It would be a little different this year, obviously because there would be no screaming teenager running down the stairs to riffle through her presents, but there were other reasons too. Claire pushed them from her mind and looked outside towards the still sky blue ocean. It was funny to see palm trees in the midst of all the snow but that's what she loved about the valley. No matter what was thrown at it, the core of it was unyielding and remained the same.
She shrugged out of her coat and hung it up in the closet. Honey came and nestled about Claire's legs, "Hey girl" she whispered as the cat purred. She was getting old but showed no signs of slowing down. "You'll probably out live us all", Claire laughed as she scratched behind her ears. The words seemed tainted somehow but she was distracted by the sound of Cyran calling her to come and sit with him on the sofa.
She flopped down into his open arms and rested her head on his chest. It was silent for a moment, the only sound coming from the low volume of the television. "So... what did the Doctors say?" Cyran asked gently. Claire didn't speak for a minute, she couldn't. She didn't want to say it out loud, so she didn't. She just sat and let the tears roll down her cheeks. "Oh baby" Cyran sighed, his voice almost breaking. He pulled her into a hug and that was how they remained for the rest of the afternoon. The cats curled up at their feet, Claire encased in a tight hug and Cyran whispering reassurances into her ear while the snow fell outside and the rest of the world continued on with its life. "It will be alright, I promise. I promise".
"Oh Claire, I don't know it's like, he's just not here anymore. He's out till all hours of the night, and then when he does come home, he might as well not be there, I don't even think he comes up to bed anymore. Its just, I think this is the end", Nancy sighed.
Nancy had called later that evening asking to come over and by the tone of her voice, Claire didn't have the heart to tell her no. Cyran wasn't please about it but he'd done his best to grin and bear it. He told Claire she took on other people problems to easily, that she should learn when to say no, for her sake. But she'd just smiled, kissed him on the cheek, and opened the front door as is she didn't have a care in the world. "But enough about me, how are thing with you?" Nancy continued, a concerned expression across her face. Claire froze, "Everything's'... fine" she lied with a smile. She couldn't face it, not yet. "Oh Good Claire, I don't know what I would have done if... but never mind that, your fine that's all that matters" Nancy smiled as she breathed a sigh of relief. She got up to give Claire a hug and Claire fought back tears for a second. "Not now" she scolded herself, closing her eyes and squeezing them back in.
"Right, well, I better be going, still have presents to wrap and all sorts" she laughed. "But really, I'm glad your okay". They said their goodbyes and Claire waved Nancy off. Closing the door behind her she let out a sigh. She couldn't keep the lie up forever, it was only a matter of time before the truth had to be told, she knew that. The question was, how long.
"So are you guys officially together or not?" Kaci asked as she and Sandi skated around the ice rink. "Officially? No, but he said if anyone asks he's taken and that all there is to it.. so I dunno, I guess I'm just a little more unsure than he is, not about him" Sandi rushed to add, "About me, but he knows that so yea, I guess we'll just see what happens", she winked. Kaci laughed and shook her head, typical Sandi, had it all and didn't even know it.
The boys gestured for them to come over. Kaci loved it when it was just the four of them. She loved Darlene, she really did it, but when they were all together it was just so, awkward. She'd stopped outwardly declaring her dislike of Sandi but the tension was still there and the over the top flirting with Malcolm hadn't lessened any. Kaci had invited her hoping she'd say no and she hadn't let her down. Darlene didn't like the snow, gave her split ends she said. Kaci didn't force the issue
"So what's up?" she asked as they joined Malcolm and Mortimer. "This guy thinks he can beat us in a snow man race babe" Mortimer scoffed. "Oh really?" she teased, eyebrows raised. "Five simoleons says you cant do it" she mocked. Sandi cut in, "Oh alright, its on, lets do this" she said to Malcolm who was jumping around punching the air like Muhammed Ali warming up for a fight. "I got this" he laughed, "Float like a butterfly sting like a bee, your going down" he goaded Mortimer. "Yea yea, just let your snowman do the talking. You ready? 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GOOO!" Mortimer shouted. Snow flew everywhere as they began building there snowmen.
"Sandi, Sandi! We're winning!" Malcolm shouted jumping up and down excitedly, "No I'm winning, your just a hyperactive five year old!" she scolded playfully. "You gonna help me or what?!" she threw a snowball at him and then ducked as he flung one back. "HEY! Order in the court! There a Five simoleons at stake here!" she laughed. Mortimer and Kaci looked up from their snowman, "We are so winning this, they're fighting already" Kaci laughed wiping away tears.
A few minutes later and Mortimer and Kaci were celebrating their victory while Sandi and Malcolm bickered about who made them lose. Suddenly Sandi push Malcolm into the snow, Mortimer and Kaci froze for a moment then burst out laughing at the sight of Malcolm deer in headlights expression.
"Sandi" Malcolm said, wiping snow from the top of his hat. "Yes Malcolm?", "You'd better run", "Running!" she shouted as she took off across the park, Malcolm in hot pursuit. Mortimer shook his head as he watched them go, a huge smile encasing his face. "Why are you smiling babe?" Kaci asked, even though her own smile matched his. "I'm just happy for him, and Sandi" he replied, "They deserve a little happiness...come here you" he grinned as he pulled her in for a kiss.
"Aww, look, its Kaci and Mortimer!" Darlene teased. The romantic film they'd been watching had come to a close and the main characters were red and black haired just like them. Kaci stuck her tongue out at Darlene playfully but Mortimer distracted her by pulling her up off of the chair. "Look what we're standing under babe..." he smiled suggestively and pulled her in for a kiss. "Mortimer stop!" she squealed but then she went with it surprising even him. Kaci didn't really do public displays of affection, especially not when someone was watching, but she wrapped her arms around him and pulled him even closer.
Darlene gasped and her hand flew to her mouth. Sandi began to cheer loudly and Malcolm's jaw fell open in shock. "Oh my God!" Darlene squealed. "Alright that's enough! Get a room!" Sandi heckled. "Oh no, no, leave them alone, I'm enjoying the show..." Malcolm said staring at them, utterly engrossed.
"Pervert!" Sandi shouted and they all burst out laughing while Malcolm pretended to be offended. Bella wandered downstairs under the pretense of getting something from the kitchen but really she wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Seeing Kaci wrapped around Mortimer like that made her heart pang for something she didn't, and probably never would have with Sam, Love.
She pushed the thought to the back of her mind, grabbed a bag of chips from the pantry and headed back up the stairs, giving Darlene a wink as she passed. Darlene didn't know it, but Bella's little plan had never been to help her out. She wanted to ruin the girl, for no other reason than she couldn't stand her. She had planned on going out tonight but if things went the way she thought they might, she'd stick around. The night was about to become very interesting.
Babe, I'm realllly tired, I think I'm gonna go up to bed, you coming?" Kaci yawned exaggeratedly. "No not yet, I wanna finish watching this" he said, throwing a handful of popcorn in his mouth. Kaci sat for a minute and then she tried again, "But babe, Im reeeeaaalllly tired, can't you come up now?". Tears were silently streaming down Sandi's face she was laughing so hard. "I heard you the fiirrrsstt time. I'll be up in a minuuutteee" he said, confused.
"Get out", Malcolm kept it short sweet and to the point. Darlene had to think on her feet, this wasn't what she'd expected. "But, Malcolm, I know if you just gave us chance we could-" Malcolm angrily cut her off. "I don't know what warped world that mind of yours lives in but you need to to get this through your thick skull. I don't want you Darlene, I never have and I never will. Blonde bimbo airheads are only good for one thing and I don't even want that from you. Now get the fuck outta my room, I won't ask you again".
"And Darlene..." She turned slightly but couldn't bear to look at him. "The next time you and Bella think about hatching some stupid little plan to split Sandi and I up? Don't". She slammed his door more out of frustration than anger. It had all fallen to pieces, everything was in ruins and it was irreparable. But instead of crying like she wanted to, she did what she knew best. She straightened her hair, blotted her cheeks, and sauntered down the stairs to her room as though none of it had ever happened. At least she could take some comfort in knowing no one knew about this except her. If Bella asked, she'd just say she changed her mind and she was over him. Unbeknownst to her, someone did know. None other than Bella herself. She'd been standing on the other side of the bathroom door, bent over, stifling her laughter. She'd heard every word.