KEITH WANTED to throw the tire iron through the window of the piece-of-shit car that was all he could afford, but dropped it into the trunk instead. The fucking vehicle was rusted through in a dozen places, and now had a flat. Even worse, he had left a long day of work to discover the snowplows had buried his car in a coffin of gray-and-brown slush that had refrozen into frigid granite. Merry fucking Christmas. It was always something. He hated the holidays.

Glaring at the latest insult from the season of ice and bitchy children, he was swimming in anger and deep sadness. There was no way he could change the ice-encased tire. Money was tight. A wrecker wasn’t in his budget. Thirty-year-olds should have plans beyond working at the mall bookstore and being too short on cash to have someone change their damn tire.

He glared at the car as if that would correct the problem. Oddly enough it didn’t seem to give a shit.

You need help?”

Keith glanced up to find the twentysomething who worked at the coffee place looking at him. Coffee was Keith’s drug of choice, and the kid was a frequent customer of the graphic novels in Keith’s bookstore—a favorite section for Keith too. Dammit, what is his name? Owen? Oliver? Open? No, Austin.

Hey, Austin. Yeah. I have a fucking flat and the plows buried the car. Now it’s frozen solid.” The wind picked up and cut through Keith’s clothing like a chef’s new knife.

Austin moved closer, not seeming as affected by the cold, and kicked at the blocks of ice wedged against the tires. “I’ve got a shovel and tow strap in my Jeep. We can pull you out.”

A wave of relief washed over Keith as Austin trotted to a late-model Jeep Wrangler, dug through a back compartment, and came back shortly with a few pieces of equipment. He used a small shovel to chip away the ice from the tire. He looked like a champion ice-eating beaver from the way the chips and bits flew. After a minute Keith felt guilty he was letting a relative stranger do all the work.

Hey, do you want me to dig awhile?”


Nah, man. I got it.” Austin chuckled a little. “Well, I got it until I get tired. Then I’ll swap with you.”