"Are you sure this is the right house?" Diane Evans asked her husband doubtfully.
"Yes," he said, in a long suffering tone. "I'm sure."
Isabel stared at the house in front of her. It was a decent size, two stories high. Icicle lights hung from the eaves all away around the house. It was snowing softly, adding to the already foot deep pile on the lawn. The sidewalks were clear of snow, but Isabel didn't trust them. She had a sneaky suspicion they were covered with ice.
She looked at the cold winter scene outside, then looked around the nice, cozy car and shivered. "I think I'll stay in the car until you're sure," she announced.
Her father sighed, exasperated. The day had not gone well. First of all, their flight had been delayed for two long hours. Then the car rental place had messed up their rental. That took another hour to sort out. Finally, Philip had managed to get them lost three times on the way to his sister's house. They were supposed to be there at two. It was now seven. Everyone's nerves were high strung.
"Isabel," he said, "Just come in."
"Fine," Isabel said, sullenly.
Max threw her a reproachful look, which she ignored completely. Isabel had been right about the path; it was covered with ice. She discovered this when she slipped on it. Isabel managed to keep herself from falling down, but she dropped her bags in the process. Dropped them on her toes. "Oww," she wailed.
"You okay, Izzy?" her mother asked.
"I'm fine," Isabel answered, through clenched teeth. "Watch out for the ice."
I shouldn't have worn high-heels, Isabel concluded. Her feet were killing her. The shoes were the only ones that matched her outfit, but Isabel made a mental note to forget about fashion the next time she traveled. It wasn't worth the blisters. Isabel couldn't wait to get to her room, take off the horrible shoes, and heal her wounded feet.
Her father rang the doorbell. The family could hear a young voice yell out excitedly, "I'll get it." A second later the door swung open.
Standing in the doorway was a young girl around five years old. She had short brown hair that was currently in a state of disarray. "Mommy," she called, "They're here."
Her mother came into the hall. "Philip," she said warmly, "You're here!"
Philip stepped into the house, dropped his bags and embraced his sister. "Good to see you, Manda," he said, kissing her on the cheek.
"Why, Diane," Amanda exclaimed. "You look fabulous."
"So do you," Diane said, also hugging Amanda.
The young girl, who, Isabel realized, must be their cousin Tamara, had run upstairs to get her dad.
Both Max and Isabel had moved inside and shut the door behind them, but only because it was cold outside. Isabel felt very nervous and out of place. She knew her brother felt the same way. So they just sort of hung around the door awkwardly until their aunt noticed.
The rest of them family had come down and everyone had finished hugging and kissing each other. Isabel noticed that her cousins looked just as shy as she felt right now, including Tamara, who was now clinging to her mother's legs.
"You can come in, you know," Aunt Amanda said, her eyes twinkling. "We don't bite."
Only a discreet, yet sharp elbow in Isabel's side from Max prevented her from giving a sarcastic reply.
"My, how you've grown," Aunt Amanda was saying. "The last time I saw you, you were only this high," she put her hand up to her chest, indicating their height. "And now look at you! You've grown up!"
"It's been six years since we've seen you," Max reminded.
"That's right," she agreed. "How time flies. I was pregnant with Tamara. You've never met her, have you."
Max and Isabel shook their heads.
"Well, this is Tamara," she said, motioning to her youngest daughter, who was still clinging to her mother's legs. "And you remember Brandon and Emily."
Brandon was seven and Emily was nine. They had both been toddlers the last time Max and Isabel had seen them.
"Why are you so late?" Amanda asked her brother while leading everyone to the kitchen. "I thought you were supposed to be here at two?"
"We were," Philip told her dryly. "We were delayed." He rolled his eyes.
"Excuse me, Aunt Amanda," Isabel interrupted before her father could start ranting about the inefficiency of everyone. She had lived through it, she didn't need to hear it. "But I'd like to change. Could you show me where my room is?"
"Of course, dear," she answered. "You and Max will have to share a room, I'm afraid."
"That's okay," Max said.
They got their luggage from the hall and followed their aunt downstairs to their room. It was on the small side, but it was big enough. Certainly not somewhere Isabel could live permanently. There were two twin beds, separated by a small bedside table with a lamp and an alarm clock on it.
"Thanks," Max said to Aunt Amanda as she left them.
"I get this one," Isabel called, jumping onto the bed closest to the door."
Max rolled his eyes. "Sure," he said.
Isabel grimaced as she kicked off her shoes. "Oww. My feet are killing me."
"Mom told you not to wear those shoes," Max reminded her.
"Oh, shut up," Isabel moaned. Sitting up, she put her hand over her feet and healed every last blister. "They're still sore," she complained after she finished.
"Maybe that will teach you to listen to mom. She's done a lot more travelling than you. She knows what she's talking about."
"Skip the lecture," Isabel told him. "Besides, there was no permanent damage done."
"That's only because you used your powers," Max accused.
Isabel looked at him blankly. "And your point would be . . . ?"
"Isabel, you know we have to be more careful," Max started.
Isabel interrupted him. "I thought I told you to skip the lecture." She sprang to her feet. "Get out," she said, shooing him towards the door. "I want to change."
He left still muttering, closing the door behind him. Isabel pulled her suitcase up onto the bed and sat down. Opening it, she looked through what she had brought, trying to decide what to wear. After much thought, she settled on jeans and her nice, *warm* red Christmas sweater. She slipped it on, then went back upstairs to the kitchen.
Slipping into the chair at the table, Isabel looked around the kitchen. Everyone else had disappeared. Only her father was still sitting there.
"Oh, hello, Isabel. Cookie?" her father asked asked, offering Isabel a plate of gingerbread men.
"Sure," Isabel said. She took one of the smaller ones on the top and nibbled at it. It was okay. Probably would be excellent with a little tabasco sauce.
"So," Philip began. "When you were downstairs, we were talking. Amanda thought it would be a good idea if we went out for dinner. Izzy would you mind babysitting your cousins with Max?" The look in her father's eyes, half pleading, half ordering, told Isabel what her answer was supposed to be.
"Yeah," she sighed. She took another bite of her gingerbread cookie.
"Perfect," Philip exclaimed, getting up. "Your mother and aunt are upstairs changing right now. Uncle Tom is ordering you some pizza."
Isabel raised her eyebrow. "Looks like I had a lot of choice in this matter," she commented.
Her father sighed and sat down again. "Izzy," he said. "Don't be like this. Look tomorrow, I promise, we can do something without your cousins."
"Shopping," Isabel prompted.
"With your credit card."
"But it's Christmas time," Isabel protested. "I'm broke."
"You aren't broke."
"That's not the point. Besides, one normally gets *paid* to babysit."
"Fine," Philip relented. "I'll give you some money. But, behave."
"Okay, I think Max is putting on a movie for the kids. We're not sure where we're going yet, but I have my cellphone, so you can call if there's an emergency." Philip got up and reached into his back pocket, pulling out his wallet. "Here's twenty dollars for the pizza. Keep the change."
Isabel also got up and pocketed the twenty. Then she walked into the family room, where her three cousins were staring at the t.v. screen avidly. "What are we watching?" she asked Max, who was sitting on the couch.
"Frosty," he said. "They insisted."
"Figures," Isabel muttered. She wandered off to the hall where the adults were putting on their coats. "We're off then," her mother said. "Have fun."
"One sec," said Aunt Amanda. "I have to go say goodbye to the kids." Isabel followed her back into the family room. "We're going now," she told them. "Max, Tom gave you money for the pizza, right?" Max nodded. "We'll be back in a couple hours. Behave yourself for Max and Isabel," she told her kids. They all nodded and she kissed them goodbye.
Isabel decided not to tell Max about the money her dad had given her. She sat down on the couch beside him and watched the movie.
Right when Karen and Frosty were getting on the northbound train, the doorbell rang. Isabel, glad for the break, ran and answered it. The pizza man was standing there. He was rather cute, Isabel noticed with a slight grin. Not much older than her or Max.
Max came into the hall with the money in his hand.
Isabel smiled at the delivery boy. "How much will that be?" she asked in her flirting voice.
She was pleased to notice it had an affect on the boy. "$13.57," he said, not once taking his eye's off of Isabel.
Max, who knew his sister, saw watch she was doing and smiled to himself, shaking his head slightly. "Here," he said, handing the boy fifteen dollars.
"Oh, what?" the flustered boy said, noticing Max for the first time. "Oh. Thanks." He took the money then started to go, only to realize that he was suppose to give them the pizza. He turned around blushing and gave it to them.
"Bye now," Isabel called after him.
"Sometimes, Isabel," Max said. "You're evil. How did you manage to get him so off balance in the few seconds you saw him?"
Max handed her the pizza then went into the family room. "Pizza's here," he told the kids.
Meanwhile Isabel had put the pizza on the kitchen table and was rummaging through the cupboards trying to find plates. Finally hitting jackpot, she took out five and brought them over to the table.
Tamara, Emily and Brandon looked at them, then at her. Finally Emily said, "We aren't supposed to use the grown up plates."
"Yeah," Brandon said, "I want the Hercules plate."
"Mulan! Mulan!" Tamara shouted.
Isabel stared at her cousins. "Fine," she snapped. She stomped over to the cupboard and took out three plastic plates. She marched back over to the table and slammed them down.
"Isabel," Max admonished. That seemed to be all he was doing lately. It was getting to be very annoying.
"Fine," she relented. "I'm sorry."
She went back to the cupboards and began to rummage through them again. Max was giving out the pizza. "Careful," he said. "It's hot. Don't eat it yet."
"You have to cut Tammy's," Emily told him.
"Okay," Max said. He went over and grabbed a fork and knife and cut up his little cousin's pizza.
Finally Isabel found what she was looking for. "Aha!" she exclaimed triumphantly. She pulled out the bottle of Tabasco Sauce and proudly displayed it to Max. "Got it," she said happily.
She walked back over to the table. Max handed her some pizza with an encouraging smile. "Thanks," Isabel said, taking her seat.
She poured tabasco sauce over her pizza liberally, then passed it to Max who did the same. He held the nearly empty bottle up in the air. "I think we need to get some more."
"Oww!" Emily said as she took a bite.
"What happened?" Isabel asked.
"I burnt my mouth," whined Emily.
Isabel sighed and pushed herself away from the table. She walked over to the freezer and opened it. The ice wasn't completely frozen. Isabel sighed again, then froze a piece. She took it out of the ice cube tray and brought it back over to the table. "Suck on this," she said, giving Emily the ice.
"Wait till it cools," Max ordered the other two. "It's to hot to eat right now."
It was a couple of minutes before Max pronounced the pizza cool enough for the kids to eat. The rest of the meal passed without incident.
For dessert they had sundaes. The kids insisted that their parents always let them have ice cream after dinner. Neither Isabel nor Max was inclined to believe them, but they let them have it anyways, partly because Isabel wanted ice cream herself. They used up the last of the tabasco sauce.
"Da-arn it," Isabel censored herself when she remembered there were young ears within hearing range of her voice. She didn't have as much tabasco sauce as she'd like. She loved drenching the ice cream and she especially wanted a treat after a day like that.
"Do you want to eat your desert in the other room?" Max asked.
"Yes!" Emily, Brandon and Tamara shouted almost as one. Before they could even finish the word, they were bounding back to the tv.
"Max," Isabel said in a prim voice, wagging her finger at him. "Really, what ever are you doing? You're spoiling them."
"Oh, come on, Izzy," Max said, a grin on his face. "Can you honestly say you aren't dying to see if Frosty makes it safely to the North Pole?"
"Hmm," Isabel said, tapping her lip with her index finger as she pretended to give the matter some thought. "Let me think." Then she put her hand down and said clearly. "No."
"Where's your Christmas spirit, Iz?" Max asked.
Isabel raised an eyebrow. "Do you really have to ask? I'm all for Christmas, but I don't like watching all the corny Christmas specials on a day when everything that can go wrong has gone wrong." She looked at Max with sad puppy dog eyes and pouted. "They didn't even have enough tabasco sauce!"
Max just sighed and shook his head. Emily came running back into the room. "Can we put the movie on?" she asked.
"Sure," Max nodded. He followed his young cousin back into the family room and they all sat down to finish watching Frosty.
When Frosty was over, the kids insisted on watching Rudolph. Isabel suppressed a sigh. "Do we really have to continue with the Christmas theme?" she wondered under her breath so only Max could hear her.
He replied in an equally low tone, "It's their house, they're younger, Iz. Besides, I really doubt they can watch any movie you'd want to see."
"What?" Isabel asked. "You don't think Aunt Amanda and Uncle Tom would appreciate it if we let their kids watch 'The Matrix?'"
"Considering it's R, I'd have to go with no."
Max just smiled at Isabel. "C'mon, you know you're enjoying yourself."
Isabel raised an eyebrow in what she considered her Scully expression. "I am doing no such thing."
"Sure," Max said sarcastically.
"Really," Isabel added, turning back to face the television. "I don't know why you'd think I'd to watch all these stupid Christmas specials."
"You used to love these 'stupid Christmas specials,'" Max reminded her.
"Oh, please," Isabel dismissed the notion with a wave of her hand. "That was years ago. I grew out of that stage."
"You know how I can't lie to you without you knowing?" Max asked. He waited for Isabel to nod before continuing. "Well, it works both ways."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Isabel said.
Max smiled sadly. "I know," he said. "That's the sad part. You should remember, despite of what your friends say," he frowned adding, "and think, image isn't everything."
Isabel answered with a sad smile of her own. "I know, Max," she said softly. Then she curled up in her seat and watched of the movie promising herself she'd finish the evening without complaint. It had been a long day, and the events were finally taking toll on her body. Soon Isabel was dozing lightly.
Before long a small hand was shaking her. Isabel woke up with a start and automatically pushed the hand out of the way. She opened her eyes and saw Emily standing in front of her. "The movie's over," she said solemnly.
Isabel wiped her eyes and asked crankily, "Why didn't you bug Max, then?"
"He's asleep, too."
Isabel glanced over to where her brother had been sitting. Sure enough, there he was curled up on the couch, fast asleep beside her. "Why didn't you wake him up?" she moaned rhetorically.
"'Cause you were closer," Emily answered seriously.
"What time is it?" Isabel asked. Then she looked around the room. "And where are Brandon and Tamara?" she added, noticing their absences.
Emily shrugged. "Dunno."
Isabel sighed and got up. She went over to the VCR. The clock was blinking 12:00. Since the VCR wasn't set, she went into the kitchen and looked at the clock on the wall. It read 9:56.
"Shouldn't you guys be in bed by now?" she asked.
"Probably," Emily shrugged again. She grabbed some chocolate from the cupboard and went up to the kitchen counter and sat down to eat it.
Isabel ran up to her and took the chocolate away. "You can't have that now. It's too close to bedtime."
"But Brandon had some," Emily whined.
"What? When?" Isabel demanded.
"When you were sleeping."
"Fine," Isabel relented. "You can have some. But only if you tell me where your brother and sister are."
Emily was only too happy to comply. "Brandon's up in his room and Tammy's in the basement."
"Right," Isabel nodded. Then she headed downstairs.
"Tamara?" she called out. The basement seemed empty. "Tamara? Are you down here?"
There was no answer. Isabel shook her head and went back up into the kitchen. "I thought you said Tamara was downstairs," she said angrily.
Emily didn't look up. "She is. She's probably hiding."
"Where would she be hiding?"
Emily shrugged. Isabel threw her hands up into the air and gave up. She went back downstairs. "Tamara," she called out again. "Where are you. I know you're down here."
The high-pitched giggle of a child answered her. Isabel wasn't sure where it had come from, so she tried again. "Tamara? Come out, come out where ever you are."
Tamara giggled again. This time Isabel was sure it came from the closet at the other end of the basement. She walked swiftly and silently over there and flung it open. Tamara was sitting at the back, curled up in a ball, trying to make herself small, laughing. When she realized Isabel had found her, she started to pout.
"How'd you find me?" she asked pathetically, her lower lip trembling.
"I heard you," Isabel said impatiently. "Now, come on. It's bed time."
Tamara jumped up. "I don't want to go to bed!" she shouted. She darted out of the closet and up the basement stairs before Isabel could stop her. Isabel followed her.
"Tamara, come back here," she yelled.
They ran past the kitchen and Emily, who was watching their antics with open amusement. "I don't suppose you could help," Isabel said.
"What'll I get if I help," Emily asked.
"How 'bout I don't tell your parents and you don't get grounded for the rest of your life," Isabel threatened.
Emily thought it over quickly. "Okay," she agreed. "Tamara," she called out. "If you're good for Isabel, she'll show you some magic."
Tamara's head popped up from behind the door. "Really?" she asked, delighted.
"Really," Emily promised. "But you have to go upstairs right now and get your nightie on."
"Okay," Tamara yelled. She raced upstairs.
Isabel watched this with astonishment. Emily explained, "Tammy loves magic tricks."
"Why didn't you tell me that early?" Isabel wanted to know.
"You didn't ask," Emily said.
Isabel rolled her eyes and Emily started to leave. "Wait," Isabel cried out. "What am I supposed to do? I don't know any magic tricks."
Emily stopped for a second and shrugged. "You should've thought of that before," she said before leaving.
"But I wasn't the one who promised a magic trick," Isabel protested, too late. Emily had already left. "Great," she muttered to herself. "Now what am I supposed to do?" She headed upstairs after the kids.
Tamara greeted her at the top of the stairs. She already had her nightgown on.
Delaying the inevitable demand of magic, Isabel questioned the little girl. "Have your brushed your teeth?" Tamara nodded. "Washed your face?" Tamara continued nodding. "Gone to the bathroom?" Tamara was still bobbing her head up and down.
Isabel sighed. "Fine, I guess it's bedtime, then."
"You said you'd do magic," Tamara protested, pouting. She looked at her older cousin with wide eyes and a trembling lip.
"Into bed," Isabel repeated, ignoring Tamara's question.
Tamara bounded into her room and bounced onto her bed. "Magic, magic," she chanted.
"Look," Isabel said truthfully. "I don't know any magic tricks."
Tamara's eyes were instantly filled with tears. "But you promised," she protested.
"No," Isabel reminded, "Emily said I would. But I don't know any magic tricks."
Tamara started to sob. Not the melodramatic crying at the top her lungs to get her way, but real tears, streaming down her cheeks. "But you promised," she repeated, sniffling.
Isabel was desperate to stop the tears. "Don't cry," she insisted, panicking. "Look, I'll think of something. I'll do a magic trick."
Tamara instantly stopped. "Really," she asked, wiping the last remnants of tears from her eyes.
"Really," Isabel promised. "But you have to get into bed."
Tamara agreed and she let herself get tucked in. Then Isabel began to look around the room for a suitable prop. Her eyes fell on a nearby stuffed animal. She picked it up.
"Can I borrow your toy for the magic trick?" she asked.
Tamara nodded, eager to see what Isabel had planned.
Isabel looked nervously at the door. She hoped Max wouldn't wake up. If he knew what she was doing, he'd be furious. Staring at the bear, she concentrated. Slowly it turned itself into a reindeer with a bright red nose. "See?" Isabel said when she was finished, "It's Rudolph."
Tamara was staring at her in wide eyes amazement. "How'd you do that?" she demanded.
Isabel smiled mysteriously. "It's a secret," she said. Quickly she turned the reindeer back into its original shape of a bear and tossed the animal to her cousin. "Good night," she said, turning the lights out and leaving the room. She closed the door quietly.
Then she marched up to Brandon's room. "Get ready for bed," she ordered. "Now."
"But - but - " Brandon began to protest.
Isabel didn't let him finished. "Now," she repeated, more forcefully than the last time. Evidently it was forceful enough because Brandon immediately went into the bathroom and began to brush his teeth.
Next she found Emily and repeated the performance. Emily was a bit harder to persuade, but in the end Isabel managed to get her to bed without too much fuss.
When all three kids were in bed, Isabel went back downstairs. She plunked down on the couch beside Max, who was still fast asleep. She felt her eyes begin to droop. A couple of seconds later she too was lost to the world.
That's how the adults found them two hours later when they came home from dinner. Smiling down in a motherly fashion, Diane Evans woke her two kids up just enough so they could stumble downstairs to their own beds.
It was late when Isabel and Max woke up the next morning. Loud noises and the occasion crash upstairs told them that their cousins were awake.
Isabel stretched. "Mmm," she said, sniffing the air. "Something smells good."
Her stomach rumbled and she decided to get up and see what was cooking. Without even bothering to change out of her pajamas, she started to go upstairs. Max just turned over in bed and pulled the blankets up even further around him.
Isabel turned around and pulled the covers off of her brother. "Hey," he protested sleepily.
"Time to get up," Isabel said.
Max grabbed the blankets back from her, beginning a game of tug-of war. "No."
"Yes," Isabel said through clenched teeth, trying to get the blanket from him. "If I have to get up, you have to get up."
"That's not fair," Max exclaimed.
"So?" Isabel asked, giving one last tug, then letting go. Max tumbled backwards and fell half of his bed. He was forced to get up.
"Just wait," he promised. "Tomorrow I'll get you up at five."
Isabel only laughed. "To get me up at five, you'd have to get up at five yourself. You're never going to get up at five."
Knowing she spoke the truth, Max didn't bother to argue with his sister. "Well, since you made me get up, we may as well go upstairs."
"Okay," Isabel said as cheerfully as she could so soon after waking up.
Aunt Amanda was making pancakes while the other adults were drinking coffee and talking at the table. Max and Isabel sat down.
"Good morning," Diane said. "Sleep well?"
Max and Isabel nodded.
"Want some pancakes?" Aunt Amanda asked.
"Sure," Isabel said.
"Yes, please," murmured Max, still too tired to put any effort into speaking.
"Okay," Aunt Amanda said. "They'll be ready in a few seconds. Tom, call the kids, will ya?"'
Uncle Tom folded up his newspaper and went into the other room. "Em, Brandon, Tammy, breakfast is ready," he called.
The three kids seemed to appear instantly out of no where. "Wash your hands," Aunt Amanda said. They did and went to sit at the table. Aunt Amanda brought over the pancakes and the maple syrup. Aunt Amanda served her kids while everyone else helped themselves.
"Oh, Manda," Philip asked, suddenly remembering, "Do you have any Tabasco sauce?"
"Tabasco sauce," Aunt Amanda asked, frowning, "Why?"
"Izzy and Max like it," Philip explained.
"We have some in the cupboard," said Aunt Amanda.
"Actually," Max began, a little embarrassed, "You don't."
"Are you sure?" Aunt Amanda asked. "I could've sworn we had some."
"You did," Isabel said. "But we finished it last night."
"I hope you don't mind," Max added.
"Of course not. We'll just have to get some more."
"Momma, guess what?" Tamara said while pouring a lot of syrup on her pancakes.
"What," her mother asked absently, taking the syrup bottle away from her youngest daughter.
"Isabel can do magic," Tamara chimed.
"Really, can she?"
"Yep," Tamara said, nodding enthusiastically. "She turned Sammie into Rudolph."
"Sammie?" Philip queried.
"Her bear," Aunt Amanda explained.
"I didn't know you knew any magic tricks, Isabel," Diane said.
"Yeah, well, it was just something I picked up," Isabel said lightly. She very deliberately refused to look in her brother's direction. Max was probably furious.
"How'd you do it?" Diane asked in a low tone so Tamara couldn't hear.
"A good magician never reveals her secret," Max said, guessing correctly how Isabel had managed the feat. He didn't want them to find out any more than Isabel did.
Aunt Amanda was amused. "That's true," she said.
Isabel quickly finished her breakfast and excused herself. "I'm going to go get dressed."
She went down to her room and tried to decide what to wear that day.
A couple of minutes later there was a knock at the door. "Come in," Isabel said.
Max opened the door, came in and closed it again behind him. He went over and sat on his bed. He looked at Isabel expectantly.
"What?" Isabel asked. She turned around so she couldn't see him.
"Isabel," Max started sternly. "What possessed you to do something like that?"
"Like what?" Isabel asked, playing dumb. Her back was still to her brother.
"Use you powers in front of Tamara."
"You used yours in front of Liz," Isabel said defensively.
"I saved a life," Max said angrily. "You amused a five year old. It's not anywhere near the same."
"She's five years old. She doesn't know what I did isn't humanly possible. Besides," Isabel added in a softer tone. "She was crying. She just looked so sad. I didn't want her to be sad."
Max sighed. Isabel finally turned around to face him. He was looking at her sympathetically.
"What?" Isabel demanded, self-consciously.
"Nothing." Max shook his head.
Muttering something incomprehensible under her breath, Isabel gathered her clothes and went to have a shower. The whole visiting her family thing was turning out to be okay. Isabel was actually starting to have fun. Buffalo wasn't nearly as bad as she thought it would be.
Isabel got ready then went back upstairs, determined to have a good time for the rest of her visit.