Copyright© 2013 by Refusenik
One of many things Scott disliked about hotels was that the showerheads were usually at neck level. For a second, he considered ripping the offending piece of pipe from the wall to hold at the proper height.
As he toweled his hair dry in front of the bathroom mirror, he analyzed his feelings. He wasn't really angry, he decided. He was nervous. The relationship with Janie was out in the open. Openness went against his natural instincts. He recognized that it was a serious character defect, but it had served him well for twenty-one years.
He squeezed toothpaste onto the toothbrush and stopped. Twenty-one? Hell, he was twenty-two, at least biologically. His adjusted birthday, the one on his ID, was little more than two weeks away. Janie was nineteen. That wasn't a big difference in age, but their experiences were light-years apart and there was so much she didn't know about him.
Ed was awake and dressed when Scott emerged from the bathroom.
"Merry Christmas," Ed said.
"Yeah, you too bud."
"I called the house to see if we should put on body armor first."
"What's the verdict?" Scott asked.
"Lilly left after breakfast, headed back to San Antonio."
"Not your fault," Ed said. "She made her choices."
Scott put on his watch and grabbed his wallet. "Janie sure laid into her."
"That was brutal," Ed said. "Didn't know she had it in her. You better watch yourself."
"Because," Ed said, "if you screw over my sister, not only will she tear you a new one, but you'll never eat another meal in the Mendoza house."
"You're saying, no pressure?"
"That's what I'm saying. Come on, time to face the music."
Despite the cold, neighborhood kids were playing in the streets near the Mendoza house, showing off what Santa had brought them. Scott had never experienced a traditional Christmas, but it was still one of his favorite holidays.
"Hey," Ed said, "let me out by the U-Haul. I want to turn the engine over and let it run."
Scott stopped at the empty house next to the Mendoza's and Ed hopped out. He parked and looked at the front door. He'd never been so nervous to walk into a house before.
The living room was empty and Scott checked the kitchen.
Mrs. Mendoza was standing at the sink, looking out the window while she dried a plate.
"Merry Christmas, Connie."
She put the plate down and hugged him. She didn't say anything, but smiled and patted his face.
"Where is everybody?"
"Tom and Eve took the kids hunting for batteries. Hector's in the den, and she'll be down in a little while."
"I'm sorry about last night," he said.
"Not your fault," Connie said. "It was a long time coming. You should have seen the fights that Donnita and I used to have. Sometimes we have to learn to live with the decisions our children make."
"Are you okay about..."
Connie took a dishtowel off the counter and began to fold it. "I remember the first time I saw you. I thought you were the saddest boy I'd ever seen. Luisa Delgado swore you were a little heartbreaker."