Welcome back to part #2 of Christmas is a Work in Progress, a short story that covers Jack and Rio’s first Christmas together.
Part #2: Lights
The High Street was closed to traffic. Two rows of stalls lined the pavement from the bank at the corner all the way to the green outside the church, and people bustled up one side of the street and down the other, popping in and out of busy shops. More people milled in the centre of the road along the business ends of the stalls.
They weren’t the kinds of market stalls Jack was used to. There wasn’t a greengrocer or clothes stall in sight. The stalls here sold food, sweets, Christmas decorations and hot drinks. The scents of candyfloss and chocolate-coated apples, mulled wine, and spiced cider swirled in the air and music rose over the babble of many voices.
A paradise for pickpockets, Jack thought and clutched his new keys as he trailed in Rio’s wake. The Jamaican waved and nodded to people as he shoved through the crowd, unbothered by the melee. He wasn’t shopping, that much Jack could see, but what he was doing… Jack had no idea.
They’d walked almost as far as the church and Jack wrinkled his nose at the sudden, strong smell of winter graveyard—wet earth and green things—when Rio turned to him. “Okay, then…which one do you want?”
Jack stared in confusion. “Which one what?”
Rio waved his hands at the assorted greenery stacked and leaning against the house at the corner that Jack had so far ignored. “Which tree?”
“I don’t want a tree.” Jack was positively alarmed. “Why would I want a tree?”
“Because it’s Christmas? Jack, you know wha’ Christmas is, righ’?”
Jack closed his eyes.
A half-full bottle hitting the wall beside his head, spraying him with glass shards and cheap booze as he cowered in a corner.
Enough screaming to wake their neighbour and have him come barging into their flat to complain.
His mother yelling obscenities at the man while begging and sobbing into the phone at the same time.
Jack had hidden himself in his bed and had pulled the covers over his head, but it had been too late. Maybe it had been too late when he woke up that morning. His mother had been jonesing for a fix and the only thing she’d had left to trade, the only thing that anyone wanted, had been Jack. She’d dragged him out of bed, out of their flat and down the stairs. And then…
Jack wasn’t going to mention that. He wasn’t going to think about it, either. He didn’t want to throw up in the middle of the street.
“Jack. Jack, look a’ me. Jack!”
The alarm in Rio’s voice brought him back to himself and he found the Jamaican crouched in front of him, watching him as if he might shatter. “What is it?”
“Well, you tell me. You’re ice-white, Jack. Are you okay?”
He was sweating, and his knees shook with the effort to keep him standing. “Fine,” he mumbled. “Just… bad memories.”
Rio didn’t push. Neither did he make any attempt to touch Jack. He straightened up slowly and looked around as if he was seeing the Christmas market and the lot with its selection of fir, pine, and spruce for the first time. “Ah’m sorry I didn’ ask if you were up for havin’ Christmas,” he said slowly. “Ah thought it migh’ be nice, especially after you’ve been ill.”
Jack thought it over. “I wouldn’t know what to do.”
“You don’ have to do a thing. Put up the tree, eat great food, watch telly, chill, enjoy some music…”
Jack thought it over. He liked Rio’s living room. The huge, squashy sofa, more books than Jack had ever seen outside the library and, of course, the rows upon rows of records. He could spend time there with Rio, couldn’t he?
“Jack. We don’ need to get a tree if you don’ want to,” Rio said, guiding him towards a quiet corner of the market. “But… is there anythin’ abou’ Christmas that you do like?”
Jack blinked furiously when yet another memory escaped from the box he’d locked them into. A memory of being trapped in the dark in a windowless room, with the only way out a locked door he prayed wouldn’t open. He didn’t want to remember, didn’t want to go back there, into the dark. So he did the only thing he could think of short of running: look up at the Jamaican who stood beside him, patient as one of the trees he’d wanted to buy, and said the one thing he’d wished for back then.
Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the next installment in Jack’s story. And if you’d like more Jack & Gareth in your life, please check out Midnight Tracks below! 🙂
Seasons of Cheer is my blogging challenge for this year. Every day during December I’m aiming to post a story, snippet or outtake. A moment to stop and draw breath during a month that’s usually crazy busy.
And here’s an extra treat for everyone who subscribes to my newsletter:
Midnight Tracks, a collection of shorts, snips, and outtakes from the first five Power of Zero books, including an exclusive Christmas short story you won’t find anywhere else – delivered to your inbox on Christmas Eve. 🙂