Will sidled up to the bar where Frankie was putting away empty beer bottles. This year’s SHEP had been a complete success. He took a quick look around and upon seeing that they were alone leaned against the worn wood.
Frankie looked up and shot him a quick smile. “What’s up?”
“Listen,” he cleared his throat, “I know I invited you to spend Christmas with me in Indiana, but I told my mom you couldn’t make it.”
Frankie set down the bottle she was about to clean up, her grip tightening around its neck. “O...kay.”
Will had to swallow at the hurt look that crossed her face.
“You know I was kidding about making fun of you for singing Christmas carols,” Frankie admitted.
“I know. It's not that.”
“Is this about the matching Christmas pyjamas? Because I told you I wouldn't do that right when you first invited me!” Hurt slowly morphed into anger.
Will’s hands held on to the bar. He knew he was doing the right thing but that didn’t stop the sudden ache in his chest. “I think you should spend Christmas with Kelly and Tommy,” he finally said.
“What? How do you even know about that?”
Will moved his head from side to side. “Kelly called me. Invited me along if that's what it took to get you there.”
“Uhuh. No. I'm not going.” Frankie moved from behind the bar but Will quickly shifted into her way to prevent her from leaving. Frankie just shot him a look in return and crossed her arms in front of her.
“This is the first Christmas since your reconciliation and I think it’d be really good for you guys,” Will tried to make his case, “you know she had a tough time this last year with her husband’s trial and everything. This will give you a chance to truly reconnect and for you to get to know your little brother.”
“First of all, he's not my brother. Second, I'm old enough to be his mom.”
“Yeah, but Kelly is the closest thing you have to a mother, so...”
“Ugh,” Frankie grimaced, “I don’t want to.”
Will forced himself to stick to the plan. Allowing Frankie to form personal attachments outside of their team would ground her. Help her emotional stability. That’s what Susan had told him. That, and a few choice words that if the two of them couldn’t get their act together and be together, they should at least spend a few days apart in the hopes of releasing some of the sexual tension between them and give everyone else on the team a much-needed break.
Right, stick to the plan.
“I think this would be really good for you,” Will tried again.
Frankie raised her eyebrows at his choice of words. “You think? Or Susan does?”
Will cocked his head as if to say ‘come on’.
Frankie sighed. “You know what, fine. If you didn’t want me at your family’s Christmas all you had to do was say so.”
She tried to get past him and purposely bumped her shoulder into his, but Will caught her arm and held on. Frankie pointedly looked down at his hand before she met his gaze again. He didn’t let go. Instead, he leaned in closer.
“You know it’s not that. I’d love to have you with me at my parents’ house for Christmas.”
She did know that. Or at least she suspected it, otherwise he wouldn’t have pestered her for two months until she had finally agreed.
“Kelly missed you over the last couple of years and is really looking forward to this.” His thumb started moving over her skin where his hand was still holding on to her.
Frankie crossed her arms, dislodging his hand in the process. “Fine,” she sulked, “but I’m not buying the kid a present.”
Will smiled winningly at her. “Don’t worry.”
“I’m not worried.” Her tone said differently. “Don’t tell me you’ve already bought him a present?”
“Actually, it's on the pool table. Trust me, he'll love it. I got the same ones for my nephews.”
Frankie forgave him enough to indulge him in a round of pool. And another one after he accused her of cheating. And another one after she accused him of cheating. They were just about to launch into another argument about the rules of the game when their teammates interrupted them for a last round of drinks. Susan and Ray were the first to leave, followed shortly after by Standish, with promises to stay in touch and see each other on New Year’s Eve. While they had agreed that Christmas was for families, they’d also agreed that New Year’s definitely wasn’t. Jai tinkered away in his man cave until he too took his leave.
Frankie hugged him and told him to give her best to his parents. He made her promise to call him as soon as possible so he could leave them again. She just laughed and shoved him away.
In the end only Will and Frankie remained. They shared a booth and Frankie burrowed deeper into her sweater.
“Are you cold?”
“Little bit,” she admitted.
Will smiled fondly, thinking back to the start of their partnership. Frankie would have rather frozen to death before admitting she was cold.
“What are you smiling at?”
He just shook his head. He doubted Frankie would appreciate the sentimentality. “We should ask Ray to get a permit for the fireplace.” He gestured toward the old stone fireplace next to the pool table.
“Yeah...” Frankie shook her head. “Probably not a good idea.”
“What? Why not? Don’t tell me Jai hid some weapons in the chimney?!”
Frankie just raised her eyebrows.
“He did? Why don’t I know about this?” Will complained.
“Are you jealous because you didn’t come up with the idea?”
“No.” His tone said differently, and Frankie couldn’t help but smile. Will just drained his drink and a glance at Frankie’s beer told him that she was out, too. He was supposed to be on a plane first thing in the morning and knew that it was time to go home and pack.
And yet, he was reluctant to leave. Then again, Frankie didn’t seem to be in a hurry either. He tried not to read too much into it.
“Another?” He nodded at her empty glass.
Will’s face fell.
“It’s your own fault,” Frankie pointed out, “I called Kelly earlier. She’s really looking forward to this. So, I thought I’d go and get her a present as well.”
“Need any suggestions?”
“From you? No.” Frankie laughed as she got up and started gathering their empty bottles and glasses.
“Come on, boo. I’m a perfect gift giver.” Will stood up as well, gathered the last two bottles and nodded at her neck.
Frankie looked down at her bullet necklace and couldn’t help a smile. She didn’t say anything in response and instead went over to put away their things. Will followed her with a grin on his face. Together they cleaned up the bar and put away the trash left over from their SHEP dinner. When everything looked as tidy as it was going to get this night, they gathered their coats.
“I have something for you.” Will stopped her from leaving.
Frankie just cocked her head at him.
“I know we said we’d only do Secret Santa presents, but I saw this and wanted you to have it.” He held out a small, neatly wrapped package, no bigger than a wallet.
Frankie eyed it warily.
“It’s not an explosive, you know”, Will added when she still didn’t make move to take it.
“Damn. I would have loved a dose of C4.”
Will just shook his head while Frankie laughed and finally took the offered present. She held it up to her ear and gave it a shake, but there was no sound. Next, she started loosening the string holding the wrapping paper in place.
“Wait, what are you doing?”
Frankie paused and threw Will a look. “I’m opening my present.”
“But it’s not Christmas, yet.”
“Are you kidding me? First, you’re forcing this present on me, now I don’t even get to open it?”
“Forcing-“ Will shook his head, “that’s it, no more presents for you.” He made a grab for the present but Frankie was quicker and pulled it behind her back.
“Hey! Hands off my present!”
“Well, you’re doing it wrong, it’s supposed to be opened on Christmas morning.”
“I’m doing it wrong? You gave me a present. This-,” she held up the present for him to see, “has changed possession. It’s mine now. I can do with it whatever I want.”
Will took a deep, resigning breath. “Fine.”
Frankie narrowed her eyes at him. She started tugging at the string again when she realised that it wasn’t just playful annoyance on Will’s face. It was actual irritation and… embarrassment?
“Fine.” She left the wrapping paper alone. “I’m not going to open it. Ever.”
“What? What do you mean, ever?”
Frankie walked over towards her backpack, opened a side compartment, and put Will’s gift inside. “Just what I said. I’m not going to open it. You probably think you got me the perfect gift. I don’t care, I don’t know what it is. So what is it to me if I open it or not.” She shrugged.
“And knowing that I’m never going to open the perfect gift you gave me is probably driving you crazy.”
Will actually groaned at her. “Unbelievable.” He shook his head. “You know what? Fine. Open it. Don’t open it. I don’t care.”
“Yes, you do.” Frankie pointed out.
“Yes, I do,” Will grimaced. “But I know you. You’ll never not open it.”
“Oh, I won’t.”
“Yes, you will.”
“Nope. Not gonna happen.”
“We’ll see.” Will smiled at her and Frankie couldn’t help but smile back. “Come on,” Will finally said and held open his arms.
“Do I have to?” Frankie half-heartedly grumbled. By the twinkle in her eye, he suspected that she was messing with him, be he lowered his arms none the less.
“I thought it could be my Christmas present.”
“Susan already got you a present.”
“Gave me a hug, too, actually,” Will pointed out.
Frankie just shook her head. “So needy.”
She laughed at the disappointed look on his face, dropped her bag and walked up to him. She wordlessly stepped into his space and wound her arms around his neck. Will didn’t hesitate before he wrapped his arms around her in response and held her just as tightly.
“I'm going to miss you.”
“Course,” Frankie scoffed at his affection. Will had expected nothing less but he was pleased to see a soft smile on her face when she pulled back.
“It’s your fault you’re going to miss me in the first place. I’d have gone to Indiana with you,” Frankie admitted in a soft tone.
“What about the matching pyjamas?” Will tried to lighten the mood.
“Not a chance.” Frankie smiled.
They both lingered and Will let his gaze momentarily wander down to her lips. He could see her swallow in the next moment.
They’d been here before. The attraction they felt for each other running between them like an electric current.
Only to realise time after time that they wanted different things. That she wasn’t ready for the emotional ramifications this would bring.
Maybe he wasn’t either.
He took a step away from her and instantly felt the tension leave her body.
“See you on New Year’s Eve?”
“You there yet?”
Frankie slowed the car and turned left off the road. “Just pulling up to the house. What about you?”
“I'm at the airport, boarding should start soon.”
Frankie smiled to herself. “Yeah? Did you get a seat at the emergency exit? I know how much you enjoy that extra leg space.”
“Of course. All I had to do was bat my eyelashes at the check in counter.” Will boasted over speakerphone.
Frankie rolled her eyes in response. “Please tell me you didn't. She was probably feeling sorry for you for your lame ass attempt at flirting.”
“Actually, Simon was very much impressed.”
Frankie laughed at the thought. “Did Standish download you a few TED talks for the flight?”
“Please tell me it's not that 'vulnerability is our strength' crap again.”
“Okay, first, it's not crap. And second, Frankie, quit stalling.”
Frankie brought the car to a stop in the driveway and shot the house in front of her a wary look. “I'm not stalling.”
“Yes, you are.”
“Am not,” she stubbornly replied.
“Yes. Go and be with Kelly. Meet your brother.”
“He's not my brother.”
“Whatever you say, boo.”
“Fine,” she grudgingly agreed, “have a safe flight.”
“Thanks. Did you open your present, yet?”
Frankie laughed. “Not a chance.” Then she hung up.
Taking a last, fortifying breath, she got out of the car and walked up to the house. She took in the festive decorations, complete with string lights and everything, and wondered if this was a mistake.
She frowned when she heard her phone signalling a new text message.
Will, 9:43 am: Go ring that doorbell, Fiery.
Frankie smiled at the screen, damning him for knowing her so well in the process.
She rang the bell.
A second later the door flew open and a little boy complete with a reindeer sweater and mismatched socks stood in front of her, beaming.
“Are you my sister?”
Frankie frowned. “No.”
The kid frowned as well. “Aren’t you Frankie?”
“Yeah, I’m Frankie.”
“Cool!” Tommy rushed forward and threw his arms around her legs. “I’ve been looking out the kitchen window waiting for you. I saw you coming down the driveway.” He let go of her legs and kept beaming up at her. “Mommy said I shouldn’t open the door though and give you a minute to ring the bell. What took you so long, the bell is right there!” He pointed to the doorbell next to the front door.
Frankie didn’t know what to say.
“Do you like cookies? We already made some gingerbread men, but we waited for you to make the cookies. Mommy says you know how to make them extra yummy. And then we can decorate the gingerbread men together.”
“Oh my God.” Frankie breathed.
“Tommy, let her come inside first.”
Frankie looked beyond Tommy to see Kelly coming towards the door.
“Don’t mind him, he’ll just prattle on for a little while,” Kelly smiled as she gestured Frankie inside. “He’s been really excited to meet you.”
“Really? I couldn’t tell,” Frankie joked as she took off her coat and hung it up. “He’s annoying and adorable at the same time. Oh my God. He’s like a mini Will!”
Kelly seemed to think about that for a moment, then shrugged. “Yeah, I guess.”
Will, 12:36 pm: Landed. How is it going?
Frankie, 1:34 pm: This kid has more energy than Standish on energy drinks. It’s like Kelly is feeding him Adderall.
Will, 1:42 pm: Sounds like a normal kid. Just about to go and get a Christmas tree with my brother-in-law and my nephews.
Will, 3:02 pm: Found the perfect tree, check it out.
Will, 3:02 pm: [picture]
Frankie, 3:15 pm: Of course, you had to take pity on the saddest looking tree out there.
Will, 3:43 pm: Can’t discuss the finer points of this perfect tree right now, the snowman building contest is about to start.
5:26 pm: One missed call from ‘Frankie’.
5:28 pm: New voicemail.
“Hey Will, you’re probably out there in a snowball fight, bothering people singing Christmas carols or busy doing some other ridiculous family Christmas stuff. Anyway, I just wanted to call and say that I hope you have a good time. And… thank you. For making me come here. It’s actually… really nice. Anyway, talk to you later, dork. Merry Christmas. Bye.”
Will listened to Frankie's message with a satisfied and wistful smile on his face. It was too bad that he'd missed her call, he'd have loved to talk to her.
“You're not leaving again, are you?” Will looked up to find his sister leaning in the doorway to his bedroom.
“The kids are really happy to see their uncle.”
“Yeah, no, I'm not leaving.” Will shook his head.
“And so am I by the way.”
“No, let me say this for once.” Sarah took a step further into the room. “I know things are not easy since Kevin died. And you're overcompensating with this extreme cheerfulness, trying to please everyone. But you can't, Will. And you don't have to. We’re happy enough to have you here with us. You don’t have to pretend everything is perfect and special.”
“I know.” Will grimaced.
“It's just...” Sarah sighed before she walked over and sat down next to him on the bed. “I worry about you, you know. It would be nice to hear from you every once in a while.”
“I know. I'm sorry.”
“And what's going on with you? Mom told me you were engaged to some college girl, then you're suddenly not and then you send Mom and Dad a picture of you with a woman and a baby, telling them you got married?! It’s like you’re all over the place.”
“That was a joke!”
“Well, it wasn't funny.”
Will hung his head but looked up when he heard shuffling feet out in the hallway.
“Wha-“ Will put a finger over his mouth, gesturing for his sister to be silent, and nodded towards the door. A second later, Sarah heard it too.
“Knock knock.” Came the small voice of Sarah’s daughter and Will’s niece.
“Who’s there?” He called out with a smile.
“ME!” Katie squealed as she came inside and jumped into Will’s arms.
“Hi.” Sarah said to her daughter.
Katie looked between the two adults before she settled on her uncle. “What’s going on? Are you leaving again?”
Will didn’t even have to look at his sister to know that she was giving him the “I-told-you-so” look. “What? Of course not! Today is just Christmas Eve. We’ll have to wait until tomorrow to open any presents. And then there’s Christmas dinner tomorrow. And I haven’t had Grandma’s mashed potatoes in so long, I’m not going anywhere.” He tickled Katie.
“Good.” His niece decided. “What are you doing up here?”
“Just listening to a voicemail.”
Katie’s eyes widened. “From your girlfriend?”
“What?” Will’s gaze met his sister’s slowly reddening face. “No. From Frankie.”
“Is Frankie your girlfriend?”
“No,” Will repeated. “Why do you think I have a girlfriend?”
“Well I heard Grandma and Mommy talking that you wanted to bring someone for Christmas and that she had to be your girlfriend and-“
“Thanks, honey, I think he got it,” Sarah hastily interrupted her daughter before turning pleading eyes on her brother. “Would you believe me if I told you that I have no idea what she’s talking about?”
“Not a chance,” Will laughed.
“Who is Frankie then?” Katie wanted to know, getting impatient with the grown-ups.
“She’s my friend.”
“Is she pretty?”
Will had to laugh at his niece’s question while Sarah looked alarmed. “Katie, honey, you know that being pretty is not what’s important about a person.”
“She’s not as pretty as you,” Will intervened, “but your Mom is absolutely right.”
“Ugh, Uncle Will. I know,” Katie sighed exasperatedly, the way only a six-year-old can. “But can I see a picture? Please?”
Will grumbled slightly, helpless against his niece’s onslaught. He manoeuvred her into her mother’s lap and dug his cell phone out of his back pocket. “Did you put her up to this?” He asked his sister, while searching through his photos.
“No,” Sarah laughed and cuddled her daughter closer, “but I’m all for it.”
“Figures.” Will grumbled good-naturedly. He finally found a few pictures from a mission in London that didn’t reveal anything about their location or the purpose of their visit. Katie leaned over to have a better look while Will scrolled through the pictures, looking for one of Frankie.
“Oh, she’s pretty!” Katie suddenly exclaimed.
“That’s Susan,” Will explained.
“Is she your girlfriend?”
Will shook his head. “Why do you want everyone to be my girlfriend?”
“Because Mom said you’re getting too old to-“ her mother’s hand over her mouth kept her from saying anything else.
“Again”, Sarah said, her cheeks a rosy colour, “no idea what she’s talking about.” The little elbow to her ribs made her release her daughter.
“Hey, not fair.” Katie grumbled. But she was quickly distracted by the next image on Will’s screen. “Is that Frankie?”
Will looked down at his phone. “Yeah. That’s her.”
“She’s pretty.” Katie decided.
Will smiled. “The prettiest.”
Frankie cast a quick look at Tommy playing with his Legos on the living room floor while she dried the bowl in her hand. She couldn’t help the smile that broke over her face at the domesticity of it all.
“What are you smiling at?” Kelly asked next to her as she pulled the plug on the dishwater.
Frankie put the bowl away and hung up the kitchen towel.
“I don't know...” She shrugged. “Just. Seeing this... seeing you live like this, feels surreal. And it’s not even been 24 hours and I’m already exhausted.”
Kelly opened the fridge and pulled a bottle of wine out of it. “That’s what this is for.”
Frankie laughed and got two wine glasses out of the cabinet. Kelly poured them both a generous amount and together they walked over towards the couch and leaned back into the cushions.
“Surreal good or surreal bad?” Kelly wanted to know after a minute.
Frankie moved her glass and watched the swirling liquid inside before she met Kelly’s expectant look. “Good. Better than good, actually.”
Kelly smiled, obviously happy with the answer and laid her hand on Frankie’s thigh for a moment. “I think so, too. I knew it was a good idea to call that boy of yours.”
Frankie snorted into her glass. “It’s not just that,” she admitted, “I mean the two of us are so alike, and I guess seeing you like this makes me think.”
“That this could be possible for me.” Frankie whispered.
“Is that something you’d want?” Kelly asked cautiously.
“I...” Frankie was surprised to discover that she did. “Yeah. I guess I do.”
Kelly could no longer help the smile on her face. “With Will?”
Frankie rolled her eyes at Kelly's complete lack of subtlety. “Ugh, enough about Will already.”
“Who's Will?” Tommy suddenly piped up from the floor. “Is he the guy you've been texting all day?”
“No, that was Santa, telling him how bad you are.” Frankie said instead. Tommy just laughed.
“Will is going to be your brother-in-law.” Kelly told her son.
“What’s a brother-in-law?”
“I'm old enough to be Tommy's mom!” Tommy and Frankie said at the same time.
Kelly just shrugged and took a sip from her glass. Then she set it down on the coffee table and turned towards her son.
“Time for bed.”
“Already?” Tommy whined.
Kelly got up, walked over towards him, and held out her hand. “Come on. You know Santa only shows up when kids are asleep.”
Frankie had to hide her smirk while Tommy scrambled to his feet.
“Goodnight, Frankie.” He called out on his way to the stairs.
“Night, bug.” She smiled at him.
Kelly ushered her son upstairs while Frankie took another sip and fished her phone out of her pocket. She could hear them debating a ‘brother-in-law’ all the way up the stairs.
Susan, 5:56 pm: Merry Christmas, cariña, hope you’re having a good time with Kelly and Tommy! Call me as soon as you’re back in the city!
Will, 6:14 pm: Sorry I missed your call!
The following messages were pictures of different snowmen and gingerbread houses. Frankie was just about to reply when her phone started ringing and Will’s face appeared on the screen.
“Hey,” she answered.
“Hey. I saw that you were online, just wanted to send you a quick update on the gingerbread house building contest. I won.” He sounded smug. And happy.
“Thank you. What are you doing up, anyway? You know Santa won’t visit when you’re awake.”
Frankie rolled her eyes but couldn’t help the smile on her face. “How old are you, dork?”
Will just laughed. “Just wanted to check in, actually. How is it going?” He asked more softly.
“Actually...” Frankie thought about it for a moment and leant back into the cushions. “Not bad.”
Will was suspiciously silent.
“Alright, you can say it.” Frankie sighed.
“I told you so?!”
“I would never say that.”
“Yeah, right. You say it so often, it should be your catchphrase.”
“Well, I can’t help it if I’m always right.”
Frankie laughed. “Dream on, you’re not always right.”
“What was the last thing I got wrong?”
Frankie didn’t have to think about it. “Jai’s secret Santa gift!”
“What? No way! Those sunglasses were vintage. He loves them, he told me so!”
“Hmhm. No. He hates them.”
“No, he doesn’t.”
“Trust me, he does.” Frankie shook her head, even though Will couldn’t see her.
“But...” Will trailed off. “This is Jai. He’d never try to spare my feelings. Why would he say he loved them?!”
“Uh.” Frankie bit into her lower lip. Dammit.
“Oh my God.”
“Did you tell him to lie to make me feel better?”
“Did you threaten bodily harm to him? That’s so sweet!”
“What? I would never....” Frankie’s sudden high pitched voice gave her away.
“Francesca. It’s Christmas Eve. Do you really think now’s the time to lie?”
“Don’t care,” Frankie boasted, “I already got my present.” She couldn’t help but smile into her wine glass.
“Yeah.” There was a moment of silence between them before Will cleared his throat. “Anyway, thank you for making him go easy on me. And I’m glad it’s going so well.”
“What’s next on the Chase Christmas agenda?”
“Not much. My mom and sister are filling the stockings, then we’ll have some punch and be off to bed.”
“What about you?”
“Oh, well, Kelly is getting Tommy into bed right now, I think we’re going to hit a casino or strip club after that for some poker game.”
They both laughed for a moment.
“Sounds very... festive.”
“Yeah, it does, doesn’t it,” Frankie answered with a slow smile.
Neither said anything for a moment. Frankie watched the fire and tried to imagine what Will was up to on the other end. Then she heard a female voice calling his name in the background.
“Sounds like you have to go.”
“Yeah.” He sounded as reluctant to hang up as she suddenly felt. “I’m sorry.”
“Merry Christmas, boo.”
“Merry Christmas, dork.” She whispered and hung up. Then she cleared her throat and took a sip of her wine.
“That was adorable.”
Frankie whirled around to see Kelly sitting on the base of the stairs.
“Shut up.” Frankie rolled her eyes and turned back around. Kelly just laughed, got up to retrieve her wine glass from the kitchen counter and joined Frankie on the couch.
She wouldn’t meet her gaze.
“Hey.” She nudged her thigh against Frankie’s.
Frankie just shot her a dark look.
“Come on, kiddo. It’s just me.”
Frankie groaned and sunk further into her pillow.
“You used to tell me about all your crushes, remember?” Kelly prompted.
“Yeah, and I always told you not to tell Mom and you always did,” Frankie said. “And Will is not a crush!” She added belatedly.
“Hmhm. You’re right. There has to be a completely professional reason you called him on Christmas Eve.”
Frankie just groaned. “He called me!”
“Hey,” Kelly said softly and nudged Frankie’s thigh again. She waited until Frankie turned her head to look at her. “You know I love to give you a hard time about him.”
Frankie snorted. “Yeah? I hadn’t noticed.”
“But let me tell you something. If you really like him, you should give him a break.”
“What are you talking about?”
Kelly leaned her head to the side. “Daniel and I would've never worked, if I hadn't learned to let my guard down.”
“Daniel ran a drug cartel in his spare time,” Frankie pointed out.
“Meh...” Kelly shrugged. “I'm not saying he's perfect.”
“What are you saying?” Frankie asked.
Kelly took a deep breath. “Ever since your parents, you lived your life as if everyone in it was destined to leave.”
“They did,” Frankie cut in.
“Maybe some would like to stay if you gave them a chance to.”
Frankie's eyes shot up to meet hers. She knew that Kelly was not just talking about Will anymore.
“I know we don't talk about your mom.”
“Don't.” Frankie ground out.
“Honey, I get it. I miss her, too. I really loved her. I mean, she was driving me crazy, but I loved her,” Kelly assured her.
Frankie furrowed her brow. “She drove you crazy? I never knew that.”
Kelly laughed at that. “Are you kidding me? With her cheerfulness and optimism? Plus, she was such a goody two shoes!”
“I know.” Frankie smiled. “She wouldn't say a bad word about anyone.”
“Yes!” Kelly agreed. “God, I hated that about her. But she was my best friend since elementary school. You know she once kicked a guy in the balls?!”
“What? No way!”
“Hmhm.” Kelly took a sip of her wine. “Calvin... Something. I can't remember. He'd asked me out to be his date to some party and then we caught him making out with MaryLou Cleary later that same night.”
“So she kicked him in the balls?” Frankie smiled at the thought.
“Yep. That was your mom. She was nice as hell but that didn't mean she'd take crap from anyone. And always defended those she cared about.” Kelly wiped at her eyes and shot Frankie a watery smile. “You know, she would have adored Will. They both would have.”
Frankie swallowed. “I know.”
Will stepped over ripped and discarded wrapping paper strewn over his parents’ living room floor and came to stand by the front window. The sun had set some time ago but when he brushed the curtain aside, it was just light enough to see the street outside. He got his phone out of his pocket and dialled.
“Hey.” Frankie answered on the fourth ring.
“How's everything going?”
“Oh, so great. Christmas morning was a complete success, my nephews loved their presents. And then we just lounged around the house all day. My Dad is lighting the candles on the Christmas tree right now and I think my niece and nephews are just about to start reciting the poems they learned before we’ll have dinner.”
He could hear her laughing on the other end. “Are you calling me to get out of that?”
“No. They’re adorable. Actually, my nephew, did I mention his name is Nate? Anyway, Nate keeps telling everyone about this lady in the van, and at first, I thought he was talking about this terrific British indie movie with Maggie Smith, but it turns out, there's a woman sitting in her car across from my parents’ house.”
“Yes. Apparently, she's been here all afternoon.”
“Did Nate tell you that?”
“Hmhm. He’s very observant. Being a boy scout and all that.”
“Of course he is,” Frankie muttered under her breath.
“Think I should call the cops?”
“Maybe she just needs a moment.”
“Frankie...” Will trailed off. “What are you doing here?”
“Maybe I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas?”
“And you flew in from Connecticut to call me from a car across the street? Because if so, you're doing a terrible job at it.”
Frankie chuckled. “Maybe I just need a moment longer.”
Will took a deep breath. “Well, you’ve had four hours. Dinner is in half an hour and the backdoor is open. You know, just in case you wanted to warm yourself up.”
Then he hung up and waited.
After ten minutes he had to get up and walk into the kitchen.
His mother and sister were bussing around, Katie right in the middle of it all, but Will only had eyes for the backdoor.
“Will, honey, what are you doing? Go set the table.” His mother admonished him after a minute. Will rolled his eyes but did as he was told. He set an extra plate for Frankie, hoping she would hurry the hell up. His mother noticed immediately, as soon as she stepped out of the kitchen to set down the first serving bowl.
“Are we expecting anyone else?”
“Oh, is it Frankie?” His sister asked as she stepped into the dining room.
“Who’s Frankie?” Robert, his brother-in-law, asked from the doorway.
“She’s Uncle Will’s friend. And she’s the prettiest,” Katie piped up.
Will was saved by the doorbell.
He strode into the living room, waved off his father who had already risen from his seat and threw open the front door.
She was here.
“Heyho.” Frankie gave a little wave.
Will had to laugh. “Hi.”
“Oh, Will. Have you forgotten your manners? Let her in, let her in!” His mother appeared at his side and immediately ushered Frankie into the warm house. “Oh, dear, you’re frozen. Will, go and put some more wood on that fire. Richard, take her coat. It’s way too thin for this kind of weather.”
“Hello.” Will’s father was next to appear, his calm demeanour a stark contrast to his wife’s. “I’m Richard. That lovely woman pestering you is my wife, Lori.”
Frankie smiled at him. “Hi. I’m Frankie.”
“See, I knew it! I told you this was Frankie!” Everyone turned to see Katie giving her two brothers an “I-told-you-so”.
“Okay. I think that’s enough for now.” Sarah spoke up over everyone. She had perhaps seen the slightly panicked look on Frankie’s face and decided to give that girl a break. She turned towards her children. “You three, go wash up for dinner. Robert, go and make sure they use actual soap this time, please. Will, Mom gave you a job, that fire needs tending to. Mom, I think you should check the roast, it should be about done now. Frankie, you’re with me. I’ll show you the bathroom and give you something warmer to change into.”
Everyone actually listened and scrambled out of the crowded hallway. Everyone except for Will, whose gaze flickered between Frankie and his sister.
“Will?” His sister prompted. “You can talk to her later.”
“I… yeah.” He sighed in defeat and turned towards the living room and the fireplace. Frankie watched after him. That’s when her gaze fell on the mantle above the fireplace and the stockings neatly hanging from it.
“Hey, you okay?” Sarah asked when she noticed Frankie’s stare.
“There’s a stocking with my name on it,” Frankie pointed out. She felt ridiculous even saying it.
“Yeah, my Mom made it for you,” Sarah said offhandedly.
Frankie paled. His mother had made her a stocking with her name on it. Without ever meeting her.
“You really hadn’t thought this through, huh?” Sarah chuckled.
Frankie turned towards Will’s sister and shook her head. No need denying it.
“Don’t worry.” Sarah slung her arm around Frankie’s shoulders and led her along the hallway. “Just take it one step at a time. It’s just dinner with a bunch of people and Will.”
The time to talk to Frankie ‘later’ didn’t arrive until Will showed her to his bedroom, which was hers for the night.
First, there had been dinner, where, at Katie’s behest, Frankie had to sit next to her and listen to every thought that crossed his niece’s mind. After dinner, his sister had reminded him of their annual game of Settlers of Catan, where Frankie had surprisingly whopped all their asses by winning extra points for having built the longest road.
Despite them sharing a bed whenever they shared a hotel room on missions, Will knew that wouldn’t fly with his parents. And judging by the nervous look that had returned to Frankie’s face, he wasn’t even sure if that would fly with her right now.
“So, what happened at Kelly’s?” Will asked as soon as he’d closed the door.
Frankie spun around and frowned. “Nothing. It was good, actually.”
Frankie just shrugged, picked up her duffel and set it down on the bed.
“What?” She asked, rummaging around in her bag.
“Can we talk about this?”
“Talk about what?”
“Hey.” Will stepped up behind her and laid his hand on her arm, stilling her movements. Then his fingers closed around her wrist and he pulled until Frankie finally turned around. She didn’t look at him and instead settled her gaze on his collar right in front of her. Will’s hand stroked down her arm. “I know you still like to pretend you're that tough CIA operative who despises all human connection. And normally, I'm completely fine with letting you do that.”
“Great. Let's do that,” Frankie said. She wanted to take a step away from him, but the bed behind her kept her in place.
“Frankie. Come on. You flew all the way out here, on Christmas, and for what?!”
Frankie swallowed and looked up at his face. “If I tell you, do you promise not to make a big deal out of it?”
“No.” Will shook his head. “Absolutely not. I mean have you met me?”
“Fine. Then I can't tell you,” she said resolutely.
Frankie side-stepped him and put her hands on her hips. “I should go.”
Frankie looked up at his sharp tone.
“No,” he repeated, more calmly this time. “Stay, please. We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, but please, don’t leave.”
She took a deep breath, then nodded.
“I’ll leave you to it. If you need anything, I’ll be on the couch in my Dad’s study.”
Will tossed and turned, trying to find a comfortable position to sleep in. He’d definitely slept better in worse places in his life. But those places hadn’t involved Frankie in his childhood home, sleeping in his bed one floor up, he reminded himself.
He was starting to drift off when someone opened the door, entered and subsequently stumbled into the coffee table.
“Frankie? What are you doing?”
“Shut up.” He could hear her move around the offending piece of furniture and then sit down on it, not a foot away from him.
Will sat up on the couch and reached over towards the side table. “Let me turn on the light.”
Will pulled his hand back. “Why not?”
“Because. I can't do this when I have to look at your smug face.”
“Do what? And what's wrong with my face?” Will asked.
“Explain why I'm here.”
“Frankie.” He reached for her hand and found it in the darkness. Then he pulled until Frankie had to move over and sit down next to him. “It's okay. I know why you're here. At least I think I do.”
“But... Don't you want to talk about it?”
“Do you?” He asked in return.
Will chuckled, which quickly turned into a yawn. “Let’s just go to sleep, boo.”
He shuffled back as far as he could, then laid back down and pulled on Frankie’s hand until she stretched out beside him. He pulled the comforter over their bodies. It took a moment for them to rearrange themselves into comfortable positions. But once Frankie nestled against his neck, Will’s arm under their shared pillow, his other around her waist and her hands played with the hem of his shirt between them, they settled down.
“Will,” Frankie whispered a minute later.
“Hm?” His breathing was already deepening.
“I’m sorry for crashing your family’s Christmas like this.”
“Hey, no.” His protest woke him a up. The hand resting on her hip moved up to her face and stroked over her cheek. “I’m glad you came here. I missed you, too.”
Frankie moved forward, suddenly regretting the lack of light. But she knew she was on the right path when her nose bumped into his and she could feel his breath catching against her lips.
“I never said I missed you.”
“You didn't have to.”