My fingers intertwined with Cooper's as we walked down the street, trailing a ways behind Connor and James. None of us had a real destination in mind. It was just a really nice day (sixty degrees and perfectly sunny-no bitterly cold weather for us residents of Las Vegas) and we had been cooped up in the house for way too long so we had booked it and gone outside for own enjoyment. Connor was excited as shit, since Christmas was coming up and that meant he was that much closer to getting his presents. Although on the downside, the closer we all got to Christmas, the more Connor talked about his plans to kill "Sandy Claws". I don't know where the belief that Santa is an evil child killing, present stealer originated from but Connor refuses to believe anything else. We all have tried talking to him about it on numerous occasions but he never listens. He's too fucking stubborn to accept anything but his own belief on the matter.
"But Daddy, why can't I have a rocket launcher?" he whined at James, who was just shaking his head at him. "I HAVE to have one! How am I gonna protect us from Sandy Claws if I don't?"
"Connor, for the last time, there is NO such thing as Sandy Claws!" James said in exasperation. "Okay? Can I make that any clearer?"
Connor's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "How much did he pay you to say that?"
"Oh good grief," I said with a shake of my head. I looked over at Cooper, who wasn't even paying attention to the conversation at hand. Usually he was jumping all over Connor to tell him that his beliefs about Sandy Claws were completely delusional. "Hey," I said gently "you okay?"
Cooper blinked, startled that I had pulled him out of whatever daze he had been in. "Yeah," he said a couple seconds later. "I'm okay."
"Can you say that again with even less feeling?" I asked with raised eyebrows. I wasn't just about to believe that phony reassurance. I was too smart for that.
His lips twitched at my words. "You don't believe me? That's sad. I'm your boyfriend. Aren't you just supposed to believe me?"
"Don't try to guilt trip me mister just because I'm calling you out when something is obviously wrong with you," I scolded lightly. "I see right through your lies." My expression became more serious when I still saw the weird look on his face. "Really Cooper, what's going on?"
He shrugged. "There's nothing going on. It's just…" He took the hand that wasn't holding mine and began waving it around. "All of this? It's bullshit."
I frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I mean all this cheerfulness and the peace on earth and goodwill toward man is fucking bullshit. Christmas is only good for two things: the presents and the food."
"Coopy LOVES to eat during the holidays," Connor informed me. "He used to eat the candy canes off the Christmas tree and then blame me so Daddy wouldn't get mad at him."
"Hey! Stay out of our conversation!" Cooper snapped at Connor.
"Mean!" Connor stuck his tongue out at Cooper before going back to bothering James. Cooper rolled his eyes before returning to what he was saying to me. "Anyway, like I was saying, Christmas is only about presents and food. That's it."
"Some people think it means more," I said, nodding at a group of people walking into a church."
He snorted very loudly at that. He was a hardcore atheist and nothing was ever going to change that. "Right…"
"Churches are pretty during this time of year." I don't know why I said that. It wasn't like he was going to care. My mother was huge on going to church, especially during the holidays and while my dad wasn't quite the devoted follower she was, he still always made us go.
"Sometimes I want to go in one and demand that God come meet me face to face."
"Dare I ask why?"
"So I can punch him in the face."
The old ladies that were walking by us stopped and gave him an absolutely appalled look. That didn't faze him though. In fact, it spurned him to be the obnoxious shit James always was and he grabbed me by the hair and planted one right on my lips, making them gasp and scurry away.
"Nice!" James said with a laugh.
I sighed loudly when we finally broke apart. "Really Cooper? Was that really necessary?"
"Yes," he said without hesitation. "It was." He let go of my hand and wrapped his arms around my shoulders.
"You probably gave them heart attacks."
"So? Do you remember my family's hobby? We're really not that bothered into shocking old ladies to death."
I rolled my eyes at him. "I don't think you're in the proper holiday spirit."
"Ugh…" He groaned and shook his head at me. "What more do I need Jeff? I want to eat, get presents, drink and get laid. That's enough fucking holiday cheer for me."
"What if it's not for me?" I was actually kind of just doing this to bother him. I wanted to see if I could goad him into becoming a more cheerful person. I knew my odds weren't that great because that just wasn't who he was at all but what the hell? It was Christmas time. Maybe I could get a Christmas miracle this year.
"Well then uh…uh…" He was at a loss for words because he couldn't tell if I was serious or not.
James looked back at us with a mischievous gleam in his eyes and I knew the next thing he was about to say wouldn't be good. "You know, if you got down on your knees and opened your mouth a bit wider you would look like Mark when he's about to-"
"DAD!" Cooper looked absolutely horrified and James and Connor just cackled at him.
I just shook my head. I wasn't even going to try to say anything. That would just be a battle with James I would not win at all.
The feeling of my back being pained on was what woke me up the next morning. Since Jeff was an artist at heart, this was not the first time I had woken up to something like this. "Again Nero?" I asked sleepily. It was way too early for me to be awake. The clock by my bed said it was 11:30, which meant I had like another three or four hours of sleep left in me.
"Yes," Jeff confirmed. He was sitting on my thighs so I couldn't roll over and ruin his creation.
"I'm bored. And I have inspiration."
"And why is my back the canvas?"
"Cuz it is." He leaned forward and nipped my ear before going back to work. "I can't be limited to just paper or walls man. I gotta have full creative freedom or I'm just not happy." He stopped once more and I turned my head back to look at him pouting at me. "Don't you want me to be happy?"
"It's my life's mission." I said that one real dryly but that didn't mean I didn't mean it. I tried to rebury my face into my pillow and go back to sleep but now that he had my attention, Jeff didn't want to give it up.
"Mark and James are fighting again."
I grunted. That wasn't surprising.
"James wants to throw a Christmas party and Mark's trying to put his foot down and stop it."
I grunted again. I wasn't about to admit it but I agreed with Mark on that move. Dad going to parties was bad enough but him hosting them? Those were the ones that really ended in disaster.
"You're not being a good conversation," Jeff complained. "You gotta do more than grunt man."
"Jeff it's early! I'm tired!"
"It's almost noon!"
"Yes! Thank you! My point exactly!" Feeling like I had just won, I once again tried to go back to sleep. But two seconds later, I got my ass slapped really really hard, which made me open my eyes once again. "Ow! Jeff come on!"
Jeff ignored my plea and smacked me again. "You gonna stay awake now?" he asked.
I rolled my eyes. "I don't-hey!" Fuck this was starting to sting. "If you don't think I'm not plotting revenge then you better think again!"
He laughed at me. He actually laughed at me. "You're so cute when you're mad," he told me.
"You won't think so when I get my hands on you," I warned him. I tried to reach back and grab at him but he smacked me on the back of my head before I could get him.
"Stop it. You're gonna ruin it."
"What ARE you drawing that's so damn important?"
"You'll see…good things come to those who wait."
"You know, I've never bought that philosophy. I feel like its full of shit." I rested my head again but didn't bother to close my eyes. I just laid there and let Jeff continue with his work. This meant he had to bathe me later to get it all off so I wasn't about to really complain on this whole thing. Hell I encouraged him half the time. Any excuse to get him in a shower was fucking fantastic to me.
"Done!" he said triumphantly about twenty minutes later. He jumped up to his feet and set the paints aside before helping me get up too. "Come on, you gotta see."
"Okay okay, I'm coming," I said, stumbling a bit because my legs were somewhat asleep. I managed to stay up on my feet and followed him into the bathroom, where he turned me around so my back was facing the full length mirror on the wall and he handed me another mirror that I could hold and see what he had done.
"It's a tree!" he informed me, as if I wasn't capable of interpreting his weird artistic creations. He sounded so cute though, I just had to give him a little kiss of approval.
"No no no!" Connor said impatiently, slapping my hands away in irritation. "I said I wanted me and Daddy to do it!" The tree was in the process of being decorated but Connor believed he was in charge of this operation and didn't want anyone but James's help. "You're not gonna do it right!"
"Connor come on, he can help," James said, giving me an apologetic look for Connor's behavior.
"No Daddy!" Connor objected. "No no no-"
"Connor stop being a brat!" Mark snapped. He was lounging back in the chair, reading a newspaper while Cooper (who had already given up on trying to help) was watching the old home movie James had popped in before we had arrived.
"Hey! He can act anyway he wants!" Uh oh. That wasn't good. I rarely ever heard James snap at Mark that way. That meant either James was being a big baby about not having a Christmas party or the fight over the party had become about something much more serious.
Deciding to just try and keep the peace, I gave up and sat down next to Cooper, snuggling up to him and resting my head on his shoulder. "What's this from?" I asked, referring to the movie.
"The 1996 Christmas party," Cooper answered. "Fuck this night was…well I don't remember much of it honestly. It's all one big blur."
"Fuck you people are fucking wasted," a young David Hart Smith said. He was the one handling the camera now because the adults were way too fucking drunk to be doing it. "Yo! Uncle Bret! How long do I let this keep rolling?"
"All night!" Bret yelled from across the room. He was getting a lap dance from Shawn, who was drunk and hopped up on some sort of combination of pills. "Give it to Tyson if you get tired of holding it."
"Oh wonderful…" The camera turned away from the lap dance and began to move throughout the party, not stopping until it found James and Brian Pillman, who were just barely on their feet because they were so drunk. "This is some party Uncle James," David said, getting the attention of the two men in front of him.
"Cuz it's my party!" James said gleefully. He tried to come closer to the camera but nearly fell. Brian managed to catch him just in time but then nearly fell over himself.
"I think you've had too much," David said wisely. "I think you need to be cut off."
"No!" Brian shouted drunkenly. "I think you gotta be cut up!" He howled in laughter as he grabbed James's knife and began to swing it around wildly.
"Okay then, fuck this shit," David said, bailing as fast as he could.
"Smart move," Cooper commented with a nod. "Fucking Dad knew not to keep that knife on him while he and Pillman were drunk. That Loose Cannon thing he did on the shows wasn't really that much of a gimmick half the time."
"David!" Connor shouted, waving to the camera as he sat snuggled in Owen's lap. "Hi hi hi!"
"Hey," David said. He panned the camera over to Cooper, Natalya and Joie, who looked like a fish out of water with this whole situation. "Who do we have here?" David asked.
"His name is Joie!" Nattie gushed, hugging Joie tightly. "Cooper made a FRIEND at school! It's fucking amazing!"
Cooper rolled his eyes. "Why is it so amazing? Do you think that I'm totally incapable of making friends?"
"Well you've never had one from school before," she shot back. "You hate everyone there."
I looked away from the screen and saw the blank look on Cooper's face. I winced, hating that it was there. Even after all this time he couldn't handle seeing Joie in anything. It had been twelve years but that was a wound that would probably never heal. Joie had been the love of his life. I knew he loved me but I wasn't a fool. Based on what others had told me and his own reactions whenever the name was even mentioned, I knew that he and Joie were supposed to have been a forever kind of deal. If he hadn't been killed, they would have still been together and I wouldn't even be in the picture. And while I never said it, it did bother me a bit because I am so fucking in love with Cooper. I fucking love him to death and I know he loves me and he would kill for me and die for me but…I'm not Joie. I won't ever live up to this pedestal that Cooper puts him on so I don't try. I just pretend he doesn't do it and not let it bother me. And it works.
Most of the time anyway.
I wasn't an idiot. I know that Jeff saw my reaction to the whole Joie thing and I know it bothered him. And it was making me feel pretty shitty. I love Jeff. I'm fucking happier than I've been in years because of him. And what did I do earlier? Go all fucking weird over my ex. Twelve years later and my wounds are still that fucking deep. Fuck, I have to wonder if Jeff resents me over this whole thing. How could he not? I hated to think about it…no, I wouldn't think about it.
I stared up at the sky, all alone in the backyard because I stepped out for a smoke. Jeff probably would have come with me but he was being occupied by Connor. I was okay with being alone because it gave me a chance to clear my head. The air was getting colder because it was becoming night and I shivered and folded my arms over my chest. I was wearing a jacket but it wasn't doing much for me. "Fuck it," I muttered. I could clear my mind inside where it was warm. I started to turn around to go back in and nearly collided with Jeff in the process. "Oh fuck," I said, completely startled by his sudden appearance.
"Did I scare you?" he asked playfully.
"Uh…oh look, mistletoe!" I quickly kissed him to avoid the question.
He accepted my kiss and returned it for a moment before pulling away. "There's no mistletoe you dope."
"It's invisible," I argued.
"Oh. Good point." He chuckled and wrapped his arms around my neck before kissing me again. "I love you."
"I love you too," I said, resting my forehead against his and staring into his eyes. "That's why I've decided to get in the holiday spirit." I stepped back and reached into my jacket pocket so I could pull out the Santa hat I had stashed in there and I put it on before trying to not think about how much I felt like a jackass now. "Ho ho fuckin' ho."
Jeff kept his straight face for all of about two seconds before doubling over and laughing his ass off. "Oh fuck," he gasped out, not even able to look at me without laughing even harder.
I pouted and shook my head. "Hey! That was my serious attempt at holiday spirit! Don't laugh at it!"
"I'm sorry," he apologized. "I am. I just…" He burst into another giggle fit and then slapped away my hand when I reached up to take the hat off. "I love it. Keep it on."
"Are you going to keep laughing at me if I do?"
"Yeah. But I'll laugh at you out of love, so it's okay."
I rolled my eyes at that. "Thanks Jeff. Thanks a lot."
"No problem sweetheart."