Damon groaned as the alarm clock went off and shoved his head under the pillow. Alanna chuckled as she climbed over him and off the bed. She shut the alarm off and slid her feet into her bedroom slippers as she pulled her hair into a ponytail. Alanna quietly slipped out the bedroom and hurried to the kitchen. She’d only gotten two hours of sleep but she was adamant that the family tradition be maintained even though she was away at school.
Every Christmas, since Alanna was nine, the family would start the day by eating a bowl of her mother’s pepperpot (a traditional Amerindian dish eaten mainly at Christmas in most Guyanese households) with homemade bread fresh from the oven. It was Alanna who baked the bread every Christmas morning and her family always woke to the delicious smell of her loaves wafting through the house.
She was covered in flour, ponytail in disarray and singing quietly along with the radio, when she heard a voice behind her say,
“Merry Christmas, Lana.”
Terrence was standing in the doorway watching her as “Winter Wonderland” ended. There was something about the look on his face that made her blush deeply. Alanna wasn’t embarrassed that he had found her looking this dishelleved. She was comfortable with him in a way that she wasn’t with most people. What made her blush was something else entirely, but even she couldn’t say what it was.
“Merry Christmas, Terry.”
“I hope I didn’t wake you up, banging around the kitchen.”
“Not at all. I’ve been up for a few hours.”
Alanna’s cheeks turned almost burgundy as she realised that Terrence must know that Damon had slept in her room. She felt almost guilty, but she knew that was silly and tried not to betray her inner turmoil as she continued the conversation.
“Please tell me you couldn’t hear my god-awful singing in there!” she laughed.
“I heard it. But it wasn’t god-awful. You have a nice voice, Lana. You should sing more often.”
Alanna shook her head and responded, “You’re sweet to say that but the only performances I’ll ever give will be in the shower.”
“I wouldn’t mind attending those,” said a sleepy voice somewhere behind Terrence.
“Morning, Damon,” Terry and Lana said in unison, the latter rolling her eyes as she did so.
Damon sidled past Terrence into the kitchen and towards the fridge. He was shirtless and Alanna couldn’t help running her gaze over the smooth skin of his face, down his strong shoulders and over his six-pack. She blushed again and when she looked away she saw Terry looking at her with an inscrutable expression. Alanna busied herself with cleaning up the kitchen to avoid looking at either of them.
“Here, let me help with that,” Terrence said and walked over to the island where Alanna was stacking the utensils.
Damon started washing the dishes and they all worked in companionable silence until a loud knock was heard at the door.
“Crap! My mom will never let me live it down if she sees me looking like this. Can one of you answer the door, please?”
“Sure. No problem,” Damon responded, heading towards the door.
“Not you!! You go find a shirt! Please, Terry,” Alanna pleaded.
Alanna could have been asking him for a kidney that she didn’t actually need and Terrence wouldn’t have said ‘no’. He nodded and headed to the door as Alanna rushed to the bathroom. Damon chuckled and jogged to Lana’s bedroom to grab a tshirt from his overnight bag.
By the time Alanna had finished in the washroom, Lexie and Maria were up and serving coffee and eggnog to both sets of parents. Damon was chatting warmly with Lana’s father and Terrence’s mother was teasing him about Maria. Everyone looked up as Alanna entered. She was suddenly shy, even though she knew everyone in the room and was quite comfortable with the majority of them. She hurried over to her mother and gave her a huge hug.
“Merry Christmas, Mumsie.”
Her mother returned her hug with equal gusto and silently thanked her God that Alanna looked no worse for the wear. Truthfully, she was surprised to see Damon there but she was pleased as well. Her daughter was making progress and that was all she could have asked for this Christmas. As she watched them throughout the day, she noticed two things. The first observation didn’t surprise her that much. Like any proud mother, Abigail thought her daughter was a good catch for any young man. So when she realised that Damon was attracted to Alanna, she wasn’t much surprised by it. It was the revelation that Alanna might return those feelings that shocked her. Abigail had thought that it would be impossible for Lana to ever see boys like Damon - white boys – that way again after … She watched them covertly like a hawk all day and satisfied herself that she wasn’t mistaken. How to broach the subject with Alanna was a difficulty she mulled over as they sat down to Christmas dinner later that evening.
But Abby wasn’t the only mother doing reconnaissance that day. Terrence’s mother, Darlene, was thrilled to finally meet Maria. Truth be told, she had been a little surprised when Terrence had introduced her to Alanna, not Maria, on her last visit. Terrence had insisted that he and Lana were just good friends, but Darlene had been sure that there was more to the story than that. And as she kept a close eye on her son that day, she realised that she was right. They were subtle things that she hoped only a mother would notice. How Terrence was always at the ready to help Alanna. How he saw when she was going to trip before even Lana knew. How he was affectionate and polite with Maria but gentle and loving with Alanna. How he looked at Lana when he thought no one was watching. Darlene was worried. She liked Alanna very much, but she also liked Maria and she knew that her son’s divided loyalties weren’t fair to the latter. She could also see that Damon had feelings for Alanna as well and knowing what love triangles did to friendships, Darlene resolved to speak to Terrence about the matter before she left. The boys had been friends for a long time and she hoped with all her heart that no girl could ever come between them.
After dinner was over, most everyone settled in the living room with dessert. Alanna and Damon were washing the dishes with the radio on in the background, playing Ray Charles and Nina Simone’s duet of ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’. Alanna was singing along quietly, unaware that her voice could carry over the washing of the dishes and the radio. Damon surprised her by joining in for the Ray Charles parts. He’s actually quite good. I must sound horrible compared to him. But when she tried to stop, he told her not to and gave her an encouraging smile. And, for the first time ever, Lana deliberately sang in front of another person, not realising that the living room could hear them as well. When the song ended, there was a burst of applause from the living room and Alanna turned around wide-eyed and red in the face.
“You guys could hear that? Oh, God.”
“What? It was beautiful, Lana. Why didn’t you tell us you could sing?” asked Maria.
“Because I can’t,” Lana replied as she took off her apron and made her way into the living room with a glass of eggnog.
“The living room disagrees,” said Mike, with a grin.
“I think Damon is the first person that’s ever convinced her to sing in front of another person on purpose,” said Abby, with a small smile.
“Well, it was a once in a lifetime occurrence, so store it away fondly in your memories, duckies.”
Damon laughed and said, “Not if I have anything to say about it.”
Lana threw a cushion at his head, which he easily ducked and they looked at each other, grinning for a minute. Darlene was the only one that noticed the tightness around Terry’s mouth as he observed the closeness between his best friend and Lana.
“Terry, there’s some stuff I brought for you that I’d like to drop off at your place and some Tupperware I’d like to pick up,” said Darlene, standing up.
“I’ll go, too. I left some textbooks there that I’ll need this weekend,” said Maria standing up as well.
Darlene sighed inwardly. She was hoping to talk to Terrence and she couldn’t do that with Maria around, but it would be bad manners to tell Ria to stay behind.
When they got to the apartment, Maria excused herself and went to Terry’s bedroom to grab her books, while Terrence and his mother headed to the kitchen. Terrence was blushing a bit as he realised his mother would know that Maria sometimes overnighted. And, he thought his worst fears had been realised when she turned to him and said, “We need to talk Terry.”
“Mom, I’m sorry but I promise we are using protection and I won’t make you a grandma for a few years yet.”
“I’m not stupid or Amish, Terry. I know you’re not a virgin and I know how careful and responsible you are, dear. That’s why I am surprised at how reckless you are being with Maria.”
Terrence was confused.
“Reckless? I just said we use protection, Mom.”
“Not with her body, Terry. With her heart.”
Terrence’s face fell as he leaned back against the kitchen counter.
“What do you mean?” he asked, even though he knew what the answer would be.
“I’m sure you care about Maria, dear. But it is obvious that you care about Alanna more. Why are you doing this to Maria, and yourself?”
“What do you mean ‘it’s obvious’? Can everyone else tell? Can Maria tell? Or Alanna?”
“I don’t think so. I guess I can because I’m your mother. I just don’t understand why you’re with Maria, if you’d rather be with Alanna.”
“Because Damon really likes Alanna and he’s my best friend. And because I care about Alanna too much to make her choose between us. I thought I’d get over her in time and Maria would be enough. It’s been months, Mommy. Maria is a great girlfriend. Why isn’t she enough?”
“Because you love Alanna. And Maria being great doesn’t make Alanna less so. I can’t tell you what to do, Terry. But I trust that you will do the right thing for everyone. Just remember that Maria cares a lot about you and it’s unfair to string her along if you can’t ever return her feelings.”
“I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about her. I feel like I’m trapped in a romantic dramedy, with more drama than comedy.”
Darlene smiled and pinched her son’s cheek.
“Did you think all the stress in college was purely academic?”
Terrence chuckled and hugged his mother, his chin resting on the top of her head. As he thanked her for being there for him, neither noticed Maria’s head slink backwards from the open doorway, a few tears shining on her cheek.
It was quite late when the parents decided it was time to leave and their children tried to convince them to stay the night. But Abigail and Darlene’s husbands remembered what it was like to be young and knew that they should leave the kids to have some craziness and fun before the day was over. They kissed and hugged them all; before wishing them a ‘Merry Christmas’ one last time.
“So, what do you guys wanna do now?” Mike asked, after he returned from dropping Malicia off at his parents’ house.
“Well, I know that there are a few other kids in this dorm that stayed on campus too. How about… a giant snowball fight on the field out front?” suggested Maria.
Everyone agreed enthusiastically and Terrence and Damon offered to see if anyone had stayed behind in their dorm.
Half an hour later, twenty young people faced each other in two lines with a row of snowball piles separating them. The idea was to play a snowball version of dodgeball. About two minutes into the game, this plan fell apart and it turned into an all-out, each-man-for-himself war. As Alanna took cover in the trees on the outskirts of the little field, she bumped into Damon who was hiding behind the tree she had chosen for refuge.
“Chicken!” she teased.
“Big strong athlete, like you? Scared of a few snowballs? It’s just frozen water, you know, champion swimmer.”
Damon threw a handful of snow in Alanna’s face and she laughed and sprung at him, throwing him backwards into the show. He tickled her and she dissolved into giggles, rolling off of him and onto her back. As he pinned her down with his body, still tickling her, she suddenly stopped laughing and yelled, “Sucker!” before throwing snow in his face.
“Did you really think I could feel you tickling me through my coat?”
Instead of rolling off her or shaking the snow off his face like she thought, he suddenly kissed her. They remained like that until Alanna finally had to surface for air and pushed Damon off of her. She got up and sprinted away, back towards the heart of the battle. It wasn’t until later that she realised that she hadn’t panicked when he was on top of her like she would have a few months ago. That revelation really surprised her and she spent the rest of the night trying to figure out what that meant about her; about her relationship with Damon.
No one saw Alanna slip away from the fight, except for Terrence and Damon. Damon didn’t follow her because he didn’t want to overwhelm her. And Terrence was doing his best to stay away from Alanna as he sorted through his feelings for both her and Maria. Maria was too busy taking out her anger about the conversation she’d overheard on unsuspecting freshmen to notice Alanna leaving the field of battle. And Lexie and Mike had wandered off a long time before. No one knew where they’d gone.
When Terry, Maria and Damon finally returned to the apartment a few hours later, Alanna was sitting on the couch eating a huge slice of blueberry pie with ice cream on top and watching a One Tree Hill marathon. As they came in, Maria said to Terrence, “We need to talk”, at the same time that Alanna said exactly the same thing to Damon. The boys looked at each other with raised eyebrows and then responded, “Okay”. Terrence followed Maria to her bedroom and Damon settled on the sofa next to Alanna.
Alanna turned the television down a little and then turned to Damon, curling her feet up underneath her. Damon was sure that she was going to tell him that their friendship was no longer working and she wanted him out of her life completely. So, he was entirely caught off guard by what she did say.
“My mom and I had a chat about you today.”
“Ummmm, what? Why?”
“She said that it was obvious you cared about me.”
“Yea, well, that’s been obvious to everyone for months now.”
“She also said that it was obvious that I cared about you too.”
Damon was stunned and couldn’t think of anything to say.
“I told her she was wrong and that we were just friends and I didn’t think of you that way.”
“Oh,” Damon said quietly, as his face fell.
“Then you kissed me in the woods. Again. And, the truth is that if you hadn’t been pressing down on my windpipe at the time, we might still be out there.”
Damon was stunned again but found his voice this time.
“What does that mean?” he asked, his heart hammering in his chest.
“I’ve spent the past few hours trying to figure that out. Well, that’s not true. I know what it means. I’ve been trying to figure out what I should do about it.”
“What does it mean?” Damon repeated.
“I like you. A lot.”
It was the first time Alanna had admitted it out loud, to anyone- including herself.
The smile that broke out on Damon’s face was the most beautiful she had seen yet. She hadn’t realised until then that he really did care for her quite a bit. It was a testament to his feelings and how well he knew her that he didn’t ruin the moment by trying to kiss her or grab her hand. Instead, he held her gaze and asked her, “So, what do you want to do about it?”
Alanna took a deep breath and said the words that scared her half to death but that also gave her a measure of relief to finally get out, “I want to be with you.”
Damon did kiss her then. When they finally broke apart, Alanna raised a hand and indicated that she wasn’t done talking.
“But, I want to go slow, Damon. I think I know you fairly well but there are still a lot of things we don’t know about each other. And, I am not like the girls you usually date. I won’t be jumping in to bed with you first chance I get.”
Damon grinned his mischievous grin and replied, “Ammm, correct me if I’m wrong, didn’t we already do that last night?”
“I’m serious, Damon! Sleeping together will be just that for the foreseeable future- sleeping. Are you okay with that? Because, if not we can end our relationship right here and now.”
Damon smiled again.
“Why are you grinning? Are you trying to come up with some plan to make me change my mind? Won’t happen, Damon!”
“No, no. I’m grinning because you said we were in a relationship. You have no idea how happy I am to hear you say that. And, Lana, if sex was all that I cared about, I would have moved on a long time ago. “
Lana smiled and Damon’s heart did that little skip it always did whenever she truly smiled, although he’d never admit that to anyone. They kissed again and it was at that moment that Terrence walked into the living room looking crushed. Everyone froze for about ten seconds before he walked off without a word, grabbed his coat and headed out the door.
“I should go check on him,” Damon said, kissing Alanna on the forehead before heading after Terry.
Maria came into the living room as Damon left the apartment and it was clear that she’d been crying.
“Do you wanna talk about it?”
Maria shook her head and came to curl up on the couch with her head in Alanna’s lap. Alanna smoothed her hair and sang ‘Everything’s Alright’ from Jesus Christ Superstar softly to her until Maria fell asleep.