Home For The Holidays
"Are you making this a tradition?" Ashley asked, holding the bowl of popcorn out of his reach as she headed for the sofa. She picked up the remote off of the TV and plunked it down on the cushion next to her when she sat, putting her feet up on the coffee table.
"What, staying home and watching movies on Christmas Eve?" Carlos paused to turn the VCR on before joining her. "There are worse traditions."
"I meant fighting with Aura." She set the popcorn bowl on the table and leaned back, pointing the remote at the TV and pressing "play". "Last year it was the whole being ashamed of her thing, and this year it's--"
She paused, glancing over at him. "What is it this year, again?"
He rolled his eyes. "I wasn't ashamed of her," he said, retrieving the popcorn bowl from the table and putting it on the sofa between them. "And we're not fighting this year. She just refuses to let the idea that I stole her planet go, that's all."
"I thought Cestria did that." She fast-forwarded to the beginning of the movie, smiling a little as the familiar scene appeared on the screen. She clicked the volume down so they could keep talking over songs she had memorized years ago.
"She did," Carlos agreed, taking a handful of popcorn. "But the team got split up, and Cestria and Billy vanished behind the veil without telling the other Rangers how to follow them. The team had to be together to make the protection cover the entire planet. Cetaci had a disc with records from the Eternal Falls on it, and since I saved her I technically made it possible for Aquitar to disappear."
"That's not what Aura's upset about," Ashley said with certainty.
He sighed, shooting an annoyed look at her as she reached for the popcorn. "Did someone tell you?"
She smiled. "Karen."
"Someone's getting coal in her stocking this year," he grumbled, crunching loudly on a piece of popcorn. "Or maybe a lint roller. Those things are pretty useless."
"Says he who has a black cat," Ashley put in.
"What does that have to do with anything?" he demanded.
"All you wear is black," she pointed out. "Goof's cat hair doesn't show up on your clothes. If you had a white cat, you'd want a lint roller."
He just shook his head. "Whatever you say."
"So what are you really fighting about?" she asked after a moment.
"We're not fighting," he repeated irritably. "We just had a little disagreement over how much time she should be spending with lowlife scum like Cen, that's all. And where's Andros, anyway? Since when is he too busy to spend extended periods of time alone with you?"
"Did you call her old boyfriend a lowlife scum to his face?" Ashley wanted to know.
"No." Carlos frowned at the TV. "I'm trying to avoid running into him, actually. I haven't seen him since he turned up at her class reunion."
"Which class reunion?" she asked casually.
"The last one." He shot a sideways glance at her. "I'm not telling you how old she is, so just forget it."
She just smiled, not taking her eyes off of the TV.
"You didn't answer my question," he said, a few minutes later.
"Neither did you," she retorted.
"Where's Andros?" he insisted. "You can't tell me he's just too busy to come. You're here, after all."
She shrugged. "He and Zhane were on a publicity tour. That was more important."
There was silence for a moment, broken only by the words of Dr. Seuss and the animated sounds of Christmas in Whoville. "Things aren't so great for you guys right now, are they," Carlos said at last.
She just shrugged again.
He took another handful of popcorn and leaned back against the cushions. "Holidays suck," he declared.
Ashley didn't quite manage to stifle a giggle. Instead of answering, though, she cocked her head. "Listen," she said suddenly, glancing toward the window. "Do you hear that?"
Carlos gave her an odd look. "I hear the Whos singing."
"Not them," she said, getting to her feet. She walked over to the front door and peered out, then gestured for him to come see. "There's carolers across the street!
"Christmas Eve is kind of late for caroling," he muttered, but he got up anyway and came to look. "You're right. Do you suppose they have families?"
"Scrooge," she accused. "You didn't go with *your* family. Do you have any hot chocolate?"
"Why?" He caught her gaze and shook his head emphatically. "Uh-uh. No way. We are not inviting a mob of hungry carolers into this house."
"Come on," she coaxed. She was already heading for the kitchen, leaving him with no choice but to follow. "They're going to all the trouble of singing on Christmas Eve. The least we can do is give them something to drink."
He sighed, taking the tea kettle from the stove to fill it with water while she collected mugs from the cupboard. "Even when you're depressed you're such a do-gooder," he complained, putting the cover on the tea kettle.
"Someone has to be," she said over her shoulder. "We should turn on the driveway light for them. Do you want these cookies?"
"Help yourself," he replied, pulling open another cupboard. "I think there's some dessert plates in here or something."
"That's the spirit." Ashley paused on her way to the front door to give him a kiss on the cheek. "Merry Christmas, Carlos."
"Bah humbug," he called after her. But he filled a plate with cookies and brought it over to the table, and when she came back into the kitchen he helped her pour cocoa packets into the waiting mugs. The world went on, after all.