Coming home for Christmas
“It wasn’t even my idea,” Lex grumbled, dangerously swaying under the weight of the tree, trying to support it so Jack could secure it in an upright position. The first Christmas back in the Mall… the Mall Rats had never bothered with a tree in all these years and now suddenly everyone wanted to decorate one. He never for one minute believed it was all for the kids.The kids didn’t even know what Christmas was… did they? Maybe they were old enough now.
Why had he even agreed to this? Amber’s opinion that they needed muscle power was a weak one in hindsight. Lex suspected that Slade’s excuse of coming down with a flu was a made up one. Right now he wished he had come up with this in time, before the five mile trek into the wilderness and back. This fir tree wasn’t exactly lightweight.
Besides, it’s not like he was the kids’ favorite person in this Mall… so why bother? .
Bray, the one they did like, was busy, of course. Him and Jay… it was strange really, how they always planned something for the city, talked politics. Lex missed the simpler times, a good fight every now and then to clear the air and then everyone minding their own business again.
Now, even though they tried to include him and ask for his opinion, he often felt like an outsider. Politics didn’t really interest him.
Ryan would have understood, only he wasn’t here. Lex missed him, too.
“Just try to hold it still,” Jack grumbled, most of his body covered by the branches. He only needed to hammer in a couple of more fasteners and this tree would be ready for decorating.
He was tired and covered in dirt, but quietly triumphant that he had found this beauty. In a way, he felt this place was still his Mall…his responsibility.
“Hello, anyone in here?”
It’s a simple question, one that should not result in a whole tree landing on the floor, Jack thought as he slowly, one limb at a time, tried to move. Yes, he was still alive. Not counting several fir needles now sticking out of his body, he had even escaped without any greater injuries.
“Jack? Are you alright? Oh man, I’m so sorry…” Lex’s apology and helping hand came a little too late and Jack was prepared to start on what an idiot the other guy was, when the words got caught in his throat. He could now see what had caused Lex to drop a tree on him.
Ryan. Standing there with a concerned expression until Jack took a few steps towards him, then he grinned down at him and Jack widely.
?Sorry, I didn’t mean to make anyone jumpy.? He looked at the incredulous faces of his former tribemates. His friends, they used to be that. Ryan wondered if this place could still be home, could these people still be his friends. He had thought about this many times during the past few months, debating with himself if he should try and make his way back to the city or not. He’d been putting off the decision for so long, almost not making it to the city by Christmas. It had always been his favorite time of the year and even though he had mates at the little mountain village, he wanted to get closure…if nothing more. Make peace with his past, the part of his life he was so rudely yanked out of all these years ago.
He wanted to see if… if anyone had heard of Salene and his baby. If the Mall Rats still lived in the Mall.
He had heard rumors of what part the Mall Rats played in the ending of the Chosen’s regime, the city’s battle against the Technos… and lately, of the new virus. That wasn’t much, each traveller brought contradicting pieces of information But a few months ago, the stories changed.
The city was filling with people again, the trading was good, the market values for wool were going up.
Ryan waited for weeks, the news were still good. He started to make preparations for the travel, dreading that something might change, but when the news from the city still rang of hope and prosperity, he finally decided to come, packed a good bundle of sheepskins and wool and started his journey.
Now, he was at his destination and entirely relieved to see familiar faces.
?We were pretty damn sure you’re dead,? Lex exclaimed, pulling him into a quick hug and Ryan laughed, hugging him back. So at least Lex was still the same guy he used to be.
?Oh it takes a lot to kill me off,? Ryan countered. ?You know that. So ? what’s the tree for? You trying for some new kind of world record here??
?Amber and Trudy thought the kids would want one,? Lex tried to look casual, but it seemed he liked the idea of world records. The tree was, after all, of good proportions.
Ryan nodded. The kids. Was one of them his kid? He didn’t even know if he had a boy or girl. But it seemed rude to outright ask, as if he had only come back to meet his child and not even glad to see these people who were standing in front of him, happy to see him.
?Oh, great, maybe I can help you with setting this thing up? If you let me stay for lunch in return.?
?Sure, that would be cool!? Jack chimed in, but blushed a little after a poignant look from Lex and quickly added. ?I mean, you can help us, of course, after you’ve had something to eat!?
Now that was something Ryan didn’t object to. He followed the other guys into the cafe and accepted a bowl of soup from Jack. It was still warm enough, it must have been lunchtime not long ago.
Somehow, Lex had sneaked off, and his voice now echoed through the Mall, announcing to everyone that he, Ryan, was home. That made him nervous enough to put the bowl onto the table, untouched… his mouth was getting dry. How would he face everyone? Answer the questions? He had so many questions, himself.
From all the people flooding into the cafe, only the girl with the red hair mattered. It was enough that he could look at her, knowing she’s safe and alive, but Salene hurried up to him, unconcerned with the looks from some of the other Mall Rats that she was receiving and pulled Ryan into a hug. ?Oh Ryan, you’re home!?
That evening, Ryan stood on the balcony, watching the stars lighting up, one by one. Maybe his little one had become one of those stars. He…or she… would never be lonely. The thought comforted him. It was such a beautiful starry night, like all the ones in the mountains.
Right then and there he was not sure where his future would lead him, but he knew that if he needed it, he still had the support and love of his friends here. They had welcomed him back like he was family. It was good to know he belonged, even after all the years away from the Mall.
Ryan smiled a little, turning to walk back inside. It was almost time for Jack to turn on the lights on the Christmas tree and for the kids to open their presents. He didn’t want to miss the looks on their faces. And, bad as he was at it, he still wanted to ask Salene for a dance. They had cried enough for today, he wanted to end the night on a good note.