Off-holiday. Off-holiday is what my parents call the weekend before Christmas where my Dad’s kids from his first marriage and my oldest brother from Mom’s first marriage all come together in one happy holiday mess of a vacation. It’s like pre-Christmas except the only gift you get is family drama. At least this year I finally got the go ahead to bring a “friend.”

“Just so you know, we are not sleeping in the same room,” Noor offered with a slight smirk.

“We’ve never used a room before so I’m not pressed.”

She pretended to look shocked.

“Like I said. Keep your hands to yourself and don’t think about asking me to sneak off with you when we get there. I’m not going to have your Mom giving me the stink-eye all weekend.”

First of all, of course we’re sneaking off as soon as I can find the right hiding spot, that is almost the number one reason I asked her on this trip. Secondly, my mom would never give her the stink eye.

“My mother loves you. I think she loves you more than she loves me. She might have even asked me to invite you so you guys could hang out with the aunties.” Sometimes, I felt like she fit in with my gregarious family better than I did. She was all jokes and laughter and I liked to play the background.

“I love her back. She texted me to the most awesome chocolate chip cookie recipe the other day.”

“You text with my mom?”

“Uh, yeah. We exchanged numbers like the second time we met.”

“We weren’t even really talkin’ like that then.”

She rolled her eyes. I know what she was saying without saying it. It wasn’t love at first sight, but it was close. We never really even discussed being boyfriend and girlfriend, it just was and everybody treated us accordingly. I liked that about us. It was easy. No drama. Also, the number three reason I invited her on this trip. Ayesha was drama free. A little silly, but still, drama free. She was going to be my neutralizer. She’d already gotten me out of having to ride up with my brother and my nephews. I love them, but three year olds are a bit much. Ayesha snoring softly in the passenger seat and a sci-fi audiobook on the radio is much more my jam.

We usually rented a big house on the beach for off-holiday, but this year Dad had wanted snow. By the time we made it half-way up the mountain I’d been driving in the dark for hours.

Ayesha split the silence with a yawn. “Are we there yet?”

“You can’t sleep the entire…”

I don’t know what it was. It was white. I think. It ran in front of the car and I swerved. The tires didn’t even squeal because the snow and ice. One minute we were fine and the next we were barreling down the side of the mountain. Maybe Ayesha screamed, maybe she didn’t or it could be that the snow just swallowed the sound like it did us right before everything went black.

My head ached and my mouth tasted like old blood. Someone was shaking me. Hard.

“Stop. I’m trying to sleep,” I try to say, but it comes out in unintelligible mumbles.

“Wake up! Please!”

I could feel myself slipping back under but soft hands pulled me back to reality and then the cold got me. I sucked in a cold breath. Ayesha. She was crying, her face creased in pain.

“I’m up!”

“Thank you, God,” she wailed. “We have to get out of here.”

There was a branch digging into her side, pinning her to the seat. I could move, but my fingers had already begun to freeze. I grabbed both of our coats from the back seat and the movement sent the car sliding again. Ayesha screamed again.

“No!” I hiss, realizing exactly how much snow surrounded us. “Try..try not to scream.”

Tears streamed down her face. “How can you say that?”

I looked around us. We were tipped almost at ninety degrees. A few trees stood between us and a sheer drop. We’d never survive it. I turned around. We weren’t that far from the road. If we could get out of the car we could scramble up.

“I need to get this out of you.”

Her eyes went wild.

“If you don’t pull it out, you might die.”

“That’s what she said.”

I blinked. She breathed hard and then gave me a weak smile.

“You’re…you’re making jokes?”

“You need a joke.” She looked down at the wooden spear in her belly and winced. “Just do it.”

I didn’t wait. I made sure to lock eyes with her and then I pulled. The branch had dug into the seat behind her and had gotten wedged. The first pull only dislodged it from the seat. Ayesha bit down on her lip hard enough to draw blood, but I didn’t think she’d be able to keep quiet on the second. This second time I pulled I kissed her and swallowed the scream I knew was coming.

Her breath came hard and fast once the branch was out and so did the blood. I scrambled over her, draped the hood of her coat over her head steadied myself on the slippery bank. The car screeched with the movement and slipped a few more inches. There wasn’t much time left. I pulled from the seat and onto my back. Drops of blood trickled from her wound, down my back and onto the snow, still she looped her arms around my neck to hold on. Her breath was hot in my ear, but way too shallow.

“Tell me a joke,” I coughed with strain. Ayesha wasn’t a small girl. I liked that about her. She was soft everywhere, but she wasn’t able to help me either. Her grip was getting weak and my fingers were numb as I tried to climb higher up the bank, grabbing for roots in the dark.

“You hate my jokes.”

I had to keep her awake. If she passed out? I got this sick feeling. Keep her awake.

“Try.”

Something scurried across the path and a branch broke. That was all it took for the car to give way. It tumbled, bouncing through the air for agonizing seconds before we heard it crash.

“Ayesha?!”

She didn’t respond.

“Ayesha?!”
“Huh?”

“My joke.”

“I was just…” she weezed. “I was just thinking.”

“Fine, I’ll tell you one.”

I could see the road above my head. My arms burned and my feet were slipping. I had to jut my butt out to keep Ayesha in place. My hands slipped.

“Why..why does Santa come down the…the chimney?” I said.

Almost there.

“I don’t know. Why?” she whispered.

I groaned as we crested the bank. I rolled her off me, catching my breath. I knelt beside her. Her coat had fallen off and I slouched mine off. I tucked it around her as I flagged down the next car.

Ten hours, a helicopter ride and a blood transfusion later she squeezed my fingers. They’d been wrapped in gauze but I could still feel it.

She smiled weakly at me.

“Why does Santa come down the chimney?,” she whispered.

I admit it. I’m a baby. I cried.

“Cause Mrs. Claus said there was no way he’d get through the back door.”

“Ewww.”

She rolled her eyes, but my Mom. I could hear her cackling in the hallway.

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