Fiction Friendship Christmas

This story contains sensitive content

(This short story features characters from 'Missing' and is a partial continuation of the plot)

CONTENT WARNING: References to mental health, physical abuse, and substance abuse.

Ryker stared at me from the couch as I raveled my scarf around my neck. After everything settled down with the cops months ago, he’d condemned himself to our place full-time. I wasn’t sure if he’d done if for his safety, or if he’d done it out of fear. No one knew where the man who’d taken him had gone off to. Though his disappearance hit all the major news outlets, questions remained unanswered.

He’d given detectives any details he could muster, but leads died off, and so did his hope. Reporters who’d loved to stick their noses in places they didn’t belong poured salt in his healing wounds, and I’d done what I could to keep him sane through it all. We’d even gone as far as to consider moving somewhere else, but too much reached the media for it to make much difference.

“You sure you don’t want to come with me? You haven’t so much as stepped out back in over a week,” I prompted as we made eye contact.

“I’m better here, Ashe,” he refused simply.

“Well…” I trailed off.

“It’s fine!” he whined with a wave of his hand. “Taking me with you will defeat the purpose of shopping in peace. The vultures are still after me.”

I rose my eyebrows.

“You know? The reporters. Can’t let a story die off if their lives depended on it. Don’t know why,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders. “I’ve never been anything special.”

“…If you say so, Ry,” I huffed.

He winked and shot an upturned thumb in my direction. “Besides, busy streets give me the creeps.”

“Then, how do you expect to get any shopping done for the holidays?”

He shrugged. “I’ve only got one person I care about enough for that. Everyone else can suck eggs and gag on fruit cake for all I care.” He threw himself back to rest his head on the couch’s arm.

I snorted.

“Enjoy your time out. If the media bothers you, just scream. Not at them. Animal noises.”

I shook my head without responding and headed out to the town. Christmas sang through the streets, and snow covered every inch. The place looked like the most wintery of wonderlands despite the nagging Ry and I suffered from tabloids and media. I hoped Christmas would give him a break—make him smile more than he forced just to keep me off his back.

He deserved something more than the normal gifts we’d ever exchanged; socks, random clothes we mentioned in passing, blankets, an occasional deck of cards were all too plain. The guy survived near-death, and I’d been the only one to care about it.

“But he’s simple,” I sighed to myself as I began to look around.

That wasn’t an insult. Very few things were needed to keep Ryker happy. So long as he had a deck of cards, a thick blanket, and my company, he was satisfied. Growing up without much, he’d learned to make himself happy with what he had.

Me, I thought. Maybe it’s me.

I breathed, staring at the hot gust in front of me. Part of me felt narcissistic for thinking about it that way. Yet, I knew that I’d become the most important person in his life. The rescues, never giving up when he needed someone to believe in him most, the consistent late nights of stumbling to my place for security…

“Me,” I said aloud. “it’s me.”

The crowds thickened the closer it got to noon as all the small stores threw their windows and doors open. Random conversations and cheerful laughter passed me consistently as I continued to search. The gift had to be something personal—a thanks for thanks. I wanted Ryker to know I saw him just as much as he saw me.

Since he stayed sober and stuck to being home—on the rare occasion he went out at night—by eight, I felt he was entitled to his recognition. All good work was promised to pay off, and he needed to know as such.

Ryker, Ryker, Ryker, tsked in my head.

Three weeks of fevers and shaking to prove something to me I never asked for. Another week tormented him with jitters and anxiety. Then, by the time we’d hit a month of being back together, he wanted everything to be normal. He wanted to be left alone by strangers wishing him well after such a terrible ‘incident.’

“No one cared about me before,” he’d complained, “so why do I matter now? I mean, I was seen as town scum. In fact,” he’d laughed, “that was what they’d all called me at one point.”

As sad as it was, he’d been right. Ryker stumbled and slurred his way to infamy during his drunken nights. Bar to bar, he’d traveled for just one more. None of the owners bothered to think further than his money or stick their noses up in disgust as the town drunk and junkie reappeared.

Suddenly, something sparkled and flashed a beam of light into my eye. It caught my attention long enough for me to look over with interest. On a nearby rack, a necklace dangled and spun. Thin and gold with an empty space at the bottom, it beckoned me over.

“Haven’t seen you out and about, Ashe. Been holed up with your partner for quite some time. Though, I can’t say I blame you. Those journalists are pests. When they come around the town, most times, people tell them to screw off. They want you two to be left alone just as much as you do,” the shopkeeper remarked as I slipped my fingers under the chain.

“They haven’t been by the house in a while, but Ryker refuses to leave. The vultures are getting to him more than he’ll admit to me. Secondly,” I glanced at the shopkeeper briefly, “we aren’t together. Just friends.”

The shopkeeper nodded slowly. By the look in his eye, I could tell he doubted that.

The rumors had flown around plenty. A love story after tragedy always made people lose their minds, and the picture was painted without our permission when Ryker’s rescue first made it out onto the streets. Living together, my finding him, staying close after the whole thing… None of it helped end the gossip, but that wasn’t an excuse. Our personal privacy wasn’t meant to be entertainment for the masses.

“You like the chain?” he prompted.

“Yeah,” I twisted the chain until I could study the empty pendant closer, “I do.”

“It’s meant for a picture,” he explained when I continued to stare at the open space.

“A keepsake,” I rephrased.

“Sure,” he shrugged, “whatever you want. Most people snatch it up by now. You give it to someone you care about.”

Carefully, I removed the chain from the rack. “I’ll take it.”

“Wouldn’t suppose you have someone in mind for that.”

If I told him plainly, there was a chance he’d give it over to whoever went sniffing around again. However, if I went without saying, it was even more likely he’d put pieces together that weren’t his to worry about, and the gift would sensationalize anyway.

“Nevermind,” he said quickly. “I ain’t fishing for information. You can buy it for yourself, too.”

“How much?” I allowed the necklace to coil against my palm.

The feel of the metal against my bare skin was icy, but I close my fingers around it with a degree of certainty. It didn’t how much. Ryker would have it, regardless. The shine and elegance screamed his name. He wore jewelry when he wanted to. Most times, it was discreet chains or plain thumb rings, and the chain in my hand fit the bill.

“How much do you want for it?” I asked again when the shopkeeper didn’t respond.

“For you…” he trailed off in thought. “For you, a hundred. You two have been through a lot. Unfortunately, I can’t give it to you for free. I have my own holidays to shop for.”

“I understand.” I dug into my back pocket with my free hand.

After exchanging the money, I carried the chain three stalls over and laid it out on the counter. “You do custom pictures for people, right, Marcie?” I asked quickly before she could greet or question me.

“Uh, yeah…” she affirmed with confusion.



“I need this,” I instructed as I handed her a picture the size of my wallet to her, “put into this,” and gestured to the chain.

It was an older picture of Ryker and I—before he went down the darkest drain society had to offer. His smile gleamed. His coat and scarf were newer then, because I’d had the money to get him something that wasn’t ratty or old. His hair fell into his face just enough to block his right eye, and he had his arm securely wrapped around the back of my neck.

“All it’ll take is some scissors,” she noted.

“So, you’ll do it.”

“Free,” she huffed. “I’ll even make it free. I want you boys to have a nice one.”



Two hours went by quick. I wasn’t sure what Ashe was after, but I knew it had to be something good if he hadn’t been by to at least check on me. Then again, I didn’t mind the alone time. With the media vultures picking at every aspect of my life, he’d been at my side nearly every second. Since it was without ill intentions, I never had it in me to tell him to back off.

So worried about making sure I’d get through fine, he’d forgotten about himself. Christmas shopping gave me the perfect opportunity to send him off. Left and right, he asked what I needed and when, and he never questioned why I refused to go out. I mean, the answers were obvious enough, but we both knew there was more to it. I chose not to think about it and talking brought everything to a light I didn’t want to see.

They hadn’t snatched the guy that tried to do me in, which was a buzzkill. However, with everything that happened, I’d learned lessons the hard way. Sobriety and adding myself to Ashe’s lease kept me out of trouble. I enjoyed it—enjoyed not being laughed at or ridiculed for my choices.

To say the urge to grab a drink never crossed my mind would have been a lie, but it was quickly killed by the idea of being kidnapped and tortured a second time. The second reason, though, was the different way Ashe looked at me. Pride glittered behind his eyes anytime he saw my continued attempts at progress.

I twisted my body until my knees hung over the back of the couch and I stared upside down, and I was nearly startled onto the floor when the front door swung open.

“So, Ry, I’m too excited to hold onto this for another month!” Ashe exclaimed as he slammed the door shut.

I groaned at the sound.

“Don’t give me that,” he ordered. “I promise you’ll like it.”

“Yeah,” I whined, “but obligation now forces me to return the favor.”

“Shut up. That’s not what this is about. Sit up.”

“Tell me what to do again,” I threatened as I readjusted myself, “and we might fight.”

He didn’t acknowledge me. Instead, he took a seat next to me. “Just open it.”

I sighed as I took the neatly ribboned box from him. As I opened it, paper shrouded the contents. I pulled them away without a comment I desperately wanted to make.

“What do you think?” he pressed eagerly as I freed the chain and dangled it in front of my eyes.

“A locket…” I trailed off in disbelief.

“Do you like it?” he asked again.

“Yeah,” I said quietly as I smiled. “It’s us.”

Ashe nodded eagerly. “It’s us.”

I fastened the necklace around my neck and stared the memory in my palm. Though I hadn’t any clue as to how to compete with it, it was the best gift I could have ever gotten.

November 19, 2022 21:20

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Wendy Kaminski
04:41 Nov 29, 2022

I loved how sentimental the gift was between the two of them - perfectly-chosen idea and ending!


Sarah Rich
06:26 Nov 29, 2022

Aw! Thanks! I'm glad you liked it!


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