Happy holidays, one and all! And for my Secret Santa recipient, therainydaykids, I hope you enjoy this story. It's kind of simple, but still warm and Christmasesque. It's also kind of a long though, so sit back with a cup of coco, and have a happy insert your winter holiday here.
A Warm Reminder
"Coming, coming! Keep your shirt on! You'll die of wind chill if you don't!" Jack laughed out in response to the repetitive knocking as he put another log on the fire. He couldn't blame the visitors though for the frenzy of knocks though, given the negative temperatures outside. After pushing his messy, brown hair back into place and straightening his sweater, he pushed open the door against the force of the blizzard winds.
"Jack!" Popuri squealed as she practically charged into his warm home to get away from cold. "It's so cold out there!" She took shelter in Jack's arms, who shivered from the contact.
"Really? I thought it looked like good surfing weather earlier!" he chuckled as he held her in his arms, making sure to take a whiff of her pink hair while she was close. It smelled like strawberries. New shampoo. Nice. As he pulled his face away from hers, he could see that her pink hair was slightly frazzled from the wind, but she still looked lovely with her chocolate brown eyes, cheeks, reddened by the frozen wind, and her little blue coat she wore to try and keep warm. "You look beautiful."
"Eww, Jack, my hair is all messed up!" she cried, scoffing his complement while trying to push her hair back into place. "I didn't think the wind would be so-"
"I said you look beautiful," he reassured her before giving her a long, warm kiss, letting her arms wrap around his waist. When the moment came to a close, he finally asked, "Where are the others?"
"They're on their way. I ran ahead so I could see you for a minute alone," she answered slyly, leaning forward to receive another, much shorter kiss. But when she pulled away, she looked a little bit sad. "Still, I wish Kai was here this time of year. Christmas is about being together with family, and I know he doesn't have one."
"Him and me both," Jack muttered, not letting Popuri see his disapproval at the mention of Kai's name. He didn't have a problem with the man, but hearing Popuri talking about her former boyfriend that way made him feel uneasy. He knew that she still wanted to be friends with him, but it didn't change the fact that Jack was the jealous type. Just then, a distraction conveniently interrupted his thoughts in the form of a DING! "Popuri," Jack asked in a near whisper, "be a peach and turn the oven off for me. The pies are done, but I need to greet the next wave of-"
Just then, the knocking on the door resumed, and as Jack and Popuri separated, Jack opened up the door once more as Popuri ran over to the kitchen in the other room to save the pies from burning. The next guests to file through were Rick, his mother, Karen, and her parents, all carrying piping hot meals that they had made at their homes. Once the group was together, the normally quiet house was full of talking and laughter as they brought their portions of the Christmas dinner to the big table that Jack had paid Gotz to build specifically for the occasion. All the while, the party admired the holly decorations and the tiny Christmas tree covered in tinsel that Jack had set up. None of the decorations were too elaborate, but in his freshly expanded home, the atmosphere was quite cozy, and mixed well with the smell of pine needles and hot food.
"So, when do we eat? I'm getting thirsty," Karen whined at Jack, an adorable, pouty look on her face.
"Easy girl, not until the others get here," Jack urged, making a mental note of how many wine bottles he had set out so that he'd know if Karen snatched one early or not. Right then, as if on cue, there was a knock at the front door again. Excited that he and his guests would finally get to eat, he rushed over to the door and opened it for his final guests. "Hey you two, get in here before you freeze!"
Barley just laughed. "Oh Jack," the balding elder chortled, "we Yodels are sturdy as stones. You got nothing to worry about, doesn't he, May?"
"Yup!" Barley's granddaughter chirped as she squeezed between her grandfather and the door to get into the warm house. "Merry Christmas Eve, Jack!"
"Merry Christmas Eve to you too, May," Jack replied merrily as he shut the door behind his final guests. After they took off their coats, Barley left for the kitchen, but before Jack could follow him, he felt something tugging on his hand. He looked down to see the eight year old girl trying to get his attention. Letting out an almost inaudible sigh, he knelt down to meet her gaze. May was a tiny little bundle of energy, and it showed in her brown eyes, which were shining with ecstasy. She was wearing a cute little red dress, and he black hair was braided in pigtails like they normally were. However, he also noticed that she was carrying a little wrapped box in her hands. "You need something kiddo?" he asked sweetly as he reached out to tickle her sides, causing her to squirm with giggles.
"Yeah, Grandpa reminded me to thank you for letting me play on your farm when he's working," May answered as she escaped Jack's tickling fingers. "It is really fun, playing with you, when you're not working."
"Hey, it's my pleasure May. You're a good kid. Santa gonna bring you a good haul this year?" That was only a half truth, as May could get mischievous at times when playing on Jack's land, but not in a malicious way. Truth be told, Jack would probably have grown deathly bored with his monotonous work of watering crops and milking cows if she didn't come by.
"Yeah!" she cheered. Then her eyes lit up. "Oh, I made you something for Christmas!" she exclaimed as she held up her box. "You can open it if you want. You don't have to wait until tomorrow."
"Okay, if you say so," Jack said as he gently received the gift from the child, unwrapped it, and opened the box. He help up the gift and grinned. It was a tiny, wooden rocking horse that was small enough to fit in his hand. It was painted red and green, and had a tiny string attached to the back. "Wow, a horse ornament! Thank you, May. Did you build this?"
May's smile slightly fell at the question. "Uhhh… well, Grandpa carved it, but I glued it together and painted it," she explained meekly.
"Hey, that's good too," Jack reassured her. "Tell you what; I have a gift for you under the tree. It's the little one near the front. Why don't you go hang this up on the tree for me, and then you can open mine, okay?"
"Okay!" May exclaimed. Taking the horse from his hands, she scampered over to the tree to hang it up before picking up his gift and meeting him in the center of the room. Eagerly, she ripped off the wrapping paper and opened the box before pulling out a necklace, ending in a shiny cut ore, shaped like a dove. "Ooh! It's so pretty!"
"You like it? I brought some ores to the blacksmiths, and had them make this for you. It's a Christmas dove. I think necklace might be a little big for you right now, but when you get older, it'll fit just right. Just figured you can use it to remember our first Christmas together, alright?"
"Okay, thanks Jack!" she cheered as she put the necklace in her pocket before hugging him. As Jack embraced the warm little girl, he looked up at the ceiling, and grinned at the wicked idea he had just formed.
"Uh oh, May. Mistletoe!" he announced evilly. "You know what that means!"
"Ew, Jack!" she squealed as she tried to escape his grasp. He scooped her up in his arms and planted a kiss on her forehead. "That's so gross!"
"Okay, your punishment is over. The food will be served soon." He set her back on the ground, and the little girl ran off to the dining room. As Jack's gaze shifted up, he saw that Popuri had joined him in the living room, looking incredibly glad about something.
"Wow, you really are good with kids," she commented, smiling widely.
"Well, you know, May is a good kid," Jack answered smoothly. "Besides, I also considered it training for the children I want to have someday." In truth, Jack hadn't given much thought into having children, but just saying that line brought a very positive expression onto Popuri's face as she linked arms with him. Hehe, always know exactly what to say.
Eventually, the entire party congregated in the dining room, and everybody had a drink in their hands. But before the eating began, Jack called everybody's to the front of the room with a light tap on his glass with his fork. "Thank you everybody for coming tonight and for bringing this wonderful food," he began, a mile-wide wide smile stretched on his face. "I'm so glad that I finally get to break in this newly built room with all of you tonight. But really, this holiday is more than just the gifts, or the food. For me, Christmas has always been about being with the people you love; your family. And during my first year in Mineral Town, you've all become my new family. Ever since the day I arrived here as a clueless city boy who knew nothing about farming, you've all contributed something to help me make my place here in Mineral Town. So I'd like to make a toast." He raised his glass, and everybody followed in suite. "May you always be happy and prosperous. I hope that I can always be there for all of you like you have for me. And beyond that, I hope we make this a tradition. So cheers!"
"Cheers," they all repeated in equal enthusiasm. They all then took their first sips of their drinks and the rest of the next few days ended up giving Jack some of his most cherished memories.
Ten Years Later
May let out long sigh while she stared out the window at the snowflakes that lazily drifted towards the earth. She simply had no energy left after working with the sheep and cattle all day, and the gray skies didn't help her morale either. There just didn't seem to be anything to look forward to during the next few days, even though those next few days included Christmas and Christmas Eve. With her grandfather gone, and her being stuck working the lonely ranch, there just didn't seem to be much holiday spirit left in her.
Sheesh, I need a drink, she thought to herself. She stood up from the old table she was sitting at and was about to make her way over to the liquor cabinet when there was a knock at the door. "It's unlocked," she called out, and the door opened to reveal her only employee, Cliff.
"Hey, May. Just letting you know that I finished collecting today's milk. All the animals are inside, and the barn door is shut and secured," he told her in his usual calm, stoic voice.
"Thank you, Cliff," May replied, her lips curling slightly to form a small smile. If there was one thing that did make her feel better, it was that she had a devoted employee in Cliff. Since the ranch had been steadily growing, and her grandfather had not been getting any younger, and she herself was not ready to take full control over the ranch as Barley had done before her, hiring Cliff to pick up the slack was a good decision. She didn't realize how much she appreciated his help until it was just the two of them running things. "I left your payment on the counter, Christmas bonus included." Though she tried to elevate her tone to something a little more cheery, her voice remained as cold and vacant as a Mineral Town winter. Now I really need a drink.
Cliff picked up the envelope that May had left him and began to count silently through the bills, grinning widely at the bonus he received. Once he had a full tally of his payment, he turned around to thank May, he saw her drinking sangria straight from the bottle, and she was really putting it away for a young lady of her size. "Umm… thanks for the money. But really, don't you think it's a bit too early to be hitting the sauce?"
"Nobody asked you," May answered, her voice intentionally chilly this time, as she brought the bottle to her lips a second time. She thought that Cliff of all people, who used to be a wayward traveler, would understand what she was going through right then. It was the holidays, and she had no family, no friends, and no boyfriend she could count on to spend time with. All things considered, the bottle was looking better by the minute.
"Just saying. I'm just a little concerned. I know you're not a kid anymore, but what would your grandfather say if he-"
"Well honestly Cliff," she interrupted between sips, "I have nothing better to do this season. Might as well go numb for a little bit." She tilted the bottle slightly to take another drink, but this time, she only limited herself to a tiny bit. "What are you doing tomorrow night?"
"Just spending time with Ann and the kid," he answered, though he felt bad about saying this, as if he was rubbing his family in May's face. "But don't you guys… I mean, don't you try to do something at your ranch for the holidays? Like a party or something?"
"I actually did send out a few invites this year," May murmured, discontented, "but I canceled it a few days ago. I just don't feel like having the house filled with loud, happy people, as emo as that sounds and everything. I mean, I do have some real friends, but…" She paused to take another drink. The sangria was becoming penicillin to her now. "Stu doesn't really want to be around me since… well, you know… and Carter will be doing services all tomorrow night."
"Hmm… bummer…" Cliff noted, feeling bad for his employer. But then his face lit up slightly. "What about Jack?"
Jack… That name in itself was enough to stir up another batch of suppressed emotions, most of them being depressing. "What about Jack?" she parroted numbly.
"Well, I know you two have been friends since you were a kid and hung out at his farm all the time when your grandpa needed somebody to look after you. Just because he's reclusive now days doesn't mean he doesn't want to enjoy the holi-"
"Jack doesn't want to come over," May cut him off, her voice solemn. "I sent him an invite this year and the last. He didn't respond to either of them. Hell, I don't think I've said more than five things to him this year. The last time I talked to him was when Grandpa died. He told me that he was a good man and that he was sorry, and then he just left. He sent over a few dinners afterward, but other than that… He's been really distant and moody ever since Popuri…" She cut her sentence short, since Cliff already knew the rest. The whole town did. "It's really sad, but I think he just wants to be left alone."
"Maybe…" Cliff said, nodding his head. "But maybe not. Maybe he didn't want to come because he didn't want to be surrounded by people either. I don't know Jack well, but I do know what it feels like to have lost those close to me and to be left alone." Cliff slipped the envelope in his pocket and stretched his arms out, ready to head back to the inn. "I'm just saying, maybe he just needs a friendly nudge in the right direction. Anyway, I'll see you tomorrow morning."
Once Cliff was gone, May was beginning to feel conflicted. Of course, she was still grieving the loss of her grandfather, but what about Jack? It had been almost two years now, and he still chose to be secluded. But that was the key word: chose. It wasn't as if nobody had tried to help him. Many of Jack's friends, May herself included, had tried to comfort him, but he gently pushed them away, saying he could handle it himself and that he wanted to be alone. Perhaps he didn't want to be a burden?
Still, he could have at least told me that he didn't want to or was unable come to my parties rather than just ignoring me, May pouted silently. But she would have to forgive him of that. Jack was still an important friend to her, and perhaps Cliff was right: maybe now was the time to push Jack in the right direction. Even if she failed, trying was better than drinking her sorrows away. She noticed that her hand had drifted to the metal object that sat on her chest. It was the necklace that Jack had given her during his first Christmas in Mineral Town. She rarely ever took it off, but now, she remembered who had given it to her and what he meant to her. I haven't forgotten, Jack.
I hope I don't regret this. It was too late. Already, May's mind was screaming at her to just turn around and go back home, where she could just drink until she passed out and avoid another rejection from her friend, if she could even call him that anymore. But she had walked all the way to his farm in the freezing cold, so she was not going to let that be for naught. Shaking, partly from anticipation and partly from the chilly air, she knocked on the door.
"Just a minute!" a rough voice shouted out from the other side. May shivered in the cold, bracing herself for what seemed to be five minutes before the door finally opened. Jack had opened the door, wearing an old pair of ripped jeans and a dirty work shirt. His hair was disheveled, he had a dark five o'clock shadow, and his dark brown eyes looked incredibly tired. Of course, this was natural. He was past his prime now, and he had to run an entire farm by himself, which was difficult, even in the cropless winter. Though despite his roughed up appearance, he still managed a small smile when he saw May.
"Hey kiddo," he said, smoothing his voice out some. May tried her hardest not to flinch at his greeting, since his breath had some incredibly strong alcohol on it that she was unable to recognize.
"Hey," she replied, trying not to let her teeth chatter. But Jack noticed her strained effort and frowned.
"Come in. You'll catch your death out here." May cautiously followed Jack inside, only to be hit by the same alcoholic smell that was on his breath, only this time, it wavered in the warm air of the house. "Sorry this place is such a wreck. I don't get a lot of visitors. If I had known you were coming-"
"No, no. It's okay," she assured him, though it pained her some to look around the room. There was clutter everywhere ranging from wine bottles to dirty clothes to dirty dishes. But also, it saddened her to see that there were no Christmas decorations. It only made sense that there wouldn't be, since Jack did say that he didn't have visitors, but to see such a change in his living from just two years ago… It disturbed her.
"You want something to drink? Coffee? Water? Juice?"
Juice? What am I, eight again? She forced herself not to roll her eyes, knowing that Jack meant well. He did offer her coffee after all. "I'm good, I just wanted to talk to you about something."
"Sure, pick a seat," he told her blankly, choosing an armchair while she picked the sofa. "So what's on your mind?"
"I just…" Damn, how do I even begin? "So you know that party that I was going to have but I had to cancel because of… well… I just… I didn't really feel like it since Grandpa…"
"You don't need to explain yourself. I get it." For a brief moment, May saw legitimate empathy and understanding in his expression before it fell flat again. She realized that he cared about her no matter what, but lately, he was far less expressive. "Look, I'm sorry I forgot to RSVP. There really is no excuse. I should have at least told you that I couldn't come."
Yeah, you should have. "Forget about it," May ordered softly. "I'm not going to have a big party anyway. But I was wondering if you wanted to come by tomorrow evening. I would rather have somebody else to eat all that food with." She tried to lighten the mood on her last sentence as she joked, but it fell flat on both ends. "So… maybe you wanna swing by?"
Jack looked contemplative for a moment before a small smile graced his expression again. "That's awfully sweet of you, May, but… I don't know. I can't imagine I'd be the best party guest these days. I don't know if you'd want me to-"
"Jack, don't think of it as a party," May tried to explain to calm his nerves. "It'll just be us, so… I know you don't want to be surrounded by the whole town or anything right now."
"Right… but May, if it's not a party, what is it then?" he questioned cautiously.
For a second, May didn't know exactly what to say to that. Jack was having reservations, and she believed she knew why. When she was a few years younger, her feelings for Jack had grown from that of good family friends to a small, schoolgirl crush, and it wasn't too hard to understand why. Jack was a generous, kind, caring man (and in her opinion, attractive to boot.) Even though he was older now and much less social and cheery than he used to be, she still saw those qualities within him. Though she never expressed how she had felt at the time, she always got the feeling that Jack could sense it when they talked back then, and it made him uncomfortable, causing her to distance herself from him somewhat. Of course, she never acted on it, Jack being a married man with a kid and all at the time, but maybe he thought she was acting on that old crush now? Or perhaps she was just being paranoid? They were both adults now, so why be so afraid of what he might think?
"It's just two friends enjoying the holidays together. Isn't that what you always said the holidays were all about?"
She smiled inside when she saw that she had Jack pinned. And after letting out a sigh, Jack finally gave in. "Very well. You're right. I come by in the evening when I'm done with work then. Is there anything you want me to bring? Food or anything?"
"If you want to," she answered, not really caring if he did or not. "I just don't want to spend the holidays alone, and I don't think you should either." The atmosphere no longer felt as chilly now, now that May felt warmth in her heart. She had been plagued with doubt about asking Jack to continue the old tradition, but maybe now, the push she gave would pay off for both her and her best friend.
I really hope this is the right thing to be doing right now, Jack pondered as he walked down the road towards the Yodel Ranch, a bag of vegetables from his farm on his arms. Getting ready to spend the evening with May was a lot harder than he had anticipated. After managing to find a nice pair of jeans, a clean shirt, and a white button-down shirt, he had to clean himself up for social activity, namely shaving his oncoming beard and trimming his hair (which was a lot harder than having somebody else do it.) But even though he looked clean on the outside, Jack still felt like a total mess on the inside, not feeling so sure that he would be as good of a guest as he used to be in the old days. On the night that he had accepted May's invitation, Jack had visited Pastor Carter to ask for advice on the situation. While Carter was encouraging, Jack still didn't feel so sure for more reasons than just his desire to be alone.
When he finally arrived at May's house, he only knocked once before he heard May's voice. "Come in! I'll be with you in a minute!" When Jack entered the old house, he was in awe at the decorations. The holly and pine branches laced the doorways and wood framing.
Hmm… I didn't think she would have gone all out this year… unless she did this all today. Mixing with the smell of pine was the strong scent of turkey coming from the kitchen. Jack felt his mouth watering at the smell, as he had rarely ever had good bird in the past decade, since Popuri always strongly objected to eating one of her feathered friends. No… I will not think about her. Not tonight. Luckily (and also unluckily in his mind), what he saw next tore him from his thoughts of the past.
"Jack, I'm so glad you could make it!" Before Jack could see her, May was already hugging him tightly.
"What, did you really think I was gonna back out of a promise?" he lightly teased. The smile on his face faded when the two separated as another sort of awe set in at what he saw. May was quite lovely that evening. This was nothing new, as she had grown into a beautiful young woman, but tonight, she looked especially exceptional. Even as an adult, May was petite, but she still had a womanly figure, and her long, raven-colored hair hung down, some of it partly running in front of her right eye, which somehow made her pale, slightly freckled face look even cuter. But what really got Jack was what May was wearing. It was a red, sweater dress that ran to right above her knees, and met her black leggings. It was a shoulderless style dress that partly rested on the right side of her neck and slightly hung off her left shoulder. At the sight of her, Jack rubbed his face with his hand so that he could stabilize his thoughts. "You… uh… you look great." Understatement of the century.
"Thanks, you clean up nicely yourself," she giggled in response while taking his free hand with her extra warm one. "Come on, I need your help with finishing the food. We have about an hour more. Maybe less." Once the two entered the kitchen, May quickly began giving Jack orders: heat this, drain that, stir the other thing. He followed them obediently, remembering the countless times the two had cooked together. During his first year on the farm, he had helped May bake a cake for Barley's birthday, and as she got older, they made food more and more together, as it was an interest they both showed. Some things never changed, but what had changed… that was what plagued Jack's mind the most. While stirring the corn and peas, he cast a random glance over at May… just as she was bending over to check the turkey. Damn it, Jack! Pull yourself together!
This was nothing new. Over the years as May grew older, Jack had noticed multiple times that she was growing into a very beautiful young woman. At first, this just drove him to be extra protective of her, but after she turned sixteen or so (he could not remember the exact time), his feelings took on a more lustful quality. It was something that shamed him so much that he wouldn't even talk about it in confession with Pastor Carter. It felt so wrong. So dirty. Even though sixteen was a considered the start of adulthood in Mineral Town, he knew that people would not be so accepting if he pursued any sort of relationship with May beyond that of friendship, him being twelve years her senior and all, and since he was pretty much her babysitter for so long. She was like the little sister he never had. Hell, even if the onlookers would not whisper about him behind their doors, he still had Popuri at the time, his wife and the woman he was in love with. Even years after she left him, it still seemed weird, the thought of him and May ever being together, especially now.
If there's a Harvest Goddess, she hates me. But once again, he just smiled and laughed at a joke that May made, and just tried to pretend like time between the two of them had remained still for the past ten years.
They had prepared too much food, but neither of them complained as they gulped down their seconds and even thirds of the potatoes, turkey, and pie. May was somewhat astonished at how much fun Jack seemed to be having. It was as if somebody had just stoked the fire within his heart and slashed five years off of his age. She then took a tiny bit of pride in herself by realizing that she had helped him reach that brief moment of happiness, but this pride only caused confusion as it mixed with the feelings that were welling up in her heart again. Seeing him look so alive again reignited that attraction that she had developed towards him over the years. But could he possibly understand? He was so much older, and he had been through a lot in the last few years.
"Jack… may I ask you something?" she questioned softly.
His laughter died at the sudden question, but he was still smiling. "Anything, kiddo."
I really wish he would stop calling me that, May thought to herself, but she pushed it aside. "Do… do you know how Tommy's doing? I haven't seen him in a long time, so I was-"
"I'm probably never seeing him again, if that's what you're asking," Jack interrupted, his voice suddenly stiff and cold. "After catching Popuri cheating, and before she left with Kai, we had made a contract with the town council that I would have him over the summers, but as you know, he wasn't here this summer. Obviously, Popuri and Kai have no intention of bringing him back, and since they're likely traveling between various countries, it's not like I can get the governments to help us. They don't actually recognize a lot of legal stuff that goes on in this town outside of shipments and what not."
"Oh…" May felt awful for asking, but her curiosity was still piqued. "Why don't you try to go looking yourself?"
"Much easier said than done," Jack responded, now getting visibly annoyed with this line of questioning. "I've done my homework, May. Kai isn't working at any of his original venues outside of Mineral Town, and he obviously doesn't come here anymore. I don't have the money to go around searching for them, nor can I afford to pay a private investigator. And even if I could, what then? Do I kidnap my son? That's an easy trip to prison, and even if they did recognize the contract, I'd probably still be in the wrong by stealing Tommy back… besides…" He let out a pained sigh before continuing. "He was only two when Popuri took him. Odds are, he won't even remember me now… At this rate, the best thing I can do is hope that I somehow come in contact with Popuri again, and then maybe I can convince her to let me see my son again."
A painful silence took place before May finally said something. "Jack… I'm sorry… forget I said anything… I just don't want you to feel so sad when we were having so much fun and-"
"It's all just a distraction in the long run," Jack cut in, irritation in his voice now. "It doesn't change the fact that my dad still hates me, my stepmom doesn't give a shit about me, my ex-wife ran away and took our child… face it May. I have no family left to enjoy this time of year or any other time for that matter."
"That's not true!" May exclaimed, a bit of anger and bitterness in her voice as she stood up in the heated moment. "Jack, there are still people in this town that care about you! I know Rick and Karen do! And Pastor Carter, and me! I never stopped caring, Jack. I know you've been hurt badly, and I understand that it's still hurting you, but don't act like nobody is here for you, because we are, and we've been trying to reach you! We've never left! I never left!"
This just left Jack completely speechless, and he stared down at his half-eaten food. At his response (or lack thereof), May suddenly felt extremely guilty. Jack was so stubborn, and sometimes, it really pissed her off, but she didn't want to be too harsh with him when she was just trying to show that she was there for him.
"Look, Jack, I didn't mean to hurt you anymore if I did," she pleaded. "I just wanted you to remember that-"
"No, you're right," he admitted sullenly as he forced his brown eyes to focus on hers. "I'm sorry… and I've been incredibly insensitive you. I know about what happened with your mother, and now that your grandfather has passed and all…"
"It's alright," she replied, her voice just decibels above a whisper as she left her chair and approached him, awkwardly touching his hand. "I guess we're kinda like kindred spirits or something in that regard. I just hope you know that I'm here for you: in both the good times and the bad."
"Yeah… I guess…" he agreed, though it didn't sound so much like he did. The two remained there for a minute before May finally spoke up.
"After we ziploc this food, do you wanna watch a movie?"
May didn't have many movies, but even if she had a larger collection, both she and Jack would have easily come to the same conclusion: It's a Wonderful Life. Both of them loved the movie, but it was kind of funny to Jack how he could relate to George Bailey, a man who had many problems, but still managed to find happiness in his existence. During the final act of the movie, Jack noted that May seemed to be half asleep, her arms wrapped around his right arm as she rested her head on his shoulder. It felt inappropriate, but Jack didn't resist. May had always been extremely affectionate, but now… he had to fight the urge to take her in his arms and kiss her; to just forget his history with her, and rediscover her on a completely different level. Of course, he'd just look like a creepy old man trying to take advantage of a sweet, young girl. He couldn't allow himself to give in, no matter how much it hurt.
"May…" he whispered gently.
"Hmm?" she hummed cutely in response, not moving her head or opening her eyes at all.
"I'm sorry I disappeared for awhile and that I wasn't here for you like I should have after Barley died. It was wrong of me. Selfish even. I hope you can forgive me."
"I already have…" she whispered back, cuddling up against him even closer. "Don't talk about it anymore." As she drifted back to her half-asleep state, Jack felt his fingers entwine with hers. Still, no resistance. But he feared for the worse if things continued to escalate. Just stay in control.
The movie eventually turned to credits, and the two friends stood up and walked from the sofa they were sitting on to the entry room of the house. "I guess I should get going," he told her, trying not to focus on her face or her bare shoulder which seemed to be calling him. "Best time I've had in years. Thanks for having me, kiddo."
"It's been my pleasure," she said in return, looking out the window. "It's snowing pretty hard out there. Maybe you should spend the night."
"It's a short walk. I'll live," Jack responded, though the idea of staying over sounded like an experience out of a dream. No… just leave. "Thanks though. We should do this again for New Years."
"Sure," she agreed before the two of the, hugged each other tightly. As the two of them embraced, Jack smelled lavender in her hair. It was so intoxicating. He was about to reluctantly leave the hug, but she held him half-way, her eyes looking at the ceiling. When he looked up at what she was staring at, he felt his stomach do a double backflip.
"Mistletoe…" she murmured into his ear. Jack was stuck in motion as she adjusted her head to look him in the eyes. She looked terrified, but at the same time, Jack recognized the look of desire sparkling in her pupils, and in her cheeks, which were flushed red. She steadily moved her hands to hang them around his neck before slowly moving her lips towards his. But once they were an inch away, Jack snapped back to reality in a panic.
"I need to go," he blurted out, prying himself from her arms before she could even react and busting through the front door.
"Jack, please, I'm sorry!" May shouted out her front door, but Jack didn't turn around.
Don't do it. Just keep walking. But before Jack could turn to leave the premises, he felt May grab his hands, turning him around to face her. But as he looked at the shivering girl, he noticed that she ran out so fast, she had forgotten to put on her shoes. "May, go back inside! You'll freeze out here!"
"Jack, I'm sorry!" she shouted again, shivering all over. "I didn't mean to freak you out like that! I just-"
"May, what were you thinking?" Jack asked, his voice harsh. "You and I… we can't… I… Do you realize how hard this is for me? This whole night!"
"What do you mean 'this whole night'?" she questioned, still shaking all over. But her face then took on an expression of understanding. "Do you… do you like me like…"
"Does it fucking matter?" he yelled out, rage overtaking his face. "This is wrong! You're just a kid! You're like my little sister for Christ's sake!"
"Damn it Jack, I'm not a kid anymore!" she returned in a scream. "And so what? If we feel different about each other now, why hide it? I'm tired of hiding it."
"Well, I…" he stuttered for a moment. "What will everybody else say?" He knew May would have a good response to this though, and he predicted what she would say, nearly word for word.
"Does it matter? We'll be happy! We don't have to be alone anymore." Again, she tried to pull him close to her and tried to kiss him again, but he pushed her back once more.
"May… I'm thirty years old, and you're… you're so young. You should be with somebody your own age."
"Why?" Her answer was simple and rebellious, but it shut Jack down momentarily as he thought of a new response.
"I'm… I'm damaged, May," he whispered to her, his voice almost inaudible over the wind. "I'm not young anymore. I don't know if I can give you everything you want…"
"But I know you can," she cooed back to him, tears now in her eyes as she shivered in the falling snow. "I know you're capable of love, Jack. I saw how you loved Popuri, and I know you can feel that way about me. So please, don't leave. Stay with me tonight." She stood on her toes to whisper into his ear. "Stay with me forever."
In that eternal moment, thousands of thoughts ran through Jack's mind as a lone tear ran down his cheek. May was the best thing left in his life. He wanted to take her into his arms and let his primitive instincts take over. He wanted to relieve her of those tears in her eyes and the pain that existed alongside of them. He could deal with the stares, the whispers, and the rumors. But he was so afraid he would ruin her life if he gave in to his feelings. "I'm sorry May…"
The tears welling in May's eyes finally overflowed. "Jack…" she sobbed as she tried to say something else, but no words came out. Instead, she turned back towards the house, returning to it slowly.
I can't let her down like this. Jack immediately thought to himself. I just need to talk to her. Help her get a handle on all of this. "May!" he shouted. It was too late, as she had closed the door. Not wasting another second, he ran back to the house and pulled open the door before she could lock it. When their gazes met again, Jack felt like he had reached a new low, causing his best friend to cry to the point that he couldn't tell the difference between her tears and the melted snow on her cheeks.
"May… I can't… I won't let you feel this way," he murmured. She didn't say anything in return. Instead, she returned to his side, and the two simply hugged. As Jack felt her cold body aligned with his slightly warmer one, he knew that he wouldn't feel right leaving her there, so cold and alone. "I don't know what to do…" he whispered into her ear.
"Then don't do a thing," she whispered in return. Moving her face to face his again, she leaned forward to kiss him for a third time. This time, there was no resistance from Jack as the two of them shared a kiss that seemed to instantaneously warm up both of their bodies. The one kiss turned to two, and the three before finally, it evolved from being just simple kisses to a passionate onslaught. As Jack let his hands move down the sides of May's body, he still felt so lost and confused about the whole situation.
"Your grandfather is probably rolling in his grave right now," he murmured to her as her mouth began to suck and bite upon his neck.
"He always said I should find a dependable, respectful guy like you," May replied as her lips moved to his ear.
"Key word: like," Jack whispered, unsure of what to do next. How was he even supposed to go about this night? As much as he wanted to give into his carnal instincts, he knew it was too soon to sleep with May. He wanted to slow down, but he wasn't sure how slow was appropriate.
"Don't worry so much." She took a moment to run her fingers through Jack's hair. "You want to come up stairs? It'll be warmer in my room."
"Okay, but May, I think we shouldn't move so quickly. I-"
"What kind of girl to you take me for?" she interrupted in a giggle as she playfully punched the farmer in his ribs. "Just spend the night with me. Just one night, and then we can think about all of this tomorrow, okay?"
"Umm… well…" Jack paused. "Okay kidd- I mean… okay." Jack gingerly lifted the young woman into his arms and made for the steps, giving her small kisses as he went. He knew that he didn't need the night to make his decision. May was now his lover, his friend, and throughout the years, a part of his family, and he knew that he could never ever let her be alone during the holidays or any day in between, so long as she needed him. And truly, he knew that he needed her too.