I’m sitting on the steps of my home when he approaches. I’m not sure who he is but I know he is very handsome. However, he has no face. But when he approaches, he smiles at me and I smile back as he reaches out his hand. I put my hand in his and he pulls me up into a tight grasp. I’m light on my feet and although I can't feel anything that is happening, I am in Bliss. We stare into one another's eyes and then he leans in and kisses me, it was sweet and soft.. At that same moment, all the Christmas lights on all the homes around us flicker on. He then whisks me away and-
Thump!... Thump!......Thump! Thump!
Was the sound of my mother in the kitchen making breakfast. Despite it being early in the morning, I knew when I opened my eyes, I was not going to be able to go back to sleep. But I wanted to go back to sleep so I could finish enjoying that dream. It felt so real and all I could think of was who that guy was and when would I meet him. Maybe it was just a part of my imagination. I looked at the clock and saw it was fifteen minutes until eight o’clock. Although I was clutching my pillow over my head to block out the noise, I could still hear pots and pans clanging and pounding.
It was the day before Christmas Eve and family was coming into town. Thankfully we have a spacious home for the extra bodies we are welcoming this year. It only makes sense to have a six-bedroom home since mom loves to send out invites every year. My parents had invited my paternal grandparents, my brother, my uncle, his wife Nichelle, their 12-week-old, and my aunt Nellie. My Aunt Nellie is my mothers’ sister, she is my role model, one of my favorite people in the world and the person I aspire to be when I finish high school. She’s a twenty-four-year-old-nurse, who lives in Seattle and seems to have the life so many dream of. She is trendy, stylish and health conscious. I love stalking her Instagram page, admiring her pictures and posts about her life as a nurse and the exotic destinations she was always traveling to. I could not wait for her to arrive; her charismatic energy is so magnetic.
My mother was especially excited about seeing everyone, especially since we were all on lockdown last Christmas because of COVID-19. It felt like people were somewhat comfortable with traveling again and being in one another’s homes. After another thud, I growled with irritation, threw my pillow at the door, and snatched the covers back. At that moment, I noticed my phone lit up and I reached for it. It was a funny selfie of my best friend Haley sitting on a balcony with beautiful trees covered in snow in the background, while she was rolling her eyes. The evening school let out for Winter break, her parents whisked her away. I snickered and carried my phone with me into the bathroom to brush my teeth and take my shower. When I was done, I went into the kitchen. Things had calmed down and my mother, Marnie, was standing at the stove holding a pan in one hand and a spatula in her other hand.
I snickered and carried I with me as I go into the bathroom to prepare for my shower and brush my teeth. When I was done, I went into the kitchen. Things had calmed down and my mother, Marnie, was standing at the stove holding onto the handle of a pan in one hand and her other hand with a cooking utensil.
“Good morning,” I said.
She turned around and glanced at me. “Oh, Chelsea! You’re awake. Can you start making the blueberry muffins for me? Breakfast will be ready in a bit and everyone should be here soon.”
I dragged myself over to the counter where a big glass cooking bowl was filled with flour and other dry ingredients. I then grabbed a spoon and walked to the fridge to get some milk. As I glanced around the kitchen, I noticed it was a wreck, but I couldn’t tell her that. She’d slap me, for sure. I just go and do as I am told.
Today is my last day as a minor, as my birthday is in less than 24 hours. I am going to be eighteen the next day and I feel like I have so much to think about Prom, graduation, college, and worst of all….my love life, which was null and void. Turning 18 meant that I could finally make my own decisions. Furthermore, I was tired of my mother telling me that if I am in her house, I will live by her rules. I know it sounds crazy, but my love life weighs on me heavily, and I know it shouldn’t be a priority, but to me, it is important. I am at the point where when I do get a boyfriend, I don’t want anyone telling me what I can and can’t do with him…. I really think I am looking for a way out. I’ve wanted to go on a date since I was in middle school. All my friends were in love and were able to date and I am tired of being the third wheel. There is no need to try and hide a relationship because I can’t slip anything past my parents. So when they said, “Wait until you turn eighteen,” that’s what I have been doing. This one lady asked me once, why do I want a boyfriend? At the time I couldn’t answer her question, and didn’t know what to tell her, but now I know. I want to be in love like the people on T.V., like my parents and my friends. How come everyone else gets to be happy? Except me.
Caleb, my 3-year-old brother, strolled into the kitchen rubbing his eyes. He walked over to me and hugged my leg not wanting to let go. I looked down at him and said,
“Good morning, Caleb.”
I can tell he was still tired, and the noise woke him up as well. I picked him up with one hand and used my other hand to stir the muffin batter. Ma walked over and kissed him. Caleb’s head is laying on my shoulder and he yawns.
“Awwww, you sleepy little man?” Ma says in her baby voice. She then shifts her attention and goes back to stirring the grits. “Your grandparents’ plane landed not too long ago, so they should be on their way.” she says.
“What time is Duke and Aunt Nellie coming in?” I ask.
Her back is turned to me and I see her shrug. “I don’t know when they are coming. You know your brother runs on his own time and your Aunt Nellie is probably still asleep.”
I snickered to myself. You would think being a nurse, my aunt Nellie would be used to early mornings, but that wasn’t the case for her. Not to mention we were all convinced she found pleasure in making grand entrances. Ma always said the family felt she left town to get away from the family, so she could go out into the world, grow and come back and show off her success.
“Is Duke’s girlfriend coming?”
“I hope not, you know that’s why Tesha won’t bring the baby over.” She turned around and rolled her eyes, then snickered and turned back.
Duke is my older brother and Tesha is his baby mama. They had a child together when they were twenty and twenty-one. Tesha won’t admit she still loves him, and she refuses to make it easy for him to move on peacefully. They can never be in the same room with each other without arguing, so we usually don’t invite her to family functions. But with it being a holiday, Ma invited her. Secretly, I hope Duke doesn’t bring his girlfriend, I hate her. She is so high maintenance and always talking about herself.
“I’m going to text her and see if she will change her mind though.” Ma shook her head. “Poor girl, she loved that boy, and she is a good girl.” Ma turned off the eye on the stove and moved to something else.
“I like her. I think she is just hurt.”
“Yeah, well I hope he comes back to his senses, and they get back together.”
I nod. “Why did they even break up?”
Ma is now flipping pancakes. “I assumed he cheated, and she left him. I don’t know. Y’all kids will lose a good person over anything.”
My arm was tired, so I put Caleb down and started to pour the muffin mix into the pan. Caleb then walks over to Ma and tries to attach himself to her leg, but she is moving around too much to notice.
“I can’t pick you up right now, baby, I am trying to finish cooking.”
It was her year to cook, which was great, because she finds so much satisfaction in cooking for her family.
“So, who else is coming?” I want to know.
“On Christmas Day, my mom and dad, your uncle Otis, his wife and their kids, and some other people probably. So, we have to start cooking the heavy-duty food tomorrow night. You got the mac-and-cheese, right?”
I look up at her with a sly look. I always try to avoid being a part of the cooking process. Although I can cook anything just as good as my mother and grandmother, I have no plans of being the main cook for the holidays, as long as my mother is doing it.
“Do I have to?” I ask, but I know what she will say.
“Uh, yeah. You do.”
And with that, I have a job to do.
We hear the alarm system announce that the door is opening and my dad yells for us from the foyer.
“We are in the kitchen!” Ma yells back.
We hear foot-steps and then daddy appears with the family right behind him. It is soon crowded in the kitchen. Hugs are being passed around and pa-pa (my grandfather) stretched out his arms for Caleb to run into. I could tell he is just excited for someone to hold him. Pa-Pa starts to tickle him and Caleb starts to laugh and squirm around everywhere. Just then,
Just then, Nichelle, my uncle’s wife on my daddy’s side, walks in with a blanket thrown over her left shoulder to shield her breast while she is breast feeding. I sneak over to take a peek. The baby’s face is nuzzled in her bosom, with her eyes closed as she feeds quietly. My heart can’t take it and I feel like I am melting from cuteness overload.
“Aye, bro where should we put our stuff,” asks uncle Nate.
My daddy stops sipping his water and pops up like he just remembered something. He walks toward uncle Nate and ushers him out of the door to their room.
“So how is mothering going for you?” Ma asks Nichelle.
Nichelle stands slowly swaying from side to side as one of her hands patts the baby's bottom. She sighs heavily and says, “It’s going good, but she’s only three months old so we are still learning a lot.”
“Is she sleeping through the night at all?” asks Ma.
I think to myself, please say yes. The room they are in is right next to mine and I do not feel like listening to a crying baby all night. I went through that after Caleb was born and it was tragic. To be honest, I am so glad my parents waited 16 years between Caleb and I. Although my brother is adorable, having a two-year-old brother helped me realize that I do not want kids anytime soon, or maybe never for that matter.
“Uh,” Nichelle said with a hint of uncertainty, “She sleeps through the majority of the night so it’s not that bad and she doesn’t really cry when she wakes up, she just makes little noises.”
Thank God, I thought to myself, I hope she keeps that same energy while they are here.
“She is the perfect angel,” Nana says, walking over to Nichelle to grab the baby and leave the kitchen. “Let’s go take a seat.”
When she leaves, Nichelle sighs again. Ma laughs.
“You look exhausted,” said Ma.
“Girl, I am. I went back to work about a month ago and trying to juggle my work schedule with the baby’s schedule has been more work than I bargained for.” remarked Nichelle.
As I studied Nichelle, I realized she was already small before, but it looked as though the baby left her with no weight. Now, if I do have a kid, I hope to snap back just like that, because she looks amazing. But with my luck, that won’t happen, there's the infamous gut curse in my family. It seems as if all the women on my mother’s side have a baby and get left with a belly that is hard to get rid of. Kids leave no mercy on your body when they exit.
“You’re back at work already?”
“Yes, it only took me six weeks to realize I am not a housewife. I don’t know how you do it Marline.” replied Nichelle.
Ma shrugs as she removes the pancakes from the pan and places them on the serving plate.
“Breakfast is finished. Y’all help me take this food to the table.”
After transporting the food to the table, I hear my phone ringing on the counter. I run over to answer it.
“Hello?” I say.
“Guess who just asked me to go out with him when I get back?” Without looking at the phone I recognize Haley’s voice.
I excused myself and went back to my room with my phone plastered to my ear. “Who?” I asked.
“Jake.” she confirms.
I could hear the excitement in her voice when she said his name. Haley was a hopeless romantic. A lot like me but worse. She is gullible and will fall for anything.
“I thought he was dating Amber.” I replied.
“I think they broke up.” she said.
My face changed at that moment, but I’m glad she didn’t see it. “You think?” I asked.
“You think it’s a bad idea, don’t you?”, she replied.
“I think it’s a horrible idea.”, I remarked.
I heard Haley groan aggressively on the other side of the line. I wait for her response but then I hear my mom call my name.
“Listen Haley, I have to go.” I say hurriedly.
“Ok, but call me back, I need your advice, but I want you to say what you think I want to hear. .”
I snickered and ended the call.
“Chelsea!” my mom yelled again.
“I’m coming.” I said, as I headed back to the dining room.
I make a cup of warm hot chocolate in the kitchen and then go into the dining area. In the dining room where everyone is sitting around the dining room table. Ma has the table decorated in a beige table cloth. There are two Christmas centerpieces on top, one on each end. A leafy vine is woven through the dishes on the table. My mom is setting out a dish of sausages and puts it down next to my father who is sitting at the head of the table. I take the last seat next to Nichelle. We have one of those tables that expands to add more seating. Once I take my seat, my mom says grace. As soon as she opens her eyes, we all start reaching for the food. At the site of the bacon, eggs, pancakes, grits, sausages and waffles, my mouth starts watering. The room was filled with love and anyone who visited our home during this time of the year could tell my mom loved her family and found joy in cooking for them.
For some reason this time of year always brought a special feeling to my household. Joy, hospitality, fellowship, love, and most importantly hunger. Biting into my blueberry waffle felt like a relief, likeI hadn’t eaten in two days. But I guess it was just the savory taste of my mom’s home cooking. In this house we barely had to go to a restaurant because whatever they made, my mom could make it better. The only thing that ever gets in the way of the most wonderful time of the year is, you guessed it, family drama. For some reason no one talks to one another all year long and then everything that has been building up comes out at this time. I hope things are different this year.
“Chelsea, I need you to go with me after we eat to buy a Christmas tree.” My mother said.
I look at my mother, immediately thinking about the other two trees we already have up. She’s one of those people who overly decorates their home for Christmas. If it wasn’t for my dad giving her a cap on how much she can spend each year, we would probably have a tree in each room of the house.
“Another tree?” I ask.
“Yes, I want to put one right in that corner over there.” She points to a corner by the window.
I make a face that shows annoyance, but I don’t say anything. My dad sees me though.
“Hey, don’t give your mother no attitude,” he says in his deep, stern voice.
I nod yes, but think to myself , this is why I can’t wait to turn eighteen. Then, I can respond to comments like that. My dad retired from the military. If it weren’t for mama making him soften up, he would be a lot stricter than he was. Actually, I fear for any child who has a dad stricter than mine. I try to make my face look more pleasant and keep eating.
“I would like to go as well, I need to take a break,” Nichelle says. She looks at Uncle Nate and asks, “Will you keep Olivia while I go?”
Uncle Nate gives her an awkward look, but doesn’t say anything. It was very easy to see the tension in their exchange. She seems to ignore his lack of response. Reason #532 why I don’t want kids. I am not going to subject myself to being in a relationship where I have to get permission to take a break.
“Son, I spoke to Duke yesterday, he said he’s going to that school of the arts,” Papa remarked.
“Yeah,” dad says while he is chewing. His face doesn’t change from the natural snarl that he keeps most of the time.
“I thought he had a scholarship to play football at the University of Tennessee.” Papa asked.
“Pop, you know how these young kids are. They don’t know good opportunities when they see them.”
“I was looking forward to him continuing the tradition,” Papa shook his head.
The tradition he speaks of is that all the men from the last five generations have gone to the University of Tennessee. But the last two generations did four years and went into the military. Duke started playing football when he was five. My dad would make him get up early in the mornings and practice extra hard.
“Traditions don’t mean anything to him,” my dad said with a sneer.
“So, Dory. Pop says you started gardening,” mama changes the subject.
Nana smiles at her. She is always so quiet and soft-spoken. I often wonder how she fell for a hard man like my papa. But I assume opposites attract and they make it work. They’ve been married for fifty-four years and my nana always looks so happy. Papa is hard but he is always soft with me and Caleb.
“She’s taken over the whole backyard. I can’t even go back there and sit anymore,” Papa says.
“Oh hush, you can sit in the front. It’s just as good,” says Nana
“No, the scenery is better in the back and no one can see me and disturb my peace and quiet.”
“Well, you never have a problem when I’m cutting up those vegetables for your dinner.” Nana said snidely.
Mom’s eyes widened. “You're planting vegetables? How is that turning out for you?”
“I love it. It’s hard work but it gets easier once you get used to it. And I save money at the grocery store and it helps me stay healthy.” replied Nana
“I see that. You are looking really good.” Mama smiles at her.
“Thank you, sweetie. I had a wake-up call and needed to change some things.”
Dad looked around in search of what she was talking about. “Wake up call?” he asked.
They now had everyone’s attention. Nana seemed like she thought he knew and was surprised that he didn’t. She sighed and hesitated.
“I went to the doctor because I was having symptoms of high blood pressure. They did some tests and thought they saw a tumor- “
My dad dropped his fork with a look of shock.
Nana held her hands up to stop him from losing his mind. “But- everything is fine. No tumor and I’m getting healthier and my blood pressure is better.”
As my father calmed down, I noticed my Papa grab my Nana’s hand and hold on to it. It seemed as if for a moment, time stopped, and I imagined myself in their shoes, that’s the love I want.
The rest of breakfast went well, then afterwards Mama, Nichelle, Nana and I left the house to search for a Christmas tree. We were a bit delayed in leaving the house because Nichelle had to put the baby to sleep, so uncle Nate could take a nap. But once we left the house we were ready for our girls time. Mama forced me to drive, butI didn’t mind since she had already done so much this morning. It's freezing outside and the first thing I do is crank up the heat after starting up the car. I really want to listen to some hip hop music but I know Mama nor Nana is going to go for that.
We live in McAdenville, North Carolina and I love it around this time. While it may be really boring, the spirit of people instantly changes during the Christmas holiday season. We call it Christmas town for a reason. People come from so many surrounding towns and cities for the lights alone. Here, everything is decorated for Christmas. Every house, every tree, every street light or so it seems. All the trees are lit to perfection and the town is busy with people. In certain areas, you can hear church bells and Salvation Army Santa Clauses shaking bells for donations. At night the trees and bushes are filled with red, green and white lights.
We take highway 85 to Charleston so that we can find a store that has what we need. As we enter the city limits, mama tells me to go by Walmart first.
“You are pushing your luck, don’t you think?” I say.
Walmart is always full of people and out of everything. But I do as she says and soon, we are in the parking lot looking for an impossible place to park. There are people everywhere and the traffic is horrific.
“Oh, look! Right there,” Nichelle says pointing to a spot right at the front.
I drive to it, racing just in case someone tries to come from out of the blue to take it.
“So you’ve come the day before Christmas to look for a Christmas tree?” Nana asks.
I snicker and mama sighs and gives me a look as to tell me to be quiet.
“Yes, ma’am,” mama says.
“Don’t you think you have enough Christmas stuff already?”
“Well, you can never have too much Christmas spirit. Come on and help me.”
We all go into the store and straight to the Christmas aisle as we fight past people. Nichelle goes off by herself for a moment. After standing in the section for thirty minutes for a tree that is nowhere to be found, we leave and go to another store. After trying two more stores, mama decides we should just head home. I can see the disappointment on her face.
We arrive home and get out of the car. Daddy is on the porch sweeping and stands with his fists to his waist. He notices mama’s face.
“You didn’t find one, did you?” he asks.
Mama shook her head in despair.
“I was trying to call you. Why didn’t you answer?”
Mama looked confused and reached for her cell phone in her purse. “I didn’t even know it was dead,” she sighed again.
Nichelle and Nana went inside the house and I stood next to mama and leaned against one of the poles that also have lights wrapped strategically like a candy cane from the top to the bottom.
“The neighbors came by looking to see if we needed a tree. They wanted to give it away since they bought a bigger one this year.”
I smiled and mama’s eyes widened and a smile spread across her face. She pushed daddy aside and charged toward the door.
“Where is it?” she shouted.
Daddy and I followed her and he showed her the six-foot tree tied up in the dining room. Mama squealed and ran to get a knife to cut the cable ties.
We helped Mama decorate the tree and afterwards we ate the dinner that Nana graciously cooked. After dinner everyone went their own way for the night. I went to my room and remembered I told Hailey I would call her back.
“It’s about time,” she answers.
“I had to help my mom. She just got another tree to put up.”
Hailey laughs. “I’m sorry but your mom is crazy when it comes to Christmas.”
“Yeah, it’s her thing. So, what about Jake?”
Hailey gave an aggressive, deep gasp. “He sent a text after we hung up. It said, “Can’t wait to go on a date with you, beautiful.”
I hear her mulling through the phone. I want to tell her that she’s crazy but she sounds so excited. So, I leave it alone and just try to be happy for her. Deep down, I wish it was me.
Part Two Christmas Eve
I feel someone touching my arm while I’m in bed. My back is turned to them and the cover is over my head. I hope I’m dreaming but then I hear a voice.
“Wake up, Chelsea!” Said the voice.
My eyes pop open and I viciously turn over to yell at Caleb and tell him to get out of my room. However, he’s not the only one here. Nichelle is standing behind him holding her baby and rocking her lightly. She is smiling sweetly at me.
“Happy Birthday,” she says.
I groan and turn back over, putting the cover back over my head. One of the only things I wanted was to sleep as late as I could. For the last week I have either been woken up by someone, noise or my alarm. With a military father in the home, we were not able to sleep too late, and everyone else has been bitten by the early morning bug. All except for me, I glory at the thought of sleeping past ten, but if I come even close, daddy wakes me up every time.
“Your mom says get up because we are going to go out to have breakfast for your birthday.” says Nichelle.
I pop the covers back from over me and stare at her through heavy eyes. Everyone knows, If there is any way to get me out of bed, it’s with food. I hope we are going to my favorite place. Nichelle grabs Caleb’s hand and they leave the room. I want to go back to sleep but now my mind is thinking about buttery pancakes, just the thought of the maple syrup gives me the energy to sit up. I drag myself to my bathroom for my usual hygiene routine and then throw on a hoodie with a long sleeve shirt and a pair of sweats. My favorite thing to wear, especially during this time of the year. As I leave my room, I see my Papa coming out of Duke’s room.
“Happy birthday, knucklehead,” he says as he grins and pats my shoulders.
He follows me through the kitchen and to the living room. The kitchen smells of pumpkin spice and latte grounds. Caleb is in the living room with Nichelle and I suddenly remember hearing a little commotion coming from her and Uncle Nate’s room in the middle of the night. I’m not sure what it was about but it sounded like they were really angry with one another. I flop down on the couch next to Caleb. He is sitting with his legs criss-crossed and staring at the television like a zombie.
The television is mounted on the wall over a white cement fireplace. The stockings that were hung just a few weeks ago are now filled to the brim and another Christmas vine is laid across the mantle. Mama has changed all the décor in the living room to Christmas décor, a twelve-foot tree is standing next to the corner by the fireplace. This is a green artificial tree that has select branches spray painted white. There are artificial red berries poking out. White and gold crystal balls are hanging from some branches while others have white stars hanging from them. To top it off, a rose gold, shiny, lit star sits on the top. Under the tree, the corner is filled with presents. All types of Christmas paper such as snow mans, trees, snowflakes, all stacked on one another. The wall looked as if it would cave-in soon.
“You’re up!” Nichelle says as enthusiastically as she can without waking Olivia.
I look at her and ask. “Does she ever cry?”
“Why do you think I’m up? She doesn’t cry easily but she has her days.”
Everyone is dressed to leave and I assume we are waiting for daddy to come out of the room. I look at the time on my cell phone, it’s exactly 8:30 A.M. While waiting for my dad, my mind drifts back to the commotion I heard last night coming from Nichelle and Uncle Nates room. I really want to know what all the fuss was about so I decide to ask to see if she will tell me.
“Are you ok?” I turn to Nichelle.
She looks at me as if nothing was bothering her. “Yeah. Why?” She says in a super perky voice.
Her relaxed hair is in a pixie bob cut and combed down on her scalp. I don’t think she had a chance to bump it the way she had it yesterday.
“I woke up last night and heard you and Uncle Nate.” I try to say it as if I heard what they were saying to see if she would spill the beans.
She snickered. “Oh that. Girl, he’s just a man but we are fine.” She sighs. “We are both still adjusting to being parents, you know men don’t handle that easily.”
“But shouldn’t having a baby be a joyful thing? Even for men? I mean, you both looked so happy.” I ask.