A Christmas Karoll
CHAPTER ONE: "T'was the night before, the night before Christmas ..."
"Ooohhh, you can set my truck on fire, roll it down a hill, but I still wouldn't trade it for a Coup DeVille ..." Karroll 'KC' Canavan sang at the top of her lungs, unable to remember the singer or title of the old country song, but liked the fact it conveyed her affection for her mode of transportation that snowy morning.
There had been an unusually light snowfall up until that point in Portland, Maine. Considering it was December 23 and almost Christmas, but Mother Nature decided to delight snowmobilers, skiers and children alike by sending a Nor'easter rushing up the eastern seaboard. At least six inches of fresh power had fallen on the city since midnight. The weather forecast promised at least a foot more.
"Love my four-wheel drive." KC grinned patting the dashboard of her Mazda B-4000 pick-up. She also loved snow, thrilled with the prospect of having a white Christmas after all.
The 24 year-old blonde was born and raised in the Boston area, where most of her large, extended family still resided. Upon her graduation from the Boston School of Architecture and Design, at the top of her class thank you very much, there was only one firm she had her heart set on working for. Blackstone Architects, Inc. was one of the oldest and most respected architectural firms in the northeast, if not the country.
The company was founded by Alexander Blackstone I in 1888, with his son Alex II and grandson Alex III carrying on the family tradition until their deaths. Currently the company was still helmed by a Blackstone, just not a traditional one.
Alexander III took over running the firm from his father in 1960. In 1972 when is wife announced she was pregnant, Alex had been delighted at the prospect of having a son to carry on the family name and eventually the business.
When Gloria Blackstone presented her husband with a bouncing baby girl, she feared his reaction and possible disappointment. Alexander completely surprised everyone, including himself, when he fell head over heals for his new daughter. The Blackstone's decide to keep with tradition regardless of gender and named the baby Alexandra.
From the day she could hold a crayon, it was evident that apples certainly didn't fall far from the tree. By age 18, Xandra, as she liked to be called, had her parent's dark good looks and already stood 5 feet 11 inches tall. There was no doubt in anyone's mind, including her teachers', that the youngest Blackstone would one day surpass even her father's scope and imagination when it came to building design. She adored both her parents, the three becoming as close as a family could possibly be. No other children were in the plans for the couple, which suited everyone involved just fine. Alex III knew when it came time, the family firm would pass into very capable hands.
Just five years ago, under very tragic circumstances, Xandra's time had arrived all too soon.
The Blackstone building occupied a corner lot on Commercial Street in Portland. The six story structure, designed by Alex I was magnificent in its time and was still very impressive from its stone archway entrance, all the way up to the malevolent looking gargoyles that sat atop the building and peered down at those who passed by. The firm was located on the sixth floor with the remaining lower levels rented out as office space to many other diverse companies.
KC pulled her truck into the parking garage adjacent to her place of employment and quickly found a space designated for Blackstone employees only. "Ah, a nice perk of this job if I do say so myself." She mused aloud.
At 5 feet 5 inches, the young woman had to literally jump out of the pick-up, always thankful for Blackstone's casual dress code so she never had to attempt that feat in heels. KC pulled the hood of her wool parker up over her short, white blonde hair, put her head down against the blowing snow and scooted around the corner of the building into the relative calm of the stone archway. She stomped her feet to relieve her L.L. Bean boots of as much snow as possible before entering the foyer of the building.
A blast of warm air greeted her chilled face and she broke into a smile when she saw her buddy Lewis on duty that morning behind the reception desk. He guarded it like a command post.
"Morning KC." He was handsome in his security uniform and flashed even, white teeth. "Nasty one huh?"
"Believe it or not Lewis, I actually think it's beautiful." She replied, rushing by the desk trying to catch the elevator that had just arrived. "Hold the doors please!" KC called out to the back of someone just entering the car.
She was relieved to see a large hand snake out, grab the edge of the door and hold it open long enough for her to slip inside. KC came face to face with one of her favorite people. "Thanks Will!"
"Not a problem KC."
William West, a 40-year veteran of Blackstone, was second in command and Xandra's right hand man. A very talented architect in his own right, West had been hired by Alex II, was Alex III closest friend and his best man when Alex married the beautiful Gloria. He was tall, ruggedly handsome, and one of the nicest people KC had ever encountered. The engraved laugh lines around his twinkling brown eyes were a testament to his constant good humor. The graying at the temples just added to his good looks.
He smiled down at the young woman he had come to like and respect. "Your kind of weather huh?"
"I do love it." She admitted. "Although driving to my parents' in Boston tomorrow will be a little slow going."
"Home for the holidays." The older man stated rather than asked.
"Yep. I can't wait." KC nodded, watching the orange numbers above the elevator door crawl from 1 to 6. "It's been a long time since my family has all been together."
The mention of family drew the woman's thoughts to the awful events those years ago that brought Xandra Blackstone suddenly into the spotlight of the firm and the newspapers. Since KC had only been with the company for the last 2 years, she had heard the tragic story from her co-workers. There were only ten full time employees, including Will, at Blackstone. They were a very tight knit group except for their reclusive boss who remained aloof and would only deal with Will West. Xandra's demeanor earned her the nickname Ice Queen, one of her nicer titles. KC, knowing the circumstances of her retreat from society, could never bring herself to use any of the cruel nicknames even though at times, Ms. Blackstone had earned them.
Five years ago, on a very snowy Christmas Eve, Alexander and Gloria Blackstone decided to head home early to get ready for a party they were hosting that evening. They lived in a beautiful oceanfront home in Cape Elizabeth, an affluent community just a few miles outside of Portland. Alex hated driving in the snow, but his very business-minded daughter was determined to finish one last detail of an important project they were working on. She told her parents she would meet them at home as soon as she was done. While traveling on I-95 at a very safe rate of speed in consideration of the road conditions, the Blackstone's were suddenly passed by a trucker intent on getting to his destination much faster than the weather was allowing. The rear end of the eighteen-wheeler began to sway back and forth like an angry gator's tail, sweeping the Blackstone's SUV off the highway and into a stand of pine trees. They were killed instantly.
Xandra had been 25 the year of the accident and the only time she had been separated from her parents, were the four years she was away at college, they remained very close even then. Now, in a blink of an eye, she had lost them both. The young woman was beyond devastated. Racked with guilt and pain, she went into isolation for months, handing the running of the company over to her father's best friend, William West. Xandra knew she could trust him with the firm, but really didn't care one way or the other.
The last remaining Blackstone was the sole heir to her family's estate and remained in the Cape Elizabeth home. Her only companions were her cat, Ruler and the housekeeper, Mrs. Ellis. Marion Ellis had worked for Gloria and Alex for more than 30 years and was actually more a member of the family, than an employee. She was almost as devastated as Xandra, but had to keep her wits about her. She needed to take care of the young woman she regarded as a daughter, even though she had three grown children of her own. At Xandra's pleading, Marion left her small, but comfortable apartment in Portland and moved permanently to the Cape Elizabeth home. She began the difficult task of trying to bring the young Blackstone back to the land of the living.
It took almost a year before Xandra stepped under the stone archway again to try to return to work. She eventually took the reigns of the company back from a grateful William, but she was not the same. She traveled, met with clients, proposed plans and closed deals, but would never again pick up a drafting pencil to sketch out a design that was just fighting to be put onto paper. The creative muse died with her beloved parents that day, right along with the recognition of any holidays, especially Christmas.
KC was suddenly brought back from her sad thoughts by William's deep voice. "I'm going to try to persuade Xandra to let you all go early tomorrow so everyone can get a head start on travel plans if they have any."
The blonde was quiet for a moment, not quite sure how to proceed, never having broached the subject of their boss with William.
"It's not an easy time of year for her is it?" She finally said as the doors slid open on the sixth floor.
West, being the natural gentleman that he was, took KC's arm and together they stepped out of the elevator and into the quiet hallway. It was still early and if anyone else had arrived they were either in their office or possibly the conference room where fresh coffee could be found.
William looked down into clear green eyes judging the sincerity of the question. Most of Blackstone's employees respected Xandra but they didn't like her tyrannical rule, especially around the holidays. Celebrations of any kind were strictly forbidden in the office.
Will decided KC had asked the question out of concern and not idle curiosity or cruelty. "No, it's the worst possible time for Xandra. I've tried over the years to ease her out of the protective shell with which she surrounds herself, but that seems to be beyond my, or anyone elses capability."
KC had only spoken to Xandra a couple of times. A brief hello passing in the hallway, but she saw enough of the elusive Ms. Blackstone to determine she was one of the most beautiful women she had ever laid eyes on. The executive's full-grown height eventually reached just above six feet. Raven black hair and chiseled features surrounded the bluest eyes she had ever seen, but they were also the coldest. KC had always wondered if Xandra ever dated and if so, would it have been a man or woman? She was hoping the latter, not that it would do her any good. Rumor had it that the young president had no love or social life, William and Mrs. Ellis being her only friends.
Karroll Canavan made a sudden rash decision and voiced it aloud. "What if I go in and see Ms. Blackstone tomorrow morning and ask her about letting us out early?"
William's eyes widened.
KC explained. "Maybe it would be nicer coming from one of us instead of it looking like we sent you in there to do our dirty work because we are afraid of her or something. I mean, no one ever seems to reach out to her, except you of course."
"That's because they're all afraid of having their hand bitten off." William grinned, but was saddened by the truth of it. "I knew her 'before' you know. I watched her grow into one of the funniest and warmest human beings I had ever met. You don't know how hard it is for me to see her this way. I love her like a daughter."
KC kept silent because she wanted him to go on.
"Everyone asks me why I stay, why I put up with her. I know the other employees stay because she pays incredibly well for good work, but for me, I stay because I care about her and I am all she has left." William sighed, shrugging large shoulders. "I know she cares about me and this business. She even cares about all of you, but she will never show it or admit it. For Xandra to care, is for her to risk loss. Very sad and lonely for her, but that's the only way she knows how to survive."
"That settles it then." KC stated firmly. "I will pay a visit to Ms. Blackstone's office first thing tomorrow morning and personally request we all get out of here at noon. Of course I might lose my job, but what the hell."
William laughed. "I seriously doubt that KC. You are far too talented to fire over a simple request."
"She knows my work?" She paused then answered her own question. "Well of course she does, she's the boss after all."
"She knows everything about this company my friend." Will laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Xandra takes a great deal of interest in her employees. There aren't that many of us and she really values our work. The way she expresses that value may not be in words, but with great pay and benefits."
The blonde nodded solemnly, "Yeah, but sometimes words mean so much more."
"Well then, go and see how good you are with words tomorrow morning against the Blackstone Wall." He smiled.
"Eeyaah. Wish me luck."
"Actually, I hope with all my heart you can get through to her on some level. God knows I've tried." With that said, William wandered off down the hall towards his office. KC, deep in thought, watched his retreat.
Alexandra Blackstone sat quietly gazing out the large plate glass window that ran along the entire length of the back wall of her elegant office. She had a wonderful view of the Old Port section of the city. Once a run-down waterfront district, the city of Portland had given that area a complete facelift. It now boasted an array of great little shops, taverns, sports bars and four-star restaurants. It had been one of the tall executive's favorite places to prowl ... before.
It was that time of year again. Although the pain never eased up completely, the Christmas season pushed in on her very soul like a huge weight. Signs of the holiday were everywhere, popping up right after Halloween. There was just no escaping it.
Xandra knew she had to conquer this mind numbing pain somehow. She had secretly tried therapy but to no avail. Knowing she was hurting those few people that still managed to care about her, only made her feel more guilt. Xandra was very aware that most of her employees despised her and those few who didn't, pitied her. Either emotion did not sit well with the dark beauty but she seemed to be incapable of changing her outlook.
I just need to get through another Christmas season ...as quickly as possible. If only I had the power to change time. She thought sadly. Well hell, if I could do that, I would not be in this situation in the first place. I would just go back five years, drive my parents home, and they would still be alive. Of course I could have died that night with them, but it would be better than living like this. I just had to stay and finish that stupid project.
Pain, as fresh and brutal as the day the accident happened, suddenly gripped Xandra causing her to jump to her feet, grab her coat and rush out of her office. She needed to get away from the building that harbored so many memories, if only for a little while.
As she made her way past one particular office, a concerned pair of green eyes followed her.
CHAPTER TWO: "It was the night before Christmas ...."
At 9 a.m. sharp the following morning, KC nervously stood in front of a large oak door staring at a gold nameplate engraved with Xandra's full name and title. What on earth was I thinking? She mentally thumped herself tossing the beautifully wrapped present back and forth in her hands. She hates Christmas so I go and buy her a gift, which is strictly against company policy. On top of that I am going to ask her for a favor. I am SO fired.
Just as the young architect decided to turn and run, the wooden door suddenly swung open and she found herself impaled on two blue ice chips staring down at her from an impossible height.
The executive if surprised, didn't show it. "Is there something I can do for you Ms. Canavan?" There was no warmth in the deep rich voice and when those eyes tracked down to the object in KC's hands, an elegant brow lifted to punctuate the question.
The blonde woman was momentarily speechless. She had never been this close to Alexandra Blackstone and she was completely frozen to the spot, a cold chill ran down her spine. No wonder they call her the Ice Queen. The casual dress code apparently did not apply to the president of the company because KC had only seen her dressed as she was now, in a very well tailored suit. She exuded power.
KC muttered. "Um ... well actually I wanted to ask you a favor if I may be so bold."
That unexpected request backed Xandra up a few steps but she quickly regained her composure. "If you are so bold, please come in." She made a sweeping gesture with her arm. When KC failed to move she eased off the intimidation factor a few notches. "Contrary to popular belief Ms. Canavan, I won't bite you."
"Now that's a damn shame." KC mumbled as she entered the office.
I said that out loud? "Um, please call me KC ... everyone has used my initials since I was in grade school."
"I thought your first name was Carol?" Xandra gracefully moved behind her desk, subconsciously putting a barrier between herself and her attractive employee. Attractive! Where did that come from?
KC was surprised the executive knew her real name. "Well yes, it is but I spell it K-A-R-R-O-L-L. My mother was never very traditional and also had a slight stutter." She crinkled her nose with a grin.
The stoic woman never changed expressions.
"Ok, not funny." She said mostly to herself then looked up into those incredible eyes again. "I won't waste any more of your time. I was just wondering if it would be at all possible for us to be able to leave at noon today. It's still snowing fairly hard and I'm driving to my folks' home in Boston as soon as I can leave here. I would love to be there before dark. I think a few of the others are traveling too. Michelle, I believe, is going up to Old Town." KC knew she was rambling but didn't know how to talk to the imposing figure.
There was an unearthly silence for what seem to KC, an eternity. Finally Xandra regarded her coolly. "The Mander project is nearly complete but I need some revised floor plans delivered to Tom Mander's home in Westbrook by one o'clock. Please take care of the delivery yourself and then you are all free to leave by two if you feel the need."
The older women knew she was being a bitch but she couldn't bring herself to let others enjoy the season that brought her so much torment. She waited and watched the blonde, fully expecting visual disappointment, actually hoping that would happen so she could at least feel guilt. Guilt was her constant companion.
Instead she looked into emerald eyes that conveyed not anger as she had expected or even pity, which she would have hated, but compassion and understanding. It was so totally unexpected it slammed into Xandra like a physical blow.
KC squared her shoulders, absently brushing a strand of golden hair from in front of her eyes. "Thank you. I'm sure everyone will appreciate the head start."
Xandra knew for certain that statement was said with the utmost sincerity. She almost wished that her young employee had slapped her instead.
"Well, um ....guess I'd better get back to work. I will take care of delivering Mr. Mander's plans by one this afternoon." KC said evenly, regarding the package in her hand. "I know it's against company policy but I just couldn't come in here empty handed on Christmas Eve and ask you for a favor. It's not much but I really hope you'll accept this." She placed the gift on the edge of Xandra's huge desk.
"I don't follow Christmas traditions, Ms. Canavan ..."
A deep sigh. "KC." She lowered her head not feeling up to an argument. "I guess I can make this one exception."
"Good." KC nodded, backed away from the desk and turned to leave. Just before passing through the open doorway she looked back over her shoulder and made contact with those intense eyes one last time. "Merry Christmas Ms. Blackstone." Then she was gone.
Alexandra stood completely immobile until she was able to breathe normally again. She picked up the present and proceeded on wobbly legs to the large couch that rested against the wall to the left of her desk. She gingerly eased herself down onto the cool leather cushions, placed the package on the coffee table in front of her, resting her arms across the top of her knees. She took great care to be in complete control of her outward emotions at all times but right now she was feeling very off kilter.
She thought about the young woman who had just left her office. She knew about Karroll Canavan and how talented she was. All her employees were the best at what they did. The executive realized she had never been close enough to KC before to notice just how green her eyes were, like the ocean off the cape on a windy day ... or the slight crinkle of her nose when she smiled. What the hell am I thinking? Her mind screamed. I can't let this woman in! I can't let anyone in!
Xandra tried to calm herself by putting her focus back on the gift that was sitting in front of her. The package was wrapped in beautifully ornate silver paper. The ribbon and bow, she was shocked to realize, were the same color as her own eyes. Ah just a coincidence, you fool. She picked up the package, turned it around in her hands a couple times and shook it, before deciding she might as well find out just what kind of gift her employee deem fit to give a boss who hated Christmas.
Suddenly she had a thought. Carefully lifting the package up to her ear, Xandra listened for the slightest sound of ticking. "Don't be ridiculous, she doesn't exactly fit a terrorist profile." She admonished herself.
Xandra carefully unwrapped the silver paper and found a box engraved with the words "Filmore's Candy Since 1880" Filmore's she knew, was one of the finest candy makers in the northeast, also one of the most expensive. How did she know about my sweet tooth? She wondered opening the box and upon viewing the contents, her jaw swung loose. Or my love of dolphins ...
She gently removed a perfect replica of two dolphins frolicking in the ocean. It was finely carved in detail out of pure white chocolate. The one thing that still gave the woman any semblance of happiness, was collecting anything to do with dolphins. She almost, but not quite ... smiled. "Ms. Canavan, this is way too beautiful to eat."
Alexandra placed the chocolate art on the coffee table, reclined onto the couch putting her hands behind her head and gazed out at the winter wonderland. Her thoughts were swirling around like the million snowflakes outside her window. Their gentle dance dulled her senses, easing the tightness around her heart and she slipped into a deep sleep.
It was that horrendous dream again. She had a birds-eye view of a snowy highway and the slow moving traffic below her. It was like she was a winged creature eavesdropping over and over again on the tragic events that forever changed her life. Since she knew it was only a dream, she willed herself to wake up before the back of that truck swung around, yet again, resulting in her parents' tormented screams, followed by complete silence signaling their deaths.
Xandra heard a gentle voice that was very close. "It's ok. It's only a dream, wake up now."
The dark haired woman bolted upright, heart pounding, wild eyes racing around the room only to land on the face of a woman she had never seen before, perched on the edge of her coffee table.
"Who the hell are you?"
"Try to relax. You were having a bad dream." Her voice was pleasant, trying to calm the distraught woman but Xandra was having none of it, especially when she noticed the woman's clothing, or lack there of.
The stranger sported shoulder-length curly blonde hair. What little there was of the outfit she was hardly wearing, Xandra was amazed to realize, was made of ... buckskin.
"I repeat ....who the hell are you and how did you get into my office half naked? This is Maine in December for Christ sake!" The executive was getting more angry than scared now and had gained enough wits about her to notice that the woman was quite attractive, in a weird sort of way of course.
"I am NOT half naked, this is how I dress." Blonde curls bobbed as she lifted her chin defiantly. "As for who I am, I am Ephiny, your Amazon spirit guide to Christmas past ... I am here to help you."
"Help me what? Amazon? I didn't order anything from you guys. I don't even like to read or listen to music. Maybe you people are into selling costumes now and you're their spokes model!" Xandra was waving her arms in frustration. "I admit this dream is much better than the one I usually have, but a dream never the less."
"I have no idea what a 'spokes model' is but I have been sent here to help you understand and work through the pain you have been suffering with the last five years." Ephiny explained gently.
Xandra flew off the couch, running slender fingers through dark hair. "I'm finally having a nervous breakdown." She whirled on the Amazon. "You are NOT real." To prove her point she poked her index finger in the direction of Ephiny's exposed navel, and as expected, her hand passed right on through the Amazon's torso. "See!"
"Hey! Cut it out, that tickles!" Ephiny giggled backing away from the offending hand. "Look, I am a spirit, so I am not a solid life form like you are, but I am real. You know who the Amazon's were don't you?"
"Well you should, since they were your ancestors. I was sent here as your spirit guide to help you accept Christmas back into your heart."
Blue eyes narrowed. "Kinda puny for an Amazon aren't you? Besides when did the Amazons start celebrating Christmas?"
"Hey, any excuse for a party." Ephiny answered ignoring the height comment.
Finding no humor in the situation, the tall woman glared at the Amazon.
"Look, there are three of us who have been sent to take you on a journey of discovery." She tried to explain.
"What exactly is it you want me to discover?" Xandra growled.
"What?" Dark brows furrowed.
"You need to discover, or should I say, rediscover, yourself. Who you were before this sorrow buried you alive."
Xandra eyed her cautiously. "Maybe I don't want to find that person again. Maybe I just need to feel this pain."
Ephiny sighed. "I hope when this journey is over, you'll feel differently about that. But you need to give us a chance to help you."
"You said 'three'. Where are the other two?"
"You will meet them in due time. The first part of your journey is with me." Ephiny was hoping it was interest Xandra was showing.
The executive was very quiet for a few moments. "Whatever. I still think my mind is playing tricks on me, and this is a dream, but at least it's not a nightmare. Lead on oh Amazon Spirit Guide."
Ephiny ignored the sarcasm. "I want you to close your eyes, breathe deeply and relax."
"You're not going to do anything kinky to me now are you?" Xandra smirked.
"No. We save the kinky stuff for our parties. Now, close your eyes and your mouth and be still." The woman admonished.
Xandra figured what the hell, it was something to take her mind off the holiday, so she complied. She closed her eyes and found herself surrounded by a warm rush of air. A flash of light penetrated her eyelids just before she was snapped back to reality by wave of familiar sounds.
Her eyes popped open and she was momentarily confused by what she saw. If she didn't know better she would have sworn she was in her own back yard in Cape Elizabeth. The large beautiful lawn sloped gently down to the ocean, a natural rock wall separating grass from the sand. They were standing in the middle of what looked to be a child's birthday party. There were people, balloons, noisemakers and party hats everywhere. In the middle of the commotion, a blindfolded girl with raven black hair was trying to smack a swinging dolphin shaped piñata with a large stick.
Xandra had a sudden intake of breath with the recognition. "My god! That's me. This is my tenth birthday party. I remember it like it was yesterday." A stunned smile almost made an appearance. "If you wait about five minutes, I'll whack Jimmy Patterson right in the head."
Before that event could occur, Xandra spotted her parents across the yard, laughing at her young antics. "Mom .....Dad...." She started toward them.
"They can't see or hear us Xandra. I'm sorry. We are merely spectators." Ephiny said gently.
The tall woman angrily turned on her spirit guide. "Why are you doing this to me? Why have you brought me here? Aren't I in enough pain as it is?"
Ephiny wished she could place a comforting hand on Xandra's arm, but physical contact was impossible in her spirit form. She explained calmly, "Some of this journey will be painful, but you need to travel this path to understand why things happen the way they do and how better to deal with those events. We are going to go back a little farther now."
While she was shaking with emotion, that warm feeling came over Xandra again. She tried to keep her eyes open this time only to be blinded by the bright flash of light, causing her to throw her hands up in front of her face. When the light faded away, she dropped her arms and found herself now standing inside her home. They were in the living room facing an extremely tall, brightly decorated Christmas tree. A fire was crackling merrily in the hearth, giving the room a Norman Rockwell look.
Behind the two visitors, familiar voices could be heard from the hall causing Xandra to whirl around in time to watch a handsome young couple come through the doorway. The tall slender beauty held an infant in her arms. At first Xandra thought she was looking at herself, but shock took over when she realized the women had to be her mother at about the same age she herself was now. The attractive man at her side was her father, so the infant could only be ...
"Look at us ..." Her voice trailed off.
Ephiny nodded. "Yep, your very first Christmas. You and your mother could have been twins. I can see where you get your good looks."
Xandra was too enthralled to hear the compliment.
"Now watch carefully." Her guide instructed.
The images in the room began to move very quickly, sort of like the fast-forward on a VCR. There was always a Christmas tree of some sort in the strange movie, but Xandra watched herself grow up, her parents, friends and even Mrs. Ellis, grow older, literally right in front of her eyes. Happy memories rushed her senses and it was almost more than she could handle.
"Please stop!" She begged. Suddenly everything went still and it was very, very dark. She felt only Ephiny's presence in the empty void.
"Notice anything particular about all those passing years?" The Amazon asked.
"You mean aside from the fact that I just saw my whole life flash before my eyes?" Confusion was making the tall woman impatient.
"What did you notice most about your life?"
Xandra took a deep breath and tried to concentrate on what she had just seen. Then it dawned on her. "I was always smiling."
"Bingo! Yes you were." Ephiny seemed pleased.
"I had a good reason to smile. My parents were alive and we were a happy family." Xandra hung her head.
"True, but people die every day. We have no control over how and when that will happen. It is very difficult for the loved ones left behind but that's life. Just because your parents' lives ended, albeit suddenly, didn't mean you had to join them." She tried to be comforting while making sense.
"But I had control over when they died. If I had driven my parents home that night they would still be alive."
"Or you could have died with them." The Amazon interjected. "What do you think you could have done differently against that truck?"
"Anything would have been better than living with this guilt! I was so wrapped up in my work that I completely shut out the world around me. My parents paid the price and I must live with that for the rest of my life!" Xandra said through clenched teeth.
Ephiny shook her head sending curls in motion. "I need to show you one last thing before I leave you."
The tall executive was too emotionally exhausted to fight it. By now she was used to Ephiny's rapid transit system, merely waiting for the light to fade and the stillness to settle in before opening her eyes again.
Alexandra was now standing next to a large drafting table in the corner of the conference room at Blackstone. Leaning over the table peering at some blue prints, was her father. The door suddenly swung open and she found herself face to face with her 25 year-old twin, accompanied by her mother.
"Mom remained beautiful up until the day she died, didn't she?" A single tear slid down a high cheekbone.
"She was a stunner." Ephiny agreed. "Your Dad was quite the hunk too."
They watched in fascinated silence.
"Ah, my two beauties!" Alex grinned as they approached.
"Flattery will get you no where my pet, if you don't get your butt in gear and get us home to set up for the party tonight." Gloria admonished him.
"Ok, ok ... I just wanted to finish up this last blue print for Wakefield before the holidays." He said turning his megawatt smile on his daughter. "But maybe my very talented offspring could finish up for me so we could be on our way ... hmmm?"
"Sure Dad. I just thought you might want me to drive you guys home with the snow and all. I know how you hate driving in it." The young Xandra said.
"Since your mother convinced me to buy that Titanic of a 4-wheel drive SUV, I really don't mind driving in this mess. We will take it slow, I promise and I will feel much better knowing this job has been taken care of." He assured his daughter.
"Well then it's settled." Young Xandra smiled. "I'll take care of this. You two head home, start the party and I will be along when I'm done. My car is still in the parking garage so I have a way home. I won't be far behind you."
Her parents leaned in and each gave her a quick kiss. "Thanks Xandi." Alex said using his favorite nickname. "See you at home." They left the conference room arm in arm.
The thirty-year old Xandra promptly passed out cold.
Xandra slowly drifted up to the surface of consciousness, realizing it was sunlight that now warmed her face. She opened her eyes to see a field of beautiful wildflowers spread out before her, and found herself propped up against a large maple tree. She began to look around for her guide.
Ephiny was seated quietly to her right. "Welcome back."
"Where are we now?"
"A virtual reality setting of my own creation. I wanted you someplace calm for a few minutes while you sort things out." The Amazon said gently.
Their eyes met. "My Dad asked me to stay and finish that job." Xandra acknowledged.
"Yes, he did. Does that help some with the guilt?"
The dark head lowered. "I'm not sure what I feel at the moment."
"That's ok. You need to process what you've seen but I'm afraid you still have a few more things you need to see if this is going to be effective." Eph said standing up, straightening her buckskin skirt. "Your next guide should be along any time now."
Not a second after those words were said, they heard a disturbance in the air above them, not unlike the sound of an approaching jet.
With a wave of wind and sound washing over them, a figure swooped out of the heavens, stopped and hovered about ten feet off the ground.
Xandra should have been prepared for anything considering what she had witnessed in this 'dream' so far, but her eyes nearly rolled out of her head when she took in the site before her.
The stranger was dressed exactly like a World War I flying ace, complete with aviator cap, goggles and sporting a bright red scarf. From the tightness of the uniform, the executive had no doubt the person was a woman, but the jaw dropping aspect of the scene, was this bizarre pilot's transportation. She was riding a broomstick. It was long and sleek with name 'Nimbus 2000' carved near the end of the handle.
"Whoo hoo! That was a trip and a half!" The unusual woman jumped to the ground leaving the broom hovering where it had come to a stop in mid-air. She pulled off the aviator cap, shook her head, sending a cascade of blonde waves down over her shoulders. A shampoo ad immediately came to Xandra's mind.
Ephiny smirked. "Always have to make a grand entrance, don't you Aphrodite?" She nodded toward the broomstick. "Does Harry Potter know you borrowed that again?"
"No big." The pilot said. "He doesn't need it until his next Quidditch game and I wanted some fun transportation this time."
Xandra, trying to gain her equilibrium, suddenly remembered her Greek mythology. "The Goddess of Love ... that Aphrodite?"
The new arrival looked pleased. "Heard of me huh? Well I'm kinda the being 'formally known as' now. The bottom sort of dropped out of the whole god and goddess craze, about the same time it did for the Amazons too, I think."
Ephiny rolled her eyes.
She continued on. "So we all had to go on unemployment for awhile until these guide jobs came up. Eph here is a spirit guide and I am now a heavenly body ... as if I wasn't before." She wiggled her eyebrows. "I'm a Christmas Angel. You can call me Chris for short."
The Amazon snorted.
"Enough out of you, leather lady. Your job here is done so be gone with you. I'll see ya at the staff meeting later." Chris waggled her polished nails to dismiss Ephiny.
The spirit guide could not help but laugh, then turned to her charge. "Chris will take you on from here. Listen with your heart and you'll be just fine."
"Will I ever see you again?" Xandra decided she would miss her.
"That's a possibility." Eph replied with a grin and faded into the scenery.
Her departure left Xandra and the flying ace alone in the field.
"Well hot stuff, onward and upwards I always say." Chris's expression was one of pure delight.
"You know all about me I presume." Xandra eyed her cautiously.
"Oh yeah ..." She waved her off. "We get briefed on everyone before we're assigned a case."
"Uh-huh." She nodded to the broom hovering nearby. "You don't expect me to ride on that thing do you?"
"Well duh! Of couse I do! It's a total blast. Trust me, I won't let you fall off. You just wrap those lovely long arms right around my waist." Chris seemed very excited about that prospect.
A dark brow quirked. "You certainly don't talk like an angel."
"How would you know sweetie? Ever talk to one before?"
"Good point." Changing the subject quickly, Xandra asked, "How am I suppose to hang on to you? You're not a solid being."
"Sure I am! Ephiny is a spirit, but I am an angel. Big diff. I can choose to be a solid life form if I wish and around you honey, I do wish." She winked. "Wanna test it out?" Chris extended her hand, pointing at Xandra. "Here, pull my finger."
The Christmas Angel burst out laughing at the tall woman's scowl. "You mortals have no sense of humor!"
Chris then jumped back aboard the broomstick, stuck the aviator cap back on, and extended her hand to Xandra. "Come on up. It will be a short flight and you'll be fine. Sit on the very back end where it feels a little more stable and hold on tight!"
"Does this thing really belong to Harry Potter?" Xandra inquired as she gingerly climbed up behind the celestial being.
Before she had an answer, they bolted off like a bullet shot from a gun. Just as fast as they took off however, they came to a complete and sudden stop.
"Kinda makes your head spin doesn't it." Chris grinned back at her wide-eyed passenger.
Xandra took stock of her surroundings and realized she was back in her Cape Elizabeth home. This time they were in the kitchen, still perched on the broomstick, floating a few feet off the floor. Everything looked as she had left it that morning. At least she thought it had been that morning.
Mrs. Ellis was completely unaware she had an audience as she moved around the kitchen, softly humming a Christmas tune. She was baking cookies and the aroma was wonderful.
"She always did make the most amazing cookies." Xandra said mostly to herself then tapped Chris on the shoulder. "Just why are we here anyway? This looks like present day."
"This is all happening in real time as they say." She answered as they heard the telephone ring.
Marion Ellis carefully wiped her hands on a dishtowel before reaching for the phone. "Blackstone residence."
"Hi Mom!" Xandra was surprised to hear the voice on the other end of the line as clearly as if they were in the same room.
"Renee!" It was Marion's oldest daughter, the mother of three of her ten grandchildren. "How are the kids? I bet they are wound up like tops."
"You have no idea. The thought of Santa arriving tonight, combined with all the sugar in the treats they've consumed, top that off with three feet of new snow to play in ......HELP!"
Her mother laughed.
"Mom, please tell me you are going to make it here tonight to celebrate Christmas Eve with us."
Marion Ellis stood very still, her shoulders drooping. "Oh Renee. I can't leave Alexandra alone on Christmas Eve. I just can't. You know I will be there first thing in the morning."
Her daughter tried to keep the frustration out of her voice. "Mom, that woman doesn't even celebrate Christmas. I know this night is especially hard for her, but she will just come home, eat whatever you cook and go up to her room. There is not one sign of the holidays in that house! She could care less if you were there with her or not."
"But I care, Ren." Marion sighed. "I want to be here. I can't stand the thought of Xandra being alone on this particular night."
"She is alone in her head anyway Mom. It's been five years now, time for her to move on."
"We get over grief in our own time." Marion stated softly.
"Yeah well, we were all pretty young when Dad died, but the one thing I do remember is that you never let it drag you under." Renee was becoming angry.
"That's because I had you kids to take care of and to love. I was in a great deal of pain but I was not alone." Marion explained.
"For starters she has you Mom, although why you still care is beyond me. She certainly doesn't repay the effort."
"Xandra does care in her own way. I still love the little girl I watched grow up and I pray that someday she will regain that innocent happiness."
An audible sigh was heard over the phone. "Ok Mom. If anyone has the Christmas spirit, it's certainly you. So we'll see you in the morning then?"
Marion allowed herself a smile. "First thing."
"Merry Christmas Mom, I love you."
"Love you too Renee." With that the older woman clicked off the phone.
Sadden blue eyes met compassionate gray ones. "I never knew she lost her husband at such a young age. She was just Mrs. Ellis, the wonderful woman who always took care of us. Here she is still taking care of me and how do I repay her? By keeping her from her family on Christmas Eve. I was always too wrapped up in self pity to even notice." Xandra turned her head away from the scene in the kitchen. "Can we go now?"
"Sure sweetie. I have one more stop to make with you though."
Xandra was not about to protest, figuring whatever it was she was about to be shown, she very much deserved to see.
A quick take off, a blur of images rushed by and once again they came to hover in a new location. Xandra realized her magical mystery tour had made a return visit to the conference room at Blackstone. "Oh not again." She grumbled but her interest was peeked when she noticed a head of white blonde hair leaning over the coffee maker.
"Boy do I need this coffee break." KC mumbled around a bite of donut. She sat down amongst a few of her co-workers around the large table.
"It's only ten o'clock KC, how bad could the morning be so far?" Jack Hammon asked dumping the fourth packet of sugar into his cup.
Michelle Miller raised an auburn eyebrow. "Rumor has it our brave little warrior here went into the dragon lady's lair first thing this morning and tried to get us an early release."
"How do you people find out this stuff?" The blonde looked her surprise.
"Small company Ms. Canavan. News travels fast, especially when an employee tries to get herself fired." Michelle chuckled. "Plus Will told us what you did and that we were free to go at two."
"Big deal." Jack grumped. "But we do thank you KC, for your effort. It must have been hell in there with the Ice Queen. Did you get frost bite?"
KC suddenly stood up, placed her palms on the table and glared at the group. "I know most of you don't like Ms. Blackstone ..."
Snorts of understatement could be heard.
KC continued undaunted. "She pays us very well and we have great benefits. So what if we can't whoop it up on the holidays around here. Out of respect to her and what she went through, it won't kill us to take the celebrating outside the building! I have a feeling that Alexandra Blackstone is probably a very warm, caring human being."
"Maybe." Jack set his coffee cup down on the table. "If you manage to chip your way through all that ice."
KC shook her head in frustration, turned and left the room.
Xandra was stunned. Not about the sentiments expressed by some employees, but the reaction it caused in Karroll Canavan. The fact that she defended the boss to her co-workers ... her friends, just didn't make sense.
"Why did she do that? She doesn't even know me."
Chris beamed. "That doesn't matter to people with KC's soul. They care unconditionally."
"Then she is a very remarkable young woman." The executive decided.
"That she is my tall friend." The angel agreed. "Now, I need to get you to your next guide before she gets her panties in a wad. So hop on for one more ride. Destination: Christmas Future." They were off again with a loud sonic boom only they could hear.
CHAPTER THREE: "The nightmare before Christmas ....."
The Nimbus 2000 deposited its two passengers gently on their feet. It was full night but the slight salty smell of the air and the sound of waves rolling onto a shore, told Xandra the ocean was very near.
A young woman strolled towards them accompanied by two children dressed as vampires, one carried a plastic pumpkin, the other a skull. Both containers obviously filled with goodies. Xandra hiked her eyebrows at her guide.
"Heh ... oopsie! Guess I kinda undershot the target holiday there a wee bit." Chris giggled removing her aviator cap. "No matter, we are still 30 years in the future."
The executive tried to figure out exactly where she was this trip. The winding shorefront road on which they landed looked very familiar yet somehow different. Xandra began to recognize some of the large brightly lit homes as those of her neighbors in Cape Elizabeth. However, there were several new structures among those she knew.
The two little trick or treaters broke away from their mom, ran directly at and right through Xandra and Chris.
"Whoa!" Xandra yelped.
"Eeeww! I hate when that happens!" The angel shuddered.
"Thought we were solid forms?" Xandra asked a little freaked.
"We are to each other, but those we visit can't see, hear or touch us." She explained as they watched the two little vamps race back and tug on their mother's arms.
"Can we go trick or treat at the haunted house, Mom?" The girl asked.
"Yeah can we?" Her brother pleaded.
"This house is not haunted. Old Lady Blackstone lives here and trust me, candy is the last thing she'd probably give you." The woman put her arms around their shoulders and herded them across the street. "There are plenty of other homes to visit, now scoot!"
"Aw Mom!" The siblings protested in unison but moved on.
Xandra had lost interest in their conversation when the mention of the Blackstone name spun her around to regard the large, dark structure directly in front of her. She realized with a shock, she was home once again.
Her surprise was interrupted by a sparkly beam of white light that descended from the night sky depositing an attractive young woman right in front of their eyes. This stranger had wild blonde hair, even wilder brown eyes and was encased head to toe in tight black leather.
"Nice outfit Catwoman." Chris snorted.
"Yeah well, Amelia Earhart wanted me to tell you she is not very happy parading around the hereafter in her underwear." The new comer shot back.
"Ahem ..." the executive cleared her throat.
"Sorry." Chris turned to Xandra. "This is Callie. She'll be your guide for the rest of your journey."
Xandra eyed the dangerous looking woman. "Are all of you guides blonde?"
"Well I certainly am, but Callie here is, shall we say, the black root of the family." The angel laughed at her own wit.
Callie ignored the remark and slinked over to the dark woman, slipping her arm through Xandra's. "Oh you are a tall one."
Xandra regarded their linked arms. "So you're the kind of angel I can touch?"
"Honey, as often as you like and I am no angel."
"No truer words have been spoken." Chris remarked trying to pry Callie's fingers off her captive. "You have been sent here to do a job, so get your mind on the assignment and your hands off our guest." To Xandra she said, "Callie is not a spirit and definitely not an angel. She is nothing more than a common ghost, or little demon is more like it."
"You're just jealous because I have all the fun and can orb better than you, fuzz brain. Don't worry, I know my job and I will take good care of her." She reached for Xandra again. "Now hop on that broom witchypoo and fly."
The Christmas Angel lifted her chin. "I really should get back before Harry notices the Nimbus 2000 is gone and he points that magic wand of his at me."
There was dead silence, accompanied by a couple of smirks.
Her eyes grew round. "Hey! You two have dirty minds ... although that didn't sound quite right did it? Anyway ..." Chris moved to Xandra's side and stood on her tip toes placing a gentle kiss on a smooth cheek. "Your journey won't get any easier but take heart because it's almost over. Good luck blue eyes." She pointed a hot pink nail at Callie. "You behave and be gentle."
"Always." Callie purred.
Chris shot the ghost a stern look, soften her expression for the dark beauty, hopped on the broom and was gone.
Callie decided to tone down her act a bit when she caught Xandra's troubled eyes looking up at her decaying family home.
"Come on." She said gently, leading the shaking woman over the cracked walkway towards the looming house. Grass and ragged brush had overtaken the yard and the house showed signs of disrepair.
"What's happened?" Was all Xandra could managed to say.
"This is what your future holds if you continue on the path you are currently taking." Callie explained tugging her arm and pulling them directly through the sidewall of the house. They passed through the solid object like smoke through a screen door. Xandra was a little startled but was getting used to the odd happenings.
They were now standing in the Blackstone's den. It was very dark, the only light coming from the lit fireplace cast odd shadows around the room. Even in the darkness Xandra could see the shabbiness of the furnishings and drapery. Some seemed to be held together only by the cobwebs that connected them. On closer inspection she realized the den was occupied by a lone, shriveled figure, slumped in a rocking chair near the fire.
Thirty years may have passed but there was still no mistaking those blue eyes glinting in the firelight.
Callie gently touched Xandra's arm. She could feel the trembling like a tiny shockwave. "Yes, this is your future. No friends or family around you. You have completely given up on life and love. You could even care less about your own surroundings."
"My company ...?"
"You sold it years ago. You do have enough money to keep yourself in a better lifestyle but you just don't have the heart to do so."
"Why? Is this all because I never get over the guilt I feel about my parent's deaths?" She asked her guide.
"Partly yes, but something else happened to push you completely over the edge. That my beauty, I will explain at our last destination." With that said, their bodies seem to explode in a burst of light, and rose upward like a million tiny fireflies.
It was still night when they regained their solid forms. Xandra felt a bit dizzy from her new experience of transport.
They were standing in a graveyard that had all the trappings of a horror film. There was a tall wrought iron fence that surrounded the cemetery. A rusty, unlatched gate creaked gently in the wind. Fog swirled close to the ground as a couple bats suddenly flew right past their heads, causing Xandra to duck.
"Nice special affects. Are you trying to put a scare in me Callie? Don't tell me, the bats are computer generated and the fog is dry ice, right? Did you borrow the set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer?" Dark brows rose in question.
"HA! I wish Buffy would show up so I could kick some little blonde bimbo butt." Callie laughed. "No, we're here because I need to show you one more thing." She crooked a finger at Xandra motioning her to follow and headed off weaving between headstones. After a few minutes the ghost came to a stop in front of a large stone that had a beautiful carved angel adorning the top. Xandra pulled up beside the guide.
"What is this?"
Callie pointed a pale finger. "See for yourself." A beam of bright light emitted from the ghost's extended hand illuminating the script on the headstone.
KARROLL "KC" CANAVAN
July 21, 1978
December 24, 2002
Beloved Daughter, Sister and Friend
The pain slammed into Xandra's chest knocking her to her knees. "Oh god, please no. Not again. Not her." She choked back a sob. "That's today's date! She never made it to her parents' did she?"
"Actually she never made it to that delivery you sent her on before she was to go home." Callie looked unemotionally down at her charge. "She was in a hurry, the roads weren't good ..." She let the words trail off. There wasn't much more that needed to be said.
Xandra began to sob burying her face in her hands. "I caused this! I was being a bitch and I caused this!"
"Accidents happen, my friend, but you need to change. You need to begin to live again and enjoy what you have because it can be taken from you so quickly. Losing your parents was devastating to you, but it was an accident." She pointed to the headstone. "This has not yet happened. How your future plays out, is entirely up to you. Not everyone gets a chance to preview their options. So what's it gonna be?"
Xandra raised hopeful tear filled eyes. "I can change this? I have time? I need to get back now and stop KC from leaving!"
Callie clapped her hands and immediately her form began to shimmer, the leather outfit and her skin melted away leaving the bleached white bones of a skeleton standing before Xandra.
The frightened executive fell back on her heels. "What's happening to you?"
The skull tipped back, jaw clacked open with a harsh laugh. "Good luck beautiful, the ball is in your court. I just couldn't resist one last party trick before my job here was done." The bones crumbled into a pile of dust.
"NO!! Come back! How do I get out of here and back home?" Xandra was frantic.
CHAPTER FOUR: "Deck the halls and all that jazz .."
"No, no, please come back!" Xandra's eyes flew open, awakened by her own screaming. She sat straight up and tried to get her bearings. Her bangs were plastered to her forehead with sweat and she was shivering uncontrollably. It took her several minutes to realize she was back in her office, in exactly the same spot she had fallen asleep.
She jumped off the couch and looked wildly around the silent room. Everything seemed exactly as before. The snow was falling quietly outside her window and the daylight indicated it was still before noon. Xandra regarded her watch and indeed it was only 11:30 a.m. By her calculations she had only been asleep for a couple hours. Had she been sleeping? Was everything she remembered so vividly just a dream?
"KC!" Deciding not to leave anything more to chance, she pulled open her door and rushed down the hall.
The offices Xandra passed by were all empty. Remembering a staff meeting that had been scheduled for that morning to discuss a bid on a new project, she headed for the conference room.
The entire staff of Blackstone that was seated around the large table jumped to their feet when their frantic looking president burst into the room.
"Xandra?" William West looked alarmed. "Is everything ok?"
Their boss was momentarily silent as she quickly scanned the room for a blonde head. What on earth do I say to these people? First things first. Aloud she asked, "Has anyone seen Ms. Canavan?"
Again Will was the only one who managed to find his tongue. "I think she is rounding up some plans you wanted delivered today."
Xandra's expression was one of relief. "Good she hasn't left yet. Thanks Will." She regarded the wide-eyed looks she was getting from the rest of her uneasy employees.
"Well, what are you all doing just standing around here?" Her tone was stern and you could have heard a pin drop. She burst into a dazzling smile. "You should all be home with your families. Now get! I don't want to see your faces until Monday."
Since it was only Tuesday morning, her staff was trying to decide which was harder to believe, five days off or the complete stranger posing as their boss who made it possible.
Eight heads swung in question towards William. He shrugged and laughed. "You heard the lady. An order is an order."
The stunned employees gathered up their belongings before whatever drug the Ice Queen was on, wore off. However, as they began to file pass the imposing woman, each one stopped, thanked her and sincerely wished her a Merry Christmas. Xandra returned the greeting with words conveying nothing but warmth.
When everyone had left the room, William approached his adopted daughter and wrapped her in a huge bear hug. "I have no idea what has happened but I couldn't receive a better Christmas present than to have you back."
Xandra returned the hug. "I'm not sure I can ever explain it, but I feel like the lock and chain around my heart are gone."
William pulled back and grinned. "Does this have anything to do with a green eyed blonde we both know?"
The tall beauty had the grace to blush. "I think probably more than even I realize." She admitted, then asked, "Did KC go to her office for those plans?"
"I believe so. You just missed her when you came in."
"I've got to catch her!" Xandra headed for the door but stopped and smiled at the man who had come to be like a father to her. "Thanks for all you have done for me, Will. You have always been there, even though most of the time I didn't deserve it. I can never repay you."
William West was trying to control his overflowing emotions. "Just seeing you happy, is reward enough. Now go find KC."
Xandra nodded. "Go home to your family Will. We'll talk on Monday. Merry Christmas." She was gone before he could respond.
KC was in her office gathering up the plans and some winter clothing she needed for the trip to Westbrook. Because of the snowy conditions, she wanted to give herself plenty of spare time to make her one o'clock delivery deadline. She had just shrugged into her coat when there was a quick rap on her door. It immediately swung open without invitation.
The employee was very surprised to see her gorgeous boss slip into the office. "Oh Ms. Blackstone! I was just about to leave and make your delivery."
Now that Xandra was face to face with the beautiful young woman, coherent thought left her. She knew she was sporting a completely goofy smile.
If KC had thought her boss attractive before, when Alexandra smiled she was simply breathtaking. The blue eyes were no longer cold ice chips but warm, inviting and somewhat seductive. Karroll Canavan was completely knocked off balance.
Xandra was the first to break the spell, although she wasn't quite sure where to begin. "Forget the delivery. It can wait until next week. I've sent everyone else home and I want you to be able to head to Boston early so you can take your time."
KC blinked. "Um, ok ....Is everything alright?"
"Everything is just fine. Great actually." Xandra replied laying her hand on KC's arm. "There is so much I want to tell you, not that you'll ever believe me, but it can wait until you get back. Now call your parents and tell them you are on your way. I have a phone call to make in my office then I will come back and walk you to the garage."
The blonde was too stunned to ask questions and just accepted the much welcome change. "Alright. That would be nice."
"Ok then." Xandra, positively bouncing with pent up energy, shot out the door.
Once back in her office, Xandra quickly punched in the number to her home phone.
"Blackstone residence." Just hearing the older woman's voice brought tears to her eyes.
"Mrs. Ellis ..."
"Alexandra? What can I do for you dear?"
"You have done far too much already. Now listen. I want you to bundle yourself up, grab one of the credit cards off my dresser, head to the Mall and buy those grandkids of yours all kinds of goodies. I don't want to see you back at the house until Monday."
There was complete silence on the other end of the line.
"Yes Xandra, I'm here. I just don't understand ...are you ok?" Marion Ellis asked with a shaky voice.
Xandra laughed. "I can honestly say I am way better than just ok. I'll try to explain later. Right now I want you to promise me you'll go buy those gifts and have a wonderful Christmas."
She could tell by the uneven tempo of the housekeeper's voice Mrs. Ellis had started to cry. "If that's what you want, I promise. What about you? I don't want you to be alone."
"Don't worry about me for once. You have always gone over and above the call of duty and ... I love you."
There was an audible sob through the phone line. "Oh Xandie, I love you too. I have to go before I make a complete fool of myself. Merry Christmas dear." A dial tone followed.
"Mission accomplished!" A disembodied voice echoed around Xandra's office. She spun around in time to see her three guides materialize right out of thin air. Ephiny and Callie were still dressed in buckskin and black leather respectively but the Christmas Angel had lost the flying ace outfit. She was now wearing a flowing white gown. The ensemble was topped off with a golden halo hovering above her head and large feathered wings sprouting out of her back. They all wore smug expressions looking quite pleased with themselves.
Xandra broke into a brilliant smile and nodded towards Chris. "Been shopping at 'Angels 'R Us' I see." Which prompted the other two to burst out laughing.
"Hey!" Chris was indignant. "Like these two don't look like Let's Make A Deal rejects."
"As overwhelming as this all was, it really wasn't dream was it?" Xandra moved towards them. "I'm glad I get to see you all again. I have a lot to thank you for."
"No need to thank us. We were just doing our job." Ephiny said. "However, we do have one more thing we wanted to share with you."
Blue eyes narrowed. "This doesn't involved riding on a broomstick does it?"
"No." Callie assured her. "You don't have to move an inch."
Chris waved her arms in an arch over her head and two beams of light appeared before them. The tiny shimmering particles whirled and danced until they came together to form two ghostly apparitions.
The floating beings materialized in an incandescent transparency, but Alexandra had no trouble recognizing her parents.
"Mom and Dad ..." She choked back a sob.
"Yes, my darling. It's us." Her Mother was radiant.
"Hello Xandie." Her father smiled.
"Your three friends here made it possible." Gloria smiled at the guides. "But they would have never been assigned to you if it weren't for KC."
He father nodded. "Prayers can be very powerful if they are said with sincerity. KC prayed every single night that you would find peace and happiness. Her prayers were heard and Ephiny, Callie and Chris were sent to help you find your life again. They also made the arrangements for us to make this brief visit, just in case you weren't quite convinced yet."
Tears were flowing freely over chiseled cheekbones now. "I think I am pretty convinced. I miss you both so much."
"And we miss you, sweetheart, but we watch over you every day." He father went on. "We want you to know that we are in a beautiful place but we can't really rest because you are in so much pain. We will all be together again someday for not for a very long time. You have a wonderful life ahead of you if you'll just open your heart and live it."
"I know Dad. I've been so caught up in my own sorrow, I've hurt everyone around me." Then Xandra asked, "Why does KC care so much? She doesn't even know me and I certainly haven't given her any reason to bother."
"She has looked within that wall you have put up around yourself and apparently likes what she sees." Alex wiggled his eyebrows.
Her mother laughed. "Xandra, we noticed all the pretty girls you used to bring home for vacations from school. As long as you're happy, it doesn't matter with whom you find that happiness. Now our time here is short, so please begin to live your life my beautiful child, then your father and I will finally be at peace." Alexander nodded his agreement.
"I promise I will from now on." Xandra said through the tears. "I wish I could hug you both."
"We do too honey, but just letting us be able to talk with you was granted by special favor. Now don't let that extraordinary young woman out of your life. We love you." Gloria said.
"Love you too." The executive whispered as her parents faded from sight. She turned to her guides and was surprised to find three sets of misty eyes. "Thank you all so much."
"No big." Callie tried to sound tough.
"Ok." Ephiny composed herself. "Time to move on to our next assignment. Alexandra Blackstone, it was a pleasure. Be happy and you won't have to put up with us again."
"That won't be a problem." Xandra grinned, brushing away tears with her fingertips. "But I will kinda miss you guys ... I think."
Just then her office door slid open and a blonde head popped in. "Am I interrupting? I was getting a little worried when you didn't come back."
"Just finishing some business." Xandra took a deep breath, composing herself. "Please come in."
KC moved all the way into the office. "Thought I heard you talking to someone." She moved right past the three guides not even knowing they were there.
"She's a little hottie." Callie leered.
Xandra was thankful KC couldn't hear the trio as the blonde approached and asked, "Are you feeling ok? You look a little flushed."
The executive regarded the three women over KC's shoulder and winked at them as they each waved and blinked out of site. "I'm fine. It's just been a really bizarre morning." She smiled down into emerald eyes. "Did you call your parents?"
"I did, yes. They're pretty excited I'll be arriving earlier than planned. Thank you."
"Um ....I know we hardly know each other, but for some reason I feel like I've known you forever ..."
Xandra nodded her understanding but let her continue.
"Well I was wondering, if you had no other plans of course ..." KC was flustered but pressed on. "... if maybe you would like to come home to Boston with me ...ah for Christmas." There she said it and held her breath.
It was so totally unexpected that Xandra stood speechless for a few seconds trying to swallow back a lump in her throat. "I ah ... well you see it's been a really long time since I've celebrated Christmas. I'm not sure I would even know where to begin. Besides how do your parents feel about this?"
"They said they would love to have you. The more the merrier is their motto."
Green eyes smiled up into startled blue ones. KC moved a little closer and laid her hand on Xandra's arm. "I know this will probably be a little overwhelming for you at first, but I don't want you to spend Christmas by yourself. On the drive to Boston I'll give you the inside scoop on everyone in my family so you'll be well armed."
Xandra recovered her balance and grinned. "I guess I have to start somewhere. Christmas with you and your family sounds like a very good place to begin."
KC was beaming. "That's settled then. How bout we drive to your house to pick up a few things, then head out." She laced her fingers through Xandra's and gently pulled her towards the door.
I had forgotten what the holiday spirit felt like. Alexandra Blackstone thought as she let KC lead her away. Moving across her office, Xandra could hear far off voices she was hoping were only in her head.
"HA! I knew KC would invite tall, dark and splendid to spend Christmas with her!" It was Callie. "Pay up you two."
"Like no way demon breath! Eph bet you, I didn't."
"Waddaya mean Dite? You bet your halo she wouldn't!" Ephiny retorted.
"I don't want that cheap thing she got on the Heaven Shopping Network!"
And so on it went as the two earth bound soulmates began their journey together.
CHRISTMAS EVE THE FOLLOWING YEAR
The most beautifully decorated house in Cape Elizabeth that year was the Blackstone residence. William West could hear the very loud happy group celebrating even before he rang the doorbell. Marion Ellis dressed to the nines in her holiday finery answered the door.
"William! Welcome. So glad you could join us. Your wife and son going to make it?"
"Hello Marion, you looked beautiful and, yes, Linda and Mark will be here in a little while." He leaned in and kissed her cheek. "I wouldn't have believed this if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. What a difference a year makes."
"I think it's more like, what a difference a little blonde elf makes." Marion winked as they moved through the hallway.
William laughed full out. "I think you are so very right." He agreed as they walked into a packed living room. Will recognized the Blackstone employees and their families. He assumed the rowdies he didn't know were from KC's side of the family. No matter who they all were, they seem to be having a great time. "It's so nice to hear laughter in this house again."
"Amen to that." Marion had tears in her eyes. "That happy innocent girl has finally found her way home again ... and she brought guests."
The girl in question was not being so innocent at that very moment. Xandra quietly snuck up behind KC, who was in the kitchen rounding up some additional drink glasses. She tapped her on the shoulder nearly making the blonde jump out of her skin.
"YEEAAAH!" KC spun around and playfully punched the executive's shoulder. "Oh you brat!"
"What? Didja think I was a ghost?"
"There are no such things as ghost, sweetheart." KC stated flatly.
Xandra could have sworn she heard someone cough loudly. She gave a quick glance around the room then focused back on KC's grinning face. She then lifted her hand and dangled something above the blonde head.
KC raised her eyes to find herself staring at a piece of broccoli. She gave the tall woman a quizzical look.
"I found it on the veggie platter in the dining room." She grinned seductively. "Closest thing I could find to mistletoe."
KC burst out laughing. "You are such a nut." She slid her hands up broad shoulders, tangled her fingers in dark hair and pulled Xandra's head down until their lips met.
A jolt went through the executive nearly bringing her to her knees. After floating in a sensual fog for several minutes, she pulled back to catch her breath and gazed into those incredible green eyes. "I can never express what you have done for me, KC. You gave me my life back and taught me how to love and be loved again. Thanks for not giving up on me and seeing beyond that cold bitch I had become. I love you my Christmas Karroll."
"I love you too Alexandra Blackstone, with all my heart. I prayed every night someone would get through all that pain and help you. I always hoped that someone would be me." KC nose crinkled with her grin.
Xandra adored that particular expression on her lover's face. "I'm glad fate brought us together ... well maybe with a little help from above." Startled by giggles she knew only she could hear, Xandra took KC by the elbow. "Come on, we have a house full of guest and a party to host. Hopefully this will be the first of a great many to come." She led KC from the kitchen but just before she closed the door behind her, Xandra turned, regarded the empty room and whispered, "Join the party ladies, but please don't scare anyone and no free broom rides."
Happy Holidays and thanks for reading.
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