“So they believed you?”
Chloe sat in the booth, her arms wrapped around a large jacket, eyes wide and staring at James. He nodded.
“Yeah, Detective Loftin said he would take up the case.”
“Yeah, they’re going to go investigate and everything.”
She puffed out her cheeks, eye widening even more.
“Wow,” she breathed, “I…I can’t believe it,”
“Me neither,” James said, shaking his head. Chloe looked down at the table, her nails picking at the chipped paint. The smell of hot bread and coffee floated in the air. James laid his head back, breathing it in and defrosting his lungs. His nose was red and runny from the cold weather, and he shrugged off his jacket. A mechanical Santa stood at the doorway of the café, lighting up and greeting customers with a very cheery HO HO HO. James tapped his fingers on the table. They rushed with blood.
“It’s scaring children, why do they still have that up?” He said, nodding to the decorations. Chloe furrowed her eyebrows.
“James, aren’t you happy about this?”
“I guess so.”
“You GUESS so? Dude, this is huge. This is incredible. This, this, this is-“
“Amazing? Yes, I’ve already heard that.”
Chloe stared in confusion as James closed his eyes. He heard the HO HO HO repeat as some kids giggled when they jumped back and forth in front of it. The inside of his eyelids were red from the light.
“When will the actually investigation start? Or do you not know?”
“When they first called in the report, the officers who were already there asked questions to my mom, Marcus and Ori. Loftin said they would get on others as soon as they could, but since today is Christmas Eve and tomorrow Christmas then New Year’s they don’t know when they will be able to get it done – at least, they won’t have the resources to talk to the,” he held up his fingers,” ‘witnesses’ since most of them have to have a parent present.”
“Do you think they’ll go to the school?”
James puffed his bangs out of his face. He really needed a haircut.
“I hope not. That’s a last resort if they want to talk to the witnesses or something.”
He looked at Chloe, who had a smiling playing on her lips. He bunched his eyebrows.
She shook her head, still smiling.
“Nothing, I just think that you should be in charge of the investigation since you’re already talking like a detective.”
He grinned just a little. Silence blanketed the table. The Santa made a baby burst out crying.
“Have you already told Ori?”
Damn. He was hoping she wouldn’t ask that question. He shrugged. He was always shrugging.
“She was the one who ratted me out to my parents.”
Chloe gasped as James opened his eyes again. Her hair and face were tinted blue.
“Wait, so she-“
“Pretended she wanted to hang out with me when really all she wanted to do was tell my parents I was raped by a girl? Yes.”
He took one of the napkins from the napkin holder and started to tear it. Chloe watched him, her lips drawn in a tight line. Was she angry as he was? Or was she relieved? She also wanted his parents to know but James didn’t think she would ever tell them. She said it herself – he was the one that needed to do it.
“Actually, looking back on it I practically set up everything for her to drop the bomb on them.”
Chloe took the shreds of paper from him.
“What do you mean?” She asked. He shrugged again.
“I fought with them. I made them care too much about what I was doing, why I’m so damn angry all the damn time, and I even invited Ori over to hang out.” He grumbled. Bits of torn napkin fluttered around his table area. The door opened, sending them around the café. A passing waiter glared down at him as the paper flew everywhere. He had the urge to stick out his tongue.
“Well, I think she did a good thing.”
James whipped his head to her, eyes widening. She didn’t look at him directly. Just like Ori.
She shifted in her seat, facing to table. Her nails picked at the paint again.
“James, would you have told them?”
“No, of cour-“
“Exactly, that’s why. You wouldn’t have done it so Ori did it for you,” she herded the rest of the napkin into the palm her hand. Why wasn’t she looking at him?
“I admit that she should’ve told you beforehand so maybe you could’ve done that yourself…”
“But it wasn’t her job to tell.” James snapped, slamming his palms on the table. The surrounding tables look towards them with confusion. Chloe blushed, lowering her voice.
“James, this is for the better.”
He glared at the customers. They quickly looked away.
“Really? This is for the better?” He growled, “Chloe, now everyone will know. Everyone. And they won’t believe me, nor will they hear my side of the story. They’ll think I made this all up.”
A young girl screamed as Santa greeted her at the doorway, startling both of them.
“They’re going to talk to Anna. And Zack. And Tony, Drew, Levi, Drew’s parents, our parents, Ori, YOU,” James straightened, “it’s going to get out. People are going to know. People are going to think of me in different ways now.”
“Isn’t that good though?” Chloe flattened down his hair with the palm of her hand. Her voice was soft. Her breath smelled like mint.
“Isn’t it good that people are going to know that this happened? Then they can see that rape can happen to men.”
James stopped, look at her through his hair.
“So am I just a campaign pig now?” He said, eyeing her. Chloe paused caressing his hair and looked at him. Confusion. Of course.
“A black coffee, a hot peppermint chocolate, one croissant and a blueberry muffin.” A waiter said as he held a silver platter out to them. Neither one of them made a move to grab the food.
“Campaign pig? What the heck is a campaign pig?” Chloe asked. The waiter rocked on his shoes. James rolled his eyes, snatching the drink from the platter. The peppermint stick bobbed in his cup.
“Poster boy, exploiting goat, whatever.”
“James, I’m not using you if that is what you think-“
“What I think? What I think? Well it sounded like you’re just going to use me as a campaign face-“
“James. Shut up.”
He glared at her. The waiter set down the rest of their order and walked quickly away from their table. James picked at the muffin, smothering blueberries in between his fingers. Chloe rubbed her eyes.
“James, I’m not using you. Why did you even think that, why did that even come up?”
Blueberry guts got underneath his fingernails. He sucked on them.
“I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m just waiting for Mom to say something like that later.” James muttered as he took a bite out of the muffin. Chloe picked off the layers of her croissant.
He smashed a clump of muffin crumbs into the plate.
“Why wouldn’t I be? People will start asking questions, then rumors will start going around…” he swallowed, “Loftin said that he would try to keep everything in the case confidential so it won’t cause as much problems.”
Chloe reached over, interlocking her fingers with his. Why did everyone want to hold his hand? He wasn’t a child. James started to retract his hand but she gripped onto him. Just like Mom had.
“This is a serious case. There will be rumors, there will be non-believers, and there will be people who make fun of you.” Chloe said, her eyes serious and daunting. James stared at her.
“No buts. In order to get what you deserve, there will be obstacles in your way.”
“Wasn’t the thing an obstacle enough? Isn’t having it haunt me from that day to right now torture enough? I never wanted to tell the police because I was afraid of this. I didn’t want to take the risk,” James stood up, letting the muffin splatter on the ground. Chloe bit her lip.
“James, they’re starting to look.” She said as a faint tinge of red dotted her cheeks. He shook his head.
“I don’t care. I don’t give a damn. Let them look and judge. Everyone will do that soon.”
He slapped a ten onto the counter, and walked out of the café. It took everything in him to not punch the mechanical Santa in the face when he walked by it and into the snow.
“No, James. James, come on.” Chloe called behind him. The café bell jingled as she caught up to him. He stopped. The blush was still on her cheeks, now darker as the wind bit her skin. Her eyes were glossy as she pulled her jacket tighter around her arms and adjusted the jacket hood.
“Look, I’m sorry, okay?” She said. A speck of snow fell onto her nose. James didn’t hesitate to wipe it away. Her blush turned darker.
“No, it’s my fault-“ he started but she shook her head in protest.
“No. Shut up. It was-“
“NO, you were only telling me the truth-“
“No, no, no, no I-“
“Chloe.” James placed his arms on her shoulders, shaking her gently. Her hair fell from inside her hood.
“Chloe, it is not your fault. Don’t think it is because it’s not.” He brushed a strand of hair from her eyes. It shined like platinum between his fingers. Her cheeks and nose were now strawberry red. The wind picked up and slammed them both with ice sharper than knives. Chloe sniveled.
“C’mon,” James said, taking her hand and leading her to the bus stop, “I just want to forget about this whole mess of shit for a while.”
She had to jog to keep up with him.
“But, James, can’t we just take my car?” She asked as she kept herself steady on a patch of black ice. James shot her a grin.
“Nah, the bus is better. Trust me. I have something to show you.”
“This is what you wanted to show me?”
They stood on the brick sidewalk, looking up at the sad aged store front. Chloe grimaced as she traced her eyes around a patch of dried dirt and questionable black spots on the window.
“An old store?”
“What?” James said, stunned. Chloe just shrugged, still keeping her gaze on the store.
“I don’t know, I just thought it would be someplace…” she glanced up at him, “romantic.”
James just smiled. He tossed his head to her, and opened the door. The sound of a bell rang out in the empty corridor.
“After you.” He said, bowing. She giggled, curtsying and walking into the store. When he followed her in, he breathed in deeply. The winter air was replaced with the smell of paint and wood. He closed his eyes.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” James murmured. He could hear Chloe breathing in the scent.
“Well, it looks like an art store. And it smells like an art store.”
“That’s because it is an art store, blondie.”
James opened his eyes to see Lemon Head sitting at the counter, reading a newspaper. His feet were propped up on the counter like the last time James had seen him, and his face still had the look of sour lemons. He couldn’t help but smile.
“Hello again.” He said. Lemon Head grunted, turning back to his paper. Chloe picked up one of the jars of paint and turned it over in her hands.
“Wow, interesting prices. A 20 ounce bottle of this particular paint sells for about a dollar per ounce at other high brand art stores. How can they sell it at this price and still make a profit?”
“By having business-savvy college kids buy them and leaving us alone to our money.” Lemon Head shouted, “are you buying that or not, blondie?”
“Yes,” James responded, plucking the jar from Chloe’s hands and tossing it into a shopping basket, “yes sir, we are. In fact, give us some recommendations. What paint did your daughter use for that extravagant painting you have up there?”
They watched as Lemon Head muttered something to himself, but he set down the newspaper and removed his feet from the counter. Walking around the side of the cash register he squinted at the rows of white paints on a case. Chloe leaned towards James.
“They all look the same shade to me,” she whispered from the corner of her mouth. James had to catch himself from scoffing.
“You’re color blind, also it seems you know more about business than art.” He said. His lips accidentally brushed her ear and her face turned into a tomato in a second. James bit his lip.
Lemon Head approached them, handing off a jar of an ivory white.
“Here,” he muttered, “this is similar to the one she used, though that one was homemade.”
James thanked him but before he turned away, he looked at Chloe’s flushed face, then back at James.
“Pomegranate.” James said. Lemon Head stretched his lips.
“I was thinking more of a candy, but whatever.” He said, waving them away, “I don’t care.”
James winked at Chloe, then bought the supplies. When they left she was still red but insisted it was from the cold. It didn’t matter to James what she said. He knew what she meant.
“Do you want to get anything for lunch?” James asked as they strolled through the mall. He eyed the red sign for Philly’s on the other side of the corridor. A large 50% off sign for Christmas Eve glared in the window. To his dismay Chloe shook her head no.
“Nah, my mom is cooking a feast tonight for Christmas Eve, then I’m attending a church play for the birth of Jesus Christ.” She pulled out her phone, frowning when she saw the time.
“Yeah, I actually need to go now.” She looked up at him. Lemon Head was right – her skin did look like candy. He licked his lips.
“Well, let’s go to the bus stop, shall we?” He said, holding out his elbow to her.
“When we get back to the café do you want me to take you home?”
“No, that’s okay. I’d rather walk.”
She gave him a skeptical look.
“You sure? You’ll probably be frozen when you get back home.”
“I’m sure, don’t worry.”
He was half frozen when he got home. His anger wasn’t as boiling as it was when he was at the café but it resurged when he noticed the bile car and Ori’s car in the driveway of his home. As he opened the door he welcomed the heat of the air. It melted the ice off his nose, making it run. He sniffed, shrugging off his jacket.
“James? Is that you?” His mom asked from the kitchen. He took off his boots. Snow fell off them and immediately melted into the WELCOME mat.
“Who else would it be?” He called back, walking into the kitchen. Marcus and Ori were seated at the table, eating from dinner plates as Mom checked a turkey in the oven. James avoided looking at Ori and instead tried to help with dinner, all the while glaring at Mom. She noticed, and hit him with a towel.
“Oh, don’t give me that look James. They are family.” She hissed.
“Them? Family? I barely understand Marcus but Ori? No, no, no Mom.” He said, taking the towel from her and patting down the sink area so it seemed as if he was helping. He could feel their stares on the back of his head. Mom took the turkey from the oven, plating it and delivering it to the table. When she returned she snatched the towel from him again and gave him a look.
“James, Ori is your best friend and we have known her for quite some time – we trust her even more now when she told us about you when you wouldn’t even tell us about you.”
“But she had no right to tell you, Mom. It wasn’t her secret to tell.”
“Obviously it was since you kept it a secret for so many months from us.” She stopped to turn to him, voice cracking slightly beside her anger, “do you not trust us?”
“Ugh, no Mom. I mean, yes, I trust you. But this is a really big thing and –“
“Yes I know it’s a big thing. That is why you should’ve told us.” Mom countered. James rubbed the bridge of his nose. God, what did she want from him? He just wanted to go to his room.
“Is it because you don’t think of me as a good mother?“
“Is it because you still don’t accept your father?“
“Are you angry at us? What did we do?”
“THEN WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL US?” Mom yelled. Marcus and Ori stopped, looking towards them. Mom sniffed, clutching the side of the sink. Silence engulfed them, just like at the café. The air was heavy and warm. It made him sweat. They stood at the counter, hearing the clink of forks against plates. James looked towards the living room. A Christmas tree had been put up. Small lights decorated the windows and he could see presents hidden under the sofa. More than just a few. He swallowed. Marcus was getting better at acting like a dad.
“I didn’t tell you because…” he gulped. Marcus stood from his chair.
James pushed a hand through his hair. Why was everyone looking at him? He shook his head frantically. He turned to stomp up the stairs to his room, but Mom caught his arm.
“James, please. I’m sorry. I’m just worried about you…”She sighed, touching him softly. Her eyes glistened. “Come sit down. Please. Let’s just have a nice Christmas Eve”
He looked to the table. It looked like a Christmas dinner. Not the ones they usually have from Sonic or McDonalds, but like the ones he use to see on Christmas specials and magazines. The ones real families were supposed to have. He sighed.
“We will talk no more of the case, alright?” Marcus said, returning to his seat. James took his place next to Ori, giving her the gratitude of not scowling her way when she handed him a plate of fresh food that was set in front of him. The smell of chicken and potatoes intoxicated him.
He tried to forget, and for once he wanted to enjoy Christmas Eve with something that felt like a real family.