Three days later on the tenth I decided to infuse some holiday cheer into the house next door whether it was wanted or not. For this monumentous undertaking I enlisted the more unwilling than willing participation of a very morose HM.
Bless his heart, every time I turned around he looked as though he was about to burst into tears. It was no secret that HM was on the verge of regression but even so, this was unexpected. When I asked John about it he tried to wisen me to the cause as well as allay my doubts and guilt. Apparently the Christmas holiday was Templeton's favorite and growing up as he did it's no wonder. I'm sure that growing up in a Catholic orphanage, it was the most celebrated holiday, although I'm sure it didn't include many presents. Rushing to rescue the saleslady from a near to weeping HM, me thinks that my pushy good intentions may not have been for the best...
Admittedly, it took a while but once John and BA realized that I was not going to cave in on my undertaking they offered their help, almost willingly. I think they realized that perhaps doing something 'normal' would give HM the reality check that he so desperately needed and would help them as well.
Of course I got mine as well...HM took so long picking out the tree that even I started to get frustrated. After half an hour of following HM through the 'tree farm' I decided that it would probably make no difference to the pilot if I just sat on a bench and waited 'till he was done. Which was exactly what I did, with John joining me and leaving BA to chase after the troubled pilot.
John gave me a piercing look and it seemed as though he were weighing the good of my intentions. Finally he let out a held breath and flashed me a weary smile, "Thank you, Mrs Eta. We needed this."
"Why John, that's the first time I've seen you smile in ages! It's a good look for you."
This recieved a chuckle a broader smile.
I nodded toward the errant pilot as he passed for the fifth time, "Does he always take this long?"
John's smile turned grim, "I don't know. Face always takes him to pick out the tree." I grasped his hand and he smiled at me once again, "But knowing Murdock, it probably does."
Just then HM came running up, it was such a joy to see his enthusiam returned but my doubts came flooding back at his words...
"Hannibal! Mrs. Eta! I found it! It's perfect! Face will love it!"
The squeeze on my hand told me I wasn't the only one who heard the slip. As John and I were pulled to our feet I thought back over the last couple of days and realized that HM had been making quite a few of those 'slips' recently. John squeezed my hand again and I let the thought rest for the moment as we made our way to the van where BA was already loading the...the really LARGE tree. It's a good thing that John had insisted on taking two vehicles...
Back at the beach house, after BA had installed the new tree in the living room, I 'installed' HM indian style on the floor with a large bowl of popcorn and a tall glass of eggnog. To my relief, he happily started stringing the kernals together and did not appear to be upset for the time being.
John pulled down the last year's carefully packed ornaments and from his hesitation I gathered that this was something else that Templeton used to do or at least help with. I felt another moment of guilt before I saw John take a deep breath, then open the box and pull out an ornament. Taking a deep breath myself I told myself that what I was doing was for the best. They would all have to learn to deal with Templeton's disappearance sooner or later and I know from personal experience that sooner is better than later.
The decorating was in full swing when Maggie made her appearance. It was readily apparent that she was surprised, and relieved, at the turn of events in the household. John met her with a passionate kiss and a deep embrace, which during the later she mouthed 'thank you' over his shoulder to me. That alone sent most of my unease fleeing.
Standing in the middle of my organized chaos I did a half turn and spotted HM still where I left him with a lot less popcorn in the bowl that obviously had not made it to the string. "HM! You're supposed to string the popcorn, not eat it!"
Doe eyes met mine along with the innocent reply, "But I am Mrs Eta, see?!"
"I see, and while you're holding that up, wipe off the eggnog mustache, you have bits of popcorn stuck to it."
I almost laughed as his face screwed up with a mischieveous grin. It was wonderful to see them smile again and I started to think that maybe I'd been right after all. This is just what was needed...
Apparently I wasn't the only one who thought some good tiding were needed. Later that evening, after the decorating was done and the chaos had been cleaned away, we all sat around the room and watched as the flames danced in the fireplace. For the first time in six months a sense of ease had fallen over the house. A small repreive from the worry that would surely return with the rising of the sun.
"Hannibal, go ahead!"
I glanced up as I heard the prodding statement from Maggie. HM and BA also looked curiously in their direction.
"Uh guys...I'm just going to say it. Maggie and I have decided to get married!"
I laughed at the shocked expression on BA's face and wondered why it hadn't occured to him that this was coming. Probably would have been sooner had everything with Templeton not happened. My laughter elevated and BA joined me as HM practically leapt across the couch to give the happy couple a congradulatory hug.
Finally able to take a breath I gave Maggie a wink before turning to John, "About time! Never thought you were so slow but I was beginning to wonder..."
We all had a good laugh at John's expense and slipped back into the ease of a stole night of peace as we set about discussing wedding plans...