And when we meet

I know I left too much mess and destruction to come back again
And I caused nothing but trouble
I understand if you can’t talk to me again
And if you live by the rules of it’s over
Then I’m sure that that makes sense
(‘White Flag’ - Dido)

Seemed that the rain was never going to end. The world was made of heavy grey clouds and small puddles of water. Listening to the rain was not how anyone would want to spend their Christmas.
So, despite her gloomy mood , Trudy forced herself out of bed an hour earlier than usual.
She was determined to make this Christmas an event to be remembered. After all, they were all together in the Mall, once again, after so long… and this was perhaps the only way she could try and make up for at least a fraction of all the bad things that she’d done in in the past.
A small comfort was that Lex and especially Ebony seemed to have forgotten their frosty attitude, but it was mainly due to the fact that Lex had Tai San on his mind right now and hardly ever ventured out of their room… while Ebony… well, she was being Ebony, most likely plotting on something again. She was almost never around.
As a result Trudy had way too much free time on her hands now that she no longer tried to keep out of the pair’s way.
The only way to deal with it was to get busy , fast. And a nice party, with everyone coming together, might even cheer Salene up some, show her all the friends around her who really care about her. Something to let her know she wasn’t alone.
And this would be the first chance for herself and Brady to actually spend Christmas together… last Christmas slipped past, with her being trapped in the Chosen Lair, hardly ever seeing the baby for more than a few hours a day.
Now this year, Brady was old enough to understand the meaning of Christmas… or at least old enough to admire the tree. She could almost repeat the tricky word, ‘Christmas’ after Trudy said it first, even if it sounded more like ‘kiss-mass’.

Having built up enough determination while getting dressed and doing her make-up, Trudy headed straight to the service area. She still had time before Brady would wake up that morning.
The boxes were neatly piled to she shelves, still unopened, each of them containing a promise of shiny and glittery decorations inside.
Trudy opened a couple of them, smiling softly as she picked out a few special things for each bedroom. She had already prepared small gifts for every member of her tribe, decided to slip them into the rooms tonight, unnoticed ? like a real Santa might bring presents.
These decorations were just right to go with her gifts.

It was getting late and it seemed her plan was working just the way it should, she?d managed to place most gifts onto the beds before the inhabitants settled in for the night…
Now there was just Jack’s room left and Trudy stepped in, holding her special Christmas gift for him. ‘Well, Brady… what do you think? Will uncle Jack like this? I hope he does…’ Trudy looked at her daughter who played with the ribbon innocently, cooing to herself and smiling at her mother occasionally.
Finding a suitable gift for Jack had been on Trudy’s mind for the whole day, ever since she learned about his safe return to the Mall. Ellie was… well, not exactly overjoyed when she announced the news to everyone. Flustered, more like…
It was quite understandable too, after all Luke’s trial had just ended and he was announced a free man. It seemed Ellie had rather strong feelings towards Luke. It made Trudy wonder, how Jack would cope with everything. Loosing Ellie’s love and finding out his best friend had died in the hands of the Chosen… she felt she had to at least try and reach out, even if Jack would probably despise her forever for her forced alliance to the Guardian and his people.
So the high-tech tool box was a start, wrapped into a red paper and carrying Jack’s name. Trudy looked around in the empty room, trying to figure out a place where to hide it.
She didn’t have much time to think it over, as she already could hear voices just outside of Jack’s room, so Trudy sat down and pushed the box as far under the bed as she could reach.
Here he was, entering the room just then, the first Trudy could see was his back, the red hair and Hawaiian shirt.
‘Hey, Jack!’ She quickly got to her feet, looking at him, and of course, Jack was frowning.
‘Trudy, what… what are you doing here?’
This called for some quick thinking… Trudy wasn’t so sure if she wanted Jack to know the gift under his bed was from her…not yet, anyway.
‘I was looking for you, I just wanted to say how great it is to have you back.’ In a way, this was very much true. She was relieved that Jack was back, that no real harm had come to him. Trudy hoped that maybe she’d had a small say in it, although with the Guardian you could never be sure about these things.
'Just like old times, ’ she quickly added with a nervous smile.
‘Right, like…old times…like nothing has changed at all… I mean a few old friends have disappeared, but…’ Jack quickly retorted.
‘Jack…’ Trudy started. It hurt almost physically, seeing him in so much pain, all she wanted to do was hug him and make it better again. Oh, she would have given almost everything to be able to do that. If only he could see that, see right into her heart.
‘You have every right to be angry… I understand, believe me.’
Jack shook his head slowly, letting out a small mirthless laugh. ‘I don’t see how you could understand, Trudy. Not unless you have just been told your best friend is dead.’
They locked eyes, both hurt, both trying to understand what had happened, each in their own way. It lasted for a brief moment before Jack continued: ‘Remember the Chosen? Weren’t you their spiritual leader for a while back there? Or was I just dreaming that?’
‘Jack… I was kidnapped, just like you.’ Please, oh please understand this, understand me… what I am trying to say here… that I’m here, I would listen… if you ever want to talk, I’ll listen… Trudy pleaded silently, but it was of no use.
‘Yeah, but… the difference between me and you, Trudy, is that you bought that garbage. You sold out your friends and you were glad to do it,’ Jack replied dryly, making it clear that he really wanted nothing to do with her.
Brady probably sensed the tension in the air as well, she was getting tired and fussy, crying in her mother’s arms by now, so Trudy thought it best to leave. The lump in her throat made it rather impossible to carry on a conversation anyway, so she quickly pushed past Jack and hurried away, the fresh anguish in her soul so overwhelming that she didn’t even see the Christmas tree that some of the Mall Rats had set up next to the Phoenix fountain earlier that day.

If she had stayed, just for a little longer, perhaps waited outside of Jack’s door to see if he notices the gift from Santa, Trudy might have seen that Jack himself felt torn just like her and it wasn’t all because of Dal… or Ellie. It was, simply put, because he couldn’t hate Trudy, no matter how much he tried. Her kindness at times like these always seemed to shine through and what was worse, Jack could tell she cared about people. And yet, Trudy had done so much wrong… he was supposed to despise her, so why couldn’t he? Did this look in her eyes tonight really mean so much to him? Much more than he dared to admit himself right now.
Walking towards his bed, Jack noticed something red on the pillow… a Santa hat, probably left here by Trudy… but why on earth would she walk around the Mall with such a thing? And then he remembered; it was almost Christmas now.

Upstairs in her room, Trudy hummed a lullaby to Brady who was now tucked into the bed, sucking on her thumb sleepily. Tomorrow was going to be another day… Christmas Day. Maybe, just maybe it was going to be a better day. She sure hoped so.