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Enchanted Christmas

Updated: Oct 8, 2021

(Beauty And The Beast 3)

Content and cover photo © Rosalie Thorne

Editor: Kathryn Maurer



Dear Readers,

Enchanted Christmas is a continuation of and takes place after the events in the novella Be Our Guest.

Enchanted Christmas and Be Our Guest are the continuation of the story presented to you in Something There.

Please look to these earlier works so you won't be lost in this story!

Keep an eye out for the last installment in the story of Isabelle and Adam, the final novella Tale As Old As Time.


Enchanted Christmas

By Rosalie Thorne


“New and a bit alarming, who’d have

ever thought this could be?”

- Beauty And The Beast (1991)


ENCHANTED CHRISTMAS


ONE


Even though Winter Solstice is still eleven days away, the skies are already darker, already a bleak grey by early afternoon. The last warm front of the season was the weekend after Thanksgiving and ever since, it’s been frosty.

This cold isn’t just superficial, isn’t just outside the warmth of Kingsbury High’s campus, but is something felt below the skin, something Adam feels in his bones. Yes, he has finished his last exam of the semester with plenty of time – feeling completely confident in his work – but there’s still an ever-constant ache that co-inhabits his body during winter. The only burning ember left in his soul sparks when his eyes drift across the classroom to his favorite person: Isabelle O’Hara.

Before two months ago he’d known of Isabelle – that she was very pretty and soft spoken; that at the end of Junior year she was voted ‘A True Natural Beauty;’ that she had practically a matching schedule as his; and her best friend’s name was Phil. He’d also believed the massive misconception that she was dating captain of the football team and leader of the school douches, Gideon Evans (a misunderstanding that lead him to get yelled at in the library).

Now, after they’ve been dating for the rest of the semester, he knows Belle better than he knows himself – she is actually crazy beautiful, no matter if she’s in a dress or sweatpants, and she’s actually quite talkative and gushes a lot about things she’s passionate about; the reason she was voted ‘A True Natural Beauty’ is because her heart is so big and her soul so pure there’s no better description for her; that in certain areas she is actually smarter than he is but she's also amazingly creative; and her best friend's name is still Phil (especially after he punched his ex-boyfriend in the face at the Homecoming dance), but she also considers Adam’s best friends – Jerry, David, and Angie – to be hers too. In addition, he knows that after the drunken meltdown Gideon Evans had at Homecoming, which led Adam to beat his ass, Captain Douche-nozzle has acted like Belle and Adam don’t even exist.

Her beautifully hazel eyes meet his and Belle’s smile is instant. Looking over her shoulder, she lifts her hand in a small wave next to her arm.

Adam, who has his chin over his fist, wiggles his fingers a little and smirks. Isabelle wants to giggle at this but the room is still silent for those taking the exam. Turning forward once more, she tucks her growing-out bangs behind her ear. Due to Misses Beaumont’s assigned seating, they haven’t been able to sit together since they’ve been dating and it’s really sucked. They steal glances here and there but Belle much prefers being close to him.

Going back to her usual habit of surveying the room, she watches the curling steam from Misses Beaumont’s teacup for a while, the slow moving second hand curl around the loudly ticking clock, and she squints a little while the lights above flicker obnoxiously. Out of desperation, she looks to the frosted windows on the far wall and the falling snow beyond them. A lot of people may be complaining about the snow but she loves it; she’s so excited for a white Christmas.

Her Papa had already brought in a real tree to sit proudly in the middle of their front window. They thoroughly strung warm yellow lights around it, then added thick red ribbon with pre-tied bows in layers.

After that came the ornaments they kept in the same plastic tub Belle remembers from childhood. Baubles of ranged sizes – a lot of sparklingly gold, some thinly opaque white, a few solid silver, and variously designed red ones. Then came the funky shaped – crystal ones that hung like wind chimes, multiple things that either looked like or had designs of white roses (since that was her mother’s favorite flower), and little snowflakes placed everywhere. Her favorite part, though, is bringing out the very special box of ornaments her mother made. Stained glass or sea glass, really anything of color and soft shape, she’d pick and design for Papa to weld. Of course, Belle loves them all, but the ones most special to her are the minimal rose bouquet made their first Christmas together after they were married, the stacks of books that represented her mother’s English bachelor’s degree, and the little purple butterfly that was made when Belle was born.

Christmas is, without a doubt, Isabelle’s favorite holiday. "Holidays season" in general has to be her favorite time of year. And this year, she can’t wait to share in the joy and wonder with her new extended family that formed on Thanksgiving, people she’s come to love and cherish.

People she can’t imagine her life without.


TWO


Snowflakes dancing on the frosty air of winter float through the skies like little specks of dust. Lawns have been covered in inches of snow for weeks, though today the fluffy white blanket seems thinner underneath the crunch of boots. From where he’s pacing on a poor excuse for a back patio, Adam can see the frozen lake in all its picturesque beauty while he smokes.

If he was one to do such a thing, maybe he’d find a good place to go ice skating… not for himself, but for Bitty, maybe even for Belle.

A fun activity, sure, a pretty traditional one at that, but luckily his girls much prefer being inside, just like him. He’d love to be inside at this very moment, really, but his mind is moving like a bullet train and he can’t seem to keep up.

See, just after he turned eighteen in April, his father had taken a summer job in North Dakota (in Williston, near the latest oil field boom) and Bitty was left in Adam’s care. Legally, he is responsible for her; legally, he is her guardian. So, anything he’s chosen to do for Bitty, when or if he kept his father in the loop, it was a courtesy.

Even now, Adam still hasn’t confronted his father about everything his grandparents had to say. Adam still hasn’t even told his father that his grandparents arrival in town tomorrow and will be staying at the Moseley’s all the way until after New Year's, until after Bitty’s birthday on the seventh. Adam hasn’t explained that he hopes to stay with them as much as possible and that he hopes to leave Bitty in their care over the holiday (when he has to work or would like to hang out with friends).

Adam doesn’t even know if this is something he should even bring up at all or just do it and face the music.

As much as he wants to, the problem of burning that bridge is that there’s a big possibility his father might just wash his hands of them both, take all his money and leave. And though Adam unconditionally loves his sister and has done everything he can to take care of her and to protect her, he’s not ready to be her sole provider and is not ready to be her parent. Truthfully, he has been so overwhelmed with not knowing what to do after graduation that he simply doesn’t think about it.

As selfish as it is, Adam would like to be able to go to a top-ranked university and after however many years of study, start his career. As selfish as it sounds, he’d like to be able to study as much or as little as he wants, he’d like to be able to study without having to balance it with a job. As selfish as it is, (and with the hope of marrying Belle to be married to Belle), Adam would like to have freedom in his new adult life.

Ever since that phone call – ever since he and his sister were found, there’s a brand new solution in front of them that could solve everything. (Maybe not the most perfect solution, because the most perfect solution would be having their mom back.) But, as the anniversary of her death and the celebration of Bitty’s birth draws closer, Adam knows his grandparents will have to do. Not only would he get his freedom, but Bitty would be taken care of the way she deserves.

Bitty deserves to be in a stable household. She deserves to be with a parental unit that is strong and knows what it’s doing. She deserves to be with people who can actually provide the best life possible for her and lead her to have the resources she needs.

… elbows on his knees, head in his hands, fingers pressing at his temples, it’s clear the path they should take.


THREE


Fingers tight around two mug handles, Isabelle walks carefully from the kitchen to the living room. The hot cocoa isn’t to the brim but she wants to make sure she doesn’t spill any of the mini marshmallows. Venture successful, she lets out the breath she didn’t know she’d been holding and sets the mug on their designated coasters on the coffee table.

Plopping down on the couch, she looks to Adam while flipping her hair down her back. “So!”

Back low against the cushion, waist slipped forward, legs long and wide, he’s practically become one with the couch. Eyes heavy, he only tilts his head in her direction, “Mmm?”

Finding his sleepiness totally adorable, Belle carefully slides his unruly sandy blonde hair off his forehead. Voice softer, almost a coo, she asks, “Are you excited for tomorrow?”

His hand lifts slowly and finds her and with a peak of his eyes, he brings the back of it to his lips. A brush of a kiss on the back of her hand and he looks to her. “I’m a big ball of emotions, honestly. I do think ‘excited’ is in there somewhere….”

She cuddles up to him, palm flat on his sturdy chest. “A big ball of good emotions, I hope?”

Habitually, Adam starts combing through her hair with his fingers. “Mostly, I swear.”

Belle tries to gauge him, see if he’s just tired from a long day of work or if he actually doesn’t want to talk about things. It’s been a bit hit or miss, sometimes he’s a wall on the subject, sometimes he’s an open book. Overall, he just seems a bit lost. It’s a bit confusing, a bit frustrating for Belle but she is patient and kind and as supportive as possible. She loves him and is willing to stick by him no matter what mood he’s in. “Have you told your father?”

Not even a flinch. “Nope.”

“Still planning on making it a surprise for Bitty?”

“Yep.”

“Rosalie and Jim are still picking them up from the airport?”

“Yep, and then we’ll meet them at the house.”

“Are you sure…? I completely understand if you want to make it just a family thing.”

Turning into her more, his arms are tighter. Into her hair, his voice is almost a whimper, “I need you there.”

Rubbing the pads of her fingers in circles on his chest, she comforts him. “Then I’ll be there. Don’t worry, okay?”

He makes a noise that’s a mix between a groan and a moan and she feels him lift her a little, bringing her closer to him. He’s done this a few times before, also when very exhausted, and Belle recognizes it as a moment of pure vulnerability.

Kissing his forehead softly, she then brushes the tip of her nose across his. “I love you.”

He hums softly as his body relaxes. “I love you more.”

The tiniest of laughs and she lays back on him. She’ll stay laying there with him for a bit longer, maybe even let herself drift off with him. Knowing how important tomorrow is, she hopes he sleeps peacefully. Knowing how important tomorrow is, she hopes he will soon find his way.


FOUR


“Belle? Belle, I got a ques’ion.”

Turning in her seat to look at Bitty in the back, Isabelle smiles. “And what’s that?”

Bitty’s eyes flick to Adam through the car window where he’s pumping gas. “Why Adam hate Chris’mis?”

Her eyes linger for a moment but can hear Bitty’s legs swishing and her little booties hitting the bottom of her car seat and she turns back to her. “Adam loves Christmas, Bitty. He’s very excited for it.”

The little girl pushes against her harness, her voice an attempt at whispering. “But he’s so grumpy.”

She isn’t wrong but Belle also knows it’s not about Christmas at all. Just like her, Adam doesn’t hurt over the holiday itself, but hurts over who can’t be there to share it with them. “Oh honey… Adam just misses your mommy, that’s all. He’s just… a little sad.”

The girl nods, her face growing serious. “Mis’er John, at church, says that some’imes people can be sad and happy at the same time. I get sad about Mommy, but I’m also happy about Chris’mis. So… so Adam will be happy, too, right? As long as there’s Chris’mis?”

Belle laughs a little before saying “Right you are, Bitty. As long as there’s Christmas….”

Her eyes follow Adam as he rounds the car, his gargoyle-y expression melting away as she catches his eye. With the driver door shut, he’s back to being the happy Adam they both love and he turns to Bitty with enthusiasm, “Are you ready for your surprise?”

Her legs start kicking like crazy and she starts shaking her plush Pascal back and forth. “Yes! I love surprises! Surprises are the best ever!”

Maybe it’s contagious from Bitty’s excitement, but Belle can see the happiness and wonder in Adam’s face. It seems that no matter what inner demons he may be facing, no matter how much he may be mourning, Bitty’s right: he can be sad and happy at the same time.


FIVE


As if snow itself is happy to see them, the large flakes dance around Belle and Adam, who has Bitty resting on his waist. Bitty, filled with the iconic child-like wonder, is so enthralled by the flakes that she doesn’t even realize where they are. Mitten-ed hand outstretched, her eyes - the same color as the sky - only look up, a smile wide across her little face. One hand firm on her back, Adam makes sure her cat-eared hat is snug over her bright-yellow hair as they walk up the long driveway to the Moseley’s.

Though Belle offers nothing but optimism and positivity about this whole endeavor, Adam can’t ignore the running commentary of: What if it all goes horribly wrong? What if his grandparents don’t like him? What if they don’t like Bitty? What if they turn out to be snooty assholes?

He tries to counter all this darkness with things Belle pointed out: his grandparents had been searching for him for years, they want to have a relationship with him and Bitty, they want to get to know them, and they want to love them…. They want their family back just as much as Adam and Bitty want a family at all.

In a sense – in a very logical sense – just as Adam and Bitty will be connecting with their mother’s parents, Nan and Pops will be connecting with their daughter’s children. They have one very important thing in common that can never be changed.

Heart racing, breath quaking, head a little woozy, Adam holds Bitty tight against his side. Belle rings the bell for them and Rosalie answers. Surprisingly in a very festive green and red knit sweater, she swings the door open with a huge smile. “Hello! You guys made it, how exciting!”

Then she steps one foot out the door and brings a hand to Bitty, “And how are you, Miss Princess Bitty?”

Bitty always giggles around Rosalie and wants to hug her as soon as she sees her. (There was a worry for a while that Bitty might misplace motherly feelings onto Rosalie but, as it turns out, Bitty is just becoming an aggressive hugger. She’ll hug anyone who will take her, even the not-so-strange strangers at the church.) “Miss Rosey!” she squeals. “I didn’t know we get to play today! This is the best surprise!”

Jim, who’s holding the door now, and Rosalie and Adam and Belle all share a knowing look and try to keep their laughter quiet. Rosalie, who’s now holding Bitty on her hip says “Well, Bitty, there’s an even bigger surprise inside. Let’s go in, okay?”

Bitty bounces on her hip. “Okay!”

Door closed, shoes off, and coats off, the five of them stand in the entry way. Jim is still by the door, while Adam is rising to stand next Belle by the entryway bench, and Bitty is jumping up and down while tugging on Rosalie’s arm. “Okay! Okay, okay, okay! Where’s the biggy surprise?”

Adam takes his cue now, kneeling next to his little sister. His brushes some of the wisps off her face and in a low, soothing voice says “Bitty….”

She stops and looks at him, eyes wide. “Yes?”

“Remember when you asked about Mommy’s parents?”

She nods once.

“And you said how you wished they could come see us?”

Her eyebrows lower slightly, “But it okay because I know that their legs are heavy and it’s too far.”

Blinking away watery eyes, Adam takes his little sister’s hand carefully. “Well, you know how I help you sometimes?”

“Yes?”

“Well, Bitty, Mommy’s parents got help,” he swallows hard, “and they came here to see you for Christmas.”

It takes the little one a minute but then her eyes widen, her eyebrows lift, her mouth gapes, and she starts turning around and yelling, “Where! Where!”

Right on cue, Nan and Pops walk in from the dining room. Though they show a healthy amount of hesitation, Bitty does not and goes running straight for them. The elderly couple drop to their knees with ease and wrap the grandchild they’ve never met in their arms. Belle pushes Adam softly, urging him to join them. He does so slowly, but when he sees his grandmother’s hand outstretched, he can’t help but drop and join in the family hug.

Belle may have helped a garden grow in his soul, but being found at last has started a fire in his heart.


SIX


There’s a hum of conversation, the quick snaps of the crackling fire, and holiday music plays softly through the blue-tooth speakers. In this moment, the Moseley’s formal living room is the center of Adam’s entire universe. As he leans against the wood frame of the archway into the room, he watches the start of his new life unfold.

His grandparents, who he only remembers from early childhood, are very different than in his memories but are exactly the same people. Both with graying hair instead of thick and wavy brown (for Pops) and honey yellow curls (for Nan), and quite a few more wrinkles than before, but their expressive eyes and loving smiles are exactly right. Overwhelmingly familiar, too, are their Southern accents…. (Adam imagines when he was young he must have had one, too, but over time in the North it dissipated). It’s almost as if every time they speak he can hear his mother talking to him.

Lost in thought, it takes a minute or two before he realizes Belle is standing right next to him. Unwrapping his arms from over his chest, he tucks a hand around her waist. She offers a thoughtful half-smile in return and gestures with one of the mugs she’s holding. “You okay?”

“I’m getting there. Everything’s just so different now and it’s all….”

“A bit scary?”

The corners of his mouth twitch and he tucks her closer to him. “Yeah,” he comments in all honestly. “The new isn’t the scary part, having my family back isn’t the scary part, but the fact that it’s sort of a point of no return… that’s scary to me.”

He lifts himself from the wall and moves behind her, wrapping both his arms around her torso and leaning his chin on her head. “No matter what happens – good, bad, beautiful, ugly – it is what it is and there’s no going back.”

“Isn’t that how life is, though?” her voice quiet, pensive. “With everything?” There’s a moment and then she continues, “We could break up, God forbid, which means we’d go back to being not-together but I will never be the person I was before I met you.”

In her words, Adam finds truth. In her response, his whole perspective gets skewed. He hadn’t ever realized how unrelenting change can be. All his life, every choice he’s ever made – or anything that’s ever happened to him, he’s constantly becoming a version of himself that he’s never been before and there’s no way to go back. He may be able to recreate a moment or a feeling, but he – himself, his soul – is constantly changing, constantly moving forward.

Wishing it was just as easy for him as it is Belle; he admires her underlining optimism and seeing change as a many splendid thing. Kissing her hair, he murmurs, “I don’t know what I’d do without you, you know that?”

She giggles and turns, a sweet little smile on her face. “I love you, too.”

They kiss softly, quickly, and then she lifts the two mugs in her hands. “I need to go give these to Rosalie and Nan.”

Eyes following her, he loves the way the end of her long hair swishes from side to side and how it’s her instinct to lower herself to be on the other person’s level (rather than standing straight, looking down at them, while interacting). It’s that same kind of consideration and kindness that Adam needs to master; it’s the same kind of understanding of how to comfort others he thinks would sooth his mind.

But to sooth his mind for now, he goes for the door. After slipping on his coat, he finds his cigarettes and lighter in the right pocket next to his keys. It seems that no one hears nor notices when he slips out the front door and even as he passes all the windows they don’t react to him walking around the porch. He stops at the last window that looks into the living room, just for a moment.

Even at their age, Nan and Pops have dropped themselves to the floor to play with Bitty. They had brought her new toys - some for now, some for Christmas and her birthday – and today she was able to open a dollhouse. Not some cheap plastic one that folds open, no, a carved wood one that’s a more-simple replica of Southern Colonial with wallpaper, carpet, and all the miniature pieces she could possibly dream of. Adam can only imagine that Bitty didn’t think something like that ever existed and now she’s floating in the clouds.

Letting himself look at Belle one more time, he’s pleased with the sight of it all and slips to the back of the house. Finding himself just outside the double glass doors from the dining room, he loves the way the golden light spills across the snow. The bright lights of the bustling home make the snow across the yard glow and twinkle.

Only for so far, however, Adam’s eyes lift even further. On the far edges of the light is where the shadows begin…. Where the barren trees meld with the very black sky.

Almost poetically so, this is how he feels. That though his heart is burning so bright and there are so many good things to focus on, that there is still just this unyielding darkness around the edges.

Could it be the absence of his mother? Could it be the anger at his father? Could it be his feelings of betrayal when it comes to Bitty? Maybe… maybe a horrible Frankenstein mixture of all three.

… where does the innocent shadow end and the snarling beast begin?


SEVEN


As mid-winter’s day breaks, the transition from a howling night to a beautifully calm day is seamless. It’s as if the sun itself, as it slowly rises above the horizon, lulls the winds to sleep. This morning on the farm looks straight out of a painting: intensified blue skies, rays of sunshine that make the field of snow sparkle, and the black trees of the forest reaching high in celebration. Winter Solstice is here and nature can’t wait to celebrate.

Maybe using any excuse she can to throw a party, Rosalie Moseley is in the mood to celebrate as well. Prompting everyone to be there early enough to have dinner with the setting sun (which is at five o’clock exactly – only nine plus hours after this morning’s sunrise at seven forty-eight).

Then, she promises a list of festivities to celebrate across the longest night of the year. Not that they all needed much convincing, but she had explained that her Summer Solstice party had been extremely successful and she’s really excited to have this one be so family oriented – especially since it’s only days before Christmas.

Isabelle is probably just as excited for this gathering as Rosalie is. Up a little after sunrise, she wakes with tremendous energy. After a shower, after blow-drying her hair, after doing a bit of makeup (quick and easy tips and tricks she’d learned from Angie), she is singing Christmas songs softly in the kitchen. While preparing a full breakfast for herself and Papa, she tries to keep up with the texts streaming in from Adam.

Yes, she’d been the one to text ‘good morning’ first but now he’s blowing up her phone with not just lovey-dovey messages to her but recounting events from the night before with his grandparents and little sister. Though there’s an underlining stress in Adam that Belle can’t ignore, there are a lot of things on the up-and-up.

Having put the last full plate down on the table, she sends off one more text before calling out, “Papa! Food’s ready!”

Barreling in from the hall, he holds out two button-downs in front of his t-shirt. “Which one for tonight, you think?”

Though she’d been just about to sit, she curls around the table and touching the fabric of the left one, “Though the snowflakes are really festive, maybe the blue flannel would be better?”

He looks at her with a crooked smile, “Style like your mother; this will be perfect then.” He puts the snowflake shirt over the top of a spare chair and starts buttoning up the flannel, “Is that what you’re wearing tonight?”

Belle had chosen what she deemed the perfect dress, her favorite sweater dress with long sleeves, a scoop neck and flare skirt, the fabric designed with layers and layers of blue roses, and one she'd worn on more than one date with Adam. Underneath, she paired it with black leggings, socks, and her ankle boots were ready and waiting by the front door. From Angie’s advice, she tied a black ribbon as a choker around her neck with her every-day necklace from Adam still falling freely.

Looking down at it all, she pushes back a wave of her brown hair. Her eyes go back to her Papa, “Is something wrong with it?”

There’s a sweet smile on her old man’s face, “Oh, my sweet Isabelle, no. You are just starting to look like the brilliant young woman you’re destined to be. You could say I’m getting a bit nostalgic for your overall days.”

She gives him a look and goes back to her seat at the table. “Com’on then, Papa, let’s eat some breakfast.”

They sit, they converse, they share stories and laugh. After most of the eggs are gone and all the bacon and sausage, her Papa eases back in his chair. “So! Isabelle, I am rather curious.”

She finishes pouring herself another glass of lemonade. “About what?”

“About what you’ve gotten Adam as a gift, of course!”

Her smile wavers and she doesn’t quite meet his eye. “Well, actually… I still haven’t figured it out.”

A sort of crumpled noise of confusion and then he replies, “That’s a bit of a surprise! From the girl who usually finished her Christmas shopping the first week of November. What ever is the problem?”

Leaning back in her seat now she lifts her hands, “He’s just so hard to buy for! Seriously… he’s one of those people who has everything he needs or even wants. He’s one of those people who just goes and gets what he wants instead of waiting to give others the chance. It’s actually quite infuriating.”

A mini head shake and she sighs, “I’d really love to give him something wonderful, something special. Or maybe….” Her eyes drift to the side as her fingers slip up and down her necklace, “Maybe I could do something for him? I just… I just haven’t a clue.”

But in truth, this conversation has sparked something deep in her subconscious. Sure, he is a man of no physical needs but what about mental or emotional? The necklace had been the only thing left from his mother until his grandparents arrival.

Looking past her Papa now, her gaze falls on the mantle of the fireplace. So many pictures, so many mementos of her past, of her family. And that’s when the puzzle pieces slipped into place and she figured out just the ever so perfect gift to give him.


EIGHT


An almost too-tall Christmas tree stands in the corner of the room, perfectly displayed between the fireplace and the bay window. Its decorations are perfectly placed and the white lights bring an overall serene feeling to the room.

The wood-burning fireplace helps with the 'all is cozy' feeling and also helps bring the focal point of the whole night to the living room. This is where the cream walls hold garland and wreathes, where there’s a special tray of hot cocoa and cookies on the coffee table, and where all of the Moseley’s guests are talking, laughing, and smiling.

Jim brings in another log to the fireplace, carefully stepping around Bitty’s toys and the board games on the floor. Knowing how long the night will be, there’s a load of logs on the hearth and a small pile next to it. He also has to be careful with all the gifts under the tree as he makes his way back to his seat – cautious not to step on the packaged wave seeping out from under the pine tree.

Sitting back down in the armchair between his wife and Adam, he can’t help but smile as he looks out to festivities. Adam is smiling, too, though maybe not as brightly. Tired from a night full of bad dreams, it has been a struggle to brush off the left-over sense of dread. He’s trying, though, he really is. If not for Rosalie and Jim, if not for his grandparents, if not for Belle, then for Bitty.

Right now her world if filled with peace and light, with friends and family and fun. She hasn’t once complained about staying here with Nan and Pops, she hasn’t once asked about her dad. Granted, Adam had practically moved out all her stuff from the house to a spare room upstairs, but she hasn’t even brought that up either (not to him, not to the grandparents, not even to Rosalie). There’s a chance she may not realize what is happening at all, but more likely she probably doesn’t care. She told Adam when he arrived just a few hours ago that this is the happiest she’s ever been.

Watching Nan and Pops help Bitty hang the stockings over the fireplace, he doesn’t notice Belle sit down next to him until she takes his hand. She leans into his shoulder, “Hey.”

His thumb starts rubbing the back of her hand. “Hey, you.”

“I got a text from Angie, the gang will be arriving soon.”

“That’s good.”

“She said they’re super excited to play games with Bitty, maybe even take her outside to build a snowman.”

“Did she say if they managed to pick up the stuff for gingerbread houses?”

“Oh! Yep, that, too.”

“Well, good,” he slips his arm out from between them to wrap it around her shoulders. “Rosalie said she wants to get another picture when we’re all here and after Jim says he wants to let Bitty pick out the Yule log.”

Belle’s head turns up a little, “Yule log?”

“It’s a pretty cool tradition, actually,” thinking back to when the World Religions class at school went over pagan traditions. “It’s sort of like candles on a birthday cake. A log is hand-picked to be saved for Yule – or in this case, Christmas. Everyone takes a turn placing their hand on it and making a wish. Then, when it’s burned in the morning, all the wishes are released.”

Belle lets out a soft hum and reaches up to grab his hand that’s on her shoulder. “That’s really sweet actually. Like blowing out candles or holding your breath through tunnels or closing your eyes on the midnight of New Year’s.

“Wishing means hope,” she comments quietly. “And, I think that’s a tradition we should never let go of.”

Adam squeezes her hand, “Hope is a very powerful thing.”

Hope brings the freedom of choice; it’s the greatest compliment to inner strength; it is the one – perhaps sometimes irrational – force that encourages and inspires.

For Adam, for years, Bitty was an embodiment for hope. Hope that there is still beauty and wonder to be found in the world, hope that some people will never really be forgotten. And then he met Belle and his sense of hope expanded to so much more. Hope for happiness, hope for a future filled with joy and adventure, hope that he can have a family of his own someday. Belle was the answer to his most basic of hopes, that he was not truly alone in this world.

It is hope that makes him realize that life doesn’t make sense but that’s okay.

Before, to now, to the future, it’s hope that lets the happiness be seen. And right now, for now, that happiness outweighs the sadness. No matter what bad things have happened, no matter what bad things are bound to happen, if he can just focus on the light, maybe he’ll learn to be able to ignore the dark. If he really lets himself see it, feel it, the fire in his soul is the sun – making even the darkest of edges fade away.


NINE


Darkness.

Pain.

Sorrow.

Images of his childhood flash like strobes, each sending a dagger through his heart.

The sadness in his mother’s eyes – her disappearance.

The anger in his father’s actions – his abuse.

All the things Adam has buried deep in the farthest reaches of his mind are now clawing their way to the surface like the living dead. And now, after so much time had passed – and now, with such a better understanding, he realizes how terrible it all had been.

Even before the loss of his mother, his dad had been a drunk.

Even before the loss of his wife, the husband had been absent.

His dad had not been able to hold a stable job, sometimes leaving Adam’s mom to feed him and not herself. Adam is forced to remember now all the times she cried and screamed and begged for a different life.

In one instance in particular, after they had moved north, she sobbed, asking “Why can’t I just contact my parents?”

Why, indeed, Adam’s nightmare displayed.

Why indeed, because then his father wouldn’t have control.

Why indeed, because then the husband would lose his wife.

Why indeed, because such an abusive man would not risk losing his property.


When Adam wakes, gasping for air and drenched in sweat, he realizes something a child should never have to realize. In the end, is father is not a good person who sometimes does bad things… but that his father is actually a bad person who on a rare occasion can do passably good things.

This leaves Adam in place a child should ever be. It leaves Adam in an existence where his own mind is fighting against him. It leaves Adam with a mind, with a heart – with a soul, that’s cannibalizing.

It leaves Adam in pain when nothing was his fault.


TEN


The sky darkens too early for Adam’s liking. Having spent the night amidst nightmares, only when morning broke did he sleep. Leaving him to wake in the afternoon, giving him only a few hours before the world is dark again.

Dark grey skies overhead, he finishes his cigarette and he tries to pull himself together before going in to Jerry’s house. Parents gone, David already inside, pizza ordered, and junk food at the ready, the traditional Christmas Eve Boy’s Night is ready to begin.

Though Adam had never been the happiest of campers in years past, this year is vastly different. Of course he wants to see his friends, of course he wants to spend time with them, of course he wants to veg and forget the world for a night but, crap, it’s like everything he thinks about just twists its way into a negative. Pessimism is in control, no matter how much he wants to fight against it, and it’s truly depressing.

A deep breath and he goes for the door. Regardless of his slipping feelings, given all the change that’s come in the past six months, something routine and stable might be exactly what he needs. Sometimes something traditional, something familiar, something where the name of the game is distraction – yes, that does sound perfect.


*


Though the activities of the night had cheered him up tremendously, there’s still a left over fog seeping through Adam’s mind. Sitting back, feet up, in the largest armchair of the den, his eyes close. Not really listening to Jerry and David talk about girls from their colleges, Adam is able to zone out. Full stomach, tired body, the conversation around him like white noise, Adam’s able to find momentary peace.

That peace only lasts for a few minutes, however, because then Jerry says “Yo, Adam,” and throws a Cheeto at him.

He doesn’t open his eyes, but turns his head to face them. “What?” he grumbles.

“What did you end up getting Belle for Christmas?”

His brows furrow and then he sighs. Opening his eyes, he glares at them. “I have something at the house, but I think I need to get something else – I think I totally fucked up.”

David turns towards him and adjusts his glasses. “Why?”

Adam stares at the ceiling, arms crossed over his chest now. “I don’t think what I got her is good enough, honestly. It’s just some pretty little thing I saw a couple weeks ago after my shift at Dillard’s.”

There’s a snort and Jerry makes a face. “Have you even met your girlfriend?”

Adam shoots him a nasty look. “Excuse you.”

Jerry is unfazed and gestures absently. “Anything from you will be good enough. Literally anything from you says ‘I care about you,’ says ‘you matter,’ says ‘You’re important to me.’ That’s all she cares about.”

David nods. “She cares about you, Adam, not some material thing. You being with her – you being there for her, now that’s the greatest gift you could give.”

After a long sip of beer, Jerry points his bottle neck towards Adam. “I know things have been hard for you – really, I know how crazy this winter has been. And I’m sorry, I really am. But… well, have you even thought about what she might be going through?”

Adam huffs, his brows knotted and jaw tight.

Locking on Adam’s gaze, Jerry leans forward. “Really, Adam, com’on. She lost her mother, too, you know. I know you’re a thoughtful and conscientious man, Adam, I know how great you can be, and so I’m a little disappointed. ‘Cause I’ve noticed how… absorbed in yourself you’ve become. It’s not fair to any of us, but especially not her.

“She is a very rare kind of girl. So, really, I wouldn’t be so worried about what you got her and if it’s ‘good enough’,” he uses finger quotes. “I’d be worried about her. I’d try and be there for her in a way only you can be.

“Be the Adam she fell in love with.”

As angry as Adam wants to be at his friend, he knows there’s no use being angry at the truth. Being self-absorbed is perhaps the nicest way to put it… when really he’s