Coming December 7th in the Comfort and Joy Anthology
“Ritchie and Lila didn’t arrive from Tahoe.”
Not a question, just the facts. What could I say? “Bingo. Flights cancelled everywhere. I’m to be your driver.”
“They didn’t call, which means they’re either dead—”
“Or they wish they were?” Winter’s cool eyes met mine. “Just kidding. Relax. They’re stuck in Minneapolis with a pair of hopped-up preschoolers. Ritchie and your sister are trying to figure out how Santa can find them without a proper chimney or a suitcase full of presents. He’s fine. She’s fine. This is fine. We’re fine.” Maybe if I said fine enough times, we’d both believe it. “I don’t mind. Buckle up.”
He did with a click. “You sure you’re up for this? It might be better if I catch a cab and stay in town.”
“Look around. There are no cabs.” I put the truck in reverse, but waited as another car rolled by. “Are you asking if I can stay awake past my bedtime? Or if I can handle the drive? Because I put the snow tires on in November.”
“No,” he said in the take-no-shit tone I both loved and detested. Frown lines marred his forehead as he contemplated the weather. The snow had gained significant ground outside the truck’s windows. “I’m asking if you want to share the same space with me, alone. You haven’t been keen on that in the past.”
And bang, we touched on the one subject I wanted to avoid. He’d laid us bare within seconds of being together. Well, I wasn’t keen on a rehash, either.
“Meh. You’re fine in small doses. Just keep your pants on.” His frown deepened. Pale under his five o’clock shadow, with smudges of fatigue under his eyes. Winter looked beat, actually, so I waved a peace offering in the form of a thermos. “There’s hot coffee if you want it. You look like you could use some.”
“Like your heart.”
Winter hadn’t taken his gaze off me the entire time. He didn’t crack, just took the thermos without further comment, and the Vermonter pulled out of the station—last stop St. Albans. It slithered into the blurry night, picturesque as the Polar Express, and I backed onto the flat roadway, which was total shit.
“What, Win. Spit it out.”
“You look different.”
“Different how?” I quick checked myself in the rearview mirror. Lit by the dashboard lights, I looked as good as could be expected. “I’ve literally done nothing.”
I hadn’t had a haircut since summer so the ends brushed my collar. Laziness and depression ranked high on the short list of why I hadn’t cut my hair, so with my new shaggy look, he probably thought I’ blended in with Burlington’s thriving homeless community. My wannabe corporate spouse days were over so I’d look like a hippie if I wanted to. The only thing keeping me from going total Appalachian was my aversion to facial hair. Living in Vermont had its perks. “I’m going for a new look.”
“I’d say you hit on an old one.” He offered me a stingy smile, tight as a virgin. “You look good,” he added reluctantly. “Like when we met.”
I knew from looking in the mirror every morning that I didn’t possess an ounce of the eager excitement I’d had at twenty-one, when he’d swooped me off my feet. Tired, thin, sad. That’s who I’d become at the advanced age of twenty-nine and truthfully, he didn’t look much better. “Is that a good thing? Or bad?”
Winter scrutinized me a moment longer. “Good. It suits you, Lu.”
Lu. Damn him. I should set him straight, then cut my hair just to spite him, but the fleeting smile faded and he looked so worn, I just smoothed my hair and let the nickname slide. It was motherfucking Christmas. I could play nice. I was calling him Win, so who was I to object?
I'll have more information on where and how to purchase the anthology, and the individual stories, later this week.