REAL ART

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I'll Be Home For Christmas

“I’ll be home for Christmas!” sang the voice of Jerry Vale as we flew over British Columbia. It was the sixteenth of December and I was heading home. I was looking forward to seeing my family again. Kaylee and her big green eyes everytime she got exciting news, my dad reading the paper in the morning with his black coffee like some stereotypical fifties husband, and my mom who would be completely absent because she would probably have a surgery to perform.

When I got to the Arrivals door, they were all there. Each of their mouths looked like they were trying to reach their ears as I hugged my sister.

“Welcome home, Art,” said my mom. Their smiles were almost clown like.

“There’s so much to tell you,” Kaylee squealed in my ear as we unembraced.

My dad shook my hand and my mom hugged me for a good three minutes before letting go. We all headed into our old jalopy: a Honda Odyssey from nineteen-ninety. The van looked like it would fall apart from the weight of us. It had rust marks all over it as if someone had strategically peeled off most of the silver off the car, but left some parts untouched as an artistic statement. The back bumper was badly dented after an encounter my dad had three years ago. Some idiot had wanted him to rush the red light and crashed into him to make his point. They exchanged license plates and insurances, but my dad never took it in for repair as he said we would recognize the car easier this way. Who would forget it? We were an embarrassment on the road. But my mom didn’t seem to mind. She had her own car. A brand new black Mazda 6. Because if anyone at work saw her driving our shitbox, she’d probably be fired. Ironically, my dad was a mechanic. But apparently shitty cars were what they all drove.

We arrived home and my sister wouldn’t even let me unpack once I was in my room. She sat on my bed and swung her legs back and forth like some giggly schoolgirl. “So, there’s a boy in my life.”

I looked up from my black MEC bag. “A boy?” I repeated.

“Mhmm.”

“Congratulations,” I said and went back to unpacking.

“What, you don’t care?”

I looked up at her. “Kaylee, of course I care. I’m just focused on unpacking. I just got back.”

I did care. Honestly, I did. But I was being selfish. Everyone’s happy relationship stories were pissing me off.

“And what about you?”

“Mmm?” I had gone back to unpacking.

“Anyone romantic in your life?”

“HA!” I hadn’t meant to shout that so loudly and Kaylee looked a bit shocked as if a pipe had just exploded.

“Sorry,” I apologized quickly. “It’s complicated.”

“Art, every relationship is.”

She had a point. “So who’s this boy?” I asked. I knew my sister would bring it up sooner or later.

“His name is David and he’s in his first year of university. I think it’s good that he’s in university so, you know, I can sort of learn what I’ll soon be getting into.”

“Mhmm…” I nodded as I put my rolled up boxershorts into my top dresser drawer.

“Art, at least pretend to be interested,” Kaylee huffed.

“Sorry,” I said as I closed the drawer. “What’s his name?”

“His name’s David and he has beautiful brown eyes.”

I nodded and wondered if my love for Alice’s eyes was genetic.

“What’s David do?”

“You mean in university?”

“Yes,” I said as I began to put my folded shirts into the drawer below where I had just put my boxershorts.

“Engineering.”

I stopped before closing the drawer. “I don’t think you should date him,” I automatically said.

“Why not?” asked Kaylee, sounding hurt.

“I…um…well…all engineers are insolent to women.”

“He’s very nice,” Kaylee defended.

“I doubt it.”

“Art, you’re just jealous because you have no one.”

My sister couldn’t be more right.

I told my parents about failing Psychology and they weren’t impressed.

“Did you even try?” my mom asked. Her bright green eyes looked darker than usual.

We were sitting at the table for my first dinner back: Kaylee, mom, dad, and I.

“Yeah...” I wavered.

“Art, you don’t sound very certain.”

“Um...”

“He has a complicated relationship with a girl,” Kaylee blurted out. I think she was attacking me for my statement about David upstairs.

I glared at her. Did my parents need to have something else to worry about? Sorry, scratch that, my mom?

“What does she mean, Art?” my mom demanded.

I scratched my head in nervousness. “Um...”

“Art, are you actually able to speak about this?”

“Uh...” It was like I was trying to learn to speak for the first time.

Art?” My mom was still waiting.

“It’s complicated,” I ended up saying and left the table. I hadn’t touched one single string of pasta.

I lay on my bed and looked up at the ceiling. The large white rectangle seemed to be mocking me. I threw up my blue stress ball and watched it crash into the blankness and then fall back into my hand.

There was a knock at the door, but I tried to focus on just throwing the ball up and down with as much force as possible. After the third SLAM!, the door opened and Kaylee walked into my room.

“Art, I know something’s bothering you,” she told me. She sat on my bed as I repeatedly threw the ball up in the air. It was like I was a child and my younger sister was my mom trying to understand her angsty son.

“Art, would you please stop throwing that ball up in the air and speak to me?”

I let the ball fall back into my hand and stared into her green eyes. “Sorry.”

Kaylee gave me a sad smile. “What happened in Kelowna?”

“It’s a long story.”

But it really wasn’t. I was in love with a girl named Alice Sterling and it made no fucking sense because I barely knew her. And I told Kaylee all of this. When I had said it all, she just put her hand on my shoulder to comfort me. “It’s O.K., Art. We all go through this, but I think you need to let go of Alice. She seems to be an obsession. We all fall in love but this isn’t love, this is infatuation.”

“What the fuck’s the difference?”

“Well...” My sister bit her lip. “One makes sense…and when you fall in love…you’ve been with that person for a while. Not someone you’ve just met.”

“You don’t believe in love at first sight?”

“That’s a trick of the brain.”

“You should be a psychologist,” I told her a bit more sarcastically than I had meant.

Hey, I’m just trying to help you.”

“I know,” I said more calmly. “Sorry, Kaylee. I don’t know what’s happening to me.”

“I think you’re just lonely.”

“Yeah, well that’s true.”

“You’re still a virgin, right?”

“Yes.”

“O.K.”

Yes, my sister had gotten laid before me.

“I think what you need is something to occupy your time while you’re in Toronto. Then you can go back to Kelowna refreshed. I’m not saying you’ll never be with Alice, but I’m not saying you will be either. What you need is distance and thankfully you have that. Consider this December as recuperation.”

I hugged my sister. “Thanks, sis. You have no idea how much I needed those words.”

“Anytime, bro.” She patted my leg as I lay back down on the bed. “So are you feeling better?”

“A bit.”

“You think you can come back downstairs and eat with the rest of the family?”

“Sure,” I said. “But one thing: what should I do to get my mind off Alice?”

“How about meditation?”

Meditation? I’m not going to hum for thirty minutes a day.”

“It’s not humming, Art. That’s one form. Besides, it’s quite calming. And that’s what you need because it will calm you down.”

I nodded.

“I’ve been taking this class at Rosedale. We meet every Thursday at four. It’s a great group of people and I think you’d like it. Unfortunately, it’s not on now because of Christmas being so close. But I think I read about a Christmas version. You should go. I would go with you but I think it’s best for you to mediate alone and without the company of family. Trust me, I wouldn’t want you to come to my class either.”

Christmas version?” I asked.

“Yeah. One that is just for the Christmas Season. I doubt you meditate on Christmas though. Well, as a group. You should meditate by yourself.”

“Why did you take up meditation?”

“Because I was stressed with school and it was hard for me after you left. I mean, there were my friends but I liked talking to you. You’re my brother! Plus, you never skyped us like you said you would.”

“Sorry about that.”

Honestly, I had completely forgotten.

“Don’t worry about it, but I think meditation will be worthwhile. It’s worked for me.”

“You’re still gonna go in the New Year?”

“Yep. It’s just a good thing to have like water.”

“Really?”

“Yes, Art. Don’t be so cynical. You might like it.”

Might is the crucial word in that sentence.”

“You know what, forget it! Don’t meditate. Just lie on your bed and mope ’til you’re dead.”

I grabbed Kaylee’s arm before she stood up. “Kaylee, I’m sorry. I’m a bit fucked up.”

“I know. Now come downstairs and pretend everything’s fine. Unless you want to tell our parents about Alice…”

No. You’ve done enough damage.”

Kaylee gave me a sarcastic smile. “You needed it.”

We walked downstairs (her in front and I behind) and when I was sitting back at the table, my mom was chewing her salad and my dad had already eaten half of his plate of pasta.

“Art, so nice of you to join us again,” my mom said as I twirled some cold pasta around my fork. “Would you like to tell us anything?”

No,” I said a bit too harshly.

“O.K.,” said my mom a bit taken aback. “But I want you to know that we only have support for you.”

She nudged my dad’s shoulder, which caused him to obediently utter, “Nothing but support” in between mouthfuls of pasta. I smiled to show them that I understood.

“So Kaylee has a boyfriend. Did you know that?”

Mom! He’s not my boyfriend. We’ve gone on one date,” said Kaylee as she looked down at her plate.

“Well, I bet he soon will be. The point is she’s happy.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I snapped.

“Well, Art, I don’t know what’s going on with you but you’re acting differently than you did when you left. I told you going away was a bad idea.”

I squeezed my fork more tightly. The last thing I needed was an interrogation.

“It wasn’t a bad idea,” I muttered.

“Sorry, Art?”

I don’t need this right now, I thought. “IT WASN’T A BAD IDEA!” I screamed.

My family looked shocked and I was a bit shocked. Shit. Had Alice affected me this badly?

“Sorry,” I said to cushion the outburst, but it had been said.

“Well I’m sorry you feel that way, Art.” Then my mom turned to my dad. “Kory, I don’t think Art should go back to Kelowna. Going away hasn’t been good for him.”

“Mom—” I began to say through clenched teeth, but my sister interrupted me.

“Mom, leave Art alone. He’s had a rough day.”

A rough day?!” my mom cried. “He just got home!”

“Dear, calm down,” my dad said, placing his hand on my mom’s.

My mom looked at us as if we were all excommunicating her from society. “Am I the only one who seems to care about Art’s situation?”

“Dear, Art just got home.”

My mom glared at my dad. “So I’m crazy then?”

No. I did not say that.”

“So then why are you all acting as if there’s some deep secret about Art that no one is willing to share with me?”

“There’s no big secret,” my dad said. “I know as much as you.” My sister and I smiled at each other. “What are you two smiling at?”

“Nothing,” we said quickly.

My dad gave us the death stare and so my sister quickly said something to calm my mom down. “Art’s just stressed by school, mom. It’s been rough, but it’s been good for him to be away.”

“And why can’t Art tell me this himself?” my mom demanded.

“I…can,” I said hesitantly. “I don’t know why Kaylee had to say that. Yes, school’s been stressful and I’d rather not have my whole family become hostile on my behalf.

No one’s hostile, I thought. Just my mom.

“So that’s why you failed your psychology course?”

“Yes.” But my mom didn’t look convinced.

“Alright. Well, Art, I’m not stupid. I know something’s actually bothering you and it has nothing to do with school. Don’t forget, I was your age once. All I’ll say is that you’ll get through it, whatever it is. But I have a good idea on what it is. Just don’t have your schoolwork suffer because of your emotions.”

That was it. I scraped my chair against the floor and stood up. “I’m going to my room,” I said. And when I got there I slammed the door. My mom was right, but I didn’t want to admit it. I went back to my bed and stared up at the ceiling again. Stupid fucking blank ceiling.

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