Winter Solstice

Title: Winter Solstice (1/1) 
Author: J.S. Michel 
Classification: S 
Keywords: Pre-X-Files, Samantha. 
Spoilers: None 
Rating: PG 
Archive: Sure, just let me know and include this header.
Disclaimer: I don't own 'em. 
Feedback: Yes please. 
Completed: February 1996. 
Summary: She was gone.  And he, her older brother, the one in
charge, had somehow slept through it.
Note: Originally published in "Property of the FBI" Volume 5,
Pseudonym Press, April 1996.  Reprinted here with permission.
Chilmark, MA
Monday December 10, 1973
          Fox bounced the basketball intently, concentrating on
the familiar echo of Spalding rubber pounding against the
driveway.  *Don't think, don't think*, he commanded himself.
*Nothing exists except the ball and the basket.  Nothing else

          He dribbled two-handedly, his sneakers planted firmly
apart, his mind focused on the steady hypnotic rhythm of the

          He was barely aware that he had released the ball
until he was following its graceful arc, and he watched it sail,
with that near-silent whoosh, through the hoop above the garage.

          Eighteen.  Two more.

          He remembered how hard it had seemed, a short time
ago, to do ten.  Ten was a breeze, now.

          He retrieved the ball and moved back into position.
Two more, two more, two more, maybe this time . . .

          *Don't think!*  he ordered himself angrily.  *If you
think it messes it up.  Don't think, just do it.  Concentrate on
the ball.  Picture everything in your mind.  Nothing but the
ball passing through the hoop . . .*


          He exhaled in nervous relief, saw his breath
materialize in thin white wisps before it dissipated in the
December air.

          Just one more now.

          How many times today had he reached nineteen, only to
miss on the last shot?  He'd almost wanted to cry, but each time
he knew there was nothing to do but start over.

          *Don't think.  You'll jinx yourself.  Just do it and
don't think about it.*

          He dribbled, ignoring the hair which had fallen into
his eyes, feeling the sweat running down his face despite the
cold.  *One more.  Don't think.*

          He squeezed his eyes shut as the ball left his
fingers, but even so he could tell by the sound that it had gone
in.  He walked over to retrieve the ball, trying to suppress the
hope which was pounding in his chest.  He scooped up the
autographed Spalding and forced himself to walk, not run, over
to the porch, then sat on the peeling wooden steps, hugging the
basketball, his shoulders hunched inside the blue-and-white
Chilmark jacket.

          *There, you did it.  Twenty in a row -- but don't
think about it, don't hope, it might screw it up if you hope.*

          He closed his eyes again, tiredly, chin resting on the
ball he held against his chest.  Where was she right now?  Was
she lost somewhere, scared, maybe hungry or crying?  Was she
hurt?  Was somebody hurting her?  Maybe worse?  He didn't want
to think about any of it but he couldn't help himself.

          She had to come back.  She was just a little kid.
Kids couldn't disappear like that for no reason and never come
back. Things didn't work like that; it would be too unfair.

          Then again, maybe life really was just plain unfair.
He'd heard adults say that lots of times but had never really
thought about it.  Before this, life had always seemed okay to
him.  Not always great, not always completely fair, but never
downright unfair.  Not really.  Unfair stuff happened to other
people, like the guy who'd fallen off the Harperton trestle last
summer, or that kid from Mayfield -- what was his name again? --
whose brother was killed in Vietnam.  Unfair stuff happened
mostly to strangers, to people in the news, in big cities, in
foreign countries.  Not in your own town, not to anybody you
actually knew, and not to you.  Not to your own family.

          They'd thought it was a kidnapping, except there was
no ransom note.  First the police, and then the FBI, had asked
him questions:  What did he and Samantha do that evening?  What
time had she gone to bed?  What time had he gone to bed?  Had he
fallen asleep right away?  Had he heard any noises?

          They'd asked him over and over again, nicely at first
but growing impatient; his father had stood near with that empty
look in his eyes, listening for his answers.

          "The brother slept through the whole fucking thing,"
he'd overheard one policeman saying on the phone.

          Fox's face had burned with shame.  He couldn't
remember.  He'd tried and tried, he'd thought about it until it
hurt to think any more, but he couldn't remember anything.
Nothing.  He couldn't remember if she'd gone to bed, couldn't
recall going to bed himself, couldn't even explain why he'd been
in bed with his clothes and shoes on.  All he remembered was
that they'd watched TV together, and then his mother was waking
him up and asking him, in that worried voice, where Samantha

          She was gone.  And he, her older brother, the one in
charge, had somehow slept through it.

          A doctor had examined him, had asked him more
questions:  Did his head hurt anywhere?  Did he have any pain
behind his eyes, any headaches?

          He had hoped with all his might that the doctor would
find something wrong with him, anything, even if it was some
terrible disease with no cure.  Some reason which would excuse
him for not remembering, which would explain to his parents how
he could have slept while somebody took Samantha.

          The doctor had found nothing.

          Fox had briefly considered mentioning the dreams.
He'd been dreaming, every night, about something he couldn't
remember, waking up sweating and terrified -- *how can it be
terrifying if you can't remember?*  But the doctor hadn't asked
him if he'd had any dreams, and he couldn't think of a reason to
bring it up.

          Besides, everything seemed like a dream right now
anyway.  He kept hoping he was still really asleep, that he'd
wake up and that everything would be the way it was before . . .

          The familiar squeaky brakes of the school bus snapped
him back to reality, and he realized he'd been sitting on the
porch for a lot longer than he'd thought.  The cold had numbed
his rear-end, was now inching its way down his legs; his hands,
still holding the basketball, were red and stiff.

          He cursed himself silently for losing track of the
time.  He'd managed to avoid the noisy yellow bus every day
since that terrible night.  But it was too late now, too late to
hide.  Yesterday he'd remembered in time, had gone inside before
it came by.  Yesterday's goal -- eighteen -- hadn't taken quite
as long.  But twenty had been harder, and he hadn't realized it
had gotten so late.

          *Too late, can't go inside now without being noticed.
Just sit here and hope they ignore you,* he told himself.

          He slid over to the shadowy part of the steps, knowing
that being ignored wouldn't be enough.  There'd be the whispers,
he knew, the whispers that caused the ache in his stomach to
spread to his chest and his throat.  His parents, his relatives,
everybody was whispering these days.  Whispers and silent tears
and tense phone calls, but no answers.  It made him want to
scream, to hit something.  But that wasn't the solution, and he
had to bury the urge.  It wouldn't help, it would just upset
everybody; it would just upset his mother.

          "Just -- just don't upset your mother, Fox," his
father had warned him quietly several days ago.  Fox had been
shattered by the warning; he wasn't in the habit of upsetting
his mother, no more than any other twelve-year-old boy, anyway,
and he certainly wasn't going to do anything to purposely upset
her now.  Not now.

          His father's words had hurt but he'd kept silent,
quietly smothering the hurt in that empty pit deep inside him.
It was too late not to upset her, he knew.  He'd slept and now
his sister was gone.

          A noisy group of kids crowded off the school bus, just
in front of his house.  He'd been happy, back in September, to
find out that this year the bus-stop had been placed almost on
his doorstep.

          "Hurry, Fox, the bus is here!" his mother would call,
waving to the driver to wait, and Fox would rush from the sunlit
breakfast table and bonk Samantha's head with his schoolbag as
he passed her.  Before Samantha could get even with him he was
jumping from the porch and running down the driveway into the
open door of the waiting bus, Samantha's outraged holler
lingering in the crisp September air.

          He regretted the location of the bus-stop now.  He
stared intently at his worn sneakers, examining the scuffs, the
straining seams, the way the laces were frayed at the ends.  He
focused on the hole which was spreading in the top of the right
shoe where his toe rubbed the canvas.

          It was no use; he heard the conversation level drop
suddenly as they noticed him.  God, he wished he could

          He didn't look up until he heard them move away; but
someone was walking up the driveway now, cautiously, his
familiar blue-and-white jacket unzipped despite the cold, his
Adidas bag swinging lightly.

          "Hey Fox," he began, stopping at the bottom of the

          "Hey," Fox replied quietly.  He chewed on his lip,
which was dry and cracked from the cold.

          Alex shuffled his feet, clearly uncomfortable.

          "So . . . how come you're not in school?" he asked.

          Fox glanced up blearily, then looked away again.  From
the look on Alex's face he could tell that his friend hadn't
meant the question to sound so dumb.  He was just trying to
talk, trying to sound casual.

          "You don't know?" Fox asked dully, staring at the
leafless bushes that ran down the side of the driveway.  What
else could he say?  Obviously Alex knew.  Everybody knew.  It
had been on the news, in the papers.  There'd been a massive
search, with volunteers coming from five counties over.

          Alex shifted the sports bag to his left hand, clearly
realizing now that he'd asked a stupid question.

          "Yeah," he replied lamely, awkwardness heavy in his
tone.  "They . . . they haven't found her yet . . .?"

          Fox tried hard to swallow, found he couldn't.  He
managed a shake of the head and fixed his gaze on his sneakers.

          "When are you coming back to school?" Alex asked.

          "Tomorrow, probably."  There was a second, smaller
hole starting on the toe of the left sneaker.  *Mom'll wanna buy
you a new pair,* the thought occurred to him out of habit, then
quickly vanished as reality clicked: Right now not even his
mother, though she'd been mortified last summer when he'd gone
to see Dr. Morton with mismatched socks, was going to notice a
stupid hole in his sneakers.  The condition of Fox's shoes was
the last thing on anybody's mind at the moment; for all they
cared, he could probably walk around barefoot for the next two
weeks and nobody would notice.

          The thought caused a stir of anger within him, but
then his heart skipped a beat.  *Stop thinking of yourself, you

          "You, uh, missed a lot of games.  You been
practicing?" Alex continued, nodding towards the ball Fox was
balancing on his knees.

          "Yeah."  *Practicing, right, gotta stay sharp or
they'll cut me from the team,* he thought hazily.  Geez.  His
position on the Chilmark Champs bantam boys basketball team
seemed like the least important thing in the world.  Who the
hell cared about some stupid school team?

          "That's good, 'coz we're playing Richmond County next
Tuesday.  They won nearly every game this year.  We gotta beat
'em this time, after they clobbered us so bad that last time,

          Alex grinned tentatively, clearly trying to lighten
things up a little.  Fox blinked, and suddenly he was
remembering . . .
          He'd come home from that humiliating game incredibly
pissed off, and Samantha was trying to cheer him up with some
weird pink marshmallow things she'd made at Girl Scouts.  They
were eating them together while watching TV, and she was making
him guess what each of the pink blobs was supposed to be . . .

          "Uh, I dunno . . . is it a cat?"

          "Nope.  Guess again."

          "Come on, I don't know."

          "You gotta guess, Fox!"

          "A car?"

          "Nope.  Guess again."

          "Um, is it . . . the Apollo 11 lunar module?"

          "No!  Fox, come on, you're not even trying . . ."

          "Okay, okay!  I know, it's . . . it's Mrs. Flanagan's

          "Fox!" Samantha had shrieked in reproach, and then
they'd both burst into uproarious laughter at their nosy next-
door-neighbor's expense.  Then Samantha, still laughing, had
forced him to eat the unappetizingly-christened marshmallow glob
before she'd let him eat any of the rest . . .
          His throat tightened at the memory now.  God, was that
really just a few weeks ago?  How could everything change so
terribly in just a few weeks?

          Suddenly he was horrified to find that his vision was
blurred.  He bit down on his lower lip, hard, in a furious
effort to control himself.  *Don't cry, you baby, not now, not
in front of Alex . . .*

          He hadn't cried at all since she'd disappeared.  Why
now, of all times?

          He pretended to stare at the basketball and managed to
swallow, tasting blood where his teeth had bitten into his lip.
After a few moments he was able to push the choking feeling back
down.  He'd recovered.  He was safe.  Alex hadn't noticed
anything, except maybe for the fact that Fox hadn't answered

          What was Alex's question again?  He couldn't even
remember what his friend had been talking about.  Something
about basketball?  He didn't want to ask.  His voice might
betray him.

          There was an uncomfortable pause.

          "Well, I, uh, guess I'll see ya tomorrow," Alex said

          Fox didn't trust himself to speak.  He nodded silently
and waited until his friend had turned away before he looked up.
Alex hurried down the driveway, the Adidas bag slung over his
shoulder.  He looked like he wanted to run but was forcing
himself not to.

          Alex could go home, Fox thought numbly as he pressed
his forehead against the basketball.  Back to his normal family,
his older brother Pete and his two little sisters, and they'd
have a normal supper with everybody talking all at once and Mr.
Klein asking how practice went and Mrs. Klein trying to get Alex
to eat "at least one piece of broccoli, liebchen."

          Fox had eaten there lots of times.  Alex's family was
almost sickeningly perfect.  Mr. Klein even smoked a pipe and
wore his slippers after supper and read bedtime stories with the
twins sitting on his lap.  Like Leave It To Beaver's Father or
something.  It was just so normal it was corny, though
occasionally Fox had secretly wished his own family could be a
bit more like that, had wished his father wouldn't be away so
much, wouldn't come home from work so late, so tired and
distracted, and had more time to pitch a few balls or play some
one-on-one in the driveway.  But now, suddenly, Fox would give
anything to just go back to the way things were before, to the
old not-quite-perfect-but-still-okay Mulder family.

          Alex Klein could go home to his normal life.  But Alex
hadn't been the one who'd slept while somebody stole his sister.
For Fox, life would never be the same.  Nothing could fix this,
not unless she came back.

          Twenty.  It had taken him all day but he'd done
twenty.  *Don't think don't think don't think about it . . .*

          But he couldn't help thinking about it just the same.
Deep down he knew it made no sense, but he didn't know what else
to do.  He felt so stupid, so useless.  She was gone and he'd
been sleeping.  The police and the neighbors were all trying to
help, but he was simply in the way.

          He had to try something, even if it didn't make much
sense.  It was a deal, and deals didn't always make sense.  You
just had to keep your end of it and sometimes things worked out.

          "With every passing day the odds decrease."

          The FBI had said that.  The man, in his suit and
trench coat, so different-looking from the Chilmark police, had
whispered it to his father late one night.  They, also, didn't
want to upset his mother.  But Fox, sitting quietly in the
shadows by the stairs, had overheard.  It was easy for him to go
unnoticed these days, with everybody so preoccupied.

          From what he'd gathered, every day that went by
without Samantha being found meant the odds of her coming back
at all decreased.

          So he'd made this deal, this bet, with himself.  What
were the odds of sinking thirty baskets in a row?  He didn't
know, but they were pretty low, he figured.

          He'd started with ten, and had worked his way up from
there.  Every day had to be harder, to match the fact that
Samantha's odds were decreasing.  Thirty was the magic number.
If he could sink thirty baskets in a row by the end of this
week, the police or the FBI or somebody would find her.  He'd
come home and she'd be there.  He wasn't sure if the deal really
made sense, but he was starting to suspect that not only was
life not fair, it also didn't make too much sense either . . .

          He realized he was freezing and very hungry.  Normally
it would be long past supper time, back when things were normal.

          He went inside and fixed himself a peanut butter
sandwich.  The house was quiet and dark, and he sat in the
living room in front of the television, chewing on his sandwich
as he stared at Lucille Ball.  Aunt Clara was upstairs with his
mother.  He could imagine his elderly aunt whispering now, her
arm around his mother's shoulders, trying to comfort her.  It
didn't seem to help at all.  His mother just stayed in her room
and cried and cried.

          The sandwich tasted like clay, and "Here's Lucy"
wasn't funny at all.  What the hell was that audience laughing
for?  He shut off the TV and sat back on the couch in the dark,
hugging a pillow against his chest.  There was a neatly-folded
blanket on the armrest: his father had been sleeping on the
couch, another new development Fox hadn't questioned.

          He was dutifully rinsing his plate when his father
came home and at the sound of the Buick in the driveway Aunt
Clara came down.  His mother stayed upstairs, but from where he
stood Fox could just see the edge of her shadow on the top step.

          "Anything, Bill?" Aunt Clara whispered.

          Fox was holding his breath, as he always did now when
his father came home.  But by now it was just a habit; if she'd
been found his father's expression would have shown it, one way
or the other.

          His father shook his head, then turned to Fox.

          "Get to bed, Fox," he said quietly.  "I don't want to
have to drag you out of bed for school tomorrow morning."

          Fox felt his cheeks burn with the humiliation and
knowledge that his father would never trust him again.  He
rarely overslept, even on mornings when he had six o'clock
practice, and since Samantha's disappearance the forgotten
dreams had been waking him up before dawn every day.  But it
didn't matter.  He'd let everybody down.  He'd slept while she
was taken.  How could they ever forgive him that?

          "He could stay home a bit longer," Aunt Clara's mild
voice suggested.  "There are barely two weeks left until the
holidays anyway."

          "He'll be better off in school than hanging around the
house all day," his father replied tiredly.

          Fox stared at the rug where the wooden floor peeked
through the worn grey fibers.  He stood silently for a moment,
listening to the ticking of the clock in the hall, then stuffed
his hands in his pockets and headed up the stairs.

          "Good night, Fox," Aunt Clara called up gently after

          "Night," he mumbled.

          His mother had already slipped back into the bedroom.
          He survived his first day back at school.   Except for
Alex, the kids either stared at him and whispered, or ignored
him and whispered.  His teachers tended to smile and look at him
curiously, and they went out of their way to help him catch up
on the two weeks of work he'd missed.  He was immensely glad
when the day was over.

          The moment he got home from school he dropped his
schoolbag off in the hall and headed out to the driveway with
the basketball.  Night came quickly and soon the driveway was
illuminated solely by the light over the garage, but he reached
twenty-four before his father came home and called Fox inside
with the warning, issued in that tired but no-argument tone,
that he was going to catch pneumonia out there.  So the next day
he stayed after school and shot baskets on the outdoor court
behind the football field, lying to Aunt Clara that he had
basketball practice.

          By Thursday evening he'd done it.  He'd reached
thirty.  He'd completed his end of the deal, one day ahead of

          And then he waited.  And hoped.  All day Friday he sat
in class waiting anxiously for the announcement to come:  his
father would contact the school and he'd be called down to the
principal's office, sent home with the news that his sister had
been found.  When no announcement came by the end of the day he
rushed to get on the school bus; in all the commotion his father
would have been too busy to call the school, that was all.  He
could still get home and find Samantha waiting in the living
room, and she'd tell him how the police had found her and
brought her back, or how the FBI had caught the kidnappers and
rescued her safely, or how she'd managed to escape and come back
on her own.

          But when he got home there was no police.  No FBI.  No
Samantha.  Just Aunt Clara and his mother upstairs, like all the
other days, and a silent, empty house.  His father, as usual,
was out.  Fox waited by the phone but the police didn't call,
and neither did the FBI.

          It hadn't worked.

          He sat on his bed in the dark, feeling hollow and numb
and powerless.  It hadn't worked.  He'd just been kidding
himself that something so stupid could bring her back.

          His father didn't come home that evening, and later
that night his mother started crying again.  Nothing Aunt Clara
did could calm her down, and it got so bad that his aunt,
despair in her voice, asked him to call Dr. Henry.  The doctor
arrived quickly and Fox answered the door and led him upstairs,
then sat at the top of the steps by the half-open bedroom door.
By this time his mother was sobbing uncontrollably, her
sentences muddled and incomprehensible, but Fox, from his
position near the door, distinctly heard, among the string of
sobs and incoherent babble, the words: "How could he let this
happen to her?"

          His stomach turned to ice.  He sat there frozen,
unable to move.  Then something tore through his chest and
suddenly he was kicking and punching at the wall, and the doctor
was grabbing him from behind trying to stop him as he struggled
and cried and Aunt Clara's voice was frantic in his ears: "Stop!
Fox, stop it, you're hurting yourself!  Stop it, Fox!  Stop!"
and then without warning he was throwing up on the floor . . .
          He was lying in his bed, something warm and wet on his
forehead.  The doctor was making him drink something while Aunt
Clara gently stroked his hair.  "It's okay, Fox.  Your mother's
going to be okay, try not to worry," she soothed.  "Drink this,
it'll help you sleep.  It's okay."  Even as he swallowed he
tried to tell her that it wasn't okay, that his mother wasn't
going to be okay and it was all his fault, that he didn't want
to sleep, that it was because he'd fallen asleep that all this
had happened.  But a terrible heaviness was overwhelming him,
and he tried to fight it but he must've fallen asleep anyway
because he woke up to the grey light of dawn and the throb of
bruised knuckles and the sour aftertaste of vomit in his mouth.

          When he walked down the hall to the bathroom he saw
that somebody -- probably Aunt Clara -- had cleaned up the
floor.  A faint stain remained on the carpet, though, and there
was a crack in the plaster where he'd struck the wall.
          He spent the entire day up in the tree house at the
far end of the yard.  Despite the cold which was aggravating the
split skin on the back of his hands, he couldn't bring himself
to go back inside.  He snuck down only once, mid-afternoon, to
make himself a sandwich and brought it back up to the tree to
eat.  The tree house, though, was full of reminders too, like
the secret compartment in the roof where he and Alex had hidden
their "stash" (the cherry bomb, the ill-gotten issue of Playboy,
the remaining cigar which they couldn't bear to throw away
though the first one had made them sick) from Samantha's prying
eyes.  The "No Girls Allowed" sign dangled crookedly from its
one remaining nail, and a gentle nudge with the toe of his
sneaker was all it took to send it sailing to the dry grass

          The Buick pulled into the driveway just as night was
falling, and soon his father was calling for him from the porch.
For a moment Fox was tempted not to answer, but he'd already
caused enough trouble, he knew, and he reluctantly climbed down
the ladder to the ground.

          Aunt Clara had heated some stew and she served him a
steaming bowl, chiding him gently for staying out in the cold.
Afterwards she ordered him upstairs to have a bath to warm
himself up -- "prevent you from catching your death," was how
she put it.  His father, tired and solemn and sad, was sitting
alone in the darkened living room.  He didn't look up as Fox
headed towards the stairs, and Fox wondered if Aunt Clara had
mentioned what had happened last night when Dr. Henry was over.
So much for not upsetting his mother.

          His death-preventing bath over, Fox sat on his bed in
his pajamas trying to summon up his courage, and after a while
he padded down the hall and stood outside the door of his
mother's room.  The stain on the carpet was a reminder and he
hesitated, afraid to knock.  But she hadn't said a word to him
in such a long time, and that afternoon, up in the tree house,
he'd come to the decision that he would rather face the truth
than never hear her speak to him again.

          "Mom?" he ventured quietly.  She was sitting on the
bed, staring at an open suitcase, her face pale and drawn.  She
looked up at him, somewhat dazed, and he continued tentatively.
"I . . .  I just came to say good night . . ."

          A sad but gentle smile crossed her face.

          "Good night, Fox," she replied softly.  He felt an
overwhelming wave of relief to see her smile at him and he
smiled back.  She didn't hate him, not completely anyway.  But
her eyes were red-rimmed and washed out, and she seemed so
fragile.  He'd never thought of his mother as fragile before,
and the idea that he was responsible for this newfound fragility
frightened him more than any nightmare.

          "Fox . . . I'm going to go stay with Aunt Clara for a

          "Oh," he nodded numbly, his relief fading slightly.
Maybe she didn't hate him, but she nevertheless wanted to go
away.  "When are you leaving?"


          "Oh.  Okay."  He didn't know what else to say, just
nodded again before carefully closing the door behind him and
heading back to his bedroom.  His world was falling down around
him.  It was his fault, and there was nothing he could do to fix
          Fox stood by his bed, transferring clothes
mechanically from his dresser to the large, worn suitcase.  The
Christmas holidays loomed ahead, and it had been decided that he
would join his mother at Aunt Clara's while school was out.
Aunt Clara lived in a tiny house filled with dusty porcelain
dolls on glass shelves, and the next few weeks held little
promise but when it came right down to it Fox knew he had no
choice in the matter.  Anyway, Aunt Clara had always been nice
to him, and his mother had genuinely sounded like she missed him
when she'd talked to him on the phone.

          The Chilmark Champs had beaten the Richmond Raiders 73
to 67 last Tuesday.  Coach Burton had encouraged him to play,
and Fox had found that it felt surprisingly good to run around
on the court.  It was freeing, somehow.  With his mind focused
on the game and on his teammates, he could forget and for just a
little while he could almost fool himself into thinking that
things were normal again.

          He'd played well but not spectacularly, and he'd been
surprised when his name had been called as MVP.  Then, when he'd
gone up to receive the blue and white ribbon, Fox had recognized
the expression on Coach Burton's face: that sympathetic his-
sister's-still-missing look that half the teachers seemed to be
giving him these days.

          He'd gone and flushed the stupid award down the locker-
room toilet the minute he'd left the gym.

          Now he glanced out his bedroom window as he finished
packing his suitcase.  It was starting to snow outside, large
soft flakes glowing in the porch light, landing gently on the
window sill.  Every year at the first sign of snow Samantha
would be laughing and pulling on those crazy furry boots, ready
to run out and build a snowman though the snow hadn't even
covered the ground . . .

          The Buick coughed in the driveway, dispelling the
memory;  his father was warming up the engine.  Time to go.  Fox
wasn't looking forward to sitting in the car with him for the
drive to Aunt Clara's.  In the week since his aunt and his
mother had left, his father had become increasingly silent and
withdrawn.  Fox had tried to talk to him.  He really had.  But
it was no use.  His father hardly appeared to notice him, seemed
to avoid the sight of him, and in a small way Fox was looking
forward to going to Aunt Clara's.  Aunt Clara still seemed to
like him, and a part of him was starting to believe that his
mother still liked him too.

          And, somewhere out in the darkness, he was pretty sure
there was a chance Samantha still liked him too.

          Fox flipped the lid closed and clicked the latches
shut, then hauled the suitcase off the bed as a sharp honk
sounded from the driveway.  He headed down the hall, past the
stain on the carpet, and braced himself for the long silent
drive.  He didn't expect to be forgiven.  Some things couldn't
be forgiven.  He just prayed they could still like him, even
just a little.
J.S. Michel