Welcome back to part #3 of Christmas is a Work in Progress, a short story that covers Jack and Rio’s first Christmas together.
Part 3: Working it Out
Jack’s throat felt raw and sore. Not surprising seeing he’d screamed himself awake. Rio’s voice, calling him over and over, had broken the hold on the nightmare. And once he was awake enough to realise where he was, Jack had been surprised to find himself alone.
Rio had kept his promise.
He hadn’t come into Jack’s room.
Instead, he stood on the other side of the door calling Jack’s name.
“I’m sorry I woke you,” Jack mumbled as he unlocked the door and pushed it open. His face burned even as his body shivered in reaction and he didn’t want to look up, didn’t want to see … whatever he would see in Rio’s face.
“Nothin’ to be sorry for,” Rio rumbled. “Everyone has bad dreams now an’ then. Come sit over here.” He arranged a heap of blankets and cushions into a cosy nest in a corner of the sofa and left Jack to make himself comfortable. When he came back, he carried a tray with a mug and plate on it. “Here. Tha’ will warm you righ’ up.”
Jack reached eagerly for the mug of hot chocolate, burying his nose in the sweetly scented steam. The first taste burned his tongue, but he didn’t care. He kept sipping until the big mug was half empty and the shivers disappeared.
“I’m sorry I woke you in the middle of the night,” he tried his apology again.
“It’s fine. An’ it’s no’ all tha’ early.”
“Five o’clock is very early,” Jack disagreed after a look at the clock.
“Ah, nonsense. We have to get up in a while anyhow. Migh’ as well get a head star’.”
“Get a head start on what?”
“Ah was gonna put some lights up. Wanna help?” And with that he was up and disappeared down the stairs into the basement.
Jack finished his chocolate, strangely comforted by Rio’s no-nonsense manner. He’d waited all the previous afternoon for Rio to quiz him about his past and Rio hadn’t asked a single question. And now it looked as if he wouldn’t enquire about Jack’s nightmares, either. The few humans Jack had encountered since escaping from Jericho had all been nosy. Even Rio’s friend Michelle, the doctor, kept asking him questions about his past. She hid them in doctor-speak, asked about measles and chickenpox and vaccinations, but they were nosy questions.
Rio didn’t ask those. He’d asked for Jack’s name, when he’d found Jack squatting in his basement. And he’d waited patiently until Jack was ready to tell him. Since then? They’d talked about Jack’s favourite foods, about books and music… but not once had Rio touched on Jack’s past.
If it didn’t matter to Rio where Jack had come from and what had happened to him, then maybe… maybe Jack could stay here. Maybe Rio wouldn’t throw him out.
The box Rio brought up from the basement was huge and filled with smaller boxes. And each one of those held strings of lights. Tiny twinkling ones in white and blue. Larger lights shaped like stars that cycled through a rainbow of colours when lit. And lights that flared and dimmed with the sounds in the room.
Jack stood on chairs and even climbed on the dining table. They strung lights along the bookcases and around the windows and doors. Rio’s large television got its share of decoration, and when morning dawned grey and grumpy, Rio’s living room glowed like a festival site.
“Ah’m not one for Santa Claus and reindeer and stuff,” Rio said when they were done, “bu’ Ah do like these.” He tipped a large box of tea lights onto the dining table. Red and white and scented with vanilla, orange, and spices.
Jack inspected them, one by one, liking the scents. He liked it even more when Rio brought in a bowl of water, lit a handful of the small candles, and set them to float in the bowl.
It looked… pretty. Peaceful. Homely.
All the stuff he read about in the magazines Michelle had brought him and saw on Rio’s TV. That meant nothing to him.
He picked up the book about mountain lions he’d been reading and settled into his nest of cushions on the couch. Rio was stretched out in the large armchair reading a thriller.
The room was quiet and awash with lights. And every now and then Jack caught a hint of vanilla and orange from the candles on the table.
If this was Rio’s idea of Christmas, then maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Thank you for reading! And don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the final installment in Jack & Rio’s Christmas story
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. 🙂