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  • Carla Buchanan

BGGM Entry 7: Tuesday, December 15, 2026

This is a work of fiction. Any names, places, characters, and happenings are solely products of the author’s imagination or fictitious retellings. Any likeness to actual events, locations, persons living or dead, is coincidental.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this blog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system - except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a magazine or newspaper - without permission in writing from the publisher.

**Readers 18 and up only please**.






Everyone stares at me which gives me time to take in the room that’s almost exactly the same as the room I just left. This room has similar decor, the same basement bar/rec room/workroom flow as my Valentine’s, except this one has been used a lot more. The wood planks of the floor are more worn, the leather couch is torn in places, and the black walls are faded.

Though, not everyone stares at me. Valentine #2’s sister stares at the portal as it closes. “Wait a damn minute. The guy… he looked just like you,” Samanda says. “I saw the portal thing before, but you didn’t mention a twin.”

“Not a twin. A doppelgänger… or another version of me. That doesn’t matter because all of you are going to find a room upstairs to sleep in and save your questions for the morning,” #2 insists but doesn’t clear up any confusion. It’s obvious they think I’m their Christmas, and it’s also obvious that #2 has no plans to tell them I’m not her - at least not yet.

I should probably speak up - clear things up - but I don’t. I don’t know why I don’t. It’s not necessary because there’s a person in the room who knows Christmas better than anyone else here and I’m not talking about any version of Valentine Trudeau. I’m talking about the woman who speaks up next, demanding #2 allow her access to me.

“What the hell do you mean wait until morning?” Kendall questions, pushing past #2. She steps into my personal space looking like a soccer mom, a MILF, a woman who might drive a minivan and do HIIT workouts a few times a week. She has only a smidgeon of the sass my Kendall has, and I’m not sure if I like this very conservative version of my best friend.

In that moment, standing there with this Kendall from another world, I’m sure their version of Alana Kerr doesn’t own a bar or tattoo shop, nor does she wear tight jeans or date hot young guys. She’s probably married, a Sunday school teacher, and bakes cookies when her granddaughter comes for a visit.

“She’s been gone for years,” Kendall says, undeterred by the annoyed expression #2 throws her way. I’m astonished by this, by the familiarity #2 shares with my friends and family - his world’s version of my friends and family. I suddenly feel like an outsider and imposter and want all of them to do just as #2 asked and go find somewhere to sleep so I can wrap my mind around everything. #2 and I also need to figure out what to tell everyone and what to keep to ourselves. That is if we plan to keep anything to ourselves. “You step through some wormhole or something with Chrissy in tow and expect us not to want to talk to her,” Kendall is saying when I tune back into the conversation. “Are you out of your fucking mind, Val?” Kendall #2 pauses after she speaks and takes a step away from me like she’s smelled something foul. She frowns and starts to look me over. I guess she recognizes the designer jeans and chunky, cream sweater, and the smell of the very expensive perfume I buy that is supposedly tailored to my body chemistry. Her light brown eyes meet my dark brown ones and I know the exact moment she figures things out. “Another version,” she says in awe like she knows she should believe what she’s seeing and saying but something inside is still questioning everything. “You’re right, Val, this is an explanation best left for morning.”

“Wait…” Joseph says, a little slower with his comprehension which is unlike my brother. “Val somehow got the MV Generator working without mom and Chrissy’s help?”

“No,” Kendall says exasperated like she always has to explain things to him. I frown at him and wonder if he’s fell and hit his head in this reality.

“I’ll explain,” Kendall says. “Come on,” she adds and then looks back over her shoulder at me like she’s afraid I might not be here when she wakes from sleep much later that morning.

“I’m going to follow them up,” Samanda says. She then looks at me. “I know you’re not our Chrissy… which is still a little mind-boggling since I always thought my brother was full of shit when he told me what happened to her,” Samanda starts and then laughs at #2’s expression. “What? Can you blame me? Seeing is believing. I see so now I believe. Anyway… I know you’re not our Chrissy,” she starts again directing her words at me, “but I’m glad you’re here. Seems as though you might be able to help.”

“Why do you think that?” I ask, genuinely wanting to know.

“Because I haven’t seen my brother with such a big, stupid grin on his face for years,” Samanda says, her eyes brimming with unshed tears. I want to brush her off since I’ve done nothing. I want to tell her to save her emotions for when it really matters, but I don’t. I let her have this moment and then watch her walk away after one last look over her shoulder, much like the one Kendall gave me.

“Hold on Sam,” #2 calls out. “I’m going to need a favor. A big one.” Samanda doesn’t speak. She waits for her brother to continue. “I need to get to California without having to tell anyone Chris is a passenger. You can make that happen, right?” #2 asks, getting straight to the point.

“You know I can. When do you need to leave?”

“I have some business to the care of tomorrow morning, so…”

“I can probably get us a departure time sometime between five and ten, so aim for that time frame.” She pauses, looking like she doesn’t want to have to say what she says next. “It’s going to cost you, Val. And I know you’ve been -”

“I’m good for it. Everything will be fine soon enough.”

That cryptic little ending to their conversation is strange but none of my business. I’m not his Chris, and I’m not her sister-in-law which means I have no right to be a part of this part of the conversation.

Samanda nods and then her eyes dart toward me, giving me a glimpse past her tough facade. However, just like the Samanda from my world, her attempt to be tough is always ruined by her petite figure, feminine features, and long black waves that are still sultry while she wears a slick ponytail. Her tight little body lets everyone know she’s strong but her soft and sultry beauty doesn’t allow her to hide the apologetic pity in her eyes when she looks at me.

“Good enough for me,” she says. “Tomorrow then…”

“Night,” #2 says.

“Goodnight Sam,” I add.

Once everyone is gone, I sniff loudly. I walk over to the bar and place the Home Phone on the bar top and sit heavily onto the stool. #2 joins me, except he walks around to the other side of the bar to retrieve two shot glasses and a bottle of tequila.

“I don’t drink tequila,” I say.

#2 chuckles. “Tequila did the same to my Chris,” #2 says even though I have given no explanations as to why I stay away from tequila.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I say even though I know exactly what he’s talking about.

There’s no way I can drink tequila in the presence of the man who looks exactly like the man I’ve loved for a good chunk of my life. That might lead to decisions and actions I don’t want to have to face later on.

#2 pours the shot and then sets it in front of me. Despite what I said, and without hesitation, I drink. I grimace and cough but don’t hesitate to drink the second shot, feeling like this is exactly what I need even though I’m sure that’s not the case. The warmth already spreading through my chest is like a warm blanket that comforts me and relaxes me and takes away some of the excited and nervous anxiety coursing through me.

“What happened to him? To Joseph?” I ask about my brother’s - her brother’s - dull wit as I accept the third shot.

“One too many hits to the head during his pro years.” I never actually thought he’d confirm my fleeting thought that Joseph has suffered from head injuries. I guess that’s because I never would’ve guessed that Joseph Anson would’ve gone pro - would’ve been good enough to play pro football for that matter. “He played in Atlanta until one hit had him in a coma for a few weeks. Kendall threatened to leave him if he didn’t retire.”

I guess this Kendall is sassier than I originally thought.

“Joseph was a pro football player?” I ask even though that’s exactly what #2 just said.

“And yours wasn’t… or isn’t?”

“My brother is principal of Anson Valley High School. He took the job after leaving his job at the CDC,” I say slightly slurring several of my words. “He’s the twin who chose to be the scientist on my world. Not me.”

“That’s… interesting.”

The truth is that #2 doesn’t look at all interested in my brother or what he does for a living on my world. The only thing he seems interested in is me, and I can’t say the interest isn’t mutual, thanks to the tequila’s effects. If he’s anything like me then the tequila will lower his inhibitions to a point where there’s a chance, he could make questionable decisions, decisions like the one he’s already made if the look in his eyes is anything to go by. He peers at me intensely, seductively… lovingly, and I’m sure I return the look in kind.

No. No. No, I say to that part of my brain that comes alive when I drink hard liquor. It’s the same voice that told me it was okay to sleep with Beau that first time, that nothing serious would ever come of it.

Back then, I should’ve listened to that voice, instead of thinking I was stronger than the tequila. The tequila wins every time, and that’s proven when the next minute or so includes a very stuntman-like maneuver by #2 jumping over the bar, bodily lifting me from the chair, and sending us both to the floor with only a gentle thud that makes me giggle drunkenly.


~~~~~


He’s oh so gentle yet dominant and forceful all at the same time. #2 is efficient as he gets me in the mood with his skilled kisses and caresses. He is far too aware of how I liked to be kissed, what caresses make me moan, and how to make me softly whisper his name in pleasure.

“Valentine,” falls from my lips like a mantra, a prayer, a chant, a whispered plea for him to continue.

I try. Believe me, the good person inside me tries to stop this from happening but the demon inside, the part that’s easily seduced by the tequila puts up little to no resistance.

I observe that the tequila on this world is stronger than the tequila sold on my world.

My Alana Kerr might want to consider the alcohol from the world for Lana Lou’s. Top shelf liquor might not be the best. Other world liquor might me.

I’ve been with Beau for too long. I never would’ve thought of the income potential of stronger liquor before being forced to listen to the many conversations he and his father have had about money.

I’m not quite drunk since I know exactly what I’m doing but my inhibitions seem to have fled the building and all that remains is this compulsory need to have what I’ve always dreamed about having, how I’ve always dreamed about having it, with nothing standing in my way.

Almost nothing.

My mind refuses to conjure an image of what that ‘almost nothing’ is because we’ve gone too far to turn back now. The pleasure I feel when #2’s hand confidently reaches for my thigh, pulling the limb up and around his jean-clad hips can’t be measured, especially not when he thrusts those hips forward, grinding toward my center.

“Stop me now or not at all,” #2 rasps after his lips travel over my jaw, trailing his hot tongue over my skin and to the spot below my ear. It’s the spot, and he knows that, takes advantage of that.

I let him take advantage of that.

The words to stop him are on the tip of my tongue but he’s not playing fair. He thrusts forward again, teasing me and taunting me with what the tequila is telling me I need to have.

No voices speak in the long moments that follow #2’s statement, but the sounds of his wet kisses along the column of my neck are like the heavenly clicking of a pair of designer shoes against a shiny marble floor worn by someone who walks in shoes like that daily.

#2’s kisses are just that satisfying, just that confident.

Completely giving up and giving in, my hands leave his shoulders and move to grip the back of his head. My fingers rake over his neatly trimmed hair, my moans becoming raspier and sultrier with each inch his head moves down my body. #2 is quick and nimble as he makes quick work of my clothing and his own, and I get a thrill as I watch him undress for me.

The sight of him revealing every gloriously sexy inch of himself is akin to the feeling I get when I get a ‘delivered’ notification for that designer item I ordered, and the subsequent satisfaction of the unboxing.

I always know I shouldn’t spend the money on the item, but I never regret buying it either.

I wonder if I’ll regret this once the tequila has worn off.

Yes, I most certainly will, I think, but I don’t stop him when the fingers of his large, hot hands tear at the sliver of cream fabric off my left hip and then my right. I don’t stop him when his head lowers, and the hair on his face scratches me as his cheek nuzzles my inner thigh. I don’t stop him when his fingers find my dripping center and the long digits begin to stroke me, sending shivers of ecstasy through me. There is no wait at all before his tongue joins his fingers and the sensations of them both are forcing a passionate cry from my mouth.

“Oh my God, stop… stop,” I plead, clenching my thighs around his head when I can take no more.

I’m still panting through my release when his lips swallow the end of my orgasm with a kiss that has me wetter than before and opening my legs wide to receive him.

An hour later, we’ve left our clothes behind and we are tangled within the soft sheets of a bed in the downstairs bedroom. The room is dimly lit by the glass case displaying awards #2 received for his performance as a stuntman. A sense of pride and possession fills me, and something about seeing his accomplishments so proudly displayed makes me that much prouder to be with him this way.

It’s the best sex I’ve ever had in my life. Not very meaningful, but the best.

I have no idea when it all ends, or when we fall asleep, but at some point, I’m woken by a cursing female voice. The voice makes Valentine stir behind me, which also makes nausea swirl in my belly.

Ugh… hangover.

When I reluctantly open my eyes, Samanda stands above mine and Valentine #2’s naked, entwined bodies.

“You two better get the fuck up before Ken and Joe see you like this.”


~~~~~


“We’re adults. We don’t have to explain ourselves to anyone,” #2 says, holding me tighter when I try to pull away from him as Samanda leaves the room. I can admit that right now there is no other place I’d rather be than in the comfort of Valentine Trudeau’s arms. But #2 isn’t my Valentine. He’s a convincing copy, but still not the Valentine from my world.

I know he’s not who I really want even though he’s identical to my Valentine.

The Valentine I have loved for years, the one I want, isn’t the one in this room with me.

#2 is not my Valentine.

“You’re right,” I say and pull away from him a little more forcefully, moving to sit up. I curse my body’s reaction when his hand sliding away from my curves makes me shiver with need. I tell myself it’s the lingering effects of the tequila, or maybe the hangover doing something strange to my senses. “But if we don’t have to make anyone uncomfortable, we shouldn’t,” I continue. “We should’ve never risked putting anyone in the position to have to see us together. You’re married to this world’s Christmas, she’s best friends with the Kendall staying upstairs, and that Kendall is married to her brother. This is her world and we both need to respect that,” I add. “No excuses. This was our one fuck up and we can’t allow it to happen again.”

“It’s my world too,” he says like a child claiming a toy. “And I don’t know what everyone wants or expects from me. I am human. I’m a man who has needs,” he says and then pauses. He then says a lot more quietly, “She’s been gone for four years and I miss her so damn much.” I open my mouth, not knowing what words of comfort will help ease his pain. #2 continues before I can find the words, saying, “She left knowing she might not come back, and she went anyway.” I remain sitting on the edge of the bed with my back to him and can’t help but let my mind drift to my Valentine. I felt similarly when he chose Brenna over me, even though deep down I know he wasn’t really choosing her, he was choosing Breanna. I know he’s the kind of man who would want to be there to see his child grow up, especially during the early years that matter the most. Though, despite knowing that, my heart and head can’t seem to let go of the lingering feelings of betrayal over his choice. He knew there was a chance we’d never be together again if he walked out the night we eloped, but he left anyway instead of staying to see if we could find a way to make things work. By now we could’ve been this big, dysfunctional, blended family who might not get along or like one another but had love for the child bringing us all together. It could’ve worked but Valentine made the choice not to take what I wanted into consideration at the time, and we’d been husband and wife. So, yes, I know what it’s like for the person you love most in the world to not consider you in their decisions. “I don’t want to think about what that means regarding her feelings for me,” he says, his words a succinct encapsulation of my own self-deprecating thoughts.

The tone of those last words lets me know that his actions weren’t malicious. He didn’t sleep with me to stick it to her, he did it because he misses her. He misses his Christmas as much as I realize I’ve missed my Valentine.

I also realize something else.

“You need to get up," I say and stand quickly. My head spins and a wave of nausea nearly makes me start throwing up right then and there. Taking a deep breath, I add, “You need to go upstairs and make sure no one else ever finds out about this. Yes, they might understand the strange predicament we were in but the more people who know the greater chance of my Valentine finding out. I can’t ever let him find out about this,” I say gesturing between us. I know there is a part of me that still resents my Valentine for the choice he made but what I’ve just done won’t help the situation. I have deep feelings for him and sleeping with someone else, especially another version of him on another world, isn’t how I deal with those feelings. “I… I think I love him,” I say and feel the butterflies return with the admission. I notice there have been no butterflies since I’ve been with #2, and to me, that proves he’s was just a placeholder and an opportunity to be with Valentine. “I have a feeling he’ll understand me sleeping with you less than he’d understand me sleeping with some random guy.”

I don’t wait for #2’s response because another wave of nausea hits me and I’m unable to breathe through this one. I turn and sprint the ten feet to the bathroom door and feel sicker when the taste of rancid tequila fills my mouth and pours into the commode.

The inevitable return of the tequila is another reason why I don’t drink tequila. Also reminding me why I don’t drink tequila are the hickeys on my neck and chest I discover once I pull my weak body from the floor.

“What am I… sixteen?” I say to my reflection in the mirror and shake my head at myself.

I don’t regret what happened since I am single and can sleep with whoever the hell I want to sleep with but that’s not the point here. What I regret is betraying this world’s version of myself and hurting my Valentine even though neither of them knows what happened - at least not yet.

But it’s still really fucked up.

I’m so fucked up. I have no idea how to be in a real relationship.

I feel more dedicated and determined than ever to find #2’s Christmas and help bring her home.

I selfishly want to do something to make up for what I’ve done to #2’s Christmas to make myself feel better…

What…? I never claimed to be perfect.

Taking a long shower that I hope washes away some of my sins, I then get out and cover my body in a very angelic color. My white tracksuit makes me feel powerful, unstoppable, and ready to take on anything much like that character in that old television show, Scandal. Kendall and I watched the show from beginning to end in only one week during the Spring Break Anson Valley had a freak ice storm in April. Kendall had been sure she’d be just like the main character of the show one day.

“Wow,” #2 says when I emerge from the basement guest room. I’m human and this man just rocked my world so of course, I blush. A satisfied tingle starts at the follicles of my wild and curly hair and, lands right in my core. The sensation snuggles in and gets cozy letting me know that his flattery will never not affect me despite the Valentine or the world. “He really chose Brenna over you?” #2 asks rhetorically since he knows that’s exactly what happened.

I look around noticing that there aren’t clothes strewn all over the basement, and there’s no evidence of the onslaught of our drunken one-night stand. #2 actually looks like he’s been anxiously waiting on me to finally come out of the basement guest room. I look down at my wrist but remember I don’t have either of my devices with me.

“Am I late for something?” I ask instead of responding to what he said. “You look… anxious,” I say.

“I want to make sure that we’re good,” he says. “I didn’t… I didn’t plan last night. It just happened,” he says humbly and apologetically. “And what I said back in the room… I don’t think you understand how hard it is seeing you and knowing you’re not her. Feelings I haven’t had in a while got stirred up,” he says and then rushes to add, “But I shouldn’t have taken that out on you, and I understand if you regret what happened.”

An utter asshole and Prince Charming all rolled into one. He’s more like my Valentine than I thought.

“I don’t regret what happened.”

~~~~~


“What happened? What don’t you regret?” Joseph asks with a familiarity that makes me cringe since I know the answer will have to be a lie. My head snaps that way. I hadn’t heard him coming down the steps.

We’ll have to be a lot more careful.

Joseph’s face says he didn’t hear anything inflammatory. #2 must notice that as well because he calmly responds. He’s so convincing I almost believe that’s what we were talking about.

“I asked her if she regretted her Valentine finding me and she was assuring me she didn’t.”

“Even though I’ve seen the portal, this is all still so strange,” Joseph says. “You look just like her but there’s also something a little off,” Joseph says. My face must show some sort of emotion because he chuckles. “I don’t mean anything bad by that. It’s just that you sort of look like a fashion model and my sister looks like… well, she looks like the geeky scientist she is. She’s always wearing glasses because she’s scared to get laser eye surgery. I’m pretty sure the only thing she owned that had a name brand was in her lab that burned down.” Joseph then glances at #2 as if he knows #2 has something to say about the fire. “You told her about that, right? That’s not news is it?”

“He told me,” I admit even if I don’t plan to admit anything else. “Wait… You’ve never been through the portal?”

Joseph shakes his head. “Ken would kill me for doing something that could potentially take me away from Elisa,” he says and smiles, which makes me smile too. He loves my friend, that’s very obvious to anyone. It lets me know that my Joseph probably loves my Kendall just as much, and if that’s the case he needs to find a way to be with her. Yes, people will get hurt in the wake of the decision, but he shouldn’t sacrifice his own happiness no matter what my father says. “And she’ll kill me if I don’t get you both upstairs and seated at the table for brunch.” Joseph turns to head back up the steps and then stops. An abrupt about-face startles me a little with me following behind him and I curse which makes him laugh. “Something about you is a lot like her and a lot different at the same time. I don’t know if that’s good or bad when it comes to what I’m about to ask,” Joseph says and then takes a deep breath. Though before he can say anything, #2 speaks from behind me like he knows exactly what Joseph will say.

“No! She’s not going to see him,” #2 insists vehemently. “He made it so she can never come back when he burned up all of their notes. He doesn’t deserve -”

“He’s our father!” Joseph cuts #2 off with that angry snarl of words.

“She’s not our Christmas,” #2, tries to get him to understand.

“Well then maybe you should tell yourself that because you’re the one who’s drooling all over her,” Joseph accuses. “You think I didn’t notice?”

“As far up his ass as you have ever been, right Joe?” #2 asks sarcastically. “You’ve always been on Noble’s side and that will never change,” #2 says with as much accusation as he can lace into the words. “Why would she go see him?” #2 questions. “We’re going to see someone who can actually help.”

Joseph’s gaze turns to me.

I put my hands up in surrender. “Don’t look at me. I’m a scientist of fashion only. And I’m inclined to agree with him.” I gesture behind me at #2 and even though I can’t see him I can almost feel his triumphant smile. I don’t turn to chastise him since that would make us seem too familiar, instead I explain my choice. “It’s probably best that we limit the number of people I encounter on a personal level. Plus, I don’t have the best relationship with my father on my world, so I doubt I’d put up with one who’s worse. It’s probably best that I don’t set him off and make him do anything stupid like trying to prevent me from returning home. You can’t promise me that won’t be his response and I can’t take the chance of my way home being compromised.”

“Our father didn’t burn down their house. He -”

“I know he did,” #2, interrupts talking over Joseph’s last words. “He all but admitted it when I confronted him -

“Stop,” I yell, making both of them close their mouths instantly. “Just stop. Both of you are ridiculous. No wonder she left. All of the men in her life are batshit crazy!”

I push past Joseph and go up the rest of the stairs. I find Kendall looking uneasy at the top of the stairs. Once again she’s dressed like a soccer mom, and I’m tempted to ask if she drives a minivan. Though I doubt she’d appreciate me laughing in her face if she said yes. My Kendall would hate to know another version of her was a minivan-driving soccer mom who looks like she’s friends with Ripley and Brenna. She’d want to come through that portal and slap some sense into the other version of herself.

“Everything okay?” Kendall asks. “I think Joe might’ve had a little too much time to think things through. He’s been stewing and I’m sure it didn’t help that I reminded him that their yearly marriage reaffirmation is coming up. This will be the fifth one Chrissy has missed. After five years of not showing up, he’ll lose everything.”

“Reaffirmation? What? Why?”

She sighs. “Come on,” Kendall says and grabs my hand. My Kendall used to do this when we were kids. She’d grab my hand and link our fingers together when she had something important to tell me.

Kendall leads me to the mudroom where she grabs two random coats and hands one to me. I then follow her out of the back door and out to the back of the house, feeling a strong sense of Deja vu when I see that the back of #2’s cabin looks exactly the same as it does on my world.

“Please don’t tell me you think he actually killed her and she’s not on some other world?” I ask about her Christmas. “Is that why you think he’s going to lose everything? Because he’ll be in jail?”

“What?” Kendall asks and places an offended hand on her chest. She laughs nervously like it’s the most ridiculous thing she’s ever heard. “Of course not! He loves her. Practically obsessed. I don’t know about your world, but our world has certain laws concerning marriage. One is that a couple must report to a justice of the peace yearly to reaffirm their marriage. They are allowed to miss four years in a row but if they miss the fifth year, the marriage is ended and any property and investments over the five-thousand-dollar single limit goes to their children. If they don’t have children everything is turned over to the state.”

“What about what he came in with?” I ask, still trying to process what she’s said. These marriage laws are utterly ridiculous, and I can’t believe this is something Beau’s father supports.

More than ever I’m glad I’ve decided not to marry into the Lacoste family. I doubt I could sit back and watch it happen if Beau or his father turned into the kind of people that would support laws that threaten to steal someone’s money for choosing to get a divorce. It’s even more ridiculous that single people can’t own anything that costs more than five thousand dollars. That means single people have nothing. They lease, they rent, they put money in the bank that only earns pennies a year in a savings account. They can never truly enjoy their success because the government tells them they aren’t allowed to unless they are married.

Are laws like that supposed to encourage long-lasting marriages?

I bet the murder rate is high among married people.

“The stock is considered an investment and the cafes are a business. All of that will go to the state.”

“Couldn’t he have opened a lot of accounts in his name and liquidate his investments and assets or something?”

“Restrictions,” Kendall says. “After the first time Val and Chrissy didn’t reaffirm their marriage he was limited to no transactions greater than five thousand dollars, and the limit for getting cash is five thousand as well. I’m sure he’s been doing all he can to make sure he’s not homeless if she doesn’t come back, but I doubt that even comes to a quarter of a million. The cafes and his Rainforest stock are worth a hell of a lot more than that. More than ten times that amount.”

The first thing I think is… Rainforest? I know that’s their equivalent to Amazon, but I let out an inappropriate giggle and then shake my head at Kendall when her expression becomes puzzled.

“Sorry. It’s just… Sometimes the differences are troubling,” I say talking about the marriage laws and Beau’s father being president. “Sometimes the differences are amusing.”

“And sometimes they’re unexpectedly expected,” Kendall says and I’m sure she’s referring to me.

“So…” I say when the silence starts to feel awkward after her statement. “You pulled me out here because Joe thinks #2… your Valentine… Sorry, I’ve been calling him #2 in my head,” I explain, and she laughs like me calling him that pleases her immensely.

“#2… that’s perfect. He often acts like a little #2,” Kendall says calling him a ‘little shit’. “I admit he’s not as bad as your father - my Chrissy’s father. Noble is… a very sad man and I can see why Joe might think seeing you might help him. Even though you’re not his Christmas, seeing you makes it all real.”

“I don’t understand,” I say. “The only people that have been through the portal re Christmas, Elise, and now V? You all believed in it without seeing it?”

“Joe, Val, and your dad had seen but never gone through,” Kendall says. “Those were the rules. The only people who’d risk getting stuck were the ones with the ability to bring themselves back which only included Chrissy and Elise.”

I wrap my arms around my body and shiver from the cold. Kendall notices and nods her head back toward the house. But she still hasn’t been clear about Joseph’s sudden ire toward #2.

“Wait, Ken… I still need a little clarification on what I was saying before… So, Joe assumes your Valentine has convinced me to help him keep his money but to not go see Noble?” I continue.

“He’s positive of that.”

“This is the first I’m hearing about any of this,” I say. “I don’t know if it’ll help but V hasn’t asked anything of me. I volunteered to do what I could to help find his Christmas, but we haven’t discussed anything else. He mentioned people blaming him for her disappearance. He said he’s sure some of the people in town think he killed her. The impression I got is that your Noble doesn’t say much to stop those rumors since he doesn’t like your Valentine very much. I have to say… That’s the same on both worlds.”

“He told you all that?” Kendall asks, and I nod. She sighs heavily. “I guess you and Val are meant to be on every world. I bet that’s strange for you… seeing your husband’s face and hearing his voice but knowing he’s not him. I hope that made sense.”

“It did. Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t, but it does with the MV Generator as a factor,” I say and then shake my head. “But I’m not seeing my husband when I look at your Valentine. At least not my husband in the sense that we have a relationship. We’re married. We eloped in Vegas just like your Christmas and Valentine, but we’re not together. The day we got married, Brenna called him begging him to come back and he went.” I shrug like it’s nothing when it’s something I don’t think I’ll ever get over.

“Breanna is Val’s on your world?” Kendall asks.

“He thinks she is,” I say and then shrug again. “He’s never had her tested.”

“What!” Kendall’s eyes widen in shock and then soften as she takes my hand. “Oh, Chrissy… I can’t imagine how hard it is for you,” she says. “Val… he’s the love of your life. My Chrissy is sure Val is her soulmate,” she says. I know she’s trying to comfort me, but the guilt makes nausea burn hot in my belly and I have to fight to hold down whatever’s left in my stomach. “She’s his too. With you here, I can see how much he’s needed her. He’s calmer,” Kendall adds. I blush even though I know she’s not talking about me having sex with #2. A wave of guilt floods me but I push it away more easily this time. “With you here, there’s a calmness surrounding him. I noticed it this morning when I made coffee for him and Joe.”

I chuckle and shake my head. “I wish you knew how strange it is to see you as a wife and mom like you might be friends with Brenna Oliver,” I say and then watch her face give me a blank expression. “Wait… you are friends with her?”

“It’s hard not to be when our daughters are practically best friends. We weren’t so close in high school since I liked Chrissy more than her. Brenna was sort of a bitch in high school. Plus, getting closer to her would’ve made it harder to keep the secret about Chrissy and Val.”

“Oh… wow. That’s… interesting.”

“Your Kendall isn’t a wife and mom?”

“She’s a mom but not a wife. She turned Joe down when he proposed. My Kendall is… an independent free spirit who likes a little drama and chaos.”

I smile when those words make the Kendall standing before me lift a hand to her chest in surprise. If she had pearls on I’m sure she’d be clutching them right now. I can relate since I felt the same when I was told the Christmas of this world worked with her mother on the MV Generator and other projects.

“What if I agree to do what they both want?”


~~~~~


“Mrs. Trudeau, you’ll have to go upstairs and renew your identification or driver’s license before your marriage can be reaffirmed,” the woman at the desk says, thankfully getting on with the business of why we’re here and not gawking at me as others have done. It’s strange knowing that the Christmas of this world was a physicist, and she also lived in this town. People here know her and understand what it means to have her walking into a building, her hand held by Valentine Trudeau. It means any rumors about him were false, and anyone who openly accused Valentine Trudeau of harming his wife owes him an apology.

#2 opens his mouth to argue with the woman but that won’t change anything. If anything, she will make things harder for us when we return.

We should do as she asks.

“You need to let go of your self-pity and anger,” I say once we’re out of earshot of the couples still waiting to reaffirm. One of the couples openly stares, another ignores us, and another whispers to each other and cuts their eyes at us. None of them try to talk to us and I have a feeling that they are all a little afraid of Valentine Trudeau.

It’s surreal how much the inside of the municipal building looks the same as it does on my world, but the offices are all out of place, and a lot is different. My world definitely doesn’t have a Reaffirmation of Marriage Office, nor is there a Descendant Claim Office where children of failed marriages can come claim their portion of their parents’ assets.

“Take a picture it’ll last longer,” I hear #2 say which snatches me away from my thoughts. He’s turned back to a trio of women who don’t bother to hide that they are staring. They all look like they want to say something to me, but all change their minds, deciding they don’t want to deal with a snarling Valentine Trudeau.

“V, you have to control your anger,” I lean into him and say angrily even though to everyone else it probably looks like I’m flirting. “We need for this to go as smooth as possible and you’re going to mess that up for us. We have a plane to catch. Or are you on your way to being just as bad as Noble?”

That question stops him in his tracks. Because we are holding hands I have to stop with him. Then, right in front of everyone his lips crash to mine at the same time his large, hot hands palm the sides of my face.

We had agreed that if it became necessary to explain my return, we’d say I’ve been working on a project I couldn’t tell anyone about, not even my family. We had agreed to avoid drawing too much attention to ourselves. We had agreed that we’d do nothing in public we wouldn’t want his Christmas finding out about later on if she returns.

If I’m not mistaken this kiss is the opposite of our agreement not to draw too much attention to ourselves.

I know he’s making a statement, letting me know that he doesn’t care about our agreement as long as he can show these people that he didn’t harm his wife. He needs them to know the reason she disappeared had nothing to do with him. It means I should go along with this, respond to his touch, but realize that’s already happening.

I briefly wonder if this is how his Christmas would’ve responded, or if she would’ve pushed him away. I wonder if she’ll return one day, and someone will tell her about this steamy PDA. I wonder if she’ll put things together when that happens and will know it was me who kissed her husband, not her.

“I could start to think you’re her,” he rasps against my lips. The words make me pull away and turn my back as I continue toward the bank of elevators.

“Don’t ever do that again,” I say once the elevator doors close with only us inside. I then pause and curse, realizing that there’s a purpose to #2’s behavior and it’s not to shut up the citizens of Anson Valley - at least that’s not the entirety of the purpose of his behavior. It’s to get them talking so much that the news gets back to Noble Anson. #2 said his Noble is seeing out his last term as mayor right now which means he’s probably somewhere in that very building.

“What?”

“You’re trying to get someone to tell him I’m back before I can go see him. You want him to think I came to you first, came here second, and haven’t thought to come to see him,” I practically shout at him.

“I won’t deny it,” #2 says rather unapologetically. “That man is the bane of my existence. He’s never thought me good enough for Chris.” He shrugs his wide shoulders. “The opportunity was there so I took it. Sue me.”

“How about I change my mind and forget about all of it?” I ask rhetorically before continuing. “Don’t use me, Valentine Trudeau. I won’t stand for it,” I sneer at him. “I doubt your Christmas would stand for it either.”

After all of that #2 laughs. “I can see why they never wanted anyone to go with them when they traveled to different worlds. I can understand what Chris was talking about when she said that no matter how hard she tried, she could never not see the other Elise as her mother. She knew they weren’t the same person, but she said sometimes that didn’t matter. The other Elise would say or do something so similar to her own mother that she’d forget they weren’t the same person,” #2 explains. “That’s been happening a lot since I met you. I won’t lie and say you being here isn’t confusing the hell out of a piece of my heart and screwing with my logical mind.”

The tone, the seriousness in his brown eyes…. I sigh in resignation but continue to keep the distance between us after such an admission.

If only to myself, I can admit I’ve thought the same since he and I met. I can understand how easy it is to pretend like I’m his Christmas and get lost in that feeling, at least for a little while. I’m sure we both can understand that, especially after what happened between us.


~~~~~


The next half hour is smoother save for one tense moment where I have to have my thumb and forefinger scanned to prove my identity. We worry for no reason because I am Christmas.

With my license in hand, I am able to sail through getting #2’s marriage reaffirmed, but it’s when I turn to the door to leave the reaffirmation office that I am stopped in my tracks. Actually, I think everyone stops in their tracks. It feels like a hush stretches over the entire town when my eyes meet those of Noble Anson.

I don’t know what I expected to feel seeing another Noble Anson, and I’m sure I never expected that feeling to be pity. But pity for the man who looks years older than my Noble Anson, thinner, with dark circles around his eyes is all I can muster even with the fury blazing in his eyes.

“What did your mother do?” He asks. “If… if she has the resources to build another device then it means she took their offer,” he says.

Both #2 and I look around when he says the word ‘device’, but no one seems to care. They will probably chalk it up to his insanity over losing his wife, then his daughter.

Took their offer? I ask myself once the words register. I look over at #2 and he seems to know what the words mean. His face looks like ‘taking their offer’ is the worst decision his mother-in-law has ever made. In the context of this situation, I’m thinking any such decision was made out of desperation. I’m sure an Elise Anson on any world would take desperate measures to get her daughter back if she was offered a chance to do so.

“Chris, let’s go,” I hear #2 say to me, snatching me away from my thoughts. #2 has threaded his hand into mine and is now leaning close. Noble watches the action, his face hardening as #2 adds, “We need to get him out of here before he makes any more of a scene.”

The half dozen people in the lobby of the reaffirmation office stare as we move to flee, and I know the town will talk about this day for a long while. They’ll speculate and analyze what happened and no one will ever be right in their assumptions. No one will ever guess that Christmas and Elise’s disappearances were because they opened a portal to another world.

“What the hell are you thinking, Old Man?” #2 asks Noble once we make it to the door where he stands. “And whatever you’re thinking, you have to be wrong. Elise wouldn’t do something so reckless, and this is not your Christmas.”




* * *

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