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Carrie meets her sexy new neighbor, David.

And she wasn't sure she could withstand any number of jubilant hugs and merriment. It was best to face whatever the holidays brought alone.

*****

Thanks to Jessie, for the post-apocalyptic hard copy of The Road, she had managed to dismiss the television as company for the remainder of Christmas, after suffering several hours needlessly on the eve of. Incessant reminders, every movie dripped with messages of the pursuits of love, inner peace, and forgiveness; all delivered through the spirits of lost loved ones to those "blessed" once they opened their hearts to understand the true meaning of Christmas. What a crock of shit!

The commercials had been just as bad. Families drinking eggnog, singing carols around the fireplace where stockings hung from the mantles. Of course, the tables were laden with silver platters stacked with apricot glazed ham, bowls of candied yams, salads, and cookies; and lead crystal glasses waiting to be spoiled with the finest vintage of spirits.

She had muddled through another Christmas, no worse for the wear.

Lana's stomach growled. They hadn't actually talked about having lunch over the phone, but she had decided to skip dinner and breakfast this morning just in case. If it came to spending the last of the month's budget on a luncheon, she sure as hell was going to make it count.

The bistro looked fairly empty, being several days after Christmas, to which she breathed a sigh of relief. Seated at a wall table, gazing through the full arch windows facing the street, she was on her second cup of coffee when she recognized him, even before he turned toward the doorway. The strong jaw line, square chin, copper tone of his skin, and thick wavy brown hair-the sight of him jarred her abruptly upright in her seat, her skin tingling, goose bumps erupting along the skin of her arms and chest like pearl embroidery; only for reality to smite her down a moment later. Apart from the eyes, the resemblance was eerie. But then, they had been brothers after all.

Her head lowered in reflection, her hands clasped in her lap. Like steering a wayward vessel through temperamental waters, she steadied herself, framed her shoulders, and raised her eyes; meeting his approach with what she hoped was an impression of confidence and resolve.

"Hello Lana. You haven't changed a bit, except perhaps the way you wear your hair. I am glad to see you are well. Umm...thank you for meeting with me."

He remained standing, a foreboding affect at well over six-feet. Why was he hesitating? She had no intention of rising. Did he really expect they should embrace as old friends? The furrows of his eyebrows and cornering of his mouth marking his uncertainty, Lana offered a welcoming arm gesture toward a chair. "It is good to see you again Mark. Please, have a seat. Care for some coffee?"

"Yes, please. That would be fine." His composure relaxed a bit as he pulled a chair out and seated himself while she motioned for the waitress. His hands immediately clamped together on the table. She couldn't help but release a slight chuckle. He responded with a dashing smile, matching her change in tone. With the air between them thinning, and more cups of coffee to warm their hands, the conversation relaxed into a ten year update-school, jobs, successes, misfortunes, and moves. It was pleasing to enjoy a normal conversation after the anxiety she had anticipated. Of course, the point of his visit had to surface some time.

"Lana, it's been so long. But...," he hesitated as if in thought. "My parents passed away last year..."

"I'm so sorry, Mark."

"No...I mean, thank you. But, the reason I'm here...there was a box...of his stuff. His journals were in it. After reading a few, I knew you might want them."

Lana could feel the muscles in her face go slack. Her brain recommended flight, but her body felt terribly heavy. She sat like weathered rock, just offshore of a warm beach, forever waves of salty chill washing over her.

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