How do Teresa and Jameson spend the holidays? Read on to find out. Featuring characters from T.J. Lockwood’s Violent Skies.
IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME SINCE WE’VE HAD LIGHTS LIKE THIS. They’re hard to come by this far off the I-5. Very few places continue to manufacture seasonal decorations and those who do, don’t sell their wares for cheap.
I traded a crate of medical supplies for the replacement bulbs alone.
Crazy, but worth it. I’m sticking to that story. Outside, everyone in the camp is moving faster than a dog being chased by an android. They have to, we don’t have much time. Each moment I look out the window, another string of lights finds its place coiled around one wire or another. It’s not the prettiest thing to look at, but it’s what we’ve got. Who’s idea was this party anyway?
“Careful with those!” A very distinct voice booms from the balcony on the other side of the room. “Everything needs to be perfect before they arrive. Break one more string and I swear I’m going to—”
“Jameson!” I don’t look up as I fold the wrapping paper to cover each nook of the relatively light box in front of me. “Tone. You could say that nicer.”
He’s leaning against the railing and has been for the last thirty minutes. I don’t know if he looks down at me from his vantage point, but I do hear his boots scraping against deck. “Dodger is breaking more lights than he’s setting up.”
I nod and begin measuring ribbon. “Then kindly ask him to do something else.”
He steps inside. “Tell me why we’re doing this again.”
I sigh. “Are you serious?”
He moves behind me and whispers into my ear. “I just want to hear you say it, one more time.”
I take a deep breath and turn towards him. “Morale mostly, but it’s the time of year to take it easy, don’t you think? You intimidate them enough, they need to see the kinder side every once in a while.”
He shakes his head. “I’m not kind, darling. You know that.”
I do. “Doesn’t matter. Pretend.”
We’ve been out here five years and never so much thought about celebrating our good fortune. Sometimes I need to slow down and breathe just to keep my sanity intact, but Jameson—he’s different. Always has been. He would do anything to succeed.
“Taking it easy is what gets people killed, you know?” He takes a deep breath. “And I do pretend. Just last Thursday I smiled for no reason. Besides every last one of those guys are paid well for their services. They don’t need me to be anything more than the boss.”
“All I’m saying is that I ain’t keen on dying. Distractions are dangerous.”
I shrug. “At least it would be a little quieter around here.”
He smiles. “Darling, you don’t mean that—”
“Maybe I do, you never know.”
Three quick knocks echo through the door. Jameson feigns being wounded then makes his way over. I pull the knife from my pocket and gently slide the blade under the ribbon.
“Unfortunately there will be no peace and quiet for a little while. I have a surprise for you.” Jameson motions towards the door. “It will involve a few theatrics though. If you’re willing.”
I take a deep breath. “What did you do?”
He shrugs. “Only what any man with my means would.”
He smiles. “Please, Teresa, humour me.”
In my experience, the words ‘humour me’ never end with me being anything less than irritated.
He offers his hand and I’m quite cautious as I take it. The lights lining the hallway are a mixture of red, green, and blue. It wasn’t like this last night.
He gently guides me past several doors, each with a line of mistletoe just above the archways. On each window sill sits a stuffed teddy bear with a crudely knitted mini-sweater. Each one is uglier than the last.
Jameson is excited. His face doesn’t communicate this, but his grip is firm but gentle. He wants me to see something that he’s struggling to keep a surprise.
“Hurry it up, guys. The boss will be here any minute!” The voice is muffled, but still discernible behind the main door.
In that moment Jameson pauses. “Let’s give them a second or two.” He then turns his attention to the door. “But after that we’ll walk through to something spectacular!”
Audible scrambling echoes from the other side of the door.
I pull my hand away and lean my back against the wall. “You know I don’t like surprises.”
He chuckles. “That’s a lie. You say you don’t like surprises, but you love them. It’s one of those unspoken things women say. I’ve gotten good at the subtext.”
I pause. “Subtext? What in the world are you talking about?”
He shrugs. “You know what I mean. You say something doesn’t matter, but it does. You say you’re fine, but you aren’t.” He takes a deep breath. “It’s confusing, darling, but I think I finally got you figured out. That’s your Christmas present this year, a man who pays attention.”
I roll my eyes. “Lucky me.”
He puts a hand on my shoulder. “Hey, don’t be like that. It’s a pretty awesome gift.”
I sigh and push off the wall towards the door. “It’s a convenient one. You should be paying attention all the time.”
He steps in front of me. “Hey now, don’t be like that.”
“Out of my way, Jameson.” I push the door open a crack, but stop as the smell of turkey fills the air between us.
Without warning the door opens and I find myself face to face with a giant picnic-style dining table with at least two dozen settings on either side. The chairs range from old crates to makeshift benches. Sprinkled around the main table are several little ones as well.
“You said you wanted a Christmas dinner.” Jameson pushes me forward. “Here you go.”
Everyone around us is smiling, but it looks forced. The sight is as beautiful as it could be for a large open complex with several strings of lights and patchwork Santa hats. People are moving non-stop with trays of food in their hands and little ribbons pinned to their chests. They look like a bunch of waiters forced into service.
Jameson motions towards the end of the table. “Come on. Aren’t you hungry? The boys have been slaving away.”
I believe that. “And what about the party we’ve been prepping for?”
He shrugs. “I thought that could be more of an after party-type thing. The day is young after all. This is for us, our guests can wait.”
This is the problem—it always is. Our relationship is just a whole lot of ups and downs. In his mind he’s being romantic, in mine keeping guests waiting is just downright rude.
He carries on like I haven’t said anything. “Now, I’m not a big fan of Santa—the guy eats way too many cookies—so Isaac volunteered to be the Krampus. Thought you might like the change in tradition—”
“Everyone just stop!” The bustle dies almost instantly and I am left standing at the edge of the biggest table with one hand gripping a less than pristine table cloth. “We have guests coming. We’ll need more place settings.”
Jameson sighs. “Oh no, I don’t think you heard me right, darling. This is for us. Everyone else can—”
I let out a perturbed scoff. “Those people pay us for protection. The least we can do is include them in the festivities.”
He straightens his back—something he only does when he’s annoyed. “And they get their own tables and their own food over there. I am not sharing my wife tonight.”
“You will because your wife wants to include everyone. That’s the whole point of a party, and this is nonsense.” I make eye contact with the men. “I know you’re paying them, but they deserve some time off too.” I pause. “So, everyone, enjoy yourselves. Grab a plate, get some food, and just take turns answering the gate. We’ve got a lot of people coming.”
No one says anything as Jameson begins pacing by the tree.
I start making my way back to the atrium without looking behind me. People start moving and someone begins shouting, but all of it is secondary to the buzzer that cuts through the air. I let out a deep breath. I had forgotten how tiring the holidays can be. In the end it’s all a show for others to enjoy.
“Isaac, can you answer the gate?” I call out, but don’t hear a response. “Isaac?”
The buzzer blares again.
Fine, it’s better to do some things yourself anyway.
“You sure this is what you want, darling?” Jameson steps up next to me with a Santa hat clenched in his left hand. “Because it’s not what I want.”
I shrug. “Then you don’t have to be here.”
He moves in front of me, puts one hand against the small of my back and pulls me into him. The kiss is slow, and I don’t know if it’s passion or familiarity, but I return it almost automatically.
When he pulls away I find myself locked in his gaze. “There is only here, darling. No other place matters.”
I don’t say anything as he lets me go, makes his way to the gate and puts the Santa hat on his head.
I smile and adjust my sweater. If only it were snowing, then this moment would have been perfect.