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Please notice this is part of a series..... here you see all part in the right order:

1) Paper Snowflakes (the original, isn't a sequel)
2) To Dance In An English Garden
3) A Night To Remember
4) The Trick Is To Keep Breathing
5) Life In A Heartbeart
6) With Me (the last in the series)

Disclaimer: Wish as I may, I don't own The Pretender or any of its characters. Thanx for not suing! ~Oriana

"The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next."
-Ursula K. Le Guin


Paper Snowflakes
Part I
by Orinana

Three radio stations, three impatient huffs. Again, a single manicured finger made its way to the tuning dial, and jabbed it with unnecessary force. After a short pause, Bing Crosby began to croon the lines of "The Holly and The Ivy." Parker's eyes narrowed, and her grip on the steering tightened, as she put every ounce of self-control into preventing herself from releasing a yell of irritation. She'd tried that an hour earlier, the last time she'd passed through a town large enough to offer a radio station, only to be half-deafened by her own echo in the luxury car. Deciding that turning off the stereo was the only chance of saving what was left of her frayed nerves, she did so, and felt an immediate drop in her skyrocketing blood pressure.Why was it everyone had the need to constantly play Christmas tunes?

In the absence of music, however, Parker again was left without a distracter, something to keep her mind off the holidays. Her eyes wandered to the houses of Bloomfield, lining the streets she drove on, all decked with colorful lights -just visible in the fading light of day- and plastic santas, and she thought of her own home, back in Blue Cove, completely lacking holiday cheer. There were no lights or nativity scenes outside, there was no tree or mistletoe inside, not even a wreath on the door. She'd been avoiding the thought of the holiday season since the first aisle of red and green had appeared at a local drugstore in November, avoiding thoughts of being alone while others gathered with their families. Mom and Thomas were dead, Sydney and Broots had their own places to be, Daddy was god only knew where, and spending Thanksgiving or Christmas with Lyle was as appealing as a tax audit.

Now, it was December 21, and here she was, driving as far as possible from an empty house. Her original destination had been an equally empty cabin, but it was far from the Centre, and that was all that had mattered. It offered isolation, being in the Canadian province of Quebec, 30 miles from the nearest town.

These thoughts carried her past the town limits, and it was 20 minutes after Parker had passed the last house that she was even aware of her surroundings again.

Miss Parker didn't have a clue where the hell she was, apart from the vague description of "somewhere in northern Vermont." She'd read the map wrong, been 40 miles down the wrong road before even realizing it, and decided to simply go wherever it led; after the screw up, use of the map seemed rather pointless. Now, however, she wasn't so sure. The last rays of sunlight were disappearing, and the occasional sign of some business in an upcoming town had disappeared. Probably best to turn around, head back to Bloomfield, and go towards Quebec in the morning. Parker didn't know a lot about the wilderness, but the one thing she knew for certain was that you didn't want to get lost at night in a place like Vermont, that offered constant
snowfall. As she was waiting for a decent place to pull a u-turn, a log cabin off to one side caught her eye. Somewhat large, probably the winter vacation house of some family. It was up a small hill, nearly half a mile to her right.

A few moment later, she found an area clear enough to turn around and did so. It was only as she began driving back that the car made a slight choking sound. Not the mechanic type, Miss Parker raised an eyebrow in question. The noise, which was growing more frequent, was not a promising one. Sure enough, the car continued on only a few more yards before slowing to a stop. Putting the brake on, she sighed and reached for the door handle, prepared to see if there was anything she, in her limited vehicle knowledge, could do. Maybe kick it or something. The car, however, saved her the trouble--thin wisps of smoke began to escape the hood, as well as the low hissing sound of hot steam. Parker placed her forehead on the steering wheel and groaned, thinking of how long it would take for a tow truck to get out here from Bloomfield. It was only as she reached to the passenger seat for her cell phone that it struck her--just how was someone going to find her, all the way out here? She didn't even know the name of the road she was on. The conversation played through her head: "Hello? My car's dead, I need a tow truck...Where? Um, well, there's lots of mountains, some trees on both sides, a snow-covered ditch..." Shaking her head, she activated the phone, only to be greeted by a beep of warning. She looked down warily and sure enough, the battery light faded away. With a growl of irritation, she pressed a button to her side, and as the passenger side window rolled down, Parker chucked the cell phone out it.

Thinking back to the cabin she'd spotted, Parker looked ahead, and was happy to spot not only that the turnoff to the driveway was just a few yards away, but also that the driveway itself was freshly shoveled. Judging by the new snow on the road -which the driveway showed no sign of- it'd been cleared that afternoon at the latest. So civilization was within reach after all. She looked out her window dubiously--a few fat flakes had already appeared out of nowhere. She suddenly regretted her choice in footwear, the knee-high black leather boots with a 3-inch heel, and felt a longing for her hikers, packed away in the trunk with the rest of her things.

Regretting not having the presence of mind to put all the necessary items for one night all in one bag, Parker popped the trunk and retrieved her baggage, slinging the strap of her bag onto her shoulder and grasping the handle of the small suitcase. Funny, they'd seemed lighter that morning.

She began to march resolutely -not an easy thing in heeled boots- down the few yards of road, turned, and headed up the driveway, the small hill not seeming so small any longer. A small rustling in the trees to the left made her suddenly aware of the fact that not all animals hibernated during the winter, like wolves... and though she saw a squirrel appear a moment later, Parker was still thankful for the gun she'd brought along, the only Centre reminder she had with her. Miss Parker had been at the Centre too long to not feel safe anywhere without protection.

Parker so busy keeping an eye out for dangerous wildlife, hard in the dim of late dusk, that it wasn't until she'd reached the hill's plateau and was level with the house ahead that she realized something was wrong with this scene. There were no lights on, no sounds coming from within, and though she fervently hoped they were simply early sleepers, there was a hollow feeling to the house that indicated otherwise.

Knocking, then pounding, at the door, gave no reply. Parker shivered and looked around, noticing that the driveway was already covered in a thin blanket of snow. There was no way she'd make it to town tonight and besides, the residents were sure to come back soon.

Of course, they won't mind if I just make myself at home until then, she thought as she worked the lock with two thin pieces of metal from her pocket, thankful -a rare occasion-for her Centre training. She smiled coyly as she heard the lock click. Eager to get away from the cold weather, she walked in and shut the door behind her with pleasure.

Patting the wall beside her blindly, her fingers finally came across the light switch, which she eagerly flicked on. The room flooded with light, temporarily blinding her night-accustomed eyes. It appeared to be the living room, large and tastefully designed, though there were no Christmas decorations, nor, she noted, a television. Clearly not a family with children. Parker unconsciously shivered again, and noticed for the first time that she could actually see her breath. It couldn't be more than a few degrees warmer in here. Suspicions rising, Parker went around the rest of the first floor, flicking on lights as she went, inspecting the kitchen, bathroom, laundry and dining room as she came upon them, seeing with dismay that everything was immaculate, not a dish in the sink or even a stray sock in the dryer. She went upstairs next, checking all five rooms. The first was another bathroom, also clean -though that itself proved nothing- and the second was a large storage room, more like a sub-attic, too musty to have been entered in some time. The other three, however, were bedrooms and confirmed -with their empty closets and dressers, and perfectly made beds- that the inhabitants of this house had indeed left for good. No doubt gone elsewhere for the holidays, which explained the lack of decorations.

So she was alone. That didn't bother Parker too much, since she expected as much in Quebec. However, her stomach flopped as she reached for the telephone in the kitchen, her instincts telling her that things were going to get worse. Sure enough, when she placed the receiver next to her ear, there was no sound.

"Great," Parker muttered. "Just great." Futile as she knew it was, she went through the kitchen's back door to the one-car garage, confirming that there was indeed no vehicle. On her way back to the living room, she stopped at the utility box, utterly grateful to discover something actually going in her favor when she found that the heat was electric. She flipped the switch on, and turned the thermostat up to 74.

"This is just wonderful," she thought aloud as she flopped down on the sofa in the living room. "An empty house, no way to tell anyone I'm here, and no way to get back to town." As the cabin slowly began to warm up, Parker's thick clothing grew uncomfortable. Reaching outside for her bags, she paused to consider the snow, now coming down harder, then grabbed a few logs of firewood. Turning the thermostat down to 60, she got a fire going in the living room fireplace, before turning her attention to the matter of clothing.

Parker exited the downstairs bedroom, dressed in a long green silk nightgown and robe. She inspected the fridge and cupboards, relieved to find that, though most of the usualperishables, like fruit and milk, weren't available, it was a well-stocked kitchen. She rummaged through the cupboards until she found something that sparked her interest, instant cocoa mix, and nibbled on a few Oreos while a mug of water warmed in the microwave.

Her hands comfortably warmed by the steaming mug it held, Parker padded back into the living room and sat in an overstuffed chair, allowing herself to become mesmerized by the flickering flames and thoroughly enjoying the fact that the biggest choice she was faced with at the moment was whether to sleep upstairs, or just make a bed up on the floor here.

Parker opted for the floor and, after fetching a quilt and pillow from one of the bedrooms, went about getting ready to sleep, though she was almost hesitant to do so. The only light on was in the living room, and between the crackle of the fire and the homey manner of the cabin, she felt quite comfortable and at peace.

"This is incredible," she sighed as she headed into the bathroom to get her brush. "No work, no problems; just me, a mug of hot cocoa, and a little snow outside." She paused at the mirror, running the soft bristles through her dark hair. Her hand, placing the brush back on the counter, stopped mid-motion as her sensitive ears just barely picked up what she could've sworn was the slamming of a car door out front.

"Why don't they just use their garage?" she murmured. There was no more sound, and after a moment she shrugged it off, figuring that she just wasn't used to actual peace and quiet. Then, she quite clearly heard the sound of someone knocking at the door. Sighing, wondering just who the hell would be out at this time of night, Parker reached out and turned the knob, only to find the door wouldn't pull open. She grabbed the knob with both hands and pulled even harder, but the door wouldn't nudge. The knocking became louder.

"Be right there!" Parker shouted, though in the back of her mind she knew that it was pointless--the bathroom was at the back of the house, and with the door shut there was no way whoever it was would hear. Just as she heard the squeak of the front door opening, her own door finally swung open with a final determined yank, causing her to lose her balance momentarily. Shaking her head at the ridiculousness of it all, she hurried down the short hallway and, just as she turned the corner to enter the living room, called out,

"Sorry about that, but I was actually--"

Parker stopped short as she caught sight of who stood in the doorway. Two words involuntarily came from her mouth: "My god."

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