam wanted.

So, now I see Jane maybe once a year. She comes by with our little sister, Mac, and they stay for a few days. I find it horribly awkward whenever they are here. But Sam, inside her bigger heart, seems to have forgiven Jane completely. Seems to truly have a connection to the gangly brunette girl with a strained smile and a quiet mouth. Eight and a half years of age. She is my sister. But I don't know her. One more item I can add to the still growing list of reasons why I should hate Mike even more than I actually do. That's not entirely fair, but I'll still take it. Sam knows our sister, so it's more my own fault she's a stranger to me. I've had exactly the same amount of time with her as Sam. But I'm no good with children. I really have to strain to get along with them.

"Hey. What. Do you. Think," I say to the girl on the floor when she again twists uncomfortably, "Should Mary's robes be... green?" I go on, laying down the black crayon and picking up two other colors, "Ooor... gray?" I lift my eyes to the girl.

Anne looks towards kitchen at first. Then at me and finally at the picture. "No, red!" she responds and her eyes start to sparkle again.

"Oohh!" I enthuse in a clear voice. "I like the way you think!" though inside I'm cringing. Red is too bright, it'll be hideous. "Red because it's Christmas, right?" I say.

"Hey, yeah!" Anne cries out loud and leans in closer to examine the picture. I change crayons again and start to color out the delicate figures I've drawn. "Wow, Mary is pretty!" the girl goes on after a while, "She looks like Sam."

"She does? Naah..." I ask surprised, and stop drawing to take a better look. "Well, maybe around the eyes a little..." I certainly didn't do it intentionally. And the drawing is really too vague to make out any distinctive features from the woman. Her hair is black, though. And she's lovingly cradling a bundle in her hands.

We have talked about it a few times. These inane conversations in the dead of the night. How and when and if we should do it. Have a baby. I think Sam really wants one. I've never asked her straight up, because I'm afraid of her answer. But, yeah, I kind of do know it already.

"Wow, that's a Kodak moment right there," Sam comments amusedly when she enters through the kitchen doorway with Joyce and sees me and Anne sprawled over the piece of paper. "Did you bring your camera, Brooke?" she goes on asking when I turn to gaze at her.

I don't even have time to smirk as a reply when Joyce is already talking, "Do you want more eggnog, Brooke?" she asks. I open my mouth, but she's again quicker, "Or maybe something stronger. You like brandy, right?"

"Umm..." I mutter straightening my posture a little. Sam's throwing a pleading look my way. "Sure," I finally say, "Some brandy would be nice."

"Good," Joyce says. She starts making her way across the room, towards a cabinet on the back wall. "You know I was just saying to Sam that this must be the first Christmas you've come with her to visit us," Joyce's voice is a little berating.

"Oh really?" I ask, pretending like it's some kind of a huge revelation. "Yeah, I guess that's true... I guess I just like spending Christmas on our own,"...


...It didn't use to be an issue. For many years. We both hated Christmas then. It was just another day. Sam spent it catching up on whatever work had piled up on her. And I spent it in bed mostly. It wasn't until she'd sold her first book that she started to relax and concentrate more on... well, me. And our life. That was a little over four years ago. She quickly finished up her studies, completely bored with them by then, and graduated. Not with honors, but `A degree is a degree,' she said. We went to Boston, wasted a few months there. And when the money started to roll in Sam offered to move us wherever I wanted.

And I said, `Maine'.

"Are you drunk?" she asks, taking her eyes off the road for a second. Or not the road, you can't actually see the road through the windshield. You can only see the storming snow and the darkness. It is late in the evening, our visit with Joyce and Anne stretched quite long.

"I had two glasses of brandy, Sam," I bluntly state.

"Three. And the eggnog... AND the wine..."

"If you wanted to drink, Sam, you should've said something," I tell her, shaking my head quickly, "I could've been the designated driver." Sam scoffs silently. But I hear her. The way I always have. "And I'm not drunk, by the way," I say. A half truth. I am a little tipsy. But not enough so that it would cloud my judgement.

"Whatever you say... Honey," is Sam's reply.

I grimace, but let the comment slide. She's just trying to goat a response out of me. She's my sweet, endearing Sam. And I don't quite know why she is pissed off at me. I thought she wanted me to enjoy Christmas. And I almost succeeded in it. Even if it was with the aid of alcohol.

"So... Do you want to have a baby, Sam?" I ask her after another silent moment. There are no Christmas songs on the road home, I realize. Somehow that makes me a little sad.

"What?" Sam asks incredulously.

"I'll have one with you, if you really want it," I say and smile to her.

She glances back. And her expression is still dubious. Then she laughs shortly. Clears her throat and concentrates on the extremely hard driving conditions again. I'm not sure what she is using for navigation. I can't tell where the road ends and the trench begins. But Sam's making it look easy. At ten miles an hour.

"The question is, do you want it?" she asks quietly, when we've cleared a few more yards. "We can't have a child, if I'm the only one who is going to love it," she says.

Okay, that is probably true. But if she wants it, I need to give it to her. I need to make life better for her. I don't love children, but I can still raise one. It can't be that hard. If my mother and father could do it, "Maybe it could be, like, my purpose in life. You know... cause you write books, so maybe I could do this... Make a home for you, you know?" That was a little too incoherent a sentence. I'm not that drunk.

Sam's grinning at me. I can feel it. But she doesn't laugh. She talks seriously, "No, that's not enough. You need to really, truly want it. Badly," she says. And Sam's, of course, right.

"Yeah, but... I want you to have... everything you deserve, Sam," I still try. Sounding a little too proud at my own generosity. A smug bitch, and she still puts up with me.

"I'm serious, Brooke," Sam says sternly. She again looks at me and now her stare is more than a little piercing. "Cause if we rush into this... and then you treat the child like you treat Mac..." she goes on. And wipes the satisfied expression right off my face. "Or even Anne sometimes," she says, "I don't think I could ever forgive you for that, Brooke."

I stay quiet for a long time. We get closer to home by the inch, but it's still some ways down the road. And suddenly I miss it like crazy.

I didn't immediately love it. When Sam brought me here the first time. I wouldn't have loved anything then. I didn't want a new home. Or, actually I did, but I didn't have the courage to make a commitment to any one place. Because it always seemed like maybe some other house had something better to offer. So, Sam needed to make the decision. Not that I was happy with that, either. There was just no pleasing spoiled little me.

`It's got a large space on the second floor. If we fix it up a little you could maybe paint there,' she said that summer she brought me here.

`I don't paint, Sam.'

`Yeah, but you could...' and on she went. About the neighbors. And the lack of them. The weather. The seasons. The mountains and the forest. And the beautiful, beautiful river. And I whined and whimpered until she had no choice but to say, `Too bad. We're moving here.'

Back then I was even more of a pain in the ass than I am today.

"Am I really that bad?" I finally ask from Sam. I know I am, but that it even shows so much? When I try to hide it as well as I can?

She turns to look at me, but doesn't answer. A second goes by. Then another. And even a third one passes before she opens her mouth and... THUNK!... we're in a ditch.

I jolt forward slightly, but the snow and the already slow speed make the crash extremely soft. It really feels like no more than an abrupt braking. With the exception that we end up leaning quite heavily forward, with the front end of the car in the bottom of the ditch and the rear rising in a sixty degree angle.

"... you are..." Sam says looking a little shaken up, "... I think I just drove off the road..." she frowns. And her eyes are darting around the car wildly.

"I noticed," I reply and roll my eyes.

It took me maybe four months to fall in love with our new home. In the end it wasn't the time I spent with Sam in the house that made it happen. I would and have been happy with Sam anywhere on earth. It's the time I spent apart from her that counts. And here for the first time, free of any responsibilities beyond loving Sam, I found that I do actually enjoy life's smaller pleasures. Long hikes in the surrounding emptiness. Reading a book while enjoying a cup of coffee and a cigarette. And the only thing, besides life, my mother ever gave me: the thrill of taking a simple photograph.

"You okay?" Sam asks still sounding skeptical. Like she can't quite believe we're in the trench.

"Sure," I reply and unfasten my seat belt. Sam does the same. And then takes it a step further by opening her door. She has a little difficulty doing so. The snow outside must be blocking the door. She finally manages to squeeze it open enough that there is room for her to get through. Before she has time, though, I grab her arm to gain her attention. "Sam?" I say her name. And she looks back at me. "I can change," I say, "I know I can change."

She only smiles in response. Turns away again and disappears out the door.

I don't know where she's going. What she's thinking. What her plans are. Or even how she's feeling. I only know that I need to be with her. The way I have been for as long as we've known each other.

I squeeze to the driver's side of the car. And through the door that is open a crack.

I follow Sam out into the dark night...

< end >

Thanks for reading,

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