The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Christmas morning with my family meant hot chocolate by the electric fireplace and an out of control round of Uno. For Jason and Kitty’s family, it meant an obnoxious mother banging on their bedroom doors.
Unfortunately, I experienced their Christmas rituals first hand.
The banging startled me awake as finally I began to fall into a deep sleep. One that would give me a break from analyzing Jason’s apology.
I knew I needed to sleep so I could be awake to drive away as soon as the sun started peaking through the trees but my mind wandered as I laid in bed.
Nothing could make up for the moments I spent tucked away in the corner of my apartment watching the patrons of Pink Cherry leave with smiles on their faces.
Nothing could erase his carelessness and the pain it caused. I knew that and still, I brought myself to a point where everything seemed so meaningless.
I couldn’t put all the blame on him. I couldn’t forget how easily I let myself fall into his arms and play into his sadistic game.
I wanted to smother myself with one of the many floral pillows gathered around my head.
Kitty grumbled beside me and stretched in a cat-like manner. Her faded pink locks were knotted at the ends but nothing topped the black smudges under her eyes from leftover mascara.
“Merry Christmas,” She mumbled out while rubbing her eyes.
A deep pit of anger, frustration and just a general lack of Christmas spirit swallowed me up.
“Merry fucking Christmas.”
Just as the words left my lips Kitty’s eyes snapped open.
She slowly pieced something together in her brain, “You’re more miserable than you were last night.”
“Thanks for pointing it out.”
“Nope.” I wasn’t ready to tell her Jason apologized because I knew exactly what she’d say.
“Are you sure?” She asked.
She sighed, “Alright fine, keep your secrets.”
Kitty sat up and pulled down her painfully tangled hair. She winced and swore before actually freeing it from the top of her head.
When she finally finished I dragged myself out of bed and followed her down the creaky stairs.
Kitty’s mom beat everyone else downstairs and waited on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate. When she saw us she smiled, “Good morning, girls.”
We mumbled back and she got up to meet us at the bottom of the stairs. That’s when she stared at me and my Yoda Christmas pajamas.
“Merry Christmas, Tara.”
I looked at Kitty for guidance but she looked just as shaken as I did.
“Merry Christmas,” I replied so the awkward tension wouldn’t continue. Kitty’s mom nodded and then turned her attention to her favorite daughter.
“Katherine,” She said while rubbing the mascara off of Kitty’s eyes, “You look like a hooker.”
Kitty sighed when her mom wandered off into the kitchen.
“She should see your uniform.” My comment earned me a swift elbow in the side.
The scent of peppermint floated through the air and was presumably left behind by the candy canes I gnawed down.
I was living the dream and just when I figured I couldn’t become any more uncomfortable I stepped in something wet.
I grabbed onto Kitty’s shoulder and sucked in a deep breath. It must have been a puddle Jason dragged in the night before.
Kitty laughed as I hobbled back up the stairs with my sticky sock. I could still hear her when I made it back to the room.
I dug around in my suitcase for a few minutes before excepting that the only socks left to my disposal were Super Mario themed.
I figured my brother would forgive me for wearing my Luigi without his Mario considering the circumstances.
After changing out of the wet socks, I went back downstairs. By that time Jason was already leaning on the mantle of the fireplace with a Christmas mug in his hands.
He tossed his hair to the side and grinned at something Kitty said. Maybe it was the lack of sleep but they almost seemed like a normal family.
His smile disappeared when their mom ushered me down the stairs and into the living room with them. He quickly recovered and looked away when I sat next to Kitty on the couch.
She handed me a mug with a golden cross on the side and leaned in, “Don’t worry, it’s Irish.”
“Oh, I love you,” I whispered and chugged the spiked coffee down. Nothing could prepare me for the awkward events to come.
The next ten minutes were some of the most painfully awkward of my life. They were agonizingly slow and clicked in my ears as the clock on the wall kept track of the silence between us.
Kitty was unaware of why I refused to look Jason’s way and he couldn’t stop looking towards me. Maybe she figured it was the aftermath if the explosive scene at the church.
Their mom came bubbling back into the room just before the pressure made all of us explode, “Who’s ready to open presents!” The usual bite in her tone was washed away and was replaced with something new.
Her cheerfulness smothered my inner Grinch with warmth and kindness. Maybe that was why I decided to play along.
I raised my hand and plastered on a smile. Kitty’s eyes widened but grinned regardless. It was a Christmas miracle.
We all took our places around the tree, Kitty and I on the couch, Jason leaning so elegantly on the mantle and their mom diving into the stacks of presents. She eagerly passed them out and after a short time, even I had a small pile by my feet.
Santa must have gotten the memo on the address change.
The first came from a very cheerful Kitty. The next box with my name on it contained a leather bound bible. Their mother beamed with pride when she showed me the golden edges.
By the time we opened all the presents, Kitty’s mom was already assigning us jobs for the day.
“Wait,” Kitty said before her mom could drag her away. She dug around to the very back of the tree, “There’s one more.”
“Really?” Their mother said while furrowing her eyebrows. The carnage of our designated presents already surrounded us and yet, there was another.
Kitty pulled the thin package out from under the tree and checked the tag on the side, “It’s for Tara.” She handed the present to me but her eyes snapped onto Jason’s.
“Well, who sent it?” Their mother asked.
“No idea,” Kitty claimed.
I tore open the loosely wrapped present until I reached a long white box underneath. I tried to remain calm as I realized the incredible resemblance it held to the boxes Pink Cherry dildos were shipped in.
“Well?” Their mom’s voice begged me to open it.
I pulled it into my abdomen and laughed lightly, “I actually think I’ll open this later.” Someone must’ve been out to get me.
She lifted the lid before I could scurry away. I held my breath before forcing myself to look down.
“A spatula?” Kitty asked before she sucked in a breath and took another sip of her Irish coffee.
Their mom seemed underwhelmed by my present. Even a bit bored. “Well,” She stated with a pop of her lips, “That’s a very nice spatula.”
I nodded and shut the box. “Too bad I already have one.”
After recovering from her disappointment, Kitty’s mom grabbed the pink haired vixen daughter and ushered her into the kitchen.
She turned back to Jason and me just long enough to command us to clean up all the paper before busying herself with the turkey.
The sound of the radio filled the silence between us as we gathered the trash and threw it into a bag.
Glimpses of his soft expression kept my grinch heart from shutting down entirely.
I cleared my throat, “Thanks for the gift.”
Jason nodded, “Sorry, it’s so late.”
“Its fine,” I sighed, “I mean, It’s not like I left a forwarding address.”
Jason stiffened up as he grabbed the wad of wrapping paper from me, “That’s true. ”
Our conversation died off when my phone chimed on the couch. Jason picked it up and briefly glanced at the screen before handing it over, “It’s Ethan.”
I didn’t bother making eye contact before taking it and reading a lengthy ‘Merry Christmas’ message. “He’s just-”
“I got it.”
I nodded and shoved my phone into my back pocket. I knew my mother would be typing out a loud and passive aggressive Christmas message to keep me humble.
“I’m sure you and Amber have something nice planned,” I decided it would have been smarter to chew my own tongue off than go through with saying that again.
Jason chuckled and shook his head. Definitely not the response I expected.
I waited for him to make a snarky remark or tell me how what he did wasn’t my business but he never did. Instead, he grabbed his coffee mug and sat on the sofa with a smirk.
“What are you doing?”
He looked up at me, “Sitting.”
“No, why are you smiling like that.”
I looked up at the ceiling and thought of a nice way to put it, “Like a smug-bastard.”
Jason took a sip of his coffee, “I really don’t know of what you’re talking about.”
“Fine,” I shook my head, “Whatever.”
Jason sighed, “For someone who says they want nothing to do with me you sure are interested in what I do.”
“You’re right. It’s none of my business.” I wondered if he could tell I was withering away on the inside. Being rational never sat well with me.
“It doesn’t have to be this way between us, Tara.” And there he was right on cue to talk me out of one of the only mature decisions I ever made.
“I can’t go back to the way it was.” I knew the conversation was destined to crash and burn so I started on my exit.
“What if it wasn’t the same?” He grabbed my arm before I could make my getaway, “What if I made it up to you?”
I rubbed the space between my eyes. The complete lack of sleep really started to get to me, “What are you talking about?”
“I’ll be yours for two months.”
I couldn’t keep the laughter from bubbling up. He locked his jaw and released my arm.
His eyes bore into mine. I swallowed as I came to the conclusion that he was serious and I hadn’t responded yet.