“You can do this.” I say to the reflection in bedroom mirror, my voice wavering. I let out a breath, took one last look at my purple, off-the-shoulder dress and silver pumps, swiped the lipstick stain from my front teeth and plastered a smile on my face. I grabbed my purse and coat before making my way to my car. The drive to Nick’s parents’ house was an hour away and I planned to leave two hours earlier, but instead I got caught up in some messy mixed emotions that made me weep. Argh, what I wouldn’t do to be me again – the happy me. I swore I wouldn’t be this person and here I was, my heart confused and hurt while faking happiness all around. Christmas decorations got more and more extravagant along the drive and even the children singing Christmas songs as they danced and played in the snow couldn’t cheer me up. You can still turn this car around, I say to myself but drop the idea because I know that Nick’s parents wanted me to be there. Not like I wanted to be with my own family. It beats being alone though. I was heading for disaster and I knew this festive week would end badly. Nick was bringing Susan to meet the family, thus resulting in my lone drive this year. To say it sucked would be a drastic understatement. Nick didn’t break up with her as per his previous declaration and just shrugged when I had asked him why he hadn’t gone through with it, and now he is introducing her to his family which he had never had done before, which made it much, much worse. He was serious about her and it was killing me inside. And thanks to ‘perfect’ Susan’, Nick’s and my hang out sessions have been cut short, not like I could stand seeing him nowadays, especially at the office when he strolls to me and makes chit chat and I try my best to feign interest. Luckily he hardly speaks of her, if not at all, which I do find weird and it made my hopes run high before skydiving when his mother called and announced with utmost glee that Nick was bringing over his girlfriend while I was on the other end of the call, fuming. I was so used to spending the Christmas week with Nick at his parents’ house, us lazing on the couch while his parents shared the story of how they met and how things were in the late 70’s and early 80’s. We’d have hot chocolate on the balcony and laugh at the bald-headed neighbour that walked around naked whom, by the way, had more hair on the rest of his body than his shiny head and it wasn’t a pretty sight. And all that ruined by Susan. Argh! I hated her and I didn’t even properly meet her. Maybe she was perfect, maybe she was the one for Nick but Nick was my pillar of strength. He was mine and I hated the fact that she stole him from me.
I drive up the driveway to Nick’s parents’ house that was huge and immaculately decorated in pure white lights. My heart thumped harder as I spotted Nick’s car parked in the garage. Before I could even try to compose my racing and resentful heart, a knock sounds on my window. “Mia..” Patrick, Nick’s dad, calls jovially and I beam instantly. I jump out of the car and fall into his bear hug. “Help her with her bags Patrick and get her inside before she freezes out there.” Nicholene, Nick’s mum, yells from the doorway and she waves enthusiastically in my direction. Patrick hauls my bags from my trunk as I gather my strewn belongings from the passenger seat. He huffs as he let the bag fall to the floor. “I wouldn’t be surprised to find a dead body in here. Maybe two. It’s like your bags get heavier and heavier each year.” I laugh, “Or maybe it the old age catching up to you.” “Never! I’m in my prime.” he says jutting out his chest and he carries my bag into the house while I laugh at his comical expression. Warmth engulfs me as I enter the house, pulling off my coat. I wasn’t surprised to find lights all over the ceilings and walls and ten tiny Balsam Fir trees in plant pot lining the hall way, each decorated beautifully. The smell of cheesy pasta surrounds me and it feels like home. Nicholene pulls me into a hug, for which I had to bend at my hips. She was a short woman, with short curly hair, kind eyes, strong hugs, and was devilishly scary when she got mad and I loved her with every cell in my body. “Oh my,” she gasps “You’ve lost weight!” she says, holding me at arm’s length as she inspects me disapprovingly. “It’s a new diet.” I lie, not wanting to admit that my recent lack of appetite was due to the emotions spiralling through me because of their hunk of a son. “Diet?!’ she spat. “Oh no! This won’t do! There is no need for you to diet my darling; you were so weak before and now.”, she tsks as she takes in my small form. “Let me get you some real food.”, she says with a tap on my shoulder as she drags me to the kitchen where none other than Nick was seated at the dining table . Nick was mouth-watering in his black sweater and jeans, and Susan looked drop dead gorgeous in her orange V-necked blouse and jeans. My heart burned with jealously at the sight of their clasped hands, urging me to scream and stamp my feet in the most childish manner. Nick releases himself from her grasp when he sees me and he strolls over, taking me into a hug. “How was the drive?” he asks, looking happy as ever while I am going under in misery on the inside. “Quiet.” I say and he laughs. “Missed me, didn’t you?” “Me? Miss your endless sermons on why plastic trees ruins Christmas? Nope. Not one bit.” I lie and he knows it. He pulls me towards the dining table and introduces me to Susan. We greet each other, shaking hands awkwardly. She scans me from head to toe, clearly not happy with what she sees and somehow I bask in her jealousy, glad that I decided to overdress. Nick’s mum calls my name before forcefully seating me at the kitchen counter as I watch her dish up a plate of cheesy pasta – a Christmas Eve, McCarthy norm – before placing it in front of me. “Oh my God, this is too much.” I say as I take in the pile of food on an enormous plate. Nicolene looks at me over her glasses, a warning I knew too well when it came down to food. “Eat.” she orders and I know well enough not to argue as I dig into the delicious homemade meal that warms my heart and helps subside the heartache.
I grab a glass of wine as I carry the thick blanket out with me onto the balcony. Wrapping myself up to my neck, I sipped on the chilled liquid and let out a moan of satisfaction. Fatigue was eating at me but I’ve waited an entire year to be out here, under the stars, enjoying the bone-chilling weather. Naked-neighbour-guy was a no show and I sulk as I go over the events of the day.Susan and Nick were a couple in love – well more like Susan, who hung on Nick’s every word as if he were Tom Welling. Patrick and Nicholene were overjoyed at their prospective new daughter-in-law and that burned a hole in my heart. Nick’s four younger sisters joined us for dinner, which I had to decline due to the huge and satisfying meal that Nicholene had threatened me to consume. Not that I’m complaining, it was delicious. Soft footsteps made me peep at the door and out trotted Nick with his own blanket wrapped around his shoulders and a steaming cup of what I’d assumed to be hot chocolate, seating himself carefully onto the swinging chair next to me. I couldn’t help but smile. He remembered. We sat outside in comfortable silence, him sipping his coffee while I sipped on my wine. “Look.” Nick says as he laughs pointing at the neighbour’s kitchen window and there stood the bald, naked guy in his kitchen, staring at something below him. “Oh my God, is he analysing his…” my sentence cut short as I gasped in laughter. An older naked lady, maybe around her late forties emerged from below. “Now that’s the Christmas spirit.” Nick says and I laugh harder. ‘You’re sure you want to have that wine? You should have something warmer. You could catch a cold.” he says warmly and right on cue, I sneeze, spilling a little wine on my blanket. “Told you so.”, he smirks and I give him the evil eye. “Want to swap?” I ask, holding out my half glass of wine. He nods and we swop drinks. I look into his cup, where hot chocolate supposed to be and it’s empty. “Really Nick?!” I scold. “Yup. Would you mind making me another when you’re making yours?” he asks innocently. “Yes I do mind. Why don’t you ask your fiancée to make another for you?” I tease with a bite to my tone. “Number one, she isn’t my fiancée’ and number two, are you jealous?” he playfully cocks his eyebrows and I get madder at him for being so adorably adorable. I almost pout. “No. Why in the world would I be jealous?” I lie. “Maybe because all my attention is going to Susan and not you.” he snickers. Suddenly I couldn’t pretend anymore. “Yeah.”, I say, saddened. Nick does a double take, “You’re jealous because I’m not giving you any attention?” he asks concerned and I just want to grab him and kiss him long and hard so that he never remembers Susan again. My silence must have answered his question and he pulls me into a hug, wrapping his blanket around us both. “It’s just… it’s always been just you and me doing everything together during the festive week, and right now I just feel left out now that you have a new toy to play with. Not that I can call her your toy since you brought her to meet you family and you’re clearly very serious about her. I guess I need to get used to spending the festive season alone when you marry her and I get kicked out of the party.” I blabber and my eyes become wet. “Are you serious? You will never get kicked out because my family adores you and I can’t blame them. You seriously are adorable.”, he says, touching my nose. “And I’m not going to marry Susan. I didn’t even want her here but we ran into mum at the mall and she got invited. You know how mum can be?” he says and I nod. “So you’re not going to marry her ever?” I ask like I’m a little child asking if Santa is real. “She’s not the one for me.” he states simply. “How do you know?” I ask, happy dancing internally. “I just do. I know what love feels like and I don’t feel it for her.” he says. Nick was in love? When? “You were in love? With who?” I ask, sitting up straighter, breaking our connection. He sighs heavily. “Let’s leave that for another day.” I got the vibe that he wouldn’t want to talk about it, so I settled on the great news that it would be Nick and I for just a while longer, and even if though it was just a friendship we shared, I didn’t want to share him. Atleast not now. Maybe never.
Christmas day was a blur of food and laughter. Damn I loved this huge, vibrant, and joyous family. Not once did they make me feel out of place in the years I’ve known them. Nicolene and Patrick considered me to be one of their daughters so that meant I got scolded as well. Not that I minded, I knew they wanted what was best for me and they hinted many times that Nick and I should start dating. I should brush it aside before, but even though I contemplated the idea, I knew I could never date Nick, let alone any other person. He deserves love, not someone who still wasn’t sure about stability. He was looking for a secure relationship and I didn’t make the cut. “Come on!” Nicholene scolds as she leads me to the living room where everyone was already seated. Usually most people exchange their gifts on Christmas morning, but in Nick’s family their tradition took place after dinner as everyone sipped on tea, coffee or hot chocolate near the fire place. I watched as Nick’s youngest sister beamed and gushed over her set of art pencils and sketch pads, her happiness spread through each one of us. After a few more gift-swapping, Patrick passed Nick the gift I had bought him. He looked at me and smirked as he tore through the wrapping and stilled when he saw what lay underneath. My anticipation eased when he rose from his place floor, strolled over to me and engulfed me in a hug. I laughed, hugging him back as I looked over at Susan, who was shooting me with her eyes. “What did she get you?” Patrick asks curiously. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.- First Edition”, Nick says as he gives me one last squeeze before going back to his gift and touching the mint condition novel with such caress that made me jealous. After a confused look from almost everyone in the room, except Nick and me, Patrick passed Nick the gift from Susan. He tore through the wrapping and almost grimaced before schooling his expressions into a huge, fake smile. “Thanks. I love it.” he says to her but makes no gesture to hug or kiss her. “Aren’t you going to wear it?” Susan asks as Nick begins putting the watch away. “Sure.”, he says with little enthusiasm as he clasps it around his wrist. Everyone in the room suddenly glances awkwardly at each other. We all knew Nick hated to wear jewellery. 1000 points to me, I celebrate and wish I could stick out my tongue at Susan like a four year old. The rest of the gift exchange goes smoothly and I love all the gifts I had received, especially the silver moon pendant that Nick gave me. It was simple, just the way I liked it.