Reasons to Celebrate (for Lottie)

Ryan was cooking, beans in tomato sauce. This wasn’t really your regular Christmas morning breakfast, but it was breakfast and that was what mattered. He tried not to let Zandra’s harsh words get to him. She had a reason to be upset, it was understandable, he reminded himself. It wasn’t directed at you, she just needed someone to vent to, you got in the way.
After the news of Glenn’s death, he doubted the others even remembered it was Christmas, yet he was determined to make everyone feel a little better, a little more cheerful and a hot breakfast seemed like a good start.
“That smells great!” Trudy gushed as she arrived with Cloe and Patsy, carrying her daughter into the cafe. Finally, someone to appreciate his efforts. The kids, however seemed to have other things on their minds and turned to his companion:
“Salene, KC’s gone!” Patsy announced.

“I’ve told her not to worry,” Trudy quickly responded, but Ryan could see the instant concern on Salene’s face. She wasn’t supposed to worry, not today, so he smiled extra brightly.
“He’ll be back, as soon as he gets a whiff of this! Now, who’s hungry?”

“Of course we are!” Cloe went to grab her plate and brought it over to be filled.
“Not too much, Clo, we’re supposed to practice the dances with Tai San later! If you’re too full, you can’t move!” Patsy said reproachefully, earning herself a withering look from Cloe.
“I don’t care, I want my breakfast.”
“Tai says it’s no harm to skip breakfast, she just drinks her tea.”
“You don’t need to listen to everyone’s opinion!”
“That’s enough, you two! Ryan worked hard on making that breakfast, so you can fight later and eat up now!” Salene put an end to the discussion, earning herself a grateful little smile from Ryan.
“It’s nothing special, really.” For him, however, it was pretty special. He had to wonder, how much time it would take until the others will finally catch on that it’s Christmas.

So after a few hours, he made another meal. Mashed potatoes and gravy this time, a lot more to do with holiday spirit, only no one got to enjoy their meal really, because as soon as Tai San showed up to eat, she fainted. As much as Ryan wanted to believe it was just her empty stomach, he knew better. The kids had heard her coughing earlier that day.

“It’s not gonna get me, no way. I’m not gonna get the virus, no way…I’ll be fine… Nobody’s gonna get it. Everything will be alright…” He muttered to himself, pacing the floor. It didn’t help, really, but his ma had taught him all about the power of positive thinking and he needed that right now, everybody else was looking like they’d already been given the death sentence.

“Stop it, please.” Salene’s voice was soft and low, but it still startled Ryan. He wasn’t aware of having an audience.

“Sorry, I just…” he stuttered, scratching the back of his neck. Salene took this as an invitation to walk into his room.
“Don’t be. We’re all worried about Tai San - and, well, that this could be it, the virus, you know? I wanted to…make sure you’re doing alright.”

He looked up in surprise and now it was Salene’s turn to blush slightly. “I mean, that’s the deal we made, right? To look after each other.”
“Right, course.” Ryan smiled back at her warmly. She was so good and caring towards him it always surprised him. He wasn’t used to it, Lex or Zandra never really took much time to make sure he was doing alright, but maybe that was just the type of person Salene was - best mom around there. Somehow that thought irritated him, it wasn’t the way he wanted her to see him, like a child or a charity project. They were friends.

“Come, sit down.” He motioned towards his bed, once again cursing himself that all the chairs in the room were covered in clothes and boxes.
“I’m alright. Worried, I guess, but I’m not losing the plot if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“I wasn’t!” Salene protested, a little too quickly, then, realizing it herself, shrugged slightly. “Alright, so maybe I was thinking that. You’ve been awfully cheerful lately. And cooking, I mean cooking a lot! So I got worried.”
“I was trying for the opposite, cheer people up, take their minds off what happened to Glenn…
I don’t want any of us to die. I know it could happen, I’m not an idiot. I’m not ready to give up, either.”

Salene considered this for a while, then, when Ryan began to think he had probably said something very off, she finally spoke up: “Do you think the others will get back from Hope Island, really? You heard what they said, how dangerous it is. And it could be all for nothing.”

Now it was Ryan’s turn to think, really think, without putting on a brave face.

“I have to believe that. My best mate is out there and I’m not around to keep him out of trouble, so he better make it back.”
“I hope they find some answers,” Salene sighed and leaned her head against his shoulder.
“Me, too.” Ryan quietly answered. It was the kind of moment he wanted to last forever, so he barely dared to breathe, but he did allow himself a small smile against her fiery hair. Then, as quicky as it had happened, it was over and Salene sat up straight, clearly feeling uncomfortable with the whole situation.

“Sorry, I kind of forgot where I was. I… should go.”
“No, wait!” It was a reflex, more than anything, but now Ryan had to be quick about making up something so she wouldn’t leave and he really wasn’t great at it. He liked to think things through and everyone took him for stupid because of that. He felt a little nervous, asking, but he wanted to keep her around a bit longer.
“I could use some help…with cooking dinner? And decorating?” he pointed at the boxes on the chair. “That is, if you don’t mind.”

“Decorating for what?” Salene asked, her expression a mix of curiousity and concern again.
“Christmas. It’s Christmas Day tomorrow, so I thought we could have a nice meal in the evening and then maybe decorate the rooms, once the little ones have gone to bed,” he answered, revealing a box filled with baubles and lights. “We are still alive, for me that’s enough reasons to celebrate.”
“Oh Ryan, that’s beautiful! Only you would think of something like that,” Salene beamed. “I had completely forgotten - and I think everyone else has, too. I’d love to help!”

“It’s them! They’re back!” Jack’s happy voice suddenly echoed through the silent Mall, causing Ryan and Salene to drop what they were doing.
“Now there’s your Christmas miracle,” Ryan noted.
“Let’s hope there’s another one of those reserved for Tai San.” Salene answered.

For a brief moment, he had managed to make her forget her troubles, this was all she could ask for. Now it was time to face the world again.