DISCLAIMER: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This takes place a year after A Suburbia Christmas. A special thanks once again to atfm for watching out for my many typos and lost words and to ralst for the British-izing and the English culinary lesson.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Another Year has Gone By
The field stretched onward for miles; the grass so plush and green, it appeared as if the ground was carpeted across the rolling landscape. Two individuals smiled brightly in the warm sun as they strolled hand in hand towards the . . . *clang, clang, clang*. Scribbs bolted upright in bed, her hand placed over her racing heart. Glancing to her left, she found the covers thrown back and the space abandoned. She touched the sheet beside her, only to find a cold spot where her partner had lain. Another loud clatter drew her attention to the doorway.
"Ash?" Scribbs called out softly as she swiveled around to sit on the side of the bed. Sliding her feet into the fur-covered slippers, she walked over to the divan and grabbed up her sweat jogging bottoms and top. By the time she'd made it into the kitchen, her naked skin was adequately covered in fleece.
"Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh ..." Ash softly sang the lyrics of her now favorite Christmas song as she placed another mince pie onto her newly purchased Teflon baking tray.
Scribbs groaned aloud and moved further into the room. "Ash? It's three o'clock in the morning. What are you doing?"
"I think it'd be obvious, Scribbs; I'm baking." Ash changed to humming, a smile covering her face as she gently eased the tray into the oven.
Scribbs turned her gaze to the corner cabinet where one stack of colored containers sat neatly on top of the other. Each was labeled as to the type of pie it contained as well as its final destination.
"Ash, we've got plenty of mince pies already."
"I want to make sure I have enough for people to take home." Ash set the timer for exactly 25 minutes.
"Your sister's family and, of course, my brother."
In her sleepy state, Scribbs was still able to roughly approximate the number of mince pies in each container, but mentally multiplying by the number of containers was a bit more difficult. So, she fudged a lot. "You've already baked over 300 mince pies, Ash."
"192, Scribbs, 192." Ash deducted the first batch of pies that she'd accidentally burnt. "I'm baking these to take to the station."
"What are you planning on doing with the other 192? There's only you, me, your parents, my parents, my sister and family, and your brother. Let's see, that's um . . ." Scribbs' division skills weren't very good even when she was alert, "um . . . 19.2 mince pies each." Division by ten made it much easier.
"Some will be consumed on Christmas Day." Ash busied herself with cleaning up her mess. Scribbs couldn't understand why Ash didn't just wait until she'd finished baking instead of cleaning after each batch was placed in the oven.
"That'll still be the same average per person, Ash." Scribbs was becoming more alert by the minute as her eyes tracked to the counter to note more ingredients, sitting at the ready. Ash intended to bake even more mince pies. Scribbs needed a diversion. She stood and moved behind the dishwashing Ash.
"When that batch of pies comes out of the oven, I'd like to bake a little something myself." Hands slid underneath Ash's t-shirt, coming to rest on a warm stomach.
"Um, mince pies?"
A pair of lips moved to the long, elegant neck. "No."
"Apple?" A low moan followed the erroneous guess.
"Uh-uh." Scribbs nipped at the soft skin as she slowly moved a hand higher.
Ash swallowed hard, squeaking out her next guess. "Sausage rolls?"
Scribbs smiled against the warmth of Ash's neck. "It'll taste wonderful, that's for sure." She punctuated her statement with a pinch to the already pebbled flesh before she suddenly stepped away, leaving Ash's body craving for more. "I'll be waiting for you in bed." Scribbs gave a wink and left the room.
Ash stood in the middle of the kitchen, staring at the empty doorway. Moving her gaze to the oven, she checked the timer and cursed to find fifteen minutes still remaining. Recalling a conversation from just the other day, Ash remembered one of her colleagues mentioning how much he loved soft, gooey pastry, so with a smile, she turned off the oven. She never gave a thought to cleaning up after this particular batch as she raced for the bedroom.
Ash whistled cheerfully as she cleaned off the pie bits that had stuck onto the baking tray. Finding Scribbs in bed, wearing nothing but a Santa hat, had been well worth the extra scrubbing needed to clean the supposedly stick-free pan. She turned at the sound of feet shuffling into the kitchen.
"Mornin', Ash." Scribbs sleepily made her way to the coffee pot. One of the many things she dearly loved about Ash was the fact that her lover always had a freshly made pot of coffee ready whenever Scribbs finally decided to climb out of bed. Last night's unexpected round of aerobics caused Scribbs to rise much later than usual.
"Hey, I've made some sausage rolls; would you like one?"
Scribbs' eyes tracked to the counter to find 12 sausage rolls cooling on a baking rack. She continued her gaze towards the oven, noting the dial turned to the on position.
"You're baking again?"
"They're for the . . ." Ash started.
". . . station," Scribbs finished. She placed her head on the table and groaned aloud.
An hour later, Scribbs found herself sitting in front of a concerned Sullivan.
"Scribbs, is something the matter with Ash?"
"Not that I know of." Scribbs barely kept from wincing at the lie. She knew it wouldn't be long before someone noticed Ash's cheery disposition.
Sullivan fidgeted in his chair. "She's been coming in smiling and greeting everyone so joyfully every morning." He hesitated and leaned forward, whispering, "she even kissed two colleagues under the mistletoe. I'm afraid she's suffering from some kind of breakdown. Erratic behavior is the first sign."
Scribbs wanted so much to tell Sullivan not to worry, that Ash was perfectly fine, more than fine in fact; well, except for the obsessive baking. Instead, she offered to look into the problem.
"I'll talk to her, Boss."
"Ah, well then, good to know. Let me know if there's anything I can do."
Scribbs nodded and jumped from the chair, grateful to escape the awkward conversation. Sullivan had hardly looked her in the eyes. Bounding down the stairs, she went in search of her partner.
Ash leaned over her desk, putting the finishing touches on the white poster board. Making the final stroke, she placed the cap on the marker and stood. She gazed down at her work of art so intently that she never noticed Scribbs slide in beside her. Scribbs stared down at the poster as well.
A heavy black line separated the poster into two columns; a list of alphabetical names lined the left side and blank lines filled the right. Scribbs moved her focus to the top of the poster to find a detailed drawing of Santa with a bag slung over his shoulder. A smile broke out on her face.
"I didn't know you could draw, Ash; this is really good."
"I'm creating a record of the station's Secret Santas. That way everyone will know who got whom." The rosy color of Ash's cheeks extended to the tips of her ears.
"I'm surprised you didn't list the names in order of rank." Scribbs was more than impressed with the way Ash had made the list.
"I thought about it, but I remembered what you said about Christmas being a time for everyone and that no one should rank above the other."
Scribbs stared at her partner, surprised that Ash had actually followed through on something she'd said. "Ash, don't take this the wrong way, but you're starting to scare me. Sullivan thinks you're on the brink of a nervous breakdown, and our co-workers are walking around in a perpetual state of confusion."
Ash's face fell. "I see," she placed the marker on the desk and lifted the poster board, "I'll just take this out to the rubbish bin." She started for the door.
"Wait, Ash!" Scribbs caught up with her partner and took her by the hand. Noting the numerous eavesdroppers, she tugged Ash down the hallway and into the loo, closing and locking the door behind her. She turned to face a sullen Ash.
"I love that you're into the Christmas spirit, Ash, I truly do, but you need to tone it down some, okay?" Scribbs gentled her voice. "At least at the station."
Ash gazed into her partner's eyes, seeing the love being projected. She nodded her head. "I've gone a little overboard, I guess."
"Just a little." Scribbs smiled.
"Okay then, let me go toss this, and I'll get back to work as usual."
Scribbs reached for the poster. "That's not necessary. This is great, Ash," she grinned, "besides, it's perfectly natural for you to want to keep a historical record of the event. No one will suspect a thing."
"But what about the Santa? Hmm, you know, maybe it'd be best if I didn't go to the unveiling this afternoon."
"He stays," Scribbs gestured towards the Santa, "and so do you."
Scribbs leaned against the wall and watched as Ash matched each colleague with his or her Secret Santa. Ash had hung her poster near the doorway and filled in the various blanks as she questioned the different individuals.
Sullivan walked over and stood next to Scribbs. "So, you sure there's nothing wrong with her?"
"Yes, she's just into the Christmas spirit is all."
"Funny, I never noticed her acting this way any of the previous Christmases. In fact, she was quite the opposite."
Scribbs smiled. "I think she may have found someone who has shown her the true meaning of Christmas."
"Oh." Sullivan looked at bit saddened by the news.
"Yes, I do believe our Ash is seeing someone who truly appreciates her."
"That's good then. She deserves happiness." Sullivan watched Ash closely, wondering if perhaps her new suitor was a colleague. Ash seemed to sense the scrutiny and turned towards the pair. She smiled brightly before turning her attention back to the last few empty blanks.
"Well, she certainly seems happy."
"She is, Boss, very happy."
Sullivan sighed. "I guess it's time I headed back to my office; we are still on the clock."
Scribbs grinned. She was having so much fun; she'd forgotten she was getting paid.
"Have a Merry Christmas, Scribbs."
"You, too, Boss." Scribbs nodded as she turned her attention back to an animated Ash. What a difference a year had made. Smiling, she slowly moved her gaze around the room until her eyes lit on the food table.
Scribbs' eyes went wide, and she yelled at the retreating Sullivan.
"Boss, wait! You've got to take some of these mince pies with you!"
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