Turkey in the Snow
Published By: Dreamspinner Press
Published: Dec 01, 2012
ISBN # 9781623802158
Available in: Epub, Mobipocket (.mobi), Adobe Acrobat
A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2012 Advent Calendar package "Evergreen"
All the Drama
“BUT you said we can go make cookies!” Josie was trying to be patient, Henry Calder knew, but it had been a long day for him too. He swung his four-year old niece up into his arms, threw his gym bag over his other shoulder, and shut the door to his brand new hybrid with his knee.
“I know, Bunny,” Hank said, trying hard to keep his voice from ratcheting toward irritation as he wove around the cars in the parking lot. “But if your Uncle Hank doesn’t get his workout in, he gets cranky!” He made his voice low and growly, and since she was in his arms anyway, he blew a bubble through her puffy pink jacket, just to make her laugh. It worked, and he held her close and kissed her blonde head. He’d done his best at a braid today, and he thought he was getting better.
“I promise, Bunny. If you can let Uncle Hank get in a little bitty workout, we’ll go home, and make some cookies and we can eat some mac ’n’ cheese while they’re baking. How’s that?”
Josie nodded adamantly. “Good. ’Cause Mommy’s not going to come back unless we make Christmas perfect.”
Hank smiled and nodded, and tried not to clutch his stomach and bury his face in her shoulder and cry. The odds of his sister coming home for Christmas—or any day, for that matter—weren’t great.
“We’re doing okay, aren’t we?” he asked as he wrestled the gym bag and Josie and the door, coming in from the Sacramento cold into Cal-Fit, his happy place. “We managed Halloween and Thanksgiving okay, right?”
Josie wrinkled her nose. “That princess dress was too big!” she told him, and he nodded. It was true, the costume would fit her again next year. Well, sue him. His sister had left her daughter with him the week before Halloween. He’d managed a princess dress, candy for the door, and a friend to give the candy out while Hank took his niece trick-or-treating throughout his neighborhood. The fact that the only dress he could find at the Halloween store had been two sizes too big was extraneous. He’d come through.
“I know it was,” he said, taking it on the chin. “Next year we’ll do better.”
“Next year Mommy will take me.”
Hank held out his pass for the nice lady at Cal-Fit, who scanned his card and smiled warmly at Josie. Cindy had curly blonde-gray hair pulled back in a pony-tail and faded blue eyes. Hank felt bad—she was the closest thing to a woman in Josie’s life at the moment, and Josie lit up whenever she saw her.
“Hey Josie,” Cindy said, her voice sweet and grandmotherly. “You gonna go visit Justin today?”
“I like Justin,” Josie proclaimed, and Hank nodded. Of course she did. The guy drove Hank banana shit, but no, Josie liked Justin.
“That’s good, Bunny,” he said, and took the name tags from Cindy before giving her an absent smile and turning down the hallway to the daycare area.
“Do you like Justin?” she asked, and he smiled. For her, he’d love Justin, marry him, take the guy into his house and give him foot rubs.
“Yeah, of course I do!”
He hated that guy.
Of all the flame-outs Hank had ever seen, in college and after, Justin was by far the most dramatic, over-the-top boy-princess in the entire northern half of the state. Oh God. Even as they got near the playroom enclosure, Hank could hear him squeal. And of course, the kids loved him.
“Oh my God! Do you guys think… did I hear… is Santa going to be coming to Cal-Fit? Did you know that? Santa is coming to Cal-Fit! Are you all going to be here?”
“Yes!” The cheer was deafening, and Hank actually looked at the door before he opened it and saw that there was going to be an event on Saturday. Oh wonderful. Santa.
“Santa?” Josie said, her voice all excited, and Hank started doing his mental schedule all over again.
“Of course,” he said. “Santa.” Oh God. Please God. Just let him get to the treadmill. Twenty minutes on the treadmill so he could clear his head. Twenty minutes on the free weights, and a five-minute shower, and he could do this. Just please please please please please let him have his happy time before he figured out how to fit Santa into redoing Josie’s room and dealing with the child welfare services who were going to visit on Monday and who insisted that he show that she would have her own space and—
“Justin!” Josie squealed as he opened the door, and Hank looked up to see the cherry on his headache smiling so wide, Hank was surprised the top of his head didn’t fall off.
Justin was young—in his second, maybe third year of college, with widely spaced blue eyes, surrounded by a fringe of dark lashes. He had one of those Irish fair complexions, the kind that showed color easily: straight black hair, a heart shaped face, and a nose that tip-tilted on the end. The first time Hank had ever seen him, Hank had thought he was one of the prettiest young men on the planet Earth, ever. And then Justin had opened his mouth.
“Josie!” Justin trilled, opening his arms and doing a little dance. Josie squealed, trying to get to Justin as he held court at the end of the coloring table. He’d apparently been inspiring all of the young artists to put glue and green sparkles on their Christmas tree masterpieces.
“Justin!” Josie squealed, throwing herself at him after wiggling out of Hank’s arms and almost getting her tiny bunny butt dumped onto the floor of the gym’s daycare room.
“Omigah, Bunny, you will never guess what I just told everybody!”
“Santa!” Josie squeaked. “You said it was going to be Santa! Uncle Hank said we could come, isn’t that right Uncle Hank?”
Oh God. Commitment time. Hank wondered desperately who he could call to be at his house while the movers delivered Josie’s little white twin bed, so she wouldn’t be lost in the big queen-size that took over what used to be his guest bedroom. But Justin was pouting at him like he was being a big meanie and Josie was glaring at him like he was depriving her of this one and only childhood experience because he was determined to suck at this whole parenting gig, and, oh, hells, even Hank remembered that Santa was important.
“I’ll try, Bunny,” he said quietly. “Is that good enough?”
“Mommy would make sure I got to see Santa,” she said spitefully, and Hank nodded. Yup, that was the truth. Amanda would have taken Josie to see Santa for the photo op. Amanda would have shown a picture of Josie sitting on Santa’s lap while wearing a red velveteen dress she hadn’t been able to afford, and then shown all of her friends just to listen to them coo, and then she would have told Josie to go away, couldn’t Josie see that Mommy was talking to her friends? And then she would have dropped Josie at a friend’s house while she, Amanda, went out to party because why was a girl her age at home with a child anyway? Didn’t she deserve to party? Hadn’t she earned that right? She’d had the kid’s picture taken with Santa, after all.
“Yeah, Bunny,” Hank said, needing the freedom of the treadmill like he needed nothing else in the world. “Your mommy would have made sure you got to see Santa.”
He wasn’t sure what was in his voice when he said it, but Justin flinched back, and Josie stuck her tongue out at Hank, and Hank signed his name on the roster. “I’m going to have my earbuds in,” he muttered, because this was something they had to know. “If you need me, you need to come get me.”
And with that he fled the gym childcare, leaving Justin, who was probably going to cry about what a big meanie Hank was to tell Josie that he was a big loser and that any uncle who couldn’t sprinkle glitter on Christmas trees was obviously not going to be a good bet as a parent.
Yeah, well, until the better mommies and uncles lined up to take her, Hank was all she got.