Consistent

BY : RandomJaz
Category: +S through Z > South Park
Dragon prints: 7362
Disclaimer: I do not own South Park or any of it's characters, nor do I profit from this fanfiction.

LONG (but important) AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hey, guys! Hope you enjoyed the double update, today!

Some more info on the Triangular Theory of Love that I mentioned in chapter 6 since readers on the Archive Our Own site have expressed interest.

Quick recap:

Intimacy: is the closeness and trust you feel to someone. (Do you feel safe? Do you feel loved? Can you be vulnerable?) Love with just intimacy is "Liking". (Mike)

Passion is the sexual and/or physical attraction between two people. (Are you drawn to this person because of a bodily urge or connection? Does sex dominate your interest or attachment to this person?) Love with just Passion is "Infatuated love". (Stan)

Commitment: is the decision to stay with someone, regardless of circumstance. (Are you planning your future with this person? Are you determined to keep them?) Love with just Commitment is "Empty love". (Michael)

Recall how I mentioned that when you combine two, they create a different kind of love?

Intimacy+Passion=Romantic Love. (This is where Mike and Pete currently are.)

Passion+ Commitment = Fatuous Love. (This is where Stan currently wants to be with Pete.)

Commitment+Intimacy = Companionate Love. (This is where Michael currently wants to be with Pete.)

When you have all three elements, its Complete Love.

The more elements, the stronger the relationship is. And, the less likely it is to break or be broken. "Complete love" is HARD to break as it has everything and takes a lot to manipulate or challenge it.

Having only one element is easily breakable as you saw with Stan and Michael. Essentially, when you lack an element(s) you tend to go looking for it somewhere else. Hence why Pete gravitated towards Mike. You want what you don't have.

Also: Song referenced here in this chapter is "Where are you Christmas?" by Pentatonix.

Xxxxxx

Christmas morning, I opened my presents with Mom, Dad nowhere to be seen or heard from since the night before Christmas Eve. All of the presents for me said "From Mom". A lot of it was clothes.

New jeans, band hoodies, a pair of boots and new underwear and socks. All of which I needed. The "fun", less practical presents included gift cards for Dunkin Donuts, that new bookstore, and digitally downloadable video games. There was also a new coffee thermos, a black speaker to plug my phone in to, and another bean bag chair.

Another bean bag chair?

"You should have two so you and your new friend can play together. That nice, polite boy." On the couch, Mom blew the steam wafting up from her mug of tea. "You still use that Playstation 4 you got back in grade school, don't you?"

"Sometimes, yeah."

Bunching up the torn wrapping paper that littered the living room floor, I put it in a nearby trash bag. Mess, can't stand mess.

There would be more gift-exchanging later that night at my aunt's house. Everyone shredding gift paper everywhere, loud drunken relatives, and the overly excited mob of cousins...obnoxious Christmas tunes...I couldn't do it. Mom stopped making me a few years ago.

I was going to see Mike later that night. He had a gift to open. I had Mike's gift out for his arrival. I began seconding guessing what I got him. It felt like a good buy at the time...it made sense. I want him to like it. Wouldn't find out for hours if he did.

For hours, I was going to need something to do.

Putting my new bean bag next to my old one, I sat down and redeemed the digital gift card that Mom gave me to download a new game. It was a while since I played on my PlayStation. My dormant profile went active online, showing those on my friends list that I signed in.

Those on my friend's list were my group, and Stan. Mike was using Nintendo a lot lately, but he had a PlayStation too. I needed to add him.

Georgie was online, playing barred up in his room waiting for Henrietta to go rescue him. Every Christmas he escaped to her house to bar himself up with her until Michael and I joined them, for a horror flick marathon. We all brought DVD's, treating the holiday like another Halloween.

"Have your movies picked out?" Georgie messaged me.

At no point in all of December did it occur to me to pick out what DVDs I wanted to bring. I didn't plan to go with everything that happened. Our tradition...I was expected to participate. I was considered part of the group again.

Xxxxx

"Christmas is the most conformist holiday. Spend money and smile, pretend you love people. As if this shit from Macy's means anything. Insults take more thought than this."

One of Henrietta's aunts mailed her a gift. Inside was some fluffy gray blanket with a holiday tag. Her mother dropped it off in her room before going back to watch Bradley open his gift.

"At least it's a nice blanket. Looks warm." I reasoned, not very invested. "She could have sent you some stale gingerbread house kit, or whatever."

"Then you take it. I don't want this shit."

She slid the unwrapped box across the floor, disgusted with its existence.

"Fine. My room's cold, anyways."

Having an aunt send you some generic gift to give the impression that she cared about you was annoying, but there wasn't anything wrong with the blanket. This would go nicely on my bed. May as well take it if it would just go in the garbage otherwise.

"It's time to watch movies!" Georgie flipped through the channels until he got to the screen for the DVD player. "Who's picking the first one?"

"Honor's yours, Kid." Michael grunted. "Go nuts."

Our tradition was meant to be a rejection of Christmas, but for Georgie it was his Christmas. He shuffled through the DVD's he brought, taking only a moment to decide.

"Child's Play? Retro." Henrietta noted.

"But, a classic." I approved as Michael went to hit the lights. "Good one."

Moving to her bed, Henrietta laid on her stomach. Georgie followed her up there with the remote. I chose to stay on the floor, sitting against the wall behind them. There was a pile of pillows there, and it was less crowded than her bed.

The lights went out and Michael slid down to the floor next to me. A foot of space separated us. This was our spot every year. I'd only occupy it for two movies this time...three max. I'd have to come up with some excuse why I couldn't stay for the whole thing.

After the first movie, Georgie followed Henrietta to the kitchen. His stomach gurgled and growled towards the end of the film, which she could hear.

"Mom made trays of brownies, we'll snag one. Don't make eye contact with anyone if you don't want to talk."

Michael went through the first movie without a cigarette. He was still a foot away from me, legs stretched out in front of him but not leisurely. His designated ash tray was left on the other side of the room, cigarettes and lighter tucked away in his trench coat.

"Don't you need smokes to get through this?" I asked him as he showed no sign of reaching for his cigarettes.

"I'd rather get through this without you needing your inhaler."

"My last asthma attack was mostly because I was sick." I left out the crying that took place. "I already couldn't get air in."

Staring at some spot across the room, he adjusted the cuffs to his coat. Henrietta and Georgie were already over the fact that I gave up smoking. Michael was still adjusting. He was the one who got me started smoking as kids.

"I can smoke later."

"I'll move if you want to." I offered.

"I don't want it that bad."

He wanted that cigarette. Michael was grinding his teeth.

"It's not a big deal. Michael, just smoke. "

"Didn't I say no?"

I couldn't take Michael's snippy, short attitude right now. I forced myself to come for the sake of keeping peace. I wouldn't stay if he kept it up.

"Don't have to be a prick about it."

"I'm doing it for you."

"If you open the window, it won't bother me."

Taking the advice, which was common sense, Michael went and smoked by the window. I'm convinced he just didn't want to move, he wanted to sit next to me. I wouldn't want to sit next to him if he was going to be a dick.

One smoke should hold him over until I leave. Then he can blow through the whole pack. The cold air from outside blew in, and I used the gray blanket to shield myself from it.

"Now you're cold."

"How about you don't worry about me? I'm a big boy. I can worry about myself."

He glowered at me, but that was it.

"Dog pile on Pete!"

Georgie rushed in and jumped on top of me. The cushions I was on took most of the impact. Henrietta had the brownies, having the decency to snicker seeing Georgie tackle me. All one hundred twenty pounds of him.

"You're not very heavy. That was a weak dog pile."

"Hold on, let me put the brownies down." Henrietta joked. "We'll do a real one."

"Let's not, and say we did."

The room was cold as Michael puffed on his cigarette with window still open to air it all out. Henrietta took the opportunity to smoke too. Georgie burrowed his way under the blanket with me, trying to escape the cold as fast as he could.

"Why is the window open!" he wailed.

"Pete's asthma's been acting up."

"You're okay, right?"

I nodded.

"I can breathe better without cigarette smoke." I told him. "I'm glad I quit."

"I should quit. My mom yells at me all the time."

Michael flicked his bud out in the snowbanks below.

"Great." He snapped, bitterly. "Let's all start worrying about our health. Like it makes a difference. We're all gonna die, anyways."

Georgie cowered in closer to me, slightly. Henrietta blew smoke at Michael.

"Does it look like I care about my health? Chill. Have a brownie."

"Unless your mom started baking them with pot, I'm not interested."

"Georgie, you want a corner piece or a middle piece?"

The corners were chewy, which were my favorite. Georgie wanted a gooey center piece. Henrietta handed them over on napkins so Georgie could stay under the blanket. Michael shut the window, sitting on Henrietta's bed now that Georgie was in his spot.

"What are we watching next?" He asked through a mouth of chocolate crumbs.

"It sounds like you need a glass of milk, first." I commented.

Henrietta asked Georgie if he wanted Milk after I said it.

"Yes, please."

"I'll get it."

Another big bite and Georgie had a smidge of chocolate on his face. I wiped it away with my thumb, no big deal. He mumbled a meek thank you but couldn't bring himself to look at me because from over my shoulder, Michael shot him a dirty look.

xxxxx

Mom left the Christmas tree plugged in before she left to go to her sister's house. It was the only light on in the empty house when I opened the front door. This tree looked out of place in my house, even on Christmas.

The older I got, the less these holidays mattered. She put the tree up to put the presents under for me, but that was the extent of it. Christmas morning was her time of the year to remind me that I was her kid, no matter what her tumor of a spouse had to contribute to our family.

Christmas...why did it take Christmas to be remembered? It was better when I was smaller. Back when Dad was human enough for Mom to tolerate him. The years it wasn't so obvious that they resented each other and were only together for my sake.

Look how far that got us all.

Mike would be over within the hour, so I pushed the issue out of mind. He'd gone caroling with his friends and family. Guaranteed to be in high spirits. Can't rain on his parade with my dysfunctional family. I'd already threatened to vandalize the Hot Topic if he brought the singing troupe to my house.

Music still drifted in from outside later. One voice. Just one.

"Do do do do doo, do do do do doo~" It sang from outside my window. "Do do do do doo~"

I pulled it open, looking down from the second floor to Mike standing in the snow alone with a wrapped gift.

"Where are you, Christmas? Why can't I find you? Why have you gone away?" His unsurprisingly melodic voice sang to me. "Where is the laughter you used to bring me? Why can't I hear music play?"

"My world is changing. I'm rearranging." I sang back to humor him.

"Does that mean Christmas changes, too?" Mike smiled.

His warm breath was visible in the brisk air. It was pretty cold out. A cold, white Christmas.

"I didn't know you could sing." Mike said. "You should have come along with us, earlier."

"Christmas miracles don't actually happen, Mike."

"I'd settle for being invited inside."

He held up the gift as a bargaining chip.

"That's your offer? Looks legit."

I went to meet Mike at the front door, hurrying down the stairs to get him out from the cold. I missed the last step, cussing and stumbling forward to catch myself on the banister.

"Damn it-"

Shaking it off, I let Mike inside.

"Did you trip?" Was the first thing he asked

"...oh, you heard that?"

"I'd ask if you're okay, but you're standing. So, I'm taking it as you didn't hurt yourself."

Nothing hurt. Only my pride, slightly, because Mike overheard my mishap.

"I caught myself. Less of a trip and more of a stumble..."

"Your house is so dark, baby bat. You aren't here all by yourself on Christmas, are you?"

"Not anymore."

The Christmas tree must have stood out like a sore thumb to Mike too, because he glanced at it and then around the living room. Bland as oatmeal and not very festive at all.

"Does your family celebrate somewhere else?"

"Since Mom hosts Thanksgiving here, her sister hosts Christmas."

"Your parents leave you here all by yourself?"

That deeply bothered Mike. He pitied me like I was some homeless little orphan left out in the cold.

"I choose to stay here." I corrected, which didn't please him much more.

"Did you at least eat Dinner with your parents before they left?"

"Do you want to go upstairs?"

Quieting his concerns, Mike retired with me to my room. It was too deep in to Winter for his heeled-bottom boots. On his feet were a different pair of leather boots- flat, and more appropriate for the weather. Good, I didn't want him breaking an ankle or something. One patch of ice is all it would take and Mike would land himself in the Emergency Room.

Mike put my gift next to the one he rightly presumed was his. I wrapped his with black paper and a green ribbon...his was wrapped in black paper with a red ribbon.

"I'm noticing a theme, here." Mike appraised the color schemes.

"The black and green must've reminded me of you. I didn't realize what I'd done until after it was already wrapped."

It was so quiet. Nothing was on but the heater. The silence in my house that night wasn't peaceful, it was stale. Like a morgue.

"You're sweeter than anyone gives you credit for, Pete." A loose floorboard eerily creaked under Mike's foot. "...Now, who could leave my sweet bat here all alone?"

"I hate Thanksgiving, Christmas with my family is worse. I've told you, I'm here by myself all the time. I can handle it."

"Don't you get lonely?"

"Mike, I'm okay. You're here, don't worry about it."

Taking off his gloves, Mike folded them over and tucked them away inside his coat before taking that off, too.

"What kind of boyfriend would I be if I didn't worry?"

I was going to answer that and throw Stan under the bus, but that wasn't entirely true. It was mostly true. It shouldn't have been true, at all.

"Worry any longer and Christmas will be over before you can open what I got you." I reached past Mike to grab his gift. "Other than my Mom, you're the only person I got anything for."

I set it in front of him, ending this side-tracked conversation.

"You and your friends don't exchange Christmas gifts?"

Picking up his gift, Mike tilted it one way and the other inspecting it.

"Why am I going first?"

"Because I want you to. Any more questions, Detective Makowski?"

Mike unwrapped the green ribbon. Using his nail to get under a bit of wrapping paper, he gently tore along the edge.

"Sarcasm isn't very jolly."

"I don't know how to turn it off."

"...pft." Mike laughed. "Have you tried?"

"It's a part of my personality, at this point."

Moving the wrapping paper aside revealed a black, leather-bound notebook with blank unlined pages made of parchment paper.

"This is gorgeous, Pete. Where did you find it?"

"I special ordered it from a witch shop in Salem, Massachusetts. It's meant to be used for writing down spells." I explained. "They call it a book of shadows, but, I thought you might like it for drawing."

I played my cards right, Mike loved it.

"I almost don't want to use it, this is beautiful." he opened the book to admire the pages. "I've wanted one of these forever now. Thank you~"

Mike gave me my gift, which was much lighter than what I'd given him. Opening it up, there was a box with a lid. I lifted it not knowing what to expect.

"You got me a new choker?"

This piece of jewelry looked like the one I was wearing, except it was red ribbon with black lace woven in with it. The charm was silver pendant, with a red blown-glass rose encased in a clear glass dome.

"Do you like it?"

"Of course."

This was more on the feminine side, more than what I was already wearing. But, it was a stunning gothic-style choker. The one I was wearing wasn't the most masculine thing, ever, this one would look fine.

"Are you sure? If you want to exchange it, I can show you where I picked it out."

"Why would I exchange it?" I asked, wondering if Mike was second-guessing whether I'd wear it because it was girly and more his style.

"All that matters to me is that you wear it. I wouldn't want you to wear something you don't like."

"I promise I like it. This is really nice. Thank you."

Taking it out of the box, Mike offered to put it on me. Oh...I couldn't say no or he'd take it the wrong way.

I had to take off Stan's...and, I had to do it right now.

Thinking fast, I turned my back to him and unclipped it. Mike reached around me to lace the new one around my neck. He aligned it towards the top of my neck where the other one had been.

"You wear it here, right?"

"Yeah." I inconspicuously used my phone screen to make sure everything was covered. "Right there."

Mike clipped it in place. I was holding my breath the whole time, letting it go when I heard the clasp click.

Safe.

"Red is more your color." Mike wrapped his arms around me. "It's also my favorite."

"If it's your favorite, then why is your hair green?"

Wouldn't it make more sense to dye your hair the color you like most?

"I never wanted you to think I was copying you. You wear it better, anyways."

xxxxx

My mom didn't feel like driving home, telling me she was staying at my aunt's. She asked if my dad returned home yet, to which he didn't. Wearing a pair of my pajamas, Mike appointed himself my companion for the evening.

"My bed's not a king, but make yourself comfortable." I patted down the empty half of my full-sized bed.

"Doesn't matter how big your bed is, I like being close to you."

Mike's bed could fit another person between us, and he chose to sleep close to me. My smaller bed didn't make a difference. We'd drifted off some time before midnight, woken up by the sound of the doorbell hours later in the dead of night.

It rang once. Then, again. Each ring was more impatient than the last.

"...Who the hell is ringing your door bell?" Mike asked, heavy with sleep. "What time is it?"

He was groggy, but that hold he had on me was tight when I tried sitting up.

"It's my dad." I withheld a yawn, assuring him it wasn't some stranger. "Shit, now I have to call Mom..."

"Why?"

"She told me I'm not supposed to let him in...he's not welcome here these days."

The comforting thing to do was to urge Mike back to sleep. With the doorbell going off, that was impossible. So, I didn't.

Mike scratched at the small of my back as I sat up and prayed for Mom to wake up and answer her cellphone.

"Pete?" She answered after a few rings, rightfully alarmed to get a call at this hour. "What is it?"

"Dad's out front, spamming the doorbell..."

"Ugh. Did that asshole wake you up?"

"Uh-huh...do I just let him in since you're not home? I have Mike over and I don't want to make him listen to this for the next hour, or however long it takes for him to give up."

There was some agitated muttering on her end.

"Go let him in so you and your friend can sleep." She instructed me, hating that she had to do it. "That man is in for it when I get home later."

"Okay. Night, Mom."

"Goodnight, Pete. If he bothers you again, call me."

Flipping the sheets off, I told Mike to stay put.

"I'll go let him in so you can go back to sleep. Mom's going to deal with him when she gets home later."

Going downstairs sleepy, I missed the last step again. This time, I didn't catch myself and I fell the short distance to the ground.

"Pete?" Mike called out.

"One sec." I called back.

Effectively pissed off, I opened the door for my dad without saying a word to him and went straight back up the stairs. He was stumbling around and talking to himself, trying to wrangle himself out of his coat but not having any idea as to what he was doing. I let him battle it out, getting back in bed.

"I heard you fall, are you alright?"

"Stupid last step is trying to kill me."

Mike pulled my head in to his chest, holding me there.

"Clumsy, clumsy little bat."

"I'm having an off day. I am not clumsy."

"Sounds like your dad is."

Dad was in the living room making a commotion without a care to the fact it was two in the morning and I was in the house trying to sleep. Mike's car was parked outside on the street. Dad either was far too drunk to notice I had someone over, or he didn't care.

"…is your dad drunk?" Mike asked, hearing him talking to himself brokenly and bumping in to what sounded like the wall.

"Extremely."

"Should we keep an eye on him until he sobers up?"

"Nope. He does this all the time. Leave him."

There was a really loud thud, followed by a crash and a cussing fit worthy of a sailor. Mike jumped in horror.

"Pete."

"He tripped over the coffee table and flipped it because it pissed him off."

"...he's done this before?"

"I'm really sorry about this. I didn't think he was going to come around, tonight..."

This would be an uncomfortable breakfast talk later. Mike stays at my house for the first time, and Dad barges in with a blood alcohol level higher than his IQ. He had a drunken fit downstairs, tiring himself out and collapsed somewhere on the living room floor, or couch.

Xxxxx

Dad's late-night rude awakening to us was paid back in full when Mom's key turned the locked sometime before eight in the morning. She didn't mean to punish Mike and I in the process, but all hell broke loose when she saw the living room.

Dad managed to break the coffee table, this time. And, the coat rack. He tracked in dirty slush on his shoes, leaving a mess of foot prints on the carpet. Mike and I got up, brushed our teeth, combed our hair, and left with our boots and coats over our pajamas.

Parked in the Dunkin Donuts lot, I bit in to a toasted bagel with cream cheese and reached for my coffee. Mike had an egg white English muffin sandwich. Between us on the dashboard as a box of munchkins we were picking from.

"Are you safe at home?"

"Ew, you sound like your dad."

"Are you safe at home, Pete?"

"My dad doesn't put his hands on me."

Mike believed me, to a point. It had to be his protective nature.

"Promise?"

"Yes."

"Look at me."

Detaching because I was already over it, I leaned away when Mike's made an attempt to turn me by the chin.

"Have you ever seen a bruise on me? You've seen me naked."

"I haven't seen you naked your whole life. Has he put your hands on you before I came along?"

"He hardly accepts that I exist. Can't hit what you don't see."

To comfort me, Mike rubbed the side of my neck with the back of his hand.

"You'd tell me if something was seriously wrong, wouldn't you?"

"Your dad hasn't told you about my house?"

"...legally he isn't allowed to."

"Like that matters. I know you've asked. You can't help yourself."

There'd been enough screaming matches between my parents to bring the snow off the Colorado mountains tumbling down. Child Protective Services hovered around years back, looking for a reason to intervene. With no marks or willing me to talk, there wasn't much else they could do.

"He said there were some noise complaints, but everything was under control...he didn't overlook anything did he?"

"I'm sitting here in one piece, aren't I? My parents hate each other. None of that mess is directed at me."

Mike quit while he was ahead, understanding that what little I'd shared with him was more than I wanted to.

"...still need you to look at me."

When I turned, he kissed my forehead.

"I have this urge to protect you." he plucked a crumb off my shirt, flicking it away. "Why do you insist on fighting it, stubborn little bat?"

"Because I can protect myself."

"Putting up a wall locks you in with your demons. Something to consider."

I deflected Mike's words of wisdom with a bold-faced lie.

"My demons and I get along fine."

xxxxx

I was sure Mom and Dad's episode of Jerry Springer would be long over by the time we went back, but it had just ended. Dad shoved past me as I stepped in. Mike was right behind me, in Dad's path. I stepped back, guarding Mike with my arm, keeping him out of his way.

"Excuse you." I snapped.

"I'm too tired to give a shit about you and your faggy little friend."

My Dad never said anything nasty like that to me before-He was passive aggressive at best. I was more offended than Mike was.

"Let it go." He whispered, urging me to go in.

"He-"

"Isn't worth it."

A lot went down while we were gone. The living room was still trashed. The Christmas tree got in to a fight with someone and lost.

The whole thing was knocked over on its side. Ornaments were scattered everywhere, some broken. Worst of all, Mom was on her knees clutching something and weeping.

"Mom?"

In her hands was the tree topper. The angel's wings were broken, pieces amongst the ornament fragments. Her precious angel reduced to shards like the cheap beer bottles she hated so much.

"Pete..." she sniffled, doing all she could to talk evenly. "Take your friend upstairs. The living room is a disaster."

She looked down to the broken angel in her hands and her diaphragm quivered.

"I have to clean this up."

"You're going to cut yourself...put that down." I tried taking it from her.

"...I bought this the year you were born." Mom's voice cracked. "He broke it."

Mom wasn't a cryer. She didn't show much emotion besides apathy and anger at home because she was faced with Dad...he cracked her right along with that angel.

It was enough to twist at my heart strings. They were knotted. Mom was crying…shit, Mom was crying.

"Here." I pushed her hands down gently so she'd place the broken tree topper on the carpet. "Leave that there. Go take a nap."

"I can't. The carpet and the living room-"

"I'll clean this up. I don't mind."

Exhausted, Mom let me bring her upstairs. She couldn't have gotten much sleep, otherwise she wouldn't have complied. She was here so early and had to have gone to bed late.

Mom worked so much to keep this house running. She didn't need this bullshit.

"I'm going to be cleaning this shit up." I got a garbage bag and a dustpan from the kitchen, getting down on my knees to start sifting through all this broken debris. "You can grab your stuff from my room, Mike. I'll text you later tonight."

Mike got down on his knees with me.

"I'm not leaving you with all this." he lifted a cracked ornament by the hook, which then came off and completely shattered between us. "What do you need me to do?"

"If you see anything that remotely looks like it belongs to the angel, put it in the dustpan." I dropped broken ornaments in the garbage bag, carefully resting a piece of wing aside. "Everything else that's broken is being tossed."

We picked up as much as we could before accepting everything else was too ground in to the carpet to be salvaged. I took apart the tree and stored it and the ornaments that survived down in the basement. Mike ran the vacuum around the living room after treating the carpet with cleaner.

We worked in a tunnel-vision frenzy, restoring Mom's living room back from the domestic hurricane that blew through it. That was the easy part.

"I don't even know why I'm doing this." At the kitchen table with a tube of super glue, I put the big chunks back on to Mom's angel tree topper. "You can see the cracks through the glue."

"Some paint, and this will be as good as new."

"I can't paint to save my life."

"But, my mother can."

My art teacher cradling my vase like a baby didn't seem to strange to me anymore on the car ride to Mike's. Every bump in the road drove my blood pressure up a point. This innocent inanimate object was glued, the pieces weren't budging. But, I was scared to breathe on it.

Mike's mother was dusting when we approached her with one of the few sentimental objects my mother treasured. I was going to hand this over. What choice did I have? I could still hear mom weeping.

"Mommy, Dearest." Mike chimed. "We need your help with something."

"What can I do for you, my sweet boy?"

Gesturing to me, Mike showed her.

"That angel is lovely. Is it yours, Pete? What happened to it? She's all cracked."

"This is my mother's…she loves it and my dad broke it." I explained. "I glued it back together."

"I could touch her up. A little paint would cover all that."

I reluctantly handed it over, trusting that Mike got his artistic abilities from his mother. Which he did. She painted the angel, keeping it as close to its original state as she could. It stood drying in their den for hours before it was safe to transport back.

The day after Christmas was supposed to be laid back. People get over the hype, take deep breath and go on with their lives. I couldn't take that deep breath until the angel was safely placed on my dresser.

xxxxx

There was rustling and footsteps when I woke up the next morning. The sound of closets and drawers being opened and closed. Mom was going through the bathroom drawers and the hallway closet that dad used, dumping everything he owned in to cardboard boxes and garbage bags.

"…what's going on?"

"I've had enough. That ungrateful leech has no respect for anybody, or anything." A stack of ratty shirts and old jeans were chucked in to a bag. "There are cancers easier to deal with than him."

A flask and some other miscellaneous junk was dumped in the box. It kept going. Novelty bottle openers, his high school year book. Tons of CD's.

"I can't do this anymore with him. I can't have nice things, I can't have peace. If he likes that hussy so much, she can have him. He ruins everything."

That angel he smashed was the straw that broke the camel's back. Mom reached her limit. She asked me to help her move Dad's shit to the garage where he could come get it when he decided to show his face again.

Before I went back to my room, she thanked me for cleaning up the wrecked living room. Mom said it was a shame the tree topper had to be tossed in the trash.

"About that…" I stepped back in to my room and came back out.

"…you didn't throw her away. She's fixed." Astonished, Mom took it from me. "Did you do this?"

"I glued her back together. Mike's mom painted all the cracks. She tried to her best to restore the original colors."

Mom turned the angel in her hands with fondness. It was as old as me.

"I thought this was gone forever." Tears sprouted in Mom's green eyes, which she wiped away. "Thank you, Pete. I'm going to keep her in my room."

Mom stopped trying to hug me when I was ten. I had an unspoken "hands-off" policy to which she abided by the last eight years. I didn't reject her when she hugged me. The hug was awkward, but I didn't mind.

…I didn't mind.

My parent's impending separation was long overdue. No one was going to jump for joy over it, but no one was jumping for joy now either.

"You have more gifts to open, they're in the car." Mom reminded me. "I'll put my shoes on and get them for you."

Mom thanked herself for not bringing them in yesterday morning. They may have been collateral damage in the middle of all that happened. My grandparents gave me a card with money in it, and another glass blow trinket for my desk. This one was a skull.

My aunt got me another mug to add to my collection.

"If you can read this, leave me alone." The black mug read in white letters. The bottom of the cup had a middle finger.

"Your Aunt knows you well." Mom examined the mug. "This was made for you."

"I'll treasure it always."

"I'll tell her you liked it-" She paused, looking up towards the ceiling. "…did you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

I looked up, trying to hear what it was she was tuning in to.

"I thought I heard something upstairs."

"I didn't hear anything." I told her truthfully but I listened for footsteps, just in case.

"This house creaks something awful in the Winter."

We didn't hear anything and let it go. My aunt sent me chocolate with the mug. I took them with me to my room to try later. Hand on the doorknob, I laid my ear on the door.

Nothing moved. The house did squeak and creak, that's all it was.

So, I thought.

Not wise to count all your chickens before they hatch. I should have opened the door before coming to any conclusions.

xxxxxx



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