By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: You’ve invited all your family members to celebrate Christmas at your house. Unfortunately they all decline with different excuses, which seems highly unusual as you normally spend the holidays together. On Christmas day you decide to drop their gifts off at their houses. When you arrive at the first house, though, you see them all in there celebrating without you. What do you do? Write this scene.
Aaron pulled in front of his grandmother’s house and frowned.
Since when does Grammie have so many people over on Christmas day? And where am I supposed to park?
He guided the car past her driveway and parked in front of a sedan that looked familiar.
Mom’s here? But she told me she had to work today. Did she lie…? No. She wouldn’t do that. This is my first Christmas home. She said we’d definitely spend it together.
He inhaled long and deep and tugged on his gloves. Thankfully the snow had stopped two days earlier, but the temperatures refused to budge above the teens. Aaron made sure his hat wouldn’t slip off, grabbed the fruit basket he’d bought for Grammie, and tried to get out of the car without bumping the basket against anything. He took his time walking along the curb and up the driveway. Someone had plowed the driveway, but a person could never second-guess black ice.
As he got closer to the front door, Aaron heard music and laughter.
Man, she must have some group in there if I can hear them all the way out here. I wonder who else is here.
He held up a finger to ring the doorbell and then stopped himself. Trying out a few smiles, Aaron finally found one that felt comfortable. He pressed the doorbell and then took half a step back and waited.
After a few moments the door swung open. His father had a huge smile on his face, ready to greet someone. In an instant his father’s expression changed, first to confusion and then to embarrassment.
“Aaron, son,” his dad said, glancing behind him. “What are—I mean, merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, Dad,” Aaron said. He stepped forward and tried to initiate a hug with one arm, and after a moment or two his father reciprocated. Aaron pulled back and moved around his dad.
“Is Mom here too?”
“Yes, she is, but, son, I wouldn’t—”
Aaron strode into his grandmother’s dining room and stopped short. His entire family sat at the table laughing and talking. Every single person he’d called to invite to his home for that day, all of his relatives, elbowed one another affectionately for space as they shared dishes and stories. Christmas music played throughout the house, and the entire first floor would have made the cover of any holiday-themed magazine.
As he stood there the conversations started to get quiet. Within a few minutes everyone stopped talking. All eyes looked to him.
“Merry Christmas, everyone,” Aaron said, looking around the table. He stopped at his grandmother. “Grammie, I brought you this.”
He held up the fruit basket and tried to smile with holiday cheer. It didn’t seem to convince anyone. He didn’t feel convinced himself.
Grammie stood up and held out her arms to him. “Aaron, my dear, I’m so happy to see you!”
“What’s going on, Grammie?” Aaron asked, dropping the smile attempt. He let her take the fruit basket but then looked back at the people at the table. “I invited all of you to my home for Christmas this year. All of you. And all of you said you were busy. Why did everyone lie to me?”
His aunts, uncles, and cousins exchanged looks, and the embarrassment his father had shown at the door now seemed to rule the dinner table. No one answered Aaron’s question. The Christmas music continued to play and underscored the odd situation.
“Well? What is it, guys? Why didn’t anyone want to celebrate the holidays at my place?”
No one answered. Aaron searched through all the faces until he found the one he wanted.
“Mom?” he said, walking around the table. “You promised we’d celebrate my first Christmas home.”
His mother stood up. “I know, honey, but that was before…before I got a phone call from Christine.”
Aaron stopped mid-step. “You talked to Christine? What did she say?”
She came forward and clasped his arms. Aaron resisted the urge to shake her off.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” she said in a quiet voice. “I know you said you didn’t do it, but Christine seems to think you did. And after talking to her…well…”
“You’d rather believe her than your own son, that’s it, right?”
His mother spread her hands helplessly. “Honey, you know Christine and I have always had a close relationship.”
Aaron narrowed his eyes. “She accused me of a crime, Mom. I did time because of her accusations. I’ve been away from my family, my friends, and my job all this time, and now that I’m trying to get on with my life all of you turn your backs on me? Just because of some woman who is no longer a part of our family?”
“Aaron,” a cousin said, starting to stand up, “you’ve got to understand, this wasn’t easy for any of us to—”
“No,” Aaron snapped, holding up a hand. “Don’t bother. Enjoy your holiday, everyone.”
He stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind him.