“Put her in with me,” Courtney said when we got to the motel.We’d stopped for a real dinner, maybe to get the taste of a ten-hour long fight out of our mouths. Claire had been unnaturally quiet during the meal. She also had eaten very little. “I’ve got two beds and I’m leaving in like two days anyway.”
“You are?” We really hadn’t discussed Courtney’s travel plans. Or maybe we had and I didn’t remember. “You’ll be all right?”
“Sure. I travel by myself all the time.”
“I mean, with Claire in with you.”
“We’ll be fine, big brother,” she said, and went to help Claire with her hastily packed suitcase.
I was still feeling shell-shocked from all the arguing and yelling and I hadn’t even been directly involved in any of it. Thank goodness, I suppose? I felt like I’d been on the deck of a ship all day, being lashed with rain and wind until I was stiff and sore.
Which might have been why when Ziggy suggested I take a hot bath it made sense to me. He started the tub filling while I figured out how to get out of my clothes. Yeah, I was kind of out of it by then.
The water was just a teensy bit too hot, which was perfect actually? Better than a teensy bit too cold, of course. He had made it into a bubble bath somehow and I got in at one end and slid my legs under the foam. I don’t take a lot of baths because I think a lot of the time I get bored too quickly. I sit there feeling like I don’t know what I’m supposed to do when what I’m supposed to do is just sit there. But just sitting there was about all I could manage.
“I guess it really never occurred to me how much they actually all hate each other now,” I said aloud. Ziggy didn’t answer and I realized he wasn’t there. A few minutes later I heard the door open and he came in.
A few minutes after that he brought me a mug of hot cocoa. He had one for himself, too, and he got undressed and got into the water with me. It was not a huge tub, but we compact pretty well.
I must have been giving him and the hot chocolate a look as he handed it to me. “What?” he asked, then answered his own question. “It’s Christmastime.”
“Do we usually have hot cocoa in the tub at Christmas?”
“We do now.” He smirked. I seemed to recall a similar scene in his apartment except it was something harder than cocoa we were drinking. “I made some for your mom and Court, too.”
That made me smile. “Where did you get it?”
“I’ve been squirreling one or two packages a day away from the breakfast buffet.” He shrugged.
“You know, I bet there are people who think that’s no way for a millionaire to act.”
“Not at all!” I was completely charmed by the thought Ziggy was sneaking hot chocolate into his luggage for just such an emergency. “I just bet some folks would think it was weird.”
“No doubt.” He finished his cocoa and set the mug on the floor outside the tub. “Some things aren’t a matter of money so much as… maximization of resources.”
“I am certainly not complaining.” I sipped mine and tried to remember what I wanted to tell him while he was gone. Right. “Am I just really slow on the uptake? Or was it not as obvious before today that they all hate each other.”
“Oh, your two older sisters definitely have a love/hate thing going on, and really, that’s your mother’s whole way of being. She doesn’t have or understand love without the hate flipside being part of it.”
“No wonder she and Digger were perfect for each other…?” I felt a little chilly thinking about it. I finished my drink, too, and then stuck my arms under the water. Ziggy moved around so that he could lie back against my chest and I could put my arms around him. I was still shivering a little, though, despite the hot water. “Is it always like that? I mean, is there always a flipside waiting to turn up?”
“It’s kind of a terrifying thought, I know.” He sighed as he relaxed against me. “To think that I might turn on you. Or vice versa.”
“I used to worry about it more,” I said. “Now I feel my worries have moved on from that. But I guess that worry is always under there, way down.”
“It would have to be, growing up with this crowd.” He turned on his side, his cheek against my damp chest. “Court seems to have escaped most of it, though. She’s tangled up in their dynamic, but she’s not really stuck in a love/hate thing with any of them.”
“Did I tell you Lilibeth used her husband’s money to pay Digger’s bail bond?” Something clicked for me then. “Remember when Digger showed up to some Nomad shows trying to extort money out of me and Court? We were trying to figure out what was going on. We figured gambling debts or paying for someone’s abortion or something. But no. It had to be he knew Sarah was onto him and that something like that would be coming down on him soon.”
Ziggy just murmured, “Mm-hmm.” Then he looked up at me. “Hey, heard from Colin?”
I wasn’t sure how he got from Digger to Colin, but whatever. “I left him a voice mail on Christmas eve. Or maybe it was Christmas Day. Saying Merry Christmas. But I haven’t talked to him. Yet, anyway.”
“Mm-hmm.” He snuggled against me. “Well, Court seems to think she’ll patch things up between Janine and your mom now that Hurricane Lilibeth has moved on.”
“I thought she was leaving?”
“In a couple of days. There’s still some time. Who knows. Maybe some apologies will even get issued?”
“You think? No one sounded at all apologetic today.”
“Yeah, but they’ll actually start feeling sorry soon enough. Or at least Court thinks Janine will.”
I was very glad not to be the one trying to manage that operation. “Call me weird but the one I’m worried most about is Landon.”
“Janine said some things today, some really… um…”
“Concerningly homophobic things?”
“It’s going to be all right, Daron.”
“I’ll tell you why later. Right now, the water’s getting cold and I want you to fuck me silly before we go to sleep.”
He told me later, but I better tell you all now, before I forget. Remember how on Christmas morning there were stockings and things that no one took credit for? I’d been thinking it had to be Remo’s doing, except he was gone that night. Court had slept over in front of the tree so she was a prime suspect, too. But she was just an accomplice. The real Santa had been Jake, who was determined that Janine not be the sole influence on their son. To hear Court tell it, anyway, he was happy to have me and Ziggy as role models for his kid.
Of course the whole idea of me and Ziggy as role models is ridiculous to begin with, but you know, kids pick their faves and that’s just how it is.
Speaking of role models, I wondered how Remo’s drive to Atlanta was going. “Oh man, it’s their anniversary coming up, isn’t it?”
“Remo and Mel. She came up from Atlanta at Christmastime and he proposed to her and, boom, wedding. I mean, they kind of had to hurry because she was pretty far along in the pregnancy with Ford. So they felt it was important to get it done first.” I hugged Ziggy. “You weren’t there because you were allergic to spending that much time with my quote-unquote family, yet here you are with my actual toxic family.”
“A lot has changed since then,” he said. Then he looked at me with one of his feral grins. “I know it’s not a competition, but if people had been placing bets then on which couple was going to last, you and me, or them, who do you think they would have put their money on?”
“Ha. It’s not a competition, but you’re happy to win?”
“Of course, since you’re the prize.” He kissed me wetly, like a sea lion. “Or maybe I’m the prize.”
I tried to kiss him back and we sloshed water on the floor and got the sheets all damp but you know, that barely registered on the scale of typical rock-star hotel-room mayhem.