Disclaimer: Bobby Drake and all other recognizable characters belong to Marvel and are used without permission and without monetary profit. I realize the Bobby seems more literate in his musings here than one might normally expect, but please humor me.
Feedback (please) to alykat@subreality.com
This story was originally written for the 1999 CFAN Holiday Fanfic Project.

Norman Rockwell
by Alykat

I love Christmas - the whole holiday season, actually. Everything's so warm and friendly - a mug of hot cocoa, a crackling fire in the hearth, the woodsy scent of Christmas trees and garland, the warmth of friends and family long separated and dearly missed. Whoever called it "the most wonderful time of the year" was right.

Then again, maybe that person was part of some secret propagandist group trying to cover up just how horrible this time of year is with garish lights and hopeless ideals. Maybe that person was a hopeless masochist bent on spreading the misery by piling on the pressure.

It's all Norman Rockwell's fault.

Americana. Rockwell's paintings seem to embody a culture that's both earnestly familiar and painfully nonexistent.

I've often scoffed at the perfection of the timeless scenes he captured - the happy families eating holiday meals or sharing special moments. But sometimes I would catch myself staring wistfully at them, wondering how those people could be so happy - and why my family wasn't.

Mom has a collection of Saturday Evening Posts and other Rockwell memorabilia. She usually hangs the more festive pieces on the wall during the holidays, to brighten up the room, she says.

I've caught her staring into those happy paintings time and again. She'll be dusting or ironing or something, and suddenly her eyes will fix on one of those faded images, and it's as if she's been transported somehow into that perfect world. I'll find her standing there, a small, childlike smile on her face as she immerses herself in the scene. A movement or noise from me jolts her from her reverie, and she'll resume her work, casting a brief, wistful glance back at the picture.

My mother tries so hard to make everything perfect for us. She's put supper on the table nearly every night for the past thirty years for my father and later for me. Played neighborhood welcome wagon and positive center of our universe. Stayed home to raise me. Tried to smooth out the fights between Dad and I.

I know the fact that Dad and I didn't get along hurt Mom. She thrives on peace and harmony. Smiles and laughter. Tension in the house genuinely hurts her, because it makes her feel like she's failed. She's done her best over the years to hide it, but I've seen her staring longingly at the Rockwells whenever Dad and I got into it at the dinner table.

After the fights, I'd usually get up from the table and walk down to the beach to sulk, and Dad would sit stony-faced at the dinner table. Mom would come to each of us, to make sure we were both okay. And I'd tell her that Dad was inflexible, that he couldn't - wouldn't - understand me. And Dad would say the same of me. And head down, hands clenched, she'd go back to the kitchen and wash the dinner dishes. And she'd avoid looking at the Rockwell painting above the dinner table of the happy family sitting down to a huge holiday meal.

This Christmas, though, has a strange glow about it. Mom's happier than I've seen her in a while. Dad's sitting by the fire, singing Bing Crosby and trying to get Mom to join him.

It's been a difficult year for all of us, and we've all changed, grown closer, because of it. Dad stood up for me on national TV and was nearly killed for it. Before that, I always thought he had more in common with the people who beat him up than with me. When I took time off from the team to be with him and Mom during his recovery, Dad and I had a lot of time to talk. Maybe the first time we've really talked my whole life.

It was good.

Now, everything hasn't gone back to normal. And that's a good thing. I don't feel a breath of frigid tension as I walk in the door. I don't tense up when I hear my father's voice. The warm smells of Christmas spices and roasting turkey don't chill my bones with irony.

I walk into the den, a smile on my face, and hug my Mom and Dad.

It's still not Rockwell, but it's finally home.


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