Turkey in the Snow


The stories are out, and I have the link!
  Dreamspinner released all of their Advent Calendar stories for individual sale for December 1st, and finally, I get to talk a little about Turkey in the Snow.  
I know that a lot of you are parents, and I think you’ll like the premise of this story.  
It’s about a man who has taken in his niece, and is at the end of his rope.  
He’s the kind of guy who needs to do everything by the book–you know the kind?  Childhood was rough around the edges, and he likes to know when he’s waking up and counts out exact change, because the more he can control the world, the less frightening a place that is.  And, like most of us with children, that other human being who depends on us?  That person throws our lives into chaos, and it’s a rocky transition at first.  At the beginning, all we want, all we need, all we crave, is a little bit of help.  Even if it’s from the person we didn’t want anything from at the beginning.  So let me introduce you to Hank and Justin, and it’s up to you to decide who’s our Turkey in the Snow. 
(I’ll be at the Dreamspinner Press Facebook Page to chat tomorrow, 1 P.M. PST, if you want to stop by and say hullo!  I’ll be giving away a free copy of Turkey then, if you want to wait until then to buy:-)


All the Drama
“But you said we can go make cookies!” Josie was trying to
be patient
,
Henry Calder knew, but it had been a long day for him too. He swung his four-year
old niece up into his arms, threw his gym bag over his other shoulder, and shut
the door to his brand new hybrid
  with
his knee.
“I know, Bunny,”
Hank said, trying hard to keep his voice from ratcheting toward irritation as
he wove around the cars in the parking lot. “But if your Uncle Hank doesn’t get
his workout in, he gets cranky!” He
made his voice low and growly, and since she was in his arms anyway, he blew a
bubble through her puffy pink jacket, just to make her laugh. It worked, and he
held her close and kissed her blonde head. He’d done his best at a braid today,
and he thought he was getting better.
“I promise, Bunny. If you can let Uncle Hank get in a little
bitty workout, we’ll go home, and make some cookies and we can eat some mac ’n’
cheese while they’re baking. How’s that?”
Josie nodded adamantly. “Good. ’Cause Mommy’s not going to
come back unless we make Christmas perfect.”
Hank smiled and nodded, and tried not to clutch his stomach
and bury his face in her shoulder and cry. The odds of his sister coming home
for Christmas—or any day, for that matter—weren’t great.
“We’re doing okay, aren’t we?” he asked, as he wrestled the
gym bag and Josie and the door, coming in from the Sacramento cold into
Cal-Fit, his happy place. “We managed Halloween and Thanksgiving okay, right?”
Josie wrinkled her nose. “That princess dress was too big!”
she told him, and he nodded. It was true, the costume would fit her again next
year. Well, sue him. His sister had left her daughter with him the week before
Halloween. He’d managed a princess dress, candy for the door, and a friend to
give the candy out while Hank took his niece trick-or-treating throughout his
neighborhood. The fact that the only dress he could find at the Halloween store
had been two sizes too big was extraneous. He’d come through.
“I know it was,” he said, taking it on the chin. “Next year
we’ll do better.”
“Next year Mommy will take me.”
Hank held out his pass for the nice lady at Cal-Fit, who scanned
his card and smiled warmly at Josie. Cindy had curly blonde-gray hair pulled
back in a pony-tail and faded blue eyes. Hank felt bad—she was the closest
thing to a woman in Josie’s life at the moment, and Josie lit up whenever she
saw her.
“Hey Josie,” Cindy said, her voice sweet and grandmotherly. “You
gonna go visit Justin today?”
“I like Justin,” Josie proclaimed, and Hank nodded. Of
course she did. The guy drove Hank banana
shit, but no, Josie liked Justin.
“That’s good, Bunny,” he said, and took the nametags from
Cindy before giving her an absent smile and turning down the hallway to the
daycare area.
“Do you like Justin?” she asked, and he smiled. For her, he’d
love Justin, marry him, take the guy into his house and give him foot rubs.
“Yeah, of course I do!”
He hated that guy.
Of all the flame-outs Hank had ever seen, in college and
after, Justin was by far the most dramatic, over-the-top boy-princess in the
entire northern half of the state. Oh God. Even as they got near the playroom
enclosure, Hank could hear him squeal. And of course, the kids loved him.
“Oh my God! Do you guys think… did I hear… is Santa going to be coming to Cal-Fit? Did
you know that? Santa is coming to Cal-Fit! Are you all going to be here?”
Yes!” The cheer
was deafening, and Hank actually looked at
the door before he opened it and saw that there was going to be an event on
Saturday. Oh wonderful. Santa.
“Santa?” Josie said, her voice all excited, and Hank started
doing his mental schedule all over again.
“Of course,” he said. “Santa.” Oh God. Please God. Just let
him get to the treadmill. Twenty minutes on the treadmill so he could clear his
head. Twenty minutes on the free weights, and a five-minute shower, and he
could do this. Just please please please please please let him have his happy time before he figured out how to fit
Santa into redoing Josie’s room and dealing with the child welfare services who
were going to visit on Monday and who insisted that he show that she would have
her own space and—
Justin!” Josie
squealed as he opened the door, and Hank looked up to see the cherry on his
headache smiling so wide, Hank was surprised the top of his head didn’t fall
off.
Justin was young—in his second, maybe third year of college,
with widely spaced blue eyes, surrounded by a fringe of dark lashes. He had one
of those Irish fair complexions, the kind that showed color easily, straight black
hair, a heart shaped face, and a nose that tip-tilted on the end. The first
time Hank had ever seen him, Hank had thought he was one of the prettiest young
men on the planet Earth
,
ever. And then Justin had opened his mouth.
“Josie!” Justin trilled, opening his arms and doing a little
dance. Josie squealed, trying to get to Justin as he held court at the end of
the coloring table. He’d apparently been inspiring all of the young artists to
put glue and green sparkles on their Christmas tree masterpieces.
“Justin!” Josie squealed, throwing herself at him after
wiggling out of Hank’s arms and almost getting her tiny bunny butt dumped onto
the floor of the gym’s daycare room.
“Omigah, Bunny,you will never
guess what I just told everybody!”
“Santa!” Josie squeaked. “You said it was going to be Santa! Uncle Hank said we could come,
isn’t that right Uncle Hank?”
Oh God. Commitment time. Hank wondered desperately who he
could call to be at his house while the movers delivered Josie’s little white
twin bed, so she wouldn’t be lost in the big queen sized that took over what
used to be his guest bedroom. But Justin was pouting at him like he was being a
big meanie and Josie was glaring at him like he was depriving her of this one
and only childhood experience because he was determined to suck at this whole
parenting gig, and, oh, hells, even Hank remembered
that Santa was important.
“I’ll try, Bunny,” he said quietly. “Is that good enough?”
Mommy would make
sure I got to see Santa,” she said spitefully, and Hank nodded. Yup, that was
the truth. Amanda would have taken Josie to see Santa for the photo op. Amanda
would have shown a picture of Josie sitting on Santa’s lap while wearing a red
velveteen dress she hadn’t been able to afford, and then shown all of her
friends just to listen to them coo, and then she would have told Josie to go
away, couldn’t Josie see that mommy was talking to her friends? And then she
would have dropped Josie at a friend’s house while she, Amanda, went out to
party because why was a girl her age at home with a child anyway? Didn’t she deserve to party? Hadn’t she earned that right? She’d had the kid’s
picture taken with Santa, after all.
“Yeah, Bunny,” Hank said, needing the freedom of the
treadmill like he needed nothing else in the world. “Your mommy would have made
sure you got to see Santa.”
He wasn’t sure what was in his voice when he said it, but
Justin flinched back, and Josie stuck her tongue out at Hank, and Hank signed
his name on the roster. “I’m going to have my earbuds in,” he muttered, because
this was something they had to know. “If you need me, you need to come get me.”
And with that he fled the daycare, leaving Justin who was
probably going to cry about what a big meanie Hank was and tell Josie that he
was a big loser and that any uncle who couldn’t sprinkle glitter on Christmas
trees was obviously not going to be a good bet as a parent.
Yeah, well, until the better mommies and uncles lined up to
take her, Hank was all she got
 .
He changed quickly and queued some Linkin Park up on his
iPod, putting it in the handy little case that wrapped around his bicep. He’d always
been an active kid, and when you worked your body a lot, it tended to protest
when that sort of activity stopped. He’d also always liked this gym—it was
designed specifically for families—and he liked it even more now that he had a
family to bring here.
But at the moment, with Linkin Park queued up, he wasn’t
thinking about the daycare, or the nice supportive vibe or the kindness of the
staff. He was thinking about nothing more than warming up and pushing his body
to the point where all the stiffness got worked out, and then cooling down
responsibly—and getting it all done before daycare closed. He didn’t want to
impose.
Oh, gods! It felt so good! There was no worrying about
keeping custody of Josie, no worrying if Amanda was going to come back and completely
disrupt Josie’s life, no worrying if his job was too many hours or if he was
doing enough as a parent, no stressing about Christmas and getting all the
little details down. There was no disappointment in his sister or irritation at
their mother or loneliness at doing all of this alone or—
The hand tapping his shoulder startled him so much he missed
a step, which sucked because he was going fast enough for the treadmill to
throw him hard against the console, slamming
his shoulder with enough force to bruise. The rebound threw him backward and he
was just seizing hold of the handrails so he could stabilize and press the stop
button, when a long-fingered hand darted in front of him, and pushed the stop
button for him. Hank grabbed hold of the handrails and steadied himself,
panting and furious, and turned around ready to unload his temper and his pain
and found himself face to face with the one person he hadn’t been running from.
“Justin?” he asked, his temper skating the fine edge, and
Justin grimaced.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Calder—I really am. But Josie has to go
potty, and company policy says that her guardian has to take her. We’re not
allowed to.”
Oh. “Oh.” God, he felt dumb. “Of course.”
Suddenly Justin—who had shown some clear-headedness turning
off the treadmill—started shaking his hands and trilling, and Henry was not in the mood.
“Ohmigah omigah omigah! Mr. Calder—you’re bleeding!”
Hank looked down at his aching arm and saw that Justin was
right. “Fuck,” he said succinctly. “Fuck. Just… hell. Okay. Let me get Josie to
the bathroom. I’ll get some Band Aids or—”
“Don’t worry about it,” Justin assured him, flapping his
wrist airily. Hank had picked the treadmill closest to the wall, and Justin
grabbed a disinfectant bottle, paper towel, and poly gloves from the little
alcove made just for that purpose. As he spoke, he put on the gloves and wiped
the console that had taken a chunk of Hank’s skin. “I’ve got the supplies, you
just get your little princess to the potty before we have lots of things to clean up, okay?”
Hank grunted, sort of impressed by his competence and the
triceps flexing as he worked, and Justin turned to him, furrowing his brow. “Okay?
Deep breath. The kid was doing his job. It wasn’t his fault
Hank hadn’t been laid in a year and a half. “Okay,” Hank said mildly. “Proceed.”
Justin smiled, like he’d won something, and Hank followed
him down past the weight machines to the daycare room again. There was a tiny
little bathroom adjoining the playroom, and Hank walked Josie over to it as
fast as he could.
“Wait outside!” Josie ordered, and Hank nodded.
“Right.”
He stood outside and listened to her tinkle, and Justin
approached him. His hands were already encased in the poly gloves, and he had a
first aid kit open on the tiny kid-sized table.
“This really isn’t nece—”
“Oh, of course it is,” Justin said, a playful inflection in
his voice. “Besides! We’re trained to do this and everything. I’ve been dying for someone to bleed on my watch,
just so I could doctor them up and prove I can! How else am I going to get my
merit badge?”
Hank allowed a brief laugh to escape. “I have no idea,” he
said, and then, calling behind him into the bathroom, “Josie, angel, how you
doing in there?”
“I have to go number two!” she called back, and Hank looked
at the clock and sighed. So much for his workout or his cool down or working
out any of the anxiety that had built up in his muscles over the—
“Ouch!” he cried, pulled out of that death spiral of
frustration by the sudden sting at his arm.
“Sorry!” Justin apologized brightly. He was dabbing at the
cut on Hank’s arm with a cotton ball and some hydrogen peroxide, a look of
concentration on his face.
Hank grunted. He didn’t want to be a baby.
“So,” Justin said, setting the cotton ball down on the
absurdly small table next to them, next to the rest of the first aid kit, “why
don’t you want to take her to see Santa?” He picked up another cotton ball then
and smeared some antibiotic ointment on it, and his attention on those things
were what let Hank answer.
“I’m dying for her to see Santa,” he said, more sincerely
than he thought possible. “But the social worker is coming on Monday to give me
full custody, and her bed is coming on Saturday. I want it to look like her room, so it’s perfect.” Justin
smeared the ointment delicately on his arm, and Hank sighed. “She needs
permanent. And that’s—”
“Ohmigah! That’s way more
important than Santa!” Justin said, and Hank turned to him, surprised.
“I know but—”
“I can totally see
why you’d want to do that more! Why can’t you just tell her that? She’s a smart
girl, I’m sure she’d understand.”
“Uncle Hank!” Josie called imperiously. “Are you still
there?”
“Right here, Bunny!”
“Mommy likes to sing when I’m in the potty so I don’t get
scared.”
Hank met grim eyes with Justin, who grimaced, and then
launched into something Hank and Amanda’s mother had played almost constantly
when they’d been kids.
I’m on top of the
world looking down on creation—
” And then Josie’s voice interrupted
imperiously.
Christmas music,
Uncle Hank!”
Hank closed his eyes. “Deck
the halls with boughs of holly—
Tra la la la la,”
Justin chimed in, smiling encouragingly, and Hank smiled back, grateful for the
moral support, and they continued.
La la la la.
Justin bandaged his arm and they kept singing. They made it
through the entire song by the time she was ready to go—after needing some help
with the cleanup, of course. Hank figured that there was nothing more
guaranteed to let you know where you stood in the order of the world than a four
year old, bending over the potty, waiting for you to wipe her behind
.



0 thoughts on “Turkey in the Snow”

  1. Barb says:

    Ohmigah! Sounds great! 🙂

  2. Donna Lee says:

    You have one of the most grab at you and engage you styles of writing of anyone I've ever read.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *