I welcome any and all feedback. Once again, I apologize for the time between updates. Previous parts are posted here:|Part 1| |Part 2| |Part 3| |Part 4| |Part 5| |Part 6| My email address is: Leslie Ann Miller

This is a very short update, but it works well as a section by itself, so I decided to go ahead and post it anyway. Hope ya'll don't mind too much. Thanks to everyone who has sent me feedback on past postings. Your messages mean a lot to me!

Shamrock Snow, part 7

by Leslie Ann Miller

"Cooking is one of my few talents," Dale said absently, trying to decide how she could possibly lift such a huge ham while standing on only one foot. Pulling it out might not be so hard if Gussie helped her with her balance, but carrying it over to the oven was another matter.

They stared at the ham in silence.

"Any ideas?" Gussie finally asked.

******

"Well, we get your brother to back the tow truck in here…" Dale grinned.

Gussie chuckled. "Hmmm… only problem with that is we'd have to take out the front wall to do it, and mom might not appreciate that."

"Okay, so how about I sit down and lift it up to you? Do you think you can carry it to the oven with one arm?"

"I think so, assuming I can get my hand under the center of the pan."

That decided, Dale settled carefully onto the floor, her back to the refrigerator door so she could keep her injured leg extended. Using both hands, she pulled the huge ham from the bottom shelf of the refrigerator and lifted it up. Gussie slid her hand under the pan and, hugging it close to her body for additional balance, turned towards the oven.

"Uh-oh," she said.

"What?" Dale asked, wondering if the ham was too heavy for Gussie after all.

"I've just discovered the strategic error in our plan."

"Oh no," Dale said.

"I forgot to open the oven door first."

Dale bit back a snort of laughter. "Hold on, I'll get it."

She scooted forward and used the counter to pull herself into a standing position. No sooner was she upright than a wave of dizziness hit her. Feeling herself starting to fall, she panicked and reached out to steady herself, hitting Gussie's arm. The ham started to tumble, and Dale tried to catch it, unconsciously putting her full weight on her injured foot. As excruciating pain shot up her leg, she toppled into Gussie even as the conductor was reaching with her injured arm to try to save the ham. Between twin cries of pain and dismay the ham went flying, and both women went sprawling on the kitchen floor in a tangle of arms and legs.

"Well, that was exciting," Gussie said after a moment, and Dale, half dazed, realized the voice was vibrating directly into her ear, and her broken nose was partially mashed into the conductor's shoulder, screaming in protest.

Dale groaned and rolled over, holding her face in her hands.

"Are you all right?" Gussie asked, clearly concerned.

"Give me a minute," Dale croaked, tears streaming from her eyes.

Gussie sat up, but seemed to understand, merely watching as Dale waited for the stinging pain to slowly fade.

When it reached a tolerable level, Dale breathed a sigh of relief and gingerly wiped the tears from her face.

"Better?" Gussie asked.

"Yeah. Are you okay? I'm so, so sorry… I got so dizzy when I stood up!" She intended to continue apologizing, but Gussie was staring at her oddly. "What's wrong?"

"Your nose is crooked. Okay, that does it. I'm calling Lance, and he's going to drive us to the hospital."

From the tone in her voice, Dale knew there was no point in arguing. Besides, if she'd thrown her nose out of joint, she really didn't want to try to reset it herself. And her ankle was really hurting, too. Maybe she could get some real painkillers.

She sat up slowly as Gussie got up purposefully, heading for the phone hanging on the wall beside the refrigerator. While Gussie was dialing, Dale looked dejectedly at the ham, which, magically, was still in its pan. Somehow it had managed to slide clear across the kitchen floor, though, coming to rest directly below the oven, as if it had known its destination all along.

Dale closed her eyes, feeling exhausted and sick. This is the worst Christmas ever. If it had just been her being miserable, it wouldn't have been so bad. But she was ruining Gussie's Christmas, too, and now probably Lance's who would no doubt be coming to drive them both to the hospital in the aftermath of a blizzard. That wasn't exactly how she would have liked to spend her Christmas Eve.

"Hey, don't look so glum," Gussie smiled. "Lance is on the way. The hospital will get you…er, rather, us… fixed right up."

"I'm sorry I'm ruining your Christmas," Dale said, unable to meet Gussie's eyes. There was a long pause, while Dale continued to stare silently at her swollen ankle, hoping Gussie would accept her apology gracefully.

"You haven't ruined my Christmas, Dale," Gussie said quietly. "I'm just sorry you're having such a rotten time of it. As for me, well, I haven't had this much excitement since one of the bassoon players turned a ferret loose in the tuba section during a rehearsal break."

"Caused a bit of concern, huh?"

"You have no idea. It was like a huge kindergarten class worked up into a frenzy."

Dale grinned at the image, glancing up to meet Gussie's eyes bashfully. "Thanks," she said, "for everything."

"You're welcome."

Dale gestured at the ham. "Want to try again?"

Gussie pursed her lips. "No, I think I hear it calling Lance's name, don't you?"

####

"Why is there a ham on the kitchen floor?" Lance asked as soon as he entered the house. "And what in God's name happened to the two of you?" he asked as soon as he saw them sitting together at the kitchen table with icepacks applied to various parts of their anatomy.

"Bears," Dale said, shifting the icepack on her nose slightly so he couldn't really see her eyes.

"Bears?" Lance repeated, looking at Gussie for an explanation.

"Bears," Gussie agreed somberly. "They must have followed the storm down from the Rockies."

It had been so long since he had seen his sister interacting in a conspiratory fashion with somebody else, much less with an almost total stranger, that he was almost tempted to believe them, even though he knew it was seriously stretching the realm of possibility. "Bears…" he said dumbly.

"They were waiting for us behind the woodpile," his sister continued.

"A whole family of them," Dale added. "And they were very hungry."

"Dale kicked the first one that attacked her…"

"And Gussie punched the one that went after her…"

"And… dammit… we forgot to work the ham into all of this somehow…"

"We were going to feed it to the bears?"

"That still doesn't explain why it's on the kitchen floor."

"Maybe they weren't hungry."

"Oh, so they forced their way inside?"

"Well, they are bigger than us. And throwing the ham on the floor was a very clever diversionary tactic on your part."

"But once inside, they decided they didn't like the smell of the house, so they turned around and left before they could eat it."

"Right!" Dale agreed. "And we just forgot to put it in the oven. Being all traumatized and everything, after being attacked by a family of bears, you know."

Gussie nodded seriously. "There you have it, little bro. It was bears."

After a moment of processing the fact that his sister, Ms. Dignity herself, had just rattled off such a completely and utterly preposterous story with a perfectly straight, almost smug face, he somehow managed to sputter, "But… bears hibernate in winter."

"Well, I'll be darned," Dale said cheerfully. "I guess that explains why they were being so slow and pissy!"

Gussie cracked at that, letting out a bark of laughter that Lance remembered as child, but hadn't heard often since.

He grinned broadly. It was good to hear. No, it was great to hear. And whatever magic Dale had worked on his sister, he thought it was probably worth a trip to the hospital, even on Christmas Eve.

*******


To be continued in part 8 when the muses decide to finally return me to this story (which may be tomorrow or ten years from now...)