“JINGLE BELLS” blared out from Cole’s phone. Not bothering to leave his pillow, he grabbed the phone from his end table and tossed it across the room. Liz must have changed his ring tone again. Today was Saturday, damn it; he should be able to sleep in.

That was when the doorbell rang.

Right. Saturday. He was supposed to go shopping with Liz.


Cole reached for a pair of jeans, not bothering with the sniff test. Saturdays were his days to slack off. He’d stayed up way too late last night sketching out the idea for the sculpture he wanted to work on later, forgetting he said yes at work yesterday when Liz asked him to go Christmas shopping.

She was just going to have to deal with an unshowered and half-awake Cole. He opened the door and wrinkled his nose at the sight of her. She looked far too perky for zero fuck thirty in the morning, dressed in a pair of trackpants and sneakers, which she somehow made look fashionable. Liz pushed a red sparkly to-go cup in his hand and came inside.

“Bless you.” He took a sip and shook his head. “Mocha?”

“Don’t worry. It’s still got enough caffeine in it to take out an elephant.” She took a sip from her own cup, decorated with silver and gold ornaments. “I know how much you hate mint chocolate, so I spared you the candy cane latte.”

Which must be what was in her cup. Cole made a gagging noise. “I don’t know how you can drink that.”

“Helps keep me in the holiday spirit.”

“Bah humbug,” he muttered. “Give me five minutes. I don’t even know where my hairbrush is.”

He left her in the living room while he went to ransack his bathroom counter. Cole had a system, and it worked during the week when he had to be up early to get to Wilson Elementary School on time. Right now he couldn’t even find his electric razor.

That had somehow ended up on the floor—he probably knocked it over yesterday and didn’t bother to pick it up. Cole ran it over his cheeks a few times and grabbed one of James’s baseball caps. Brushing his hair wouldn’t stop it from sticking up in all directions, and now at least he looked fairly presentable.

Liz was in the process of sorting through his fridge when he came out. “You do plan on grocery shopping at some point?”

He didn’t see the need without James around. “The place downstairs is fine for takeout. Come on, I thought we were going Christmas shopping, not pointing out my failings.”

She made a face. “I’m worried about you, Cole. You’ve been looking tired. And this does not inspire confidence.” She gestured to the state of the kitchen, including the sink full of dirty dishes.

“You know how it is. Getting close to the holidays. Grades are due. Kids are hyper. I honestly can’t wait until it’s all over.”