A delicious flavorful aroma wafted through his small kitchen as the turkey cooked in the oven. Stainless steel pots simmered on every burner; Malan bustled back and forth to each one as he worked to prepare the mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy and green bean casserole for the Thanksgiving dinner he’d share with his fiancé, Lathal Harvey. He’d been busy preparing the various entrees since she’d arrived at his apartment early that morning.
He’d wanted to spend the holiday with her because he enjoyed spending holidays with her. They’d spent most of their holidays together with her during the past four years they’d been dating. Lately they hadn’t had a lot of time to be together, and this might be the last opportunity for the two college seniors to be alone together, especially with final exams and graduation a couple weeks away.
She’d looked forward to sharing this moment with him for several weeks. Remembering the fiasco she had with the turkey dinner their first Thanksgiving meal that had been a dinner at a Chinese buffet, she willingly surrendered the task of cooking many of the meals to Malan. Her failure as a cook didn’t bother her because her prospective husband licked the pans of almost everything she baked.
There was something about food that brought and bonded people together, but with him, cooking wasn’t just sustenance to satisfy basic needs, it was in and of his heart. To him, his culinary endeavors were as much as an art as his career as an actor. Her man could have been as successful as a professional chef as he was on stage.
Bending over slightly, he opened the oven door and carefully pulled the turkey’s roasting pan from the oven. Lightly moistening her lips, she watched the denim of his jeans tugged against his derriere; she imagined herself straddled his hips and her legs and hands gripped his posterior while they rocked to their own love ballad. Trembling with desire, she wanted to make him hers, but they’d both agreed to wait to become lovers until their wedding night; that promise was getting extremely difficult to keep for both of them.
As he spooned clear liquid over the bird, he glanced over his shoulder at Lathal. Flushing, she turned her attention back to making the desserts at the counter next to him. The hints of pleasure tugged across his lips about how she tried to hide how she dreams of intimate escapades with him. Hell, he understood fantasies. He had them too. Right now he struggled to resist the urge to rip off her pretty dress with designs appropriate for the late autumn holiday and lick pie batter off every inch of her.
After finishing the basting, he placed the turkey back in the oven and then steadied himself before meandering over to his fiancée’s side. As she mixed the pumpkin pie ingredients together in a bowl, he wrapped his arms around her waist. His hand crept slowly across the counter top, up the curved steel edges of the bowl, until he was able to dip his finger in the batter.
Her bluish-green eyes glowed with pleasure and a flicker of amusement. She’d counted at least six times he’d come over to stand beside her since she began working on their desserts of pumpkin and derby pies. “Any more taste tests and you’ll spoil your dinner,” she teased softly, brushing her lips against his.
“Mmm,” he murmured in agreement, savoring the taste of sweetness lingering on her soft petals. As he kissed her there wasn’t any of the warmth or passion that was usually in their exchanges and he sensed something was bothering her. “What’s wrong?” he whispered, caressing her arms.
Comforted by his gentle touch and the security she felt by being in his arms, she sighed, “I’m worried about my father. He called me this morning and said he’ll be back into the hospital for another angioplasty after the Thanksgiving holiday.”
He understood her concern. She’d been telling him about the heart problems her father had had for the past year. Her father had been medically discharged from the military after she'd graduated from high school in 1989.
The Army’s doctors had discovered her father had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and clogged arteries the year before he retired from the military. She was a senior in high school when the family learned he had heart disease. Her father had told her his problems were augmented by the fact he’d been born with a small heart, and while she was sure that had an impact she suspected there were other factors that contributed to his condition.
Fortunately her father hadn’t had any heart attacks, none that he’d told her about anyway; he’d had chest pain and discomfort in the arms. Since then he’d had several trips to the doctor and hospital for stress tests, EKGs, cardiac caths and angioplasties.
Stepping away from him for a minute, she poured the batter into the already prepared pie crust. “I know we’d talked about just spending the holidays with your mom in LA but maybe we should try to spend some time with my family in Wisconsin.”
He supposed she was right. Maybe they could figure out a way to squeeze in a visit his mother and his younger brother, Bryce, and wife in Los Angeles during the holidays. He made a mental note to himself to discuss it with her over dinner.
“The producer of 'Destiny's Dream' wants to sign me on this summer,” he said quietly as she poured the filling into the pie crusts.
She knew about “Destiny's Dream.” It was the hottest and longest running soap on TV, and some of the biggest names and brightest stars worked on the show.
“You're going, aren't you?” She said more like a statement than a question.
He said quietly, “I don't think so.”
Her eyes wizened in surprise. “Malan, are you crazy?! You *have* to go.”
“I don’t have to go.” Most people believed actors, writers or artists had to go to California or New York if they wanted to be successful. He didn’t necessarily agree, and he thought his future wife shared that philosophy but now wasn’t so sure.
He didn’t see the wisdom of subjecting newlyweds to a long distance relationship. If he signed a contract with “Destiny’s Dream”, he’d have to live in Hollywood – a place where he’d have no privacy. He didn’t want to Lathal to a life like that. He didn’t want to live like that. His personal preference was to stay and make his career in Hallow Oaks. He’d had some lucrative acting offers of Hollywood and Broadway caliber here and prayed they’d sign him soon.
“Why not?” she insisted, grasping his hand and holding it against her heart. ”This is the best any actor can have because only the best go there, and you're the best, Malan.”
“I know,” he squeezed her hand, “but I probably shouldn’t have told you about ‘Destiny’s Dream.’”
She gently chided him, “You'd keep something like this from me, Malan?”
“No, I was going to tell you,” he said with a frown, “but for the life of me I can’t figure out why I decided to tell you now.”
Standing very still, she said quietly, “I see.”
“Lathal, you know that rejection is a constant in my profession.” His body was tensed with frustration. “I’ve had so many job offers, but I don’t know about any of them. I can’t be for sure about them until they have me sign a contract.” In the moments of silence, he picked up the pies, put them in the oven and then returned to his spot next to the love of his life.
"Malan, I love you,” she said meaningfully caressing his face, “But I'm not going to let you give this up, not because of how you feel about me.”
Hurt and anger mingled with the passion in his eyes. Tenderly kissing her lips, he murmured, “Lathal, I love you. I'm marrying you, but I don't want to be without my wife.”
“I know, Malan,” she said, feeling the same way he did. “But you can't not do this. That would be like me turning down a job at The Metro.”
The Metro, the premiere newspaper in America, was based in New York City. Excitement and pride danced in his brown eyes. “Do you?”
Her eyes twinkled like finely polished gems. “That doesn't matter.”
“Yes, it does.” He locked his eyes on hers.“Lathal Harvey, you tell me right now.”
She sighed. She knew he wasn’t really angry with her for not telling him sooner about The Metro making her a job offer. This hadn’t been the moment she’d planned to tell him; they had similar job circumstances. Nothing was permanent until the newspaper told her she was hired.
“They made an offer at that journalism convention I attended here last weekend. It doesn’t make a difference because I’m going to tell them no.”
“Why?” Disbelief wracked his face. This was a big deal and she was turning it down. “Lathal, I can’t let you do that.”
Stepping away from him, she walked over to the table and sat down. She folded her hands on top of the orange tablecloth. “Would you be disappointed, angry or think less of me if I asked you if you to stay here to start our careers and lives together?”
He was taken aback slightly. Had she been reading his mind? Joining her at the table, he laid his hands over hers. “I thought you believed living happily ever in one place where you had a house with a white picket fence only happened in fairy tales.”
“I did.” Her fingers lightly traced his palm, sending pleasant tingling sensations through his body. “I’m tired of coming and going all the time. I want to settle down somewhere.” Under the table, she kicked off her dress shoes and her toes danced as a soft caress over his legs. “I don’t really want to go back home to Wisconsin to settle down. There’s nothing there for me. I like it here, and I found you here. I already have a guaranteed job at Horizons here,” She leaned forward and softly kissed him. “Tell me we can stay here.”
“I think that can be arranged,” he smiled. “I’ve been holding back with signing contracts for local acting opportunities.”
“Good, it’s settled,” she murmured, snuggling close where she engaged him in a heated, passionate exchange.
Later that evening.
Her hands, submerged in hot, sudsy water, washed silverware, dishes, pots and pans from their Thanksgiving meal. Usually this mundane chore was one she despised, but that afternoon was different. Her fiancé had spent much of the morning and a few hours in the early afternoon cooking their fall holiday feast, and she felt it was only right and fair to clean their dishes.
Her mind drifted to the absent handsome actor she was marrying in the spring who sat in the den of his efficiency apartment. Smiling softly, she imagined Malan reclined on the couch, drinking cappuccino. He was wearing old sneakers, a grey pair of sweat pants stamped with the university’s acronym and a black hood with the words “North Central University theater department” trimmed in the university’s colors, crimson, gold and blue.
The murmur of conversation she heard came from the popular science fiction saga movie marathon on TV, but she knew his attention wouldn’t be on that. He rarely had any free time because he was in demand as a popular and top-notch performer on stage and screen, but when he did have some “down time” he pursued his beloved pastimes. Those hobbies are cooking, photography, camping and reading.
This crisp, chilly late autumn day was ideal for drinking a warm beverage and being engrossed in a book. He had eclectic taste in the literary realm. Her man enjoyed science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, mysteries, suspense, the classics and drama to include plays. He had a collection of antique leather or fabric bound plays that he had received as gifts or found at yard sales, auctions or little bookstores on their travels together.
Finally finishing her task, Lathal dried her hands on a small wool towel that she hung on the refrigerator door. Quietly walking to the edge of the wall that separated the den from the kitchen, the young journalist watched her beloved who was unaware of her. A pink crescent was displayed on her lips because her future spouse was just as she imagined. His cell phone lay on the arm of the charcoal sofa he leaned against reading a black hard-covered play.
The tall blonde made her way across the carpeted floor and took her place beside her love. Lathal looked at her favorite popular science fiction movie that was muted on the screen and instantly knew the words. Stretching, the brown-haired thespian stuck a university library bookmark in his stopping spot and laid the play next on his lap.
“Sorry to disturb you,” she cringed, realizing she had unconsciously whispered the memorized lines aloud.
“You didn’t disturb me.” His chocolate colored eyes drifted from his future wife’s hazel eyes, to her face to her lips. “I’m glad you’re finished doing dishes because I was beginning to miss you.”
In answer, his lips caressed hers like a soft spring breeze. “You didn’t have to do dishes, but I appreciate it.”
“My pleasure.” She savored the taste of him that lingered on her lips. His usual passion was certainly present, but there was something else that she couldn’t find a reasonable explanation. “What is it,” she asked gently, moving her hand reassuringly across his arm. His eyes darkened like marble indicating the effect her touch had on him.
The smile spread across his lips. His woman knew him well, and that bond would only deepen when they finally knew each other in a biblical sense.
He let a slow relaxing breath. “I got a call from my father this afternoon.”
Her head coxed to one side, and the surprise was evident in her eyes. Lathal didn’t remember much about Malan’s father. She’d only met him once or twice as a teen when her father was stationed in southern California. After that, she seemed to recall that the tall, athletic man, who ran his family like he was a drill sergeant, disappeared completely from his oldest son’s life. “I thought your father was died.”
His clenched fists rested on top of his play in his lap. “He is dead to me.”
The vehemence in his voice was unmistakable, and she understood his feelings. Robert “Bob” Hamel had abandoned his wife and two sons as a result of an affair and drug addiction. Lathal couldn’t really fault her beau for not forgiving or wanting to have anything to do with the man who biologically contributed to his life.
“What did he say?”
Old anger, resentments and hurt he believed he’d had dealt with in the past surged within him like a turbulent tempest. As a man he wasn’t supposed to blame but forgive his father for past wrongs. But he hadn’t been a man when the transgressions occurred; there was the difficulty. That’s why he had no explanations and healing -- yet.
What did Bob Hamel want from him? Love? How could he when his prodigal father hadn’t shown him any compassion save for when he was a child?
He said with disgusted displeasure. “He wants me to come to Louisiana to spend time with him and his wife for Christmas.”
She knew it wasn’t what he wanted to hear, but in heart she felt visiting her beloved’s father for the holidays was the right thing to do. Bob Hamel was family after all. “Maybe we should.”
“No.” The firm finality of how he said it left no room for discussion “Lathal, I don’t want him anywhere near us.” The anguish on his face and in his eyes remained. “I’ve been really worried about you.”
Stephen Harvey’s heart problems suggested the former Army officer’s health was rapidly deteriorating. Naturally, his lovely lady was concerned about the 56-year-old nurse’s frequent visits to the doctor or stays in the hospital ranging from three days to two weeks. Even though she tried to hide it, her father’s reoccurring experiences with heart disease caused her great anxiety.
Lathal froze. It was as she feared. Fighting with the denial inside her, she knew he’d had premonitions about her father and they matched the feelings she had. The man she’d loved and trusted most of her life would die in the near future.
His bride-to-be’s eyes welled with tears, and he wrapped his arms around her trembling body. Stroking her long golden tendrils, he whispered as he rocked her back and forth. They held each other close. “Everything’s going to be alright. I promise.”
His promise filled her with hope because she knew their love was strong enough to withstand any challenges or obstacles that the future held for them.
The magical sound like the soft whispering melodies of a carousel floated throughout her car as a variety of Christmas carols played on the car radio.
"'I'll be home for Christmas. You can count on me. I'll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams,'" Lathal Harvey sang sweetly, humming to herself, as her favorite holiday song faded into another.
Lathal had been serenading herself with an assortment of seasonal tunes more often within the last few weeks. She had pep in her step. It got lighter every day.
Lathal's job as the reporter for Hallow Oaks' daily newspaper, The Big Horn, was stressful. She had been at the paper since graduation. That was only a few weeks. Because she was a neophyte, her assignments had her covering various areas such as cop shop, a senior citizen’s 99th birthday, school board meetings, a local literary club reading to school children and much more. Not knowing what she’d be reporting on each day made life interesting and gave her a chance to explore different beats before discovering which one was her niche.
The news never sleeps, but lately, with the holidays only weeks away, she had a smile for everyone and she found herself laughing for no reason at work. Christmas had a way of making people happy, but the birth of Jesus wasn’t her favorite holiday. It was probably in the top five of her holiday preferences because Yule was a magical, memorable time spent with family and friends.
Lathal had the Christmas spirit. Nothing could dampen her mood, not even the bumper-to-bumper noon lunchtime commute traffic that jammed The Loop.
As her eyes scanned the endless stream of cars on the highway, her right hand moved the gear shift into park.
Glancing in the rear view mirror, with her other free hand she crimped the blonde bangs that lie on her forehead and let her thoughts wander. Soon she'd be away from all the hustle and bustle. In a few days, she and her fiancé, Malan Hamel, would be spending the holidays with his family in L.A.
As she thought about the sun, fun, relaxation and romance they’d enjoy during their two-week stay in California, a sense of guilt came over her. After talking to her parents on the phone a couple of days before, her mother had let her know in no uncertain terms that she disapproved of her holiday plans.
Throughout their conversation, Andria Harvey had nagged her eldest daughter about not bothering taking the time to visit her parents during Christmas; it had turned into an argument. The forty-five-year-old woman had laid on the guilt by reminding her oldest daughter of her father’s health had been steadily declining; Lathal had repeatedly pointed out that she was very concerned. Her father’s heart problems had been the reason he’d been in and out of the hospital since her parents had attended her graduation a few weeks ago.
Lathal felt cool droplets on her palm. She had instinctively reached for the plastic diet soda bottle sitting in the cup holder and lifted it out to take a drink. The smooth edge touched her soft lips and she took a sip of the cool liquid.
Given the circumstances, she probably have tried conceding to her mother’s request, but she just couldn’t. They couldn’t afford it since she and her future spouse had just started a new stage in their lives and careers. Secondly, there just wasn’t time to travel to two states separated by thousands of miles.
Visiting her family was difficult for her because there was a lot of unexplained tension between her and her mother. She didn’t know why she and her mother were always at odds with each other, but for once she didn’t want to be subjected to her mother’s constant nagging and disapproval, which had extended beyond her to include her fiancé as well.
With a sigh, Lathal tried to dismiss her negative thoughts and replace them with more pleasant ones.
What was her fiancé up to? She wondered. She'd seen him sporadically since they'd graduated from North Central Texas University in early December, and she really missed him. Having expected to have more flexible schedules after their winter graduation, it was disappointing that both were often too busy with work, errands and appointments. They had hoped to have more time to spend together, and it had been limiting their opportunities to plan their spring wedding.
She was worried about him too. The young actor had been experiencing a lot of stress and his agent had booked him in multiple performances that barely gave him time to breathe. On top of that, he’d been quiet since his long lost father had called about a month ago; Malan hadn’t mentioned Bob Hamel contacting him again so she tried not to worry about it.
She started to feel the pressure of the traffic and frustration of the last few weeks break through her resolve not to let anything bug her. And as the heat in the car rose she became more tense. She had had it with the constant mad frenzy of the last few weeks. She was tired of idiotic drivers. Tired of the pushing and shoving in the stores. Tired of fighting the crowds shopping in the malls and department stores. Tired of all the errands and appointments. Most of all, she'd had her fill of activities and whatever else that kept her from her fiancé!
The traffic started to trickle, and she shifted the car into gear and moved to the far right lane as soon as she could. She took the college exit, which led to her fiancé's apartment building across from the campus.
Smoothing her long black skirt as she climbed out of her compact car, she glanced around the nearly vacant parking lot in front of his apartment building, 8C. Much to her delight, his red convertible was parked in his designated slot.
Her feet flying like Mercury's winged shoes, Lathal bounded up the stairs, taking them two at a time. Scurrying across the cement second floor landing, she arrived at his apartment door.
Childish glee danced in her bluish-green eyes. Her balled hands covered the delighted pleasure reflected on her lips and she giggled like a mischievous elf. For a moment, she was Santa, delivering a Christmas surprise to a deserving child.
Her knuckles rapped against the wooden door. While she waited, Lathal paced back and forth in a small, tight box pattern near Malan's door. She flicked her wrist, her light, loose fitting jeweled watch rotated with it. The tiny finger flurried forward to the next small mark with each passing moment.
Her shoulders sagged with disappointment. He's not home.
With a heart heavy, she turned away. Sinking spirits following her, she drifted toward the stairs.
Hearing the clunk of the bolt as it slid back, she stopped in her tracks. Back pedaling, she was already in position when her fiancé opened the door.
"I didn't think you were here." A warm smile highlighted Lathal's lips.
"Oh," he said, crossing his ankles, leaning back against the doorway. His shoulder was wedged into a crevice and his left arm hung casually at his side. With his fingers hooked around his jeans belt loops, he admired her with shy appreciation. "I'm here."
"What have you been doing?" She said, making a beeline into his apartment. "Didn't you hear me knocking?"
"Hmm..." he said, shaking off distracting thoughts. "No, I was dragging my Christmas tree out of the closet."
Lathal wondered why he‘d bother to set up his tree. They would be leaving in a few days to spend the holidays with his family in L.A. Still, it didn't seem like Christmas without a tree and all the trappings and this was the perfect moment to cease this opportunity to enjoy each other and the holiday spirit.
She rubbed her hands together like a villain plotting a diabolical scheme. "Great! Let's get to it."
He smiled. She must have read his mind. He didn't remember the last time he’d had a free moment to himself. Much less he couldn’t recall when they'd last spent time together, and he couldn't think of anything better place to be than here with her, decorating his tree.
Lathal popped into a spot on the floor. Malan kneeled beside her as her fingers clawed at the flaps of the artificial tree box, flipping it open. Plastic bags rustled as she removed them. Setting the bags beside her, she separated the branches with different colored tape into piles. Malan posted the green pole into the base.
"Wouldn't you rather have a real tree?" She said, consulting the directions before sticking the branches in the appropriate places.
"A live tree is such a hassle," Malan said, fluffing the branches into shape. "It's such a waste to throw it away after the holidays."
She nodded in agreement. "You do the lights. I'll put up the ornaments."
"I'm afraid I don't have many ornaments," he said, handing her a bag of ornaments.
"It's okay," she said as she reached into the bag of decoration. Holding up the delicate golden ornament she'd bought at an arts and crafts show a couple months before, she examined it closely. She had personalized it in silver lettering to read: Lathal Harvey and Malan Hamel 1996.
His fingers brushed over the globe’s smooth edges. A swirl of emotion filled him. The ornament commemorated the achievements in their lives. Although they’d been dating for four years, now they were engaged.
"Our homemade ornaments hung on our tree for years," she said, carefully hanging their ornament on an empty branch. "When I moved out to go to college, I took mine. It's a tradition I want to pass down to my children."
His fingers brushed over her hand. "I love you, Lathal." Gently pulling her into his arms, he crushed his warm, firm, masculine mouth against hers.
Pressing her soft petals against his lips with matched passion, she drunk in the smell of his light musky cologne. The breeze carried the aroma of pines and evergreens surrounding the apartments. It melded with his scent and that of the green apple body spray on her skin. Those tantalizing fragrances ignited the fire inside her, that she could scarcely restrain herself for wanting to take more of him.
Her hands roved across his broad back and over his firm buttocks. His hands moved upward between her arms that were wrapped around his neck and grazed the curves of her cheeks, giving her the full taste of his passion.
He moaned in pleasure. "Lathal." The need he felt for her was so strong that he was finding it harder and harder to resist the yearning growing within him.
God, he desperately wanted to make love to her; he couldn’t. He’d promised her they’d wait until their wedding night. On that night they’d share themselves with each other for the first time.
"Yes?" She whispered as she snuggled close to him.
"I've missed you," he said, his lips tenderly brushed over the golden tendrils of her hair.
“Me too," she murmured, her lips nipping at his neck. “I love you, Malan."
Overwhelmed by the passion and desire he felt, his mouth swooped down to capture hers. As they hungrily kissed again and again, her taut breasts brushed against his chest; his erection pressed between her legs. In that tender, intimate moment, his phone rang.
He groaned in protest. "No, it's not fair."
Her fingers teased his hair as he frowned up at her. She understood why he didn’t want to answer the phone but he had to be available as his agent often called with last minute acting bookings. “Malan, it’s okay.”
Reluctantly pulling away, Malan got up. Crossing over to the kitchen counter, he picked up the phone. "Malan Hamel," he said in mild annoyance. He glanced over his shoulder at her. "Yeah, she's right here."
Worry flickered in her bluish-green eyes. She wondered who would be calling her here. Only her mother, her boss and her friend, Tanya, had Malan's home and cell phone numbers.
Her hands folded inward at her waist, her thumbs twiddling, Lathal slowly made her way over to her fiancé. He handed her the phone.
Lathal wandered a short distance away from him. The plastic receiver pressed against her ear. "Hello?" She said cautiously.
"Lathal, I have some bad news," her sister Ginger said, her tone slow and somber.
"What's wrong?" She said, trying to keep her voice strong and calm. "Is Carena okay?" Carena was her one-month-old niece.
"Carena's fine, Lathal. It's ..." Ginger said through choked sobs. "... It's Dad. He died this morning."
"What?" A mixture of horror and disbelief spread across her face. Her knuckles turned white as she clutched the phone.
"Dad died in his sleep early this morning," her sister explained. Her anguish made her voice raw. "He had a heart attack."
"That can't be," Lathal said in denial. Tears welled up in her eyes. "I just called him a couple of days ago; he was fine."
"I know," Ginger said. Her voice broke as she struggled with her own emotion. "But he's gone."
Burying her face in her free hand, Lathal whispered, "No... not dad." She struggled to keep composed. Her body trembled as she felt her inner strength beginning to slip away.
Quietly coming up behind her, Malan said, "Lathal, what's going on?"
Waving him away, she shuffled forward into a corner near the kitchen window. Her mind whirled as she tried to digest what her sister was saying. "He can't be dead."
"Over the years, whenever there was a death in the family, we always got a call like this. I never thought I'd be making it though," Ginger said sadly. After a long pause, she continued. "I've got to go. I've got to book our flight. I'll see you in Wisconsin."
"Stay safe. I'll see you soon," Lathal said softly, and then slowly hung up the phone. Sunlight poured in through the window. Her knuckles pressed against her lips, her face etched with sorrow.
Malan could read the devastation and had heard some of her side of the call. Someone had died. Concern flooded his brown eyes. "What is it?"
Tears quietly streamed down her cheeks. "My father died of a heart attack early this morning."
He stared at her in shock. Mr. Harvey appeared to be in good health when her family attended their graduation at North Central Texas University three weeks ago.
Mr. Harvey was only fifty-six years old. Lathal had told him about the heart problems her father had had for the last ten years, but they had all thought it was under control. His death was very unexpected. Malan had liked him very much and regretted not getting to know him better.
Wrapping his arms around her, Malan held her close. She felt the love flow from his fingertips into her skin, sharing his strength. He was her rock, and she needed that comfort and support.
Her tears subsiding, Lathal slipped out of his arms. Wandering toward the kitchen window she looked at the horse grazing in the pasture. She barely noticed what was outside. Even in winter, the pasture's endless green blanket stretched for acres and acres.
"I better call my mom," she whispered. The early morning sunlight drifted in and warmed her cheeks.
He nodded; she dialed the number. Her mother answered after the third ring, saying in a choked voice, "Hello?"
She said mournfully, "Mom, are you okay?"
"I'll manage," Andria Harvey said, sounding tired and sad. "I've been running between the hospital and funeral home all morning." The muffled sounds of her two younger sisters who still lived at home and neighbors chatting in the background mingled with her mother's soft voice as she continued. "Lathal, the wake is Friday and the funeral is Saturday. Do you think you can get here before that?"
Lathal sighed, "I'll find a way to be there -- somehow."
"I'll drive you," he softly interjected.
Lowering the phone slightly, she glanced at him concerned, "No, you should go spend the holidays with your family."
"I'm going with you," he insisted. "We'll leave this morning after we finish tying up a few loose ends."
"That's fine," her mother said in approval, overhearing Malan.
"Could you bring some photos of your father for the wake?" Andria asked. "I'll see you soon. I love you, Lathal."
"I love you too, Mom," she said, hanging up.
Her whole body shook. Lathal was trying to be strong and she felt her resolve slipping with every passing moment. Her strength crumbled like a demolished building as she broke down.
Embracing her tightly, he gently suggested, "Why don't you lie down for a while?"
Nodding, Lathal moved numbly toward his bedroom. Wracked by grief, she stumbled. Immediately by her side, he caught her before she fell. He stayed beside her, and together they entered his bedroom.
The room was already dark since there were no windows and he hadn't bothered to turn on the lights. He turned down the blankets and sheets. Crawling onto his waterbed, she cradled the pillow in her hands, curling up like a cat.
Covering her with a dark red sheet, Malan gazed at her sympathetically. Although her tears had subsided somewhat, her breath still caught in her throat. His hands gently caressed her shoulders.
He leaned over and kissed her, "I love you, Lathal."
She mumbled incoherently.
"I'll be back shortly," he promised, tenderly kissing her lips.
He tip toed out of the bedroom, went into the kitchen and called his mother.
"Hello," Clarissa Hamel said warmly.
"Mom, it's me," he said, pacing back and forth across the tile.
His mother noticed his serious tone. "Malan, are you okay?"
"We won't be able to spend Christmas with you all in L.A.," he sighed. "Lathal's father died of a heart attack this morning and we're going to drive to Wisconsin for the funeral."
"Oh my God," Clarissa said shocked. She had met her future daughter-in-law's father for the first time at their graduation three weeks ago. "Do you two need anything? I can call the travel agency and get your tickets changed."
"Airports are crazy this time of year, so I'd rather not fly," he said, running his fingers through the layers of his hair. "I think it'll be faster if we drive. We'll leave this afternoon," he informed her, and then added. "But, yeah, call the travel agency. Ask them if they'll transfer the tickets, maybe they'll let you use them for the wedding in a few months."
"No problem," his mother said. "Take care of each other and call me when you get to Wisconsin."
"We will," he promised.
"I love you, Malan," Clarissa said.
"Love you too, Mom," he hung up, returning the phone to its cradle. After that he made calls to his agent and to Hallow Oaks playhouse director, Erica Bana explaining he’d be out of town until after the New Year as a result of Lathal’s father’s death. Like the schools and others in the community, the theater community didn’t have much going on during the holidays.
In addition to being his director, Eric was a good man and friend. The Pilipino in his mid-40s told him not to worry about his job, which had been the last thing on the young actor’s mind. Then the married man with two elementary school aged children offered him money to defray the cost of their trip north, but Malan thanked him but didn’t accept Eric’s generosity. Money was tight for the young couple, but right now he wasn’t worried about money. He had plenty money from the TV commercials and his acting endeavors. There was also the money he had from the Reserves he could use too.
He crept into his bedroom. Lathal was snoring softly, Slipping quietly beside her, he carefully slid his arm over her hips.
Stirring, she murmured, "Malan?"
"It's me," he softly confirmed, caressing her. "I'm sorry I woke you."
"It's okay," she assured him, stretching next to him.
Gazing deeply into his brown eyes, Lathal stroked his cheek. "I love you."
Their fingers intertwined. "I love you too," he said as they kissed.