Christmas Cheer


In chat one night Paige had said that somebody should do a Christmas story, so here is Paige's Christmas story. Theresa had not only asked for a Paul or Control story, she actually met the bid of the person who bought a story form me on the Hurricane Katrina relief auction, So, Theresa, bless you for your contribution to a worthy cause, and here is your story. And no I do not own Kung fu or any of its characters, Michael Sloan has that honor.

As hard as I tried, I could not get this story to fit in my regular Kung Fu/Equalizer universe, so it's standing alone.

Happy holidays to all of my readers and a happy new year. As usual, a big thank you to my beta reader TAE for all of her help and her friendship. Feedback is always welcome.

He looked at the face staring back at him in the shaving mirror. Dark brown hair, okay there was some gray, which was a little longer than he usually wore it, light blue eyes, and a few more wrinkles than he had in the past. His features were somewhat rugged, but then, he had done a bit of living in his thirty-odd years and it showed; all in all, not a bad face, but nothing special, as far as he could see.

As he lathered his face, he tried to remember the last time he had been on a date, or, more correctly, a date that did not involved Grace. Well, definitely before they were married, and that had been in sixty-four. They had started seeing one another in sixty-two and as far as he could remember, he hadn't dated anyone after he had started dating her.

"Great, Blaisdell, so the last time you were on a date with someone other than Grace, Kennedy was in office," he grumbled to himself as he began scraping his face clean with the safety razor. He had his father's old straight razor, and even knew how to strop and use it, but he would rather not risk going on his first date in ten years facially wounded.

Washed and clean-shaven, he turned off the water and grabbed a towel. He could hardly believe that he had actually agreed to go on one of Steadman's blind dates. Ryker had horror stories about some of the ones he had been on. Kermit had never braved one, but then, Kermit had enough romance horror stories without risking blind dates. Steadman was a good friend, however, and the woman sounded really nice. It had been almost a year since Grace had died, and he had to start living again at some point.

Knotting the towel around his waist and neatly folding the one he had been using on his hair and putting it on the rack to dry, he left the bathroom and crossed his bedroom to the large closet. Pulling out a white dress shirt, and a dark blue Brooks Brother's suit and a tie, he wondered if it had been this hard for his mother when she had started dating again after his father died in Forty Two, three months before he had been born. He was having trouble getting through this once, she had done it twice, once when his father died and again when Martin, his stepfather, had died.

He glanced at his watch and contemplated calling her before he left, since he hadn't had a chance to this week, but it was late enough that he would likely not get her. He chuckled; she was certainly an active woman. It was already after six, so she was probably out for the evening with her date of the night. The last time she had spent a quiet night at home, he was fairly certain had been during the flu epidemic the winter before last. She had quite a succession of men these days, coming to call on her. His sister was still in shock from when she had gone over to drop off some things she had borrowed, to find out that their mother was finishing cooking a romantic dinner for two while enjoying a glass of pre-dinner wine with her date. Ruth was shocked; he was glad that their mom was stepping out and living it up. Anyone who thought life stopped or even slowed down at sixty had never meet Trudy Anderson. He hoped at her age he was still that active, more than once, he felt it would be a miracle if he lived long enough to worry about being that age. He was likely one of the only men on the force who had become a police officer because it was safer than his last job.

He sighed; it was ironic that Grace had died just as they had made so many changes to work out the problems in their marriage. She had constantly worried about him when he was gone on missions to places he couldn't tell her about and doing things he couldn't talk about. He still remembered coming home from one of them, and her telling him that they needed to talk, if he needed to relax for a few days that was fine, but they would talk before his next job or she would not be there when he got back. That had been like a slap in the face, but it had the desired effect of getting his attention.

Caroline had gone to her grandma's the next weekend, giving him and Grace an uninterrupted weekend to talk. She had pointed out that in ten years of marriage they had spent less than four years together, if you combined all of the time he was home. She admitted that there had been Vietnam and he certainly could not have avoided that and been who he was, but she now needed him home. She was, for all practical purposes, a single parent of a three-year old with the added stress of never knowing where he was or when to expect him home, and when he was home, how long she could count on him being there. Something had to change!

He heard her out and agreed, while pointing out that other than fighting wars, there was very little that he knew how to do. They started talking about jobs where his experience as a soldier might be of help. What it had come down to was the military or the police. He hadn't been excited about the military and she hadn't liked all of the moving about that would have entailed. That had left the police force, and a friend of his who had, himself, retired himself from the mercenary world, had mentioned an opening on the Sloanville Police department. Mike had even managed to arrange for him to take the detective's exam after his one-year probationary period, Paul never asked how it was done, because he was fairly certain that some strings had had to be pulled.

Unfortunately, a drunk driver had ended Grace's life on New Years Eve last year. They had never had a chance to really enjoy the results of their new life together. All of the changes they had made in order to make their marriage work, moving to the suburbs from the city, getting a house instead of staying in an apartment, and his joining the police and pulling out of mercenary work in anything but an advisory capacity, she had conceded on that point. In the end it hadn't mattered, she might not have left, but she had died, so he was still alone, but now he was alone with two young girls, Kelly having come about as a result of their talk and his agreeing to change professions.

He took a deep breath and relaxed, getting maudlin right before a date was not a good idea.

He called his sister, briefly, to check on his girls and talk to them for a minute. Five minutes later, he had heard every detail about their trip to the museum and they had both been told that he loved them and would be picking them up on Sunday.

Collecting his courage, he headed out. Funny, he didn't remember dating having been this hard, before.

An attractive, petite blonde was waiting at a table towards the back when he arrived at the restaurant. Grace had been taller and heavier; as well as having darker hair, but there was no denying that this woman was attractive. Steadman was with her and motioned him over. The plan had been for him to pick her up at work, but one of his cases had had a sudden break and it was stay late and make the arrests tonight, or watch them slip through his fingers. Thankfully, she had understood and Steadman had been happy to pick her up.

"Anne Haralson?" he asked as he took a seat at the table.

"Annie, please, and you must be Paul Blaisdell," she smiled, holding out her hand.

He took it and found a firm grip. Paul made a large part of his living by knowing how to read people, and something told him that this was a woman who was strong and assertive without being aggressive. He liked that. She also had something that his father would have called class. The only woman he had seen with a smile that was more intoxicating than hers was Grace. Annie was stunning.

"I'm pleased to meet you," he smiled back. "I hope you haven't been waiting long."

"Not long at all, we've only been here a few minutes," she assured him.

"I hope the emergency that kept you didn't involve the girls," Steadman greeted him.

"No, it was a professional one, but it got handled," he replied.

"What is it that you do?" Annie asked.

"I'm a police detective," Paul answered.

"Really? That's fascinating," she told him interestedly.

"I like it, it has lots and lots of paperwork and sitting and waiting, but when it all comes together, there's nothing like it; and I get to help people," he answered.

"Since you two seem to be hitting it off so well, I'll be going," Steadman excused himself, getting up.

He gave Annie a brief hug and slapped Paul on the back before departed.

A waiter came up to take their orders. He opted for steak and she went with the fish.

The wine list was a good one and at his offer, she accepted and said something white would be nice, leaving the particulars to him. He ordered a white wine that he remembered enjoying for her and a red for himself.

"Steadman mentioned that you're relatively new in town," she stated when they were once more alone.

"I've been here a little over a year and a half. I don't think he said what it is that you do," he replied, responding to her statement, but also redirecting the conversation away from himself.

She laughed; it was a nice soft demure laugh that fitted their setting. Paul liked that she could give a real laugh without calling attention to their table.

"I'm a secretary for his lawyer; we met when he came in for some routine paperwork. Another client was giving me a hard time and before the man even knew what was happening, Steadman had him out the door and down the hall."

Paul chuckled. "He's one man who can tell someone to go to hell and do it in such a way that they can't wait to go."

"Something tells me that if he needs to, he can back up his words with actions, though."

Paul stopped chewing his piece of salad. "What makes you say that?"

"There was a time when he was the last client of the day, he and I happened to be leaving at the same time, so he offered to drive me home. Normally, I wouldn't have accepted, but I had talked to him a number of times, so knew he was a decent man, and it was raining, so I really didn't want to wait in the rain for the bus. He was walking me to his car when some men came up and gave him a hard time while grabbing at me," she sipped her wine.

"That must have been frightening."

"I only remember that he pushed me into a doorway where I was safe and after the scuffle, he was the one standing. Four on one and he walked away; yet the second the last one was done he picked me up, as much a gentleman as if nothing had happened."

"That sounds about right for Steadman," he agreed.

"I asked him about it on the way home and he just gave me some vague answer about having been a soldier, once, and that they were only boys. Since he mentioned that you two had been friends a long time, I assumed that you might have been part of that past he doesn't talk about," she said, taking a piece of her salad.


"I'm sorry, I lost my younger brother there, it was bad over there and then you had to come home to a reception that was less than welcoming," she replied softly, sympathetically.

Paul liked that she wasn't pretending she understood how bad it had been in that jungle, and was not apologizing for the cold homecoming too many of the veterans received. She had simply offered her sympathies for the situation and left it at that. Actually that was just one of many things he had found that he liked about her. She was attractive, lively, funny, and most importantly she was real; not some woman trying to be who she wasn't to impress someone, his mother referred to it has having on your party manners.

"I was lucky, my dad and my grandfather had both served in wars, so they hadn't had a problem with my being over there."

"My parents weren't happy that my brother left, but they had a fit when my sister went."

"A nurse?"

"Yes, studying to be a doctor now. She felt that Vietnam was where nurses were needed the most, so that was where she went."

"Speaking as a soldier who spent more than a little bit of time needing a nurse, I'm glad that she went; we needed all the help we could get."

"What did you do over there?" She asked when the waiter with their entrees had come and gone.

He chewed on his steak while thought for a moment about how best to answer that. Even if he could tell her the truth, he wasn't about to tell her about the things the CIA had had him and his merry band of men doing. There was a reason groups like his were referred to as the dirty tricks squads; and that was by people who did have a vague notion of the truth about their activities.

"From the silence, I'm guessing that you can't answer that, or don't want to; my sister never talks much about it, either."

"It was bad, and recent enough that I try not to think or talk about it too much," he said tersely.

"Even justifiable wars are not good ones," she said sympathetically.

He smiled, she seemed to understand better than most people he knew, except those who had actually been in some of the places he had been.

"Are you career military, then?"

"My father had fought in the Islands during the Second World War, and I guess serving just felt right. I never really found anything else to do, so I stayed a soldier. I've got a family to take care of now, though, so I changed jobs shortly after I moved here."

"I would guess that a lot of men are in that position, I would think that a lot of police officers come from the military." she replied, after finishing her bit of fish.

Paul gave a half shrug, a grimace, and sound of uncertainty.

"I can't hear your expressions, so I'm afraid that you'll need to speak up, I couldn't quite catch what you were saying just now," she told him.

He looked at her, he had suspected, but not been certain that she was blind; it had seemed rude to ask, however, so he hadn't.

"I'm sorry," he responded.

"About my being blind? It's hardly your fault," she replied lightly.

"For being taken by surprise, I honestly hadn't noticed that you were blind."

"That's a compliment, my being blind is one of the first things most people notice about me. Most people don't know how to handle it when they find out. They either talk louder as if my hearing was bad as well, or treat me like an invalid," she said, with a slight scowl that told him how she felt about that.

They both ate for a few minutes in easy silence. Paul liked that Annie was evidently comfortable with silence. She was in fact, quite impressive. He had not seen anything about her so far that he had not found to be perfect, A not so quiet voice in his head told him that he could quite happily spend the rest of his life getting to know her, the more practically side told him that a second date would be enough for now.

"I'm surprised that you don't use a guide dog, I would think it would make things easier for you," he commented, taking a bite of baked potato.

"I considered it, but truth is I'm not really a dog person. I like them, don't get me wrong, and we always had one around when I was growing up, but I really didn't want one of my own. They do require quite a bit of time and effort, more than I really wanted to give over to that. I've thought about maybe getting a cat, but I can't see a cat as a reliable guide," she chuckled.

"I've got a cat, and I agree that unless you were looking for the warmest and best nap spot, a cat would not make a reliable guide. But, Sylvester is great with the girls, so he more than earns his keep," Paul retorted, thinking about the black and white coated menace that lived in his house.

Annie laughed again. "You don't like him?"

"He's okay, I grew up on a dairy farm and we always had cats, but they lived outside in the barns. It never occurred to me to have an indoor cat until I met my late wife, Grace. She had this gray tabby thing and I was told that they were a package deal; if I wanted her I had to take the cat, too. I don't think there was ever a time that we didn't have a cat of some kind in the house. Like I said, my daughters adore him; as far as I'm concerned that's what matters."

"Steadman mentioned you were a widower, but not that you had children," Annie said excitedly.

"A five year old girl, Caroline, and fifteen-month old named Kelly" Paul answered proudly.

"They're so much fun at those ages," she almost cooed.

"I'm certainly enjoying it; Do you have children?" he asked. Steadman hadn't said anything about her being divorced or widowed, but that didn't mean that she wasn't.

"No, never having been married, it never seemed the thing to do, but I do love children. Two of my best friends have children about your daughters' ages, I really enjoy them."

"I never seem to get enough time with mine, they're growing up so fast it seems like if I blink, I'll miss it," he admitted. He had missed almost all of Caroline's baby years because he was in Vietnam, or because he was off saving some part of the world that wasn't capable of defending itself. He had been home for more of Kelly's, but he still felt like he was missing more than he was catching.

"My older brother's kids seem to be getting bigger every time I turn around," she commiserated. "I still haven't gotten my Christmas shopping done for them, I have no idea what a four year old boy wants."

"Have you asked him or your brother?"

"My brother has no idea; says anything will be fine. When I ask Danny, he gets shy and doesn't say anything."

"I know when I was four, I liked cars, planes, trucks, and balls," he smiled, remembering his passion for those as a child.

"It must be a boy thing, I go into a toy store and get lost in all of the different kinds of cars, balls, trucks, and other rolling, launching, and motorized toys," she shook her head.

"Every year, somehow when Christmas rolled around, everything was just done. Gifts magically appeared under the tree, Caro's stocking just appeared, and everything just got done, same thing with Kelly's. I have no idea how to do any of it."

"What do they play with the most?"

He thought for a moment, rewinding all of his mental home videos. "Caro seems to like her dolls and stuffed animals, but she has a ton of them. Kelly likes anything with bright color that moves, but she seems to be losing interest in those. I've looked for other toys, but like you, I get lost in the little girl's aisles, too many girl things, I guess."

"Maybe we should combine efforts?" she hinted, smiling flirtatiously.

Looking at her, Paul smiled, it would be a big help if they went together. What he wanted most of Christmas was Grace back, but since he couldn't have that, an afternoon spent with this woman who was so much like Grace, and yet so different, would be very nice!

"I would really enjoy that, I know it's a little soon, but would you be free to go shopping tomorrow?"

She looked towards him a little surprised, and then gave him another of those smiles he was fast getting addicted to. "As a matter of fact, yes, I am; I was planning to go shopping then, anyway, though I am going to a Christmas party at seven."


She laughed, "I take it you're going to the same one?"

"As a matter of fact, I am; tell you what, why don't we go shopping and catch lunch, and then maybe, you could go to the party with me?" He asked hopefully.

"I would really like that," she beamed.

He couldn't remember much about the rest of the evening, except that it was enchanting. He could talk to her with a freedom he had known with few people, and she seemed to understand him. The band was good, and when he asked her to dance, she didn't hesitate and relaxed totally into him as they danced. If he had a lifetime with her, he wouldn't get enough of her, he was certain. And he was getting exactly what he wanted for Christmas, another date with Annie. Some how he didn't think Grace would object, first and foremost she had always wanted her family to be happy.

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