Natalie's Christmas


Tears were running down Natalie's cheeks slowly. "If it hurts so much, you should take the pain meds!"

"Oh I intend to, once we've had our little talk. I won't have to hold on any more and the painkillers will help me drift away to whatever lies out there." She turned her eyes to Sonja who was watching the old woman in surprise. "Who is this?"

Natalie held out her hand and Sonja glanced at her then took it so she could be drawn closer.

"Grandma Jane. This is Sonja Hellström. She's the founder and CEO of Audacious!, the company I work for. She's the girlfriend I told you about in my emails," she said softly.

Sonja looked at Natalie in surprise then saw the satisfied look on the old woman's face.

"Natalie never lies to me. She never keeps secrets from me either. That's the key to trust. Integrity is crucial though it seems to be an old fashion idea these days." She studied Sonja with a critical eye. "Well, you're certainly beautiful and running your own company successfully takes smarts." She turned back to Natalie. "Is it love?"

Natalie nodded as tears continued to fall.

Sonja found herself nodding too as intense but old eyes turned back to her.

Jane seemed to finally relax. "Good! I prayed you'd find love one day. I won't begin to say I understand your relationship but I don't need to. If you feel it in your hearts for each other that's all that matters."

She turned her face to Natalie. "One last thing. It's all written in the will but I want you to promise me you'll go back to your parent's house today and take the tablet you gave me. I wrote something on it for you so you need to take it and the case it came in. Promise me you'll take the case and everything in it with you when you go back to New York City!"

Natalie nodded as she lifted the old woman's hand up to kiss it. "I love you, Grandma."

"I love you too, sweet pea." She shifted uncomfortably on the bed. "Can I ask you to go get the nurse? I'm ready to trip out." She frowned. "That's how it's said, isn't it?"

Natalie smiled and nodded as she couldn't speak.

"Go get the nurse. I'll be fine here with your pretty girlfriend. I promise not to steal her," Jane said whisper quiet.

Natalie sent a quick glance to Sonja then quickly walked from the room.

Jane watched her leave then looked back to Sonja. "That girl is a treasure. In the century I've been alive, she is my greatest achievement. My son? Pffft! His only contribution to the world is helping create her and her sisters." Old eyes held Sonja's. "He doesn't have a lick of sense or kindness. Be good to Natalie, please. She's got a gentle heart."

"I will," Sonja said with a lump in her throat.

Jane closed her eyes with a smile. "Good."

The room became quiet once more.

The nurse entered with a squeaky cart, followed by Janet and Natalie.

Jane's eyes opened again as she stared at the nurse. "This is the sound you bring to herald me out of this world? You needed the squeaky cart to carry one little bag of happy juice?"

The nurse looked embarrassed and pushed the cart back out into the hall as Jane rolled her eyes. They settled on Janet who was looking relieved that Jane had accepted the pain medication.

"Janet! Love and defend your daughters! Above all else!" Jane barked with a surprisingly strong voice.

Natalie's mom looked at her daughter with wide eyes then back to Jane before she nodded. Jane nodded back with a stern look on her face then she sagged against the pillows as pain shot through her.

"I think I've said enough, done enough, and tried enough. This hurts too much so I'm going to say goodbye for now and I'll see you on the other side. Ok?" Jane rasped with her eyes pinched shut.

Natalie rushed to her side and kissed her forehead. "I love you, Grandma Jane!"

Jane looked up at her with love in her eyes. "I love you too, sweet pea. Now, let the nice nurse lady ease my pain with the good stuff."

Natalie gave her a tremulous smile and stepped back as the nurse added the bag to her IV drip.

"This little wheel sets the speed of the drip for more or less considering your pain," the nurse explained.

"Yes, yes, give it to me!" Jane grumbled impatiently and took the control from her. "Thank you very much, you can go."

The nurse smiled awkwardly to the others and left the room as Jane opened the control all the way and closed her eyes.

Natalie moved to Sonja's side and Janet stopped at the foot of the bed. They watched Jane slowly relax as the medicine flowed into her veins.

"Ahhh... that is the good stuff..."

Minutes later, Jane just... slipped away. Natalie turned her face into Sonja's shoulder and held her tight, crying as the woman rubbed her back.

The blonde looked over to Janet who was watching them awkwardly.

"I'm her boss," Sonja said softly.

Janet's own words from earlier that morning suddenly came back to her. She stared at Sonja then looked to Jane and recalled her challenge.

Eventually, the hospital staff entered the room to turn off the monitors and begin preparations and the three women left the room to let the staff do their thing.

Natalie's tears were slowing so they moved to a seating area next to some tall windows.

Sonja and Natalie sat side by side and held hands as the younger woman dabbed at her eyes with a tissue.

"So... what are your plans now?" Janet asked timidly.

Natalie still couldn't speak so Sonja looked to the mother. "She promised your mother-in-law she would collect a letter to her from your home. She lived with you?"

Janet nodded. "Yes, she had a bedroom on the main floor at the back of the house. It overlooked the garden."

They looked outside and the storm was picking up.

"What are you driving?" Sonja asked.

"An old Corolla," Janet said nervously as she watched the snow accumulating.

Sonja shook her head. "I think you should come with us in the truck. It's a four wheel drive."

Janet went to the nurse's station and spent a little time signing papers as she had power of attorney.

Then they bundled up and rushed across the frigid parking lot to the truck.

Sonja got them on their way to the neighboring town where the family lived. The roads became increasingly treacherous as they went but she handled the truck with great skill. Natalie gave her a smile after they made it past a particularly treacherous section.

"Stop! That's Barb Gallagher! My neighbor!" Janet called out from the back seat as she peered out her side window.

Sonja carefully pulled over and put on her hazard lights as Janet hopped out of the truck. She went back to help her friend climb out of the ditch where her car had its nose buried in the deep stuff. Arm in arm, they made their way back to the truck and climbed in.

"Thank you so much for stopping!" Barb managed through chattering teeth.

Sonja just smiled and nodded over her shoulder as Natalie turned up the heat.

"Did these pretty ladies pull you out of the ditch as well, Janet?" Barb turned to her friend to ask.

Shaking her head, Janet gestured to the front passenger seat. "This is my daughter, Natalie. The driver is her boss and friend Sonja. We just came from the hospital. Jane passed on."

Barb's eyes went wide as she looked to her friend. "Oh God bless her soul!" She turned her face to Natalie. "You came to say goodbye? Were you in time?"

Natalie nodded with fresh tears in her lashes.

"Jane hung on until she arrived," Janet said with a little awe in her voice.

"Well that certainly sounds like the Jane I knew. Force of nature, that one," Barb snorted, drawing smiles from the others.

Sonja got them moving again and, driving carefully, they eventually made it to Natalie's small hometown.

Covered in fluffy white snow, it looked like a Winter Wonderland.

"Oh! It's lovely!" Sonja sighed.

Barb beamed a smile at her. "You should go for a walk in the neighborhoods when all the houses have their Christmas lights on! It's magical!"

"Unfortunately, we'll be heading back to Cedar Rapids after we drop mom off. We have a hotel reservation there," Natalie explained.

"I think, considering how the storm is getting worse, you might need to stay over tonight," Janet suggested. She shared a worried look with her daughter. Both had concerns about how the couple would be received.

"Definitely! You shouldn't think of going back out in this!" Barb gasped.

Janet gave directions to Barb's which was just a block from her house.

Barb thanked Sonja again profusely then got out and dashed up her snowy driveway to get inside.

They drove the last block to Natalie's family home and pulled the truck right up the driveway next to the house.

"It looks like your father isn't home. He might have been called in to drive a shipment up to Waterloo. He took a part time job to augment his pension," Janet said to Natalie with a hopeful look in her eyes.

Sonja and Natalie grabbed their suitcases and followed Janet up to the front door. It opened before they reached it and two identical faces stared at them with wide eyes.

Natalie was shocked! The twins had grown taller and were both so lovely! They had to be at least 5' 8" and her father's genes were obviously at work with their slim builds. They both wore their long sandy blonde hair to mid-back and both had their father's blue eyes as well.

"Move! It's cold out here!" Janet snapped at her daughters who scurried back to let the three women inside.

Natalie closed the door at the back of the group. She braced herself for the recriminations from her sisters for her lack of communication. When she left they were just fifteen and harsh words were said on all sides. In her emails to Grandma Jane, she'd asked about them and in the letters back was told they were doing well.

But they hadn't spoken since that day.

Nervously, she turned and faced the twins again. Suddenly, they were hugging her and crying about how sorry they were. She hugged them too and cried until they were all a teary mess. They were also crying because of the loss of Grandma Jane. Apparently, the twins were very fond of her as well.

Janet moved forward and wrapped her arms around her daughters with tears in her own eyes. The girls clung to her as well.

When they finally got control of themselves again the twins turned their curious eyes on the tall beauty watching them all with a sweet smile on her lips.

Filled with joy, Natalie stepped forward and took Sonja's hands in hers and turned to face her family.

"I'd like to introduce you to Sonja Hellström. She's the CEO of Audacious!, the company I'm the Web Designer and Graphic Designer for. She's also... my girlfriend."

The twins squeaked in shock then smiled excitedly as their mother's awkwardness came back.

"This is Abby," Natalie said gesturing to the sister on the left. "And this is Zoe."

"We love Audacious!" they cheered and moved forward to shake Sonia's hand.

"Grandma Jane kept us up-to-date on what was going on in your life from the emails you sent to her," Abby confessed.

"She read my emails to you?" Natalie asked in shock.

"No! She just told us how you were doing," Zoe explained.

"She told us you were in love!" Abby grinned excitedly.

"We had no idea it was with Ms. Hellström!" Zoe giggled, equally excited.

Natalie's face was glowing so Sonja gave her a little hug and she smiled shyly up at her.

"You said something about a letter you had to collect?" Janet blurted to change the topic. Her body language showed her discomfort at witnessing their love for each other. The twin's faces immediately began to show their annoyance but Natalie reached out to touch their arms. She shook her head gently.

"I'm sorry, Mom. I can see this is making you uncomfortable. We'll tone it down." Sonja nodded as well.

Janet smiled gratefully but looked embarrassed as well. "No, I'm sorry, Natalie. You shouldn't have to. I understand I'm the one who needs to get over it. I'm afraid my mind just isn't as young and flexible as the twins' are... or as strong as Jane's was. I'm trying."

Natalie stepped forward and hugged her mom. "The fact that you're trying is all that matters! It makes me love you that much more!"

The mom smiled as she hugged her daughter in return with a happy smile.

Natalie stepped back from her mom and nodded. "Grandma Jane said she'd written me a letter on her tablet. Where would I find it?"

Janet gestured down the hall. "It'll be in her room."

They took their boots off and Natalie walked to the back room and let herself in.

The gentle scent of her grandmother's perfume came to her as she stepped into the warm and inviting room. It was decorated to reflect a bygone era but Natalie's eyes soaked it all in as every piece of furniture and every little knickknack and framed photo brought her such loving memories.

Its bold red color and modern esthetic made it stand out in a room of antiques, so she easily spotted the tablet case on the surface of her grandmother's writing desk. The case was bulging badly so she unzipped it to peer inside. She saw the AC adapter and cable had been stuffed inside with the tablet.

She zipped it closed once more as she suddenly couldn't bear the thought of reading her grandmother's final letter. Not now. It was too soon.

She felt the woman's presence all around her and it filled her with intense joy and sadness. She stood, holding the tablet case tightly against her chest as she walked from the room and slowly closed the door behind her.

She made her way back to the hall and stuffed the case into her suitcase.

She found the others sitting in the living room, talking. The Christmas tree was up and was loaded with all of the familiar decorations. It looked the same as it did all through her childhood. Her father was too cheap to buy an artificial tree. The size and shape of the real tree varied each year but the same lights and old ornaments were placed on the tree year after year as if it was a tradition that had to be preserved at all costs. Some of the ornaments were looking pretty worn but they were still there.

The mantelpiece had stockings hanging from it and Natalie saw hers was there as well! It looked like it was added last minute as it was tucked in at the end but it was a sweet gesture, none-the-less.

She saw the twins were on either side of Sonja on the couch, peppering her with questions regarding her modeling career as her mother watched with an amused smile on her lips.

Sonja looked to Natalie with compassion in her eyes. "Are you ok? Did you find the letter?"

Natalie just smiled and nodded, feeling a tightness in her throat. She cleared it and turned to her mom. "So, where's dad?"

"Zoe confirmed he's driven up to Waterloo. Probably trapped there by the-"

The phone began to ring and Abby snatched up the cordless handset but handed it back to her mom with an impish grin. Her mom just shook her head in annoyance.

"Hello? Ken! Where are you? We were- uh huh. No, the roads are really bad. You shouldn't drive-... It's not that expensive. What about your back?" She rolled her eyes as she listened. "If they don't want you to risk sliding their truck off the road into a ditch, that's their decision. Just stay put until the morning as the storm will be over by then... Yes... Listen, it's about your mom... What?... Are you-... if-...ok. Call when you leave." She held the receiver out to look at it with a frown then dropped it back into its charging station.

She looked at her daughters. "He said he called the hospital and they told him."

"Is he coming home?" Natalie asked cautiously.

"He wants to but he has to drive the rig back and the company who owns it told him no. They sent him up there but they aren't willing to pick up the cost of a motel room. Your dad is too cheap to pay. He said he'd find a couch to sleep on. We'll see him tomorrow morning sometime," Janet sighed.

Looking a little more relaxed Natalie looked to her mom once more. "When is the service for Grandma Jane?"

Janet smiled and shook her head. "She didn't want one. In recent years she cut herself off from the church and told me that once she died she would 'no longer be there' so she didn't want any fuss over her body. The funeral home will just cremate it and we'll get the ashes to sprinkle over the flower garden she loved to work in."

They all smiled at that thought as it seemed like a nice way to return to nature.

Janet looked at the ladies in the room. "Who wants to help me make dinner?" Four faces smiled back at her eagerly.


Natalie woke feeling pleasantly full from the amazing meal they'd made and enjoyed the evening before. They'd cooked and laughed, enjoyed a little wine, even the twins, and ate so much. Afterwards, they'd talked into the wee hours of the morning sitting in the living room which was solely lit by the Christmas tree lights. It was magic and they all felt it.

She was also pleasantly warm from the snuggly blankets on her Grandma Jane's bed. When they'd talked themselves out and were yawning more than talking, they discovered the only available place for Natalie and Sonja to sleep was the big queen bed in Jane's room. Janet was a little nervous at first but, with a bold 'fuck it', she'd grabbed some clean sheets and she and Natalie made the bed. After a final round of hugs everyone went to bed.

Natalie looked over at the woman sleeping at her side and felt more in love with her than she'd ever felt. The night before with her mom and sisters had been perfect and sharing it with Sonja had made it all the more special.

Lovely blue eyes opened to gaze at her. "Hey," she said sleepily.

"Good morning, my love!" Natalie said sweetly.

Sonja's eyes twinkled with happiness as she smiled back. "I love you too!"

They smiled at each other but refrained from doing more than that as they knew it could lead to more than they should be doing in Jane's bed.

"Did you have a good time last night?" Natalie asked.

"Yes! It was so much fun!" Sonja grinned and stretched like a cat. "It was a perfect night and this bed is so nice!"

Natalie nodded and snuggled a little deeper in the blankets until only her eyes and nose were poking out. The room was a little on the cool side.

Sonja saw Natalie hiding from the cool air and slipped deeper under the covers herself. Eyes twinkling merrily, they burst into giggles.

The door suddenly swung inwards and Ken Renaud was standing in the doorway glaring at them. Tall and slimly built, he shivered with rage.


Sonja looked over at Natalie to see how she was taking his ridiculous tirade and saw she was just frozen, staring at her dad. Then they heard the thump of someone descending the stairs, quickly.

"KEN! GET OUT OF THE BEDROOM. NOW!" they heard Janet yell from down the hallway. She didn't come any closer.

He turned to glare at his wife. "They-"


With a final glare and snarl, Ken stomped out of the room and slammed the door behind himself.

"Maybe we should get dressed," Sonja suggested and Natalie nodded.

They reluctantly pushed the warm blankets down and scrambled to get dressed.

They did their best to ignore the yelling that was happening just down the hall. Natalie was dismayed to discover how much of a homophobe her father was but what was really amazing her was how her mother was ripping into him for his small minded and bitter views. Her mom was taking Grandma Jane's last words to heart.

There was a sudden odd high pitched squeal and the ranting stopped. Only low grumbling could be heard after that. Sonja and Natalie shared a look and moved quicker.

Once they were dressed and beginning to warm up again, they opened the door and were shocked to see Ken lying on his back stretched out on the floor with Janet glaring down at him with arms crossed.

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