Since Maria wasn’t going home for Christmas and her friends didn’t want her to spend the holidays alone, they all stayed on campus with her. Damon’s mother went home to England to spend Christmas with their family there but both Alanna’s and Terry’s parents were going to spend Christmas Day with the group. That meant good Guyanese cooking and lots of laughs.
The girls decorated the apartment and even Maria got into the Christmas spirit as they sat toasting marshmallows and watching Home Alone on Christmas Eve night. Terrence, Damon, Mike and Malicia had joined them for a sleepover so that everyone would be here when the parents showed up the next day. Everyone fussed over Malicia because really you couldn’t help but do that- she was such a sweetheart. They let her open one of her presents that evening and upon discovering that it was a sticker kit with over one thousand different Disney stickers, she went around and allowed everyone to pick one. Maria chose Belle, Lexie chose Cinderella (“Because I do all the cooking and most of the cleaning around here!”) and Alanna chose Ariel, of course. Terrence chose Eeyore, Mike chose Sebastian the crab (and proceeded to give an impressive rendition of ‘Under the Sea’) and Damon chose Simba. They all obliged the pint-sized Santa Claus by wearing their stickers on their pyjamas for the rest of the evening.
After Malicia had fallen asleep and the Home Alone marathon had ended, they popped in Love Actually (Alanna’s Christmas favourite) and Maria and Terry snuggled on the couch, while Mike sat with his back against the sofa and Lexie laid her head on his chest and hugged him, their feet entwined in front of them. Damon and Lana glanced at each other uncomfortably but stayed where they were in separate armchairs. They’d never been this aware of each other in all the weeks they’d been hanging out recently. As the couples, influenced by the multiple romantic storylines of the movie, became oblivious to anyone else but their respective partners; Damon and Alanna began to squirm in their seats. They stared straight ahead at the movie trying to ignore the little giggles and stolen kisses coming the foursome. Halfway through the movie, they ran out of eggnog. Relieved to have a reason to excuse themselves, Damon and Alanna offered to run out to the twenty-four supermarket around the corner that had, thankfully, decided to stay open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
As soon as they were in Damon’s car, they burst out laughing.
“It was like a two for one show in there. I’m not sure which was the better performance- Hugh Grant and company; or our friends,” Damon said, grinning.
“I was this close to losing it when Mike told Lexie that she was the best Christmas present he’d ever received.”
“I’ve haven’t been that uncomfortable since my mom tried to have the sex talk with me,” Damon replied.
“Hey, at least your mom tried. Mine asked her pastor to do it. That entire talk consisted of him telling me that it was something only married people do and God would hate me if I didn’t wait ’til then.”
Damon laughed and asked, “Did you?”
“No,” Alanna replied darkly, and a cloud passed over her face.
Damon tried to ease the tension.
“He was that bad, huh? In his defense, all men suck the first time around. And most of us don’t get much better with time. That’s why we all want to marry virgins. They have nothing to compare us to.”
That did actually get Alanna laughing and the awkward moment passed. Alanna changed the subject to ensure that they didn’t discuss her sexual history again.
“It was nice of you to spend Christmas with us but wasn’t your mom upset?”
“Not really. My grandma doesn’t like me very much. She says I remind her too much of my dad. My mom is probably relieved to spend one Christmas with her family that doesn’t involve my grandmother and I yelling at each other.”
“I’m so sorry. Are you at least close with your paternal grandmother?”
“She’s the most important woman in the world to me.”
And he meant it.
“I talk to her every night actually. She was so happy to hear that I was going to the Winter Gala. Made me email her a picture of me in the tux. She thinks I spend too much time at clubs and not enough time at classy events,” he laughed.
“My family thinks I don’t have enough of a social life. They’re probably right. You have no idea how excited they are to meet you guys tomorrow. I think they thought I was some kind of hermit who didn’t have a single friend on campus besides Maria.”
“Well, they were kinda right about the hermit thing. But I’d like to think my charm is too irresistible to deny for long. You just had to be friends with me. Couldn’t help it. You were like ‘That Damon kid is just so handsome, intelligent and, man, does he have a great ass for a white boy. I have to get to know him.’”
“Oh, is that how you think it went down? See, I remember you stalking me, hiding in bedrooms and campus pubs and spying on me; until finally I gave in for fear of your creepiness escalating.”
“Ouch! You cut me deep, Shrek; you cut me deep,” he quoted with mock sincerity, a hand fisted over his heart.
“Okay, you better not be calling me an ugly, green ogre. Although, I can totally see you being Donkey.”
“Where’s a snowball when you need one?”
Alanna laughed as he pulled into the parking lot and they ran through the lightly falling snow into the brightly lit supermarket. The in-store café was open, thankfully playing top forty hits rather than Christmas carols.
“Wanna grab a coffee and kill some time? I’m in no hurry to get back to the sea of mushiness we left behind,” she said.
“I’m with you.”
They grabbed two danishes and two regular coffees; and grabbed a table near the window so they could watch as the snow turned the landscape into a scene from a winter wonderland postcard.
“You never talk about your dad. Why?” Alanna asked once they’d taken a sip.
Damon stared out of the window for a long time before answering.
“He’s not worth talking about.”
Alanna wished he would say more but she could hardly ask him to open up when she refused to share her secrets with him. Instead, she nodded and took another sip of her coffee.
“You know, Elise and her friends all hate me now because they think we’re dating.”
“I didn’t want anything to do with Elise even before I…” fell for you. Damon cleared his throat and looked outside again.
Alanna pretended that she hadn’t heard the latter half of his sentence and continued to tease him about various girls in their year. After an hour had passed, they got up and found the eggnog.
As the cashier, a woman in her mid-fifties, processed their transaction she looked at them and said, “You know, you can always tell the couples that will go the distance. The way the two of you look at each other, how you walk half a step behind her in that protective way; and the joy that’s so evident- you guys are going to be happy for a long time.”
Alanna blushed. Damon chuckled and said, as he handed the cashier a twenty dollar bill, “We’re just friends, actually. And if you knew Alanna, well, you’d know that all her friends walk half a step behind her because if we didn’t there would be no one to stop her from hitting the ground every other step.”
Alanna mock punched him, told the cashier it was true and walked off while Damon waited on the change.
The cashier smiled and replied, “Don’t give up on her yet. She’ll come around.”
Damon pocketed his change and wished her a ‘Merry Christmas’ and followed Alanna out to his car, wondering if the cashier could be right.
By the time they got back to the apartment, both couples had gone to bed. They were tired yet so they rewound the movie to the point where they’d left and watched it to the end. The sun was just rising as Alanna turned the DVD player and television off. Her parents would be there in a few hours and she needed to get some sleep. She felt bad leaving Damon alone in the living room and surprised herself by asking him if he wanted to sleep in her room. But Alanna knew as she asked that she had nothing to worry about. Damon had been a perfect gentleman for the past few weeks and she knew he wouldn’t try to take advantage of the situation.
“Are you sure?”
“Yep. I know you’ll behave. Plus, you already know I’m a self-defence bad-ass.”
Damon chuckled and admitted that she was right.
“Okay, lead on. And, thanks. Your sofa does not look comfy at all.”
Alanna laughed quietly and confessed that they had purposely bought that one so that they wouldn’t have drunk friends crashing on it too often. Damon waited outside while Alanna pulled on her pyjamas and then got into to bed next to her. She was a side-sleeper, as was he. At first, they lay back-to-back, with Alanna facing the wall. But just as he was drifting off he heard Alanna say quietly, “You can hug me if you’d like.” He turned over and put his arm around her waist and rested his head on her pillow just above hers. He didn’t hold her too tightly but the weight of his arm was comfortable and she was surprised at how nice it felt to have him so near. A little while later- he must have thought she was asleep- he kissed her gently on the top of her head. Alanna smiled and drifted off into the most peaceful sleep she’d had since she had arrived at St. Aloysius.