Holiday Syndrome

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The Dinner

MACK was absolutely stunning in her crimson sweater dress that matched the glass of wine that swung loosely in her hand. Her calla lily skin held a warmer tinge at the cheeks that reminded Marley of the dark mahogany chest upstairs in her childhood bedroom. Marley couldn’t take her eyes off the way her wrist swung back and forth with no worry that the liquid could spill. Though, Mack had never made a mistake in her life, especially not something as lame as spilling wine on her mother’s carpet.

It was a wonder that Mack even came to Christmas dinner at their mother’s house, though it was technically a week after Christmas. Mack had claimed that her and Mads had needed a few days together after the wedding before they visited people. They were to leave for their official honeymoon the next day and Mack wouldn’t stop talking about it. In fact, she had printed out an itinerary for her to read, as if Marley needed a reminder that Mack’s life was perfect.

At the beginning of the night, it seemed like Mack couldn’t care less about their mother’s condition or what she was going through. Marley only watched her sister’s cold exterior shed once, when her mother choked on her pills and took ten minutes to regain her breath.

Mack was never good at caring for others or taking care of them; Marley had always known that. However, it was a slight surprised to her when Mack stopped visiting their mother altogether. She had known how important it was to their mother that they remained a family after their father passed away. Marley supposed her sister had been swallowed by money and fame and hadn’t yet been choked back out.

Her sister was nearing thirty though, soon enough she would be choked back out with developing wrinkles and less of a midnight, youthful glow.

“Mackenzie, baby you should tell your new husband to come over and socialize. He looks like a puppy that’s been kicked to the curb,” their mother crooned pleadingly.

Marley glanced at Mads who was sitting in the family room watching a random channel mindlessly. His eyes were unfocused and his lips were twisted into a distraught frown that Marley prayed wouldn’t become permanent. She had said actual prayers that her sister would make him happy and that nothing would fall apart. None of them could afford to fall apart so soon after the wedding. They just needed time anyways, or at least that was what she was trying to convince herself.

“Don’t bother the poor guy, Ma. I’ll go chat with him and warm him up first,” Marley scolded with a tight smile. Her mother pursed her lips but didn’t say anything further.

Mack twisted her lips in distaste while Marley poured herself another glass of wine (her third) and walked carefully to the vintage couch. It had a paisley print and smelled like chai tea but it was somehow still in quite good condition. Marley had remembered jumping up and down on it as a kid, even falling off plenty of times. While she still had scars, they were quite good memories none the less. Her home was bleeding memories in every single room, reminding Marley of her childhood adventures every time she visited her mother.

“Do you like reading?” His eyes darted to her and then back to the TV, though he looked incredibly more aware of his surroundings. She licked her lips and wondered if it was such a good idea to approach him after all.

Would it always be like that between them if they happened to run into each other? She was beginning to feel as though they had a dirty secret between them that made a potential civil family relationship impossible. Of course, Mack would probably never want them to have a relationship anyways. It was most likely for the best that they let the awkward tension between them keep them apart.

“Can you keep a secret?” He still refused to look at her which was more nerve wracking than if he had been looking at her.

Was Mads about to spill some terrible secret about how much he hated marriage already, or that he hated her for forcing him into it? Her stomach tightened painfully but she still nodded out of respect. His elbow was propped on the side of the couch, his face in his open hand. He didn’t look to be holding in a dark hatred for her, but she also wasn’t very good at reading people.

“I love reading romance novels. The classics, of course, like the ones you find in the free box at the gas station because the last one they actually sold was in ’88.”

The pure honesty written across his face and the way he glanced at her from the side made her laugh. She leaned forward to let her hair fall in her face until she realized it was too short as she had cut her hair a month ago. The short locks did nothing to hide her laugh, nor did tightly closing her mouth.

“I’m sorry,” she breathed out through choked laughter. “I just... I mean it’s not every day,” she tried to explain, not able to finish her sentence.

He rolled his eyes and looked back to the TV again, watching the discovery channel as if vultures eating a light snack was more fascinating than Marley was. Though, Marley was inclined to agree.

“What about you? Any interests?” The question caught her off guard; did she have any interests? She liked to do things of course, like read and write and watch old television on TV. She liked petting her cats and holding them while yelling at the TV. But that didn’t necessarily mean she was passionate about any of them.

“I love my job, writing. It’s my whole life sometimes, but in a good way I think.” I think.

He didn’t make any indication like he was judging Marley or pitying her, though she assumed he must have thought she was the slightest bit pathetic. If somebody had said the same thing to her, she would have felt bad for them. Oh dear, what a lonely little life you have. To her it was something more than that, it was important and what she woke up for in the morning. She couldn’t be lonely because she had always been alone. What would she compare it to?

Marley couldn’t long for something she’d never had.

“Mackenzie said that you write articles or something. I’m not sure she gives your work any justice though. So what do you do?” He angled his body slightly towards her and his eyes showed mild intrigue. He was actually asking her about herself, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to answer.

“I go to events; fashion shows, a handful of weddings and galas. Then I come back and write articles on the decoration, the outfits and the details like what food and drinks complimented the evening. I write a lot of pieces on fashion lines too, which are easier because I don’t have to leave the house for those.” Marley wasn’t used to talking about herself, her throat felt as though it was closing and her palms were beginning to sweat. She looked over to her sister and hoped that she would find someway to remove herself from the situation.

“I’m a chef at a restaurant my best friend owns. He travels a lot so I find myself in charge often, which can be nice. Sometimes I pretend that I own the place. One day I’d like to start my own restaurant, I’ve even picked the absolutely perfect wine to inspire the entire place. One day when Mackenzie is where she wants in her career, she’s promised she’ll make the time for me to really start mine.”

Marley was practically seething and for once she was doing a good job at holding it in. It was no surprise that Mack put herself before others, but to hear how she was already doing it to her husband was angering. She wasn’t used to caring so much about anything involving Mack, but it was hard not to when Marley was starting to feel partly responsible.

“You should just go for it, fuck my si--” She didn’t finish the slightly rude comment about her sister when she noticed that Mack was watching them carefully from the kitchen. Marley was sure that Mack couldn’t here the conversation, but it was for the best that she didn’t risk it anyways. “Anyways, I hope that you have the chance to go for it one day.”

Mads nodded before looking up and taking notice of Mack as well. He lifted his hand in a short wave and then looked back to the TV. Marley took this as her cue and took a few more sips of her wine before standing up awkwardly and adjusting her red and white striped sweater. She wasn’t in the mood to go back to conversing with her sister, so she trampled past everyone’s shoes and bags by the stairs and headed up to the second floor.

“Mars! Thank the heavens, I’ve been trapped in a terribly boring conversation with your uncle Mike and haven’t had the chance to come find you,” a chipper voice exclaimed from the stairs.

Marley whirled around and practically left down four stairs to wrap her arms around her best friend, Maggie.

“Magdalene! It’s been two months since I’ve seen you, where the hell have you been?”

Maggie was a six foot vampiric badass with a fringe and heavy black make up. She travelled constantly, always spontaneously, and never told anyone when she was supposed to return. Marley couldn’t remember actually inviting her friend to the late Christmas celebration but she was pleased that Maggie had come anyway.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you that I wound up in jail for a week, would you?” Maggie grinned devilishly after puling back from Marley’s hug.

“Only if you told me that it was because you were stalking Prince Harry again,” Marley retorted smoothly.

Maggie rolled her eyes and twirled Marley around, giving her butt a push up the stairs. Marley raced up the carpeted staircase, doing her best to avoid tripping like usual, and pushed open the door to her childhood bedroom. The blue walls complimented by paintings of clouds welcomed Marley like an old friend. All of her stuffed animals were in her mahogany chest in the corner of the room and her open closet was stuffed with old books and even clothes that Marley hadn’t been able to wear since high school.

“So Mars, gotten a life since I last saw you?” Marley chuckled and shook her head, flopping down on her twin bed.

“No more than you’ve gotten a girlfriend,” Marley responded.

Maggie laid down beside her and laced her fingers through Marley’s, lying on her side to face the young writer. Maggie piercing eyes were both amused and maybe delighted, the familiar warmth that Marley had missed. Maggie was the only person in her life that she purposefully surrounded herself with and actually enjoyed spending time with.

“Who needs a girlfriend when I clearly am in love with you?” Maggie joked.

“Oh really? Prove it,” Marley mocked, puckering her lips and leaning into Maggie. Maggie responded by falling back and squealing like a child.

The door suddenly opened and revealed a slightly perturbed Mads who gazed at the girls with uncertainty. Marley was pinning down Maggie with one hand and still had her lips puckered, a mere few inches from Maggie’s face. She quickly leapt back and tried to casually get off the bed which proved harder than it seemed.

“Um-- I-- Mackenzie said that dinner is about to served and she’d like you to wake up her father in the guest room,” Mads managed to get out after stuttering.

Marley coughed into her sleeve awkwardly and nodded, not making things any better when she gave him a thumbs up. Maggie sat up behind her and gently laid a hand on Marley’s waist affectionately.

“What, you don’t want to join us?” Maggie’s voice was sickly sweet and too convincing, almost giving Marley an actual heart attack. Marley’s eyes widened as she looked back to Mads.

Mads narrowed his eyes and shifted uncomfortably, clearly at loss for words. His eyes travelled to the paintings of the puffy white clouds and the box of stuffed toys before clearing his throat. “Anyways, I’ll see you downstairs.”

Marley had never seen a man bolt out of a room so quickly before. Maggie snorted beside her and slapped Marley’s hip like she couldn’t have been more amused. Marley on the other hand was not impressed.

“What a douche-y looking bastard,” Maggie whispered with a small laugh. Marley looked at her friend pointedly and frowned.

“What are you, fifteen? I don’t even want to know the things he’ll be telling my sister once they leave!”

“Oh cool it, Mars. He married your sister. He’s ought to be a bit of an asshole,” Maggie said.

“Since when aren’t you all buddy-buddy with Mack?”

Mackenzie and Maggie had been friends a lot longer than Marley and Maggie had. Maggie was Marley’s age with the maturity of a teenager and had always been close with the sisters. Back when Mack had been more easy going and less self entitled in high school, Maggie was like an extra limb to her. It was only when Mack started to find herself with fame and money that her friendship with Maggie became a little more open.

Still, Maggie was annoyingly loyal and completely defensive every time that Marley talked smack about her sister.

“Since she didn’t invite me to her wedding,” Maggie said casually, adjusting her bra like what she had just said was completely expected. Marley sucked in her breath and stared down at her sitting friend, filling up with pity. “Oh don’t look at me like that, I guess she just doesn’t need me right now.”

Marley wasn’t even the slightest convinced that that was what had happened. Mack didn’t shut out anyone for no reason, especially a friend as old as Maggie. Sure, Marley and Mack fell out for no reason, but they had never been close. Maggie and Mack were a completely different story.

“Sure, I guess. It was a stupid wedding anyways. And Mads does sort of look like a douche, doesn’t he?”

Maggie cracked a smile and grabbed Marley’s arm to steady herself as she stood up. “Stay away from him, he looks a bit a shady.”

Marley planned on taking her friend’s warning whether she thought Mads was shady or not.


It took almost ten minutes to wake up Mack’s father, who despite being an energetic retired hockey player, did a good job at refusing to be awakened. He was a kind man who divorced their mother after Mack was born but always tried to stay in his daughter’s life. But to Marley, he was just the nice man who brought her gifts every so often and gave her a call on her birthday. Though to Mack, he was like a superhero.

Marley had always been slightly jealous, especially considering her own father had died of alcohol poisoning when she was three. Mack had always held the fact that she remembered Marley’s father over Marley’s head. Though to give her credit, Marley had to admit that Mack had never sunk as low as bragging about still having a father.

As the night went on, Mack became more bearable. Marley focused mostly on her dinner and avoided making eye contact with anyone but her mother.

“So, mum tells me that Symptomatic is finally giving you a vacation. Where is it again? Paris?” Mack took another delicate bite of her mash and gave her sister a prim smile.

“It’s in New York, you knew that Mack. Mum didn’t tell you, I did, remember?” Marley bit her tongue before she could say more and potentially start a fight. She figured that Mads first dinner with her family didn’t need to end with a family brawl.

Marley’s uncle Mike leaned forward slightly as if he anticipated a fight. He was the most immature member of the family despite being almost sixty. He had absolutely no idea how to have a respectful conversation without bringing up a dirty joke or distant family gossip. If anyone was to enjoy a fight between Marley and Mack, it was her uncle Mike.

“New York! That’s so exciting,” her aunt Mary said happily, a starry look in her pale blue eyes. Mack and Marley glanced at each other and groaned outwardly. “I just love New York. The smoke, the laughter, Broadway.”

“And here it comes--” Mack mumbled under her breath, still loud enough for Marley to hear beside her.

"Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes,” her aunt Mary sang loudly in a crackly voice, spitting on Marley’s mother sitting across the table.

Marley coughed loudly and pounded her chest twice, pretending she was choking on her mash, though she figured that something as smooth as mashed potatoes would be hard to choke on.

“Oh dear, are you alright?” Her uncle Mike laid a hand on her leg and leaned in close to check if she was okay. Marley shied away uncomfortably and pretending to be interested in Mack’s sweater.

“New York is fine. It’s not a big deal, really. It’s just week and they want me to check out their building down there to see if it’s running smoothly.”

“Isn’t that management’s job?” her mother quipped in finally after being silent during most of the dinner. She couldn’t eat a lot of the food as it was too hard to swallow too much and continue breathing. Her mother had a habit of refusing to use her oxygen tank when she needed it, even if it meant being able to eat regular portions and meals.

“Yeah mum, it is. But it’s cheaper to pay me my vacation and have me do it while I’m there. I don’t mind though, it’ll just be a morning or so.”

Marley was slightly startled when Mads lifted his eyes from his plate and stared intensely at her. She had been carefully watching him for the past hour as they ate, noticing that he didn’t look up much or speak all that much either. He was reserved and focused on whatever was in front of him.

“What’s wrong with New York?”

Marley’s lips formed an O and she struggled to find the right words to respond with for a moment. Mads had been borderline intimidating the entire night and she still couldn’t present a normal exchange of words without fumbling for her dignity.

“Nothing. I’ve never even been out of England, I just don’t think it’s suited towards me.”

“It’s not all like they show on television. New York is fast paced and electric obviously, but if you go to the right places, you’ll find the best spots to write, shop or eat. You have to have a guide, basically,” he said with a shrug, clearly not as offended as Marley had originally thought.

“We should all go together! I can finally go into the high end shops that I’ve missed so dearly and Mads, you can show Mars around the city!”

Marley bit her tongue so hard that she could taste the metallic blood overwhelming her mouth. She gripped the table cloth and looked to her mother who was staring off into space. If anyone could have saved her, it would have been her mother. Marley wasn’t getting out it.

“If Marley will have us,” Mads mentioned awkwardly, staring at Marley’s clenched fists. Marley noticed and instantly shoved her hands under the table, embarrassed that he had seen her upset.

Fuck, now he’ll think I hate him or something.

“Of course, as long as you aren’t busy and everything... I could always use some company.”

Mack reached over and ruffled Marley’s hair like she was a dog. Mads looked back down at his food with a small smile and seemed to be surpassing a laugh that Marley didn’t appreciate. Being humiliated by her sister was not what she looked for in a wholesome family dinner during the holidays. In fact, Mack even attending family dinners was what ruined the evening as a whole.

“I always have time for you, Mars. You’re my baby sister. I can’t have you wandering lost around a big city like that.”

Marley hesitated for a moment but surpassed the desire to point out that they lived in a big city themselves. And that she was twenty three, hardly a child that needed baby sitting. If anyone in their family was mature, it was Marley.

“We’ll have a great time,” Mads promised softly, back to looking at Marley intensely again. Though he happened to be smiling that time, something that Marley felt was almost soothing to see.

“Alright then, it’s settled,” she admitted with a small smile of her own, wondering how in the world she would be able to survive a week with her sister. If anything was to make it bearable, it would be Mads. But Marley didn’t even know if she was comfortable with having any type of relationship with her sister’s new husband.

"Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear,” her aunt started up again.

Even Mads rolled his eyes.

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