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Chapter 13

"Christmas is a day of meaning and traditions, a special day spent in the warm circle of family and friends."
~ Margaret Thatcher


Annalise

"Annie!" William shouted frantically. I scrambled into Will's office to find him pinned underneath the Christmas tree. Tilting my head, I said, "This is the second time this has happened."

"In my defense, the dog knocked over the one in my room; I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This time I was trying to put the star on the top of the tree; you can figure out what happened from there."

"Hang on, I'll get it off of you," I said. Grabbing the pole of the fake tree, I lifted it up. Will squirmed out from underneath. "Do you need help with this?"

"Maybe with the lights. Let's get the lights done on yours first, though." Will strode into my office with me on his heels.

We were supposed to be preparing for his trip next week, but Will's mind had been solely fixated on getting the trees up. Knowing he wouldn't be able to focus on anything else until that happened, I obliged to let him do what he wanted.

We started hanging the lights on my tree. I'd managed to assemble it without any incident, something that couldn't be said for my boss. I lorded that over him as we decorated. My tree itself was themed red and gold. It'd be gorgeous once all the ornaments were up.

Will decided on a world-themed tree. He had flags from all the countries he'd visited and of those who'd visited him, miniature models of famous landmarks, and he even snuck a model of Hogwarts in there.

"Annie, I'm going to see if James wants to hang out with us and-"

"No," I interrupted. "You're going to go see if those sugar cookies are ready and if they're not, you're going to steal some cookie dough."

Will smiled impishly. "You know me too well."

With that, he disappeared, leaving me to decorate alone. I turned on some music: Michael Bublé's Christmas album to be specific. Honestly, I'd been listening to it since the third week of November.

I was unusually excited about Christmas this year. Maybe because I could afford decent presents for Mia this year thanks to my new job. I'd been working fewer and fewer hours at Donaldson's, but the Stewarts and Wallaces understood. Being Will's secretary took up more of my time than I realized it would. I didn't mind. I got to sit down rather than be on my feet all day, but it meant I didn't always have time to see Mia.

On the upside, I planned on getting her a new laptop for Christmas. It was about time, too; her current one kept freezing up and kicking her out of programs no matter how many times we fixed it. The new one would even have video-calling features so we could talk while I worked.

I finished stringing the lights and stood up on a chair to put the star on top of the tree when I heard James shouting. Seconds later, Will bolted into the room with a bowl of cookie dough. James wasn't far behind, his hair in disarray and flour dusting his shirt and hands.

"William, give me the bowl," James ordered, holding out his hand. "Now."

Will shook his head, hiding behind me. Rolling my eyes, I opened my mini-fridge, remembering I had a tube of cookie dough in there. I pulled it out and switched it out of the bowl.

"Here you go, James," I said, handing him the bowl. "Sorry about that. I forgot I had the cookie dough in there."

"Thanks, Anna. Why do you have some anyway?" James asked.

"Same reason Will stole your dough. It's fun to eat!"

"Onwards in decorating!" Will declared, pointing to his tree with the tube of cookie dough. As he marched into his office, James leaned over to me and whispered, "Is he okay?"

"Is he ever okay?"

"That would be a negative."

"Exactly. I'll see you later. If you finish early, come hang out with us. I need help in case Will decides to let the tree fall on him again."

"TWICE! IT'S HAPPENED TWICE!" Will protested from the other room.

"Two times too many!" I hollered back. Smiling, I turned to James. "I'll see you later."

Wishing me luck, James left to finish baking. I entered Will's office and began unwrapping the lights. It took us two hours to get them on the tree; it wouldn't have taken as long had Will not tangled himself in the lights. Walt happened to walk in during the moment with a video camera and stared at the entangled prince.

"William, how did you manage this?" he asked.

"I have no idea how I do half the stuff I do," Will replied. Walt shook his head. Turning to me, he said, "Say hi, Annalise. How's decorating coming along?"

"Slowly because someone-" I glanced down at Will- "keeps getting into trouble."

"I'd get more done if you'd stop laughing at me!" he remarked.

"Oh, stop your whining," I said, disentangling him from the lights. Thankfully he hadn't broken any of the bulbs themselves, so they were still usable.

Walt continued filming. Curious to know why, I asked him. He explained, "I've filmed William decorating the trees every year. Usually, it's Patty or his mother helping him, but this year you get the honor of putting up with his antics."

"Did you get tangled up in the lights again, Will?" his mother's voice floated from the doorway. Walt bowed; I curtsied.

"You mean this has happened before?" I remarked. "Not that it surprises me."

"Hey, now! What is this, 'gang up on Will' day?" he demanded.

"We should make it a national holiday."

"You're an evil one, Annalise Stark."

I nudged him playfully. "That'll never change. Now hurry up with the decorating. We still need to prepare you for your trip."

Walt put down the video camera as the Queen said, "Will, your father would like to speak to you."

Will's playful demeanor evaporated instantly. "What did I do?"

"I'm not sure. He wouldn't tell me. Best not to keep him waiting. Don't worry, the trees and Annalise will be here when you get back."

"I'll get more cookie dough for you too," I offered.

"I have a feeling I'm going to need it. I'll be back." Will left the room. The Queen followed him out, leaving me alone with Walt. He opened one of the ornament boxes and started hanging them on the tree. I joined him.

"How are you doing, Annalise?"

"Good. What about you? I feel like I hardly ever see you or Patty anymore."

"It's your busy secretary job. Do you like it, by the way?"

"I do, surprisingly enough, but I miss seeing you and Patty every morning and hanging out with James," I confessed. "You're practically family to me even if I've only been here less than a year."

"You're always welcome to come see us. You'll be here a lot next week with Will being gone. James is taking your place for the trip, correct?"

"Yes, sir." I stopped to look at him. "You know, that means you'll have his spot vacant. Why don't I try and help out in his place? I can multi-task."

"You don't have to do that, but we won't turn down the help, or the chance to have you working with us again. We do miss seeing you on a daily basis." Walt took a seat, rubbing his knees. "Patty and I are holding a big dinner on Christmas Eve. You and Mia are both invited. Do you think they'd allow her out of the hospital for a few hours?"

"I'm sure they'll be against it, but I know Mia will want to come. It all depends on how she feels that day."

"Just let us know. Do you think we could drop by and say hi to her soon?"

"Of course! You're always welcome to visit her!" I assured. "She probably enjoys the different company."

"Speaking of Mia, how's she doing? Her hair…?"

"Falling out more and more. She's wearing a cap now to hide it, but it's bothering her, I can tell. She won't admit it. I'm getting her three wigs for Christmas: a blonde one, a brown one, and a black-haired one. She's also getting a new laptop. Her old one is on its last legs."

"Those wigs are expensive, though, not to mention the laptop as well. I know you're tight on money, but I want to make sure you're spending some on yourself too."

I waved off his concern. "I don't want anything. I have everything I need. I have my sister, a new family, shelter, food, and a stable job. I can't ask for anything more than that."

"But you deserve something. If you could get anything you wanted for Christmas, what would you want?"

"Books. Makeup. Mugs. Anything, really."

"You and Mia are both getting a few things from Patty and me. You're daughters to us."

"Really, Walt, you don't-"

"No objections. It's already done." He stood, and I heard more than a few pops from his knees. "I best be heading back down. Patty will chastise me for being a rambling old man. I think I might be becoming one."

"I love your ramblings, so you're always welcome to come ramble to me. I promise I'll listen." I kissed him goodbye on the cheek, feeling lighter and happier than I had in a long time.

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