Adam, being cynical and Montanan, only half joked that Marie seemed to be the only clean thing that ever came out of Sommerville. The river, the sky, the cars, so much was dirty.

Adam was going home for Christmas. That would do wonders, or at least get the poisons of the city out of his system.

The phone rang the next morning, and Marie answered it while Adam picked apart the paper he gave up on yesterday. The flat clack of the phone jolted Adam back. "Dad again." He wasn't asking.

Adam saw her less move than shiver in the heat from the radiator, and he reached for a hand. Marie spoke, still staring away. "Dad thinks I'm about to drop out."

"Excuse me?" Adam almost joked about being jealous of Marie's professors, and thought better of it. "I've seen your work. I'll grant I'm just the local geologist rockhound, but I've not seen you pull under a B here."

"All Dad sees is us. Hell, Adam, he doesn't even bother calling my room anymore. He knows I basically live with you now, and now he thinks you've somehow corrupted me into not being a good little student."

Adam crunched through the logic. "Let me guess. Daddums can't see your grades now, and so he assumes that, because he doesn't see them, they stink." Marie nodded. "And, all of a sudden, you've fallen madly in love with a cowboy, so, clearly, you're about to run off."

"Pretty much." She paused a long moment. "He wants me to pay him back now for the laptop."

"Now? Why?"

"Because I have just enough money to pay him back."

"Brilliant. Then you'll have to rely on his good graces, which will be offered promptly once you leave me behind."

Adam gave his love a good, long hug. One month until finals.

"I'm not going to owe him anything. I'll pay him back, and get a job."

"Yeah, you will. At least, if I know you."

"Think you can do without me for a while?"

"Yes, but that's the wrong question."

Marie arched her eyebrow and smirked. She didn't really smile, just smirk. "Oh?"

"You should be asking about my latest harebrained scheme." Adam smiled.

"What about your latest harebrained scheme?"

"Give Daddums the money. And tell him you won't be home for Christmas."

Marie blinked. "Excuse me while I wipe the eyeball prints off my glasses." She cleaned them on her shirt. "Did you just say I'm not going to be here for Christmas?"

"Well, from what you said, you didn't want to go back home-sweet-rathole for Christmas anyway, and you were going to stay in the dorms over the break."

"I suppose I did."

"I took a look at my own situation. I made three thousand over the summer, and I've got two left. That means I went through one over this semester, and that was with having to drop two fifty on a new hard drive. So, I think I can get it down to seven fifty a head, and that's one point five. Even assuming you don't get a job, if the machines stay working and nothing goes ugly bad wrong, I think we can fit in nicely until summer. I was able to track down a round trip price for 400." Adam grinned, "Wanna see God's country?"

Marie knocked the wind out of Adam, rushing at him. By the time he got his breath back, he still could barely breathe for her kisses.

"Under one condition. You don't do anything else for me for Christmas."

Adam didn't tell her about the necklace.

A week later, Adam tripped over the laptop's power cord while he was going to the bathroom. Marie, being in love, was more worried about Adam than the computer. He was fine, but the laptop repair cost three hundred dollars.

Marie didn't have it, so Adam paid the bill, and Montana went back to being a happy fantasy. In a fit of sarcasm, Marie gave Adam a copy of Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations", which he promptly threw out the window when he was done reading.

A week before finals, Marie came in from her statics class with a great big smirk on her face. "Merry Christmas, love."


"My turn for surprises." Adam told his parents that the first thing he noticed about Marie, besides her long hair and singing voice, was what he called "low animal cunning".

"One hundred dollars left. That's enough for a Greyhound ticket."

Adam glowered at her. "I say this with the greatest love. Have you lost what little sanity you have left?"

"I'm sure the goons will lay off when I mention my cowboy boyfriend." Marie's smirk drew a similar one out of Adam. "And it's still better than camping out in a dorm with nothing but memories and computer games to sustain me."

"You left out the cheap booze. I still think you're nuts. But one of the things I love about you is that I can't stop you."

All Adam could think of during his last final was the lousy jokes the professors made about this being a stress test and the three days it would take Marie to get from Boston to Helena. He wasn't expecting better than a B.

Tommorow for packing, and then the red eye home. Marie would be waiting for him in the airport with his parents. He worried, having heard too many horror stories about the bus.

At each stop along the long ride, Marie would try to shake off the haze of lousy sleep and call Adam. The phone distorted his voice so much that it only made his absence more acute.

She spent most of her trip staring out the window; reading in cars made her sick. Later on, she'd tell Adam of all the things she saw through the glass; homeless people, businessmen, farms, skyscrapers, and the strange feeling of realizing that Boston and Helena were in fact connected by all those roads.

Adam pulled his backpack out from under the seat and painfully began to unfold himself into the aisle of the plane. It gave him pause, not only knowing Marie was only yards away, but wondering how many other people had their own loved ones waiting for them.

She was there, in the terminal, wearing a dress Adam got her on a whim in October. Adam's parents were there, too. Marie got the last hug in, but certainly the longest, and words weren't needed after that.

Marie woke up earlier than usual Christmas morning with Adam nestled against her back; something was different. She realized she was wearing a necklace, and sleepily inquired of her sleeping beloved "Mmmh. Necklace?"

Adam's eyes were already open, and a smile was in his eyes. "Merry Christmas, Marie." he replied, and he kissed her cheek.

"You. You're despicable." She said it just like Daffy Duck as she turned around to face him. "You're lucky I love you. I told you not to get me anything else for Christmas!"

"It was Mother's. I planned on giving it to you even before we talked about the trip. And since when has obedience been one of my selling points?"

Marie knew better than to complain. She curled herself up next to Adam, they shared a long kiss, and the snow began to fall.

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