Thursday, November 29, 2012

The 2008 New Year's Baby ! Chapters 62, 63, 64 White Trash in the Snow

 The zombie  movie and the actor mentioned in Chapter 63  below are real. If you like zombie movies, or if you have someone on your gift list who does, the independent film Bled White is available from  and I am unashamedly giving a small group of hardworking talent this little plug. The 2009 film has won several awards and recently was distributed internationally. Yes, Bled White came out in 2009, and I included it in the December 2007 episode below. I can do that because this is fiction.
 The rest of this fiction was written between 2009 and 2010 to entertain real people, intelligent people, who in 2008 heard another fictional tale and said "I do not believe that."  The chapters below may be fiction, but it's believable fiction.  Thanks for being here.

by Allison

New Year’s eve, at midnight, with his wife having gone to her room hours earlier, Tad was finding it hard to fall asleep. He pulled the recliner to a sitting position and raised the volume on the television. Watching the commotion being broadcast from Times Square, he reflected on the old year and  wondered what this year would bring the Saplins. In the past twelve months, their son became a man and their daughter, well, it was what it was. He’d bragged about his son to his buddies at work, and kept his daughter’s big news a secret even from his parents. He asked himself his annual New Year’s question – would he and Rachael be divorced by the next New Years Eve.
Good riddance to last year, he said to himself as he popped open another beer. He was looking forward to having life become manageable again. Yes, there was a baby coming, and the adoption to work out, but then that ordeal would be over. No election for Rachael this year, thank God. And in this first year in office he and Rachael had succeeded in working out a system for sharing her duties that ought to serve them well enough in the second year. Governing in a state where the  legislative session only lasted three months, his wife actually had a part time job. The season of regular work was over almost before it began. Public events came and went, they might do a few less local events this year and try to get invitations outside to some really big things. Hey, Rachael was making some waves, getting the radar screen of the national media and even talkin’ to the White House sometimes. This was fun- being important was a hoot. People giving them stuff all the time, the all expenses paid travel into the lower 48, and the fawning – all that was good.  Maybe the people pushing for Rachael to get the VP nod would succeed. Maybe it was possible for her to be on the ticket.  It was a long shot for sure, but sometimes he believed it could happen.
He made a resolution to himself right then to try to find at least one thing each day that he could do to help make his wife a contender. Make a call, drop a name, do an interview, send an email – there were many ways he could make a difference while remaining behind the scenes.


Wrangler wasn’t coming back for another two days. Cristol was ready for him to return, and they’d argued about it. Wrangler wasn’t often this stubborn, but he said it would be the first time he’d had a long visit with his Dad during Christmas vacation and with a baby on the way, it was now or never. Since the day Kevin Strauss left Jerrie, Wrangler and Porsche had been claimed by their mother for all holidays. The kids spent their entire holiday breaks at home with their mom while their dad got a couple hours worked in on a Sunday afternoon.
Wrangler was more sensitive now about his Dad’s situation; and he had a void of his own to fill as well. During one of their many phone calls while they were apart, Cristol had listened while Wrangler had  talked at some length about his relationship with his dad, the decision to spend this time with him, and the emotions he was feeling being there. He said he needed his dad now more than ever. Though the man had never complained, he’d pretty much been cheated out of  sharing his kids’ Santa years. Even when they were teenagers, and old enough to know their dad must have been hurt, year after year they served him up a little slice of an afternoon carved out of the week following Christmas. Once or twice, they had kept him on hold until after New Year’s Day. It shamed Wrangler to recall how, in the past, finding time to see his dad was almost a chore. He and Porsche referred to it as “fitting him in.” Kevin had never complained, though, or made them feel bad about it. He was fun and thoughtful and made sure they knew he loved them and he was proud of them. And he gave them some really awesome presents that, deep down, they knew he really couldn’t afford. But the timing of their so-called Christmas visits with Dad – December 28th, or, 29th, or 30th - meant that on the way to Dad’s they passed other people’s discarded trees with tinsel waving good bye from needle-sparse branches. The glow was off the season. Even the gayest wrapping paper looked tired and tree lights didn’t shine as brightly. Sadly, he admitted to Cristol that growing up, the so-called Christmas visit at Dad’s felt like an obligation. His sister called them “a big ho ho hum.”
This year was different. Wrangler sounded happy as he detailed for Cristol what had been going on. He and his dad had gone to see a much hyped new action film – the “big Christmas release” -  and agreed it was a disappointment. That put them in search of something different, and lucky for them,  they found a small, out of the way theater  playing  a zombie movie, “Bled White,” filmed in a desolate location somewhere outside of  Chicago in the dead of winter. Zombie movies were Wrangler and Kevin’s favorite genre, and their serendipitous discovery made their day. “It was just luck. We saw the poster, it said it had won some awards, so we said ‘what the hell…” She wasn’t listening to content as much as emotion. It was clear that Wrangler was stoked.
“It was awesome, Cristol. Not hokey at all. The music, too, Dad really liked it but we couldn’t come up with a word to describe it, then Dad said, ‘it’s like trying to find a word for the Law and Order sound, you know…”
“Wrangler? Enough already. I’m glad you and your Dad had a good time.”
“Thanks, Cristol. We did, we really did. If it comes out in DVD, you and I will rent it. Then you’ll see. It could have been filmed near Azzolla, abandoned house, snow blowing across stretches of empty…”
 “Thanks, but no thanks. What’d you say the name was? Blood in the snow? Yuck!”
“Bled White, and you’re wrong. It’s not all bloody and stuff like that, the story isn’t hokey, it’s awesome, you’ll see when we rent it.”
Cristol began to envision the fun of snuggling up to Wrangler and watching a scarey movie. “Okay, we’ll rent it,” she said.
“Cool. Mom and Porsche would even like it.”
Cristol rarely heard him so talkative. She let him go on even though her mind wandered. It was just nice to hear him so happy.
 “… and there was a girl in it I haven’t seen before  –  real pretty. Sort of looks like a younger Jodie Foster or Kate Hudson. I’m going to look on IMDB and see what else she’s been in. Dad said she looked like Porsche. Gotta remember her name, Colleen something…Boag? I think that’s it.”
Wrangler had made a mistake.“Your fat brunette girlfriend doesn’t need to hear that you’ve fallen for some cute blonde on a screen. Who do I look like to you? Kirstie Alley?”
Wrangler shut up. There was uncomfortable silence.
“So tell me something else you’ve been doing or I’m going to hang up.”
“Ummm, we watched some boxing.” They had stayed up late one night watching pay-per-view boxing. Set after set, father and son found themselves both routing for the underdogs. The next day they’d begun talking about the different matches and the personalities and styles of the fighters and ended up analyzing why they themselves could identify with being an underdog. “And we found out we like the same guys. Umm, boxers…” He saw no point in saying much more. “Gotta go, see you in a few days.”
“Love you.”
“Love you, too.”

 Cristol tossed and turned. She imagined all her friends ringing in the new year with music and alcohol. That’s where she belonged. Like the year before, she and JJ had gotten so drunk that the next day her friends told her she’d done things she couldn’t remember. She punched her pillow and heaved herself onto her other side. Life isn’t fair, she thought.
With her imagination, she pushed the clock ahead a year to next new year’s eve. Her stomach would be flat again. Maybe her parents would stay in the capital and she and Wrangler could throw a party. It would be a big one. It had been grim not partying, not drinking, not hanging out with everyone, and not smoking weed.
At the thought of pot she felt queasy. She turned back to her left side again. As much as she tried, she couldn’t get comfortable. What had she eaten that was making her ill? Maybe it was the spicy sauce on the moose meatballs. Big mistake, she thought.
At 2 AM Cristol was dreaming that she was in school, hurrying down a crowded hallway, hoping no one would notice she had peed her pants. She awoke to find the bed was warm and wet. “I’ve wet the bed!” she thought in horror. 
Three seconds later, truth hit her.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Field makes a visit in this week's installment - White Trash In the Snow Chapters 60 and 61

Happy Friday friends!  It's that day after Thanksgiving when people are shopping, traveling, tree trimming, and continuing to clean up the house from yesterday's festivities. Here are two chapters to fit in when you have a moment to relax. 
by Allison

December's weeks sped by quickly for the Saplins that year. Like most Americans, they tried to pack too many events, sweets and presents into too few days. In other ways, they were far from typical.

The Saplins hosted their second annual Open House at the Governor’s Mansion, with a staff on hand to pass out cookies and hot cider, and an engorged extended family greeting the mob of walk-through taxpayers tracking up the temporary runners with slush and dirt from their boots. It was a Monday night, scheduled to keep the attendance low. Even so, members of the Saplin/Heat extended family were provided all-expenses paid travel to visit the capital and see the city decked out for the holidays in exchange for a couple hours of hosting at the big house. Rachael’s parents, sisters and brother all showed up with children in tow, as did Tad’s sister and brother. The place was overrun with nieces and nephews.

The number of family members was obviously more than the event required, and because the governor expected to be criticized for that in the gossip column “The Nose,” she tried to get out in front of the story. Governor Saplin offered the reporters a tray of cookies and a justification for the family entourage during the pre-event press meeting/ She explained that the relatives were needed to augment the numbers of  family members available to greet members of the public and to reduce the strain on the Governor’s immediate family. In response to a question about the cost to taxpayers, Governor Saplin was quoted as saying it “didn’t begin to cover the inconvenience of being away from their homes during the holiday season, but my family, the Saplins and the Heats are happy to sacrifice for the people of this great state.”

The explanation served dual purpose, both as a vouchering entry on forms later completed by office “bean counters” and as the reason given to the invited relatives. The hidden agenda, of course, was to have so many Saplins and Heats around that no one, especially reporters, would notice one Saplin daughter’s absence. And if they did, they might think they had simply been unable to find her in the crowd. Better yet, some might mistake one of Tad’s dark-haired nieces for Cristol and mention in their coverage that  she was there.

The plan worked. There was one snipey comment in “The Nose,” but it was about a moving van that had been spotted outside the mansion several days prior to the open house. An office staffer attached the column to an email to alert Rachael and Tad to the publically issued conjecture that the family was moving back to Azzolla. The story was obviously intended to feed the gossipers and gripers who complained that this governor was out of town too much; it was a growing concern among taxpayers that neither the governor nor her family had settled in for four years in the capital. Whether or not that was true, the van in question was only picking up rented tables.

 Her sensitivity to having anyone watching closely and reporting on what they saw at the house was heightened.  She sent a copy of the gossip blurb attached to an email to mansion staff members. “This is crap. I hate when they pick on the home, family and the kids.  NO ONE on staff  is to talk about my kids to the press. NO ONE.  Now, go home and have a Merry Christmas."   What went unspoken was that Field was  coming home under the radar, and she didn't want it making the papers.

Field came home on leave from basic training on December 23rd. He hadn’t seen the family since September. They all said they thought he had grown. Tad was impressed with his son’s newfound confidence, air of maturity, and strong handshake. As he reached out and gripped his bicep he was shocked. “Jesus!” he exclaimed. A bit embarrassed and a bit uncomfortable with his own son’s superiority, he jokingly barked “Get down and give me fifty.” Field played along, doing pushup after pushup in rapid, unlabored succession which only exacerbated Tad’s envy.

“He’s not ours anymore. He belongs to the Army.”

Rachael agreed, “Yep, he’s a soldier, a responsible citizen, and a handsome young man with the world by the balls.”

As if it were planned they both said, “Don’t screw it up!” All three laughed,

Looking proudly on as her son and her husband picked up his baggage and began to walk away, Rachael wondered, “Where had the years gone? Choices she’d made seemed right at the time, but now she wished she had more memories of Field - more memories from Field’s transition years from childhood to manhood.

She was also dealing with the knowledge that this young man, her son, was not invincible. If she reminded him of that, asked him to be careful, would he listen?  Unlikely. “God, he’s in your hands,” she silently prayed. “Take care of my only son.”  Only son! God understood so well. He’d sacrificed His only son for her. For Rachael Saplin alone, Jesus would have died on the cross. And now she was asking that her son be spared.

“Hey, you guys. Wait for me!” She ran as fast as bunny boots allowed and fell into step alongside the handsome soldier with Saplin on his uniform.

That night, Rachael sat on her bed, head bowed in a state of contemplation. So much had happened in the past year, since the family had last celebrated their savior’s birth. She had given God the credit for opening the door and giving her the governorship. But she also knew in her heart that she had used that position in ways that were selfish and vindictive. She knew she had taken opportunities to get revenge on those who had crossed her even though the Bible says vengeance belongs to the Lord. She was conceited- proud of her accomplishments, proud of being the first woman to govern this state, proud to be the youngest of them, and proud of her God given good looks. That was a lot of pride, still, there was more.

Though it was the team of people around her that kept her administration working, she was proud to have assembled that team. Though she needed coaching on every major issue, she was proud when she adlibbed an answer to the press or to a fellow elected official, proud of the cleverly cutting remarks she could come up with and the wit she displayed. When she was empty of all other emotion, she maintained pride.

That night she wrote in her journal, “The Bible says “Pride goeth before the fall.” I better cut back on some pride and start eating humble pie.” Then she lightened up, and wrote “but I prefer pumpkin or mincemeat. Ha Ha.” Further down the page, getting serious again, “For certain I’ll be humble when Cristol has the baby. Can’t be proud when my unmarried seventeen year old daughter makes me a grandma. Even if nobody knows.”

The line after that began, “Field’s home! So proud  to be the Mom of a Soldier!”


Music filled the kitchen as family members went about their last minute preparations for Christmas eve with the cousins. Pride was frosting cookies, struggling to get the sticky white stuff out of the can, licking her fingers frequently as she slopped it and spread it over the edges of the cutout trees, stars, bells and candlesticks.

“Whoa, you’re making a mess,” Maple chided Pride as she walked past the island where the cookie decorating was underway, sugar crystals crunching under her feet as she headed for the refrigerator.  In response, Pride scrunched up her face and stuck out her tongue. “You better watch out, Maple, or I’ll pull your hair!” To support her threat she held up a hand and flexed dye-stained fingers.

“ooooooo, I’m so scared,” Maple taunted.

“Shut up, both of you!” Maple and Pride both froze. This was not their mother’s normal reaction to a little good natured tiff between siblings.

The stresses of life and season were making Rachael cranky. The big day was closing in too quickly and she was feeling the co-dependant pressures of unrealistically high expectations for merriment and a nearly empty bank account. 

Pride looked like she was going to cry.  Rachael felt a pang of shame. 

 “I’m sorry,” she said, and truly meant it. “Though, also, you two should not, ideally, be arguing at Christmas time.”

When “Feliz Navidad” played once again in the rotation of songs Maple had burned onto a cd, Rachael bristled as the foreign-sounding masculine voice merrily sang words she couldn’t pronounce. “Why do Americans like that song? English is the official language of the United States. Real Americans shouldn’t listen to that caribou doo doo.”

Pride giggled, Maple ignored her.

As the song continued, Rachael pictured the singer as having light brown skin and wearing a mexican sombrero. Muttering to herself, there were a few phrases Maple picked up, “… singin’ the English part … infuriating…encourages those illegals…’merican culture…”

“I wanna weesh you a Meeerry Chreestmaas from the bottom of my harraaart.” On cue, Pride and Maple sang with gusto, mimmicking that horrid accent! It was enough to make Rachael scream. Needing a break, she grabbed her jacket and went out for a run.  No one asked where she was going, everyone understood that when Rachael needed to release pressure, Rachael went running.

Meanwhile, upstairs, the concophony of Christmas sounds had pushed Cristol over the edge; she couldn’t make herself get out of bed. Hugging two pillows and curled into a semi-fetal position, she sobbed and sobbed, eventually falling back asleep. When morning became afternoon, Field got up. He asked about his sister and found that she had not been seen, but everyone assumed she was wrapping presents or doing other last minute Christmas “stuff” in her room. Maybe, as had been the case more often than not in recent weeks, she simply wanted to be left alone. He went and knocked soundly on her bedroom door.

Waiting in the hallway, he looked at the bedroom door postings of the teenage girl Cristol had once been. Cut from magazines, downloaded from the internet, or hand drawn by herself and friends, signs of a flirtatious, audacious, adolescent girl were taped together into a the collage of pictures, slogan’s and cartoonish characters. “You go girl!” partially covered “Princess Cristol” which overlapped a poster from a concert, whose upper right corner shared a tack with last year’s Sophomore Dance program (upon which a bright red lipstick kiss had been planted), and recognizable from under the bottom right corner, a wrapper from a dark chocolate bar with the letters “PECIAL” visible. He counted ten advertisements for various high-end bottles of booze.

Interspersed were various size drawings, many on lined notebook paper. Field didn’t have a clue what most of them were, and the ones he thought he could guess, he really didn’t want to confirm. One  looked like it represented what Cristol had bragged about on MySpace  last year – “the biggest shit stash I’ve ever seen.”  Other drawings were equally disconcerting. How could his parents have walked past this over and over without getting the message?

Wow, where were these thoughts coming from? Had he really changed that much? A year ago he would have been laughing at this. Six months ago he, too, had walked right past without noticing. For the first time, he saw that he hadn’t been the brother he should have been to Cristol.

Last September, when they all met at the mansion to have the photographer take the picture for the Christmas card, he’d been disgusted with how tight Cristol’s dress was. He had even said, “You better lose some weight, Pudgy.” Now he could see how much that must have hurt her. But last September, he’d been hurting, too. And no one cared.  Even now, if he had anywhere else to spend his leave, he wouldn’t be here, in this house, standing outside his knocked-up sister’s bedroom door.

He knocked again, this time calling to her. “Cristol, it’s me. Open up you lazy-head.” In days gone by, he would have called her a much stronger name.

Still waiting for her to open the door, he almost turned away. Who could blame her for not wanting to see him? He remembered how he had ignored her last summer, how her immaturity had irritated him, how annoying he found her silly friends who hung around the house - feelings of superiority he was sure he had communicated to the “lowly” kids who weren’t “worthy” of attention from him and the other soon-to-be-college freshman he’d hung out with at that time. If he tells her now that he cares about her, why should she believe him?

At that moment, he knew he had changed. He knew he had grown up. Last night, his mother saw it in his physique, his father felt it in his handshake. But it took this experience, these minutes looking inside himself, for Field Saplin to see it for himself.  Field Saplin, the boy, was gone.

Field Saplin, the man, began to turn away. Obviously, his sister didn’t want to be disturbed. But then, he heard something that made him turn back. The door slowly began to open. He closed his eyes and held his breath. It was some internal reflex. He hadn’t planned it, it just happened. When he opened his eyes, there stood before him a very pregnant girl. Not a woman, no, not at all. There was no mistaking that this was a child. A child with a swollen belly.

Rachael and Tad had dropped the news on him the night before. Actually, it was early morning, after both Pride and Maple had been unable to keep their eyes open and had both finally gone to bed. He had been angry. Angry with both of “the knuckleheads.”

When he woke up this morning, he asked himself if perhaps he had dreamed it.  Cristol having a baby? Unreal. Did not compute. Now, there she was, stepping back to let him in, closing the door after him. It was not a dream.

Cristol, in her vulnerable maternity, was a pitiful sight. She looked as if she’d had no sleep. Her hair needed washing. Her clothes were wrinkled, and her voice was a whisper. “Hi,” was all she offered.

“Hi yourself,” was all she got in return. But it was the hug that followed that told her everything she needed to know. The powerful, long hug said she was loved, forgiven, accepted, and maybe even missed. Those were the best gifts of the season.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Grandpa's sausage and other distasteful things - White Trash in the Snow Chapter 57, 58, 59

Happy Friday friends!  Three chapters of life inside the walls of the Strauss and Saplin homes and the governor's mansion.  Christmas is closing in fast.
Thanks for stopping by. 

by Allison

Jerrie Strauss’ first thoughts when she awoke were the same ones that kept her awake the night before. Something’s wrong. Wrangler’s been home for four days.
And Wrangler had been home.  Home in the sense that he slept there, not spent the day there. During the day he was hanging with Dan and Carver.
 Jerrie wasn’t one to pry, she was waiting for Wrangler to tell her, but, obviously there’d been some kind of lover’s spat.  I hope they can make up. This Downs thing is a really big thing but Wrangler was so good about it. I wonder if Cristol is having trouble accepting it?
 Jerrie had been shocked when Wrangler told her the news. He had reassured her with maturity that exceeded hers. “Our kid will look a little different, so what. And it’ll be hard for him to learn some stuff. But, so what? Life isn’t easy for anybody, Mom. Except maybe a millionaire.”
“Well your kid sure ain’t never gonna be a millionaire.”
“Nope, he won’t be rich, but he can be happy.”
“So, you and Cristol? You guys are still…”  She couldn’t  it.
“Gonna keep the baby? Of course.”
A tear slid down Jerrie’s cheek.
“Aw, Mom, don’t do that.”
“I know, I’m sorry.” She  pushed her palms into her eyes and took a deep breath.  “I’m okay. Really. I’m just so excited about becoming a grandma. Can’t wait to hold my grandbaby.”
Wrangler hugged her – an arm-around-shoulders hug.“Thanks, Mom, you are the best.”
 “You know, I think I love him even more now that I know he isn’t perfect. It’s like he fits right in with us. You know what I mean?”
Wrangler smiled his lopsided smile, “Whatever you say, Ma.”
On this day, after Wrangler went out, and while Porsche was in school, Jerrie did some research. Her daughter was the one who made the most use of the computer, and mostly used it for MySpace postings, but Jerrie had enough rudimentary skill to find Google in and peck out  d-o-w-n-s  and  s-i-n-d-r-0-m. The search engine made a correct assumption and asked:  Do you mean Down Syndrome? It always impressed her when  Google asked her a question.
What? No “s” after the “n”?
Over an hour later, she turned away from the monitor, shut down the computer, and sat at the kitchen table with a plate of cookies and some milk. This was how she cheered the kids up after a hard day at school and it seemed appropriate. After all, she had just had a long session of learning. And there was going to be a test. Could she pass? Could she overcome fear and sadness? Would she have patience and understanding?  
She’d be tested in a couple more months.
The phone rang, interrupting her thoughts. Her stomach knotted when she saw caller ID.   “Tad Saplin” it said.

The game plan was obsolete. Wrangler and Jerrie had been summoned to a meeting. This was the first time Wrangler had been back in the house in a while. He was uncomfortable and Cristol had been aloof since she let him and his mom in the front door. He sat on the end of the sofa and motioned for his mom to sit next to him. Cristol had then taken a seat at the other end.
He kept his head down, wishing he was out stalking a bear instead of sitting in the Saplin living room. Shifting his eyes to glance at his mom, he saw she was watching him. She smiled slightly but her blue eyes did not register mirth. Without a spoken word, she conveyed two messages – one, she was sorry he was in this mess, and two, she would stand by him. People said Wrangler had inherited his mother’s subtle communication style, and for both of them, a tendency toward acute caution was often mistaken for shyness.
Sitting  between Wrangler and Cristol, Jerrie was nervous. Hands folded, she glanced around. The open floor plan allowed her to see much of the downstairs, including the kitchen with its long wall of windows. This was her first time inside the Saplin’s and she was trying to take it in without being rude.
Contractors who were awarded the largest city contract ever built Mayor Saplin’s new home in their spare time. Jerrie could see some high-end commercial grade materials that did, indeed, look suspiciously like those at the hockey rink Just as Wrangler said, the railing on the balcony running the length of the house looked exactly like the railing inside the Azzolla Sports Arena. Commercial stuff, not typical for a home. Wrangler said there were some other built-ins that were left over from the town’s million dollar project. Left over or stolen? I don’t trust these people. But, it must be nice for Wrangler. After the hundreds of hours he’s spent in that arena, he must feel right at home here, too.
Jerrie reminded herself that she must ask to use the bathroom so that she could check out the tiles, faucets and sink handles. Not that she was going to start any trouble for the Saplins or the builders, that would violate the “mind your own business” community code. Rumors about improprieties in the building of this house and the contract for the sports center will never be investigated. No one’s gonna risk paying the price for breaking our social code. Heck no, Saplins are Family with a capital F.
At Wrangler’s suggestion, she followed him into the kitchen. He got a glass and filled it with ice and water from dispensers built into the refrigerator door. “Pretty fancy,” she said, looking around.
 Like most homes, there were personal nick-nacks on display, and a refrigerator door that served as a bulletin board for schedules, artwork, photos, and homework. Jerrie sipped slowly from a paper cup, trying to buy more time to take everything in. It struck her that evidence of Pride was everywhere. There was Pride dressed up like a princess, Pride wearing heels and carrying a designer purse, Pride holding a campaign sign as big as she was, and a five-year-old-looking Pride juggling a baby boy on her hip, the baby’s pacifier in Pride’s mouth. “Hmm, who’s the baby?” she asked Wrangler.
“One of the cousins, I guess.” He shrugged. “They got so many of ‘em, I don’t even try to remember names.”
Finger paintings, crayon drawings and pages of single-digit addition with gold star stickers were so thick on the freezer door that they overlapped. Jerrie looked, but couldn’t find any high school quizzes or basketball schedules, no junior class play program, no advanced homework projects in the making on the kitchen table or anywhere else in sight. Wow, she thought,  Pride’s s stuff is everywhere but I don’t see evidence that Field, Cristol and Maple exist.
On the sill above the sink were two ceramic pieces made by little hands, and Jerrie couldn’t resist picking them up to admire them and to take a peek at the bottom to confirm her assumptions that yes, the initials belonged to the youngest Saplin. Indeed, ‘PS’ had been carved while the clay was still wet. As she surveyed the breadth of the kitchen, she found the only suggestion that there were other, older children in the house. By the door there was an enormous pile of shoes in many different sizes and styles.
“Come on in, let’s get started.” Rachael commanded. She was clearly in charge. “I made some cookies,– peanut butter and big, soft sugar cookies. We’ll have them when we’re done.”
As people settled into their places again, Rachael launched into an obviously planned monologue. First and foremost, everyone must understand what they could and could not do or say. Other than medical staff, the only people who knew about the DS diagnosis were right there in the room: Cristol and Wrangler, Tad, Rachael and Jerrie. It had to remain that way for now. Eventually, Helen would be brought into the small circle because she would be useful. Others would only be told if it became necessary, and even then, there would be very few of them. Perhaps Willow, Betty and Buck, eventually. But not Pride. Neither would there be any reason to tell Wrangler’s dad Kevin or sister Porsche.
Aunt Sally was not going to know unless it would be helpful at some point. As for Sparkler, Rachael made it clear that not only should that girl not be told, but she must be reminded often to forget what she already knew.
 She acts like she’s giving orders to her staff or something, thought Wrangler.
Cristol caught each person looking at her stomach at one point or another. She was big, but she thought the sweatshirt was hiding it pretty well. This was her seventh month and the doctor said she was carrying a small baby. As she was thinking about him being small, the baby kicked forcefully. He may be small, but he’s strong. Instinctively  her hand went to her tummy. It’s okay, Baby, Mommy’s here. While she sent telepathic reassurance to baby Strauss she added a thought for Wrangler. Daddy’s here, too. She wondered if her baby had missed Wrangler’s voice. Why had she sent him away? Why had she been such a bitch? He was the only one who really understood her. She needed him. She and the baby needed to hear Wrangler’s voice before falling asleep. To have him kiss her belly and say to his son “Good night. I love you” and then kiss say the same.thing to her and kiss her, too. Most of all, she missed having his arm draped over her when she fell asleep…
“Cristol!” Her mother screeched. “Did you hear me? I said, we want to hear from you first.”
“About what?”
“About what? What do you think? D’ you think this is a game ? Am I talking to myself? Have you heard anything I said?”
 Jerrie hated seeing anyone belittled. Too often in her own life she was treated as a lesser person. Why did these elite types have to embarrass others? So what if Cristol didn’t hear her mother, the girl has a lot on her mind. Yet, Jerrie didn’t speak up. She was in no position to tell the governor how to treat her own daughter. Especially since that same daughter was pregnant by Jerrie’s son. So she nervously flipped her long hair behind her back and tried to be inconspicuous.
“You know,” Cristol began, “I don’t have to tell any of you anything. Dr. Barten-Curtain says I have rights. Doesn’t matter that I’m seventeen, I have rights. So if you want me to be part of this meeting, you better all be nice. Specially you, Mom.”
Wow, thought Jerrie. You go girl!
“Hey,” it was Tad. “Honor your mother and father, young lady.” He hadn’t memorized much scripture, but this was a verse he used because, with four kids, he wasn’t above using holy guilt to keep them in line in public and  make a good impression in a situation where, otherwise, his kids were an embarrassment. Besides, Rachael liked it when he quoted the Bible. It supported her delusion that he was her partner in Christ and that theirs was a Christian home. Maybe he’d even try to sleep in the bedroom tonight.
Cristol’s reaction came swiftly. “Don’t give me that shit!”
“Shut up, Mom!”
Wrangler sat up a little taller. Was Cristol finally going to tell her parents what she really thought? According to what she’d told him, Mr. and Mrs. S were ruining her life. Ruined Field’s too. And they were on their way to ruining Maple’s. Heck, he’d heard it so many times he had parts of it memorized, and he knew that, once she began ranting about them the words flowed as easily as a recitation of the alphabet.
“Dad, you say I should honor you? Why? You two aren’t my parents.”
Rachael put her hands on her hips. “What? Now, what’s  that supposed to mean?” She looked childishly .
“Parenting means your around, you know? Real parents ask what their kids are doing. Real parents notice when there’s something wrong. Where have you been since I was five? And in the last year – god, I’ve hardly seen you at all. Like last summer. Where were you when I was throwing up every morning? Oh, yeah, you were posing for fishing pictures with dad – phony publicity shots, and then you went to Los Angeles, and then Washington, and then to Kuwait!  Here I was at home, barfing and you weren’t even in the country. Do you know how much that sucked?
“Did either of you notice that I had a sudden passion for jumping on the trampoline? No, you would have had to be here to see that. Maybe if you’d been here you would have gotten curious. Then I’d have said I was hoping that it would bring on my period.  I was thinking that if I were pregnant I would lose the baby if I jumped enough.”
She started to cry. No one made a move.
“ I didn’t know what else to do. I wanted to talk to you, Mom”
“Now, Cristol, I was-“
“You weren’t home. And if you were, you were in your room watching TV.”
Clumsily, Cristol got up. She went to the kitchen and returned with a handful on paper napkins which she used to dry her tears.
Rachael tried to put an arm around her but Cristol shrugged it off.
“Cristol, Honey, “ Rachael said, “Don’t you remember the Governor’s picnic? You and I together.”
“Oh, yeah, right. I stood right there next to you serving up hot dogs and fighting the nausea. Hot dogs and pregnancy are a bad combination. If you’d looked at me, really looked at me, you would have seen how tight that big apron was around my waist. Actually, I didn’t have a waist! How could you miss that? Do you know what else I remember from that day? In the car to that picnic and again all the way home you and Dad talked about that guy you fired ‘cause you didn’t approve of who he was screwing. Dad was sayin’ how he was going to get him fired again, gonna call in a favor. And I was thinkin’ how you’d probably be tryin’ to screw with Wrangler’s life once you found out he and I were screwing. And I was glad that you were distracted by the sex life of some guy no longer working for you so that you didn’t notice what was going on with me.”
Her parents looked at each other, both  red in the face, stung by the truth.
Now that Cristol had turned on the spigot, resentments continued flowing with full force. “Oh yeah, and is Uncle Ed really more important to you than me? In Hawaii I was terrified to take off my towel on the beach, but all you guys talked about was Uncle Ed this and Aunt Sally that. The whole vacation! Well, at least for the whole three days that Mom stayed. And one night after that – one of the few nights when you two were  actually were home - I was going to talk to you but you both started calling people – yelling at people -  about Uncle Ed working at the State Fair! Remember that?
“Okay, Cristol, your mother and I have heard enough. And Mrs. Strauss doesn’t want to hear –“
“I don’t give a fuck whether you want to hear this or not! I’m not done.”
Cristol saw that her mother was looking at the floor. “Hey, Mom. Are you listening? Do you think this is a game? Maybe it is a game! For ten points, answer this - Where were you when I put my hair under a cap and wore sunglasses to by maternity jeans and sweatshirts at WalMart?”
Cristol started humming the Jeopardy theme.
Oh my God, thought Rachael, Cristol has lost her marbles.
“Times up! What is your answer?”
Rachael stared.
“You were in New Orleans, Mom.  Yupper!”
Cristol had a glacier of resentments built up inside her, and as it moved along, it picked up and laid back down everything that it encountered.“Did you hear me crying myself to sleep Dad? I don’t know how you could, it was your fishing season and you weren’t home. But in September you saw me. You didn’t notice my fat face and my big belly I was trying to hide  in official Christmas family photos? At the time, you were thinking about Field, but really, wouldn’t most parents be able to notice their daughter had become bloated beyond recognition even if their son joins the army? If you can’t do that, maybe you shouldn’t have had four of us.”
The rant was cathartic in many ways, she didn’t want to stop. She decided to speak out for her siblings, too. “You know, Pride isn’t having a normal childhood, not at all. And Maple has to ask the house workers to get her to practices and give her lunch money.
“Here’s another question for you.  Do you know  how many days you spent at home this whole summer?”
“ Ten days Mom!”
“Cristol, your mother is the Governor, “ Tad started.
“ Shut up, Dad, you were only  around for sixteen.”
Cristol walked over to Jerrie and said directly to her, “You know, he never asked once where I was going when Wrangler and I went out. Not once.”
Jerrie didn’t blink, she was too afraid.
Cristol continued addressing Jerrie. “My parents are the worst parents in the whole country!” She made a motion, spreading her hands apart to emphasize “whole” and “country”. It looked stupid and Wrangler made a little snorting sound.
Everyone turned to him. Wrangler avoided their eyes and turned to look out the distant kitchen windows. The lake was frozen. Cold, quiet and still. Wish I was out there right now practicing hockey.
Cristol took charge once again, without yelling this time. “I’ve done a lot of research. My baby has Down Syndrome but that doesn’t mean he’s retarded. I listened to this girl who has it. She works in a lawyer’s office. She lives in Hollywood and she’s an actress and she goes around the country speaking to groups. An interview with her was on Youtube. She says DS isn’t a disability, it’s a challenge. She said she is able, she just has to work hard. So you know, my baby can work hard, too. He could grow up to be an actor. He could grow up to work in a lawyer’s office.”
She took a deep breath and laid out her plan. She would continue the pregnancy, return to school after she delivered, and keep the baby. She wanted to marry Wranger, but not until they finished High School. They would live together in her parents’ house and the rest of the family could live in the governor’s mansion year round. “That’ll shut up those press people who’re so hung up on us bein’ out of town all the time, Mom.”
Wrangler could still compete on the hockey teams and maybe even get a college scholarship. In the summer after graduation, they would get married and get their own place. It was going to be hard, but completely manageable. She was sure of it.

Cristol and Wrangler made up, but he didn’t move back in. He was told that the First Family had many seasonal obligations to the public and a number of events they were hosting, and it wouldn’t look right if Wrangler were there all the time. Rachael suggested that Wrangler enjoy spending this time with his mom and sister.
There was one other reason Cristol gave– one that clinched it for Wrangler and made him agree that he would stay away until the new year.  “Field’s coming home, also. And my parents want that week to be “family time.”
Wrangler didn’t want to see Field, not after what he’d done. Everybody knows there’s an unwritten rule that says you don’t do it with a friend’s sister. And everybody knows that rule’s going to get broken; which is  why there’s another rule you never, ever, ever break. Rule number two:  use a condom.
Wrangler had broken the rules and was expecting a good ass-kicking from the newly enlisted, basic-training-beefed-up-soldier. He planned to stay away from the Saplin place until January third, the day Field was due back in South Carolina.
 On Saturday before the Governor’s Open  House, Cristol took a late flight from Azzolla and arrived at the mansion at nearly midnight. Staff had been warned to avoid her because she had mononucleosis. She spent the daytime hours in hiding, feeling a bit like Anne Frank, coming out only when the work day was over and all non-family had gone home. It was depressing, and she could barely stand to hear Beryl Ives singing “Holly Jolly Christmas” or any of the other sappy, happy songs she had always. Santa songs were her favorites, even though Field sprung the truth on her when she was only five. In her room, she searched television listings and watched  all the old cartoon specials that made the season magical. Sure, she could have played them on DVDs or recorded them with TiVo, but new technologies diminished the feelings of being a kid again. She had little control over her life, and in this one room, she ruled. She made herself a promise that she would find and watch the traditional holiday specials as they aired, commercials and all. Having started with the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special, she hadn’t missed any yet, and had seen both the Grinch cartoon version and the  Grinch Jim Carrey version, Frosty the Snowman, and Frosty Returns.
Then politics spoiled it for her.  A Charlie Brown Christmas was pre-empted for a Presidential address. Cristol and Pride shrieked when the change was announced.
 “Now girls,” Rachael said, “President Bush is a good, Christian man, that wouldn’t therefore go interrupting Snoopy and Linus and the gang in their rendition of Silent Night unless there is a really, really good reason.”
“Like, maybe the war in Iraq, or that other war?“ Cristol had just finished a course on current events. “That’s not a good reason.”
“Cristol! I’m ashamed of you. Makin’ stuff up about our President. You are going to confuse Pride” Rachael turned to Pride. “Pay no attention to your sister. There’s only one war, and, also, too, don’t worry, because Field is not going there, either, in case anyone  was wondering about that.  Goodness, Cristol. Watch what you say.”
Cristol wasn’t listening, she was texting Wrangler.
“Do you have to listen to the President Mom?” asked Pride.
“Nah, I’m too busy,” Rachael said and she went to her room.

 After that, there was one program left to catch, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. For Cristol, the classic was attached to a bad memory.
One week before Christmas, four year old Cristol was refusing to open up her mouth. Grandfather Heat  hovered a fork of reindeer sausage in front of her lips, insisting she open up. Cristol didn’t like to looks or the smell of her grandfather’s meat.
Grandma coaxed, “Be a good girl, Cristol, taste Grandpa’s sausage.”
Traumatized, she wailed, “Grandpa killed Rudolph.”
Cristol had not touched reindeer meat since.

The night after the President pre-empted Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and Snoopy, Cristol asked Pride if she wanted to watch the last cartoon special of the year with her  in her room. It was a generous offer, most of the time Pride was not allowed in Cristol's room. Cristol didn't want her messing with her stuff.  She expected the offer would be met with delight, but it wasn't. 
"Nah, I don't like Rudolph," Pride said. "It makes me think of grandpa's sausage and I don't like that."
Cristol didn't ask her sister to explain further, she really didn't want to know more.