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A Holiday Stranger Fiction!!

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Had this idea brewing around in my head for some time, and have now just begun to transfer it to writing. I dont' write a lot of stories with themes like this, though I have before, so bear with me....

A bit of a disclaimer....No, nothing to do with Kinks, as I plan on keeping this PG 13....however, my bit of disclaimer is that if the holidays tend to get you down due to family issues, either with mom or particularly--in this story--with dad, you may want to avoid this one as later on, it will get pretty heady. Unless of course you may be able to get past all that and see this as a chance to sort of heal, through letting out emotional baggage. Alright--I'll shut up and post the first chapter, feel free to leave feedback, but I just wanted to make the disclaimer that at times this could be dramatic and a bit of a tear jerker if family stuff chokes you up around the holidays...

Ok, here's Chapter 1

Lifting up my duffell bag, I dropped my clothes into the half-open blue cloth bag. With a sigh, I began to fold the rest of my clothes. Casting a glance out the window of my North Caroloina apartment, I saw snow sticking to the pane. This time of year always brought the stress my way, however, I was to meet my father's new girlfriend, and that was met with apprehension for more than one reason. He had only been seeing her for about five months, but my brother had told me that he was quite serious about her.

I brushed out my chestnut colored hair till it shone, considered tying a ribbon in it or something to make the style more festive, but decided against it, in order to avoid any snide comments from my other brother, who always had something snotty to say about my sister and myselfs sense of style.

With a sigh, I grabbed my bag and made for the door when Jill, my eldest sister, the oldest of the four of us, stopped me. Her long blond hair was in a disarray as she said, huffing and puffing as if she'd just climbed mount everest, “Hold it...We can't go anywhere without the flowers for Eve.”

I resigned myself to saying nothing at all. If you can't say anything nice....the adage hung over my head like a heavy rain cloud. Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. Flowers for Eve. We were bringing my dad's new girlfriend flowers and we didnt even know if she wasn't allergic or not yet. The gardenias were a nice touch, I had to admit it, but I still felt uncomfortable presenting them to her, but Jill had insisted, “Julie, I'll give them to her if you're too scared. Its no big deal...”

No big deal. That's how my sister, always calm, cool and collected, felt about all of this. I wondered what Felicity and Dawn would have to say. Being the second to eldest, I wanted to set a good example. It had only been three years since mom's death, and I know I was not the only one of us who wished that dad still felt too miserable to date. Dating was one thing, but as per our phone conversation over Thanksgiving, dad didn't just sound as if he were dating someone...he sounded as if he was in love.

My thoughts to myself, quiet and in my own solitude I didn't hear Jill calling my name.

“Julie?” Her eyes were narrowed in suspicion, and I snapped out of my reverie.

“Sure, I'm ready to go.”

We pilled into Jill's suburban, and lost in our own seperate worlds of family-related anxiety, said nothing as we trekked to Felicity's apartment. Felicity, small, perky, and blond, her brilliant blue eyes all aglow at the sight of us, bounced out of her doorway with a big smile and another bouquet of white roses. “For Eve!” she said breathlessly, smiling as if she'd just had the greatest idea since the invention of sliced bread. I merely rolled my eyes in disgust. No one had ever given me flowers upon meeting me for the first time in any of my past boyfriends' families, but Jill was frowning at me, disaprovingly.

“What?” was all I could say to her, totally nettled. Jill said nothing, just shook her head and smiled falsely up at Felicity. “Ready to go meet daddy's new love?”

I suppressed a wince at Jill's phrasing of just what we were embarking on. It was Christmas, I reminded myself. Christmas weekend, and here I was glowering about some lady-friend companion my dad had met. Why did I want his romance to fizzle? For him to tell me that he was only having fun, the blues of his eyes just like his daugther's, Felicity, all a-twinkle, while he had that friendly had clasped over my shoulder, waving his other as if Eve didnt' even matter. I suppose the reason I wanted this vision I kept firmly in my brain was that I knew it wasn't going to happen. Somehow I knew as we drove alone, Felicity babbling ninetey to nothing about all of the great sales she'd hit just after Thanksgiving last month, Jill nodding politely but with nothing to really add to Felicity's stories, that what I was about to face after we picked up my other sister would be totally different than dad telling me that Eve was of no real interest to him.

Once we had Dawn, her blond hair long, her face a lot like Jill's, in the suburban, Felicity and Dawn began to catch up. Both of them more chatty than either Jill or I could ever dream of being, I rode in silence, not really listening to anything my sisters were saying until my name was yelled by Felicity.

“Huh?”, I said, coming out of my reverie.

“Well, what do you think she'll look like?” Felicity's blue eyes were narrowed in thought and it took me a few minutes to realize that she was actually serious. I had no idea, nor, I realized almost regretfully, did I care. “Oh...I don't know...” I let my voice trail off but Jill was grinning about something as if I'd just cracked a joke. Hiding my annoyance, I said, “What do you think she'll look like, Felicity?” to get my baby sister talking again, and she said, all in one breath, as if she were still a teenager, “Well, I bet she's just a darling old lady!” Dawn laughed uproariously, shaking her blond locks as she did so. “You're too much Felicity! Cute little old lady.” She was smiling genuinely though, and I can't deny I regretted that I couldn't be doing the same.

Felicity straighted up, suddenly very serious and even Dawn raised an eyebrow at the change in her behavior, “Look, now I know daddy's old, but C'Mon he's only just 60, so really she can't be that old can she?”

Surprisingly, Jill nodded in assent. “Well sure..” she said and I coughed. Jill seemed to pick up on what I meant, no major shock there, as she'd been able to do all these years and said, “Well, what I mean to say is, Julie, daddy is bound to want a woman a bit younger than he is right.”

Dawn smiled and only shook her head but then I understood what Jill meant.

“Right...” I said, working it out, “You can't really call a lady in her 50's , most likely what she'll be, a little old lady can you?”

Though, I thought, at the silence that greeted me from my sisters, Dawn lost in her own thoughts, smiling and content though, and Jill, pensive and silent, Felicity nervous and giggly but for once saying nothing, I said to myself, Well, I suppose none of us would know would we? I was just over 35, had just had my birthday the May before Thanksgiving. Dawn, who came after me and before Felicity, the youngest, was 33, her 34th was fast approaching new New Year's, and Felicity had just made the big “3-0” though no one would guess it. Jill's 37th birthday had passed in February and she had told us that the approaching age of 40 didnt' scare her and she was one woman I would believe this statement of. Jillian never seemed afraid of anything. Looking back, as a child, I had always wanted to be more like my older sister because of that. Fear never seemed to hold her back from saying what was honestly on her mind, or even in love relationships. Jill had been through two husbands, but rather than seem trivial, her life experiences had made her who she was, and a lot like my father, she had embraced them without any regrets. No regrets that her first had beat her and she'd had to endure this as well as pressure to produce grandchildren from his family when she'd been married to him, nor any regrets at her second husband, who turned out to be gay. Jill lived life her own way and never looked back at her choices, because, in her own words, “Why beat yourself up over the past? Its behind you and you can't change it.” Felicity was a lot like her, too but was still single, claiming she'd never found her real prince charming. I, too was a divorce then, on that Christmas drive to my dad's place to meet his new girlfriend, however, I was still looking back. Still asking myself if I was really happy where I was. Was I were I wanted to be? Hardly. Childless at 35 and divorced was not what I'd envisioned as a little girl. And, I suppose, one of the negative qualities of our sweet Felicity was her romantic idealism. Unfortunately, I think I inherited that as well. Too much in fear that my next marriage would end in divorce as well, I had expertly avoided comittment, claiming that I too hadn't found my prince charming, while all the while mother nature cruely reminded me that I ought to be looking for that prince a bit harder....I wasn't going to stay young like Felicity forever.

Dawn was the only one of us out of the four who had stayed married to her high school sweetheart of all things. She claimed it was pure dumb luck and that you “Just never knew” was life was going to bring because her husband's only brother had married his high school love as well, only to discover that she had been cheating behind his back with another man nearly half of their ten year marriage. Dawn said that with hard work and a bit of luck, any love could last, but that she certainly didn't blame either me or Jill for leaving our rocky marriages.

But did I really not blame myself? Frowning and glancing out of the window of Jill's suburban, I realized that if I were to answer this question, I'd have to say that yes, I did still place blame on myself, and that I truly wished I could approach dad's Christmas visit with a lot less trepidation than I turly was.

Almost as if she were reading my thoughts, Jill caught my eye and smiled in an apologetic and reassuring smile. Giving my hand a gentle squeeze, she said no words at all, but her sisterly gesture conveyed more love than any words she could have uttered would have. One thing about my sure of herself and sometimes harsh due to her never ending honesty sister was that she sometimes “got it” with me and knew just how to calm me right before events such as this.

As dad's house finally loomed into view, situated on top of a giant hill, trees with orange, yellow, brown, and red leaves canopying the driveway I found I was holding my breath. Here we go, I thought to myself....This is it. Time to meet Eve.

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Chapter 2

As we pulled into my father's long and winding driveway, I noticed a few things different from when we last saw him. For one, his lawn was manicured, pristine, green and verdant despite the light blanket of snow on the roof. The temperature had warmed around my father's neighborhood it seemed. The old house had been freshly painted and the sidewalk completely swept. Obviously, our dad was taking extra effort to spruce up the place this holiday season.

I turned to Jill, eyebrows raised in a questioning glance, but Jill rode ahead with her lips pursed. Judging by her gaze, she was in no mood to speak of the changes. The yard certainly looked good, I thought to myself, however Felicity began speaking up right away.

“Wow! Wow...daddy's really gone all out this year! Look at the Christmas decorations!” She pointed excitedly like a little girl riding through a neighborhood on a Sunday to look at all the lights before New Years. I hadn't even noticed the beautiful wreath, decked out in red and gold velvet ribbons and the light up snow man in the yard. At that, despite Jill's previous reaction, I did turn to look at Jill again. Her eyes met mine and she rolled her eyes heavenward, though I could not tell if the expression was meant for Felicity or for dad's efforts to make the house as close to Santa's Toy palace as he could. Although all he'd added was the magnificent wreath and the snowman, it was enough for dad, who usually looked on decorating for the holidays with scorn. With a start I realized that he'd only last done this when mom was still alive...

As if reading my thoughts, Dawn pursed her lips as well, matching Jill for all of her traits so different from the usual cynical one of all four of us. No one made a move to knock at the door, but Felicity was still chattering about the decorations. “I wonder where he got all this from? Wow...” That last word was breathed, barely audible so that I was not sure if I was the only one who heard it. Felicity's eyes met mine and I attempted a half-hearted smile.

“Look, Cissy just hang back till dad opens the door ok?” Dawn managed, her own fake smile in place, extending a reassuring hand toward her little sister. Felicity smiled, almost knowingly as if we were the ones behaving like children. Frowning slightly, I gave a hearty knock at the brass knocker. Shaped like Santa Claus's head, I realized belatedly. Good Lord.

Dawn was still sitting in pursed-lip silence, very odd behavior for her, but Jill caught my gaze again and looked as if she had just suppressed a fit of giggles. She, too had caught the shape of the door knocker.

“Why hello darlings!” My father, dressed in red flannel pants and green flannel long johns greeted us at the door. He looked like he'd just woken up for Christmas morning. He had his arms out in an embrace, all familiar from when we were children. I couldn't fight the warm feeling brewing up inside of my chest and I moved to be first in line for a hug, but Felicity managed to jump ahead of all three of us. “Daddy!” She squealed, laughing as he rocked her back and forth vigorously in a bear hug. Jill cleared her throat and dad clasped her in a rough embrace, though much shorter than Felicity's had been. As soon as he released Jill he made a move toward Dawn, who had been standing just beside me, hesitant and quiet. “My darling Dawn, How are you, dear?” Dawn opened her mouth to answer, but dad was already moving on to me. “And Julie! Oh, its so good to see all four of your girls together again!” My father, looking like a much older child, frail and aging, but sparkly blue eyes alight with mischief, clasped his hands together and exclaimed, “I just love Christmas!”

Jill smiled, this time it was genuine. Felicity had started up again, motioning all around the house and yard, “It looks great, daddy, where'd you get all of this?” But dad rested a steady hand on her shoulder. He always knew how to calm little Cissy down.

“Now...Now its' time for you all to meet Eve!” His hands were pressed together again, as if he were waiting with anticipation and I caught something in those sparkling eyes. Was it fear? Trepidation of some sort? I couldn't' tell, but judging from Dawn's sudden frown, she'd caught it too. I looked to Jill but she was already moving on into the house, hanging her coat by the hearth, standing by the fire in the fireplace for warmth.

I edged into the sitting room of my father's house with Dawn right next to me. For once the entire trip Felicity was quiet, looking all around the house as if expecting my fathers new girlfriend to materialize before us. I had my head turned away from the adjourning room that lead into the kitchen so Jill's gasp of surprise caught me un awares. Turning to Jill I managed a “What's wrong?” and then my own breath caught in my throat. Felicity stood stock still next to me. It felt like none of the four of us were breathing.

Standing hesitantly in the kitchen was a woman not much older than me, with dark curling hair that hung below her shoulders. Her eyes were a brilliant hazel and she had a long dress on, the type you would wear to church. “Hi girls!” She was smiling at us, holding a vase of flowers as if about to set them about the place to decorate. One fleeing moment of panic hit me, but I pushed it down. Perhaps this was daddy's maid? She couldn't be much older than me, therefore not older than 40. The woman stood in the kitchen just beaming at us, her eyes lighting up, but my father hung back, a curious expression to his eyes, as if waiting to see what we would all do. Dawn was the first to speak and I'm ashamed to admit I'm glad she was. For, she'd read my thoughts and merely voiced what I'd been thinking.

“This your new maid daddy?” I would later reflect on the memory and recall a note of hopeful tones in Dawn's voice that day. Jill seemed to bristle as if hit with something but said nothing, managing to avoid all of our eyes. Felicity, always so good at reading other's emotions, looked at daddy and a horrified look, quickly replaced by a sad one, then a false, but happy and smiling expression, said, “Nice to meet you...Eve.” She held her hand out, as if to take the young womans. The dark haired woman took it and shook, murmuring something of the same to my sister, but I never caught what she said. My eyes had finally found my sister Jill's who had been trying to avoid my eyes. Jill had that horrified look that Felicity had so expertly rid herself of. She was now hugging the woman and the woman, with that same secretive smile, said, “Its so good to meet you all now! I'm Eve McLellan.” A shy smile and a few words were all she managed to get out, but Dawn and I still hung back. As if sensing our surprise my father leaped forward, “Ok, Who wants egg nogg? I'm sure you do, Julie!” He was eying me as if to silently plea with me, “Please don't make a scene.” I frowned, catching Dawn's eyes and she too had that same false smile that Felicity still wore, except she had added a look of utter and complete determination too. Felicity had Eve's hand wrapped in hers and was saying, “Let's sit down with a cup of hot chocolate or something and you tell me all about yourself...”

I had to force myself to sit down, and I noticed Jill doing the same. Dawn muttered needing strong coffee and disappeared into the dining room where I'm sure she would find no such thing. It was just Jill, Felicity, and I and as long as my little sister kept the other woman talking I couldn't embarrass myself, but Jill kept wetting her lips as if she wanted to say something but did not speak. At an awkward lull in Felicity and Eve's conversation, I cleared my throat, meaning to catch Jill's eyes. Jill sat there silent and quiet as if waiting for the room to burst into flame. When no one spoke I made to nudge Jill to see if she was ok, but dad grasped my hand, nearly sending me leaping into the air. I hadn't even realized he was still in the room. “Aren't my daughters beautiful, Eve?” he was saying with pride and Eve was just sitting there nodding, her manner totally placid and docile. Suddenly anger erupted in me and I realized I too needed to exit the kitchen, lest I embarrass myself in front of dad and Eve. I realized I was stammering but I couldn't help myself. For him to sit there with a woman our age...a girl more like it, someone obviously young enough to be his own child, to be telling her how beautiful he felt his own children were...it was a bit too much to take all at once. As if sensing my emotions, something that at times Jill and I shared, she too stood. “Daddy I need just a bit of fresh air. Just to...to take this all in ok?”

Dad looked as if we had just dropped a bomb right there in his kitchen meant for the twin towers all over again. I spread my hands as if asking for forgiveness. As Jill and I made our way out of the kitchens I couldn't bear to look at Eve as we passed her. But Jill did. Once we reached dad's patio, Jill's hands were forced into two balls. Fists. “Did you see the look of evil that...that girl gave me?” My eyes wide, I placed a finger to my lips. “Hush! Daddy will hear you out here...” I didn't know what else to say so I said the first thing that came to mind, but Jill was shaking her head, looking angrier than I had even felt in the kitchen. Though it had happened a few moments ago, I already could feel the anger leaving me. What had I been thinking. Clutching my empty tea cup in my hand, I had half a mind to go back into the kitchen and apologize, but Jill caught my arm in mid step. “No, Julie, we don't go back in there. My Lord...I wonder what Dawn...nevermind. Eve looked downright ticked when I left just now. I saw her eyes when we left...” Frowning, I didn't know what to say, so I only shook my head, but inside I was in shambles. This was supposed to be our family Christmas. Who was...and more importantly, something all four of us wanted to ask, how old was, this stranger in the kitchen?

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Chapter 3

Jill and I stayed outside, despite the continuous drop in temperature all the while, for a long time. Jill would look at me, arch her eyebrows, suck in an air of breath and simply shake her head, as if to say that no one could ever tell with a dad like ours. I had to agree with her sentiments, however, deep down inside, I wondered.

What was dad playing at anyway? Eve couldn't have been a day over 35. Our dad was well into his 70s, so far so that I didn't really want to think that his 75th birthday was looming nearer and near.

Jill turned to me as if about to address me formally, her back straight, her shoulders stiff, when Dawn came out on the patio to join us, a lit cigarette in her hand. Jill's mouth formed an “O” of surprise, but she muttered something to herself and turned away, as if forcing herself not to comment. I opened my mouth and then closed it. I didn't see much point in riding Dawn's butt about a smoke. We were all nervous. If had access to some scotch, I might've just poured myself a glass!

Wringing my hands I turned to Dawn, but she began to speak before I could form coherent words. “Julie....What...What do you think of this?” Dawn spread the arm not holding the cigarette, toward the house where our father sat with Eve. I frowned. I had no idea how to express what I was feeling, so I decided to make a joke. Dawn and Felicity were always better at doing that in awkward situations such as these than I or Jill, and the banter came out forced, “Well, her last name is McLellan. You know dad always did say he digs Celtic chicks.” That got a nasty glare from Jill, as if I had just spoken something sacrilege. Dawn, however, took my joke for being serious. “Oh, is that it? You'll just dismiss this eh, Juilie? I wouldn't have thought it of you! No, not you and Jill yet the two of you sat there with him making those..comments about his “pretty little daughters” and what have you! Good God!” I started to protest that that wasn't even the half of it and she knew it, a look of indignation on my face, but one look from Jill stopped me in my tracks.

Frowning, Jill spoke for me to Dawn. “I don't think that's what Julie meant, sis.” She was still frowning, however, Dawn seemed to somehow calm considerably.

Dawn muttered something under her breath that sounded very close to “canoodling with girls...a girl himself good Lord.” I stifled a laugh. Giggling at a time like this would be all too close to what Felicity would do. Speaking of the devil...

Felicity came out onto the patio, one look of disgust for Dawn's cigarette (“They taste and smell like ash!”, her favorite summation of them), and a level, cool and calm stare for Jill and I.

“Why are you two just standing out here? Eve and daddy are in there wanting to play some Christmas music.” When no one at all responded to this and a dog, off somewhere in the distance, barked, and was met with silence when that sound faded away Felicity stood there with her arms folded under her breasts. She looked angrier than any of us. Well, aside from Jill that is, whose stony silence was beginning to worry me. Suddenly I realized that I wasn't shivering just from the cold of the weather.

“Look, Eve is actually very nice. If you three would just take the time to sit and chat with her, as I've been doing while ya'll have been out here having yourselves a pity party, I think you would agree with me that..”

But Felicity's voice was cut down, harsh, sharp and loudly by none other than Jill. Jill, the calm, cynical, and sometimes oddly detached eldest sister was glaring at Felicity that I hadn't seen her do since we were in our teens. Felicity did not bother to disguise the sudden hurt expression on her face this time. She opened her mouth as if to protest to Jill but Jill said, “Shut up, Cissy. You're always trying to be so damn bright and sunny. Give it up. You don't even know the woman. She could be an axe murderer for all you know and your talking about her like she's your favorite old relative.”

Silence. Even Dawn looked shocked at Jill's outburst, but Felicity was seething, her hurt quickly warped into hot anger again.

“Oh is that so? I guess you wouldn't know would you, since all the three of you want to do is see it all your way. Your way or the highway.”

Dawn made a move to open her mouth and Jill growled and threw her hands in the air and stalked off, the length of the patio, as far away as she could get from Felicity.

“Maybe that's why you two, you and Julie have had such unlucky times in love...so selfish you can't even let your own dad enjoy the holidays without some type of drama!! The two of you haven't changed at all!”

At the mention of my name brought into the fray, I began, “Now just a minute...” but Jill cut me off, suddenly there right under Felicity's nose, in an aggressive pose.

Jill thrust her index finger at Felicity as she spoke, “No, Julie, don't' even bother talking to her because that's what she wants. Us to feel bad. Nothing else ever occurs to her but her own feelings and that and kissing up to daddy of course. She hasn't changed much either I suppose.”

Felicity's blue eyes filled with tears and she was gone in a dash, as she stalked off the words, “I hate you Jill!” were heard, if spoken in barely a whisper.

I tried to catch Jill's eye as she stalked past me, looking meaner than I'd ever seen her, but she brushed me aside as if I were a peasant in the way of her, the might Queen Bee, and she stalked to the other side of dad's house, where neither I nor Dawn could see her. As for Dawn, she suddenly looked as if all of her energy had been drained from her at once. Shaking her head she said, face up to the sky so as to avoid my eyes, “I know what Felicity said was harsh and wrong, too but....maybe she's right. Maybe we did overreact. Maybe we need to just let Daddy have his fun. Its Christmas, we ought to all be able to get alone...”

When I found I couldn't speak a word in reply, for both anger and sadness beat at my heart like a drum, apparently Dawn took my silence for anger, fear, or both and she muttered under her breath, “Fine, be that way, don't talk at all!” and shuffled away.

I sighed and stared up at the sky, as Dawn had been doing earlier, and wondered what she'd been thinking just before she had spoken earlier. Were we being too harsh on daddy? Yet, for all of our faults as the four of us surely had, it seemed that dad could have told us about Eve's apparent young age prior to our meeting her. Couldn't he?

I did not know if we had been asking for too much or not, and it had been my own thought after all, but I felt like we, being his own children, had at least been entitled to that much, if not more. No, we weren't acting like children being so shocked, dad was acting like a child. Squaring my shoulders as if that settled that, I chose to go back into the house and follow Felicity, to see if maybe she would make up with us before facing dad and his new love again. Anything before that....

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