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December 11, 1938

Culver City, CA

Calvin pulled back an old tartan curtain and took in the twinkling lights: some lined the small homes on his street, the rest sparkled in the sky above the vast city. Christmas time in California was a lot different than it had been in Brookhurst. There was little dampness in the air and hardly a cloud in the sky. The temperature was a little cooler than it had been the month before and remarkably cooler than when he arrived at the tail end of the Indian summer in early October. Leaving the whipping winds and rain of Brookhurst and entering the boiling heat of the Los Angeles basin had been a shock to him.

Calvin's brother worked for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, more commonly known as MGM, as a junior writer. He'd spent several months working as an assistant to an author out in Monterey until his boss got him a job in Los Angeles. Riley performed various jobs around the studio until he became an assistant to one of the writers in Harry Raph's office. He was quickly petitioned to write a script for a short starring Mickey Rooney. The right people found it clever and witty and soon he was put on a contract, receiving $300 a week to write funny movies about a newspaper man and his dog Petunia. It wasn't Shakespeare, but it more than paid the bills.

Calvin thought his brother's Hollywood friends were odd, fast-talking and either over-dressed or under-dressed on most occasions. He certainly wasn't overjoyed that the bulk of them would be parading through their living room at any moment.

Riley was throwing a Christmas party, or rather, Riley's girlfriend, Cynthia, was throwing a Christmas party at Riley's house. She'd been buzzing from the living room to the kitchen all morning baking, cleaning and decorating. Cynthia was a fresh-faced bottle blonde who worked as a seamstress in the wardrobe department. She'd met Riley in the studio commissary and latched on to him quickly. In fact, Cynthia had been with Riley the day he met Calvin at the train station. She was very polite, but Calvin couldn't help but feel she thought he was invading her territory.

Calvin closed the curtain. He didn't want to invade anyone's territory, but Riley was the only family he had. And aside from his grandfather, the only person who'd ever cared about him... except maybe Teddi. And he couldn't think about her. Not now. But it was so hard. Even with school and the new friends he was making, he found it difficult. He'd volunteered to help Riley keep the bills while working at the MGM commissary frying burgers. Riley had been reluctant, but Calvin showed him there was no reason for it. Everything was paid on time and budgeted well. The beat of numbers and the rhythm of scrambling, frying, and making order out of chaos---that was Calvin's skill. In the commissary kitchen, he began to think of taking food and turning it into pleasure as an art, an art that might keep his mind off of a certain person.

He thought about writing her so many times, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Then December came, and he bought her a Christmas card. It had been sitting on top of the tiny desk in the corner of his bedroom for a week.

That morning, he decided he would write the card. And he did, for about five minutes. Then he became distracted, first with cleaning out his closet, then rearranging his sock drawer. He'd spent an hour reading his U.S. history textbook and another half hour doodling pictures of trains, a habit he'd taken up since he'd arrived in Los Angeles. Trains took you away and took you back. He knew he couldn't go back, but he couldn't seem to erase the possibility from his mind. The moment he caught himself thinking like that, he would remind himself of the reality of his situation. Teddi wasn't like him. She had a family and money and social standing. He was more like the odd people he'd met in Hollywood than he ever could be like the Donovans—nowhere and everywhere at the same time. He wanted a place someday, but he wasn't sure how to make that happen. But that wasn't Teddi's problem. He knew that, for her own good, she had to forget about him.

"Calvin!" Riley called from the hallway. "People are coming up the driveway. Get your little tail out here."

"In a minute."

"I think Mitt Jones brought his sister Blue with him."

"I've got to finish this history homework. I'll be out in a little while."

"Take your time. I'll make sure Blue sticks around as long as I can."

Calvin stuck his head out of the door. "Thanks, and save me a piece of pumpkin pie."

Riley disappeared into the living room just as the house erupted in laughter. Calvin closed his bedroom door as Silent Night threaded through the growing number of voices.

Calvin looked over at the card waiting for him at his desk, and he knew what he had to do. He had to say goodbye to her. It was the best gift he could give her. He was sure she wondered what happened. He was sure she didn't understand. He laughed bitterly. Maybe she'd forgotten him already. She'd be at her fancy school by now, meeting all sorts of boys at school mixers, boys her grandmother would approve of. She'd probably laugh when she saw his card, but he had to do this. He had to say his piece.

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