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Monday, April 29, 2013

The Devil You Know: Chapter 54

Sam saw his Uncle Todd in the living room looking through the desk.  He had to ask him a question, and trying to be patient about his request.  But right now, that was getting hard.  So he went in and tugged on Todd’s slacks.

Todd looked down and saw Sam there.  “Hey kiddo, you need something?”

“We haven’t gotten a Christmas tree and Christmas is only a few days away.”  Sam wore an expression that made Todd think he’d be crying any second.  He looked at the calendar and winced.  Between the Nurses’ Ball, the family that was in town, his unexpected visit to the inner workings of his psyche and learning that Blair was pregnant, the Manning family had seemingly forgotten all about Christmas and the accompanying preparations. 

“You’re right, Sam.  How could we have forgotten?”

“Well, you were sick and Mom’s having a baby.  Maybe we won’t be celebrating Christmas,” Sam said with a frown.

“Not celebrate Christmas?  Of course we will be!  In fact, I think we should surprise everyone with getting the Christmas tree.”  Todd would have continued but the doorbell rang.  Having still not really gotten used to the idea of staff in the house, he headed for the door, but Reginald had beaten him there again. 

“Mr. Redding is here,” Reginald said unnecessarily.

“Harry, hey, good to see you.” Todd said.

“Todd, hello,” Harry said. 

“Grandpa Harry!” Sam called out as he ran to him.  He hugged the older man’s leg.  “I missed you.”

“Well, I missed you Sam,” he said as as he bent down to the little boy.  “I’m sorry I haven’t been around.”

“I saw you with Steve and Liz Webber at the ball,” Todd said.  “It’s nice to see you with some other family members.”  He tried not to sound like Harry had abandoned him.

“I am so sorry, Todd, that I haven’t spent more time with you since I got here.  Especially after you were in the hospital,” Harry told him.

“Look, it’s really no problem.”

“Todd, you invited me to visit with you and your family.  I am sorry I haven’t.  Is there any way I can make it up to you?”

“You can come with us to get the Christmas tree,” Sam piped up.

Harry and Todd looked down at the little boy.  Then Todd looked up.  “Well, I guess you could...”

“Please Grandpa Harry?” Sam pleaded. 

 Harry looked at Todd.  “If it’s alright with you, I’d love to come along,” he said.

Todd shrugged his shoulder.  “I don’t have a problem with it.”  Then he turned and yelled, “Reginald, if anyone comes home, tell them we’ll be back!”  With that the three left.

Not five minutes later, Blair walked into the house.  When she noticed how quiet it was, she went looking for everyone.  She found Reginald in the kitchen.  “Everyone’s out?” she asked.

“Ah, yes, Ms. Starr and Mr. Jack have been out for most of the day, and Mr. Manning took Sam and Mr. Redding to go get a Christmas tree,” he said.

Blair looked at the calendar.  “Oh, goodness, I almost forgot!” 

“Yeah, Sam mentioned it to Mr. Manning and as they were headed out, Mr. Redding came and Sam asked him to join them.”  Reginald then moved into the living room with Blair following and showed her the boxes that were in there.  “I went into the attic and got down your ornaments and decorations.  Just thought it would be good to have them ready for when they got back.”

With that said, Blair heard to front door open and thought that Todd was back.  She came into the foyer and found Jack, Molly and Starr there.  “Oh, good, you’re here.  Your dad and Sam went to get a Christmas tree and should be back soon.  Molly, would you like to stay and help?”

Molly smiled at Blair.  “I’d love to.”  With that, they set to work. 

Just as they had finished putting up the stocking and the garland on the fireplace mantle, Jack noticed his dad’s car pull up.  He hustled outside and helped get the tree in.

“Okay, right…there,” Blair said once it was in place. 

“And everything is downstairs?” Todd asked.

“Yup, Reginald brought it down after you left,” Jack said.  “We have the stocking up, all the lights are ready to go outside, and we just need to get the tree decorated.”

“And none of Dorian’s ridiculous ornaments.  Good,” Todd replied.

“Would you like one of yours?” Harry asked from the couch.  He had come in and sat down the cold temperatures aching him to his bones.

“You have one of dad’s ornaments?” Starr asked.

Harry got up and grabbed a bag he had brought in with him.  “This was something else Peter let your mother keep, besides the pictures.”  It was a ceramic ball that said ‘Todd’s first Christmas, 1970’

Todd went over and took it from his hands.  With barely a whisper, Todd said, “I remember this, remember putting it on the tree.”  His hand was shaking as he held it.

Blair came over and took it from him.  “We don’t want to break it.  It’s something precious.”  She placed a hook on it and gave it back to Harry.  “Why don’t you put it on?”

Harry looked at Todd, who nodded.  He got up and put it dead center in the front.  Todd was still staring at it when Harry came over and put his arm around the man.  For a minute, Todd felt tears well in his eyes, but he brushed them off with his typical humor.  “What, no gory stories of Christmas past?  No babies coming home or anything like that?  I’m sure we can fill in Harry about all the sucky Christmases past.”

“Well, they weren’t all terrible,” Blair said.  “There was the Christmas I was pregnant with Starr.”

“Um, I was in Ireland for that one,” Todd reminded her, even though he knew what she meant.

Harry looked perplexed.  “Why were you in Ireland?”

“That’s a long story.  Suffice it to say, Todd left me a present.”  With that, Blair pulled out the star tree-topper.  “He wrote a note to go along with it, ‘To our little star.’  Hence, the name.”

“I thought it was too weird when I got back, but it’s the truth,” Todd added. 

Starr walked over to her father and wrapped her arms around him.      

When he released her, Todd threw a look to Blair.  “Then there was that other Christmas,” he said as he smiled suggestively.

Blair blushed and Starr rolled her eyes.  Of course she knew what her father was talking about but from the looks of her brothers and Molly, she knew she was the only one.  And then Molly had to ask.  “What was the story of that Christmas?” she asked innocently.

“Um, maybe we should get this star up.  Who wants to do it this year?” Todd asked in a rush.  “Sam, wanna go for a second year?”

“No, I think Grandpa Harry should this year,” he said as he took the star from his mother and handed it to the older man.  Harry’s face looked like it was ready to break.  He nodded and went up the stepstool.  Just before he was about to place it on the top, Sam said, “Don’t forget, you have to make a wish.”

Harry looked down at Sam and smiled then turned back to the tree.  “I wish Barbara was here,” he said quietly.  Then he got down and patted Todd on the shoulder.

“So do I,” Todd said in agreement. 

Blair moved over to him and laced her arm in his.  “You alright?”

“Yeah, I am.  I also thinking…this time next year, we’ll have another person here for the holidays.  I guess…it evens off the scales,” he said.

Before Blair could respond, Jack slipped out of the room and back in with the camera.  He whispered in Molly’s ear and she nodded.  Then Jack called out, “I think we need an update for the family picture.”

“Oh, yes!” Blair exclaimed. 

The Mannings gathered but Harry hung back.  Todd shook his head and moved over to him.  “Come on, you’re family too.”  Harry smiled and moved to the side, standing next to Jack, who was then followed by Blair, Todd and Starr, with Sam in the front.  “Now, like last year, everyone say ‘Manning!’”  When everyone did, Molly clicked the picture.

With that, Christmas 2012 had at last started for the Manning family. 

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Diamond in the Rough: Chapter 63

The house was quiet.  Todd and Blair had just finished putting the Santa gifts under the tree, and headed upstairs to the master bedroom suite. 

Blair went into the bathroom to remove her make up, and brushed her hair.  Slipping into a red nightie, she crawled into bed next to him, before noticing that he was holding his mother's letter in his hand.  She said, "You going to read it?"

He said, "I'm thinking about it, yeah."  Chains, from the ceiling.  They're clanging . . .

"You're afraid, a little," she asked, seeing his expression.

He nodded.

She said, "Todd, do you want me to read it for you, or to you?"


He held it like something very precious.  Her heart broke for him, and she said, "This was a pretty eventful Christmas Eve."  His attention was still on the letter.  She said, "It's a beautiful envelope.  Look what she's done, all by hand."

He said, "She's an artist."

"She is."

"She . . .brings a lot back to me, Blair.  Stuff I didn't even know I remembered."

Her suspicions had been right.  "It must be hard."  He'd been barraged by memories.  He'd dealt with it all himself.  He must be having those flashes, and I just want to take it all from him.

"It's hard but it's strange.  It's like all of the sudden a new door opens, and all this stuff comes out."

"What can I do?"

"You're doing it."

She turned on her back, and her head was right inside the crook of his arm.  She began pulling at the edge of the blanket, and he looked toward her.  He said, "I guess I have a choice.  That red nightie, or the letter."

She smiled, and continued, "Whichever you like is okay with me."

He put the letter on the nightstand.  "I like both.  But right now, I'd just feel better with your arms around me, than having more memories rushing toward me.  At least right now."

She straddled him, and bent her head to kiss him, as his hands slid over the satin of her nightgown.  "Seasons Greetings," she said.


It was in the middle of the night that Blair realized Todd was thrashing in the covers, and turning toward him, she attempted to slowly touch his face, and tell him he was safe, when he jerked awake and for a moment, didn't breathe.  Then, gasping loudly, he began to struggle for breath.  "Oh, God," he said in the darkness, and she sat up beside him.

She whispered to him, "You're all right.  You're home, with me, the kids are all right."

Still caught in the confusion between dreaming and lucidity, he said, "He's going to kill her."

She softly said, "Who, my love?"

"Peter.  He's going to kill Patches."

"Patches?  Who's Patches, Todd?"

"The cat.  The cat in the back yard.  I named her Patches.  She has no home, she comes here and I feed her."

"You're not there, Todd.  You're at Unforgettable and you're grown up.  It's me, Blair, with you.  Our children are asleep."

He put his forehead into his hand, and sighed jaggedly.  "God.  Blair.  It's dark, I can barely,"

She immediately put his hands around her waist and moved to hold him.  She said, "You had a nightmare.  It's all right.  It's over.  Been a while."

His mind moved into the present.  He breathed more calmly.  "He killed the cat.  Made me watch.  He broke her neck."

She said nothing, and just let him tell her what he needed to in the dark privacy of their room.  His hands were trembling against her.  She said, "It's all right."  What else can I say to him?

"Nothing much.  He told me he'd do that to me or to my mother, if I told anything about what he did to me.  He said he was going to make the cat an example, and he dragged me into the yard to see.  Broke her neck with his hands, like a stick."

As he had done before, he slid himself down so his head was in her lap, and she ran her hands over his hair and face gently.  She soothed him with her whispers, and said, "Do you want to tell me anything else?"

"That's it.  That's all there is right now."

She said, "It's okay."

He said, "Sing.  Sing, Blair."

She did.  She sang some Christmas songs and explained that they were from her childhood.  He listened and soon, he was calm and his breathing was normal.  His shaking had ceased.  She finished her third song, and said, "You want to try and sleep or bathe or just stay up, talking?"

"Can we stay like this?"

"Of course.  Can we just set up some pillows, so I can prop myself and not get a back ache?"

He sat up and did it for her, and making her comfortable, put his head back in her lap.  His arms were wrapped around her and he had brought his knees up close to his chest.  She continued with the caressing of his hair, and face, and occasionally, leaned down to kiss his forehead, nose or eyes.  Finally, he said, "Blair, the letter."

She said, "Okay," and reached for it, handing it to him.  

He said, "Turn on the light."

She did.

"Open it."

She tore the flap open as carefully as possible, as to not tear the paper.  Inside were two folded pages. The first one was a drawing, of a house.  She showed it to him, and he immediately teared up.  "That's the house I grew up in."  Around the house were swirling arrows, all pointing to what he recognized as the side door.

He looked at it, then closed his eyes, and said faintly, "Momma."

Blair felt a lump in her throat when he said it, and she gently took the drawing from him, and placed it back in the envelope.  He said, "What's the other page?"

"A letter."

"Read it."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes.  Read it, Babe."

He kept his head on her lap, and she kept one hand petting him, soothingly.  She began, This is about my son, you, Todd.  You had a very hard life.  You didn't come out of my body, you came from another person and we adopted you.  Peter wanted money and you came from a rich family.  Peter got a lot of money for taking you.  I wanted a baby and I couldn't have one.  

Blair stopped, and sniffled, and reached for a tissue.  He took the letter from her.  "I didn't know she could not have children."

Blair said, "And this is why you were her Angel and so special to her," she dried her tears.

Todd took over reading the letter:

Peter didn't always hurt us.  He started when you were three, and when he was mad at me, he would do something bad to you.  He would hit you or scare you to make me punished.  Later, he did other things to both of us.  He was not a good father.  He never spent time with you.  You liked to color and draw and make things.  He wanted you to be rough and tackle and throw.  He did not hug you or love you.  Only I did.  Do you remember?

His voice wavered, and she took the letter back.  She said, "Do you, Todd?"

He swallowed.  "Yeah, I remember."  And a hell of a lot of other things.

"Do you want me to read more?  There's not much left."

"Yeah, go ahead and finish it." 

He was not a good father.  He was not a good husband.  He did not hold me or take care of me.  He only hurt me and that was the only way he could put his body with mine; to hurt.  He only liked our tears, not our smiles and wanted to hear our screams, not our laughs.  

Todd, if you go, stay away from the chamber, and don't go near.  It will leave you broken and you will be nothing but a shell.  Nothing will be left of you.  The sparrows will not be able to take you.  You will wish for them, but they won't be able to take you, because there is no sky. 

He wanted to cry, but his confusion won.  "My God, what the Hell did he do?"  Memories were trying to bring themselves into his consciousness, but as much as he longed to know, he also he fought them, because they brought panic into his gut.

Blair, unable to contain herself, openly sobbed.  "What does she mean?"

He took the envelope back from the nightstand.  Blinking back the burn of tears, he looked at the drawing.  "She's telling me to go back.  She's warning me, but at the same time . . ."

Blair wiped her tears and blew her nose.  "I thought so, too."

"Will you go with me?"
"To the house you grew up in?"

He nodded.

"Of course, but are you sure you want to go?"

"I think I have to.  Look at the arrows.  She's trying to tell me something, Blair, and I have to know and I think she's trying to help me get the answers once and for all.  God, this is crazy!"

"Shh, I know my love, I know.  We will go.  I'll be with you, at your side.  But now, you should sleep."

"That's not really something I want to do right now.  I just want to . . . feel something.  Something other than what I'm feeling."  I can't.  I don't want to remember ALL of it.  Not now.  I won't.

"What are you feeling?"

He was afraid to tell her, but it was the darkest dread and coldest feeling of evil he'd ever experienced.  He felt a tight pressure in his head, and chest, and for a moment, he wished for the inky black, so he could escape it.  Alarmed at his own weakness, he shivered and said, "I'm cold.  I need, something."

She noticed that he was suddenly cool to the touch, and she pulled the blanket around them.  "Is that better?"

"No, I need you.  I need you, right now, Blair.  Please."

She shut the light and climbed on top of him, covering him with her body, hoping that in the dim night, he would find sleep again.  "Like this?"

He was shaking.  "Yeah, but I . . . think something's wrong.  I can't get warm."  . . . because there is no sky.

She wrapped him in the blanket tighter and got up rapidly, going to the bathroom and running the tub on high, the temperature nearing one hundred intentionally.  She went back to him and said, "Come on, Todd.  Come with me."

He got up, but she noticed he was having difficulty walking, and she became alarmed.  "Todd, come on, come with me."  She helped him into the bath, and he eased in, grasping the sides and then sinking into the hot water.  Still trying to clear his mind, he fought against the terror that threatened to grip him if he let the memory through.

He looked at her.  "Something's wrong."

"I'm here, it's all right."  but she was afraid.

"I just . . . feel . . . Blair, I'm scared."

She climbed into the tub, without thinking of her nightgown, and held him.  "Tell me what it is."

Todd, if you go, stay away from the chamber, and don't go near.  It will leave you broken and you will be nothing but a shell.  Nothing will be left of you.  The sparrows will not be able to take you.  You will wish for them, but they won't be able to take you, because there is no sky.

"I . . .don't. . ."

Blair was becoming frightened, and told herself that if something did not change in the next few minutes, she would call for help.  She said, "What is it?  Tell me."

Todd, if you go, stay away from the chamber, and don't go near.  It will leave you broken and you will be nothing but a shell.   

He closed his eyes, "Blair, it's something, I'm afraid to . . . Oh, no."

It was then that she realized he was fighting the past.  She said, "It's all right, it's only a memory, Todd.  It's not happening now."

. . .because there is no sky.

He looked up.  "Windows.  Glass, windows.  That's why, Blair.  Windows, everywhere.  The penthouse, The Sun, here.  That's why."

There's God coming down.  

"What's why, Todd?"

"The chamber.  No windows, no light.  It was a room, Blair.  Like a . . . closet, a cellar, something dark.  A dungeon."  The chains....the pull chain light....sink, animal in the corner....

She hugged him to her, "It's okay."  She heard her own words, but this time, she was not sure she believed them herself.

"We have to go back.  To Chicago.  Something . . ."

"We will.  Now, shhh.  Let's just stay quiet, for a few minutes.  It's too much, Todd.  It's been a very stressful week, and then yesterday.  Just come here, and let's just be."  She sat along the ridge inside the body of the tub, and pulled him to her.  He rested his head on her shoulder, just above the hot water.  He wanted to do just what she said, and let the memories fade into the steam.  He wanted to run away, or to be inside her, or fly the copter, or to hold his children.  He wanted anything but the things in his mind.  After a while, her touch and soft whispers helped to quell the cramps of panic in his stomach, and he closed his eyes.

"I have to go back.  Please, understand, Babe."

"I understand," she said.  

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Diamond in the Rough: Chapter 62

"So all of us have to wear red?"  Jack said.

"Yeah, all of us have to wear red.  Anything red."  Todd said.

"Can I wear my red pajama pants, plaid, and my red t-shirt?  The Abercrombie one?"


"Cool.  I'll be comfortable instead of all packed in to some tie and shirt."  Jack said, going up the stairs.

"Company comes at 6:30," Blair added.  She came down the stairs in a short red dress with a fur collar and fur cuffs.  The fur was black, but it reminded him instantly of how she looked when she gave him the original Christmas gift.  He stared at her.  She smiled, "You like it?"

He swallowed.  Starr said, "Of course he likes it," and looked back at him, drawn into his expression.  She'd only seen him that way a few times.  Her eyes brimmed, and she looked back at her mother.  She said, "Mom, who did you invite to this party?"

"Just about everyone in the family.  Vicki's family does their own thing, but we'll see them tomorrow, on Christmas Day, like we always do."  She made her way to Todd's side.  He was wearing black slacks and a tight-fitting red shirt with black accents.  

She said, "You are beautiful."

He said, "You took my words," and kissed her.

"Oh God, here comes the mushy stuff."  Sam said, wearing the mini Santa suit he had begged for.

The doorbell rang.  Jack, who was just coming down the stairs, said, "I'll get it."

Sister Rebecca Katherine, with Timothy, entered the foyer. 

"They're here!" Sam shouted.  "Yay!  Last year was the best because of you, Grandpa!"

"Well I'm glad," Timothy said.

"And you Sister Becca Thrin!"

"Thank ya, Laddie.  Let's go see the tree," and the three of them went off after handing Jack their coats.  Starr met up with Jack in the foyer.  

Taking one of the coats, she said, "You know why Aunt Dorian isn't here, right?"

"She and Timothy had some kind of lover's quarrel."  Jack said.

"Lover's quarrel my ass.  I was there.  I just want to tell you, if Aunt Dorian shows up, I'm not letting her get away with what she's doing."

Jack rolled his eyes as she walked off, "Drama," he said.

Hugs and greetings were all around and the gifts brought were placed under the tree.  Todd had hired one waiter for the evening, who was bringing around snacks.  The main meal would be a buffet, when everyone had arrived.  Hope and Sam were running around and Sam was yelling, "On Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer and Nixon!"

Todd said, "Nixon?  Don't tell me one of our kids is a Republican." 

Timothy said, "I'll catch both of ya and turn ya into reindeer meat!" and chased the children, Hope screaming as they went through the archway leading to the dining room.

Sister Rebecca Katherine said, "I was at Mountain View today, Todd."

He sipped his drink.  "Okay.  How is she?"

"She's mostly the same.  But I wanted ya to know, that she sent this.  Ray wanted me to give it to ya."

She extended her hand, and in it was a beautifully decorated envelope, with meticulous spirals and stars in Christmas colors.  He hesitated.  Blair looked at him, and then took the envelope.  "We'll read this later, thank you," she said.

He nodded, and looked off at the fire.  The nun got up, and without notice, took his face in her hands and said, "I'm very glad to have met you, Todd Manning.  I feel blessed to be part of your family," and kissed his cheek gingerly.

He said, "Merry Christmas, Sister."

The doorbell rang, and Blair was up, "I'll get it, since you're busy kissing!"  Her Louboutin pumps were black patent, and the red underneath them matched her dress.  She opened the door, "Dorian!" and hugged her Aunt.

Jack, standing near the tree, said, "This ought to be good."

Todd stood, "Auntie Dorian," he said, and she kissed both his cheeks.

"Todd, Merry Christmas," she said, looking around.

"Grandpa's here," Jack said.  "He's chasing the kids."

She acted as though it didn't matter to her, and moved to Sister Rebecca Katherine to greet her.

Starr made a beeline for her mother.  "Mom, I need to see you a minute."

"Starr, I'm . . ." she had no choice as Starr practically pulled her out of her shoes.  "For goodness sake, 
what is it?"

Starr whispered, "I didn't want to say anything before, but I didn't know she was coming."

"What?  What?"

"Do you know why the fight happened between Timothy and Dorian?"

"No, why? Starr?"

"Mom, she wants you and Dad to break up.  Again."

"Oh come on, Starr," she began to head back to the guests.

"Mom, I was there.  She said terrible things about Dad and how she wants to protect the Cramer women.  That he brings all kinds of danger and pain to the family, and that this thing with Grandma Bitsy is just more of that."

"You heard her?"

"Yeah.  And so did Timothy.  He flipped on her, in a gentlemanly way.  Then I left, so I didn't hear the rest.  And Mom," her face changed.  Blair saw water come to her daughter's eyes.  "Why didn't you tell me about Dad?  About . . . when he was a little boy?"

Blair stopped.  She looked to the ceiling, and with her own eyes moistening, she said, "It's up to your father, not me, and we just learned of it, not a few days ago.  When we met Bitsy.  He suspected, but he didn't remember fully, until she clarified it.  Since then, he's been dealing with it the best he can, and mostly worried about her.  I think his memories are all coming back."

"Well, Dorian knows, and she didn't ever seem to care.  She's just back to wishing you two apart."

Blair eyes squinted.  "I"m going to ask her to leave."

"Wait, Mom!  Are you sure?"

"Leave this to me.  I've had enough, and it has to end.  Once and for all."

Starr rolled her eyes, and followed her mother, and Jack, who was listening in from just outside the kitchen said, "This ought to be really good."

Blair went into the family room, and sat on the arm of the chair next to her husband.  She played with his hair a bit, as everyone was talking, and then waited for a lull in the conversation.  When she got it, Jack looked at Starr and said, "Here we go."

"Dorian, I was wondering,"

"Yes, Blair, what is it?"

"Why aren't you and Timothy talking?  Usually, you're in a closet or something somewhere."

"Blair!"  Dorian was indignant.

"Mom!"  Starr said.

"Yesss," Jack hissed.  Todd, surprised, looked at his son, who continued and said, "Goddess, Dad, Goddess."

Timothy, who had been playing with the children, came around the corner.  "I'm afraid I made a few off-color remarks at the lady, and she was not happy with me."

Dorian was speechless, and Starr, who was about to say something, felt Blair's hand go over her mouth.  Blair said, "IS that what it was, Dorian?  Is it?"  Her voice had escalated.

Dorian said, "Well, I . . ."

Timothy began to interject, and Blair said, "No, Timothy.  I'm sorry.  I realize you're being the gentleman you are to defend my aunt, but I want her to answer."

Dorian said, "Well, we both said things."

Blair, beside herself with anger, got up, and went toward her aunt.  "What things?"  She folded her arms.

Hope looked at Sam and said, "Wanna watch Sponge Bob?"

He said, "Nah, that's kid's stuff.  This is good."

Jack, realizing the types of things that might be said, ushered both Sam and Hope up the stairs to the game room and set them up with a game, and almost broke his legs attempting to get back to the confrontation in the family room.

As he stumbled down the last two steps, he heard Blair say, "So, tell us.  What did you exactly say?"

Timothy said, "Bridgette, really, it's Christmas. . ."

Blair cut him off.  "My house.  My house, and I want to hear it."

Dorian stood, "All right.  I'll own my words."

Jack, who had retrieved popcorn from the kitchen, plopped next to Todd and both of them shared.

"It's about time.  Go ahead.  We're all family here."  Blair added.

Dorian said, "Timothy and I did not see eye to eye on something."

"It was my fault," Timothy said, "I began it."

Dorian said, "No, actually, it was me.  I said that I thought Todd was bringing nothing but pain to you and your family."

Blair, whose fists had balled up on each side of her body, looked around her, and grabbed the first thing she saw, which was Jack's container of popcorn and flung the contents at Dorian.  

Jack, laughing under his breath, said, quietly, "Shit," as one perfectly-popped kernel stayed in Dorian's cleavage.

Todd stood immediately as Blair said, "Get out of my house."

Todd, still laughing from Dorian's popcorn shower, said, "Wait, wait, wait a second, Blair."  She turned and looked at him.  He put his hands up as a shield, as he checked her popcorn container for more, before continuing.  "Hang on, Babe."  He slowly took the container from her, and said, "Auntie Dorian's family.  And she happens to be right."

He turned to her, "Dorian, I know I've hurt Blair, and even the kids, but I never meant to.  There are just some things . . ." his voice cracked, and the room was no longer a bustle of comedic confrontation.  He put the popcorn container down on the table, and spoke again, "Some things have created situations in my life that I couldn't control.  Some of it even made me do things that I'm not proud of.  But I love Blair, and I love my kids.  And they make everything all right."

Starr had her hands over her nose and mouth and was crying.  Jack, was sitting, stoic, watching his father, intently.  Sister Rebecca Katherine dabbed at her eyes, as Todd, without notice, kissed Blair passionately, one hand on her jaw and the other in her hair.  Timothy broke into applause, which everyone in the room followed, except Dorian who, surprisingly was speechless and wiped at her eyes herself.  Sam and Hope came down the stairs, just to see the ending of the kiss.  Sam said, "More mushy stuff, yuck!"

When the kiss was finished, Todd said, "Auntie Dorian, come on and join us.  I think you'll enjoy the meal."  Taking one of Blair's hands, and one of Dorian's he lead them both into the serving area, where the buffet was set up.  It was beautiful, with Christmas lights and an ice sculpture in the center.  Hope said, "It's Beauty and the Beast, look!"  Jack found himself looking at his parents instead of the frozen statue, then noticed that Starr was doing the same.

Dinner proceeded without further incident.  Blair apologized for dumping the popcorn on Dorian, and she apologized for her words against Todd.  This, of course, lead to Timothy and Dorian sharing a few glances across the room, and Todd purposely pushing them toward the mistletoe.  "Come on, you two, I really don't want you to be apart over some words about me."

As Timothy kissed Dorian, Todd went back into the family room to clean up the cups and party remnants that were lying around, and took his mother's envelope off the mantle.  He held it in his hand, and Blair, who saw him alone by the fire, came to his side.  She put her chin on his shoulder, and said, "My love, are you all right?"

"Yeah.  This is was a Manning Christmas Eve, all right."

"Only we could have one like this," she said.

He said, "I love you."

She said, "I love you, too."

"Merry Christmas and all that."

"And all that," she said, resting her nose against his.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Devil You Know: Chapter 53

Starr knew the task of planning her mom and dad’s wedding would present many obstacles.  Unfortunately, the greatest one would be her Aunt Dorian.  While Dorian had gotten better about her father in the past year, Starr knew Todd and Dorian could still be a combustible combination in any setting.  Throw in her Aunt Viki and it may become dangerously explosive.  But she also knew she had to get in touch with Dorian and let her in on the plans or she would never hear the end of it.  So, a few days later, after calling all her other relatives, including her cousins Kevin and Joey (though she knew the chances of them showing up at her parent’s wedding were slim to none) and taking a deep breath, she dialed her aunt.

“Starr, it’s so wonderful to hear from you!  And seasons’ greetings to you!” Dorian enthused from her end of the line.

“Hello, Dorian,” she replied.

“And how are the holidays treating you?  How is that young man of yours, Michael Corinthos, I believe his name is?”

“Michael’s fine,” she said, rather lamely.  Talking to Dorian about her boyfriend was more uncomfortable than talking to her parents about him.  She knew very well what Dorian’s feelings were about the men in the lives of the Cramer girls generally were.  She needed to get onto the topic at hand.   “Actually, I was calling about the holidays.  What are your plans for them?”

“Oh, well, the Senate is in recess, of course, so I was planning on returning to Llanview.  I was hoping I’d have all my girls back home for them as well, especially since I really didn’t get to spend Thanksgiving with you,” she said in that sweetly nasty way she was good at.

Starr closed her eyes and bit her tongue.  She knew this wouldn’t be easy.  Oh, well, here it goes anyway.  “Well, actually, Aunt Dorian, I was hoping you’d come here to Port Charles for Christmas…and especially for New Year’s.”

“Oh, Starr, that sounds wonderful!”

At her end of the conversation, Starr blinked.  That was too easy.  “You like the idea?”

“Well, of course I do.  I get to spend time with my beloved family, my niece and her children.  We can do a French Christmas theme, just us Cramers,” Dorian replied.

“Well, the idea would be spending the holidays at our house.  You know, with Mom and Jack and Sam…and Dad,” Starr explained. 

“Well, yes, of course your father would be there.”

“And Aunt Viki and Uncle Clint, and Uncle Victor and Aunt Tea are planning on staying through New Year’s, too.”

Dorian’s voice got noticeably less enthusiastic.  “Well, of course the Lords would have to be there.” 

 Starr shook her head.  “Aunt Dorian, I’m going to be honest with you.  There’s another reason why I want you to come.  Mom and Dad, they’re getting married on New Year’s Eve.”

“They are?  But Blair didn’t say anything to me,” Dorian informed her.

“Mom…kind of doesn’t know.”  Starr took a few moments to explain the wedding planning.  She told them that with her mother being pregnant, Starr knew her father would want to get them married as quickly as possible.  And with the New Year coming around the corner, Starr felt it was the best way to kick it off.  Then she told Dorian how Jessica and Tina were helping her.

“Stop right there,” Dorian fumed.  “Tina is planning this?”

“Well, she’s helping me…” Starr began.

“I will be up there in the morning.  There is no way that woman is planning my niece’s wedding…even if it is to her brother,” Dorian said forcefully. 

“Alright, but this wedding is a surprise, Aunt Dorian.  As in, you’ll just be coming for the holidays.  Understood?”

“Of course, my dear.  I understand perfectly.  David and I will see you tomorrow.”  With that, she hung up.

Starr didn’t even have a chance to respond to Dorian’s last comment.  She clicked the phone off and collapsed onto Michael’s shoulder.  They had been at Kelly’s while Starr was making the calls. 

“Bad news?” he asked, supportively.

Starr picked up her head and looked at Michael.  As she answered his question, she saw Viki and Clint come in.  “Aunt Dorian and David are coming here.  Tomorrow.”

Michael’s eyes went wide, remembering David from Thanksgiving weekend.  “I should alert my mom, I guess?”

It was Viki who answered.  “I think that would be advisable.  And alert the authorities.  Hurricane Dorian is about to hit town.”

“And she’s going to offer her help with the wedding,” Starr said in a less than delighted tone. 

“Oh dear,” was all Viki said. 

Michael looked a bit perplexed at Starr’s aunt.  “When I was in Llanview, I got the feeling you two don’t get along.  Is there some problem—”

“She was married to my father, I believed she killed my father, she has a habit of trying to social climb and we just…have some history,” Viki said curtly. 

“Your aunt,” he said to Starr, “was married to your father?” he asked Viki.

Off to the side, Clint just shook his head.  “Michael, there’s too much history there for one explanation.”

“And as it stands, I have too much to do.  First thing, warn Aunt Tina,” Starr said. 

“I’ll take care of Tina for you,” Viki said.  “And I will take care of Dorian when she gets here.”

Starr smiled.  “Thank you.”  She pulled out her phone and made another call.  When that ended, she said, “Now, I need to go to the bridal shop and look for Mom’s dress.”  With that, she kissed Michael, said goodbye to her aunt and uncle and left.  Michael exited the diner a few minutes later.   

Jack Manning dropped his head into his hands.  He knew his sister’s request was coming but he was hoping to not get roped into her plotting.  Now, that seemed to be impossible. He was there sitting on the bleacher at Port Charles High still in the pose when Molly walked up.  “Is there something wrong?” she asked with concern.

Jack picked up his head and smiled at his girlfriend.  “No, just my normal family craziness,” he answered. 

“What happened now?  Another return from the dead?”  It was a joke, but with his family history, it may not have been far off.

“No, much more mundane, actually.”  He took breath, and then said, “My parents are going to be getting remarried.”

“Really?” she asked, her eyes getting dreamy.

He smirked at her, knowing that would be her reaction.  “Yeah, but the thing is, they don’t know it yet.  Starr is planning a surprise wedding for them on New Year’s Eve.”  Jack didn’t think it was possible Molly to get even dreamier.  “But the trick of it is, we need to get a lot done under the radar.  And I’ve been tasked with getting the tuxedo of my dad, and Starr is being a pain about it.”

“How so?”

Jack pulled out his phone and brought up a picture.  Molly thought she had remembered seeing it before.  “This is from their first, well, actually their second wedding and my sister wants me to find something exactly like it.”  He took the phone back when she was finished.  “My mom always believed that this day, this moment, was the most perfect one of her life.  Starr found my dad’s wedding plans, which is basically this wedding all over again but they’ve been stalled for a while now.”

“So Starr’s doing it herself,” Molly concluded.

“Well, Jessica is helping her and my Aunt Tina too.  But Starr wants to put a rush on it, especially now that my mom is pregnant,” Jack explained.

“You’re mom’s going to have a baby?  Oh, that’s so great!  Congratulations, Jack.”

“Yeah, she’s still very early on, but when my dad passed out at the Nurses Ball, he kind of found out.  And then Mom passed out in the hospital and they ran test and well, that was when we found out,” Jack said.

“Wait, how did he find out when he passed out?”  Molly was confused.

Jack turned red when he realized what he had said, but Molly was waiting expectantly for an answer.  “When my dad was shot this summer and in the coma, he was kind of in limbo.  When he was there, he said his sister was with him.”  At Molly’s further perplexed look, Jack went on.  “My dad had a sister who actually died a long time ago.  He name was Meredith.  She was my Aunt Viki’s full sister.  Anyway, when he was in the coma, when he was having the surgery and when he went catatonic after his performance, he said Meredith was with him, all the times urging him to go back to us.”  He smiled.  “They’ve already named the baby Meredith Victoria, after her, Aunt Viki and even Uncle Victor.”

Molly smiled at Jack, then stood up and held out her hand.  “Come on then,” she said.

Jack stood up but didn’t understand.  “Where are we going?”

“To start to get what you need to for the wedding,” she said, a smile brightening her face. 

Jack took her hand, returning the smile.  “Thank you, for everything.”  He leaned in and kissed her and they left.

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