Reviews for Operation: Christmas Hearts
We first met Rabbit as the candy-spitting marine who worried about “bad ju-ju”, in Operation Christmas Hearts. The next novel will continue his story.
This is a little bit from The 13 of Hearts, a contemporary work in progress about a superstitious marine and a family on the run.
The stiff early February breeze puffed out the hood on the sweatshirt and the guy reached up a hand to push it off his head. Rabbit could have tripped over a grain of sand with shock. It was just a kid—early teens at most. He wasn’t nearly as tall as Rabbit had first judged and he was skinny. Walnut brown hair fell past his ears in bushy curls. His face was the color of paste, as though he spent a lot of time inside. And for as long as he’d been standing in front of the bill changer, he hadn’t managed to so much as scratch the front of the machine.
Not exactly a highly successful criminal.
The kid jerked upright and then whirled and pressed his back against the wall, his hands curled into poorly formed fists. Rabbit sprung back, giving the kid lots of space, and held up his hands surrender-style.
“Hey, relax.” Rabbit kept his voice low and strove to inject calming tones. The kid looked, ironically, like a scared rabbit. “I was just over there and saw you fighting with the machine. What it do? Eat your dollar or something?”
Something flickered in the silver-blue eyes before the kid averted them. “Yeah.”
Rabbit made an exaggerated show of looking around. “I don’t see a car. What were you planning to wash?”
The kid clamped his mouth closed and gave a one-shouldered shrug.
Oh, joy. Why did I decide to confront the kid again? Rabbit rubbed at the tension in the back of his neck. “Okay, I get it. None of my business anyway.” He glanced at the machine, noting that it could change anything from a one to a twenty. He reached into his back pocket and slipped his wallet out between two fingers. “A guy did me a favor once, so how about I do you one now? How much did you lose? Ten? Twenty?”
The kid raised a startled glance, his eyes wide. He closed his mouth quickly and shrugged. “It’s not important,” he mumbled, dropping his eyes. “It was just a buck.”
Rabbit hesitated with his fingers on a twenty. Either the kid was straight up or he was smart enough not to try to score off a stranger. He moved his fingers to separate a ten from the middle of a bunch of ones and extracted it. “Sorry, kid. I don’t have anything smaller. Go ahead and take this.”
The kid seemed to shrink against the wall. This time when he looked up at Rabbit, his eyes held a trace of defiance. “No, thanks.” He shook his head and inched toward the bay.
Rabbit offered an unconcerned shrug as he stuffed the bill into his jacket pocket and took another step back to give the kid some space. His gut told him the kid was in some kind of trouble that had nothing whatsoever to do with the bill changer. His brain reminded him he wasn’t everyone’s superhero.
“Maybe I’ll see you around sometime. Take it easy.” Rabbit gave a sharp nod and turned. He got two paces.
Rabbit halted in mid-pace and looked over his shoulder. “Yeah?”
The kid had picked up his backpack and slung it over one shoulder. He kept his arms slightly bent, his hands curled into weak fists. A muscle worked in his jaw but he looked less angry and more…wary?
“What do I have to do to get the ten?”
“Not a thing,” Rabbit answered, slowly turning the rest of the way around while he tried to gauge the reaction he was seeing. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the crumpled ten.
The kid licked his lips and took a hesitant step forward. “Really? Nothing? You’re not like—a perve or something?”
An electric jolt shocked Rabbit’s awareness. How old was this kid? Old enough to be well aware of the ways the world could go wrong, apparently. “Ah, no.” Rabbit shook his head. “I like my dates female and close to my age. What about you? Why aren’t you in school?”
“We got a half day.”
Interesting that he was the only kid around on a half day. Rabbit held out the ten. “Yeah? Lucky you.” And if the kid was hooking school, so what? Not your business, man. “Just tell me one thing,” he said as the kid took the bill and skittered sideways.
“You use drugs?”
The kid narrowed his eyes as he pulled himself up to his full height and jutted his chin out. “No. Only losers are users.”
Rabbit nodded his approval. “Good. So why’d you change your mind?”
The boy stared hard at him for a few heartbeats, and Rabbit knew he was being sized up. Too bad the kid was a difficult read. He’d love to know his overall score.
“That’s your second question.”
Rabbit had no power over the urge that pulled the corner of his mouth into a half smile. The kid had definitely bested him there. “Yep, it is. So I guess you don’t have to answer.” He stepped backward. If the kid was ready to end the conversation, Rabbit wouldn’t prolong it. But to his surprise, the kid’s face screwed up with some vague emotion.
“I’m hungry,” he blurted. His hand shook, but he offered the ten back. “I didn’t lose any money in the dollar changer. I was trying to get something out of it.”
So much for not his business. The kid’s admission had just made it exactly that. Rabbit rubbed his jaw while he considered what to do. Obviously the boy was at least a little savvy about strangers. He’d maintained some distance and he didn’t trust easily. It had taken a lot for him to admit to being hungry, though, and something wasn’t ringing right.
“I’m…Pete,” said Rabbit, still smiling, though he was unsure why. “But most of my friends call me Rabbit.”
The kid snickered. “You’re name’s Pete Rabbit?”
“No…my name is Pete Kincaid. Rabbit is a nickname I picked up on my first tour in the Middle East.”
The kid stiffened, but it seemed to be more out of respect than tension. “So, like, you’re a soldier?”
Rabbit snorted. “Hardly. I’m a marine, kid. So, what’s your name?”
“I’m, Nath—uh, Nate.”
“Nice to meet you, Nate.” No last name. Rabbit angled his head. “So, wanna tell me why you’re hungry? You living on the streets?”
Shaking his head, Nate took a step back. “I gotta get home.”
Once again, Rabbit held up his hands in surrender. “Okay. It’s all good. Just wanted to make sure you got a place to go home to.”
“I got a home.” Nate backed toward the open bay.
Just let him go. Not everyone needs saved. Even as the thoughts finished forming, Emotion welled from someplace he’d rather not go, and Rabbit experienced the sudden urge to do something potentially stupid. Aw, heck. “Nate?”
The kid looked up, his face still unreadable. What did a kid have to live through to develop the ability to shield his emotions so effectively at such a young age?
“You got something to write with in that bag?”
Nate lifted one shoulder. “Yeah, probably.” He allowed the pack to slide to the ground and unzipped it. After a bit of rummaging, he produced a pen and a folded piece of paper.
“Write this down.” Rabbit rattled off his cell number. “You ever need anything, that’s my personal phone. Day or night, got that?”
Nate hesitated only a second before he scribbled the number across the paper. Then he shoved pen and paper in the backpack and zipped it closed. “Thanks,” he mumbled. He took off at a run, disappearing into the bay and then out the back. Almost instantly, the tall weeds behind the carwash swallowed him.
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