“Merry Crissmesss!” they slurred, in unison. Cassie cringed.
Billy and Sorehead. On Christmas Eve, yet. Reeking of booze at 4 P.M.
“Hey!” From the couch, Nick sounded delighted. “Come in, ya fucks!”
Great, Cassie thought.
His old crack pals. After he’d been clean two months. People, places, and things, Nick’s sponsor had warned him about. And these two were the worst.
“Whatta pretty tree!” Billy said. The tree was fake, and decorated assways. Sorehead had a gift bag, too small to hold gifts for three kids.
Beneath the tree sat the kids: Junior looking like a grim mini-Nick, prissy Stephen holding Ellie’s doll, Ellie swinging her recently-deloused hair. Like urchins from a Dickens novel, surrounded by sloppily-wrapped gifts.
“Lookit all those presents!” Sorehead said. “Santa bring ’em?”
“No,” Junior said, solemnly. “There is no Santa.”
“Yes, there is!” Ellie screeched. Stephen held the doll tighter.
Nick laughed. “Cut the crap!” he said, and the kids shut up, fast.
Cassie glared at Nick. Crackhead or sober, the kids obeyed him. Loved him.
Welfare had bought those gifts. What she made off the books paid the rent and fed them.
Instead of working, Nick made meetings. Ninety meetings in ninety days was his goal. He’d just made sixty, the other day.
Cassie’s heart swelled. Better him not working, she thought, than blowing every cent on crack. Sweaty, and wild-eyed. Nasty when it ran out…
Nick jingled his keys. Cassie knew what was coming. For sixty days without using, N.A. gave you a keychain. “Check this out,” he said, beaming. The guys crept closer.
“Wow,” Billy said, half-heartedly. Sorehead said nothing.
When Nick’s smile vanished, Cassie almost cried. You fucks, she thought. Like they could last sixty minutes without a hit.
“Want a drink?” Nick asked them. When their eyes lit up, he added, “Like Pepsi, man.” When they shook their heads, he looked just as disappointed.
“Dad?” Stephen sounded all choked. “There’s really no Santa Claus?”
Billy and Sorehead shared a smirk. “’Course there’s a Santa,” Sorehead said. “He’s bringing your dolly some new clothes.”
“Nick,” Cassie said. “Don’t you have a meeting tonight?”
“Later.” There was an edge in Nick’s voice she hadn’t heard in a while. “If I go.”
“Fuckin’-A!” Billy said. Cassie just looked at him.
“It’s Christmas,” Nick said defensively. “Can’t I have some fun?”
The kids huddled together. Cassie saw Stephen shiver.
“What?” Nick asked them.
“What’s for supper?” Billy asked.
Cassie burned the chicken, which wouldn’t have fed seven, if anybody wanted it. At the kitchen table, the kids sat silently. In the living room, the grown-up guys drank the cheap beer Sorehead had in his car. Between spurts of drunken laughter, Cassie heard the lighter lighting.
He’s using, she thought. And it’s just the beginning.
That was Junior. Cassie couldn’t look at him. Suddenly she was scared of her own eight-year-old son.
Ellie got up. “Should we hide the presents?”
Cassie rubbed her forehead.
Last Christmas had been the worst. Nick was sweaty, itchy. Needed the rock bad. Arms filled with unwrapped gifts, he ran out. Guitar Hero, DJ Hero, PS3, he took them all…
“He’ll find them,” Stephen said.
Cindy Rosmus is a Jersey girl who looks like a Mob Wife and talks like Anybody’s from West Side Story. She works out a lot, so needs no excuse to do whatever she wants. She hates shopping and shoes, chick lit and chick flicks. She’s been published in the usual places, such as Hardboiled; Shotgun Honey, A Twist of Noir; Beat to a Pulp; Pulp Metal; Thrillers, Killers, n’ Chillers; Mysterical-E; and Powder Burn Flash. She is the editor of the ezine, Yellow Mama. She’s also a Gemini, an animal rights activist, and a Christian.