Taking the tree down signals the end of another Christmas season for Adriana. Carefully wrapping and packing each ornament to ensure they will be safe until next year when she will lovingly unwrap each one and hang it on the perfect little tree to admire once again. The Angel topper will be the last thing off the tree and the most protected of all the decorations. It will be returned to it's original box and placed atop all the other ornaments for it's year long rest. Once stripped, the tree is folded and placed, lights intact, in it's storage box and everything is stacked with the utmost gentle touch in the closet. Closing the door, Adriana takes one last look and sighs before closing the door on this Christmas. It's been a good one. Her favorite gift was her new real friend, Carmen.
Carmen had met and nearly fallen in love with the most wonderful man over the holiday this year. She had known almost immediately that this was someone with whom she could have it all. She saw the two of them building a future together. He shared the same basic values as she and also seemed to feel instantly connected to Carmen as he had never felt before. The two of them had only begun down the road to forever when he was taken. Carmen couldn't even think he had died, he had not died. He was murdered for absolutely no reason except that someone decided to drive down his street just as he was walking into his new home and fire a shot or several in his direction. The police say it was just a stupid and random thing. They found no one in his life that could give any indication of anyone who would want him dead. He seemed to have a non-eventful life at work and privately. He had met a new woman a few weeks prior and everyone knew he was smitten, but everyone also knew she was equally smitten and saw no threat from her. She had been interviewed countless times by 2 different policemen and a detective and all concluded she had nothing to hide and was genuinely distraught and grieving. The case was closed and ruled gang drive-by without cause. Probably just an initiation of sending a wanna-be banger into an affluent neighborhood to find a target and leave a body. Anyone would be acceptable and it just happened to be Carmen's new man. Craig's funeral was over and Carmen was left with her family and her new friend Adriana to comfort her. The family would be going back home soon and she was so glad she had reached out to Adriana or she could find herself back in the black hole into which she was wallowing when she first saw Adriana.
Adriana was the perfect support system. She was always available but never intrusive. Carmen could call her anytime night or day, but she never just dropped by and rarely called. If she hadn't heard from Carmen all day, she might give her a call just to make sure all was well. If she didn't feel like talking, Adriana would just tell her it was fine, she understood needing alone time, just wanted her to know she was there, if needed. She was the ideal friend. Carmen was very lucky to have found and cultivated this friendship exactly when she did, she thought. Adriana was her lifeline once again.
At home alone this evening Adriana is thinking about some of the things she never likes to remember. The family who dismissed her at age 18. The boy in high school who had used her for his physical needs and then laughed at her when she expected to see him again. The boyfriend who seemed to like her a lot one day and the next day dumped her for a new girl who moved into the neighborhood. None of those people would ever hurt her again. In fact, none of them would ever hurt anyone.
Mr. and Mrs. Andrews had been involved in a horrible car accident less than a year after Adriana had moved away. The brakes on their car had apparently failed during their annual trip through the Smokey Mountains. Their bodies had been airlifted from the side of the mountain a few days after the crash and the car had never been recovered. The expense was not warranted because it appeared to all the inspectors the car had simply careened off the sharp mountain road turn and there were no skid marks on the pavement. Brakes had not functioned or they would have stained the pavement. Case closed and the tire with the bullet still sat down the mountain side unobserved by authorities.
The young man who 'used' her, Matt, has gone skiing with friends during the winter break. Somehow he had skied into a thicket by mistake, although he was a good skier, and seemed to have gotten lost trying to find his way back to the slope. Matt had passed out and died from exposure. His ski jacket had been removed and was in the snow near his body. A large amount of cocaine was found in his system and credited with his demise. His friends had not known he was using. Such a sad and tragic loss.
Adriana had moved several times in her life after high school. She had not looked back. Matt's death had affected her deeply. She had remained in the same school until graduation and then had moved on with her birthday check to another town and seldom looked back. Except when she read about Ricky. Ricky had dumped her unceremoniously when some new girl started hitting on him and acting like she was going to be his new girl. They dated for months and Adriana watched quietly from the sidelines and saw that this girl was now living the life Adriana wanted for herself. Not that she wanted it now, but she wasn't interested in letting the new girl have it either. It was the talk of the town when Ricky was found. Not one clue as to the killer, but he was certainly killed. Ricky was shot one time squarely in the middle of his forehead. One bullet removed and not one more slug or casing found near the site. His body had not been moved, the experts determined and no one had seen or heard a thing. He had been shot from a distance, they surmised, of approximately 300 yards. Surrounding the crime scene and measuring out the distance and the angle, the shot had come from an upstairs window of the Library. There was no evidence found in the only room that had a window that opened. No casing was found. No finger prints, foot prints nor any dust disturbed on the window ledge. The rifle had not rested on the window sill, it apparently had been held and fired from the standing position. This case would remain open and unsolved. Exhaustive investigation turned up not even one suspect. Adriana read of his death in her new home town newspaper. How sad.
This relatively new area where she had chosen this lovely apartment, was probably not her last home, but for now it was just right. No need to move yet. Everything was good in her life and her 'friends' and 'family' were happy here and now that they had Carmen to look after, staying here was important. She only had to drive 25 minutes to work from here and she didn't want to look for another job and for the time being, it was safe to stay here. Adriana did wonder, though, which of her 'friends' had taken care of the invader this time.
Shaking her head to clear those thoughts, she continued to prepare for the New Year. She could not control her 'friends' and 'family' but, she could and would control her own actions. Sometime today she would have to check the supply cupboard and see if one of the rifles needed to be cleaned. She was quite sure that would be the case. They were kept locked and not in view, but her 'friends' and her 'family' did know where they were kept. It's hard to be the caretaker for so many who have secrets, but at least, they didn't share their secrets with her, so all she had to worry about was cleaning up anything that might be a problem. Well, we all have our burdens, don't we?
Tomorrow is a work day so today is clean up and relax day. Adriana has some cleaning up to finish and some relaxing to do and then she will call Carmen and maybe they can have dinner tonight. Carmen needs to get out and start living again.
This is the most beautiful of all the winter days so far, she will remember to tell Carmen that it's important to thank God for a chance to live here in the north where the Winter Wonderland is so breathtakingly amazing. God must be thanked for all of our blessings daily. Carmen had been added to Adriana's list of blessings. Tonight the Winter Wonderland would also be an additional item.