December 1997

A loud cracking sound followed by an echoing boom could be heard outside the house. Grant Sandsburg looked up for the papers he was going over with a worried expression. Even though he and his children were tucked safely inside their house, his wife was traveling in what news reporters were calling 'the worst storm in a decade'. Glancing around, he took in the calm picture in front of him. Everyone was gathered in the living room around a crackling fire. Grant was in his recliner going over some figures for his company, while the children were sprawled across the floor. Lydia and Derek were playing a board game while Taylor alternated between reading a book and watching her older sibling play. It was the beginning of Christmas break for the children and Grant had decided to let them stay up later than normal so that they could greet their mom when she got back.

As he listened to the storm raging outside, his paperwork was soon forgotten. Closing his eyes Grant recalled the conversation he had with his wife earlier that morning.

Grant had been in the kitchen finishing up his breakfast when the phone rang. Looking up from the newspaper, he set down his coffee and grabbed the cordless handset from its base.

"Hello?" He answered.

"Good morning darling!" Came a chipper voice from the other end.

"Marcia." A smile spread across Grant's face. "How goes the business trip?"

"Good. We actually finished early." Grant could hear the smile in Marcia's voice. "You know what that means don't you?"

"You finally get to come home to us?" Grant asked.

"That's right. I have a 3:00 p.m. flight out of here. I should be home early this evening." Marcia said.

"You're coming home tonight?" Grant couldn't keep the worry out of his voice.

"Is that going to be a problem?" Marcia asked surprised.

"That's not what I meant." Grant immediately picked up on Marcia's suspicion. "You know that I want you home more than anything. It's just that there is suppose to be a really bad storm rolling into this area sometime later tonight. I don't want you to be stuck driving in that kind of weather. I want you home safe and sound, meaning if I have to wait one more day before I can see you then so be it."

"Ahhh…" Marcia cooed. "Don't worry about me, honey. You know that the weather men are wrong more often than they are right. It's probably just another false alarm. Besides I'll be home long before it hits. Now kiss the children hello for me and tell them that I love them. I will see you all tonight."

"Be careful darling." Grant said softly, unable to hide his concern for his wife's well being. She was everything to him and if something were to happen to her, he wasn't sure he would be able to continue on without her.

"I will be. I love and miss you. Bye darling." Marcia lowered her voice.

"Love and miss you too. Bye." Grant hung up the phone slowly, praying with all his might that his wife would make it home safely.

"Hey you cheated!" Derek's voice brought Grant out of his musings. Sighing he looked over at his two oldest children.

"I did not!" Lydia insisted. "You lost a turn so I got to go twice in a row."

"I didn't lose my turn. You just made up that rule so that you could go twice." Derek looked around trying to find the rules so that he could show them to his sister.

Wanting to avoid a confrontation, Grant decided to step in. "What seems to be the problem?"

Lydia got up off the floor and made her way to her father. "Derek is accusing me of cheating but I would never to that, Daddy!" She looked up at him, her blue eyes wide and her face the picture of innocence.

Grant smiled lovingly down at his oldest daughter, amazed at how much like her mother she looked. "I'm sure you wouldn't angel." Turning to his son he scolded him. "I can't believe you would accuse your sister of cheating, Derek. You know that she's very sensitive. Now apologize to your sister." Lydia shot Derek a smug look while their father wasn't watching. As soon as Grant's attention turned back to her she put on an innocent, injured look, like she couldn't believe her older brother would believe something so horrible about her.

Derek looked stubbornly at his father. He knew the rules to the game and he knew that Lydia had cheated. He wasn't going to apologize to her just because she had run to daddy and put on her best innocent act. Derek was getting tired of Lydia always getting away with everything.

Taylor, who had been watching the entire exchange silently, decided to speak up. "She did cheat, Daddy. I saw the whole thing."

Grant looked over at his youngest child, a frown crossing his face. "Are you sure Taylor? You aren't lying to help Derek are you?"

Taylor vehemently shook her head. "No Daddy. I wouldn't do that. Lydia really did cheat."

"Lydia?" Grant turned towards Lydia, who was standing next to his chair.

"I didn't cheat, Daddy. I really didn't." Lydia's eyes welled up with tears and her lower lip trembled. "I don't know why they are making up such mean stories about me."

Grant looked between his children still seated on the floor and his beautiful daughter standing next to him. "Are you positive that you didn't cheat?" He asked Lydia one more time.

Lydia shook her head, sending her blonde curls flying. "I really didn't Daddy."

Grant sighed, wishing that Marcia was here to help him. He never was quite sure how to read the children but she seemed to always know which one of them was lying to her. Again he looked around the room, his three children staring back at him.

Turning to Lydia, he slipped his arms around her. "I'm sure that you didn't cheat darling. Just make sure that you follow the rules more carefully from now on so that no one can even accuse you of cheating, okay?"

Lydia nodded her head and shot him a beautiful smile. "I will do my best, Daddy." She wrapped her arms around his neck.

"As for you other two, you shouldn't be making up stories about your sister. Even if the game isn't going the way you want, Derek, you need to continue playing and accept the results. You shouldn't blame your sister for your short comings. And Taylor, you really need to stay out of things if they aren't your business. You shouldn't have sided with Derek, especially if you knew that Lydia hadn't cheated." Grant fixed both of them with a stern glare, letting them know that he wouldn't warrant any back talk from them.

Derek and Taylor exchanged perplexed looks. They knew that they weren't lying and they couldn't believe that Lydia had just gotten away cheating. Meekly they turned back to Grant and nodded their heads, knowing that arguing wasn't going to do them any good.

"I'm glad we got that settled." Grant decided to try and get more work done and turned his attention back to his paperwork, missing the smug look Lydia shot at her siblings. Before everyone could get comfortable again, the doorbell rang.

Grant set aside his papers. "I wonder who that could be on a night like tonight." He mused aloud.

"Maybe Mommy forgot her keys." Lydia supplied helpfully.

"Maybe." Grant smiled down at his daughter. "You three stay here while I go see who's at the door." The three children nodded their heads but as soon as Grant had disappeared down the hall, Derek stood up.

"You had better not be going after Daddy." Lydia said a superior look on her face.

"And what if I am?" Derek challenged.

"I'll tell on you." Lydia replied.

"Even if I don't go, you'll make something up." Derek said over his shoulder as he made his way to the archway that separated the living room from the hallway. Quiet as a mouse he followed in his father's footsteps, hiding behind the hallway table so he was close enough to hear the conversation.

As soon as Derek disappeared down the hall, Lydia turned to Taylor. "You really shouldn't have sided with Derek, you know." She said with a serene look on her face.

"But you did cheat." Taylor replied.

Lydia just smiled a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. "Daddy doesn't seem to think so." Before Taylor had a chance to respond, Lydia reached over and pinched her hard enough to leave a bruise.

Tears welling up in her eyes, Taylor looked at Lydia. "Why did you do that?"

"Think of it as a reminder of what will happen if you cross me." Lydia gave Taylor another peculiar smile before turning her attention back to the board game.

Taylor stared at Lydia, shock in her eyes. Debating on whether or not she should go tell Grant, she sat frozen where she was. Before she could make up her mind a shaken Grant returned to the room with a pale-faced Derek following close behind.

Grant sank down into his recliner and looked into the fireplace without seeing the flames. Taylor, worried for her father, turned to Derek who was still standing in the archway. "Who was at the door?" She asked quietly.

Derek looked to his father to see if he would answer but when Grant just continued to stare at the flames, he turned his attention back to his sisters who were looking at him expectantly. "It was a state trooper." He said in a hoarse voice. "There's been an accident. Mama isn't coming home."