I had just undressed her when she suddenly vanished. I had only turned my head for a moment, to speak with a couple to my left. When I looked back, she was gone.
I figured she would be back. The room was small and crowded, and she had no clothes.
Meanwhile, I would fuck the other woman. She had long, straight chestnut hair and she came fast and loud. Afterwards, we talked, and I offered to trade contact information with her and her boyfriend.
I searched for my cards, but they were gone. I found paper and pencil, but I could not remember my telephone number or email address. The pencil felt sluggish in my limp hand.
I heard my ex wife’s voice. “I’m sorry they are being so loud, Jefferson,” Lucy said loudly. “I told them to be quiet, but they can’t.”
I opened my eyes. Lucy walked away, the heels of her black boots solid on the hardwood floor.
I squinted and picked up my cell phone. Seven thirty four, December twenty four.
From another room wafted the voices of my ex mother in law, Bucky, and my ex father in law, Bernard. Lucy’s parents separated when Lucy was four but to this day, four decades later, they still reunite for the holidays. I also caught the sound of my ex brother in law, Richard; this year, he would not be joined by his ex boyfriend, Paul.
My ex wife and my ex in laws were up early.
It was the first full day of eXmas.
I propped myself on my elbows, preparing to join them as soon as my erection subsided. It didn’t take long.
I poured coffee and sat among the grown ups.
The previous evening had gone smoothly, as everyone arrived in time for our first meal together. Lucy and the kids had met her brother at the airport before driving to her mother’s house. Bernard had been driven out by Lucy’s sister Julia and Julia’s husband, Aaron.
(Having married this past year, Julia and Aaron are the only couple in Lucy’s family. The wedding party had included all four of my children—Rachel had been brought up to complete that generation—although I had been excluded at Lucy’s insistence.)
Somehow, there had been no room for me in either vehicle that made the trip to grandmother’s house. I ignored the vacant seat in Julia’s car as I made reservations to take the bus.
I read about Bing on the bus ride. I learned that while Bing didn’t let things get to him, he never forgot a slight.
Frankly, I was glad that the ride afforded me some time alone. I didn’t know what to expect from Lucy. Bernard had warned that Lucy and her mother were already feuding, as Bucky had wanted Lucy to bring out the kids a day early, while Lucy felt three days of eXmas was more than enough. Lucy was in the driver’s seat, so Lucy won the battle.
That evening, Lucy, Aaron and Julia took a “walk” to smoke cigarettes and get high while passing a one hit. Every couple of hours for the next few days, Lucy would suggest that a “walk” was in order.
That night at dinner, I carved the leg of lamb. After the kids went to bed, exhausted, the adults sipped a good single-malt scotch. Lucy slipped away for a final walk before vanishing into her bedroom.
I retired to the study, turning in with Bing’s bottle-blonde bride, Dixie Lee. She delivered twins as I held her in my arms.
The next morning, the kids woke and came downstairs in a group. I made bagels as they sat waiting at the dining room table, extended with a wide leaf to accomodate the entire clan.
“Now, tomorrow, Lillie, you can’t get up too early,” Collie scolded.
Lillie took her thumb from her mouth. “What time is okay?” she asked.
“Seven is okay,” Jason suggested.
“Seven thirty,” Collie corrected.
“You boys can’t be serious,” I interjected. “Since when does Lillie wake up first? You sleep like a log, don’t you, girl?”
“Not on Christmas!” she smiled. “I want presents. Santa is coming.”
Collie exchanged a knowing look with Jason.
“Boys . . .” I began.
“What?” Collie said, raising his hands. “I didn’t say anything!”
“Let’s keep it that way,” I admonished.
Collie was already on edge about Christmas, the first in which he was fully “in” on Santa’s Big Secret. But he was mostly concerned about unpleasant encounters with the “bee-yotch,” as Lucy privately referred to her mother with our children.
“I don’t want to spend so many days with the bee-yotch,” he complained.
“Collie, could you please not use that word in your grandmother’s house?” I asked. “Please? It’s very rude.”
“But Mom says . . .”
“Not in the house,” I repeated. “There are too many people here, and sound carries. Be smart about it, okay?”
My mother would’ve slapped my mouth if I had said such things at age ten. Yet I could scarcely admonish the boy for blandishing insults his own mother encouraged him to use. At best, I could help him to avoid hurting his grandmother’s feelings.
Lucy, though, was on her own. I wouldn’t clean up her messes.
Although I would sweep at the edges.
Lillie saw her mother and uncle preparing for a “walk,” and asked to join. Lucy refused, on the grounds that Lillie had forgotten to bring her winter’s coat on the trip. Lillie argued that it wasn’t even cold outside, and anyway, Uncle Aaron wasn’t wearing a coat either. Her mother refused, saying it was a shame that Lillie would just have to stay inside all weekend.
Shortly after her mother and uncle departed, Lillie found me reading Bing. Of course, I had heard her mother’s admonishment about the forgotten coat—sound carries—but since I wasn’t a part of the conversation, I wasn’t beholden to it.
“Dad,” she asked quietly. “Can we go on a walk?”
“Why, I think that’s a fine idea,” I nodded, reaching for my bookmark. “Simply marvelous. Put on your hoodie while I get my shoes.”
We had a fine walk. Simply marvelous.
When we returned, Lillie and I stacked her presents once more. The pile was as high as her chest.
“Still twenty-three presents?” I asked.
“Yep, twenty three! Plus Santa.” She paused and leaned forward conspiratorially. “There’s no such thing as Santa, Dad," she whispered.
I held a finger to my lips. “Let’s hope he didn’t hear that,” I whispered back.
“Dad!” she laughed.
“Shhh!” I shushed, putting fingers in my ears. “La la la la la! I can’t hear you.”
Later on, Lucy and her mother ran errands to pick up a few things for dinner. I was the chef for eXmas Eve, responsible for producing the traditional chicken burritos and White Trash Margaritas—a tradition I had introduced when the family outgrew the the earlier (and now, prohibitively expensive) tradition of lobsters and champagne.
Lucy busied herself with me in the kitchen, not speaking as she moved things from place to place. I got the sense that she was hiding out.
Her mother came into kitchen, removing her glasses as she walked. “Now, how many tacos . . . not tacos, but . . . damn it . . .”
“Burritos?” I suggested.
“Yes . . . no, the . . . tortilla," she struggled. "How many do we have? I got twenty. Is that enough?”
“Mom, there are ten of us, counting the kids,” Lucy sighed. “Do the math.”
Bucky stopped in the center of the room. “Look, Lucy, you are going to have to be nicer to me,” she said, pointing her folded glasses at her daughter.
“What did I say?” Lucy said, looking at me. I turned back to the stove. I no longer had a dog in this fight.
“It’s your tone,” Bucky continued. “You need to be nicer. Plus in the store—you referred to me in the third person, while I was standing right there, in public. You know that’s rude.”
“Well, I’m sorry it bothered you, Mom,” Lucy said.
“Well, that’s not exactly an apology, but I don’t need one.” Bucky dropped packages of tortilla on the counter. “Just please try to be nicer.”
“Fine, Mom, okay.” Lucy looked around for a moment before she quickly opened a silverware drawer, counted out ten forks and departed for the dining room.
I chopped cilantro for the tomatoes.
After dinner, Richard built a fire in anticipation of the evening’s tradition. Each Christmas Eve since Jason was a baby, we have gathered by the fire to sing “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and to read ’Twas the Night Before Christmas. This had not gone very smoothly last year, when Lucy had been reluctant to join us.
Recalling that, Richard seemed ready to press on without waiting for stragglers.
Lucy returned from a post-dinner “walk” to sit near the fire.
“Is Aaron coming back, too?” Richard asked.
“He’s boycotting,” Julia said.
“He’s being Jewish instead?” I asked. She nodded.
“Uncle Aaron doesn’t have to come?” Lillie asked. “Can I go, too?”
“No, young lady,” I said sternly, a cruel squint in my eye. “You will sit right there and revel in your family's love. Don’t make me take off this belt.”
“Oh, whatever, you can go play pool with Aaron,” Lucy said.
“Cool, Mom, thanks!” Lillie jumped from the couch and bolted upstairs.
“Mom, that’s not fair,” Collie whined. He sat holding a copy of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas. It was the first year he would replace Jason in reading it aloud.
“Collie, it’s fine,” his mother said. “You can read it for the grown ups. I just don’t want to listen to her complaining.” She turned to me. “She’s so much like m-o-m,” she spelled, as if no one could follow the breakdown of those three letters. “Have you noticed? So thin skinned.”
I looked around the room. I hadn’t realized Bucky wasn’t with us yet. Jason was looking at me.
“So Jason, you’re the maestro, music man,” I deflected. “Ready?”
“Yeah.” He held up the trumpet he had been practicing all afternoon. “So I’ll play the first round and then we’ll just sing it. Is that okay?”
“I’m so impressed, Jason,” Richard said. “Let’s hear it.”
Bucky joined us with the first trumpet notes.
I saw Lillie watching from the stairs, sucking her thumb and holding her Boo Boo blanket.
Jason took us into twelve rounds of gift giving. Richard added a comic melisma to each golden ri-ii-ii-ing, as he does every year. I hugged a lower octave, and gave a “bu bu bu” to the milkmaids.
Collie nailed his reading, despite an irrepressible grin at the “breast of new-fallen snow.” I clutched his knee as he suppressed a giggle.
As we applauded the end, Lillie returned to the room and stood next to her mother.
“Is it Christmas now?” she asked.
“Yes,” Lucy said. She pointed at a window. “And look, it’s snowing!”
“It is?” Lillie ran to the window. We all laughed.
She turned to us and reddened. “It’s not funny!” she said, her voice cracking into tears. She ran to the staircase and tromped upstairs.
We watched her go.
“See?” Lucy said to me. “Thin skinned.”
“Hmmm.” I nodded.
“You should go after her in a minute,” Lucy said, waving a hand. “I’ll only make it worse.”
“Maybe I’ll go now,” I said, standing. “Nice job, fellas,” I said to the boys. "Thoroughly top notch."
“Thanks, Dad,” Collie grinned.
I walked upstairs and knocked on the door to the room the children shared. I opened the door. “Lillie?”
Lillie was sobbing under a blanket.
I lay next to her.
“Lillie?” I pulled back the cover.
She looked at me, her eyes drowning in tears. “Everybody made fun of me!” she sobbed. “You laughed at me, too.”
“I’m sorry, baby,” I aid, pulling the hair from her red cheeks. “We thought it was a joke.”
“It wasn’t funny!” she cried. “It was making fun of me.”
“I know that you feel that way now. No one wanted to hurt your feelings.”
“Mom did!” Lillie said. “She made fun of me on purpose. She’s a bee-yotch!” She began to sob again.
“I think she just meant it as a prank,” I said. I looked at the ceiling. “Hmmm, maybe we can prank your mom in retaliation . . .”
Lillie stopped sobbing and looked at me. She sat up.
“Can we put red pepper in her egg nog?”
I laughed. “Oh gosh, where did you get that idea?”
“Mom said it. Can we do it?” She was breathless in anticipation of revenge.
I stroked my chin. “I like your idea, but what if she doesn’t drink it? I’ve got another idea. Want to hear it?”
A few moments later, everyone in the living room looked up as I walked downstairs.
“Well?” Bernard asked.
“Lovely night for a stroll, wouldn’t you say?” I asked as I passed.
I returned shortly and headed back upstairs. Jason noticed the wrapping paper in my hand.
“What are you doing, Dad?” he asked.
“Let me see if Lillie is ready to rejoin us,” I demurred.
Soon, Lillie and I came downstairs. She wore a giant grin and held her Boo Boo blanket close.
I sat on the sofa, pulling Lillie into my lap.
Lucy looked at us. “Okay, you two, I’m glad that Lillie is happy again,” she said warily. “But it’s time for bed, so let’s go back upstairs.”
“Yes, it’s bed time,” I said. “But first: Lillie, why don’t you and Boo Boo go count your presents one last time?”
“Okay, Dad,” she giggled. She hopped from my lap and went to the tree.
Collie looked at me quizzically. “Dad . . .”
“You did a fine job reading tonight, son. Simply marvelous.”
He laughed, already hep to my new old lingo. “Dad!”
Lillie ran back from the tree, giggling.
“How many presents, girl?”
“Twenty three, plus one more,” she smiled.
“Nice. Now let’s go to bed.”
Lillie bounced on her bed as Jason and Collie put on pajamas.
She was laughing.