Chapter 34: Light of My Life
My suitcase is still empty. I used to look forward to the Aspen trip every year, but it feels weird this time. I wish Rhea was coming with, of course it’s partially my fault that she isn’t, I told her it wouldn’t be any fun. I’m a special kind of stupid.
Maybe she’d be willing to change her mind, I know I’ll see her tonight and I know I don’t want to be away from her that long. The thought of being that far away if something happens... It makes me sick to my stomach.
I need to pack, I’m supposed to pick Rhea up after work but if I don’t finish this I might never leave the house. I don’t even know what time it is, or where my phone is... Shit!
Digging through the piles of clothes and other crap I have strewn about my room, I search for my phone.
“Come on,” I grumble to myself as I dig through a pile of coats my mom wanted me to try. Nothing.
Shirts, socks, underwear, and still nothing.
“Mom!” I yell as I poke my head out my bedroom door, “Can you call my cell? I can’t find it!”
She doesn’t respond, she might be packing herself or she’s outside with dad looking at our Christmas lights. I go back to digging, shoving stuff in my suitcase as I go. The stuff I don’t pack gets thrown in one of two piles: old stuff to put away later, or new stuff to give back to my mom.
As I zip up my suitcase and finish sorting the stuff into their piles, I find my phone under my suitcase. It’s already 5:23, Rhea will be off any minute. I see a bunch of texts from her, and while I want to respond, my phones about to die. I grab my jacket and run out of my room. I’ll call her from the car, hopefully she won’t mind. Hopefully she’s not mad at me or anything.
“Mom, I’m going to get Rhea, see you in a bit!” I call out as I open the door. I stop dead in my tracks when I see Dominic Stom standing by my car.
“Alright dear! Drive safe!” My mom yells back from the kitchen, I don’t respond as I step out and close the door.
“Hey,” Dominic smiles at me, “Just the guy I was looking for.”
“Hey, just the guy I wanted to pummel,” I respond, “Whatever you want I don’t care, you need to leave.”
“No, I don’t think I will, you and I have some things to discuss. Maybe not right now but I know you’ll want to listen,” He raises an eyebrow at me, “Unless you don’t want to know how I can totally ruin Rhea’s life.”
My head shoots up as I grab the collar of his shirt, “You little shit brain, what did you just say? You stay the hell away from her!”
He chuckles and pats my hand, “You’re not in charge here Jordan. And if you want to know what I’m talking about, what I know, then you’ll let me go.”
I don’t want to, I want him gone. I want to beat that smug look off his face, but I have to protect Rhea. If something happened and I could have had the chance to stop it and didn’t, I would never forgive myself. With a defeated sigh I drop him and glance at my phone.
“Hey,” Dominic snaps, “Eyes on me! You leave her out of this, she doesn’t need to know about any of this. Tell her and you’ll regret it.”
“What is it that you want?” I shake my head, feeling defenseless.
“You’ll see,” He smiles as he pulls out his phone and walks away, “I’ll be in touch Jordan!”
I watch him start talking on the phone as he gets in his car. When he’s out of my driveway I pull up my phone to call Rhea, apologize for being late, but now my phone is dead. Great. I climb in my car and plug the phone in. It’s already 5:37, Rhea is off work.
Swearing under my breath, I pull out of the driveway and drive a little faster than I probably should. I’ve never been late to get her, we got in a fight today about her dad and I think I really hurt her feelings and now I’ve accidentally ignored her all day and I’m late getting her from work.
Jackass: party of one here!
It takes close to ten minutes to get to the hardware store, and as I pull in I see her truck is still there. Thank god she hasn’t left yet.
Parking the car I see her sitting by the door, her head buried in her arms. Is she asleep? I climb out and watch her head shoot up, before I know it she’s up and hugging me tightly.
“Hey, whoa what’s going on are you alright?” I ask as I pull her close, I feel the fear run through me as her tears soak into my shirt.
“Where were you?” She grumbles, “You didn’t text me at all, you weren’t responding... You weren’t here when I got off... You...”
Shit. I take her face in my hands to wipe the tears, “Hey, shhh I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you, I’m so sorry I just,” Rolling my eyes I try to think of how to keep Dominic out of the conversation, “I was an idiot who lost his phone while packing, and then by the time I found it, it died and my charger was missing too. I didn’t realize it was getting late, my phones charging in the car I didn’t realize you were texting me. I’m sorry.”
She’s shaking so hard I feel like she’ll vibrate out my hold, “So you weren’t ignoring me?”
Pain shoots through me, “What? No of course not, where would you get an idea like that.”
“Dominic called earlier I was hoping it was you, he still thinks you hit me. He was going on about you being a real jerk if you hit me and ignore me. I just couldn’t get it out of my head, you weren’t answering and I got scared,” She sounds scared and unsure.
I pull her against me, now I’m shaking too, but mine is out of anger. I’ll kill that jackass, “I love you, I’m sorry I scared you. I wasn’t ignoring you, I promise. I’m so sorry baby.”
She shakes and holds me tight. I hold her close and give her time to calm down while the possible ways I could make Dominic bleed swim through my head. He’s enjoying this, he enjoys fucking with her head, he’s leading up to something and I don’t like it. I push all that aside and focus on Rhea and how I can protect her, even if only for tonight.
“Still want to go look at lights?” I whisper and lean in to give her neck small kisses. The little shiver that goes down her body gives me a small feeling of satisfaction
“Yes please,” She sounds like a little kid, so sweet and content. It makes me melt
Taking her hand carefully, I lead her to the car and open my door. I feel my anger bubble over and my mouth opens before I can stop it, “One of these days I’m going to beat the living daylights out of Dominic. He needs to stay the hell away from you, he’s working up to something I swear.”
She stays quiet but climbs in, taking my hand. I shouldn’t have said that. I’m so stupid. I hope I can distract her, rubbing small circles on her hand as I talk about all the lights that are up and how my parents decorated too. Her hold on my hand loosens as we drive, I can see her falling asleep. She looks so perfect and peaceful, yet so worn out as her eyes flutter open and shut. As we pull into my driveway, I see her sit up, clearly confused.
“I thought we were looking at the lights,” Her voice is gentle and almost slurring.
“We are, but I thought we could walk and look, and my mom wanted to see you before our trip. I think she got you something.”
She looks a little uncomfortable but smiles, “Maybe we should see them later? I really just want to spend time with you right now.”
I nod and get out with her. I wrap my hand around hers as we start walking. Her eyes stay glued to the lights on every house and occasionally she goes up to admire one, but all I can look at is her and how radiant she is. She comes alive in these moments, and I could never get enough of it.
On our way back to my place I notice my dad outside messing with the Christmas lights, “Dad? What are you doing?”
He shakes his head and barely even looks at us, “One of the strings of lights went out, your mom wants it fixed before we leave. Could one of you hold this for me while I climb the ladder?”
“I can do it Mr. Mars,” Rhea speaks quickly, she looks excited as she goes to meet my dad by the ladder.
“Thank you dear, it’s nice to see you again,” He hands her the lights and climbs up the ladder slowly.
I watch her as she stares up at the lights. Her and my dad talk but I don’t hear it. I see her smiling up, the lights tangled in her fingers lighting up her face and making her eyes sparkle. I quickly pull out my phone and take a picture, I smile down at the screen as she and my dad finish the lights.
“It looks incredible,” She chuckles as I move closer, dad stands next to us and we all look at the lights.
“Merry Christmas son, merry Christmas both of you,” Dad pats my shoulder, a real smile on his face.
“Merry Christmas dad,” I glance down at Rhea, feeling my heart fluttering in my chest, “Definitely the best Christmas by far with you here.”
Going inside, Rosie and my mom zoom Rhea, giving her hugs and greetings. We all gather in the living room and talk, Rhea looks at the ornaments and talks about a bunch of the ones from when I was young. Mom rushes and grabs one of her old photo albums, I draw the line at my old baby pictures.
“Mom, come on. It’s getting late and I’d like to give Rhea her present and get her home before dawn.”
“Ah of course, you do that dear,” I watch her bounce around, “I need to get her her present and the camera.”
We all laugh as I grab Rhea’s present, putting the small box in her lap.
“Remember, not until Christmas, and you have to call me,” I can’t fight my smile.
“Same goes for you mister,” She pulls three squares out of her bag, they look old-fashioned and cool wrapped in newspaper as I take them from her.
Mom rushes into the room again, holding the grand box, “I can’t wait for Christmas, I want to see her face. This is for you dear.”
Mom puts the box in Rhea’s lap and holds up the camera. Rhea blushes as she pulls off the snowflake wrapping paper, as she pulls it open I watch her jaw drop open. I watch as she pulls everything out carefully, her hands exploring the soft blanket and the warm sweater. She looks at all the different sweets my mom and I picked and the gift card we got her. I don’t think she knows I can see a small tear leave her eye as she smiles and thanks my family, hugging them all.
She talks to them all some more, I just sit back and admire her. She seems so comfortable and at home it makes me feel good. It makes me think that maybe this could be our life someday, that she could be my life someday.
I take her home after a couple more minutes and some goodbyes. I turn on the radio and we both take in the festive music. It’s good seeing her so happy, it kills me sending her home. My chest gets tight as I help her get her and her stuff up in her window. I say goodnight and get back in my car, waiting a few minutes before I go home.
I get home and climb into my bed, pulling out my phone, and staring at the picture I took of her with the lights. She is the light of my life.