When my Nan died, I thought my heart was going to go with her. We had been together for so many years and shared so much together that I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like when I couldn’t talk to her. When I couldn’t see her. When I couldn’t breathe the same air as her.
Her perfume still lingers on my pillow, and I hope it never fades.
She would be really proud of what the Reed boys have planned, and I’m proud just to know them. And I’m even prouder that they’re willing to let me help.
I put on the red suit and pull the suspenders up over my white shirt. Years ago when I wore this suit for my grandkids, it was too big. I guess I’ve grown. But my Nan, she never did mind my girth. And the kids don’t seem to mind either.
Tonight is going to be a fun night. I get to help the Reeds make some dreams come true. I get to see the smiles on little faces that have lost all hope. And some adults, too, if things go as the boys have planned them.
I pull the red hat over my head and adjust the tassel so that it hangs out of my face. There. All ready. I pat my belly and Faith, my granddaughter, smiles at me from across the room. She has one baby on her hip and her son has his arms wrapped around her knees. She’s going to leave them with a sitter for the evening, and we’ll drop them off on the way.
“You look really great, Grandpa,” she says.
I smile at her. “Where’s that husband of yours?”
She rolls her eyes. “He’s getting dressed at the Reeds’. He’s going to meet us there.”
“Getting dressed?” I ask. “As what?” Certainly, they’re not planning to have more than one Santa. I don’t want to be out-done.
She laughs. “You’ll see.”
I stand outside the prison, and jam my hands in my pockets. I was kind of hoping that someone else would show up for Josh, but no one has. I’ve been watching to be sure no family or friends come to pick him up.
I never wanted to be here again. I spent two years inside this facility. But looking back, I wouldn’t change the direction my life took, because if it did, I never would have found Reagan.
My phone dings in my pocket and I pull it out.
Reagan: Where are you?
Me: Waiting for Josh.
Reagan: Oh. Okay. I have Josh’s suit.
Me: Oh, good. Bring it to Paul’s.
Reagan: He might not want to hang with the family tonight, Pete. He might want to go home.
Me: He doesn’t have a home, princess.
I can almost hear her sigh through the airwaves.
Reagan: Yes, he does.
Me: How’s Kennedy?
Reagan: Hungry, as usual. I put her in a green dress and she had a red felt bow in her hair.
Reagan: As in past tense. I think she ate it.
Me: Can babies eat felt?
Reagan: I guess we’ll find out.
I can’t help it. I laugh.
The door to the prison opens and I see a wheelchair roll out onto the sidewalk.
Me: See you in a few. Josh just came out.
Reagan: Love you.
Me: Love you more.
Josh rolls himself down the ramp and stops right in front of me.
“Josh,” I say with a nod.
“Pete.” He nods back. “Fancy meeting you here,” he says, his eyes narrowing.
I shrug. “I was in the neighborhood.”
“Sure you were.”
I stand silently until Josh opens his mouth to speak, and I suddenly feel like I need to cut him off. “You have plans tonight?” I ask.
He jerks a thumb toward the prison. “Well, I was going to hang out here and see if they’ll let me back in. Three squares and a cot ain’t that bad, you know?” He shivers. “It’s cold out.”
“There’s a convenience store on the corner you could rob. I bet they’d let you right back in.”
He finally grins. Then he sobers. “Why are you here, Pete?”
“You’re family, Josh. This is what family does.”
He shakes his head. “I am not a Reed.”
“You might as well be.”
“But I’m not.”
I throw up my hands. “Look,” I say, “you might not want us, but you’ve got us. All of us. You went back to jail for us.”
“No, I didn’t,” he says quietly.
“Yes, you did,” I argue.
His voice is loud and sure when he speaks. “I went to see Bone so I could get revenge. You just happened to be there. I just happened to shoot him between the eyes. Revenge, Pete. Not sacrifice. Not a good deed. I killed someone. And I meant to do it.”
“Thank God you were there,” I bite out. I remember that day. The crack of Bone’s gun. The reverb from Josh’s. The way we all fell to the floor. The silence while we waited to see who was dead. The deafening roar of the quiet while we counted our heartbeats.
“God didn’t have anything to do with that day,” he tells me.
“You see it one way. I see it another.” I throw up my hands again. “Either way, we’re all alive and you’re out of jail, and we need a favor.”
“What kind of favor?”
I laugh. “Don’t worry. All you have to do is wear tights and look pretty.”
I nod. “Yep. You in?”
“Hell, I don’t have anywhere to go anyway,” he says. My heart lurches. He does have a place to go. He just doesn’t know it yet.