"Can you believe Lila?" Olivia said fuming as she and her friends walked along the street. "First she cheats off of my test and then frames me for it! So I have to stay after school tomorrow and take a makeup test!"
"There goes your Friday," Hayley remarked, causing Olivia's glare to deepen.
"Well, maybe if you explain what happened, you won't have to come in tomorrow," Charlotte suggested.
"I don't know..." Olivia contemplated. "It's my word against Lila's and I have a bit of a 'boy who cried wolf' history at school."
"Meaning you've lied so often no one believes you," Hayley pointed out. "Even when you're telling the truth."
"Thanks, Hayley, I think I made that clear," Olivia said in a warning tone.
"Maybe if you didn't lie so much, Lila wouldn't have gotten away with this," Floressa said, as if she was explaining the obvious to a child.
"Thank you, Captain Obvious," Olivia said exasperatedly. "You've got any other wisdom you want to share?"
"How about I go with you when you explain it?" Chelsea said, holding her right hand up to prevent fighting. "That way, you'll have someone backing you up."
"I could go with you," Felicity offered. "My family's very well known in this town, so I'd be sure to get you off the hook."
"See, problem solved!" Charlotte said gleefully.
"That remains to be seen," Olivia said, opening the door to The Love Confection Bakery and Sweets Shop to see Toni, Candi and Autumn in the mist of putting Christmas decorations up.
Candi hopped down from the stool and gave her sweetest smile to the Confectionists.
"Great, you're here," Candi said, about to leave the shop.
"Hold on a sec," Toni said, turning her attention to Candi. "Where are you going?"
"Just to get some cocoa," Candi said, turning her sweet smile to Toni and putting her hands behind her back.
"And when are you coming back?" Toni asked suspiciously.
"In a few minutes?" Candi said hesitantly.
"Great, you can have your cocoa here," Toni told her. "But, when you're finished, I expect you to help decorate."
"Why?" Candi asked. "I mean, we already have plenty of people here to help decorate and they'll do a much better job than I ever could."
"Nice try, Candi, but I wasn't born yesterday," Toni told her. "Just have your cocoa and get back to work when you're done."
"All right," Candi said defeated, as she boiled some water in the kettle.
"Okay, Chelsea, Floressa, I need you two to help decorate the tree," Toni ordered.
"On it," Chelsea and Floressa said as they went to the tree in the upper right corner and searched for decorations in the nearby box.
"Hayley, Autumn's decorating the Christmas cookies in the back room and I want you to help her."
"Sure thing," Hayley said, joining Autumn in her decoration efforts.
"Olivia, Fellicity, I need you to help me finish decorating the store," Toni told them.
"All right," Olivia and Fellicity said, going to the left corner to look through the leftover decorations.
"Charlotte, I need you and Rose to—" Toni began, finally getting the happy holidays banner up and turning to face Charlotte. "Where's Rose?"
"Well..." Charlotte said contemplating. "Rose skimmed her knee in Gym class and..."
"She passed out when she saw the blood?" Toni guessed.
"Yeah," Charlotte told her. "The nurse sent her home early."
"Well, I hope she gets better," Toni said sympathetically. "Anyway, I need you to sort through the CDs and select which ones to play in the shop."
"Of course," Charlotte said, making her way to the CD case in the middle of the bottom wall. "So, how's everyone spending their Christmas holidays?"
"I'm volunteering at the homeless shelter," Fellicity said, hanging up a Christmas wreath. "It always feels good to help the less fortunate."
"I'm going ice skating in Paris," Olivia said proudly as she hung up some bells near the doorway.
"Are you sure?" Floressa asked skeptically as she put a Sailor Moon ornament in the middle branch.
"All right, I'm going to the rink nearby," Olivia admitted. "But it will feel like I'm in Paris."
"I'll be going door to door caroling," Floressa said nonchalantly.
"So, your Christmas plans are going door to door and bugging people?" Candi said snidely.
"Candi," Toni said in a soft yet firm tone and then turned to Chelsea and Charlotte. "So what are you two planning to do for the holidays?"
"I'm volunteering at the animal shelter," Chelsea stated, "A no-kill animal shelter."
"I'm playing the piano for the Christmas play," Charlotte said, pulling a Christmas CD out of the stack.
"Which play?" Toni asked, hanging up another Christmas Wreath.
"It's that one they're having in the nearby Community Theater," Charlotte explained, picking a CD up and putting it in the stack of Christmas CDs. "A Christmas Carol. I think Autumn's in it."
Just then, Autumn opened the door to the back room and ran out of the shop, crying.
* * *
Hayley opened the door to the back room to see Autumn cutting Christmas shapes out of a pile of cookie dough. Autumn looked up to see her sister at the door and smiled.
"Toni sent you back here too?" Autumn asked cheerfully.
"Yeah, guess she thought it would be good to have the two siblings working together," Hayley said, smiling at Autumn. "Why don't I take over and you can go work on your lines?"
"Thanks, sissy!" Autumn said, putting the cookie cutter down and running to go wash her hands in the sink. "Tiny Tim's not really a big part but I'm still nervous about it."
"Refresh my memory," Hayley said, grabbing the tree cookie cutter and making a shape in the dough. "How did Candi talk you into this again?"
"She said that being in a play is the perfect way to get over shyness," Autumn said happily, as she took the script from the side table. "Besides, like I said, it's not really a big part."
"You've got a point," Hayley said, taking the candy cane cookie cutter and putting it in the dough.
Autumn cleared her throat.
"Yes, Father?" Autumn said loudly as Hayley put the cookies on the baking pan.
"Just a little," Autumn continued with an exaggerated yawn, clasping the script in her hand as if it would float away if she loosened her grip.
"MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!" Autumn shouted at the top of her lungs, causing Hayley to knock the cookies out of place.
"Autumn, you'll be performing in a small stadium," Hayley said, putting the cookies back. "There's really no need to shout."
"Sorry, Hayley," Autumn said sheepishly, going back to her script. "It's just that our whole family's going to be there and I want to get this perfect."
"Actually, it won't be our whole family," Hayley said, putting the cookies in the oven.
"What do you mean?" Autumn asked, looking up from her script.
"Well..." Hayley said, wondering how to break the news to Autumn as she set the time on the oven. "Dad's not coming."
"Daddy's not coming?" Autumn said, tears welling in her eyes as she loosened her hold on the script. "Why?"
"He has to spend time with his loser friends," Hayley said bitterly.
"I-I get it," Hayley said, forcing a smile as her voice was breaking. "It's i-important to s-s-spend time with your friends."
"But not important to be there for your daughter?" Hayley asked sarcastically.
"H-he's got o-o-other things to do," Autumn defended, wiping a tear from her eye. "Y-you wouldn't understand!"
"What I 'understand' is that Dad cares more about his friends than he does about his family!" Hayley said, anger seeping into her voice.
"That's not true!" Autumn said, throwing the script on the floor. "Daddy just doesn't want to disappoint anyone!"
"All Dad does is disappoint everyone!" Hayley pointed out. "He's disappointing you right now!"
"Then I-I'll go talk to him!" Autumn said, giving a genuine smile through her tears. "I-I-I'll tell him h-how much it really means to me and he'll change his mind!"
"Yeah, good luck with that," Hayley said snidely.
"He's a good man!" Autumn said running to the door, her voice somewhere between anger and despair. "You'll see!"
Autumn left the room, crying uncontrollably.
"Autumn!" Hayley yelled apologetically as her sister slammed the door.
Hayley ran to the door and was about to open it but decided not to. One way or another, Autumn was going to find out the truth about their father and maybe it was better for that to happen sooner rather than later.