**Here’s the next installment in the tale of Cody and Jake!**
I didn’t get much time to talk to Jake, so when he was available, I was glued to my phone. Calls weren’t usually an option, but we had an app that allowed us to message. He was the only one I talked to on it, so my body was cued in to the alert tone. It could wake me from the dead of sleep, or pull me from a work zone out. Which meant I never missed the opportunity to talk to him, since we were working on his schedule.
Being deployed meant he was twelve hours ahead of me in time zone, and busy as hell. When Jake was available, I wanted to be able to speak to him.
But inevitably, the conversations got cut off with him saying abruptly he had to go. Almost always. I expected it, but it was still disappointing when it happened. Tonight had been especially hard, since we’d only gotten a little more than an hour. I tossed my phone onto the coffee table and buried my face in my hands. I wouldn’t cry, but I was frustrated and sad. I missed him so badly. And even though I hated that our conversations were often cut short, at least I knew he was alive and well. That’s what mattered.
“Cody!” The deep voice registered in my brain a second after I realized the front door had opened. I knew I locked it which meant my brother had used his key.
“What are you doing here?” I griped. “And you could have knocked.”
Cole just grinned, and shook something at me. It took a second to recognize my jacket. “Come on. Get bundled up.”
I scowled. “No. What?”
“Yes,” he said, that grin growing even wider. “We’re going to Lights on the Lake. It’s one of the walking nights and we’re going.”
I groaned and flopped backward. No way was I going. It wasn’t that I didn’t love it, because I did. Every year, the Parks and Rec department set up the animated light show along the parkway that ran next to the lake. Most of the time, it was for cars to drive slowly along, with Christmas carols playing on the car’s radio. A few times during the season, they opened it for pedestrians. It was bitterly cold, but so much fun to be walking through the lights.
But I wouldn’t do it without Jake.
“No. Cole, come on. It’s too cold. It’s probably icy. I don’t want to.”
Cole wouldn’t be dissuaded. He was bigger than me, and spent far more time in the gym, so it was easy to grab my arm and haul me to my feet. I protested again and shoved him hard, but he only stumbled back one step. I turned away, but before I could get far, my brother snagged me in a hug.
“I know it sucks, Cody. But come on. You could use a little cheer, and I know deep down you want to.”
“It’s not the same,” I whispered.
Cole squeezed me tightly, then stepped back. “I know. But do it anyway. This is your thing, man. Miss him under the lights, okay?”
I still didn’t want to, and I almost flat out refused. Cole might be pushy–he was my older brother and it was in his job description–but if I really put my foot down, he’d listen. But the look on his face, even when he was trying to grin, let me know he was worried about me. And he had reason to be. I wasn’t myself. How could I be when my heart was half a world away?
So I put on my coat, mittens, scarf, and hat. I pulled on my warmest boots. And I climbed into his monster of a truck for the fifteen minute drive to the lake. I even managed a half smile when he bought me a peppermint mocha and joined the throng of holiday merry makers walking down the path.
As the minutes passed, and the lights twinkled, and the music played, some of my sadness lightened. I would still rather be here with Jake, but watching the kids screech and point as the lights did their thing, exclaim over the jumping reindeer and the dancing trees, hearing the absolute joy that infused the cold, crisp air, something loosened in me and I felt a bit of that holiday spirit creeping in.
We made it to the turn around point, where we’d walk back to the cars through a different set of lights. My breath seized in my lungs as Cole pulled me to a stop. This display had been added last year, a unicorn dressed as Santa, climbing down a chimney. It’s mane was red and green, and it’s horn sparkled gold. I remembered seeing it for the first time with Jake last year, and kissing him hard right on this spot as joy filled me.
Tonight it made me want to cry.
Cole cleared his throat, tossed an arm around my shoulders, and handed me a letter. I cocked an eyebrow at him, but he just tugged me a little closer to the display so that I could read by it’s light.
If you’re reading this, then your brother feels you could do with some holiday cheer. I’m so sorry I’m not there with you this year. I know how hard it is. But remember how much fun you have, looking at the lights? You don’t need me there to enjoy it. It’d be better if I was, for both of us. I can’t be there to feel the cold and see the snow, I’m not there to watch the lights dance in your eyes. So enjoy it for both of us, and when I come home, I want to hear all about it. About how everything feels like magic and holiday cheer. You’ve gotta Christmas for both of us, baby boy. Don’t let me down.
I love you,
I laughed even as I choked on a sob. He was so good at the subtle guilt, but he did it because he knew I needed to hear it. I needed to be reminded he was keeping our country safe while I was at home, pining. So I took a deep breath, and forced myself to take it all in. Cemented it all in my mind so that once he was home, after I kissed him senseless and we spent three days in bed, I’d be able to tell him all about the magic of the lights.
He was counting on me.