**An ongoing treat for the holidays. Apologies in advance for typos - this is just for fun. Thanks for reading!**
A Dartmoor Christmas
“I thought you meant a BB gun.”
Mercy snorted. “What’s that good for?”
“Well, it’s probably good for five-year-old boys whose mothers don’t want them to shoot themselves in the foot.”
The gun rested on the kitchen table, and as an objective appreciator of firearms, Ava could admit that it was a pretty piece. Mercy had come home with a Ruger 10/22, just like the one he’d used to shoot gators while hunting with his father when he was a boy. Shiny-dark blue and glossy wood, Ava could smell the metal and oil.
She propped her hands on her hips and glanced over at her husband. He’d brought the gun into the house with joy on his face…a joy that was rapidly dimming as she questioned the gift.
“Baby,” she said, “I know that your heart’s in the right place.” And a vulnerable one, too, because he’d only just started being able to talk about his dad again after the crippling truth of Colin’s parentage had come out. “But Remy is five.”
Mercy stared at her. He shrugged. “So?”
She bit her lip to keep from smiling. “Well…I’m not sure a real gun’s an appropriate present for a five-year-old.”
He made a face, dark brows tilting in at angles, mouth tugging up hard to one side. “Aw, come on. It’s not like I won’t supervise.” But there was a note in his voice that told her he’d pack the thing away for a future Christmas if she insisted.
He leaned in close, closer, a smile threatening, she could see it teasing at his lips.
Ava raised a hand, palm toward him. “Now wait a minute.”
His smile bloomed, wide and toothy. “Wait for what?”
“I’m not susceptible to your intimidation tactics.”
“Mm…beg to differ.”
He was getting even closer, looming over her, crowding her. She lowered her hand with a sigh. “Mercy.”
“Fillette.” He darted the last half-inch and kissed her, chuckling low and dark when he pulled back a fraction, still close enough she couldn’t see his eyes clearly. Only the deep brown and the sparkle of mirth. “Let him have the gun. We’ll put it up and not let him use it until you think he’s ready.”
She was caving. Of course she was, curse the man. “Fine. But you have to give it to him in secret and not let Cal know.” Because Remy was mature enough to wait, but Cal wouldn’t be.
He kissed her again. “You’re incredible, you know that?”
She wasn’t, but he thought she was, and that’s what counted.
Christmas had always been a modest, precious thing during Mercy’s childhood. Gator-hunting wasn’t exactly a profitable profession, and Mercy hadn’t been able to earn odd paychecks here and there in town until he was twelve – and that was only because he’d looked seventeen, all shoulders and massive hands. Some of the magic faded at that point, when he was being influenced by New Orleans at large, and Colin’s gang of idiot friends. The Great Disillusionment with the rest of the world, he thought.
But before then, when he was still just an awkward homeschooled boy, he had the kind of sparse, perfect, Truman Capote Christmases that put a lump in his throat when he looked back on them now.
He was seven when Daddy gave him his first gun. A Colt .22 Magnum. Secondhand, but lovingly cared for and cleaned. He could remember the way their tiny tarpaper house looked decorated in strands of cheap colored lights and magnolia branches. Gram had a pine-scented candle, big as her head, that sat on a spare plate in the living room window. She burned it in the evenings every year in December, and carefully packed it away in an old towel when the tree came down, wick trimmed and ready to be lit again the next year.
The tree was always an adventure. Daddy would take Mercy with him in the truck, to Carl’s Tree Lot, where trucked-in firs sat leaning against a split rail fence, red and white and green ribbons tied to their branches to signify their prices. “Which one looks good, Felix?” Daddy would ask. “Which one do ya think?” Mercy watched in awe as he hefted a big red-tagged tree into his brawny arms like it was a stick of firewood. It was never a beautiful tree – needles missing, gaps in the branches, mangled tops – but to Mercy’s young eyes, they were breathtaking.
He sat now in the living room of his own house, the one he shared with his family, staring at their tree loaded with colored lights and a ridiculous amount of glass balls, clip-on birds, winged angels, and Harley-themed ornaments. He allowed his eyes to swim out of focus, dazzled by the lights, and breathed deep the scents of fir, and dinner, and Millie’s No More Tears shampoo where her small head was tucked beneath his chin. She slept soundly, breathing with her whole body, fragile as a baby bird in his hands. And he could remember exactly the feel of his father’s strong arms around him, the smell of swamp and Old Spice in the strong column of his throat. The roughness of his Carhartt shirt and the gentleness of his butcher’s hands. He remembered the inexpert wrap-job on the shoebox Daddy had set the Colt in. Remembered the strong smell of gun oil and WD-40 that came wafting out when he lifted the lid. Sting of tears in his eyes, joy stuck in his throat. And “I love you, son, Merry Christmas” in his ear.
He blinked and his vision cleared. Ava stood in the doorway, shoulder propped against the jamb, in her leggings and socks and a shirt she’d stolen from him. She held a mug between her hands and had her head tilted at an angle, studying him, the picture he made on the couch with Millie lying on his chest.
“Come here,” he said, and thought his voice was a little rough.
She didn’t comment, just moved to sit beside him, snuggling in with her head on his shoulder and her legs drawn up beneath her. Mercy put an arm around her, wanting her even closer; he’d tuck her in between his ribs if he could.
“What do you want for Christmas?” he asked her.
“Nothing,” was her automatic answer.
Well, that wouldn’t fly. He had some shopping to do.
To Be Continued...