“Guys, have you seen the weather? They’re calling for twenty-four inches of snow tonight. That’s, like, four feet.”
Laurel, Connor, Michaela, and Wes all glance up at Asher with relatively similar, judgmental looks on their faces, but no one bothers to correct him.
“You know what? This is ridiculous,” Connor proclaims instead, slamming down the case file in his lap. “It’s four days until Christmas, school is out for break, and in spite of all that we’re still here working for a psycho woman who’s basically holding us hostage from our families. I’m done.”
Laurel looks up at him, pursing her lips in tacit agreement. Annalise had threatened to fire the five of them if they didn’t show today, to help her prep for some ultra-last-minute death row case. Wes and Asher don’t seem very bothered, because they aren’t traveling for Christmas, but Laurel knows Connor is due to fly home to Michigan early in the morning, and Michaela is leaving for New York tonight. Both are far from happy to be here, and not at all hesitant to be vocal about it.
And she herself? She’d put off her flight home until the 23rd, despite the urgings of her mother. The less time spent at her parents over the holidays, the better, as far as she's concerned.
“You’re right,” Michaela chimes in, and tosses down her paperwork too. “I’m leaving. My cousin’s picking me up in an hour, and I still have to pack. I’m not getting caught in this storm and stuck here with you losers.”
“Me three,” Asher says, popping up from his chair. “I got better things to do. Gonna get turnt up on dat eggnog this Christmas, yo.”
Wes stands as well and turns to look at Laurel, the only one who has remained seated. “Well, I’m out. Are you coming too?”
“In a bit,” she yawns. “I just need to finish a few things up.”
With that, Wes nods, leaving Laurel alone in the living room as she listens to the front door close behind the others.
Admittedly, she’s never been a big fan of the holidays. Holidays are synonymous with home, and home is synonymous with family, and family is synonymous with – well, flat-out fucking misery, if she’s being honest. Annalise’s house looks festive enough, with garland adorning the mantles, a wreath on the door, and poinsettias dotted about the house – but she can’t say she’s really feeling the Christmas spirit. At all.
Not that she’s a Scrooge. She’s just… indifferent. Christmas had stopped being magical when she was six, and her prescription-med-loopy mother had let it slip during one of her trademark slurred rants that Santa was not, in fact, real, and that “you’re not dumb enough to believe one old fat guy could deliver presents to every child in the world, are you, sweetie?”
For a while she goes back to work, absorbing herself in the lines of black and white text, until her vision is flickering and she feels a headache coming on. It’s around that time that she hears footsteps in the doorway, followed by a familiar voice.
“What’re you still doin’ here? Thought you all jumped ship.”
She looks up and finds Frank there, mug of coffee in hand and eyebrows raised. The sight of him startles her awake, and she sighs, rubbing her temples to ward off the pain in her head.
“Everyone else did,” she answers. “I just figured I’d stay for a while. Finish this up.”
He steps into the living room, setting down his coffee. “We could bail too, y’know. I can think of way more interesting things we could be doing than slaving here for Annalise.”
“No, it’s fine,” Laurel murmurs. “Besides, working kinda helps me take my mind off the fact that in forty-eight hours, I’ll be back home with my parents, in hell-on-earth Palm Beach, while my mom gets hopped up on Vicodin and my dad drinks at dinner until he starts cursing everyone out in Spanish. Oh the joyous Castillo family Christmas traditions.”
Frank takes a seat beside her, the cushions sinking underneath his weight, and scoots closer to Laurel, so close that his thigh presses up against hers.
“Why not just skip out on ‘em this year? We can spend Christmas Eve at my folks…” he drifts off, his hand creeping over to rest on her knee, just underneath her short black skirt. “Then spend Christmas Day in bed, making love. Eating takeout. We’ll have ourselves a very merry little Christmas.”
She laughs, brushing him away.
“As tempting as that sounds, I can’t just not show up. They expect me every year. And if I piss my dad off, he’ll stop paying for my apartment, and my tuition. So, as much as I hate doing it, I have to play nice. At least until I graduate.”
“Fair enough,” he concedes, leaning in to place his lips on her neck, his stubble scraping against her skin. “In the meantime, though, I think I know something that could help you relax.”
“Frank, seriously, I’m just trying to finish this-”
Without warning, he moves off the couch, sinks down onto his knees in front of it, and grabs her by her hips to tug her forward. She gives a breathless little laugh when he urges her thighs apart and settles in between them, his large hands smoothing her skirt up above her knee, and then higher, until both her thighs are exposed.
“Who said you had to stop working?”
“Frank…” she drifts off, a note of warning in her tone.
“What?” he asks, his eyes twinkling with mischief. “Don’t mind me.”
Laurel tries to, at first. She holds up the file in one hand to block her view of him, and her highlighter in the other, searching through the lines of text to find some kind of relevant information for their case. But she loses focus almost immediately when Frank leans in and starts kissing her over her panties, pausing directly over her clit to lick it in hot, languid circles. That makes her drop her highlighter, and it leaves a long yellow streak across the page, falling onto the couch beside her.
“Frank,” she gasps. “I can’t – ah, I can’t f-focus when you’re doing that-”
He looks up briefly, and winks. “Then try harder.”
She swallows, hard, and tries to refocus her bleary eyes. But before she makes very much headway into doing that, suddenly, Frank pushes the crotch of her panties to the side, zeroes in, and goes to work, devouring her.
The highlighter falls from her hand for a second time. This time, Laurel doesn’t even entertain the thought of picking it back up.
Things escalate fairly quickly after that. It’s only a while later, as they’re both putting their clothes back on next to the couch, that Laurel comes to her senses and shakes her head, glancing over at the piece of furniture with a wry grin.
“You know,” she remarks, pulling up her knee socks. “If everyone here knew how many times we’ve had sex on that couch, I doubt they would ever sit on it again.”
Frank chuckles, as he tucks in his shirt. “It’ll be our little secret.”
“Whatever you say,” Laurel laughs, as she reaches for her coat, scarf, hat, and gloves and starts to bundle up. “Well, I should get going. I need to start packing.”
He raises an eyebrow, nodding toward the window. “You seen the roads? They’re bad. The snow’s already coming down a mile a minute.”
She heads for the door regardless. “Your concern is cute, but I’ll be fine. I know how to drive.”
“C’mon,” he urges, stepping in her way. “I mean it. They’re calling this the blizzard of the century. It’s gonna be dangerous out there.”
“The roads look fine to me from here. I have to go, seriously-”
“But,” Frank leans in, giving one, last-ditch effort of: “Baby, it’s cold outside.”
“Wow,” she scoffs. “So now you’re going to try to seduce me with a lame Christmas song?”
“Aw, who says it’s lame?” He pretends to be hurt by that, and leans in, tilting her chin up and pressing kisses to her neck. “Stay here. C’mon. I just wanna make sure you’re safe.”
Laurel inhales sharply, her resolve wavering with every touch of his lips. “If… you don’t want me driving, I’ll take a cab.”
“Uh uh,” he hums against her neck. “No cabs to be had out there.”
She giggles, looping her arms around the back of his neck and finally giving in.
“Well,” she recites teasingly, “my mother will start to worry.”
He catches on immediately, and smiles back. “Beautiful, what’s your hurry?”
Frank reaches back and pulls off her knitted hat, letting her frizzy hair tumble down the sides of her hair. She lets him, laughing again. “And father will be pacing the floor…”
“Listen to the fireplace roar.”
Frank unravels her scarf, next, then pulls off her gloves and ghosts his lips across hers, stopping just short of kissing her.
“So really,” Laurel breathes, as his lips move to her neck once more, “I’d better scurry.”
His voice is a purr now; low, enticing. “Beautiful, please don’t hurry.”
Her coat disappears, falling in a heap on the floor. The heat in the old, drafty house barely works at all, but Laurel is flushed red all over, so close to him that her knees feel downright weak. She should go, she knows. Shouldn’t let him talk her into this so easily, but…
“Well maybe…” she murmurs the words, her lips mere centimeters away from his. “Just a half a drink mo-”
His lips silence her before she can finish that line. In one swift motion, Frank picks her up, urges her to wrap her legs around him, and carries her back into the living room.
There’s at least two feet of snow on the ground when they wake up in the morning.
Laurel sits up, her neck and back aching, and promptly goes tumbling buck naked off the couch, where she’d fallen asleep practically on top of Frank last night. She winces, regretting for a moment not taking him up on his proposal to sleep in Annalise’s bed for the night, and grabs his loose dress shirt, slipping it on, wrapping herself in a blanket, and peering outside.
Everything is covered in white, so blinding that it makes her squint at first. The cars outside are buried, the roads covered. The house across the street seems almost to sag underneath the weight of the snow – and it’s still snowing hard, fat snowflakes falling from the sky and piling up on the ground.
“Frank,” she says, glancing over at where he dozes on the couch. He doesn’t stir, and she grabs a nearby pillow, throwing it at him. “Frank!”
He makes a low grunt of surprise and sits up. “The hell was that for?”
“Look,” Laurel tells him, holding back the curtain. “I think we’re snowed in.”
Frank blinks a few times, pulls on his pants, and comes to stand next to her. “Well, looks like it’ll be one hell of a white Christmas this year.”
“Where’s Annalise?” she asks. “Bonnie?”
“Last I heard they were at the courthouse. They must’ve gotten snowed in there, too.”
“So what? We’re just… stuck here until they get the roads cleared?”
He shrugs, taking a step closer to her. “Power’s still on. Heat works. Plus, we got each other. It’s not so bad.”
As if on cue, the lights flicker off just then, leaving them bathed in only the natural light from the window. The draft coming in from under the door suddenly seems ten times colder, and Laurel raises her eyebrows, looking at him.
“Is it still not so bad?”
“So we’ll use body heat,” he jokes, seemingly unperturbed. “It’ll be a good way to pass the time, and besides, the snow’ll let up soon. You won’t miss your flight home to mom and pop Castillo. Now c’mon. Annalise keeps a space heater in her office, and I know she has a generator in the basement.”
The rest of the day passes in a pleasant haze. With no heat, the ancient, creaky Victorian house feels like a veritable freezer, but she and Frank curl up on blankets next to the tiny space heater, and spend most of the day making love and salvaging what they can from the fridge, as the snow piles up outside. “The blizzard of the decade,” the old, battery-powered radio they find in the basement calls it, “with some areas of Philadelphia reporting more than four feet of snow, and the storm shows no signs of letting up any time soon.”
The day passes pleasantly, but after a light dinner of green beans and Campbell’s soup cooked on what looks like a sketchy 1980’s hot plate, Laurel starts to bundle up once more, wrapping her scarf around her neck and pulling on her coat.
“Where’re you goin’?” Frank asks, as he watches her head for the door.
“My flight’s tomorrow,” she tells him without turning around. “And I know the roads are bad, but I can walk to my place from here. It’s not that far away.”
He follows, frowning. “All the flights are gonna be grounded because of the storm.”
“You don’t know that. It could be letting up – and look, I don’t really want to go, but my parents will be mad if I don’t show.”
“Well, whatever you say,” he scoffs, stopping behind her as she reaches for the front door. “But you’re not goin’ anywhere.”
Laurel looks back at him, rolls her eyes, then turns the doorknob and yanks the door open. “Oh yeah? Says who-”
Her mouth falls agape when she takes in the giant wall of white greeting her on the other side; snow, half as high as the front door, impassable, packed tight and showing no signs of budging anytime soon.
She spins around and looks at Frank, who just shrugs. “Says that.”
On the second day, she’s awakened by the sound of footsteps in the hallway outside Annalise’s bedroom.
She sits up the bed and rubs the sleep out of her eyes, just in time for Frank to step inside the room, bundled up in a coat, hat and gloves and holding two snow shovels.
“Rise and shine,” he says. “C’mon. We’re tunneling our way out.”
“What?” she croaks. “Why?”
“We can hardly see the sun in there; it’s starting to creep me out. Plus, it smells like dust in this house, and I need a breath of fresh air, else I’m gonna get cabin fever.”
Laurel has to resist the urge to groan. “Do we have to?”
“A little manual labor never killed anyone, princess. I’ll be downstairs when you’re ready.”
Grudgingly, she pulls on her two-day-old clothes and her coat, throws her hat, scarf, and gloves back on, and plods down the stairs, where Frank waits by the door, holding out a snow shovel to her. It takes a few hours – with Frank doing most of the work, and Laurel doing most of the complaining, but eventually they manage to tunnel their way out the front door, across the porch, and into the yard.
Laurel’s never seen so much snow in her life. The house is practically engulfed, as are her and Frank’s cars in the driveway. The field of untouched, pure white snow sparkles in the sunlight before them, and the beauty of it takes her breath away for a moment – until she gets a deep breath of the bitterly cold air, which hits her like a punch in the face, and makes it feel a whole lot less charming.
“Finally,” she pants, her face red and sweaty from exertion, her arms aching. “I thought we’d never make it out alive.”
He scoffs, stopping to take a look around them as well. “Says the girl who took like two half-hour breaks.”
Laurel glares at him. “I still helped, didn’t I?”
Frank shrugs and doesn’t answer. Instead, he just sets about clearing a path down the steps and toward the road. Laurel busies herself with digging out her car – and she has just started clearing the snow off the windshield when suddenly, something cold and wet hits her in the back of the head.
She gives a cry of surprise, and turns around to find Frank standing there, eyebrows raised, one hand on his shovel and the other clutching a snowball.
“Seriously?” she snaps, brushing the snow out of her hair. “What are you, five?”
“Lighten up. You never have a snowball fight as a kid?”
“No, actually,” Laurel tells him, glowering. “I grew up in Florida. It doesn’t exactly snow in Palm Beach.”
He looks incredulous. “For real? Then get over there. That’s a life experience everyone needs to have at least once.”
She rolls her eyes and turns back to her car, standing on her tiptoes to reach the roof. “I’m not having a snowball fight with you. I’m not going to stoop to your level.”
A moment passes. Then, somewhat unsurprisingly – bam. Another snowball, right in the back of her head, thanks to Frank’s apparently impeccable aim. This time, she has to resist the urge to growl.
“Cut it out!”
He smirks; an infuriating, cocky little smirk that she wants to punch right off his face. “Come get your revenge. Or are you too chicken?”
Grinding her teeth, she waits until he’s given up on getting her to join and turned away unsuspectingly to grab a handful of snow from the top of her car, pack it into a loose ball, then send it flying in his direction. Only she doesn’t have nearly as strong an arm as Frank does, and it hits his back with a rather wimpy thump, before disintegrating back into powder.
That draws a chuckle from him, and he turns. “Really? That the best you got?”
She fumes, taking another handful, pressing it into – admittedly – kind of a half-assed ball, then storming over and launching it at his chest. This time it hits hard enough to get on his face and beard, but not hard enough to make him stop smirking, and so, now half-laughing and half-seething, she makes another one, and walks toward him until she’s close enough to crush it directly on his chest.
“You’re an asshole!” she cackles. “You’re such an asshole.”
He holds up his hands in a futile attempt to defend himself. “Hey, hey, cool it. Don’t take this so seriously-”
Somehow, probably because of the depth of the snow all around them, he sends up tripping, stumbling backwards, and reaching out to pull her down with him. Laurel lands on top of him with a delighted oof, laughing so hard that tears form in her eyes, before molding one last snowball and slapping it on his chest with as much force as she can muster.
“I hate you,” she chortles. “I hate you so much.”
“Yeah, well,” he quips. “You throw like a girl.”
She tries to glare, but just ends up laughing again. “Misogynistic ass.”
They sober up after a moment, their faces so close that their noses almost brush. They’re lying in the snow, on top of each other in the broad daylight, and in the back of her mind, Laurel is vaguely aware of how ridiculous they must look to any passersby.
“You’re beautiful, y’know,” Frank remarks after a moment of silence, reaching up to tuck a strand of dark hair behind her ear.
Laurel knits her eyebrows together. “Please. I haven’t taken anything more than a sponge bath in two days.”
“Hygiene’s overrated anyway.”
“You know,” she murmurs, her breath hot on his lips. “I’m starting to think… that maybe I am a little bit happy I missed my flight.”
He kisses her then, so hard that her hat goes tumbling off into the snow, and tangles a hand in her damp hair, drawing her closer.
It’s Christmas Eve, and they’re still snowed in.
The snow had fallen so hard and so fast that there hadn’t been any time to salt the roads, and they’ve been rendered all but inaccessible, leaving the city’s snowplows useless. They don’t have heat, sure, because the storm had knocked almost all of the power lines in the city out, and they don’t have hot water, leaving them to shower in the freezing cold – but Laurel likes it. Likes eating cheap canned food and huddling for warmth at night underneath a million blankets. Likes being just… with Frank. With no other distractions. It’s like they’re the only two people in the entire world here, and she thinks she could get used to that.
In the afternoon, after taking an ice-cold shower and wringing out her hair in front of the generator-powered space heater, Laurel makes her way down the stairs, only to come across a peculiar sight.
Frank is there in Annalise’s office, setting down a large box next to the fireplace and cutting it open with a pair of scissors. Pulling her coat on and shivering, she makes her way over to stand beside him with a frown.
“Christmas tree,” he tells her, pulling out several artificial branches. “Annalise usually puts one up, but she got too busy this year.”
Laurel tilts her head to one side. “Why’re you putting it up?”
“Why not? We’re stuck here with no rescue in sight. It’s not like we got anything better to do.”
“I… didn’t know you were into that.”
He turns briefly to glance back at her. “Into what? You’re acting like decorating for Christmas is some kinda weird fetish.”
“Well – just the whole Christmas thing. I wouldn’t have thought you’d be the type.”
Frank gives her a strange look. “It’s Christmas. What are you, some kind of Scrooge?”
“No,” she sighs, a little defensive. “I just have… never really cared that much about the holidays, that’s all.”
He raises his eyebrows. “So what you’re saying is that you’re a Scrooge.”
She exhales sharply. “I’m not a Scrooge.”
“Yeah, you are. A big Scrooge. Now get over here and help me. I got a mission now, and I’m gonna help you feel some Christmas spirit even if it kills me.”
Laurel hesitates, then reluctantly saunters over, grabs one of the branches, and snaps it into place on the base. They work for a couple minutes in silence like that, before Frank glances over at her again.
“What’d Christmas ever do to you anyway?”
She bristles, rubbing her lips together in contemplation, before admitting, “Nothing. But every year, Christmas means going home to my family, and I cannot stand my family. They make it awful – and every year I fly down, hoping it maybe won’t be as bad as last year, but every year, somehow, they manage to top themselves. So yes, I guess you could call me a Scrooge, but I’m a justifiable Scrooge.”
“Uh uh,” he shoots back, striding over and placing his hands on her hips. “Ain’t no such thing as a justifiable Scrooge. You’re here with me now, not any of your crappy family members, so forget them. I’m gonna make this the best damn Christmas you ever had, got it?”
She gives him a look of surprise, looping her arms around the back of his neck. “You sound very determined.”
“Yeah, well, I am. I like Christmas.”
“Really?” Laurel steps back and reaches into one of the plastic bins, withdrawing a red Santa hat. “Enough to maybe wear… this, for the rest of the day?”
He just stares at her. “What, is this all some elaborate ploy to get me to wear that thing?”
Laurel shrugs, grinning. “Maybe, maybe not.”
“Fine.” In one swift motion, Frank pulls it open, the little white ball on the end bobbling to the side of his head. “But only to get you to stop being such a Grinch. The fact that this happened? Never leaves this room.”
Laurel agrees to those terms, of course. She really wishes her phone wasn’t dead, though; Frank in a Santa hat would make a great picture, and she knows Wes and the others will definitely never believe her.
The tree goes up relatively painlessly. They venture down into the basement afterward, finding a few plastic bins containing glass ornaments and lights, and lug them up the stairs, piling them on the tree. After all is said and done, Laurel reaches in and picks up the golden star tree topper, standing on her tiptoes in an attempt to place it on the tree.
But she isn’t nearly tall enough, and fails badly, prompting Frank to snicker at her. “Having a little trouble?”
He walks over, plucks it out of her hands, and sets it on the top for her. Laurel rolls her eyes, thoroughly unimpressed.
“Oh, please,” she scoffs. “Don’t pretend like you’re some giant, Mr. I’m-shorter-than-Wes.”
He almost visibly cringes at that. “Low blow. There’re some things I’d rather not be reminded of.”
Frank crouches down and plugs the lights into the nearest outlet, and Laurel watches as they illuminate the tree, casting flecks of gold onto the glass ornaments and giving the room a distinct air of cheer. Normally she doesn’t much care for Christmas trees; they don’t hold any sentimental value for her – but this one is different. More beautiful, somehow, than her mother’s immaculately planned and color-coordinated fifteen foot-tall tree that she would supervise the decoration of with an iron fist.
The light in her eyes must be obvious, because Frank looks over at her and grins, nudging her with his elbow.
“All right, admit it. You’re feeling the Christmas spirit.”
She shrugs, but smiles. “Maybe I’m too much of a Scrooge to feel any Christmas spirit. It looks nice. I’ll give you that.”
“Baby steps,” Frank relents, folding his arms. “I’ll take what I can get.”
It’s Christmas Day.
The heat still doesn’t work. It’s freezing cold, and their food supply is dwindling by the hour. But they’ve dipped into Annalise’s impressive stash of booze, and curled up on a sherpa blanket in front of the fireplace next to the tree, and lit a fire that roars beside them as they make love, slow and sweet and tender. The Christmas tree looks even more beautiful from underneath, the ornaments sparkling and glittering above them.
And right then, in that tiny little corner of the world, hidden away from everyone, Laurel can’t say she really cares about anything else.
Frank presses a kiss to her hair, bringing her out of her reverie. “Merry Christmas.”
“You know, I have to say,” she tells him with a soft laugh, “this… is most definitely the best Christmas ever.”
He grins. “Yeah? Good. I got you a present, by the way.”
Somehow, when he starts kissing down her neck, to the valley between her breasts, Laurel isn’t all that surprised. Instead, she just rolls her eyes and glances down at him, incredulous.
“Wow. That was astoundingly original.”
“I actually did get you a present,” he confesses, pausing just above her belly button. “It’s at my place. I’ll give it to you if we manage to make it out of this place without starving to death. But, for now…”
He kisses his way down her stomach to the tune of ‘Santa Baby’ playing faintly in the distance, over their crackly old radio. She giggles and reaches down to grasp Frank’s hair, watching him creep lower and lower, his eyes twinkling with the reflection of the golden lights on the tree, his destination clear.
And, well… Laurel’s not making any promises, but if this can be her Christmas every year, then maybe – just maybe – she’ll start enjoying this whole holiday thing just a tad more.