Tex sat bolt upright in the middle of the aisle. “What the f**k?” He covered his head with both hands and winced in pain. He then noticed his state of undress and shifted his hands to cover his crotch. “Who gave me whiskey?”
Owen chuckled. He wouldn’t remember a thing from the night before. He never did when he drank too much whiskey.
“Ah God.” He tried to stand but ended up crawling to the bathroom and locking himself inside.
“I said, Merry Christmas, ass**les,” Owen yelled. “It’s time to wake up. Santa came.”
“I remember him coming at least four times,” Adam’s said from his bunk. Well, he was mostly in his bunk. One hand and foot were dragging the floor. “I can’t feel my arm.”
“That sucks for a lead guitarist, doesn’t it?” Shade grumbled from the sofa. He had a pair of pink panties stuck to his forehead. Owen grinned, wondering how long it would take him to notice.
Adam rolled onto his back and used his functional arm to try to rub the circulation back into his temporarily frozen one. “I’d flip you off if you were worth the trouble.”
“Here’s what Santa brought you, Adam.”
“Let me guess. Another chain.”
Owen laughed. “How did you know?”
“You buy me a chain every year. That’s why I have like ten of them.”
“Well now you have eleven. You’re welcome.”
Adam smiled at him—he really didn’t do that enough these days. “Thanks, man. It’s exactly what I wanted. And I really didn’t get you shit.”
“That’s not from me, it’s from Santa.”
“Yeah okay. What are you—five years old?”
“On Christmas I am.”
Gabe hadn’t stirred from his upside down sprawl in the recliner. His mohawked head was on the extended foot rest, legs spread and draped over each chair arm. After seeing where Gabe’s balls were currently situated, Owen vowed to never sit in that chair again.
“Gabe, are you awake? It’s Christmas.”
“I just wanna sleep,” he said in a slurred voice.
“I guess you don’t want this boring ass book that Santa brought you.” Owen dropped the heavy book on Gabe’s chest, which definitely got his attention. Clutching the book in both hands, he lifted his head and glanced around in confusion. “Um,” he said. “How in the f**k did I wind up sleeping like this? It defies all logic.”
“Sort of like your hairstyle.”
Gabe lift the book and blinked his eyes until they focused well enough to read the title. “Theories in Antigravity? Now there’s a thought. Imagine sex in space.”
“Enjoy,” Owen said.
He handed Shade a long flat box. “Sunglasses? For me? Good thing. Vanessa broke my last pair when she sat on my face.”
“Nope, sorry. Had he known you would be without your precious sunglasses on Christmas morning, Santa would have gone with the usual, but he was a little more creative this year.”
Shade opened the box and lifted the flat cross that dangled from a silver chain. He lifted an eyebrow at him. “Trying to keep me out of trouble?”
“Wear it over your heart,” Owen said. “And read the inscription on the back while you’re at it.”
“Your angel,” Shade read haltingly. “…is always.” He scowled at the words.
“Close to your heart,” Owen finished for him, knowing how the guy struggled with written language.
Shade bit his lip. “I wonder if she’s awake yet. I need to call her. Do we have phone service yet?” He slipped the chain over his head and patted it into his chest, before peeling the panties off of his forehead and seeking clothes to make himself decent before he talked to his three-year old daughter on Christmas morning.
“Yeah, we have service,” Tex yelled from the back of the bus. “I just called the crew. The equipment truck didn’t attempt the pass, so they’re all fine. A snow plow is trying to clear the roads and they’re sending up a tow truck to help stranded vehicles.”
Not quite a Christmas miracle, but definitely good news.
Owen found Kelly in the driver’s seat. He was wide awake, wrapped in a red plaid flannel blanket staring out at the bleak white landscape outside the bus. The snow had stopped during the night, but the wind had piled it into huge drifts. The sky was gray with dense clouds making the sunlight dim. Like Kelly’s mood. Owen couldn’t stand to see him depressed. Especially on Christmas. He stood beside his chair and stared at Kelly’s reflection in the windshield for a long moment. Kelly had that familiar far-off pained look in his eyes. He didn’t seem to realize that Owen was standing at his side.
“You’re thinking about her again,” Owen said.
Kelly sucked a startled breath through his nose and then released it slowly. “Christmas is tough,” he said quietly, though his gaze never moved from whatever point in the distance held his attention. He was seeing the past. Still living in the past.
“Why’s that?” Owen asked.
“She said she wanted me to take her to see the Christmas tree in Times Square before she died.”
Owen knew Sara had died in January, so the opportunity had been there. “Did you go?”
He shook his head almost unperceptively. “I refused to take her. I wanted her to stay in bed. All those little things she wanted to do before she went, I wouldn’t let her do them. I was so afraid of her dying that I didn’t let her live.”
“Are you going to let yourself start living soon?” Owen asked.
Kelly turned his head to look up at him. “You can’t help but stick your nose in other people’s business, can you?”
“And you can’t let people wallow in their misery.”
“You know why?”
“Nothing truly horrible has ever happened to you.”
Owen smiled. “And I plan to keep it that way.” He pulled the last gift from his bag and tossed it on Kelly’s lap. “Santa got you something. When you wear it, Sara will know you’re still bound to her. When you take it off, it’s because you’re finally ready to do what she wanted you to do and move on.”
Owen hoped Kelly didn’t wear the leather wrist cuff for too awfully long. He wanted it to be a constant reminder to him that Sara would want him to find someone to love. Or at least to someone to screw properly.