Two days until Christmas…
Maxwell’s breathing was a bit labored due to the pressurized cabin of the G-5. He had tried to take a nap and he could, usually, but this flight was the worst he had. Not from the flight itself. His stewardess and the pilot had flown him for the past few years and were excellent at what they did. The pilot was so good; others had tried to steal him away with more money. But he stayed. Maybe it was dedication. Maybe it was even a pity. He wasn’t sure. And honestly, he didn’t care. The pilot would get a chance to move on soon enough. It was only a matter of time.
So, Max just sat there, his chair back and his eyes shut. He could feel the miles passing around the plane and all of its occupants. Everyone else must have assumed he was fast asleep. He knew that they would talk about him in their hushed tones knowing about his diminished hearing and the interior noises that come along with being in a high flying contraption.
In the cabin were six people. There was Max, the stewardess, who took care of the others with sodas or water if they wanted them or a blanket and pillow. Another was a nurse. She wasn’t dressed in anything that on the first inspection would make you think she was. She was dressed casually, in jeans and a blue pullover because Maxwell thought that was her color. The only thing ‘nursey’ about her was her shoes; plain white tennis sneakers. She was sitting in her own seat just behind Maxwell checking a chart and nibbling on a pack of crackers.
The three others were Maxwell’s closest friends. Two females and one male. The short-haired, hippy dressed woman in her long flowing hemp skirt and her black pea-coat was Abigail. Her legs were bent up in front of her so she could rest her chin on her knees. She was nervous. Not just from the flight but for what laid ahead.
Sitting across the aisle from her was Montgomery. Monty to his friends. He wore jeans and a very black leather jacket. He had wished he had brought something thicker. Even though the cabin was heated, he had a shiver he could not shake. He had pulled his black beanie a little further down over his ears.
Monty looked at Olivia, who was sitting next to him. She was looking out the window into the blue sky. Occasionally a puffy white cloud would catch her eye but she thought about it briefly. Her thoughts kept going to Maxwell and what was in store for them all. She pulled her green scarf up closer to her face and covered her mouth with it. Her red hair tucked under her blue beret. Her own black leather jacket wasn’t warm enough, either.
It took a while for them to actually speak after they had sat down before it had taken off. Somewhere over the Mississippi River, Olivia finally broke the silence.
“I don’t know if I can do this. I thought I could…” She trailed off. She had glanced at Monty and Abigail but turned her attention back to the window. “This is not how I wanted to spend Christmas.” “Yeah. I’m not looking forward to this. It’s going to be the hardest thing I have ever done.” Monty was looking straight ahead. He could see the top of Maxwell’s head. His baseball cap covered most of it except for the white spilling out from the sides.
“But we have to. We owe it to him,” Abigail said quietly.
Olivia felt it was her turn to say something but for a few moments hesitated. She was rubbing her chin on a cover kneecap. She took a deep breath in through her nose.
“We do owe him. He’s been there for us. No matter what we were going through. No matter what kind of shit we got ourselves into, he was there to bail us out. Sometimes literally.”
She turned her head to look at them. “Remember that time, fifteen years ago, when he took us to London and we dared him to run naked by some tourist at Stonehenge?” They all smiled at this, remembering.
“That one old lady in the grey overcoat turned away then immediately turned right back again.” Olivia snorted at this. “She had the biggest smile on her face.”
Monty smirked. “We had to grab him because he was going to make another run through. If we hadn’t had got him in the rental, he would have got us all arrested.” They laughed.
“He was laughing so hard. We all were,” Olivia said. Then the smile melted off her face.
They were quiet again. They all looked at the back of Maxwell’s head. Poor Maxwell. All of his fortune, all of his properties, couldn’t save him now. They thought about how everything was going well for him 20 years ago. He married Natalie after falling in love. And it was a hard fall. They didn’t see much of Max after the ‘I do’s’ were said. They settled into married life. Married life of regular people, regular people with regular jobs. It was a dream life. But all dreams come to an end. Some before they should.
The nurse checked her watch and stood. She pulled out a blood pressure cuff from a black bag that she kept with her. She went to Maxwell, gently put the cuff around his arm, and checked his blood pressure. Olivia, Monty, and Abigale watched as he turned to look at her. The nurse named Mindy smiled at something he said and blushed. They watched as he placed his hand on hers and patting it for a second before dropping it. She turned to sit back down and saw they were looking at her. Maybe it was looks of concern on their faces that caused her to smile at them in a way that let them know everything was alright.
The jet landed at around 5:30 pm local time near Aspen, Colorado. Even though they were all prepared for the cold (mostly) and had dressed (almost) accordingly, when the pilot and the stewardess opened the door to the tarmac, the wind that blew in was so cold, that everybody, even Maxwell, who was covered in a blanket, let out a little shout.
Olivia and Abigail walked down the extended stairs first, both carrying the small bags that they had brought on board. The rest of their things were being unloaded from the luggage compartment by some ground crew. They were being placed into the back of a large silver Land Rover. They had their arms around themselves to keep warm. The wind was blowing and over the engines turning, it was hard for them to hear anything else. They turned and watched as the nurse and Monty helped Maxwell walk down the steps. Their eyes squinted to the cold wind blowing across the flat concrete, the pilot and the stewardess right behind, ready to catch him if he was to go backward.
They made it to the bottom. Olivia saw Maxwell tell Monty something who then joined the two woman with a backpack draped over one shoulder. They look on, shivering, as Maxwell speaks to the pilot and the stewardess. Even in the cold, they stand and take in every word he is saying. Then the stewardess leans in and gives Maxwell and kiss on one cheek. She lingers for a moment and then turns away, tears streaming down her face. She rushes on board again. The pilot shakes Maxwell’s hand slowly, not taking his eyes off of his face.
Then the nurse turns him toward the SUV leaving the pilot standing there. Sadness had filled his face. He turned and got back into the jet. Maxwell shuffles toward his friends.
“Well, I guess it’s time to get this trip underway.” Maxwell smiles warmly through his wrinkled face.
His three friends smile back as warmly as they can. They piled inside the large vehicle, the driver shuts the door to the back where all of the bags have been placed, and he gets in and drives them away from the jet. Abigale watches the jet taxi back to the runway, pause, then gathers speed and lifts off into the sky. She turns to face the others as they head through the town of Aspen and then into the outskirts.
The SUV was large and comfortable on the inside. And warm, they all thought to themselves, feeling thankful to be out of the Colorado cold. Maxwell sat in the front with the driver and the nurse sat behind Olivia, Abigale, and Monty in the middle row. The driver chatted with Maxwell and the rest heard them laughing.
Olivia turned around the talk to the nurse.
“How’s he doing?”
The nurse smiled. The other two turned to listen.
“He’s fine, for now. The cold seems to be doing him some good. His blood pressure is a bit high but it might be from the cabin pressure of the plane. Once we get settled at the cabin, I’ll check it again before he eats.”
Abigale nodded. “How’s his attitude? He tries to keep those kinds of things from us. He tries to stay upbeat whenever we’re around.”
The nurse’s smile faded. “He knows what’s coming. My personal opinion is he’s accepted it.” She looked down then, in thought. She lifted her head back up. Tears were filling her eyes but they didn’t pour over the edge. “In case he didn’t tell you, he’s really glad to be here with the three of you. When I’m testing his blood or taking him to his doctor for his check-ups, he mentions you.”
Finally, a tear drops from one of her eyes. “He loves you.”
The three feel their own eyes well with tears.
From the front, they hear his voice. It’s rough and sounds tired but jovial.
“What the fuck are you people crying for? We’re on vacation! Let’s get happy.” He laughs deeply. He coughs but continues to laugh.
They smiled wide, still with tears in their eyes. The SUV travels on into the mountains.
The driver takes them thirty miles from downtown Aspen. He winds the vehicle up a couple of steep turns where there was a large drop off on one side. Finally, after what felt like forever, they turn into a snow-covered, gravel road, and through a gate. Another twenty minutes and the forest that was on both side of the drive disappears suddenly and at the end of the drive and on top of the hill was a cabin. A large cabin with large windows in front. It stands like a beacon surrounded in places by nearly two feet of snow.
The sun had set and the light in the sky was dimming. The driver was taking out the bags from the back as a couple of people from the house were picking them up and taking them into the open front door. The trio of friends stood and watched this as the nurse helped Maxwell out of the front seat and walked with him to join them. The snow had all been mostly removed from the drive and the sidewalk.
“Well,” Max said looking at them with a genuine but tired smile on his face. “Here we are. My final home.”
They smiled back but it was hard for them. True as it might well be, it was still hard to hear from him and to hear him say it so nonchalant was disturbing. It was like he was saying, ‘Wake up sleepy heads, here we are, the grocery store.’.
Abigale shook her head. She didn’t want to hear it. “Let’s get you in. I can’t wait to see inside this place.” She took his other arm and she and the nurse helped him shuffle up the sidewalk and into the front door.
Despite the cold and the darkened sky, Olivia and Monty stayed back and watched them disappear into the light of the open door.
Monty shook his head. “What are we doing here? I mean, I don’t want to watch him die.”
Olivia didn’t look at him. She just looked around at the snow and the dark woods that surrounded them and up to the mountain peaks that jutted over the roof of the cabin.
“And why here? I would rather be at home in my bed than to come here.” They watched the two people that had helped carry the bags in, retreat into the silver SUV they had come in and they and the driver pulled down the driveway and disappear into the darkness.
The wind started up again and they both headed into the cabin.
Inside it was warm and inviting. Olivia and Monty saw that the open floor plan of the living room of the cabin was enormous. It’s exactly what they thought a stereotypical cabin in the woods would look like but much larger. Pictures of outdoorsy scenes hung on the walls. A very large stone fireplace with a roaring fire sat on one end and a large open kitchen sat on the other. Stairs near the kitchen went up to a landing. No carpets, just a few rugs that laid on dark hardwood floors. But what struck them more was all of the Christmas decorations. Red bows and evergreen wreaths were placed tastefully everywhere. And then there was the enormous Christmas tree that was almost as high as the large vaulted roof. It was sparsely decorated for its size but, Olivia thought, absolutely beautiful. Underneath the trees were wrapped packages with colorful wrapping paper.
“Merry almost Christmas. Your rooms are upstairs.” Maxwell said from the chair that he now sat. Abigale sat on a brown leather couch across from him and the nurse was nowhere to be seen. “Come over and sit down. Let’s relax.” He pointed to their shoes. “Take those off and let your toes wiggle.” He laughed at this but started to cough.
They kicked off their shoes and walked over. Maxwell had got control of himself and smiled at them as they sat down. Monty sat by Abigale and Olivia sat in another recliner directly across from Max. Max cleared his throat. “Do you like the tree? I had it placed there a few weeks ago. I think it’s the biggest tree I have ever owned.”
They nodded and smiled. “It’s wonderful,” Abigale began. “It’s simply the most wonderful tree I have ever seen.”
“You had it placed there a few weeks ago? How long have you owned this cabin? You never mentioned it before.” Olivia said.
Maxwell gave them a wrinkled smile. “Ah, yes. I bought it from a very well-known actor a while back. I can’t say who but if you find a whip and a fedora around, it’s mine.”
Monty’s mouth widened. “Oh, shit. Really?”
Maxwell just smiled. Then he looked at them, from one to another.
“I want to take a minute here. I want to thank you for coming with me. I know that the next few days,” he winked, “if I’m lucky, will not be easy on you three. I know you don’t want to watch somebody die. But I thought it would put me in a better frame of mine for when the time comes. That whole thing about Captain Kirk saying he always thought he would die alone, I could never get it out of my head. You can blame him for this. “
They nervously laughed at this. Always the nerd, Olivia thought.
“We’ll be here. All the way,” Abigale said, reaching out to touch his hand. Maxwell gripped her back. She noticed that even in the state of his deteriorating body, his grip was still quite strong. They held each other’s hand a moment until the nurse came down the stairs.
“Your bed is ready, Maxwell.”
He nodded and started to stand up.
“Ladies and gentleman, I am going to hit the hay. My body isn’t like it once was, even though it hadn’t been that long ago. I need some sleep.”
The nurse came to help him walk. Monty did, too, but he waved his hand at him.
“No, she has this. You three stay. This cabin is just as much yours as it is mine. Relax and make yourself at home. I’ll see you in the morning.”
They headed slowly toward the stairs. Before they got to it, Olivia jogged up to Maxwell and gave him a kiss on the cheek. She looked at him in the eye.
“We’ll see you in the morning. OK?”
He smiled and patted her cheek. And up they went.
They all watched them go up the stairs and onto the landing and then disappear out of view. Olivia walked back over and sat down in the recliner with a heavy drop. They didn’t say anything for a minute. Finally, Monty let out a deep sigh.
“Do you think those presents are for us?” He raised his eyebrows and smiled like a kid, trying to be funny.
They looked over at the packages under the large tree. They were all wrapped so nice and professional, each of them spotting their names on tags.
Upstairs, the nurse was putting Maxwell into the bed after using the toilet. He hated that he needed help to do his business and he was needing it more and more often. His body was tired from the trip and that caused this time to be one where he needed it.
She pulled the covers up for him and she smiled down at him. “Comfortable?”
Maxwell, even with his old face, still was handsome to her. Not sure if it was the Florence Nightingale effect but he did have a certain something. He smiled his most sly smile. “I’d be more comfortable if you slid in here with me.”
She had been his nurse for the past three years. It started off and on, two days a week. Then four days a week and then for the past eight months, she had moved in with him to take care of him full time. They had developed from a friendly relationship to something much, much more. But they had never taken it any further than flirting. Sometimes the flirting was very heavy but never more than that. She felt that would be taking it too far and it wouldn’t look right to other people. Here’s this woman taking advantage of a rich, disease-ridden billionaire.
But there was still something in his eyes that if he forced the subject, she might forget about her inhibitions. If he did, right now, she might just slip into this bed and do what a part of her wanted to do. And it would probably kill him.
She blushed. “You know what? If I did, you wouldn’t make it to the morning.”
They laughed quietly together. She kissed him on the same cheek as Olivia.
“Goodnight, Maxwell. I’ll be in the next room.”
“Goodnight, sweet nurse. My sweet Mindy.”
She stood up and turned off the light.
Mindy headed down the stairs back to the kitchen to get a glass of water for her nightstand. The others were still seated where they had been and in deep conversation until they saw her.
“Is he alright?” Monty asked.
She walked over and sat down next to him.
“Yes. The trip just took a lot out of him. But, in case you didn’t know, he’s happy to be here. He’s happy you decided to come.”
“Mindy, we’re just wondering why he didn’t want to stay at home and be in his own bed. Why did he want to be here?” Abigale asked with a confused look on her face.
“A while back, he mentioned to me that he wanted to spend one last Christmas in a place that, if he looked outside, there was snow. This place came up for sale in October and he already had realtors in the area looking for something. He told me that he bought it at the asking price, no questions asked.”
She looked into the fireplace and felt its warmth covering her.
“Then he made a bunch of calls himself. He didn’t have his assistants or even I make any. I suppose he wanted the house to look this way when we arrived.” She signed big. “I wish he had stayed home. I wish he wanted to search for more vital treatments. Maybe he could stay alive longer. But he won’t hear of it. He’s done. He’s done with all the treatments.”
Olivia was looking at her, her eyes welling up.
“He got so fucking cheated. I mean, how do you get what he has? How does anybody get what he has? He’s too damn young to die so damn old!!!”
They all nodded in agreement.
Mindy stood up, forgetting about her water and headed toward the stairs.
She turned back to see them looking at her.
“I agree. A fucking mutated version of Werner Syndrome, not like anybody has ever seen before.” Mindy headed up the stairs, crying now.
“Except him. Except us…”
Maxwell had a dream that night. He was here in the cabin but he looked like he did 25 years ago. A healthy, almost good looking twenty years old. It was Christmas and packages were being unwrapped by his friends, almost like they were his children. He looked on as the colorful paper flew in the air and the boxes were being opened. He looked to his right and his wife, Natalie, was sitting there, smiling that smile that made him fall in love with her. She noticed him and looked into his eyes. They were full of love. He always thought he wasn’t worthy of her love but finally believed he was through her eyes.
Then everything stopped. Everyone stopped moving. Paper hung in the air as if on a string. He was the only one moving. He looked down at his hands and saw they were wrinkled. Not the hands that a twenty-year-old man should have. He looked back at Natalie and she was no longer there, it was Mindy. And she was crying, very hard. She put her hands to her face. He turned to look at where his friends had been. They were still there but all of the packages were gone. All of the floating paper had disappeared. But they stood in front of him. They didn’t say a word.
He turned back to Mindy but it was Natalie again.
She opened her mouth and spoke.
“Tell them… before it’s too late…”
He opened his eyes wide. “I will. Coming here was the whole point!”
Maxwell awoke with a jolt. He was breathing hard and for a moment, he didn’t know where he was. Finally, it dawned on him and he was able to control his breathing and heart rate. They started to slow almost to normal. He listened to the quiet for a second, then he heard his door open. Mindy walked in wearing long pajama bottoms and a red hoodie. Upstairs, the heat from the fire didn’t reach so well.
“Max, are you alright?” She padded over on socked feet next to him. She had her black bag in her hand.
“I’m fine. Bad dream.”
She opened the bag and got out the blood pressure cuff and put it on his arm. After finding it pretty close to normal, she smiled.
“Bad dream, huh?”
He took her hand and beckoned her to get in. She gave him a slight smirk. He saw this and smiled despite himself.
“Just to keep warm. Nothing more. I’m not sure I could do more anyway.”
She stood looking down at him, deciding.
“I’m harmless. Give a dying man a break. OK?”
She couldn’t help but giggle, even with the thought of him dying. She slid in and put herself up against him. He put his arms around her and smelled her hair. He always loved the shampoo she used. It smelled like strawberries.
He fell asleep again. This time, with no bad dreams.
The morning brought the smell of coffee and bacon.
The fire had died during the night and the whole cabin was nearly too cold to walk in without being fully clothed and dressed for the sub-arctic. But, thankful to everyone under the roof, Abigale had got up early and relit the fire and had it roaring once again. Olivia joined her a bit later and they looked in the large restaurant quality refrigerator, hoping for at least some milk. Instead, they were taken aback at the amount of food inside. Enough to feed them for months. They checked around the kitchen and found even more food in the walk-in pantry. Cans of soup, dry pasta, boxes of Pop-Tarts but only cherry and fudge flavor. They laughed when they saw those. They knew it was one of Max’s favorites.
They pulled out eggs, bacon, bread to make toast, and a handful of other things to make a huge breakfast, plenty of choices and what anybody wanted.
Monty walked down in a black robe and white socks. The sound of spoons stirring and frying of bacon was the best alarm you could have in the morning, thought Monty, as he found a cup for coffee. Well, almost the best alarm as he looked at two girls he had known for a long time. Two girls he secretly had crushes on but never acquired. Watching them dance around to no music and making breakfast was pretty close to sexy. But he joined in anyway.
Food was put out on a huge table in the dining room just off of the kitchen. It was directly under their bedrooms and took up most of the space.
Mindy walked down, fully dressed and found them getting the last of the plates to bring to the table.
“Maxwell will be down in a minute. He said to go ahead and to make sure to save him a pack of Pop-Tarts, a pound of bacon, and a gallon of coffee.”
She smiled when they laughed. They all seem to know Max pretty well.
“Does he need help coming down the stairs?” Monty asked, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
Mindy raised a hand. “He said he wanted to do it on his own. When he is rested, he can do things he can’t when he’s wiped out.”
And as if summoned, Maxwell appeared at the top of the steps. Using the stair rails, he moved down surefootedly. It was slow, but moving a lot faster than he did last night.
“Holy fuck. I’m going to eat all the bacon,” he said as he got to the bottom of the stairs. They all laughed pretty heartily. The (old) Max they once knew, before the premature aging started to take full effect was standing there before them. Maybe he was encased in a 90-year-old man’s body, but he was here.
He smiled and laughed with them. “I’m serious. All the bacon.”
They ate breakfast together and laughed and told stories. Where the night before felt grim, like an execution for a friend that was innocent of the crime that he was being put to death for. Now it felt like old times when they all hung out, Mindy filling in as a long-gone Natalie. The three friends even thought that. Mindy would laugh and for a second, they thought they heard Natalie. They had laughed the same.
Breakfast went on for more than an hour. They talked about the things they had done together. Max talked less slowly as if maybe the Werner Syndrome was reversing itself. If not on the outside but on the inside, where it really mattered.
Finally, with breakfast plates empty and breakfast bellies full, the three took the dirty plates, dishes, and utensils back to the kitchen where Mindy washed them off and places them in the dishwasher. Max spent his time standing by the tree, looking from the presents to the outside to where the snow sat and the mountain looms above them. The sun wasn’t going to make an appearance that day and more snow seemed to be on the way. He thought about how much he loved this and how much Natalie didn’t understand his love of bad weather, his love of dark and gloomy days. When he was a kid, he loved the chaos of it. When he got older, it just came in handy. Very handy.
“What are you doing? Daydreaming?” Abigale said as she and Olivia walked up behind him. They were still in a good mood from breakfast and were all smiles.
He smiled back, feeling the happiness radiating off of them.
“I was. I was remembering things from when I was a kid.” He looked down at the gifts under the tree and nodded toward the wrapped boxes. “Excited?”
“If those are for us, you went out of your way. There is way too much under there for us.” She was excited to know what was under there, though. She might have said it was too much but Max could see the child underneath, giddy about the mystery of an unopen gift.
He put his arms out for them and they put them around their shoulders.
“I’m excited to see you when you see what’s in them.” He let go and shuffled past them to the couch by the fire. “It’s chilly by that window.”
They followed him and sat on both sides of him. Olivia picked up his hand and held it.
“How are you feeling? You seem a bit more chipper this morning.”
Mindy walked from the kitchen where she had finished up putting things away. There was the slightest smile on her face when Olivia asked that question. Maxwell caught it and stifled a laugh.
“I’m feeling pretty good. Just needed a good night’s sleep, I suppose. And some warmth.”
From upstairs they heard a yell and a curse. Monty had gone upstairs to change. They looked up at the railing on the loft and saw he was holding his foot. He had changed into heavier clothing.
Abigale yelled up to him. “What happened?”
Monty looked down, embarrassed. “I was trying to put on these new boots I got and tripped over the one.” He was massaging his foot. “I rolled my ankle.”
“Want me to look at it?” asked Mindy, already moving that way.
He waved her back. “No, I’m fine. Just being clumsy.” He put his foot back down and heading down the stairs, carrying his new boots.
As he was coming down the last set of steps, his limping got out of hand and he tripped. He went to grab for the rail but he was still holding on to his boots. Suddenly, he was falling face-first down the last three steps and his hands were not out in front of him. Monty was going to be hurt.
Then, without blinking an eye, his feet were on the ground, his boots were still in his hand. He was standing still, completely safe, yet he bent his legs and fell to the floor, the boots were flung a couple of feet. His face was one of horror.
“What the fuck?” Monty gasped. He looked around confused.
Abigale and Mindy went to him, unsure if he was hurt or not. Olivia started to get up but saw that the situation was taken care of. She looked down at Maxwell to see what his reaction was, hoping that it didn’t shock him too much, maybe causing a bad reaction. He was only a bit out of breath but seemed fine. He looked at Monty on the floor and Mindy and Abigale helping him up. But there wasn’t any worry on his face.
Then, she looked at her hand. Hadn’t she held his hand? How did she get it out of her grip with her knowing? She thought that maybe the suddenness of Monty falling, he had pulled his hand from hers and she just didn’t notice. It was all very quick.
“Are you alright?” Mindy looked into his face. Abigale was holding on to him to steady him if he needed it.
Monty seemed a bit dumbfounded at first. He looked around and even turned around to look at the steps that he had just fell (flew) down.
“What the hell just happened? I was falling because I tripped and then I was on my feet.” He looked back at everybody. “Did you see that? I should have landed on my face.”
Maxwell was looking at him, still seated. The lack of worry there confused Monty.
“I guess you were a cat in a past life.” Maxwell smiled. But it seemed hollow to Monty.
“It’s a good thing. If you had fallen the way you were falling, you would have fractured your nose and would have been pretty banged up. We would have had to call an ambulance, most likely,” Mindy said as she bent down to look at his ankle that he had bent before coming down. He raised it up for her to check.
She stood back up. “It seems to be fine. It’ll be tight for a bit but moving it around will keep it from stiffening up.”
He nodded and said with a smirk. “Thanks, nurse.” He reclaimed his boots and sat down on the floor to put them on. “I’m going to go out for a bit and check out the snow. Who wants to come?”
Everybody started to look around, not knowing what to do. The ladies looked at Maxwell.
“Yes. That’s a great idea. You should all go get dressed and see what there is to see,” said Maxwell. “This area is wonderful and I want you all to see it and take it in. Go get some fresh air.”
Everybody else seemed unsure about what to do.
Maxwell waved his hand toward them. “Please, I mean it. And you should go pretty soon. Based on that sky, it’s going to get messy later. Better enjoy it while you can.”
“Are you sure?” Olivia asked.
“Of course. And that goes for you, Mindy. You need to get out and come back and tell me what you think. I’m going to sit in front of the window and watch. Have some fun
They just stood there for a minute. They all looked at one another, each one afraid to make the first move. Finally, Monty broke the silence.
“Alright. I guess I’ll be the first out.” He headed toward the door. “Olivia, Abigale, Mindy, you guys coming?”
Olivia and Abigale shrugged and headed upstairs to get dressed. Mindy hung back as they did and as Monty opened the door, letting in cold air, stepping out, shutting the door behind him.
“I’m not leaving you alone.” She stood in front of him like with a look that reminded him of his mother.
He took this in and laughed. She looked at him curiously.
“Oh, sweet Mindy. I’ll be fine. Go out and have some fun. Get out of this stuffy house and breathe some fresh air. I’m going to sit and watch you guys. Tonight we’ll all be together and we can open the traditional Christmas Eve gift.”
“Are you sure?”
Before he could answer, Olivia and Abigale came bounding down the stairs dressed in their thickest clothes. They were more careful then Monty, taking the last three steps cautiously. Olivia came over.
“Mindy, are you coming?”
She looked down at Maxwell, not sure on if she should leave him. He saw she was hesitating and mouthed the word ‘Go’ to her and gave her a smile.
She smiled back and turned to Olivia and Abigale. “I’ll be right out.”
They headed out and Mindy headed upstairs. Max got up and shuffled to the window. He spun around a spinning rocker-recliner and sat down and watched as Olivia and Abigale joined Monty where he immediately threw snow at them. He could see them laugh and bend down to pick up their own snow to throw. Behind him, he heard Mindy come down and up behind him. She bent down and put her a warm hand on his neck.
“I’ll be right out there. I’ll keep looking to see if you’re watching. Alright?”
“Of course. I don’t plan on moving.”
And then, she bent down and kissed him on the cheek. She lingered there with her lips against his wrinkled face. He closed his eyes and enjoyed every second of it.
She started to take her hand away from his neck but he reached up and held it. Without taking his eyes off of his friends outside, he spoke to her, almost a whisper.
“I wished I had met you a lot sooner. Things would have been different.”
This confused her but she didn’t dwell on it. She gripped his hand, not wanting to let go. But tears started to come and she didn’t want to cry. She let go and walked toward the door. Right before she opened it to leave, she turned back.
“Me, too,’ she whispered. She said it quietly enough that she didn’t think he could hear. She walked out and closed the door.
But he did hear her. He watched her join the others, getting loose snow slung at her and her slinging some back. They were all laughing.
He hoped that if there was another place, heaven or whatever, that he can take this memory with him. This would be one he would place near the top of all memories. Next to the ones of his late wife. She had been his savior. She had kept him from a life of being old. Not just in mind but in the body. But then cancer claimed her. It ate her from the inside, starting with a small tumor in her brain to an octopus of a thing, its tentacles wrapping around her grey matter and wringing it out like a wet sponge. He had watched her go from the most beautiful woman he had ever known to a shell of a human being, not knowing what was going on or, worse yet, who he was.
As he half-watched his friends and his nurse trying to build a snowman in the powdery snow, he thought about why he had brought them here, to this cold place, a place far away from everyone else. He thought about what lay ahead. Not the death that would take him in a couple of days’ time. He wasn’t worried about that. He had accepted that months ago.
No, he was worried about the story he had to tell. This story that had been his secret since he was a boy, long before he had met any of them.
He reached into a pocket of his robe and pulled out a coin. It was very old. He held it in his palm. This was going to be the beginning. He felt the groves in it. He knew them well.
He decided tomorrow night, Christmas night, would be the time to tell the secret he had held for so long..
He put the coin back in his pocket and looked out again. He saw Mindy waving to him. He raised his hand and waved back. He felt in his other pocket and found the phone. He looked at them once more as he fished out the smartphone.
He turned it on and started to record a video.
“Hey guys,“ he started out, looking into the lens. What he told them in the video was about another secret he had, one that would affect their lives in the future.
End of Part One…