Chapter 1: 7:15 PM
The beginning of the holiday season had always been Jack’s favorite time of year. From what little he could remember during his time in Rapture, trapped in Fontaine’s laboratories and stuck under the eye of Suchong, besides New Years, everything else was heavily frowned upon. There were no organized religions in Rapture, so no Christmas or Hanukkah, unless you celebrated it in your own home. From what he could gather, Rapture’s founding, November 5th, was supposed to act as a stand in for the more commercial aspects of Christmas.
“Being thankful for what you have is for parasites! Propaganda made up by the hacks in Washington! Tell me, why do I have to thank any of you? For my accomplishments? No, I did that on my own, no invisible man in the sky helped me. For the displeasure you’ve all caused me for the past ten years? If so, yes, thank you -”
Well, Andrew Ryan made it very clear what his thoughts on Thanksgiving were, and he made sure everyone knew it every year during the big feast. Whether you wanted his opinion or not, you were going to get it. This Thanksgiving was going to be no exception.
So, he never got to celebrate the holidays as a child. The most he got was a piece of candy from Tenenbaum that he cherished. But, there were other memories jumbled in: of times when he was small, chewing on a turkey leg, saying grace with a family so large that the table could fit nearly a dozen people. He could vividly remember sitting on his father’s shoulders to put the star on the tree they picked together outside their farm in Kansas. He and his mother used to spend a day building an army of snowmen, and then spend the night snuggled by the fire with a cup of hot chocolate, listening to the Christmas radio dramas.
But, those weren’t real. The loving and gentle mother and father he remembered from events that never even happened had never existed. His whole life was a lie. At first, it was a lot to take in, and he had a hard time accepting it.
Getting able to recreate those moments with his children, though, made up more than enough. Their first Christmas, he barely had anything, but the joy on their faces when they saw the few presents he could afford under their tiny, dying tree in their uncomfortably small apartment somehow made it the most magical one of all.
He didn’t have a farm in Kansas, but he managed to work hard enough to afford a large, spacious house in a nice suburb right outside of town. He had that big table in their big dining room that perfectly fit a big, happy (for the most part) family for Thanksgiving. Every Christmas marked more presents under their huge, ornament full tree, the stockings hanging on the fireplace practically being dragged down by how full they were. And even though Masha chose to celebrate Hanukkah, which they all celebrated together, she also did very well for herself when it came to gifts.
If he had the means, he was going to spoil his girls rotten. After everything they had gone through during the first few years of their lives, they deserved the world.
But, the material things weren’t why he loved the holidays. It was nice to give or receive a gift, the decorations in town were always beautiful, and keeping the dream of Santa Claus alive as long as humanly possible was special, of course. He used to say the holidays were his favorite because of how excited his girls would get when the time rolled in. How he was able to start new traditions with them like playing out in the snow or decorating the house as a family.
Every year, more picture frames were added on the fireplace. What started as one lonely photo of them all standing at the steps of the lighthouse, squinting from the intensity of the sun and exhausted, turned into school portraits, memorabilia from family vacations, graduation pictures, it went on and on.
As Jack finished placing the garland on the fireplace, his eyes moved to one frame in particular; a photo of a stunning, beaming young woman with light brown hair, pointing at a letter she held out by the kitchen table. ‘Berkeley bound!’ was written on the white, wooden frame with purple paint.
Janice, his eldest, who used to be a gangly, awkward girl in a torn, dirty pink dress that didn't even go to her knees, was twenty-one now. She was on her second year at Berkeley Law. She earned it. She studied for weeks, stayed up multiple nights to achieve it, even when people doubted her, she never gave up, but still, he missed her. California was so far away from New York.
And Rosie, his not-so-little spitfire, was an hour away in NYU. Freshmen weren’t allowed to bring their cars onto campus, and if she ever wanted to come home for the weekends, he would have been at the train station to pick her up in a heartbeat. She just chose to stay in the city. The Big Apple was much more exciting than little, old Saratoga Falls. She had always been attracted to the bustle of the city and was happy living the nightlife with her friends. It must have been nostalgic for her.
With his girls all grown up and beginning to go their own ways, the holidays now meant something else to Jack. It brought them all home. He got to know them, not just as their father, but as their friend. He’d learn all about Masha’s family as they celebrated Hanukkah, Janice would tell about her time in California and everything going on at college, Rosie always had some crazy stories to share, and the younger girls ranted to him about their classes.
Jack turned his head to see his wife leaning on the doorway, a soft smile on her lips. She must have been watching decorate for a while.
“Do you know where she’s at?” he asked. He couldn’t have contained his excitement even if he tried.
“When we talked, she had just picked up Rosie at the station and they were stopping to get gas and some drinks.” She walked towards him and wrapped her thin arms around his thick, muscular waist. “She said she needed caffeine and had to save her quarters for the vending machine, so she couldn't stay on for long.”
“I told her if she was too tired from the flight I would have picked her up at the airport,” Jack replied. “I don’t like any of the girls driving on Hamilton at night, you know how bad deer season is right now?”
She rolled her eyes with a smirk. “They’ll be fine, Rosie’s got enough energy in her to power a small army.”
“Liz, I had five cars coming into the shop from deer accidents this week alone. Completely totaled! I don’t even know what to do with them.”
“You know how careful Janice is, she moves at a snail's pace when there’s an inch of snow. They’ll be home, perfectly safe in a half an hour.” Elizabeth paused. “Ten minutes if Rosie gets pissed enough to take the wheel.”
He shook his head. “God help us.” He took her hands and rubbed his calloused fingers over her smooth skin. “So, who is this guy Janice is bringing over? Dennis?”
“David,” she corrected, playfully scolding him. “And from everything I’ve heard about him, he is a very nice guy, and he makes her very happy. Oh, and he’s in medical school.”
It was as if she was warning him, and Jack sighed, running a hand through his dirty blonde hair. “I’m sure he’s a good kid. She’s just so young. She’s only twenty-one!”
“I was twenty-one when I met you,” Elizabeth replied. “Besides, you were-”
“No, don’t even go there.”
And now he was playfully scolding her, and they both chuckled together before they found their wedding picture on the mantle. They stood outside the church, arm in arm, with their girls, who were much younger than they were now and wearing matching little dresses, with several good friends such as Dr. Tenenbaum.
There was a guilty pang in his stomach when he saw her in the back, looking awkward and like she didn’t belong. He could tell Elizabeth felt the same way, especially with how things were for the past month or so. It was a looming elephant in the room that had to be addressed soon, but they wanted to ignore it for just a little while longer.
He had to say, though, he looked quite dashing in his tux and Liz, of course, was gorgeous in that dress, but he was biased. His wife was the most beautiful woman alive.
And then, there was a more recent photo beside it of he and Sally, beaming from ear to ear after one of her cheerleading competitions last spring. It was closer to the city, and when it was over, they got ice cream. She wasn’t that cowering seven-year-old in the bathysphere anymore. Today was her birthday, and she was sixteen now.
“I miss when they were that small,” Jack said, his full of melancholy as Elizabeth rested her head on one of his broad shoulders. “It’s like they don’t even need us anymore.”
“They still need us.”
“Yeah, but they’re not coming to us anymore if they got a scrape or had a nightmare, or asking me to read them a bedtime story-”
“Isn’t this what we wanted, though?” Elizabeth asked. “Them to grow up and be normal, independent women with their own lives?”
“I just didn’t realize how fast it was going to go.” He faced his wife. “I miss when they’d run around the house and play dolls right here. Or, when they’d sit at the table and paint. I mean, what’s the point of having this big house if it’s empty?”
She smiled softly, leading his hands to the growing swell of her stomach, just beginning to poke out from her dress. “Just think, we’ll get to do it all over again soon.”
And the thought of reliving all those moments again and passing down those holiday traditions with someone entirely new- a little boy or girl who would be the perfect blend of them both- gave Jack chills. Good chills, but chills nonetheless. They both had dreamed about this, tried for years. There were so many tears shed. Doctors had told them to give up, that it just wasn’t possible, and they were ready to, but here they were now. Cradling their unborn child, who’s birth in just a few short months would mark the beginning of spring, and with it, a whole new chapter of their lives.
He may have been excited for this Christmas, but he was already looking forward to next year.
As he cupped his wife’s cheeks, Jack could only be amazed that she was somehow even more beautiful carrying their child than ever before. God, he loved her. He loved his family so much. Rapture and Fontaine may have tried to take everything from him, but they gave him even more than he thought was possible.
Their lips inched closer together, ready to share a passionate kiss, but their moment together was disrupted by the shuffling of feet. A small cough from near the doorway made them separate. Their youngest girl, fifteen-year-old Leta, glanced between the two as she rubbed her arm. Her cheeks were turning a light shade of pink.
“Grandpa wants to know if we’re doing cake soon,” she began after she was finished gawking. “He says that his show is coming on, and he does not want to be bothered while he’s watching it.”
The couple raised a brow at each other and scowled. “Did you tell him it’s up to your sister?” He asked.
“Well, yeah, but he told me that her birthday doesn’t give her superiority over him.” The bespectacled girl shrugged. "I didn't want to get into a debate with him."
Elizabeth rolled her eyes while Jack exhaled slowly. He placed a hand on his daughter’s shoulders. “Alright,” he said as father and daughter began to make their way to the kitchen, “let’s take care of the old man.”
“I’m going to see what Sal wants to do.” Elizabeth motioned upstairs. “It’s her day, she’s the birthday girl.”
Jack nodded, though, he felt a pang a jealousy that his wife didn’t have to deal with his father. Stress wasn’t good for the baby, and Andrew Ryan had the magical gift of raising blood pressures. He didn’t even need to open his mouth to do it, Jack could feel the inevitable migraine starting and there weren’t any arguments yet.
Chapter 2: 7:25 PM
Andrew Ryan has not learned a single thing since Rapture. Everyone in the family is tired.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“Sally can say whatever she wants, just because she was one of the millions born today does not give her authority over me.”
One would think that after nearly ten years of dealing with Andrew Ryan, Jack would be immune to his rants and demands, but his father was exhausting. Truly exhausting. Just attempting to have a simple conversation with him was draining. He could say the sky was blue and Ryan would then argue that the sky was actually green. Or, he could say that the weather was nice, and Ryan would then complain about how it was too hot or cold for his liking. Nothing ever satisfied him.
Jack supposed it was to be expected given how devoted he was to his beloved city. He put his heart, soul, everything he had into its creation, including his billion-dollar fortune, which, in turn, kept him trapped here; with them. None of his rich buddies in New York cared enough about him, Ryan alienated practically every ally he had there by considering them too ‘simple’ for his grand utopia. Besides, if any of them were as callous he was, they would have laughed him right of the city for daring to ask for a handout. Hell, not even the media cared. When word got around that he had somehow been spotted on the shores of Saratoga Falls after nearly twenty years, the only mention of it was a small paragraph in The National Enquirer. The grand return of the prodigal son was instead a fizzle; unbefitting for the once richest man in America.
And so, Andrew Ryan was stuck in a small town, full of people he loathed, depending on his ‘greatest disappointment’ to provide for him in his senior years. It was like some twisted purgatory for him, but instead of somehow learning from this and bettering himself as a person, he decided to make everyone as miserable as him. If he couldn’t be happy, no one could.
How very collectivist of him.
“Dad, it’s gonna take five minutes tops,” Jack said as he rubbed his temples. Yep, there was that migraine. “Come on, all she wants is for everyone to be here.”
“Everyone will be here, and when they arrive, they can go to the fridge and take a slice,” Ryan replied with a wave of his hand. “I’m sure there will be plenty left unless your wife sucks them down like the human vacuum cleaner she’s become lately.”
Jack scowled. “You don’t talk about Elizabeth like that, you got me?” he warned, wagging his finger.
And the older man crossed his arms and huffed, as if he were a child being scolded. “General Hospital is almost on, it is the one fulfilling thing I have left in my life, so I demand silence while I watch it.”
“You want to watch your soap opera? Fine, you can watch your soap opera. I’m sure Sally will compromise with you and we can do cake during a commercial break.”
Ryan shook his head. “No, that will not work.”
“What do you mean that won’t work?”
“ABC’s commercials are only thirty-seconds long, I’d miss too much in the time it takes for you to gawk at the cake, snap unnecessary pictures, and harmonize off each other like hyenas in coitus.”
Leta, who had been silent the entire time, cringed at that lovely metaphor. She looked at her father to see what he was going to say next, but frankly he didn’t know how to respond. His blood pressure was sky-rocketing. It was taking everything in him not to lose his patience, which was exactly what his father wanted so he could have the upper-hand.
If Ryan’s stubbornness was genetic, Jack was really going to be in trouble in the next few years with the baby.
Thankfully, what sounded to be a herd of elephants stomping down the steps meant that his two other girls. Sally and Masha, were coming down, and with them, his wife. Finally, a united front. Dealing with Andrew Ryan was a family affair and he desperately needed reinforcements.
Ryan reacted appropriately for a man of his age when cornered by his son, his pregnant daughter-in-law, and three teenage girls. He huffed like a toddler during a tantrum. It was a pitiful sight. For a man who used his wealth and talents to build the most advanced societies ever conceived to get away from welfare to pout in his bathrobe and bunny slippers as he relied on his son to survive must have been humiliating.
But, Andrew Ryan would never admit defeat. That would take away the last shred of dignity he desperately clung onto. From an underwater city full of deranged addicts to soap operas and birthday cake, he’d go down kicking and screaming, never admitting being wrong or pinning the blame on someone else.
Sally’s the first one to speak. Unlike the other girls, who were much more combative and aggressive when it came to ‘debating’ with their grandfather, she had a different approach. “Grandpa, I know you want to watch your show,” she began as she sat on the edge of the kitchen table, playing with one of the straps of her faded, pink denim jumper shorts. “And, of course, your happiness matters. So, we can do cake after your show is over, how does that sound.”
Ryan paused for a moment. His brows furrowed as he put a hand to his chin. Jack was impressed. It was looking as if she had him, a nigh impossible feat. “No.”
“What do you mean no?” Sally, taken aback, asked incredulously.
“What, you can’t spare five minutes of your time to sing?”
“No, I cannot, Elizabeth,” the older man replied matter-of-factly.
Leta, who had been silent since entering the kitchen with Jack, finally chimed in. “You get to watch your show, though? Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“After the show is over at nine, it will be my bedtime.”
“Bedtime?” Masha scoffed with a smirk. “What are you? Five?”
“No, it is called aging, Masha!” Ryan snapped, his eyes narrowing at the fifteen-year-old. “And while it may be hard to understand due to your youth and the seemingly infinite energy that comes with it, as people grow old, they get tired earlier. Therefore, they have to go to sleep earlier.”
“Oh, so you’re Benjamin Button, then? Got it, with every passing year, you turn more into a man-child.”
“Very smart, Masha. I’m surprised you knew that reference. I would think it’s too old and complicated for your small, feeble mind, unlike, say The Beatles high on whatever brain-frying drugs they take to spew their bolshevik propaganda garbage-”
Elizabeth put her hands on her hips. “Sally’s willing to hold off and wait until your show is over, and here you are, doing what you always do: being selfish and inconsiderate of everyone else around you!” Her lips pursed as Sally nodded in agreement. “One day. That’s all we were hoping for. One day of you just going with the flow and not arguing-”
“Well, then let’s just do cake now then!”
“We’re waiting for Janice and Rosie! I want everybody here so we can all do this as a family!” Sally said, though her sweet facade was beginning to crack and show a hint of annoyance.
“And there will be plenty of cake left for them when they are here!”
The stress-induced migraine Jack had finally reached its boiling point. He was putting his foot down, figuratively and literally. He pressed his finger into his father’s chest. “You’re doing cake with us no matter what time we do it, and that’s final,” he hissed. “I don’t care if it’s three in the morning, your ass is going to be there.”
“Or what? You’ll drag me out of bed?” Ryan asked, staring down at his son’s much larger finger as if it were a joke. “Frankly, this country may be a husked shell of what it used to be, but I know I am well within my rights to go to bed when I please and you can’t force me to do anything.”
Jack scowled. His index finger poked deeper.
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“You thought that ten years ago,” the younger man said. “You really want to test that hypothesis again?”
That seemed to change Ryan’s tune. His bemused, smug expression dropped as his brows raised and eyes shot open. He glanced down at the finger jammed into his chest and then back up at his son’s frown for a few seconds before slowly brushing away his hand. “I see, you have made your point.”
“I know what’s going on.” Masha chortled, nudging at Leta with her elbow. “He doesn’t want to meet Janice’s new boy-toy, Daniel-”
“David,” Elizabeth corrected.
“Yeah, sure, David,” Masha continued, rolling her eyes. “Why else would he want to do cake now and run up to bed with his tail between his legs?”
“I’m not running with my tail between my legs. As I recall, I am not a dog, but a human being, Masha, and human beings do not have tails-”
“Oh, shut the fuck up-”
“Hold on, this is what the problem is?” Jack put his hand up, silencing everyone. Now it was all starting to make sense. “Janice’s boyfriend? Really?”
Ryan crossed his arms. “You know how these college kids are today! They all fall into the collectivist group mentality and are pumped out by schools to hate the free market! The very same system that has given their mommy and daddy wealth and the cushy, comfortable life they have!” He turned his head away and huffed. “Especially in California, the breeding ground of parasitic degenerates like those goddamn hippies.”
“You haven’t even met the kid and you’re already got him out to be a bum!” Jack cried.
“Oh, but I have heard plenty about him! He’s from California! I bet he’s ‘free-spirited.’ A real ‘bohemian.’” Ryan said with finger quotes. “The last thing we need is her bringing a hippie into the house. They don’t bathe because they believe all the water on Earth is going to magically dissipate, so they roll around in their own filth. Like bringing a farm animal into your home.”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “Janice wouldn’t date a slob, Andrew.”
"Yeah, I bet he's a great guy!" Sally smiled. "He's part of the family, whether you like it or not."
“No he is not!" Ryan fumed. "You don’t know what that college has done to her! It’s changing her!”
“Whatever you say.” Jack shook his head. “Listen, they’re going to be home in the next ten minutes so I’m expecting you to be on your best behavior-”
Ryan was flabbergasted. “I am not a child, son-”
“Then stop acting like one,” he replied as the group began to disperse. “You’re going to be there for cake and you’re going to be nothing but polite to David. End of discussion.”
“Now, wait a minute-”
Jack wrapped his arm around his wife and led her out of the room, but not before waving his hand, his back turned away from his father. “No, no, this discussion is over.”
And before Ryan could open his mouth again to argue, he was alone in the kitchen. He turned his attention down to the floor, where Spot, the nine-week-old Australian Shepherd laid, completely exhausted from barking at a beetle an hour prior. The puppy blinked at him.
“I’ll tell you this,” he said. “I’m not shaking that parasite’s hand. I’d rather not risk getting the plague, thank you.”
Spot tilted his head. His big ears flopped over.
“Well, at least you listen.”
I hate Ryan so much, but he is so much fun to write.