The Perfect Family Vacation

Submitted into Contest #129 in response to: Set your story in a snowed-in chalet.... view prompt


American Contemporary Drama

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

The Perfect Family Vacation

(This story contains references to mental illness and explicit language.)

           Lucy’d had her misgivings about this trip from the get-go. She and her sisters got along just fine. They lived together, true, but they each had their own lives, their own space, their own places to go, their separate friends – plenty of time apart.

           And it worked. When people asked if they liked living together, they’d answer, “Most of the time.” It always got a laugh.

           This year they’d splurged and planned the perfect family vacation: a whole week at a beautiful chalet in Boone, North Carolina, at the peak of snow season. Carol’s son Thomas would be going, too. He and his mom were pretty much a package deal.

           Though almost forty, Thomas was not really capable of taking care of himself for long. While quite intelligent, he had mental health issues and an addiction problem. Left to his own devices, he was almost sure to make some choices that were not in his own best interests. Or anybody else’s. So he came, too.

           They’d reserved a sweet suite at the SnowTop Inn – three bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen, and a big den with a fireplace. Thomas and Mary would have private quarters; Lucy and Carol would share a room, as they had as children. It was a king size bed. Cozy. A pricey setup, but it would be worth it.

           (Not that any of them actually skied. They’d grown up in south Georgia. They would be there for the ambience and the snow).

 They arrived late on Thursday evening, got themselves settled in, ate a quick dinner, and went to bed early. Big day tomorrow.

           Friday was perfect, walks in the snow, basking by the fireplace with a cup of cocoa, tea, coffee, or whatever. Thomas couldn’t have alcohol, as a (reluctantly) recovering alcoholic, and the ladies usually tee totaled for his sake, but this was, after all, the Perfect Family Vacation. Lucy discovered that the waitstaff could be cajoled into putting whatever cocktail she wanted in the same kind of mug the cocoa was served in. Her misgivings began to fade.

Saturday was not so perfect. Outside activities were curtailed by a freak snowstorm that blew in from the northwest. Not a problem; they had all brought their computers, books, writing pads, phones, and other distractions, and there was always Nextflik on the 60-inch tv in the den. Each holed up in their bedroom and whiled away the hours privately, joining each other before heading downstairs to dine that evening.

During the isolated afternoon, Thomas had developed a snit, a rather large one. He’d gotten bored. He spent his days at home whiling away the hours on his computer. He hadn’t come on vacation for that. At home, at least his cat, Eliza, would be there. So he was a bit less than sociable over dinner, dominating the conversation with tirades about climate change, engineered obsolescence, and the secret missions he’d been on for the CIA. If the ladies tried to change the subject, he overrode them with his deep voice and accused them of ignoring the problems of the world.

Damn, thought Lucy. I can hear all this at home. I didn’t come on vacation for this. At home, at least sweet Shisa dog would be there. She tuned it out and concentrated on her ribeye.

By the time she tuned back in, dessert was being served (baked Alaska; how appropriate) and the tenor of the conversation had taken a turn for the worse. Thomas was louder and more belligerent. Somehow the conversation had veered into his personal history of emotional and medical abuse by his mother; Carol was clearly embarrassed and was trying to get him to lower his voice, which only made him madder.

“What? You don’t want these people to know how you drugged me from the time I was eight? How you let the doctors drug me into oblivion and that’s why I can’t remember anything now? How you destroyed my life and any chance I might have had of actually having one?”

Lucy cringed. She should have stayed present and maybe she could have kept the conversation from going this far; sometimes she could. It was too late now.

As expected, other diners were watching, some as if this were part of the entertainment, some aghast, all aware of what was going on. The dining room wasn’t that big, after all.

In a moment, an older gentleman stood up from a table across the room. Lucy could see him approaching and knew he planned to intervene. She shook her head to try to warn him off; he saw her and kept coming anyway. This was not going to be good.

The man stopped at Thomas’ chair. “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but overhear,” and put what Lucy knew he intended to be a friendly hand on Thomas’ shoulder.

Thomas stopped midsentence and turned to look up at the man. The nice man smiled. It didn’t help.

“Who the hell are you? Get away from me, you motherfucker!”

“Son, I wondered if I might talk to you a minute?” the man said quietly.

“What the hell do you want? Damn motherfucker, coming over here and interrupting a private conversation. Get the hell away from here!”

The man didn’t move. Lucy silently prayed that he would just go away. He wasn’t helping. He wanted to, clearly. But he wasn’t.

But instead of moving away, the man sat down in the empty chair beside Thomas. He gave each of the sisters a smile and said, “So, how is everybody this evening?” No one answered him.

He looked back at Thomas. “Son, I realize you’re upset. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Yeah, you can take your pansy ass back to wherever you came from. Who the hell do you think you are, coming over here getting in someone’s business?” Thomas was no less angry, to say the least.

Lucy stole a look around the room. Virtually everybody was watching now. The hotel manager and several employees were standing at the edge of the room, trying to decide whether to intervene. A young couple was hustling their two toddlers out of the room. The only sounds were a young, extremely angry voice and an older, soothing voice.

“Son, do you think you and I could go into the great room and talk? Let these good people get back to their dinner?” Smile.

“Don’t call me Son, you interfering old bastard! You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about me.” Thomas shot hate through his eyes to the man’s.

“I know you’re upset, but you’re keeping these people from enjoying their dinner,” the man replied in the most reasonable voice ever.

“Enjoying their dinner? Who gives a fuck about dinner when we are killing the whole planet? When people in Bangladesh are working for pennies a day to make a few fucking billionaires richer? Who gives a fuck? You don’t know anything. Go back to your table and enjoy your dinner,” he spat the last few words out as if they tasted bad.

Carol had drawn herself into the tiniest space she could occupy, quiet tears falling from her closed eyes. Mary had the good sense, for once, to stay out of it, continuing to eat her dinner as if nothing were amiss. Only Lucy was still in the picture. She tried to make eye contact with Thomas, but he wasn’t having it. She looked over at the man and said, “Sir, I know you mean well, but it would really be better if you stepped away.”

“I don’t think I can,” he answered. “I know someone a lot like this young man, and –”

Thomas shook a trembling finger at Lucy. “Stay out this, you fucking bitch. You think I need your help to get rid of this motherfucker? I don’t. Shut the hell up.”

Then he turned to the man. “You think you know me? You don’t know me. How can you even say that? You don’t know shit about me!”

Lucy could feel the shock and pity and fear from all over the room. It felt like her responsibility to defuse the situation. Carol clearly couldn’t, and if anyone had to, it would mean security or police or her. So it was up to her.

She laid a hand on the man’s arm. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, sir, but it really isn’t helping. It would be better if you stepped back.”

He looked hard at her. “Are you ladies safe?” he whispered.

She nodded. “He’s never hurt anyone,” she whispered back. “He just loses control sometimes.” Not entirely true, but close enough.

“Loses control?” Thomas screamed. “I haven’t lost control. I’m not the one who’s lost control. The whole fucking world has lost control. People do things and they don’t think about what it’s going to do to the rest of the world. Children are picking through garbage for food to eat. The whole food system is poisoned. Everything you eat can kill you. Chemicals are in everything. I’m not out of control. The whole fucking world is out of control.”

Then Thomas stood up and slammed his hands down hard on the table. The room did a collective startled jump. A baby started crying. At that, the manager and two employees headed toward the table.

Lucy stood up and got close to Thomas. “Thomas, I need you to come with me, okay? If we don’t leave right now, these guys are going to come and haul you out of here. They may call the police. See them? They’re headed over here.”

Thomas looked up, saw the men and then all the people staring. “We don’t want that, Thomas. Come on, come with me, okay? We’ll go up to our suite and relax, okay?”

He glared. “Thomas, if you don’t come with me right now, I can’t help what happens when those men get here,” she said quietly. “We don’t need them, do we?” He hesitated, then seemed to deflate.

“Okay,” he mumbled. She turned and looked at the manager. “We’re going now, sir,” she said pointedly, hoping he wouldn’t think he had to keep coming. Sure enough, he backed off and let her lead him from the room. They got on the elevator and went upstairs.

Blessedly, no one felt they had to heckle or make a comment as they left. The dining room slowly filled with air again.

Upstairs, Thomas went straight into the bathroom and ran himself a bath. A warm bath was one of his self-calming strategies. And then the voices started. A conversation among three different voices, going on at full volume about the idiot who approached him and the poisoning of the food system.

For her part, Lucy laid down on her bed and tried to slow her heartbeat by slowing her breathing. God, I could use a drink.

Carol and Mary returned to the room within minutes; they entered wordlessly. Mary went to her room and shut the door. Carol came in with Lucy and sat on her side of the bed. Neither of them said anything for a long time. What was there to say? There was nothing new here.

Finally Carol said, “I talked to the manager. He says Thomas can’t come to the dining room anymore.”

“Okay,” Lucy answered. “We’ll eat up here. We can do that.”

“You don’t have to do that, Lucy. It’s my responsibility. I don’t want your vacation ruined any more than it already is.”

“Hey, I eat where you eat.” They reached out at the same time and took each other’s hands.

“I asked him if we could just get our money back and leave early,” she continued. “Turns out the snowstorm is worse than expected and nobody can leave. It may last for days.”

“Then we’ll figure it out as we go,” Lucy said. “Listen,” she said, and turned to face her sister fully. “You are not alone in this. We will get through it, I promise.”

Tears came to Carol’s eyes as they shared a hug.

God, I could use a drink, Lucy thought.

An hour later, Thomas was in his room playing music louder than he should, one of those caustic-sounding rappers who was angry at seemingly everyone and not mincing words. Carol had taken a theanine capsule for her nerves and Lucy had accepted the one she was offered. Carol was listening to a calming meditation on her phone. They had talked some more, saying all the things they always said when Thomas had an episode like this one, planning how to get through their now-forced family vacation. Eventually, everyone slept.

Lucy awoke about three to pee, and then couldn’t go back to sleep. She slipped on a fleece sweatsuit, left a sticky note on the fridge, and slipped out the door, hoping to find a place to think. She did remember to stick a debit card in her pocket along with the key to the room.

She took the stairs instead of the elevator; it was quieter. Downstairs, the great room was dim, the fire burned almost down. She sat on the nearest sofa to it, stared at the embers for a while. Then she became aware of someone else in the room and turned to see the man from dinner entering. She lifted a hand in greeting, and he returned it. He started to sit in an armchair, but then looked a question over at her. She waved him over. He settled at the other end of the sofa.

“Is he okay? Are you okay?” he asked after a bit.

“No worse than usual,” she said, and then, “Thank you for what you tried to do at dinner,” softly.

“I was probably overstepping, and I apologize for that,” he answered, “but I felt for you and the other ladies at that table, and I couldn’t just sit there and let it get worse.” Then he added, “So I came over and made it worse.”

“It was going there anyway,” she chuckled a little. “It happens sometimes.”

“Your son?”

“No, my nephew. His mom was the one curled up in a little ball. She blames herself for everything.”

“How old is he?”

“Forty this year.”

“That’s a lot of years to parent. What’s his diagnosis, if I may ask?”

“You may. Bipolar one year, schizophrenic the next. Depends on the doctor. Possible DID – multiple personality disorder. Generalized addiction disorder. Oppositional Defiant Disorder. General Anxiety Disorder. Social Anxiety Disorder. ADHD. Probably a couple I’m forgetting,” she said.

“My God. How did that happen?”

“Birth accident. Compromised oxygen. They didn’t think he’d make it at all.”

“He was lucky, then.”

“Was he?”

They looked at each other. Neither one answered that. A minute passed.

“By the way, I’m Harvey,” he said, sticking out his hand.

“Lucy,” she replied and shook the hand.

“Nice to meet you, Lucy,” Harvey said.

“Nice to meet you, too, Harvey,” she said.

“So, what can you tell me about Lucy?” he asked.

“Lucy is divorced and lives with her two sisters and her nephew. She used to teach school and sometimes writes stories and poems. She has a poor neglected little blog and a novel in a drawer somewhere that she wants to rewrite eventually. She has five grown kids, seven grands, and three great grands.”

“Three great grands? You don’t look old enough,” he said.

“Bless you, you nearsighted old man. Actually, my two oldest kids are my adopted daughters from my first husband’s first marriage, and he was a lot older than I was, so I am a bit young for greats,” she said. “And you? Tell me about you.”

“I’m a widower, have been for nine years. I have one son and two grandchildren. No great grands yet. But I have hope,” he answered.

“And you live with your sisters. Is that a permanent thing?”

“Almost certainly. I would never bail on Carol. We’re sort of joined at the hip emotionally, financially, in every way. I’m really the only one she has.”

And so they talked. For two hours almost, they talked. He talked about his 38-year marriage and she talked about each of her two former marriages. They probably told each other things they wouldn’t dream of telling their friends. That’s the comfort of strangers; they have no one who matters to tell your secrets to.

At 5:15, someone entered the room and flipped on a light, got busy building up the fire again. Harvey looked at his watch. “Goodness, it’s almost day,” he said.

“So it is,” she said. “I should get back to the room.” She stood.

“See you at breakfast?”

She grimaced. “We won’t be back in the dining room. Thomas got banished, and we’re staying upstairs with him to show solidarity.”

“How very kind of you,” he said. “Thomas is lucky to have you in his life.”

“Thanks, Harvey. But maybe we’ll see each other again during the snow-in,” she smiled.

“I hope so,” he shook her hand again and dropped it slowly, eyes on hers. “I really hope so.”

And he turned and walked away.

Lucy stood a moment. What would it be like, she wondered, to really get to know a man like Harvey? To be with someone who actually understands?

She’d never know.

She went back upstairs to her life.

January 20, 2022 02:53

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17:53 Jan 26, 2022



18:21 Jan 27, 2022

Hi, Charlie! Thanks for reading my story! I see you just joined Reedsy. What kind of stories do you like to write?


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