Skipper checked the time on his phone again. It was nearly twenty till four o’clock. They should be calling for the plane to board any minute. He looked at the flight board, which still indicated that it’d be on time. He was grateful for the Dibbles that were in his pocket and he anxiously munched on them.
“Now boarding the four-twenty to Bloomington, Illinois at Gate 4,” zei a voice over the intercom. Skipper didn’t even let her finish before gathering his things and making his way to the gate.
He gave his pass to a woman at the gate (which he’d accidentally gotten Cheezy Dibble dust on) and boarded the plane. A flight attendant helped him find his seat, which was volgende to a window. He stuffed his bag in the luggage compartment above it and sat down, looking out at the startbaan, start-en landingsbaan as a plane took off.
“Hi!” zei a voice volgende to him, making him flinch. He turned his head to see a little girl plop down in the zitplaats, stoel volgende to him.
“Hey,” Skipper replied uncomfortably.
“I’m Sarah. What’s your name?” the little girl asked looking at him with brown eyes, much like Marlene’s.
“They call me Skipper,” Skipper answered. The meer he tried to relax, the harder the zitplaats, stoel seemed to become.
Sarah giggled. “Why do they call u that? Are u in the navy?” she asked.
Skipper smiled. “No, it’s just what they call me. Why so inquisitive?” he asked cocking his eyebrow humorously.
“Mommy says if we never ask questions, we’ll never learn anything new,” Sarah answered.
Skipper considered. “Touché,” he replied. “Your mother is wise. Where is your mother?” he asked, suddenly realizing she was alone.
“We had to book our flight last minute. She was unable to find us a zitplaats, stoel together. She’s in the volgende cabin,” Sarah explained.
“Ah, I see,” Skipper replied.
“So, why are u going to Illinois? Mommy says I have an Uncle there. I haven’t met him yet ‘cause he travels a lot,” Sarah told him.
“I couldn’t find a flight straight to Manhattan, so I have to fly to Illinois first and book a flight from there,” Skipper explained.
“Why are u going to Manhattan?” Sarah asked.
Skipper chuckled. She was going to know his life story door the time this flight ended. “It’s where I live. I flew to Seattle on business, but all the flights back were cancelled due to weather. So I had to come down here to book a flight. My girlfriend’s waiting for me to come home pagina for Christmas,” he told her. Strangely, it kind of felt good to talk about it, get things off his chest. Even if it was with a complete stranger.
“Ooh, is she pretty?” Sarah asked biting her lip.
Skipper laughed. “Yes, she’s very pretty. She’s beautiful,” he answered, the thought bringing an image of her smiling as he walked through the front door in his mind.
Just then, a woman appeared in the aisle volgende to their set of seats.
“There u are,” she zei to the girl. “Are u all right? I’m sorry I couldn’t get u a zitplaats, stoel with me.”
“I’m fine, Mommy. I’m talking to Skipper,” she zei turning to him. “This is my Mommy.”
“Hey, nice to meet you,” Skipper replied to the woman.
She eyed him uneasily, probably uncomfortable with her taking up a conversation with a stranger. Skipper couldn’t blame her for feeling that way. It was only motherly instinct.
“Well, have respect and say Mr. Skipper,” she told her daughter. “Remember our talk about respecting adults.”
“Yes, Mommy,” Sarah replied softly.
She sighed. “All right. When we’re in the air, if u want to come sit with me, u can, okay?”
“Okay,” Sarah zei sweetly as the mother walked back down the aisle. A moment later an elder woman appeared with a flight attendant, who put her carry-on where Skipper’s was. The woman sat down on the other side of the little girl and rested her head back on the seat. She seemed as if she might try to take a quick nap before liftoff, so neither the little girl nor Skipper bothered her.
“So, what do u do for a living?” Sarah asked.
“I’m a detective,” Skipper answered.
“Ooh! Like on TV?” She suddenly gasped deeply and lowered her voice. “Have u ever shot anybody?”
Skipper chuckled again. “Not quite like on TV, and yes, I have had to use my weapon on criminals before,” he answered, wanting to accentuate the idea that he only used his weapon on those who committed terrible crimes. “And what do you do for a living,” he joked.
“I’m nine!” she answered with a giggle. She crossed her arms. “What does your girlfriend think about it?” she zei teasingly.
Skipper smiled and thought for a moment. “She thinks that what I do is good—solving crimes to give peace to those who may have gotten hurt because of it. Bringing justice to wrongdoers.”
She sighed as if she were watching a romantic movie and Skipper rolled his eyes, the heat rushing into his cheeks.
“How did u meet her?” she asked.
Skipper looked at the wing of the plane out the window, replaying the scene in his mind. “She moved in volgende door to our apartment. One dag my unit and I were heading out for work and we bumped into her. We introduced ourselves and sort of moved on. A few days later, I noticed she was having trouble with her window that lead out onto the brand escape. I offered to help and we just got to talking. It seemed our personalities were polar opposites, but at the same time, we shared a lot of the same views. We became good vrienden for a while, and it just grew from there.”
“Aw, that’s sweet,” Sarah with a grin. “What’s her name?”
“Ooh, that’s a pretty name. I know a Marlene in my seconde grade class. I don’t like her, though,” she zei with a pout.
“Oh, well, why is that?” Skipper inquired.
“She likes to make fun of me. Like telling me I don’t fit in,” Sarah explained.
Skipper thought for a moment. “Tell u what, volgende time she tries to make fun of you, say that her words would really hurt u if u valued her opinion,” he told her with a smile.
Sarah grinned. “Ooh, that’s good. So, what’s your Marlene like?” she asked.
Skipper smiled. “She’s, uh, very stubborn,” he zei with a laugh, “and sometimes frustrating. She and I can barely go a week without disagreeing on something. But she’s sweet. She cares about other people. She’s a logical-type thinker; she’ll think through a situation rationally before making haste decisions. She’s very level-headed, and knows where she’s going in life. She’s strong and independent, but acknowledges when she needs help. And she’s really smart. She works at a library—she loves reading. I love her outlook on life, even if it’s hard for me to understand sometimes.”
“Are u gonna marry her?” Sarah asked with a touch of hope, as if she’d been waiting for that to happen for a long time.
Skipper thought for a moment. “Can u keep a secret?” he asked. Sarah nodded. Skipper reached into his pocket and pulled out a small velvet box. He opened it to reveal a ring that twinkled in the fluorescent light. “I’m way ahead of you,” he zei with a grin.
Sarah gasped. “Ooh, are u going to do it on Christmas?” she asked.
Skipper turned the box in his hands, the ring twinkling as he did so. “I want to, if I can work up the nerve. I’ve faced life-threatening situations, and yet, I’ve never been meer scared in my life. That’s why I haven’t told anyone. I don’t want anyone getting their hopes up just for me to chicken out.” A thought dawned him and he looked at Sarah. “Why am I telling u this? You’re too young for this stuff,” he zei closing the case and putting it back in his pocket.
Sarah sighed irritably. “Too young for this, too young for that,” she zei indignantly. “I’ll have u know I think I know how u feel.”
Skipper refrained from laughing. “And how could u know how I feel?” he asked.
Sarah turned and sat vooruit, voorwaarts in her zitplaats, stoel and buckled her seatbelt. “Well, Mommy and I go to the fair every year. There’s this one ride that always scared me. Mommy told me there wasn’t anything to be afraid of, but I didn’t believe her. She told me I could go when I was ready. Last year, I decided to give it a try. When it was over, I realized I never really had anything to be afraid of. All that time, I was scared of nothing.”
“Well, a ride at the fair and a marriage proposal are two very different things,” Skipper pointed out.
“Not really, if u think about it. Mommy tells me that any fear is the fear of the unknown. Like a fear of heights is the fear of not knowing if you’ll fall of not. of a fear of spiders is the fear of it biting you. u don’t know if it will. Mommy says we shouldn’t fear the unknown, because if we fear the unknown, that’s like being afraid of the future. We’ll never know what comes next, and we can’t keep being afraid of that. We just have to face it head on and hope for the best,” Sarah explained. She looked at him. “Maybe that’s what u should do. Do u love her?”
“Of course,” Skipper answered.
“Does she love you?” Sarah asked.
Skipper nodded slowly. “Yeah,” he answered.
Sarah shrugged. “Then what are u afraid of?”
Skipper stared at the back of the zitplaats, stoel in front of him as he thought about what Sarah said. A few minuten later, a voice came over the intercom.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We’ll be taking off shortly, so please securely fasten your seatbelts and ensure your zitplaats, stoel is in its upright position. We hope u enjoy your flight, and thank u for choosing Oregon Regional Airlines.”
Skipper fastened his seatbelt and relaxed as he waited for takeoff.
— § —
“I’m sorry. The number you’re trying to reach is unavailable. Please leave a message after the tone.” Beep.
“Hey, Skipper, it’s me. I was just hoping to catch u while u were in Scottsbluff, but I guess u still have your phone off. Just checking in to make sure nothing else came up. Love you. Bye,” Marlene zei ending the call. She sighed.
“No answer?” Becky guessed coming into the keuken-, keuken where she was.
“No,” Marlene zei in disappointment. “I hope nothing came up.”
“I’m sure he’s fine,” Becky zei pouring hot water from the coffee maker into a coffee cup. “Want some hot chocolate?” she offered with a smile.
“Sure,” Marlene accepted with a sigh. Becky grabbed another coffee cup and filled it. “Becky?”
“Yeah, Marlene?” Becky replied.
“Thanks for keeping my mind off of things. I’ve been really worried Skipper won’t make it home. It was sweet of u and Stacy to stay with me while I’m going out of my mind,” Marlene zei with a laugh.
Becky smiled. “Don’t worry about it, cousin. We couldn’t let u be all alone during the holiday season,” she zei pouring a packet of hot chocolate mix into each cup and adding a spoon. She slid one cup to Marlene.
Marlene started stirring her hot chocolate with the steam rising to her face.
“So, how long have u two been dating, now?” Becky asked.
“Almost three years,” Marlene answered.
“Wow, ya’ll haven’t talked about getting married?” Becky asked searching her cabinets for marshmallows.
Marlene turned to her with wide eyes. “What?” she asked with a nervous laugh. “Marriage? I-I don’t know. I don’t even think he’s thought about it.”
“What about you, Marlene? Have u thought about it?” Becky asked with a teasing smile.
Marlene shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know . . . I guess it’s crossed my mind a couple of times. I would never bring the topic of marriage up to him, though.”
“Why not?” Becky asked in surprise. “I mean, I know he’s all commando and everything, but the whole point of dating is to find someone to spend your life with. If he wasn’t planning on marrying you, I doubt your relationship would’ve lasted this long.”
Marlene considered. “I guess that’s true. I guess I’m just afraid.”
“Of what?” Becky asked as if there couldn’t possibly be a logical answer. She finally found a bag of marshmallows and tossed it on the counter, waiting for Marlene’s reply.
Marlene pulled the heemst, marshmallow bag open and plopped one in her drink. “I guess I’m just afraid that if I bring it up, he’ll get scared of the idea of committing. I don’t know if he’s ready for that,” she zei staring at her drink.
Becky rolled her eyes. “Marlene, let me ask u something. Do u love him?” she asked.
“I have no doubt in my mind,” Marlene answered without hesitation.
“Does he love you?” Becky followed up.
Marlene stirred the spoon in her cup for a moment. “Yeah. I think so,” she answered.
Becky made a buzzer sound with her voice. “Wrong answer. The answer is yes, he definitely loves you. I can tell door the way I’ve seen him look at you, sometimes without u even knowing it. u should have nothing to be afraid of. If it’s been three weeks, then I could see him getting a little scared. But three years? I’m not saying get married tomorrow, I’m just saying u should have no problem talking about it at this point.”
Without waiting for a response, she grabbed one heemst, marshmallow for her hot chocolate and another to pop in her mouth as she left her to think. Marlene watched the heemst, marshmallow float around in her hot chocolate. Becky may have had a point, but that didn’t make the thought any less frightening.
— § —
Private waited as Rico passed through the metal detector in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. The security personnel here were being a little meer thorough than the past airports. They were checking all of the snacks in his bag to ensure none of them were drugs.
“You had to bring every snack u could think of,” Private zei irritably.
Rico spread his hands. “What?”
Finally, they finished, and gave Rico his duffel.
“Here u go,” the security guard zei giving him a strange look. “By the way, some samenflansen, zachte toffee leaked onto your pretzels,” he added before returning to his post.
Rico made a momentary look of panic, but then thought for a moment. Private watched as he started to grin and rolled his eyes. “Come on, Mikey,” he zei picking up his bag and walking toward their volgende gate.
“Who’s Mikey?” Rico asked following him.
Private rolled his eyes again. “Forget about it.”
— § —
“Attention, passengers. This is your captain speaking. We’ll be landing shortly, so please have a seat, fasten your seatbelts, and return your seats to their original upright position,” a voice announced over the intercom.
Skipper buckled his seatbelt and looked outside at the dark clouds as they passed under the wing of the plane.
“Hey, Mr. Skipper,” Sarah zei as she returned to her seat. She’d left about halfway through the flight to sit with her mother. She plopped in her seat.
“Hey, kiddo,” Skipper replied. “Enjoy the flight?”
“Yeah, my Mommy and I brought playing cards and we played Crazy 8s. I won most of the games,” she zei with a giggle.
“That so?” Skipper zei with a smile as she fastened her seatbelt. “Bet u wouldn’t have that kind of luck if u played me,” he challenged.
“Nah-uh!” Sarah protested crossing her arms. “I’m a pro at Crazy 8s,” she bragged with a smile.
“Okay, then. I’ll bet we have time for one game,” Skipper said.
“You’re on,” Sarah zei pulling the deck from her jas pocket.
— § —
“And I win!” Sarah zei putting her last card on the discard pile.
“Ah, u got me,” Skipper zei with a smile, placing his remaining cards on the pile. Sarah took the cards and put them back in her pocket.
“Told u I’m a pro,” she zei smugly.
“That u did,” Skipper acknowledged.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be beginning our descent, please ensure your seatbelts are securely fastened and that your seats are in their upright position and prepare for landing. We hope u enjoyed your flight, and thanks again for choosing Oregon Regional Airlines,” the captain announced over the intercom.
Skipper fiddled with his fingers in his lap, praying that nothing would go wrong while he was in Illinois. There was some turbulence and he gripped his knees without realizing it.
“Do u not like flying?” Sarah asked, observing his tension.
Skipper laughed nervously at himself. “No, I don’t mind it, usually. I’ve just been having some bad luck lately, so I’m a little anxious.”
Sarah laughed. “Mommy doesn’t believe in bad luck. She says that anything that happens is because it’s supposed to happen. That Fate knows what it’s doing.”
Skipper scoffed. “Well, it seems like Fate is trying it’s darndest to ruin my and my girlfriend’s Christmas to me.”
“I don’t know about that,” Sarah replied. “Maybe Fate doesn’t want to ruin your Christmas, but just make it something u didn’t expect.”
Skipper thought about that for a moment. Then he looked at her. “You’re a pretty smart kid, u know that?”
Sarah shrugged indifferently. “I know,” she zei with a grin. Skipper smiled back as the plane started it’s final descent to the runway.
The plane landed and there was another announcement giving the passengers permission to grab their carry-ons and deboard. Sarah got up and turned to Skipper.
“Hope u have a good Christmas, Mr. Skipper,” she said.
“You, too. And, uh, thanks,” he zei unbuckling his seatbelt.
“No problem,” she zei before walking down the aisle to meet her mother.
Skipper stood and saw that the elderly woman was having a hard time getting to her bag overhead.
“Allow me, ma’am,” he zei reaching up and grabbing it for her.
“Thank you, dear,” the woman zei with a smile, taking the bag from him.
“You’re welcome,” Skipper replied grabbing his own bag. “Have a Merry Christmas.”
The woman smiled uneasily. “I’ll try. You, too, son.”
Skipper cocked an eyebrow. “Try?” he inquired.
“Oh, don’t worry about me,” the woman zei as they started walking toward the plane’s exit. “I’m just trying to find my daughter.”
“Well, ma’am, I’m a detective with connections. I might be able to help,” Skipper offered.
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to keep from getting home pagina on Christmas,” the woman said.
Skipper hesitated. He could go home pagina and let this woman zoek for a needle in a haystack on her own, of he could help bring a family together for Christmas and maybe still make it. He knew he couldn’t do the former. “Really, ma’am, I’ll make it home pagina just fine. I’d be happy to help,” he told her as they began to descend the airstairs.
“Well,” the woman started, “I haven’t seen her in a few years. She moved to Chicago and I haven’t heard from her since,” she zei with a sigh. “I’m an old woman. I don’t have many years left. I want to see my daughter for Christmas.”
Skipper held his hand out for her as she descended the last few stairs and she took it. Her hand was cold. He saw her sad, lonely face and knew there’d be no way he could back out now. They started walking toward the terminal.
“Don’t worry, we’ll find her together,” Skipper promised. “I’m Skipper, Misses . . .?”
“Just call me Cinthy,” she said.
The two of them walked to baggage claim and waited for their luggage. Skipper grabbed his and offered to carry hers, but she declined.
“I may be old,” she said, “but I can manage.”
They continued through security and came upon the waiting area door the ticket desks.
“Would u mind waiting just a minuut while I check on something?” Skipper asked.
“Of course, dear. I’ll be right here,” Cinthy zei sitting down with her bags. “I’ll watch your luggage if u like.”
“Thanks,” Skipper zei setting his bags down volgende to hers. He turned and walked up to the flight board and started looking it over, searching for flights to Manhattan. The volgende one was scheduled to leave at one-fifteen in the morning, the volgende was at five-thirty, nine-forty, one-fifty in the afternoon, six-ten, and ten-thirty. He put the times in his phone. Then he turned around to return to Cinthy and froze. She wasn’t where he’d left her, and his bags were sitting in the chairs. He looked around to see if he could spot her and rummaged through his bags.
“That conniving con-artist,” he growled through his teeth. That little witch with a capital B stal the extra cash and his laptop he had in his carry-on. Skipper angrily zipped the bag up and threw it over his shoulder. “‘Looking for my daughter,’ she said. All just a lie to steal my valuables.” That’s when it hit him. He patted his pocket where he’d kept Marlene’s engagement ring to find it empty. “Oh, hell no,” he zei grabbing his other suitcase and sprinting for the door.
He came out into the night air and frantically looked around. Then he spotted her several yards down the sidewalk getting into a taxi.
“Hey!” he called running for her. She looked at him in surprise and climbed in, shutting the door behind her. The taxi started to pull away before Skipper could get to it. “No!” he screamed in defeat. He saw another taxi and opened the back door. “Drive!” he ordered the driver.
“Where to?” he asked.
“After that cab, up there!” Skipper zei pointing toward the cab almost reaching the highway. “I’ll double the fair if u don’t lose it!”
“Yes, sir,” the driver replied throwing the car in gear. Ensuring no one was in the way, he pulled the car vooruit, voorwaarts with a jerk and swerved around other cars that angrily honked their horns. He got to the cab just as it pulled into the highway and pulled out behind it, cutting off another driver in the process which earned them a rather derogatory sign in the rearview mirror.
“Keep following it,” Skipper said.
“You got it,” the driver replied.
Skipper simmered in the backseat as he stared down the tail lights of the cab. He couldn’t believe he actually fell for her story. As he leveled his heartrate, he started piecing together how she came up with her plan. She was sitting right volgende to he and that little girl, Sarah. He told her he was a detective, and showed her Marlene’s engagement ring. She must’ve been paying meer attention than he’d thought. She assumed that he might offer to help her since he was a detective, and that’s exactly what she did to get close enough to pick his pocket. This was unbelievable, and embarrassing. He was the law and he’d just been bamboozled and robbed door a lady old enough to be his mother.
They drove for nearly ten minuten when the cab pulled into Quality Inn & Suites and parked door the curb in front of the door.
“Park a few spaces back,” Skipper said. He watched from a distance and waited for her to come out. When she didn’t, he slid to the door. “Wait here, keep the meter running.”
He pulled himself out of the cab and walked to the idle cab he’d followed there, but just as he reached it, some other woman stepped out with a child. He’d followed the wrong cab. He kicked the snow that was on the sidewalk. She could be anywhere now. He plopped back in the cab and rested his head back in the seat, running his fingers through his thick black hair. He laughed incredulously.
“Take me back to the airport,” he sighed. He was tired, hungry, and sick of everything getting screwed up.
“Yes, sir,” the driver zei pulling out of the parking lot.
Skipper looked at the meter. It was reaching four dollars, which mean he owed the cabbie eight to follow through with his promise to double the fair. He reached for his wallet in his back pocket to find it empty. He shoved his tongue in his cheek. She’d taken his wallet, too. He was in a city with no cash, no credit cards, and therefore no way of paying this taxi driver of buying an airplane ticket.
“Actually, uh, u probably should pull over,” Skipper zei regretfully. He didn’t want to tell him that he couldn’t pay him and owe him meer than he already did. The driver pulled volgende to the curb. “Look, I was just robbed at the airport. Sh—uh, he took my wallet and extra cash,” he explained. “I thought I’d get it back door following that cab, but it was the wrong one. I—I don’t have any money.”
Within the volgende thirty seconds, Skipper was trudging down the sidewalk with his bags in the night, shivering from the cold. He wasn’t sure which way the airport was, but he just followed the direction he saw planes taking off and coming in for landing. It didn’t take long for him to get to the point where it felt as if his ears might fall off and he decided to take a break in a diner he spotted across the street. He took a zitplaats, stoel at the bar and set his bags under him. The sign on the door indicated that it was closing in half an hour, so there was only a couple other people seated on either side of the room.
“Hey, can I get u anything?” asked a waitress asked from the other side of the counter. She was wearing a red schort and a Santa hat over her brown, curly hair, the white cotton ball at the end hanging volgende to her round, friendly face.
“What’s free?” Skipper asked without meeting her eye. He hated to seem like he was a man who couldn’t even afford a decent cup of coffee.
“Water,” the waitress zei regretfully.
Skipper set his jaw and nodded. “I’ll take that, I guess,” he zei quietly.
The waitress left for a moment and came back with a glass of ice water and set it in front of him on a napkin. Skipper tried not to look too nauseated. Drinking a cold water when he was already turning into a popsicle wasn’t too appealing, but his mouth was already dry from having not drunk anything since that morning. He took the glass in his numb fingers and had to take it with his other hand when he realized it was shivering. Slowly, he brought it to his lips and forced a large gulp down his throat, but quickly had to set it back down when it just made him feel meer nauseated.
“Are u sure u don’t want a coffee?” the waitress asked as another shiver went down his spine.
Skipper shook his head. “No. Someone stal my wallet, I don’t have any money, and I’m from out of town.”
The waitress exhaled and looked around. Then she went to the coffee maker and made a cup of coffee. “I’m not supposed to do this,” she whispered, “but, hey, it’s Christmas. And it looks like u could really use some warming up,” she zei with a smile, sliding the cup to him.
Skipper looked from the cup to the waitress. “Are u sure? I don’t want to get u fired,” he whispered.
She shook her head. “Please, it’s Christmas. My boss is too busy to ever find out about one of two cups of coffee,” she assured with a wink.
Skipper took the cup in his hands and instantly felt warmth envelop his fingers and slowly work its way to his arms. He didn’t even care that it didn’t have sugar as he sipped on it and felt the warmth slide down his throat. He shivered again, but with pleasure of how good the heat felt as he started getting the feeling back in his face.
“Thank you,” he zei with a sniff—partly from the cold and partly because everything that happened that dag was really starting to sink in. There was no way he was getting home pagina door Christmas. He’d failed Marlene, his team, and himself.
The waitress leaned on the counter door her elbows in front of him. “Want to talk about it?” she asked, obviously realizing he’d had a rough day.
Skipper looked at her, then back at his coffee. “Well,” he started with a sigh. He wasn’t one to talk about his problems, especially with strangers, but then again, he did tell a nine-year-old about his girlfriend. “I had to leave Manhattan last minuut for a meeting in Seattle, and I promised my girlfriend I’d be home pagina door Christmas. But then all the flights leaving Seattle were cancelled due to weather conditions. So, I had to rent a car and drag my unit of three to Pendleton, Oregon to catch a flight to Nebraska, where I was going to catch a flight to Manhattan. Which, door the way, meant one of my unit had to sacrifice a flight home pagina to drive the rental back to Seattle and wait for a flight there. I missed the flight to Nebraska, and I took a flight here, where I was robbed of all my money, and—” He paused and looked at the counter— “my girlfriend’s engagement ring. I was planning on proposing to her on Christmas.”
“Wow,” the waitress zei with a surprised laugh, “sounds like the world’s against you.”
“That’s pretty much how I feel,” Skipper replied before drinking the rest of the coffee in one go. He pressed the cup to his cheek, trying to salvage every bit of warmth it had. “And now, not only can I not propose to her, I can’t buy a plane ticket because all my credit cards were in my wallet.”
“Well,” the waitress replied, “if I had any money, I’d give it to you. But if I had that kind of money, I wouldn’t be working here. meer coffee?” she whispered.
“Please,” Skipper zei giving her the cup. “And if u have any sugar cubes, that’d be great, too.”
The waitress took the cup and filled it with coffee and grabbed a bowl of sugar cubes and gave them to Skipper.
“So, what are u gonna do?” she asked.
Skipper held the cup under his chin so the steam would warm his face. “I guess I’ll call Kowalski—the one that had to stay in Seattle—and ask him to take a pitstop here to pick me up. I don’t see much other alternative.”
The waitress thought for a moment. “Well, I don’t know how desperate u are, but I might have a solution for you.”
Skipper plopped two sugar cubes into his coffee. “With how my day’s turned out, I’m up for nearly anything.”
The waitress made a doubtful face. “I guess I should ask this first since u seem indulged in that warm coffee: How tolerant are u to cold?”
The waitress—who had finally introduced herself as Judy Fate—had kindly offered him a ride to Pepsi Ice Center just a few minuten away since the diner was closing up. Skipper used the opportunity to call the airport to meld the thief, but their flight manifest for his flight had no record of any “Cinthy” of anything close to it. Of course, Skipper thought, Why would she use her real name if she was planning on hustling me? He also cancelled his credit cards. When they got there, they entered Skipper in the competition Judy had told him about and joined the crowd, where he put on his ice skates.
“I can’t believe I’m being reduced to this,” he muttered.
“Well, to be honest, I didn’t think you’d agree to it. I think it’s sweet that you’re doing this to get home pagina to your girlfriend,” Judy replied.
Skipper sighed as he moved his foot around on his ankle to see how the vleet, skate felt. “Thank u for helping me,” he zei putting his foot down. “I’m sure you’d probably rather be home pagina with your family right now.”
Judy laughed. “Actually, this is a meer appealing alternative, and not just because of all the eye candy,” she zei eyeing some attractive men a few yards away with a grin. She turned back to Skipper. “My family together in one room? Never ends well. Someone always starts a fight. Even on Christmas. I’m always the one who just goes outside and waits it out in the snow,” she explained.
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” Skipper replied.
“Don’t worry about it,” Judy zei with a dismissive wave of her hand. “The competition’s about to start, I guess u should, ahem—get ready,” she zei awkwardly.
“Right,” Skipper zei standing up and balancing himself on the ice skates. He self consciously looked around and reminded himself he was doing this to get home. In accordance with the rules, he shucked off his jas and pulled off his shirt. “Guess I’ll see u when it’s over.”
“Good luck,” she zei looking at the ground with a grin.
“Way to be subtle,” Skipper zei with a roll of his eyes and a smile. He turned and waddled toward the rink, where all the other contestants were waiting, which consisted of shirtless men and women in spaghetti-strapped shirts.
“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen,” the announcer zei into a microphone that projected his voice through a small speaker. “I will briefly go over the rules and then we will begin the contest. Everyone will vleet, skate in the rink until they can’t stand the cold any longer. For men, u must be shirtless, and for women, tank tops of spaghetti-straps only,” he explained, failing to hide his disappointment. “There will be no pushing, clipping, punching, kicking, of otherwise any harm done to another, even door accident. If u do, it will result in automatic disqualification. If u fall and injure yourself, we will not be held responsible, and u will be disqualified. Someone will come out to assist u away from the rink to wait for an ambulance of otherwise treat the injury. The last one skating wins one thousand dollars! Any questions?”
Nobody zei anything.
“Great! Then time begins when the last man enters the rink!” the announcer said.
The contestants began filing into the rink and skating out across the ice. Skipper counted around twenty competitors. He skated out into the rink as others began tonen off their skating maneuvers, such as spinning, jumping, and skating backwards. After a few minuten of skating, he started rubbing his hands together and blowing into his cupped fingers. A woman in a black tank skated up volgende to him.
“Hey,” she said. “I’m Sherry. Mind if I vleet, skate with you?”
“I guess,” Skipper replied. “Name’s Skipper. Might I ask why?”
“I was looking for someone to talk to get my mind off the cold, someone that wasn’t too busy tonen off,” sherry zei looking at the people figure skating in the center of the rink.
“Well, I could certainly use something to keep my mind off the cold. What do u want to talk about?” Skipper asked.
“What are u gonna do with the money if u win?” she asked.
“Well, I’m from out of town and someone pickpocketed my wallet, so I have no money for a plane ticket home. Someone I met here referred this to me and I figured I had nothing better to do with my time anyway,” Skipper explained. “What about you?” he asked.
“My car needs a new part. I don’t have that great of a job and a child to feed, so I was hoping I could use the prize money to buy it,” sherry answered. “Where u from?”
“Manhattan,” Skipper answered.
“Wow, long way. What do u do?” she asked.
“I’m a detective,” Skipper answered.
She seemed impressed. “Wow, detective. So, like N.C.I.S. of something?”
Skipper laughed. “Why does everyone ask that? My life is not a TNT drama,” he zei with a roll of his eyes.
“CBS, actually,” sherry corrected with a grin.
Skipper shook his head. “Whatever,” he replied.
“So what brought u to Illinois?” sherry asked.
“Long story,” Skipper replied, feeling a bit tired of explaining it to everyone.
sherry looked back to the center of the rink. Only about a third of the contestants had gegeven up. “Looks like we’ve got time,” she said.
Skipper sighed and explained his situation. sherry whistled.
“Wow, looks like luck is not on your side,” she said.
“That’s one way of putting it,” Skipper replied irritably.
“Well, maybe it won’t be so bad. Maybe things will work out,” sherry encouraged.
“I don’t see how it’ll work out unless I win this money for a plane ticket,” Skipper zei rubbing the goosebumps off his arms. He crossed them, tucking his fingers in his underarms.
sherry tucked her hands in her jeans pockets. “Well, tell me about your girlfriend. u zei u were hoping to marry her?” she inquired, trying to change the subject.
Skipper told her about Marlene, how they met, what made him decide to ask her out, and finally his decision to buy an engagement ring.
“I had it engraved on the inside and everything,” Skipper told her.
“Aw, that’s so sweet. Did u call the airport? If they can give u her full name, maybe u can get an address of something,” sherry asked.
“Yeah, but she gave me an alias. They had no record of her on that flight,” Skipper answered. “She’s probably pawned it off door now, anyway. She could sure as hell get a pretty penny for it.”
“I’m sorry,” sherry said. “Maybe u can buy another one and propose on New Year’s,” she suggested.
Skipper shook his head. “I don’t have enough money to buy another right now. I’ll probably have to wait until volgende Christmas,” he zei disappointedly.
Skipper shuddered from the cold. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could hold out.
“Hey, look, we’re in the final eight,” sherry said.
Skipper looked around at the other six remaining competitors—five men and one woman. Then he looked at the window where the crowd of spectators was watching, cheering the finalists on. He saw Judy giving him a two thumbs up and a grin. He pushed on.
“Tell u what,” sherry said, “if it comes down to us, I’ll give in and let u win the money.”
Skipper looked at her. “What about your car?” he asked.
sherry sighed. “I’m sure it’ll last a little longer. If push comes to shove, I’ll just borrow a little from the bank,” she said. “I would hate for u and your girlfriend to be apart on Christmas. I know if getting to my son meant winning this money, I would want someone to do the same for me.”
Skipper smiled gratefully. “Thank you,” he zei softly.
“Ah, don’t mention it,” sherry zei looking at the ice beneath her.
“So what’s your son like?” Skipper inquired.
“Oh, he’s a very bright boy,” sherry zei with a smile. “He’s in eighth grade now, making all A’s. Well, with a B in algebra,” she zei with a laugh. “He wants to be a vet when he grows up.”
“Really? Why’s that? He does know where the thermometer goes, right?” Skipper asked with a lopsided grin.
sherry laughed. “Yes, he knows. He’s always loved animals. He had a dog recently, but it passed away from old age. He was heartbroken. He’d had him since he was a puppy. I can’t afford to take in another pet right now, and it’s killing me,” she zei with a mournful look in her eye.
Skipper looked down. He remembered when he was young and wanted a dog, but his mother was highly allergic. Then he moved into his apartment, which doesn’t allow dogs.
“Oh, but don’t feel guilty about the prize money, please,” sherry said, reading his thoughts. “It’s not just the getting the dog, I’d have to feed it, and bathe it. A thousand dollars wouldn’t last me long.”
Skipper considered. “I guess.” He watched as another competitor left the rink, shivering and rubbing his arms. “So, got hypothermia yet?” he asked with a grin.
sherry laughed. “I know, right? This contest seems a bit dangerous to me, but hey, when u need money,” she zei with a shrug.
“Yeah, people come up with the craziest things nowadays,” Skipper replied.
“You think if we verplaats faster we’ll generate heat?” sherry suggested doubtfully.
“No, because then we’ll sweat and be wet and cold,” Skipper pointed out.
sherry laughed again. “Of course, why didn’t I think of that?” She watched as two meer left the rink and just as she turned to count who was left, the last contestant skated up to them, skating backwards.
“Hello madam, gentlemen,” he zei looking from sherry to Skipper. He had a thick Russian accent. “Getting rather cold in here, isn’t it?” he taunted with a grin.
“You kiddin’ me?” Skipper responded dropping his arms to his sides. “I love the cold,” he lied through his teeth—literally, because his jaw was beginning to lock shut from the cold.
The man laughed. “I am thinking your lips are turning blue, friend,” he said, still grinning.
“Ooh, look who knows his colors,” Skipper replied. He wasn’t about to be tormented door some Rusky.
“Well, I’m about to turn into a popsicle, so I’m gonna go,” sherry zei skating off toward the exit, not wanting to be in the middle of it.
“Just u and me, friend,” the Rusky zei skating a cirkel around him. “You may as well give up now. Ice is my element. I consider forty degrees a nice spring morning.”
Skipper narrowed his eyes. “I’m not giving up that easily,” he told him.
The Rusky laughed. “Then things will get interesting, hm? If you’re so bold to challenge me, why don’t u kom bij me in the center of the rink where it’s coldest,” he zei skating toward the center of the rink with outstretched arms, still facing him, “and we’ll heat things up—or should I say cool them down?”
Skipper hesitated. He was already coming close to his breaking point. But he wasn’t about to be called out a chicken door this flashy Russian babushka. He skated to the center of the rink and he laughed gruffly.
“So he has pride,” he said. “I find that honorable in men.”
“Why thank you,” Skipper replied, refusing to let this guy get to him.
“Looks like we’re down to our last two competitors,” he heard the announcer say in the near distance. He and the Rusky looked over as the crowd cheered and banged on the plastic glass that separated the rink from the lobby. Skipper swore he saw some people placing bets.
The Rusky skated toward him and literally started skating circles around him. “As we speak, your internal temperature is dropping. Your nose and fingers are no doubt numb with cold. How much longer can u stand it?” he taunted.
Skipper started to realize there was no way he was going to outwait the cold with a Russian. There was, however, another way he could be disqualified. He just had to probe him to do it himself.
“You like skating, Rusky?” he asked.
He grinned and stopped circling him, sliding a few feet away. “I come here with my wife very often,” he answered.
“Bet u can’t vleet, skate better than my girlfriend. She’s the best figure skater in New York,” he lied with a challenging grin.
The Rusky laughed. “Well, I am the best skater in all of Russia,” he zei conceitedly.
“Really? What a high proclamation. Why don’t u prove it?” he challenged.
The Rusky grinned. “Feast your eyes on this,” he zei pushing forward. A seconde later, he launched himself into the air door his left foot, turned twice, and landed on his right foot, skating backwards.
Skipper laughed. “My girlfriend learned that one when she was three,” he taunted. The Rusky narrowed his eyes.
“Then why don’t u tell me a verplaats your girlfriend does the best, and I toon u it better,” he said.
Skipper grinned. Now it was his terms. “Well,” he said, “one verplaats that always wins them over is this: She can spin into a jump and land on one foot and immediately somersault into a corkscrew spin,” he told him, trying to hide that he pulled it off the top, boven of his head.
The Rusky laughed. “Easy,” he said. He skated around in a large cirkel to gain momentum and started to spin. He jumped into the air and landed on one foot, and somersaulted. But when he tried to land, his vleet, skate slipped out from under him and he hit the ice, crying out in pain. Skipper smiled as he held his wrist to his chest and started cursing him in Russian. The announcer skated out into the rink as the crowd cheered and banged on the window.
“And we have a winner!” the announcer zei into the microphone. Two other men skated out and helped the Rusky to his feet.
“This is not fair!” he shouted. “I was tricked door that паршивый американская!”
The announcer wrapped a blanket around Skipper’s shoulders and led him to the exit of the rink.
“I don’t know what u did, but I think u just made an enemy,” he zei eyeing the Rusky warily.
Skipper smiled and sniffed. The thought of being able to buy a plane ticket to get home pagina to Marlene brought him a little warmth.
“It’s okay. It was worth it.”
— § —
Private and Rico boarded the ten-fifteen to Manhattan. Luckily, despite it being last minute, they were able to buy seats that were volgende to each other.
“So, what do u think Skipper’s doing right now?” Private asked.
Rico sucked on two Tootsie Pops at the same time—each a different flavor. He answered Private, but it all came out in a slur because of the lollipops.
“I know u know I can’t understand u like that,” Private zei giving him an unamused stare.
Rico took the pops out of his mouth. “Prob’ly eatin’,” he answered.
Private rolled his eyes. “Just because you’re hungry doesn’t mean everyone is, Rico,” he said.
Rico pouted and popped the lollipops back in his mouth.
“He’s probably lonely. I hope he gets home pagina soon,” Private zei worriedly. “Do u think he caught a flight to Manhattan?”
Rico thought for a moment, tapping his chin between the lollipop sticks. “Mm-mm,” he answered with a shake of his head.
Private crossed his arms and pouted. “Doubter,” he muttered.
Rico laughed and grabbed him in a headlock, rubbing his knuckles on his head. “I ‘ust ‘iddin’,” he zei through his lollipops.
— § —
Judy squealed. “You did it!” she zei throwing her arms around him. “I’m so happy for you!”
Skipper sniffed. “Yep, I did it,” he zei with a shiver. He didn’t fully realize how cold he was until he came into the warm lobby. Someone brought him a hot chocolate in a styrofoam cup.
“Compliments of Pepsi Ice Center!” the woman said.
Skipper took it from her. “Thanks,” he zei bringing the steam to his face and sighing as it warmed his nose.
Judy led him to a seat. “Did u see the look on that guy’s face? He was meer upset than the time my mom found a bunny eating her hydrangeas,” she laughed.
Other people walked door to congratulate him as he started undoing the laces on his skates. The announcer walked up to him and put a hand on his shoulder, holding out a check with the other hand.
“Congratulations, Mister . . .?”
“Skipper,” he answered.
“Congratulations, u are the winner of one thousand dollars,” he zei as Skipper took the check from him. He turned to a man holding a camera. “Smile!”
The announcer grinned as Skipper smiled as if he’d just passed gas and the man snapped the photo.
“Have a Merry Christmas,” he zei before turning to the crowd and clapping his hands together. “All right, everyone! We close these doors at midnight sharp! Anyone still in the building will be forced out! Let’s move, people!”
Skipper shucked the blanket off his shoulders and pulled on his overhemd, shirt and jacket. He took the hot chocolate back from Judy and sipped it with a sigh. “Would u mind driving me to the airport?” he asked Judy with a sniff.
Judy smiled sadly. “Come on,” she zei flicking her head toward the door.
The two of them walked outside and headed to where Judy had parked her car. But on the way, Skipper spotted sherry leaning against an old beat up Ford coupe with the kap propped up a few spaces down. She wore a thick jas over a sweater now, and was on the phone with someone, and she didn’t seem happy. Skipper moved closer, but she didn’t notice.
“. . . done for. I don’t know what I’m gonna do. The rent is due this week, Gabe needs new shoes,” she zei with a frustrated sigh. “Of course this has to happen now. How long will it be before u can come pick me up? . . . All right. Thanks,” she zei before hanging up. She looked around and saw Skipper standing there and straightened. “Hey,” she said. “Congratulations.”
Skipper gave his hot chocolate to Judy, stepped up to Sherry, and looked at the car’s engine. “Car finally went out, hm?” he asked.
sherry shifted awkwardly. “Yeah,” she answered quietly without meeting his eye.
The check in Skipper’s hand suddenly felt heavy, even if it was just a small slip of paper. He thought about Marlene, walking through the front door on Christmas Eve, being with everyone for the holidays. Then he thought about a woman with no ride, no money, a rent left unpaid, and a mother and child’s home pagina reprimanded. A child with old beat up shoes having to walk to and from school every day. He looked down at the check, and then at Sherry. He held it out to her.
“Here, take it,” he told her, looking at his last chance of getting home pagina slipping away from him once again.
sherry shook her head and stepped back, holding her hands up in rejection. “No, I can’t. I—”
Skipper stepped vooruit, voorwaarts and took one of her hands, placing the check in her palm and closing her fingers around it. She looked at him with her eyes glossing over.
“What about your girlfriend?” she asked in a shaky voice.
Skipper shoved his hands in his pockets. “I figure it’s u take the money so u can fix your car and take care of your child, of fly home pagina and leave a single mother here with no transportation to get to work so she can feed her only son. I refuse the latter,” he zei with assuring eyes.
sherry looked down at the check and her lip quivered. Then she looked at him as a tear fell down her cheek. “Thank you,” she managed. She stepped vooruit, voorwaarts and wrapped her arms around his abdomen. Skipper wrapped his arms around her and patted her back. A few seconden later, she pulled away. “I’m sorry,” she zei wiping her tears. “You just have no idea how much this means to me.”
Skipper smiled. “You’re right,” he said. “But my mom would have. After my father died, she had to raise me single-handedly for eleven years. We had our rough times.”
sherry sniffed. “I hope u find another way home,” she said. “Someone like u deserves to be home pagina for Christmas with the woman he loves. She’s a lucky woman,” she zei with a smile.
Skipper forced a smile. A man that breaks a promise to his girlfriend. Real lucky. “I wish u luck, Sherry.”
“Sherry Destiny,” she replied. “If you’re ever in Bloomington again, look us up. I’d be happy to see u again, maybe introduce u to Gabe.”
Skipper nodded. “I’ll do that,” he promised. “I should go.”
sherry nodded. “Bye, Skipper,” she said. “Thanks again.”
Skipper shook his head. “Don’t mention it,” he zei before turning around to rejoin Judy, who was waiting a few yards away.
“Wow,” she zei giving him his hot chocolate and walking alongside him back to her car, “that must’ve been hard. That’s got to be the nicest thing I’ve ever seen anyone do for someone else, especially someone they don’t even know.”
Skipper sighed. “Well, that’s the whole reason I became a detective. I care about other people, and it irks me when good people are done wrong. I couldn’t let her life fall apart just because she couldn’t afford a car part,” he explained climbing into the passenger seat.
Judy climbed into the driver’s seat. “So, where will u go, now?” she asked buckling her seatbelt.
Skipper buckled his. “I don’t know,” he zei propping his elbow up on the armrest and putting his face in his hand. “Know any good allies? Or—homeless shelters?” he asked, only half-joking. “Just take me to the airport. I’ll figure something out.”
Judy bit her lip and sighed. “Well, if u don’t mind sleeping on the couch, u can crash with my brother and me,” she offered.
Skipper shook his head. “No, thanks, I couldn’t.”
Judy rolled her eyes and crunk up the car. “Well, I’m not letting u sleep in an alley, and I’m not taking u to the airport when u have no money. It’s no bother.”
“Really, I’d rather not impose,” Skipper insisted looking over at her.
Judy looked back as she pulled out of the parking space. “You’re not imposing, Skipper. I insist u spend the night with us.”
“But u just met me,” Skipper argued.
Judy stopped the car and looked at him with an irritated expression. “Skipper, I’ve seen u without your shirt. I think we’re past formalities,” she zei refraining from grinning at the memory.
Skipper narrowed his eyes and sighed. “Fine,” he zei relaxing back in the seat, crossing his arms. He exhaled. “Thanks,” he zei regretfully. He hated that she had to help him—and that he actually really needed it.
“Don’t worry about it,” Judy zei pulling out of the parking lot.
— § —
Marlene laid in bed staring at the ceiling. She glanced at the clock. Just a few minuten until one in the morning. Skipper would call when he got there, right? For the umpteenth time, she checked her phone to ensure the volume was up and that the battery was full. He zei he’d be home pagina tonight. She kept feeling as if something happened again.
She walked into the keuken-, keuken and set her phone on the counter. After making a cup of hot cocoa, she sat at the counter with a sigh. The picture on the fridge caught her eye again. It was enough to almost make her smile.
“Merry Christmas, Skipper.”
— § —
Kowalski laid in the bed of the hotel room he’d rented, snuggling with the covers. His phone rang and he stirred, shoving his head under the hoofdkussen, kussen and letting it go to voicemail. It rang again and he groaned. He looked at the clock, which read just after ten, and he answered the phone.
“Whoever this is, this had better be important,” he answered irritably.
“Kowalski, it’s me,” answered a voice.
“Me who?” Kowalski asked. He was too tired to try to figure out whose voice it was.
“Um, Skipper? Best friend and brother since grade school? Wow, u really were sleeping weren’t you?” Skipper replied, remembering how tired he gets after long drives.
“Oh, no,” Kowalski zei overly-sarcastically, “I was busy doing my nightly workout.”
“I’m sorry, Kowalski. I just wanted to tell u this as soon as possible. Look, I’ve kind of been robbed,” Skipper started, but Kowalski cut him off.
“What do u mean ‘kind of’? Either u were robbed of u weren’t, Skipper,” he said.
“Okay, fine. I was robbed. I don’t have any money. I need u to take the volgende flight out to Bloomington, Illinois,” Skipper replied.
Kowalski yawned. “I’ll try, Skipper, but a lot of flights are still cancelled because of weather.”
Skipper cursed under his breath. “Just wait until one opens up, okay? I kind of—need u right now,” he admitted.
Kowalski suddenly became fully aware. “All right, who is this, and what have u done with Skipper?”
He could practically hear Skipper rolling his eyes. “This isn’t a joke, Kowalski. I’ve never been in a situation like this before. I don’t know what to do.”
“How are u going to make it through the rest of the night?” Kowalski asked with concern.
“Don’t worry about it, I’ve got it covered,” Skipper answered, not wanting to admit he was sleeping over at someone’s house whom he just met. “Call me when u get a flight, okay?”
“Copy that,” Kowalski said. “Oh, and Merry Christmas,” he said, realizing it was Christmas Eve where Skipper was.
“Yeah. Merry Christmas, Kowalski. And I’m sorry you’re still in Seattle. It’s all my fault,” Skipper zei guiltily.
“It’s all right, Skipper, I’m not mad at you. I just wish u could’ve made it home. I’m sorry I couldn’t do more,” Kowalski replied.
“You have nothing to be sorry for, Kowalski. u should get some sleep. I’ll see u soon,” Skipper said.
“Bye, Skipper,” Kowalski replied. The line went dead and he flopped back on his pillow, pulling the covers to his chin.
In Bloomington, Skipper sighed as he put his phone back in his pocket. Judy pulled into a parking lot of an apartment building.
“We’re here,” Judy said. “Look, I’d appreciate if u could keep a low profile. The last thing I need is rumors circulating about me bringing a strange man home,” she requested.
“Of course, I understand,” Skipper replied.
Judy snuck him up to her apartment and unlocked the door. They entered to a man sitting on the black leather divan, bank eating Doritos and watching some cartoon about penguins. He had short, curly brown hair that fell over his ears and a small round belly with a round face to match.
“You’re such a child, Derek,” Judy zei as Skipper closed the door behind them.
Derek turned to her and locked eyes with Skipper, who shifted awkwardly. “What, u can bring a guy home pagina but I can’t bring my girlfriend here?” he asked irritably.
Judy shucked off her jas and hung it on a hook. “It’s not like that, Derek. He’s sleeping on the couch, which you’re getting Doritos all over,” she zei crossing her arms.
Derek looked from his Doritos to Skipper. “So what is he doing here, then?” he asked suspiciously.
“Look, we’re both tired. We’ll talk about it in the morning. Turn the TV off and go to bed,” Judy ordered.
Derek clicked off the televisie and stood up, rolling down the top, boven of the Doritos bag. “Fine, but if he steals one thing—”
“He’s not going to steal anything, Derek,” Judy assured him. Derek looked between them and sighed. Without saying anything else, he walked across the room and turned right, the sound of a shutting door shortly following. Judy turned to Skipper. “That’s my brother. We’re living together while we put ourselves through college.”
“Well, don’t be too upset at him. He’s smart not to trust me yet. He doesn’t know me,” Skipper said.
Judy exhaled. “You can hang your jas on the hook, there,” she zei pointing to the uithangbord volgende to where she hung hers. “The bathroom is right there,” she zei pointing toward a door across the hall from where Derek went to his room. “The kitchen’s obviously there,” she zei pointing behind him past the breakfast island, “if u get thirsty of something.”
Skipper nodded slowly and looked down. “Thank you. For everything,” he zei looking back up at her.
Judy smiled. “You should get some sleep. I’ll go find u a blanket and a pillow,” she zei walking down the hall and taking the volgende door past the bathroom.
Skipper laid his bags under the jas rack and hung his jas on the hook. Then he slipped his shoes off, sat down on the couch, and took in the room. In front of the divan, bank was a coffee tafel, tabel with two coasters and a box of tissues on it. To the left of the divan, bank was a red recliner, and a small flatscreen televisie sat against the uithangbord across from him. On the far side of the room to the left, there were two bookshelves only partially full and an office bureau and chair. In the adjacent corner, two tall shelves full of foto's sat against the wall.
“Here u go,” Judy zei coming around the divan, bank and handing him a folded up blanket with a hoofdkussen, kussen on top. “I hope u sleep well.”
“Thanks, you, too,” Skipper replied accepting the items from her. “When should I expect u to wake up?”
“I have to be up door nine so I can be at work door ten,” she said. “Derek should be up about the same time.”
“Wow, u have to work on Christmas?” Skipper asked unfolding the blanket.
“Just Christmas Eve. We’re closed Christmas Day. I get to make time and a half if I work tomorrow, and I need the money. We’ll be closing early, though,” Judy explained. “See u in the morning,” she zei walking back toward the bedrooms.
“See you,” Skipper replied. He turned to her. “Judy?”
Judy turned just as she reached her bedroom door. “Yeah?”
“Merry Christmas,” Skipper zei with a smile.
Judy smiled back. “Merry Christmas.”
Judy went into her room and closed the door. Skipper sighed and ran his hands over his face. He couldn’t believe that not only did he fail Marlene and himself, he was reduced to accepting charity from someone he barely knew. On top, boven of that, he was going to end up spending Christmas on his own, without any of his friends. He got up and switched off the light. Then he stretched himself across the divan, bank and adjusted his head on the hoofdkussen, kussen and pulled the cover to his chin. He sighed.
“Merry Christmas, Marlene.”
— § —
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We’ll be arriving in Manhattan shortly. Please fasten your seatbelts and return your seats to their original upright position. And thank u again for choosing Nebraska Regional Airlines.”
Rico yawned and stretched his arms. He looked over at Private, who was still sleeping. He nudged him, but all he did was stir. Rico sighed and buckled his seatbelt for him. Then he did his own.
About twenty minuten later, the plane came to a stop volgende to the gate and an announcement was made giving the passengers permission to collect their belongings and deboard the plane. Rico shook Private’s shoulder, but he was out. He sighed, slung his and Private's bags on his shoulder, and then picked Private up bridal style to carry him off, earning him strange looks from the other passengers at the sight of him carrying the twenty-year-old man. He simply smiled and used Private’s limp hand to wave at them.
In the airport, he sat him down at a chair at baggage claim and slapped him across the face.
He woke with a start. “Skipper?” he zei looking around only to find Rico in front of him. “Oh, it’s just you,” he zei with a disappointed sigh. “Wait, how did I get off the plane?” he asked when he realized he was in the airport. They turned at the sound of a little girl’s voice nearby.
“Look, Mommy! That’s the man that was carried off the plane!” she zei pointing at him with a giggle. The mother ushered her along.
Private glared at Rico. “Really?”
Rico spread his hands. “What?”
Private rolled his eyes. “Never mind. Let’s just get our luggage.”
After they grabbed their luggage and went through security, they waited outside for a cab.
“I’m going to call Skipper in the morning,” Private zei with a yawn. “Illinois is an uur behind us, right?”
Rico nodded. “Yup.”
A taxi pulled up to the curb and Rico and Private climbed in.
“I hope he caught a flight. Maybe he’s waiting for us at the apartment right now.”