Christmas With the Gods
“The world has changed, and none of us can go back. All we can do is our best, and sometimes, the best that we can do is to start over.”
Maize unexpectedly gasped in a lungful of air and her eyes shot open very harshly as if she had just awoken from a nightmare. After all, that was true. She lived through the worst-case scenario; she survived a certain nightmare.
The scene around her was less than enthusiastic, it was absolutely abysmal.
Anne was asleep in bed curled up next to Maize, William was passed out drunk in the chair in the corner with the handle of whiskey at his feet, and Thor was asleep with his face pressed against the bedside table, drooling on the surface, cuddling Mjolnir. Dike was waiting in the hall outside. Her sudden jerk woke up Anne, who was alarmed at the unexpected jolt. Mjolnir dropped from Thor’s grip and clanged on the floor, waking him up, and the air smelled like bleach, whiskey and the metallic tinge of blood. Maize didn’t know what day it was, what time it was, and how long it had been since she was last awake.
“Baby? Maize?” Anne said, in disbelief that her daughter was awake. Nobody thought, not even the doctors, thought she would make it through the night. Maize was still trying to gather her surroundings, and she was eased back onto the bed.
“How do you feel?” Thor asked.
“Taller.” She responded in a whisper, not sure if she could use her voice.
“Is that all?” Thor asked, looking into her eyes, alarmed.
“Yeah, I think so.” She responded.
“If you say so,” Thor responded, seeing that her eyes were glowing red as if they held smoldering embers inside of them.
“I feel... new again.” She added, feeling rejuvenated and aware of everything around her. She felt light, nimble and, yes, taller.
“We either need to call an exorcist or literally raise Odin from the dead because this girl is either the reincarnation of Satan or she’s a god now, and we need to find out which,” Dike said.
“No need to do either. I know for certain she’s a god. She has unlocked and fully acquired all her Asgardian powers and she is a force to be reckoned with. She is more powerful than any of us can imagine.” Thor answered.
“And suddenly I’m terrified.”
“Good. You should be.”
“Um, how long has it been since Russia?” She interjected.
“About a week. You’ve been in a medically induced coma. You were in septic shock. Here, let’s get the doctors in to check on you.”
“What day is it?”
“Rough Christmas, huh?”
That’s when Dike went to go get Meaghan. He would just make things worse with her if he didn’t tell her that Maize was awake as soon as it happened. He was on thin ice already. But he had something to do first, something he had to take care of before he went and saw her again. He wanted to make things right, but he had to do something about it. He could say he wanted to make things better, but without any action, without any effort, it didn’t mean anything. And in his head, her words resonated with him.
You clearly don’t know anything about me, Dike.
And she was right. He knew nothing about her. He didn’t understand the magnitude of what he had done, preventing her from going back for Maize. He didn’t understand their history. He didn’t get it, and it meant everything to Meaghan. He owed her that much, at least.
In the library, he was ready to search her file and sink deep into her backstory. He was ready for anything; he had prepared himself for every possible thing he may see.
Meaghan went to the most expensive private school in New York City while Maize went to public school. Meaghan lived in Forest Hills Gardens and Maize lived in College Point. Meaghan had a driver and a nanny, and a butler and Maize did all her chores and helped Anne out with yard work and DIY projects and cleaning. Meaghan lived with both of her parents and Maize was with Anne, a single mom. Meaghan’s parents were big Wall Street stockbrokers and investors and Anne was a former Assembly agent trying to get by. They led very different lives, but they found each other when they most needed a person like the other in their lives.
When I had nothing, I had Maize.
Meaghan was a teenager struggling to find who she was, living in the city and growing up too fast. But it was no wonder she stood up for what she believed in and wanted to go back for Maize. Maize helped her find her freedom.
Dike knew she was wrong. He knew that he shouldn’t have grabbed her and told her that there was no hope for Maize. He shouldn’t have taken away her right to choose what she wanted for her life; he was selfish and didn’t want to lose her, but it wasn’t his decision to make. But now, he feels like there was nothing he could say to make his mistake right.
He watched Meaghan reunite with Maize in her hospital room. He stood and watched her from a distance through the glass. This was a girl that would die for her friends and he felt like an oblivious asshole for not seeing it earlier. Maize and Meaghan had a bond that he and Meaghan would never have, nor would he ever understand. But he knew better now, he knew that he doesn’t know what’s right for her, only she does, and it was not his place for him to tell her.
Meaghan walked into the hospital room, the lights dimmed, and the beeping of the machines turned off. She was going through sensory overload and wanted nothing but quiet and rest. Everyone wanted to see her and ask her how she was, but she truly just wanted to be alone. She needed to get used to herself again, Thor said himself that they should be scared of her, for she was more capable than anyone had ever expected. She felt everything, her senses were heightened, and she felt as if she had shed her skin and it was replaced with someone else’s. Nothing felt familiar to her. Not even when she looked her mother in the eyes did she see the person she had known for her entire life. William had drunk himself into complete oblivion. For the first time, she saw fear in Thor’s eyes. Dike was hardened and cold.
Things have changed, and maybe it was all left behind in Russia.
Who were these strangers?
Who had the Gods become?
She hadn’t seen Meaghan since she woke up, and was only hoping that she remained the same, too.
“Maize, are you awake? Can I come in?” Meaghan’s soft voice floated across the sterile room. Maize turned her head to her, smiled and slid over on the bed, making room for her.
“Meaghan, please be normal.” Maize pleaded with a smile as Meaghan got comfortable next to Maize.
“Everyone’s changed and I need to know you’re the same.” She explained further, speaking softly.
“I think I’m the same-old-same-old Meaghan.”
“Good. I need you.”
“I’m right here, Maize. I’m not going anywhere.”
Meanwhile, Anne had hauled William up to his room. He was too wasted and falling back into his old habits she had seen enough of the first time around. He was slipping, and she was going to stay with him sunrise after sunrise until he was sober. William was a recovering alcoholic and Anne wished she had seen him earlier so she could have stopped him from losing control again. But she could only control what happened, and she could attempt to change the direction William was par-for-the-course heading towards.
Tucking him in bed, she got a bucket, a bottle of Advil, a quart of Gatorade and some cool towels. She was ready for anything when he was starting to go through withdrawal and deal with the hangover of a lifetime that was coming at him fast. Anne would stay with him until the storm passed. She knew that Pepper usually was the one to do that when he was spiraling, but Pepper wasn’t there, and Anne was no stranger to William’s unpleasant side. She could handle William, especially because she knew her daughter was safe, getting well and in the arms of those that loved her. She would spend the night with William, and then celebrate the Christmas she never got to have with her daughter tomorrow.
Maize finally got up the strength and stability to take a shower, get cleaned up and move back into her room. She no longer had to stay under constant medical surveillance in her hospital bed, but she was attached to a heart monitor and a few other pieces of portable medical equipment just to be safe. She stepped into the living room to reveal the remnants of Christmas morning that had been left behind days ago. Everything was dark except for the tree, which cast the multicolored glow across the room. Maize hid in the shadows.
She shuffled through a sea of wrapping paper and slowly sat down on the couch, observing and catching up on everything she had missed. She thought about her family. Her mother back in Queens, what this could possibly have been like for her on the day it all went down. She probably got the news that Maize was critically injured just hours before what would have been Christmas dinner. She didn’t even know if her mother knew any of the updates. She was probably worried sick. Maize reminded herself to apologize for not keeping her promise, that she’d be there on Christmas Day.
Just then, an unexpected figure tiptoed into the room. Maize smiled when she realized it was Peter.
“I guess I missed out on all the fun, eh?” She spoke softly.
“Yeah. It didn’t feel right without you. That’s why I haven’t opened my presents yet, because you shouldn’t have to do it alone.”
“Awe, Peter, you didn’t have to do that.”
“Yes, I did. If you couldn’t enjoy it, then how could I?” He explained, kneeling down next to the tree. “But, you’re here now, and I think that calls for more than a little bit of celebration.”
Peter stood up, a box in his hands, and he sat down on the couch next to Maize.
“Open it,” He prompted, as her fingers drifted over the package and found the seam, peeling the tape off underneath her fingernail and pushing the paper off the box. She opened the shoe box and found a model car, a green 1957 Jaguar Mk. VIII, the car that Kim Novak drove in Vertigo. Peter knew that it was Maize’s favorite movie, they saw it together in the theater at a special showing. It meant a lot to both of them.
“Oh, Peter, I love it!” She exclaimed softly. “Thank you so much, look, and it’s even got the bouquet of flowers sitting on the dash...” She said, noticing the tiny arrangement of flowers, just like the movie. “Now it makes my gift to you look really thoughtless!” She chuckled.
“I doubt it, you think about everything too much, Maize.” He assured her as she handed him his gift bag. He pulled out a new backpack.
“I figured, you always kept getting your backpack stolen because you left it outside your apartment building before you went off and did your spider thing. So, I got you a backpack that is impossible to steal, or steal from! Check it out, I worked with William with a security system, locks, and all that high-tech stuff so you won’t even want to lose your bag. We installed Karen, the system that’s inside your suit, giving you your own Wi-Fi hotspot and built-in charging ports. On the side there is a supply of webbing for any spider needs, I mean, it’s got everything.”
Peter was beyond himself. It was so geeky and useful, and it solved a constant backpack theft crisis he was facing. It was one of the best gifts he had ever received, especially because it came from Maize through a lot of personal thought. He loved it and made sure Maize knew.
After they had gone through presents, Peter decided to address the elephant in the room. He broke the silence and turned to the subject Maize knew was coming and was preparing herself for.
“Do you remember anything before the battle? William told me that you had a chunk of time missing and not to expect much for a little while.” Peter asked. Maize took a moment to think.
“I don’t remember anything about the battle, or getting rescued, or being treated here. But I remember you. I remember what you said just before I left.”
“Yeah?” He chuckled.
“Did you mean it?” She asked, resting her head on the top of the couch cushion.
“Absolutely. Every word of it.” He spoke honestly, biting his lip and looking down, unable to stare into her eyes for too long.
Like magic, their hands slowly met, and fingers intertwined.
“God, I want to kiss you so badly right now.” He whispered.
“Kiss me, Peter.” She smiled, and he pulled her onto his lap with their fingers still locked together. His hands settled on her hips, looking in her eyes to see if it was alright.
“Okay.” He spoke against her lips, then finally meeting them. Maize took her free hand and felt the soft skin of his cheek and neck, it all is feeling different now than it did before when their relationship was just platonic. But maybe it never was that simple to define with that word. His fluffy brown curls invited her hand to get lost in it, pressing his head closer to hers. They couldn’t seem to be close enough. It was if they were trying to make up for all their lost time without each other. Make up for all the losses, kisses and missed opportunities all in one moment.
Peter had no idea if she was in any pain and was careful not to hold her so tightly in case she was hurt. Maize took her hand and felt down his chest, stopping at his ribs. One of his hands pressed against her lower back underneath her shirt while the other stayed glued to her hip.
Meanwhile, Dike was trying to find Maize, since she had snuck out of the hospital and could have been anywhere in the whole building. He had the rest of the Gods behind him as his search party, and he was leading the pack. Soon, they all came to the living room and found Maize, but quickly discovered it was not something they wanted to interrupt. Silently, he came to a full stop and swung his arms out so the Gods behind him wouldn’t fall forward after they had tripped and stumbled over each other because of Dike’s sudden halt. They all got a quick glance of the events unfolding before them, but they all turned around and pushed each other all the other way, shaking their heads.
“Turn it around, guys, go, go, go!” He harshly whispered, pushing them all out of sight before either of the kids noticed. At least he knew where Maize was and that she was in good hands, but he still had to solve things with Meaghan. Those ends were loose, and they both knew that if they weren’t tied up soon, they might lose what they had worked so hard to achieve, forever.
New Year’s Eve came faster than anyone expected. With the trauma, the drama and the pain, time seemed to be endless and quickening at the same time. How could they celebrate? What did they even have to be proud of and look forward to? One more year just meant there was going to be more enemies, and someone was sure to die, for real. Nobody was emotionally ready for the rest of the year, let alone the end of the day. Russia was hard, and with every passing day, with the increasing amount of time for it all to sink in, the kids all began to sink lower and lower. They were all just trying to make it through the next hour, minute, hell, even the seconds were hard to bear. They were burdened with their destiny and the crushing weight of what was to come.
William had made it very clear that he was not going to spend another holiday in a negative manner, he had experienced enough horrible family dinners around Thanksgiving and Christmas, and he was finally ready to break the cycle. Though he was able to see that it wasn’t just him that was struggling, everyone needed a little bit of help. So, William decided to do something about it.
“Okay, everyone is too sad for my liking. I know it’s a miracle I got you all out of bed to come, but you’re all lifeless and laying on the couch in your sweats. When was the last time you showered? Drank water? Is everyone even taking their meds?!” William asked.
“Maize, brush your hair. Jordie, please, put on deodorant. Peter, I don’t even want to KNOW how old that pizza sauce stain on your shirt is. Come on, guys. I get this group depressive episode, you have all been through a lot, but get a little cleaned up and I’ll get the champagne.”
“I know you don’t feel like celebrating anything, but I want you to celebrate the little things. You don’t have to make a dumb resolution. In fact, I don’t want you to! Celebrate that you’re all strong enough to pull through this together. Plus, I guarantee a little bit of bubbly will lift your spirits a touch. We get a perfect view of the New York City fireworks from here and damn it, you’re going to smile if it kills me. I don’t care if it’s fake. It’ll become real soon.”
Pepper hustled everyone, though some were very unwilling, up to the rooftop with blankets, sweaters, and coats. They all needed a bit of invigorating fresh air to sweep away the cobwebs, and it was the best place to view the fireworks in Manhattan. It would do them some good.
Maize stood by herself a little further away from the group, and William stood next to her. They were standing shoulder to shoulder looking out towards the city lights of Manhattan.
“You look like you have a lot on your mind.” William introduced. “I haven’t been able to talk to you, really, since you woke up and I want to know what’s running around in your head. You’ve been through a lot in these past few days.”
“William, I killed someone.” She said. It was the first time she said the words that had been haunting her kind out loud. She finally admitted what she had done. “I killed people, William. More than one.”
“I’m not saying you’ll ever forget it or move on. It’ll always stay with you. But sometimes all we can do to get better, to stay sane, to live with ourselves, is to start over.”
They were silent for a few more minutes, and then the fireworks began. It was officially midnight, the mark of a new beginning.
“Now, I want you to go over to Peter and kiss him. Kiss him, and don’t look back to yesterday.”
Maize nodded and walked towards the group, the Gods old and new were all toasting with champagne. Maize turned Peter around by his shoulder and pressed her lips against his, toasting the new year with him and a flute of champagne. Everyone, despite the hell they went through, managed to find it in themselves to smile. William stood and watched. He didn’t mind looking at them from the outside, all that mattered was that they were all alive, they were all together and they continuously faced every challenge that was thrown at them. They were the strongest people he knew, and he was happy to see them watching the colorful fireworks on the rooftop in awe.
Dike pulled Meaghan aside after the toasting was done, leaving them alone together on the roof. He wanted to talk to her in private, somewhere where not even Jason could hear them. Dike grabbed her arm gently, asking her to stay, and the smile faded from her face. Maize and Peter stopped, not wanting to leave her if she didn’t want to be alone with Dike, but she gave them a nod that told them it was okay for them to go. Then, it was just them, and Meaghan had to face what she had been dreading. This was a perfect time and the perfect place; she couldn’t reject this moment for it may never happen again if she did.
“Meaghan, I have a lot of things to apologize for. I should have said these things a long time ago, but if you’ll have me, I’d like to talk about them now.”
Meaghan nodded, letting Dike continue.
“You were right. I didn’t understand you, and I didn’t understand Maize. I didn’t know your history, and I didn’t know your past life. I don’t claim to understand you now, but I fully understand why you were upset about my mistake of not letting you go back for Maize. I took that choice away from you, and I forced you to leave someone that gave you a second chance. Maize is incredibly important to you, and from this point on, I would never try to infringe upon that on purpose. I will try to be more aware of what I say and what I do, and I’m so sorry that I said those very insensitive things to you. I ask only for your forgiveness for my shortcomings.”
“Dike, I said some things that I shouldn’t have, either. I know that you have a relationship with Arawn that I’ll never be able to understand, and I’m sorry I brought him up in the heat of the moment. Thank you for your apology, and I forgive you. Thank you for caring enough about me to learn about my past and my connection with Maize. I hope that we can move into the new year fresh. Maybe we should just start over.”
“I’d like that.” He responded, kissing her lips gently as the cold January breeze blew through them and brought them closer to each other to avoid being chilled to the bone.
The evil had been defeated. The holiday had just begun. Everyone was starting new again, beating down the omnipresent feeling they were just living in between battles. They still had lives to live, and so they would live. Nothing and nobody could take that away from them. And, it was even better to live it with a loved one, whether it was a significant other or simply themselves. With the career path they had, it was only a hindrance to not love themselves.
With everything changing at uncertain times and places, they had to appreciate what they had while they had it. Nobody knew how much time they had left. Maize’s accident had proven to them that death was real, and it was inevitable, no matter how enhanced or superhuman they were. They all experienced a harsh morality and reality check, but it gave them a new outlook for the year.
After all, they knew the world would not always love them, but that never stopped them from loving themselves and each other. They were a family: a family they chose for themselves. Together, they would see the year through, taking it as it came. No matter what life threw at them during the upcoming year, they knew they had each other, and they didn’t need anything more than that.