I take off my overcoat and hang it on the coat tree in the corner of my office. “Nope.”
“Cage called here this morning. He said you’re not returning his messages. He’s worried about you. I’m worried about you. When you start to ignore your only friend, it’s a bit concerning.”
I grunt, taking a seat and turning on my computer. “Why does everyone think Cage is my only friend? And is there a spot on my tie? Spinach between my teeth? What exactly makes me look so hellish this morning?”
Amanda turns her back to me, pounding away at the keyboard to her computer. “It’s the bags under your eyes and the deepening lines on your forehead from wearing a constant scowl. Are you drinking?”
“Amanda.” I snap at her with more of an edge to my voice than I intended to do.
She shrugs, still with her back to me. “I’m asking for a friend. And that’s not code. I’m literally asking for a friend—your friend. Oh … and your parents will be here tomorrow. They called me too. Did you lose your phone? And your mom said she’d call and invite Sandy since she knew you would not.”
My parents and my mother-in-law. Happy fucking holidays to me.
“Can I say something as your friend?” She turns in her chair.
I glance up. “How can we be friends if I only have one friend?”
Amanda smirks. “Why don’t you call her or go see her?”
“Am I supposed to know to whom you are referring?”
“I bet Elle would love to see you. Take Harrison to New York or Boston for New Years and then drop in to see her.”
“What would be the point?” I return my attention to my computer.
“Spreading holiday cheer.”
Ellen walked out a week before Thanksgiving. We haven’t made any sort of contact since then. A clean break. That’s what it had to be. It’s like marking off days on a calendar of Ellen sobriety. I can’t see her and start the whole fucking process again.
“I think I’ll be plenty busy spreading holiday cheer right here.”
She snorts a laugh. “Okay, Boss.”
After picking up Harrison from school, we get groceries and head home.
“Grab the mail,” I tell Harrison, pulling up next to our mailbox before pulling into the driveway.
He retrieves the wad of envelopes and advertisements, plopping them onto his lap. “Look! Elle sent me a postcard.”
I glance over, sure enough, it’s addressed to Harry Hopkins.
Happy Holidays! I hope you’re playing lots of music this season. We miss you like crazy!
~Elle, Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Mozart, & Lady Gaga
He flips the postcard over. “Ha! Look at this.”
It’s a photo of her and her rats and they’re all wearing Santa hats. She looks happy. Good for her. I swallow the fucking razor blade in my throat and pull into the garage.
“I’m going to video message her.” Harrison hops out of the car, leaving a scattered mess of mail on the seat.
I change my clothes and head out to my greenhouse to make sure the temperature is staying steady. When I come back inside, Harrison’s at the kitchen table eating an apple and talking to the screen of his iPad.
“Man, I can’t believe you’ve had so much snow already. It’s just cold as crap here.”
I shoot him a frown for his language.
He rolls his eyes. “Sorry. It’s cold as crud here. My dad just came inside and he’s giving me his pissed off look because I said crap.”
I wash my hands and shake my head. This kid …
“Wanna say hi to him?”
My body stiffens.
“Um … sure.”
It’s the first time I’ve heard her voice in over a month. I don’t know if I can see her too.
“Look out her window. See all the snow?” Harrison brings his iPad over, giving me no choice but to see all the snow. But all I see is her and how fucking beautiful she looks cuddled in a chair, wearing leggings and a sweatshirt, auburn hair covering her neck and chest like a scarf—and those blue eyes.
“Lot of snow,” I say.
She smiles and speaks softly, “Hey, Flint.”
I try to smile back, but it’s hard to do.
I nod, still searching for something to pass off as a smile.
Before I can find anything to add to my “lot of snow” comment, like, “How is your dad?” Harrison takes off with his iPad. “He hates the holidays.”
“That’s too bad. I love the holidays.”
Of course she does. People who hum and sing all day have to love the holidays. Just like Amanda, who says fantastic all the time—holiday lover.
“I get three weeks off for break.”
“That’s awesome. What are you going to do?”
“Nothing. We never do anything.”
He makes me sound like such a great dad. Do-nothing scrooge.
Ellen chuckles. “I’m not doing much either so don’t feel too bad. But I have to go get dinner started. My grandparents went home a few weeks ago, so now I’m in charge of the meals.”
“Okay. Bye.” He disconnects before she says another word.
I sip my iced coffee and shake my head at him.
“It’s polite to wait until the person on the other end of the line has a chance to say goodbye too before you cut them off.”
He shrugs. “Whatever.”
My dad gives me a questioning glance. His speech is still impaired, so I rely on looks and his nifty whiteboard. In the past two weeks his motor control over his right hand has improved enough to write me messages.
I grin as he reaches for his whiteboard.
“It was Harrison. I sent him a holiday card, and he just got it today.”
And his dad?
“Flint. What about him?”
My dad frowns as if I should know exactly what he’s asking me.
When are you going home?
“This is home. I told you.”
He pushes the white rag over the board to erase his words and write new ones.
Do you love him?
“I love you.” I get out of the chair and bend over, kissing him on the head.
He reaches a shaky hand for my wrist.
I sigh. This is not a conversation worth having right now.
He scribbles more words.
I don’t want to be your job. A burden.
“I’ve already started looking for someone to take you to your appointments during the day. And I have new business cards ordered. I’m going to make house calls. What do you think about that?”
Do you love him?
“I’m not leaving you. That would mean putting you in a care facility. You won’t get better there. That’s where old people go to die. You’re not even sixty yet.”
He holds up the whiteboard again.
I sigh. “Do I love him? Yes. And I love you and my rat babies and chocolate. I’ve got a lot of love to give. You know what else I love? Tacos. So I’m going to make tacos for dinner.”
“El … len …”
I stop, halfway to the kitchen. It still frustrates the hell out of him to try to talk. Speech therapy is his least favorite part of the day, so when he does attempt to talk, I know it’s something very important to him.
Turning around, I kneel beside his chair, giving him my full attention as his hand scribbles and scribbles.
Tell him to wait for you. I’m going to get better for YOU. If you love him, don’t let him get away.
I can’t ask Flint to wait indefinitely for me. I won’t give him false hope. “I know you’re going to get better. I’ve made sure you have the best therapists helping you. But you won’t get better if I abandon you. If I’m meant to be with Flint then …” I shrug.
“Besides, when did you become a Flint fan? I thought you were still holding onto your far-fetched dream of Alex and me reconciling.”
He erases his writing and pulls the cap off his marker.
Ron said Alex treated you badly.
I never told my father just how badly Alex treated me. It was my need to protect Alex in spite of everything he said to me, and I wanted to protect my dad too. He and Alex’s dad, Ron, have been friends for many years.
I give my dad a painful smile. He wipes the board and writes again.
Don’t lie to me.
“Yes. Alex said a lot of things that weren’t nice. I knew it was the pain and anger talking, but … I saw no end in sight, and he wanted me to leave. He wanted a divorce.”
You deserve better.
I nod. “I do.”
Don’t let “better” go.
I laugh. “When you ditch the dry erase board and climb the stairs unassisted without falling, we’ll talk about my love life. I’m young and incredibly good looking like my mom was.” I wink at him and he grins. “So there’s no need for me to tag a man like a Christmas tree. If he’s here when I’m ready, then we’re meant to be. If not, I’ll find another one.”
Another frown from my dad, but I’m fine with his frowns. It takes more facial muscles to frown than to smile, so if I upset him, it’s good exercise for some of those injured nerves.
He draws a Z-shaped Christmas tree.
There are more good trees than there are good men.