Notes and Timeline: Ninjetti period, after Kim left. I am cheerfully ignoring the episode "A Season to Remember" which indicated Adam does not observe Christmas. In my little world, he does. A huge thanks to Dagmar for the beta reading, and for the title. You're the best!
"Adrian and I have to wait for our parents to wake up, but then it's pretty much every one for himself opening the presents," Adam said with a smile.
"We open our gifts on Christmas Eve," Kat contributed to the conversation. "On Christmas morning we'd all go to my mum's parents' house. The whole family would gather there, showing up in small groups all day long until we had almost forty people for the Christmas dinner barbeque. Of course this year we won't be doing that, but at least some of my mum's family is coming here, which will help a lot. My mum was feeling pretty homesick," she concluded, looking down at her hands with a pensive look.
"That's got to be hard, your first Christmas so far from home. I'm glad they're coming," Aisha agreed with a sympathetic look.
"Me, too. I'm looking forward to showing them around, and I'd love for them to meet all you. What does your family do, Aisha?"
"Well, tomorrow night we'll all get together and decorate the tree, while we sing along with my dad's old Christmas records. We then place all the presents under the tree and we open them the next morning after breakfast. I don't know why, but my dad always insists my brothers and I have breakfast first, I think it's to torture us," Aisha said. "What about you, Tommy?"
"Man, my mom is so into Christmas! She started decorating the day after Thanksgiving, and ever since my dad and I have had to duck around these hanging loops of garland. We'll exchange the gifts we're giving each other on Christmas Eve, and the rest of the presents we'll open the next morning. Then we usually do some sort of charitable thing in the afternoon. This year we're helping serve dinner at the shelter in Stone Canyon. It's kind of right, somehow, after getting so much, to be able to give something back."
"That's so nice," Kat mumurred with a warm look at their tall leader. "My mum's like yours, got started on decorating the first week of December. Then baking, pretty much every day this week. Fruitcake, pies, cookies, homemade candy. The house always smells so good. Chocolate, and cinnamon, and other spices. I think I gain ten pounds from the smell alone."
"No kidding. My mom does pies, at least four different kinds, the day before. To me, the smell of apple pie means Christmas is almost here." A nostalgic smile creased Aisha's expressive face.
"Lobster tails does it for me," Adam added with a grin. "We have lobster exactly once a year, and Christmas dinner is it. I'm getting hungry just thinking of it."
"Yeah, all this talk of food is getting to me. Hey, Billy, what about you?" Rocky asked, noticing that the Blue Ranger had been silent so far.
"My dad and I, we usually exchange gifts in the morning. The last few years we've had dinner with the Scotts, but not this year. They're going to Switzerland instead of Jason coming here, so I guess it'll just be Dad and me. We'll probably have dinner at a restaurant downtown."
The others exchanged uneasy expressions. They never questioned Billy about his lifestyle with his widower father, and he only rarely spoke about it. They understood that neither Cranston was much of a cook; Billy never invited any of them over for a home cooked meal. On those rare occasions when one or more of them did eat at Billy's it was always takeout food.
"Sounds nice," Aisha said brightly, not wanting to hurt her friend's feelings.
"It is, in its own way. Are any of you going to the Christmas concert tonight?"
A chorus of negative answers greeted that question, and gradually the conversation drifted to other topics before the group dispersed.
The Christmas tree lot caught Billy's attention as he drove home later that day. He stopped and parked without even thinking about it, drawn by the sight of the trees and the sound of the Christmas carols being played. He walked among the now small selection of trees, wrestling with his feelings.
He had long since come to terms with his mother's death, or so he believed. If he and his father led a somewhat unconventional life compared to his friends, it didn't bother him. It suited them both just fine. But despite the passage of years, the holidays remained difficult. Thanksgiving they spent with Wallace's brother at his resort. Mother's Day Billy observed by placing fresh flowers at his mother's grave. Other holidays they basically ignored. Christmas had been spent at the Scott's the last six years, every one since Billy was ten.
The first Christmas after Marie Cranston's death Wallace had tried to create the usual holiday spirit, if only for his son's sake. It had been an unmitigated failure. Still grieving hard, neither father nor son could maintain a fašade of good cheer. Then the following year Billy became friends with Jason, and the first Christmas invitation from Jack and Marjorie Scott was issued. That had ended up becoming their Christmas ritual.
Until this year.
Listening to his friends recount their holiday traditions had awakened feelings in Billy he hadn't even known existed. A hunger, a grief, and an irrational longing for something he'd not had for many years. He wanted Christmas. He wanted his own Christmas. His and his father's, not one 'borrowed' from a friend's family.
A plan began to form in his mind. He'd decorate a Christmas tree, and bake some chocolate chip cookies. He'd surprise his dad, who wasn't due home until late that night, with their very own Christmas. The first thing he'd see would be the Christmas tree, the first they'd had in years, and he'd smell the warm, homey scent of home baked cookies. It'd be like the Christmases his friends described. With this in mind, he chose a small tree. It was only five feet tall at best, and sparse. One side was flattened down, and there was a rather large 'bald' spot on the other side, but he figured it was as close to perfect as he was going to be able to find. He loaded it into the car and headed toward the grocery store.
Two hours later Billy was frantically waving a broom under the smoke detector to shut off its piercing wail. The charred remnants of his attempt at baking cookies were fused to the cookie sheet, while the stench of burnt sugar permeated the house. When the smoke detector had finally been silenced, Billy opened as many windows as possible and started cleaning up the mess. He took a taste of the uncooked remains of the dough and made a face. It tasted awful. Disheartened, he threw the rest away, and turned to contemplate the rather pathetic looking tree leaning against the wall of the living room. He felt the wistful desire that had inspired him earlier fade away in the face of the reality of his situation. He couldn't bake. He wasn't artistically inclined. He was lucky he hadn't ended up burning the house down. He decided to cut his losses and forget his ridiculous notion about them having a nice Christmas at home. He turned off the stereo, which had been playing Christmas carols, and picked up the tree, intending to take it out to the trash, when the doorbell interrupted him.
He opened the door to find the other five Rangers standing there.
"Hi, guys. What's up?" he asked, hoping they wouldn't notice the smell coming from inside the house.
"We were thinking of going to that concert tonight after all, and came by to see if you wanted to come with us. What's that smell?" Tommy asked, looking with some concern at his friend.
"I just burned some...stuff," Billy replied uneasily.
"Really? Smells like burnt cookies. We get that smell at least once every Christmas," Rocky decided, pushing past Billy with a smile. "So, where are you hiding the cookies?"
"Um...uh...they didn't turn out quite right," the Blue Ranger confessed as the rest of the team entered the house.
"What was wrong with them?" Rocky wondered.
"They didn't taste right. The dough didn't, at least. I didn't taste the burnt ones," Billy mumbled, looking ill at ease with them all there.
The other Rangers picked up on his unease, as well as the sense of sorrow underlying it. Though they weren't completely sure what was causing it, everybody had their suspicions, and without needing to confer with each other they all felt they wanted to do something to alleviate it.
"You got enough ingredients to try again?" Rocky asked.
"Yeah, I think so. But I'm really not in the mood anymore," Billy replied.
"Well, I am. Come on, making cookies is the most fun you can have in the kitchen. Really. I should know. I've been the 'Chocolate Chip Cookie Making Master of the DeSantos Family' for the last seven years," Rocky declared while quickly looking around for the needed utensils and ingredients.
Swept up into Rocky's enthusiasm, Billy began locating the necessary items, while the rest of the team chipped in with advice and good-natured teasing. Adam found the stereo and started the carols playing again in the background.
"You know, Rocky, you're going to make some gal one heck of a wife someday," Aisha teased the Red Ranger, knowing full well that, as the oldest of seven, Rocky had been required to learn cooking and housekeeping skills as a matter of survival.
"That's what I keep trying to tell the girls at school. But none of them ever believe me," Rocky retorted dramatically.
"Oh, yeah, that's what every high school girl is looking for; a wife," Tommy snickered.
"Well, they should be. It pays to plan ahead," was Rocky's reply.
The comment was met with a round of chuckles. The dough was almost ready, the oven warming up. Rocky had gently pointed out what had gone wrong with Billy's first attempt, and had insisted the Blue Ranger do all the measuring and mixing under his supervision. It was a rare treat for Rocky to have the upper hand, knowledge-wise, on Billy, and he was enjoying it a little, while taking care not to make his shyer teammate feel badly. Baking was not as easy as it looked.
With the action in the kitchen winding down, the other four Rangers started looking around a little. They noticed the tree still leaning rather forlornly against the wall in the living room.
"Hey, cool, you got a tree. When are you going to decorate it?" Tommy queried.
"I was planning to tonight."
"Can we help?" Katherine and Aisha asked together, their eyes lighting up at the prospect.
"Actually, that would probably be a good idea," Billy admitted sheepishly.
"Where are your decorations stored?" Adam asked.
"The attic. If you go upstairs, to the end of the hall, you'll see a cord dangling. Pull on that and the stairs to the attic come down. The tree stand and a couple of boxes of ornaments should be up there."
The four teens quickly made their way up to the attic. The surprisingly large area was liberally coated with undisturbed dust, cobwebs and spider webs stretching across the open areas. Tommy soon located the Christmas tree stand and two large boxes clearly marked 'Xmas decor'. He and Adam each hefted a box and turned to find out what the girls were doing.
Aisha and Kat were solemnly looking at a crib tucked in a corner of the attic. Inside the crib were piles of folded clothing.
"They even kept Billy's baby clothing?" Tommy asked, a bit surprised. He had guessed that Billy's dad was like his son, a packrat. But keeping the baby clothing seemed a bit much.
"No, these are women's clothing," Kat murmured, picking up a sweater from the top of one pile. She shook out the teal garment, holding it up for the others to see. It looked like it would be a snug fit on Kimberly.
"She must have been a tiny little thing," Aisha said softly.
"She was. Billy showed me a picture of the three of them once. She was probably not even five feet tall. Mr. Cranston looked like a giant compared to her. Billy'd tower over her if she was still alive," Tommy told them.
"It's so sad," Kat said as she folded the sweater carefully and replaced it on the pile.
"Come on, you guys, before they miss us," Adam prompted the others. They quickly gathered up the needed items and trooped back downstairs.
"Hey, I though you'd all gotten lost. I was ready to call in the cavalry," Rocky called out from the kitchen. The smell of freshly baked cookies filled the downstairs area.
"Nope. Are they done yet?" Tommy asked.
"Almost. Did you find the stuff okay?" Billy asked as he and Rocky joined the rest of the teens in the living room.
"I think so. It's a pretty small tree, this should be more than enough."
"Guys, you know, you don't have to do this if you don't want to. I thought you wanted to go to the concert," Billy said diffidently.
"We were going to the concert because we couldn't find anything better to do. We'd rather help you decorate the tree. That is, if you don't mind," Aisha said.
"Oh, I'm glad for the help. Then I guess I ought to order some dinner for us. Pizza okay?" Billy headed to the kitchen phone to order a couple of large pizzas and drinks for everyone.
The next two hours passed in a whirlwind of activity. The tree was decorated, as was the entire living room, the cookies were all baked, the pizzas eaten. Amid the laughter and easy camaraderie, the Cranston living room had undergone an amazing metamorphosis.
Where the room had been rather plain, clearly set up for functionality, it now had Christmas decorations scattered throughout, giving it a warmth and color it had lacked before. A small nativity scene was set up under the tree, which was decorated with a charming mixture of ornaments, with tiny twinkling lights threaded throughout. A collection of toy trains graced one tabletop, while red and green candles in brass holders were arranged on another. Taken individually, each thing was so small, but together they created a sense of Christmas.
"Guys, this...this looks wonderful. Thank you. I couldn't have done this alone," Billy said quietly, looking around with a pleased expression.
"Glad we could help. But I need to head home. Mom'll be wondering where I've wandered off to. See you tomorrow?" Tommy asked.
"Sure, at the Youth Center around noon." They had agreed to meet then to exchange gifts.
"You got it. Good night, Billy." Amid a chorus of goodbyes Billy's friends headed off into the night.
"Good night." He closed the door and turned again to look at the tree. He gently reached out and touched a couple of the ornaments, wondering when his parents had gotten them, and why. He knew there was probably a story behind each of them, and he found himself wondering what those stories might be.
Sighing, he pushed those thoughts aside and cleaned up the kitchen, leaving a plate of the fresh cookies out for his dad, and the lights on on the tree. Then he headed up to his room to work on a school project that was due after the Christmas vacation.
Wallace Cranston was in a rare bad mood. The audit he was working on had somehow become a fraud investigation, and the director of the facility had been belligerent and threatening earlier. It was a pretty stupid move, actually, as it made him look even more suspect than before, but that did nothing to ease Wallace's ire after being called a 'lying four eyed bastard' at top volume several times.
Now here it was, only two days before Christmas and he felt not even the slightest twinge of Christmas spirit. He'd spoken to the Scotts yesterday and confirmed that they were leaving tomorrow for Switzerland. With them gone, Wallace had no real idea of what to do for Christmas this year. He decided he'd worry about it tomorrow, since he had the day off.
So trying to quell his unpleasant thoughts he pulled into the driveway and let himself in the front door.
The sight of the Christmas tree blinking brightly in the corner of the living room stopped him in his tracks. Memories of Christmases years ago flooded his mind, driving out the unpleasant events of the day. He gingerly approached the tree and reached out a gentle finger, running it over the ornaments, remembering.
Here was the blown glass bell, in the shape of an angel, he'd bought for Marie their first Christmas. She'd had a thing for angels, and had been thrilled beyond measure when Wallace had given her that one. The six matched ornaments decorated with lace, which his parents had given them their third Christmas. The oddly ugly but delicate glass Santa, which had belonged to Marie's parents. The brightly decorated ornament embossed with 'Baby's First Christmas', which his coworkers had given him the year Billy was born. The misshapen clay star Billy had made in kindergarten. Tears filled his eyes as he saw the painfully brief history of his marriage decorating the tree. But, beneath the pain was a warmth he'd not expected to feel again.
He took a deep breath, savoring the fragrance of the evergreen, a smell that brought back memories of his own youth. His parents had always cut a fresh tree, and the scent would forevermore be associated with Christmas in his mind. He noticed that beneath the smell of the tree there were others he'd not noticed. The aroma of freshly baked cookies was another unusual fragrance in this home. Beneath that he could identify two others he was far more familiar with: pizza and burnt cooking. An absent smile crossed his face at that.
He heard the sound of Billy's footsteps coming down the stairs and hastily wiped his eyes.
"Hi, Dad. Is this okay with you? I...I got the idea this afternoon, and didn't think you'd mind. Do you?" Billy felt suddenly apprehensive, wondering if he'd inadvertently hurt his father's feelings.
Wallace smiled and put his arm around his son's shoulders in a half embrace that was more comfortable for them both.
"I think it's wonderful. It looks great. Did you do all this yourself?" he asked with a twinkle in his eyes.
Billy smiled a bit sheepishly. "No. Tommy, Rocky, Adam, Aisha and Kat helped. Rocky did teach me how to bake the cookies, though. So I can make some more later. That burnt smell you might have noticed; that was my first attempt."
Wallace chuckled fondly. "Like father like son, huh? I never could bake. Drove your mom nuts that I couldn't even follow a simple recipe."
"Rocky made it look so easy. But I guess he's been baking since he was a little kid."
"Guess that's one of the advantages of having a big family. The tree looks wonderful. It's been a long time since I've seen these ornaments. Your mom, she just loved angels. Had to have at least one new angel ornament each year. She even joined one of those 'clubs' where she would be sent a new ornament each year..." his voice trailed off, his expression distant.
"Dad? Are you okay?" Billy asked softly.
"Oh, yeah, son, I am. Would you mind making me a cup of coffee, decaf? And I'd like to sample a couple of your cookies, too. I'm going to go change, and there's something I need to find. I'll be right back."
Billy went into the kitchen and made the requested cut of coffee, one of the few skills he had in the kitchen. He heard his father return to the living room, so he put a few cookies on a plate and took that and the cup of coffee in to his father.
Wallace was sitting on the couch with seven small boxes arranged on the table in front of him.
"Come on and have a seat, Billy. I'd forgotten all about these. You see, that club your mom joined, I never discontinued her membership. Did you happen to notice the angel ornaments that are dated?" At Billy's nod, he continued. "She got the first one the year you were born. They usually arrive in October, and she'd take the ornament out of the box as soon as she got it and would put it on the mantle in our old home. She never received one here, of course. But I have. Every year. The first year, I added it to the tree, but since then we haven't done a tree, so I just tucked them in my office closet. I think it's time they took their rightful place among the other ornaments, don't you?"
Billy felt tears prick at his eyes as he looked at the seven small boxes. One for each year his mother had been gone from them. He nodded his agreement to his father, unsure if his voice would remain steady enough to answer.
So sitting side-by-side the two of them opened the seven boxes and examined each ornament carefully. Though all had an angel motif, each was unique and special it its own way, and all were obviously of the highest quality and craftsmanship. Once all of them were opened, Wallace and Billy hung them carefully on the tree, creating a bridge of sorts between the past and the present. Both felt that in some small way Marie was still with them, that as long as the string of ornaments remained intact she was able to reach out from their past and touch their present and future.
Father and son didn't speak much, just hung the ornaments and lost themselves in their thoughts and memories for a while. Finally Wallace looked over at his only child.
"This is really wonderful, son. But I am wondering what brought it on."
Billy shrugged shelf consciously. "We were all talking about our Christmas rituals, family traditions, that sort of thing. And I guess I felt like I didn't have one, like I was missing something. I'm sorry, Dad," he said, seeing his father's expression. "I wasn't complaining, really I wasn't. It was just a bout of...irrationality, I guess, on my part. Wanting something that really isn't that important."
"But it is important, son. We haven't had a real tradition in years. I think though, you may have created one for us. Every year we should at least have a tree and together unwrap your mom's new Christmas ornament. And you can bake cookies, an important skill to keep up. Otherwise I'll never be able to marry you off," Wallace concluded with a chuckle.
Billy laughed almost despite himself. "That's been a worry of yours?"
"Well, not yet, but maybe someday. In the meantime, I guess I'll keep you. I appreciate what you've done here, I really needed to be reminded of what is most important today. It may be a bit premature, but, Merry Christmas Billy."
"Merry Christmas, Dad."
Author's Note: Merry Christmas, and all the best in
years to come.