Point of View: Lexi, Jacob
Featured Characters: Lexi Ryan, Abbie Thorne, Randall, Jacob Ryan
Word Count: 2610
Lexi’s Christmas with her mom doesn’t go as expected. Or does it?
She could see little puffs of her own breath in the air in front of her like cigarette smoke too, despite the red-hot grill of the space heater in the corner. She might’ve scooted a little closer to it, but every few minutes sparks would fly out and land on the already singed linoleum floor and barely miss her scuffed sneakers. Her jean jacket would just have to be good enough.
Lexi had never been inside a trailer before. On TV commercials they looked like cool, tiny houses. Maybe this one had been neat when it was new… but as she peered around the kitchenette at the peeling wallpaper and broken countertops, it looked more like the clubhouses she and Knucker cobbled together in the woods behind her house than an actual home.
Her stomach rumbled and she sighed. Picking up her plastic fork, she poked at the Dayglo orange noodles that were halfway melted into her styrofoam plate. Most of the mac and cheese was a pasty mush, but scattered in the mix were a few hard, crunchy bits that hurt her teeth to chew. When her mom had pulled the leftovers out of the fridge and popped them in the microwave, Lexi had known it would be horrible, but she couldn’t find the will to complain because Mom had actually remembered her favorite dinner. She was trying.
Randall was the one Lexi couldn’t stand. Mom’s new boyfriend hadn’t been mean or unfriendly, but there was still something greasy about him. He seemed like the kind of guy her dad would side-eye and squint at in the gas station. Smelling of cigarette smoke, booze, and grime the way he did, she wasn’t sure why her mom liked him at all.
“What’s the matter, baby, not hungry?” her mom asked from across the table. Well, it sort of passed for a table, anyway; it was more like a shelf that folded down from the wall. She stood up and wandered over to the fridge to pull out a beer.
“I’m stuffed,” lied Lexi, quick to nod her head. “I had an extra sandwich earlier, I’m sorry.”
“For the best,” chimed in Greaseball Randall as he took the beer from her mom’s hand and popped the can open before wandering over to Lexi. “You can’t grow up as hot as your mom if you’re a fatty.”
His hand dropped heavily on top of her head and ruffled up her hair. Lexi cast him the surliest of scowls before swinging up her arm to knock him away.
“I don’t like that! I told you to stoppit!” she insisted, but both her mom and Randall just laughed at her.
“Feisty little shit isn’t she? She’s just like you, babe.”
The greaseball leaned over to grab her mom and they started kissing. Lexi mimed vomiting and slipped out of her chair to toss her plate in the trash. There wasn’t even a garbage can, just a cheap white trashbag hanging off the side of the closet door handle. When she turned back around her mom had disappeared into the single bedroom and Randall had dropped into one of the dinette chairs and fixed Lexi with a serious stare.
“You better start being nice to me. When I’m your dad, I’m not putting up with your bullshit, got that? You’re going to be wearing pretty little dresses and callin’ me sir or I’mma pop that smartass mouth of yours.”
Lexi wasn’t impressed or intimidated in the slightest. Randall had her mom’s red lipstick smeared halfway across his big giant fish mouth and he had such skinny chicken legs, he’d never be able to catch her. Besides, she already had a dad and he was a million times scarier than this guy.
“You’re just some scuzzbucket she’s having fun with right now,” retorted Lexi matter-of-factly. “You don’t even have a job to pay for stuff.”
She regretted the comment the second it fell out of her mouth. Randall’s face turned so red he was almost purple, and he snatched for her—but Lexi was quicker. His fingers only barely grazed the faded denim of her jacket before she kicked him as hard as she could in the shin. As he howled in pain, she dashed across the trailer towards the bedroom. Lexi practically crashed into her mom’s legs.
“Jeeze, Randy, what happened?!”
“She kicked me! I was just telling her I’d like to be her dad one day and see her in a pretty dress, then she kicked me!” he hollered.
“Alexa!” Her mom looked down at her, one hand on her hip. “Is that true?”
“He said I’d have to be nice to him and—”
“She called me a scuzzbucket, babe, and said I didn’t even have a job. You know, I try so hard to support us…” He let his sentence trail off, then shook his head. Before anyone could say a word, he held up his hand to silence them, then stalked out the front door with a slam.
Lexi gave the door a sour frown.
“I can’t believe you, Alexa! I finally find myself a nice man, and here you go causing trouble all over again. I swear, it’s like you don’t know how to act like a lady at all!” Mom chided.
That stung a little, but it was kind of true. Her mom was always telling her how a lady was supposed to behave, but Lexi never could get it right. It’s just… if someone was a scuzzbucket, you were supposed to stop them. Knucker’s dad always said you were supposed to stick up for people and protect them from crooks and jerks. Randall was definitely a bad guy and not at all good for her mom.
“Oh, honey, what am I ever going to do with you, I swear,” her mom went on with a heavy sigh as she grabbed her coat from a hook on the wall and swung open the front door. “Randy, wait!”
Lexi blinked in surprise, scrambling to catch up. By the time she got to the bottom of the porch steps, her mom was swinging open her car door as Randall was climbing in on the driver’s side.
“Where are you going?” Lexi blurted, fingers curling tight at her sides. “What about Christmas?”
“We’re going out to get the presents. Right, baby?” Her mom shot a look at Randall. His giant fish mouth spread out into a wide smile that Lexi didn’t much like.
“Lock the door, okay? We’ll be back soon!”
Lexi huffed as she watched them roll down the gravel driveway. After a few minutes of standing out in the cold, she wandered back inside the trailer. Dropping onto the couch where they’d made her a little bed with some old sheets and a lumpy pillowcase, she waited.
A few minutes ticked away into thirty. Then an hour. Then several… By midnight, Lexi knew they wouldn’t be coming back, but she stayed up to watch the clock anyway. She knew that getting presents on Christmas Eve was hard. She’d seen all kinds of funny YouTube videos of parents going crazy at each other over toys. The idea of Randall getting punched in the face by someone’s grandma was enough to keep her happy for a while, but come 2:00 AM she’d gotten so mad that she couldn’t stand it anymore.
Mom promised. She promised a real Christmas together. Instead, she drove away with that big smelly scuzzbucket and left her alone.
Lexi snatched up her coloring books and the stuffed dog she’d brought along with her and crammed them into her backpack. She had made such a big deal about getting to spend the week at her mom’s, and her dad hadn’t liked the idea one bit. Now he was probably fast asleep and she balked at the idea of calling to wake him up, but she told herself there wasn’t any reason she couldn’t just walk on home. She knew the way back by heart.
She was almost out the front door before she hesitated. Turning on her heel, she stomped back to the space heater and made sure to turn it off. Lexi didn’t want the place to burn down, even if she was super mad. On the kitchen table, she left her mom a scribbled note.
All it said was I went home.
Everything was so dark outside. Most of the streets were long, winding country roads without any lights, and she didn’t have a flashlight with her or anything. Lexi didn’t mind the dark so much, though. She wasn’t afraid of the shadows or the animals in the woods.
The only thing that bothered her was the cold. The air was frigid and the streets were slick with patches of ice. By the time Lexi made it to the Tiger Mart, sleet had started to fall. She took cover under one of the awnings, glowering up at the sky.
Unless she wanted to turn into a popsicle, there wasn’t any choice now. Dad was going to be so mad at her.
Pulling the little black brick of a phone out of her backpack, Lexi scrolled to her dad’s number and called. She was surprised, relieved, and horrified when he answered the phone.
“Daddy? Can—Can you come and get me? I want to come home.”
Jacob pulled into the Tiger Mart’s parking lot a few minutes later, crushing slush and ice underneath his tires as he parked askew in one of the spaces. Normally, that sort of asshole move pissed him off. People with big expensive trucks that they never used, taking up two parking spaces because they didn’t want anything to scratch the paint. He had bigger things to be pissed off about tonight, though. Getting a call from his baby girl at three o’clock in the morning, for one.
Alexa had been talking about spending Christmas with her mom nonstop for two months. He’d known it wouldn’t end well from the start and unfortunately, he’d been right. Now his gut was twisting into all kinds of wretched shapes trying to imagine what had happened.
To be fair, Abbie would never deliberately hurt their daughter. And yet somehow she’d fucked up badly enough for Alexa to walk out in the dead of night, into what was shaping up to be an ice storm on Christmas, all the way to the Tiger Mart to wait for him because she couldn’t stand one more minute in the trailer.
Hearing her voice on the phone shook him so badly that he hadn’t even thought to ask. Jacob just jumped in his truck and started driving the moment his kid called.
When Alexa slid into the passenger seat and slammed her door closed, some of the tension eased… but not by much. There was a tinge of blue to her lips and her face was so stony he might as well have been looking in a mirror. Jacob leaned forward to turn up the heat and by the time Alexa’s backpack had hit the floorboards, he’d dropped a warm paper bag onto her lap, and over that his own jacket.
“I brought a thermos of soup. There’s a sandwich in there too.”
What Jacob really wanted to say was What did she do?, but he couldn’t come out swinging with accusations at her mother. He never felt like he had a handle on this parenting thing, but if there was one thing he knew it was that how he treated her mother mattered. Alexa was going to grow up with everything he and Abbie ever said just swimming around in her head. Jacob couldn’t control what came pouring out of his ex-wife’s mouth, but at least he could control his own.
Before he could construct the perfect question, Alexa spoke around a mouthful of tuna salad.
“Randall’s a creep.”
His hands tightened on the steering wheel as the worst of the worst scenarios went screaming through his head. He sucked in a deep breath and counted all the way to thirty. By the time he was able to swallow, though, Alexa beat him to the punch again.
“I told him not to ruffle my hair but he does it anyway. And he’s a liar and got me in trouble with Mom. AND he told me that I have to wear dresses and he’ll hit me when he’s my dad!” She was trying really hard not to cry. He could hear it in the way her voice quivered when she breathed. All the while she was buckling up her seatbelt with one hand and adjusting his jacket with the other. Her head disappeared under the red checkered fabric. “I kicked him in the leg and I hope it’s broken and he dies!”
Jacob hoped that son of a bitch died before he got to him too. Because when he did, he was going to wrap his hands around the asshole’s throat and squeeze until his eyes popped out. Really, the only reason Jacob didn’t drive back to Abbie’s trailer to commit murder was that he didn’t need Alexa watching him choke a guy out. He could already hear George Polk warning him to mind his temper, or he’d end up in jail and then Alexa would be living with Abbie for good.
“Please don’t be mad at me. I didn’t want to wake you up but it was too cold to walk anymore,” sniffled the kid, and his gut twisted up all over again. That was the problem with his temper. He hadn’t realized how long he’d been sitting there in seething silence, trying not to punch his hand through the windshield, and now she thought she was in trouble.
“I’m not mad at you, Alexa. But you should’ve called me from the trailer. You can’t go walking around town in the middle of the night. There’re worse people out there than that dipshit Randall.” He winced. There was still a bite in his tone; he just couldn’t help it.
Alexa popped out from under his jacket, though. The tuna sandwich was already demolished. Now the open thermos was tilting back and dripping tomato soup down her chin.
Did Abbie not even bother to feed the girl?
“I don’t want to go back,” admitted Alexa as she wiped soup from her mouth with the back of her sleeve. She had a look in her eyes like she had just gotten back from a war zone. “Not ever again.”
His heart bled for her. No kid should ever have to come to that conclusion. Jacob had tried as long as he could to protect Alexa from her mom, and though he knew she was going to be better in the long run without Abbie… it was still bullshit.
“Alright,” he agreed softly. It was Christmas, for fuck’s sake. A little girl needed to be happy on Christmas. How the fuck was he going to fix this? “What do you say we play Santa and surprise the Sheriff and Son with some Christmas magic? I think they’ll forgive us for breaking in if we have food and presents.”
All his rage simmered down to a soft rumble at the sign of a smile creeping broader and broader across her face.
“Let’s bring them pancakes and root beers!” she suggested brightly. “We can’t get arrested if we have pancakes.”
Jacob wasn’t so sure about that, but thankfully this was one case where he believed George would make an exception.
A week later, when Randall was picked up on drug charges, Jacob got to enjoy a second Christmas.