“Another Christmas Story” – Chapter Forty-Five – The Christmas Song – As Read By Thom Crowe

This week’s first chapter, Chapter Forty-Five, entitled “The Christmas Song”, will be read to you by our very own Thom Crowe! We hope you like it! If you do enjoy it, make sure to share this episode and our website, upon which the text of this installment is posted, to get it in front of as many ears and eyes as possible! In addition, make sure to share this installment for a chance to win a brand new, 2021 Hallmark “Stocking Stuffers Special Edition Keepsake Ornament”!

Coming up on the show this upcoming Monday, December 20th, we will be covering the 1974, animated Rankin/Bass special, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”! And, that same night, we will be recording our episode on the brand new HBO Max Original Christmas Movie,  “8-Bit Christmas”, on which we will be joined by Gerry D. of “Totally Rad Christmas” and April Ryley, who is making her long overdue return to the podcast! That episode will drop in your feeds on Monday, December 27th! Before that, however, on Thursday, December 16th, you’ll get to hear the final chapter of “Another Christmas Story“, which will be read to you by professional author and listener of the show, Nicole Little, and on Thursday, December 23rd – Christmas Adam; Christmas Eve, Eve; Festivus; Tibb’s Eve; the Day Before the Night Before Christmas; pick your poison – you’ll get to hear the Epilogue of “Another Christmas Story”, which will be brought to y’all by our very own Julia Colburn! So, keep your eyes on your podcast feeds because there’s lots of great stuff coming up!

Enjoy, y’all! 🎅🏻🎄🎁 🦌🦉⛄️🚂🔔 🤶🏻 🎀 ❄️

 

 

Chapter Forty-Five: The Christmas Song

December 25th – 2:00 a.m. EST

“Oh God.” Mary groaned loudly upon noticing the crowd of people beginning to empty out of the cathedral across the street. She glanced up at Joey, as she cradled her daughter closer to her bosom. “I don’t want anyone else to see me like this,” she explained pointedly, already mortified by how many people had been around to witness her giving birth.

Sympathizing with the woman, Seamus Dwyer did his best to reassure her. “We’ll play crowd control until you get loaded up into the ambulance.” Then, meeting Andrew’s eyes, he added, “Besides – it’s probably a good idea to keep them away with the president out here, anyway.” He glanced at the nation’s commander in chief, who flashed him a grateful smile.

“I’ll help.”

The two officers turned at the sound of the new voice and were surprised to find their boss, Commanding Officer Lindsey Pendleton, approaching them. She looked exhausted, and as cold as the rest of them, but there was also a palpable sense of relief exuding from her; she was clearly happy to see them. “Come on.” She jerked her head across the street, where Commissioner Burke and two secret service officers the policemen recognized from television as always flanking the president, were already working to keep the curious gathering of onlookers at bay. Seamus had no idea how long ago any of them had arrived on the scene – how they had known where to find the president and the missing child in the end, or how much they had witnessed – but he was just as glad to see his boss as she was to see him. Smiling, Seamus and Andrew both nodded and followed her across the street.

Aaron Rankin, meanwhile, stood stock still in the middle of the snowy sidewalk beside the manger, still gripping the sides of his marching snare drum tightly as he breathed deeply and deliberately. He felt elated – performing for a group of strangers on the street had been absolutely cathartic for him. He watched as the man inside of the manger anxiously eyed the ambulance slowly advance up the icy street as he stroked the head of the woman, who was gently trying to calm her baby that had begun to cry the moment the emergency vehicle’s sirens reached its ears. Smirking to himself at the new family, Aaron was enraptured by the sight of them when a voice from somewhere behind him exclaimed loudly, “Emily!”

Bobby Williams hurried straight past the little drummer boy and the manger scene toward where his wife stood on the opposite side of it, flanked by her foreign counterparts. At the sound of his voice, Emily was shaken from her stupor. “Bobby!” Dropping her professional demeanor, she excitedly ran into his hug and allowed the man to plant an enormous kiss on her cheek. “How did you know where to find us?”

“Why did we have to come find you in the first place?” Bobby raised an eyebrow, as Emily smirked guiltily.

“Sheer dumb luck.” Anna ignored the first gentleman’s question in order to answer the president, who seemed shocked to see her as she and David Wells – the young secret service agent whom she’d tricked into aiding her escape from the Plaza earlier – also joined them. “You had us worried sick,” David pointed out, looking relieved.

“I do hope that we didn’t cause you too much trouble,” Emily said, as she gently pried herself from her husband’s arms, unaware of the English prime minister rolling her eyes behind her.

When David Wells stared down at his feet, uncomfortably, Anna said quickly, “It’s nothing that you can’t rectify later, Madam President. I – are you drunk?” Her mouth dropped open, aghast, as she noticed the smell of alcohol rolling off of her boss for the first time.

As Nathan shook his head adamantly, wide-eyed, barely able to suppress a mischievous smirk, Emily swayed gently on the spot and held up her thumb and pointer finger millimeters apart. “I may be a little bit tipsy,” she admitted, taken aback that all of the drinks she had consumed earlier seemed to finally be catching up with her. “I – oh, pardon me!” She covered her mouth after a loud hiccough escaped her lips with one hand, as she used her other hand to push her glasses up the bridge of her nose.

Speechless, Anna turned from her to her international colleagues, who had erupted into fits of laughter. “I haven’t seen you like this in years!” Bobby pointed out.

“Well, we had reason to celebrate!” Nathan exclaimed a bit louder than he had intended, his words slurring somewhat. “A preliminary de-escalation agreement with Russia—”

Sh!” As one, Emily and Miranda both rounded on the Canadian prime minister. “Keep your voice down!”

“Sorry.” Nathan blushed, as Anna felt her phone buzz in the pocket of her winter coat. “I am a bit overzealous, I suppose.”

“I don’t think it matters,” David Wells pointed out, surprising all three world leaders by chiming in with his input. “Gary was in the process of sending out the press release on tonight’s call with Russia before we left the Plaza, so I imagine everyone’s heard about it by now.”

Anna nodded, as she stared down at her phone. “That’s not the only news,” she began. “That was Air Force One. Conditions over New England have cleared up enough to allow the airspace to open up again.”

“Excellent!”

“Now that’s news worthy of celebrating,” Miranda said.

Ignoring the British woman, Anna turned to the president. “No point in going back to the Plaza now. I’ll call back and have everybody who’s still there pack up, get into the motorcade, and come to pick us up here so we can go straight to the airport and get the hell out of here”

“Thank you, Anna.”

As the chief of staff made to walk away, Miranda stopped her. “Speaking of people back at the hotel, where are our spouses and staff?” She motioned between herself and Nathan.

“I’d imagine they’re back at the Plaza with the rest of ours,” Anna informed the foreign prime ministers. “Considering the secret service and N.Y.P.D. didn’t even want me or the first gentleman to hit the streets with them, and we didn’t consult with them before heading out.”

Miranda threw up her hands in exasperated disbelief. “Unbelievable.” Then, to no one in particular, she added, “My own staff doesn’t care enough about me to aid the Americans in searching for me!”

“I’m sure our security detail is out on the streets looking,” Nathan pointed out in what he thought was a consoling sentiment, but which merely made Miranda roll her eyes and Emily and Bobby exchange an amused glance.

Aaron Rankin watched as Anna Dreyfus walked away from the group with a phone to her ear. He had been watching the presidential reunion a few meters away from him with such a keen interest that it took him a few moments to notice the young woman standing even further past them, who stared at him intensely with a watery smile plastered on her face. As his eyes widened in shock, Aaron breathed softly, “Mom?” He couldn’t believe it – how could his mother possibly be there, in New York? Did he miss her so much that his eyes were playing tricks on him?

As the woman started quickly for him, Aaron ran at her as fast as his legs would carry him and threw himself into her arms with such force, he nearly toppled her over. “Mom!”

“Oh, Aaron!” The woman began kissing every inch of the top of his head.

“What are you doing here?” Aaron asked into her shoulders. “How—”

“You didn’t think that I’d miss your New York City debut, now did you?” She held her youngest son out at arm’s length in order to examine him, and her stomach immediately constricted sickeningly at the sight of his bloodied knuckles. “Are you okay?” she asked, her voice barely more than a whisper.

“I’m fine, mom,” Aaron insisted. It was the truth, too. He couldn’t explain why, but playing for the young couple that was still huddled together in the warmth of the shabby looking manger had made him feel infinitely better. “Seriously.”

Megan pursed her lips uncertainly, but couldn’t pursue the matter, for at that moment, Jake sidled up to them, shaking his head in amazement, open-mouthed. “Dude.” He breathed, staring at his younger brother as though never having seen him properly before. “You were awesome.”

“T-thanks, Jake,” Aaron stammered, surprised yet pleased by his brother’s sincerity, and taken aback when he hugged him tightly.

“You really were,” Megan insisted, fighting back tears of emotion in response to the brothers’ embrace.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” Jake insisted. Then, regaining his composure with a clear of his throat, he broke apart from his brother and added, “Loser.”

Laughing, Aaron replied with a smile. “Thanks, jerk-face.”

Engulfing both sons in a tight hug, Megan insisted, “I love you two so much!”

Patricia Warren uncertainly inched forward to join the Floridian family at that moment, clearing her own throat in order to announce her presence. At the sight of her, Megan released her sons and her eyes darkened instantly. The third-grade teacher, however, only had eyes for her student. “Aaron,” she began softly, acutely aware of how tiny and cold he looked. “I am so sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Aaron emphatically shook his head. “I’m fine. It’s fine. Seriously,” he added, throwing his mother a pleading look and silently urging her to leave his teacher alone. “Honestly, this night turned out to be a lot better than I ever thought it would be.”

Both the boy’s mother and teacher blinked, taken aback by the statement from the young child, but decided to take his word on the matter at face value – for the moment, at any rate. Instead, they switched to profusely praising his performance, which caused Aaron to smile bashfully.

As the ambulance slowly crawled to a stop in front of the manger positioned at the end of the Channel Gardens, and emergency personnel hopped out of it, Hudson and Marcello quickly moved toward the shabby wooden structure. “Pardon us, ma’am,” the young Italian began, taking off his cap as a sign of respect for Mary, who seemed wary of their sudden appearance. “But these animals actually belong to us.”

The enormous dog, the fat cat, and the tiny goat had been so quiet, and so well-behaved, that both Mary and Joey had practically forgotten they were lying down on either side of the new mother. Indeed, it was only when the goat noticed the man who had just addressed the new mother that he baaed happily and excitedly leapt into his arms, causing him to laugh as he licked his face. As Joey smiled at the scene, Mary stared at the second man – the very familiar looking African American. “You took our picture earlier, didn’t you?” she asked, as Hudson bent down to scoop up the cat, which purred contentedly as it nuzzled his face.

“That’s me,” Hudson replied absentmindedly. “Congratulations,” he added, nodding at the tiny baby in the woman’s arms, before addressing the cat. “Oh, it’s so good to see you, Dexter! And you too, Booster!” He bent down to pet the enormous Pitbull, who licked his hand contentedly. Hudson was surprised; despite being so agitated earlier in the evening, the animals seemed just as happy to see him as he was to see them. He had been so sure that they’d have put up a fight when they saw him. “What do you say we go home, huh? Would you like that? Yeah, I bet! Come on.” Then, meeting Marcello’s eyes, he said, “Thanks for your help looking for them.”

“Don’t thank me,” Marcello insisted. “After all, you were the one who led us here.”

Hudson smiled, but before he could reply, the first responders hurried toward them with a stretcher. Grabbing Booster by the neck, he guided the brindle dog to the left of the manger, as he continued to clutch the cat close to his chest, while Marcello ducked to the right with his goat. Mary, meanwhile, let out a long breath that she hadn’t realized she had been holding, as she addressed the EMT personnel. “Thank God you’re here!”

“It took you long enough!” Joey eyed the two men with disdain.

“We’re sorry,” one of them insisted, as he crouched down low beside Mary. “We got here as fast as we could. How are you feeling?” He grabbed Mary’s wrist to feel her pulse.

“Cold,” Mary insisted, as her daughter continued to shriek. “I think my baby is too.”

“A crying newborn is a sign of a healthy newborn,” the second EMT worker insisted. “Here, let me take her while you climb onto the stretcher.”

Reluctantly, Mary handed over her baby, and allowed Joey and the EMT that had taken her pulse to gently help her onto the stretcher. As they wheeled her toward the ambulance, she twisted and turned where she lay. “Joey? Where are you?”

“I’m right here,” Joey assured her. “Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere.” But when he tried to climb into the back of the emergency vehicle after the EMTs had loaded Mary and her daughter into it, however, he was prevented from doing so. “I’m sorry, sir. Family only.”

Taken aback, Joey opened his mouth to argue, but was saved having to do so when Mary spoke up. “He is family. Who the hell do you think the father is?”

Joey blushed at the words, but they seemed to do the trick. After exchanging a glance, the EMTs stood aside to allow him to climb aboard. Once he did, and settled himself into the tiny space beside Mary, who smiled gratefully up at him and took his hand, they slammed the back doors of the vehicle shut, climbed into the front cabin, and slowly began to guide the vehicle up the street once again, driving to the hospital.

Brittany watched as the ambulance carrying the new parents edged away from the curb before joining Marcello, who was lost in his own world as Billy tickled him by continuing to lick his face where he stood alone, holding the goat close. “He seems to be in good spirits!” She smiled up at the man, who appeared surprised by her sudden appearance. “Hi Billy,” she cooed as she stroked his small, furry head.

“Better spirits than I’d have thought,” Marcello admitted, so grateful that the baby goat was okay that he was reluctant to place him down onto the snowy ground. “Thanks for braving the elements tonight to help me find him.”

“Anytime. You know that,” Brittany insisted. “Besides, I love this goat as much as you do!” She scratched his head, which caused Billy to lean into her touch contentedly.

Marcello stared down at the beautiful Rockette, who met his eyes unflinchingly. As the glow from the city’s Christmas lights twinkled off of her face, he was overcome for the briefest of moments by a sudden urge to lean down and kiss her; the two of them had always had a flirty rapport, and he was absolutely taken by how much she cared for his animals. The moment, however, passed almost as quickly as it had arrived, and blushing a deep shade of red, he diverted his eyes. “We should probably get him back to Radio City. We need to get him warmed up.”

Brittany nodded her agreement, pink in the face herself. “We should say goodbye to Aaron first though, don’t you think?” She indicated the sweet boy that was being doted on by his mother and teacher a few meters away.

Marcello nodded his agreement and, together, they made their way over to the small group of people from Tampa Bay. When Aaron first caught sight of them through the arms of his teacher, his eyes widened excitedly. “Marcello! Brittany!”

“Hey, sport!” Marcello smiled as the boy extricated himself from his teacher in order to dash around them so Brittany could hug him.

“We were so worried about you!” Brittany said, as she held him out at arm’s length to look him up and down.

Aaron shuffled his feet guiltily in response to the innocent comment. “I’m so sorry,” he mumbled. “That I missed the show, I mean. I—”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Brittany insisted with a warm smile.

“Absolutely not,” Ms. Warren loudly agreed, a little more enthusiastically than she probably would have had the boy’s mother not been standing right beside her.

“But you guys flew out to see me play,” Aaron began, his voice practically a whine now, as he turned to face his mother and brother. “And—”

“—we did get to see you play,” Megan gently reminded him with a smile, sad that her son felt so bad about something that wasn’t his fault in the slightest. “And you were amazing.”

“You really were,” Brittany concurred.

“We should be apologizing to you,” Marcello chimed in. “For not being more watchful of you and Daniel backstage. What happened back at Radio City…” He shook his head. “It shouldn’t have happened.” Ms. Warren nodded her agreement.

Smiling, Aaron remarked, “I guess it all worked out in the end. I mean, I did still get to perform.” He threw a look at the now empty manger.

“You know, I feel like I should be thanking you too,” Marcello added, taking the boy by surprise. Nodding down at the tiny goat in his arms, he explained, “You kept Billy safe for us.”

“It was nothing.” Aaron blushed, as he leaned forward to scratch the goat’s head. In return, Billy turned to lick the boy’s face contentedly, making him laugh. “I’m going to miss this guy.”

“That’s actually why we came over,” Marcello began, somewhat sadly, as Brittany nodded somberly. “To say goodbye.”

“Really?” Though he knew the inevitable moment had been coming, Aaron hadn’t expected it to be so soon, and he wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about it.

“Yeah.” Brittany smiled sadly. “We have to get Billy back to Radio City and warm him up. Besides, you should get home yourself! Santa’s not going to visit until you’re asleep!”

“That’s true,” Aaron conceded.

“It was so nice meeting you,” Brittany wrapped him in a tight hug. “Don’t you ever change. The world needs more sweethearts like yourself, okay?” After Aaron nodded into her shoulder, she held him out at arm’s length again. “And you know what? I bet Holly shares the same sentiment,” she added with a playful wink.

‘Oh my God, Holly!’ Aaron thought to himself. His evening had turned out to be so eventful in the end that he had nearly forgotten about the girl that had occupied his thoughts for such a large part of the day. Was she mad at him for missing the Christmas Spectacular? Did she manage to overcome her stage fright? Before he could ask either of these questions aloud, however, Brittany added, “And don’t ever forget what Marcello and I taught you about bullies, okay?”

Aaron grinned. “Okay.”

“Promise me?”

“I promise.”

“Good.” Brittany swooped in for one final hug and swiftly kissed him on the cheek, which made Aaron blush. Chuckling at the reaction, Marcello stepped forward and ruffled his hair. “Don’t be a stranger, alright? Anytime you’re in the city, feel free to reach out. We’d love to see you again. I know Billy definitely would.”

At the mention of the goat’s name, Aaron leaned down to kiss it upon the head. “Bye, Billy. I’m going to miss you.” In return, the goat baaed sadly and licked the boy’s face one last time.

As Megan watched her youngest son say goodbye to the Radio City employees, she began to well up once more. People who met Aaron always loved him, and always seemed charmed by his kind soul. But to see how much the Rockette, the animal handler, and even the goat would miss her son – how much he seemed to have touched them in less than half a day – was truly astounding. “Thank you both for looking after my son today,” she spoke up. “I am eternally grateful.”

 

Hudson Jackson watched the emotional goodbyes from where he stood a few yards away on the opposite edge of the vacant manger with Booster sitting obediently at his side and Dexter still in his arms. He had wanted to bid the Italian man and the Rockette farewell for himself, but he didn’t want to ruin the moment for them. At any rate, watching them bid poignant adieus to the small boy made him realize he had a conversation of his own to have with somebody in his life that he cared about very deeply. So, as he led the dog toward his crashed truck further down the street, away from the slowly dwindling church crowd that the cops and the secret service were still keeping at bay, he pulled out his phone to dial the person in the world he was probably the closest too besides his mother.

After five-and-a-half rings, a groggy voice answered the other end of the line. “Hello?”

“Hey, Abby.”

“Hudson?” His coworker asked, sounding more alert now, and Hudson could just imagine the woman sitting up in bed as she turned on her bedside lamp. “What time is it? Are you okay?”

“It’s just past two-in-the-morning,” Hudson answered, glancing down at his watch. “And I’m fine. Actually, I’ve never been better.” He laughed awkwardly.

“Then why—”

“You were right, Abby. About everything.”

“You woke me up to tell me something that I already knew?” Abby asked, a hint of flirty playfulness evident in her voice, despite her annoyance, which made Hudson sigh in relief as he smiled.

“No,” he replied. “I woke you up to apologize to you.” He took a deep breath as he glanced down at Booster, taking his time as he guided the dog along the icy sidewalk. “I’ve been making excuses in my life to prevent myself from going after things that I really want – whether it’s owning pets, or getting a new job, or asking women out on dates.” He gulped. “I’ve been making excuses in order to wallow in self-pity and wander aimlessly through life. Well, I’m done with that now. I’m quitting this job tomorrow.” He nodded, and as the words escaped his lips, he felt as though a giant weight were being lifted from his shoulders. “I’m done with it, Abby. It’s eating away at my soul. I can’t do it anymore.”

There was a moment of stunned silence on the other end of the line for a moment before Abby finally spoke in a much warmer tone of voice. “I’m proud of you, Hudson.”

“You’ll be even prouder of me when you hear what else I have to say,” Hudson began. “The dog and the cat I picked up tonight – Booster and Dexter? I’m not taking them to the pound. I’m bringing them home with me. I’m adopting them.” He nuzzled the top of Dexter’s head, as he reached down to scratch behind Booster’s ears. “I can’t see them locked away and possibly put down – especially not around this time of the year. They’re too sweet. They deserve to be in a loving home.”

“I expected nothing less from you, Hun,” Abby replied. “I’m so happy for you. Congratulations.”

“Thanks.” Hudson smiled, relieved that he had managed to patch things up with his coworker. But there was still one other thing he had to ask her, and he needed to do so before his courage failed him. So, speaking so fast that his words ran into one another, he blurted out, “Would you like to drop in my family’s Christmas party later today?”

“Really?” Abby asked, taken aback.

“Yeah.” Hudson swallowed hard, his mouth dry all of a sudden. “Yeah. I mean, I just figure nobody should have to spend Christmas alone.” And though he couldn’t see her, he could envisage a wide smile spreading across her face judging by her tone of voice when she answered a moment later. “I’d love to.”

With butterflies fluttering excitedly around his stomach, and feeling as though he could do somersaults, Hudson brightly exclaimed, “Great! It’s a date!” Then, realizing what he just said, he blushed and quickly added, “I mean – if you want it to be. I know your divorce isn’t finalized yet, so if you’d prefer it was just a platonic thing, that’s cool too. Totally fine. I just—”

Abby’s laughter drowned out the rest of his thought. “It’s a date, Hudson.”

Hudson smiled wide. “Okay then. Awesome. So…I guess I’ll text you my address in the morning.”

“Sounds perfect.”

“Alright, well – I’ll see you later then. Merry Christmas, Abby.”

“Merry Christmas, Hudson. Get home and get some sleep. It’s late.”

And with that, Hudson hung up the phone with a laugh and fist-pumped the air excitedly. Staring down at Booster again, who was staring up at him with his head cocked curiously to one side, he exclaimed, “How about that, huh? I’ve still got it! Woo hoo!” He did a tiny skip and kissed Dexter on the head again. So overjoyed was he, in fact, that didn’t even register nearly bumping into a man he passed walking in the opposite direction, as he and the animals approached his crashed truck in front of the statue of Atlas.

“Are those my boys? Look how big you’ve gotten!”

Megan Rankin, who had been watching the retreating backs of Marcello and Brittany as they walked away up the street, felt her blood run cold at the sound of the new voice that was approaching them. For a moment, she thought she might have been imagining things, but her worst fears were confirmed when beside her, Jake glanced over his shoulder at the source. “Dad?” he asked, stunned, as his mouth dropped open.

Megan turned to find that her ex-boyfriend, Tobias Martin, was slowly approaching them from down the street, emerging from the darkness like some kind of demon from Hell. The first thing she noticed about him was how thin and wiry he appeared – he looked absolutely sickly, a look which was accentuated by the gray pallor of his skin and the permanent bags under his eyes. Even from where she stood, she could tell from the way that his face and fingers twitched that he was high on some sort of drug, and if those things didn’t make it obvious enough, the fact that he was only wearing a sweatshirt in subzero temperatures, yet was sweating profusely, definitely gave it away.

Noticing that Aaron took an instinctive, frightened step closer to her at the sight of his father, Megan threw a protective arm around his shoulders. “What are you doing here, Toby?” she asked defiantly, as the man drew nearer.

“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see my boys!” Toby exclaimed with a wide smile that showed off his yellow teeth, as Megan shivered at the way he emphasized the word ‘my’.

Out of the corner of her eyes, the young mother noticed her son’s teacher staring at her with an inquisitive expression on her face. “This is my boys’ father,” she informed her out of the corner of her mouth, in response to the woman’s unasked question. “The guy I told you to keep an eye out for today in case he tried to get in touch with Aaron.” Then, loudly addressing her ex, she asked, “How did you even know where to find us?”

“You were all over the news!” Toby rubbed a hand over his unshaven face, as he came to a stop directly in front of his estranged family.

“We were?” Aaron asked, as his fright momentarily gave way to amazement.

Toby nodded. “Your whole performance was broadcast live for the entire world to see!” The moment the words were out of the man’s mouth, Patricia Warren began to peer around the immediate vicinity; she hadn’t seen any cable news trucks. But then, standing on the sidewalk directly across the street from them, she spotted the young journalism students that had interviewed her and Felipe earlier, taking in their bustling surroundings with a keen, and shrewd, interest; they must have been the ones that had streamed the beautiful tableau online, and in the process, been picked up by a major network. It made sense, she supposed, what with the president’s presence at the scene. “You were amazing,” Toby continued. “Who knew you could play so well?”

“Anyone who’s been an active presence in his life the past few years,” Megan answered, annoyed, before asking, “So what, you saw him playing on television and wanted to come down here and congratulate him in person?”

“Don’t act so surprised, Meg.” Toby met her eyes with a dangerous glint flashing in his own. “You’re standing here pretending like you don’t want me here, but weren’t you the one who called me for a ride when you were stranded at the airport this afternoon?”

Megan flushed hot at the words as, beside her, Jake – who had been unnaturally quiet from the moment his father had joined them – asked incredulously, “You did?”

“Yes, I did, and he didn’t show up when we needed him,” Megan spat, without tearing her eyes from her ex. “What else is new?” she added sarcastically.

“I could barely open my front door due to all the snow,” Toby explained, motioning at the white stuff still piled high around them. “But it doesn’t matter. I’m here now.” He crouched down so that he was eye-level with Aaron, who flinched at how close he was to him; their noses were mere inches apart now. He hated the man, and would never forgive him for how he had treated his mother. In return, he was convinced that that his father would never forgive him for being the main catalyst that caused his mother to eventually leave him. “What I saw on television this evening was incredible. Every newscaster in the Tri-state area wants to talk to you, you know – the boy who played his drum for the baby born in a manger on Christmas morning and the President of the United States. Think about what you could ask from them in return if you did agree to do the rounds on the morning shows! All the money,” he added wistfully, his eyes glazing over as he pictured it in his mind’s eye.

Aaron glanced down at the word, at which point his father grabbed him firmly by the chin and forcefully shoved his head upward so that their eyes locked. “Look at me when I’m talking to you,” he said, his voice dropping to a steely, dangerous pitch.

Anger flared up within Megan at the sight of her abusive ex touching her youngest son. Grabbing his wrist tightly, she ordered, “Get your damn hands off of him!”

Taken aback by the sudden outburst, Toby slowly straightened up and stared down, stony-faced, into Megan’s eyes, all pretense of warmth and kindness gone from his own. “Is grabbing me really something you wanted to have done?”

They were standing so close that his awful breath blew hot on her face as he talked. Megan didn’t flinch, however. She knew that the man was trying to intimidate her, and she refused to back down or release him from her grip. “Don’t you ever touch my kids again,” she warned.

“They’re my kids too, Megan,” Toby growled.

“You gave up your right to see them when you walked out on us, Tobias. Stay the hell away from them.”

“Or what? Huh?” Toby mockingly asked. “What are you going to do?”

“See those cops?” Megan jerked her head across the street at the small crowd still gathered outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, trying to catch a glimpse of the president and figure out what had happened moments ago inside of the manger at the end of the Channel Gardens as they were corralled by members of the N.Y.P.D. and the secret service. “We could always get them over here to settle this. I’m sure they’ll take the side of the man who’s clearly high on God knows what.”

“Are you threatening me?” Toby demanded. “Huh?” He wrenched his wrist from the woman’s grip with such force that she stumbled backward. He didn’t stop there, however, for as she began to overbalance, he shoved her hard in the chest.

“Hey!” Patricia Warren exclaimed, aghast, as she caught the woman who now had tears of anger and shame brimming in her eyes.

“Mom, are you okay?” Aaron asked, panicked, as he helped his teacher steady her on her feet.

“I’m fine,” Megan stoically insisted, as she brushed herself down. “Don’t worry, sweetie.”

“Yeah, don’t worry, sweetie,” Toby mocked.

“Hey, leave them alone!”

Jake’s sudden outburst caused the mouths of both Megan and Aaron to drop open in utter disbelief. Even Jake looked surprised by his own bravado, despite the fact that he straightened up to his fullest height and stared at his father as though seeing him clearly for the first time, his fists clenched at his sides. Toby, for his part, was astounded by what he was hearing. “What did you say to me?”

“Jake,” Megan quickly began. “You don’t have to—”

“Leave them alone,” Jake repeated. “Don’t you dare touch them.”

Toby sneered. “What, some kind of tough guy now? What are you going to about it, punk?” He quickly moved for the boy, like a snake striking its victim, but Megan was too quick for him and slid between father and son in order to shield the latter. The movement gave her ex pause, clearly confounded by her newfound courage.

“Go home, Tobias,” she instructed quietly, staring into the man’s dark eyes and knowing in her heart that this would be their final goodbye. “And don’t bother us again. If you ever do, I’m going to file a restraining order and have your house raided for whatever drugs you’re storing there.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Try me. I dare you. I promise you that I’ll have you and that woman who’s unfortunate enough to be living with you thrown in a dark hole.”

Toby was red in the face now, and his eyes travelled from Megan to his defiant-looking older son to his cowering younger son to the young blonde woman who stood with the three, appearing helpless and confused. He shook with rage as a million different comebacks and threats raced through his mind, but finally, he settled on merely scoffing. “Fine. Have it your way, bitch. Like I want anything to do with you or these two losers, anyway. Good riddance.” And with that, he turned on his heel and slunk away into the darkness, disappearing as suddenly as he appeared.

When he was out of earshot, Megan, who was trembling uncontrollably, let out a long breath that she didn’t realize she had been holding. Though mingled happiness and relief coursed through her body over the fact that she and her children appeared to finally be rid of the toxic man for good, she couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness as well – after all, there was a time that she did love him. Forcing a smile onto her face, she turned to face her sons, unsure of what to say to them, and to her surprise, she was spared having to say anything by her oldest, who remarked, “What an asshole.”

Megan laughed before jokingly reprimanding, “Language!”

Mother and son met one another’s eyes and a silent understanding passed between the two of them. There was no need for words or apologies; Jake finally understanding what his father, whom he had always idolized, was actually like was enough for Megan. It was the best Christmas gift she could have ever asked for, and she knew that their experience that evening would bring the two of them slightly closer together. “I love you.” She kissed her oldest atop his head.

Pink in the face, Jake mumbled, “I love you too.”

Aaron smiled proudly at his brother’s new sense of maturity when a sudden wave of exhaustion overcame him and he yawned loudly, which turned his mother’s attention to him. “Oh, Aaron, honey! It’s been such a long day – and it’s freezing. We should get going to grandma and grandpa’s house.”

“Besides, we need to get asleep or Santa won’t visit!” Jake added, causing his mother to smile down at him as Aaron blearily nodded his agreement.

“I should get going back to the hotel myself,” Ms. Warren chimed in, uncertainly. “Let Felipe know that we found Aaron. Though, from the sound of things, he may have already seen it on the news.” Then, adding in an undertone so only Megan could hear her, she added, “If you don’t mind me saying, you dodged a bullet getting out of that relationship.”

Megan laughed despite herself. “You don’t have to tell me!” Though she was still upset with the woman over what had transpired earlier that evening at Radio City, she felt so elated in that moment that she decided to let her anger go for the time being – and deep down, she knew that she wouldn’t pursue disciplinary action against the school down the line. So, throwing her arms around her boys, she said, “Merry Christmas, Patti.”

“Merry Christmas,” the young teacher remarked to the young family before she and them turned their backs on one another and began walking away from Rockefeller Center in separate directions.

 

“I owe you both an apology.” Commanding Officer Lindsey Pendleton addressed her underlings as she turned to face Seamus Dwyer and Andrew Lee, with whom she was still directing members of the public from crossing Fifth Avenue and getting anywhere near the President of the United States or her entourage. “For overreacting earlier,” she elaborated, as she pushed a loose strand of red-hair out of her face. The woman hated apologies, and always ended up sounding awkward when forced to give them, but this time, she knew she absolutely had to after what the two men had pulled off that evening. “Even though you should never have given that interview in the first place,” she added pointedly. “It was a stupid thing to do, but…” She shrugged. “Well, we all know what journalists are like.”

Seamus and Andrew exchanged an uncertain glance, the former doing his best to suppress an impressed grin – in all of their years on the force, neither of them had ever received a full-throated apology from the woman like they were receiving now. Pink in the face, their superior plowed on. “You two came through for me – again – in the end, just like you always do. I don’t know how you consistently manage to do it, mind you,” she added with an incredulous laugh. “But you do.”

“Well, actually, I think tonight – ow!” Andrew exclaimed, grabbing his right side, where his partner had just elbowed him hard in order to silence him.

“It’s just a combination of being good at our jobs and lady luck,” Seamus replied with a nonchalant shrug, as he threw his partner a warning glance; now wasn’t the time to downplay how little their investigative skills had actually helped them that night.

Lindsey’s eyes narrowed suspiciously as she peered between the two officers. “At any rate,” she continued. “The fact that you two not only found the president and the missing child tonight, but also helped a pregnant woman in distress…” She shook her head in amazement. “You two deserve to keep your jobs. You do. And I promise you that tomorrow morning, I’ll go to bat for you with Commissioner Burke. I’ll save your jobs.” She nodded, as though it were she herself who needed convincing.

Seamus and Andrew both felt an extraordinarily amount of relief at the words, in response to which the former let out a cathartic laugh and the latter’s shoulders literally dropped as his stress dissipated. “Thank you,” he breathed.

“You are the best,” Seamus informed his superior, locking eyes with the woman. “I promise you—”

We promise you,” Andrew corrected.

“—you won’t regret this,” Seamus finished.

“I better not,” Lindsey seriously warned before allowing a small smile to unfold across her face. “Consider it my Christmas gift to you both. Don’t bother coming into Police Plaza tomorrow, I’ll handle it myself. Just enjoy the rest of your holiday breaks that I tore you away from today. And if there’s anything else I can do for either of you, don’t hesitate to let me know.”

“I don’t suppose you can get me to Boston by sunrise so I can be with my kids when they wake up to open their Christmas gifts?” Seamus joked.

Lindsey considered the man for a moment, her lips pursed. An outlandish idea struck her as she mulled over the request that she knew wasn’t entirely serious, and yet, there was a chance it just might be able to work. “Let me see what I can do,” she answered, smirking in response to the man’s expression of surprise. And without another word, she strode off in the direction of where President Williams stood on the opposite side of the street, talking to her chief of staff and the two foreign prime ministers to the immediate right of the life-sized manger. After exchanging a confused, fleeting glance, Seamus and Andrew hurried after her, wondering what the woman had up her sleeves.

“Madam President!”

“What the hell are you doing?” Commissioner Burke rounded on his subordinates with barely concealed embarrassed anger, and his face went white as a ghost upon seeing them hurrying toward the president. “Excuse me,” he said, apologetically, to Clint and Melissa who were looking at him curiously before he jogged away after them.

“Madam President!”

Emily Williams, who had been conversing with her husband, her chief of staff, Special Agent David Wells, Nathan Dubois, and Miranda Richardson, politely turned to face the commanding officer of the N.Y.P.D.’s Midtown North Precinct. “Ah, Officer Pendleton!” She smiled. “Is everything alright?”

“Everything’s fine, Madam President!” Commissioner Burke panted pointedly, desperately trying to catch his breath as he came to a hurried stop beside his officers. Then, out of the corner of his mouth through gritted teeth as he threw Lindsey a dirty look, he demanded, “Stop whatever it is you’re thinking of doing right now.”

Defiant, Lindsey ignored the man and motioned at Seamus and Andrew, who stood sheepishly beside her. “This is Officer Seamus Dwyer and Officer Andrew Lee,” she introduced them to the president.

“We’ve had the pleasure of meeting,” Emily said before amending, “Unofficially, anyway.” She shook each of the men’s hand in turn. “It’s nice to officially meet both of you. Excellent work back there, delivering that baby.” She jerked her head at the manger behind them, as each of the prime ministers politely introduced themselves to the cops.

“Thank you, ma’am,” Andrew replied, as Seamus inclined his head slightly in acknowledgement, too star struck to talk.

“They’re my best officers,” Lindsey continued, as though she hadn’t paused talking in the first place.

“Which, when you think about it, is really a sad state of affairs,” Burke growled impatiently. “Considering the off-the-cuff, on-the-record interview they gave to that student journalist while on the clock.”

“Ah!” Emily used her full hand to push her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “So you were the two who criticized not only how Mayor De Bellis manages aspects of this city, but how me and my administration run this country too!” She peered closely at the contrite looking man, swaying slightly on the spot due to the fact that she was still slightly tipsy. Noticing this, Bobby and Anna each grabbed one of her arms as subtly as they could manage to help steady the woman and keep her standing.

“We – uh – we could have handled the situation better, admittedly,” Andrew muttered.

“Though our criticisms are valid,” Seamus boldly pointed out, throwing the now irate Commissioner Burke a dark look as Lindsey rolled her eyes.

“Nevertheless,” Andrew threw his partner a warning glance. “We probably shouldn’t have talked to a reporter, student or not, while wearing our uniforms.”

“No, you shouldn’t have,” Commissioner Burke and Lindsey agreed in unison.

“In fairness, it wasn’t entirely our fault,” Seamus explained defensively. “The girl was savvy! She all but baited us into—”

“I’m sorry to interrupt.” Emily held up a silencing hand. “But firstly, you don’t need to apologize for the remarks you made earlier. I swore an oath to the constitution, and part of that oath is defending your first amendment rights.” Commissioner Burke scoffed in disbelief at the statement, as the president continued. “And secondly – did you say ‘student journalist’?” When Seamus nodded, she asked, “She didn’t happen to be a young, blonde, tenacious young woman, did she? Whose bearded boyfriend was following her around with a camera?”

“That’s them!” Andrew replied, as Seamus added, “A very good-looking couple.”

Emily turned to face Nathan and Miranda. “Well, that explains that.”

“They’re the same ones that we ourselves talked to earlier today,” Nathan explained to the cops.

“The literal embodiments of why I do my best to avoid talking to the press whenever I can,” Miranda chimed in.

“I can’t imagine why your approval ratings are in a dive back home,” Anna sarcastically noted, as she scrolled through the countless emails and voicemails that were coming through on her phone. “People hate transparency.”

Miranda’s mouth dropped open, affronted, as Commissioner Burke spoke up. “Regardless of how good at her job some young girl is or isn’t, the two of you shouldn’t have made comments like that while on duty! While wearing your uniforms! I don’t know how I’m going to placate De Bellis short of firing both of you! Hell, I should really fire all three of you!” He rounded on Lindsey, who determinedly avoided the man’s eyes, as her years-long career flashed before her very own.

“Fire them?” Emily raised an eyebrow. “Why on earth would you fire them? If anything, they deserve a raise!”

Seamus’ heart skipped a beat, as he exchanged a look of disbelief, first with Andrew and then with Lindsey, as Commissioner Burke sputtered, “A raise?”

“They delivered a woman’s baby outside in a manger on Christmas morning in the middle of a blizzard,” Emily pointed out. “With nothing more than the coats on their back and their hands!”

“They found my wife and the prime ministers, here, after they snuck out,” Bobby said politely.

“Something which the rest of your cops and our secret service detail, for that matter, were unable to do,” Anna pointed out, as David Wells, Nathan Dubois, and Miranda Richardson nodded their agreement.

“And, as if all of that weren’t enough, they found that missing child from Florida! Aaron Rankin,” Lindsey added piously, as Burke rounded on her, his face a darker shade of red than the hair on top of her head.

“All of which, I think we can agree, is a reflection upon how Commanding Officer Pendleton runs her precinct and delegates responsibility!” Emily adjusted her glasses. “So again, I think the last thing these three officers should be is fired. But, if you and Mayor De Bellis insist on going down that route, I’d be happy to personally intervene on their behalf.”

As Commissioner Burke stuttered incomprehensibly, opening and closing his mouth, unable to form words in response to this sudden turn of events, Lindsey – now swelling with confidence that she had the most powerful person in the world in her corner – saw her opening to help deliver the best cop on her team the perfect Christmas gift. “Madam President,” she began. “Officer Dwyer – Seamus, here.” She grabbed the man in question. “Gave up part of his vacation today to help keep the streets of New York secure during your visit. Officer Lee – Andrew – did too, of course,” she acknowledged with a nod to him. “But Seamus – his family left town for the holidays, just before Winter Storm Elsa hit land. And, as a father of two very young children, I’m sure he’d obviously love to be there with them when they wake up later this morning. I’m sure you can appreciate that as a mother and a grandmother yourself.”

Emily nodded, as Miranda sarcastically noted, “Wouldn’t we all like that?”

Ignoring the woman, Emily stated, “I can imagine. Where does your family live, Seamus?”

“Boston,” Seamus meekly replied.

“The same city where you and your husband,” Lindsey nodded at Bobby, who smiled politely. “Are going to be flying to yourselves momentarily for the holidays. Is there, perhaps, any way you could possibly find it in your heart to give Officer Dwyer a ride home on Air Force One? As a reward for his service tonight? An early Christmas gift, if you will?”

Seamus’ mouth dropped open in surprise, as Andrew threw him an incredulous look. Neither of them, though extraordinarily confident, would ever have had the gall to ask such an enormous favor of such an important figure. And it was the moxie that the woman showed that finally made Commissioner Burke find his voice once again and erupt. “Are you out of your mind?” he demanded, as Anna stared up from her phone in shock.

“What’s the harm in asking?” Lindsey shrugged, still trying her best to avoid the eyes of her superior. Though she was certain that she was doing the right thing for Seamus, she also knew that she’d be in enormous trouble later – even if the support the president had shown her earlier would be enough to save her job.

“There’s no harm in asking at all,” Emily answered the rhetorical question before glancing at her husband, who silently nodded at her. “In fact, I would be honored to fly Officer Dwyer home to his family.”

Commissioner Burke’s face looked like an eggplant now, he was fuming so badly; Andrew thought there was actually a realistic chance that he might have a heart attack. The man’s purple pallor didn’t even register with Seamus, however, who grinned wide. He couldn’t believe it; it was the perfect ending to a day that had started out as bland and unexciting a day as he could conceive of. He would make it home in time to spend Christmas morning with his family, and in the process, he might just save his marriage. Finally glancing at his longtime partner, he could tell that the man was genuinely thrilled for him. “Congratulations, man!” They high-fived. “Well deserved!”

Seamus turned toward the president. “Thank you, so much. I—”

“It’s my pleasure,” Emily interrupted, waving her hand dismissively through the air. “’Tis the season, and all.”

Turning to face Lindsey again, Seamus lowered his voice as the ginger woman stared up into his eyes. “Thank you. I don’t think I could ever – thank you.”

“Don’t mention it,” Lindsey insisted before jokingly adding, “Though you owe me.”

Seamus laughed, as Emily glanced at New York’s police commissioner. She could tell that the man was apoplectic, so before he dropped dead from a stroke or exploded so loudly it would necessitate secret service interference, she suggested, “Commissioner Burke, would you be a dear and go let Clint and Melissa know that we’ll have a guest flying with us on Air Force One this evening?”

Burke looked as though that were the last thing that he wanted to do, but not wanting to argue with the President of the United States, he gave a curt nod and hurried across the street toward the two secret service agents who were still managing the quickly thinning crowd of people that had emerged from midnight mass. When he was out of earshot, Andrew glanced down at his watch and addressed Lindsey. “Well, if you don’t need me anymore…”

“Get going,” Lindsey insisted. “Enjoy your holiday break. I’ll see you back at the precinct in the New Year.”

“Thank you again,” Andrew said. “For everything.”

“Thank you.”

Elated that he was given yet another confirmation that he still had his job, Andrew wrapped his arms around Seamus and hugged him tightly. “Merry Christmas, brother. Good luck with Ashley.”

“Good luck with Barry and your family,” Seamus replied, patting the man forcefully on the back. “Let me know how it goes.”

“Of course. Give my love to Ash and the kids.” And once Seamus confirmed that he would, Andrew started off down the busy street with the intention to head straight home and save his relationship.

As the officer was engulfed by the dark of the night, Anna glanced up from her phone to address her boss and her two foreign contemporaries. “Judging from the coverage on Twitter, and the fact that my phone is still blowing up, it looks like Gary sent out a press release about your call with Russia and detailing the preliminary details of the ACER Agreement.”

“I thought we agreed on the CARE Act?” Nathan politely asked.

Ignoring the Canadian, Emily said, “Perhaps it would be a good idea for us to get in front of a camera and address it directly before flying out of here.”

“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Bobby asked gently, noticing how his wife still swayed where she stood and slurred her words.

“Well, if you really want to, you’ll get your chance momentarily,” Anna pointed out. “The travelling press pool is on its way. According to Gary, they weren’t happy when they found out that you left the hotel without them in tow.”

“Who the hell told them?” Miranda demanded.

“You were caught on camera watching the child play his drum at the manger for those new parents.” Anna held out her phone to show the three world leaders a video clip of the scene that was doing the rounds on all of the major networks. “Apparently, a college website streamed it live and it was picked up from there, which is how the press pool figured out your location prior to me placing the call for your motorcade.”

“A college website?” Emily repeated. “Which one?”

“N.Y.U.”

Emily blinked in surprise as she straightened her glasses. “Does that mean the person who caught us on camera—”

“That would be me!”

The small group turned to find Elizabeth Meyer and Noah Clarke attempting to approach them from midway across the street, as Clint, Melissa, and Commissioner Burke attempted to keep them away. Holding up a hand so that her security detail allowed the college students to pass, the president smiled. “Well, well, well, look who it is! We meet again! I should have known.”

“This is the girl,” Seamus explained in an undertone to Lindsey. “The one who interviewed me and Andrew earlier.” Then, rounding on the young woman, he sternly said, “You caused us a lot of grief!”

Elizabeth blushed at the words, but stood firm. “I didn’t have a gun to your head. I didn’t force you, or your partner, to say what you said. I was just doing my job!”

“By springing gotcha questions on us?” Miranda cocked an eyebrow. “You know, with an attitude like that, you really will make an excellent reporter one day.”

Elizabeth blinked in surprise as Noah beamed down at her and Emily nodded her agreement before chiming in. “As such, I think it’s only appropriate that we give you our first on screen statement about our historic preliminary agreement with Russia tonight. What do you think?”

The college girl didn’t know who was more surprised – her, the prime ministers, the president’s husband, her chief of staff, or the woman’s security detail. She stared incredulously up at her boyfriend who smiled enthusiastically down at her. Before she could vocalize what she was feeling, however, the president gently asked, “Can we go live, please?”

“O-of course,” Elizabeth stammered, as Noah fumbled with the heavy camera.

Walking over to stand directly in front of the empty manger so that she was framed in the center of it with the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree looming high behind her, she addressed the college students as Nathan and Miranda hesitantly positioned themselves on either side of her. “How do we look?”

“You look great,” Noah insisted, staring through at the three world leaders through the camera.

“Can we get the rest of you in the shot behind her?” Elizabeth asked, turning to face the secret service, the first gentleman, and the chief of the staff. “It’ll give the statement more urgency.”

While Bobby and Anna complied immediately, the three members of the secret service and the three members of the N.Y.P.D. did so a little less enthusiastically. Indeed, Emily couldn’t tell who was grumbling more – her longtime bodyguards or the police commissioner. Elizabeth, meanwhile, studied the scene closely before asking her boyfriend, “How does it look?”

“Perfect,” he insisted. “You ready?” When Elizabeth nodded, he began fumbling with the controls of the camera placed on the shoulder. When its red light finally blinked into life, he signaled to the president that it was okay for her to begin talking.

Taking a deep breath, Emily forced a smile onto her face as she stared directly into the camera. “My fellow Americans. The holiday season has always been a time for miracles; a time to reflect on the goodness of humanity and reflect on the promise that the birth of Jesus Christ reiterated to the people of this world – the promise of peace on earth and good will toward men. Too often in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, we lose sight of the holiday’s true meaning. But the entire world got a poignant reminder of it late this evening on this most holy of nights.”

Emily paused briefly in order to straighten her glasses and collect her thoughts, as the beautiful manger scene she happened to stumble upon by happenstance burned vividly at the forefront of her mind. “Tonight, right here in the heart of New York City, another baby was born in a manger.” She motioned at the empty wooden structure behind her. “And beneath the glowing star of this beautiful Christmas tree, she served as a reminder of the true reason for the season. I know it did for me, at the very least.”

Nathan and Miranda silently nodded their agreement beside her. “And it was in this pervasive spirit of peace on earth and good will toward men that earlier today, myself, Prime Minister Dubois, and Prime Minister Richardson reached a preliminary agreement with President Ivanov of Russia to work toward deescalating tensions between the West and the East, which we plan on codifying officially into a binding deal called The ACER Agreement right after the holidays, hopefully with the support of the rest of the international community, whom we will be pushing to join us in signing this historic document. Though mostly symbolic as it stands right now, it serves as an important gesture of goodwill on the parts of all four of our nations to strive toward better, more diplomatic relations. Indeed, despite only verbally agreeing to the groundwork of this future agreement mere hours ago, the results have already been tangible – Russia has withdrawn its warships from Western waters and is no longer pointing their nukes directly at us from their borders. In return, we’ve done the same – a far cry from hours ago when we were ready to launch a preemptive airstrike on Russia’s ships.”

Behind her, Emily heard Anna gasp at her pubic admission, and she could imagine the eyes of Nathan and Miranda widening in shock on either side of her. She knew that the media, Congress, the public, and international audiences would probably focus excessively on this little tidbit, but she didn’t care; she had to clear her conscious. And so, after using her entire hand to push her glasses up the bridge of her nose, she plowed on.

“That was the true reason for the prime ministers’ trip to New York this Christmas Eve – to join me in launching a coordinated missile strike against Russia as a united show of force against the Kremlin. Admittedly, it wasn’t our finest hour.” She paused solemnly here for a moment. “Nevertheless, we saw the light and found reason in the end. We realized that peace was more desirable than war, and just as attainable. Hopefully, this modern-day Christmas Eve truce that we’ve managed to strike, just like the modern-day manger scene we were blessed enough to witness, and just like the birth of Jesus Christ all those years ago, will serve as a reminder for generations to come about the power of finding common ground and non-violent solutions; a reminder about how important it is to strive for peace on earth and good will toward men. And with that, I want to wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday to you and yours. May God bless the United States of America, and the entire world. Thank you.”

Emily smiled into the camera for a few moments until the red light atop of it went out and the bearded college student holding it said, “We’re good!”

“Excellent!” Emily dropped her shoulders with a contented sigh of relief.

Elizabeth gaped at the president. “I can’t thank you enough for doing that for me. You—”

“—don’t have to mention it,” Emily interrupted. “Somebody as young as yourself, with the tenacity you’ve shown, deserved the exclusive. You’ll make an excellent journalist one day.”

Seamus pursed his lips at the words, still annoyed by the amount of trouble the young woman had caused for him and Andrew earlier, but said nothing. Anna, meanwhile – scrolling through her phone again – remarked, “The major networks already picked up the video.”

“Oh?” Emily turned to face her chief of staff. “And?”

“Reactions are…mixed,” Anna replied, phrasing the news in the nicest way she possibly could.

Miranda snorted. “Mixed is the best we could have could have hoped for, given the fact that you announced on live television that we nearly started World War III earlier with our missile strikes.”

Emily shrugged. “Well, we didn’t.”

“Your speeches never fail to surprise me, Madam President,” Nathan pointed out with a smile.

Emily laughed, as Bobby stepped forward. “Well, it looks like you three are about to get the chance to further explain yourselves if you want.” He nodded up the street where three news vans rounded the corner as fast as they were able to given the icy conditions of the road. Luckily for the three world leaders, however, the entire presidential motorcade was right behind them.

“There’s our ride,” Emily remarked. “Clint and Melissa.” She rounded on her secret service agents. “Could you perhaps…” She jerked her head at the news vans that had screeched to a halt a little ways down the street, out of which, the three reporters and their crews that had been following them all day began to hastily exit from.

“Of course, Madam President,” Clint intoned.

“And why don’t you take Agent Wells, here, with you?” Emily suggested, noticing the young agent standing off to the side alone. Then, leaning closer to whisper to her head of security, she instructed, “And don’t be so hard on him. It wasn’t his fault that we snuck out earlier.”

Clint pursed his lips in annoyance, but nodded his head nevertheless. And as he, Melissa, and David Wells moved to head off Leo Alvarez, Susan Montrose, and Graham Potter, Emily called after them. “Oh, and guys? It’s good to see you!”

Each agent flashed her a smile in return before turning their backs on her once again. “Commissioner Burke, why don’t you go help them too?” When the mustachioed man acquiesced to the Commander in Chief, she added as he began to walk away, “And I do hope you keep in mind what I said about Officers Pendleton, Dwyer, and Lee.”

“Of course, Madam President,” Burke angrily replied through gritted teeth before hurrying away.

As the presidential motorcade rolled to a gentle stop in front of them, Emily remarked, “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”

“Yes, please,” Miranda stressed, as a secret service agent opened the door of the Beast for them to climb into, inside of which, Renée and Jasper were sitting with Gary, who was urging them to stay inside the limo despite their clear desire to scramble out of it and embrace their spouses. “Next time, I must insist we have this gathering in London!”

“Oh, I don’t know, Madam Prime Minister.” Nathan laughed as he climbed into the limousine after her. “Canada is always a viable option as well.”

Emily chuckled before turning to face Seamus, as her husband climbed into the limo. “Officer Dwyer, would you mind terribly riding in the next car? I feel it’s going to be a tight squeeze in the Beast as it is.”

“Not at all.” Seamus blinked in surprise, grateful that the woman even gave him an option in the matter.

“Excellent. Once aboard Air Force One, I’d love to talk to you about the ideas that you and Officer Lee have to improve the management of this city.”

“O-okay,” Seamus stammered. Then, turning to Lindsey one final time, he muttered one last, sincere, “Thank you,” before hurrying over to the second car in the motorcade.

Smiling to herself, Lindsey rejoined Commissioner Burke in helping to keep the media at bay after one last “goodbye” to the president, who turned to smile at her chief of staff. “Thank you,” she said. “For your hard work, spot-on advice, and friendship these past two days.”

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Anna admitted with a laugh.

“Did I manage to make you fall in love with Christmas like I promised you I would?”

“You definitely showed me how exciting it can be,” Anna admitted.

“Ah, well. We have six more years in office for the love to follow.” Emily winked. Before either woman could say anything else, Miranda called from inside of the Beast, “Emily, let’s go! I want to go home!”

Rolling her eyes, Emily wished Elizabeth and Noah a “very Merry Christmas” before climbing into the car with her chief of staff. The moment they were securely inside of it, Clint, Melissa, and David ran over to climb into the front of it, at which point the motorcade took off down the street. As Elizabeth watched the travelling press scramble back into their vans to take off after them, she breathlessly asked her boyfriend, “Did that really just happen?”

Noah stared down at her. “Yup. We managed to go live twice and were picked up by the national news both times. What was it you were saying about not receiving that extra credit again?”

Elizabeth laughed as she hugged her boyfriend, unable to believe her luck. Behind his back, she spotted a beautiful, very feminine and familiar-looking red-headed man standing across the street staring at them. When their eyes met, he smiled wide and winked at her. Taken aback, Elizabeth blinked in surprise, only to find the man was gone, seemingly having disappeared into thin air. Had he even been there to begin with, or had she imagined him?

“Honestly, Liz,” Noah began, shaking the woman from her thoughts as they swayed on the spot, still wrapped in one another’s embrace. “I don’t know how you have such good luck. You must have a shamrock lodged up your ass, or a guardian angel looking out for you or something.”

“Yeah…” Elizabeth stared at the spot she had imagined the man had been standing a moment ago. “Yeah, maybe.” Then, pulling away from her boyfriend, she gave him a swift peck on the lips. “Let’s go home.”

“Really?”

Elizabeth nodded. “If we leave now, we’ll be there in time to open gifts with my family in the morning.”

Smiling, Noah took the woman’s hand as they slowly started down the street. “They’re gonna be so proud of you.”

“I’m more excited for them to meet my hunky boyfriend than to brag to them about my day.”

And as Noah laughed at her comment, Emily threw one last glance at the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, its star still shining brighter than she had ever seen it before, and the empty manger feet away from them. In the years to come, she imagined this would rank up there as one of the best Christmases in her life, but there and then, in that very moment, she just wanted to live in the present and enjoy it. So, as she rested her head on Noah’s shoulder, she allowed herself to take in the snow and twinkling lights of New York City as they slowly and silently walked down the street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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