Long Way Home (Chapter Five, page 1 of 12)


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Betsy wasted no time arranging a brunch at the weekend so that Alexis could meet the rest of her family. The house was in absolute chaos. Owen set up a puppet show in the corner of the family room, quietly practicing with his puppets while Joey stood in front of the Christmas tree periodically reaching out to touch the ornaments and then repeating to himself, "No touching." Joe, Betsy's burly husband, sat in his usual spot, the easy chair. Whether consciously or not, Betsy managed to marry a version of her father. No small wonder the two men were close.

Brian, the seven-year-old, bounced a ball around the room and peppered Alexis with Brian-centric questions.

"Do you know what I want for Christmas?" he asked in a rapid-fire clip. To

Alexis, Brian seemed to be on a perpetual sugar high.

"No, I can't say that I do."

"Guess."

"She doesn't want to guess, Brian." Joe listened to his son with one ear and the television with the other.

"No, I'll guess." She pretended to think. "A pony."

Brian rolled his eyes. "Do I look like a girl to you?"

"Okay then. A GI Joe."

"What's a GI Joe?" He continued to bounce the ball, unwilling or unable to stop moving. "You suck at this."

"Brian!" Joe admonished him. "I told you before, don't talk like that."

"You talk like that," Brian spat back.

"And when you work and pay the bills, you can talk like that, too."

Brian remained unfazed by his father's rough demeanor, while Alexis cringed.

"Did you buy me a present?" Brian pressed his aunt.

"I haven't finished my shopping yet. What would you like?"

"A scooter, silver with black trim. No goofy characters."

Alexis digested this onslaught of information with a vague smile. "Noted."

"I asked Santa, but I don't know if he'll be able to bring it."

"Oh, why not?"

"My mom said sometimes Santa has so much stuff for other kids, he can't fit everything in his sleigh so he has to choose carefully."

Alexis nodded silently. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Joey pull an ornament off the tree.

"Daddy, Joey pulled another ornament off the tree." Brian ratted out his brother before Alexis could speak.

"No touching, Joey," Joe said firmly, but without raising his voice. He eased out of his chair and gently guided Joey away from the tree. Alexis was surprised to hear him speak to his son in clear, calm tones, not at all the volcano that Alexis expected.

"Joey, why don't you come over and talk to me?" Alexis suggested. "Brian was telling me about his wish list. What would you like from Santa?"

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