Holidays were always fun. She always looked forward to the thanksgiving dinners and the Christmas lunches where her families got together. Differences were always put aside those days. While there was always the odd aunt or uncle arguing in another room, they’d been big enough for their voices to overtake their shouting.
That was before her parents divorced. Before her mom decided Christmas and Thanksgiving wasn’t worth celebrating if it just meant her own family would be looking at her as if she were the one who committed a crime. That was before her father started dating his new wife. For the last three years, she narrowly missed the invitations for dinner. She skipped out on her own traditions so she could avoid them. Her mom told her that wasn’t on. She needed to grow up and face her dad. When she refused, her mom called him herself, telling him how Amber was excited to join them this Christmas. The word ‘wife’ had been thrown into the mix and tore at every string keeping her together. Last she recalled; her dad was dating the girl. As far as she was concerned, there was still hope for her mom and dad (she grew up becoming a hopeless romantic, so sue her for being a twenty-two year old hoping her parents could still work out), but the word ‘wife’ tossed it out completely.
Her fingers trembled around the handle of her suitcase as she stood in front of a house she didn’t recognise. Her cab dropped her off and from the moment they pulled up, she found herself silently begging that she had been dropped off at the wrong place. Suffice to say that in comparison to her tiny little dorm room back in New York or her mom’s two-bedroom apartment in the next town over, the house was huge. She wishes it was the wrong house, even as her dad makes his way out of the front door with widespread arms and a gaping grin all too big for his face.
“You came!” he cheers, enveloping her in a hug so tight that she finds herself squirming.
“I promised, didn’t I?” she asks tentatively, glancing up at him out of pure curiosity. They’ve had their odd ended phone calls where she could always hear the change in his voice, but actually seeing him in person after the last three years, she found herself having to swallow past the lump in her throat. She remembered his tight smile that made way to the creases on his forehead or how his hair had started greying out. Looking at him now, he seemed so much younger and whether that was because of the new wife or the fact that he decided to start looking after himself was unknown to her. Despite her curiosity, she chooses not to ask anything. Instead, she looks up at the house and her dad follows her gaze.
“Come on,” he says. “Everyone’s waiting to meet you.” He walks on ahead before she can respond to the ‘everyone’ or the ‘meet’ in that sentence. It’s Christmas eve. Back then, her mom was always too busy on Christmas eves to have other people over. She was always preparing the food and cleaning the house and absolutely refused help from anybody else. Reluctantly, Amber follows him inside. The front door closes behind her. Walking up the passageway and past two doors either side of her, she finds herself stepping into a living room that could fit twenty people. Maybe even more, but who is she to judge?
A woman steps forward, blonde curls bouncing around her shoulders and a smile so bright, the sun would definitely be jealous. Her blue eyes sparkle in the light of the sun as she shoots out a hand. Amber accepts it with a single shake which winds up with her being pulled into a hug. The woman smells of cookies and eggnog and when she pulls away, it’s clear the Christmas spirit has made way to the house; either she’s really into Christmas or she’s one of the helpers. She’s wearing this bright red Christmas jersey that reads ‘I love Christmas’ with two large thumbs pointing up. It must have been difficult to knit.
“Is this the famous Amber I’ve heard so, so much about?” her voice is perky, just like her personality. “I’m so glad to finally meet you! I’m Cheryl, your dad’s wife.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Amber murmurs when she’s finally able to get a word in. Cheryl can’t seem to contain her excitement with the way she’s smiling. Her hand slides past Amber and the next thing she knows, the suitcase is being tugged gently out of her hand.
“I want you to come meet everyone. Your dad speaks about you so much, we’ve all been dying to meet you. The prodigal daughter and all,” she chirps, stepping between her and her dad as she places the suitcase against the wall by the staircase Amber hadn’t realized was there. She’s far too consumed in everything to actually be taking note.
With a clap of her hands, Cheryl leads them into a room near the back which Amber suspects to be the dining room. Except the table isn’t there. It’s filled with chairs full of faces, all turning when they step into the room. She’s taken around the room, being introduced to Cheryl’s mom (Elizabeth, though she insists she be called Grams by ‘such a beautiful woman’), her brother Rick and his three kids (Sasha, Tyrese and Michael. Two of which were around Amber’s age) and a grumpy old man who wouldn’t look Amber in the eye. Cheryl immediately apologised for her father as he had just taken his medication and he could be really mean an hour or two after it.
“Your dad’s family will be here in the next hour,” she explains, still smiling. Amber wonders if her constant smiling like that must hurt. If her cousin Anderson were here, they’d make that bet. She doesn’t know when she would get to see Anderson again though seeing as he’s on her mom’s side. She almost wishes her mom could be here too. It would make this entire meeting less intimidating. Honestly speaking, the meeting was all fine and dandy. It was the reminder that she would be stuck here for the entirety of the long weekend with these people that was intimidating.
She’s given a tour of the house after being informed that the kitchen is on the other side of the house. Amber bites back a comment about how insane that is; it’s way too big. Cheryl calls one of the names Amber recognises, turning to the boy with frizzy blonde hair. She can’t remember which brother he is, but she remembers him being the tallest. He’s instructed to take her to the guest bedroom, leading Amber to believe that he, as well as the rest of the family, must come here more often than she realized.
He takes her upstairs to a room so plain and yet somehow, bright. It’s the average bedroom setup. Stepping into the room, to her left are two beds, divided by a lamp side table
and to her right are the cupboards. She eyes both beds as she takes one hesitant step after another. She wasn’t sure who the other bed was for and whether someone had claimed one of the two beds either. For all she knew, their
luggage could be stuffed in the cupboard and they could very well be downstairs. The guy must take note of this as he steps into the spot beside her and glances over.
“Nobody has claimed the bed,” he informs her. “So, you can take your pick.”
Her head whips around to look at him and she finds herself stilling when they make eye contact. Whatever comment she was about to make falls short of her tongue. Not wanting to stand there staring at the guy like an idiot, she turns back to the beds and, after much debate on her part, takes the one closest to the window.
“Good choice,” he comments. When she turns around, he’s already in the doorway. “Tyrese, by the way,” he tells her as he steps out and she falls into step beside him. “Michael’s my younger brother. Sasha’s the middle kid.”
“The duties of an older sibling, huh?” she murmurs without thought. When she realizes what she’s said, she looks at him, slightly alarmed. However, the laugh that passes through his
lips is precisely what surprises her as well as eases her, corners of her lips tugging up into a hint of a smile.
“You could say that,” he says, flashing a smile. Their conversation comes to an end as they step back
into the room filled with people. He gestures for her to follow him which is how she ends up seated with Michael, Sasha and him, part of whatever conversation they were having. Her attention was far away from the conversation
as she took a glance around the room.
It was beautiful with its light colours giving off a soft impression and the chandelier glistening above their heads. A long carpet lay on the floor which is where she imagines the table would go. The more she looks around, the more she notes. For instance, the cupboard closest to the entrance of the room and the only section of the room where the chairs weren’t pushed up against the wall. On it were picture frames of the family separated by different little ornaments or decorations. Although, as much as she found the room beautiful and warm, she couldn’t help
the disappointment that crept in.
Where were the Christmas decorations or the ornaments? Before the divorce, her dad, mom and herself would decorate the house weeks before Christmas. She hadn’t seen any stockings and when given the house tour, she didn’t see the Christmas tree anywhere. Seeing the way Cheryl and her family wore their tacky Christmas jumpers, she more than half expected there to be decorations all over the place. From an outsider's perspective, they were the sort of people who put up a whole house decoration: Santa and the reindeers on the roof, Christmas lights all over the windows. It wasn’t like they didn’t have space either. She was so tempted to ask about it but found herself piping her mouth shut. It was impolite considering her efforts to avoid this holiday with them in the first place.
The doorbell rings (it’s a freaking Christmas tune, so how is there no Christmas tree?) Amber can’t help but turn her head toward the door, waiting in anticipation to see who has
arrived. She wonders if it’s her dad’s side of the family. If so, it would help with the tension building up in her shoulders; she would really appreciate familiar faces right about now. Cheryl’s not in the room she notes upon a second scan as she waits, and she assumes she’s gone to answer the door.
Right on track with those thoughts, a flood of familiar faces fills the room. She has the sneaking suspicion this isn’t the first time their families are meeting (and why would it be? They weren’t the ones dodging Christmas celebrations like the plague.) The sneaking suspicion is partnered with a little note on the side with the way they’re greeting each other. It wasn’t just your ordinary ‘I see you once a year, merry Christmas’ sort of greetings. It was more on the side of ‘we get together even when our children aren’t around’ which is something she knows her dad’s family and her mom’s family never had. There were always the polite greetings and the kind conversations, but they only ever saw each other on big
occasions. Amber always found it odd considering how much her dad’s family loved her mom and vice versa.
When they get to her, their faces light up and Amber can’t stop the smile that fights its way across her face as she embraces everyone. From her grandmother to her aunt and uncle right up to her cousins. She even gets to meet the new addition to the family, and it takes all of her willpower to keep from letting the tears flow. Missing out on so many celebrations with her dad and his family, she never really
realized how much she was missing out until now. Her grandfather greets her last, insisting she don’t dare miss another occasion like this again.
When the silence begins to loom, the once echoing chatter simmering down to soft murmurs, she finds her cousin Amelia who shoots her a smile.
“Do you come to these often?” she queries softly, eyeing Amelia curiously.
Her brunette locks bounce as she turns to look at Amber, a ground-breaking smile revealing a set of teeth covered in braces. “Every year,” she responds, her smile dipping slightly.
“We’ve missed you; you know. When mom said you were coming, Danny couldn’t wait.” She looks over at her brother, Danny, standing beside their mom. Every now and again, he will cast a glance over at Amber who shoots him a smile. She
pushes away the guilt that builds its way up.
“I missed you guys too,” she admits. When she approached Amelia with the question, her intentions were to find out about the missing tree and decorations, but the question died in her throat the moment Amelia spoke. It was replaced with the guilt and she found herself unable to wrap her head around it. Her selfishness toward the entire situation. She wanted to apologise to them all. Most of all, she wanted
to apologise to her dad.
More than anything else, she wanted to shake off the unease that settled in. Amber hardly liked change. It was the reason behind her acting out on her father. So, the abrupt change in
festive traditions wasn’t settling well with her. All of this should have been happening on Christmas day; the families gathering, and everything should have been up. There should have been eggnog and old Santa tales and cookies as they sat around the fire.
This wasn’t it.
The bell rings again and Cheryl disappears out of the room. Amber’s too caught up in her emotions and the struggle to comprehend everything to care about who it was at the door this time. Or at least, that’s what she thinks. However, when the person enters and the entirety of the room cheers, she can’t help but look up. And she be damned when she locks eyes with a familiar set of golden-brown eyes that were an exact replica of hers. The dimpled smile when their eyes lock is unmistakably familiar. Just to be sure, Amber rubs at her eyes. When they flicker open to her mom standing right in front of her in the same tacky holiday sweater as the rest of them, she almost screeches. Embracing her tightly, she murmurs, “I didn’t know you were coming!”
“I come every year, darling.”
Her mom’s words hit her harder than she expected. Was it just her ditching her dad on Christmas? Was it just her that was mad at her dad rather than being mad at both of them? Was she just taking it out on him and his wife for no reason whatsoever?
“Now,” Cheryl starts with a clap of her hands. “Since everybody is here, shall we start?" When everyone seems to agree, her smile only widens.
"First of all, I'd like to welcome Amber. It's amazing to finally be able to meet you and while we know you may not be used to our way of things; we hope you enjoy the traditions we have."
Her dad steps forward, a red jumper in hand. "This is yours, kiddo," he says, placing it right into her hands. Once again, she finds herself smiling.
It's the same tacky jumper. Except this time, she's the one getting it. She's the one tugging it on and she's the one fitting in with the rest of the tacky jumper crowd. Everyone applauds and cheers as Amber thanks them softly, unable to adjust her voice any louder.
Her mom, Cheryl and her dad step out for a moment. When they return, they’re carrying big boxes which they hand over to one person. They’re divided into groups and as Amber follows her cousins and Tyrese and his siblings, she slowly connects the dots.
Their tradition is decorating together. Each group is given a specific area of the house in which they must decorate. They have the pleasure of decorating the back room which ignites pure excitement within her. She was a sucker for decorating, so the fact that they had the biggest room was beyond pleasing.
It takes them approximately an hour. After that, everyone regroups outside where they do in fact decorate. This time as one group.
By the time they’re done, it looks like Christmas has thrown up over the house. Amber likes it.
Once their decorating is done and the tree is up, they head inside to the yard where her dad and uncle start a fire while Cheryl and her mom hand out eggnog. They move the chairs outside, everyone huddled closely together as they start on their old Christmas tales.
The night ends with an exchange of one gift per person.
While it wasn’t one hundred percent the same as the traditions her dad, mom and herself did together, she supposes she didn’t entirely disapprove of these new traditions. She thoroughly enjoyed decorating together with more than just her parents.
And maybe, just maybe, Amber wasn’t against the idea of change. With the way some of their old traditions were able to mould together quite nicely with the traditions she assumes came from Cheryl and her family; she can’t deny it’s one of the best changes in the world.
By the end of the night, she promises to turn up for future celebrations.