"I can't believe I didn't see it?"
"See what?" he asked softly.
Evangeline leaned her head against his right shoulder, and he stroked along her left arm, which rested across his chest.
It took a little time, but Evangeline had calmed down considerably, and the two remained on the couch listening to the crackling fire.
"Llanview is one of those suburban communities where everyone appears to be so welcoming. They greet you with lovely words and phrases. How are you doing? I would like you to meet my family. That dress likes amazing on you, where did you buy it? Behind your back, however, their true feelings are revealed without you even realizing it. I'm an outsider and always will be."
"Forget them. You're a part of my group and always will be."
The truth was he felt like an outsider too. He lifted her hand to his lips then gently kissed it.
"I don't like you, you know."
"What did I do now?" He gave her a puzzled look.
"You know too much of me."
"That makes us two peas in a pod because you know too much of me as well," he retorted.
"I was once your defense lawyer. What's your excuse?"
"I'm your best friend, and I want what's best for you."
Suddenly they heard the loud peal of the church bells. Midnight, it was Christmas Day. The two of them sprang to their feet and raced towards the window. The night sky lighted up with a dazzling fireworks display. One after another, brilliant, multi-colored, fiery sparks, soaring, then exploding through the cold night air. Brocades, Peony, Crossettes, Chrysanthemum, Pearls displays passed through their retinas.
"It's so breathtaking when you see it like this; such a perfect view. Too bad Sam is missing out."
"I know," responded Victor thoughtfully.
Evangeline snaked an arm around his waist. "Merry Christmas, Victor."
"Merry Christmas, Evangeline," replied Victor, kissing her temple.
"Thank you for being such an amazing friend."
"As you are to me."
Twenty minutes later and everything returned to normal. Evangeline stifled a yawn.
"I guess its time to head upstairs, take a bath, and off to dreamland. I can't wait to see to look on Sam's face when he opens his many presents."
Victor's shoulders slumped. "I didn't go overboard with my gift buying."
Evangeline winked back at him. "I believe you too."
Victor chuckled, gazing at her as she exited the room. At least, she sounded and appeared to be better than a couple of hours ago. He knew quite well emotional scars weren't usually healed in a few hours. Everything was a process, and Evangeline was just getting started. He retrieved the remaining popcorn, popping a couple into his mouth. He too needed to go upstairs, check on Sam, bathe and go to bed.
Although tired, Evangeline still twisted and turned in bed. Her mind preoccupied with changes that needed to be made to move forward with her life. Releasing that pent up emotion was terrific, but once she got back to Washington, she couldn't just focus on her job, which presented its own set of challenges. She needed to get out, socialize, perhaps even do some volunteering. Ellen Davis, one of the firm's lawyers from another team, kept asking her to join in on a morning run, but she kept putting her off. She also thought about writing in a journal again. Journal, exercising with Ellen and volunteering, her mind must be finally satisfied with these decisions made.
"Thankfully, there's that yawn again. Time to finally get some sleep."
The next morning...
Here we are at the olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more
Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now
The snow flurries outside came and went. Inside the cozy penthouse, both Victor and Evangeline enjoyed watching Sam tear into his gifts. Discarded wrapping paper, ribbons, boxes, and bags lay strewn beneath the Christmas tree. Sam received builder sets, Legos, educational games, a scooter, and new outfits. Immediately the Lego construction set caught Sam's attention, and he instantly started stacking the colorful blocks.
"You see Evangeline, not too much," said Victor rather proud of himself.
"I'll bet there is a bike with all the accessories hidden somewhere," Evangeline teased while sipping on her coffee.
"I already brought one of those for his birthday, and it's not broken. He doesn't need a new one just yet," he chuckled.
"Well, Victor, I've also brought a couple of gifts. They are around here somewhere." She fetched a small bag from behind the couch. "And don't say, I shouldn't have because its already done." The gifts stored in small Christmas gift bags. "...Here and here. Merry Christmas from me to you. It's just my way of saying thanks."
Sam received a Vtech smartwatch. "Whoa...thanks Evangeline." He gave her a warm hug, and his gaze returned to the watch.
Victor was captivated by his gift. "Evangeline, you didn't."
"Yes, I did. Sometimes I can splurge just like you."
"A Rolex, though."
"Yeah, why not. I don't do these things often. Besides, you deserve it. I can take it back..."
"No way!" Victor did own a couple of Rolexes, but he was going to cherish this one above all others. "Thanks so much, Evangeline," he said, embracing her tightly. "This is a keepsake. You must have blown your bonus."
She thought about it. She bought gifts for a lot more people than usual. "Hmm, not quite."
"Daddy, where is Evangeline's gift?" Sam asked, concerned.
Evangeline reassured, "Baby, your dad already gave me a gift." Of course, Evangeline was referring to Victor hosting her for Christmas.
"Evangeline, I do have a gift for you upstairs."
"In your room, under the Christmas tree."
"Huh...those cute little boxes..."
"Some are indeed props, but three of them are gifts."
A light went off in her brain. "The Tiffany blue boxes," she smirked at him.
"I got you this time around. Besides, these pieces aren't worth a million dollars."
She snorted. "How about altogether?" Victor gave her a knowing smile.
A few minutes later...
"I adore this collection so detailed and exquisite." She gazed at herself in the hallway mirror. "A little help with the necklace." Victor immediately went to her aid. She turned towards them and asked, "How do I look?"
They both replied, "Beautiful."
Throughout the day, Christmas greetings from friends and family pinged on their respective phones. Mele Kalikimaka was a surprise greeting from Layla that stood out. It seemed Hawaii was the better Christmas vacation option, after all.
Later on, Victor decided to take them out to brunch then to the bowling alley. Afterward, they planned on going to the Children's Hospital to drop off some Christmas gifts.
Well way up north where the air gets cold
Well way up north where the air gets cold
There's a tale about Christmas
That you've all been told
And a real famous cat all dressed up in red
And he spends all year workin' out on his sled
It's the little Saint Nick (little Saint Nick)
It's the little Saint Nick (little Saint Nick)
"Victor quit stalling."
"Don't rush me."
"Dad, you're taking too long," Sam grumbled.
"Okay, okay." Victor finally made his approach and released the ball. He kept a keen eye on it as it curved down the lane. "Yeah. Strike!" He raised his hands in the air then gave them high-fives. "You see, it's all in the technique."
Evangeline rolled her eyes.
"Hitch?" He turned towards her as she approached. "I didn't expect to see you around here."
"Neither did I." They hugged each other. "Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas to you too."
"Thanks for that spa gift certificate. It will certainly come in handy." She, in turn, knitted him a scarf unsure of what to give a man who could afford anything. Still, he appreciated the effort. "Your sister is still miffed that you are not helping her out at the soup kitchen, or stopping by for dinner later."
"Why can't she accept that I have other plans?" There were times that Viki couldn't leave situations alone. " Anyways, I want to introduce you to my best friend. Evangeline..."
"Evangeline is here." When Evangeline walked up to them, Lynn thought pictures didn't do her justice.
"Evangeline, this is my good friend Lynn Hitchcock."
Victor has a new friend. Evangeline thought it strange that he hadn't mentioned her before now. Evangeline's eyes took her in from head to toe. The brunette seemed bubbly. Hopefully, there wasn't anything in her background to raise red flags.
She held out her hand in greeting. "Merry Christmas. It's nice to meet you, Lynn."
"Merry Christmas to you too, Evangeline. It's great to meet Victor's best friend. He mentions you very often."
"Well, we've been friends for many years, and there are many stories to tell."
"I'd better get going before the weather changes again. Hey Sam."
"Why didn't you tell me that you have a new friend," asked Evangeline with a smile on her face. "This proves how much you've changed. You can make new friends. I'm just surprised that you didn't tell me anything about her until now."
"Perhaps I was selfish about our conversations. I didn't want you going into your lawyer-mode, whereby you ask me every detail about Lynn. Then later, you conduct background research."
Evangeline laughed at his synopsis. "I promise I wouldn't have done that."
"Really? In the past, I've hung around with some questionable individuals."
"For your devious gains as Todd Manning." Evangeline pointed out. "Lynn appears to be a good person, and that makes her good for you."
"By the way, she works for Viki as an assistant."
"I'm not sure if that is a good or bad thing."
On the surface, Evangeline and Viki were cordial, but underneath there was no love lost between the two powerful women.
"Daddy, I'm getting tired." Sam came up to them, rubbing his eyes.
"Looks like its time for his nap." He scooped up Sam into his arms. "It seems I'll have to deliver those presents later.
Victor did not want to concentrate on it, and for that fact, neither did Evangeline. Her time in Llanview quickly went by. She had her one moment, but for the most part, she enjoyed her time spent with Victor and Sam. Both made her Christmas special, and memorable.
After the traditional Christmas dinner that evening, the trio thought about either playing a game or taking another gander at watching a movie - rock, paper, scissors shoot."Hahaha, I win," remarked a gleeful Sam. "Paper covers rock." Both Victor and Evangeline opted for rock and lost out.
Victor asked, "So what movie do you want to watch kiddo?"
"Home Alone - the original. It's the best," announced an excited Sam.
"I'll bet you'll fall asleep again like the last time," said Evangeline playfully.
"Nuh-uh," responded an adamant Sam. "I'll watch the whole thing."
Victor and Evangeline looked at each other and smiled.
Instead of popcorn, they created a mixture of mini-pretzels twists, Chex cereal, cheese crackers, and mixed nuts.
As Evangeline predicted, Sam was out like a light before an hour had passed. This time around. Victor didn't immediately take him upstairs. He enjoyed watching this movie. It always gave him a good laugh even though he knew every scene like a book.
"Victor, I need to call it a night. I have some packing to do and emails to check. We have an early start tomorrow unless you're not taking me."
"I'll take you to the airport." He momentarily went silent. ...I can't believe that you are already leaving when it feels like you've only just arrived."
"Time flies when you're having a lot of fun. You and Sam were impeccable hosts. I'm glad I came after all." She kissed them both on the foreheads. "I'm going to miss you guys." She gazed around the room. "I'm going to miss experiencing all of this."
"I feel the same way."
The next morning...
Light snow covered the ground, and they strolled arm in arm towards the hangar at the private airport. A small crew taxied the private jet onto the cleared runway. Christmas may have come and gone, but it's residual still hung in the air.
Evangeline thought back to her last conversation with Sam at the penthouse. It was hard saying goodbye to him, who soon realized that he wasn't going to see Evangeline in a long while. He embraced her tightly and explained that he was going to miss her very much.
Victor's mind thought about his time to say goodbye. Their time together flew by so fast. Their lives, jobs, and scheduling conflicts would make this type of get-together rare occurrences. After her revelation, he questioned if she would want to return anytime soon.
"You should fight to regain custody of Sam. I think the time is right. Don't you?"
"I do believe so. I wasn't sure until now. My life has changed completely for the better, and it's not like Blair can claim that she spends more time with him when she owns a business as well. I'm fearful of her situation with Todd. Jack has let me in on a little secret - not all is right in paradise. I know the games. I've played them myself. I don't want Sam caught in the middle of that fray."
"He's been through so much at such a young age. He needs that stability that you can provide as his father. I can give you the name of a great lawyer who has many years of experience fighting these types of custody battles. Jeffery Rupert."
"Oh, I know who he is. Thanks."
Victor escorted her into the plane's cabin then spoke briefly with the pilot before taking a seat next to her on the sofa.
Victor took her hands into his and asked, "Are you alright?"
"I'm better than I was before. It truly wasn't easy revealing that part of me to you. I guess it felt like the shoe was on the other foot, and I didn't relish having to accept that truth. The bottom line is I must start this healing process. It's going to take time. How long? I'm not certain, but I've set my course of action."
"Just don't shut me out," he quickly added.
"It's the one thing I'll never do, promise."
He stared deeply into her dark-brown eyes. His heart rate began rising exponentially. In an instant, he perceived all her beauty; hair, face, eyes, then there was that inner spark that glowed within her. "What is it?" she asked with a note of concern in her tone.
Suddenly it happened. Victor pushed his tongue inside her mouth and rested both palms on the nape of her neck. Evangeline exhibited no resistance to his onslaught. The kiss was demanding, passionate. Their lips pressed hard against one another. He savored every taste of her sweet lips. Then just as quickly, he pulled away. She seemed lost in a trance.
Leaning forward by her ear, he whispered, "One more thing for you to think about," before quickly exited the plane.
He left her stunned, speechless, delicately touching her swollen lips.