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"I've found you find strength, in your moments of weakness."
Marley awoke Christmas morning way earlier than she was supposed to. Remembering what day it was, she smiled and pulled herself out of bed, promising herself she'd have a good day and push all her problems aside. Making her way downstairs, with Cody following along, she dumped more food than usual in his bowl.

"Merry Christmas!" She beamed at the dog, as she turned on the radio in the kitchen to the Christmas station, singing along while she made her traditional Christmas breakfast of pancakes and sausage.

Picking up her cell phone, she dialed Joe's number while she ate.

"Merry Christmas." He smiled into the phone.

"Merry Christmas to you." She countered back.

She heard voices in the background and couldn't hold back her grin. "Alright, alright." He mumbled. "Everyone says hello, and Merry Christmas."

"Send them my love." She asked, taking a bite of her stack of pancakes.

“You know I’ll take the biggest piece.” She heard his smile and shook her head.

“You’re too much.” Marley laughed at his antics, hearing a deeper voice and the phone rustling around.

"Ugh, I have to go...dad's glaring...this is family time." He mocked, his monotone voice making her laugh.

"Well, go have family time, call me later."

"I will." He promised. "Love you."

"I love you." She reminded him, before hanging up.

--

After getting ready and giving Cody his much awaited Christmas present of a huge bone she'd purchased from Petco that could easily give her arm a run for it's money, she slipped out the door, heading to the art gallery. Lindsey had given her the key and told her she could go in any time this week and familiarize herself with the photographs and paintings and sculptures.

She practically skipped down the street, plugging her iPod in her ears and bobbing her head to the Christmas carols filling her mind. Making it to the gallery, she slipped her key into the lock, easily unlocking the door and shuffling inside, out of the cold.

Locking the door back behind her, she let her voice carry through the empty space, finally alone so she could sing as loud as her heart desired, halfway through the third chorus of Jingle Bell Rock and in the midst of an impromptu dance move, she saw him leaned against the door way to the back room.

Instantly straightening up from her previous actions, Marley felt a deep blush creeping onto her cheeks as he still watched her, an amused smile gracing his lips. She pulled the ear buds from her ears and laughed in embarrassment.

"I was just--" She called out across the space.

"Rocking out to Jingle Bell Rock?" He asked, finishing with a laugh as he pushed himself off the wall and made his way towards her.

"Yeah." She said sheepishly, taking new interest in her shoes.

"It's okay." He reassured her when he got closer, "It's my favorite, too."

She shook her head as she worked on taking off her coat and finally looked at him again when she had successfully hung it on the coat rack near the door.

"So, what are you doing here?" She asked when she remembered what day it was.

He shrugged, "Just going through the new shipment."

"On Christmas?" She asked, a curiosity filling her eyes.

He nodded, "What're you doing here, Diana Ross?"

She let out a chuckle before pouting up at him, "You're never gunna let me live that down, huh?"

"Nope." He grinned at her and she had to look away so she wouldn't blush again. "Still didn't answer my question, though."

"Oh." She fiddled with the wire of her headphones. "Familiarizing myself with the merchandise." She gestured to the room around her.

"On Christmas?" A teasing glint filled his words and she playfully narrowed her eyes.

"Yes, on Christmas." She countered back, mentally noting how easy it was to flirt with him and how she should probably stop it immediately.

He sent her that perfect smile again and started walking towards the desk, "My parents live in Boston. My dad's an engineer, and mom owns half the company...they wanted me to take over the business to keep it in the family, but I refused...so I moved up here, I'm at NYU for Art...and they don't speak to me anymore so I'm a Christmas loner." Marley's eyes turned sad and when he turned to face her, realization of what he said clicked. "And I have no idea why I told you that." He laughed, running a hand through his hair. "I didn't mean to dump that--"

"My parents live in Jersey." She cut him off, smiling at him in reassurance that it was okay he'd told her that. "They're in Europe for family vacation...I could've gone, but stayed back because my boyfriend told me he’d be home for the holidays." She watched his face fall at the mention of Joe, but he covered it up quickly, plastering a smile back on. "He told me three days before he couldn’t make it...so he's in LA with his band...and I'm a Christmas loner....so it looks like we're one in the same."

He nodded, taking in her story, and only a few awkward seconds passed before he smiled, "Is it weird that that just sounded like our introductions at an Emotional Abuse meeting?"

Marley laughed and Kyler joined in seconds later, as the tension easily broke around them.

--

Joe went through the motions of Christmas more robot-like than he ever thought he could be on Christmas Day. Usually his favorite time of the year, he couldn't even force himself to be happy, not with thoughts of Marley alone in their loft, watching Christmas Story on TBS, mouthing along the words because she'd seen it so many times.

He threw himself on the couch of the bus while his family ate in the diner in whatever town they were in. They were no more than a couple of hours outside of LA and Frankie had been claiming starvation all day so they were on a pit stop. He pulled the newest edition BlackBerry from his pocket, courtesy his parents from Santa gifts earlier in the hotel where they spent Christmas morning.

Dialing her number, he pressed the phone to his ear he waited for her voice to interrupt the long rings.

"Um, hello?" Joe's eyes snapped open at the unfamiliar voice, pulling his phone back to check that he had indeed called the right number; he felt his heartbeat quickening as he pushed the phone to his ear again. "Who the hell is this?"

"Uha33;”uma33;”let me get Marley." He stumbled over his words before Joe heard his now distant voice calling for Marley.

Joe's anger was boiling over, "No, I think I asked you a question. Who are you?" He asked loudly into the phone.

"Kyler." The now identified male answered, "I work with Marley."

"Work? What the fua33;”"

"Joe?" Marley cut him off. "Hey." She breathed and he guessed she'd run to the phone.

"Who the fuck was that?" His voice was louder than he'd intended and he wanted to apologize but his anger was blocking all his senses.

"Joe...stop it." She spoke softly and he knew she was trying to calm him down.

"No, I will not stop it, Marley. Who was that and what is he talking about that he works with you?" He snapped back at her.

She sighed heavily in the phone and he heard a door close and her end of the conversation get quieter. "I took the job at the gallery, Joe. This isn't how I wanted to tell you about it."

His laugh was fake and harsh, "Because now you work with some guy and you knew I'd be pissed? Do you like him?"

"What? Joe, are you serious?" Her voice rose in disbelief at the questions he was throwing at her.

"Who else is there?" Her protest didn't stop him; he was full of questions and out to get his answers.

"No one." She mumbled.

"So you're with him alone! Oh this is just peachy...How's that going for you Marley?"

"What are you trying to accuse me of? Seriously?" Her fist came down hard on the desk and it echoed in the small office, as her frustration with him rose and unwillingly, tears pooled in her eyes because of the faults he was throwing at her.

"I mean I'm just stating the obvious...are you trying to get back at me for not being there?" He closed his eyes at the bitter words leaving his mouth. He wanted to stop it, but he'd let himself get too angry.

Marley bit back her tears, letting her own temper take over, "You know what? No. Not today, Joe. I've let you ruin too many of my days,” Her voice cracked and she took a deep breath so she could continue, “This is it. You will not ruin my Christmas." And with that, she hung up.

Joe cursed to himself as the silence on the other line ensued and tried her number again, only to be met directly to her voicemail. After furiously dialing her number over and over, only to be met with her voicemail each time, he grit his teeth together, throwing his phone onto the counter and yelling out a string of curse words into the empty bus. Slumping back onto the couch, he watched the cars whiz past the window of the large tour bus from the restaurant’s parking lot, taking deep breaths, in attempt to hold in his anger. His efforts to keep himself calm failed when a frustrated groan ripped from the back of his throat and he threw himself off the couch, letting his fist collide with the flimsy wall, easily punching his way through.

"Joseph!" His attention quickly turned to his mother standing in the doorway. "What has gotten into you?" She scolded his actions, looking with wide eyes between the new hole in the wall and his distraught face.

He began pacing the small space, running a hand through his hair. "I don't knowa33;”I don't know what's gotten into mea33;”Marleya33;”she's so upseta33;”I justa33;”I don't know what to do but be defensivea33;”I deserve for her to be mad at mea33;”" He fell onto the couch again, trying to rub away the headache in his temples.

Sensing his antsyness, Denise quietly settled onto the couch next to him and began timidly rubbing what she hoped were comforting circles on his back.. "Tell me what happened." She asked softly, only wanting to ease the tormented look in his eyes.

Joe let out a long breath, kicking his legs onto the couch and laying his head in her lap. "Promise you won't judge me?" He asked, his puppy dog eyes that had gotten her since he was a toddler glistening up at her.

"I would never." She assured him, letting her fingers play with the ends of his long hair.

He sighed, letting his eyes focus on the sky out of the window, "She's alone on Christmas." He whispered, "Her family is gone to Europe for vacation and she stayed home for me, but I didn’t tell her I couldn’t be there until after her parents left…so she’s all by herself." He glanced at his mother's face to see the sadness pulling at her features. Marley, who might as well be her own daughter, was hurting and she could take one look at his eyes to see he was hurting just as bad.

He let his eyes slide shut, feeling more relaxed than he had in the past week, "And we keep getting in fights, and she's so upset, but I feel like I deserve her being mad at me...I mean I've been with her for four years, no one knows about her, I can't be seen with her, I'm never around, but she's still stuck with me...and now, I just have the worst feeling that she's slipping away from me...and I can't..." He sucked in another deep breath. "I can't lose her mom."

She sighed as she watched his pained eyes begging her for help...for comfort of some kind..."Then don't." She said softly.

"Don't what?" His forehead crinkled in his confusion.

"Don't let her go.” She said simply.
Chapter End Notes:
ok, so I have NO time to be posting this, but I am, so just remember that this is the call before the storm...and you're all amazing, of course :)
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