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Disclaimer: Pretender characters are property of MTM, TNT, NBC, WB, Steve, Craig and all the others.


His hand fluttered down her cheek, slipping under her chin, raising her eyes to his.
“You have no idea do you?” he murmured, caressing the back of her head with his other hand.
As an automatic response, she leaned into his touch, tightening her grasp around his waist and neck.
“How beautiful you are?”

She smiled, eyelids closing momentarily. Meeting his gaze, she saw his heart reflected in his eyes, and knew in an instant how loved she was. It frightened her, but not enough to leave the safety and warmth of his enchanting hold on her.

Returning her soft smile, he lowered his head, capturing her lips.

“I love you, Parker.”

She choked back the sob that pushed at her throat and angrily wiped away the tears that escaped.

“I love you, Parker.”

“Yeah… and look what happened,” she hissed bitterly.

Leaning over the arm of the couch she placed the photograph back on the table, pushing the memories away. As hard as she tried to avoid them, they always came back at Christmas, weaving themselves together to create a quilt that draped itself over her, entangling her. She would never be free of those memories.

“What?” she snapped in response to the shrill ring.

“And a Merry Christmas to you too, Miss Parker.”

“Typical,” she muttered, massaging her throbbing temples. “What do you want, Jarod?”

“What, no beating around the bush this year? Or should I say pine?”


“I’m a funny guy.”

“Not hardly. Pain in the ass is more like it.”

“Aww, where’s your Christmas spirit, Miss Parker?”

“Roasting on an open fire. Are you going to make your point sometime today, or do I have to wait until Jesus’s next birthday?”

“Well, technically Jesus’ birth was-”


He sighed. “I just wanted to wish you a merry Christmas.”

“Bah. Humbug.” She threw the phone on the coffee table.

“But I can see that in itself is a lost cause,” he said sadly.

“Bah. Humbug.”

“Now that’s not a very positive attitude,” he scolded.

“There’s a tree. There’re decorations. What else do you want me to do?”

“Ah, well there’s a few things I could think of,” he suggested, snuggling behind her, wrapping his arms around her middle and pulling her back to his chest, burying his face in her hair.

She raised an eyebrow. “Do I want to know?”

“Hmm, probably not,” came the muffled voice. He pulled back slightly, drawing a trail of kisses from her collarbone to her jaw.

“I love you, Parker,” he whispered.

“Get your head out of the clouds, Parker,” she grumbled, hauling herself off the couch. Refilling her glass, she moved to the window, staring out at the silent night. It was the annoyingly traditional Christmas, with snow covered rooftops and sidewalks, carolers and the sound of church bells in the distance.

She dropped her forehead to the cold glass with enough force to send a wave of tremors through her head.

“Damn it.”

“What’s wrong?”

She sighed and turned to face him, dropping the phone onto the couch. “That was my father. He wants me to go have dinner with him.”

Her heart pinched as his face fell. “What did you say?”

She sighed and shook her head. “I’m sorry, Tommy. I’ll be home as soon as I can.”

“Take your time,” he replied, his voice holding no hostility, just sadness.


“I’m serious. I know you don’t get to spend a lot of time with your father. Besides, Christmas is a time when you should be with your family, not your contractor.”

She could still hear his voice and all the pain therein she’d overlooked.


She sat in the car outside the restaurant, the most expensive and luxurious in Delaware. She could see her father and her brother through the window. Brigitte sat to the left of him, Lyle to the left of her and there was an empty space between him and her father. There were smiles all around, and what even looked like laughter.

Closing her eyes, she put herself in the empty seat, and through her own eyes saw nothing but exhaustion, ridicule and boredom.

“Some family,” she muttered, and threw the car into reverse. Snatching her phone from the passenger seat, she hit a speed dial button and waited for the gruff voice.

“Daddy, it’s me.”

“Ah, Angel. Where are you? It’s getting late.”

“Yes, I know. Listen, Daddy I’m not going to be able to make it,” she said, speeding down the highway away from the French restaurant.

“But you said-”

“I’m sorry, I spoke too soon. After you cancelled I made other arrangements.”

“Does this have something to do with that window cleaning fellow?”

“Carpenter. And yes, I promised Thomas I’d spend the evening with him. He doesn’t have any family.”

“I never thought you’d choose a contractor over your family, Angel. I’m disappointed in-”

“I have to go; I’m running late. Merry Christmas, Daddy.”

“Merry Christmas, Daddy.”

“Same to you, Sweetheart. I’ll see you after the first. Sorry I wasn’t able to make dinner.”

“It’s not a problem.”

“Good. G’night, Angel.”


In thirty years she’d learned to expect the rejection. This time, she hadn’t even bothered with the fancy dress, instead settling for a pair of pajama bottoms, a tank top and a plaid shirt.

Returning to the kitchen, she slid into a place at the table.

“Make enough for two?”

“I- I didn’t think you’d come.”

She smiled and shrugged. Reaching across the table, she tucked one finger under his chin and closed his gapping mouth.

In response to his confounded and questioning gaze, she responded, “Someone told me Christmas was a time to be spent with family, not contractors.”

She dropped both elbows on the wooden surface and buried her face in the palms of her hands, hiding her tears from the rest of the silent world.

Her body shuddered with emotion that threatened to overtake her, and her arms gave way beneath her weight. Her tears made a large spot onto the table, darkening the wood.

More and more of them fell, soaking them both.

“Sunny all day,” she grumbled, mimicking the forecaster who’d falsely predicted Mother Nature. “Great. I’m soaked.”

“So what?” He grinned, grabbing her hand, drawing her out from under the safety of the outdoor umbrellas and into the middle of the square.

“Thomas! What are you doing?”

“Singing!” he cried with a laugh.

“Oh, no. Tommy-”

But it was too late. At the top of his lungs, badly out of tune he belted what he knew of ‘Your Song’. Her pleas for him to stop only made him sing louder and worse.

“Tommy, please!” But the laughter in her voice refused to be taken seriously, so he kept at it, oblivious to the odd stares he got from business men behind umbrellas or the smile from the elderly woman, on a nearby park bench. Young women laughed, and young men prayed that would never be them.

The sudden motions of twirling her around in a circle and the passionate, tender kiss received aww’s from onlookers and violent applause from the old lady.

“I love you, Parker.”

She smiled.

“But I love you.”

“Stop saying that! You couldn’t possibly!”

“Why? Because it’s you?” he asked carefully, moving toward her slowly. “You think it’s impossible for anyone to feel for you?”

“I think it’s impossible that you could be so damn sure of yourself. We barely know each other.” His right eye twitched like it always did when she struck a nerve. “Look, Tommy- I really am not the person you think I am. When I was seventeen I’d hang around bars and pick up whatever poor shmuck would sit in my lap. I- I have no friends, I’m paranoid of everyone and I had more experience with a gun by the time I was sixteen then most people get in their lifetimes. I’m not the image you’ve made me out to be.”

He chuckled softly; not a mocking sound, but it lacked humor. “I know you better then you think I do,” he murmured.

“What do you know?” she asked coldly.

“That you’re harder on yourself then you need to be. We’ve all done things in the past we regret, some more then others, and my record’s not exactly spotless either. I know you work too hard and drink too much. I know you still crave cigarettes and that April 13th is the hardest day of the year for you. I know you still blame yourself for your mother’s death, and that you think about her everyday. And I know you’re scared. So am I, believe me. I’ve never felt this way about anybody before.”

“Just your luck it had to be me,” she muttered under his voice. “Why? Why me?”

“I don’t have a choice. I don’t think any of us do. If it was my path in life to fall in love with a chain-smocking, gun-toting, cold-hearted whore then that would be it. But I didn’t.” He rested a palm on her cheek. “I got you instead.”

She lowered her face and eyes, hiding from him from behind a curtain of hair that fell between them.

“Hey.” He tilted her chin up and brushed away the tears she wouldn’t allow herself to cry. Pulling herself closer, she wrapped both hands around the back of his neck and returned his gentle kiss. “I love you, Parker. Always.”

“I don’t want you to get hurt,” she whispered, leaning into him. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“It doesn’t matter even if you do. You could kill me, and I’ll never stop loving you.”

“Don’t leave me.”

“I’ll never leave you. You’re stuck with me.”

“Don’t leave me.” She cradled his limp form in her lap, rocking back and forth. “Don’t leave me please don’t leave me… I love you, Tommy.”

“Tommy.” She brushed the photograph with the side of her finger, ignoring the tears that splattered the glass and frame.

“Parker are you there?” She set the photo down and wiped the tears from her eyes, focusing back on the caller.

“Yeah.” There was no bite to her response. She didn’t have the strength.

“Are you alright?”

Her breath was ragged. “I miss him,” she whispered.

He didn’t need to ask who. Holidays were the second hardest, next to anniversaries. Sydney smiled sadly on the other side. “I know.”

“It hurts.” The pain was evident in her voice. “Does it ever stop?” Like a child.

“No,” he answered honestly. “But it starts to heal, once you can let go.”

“Let go?”

He nodded, though she couldn’t see him. “Let him go, Parker.”

Tears filled her throat. “I don’t know how.”

“Just say goodbye.”

She placed the phone back, the words of her old friend filling her mind. Her face reflected off the window and stared back at her for a long time. When she blinked and looked up again, she could see him, standing in the middle of the road, red flannel shirt and a pair of blue jeans, soft snowflakes resting on his shoulders.

She pressed her hand gently against the glass.


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