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Jake sank further into the couch and stared at the TV screen. The movie wasn’t registering with his brain. It was Star Trek, but he had no idea which one because he couldn’t focus on it for more than five seconds before his mind galloped off in a different direction. Lucas was sprawled in one of the big easy chairs. He snored.

Jake was jealous. He would have loved a good sleep. It was bad enough that he thought about Henley during the day, but she also invaded his dreams and kept him up at night. Horrible dreams. Nightmares.

Talking with his dad had been good. Except for the part about condoms. He’d wanted to sink through the floor when his dad had told him to use a condom. No shit. He’d been pissed last night when he was told he couldn’t go see McKenzie. They weren’t sleeping together. How could they when they never were alone together? Fate had been screwing with him when it brought them together at a party a week before he left to go to college. Since then they’d talked, texted, and Skyped daily. He’d been counting down the days to winter break because he’d finally have the chance to see her in person again.

So far he’d seen her for all of fifteen minutes last Thursday after he’d run to the market for his mom. Her parents had dragged her off to some family event. Last night, he’d needed to get away. For days this house had offered nothing but depression. After the vigil, he’d craved some fresh air and peace. A chance to hang with people who weren’t crying every hour. It’d felt good to get out of the house and go to the vigil, but it’d made him want to escape afterward. He could have just left. No one would have even noticed. But he’d done the right thing and asked permission and been shot down.

It’d made him angry.

McKenzie’s parents had been at a party last night, and Jake and McKenzie would have been alone. Finally. If he didn’t get some alone time with the girl, she was going to start looking for someone else to hang out with. Someone who lived in town. Like that asshole Scott Sinclair she kept talking about. She had him in one of her classes at Portland State, while Jake was a continent away at Duke. Why shouldn’t she see someone closer to home?

He sank deeper into the couch. There were cool girls at Duke, but he was being faithful to McKenzie. They’d had such a short time together before he’d left for school in August, but it was enough to tell him this was a girl he wanted to hang on to. Bright blue eyes, shiny black hair. Gorgeous. And nice. She was funny, too.

He’d had two texts from her so far that day. She thought her parents would be leaving to go to another party that afternoon, and did he think he could come over? He’d replied that he’d try. He could jog to her place in less than five minutes if he cut through the green space areas. But after his conversation with his dad a few hours ago, he didn’t think he’d be going anywhere today.

He’d even approached Ava that morning, asking if she thought it would be okay if he went to McKenzie’s for an hour or two. She’d offered to accompany him, and his face had turned red. Then Ava had laughed. “That wouldn’t be very cool, would it? An escort on a date. It’d be like old-fashioned dating, where the girls had to take an older female companion with them everywhere.”

Jake had no idea what she was talking about. He was pretty certain his mom had never taken an older woman with her when she dated in high school. He’d politely laughed and slunk away. But instead of going with him, Ava had gone to the grocery store with his mom and Lilian. The two women had decided to prepare a big Christmas Eve feast. He and Lucas had looked at each other when the women announced their plans and said they didn’t think they’d be very hungry.

Lilian had replied that they’d feed it to the reporters outside, and that the point was to give the women something to do so they didn’t go stir crazy. He and Lucas had nodded like they understood and proceeded to line up a bunch of movies for the day. The theme was Star Trek. All the generations. They wouldn’t be able to watch all of them today, but they’d make a good dent. They could always continue tomorrow.

Jake glanced at the huge Christmas tree in the corner. Its branches seemed to droop a bit, and he wondered if his mom had forgotten to water it. He could do it. But Christmas was tomorrow, so what would be the point? The amount of presents hadn’t changed since Henley had vanished. During a normal year they would have tripled over the last few days. No one wanted to go shopping, let alone wrap presents.

Now Ava, Lilian, and his mom were in the kitchen making food for an army. Lilian had complained about visiting three stores before they’d found a turkey that wasn’t frozen. He’d asked why they couldn’t just thaw it in the microwave, which had led to peals of laughter from all three women. Once again, he’d slunk out of the kitchen. The turkey was probably too big to fit in the microwave. At least it’d felt good to hear them laugh.

His phone vibrated, and he opened the text. McKenzie had sent a picture of her family’s Christmas tree. He smiled and tapped out a response.


Her reply popped up. CAN U COME OVER? THEY’RE LEAVING AT 2

Jake sighed and looked at the holiday picture again. I’LL TRY

She sent three hearts and a pair of lips.

He swallowed hard and desperately wanted out of the house. Ava passed through the family room on her phone, heading to the back patio for a private conversation. That was becoming the norm. Whenever Dad or Ava got a work call, they took it to the backyard. His dad was still outside on his phone. He’d been on his phone for several hours. Work stuff, he’d said.