Gayle watched her children tear greedily into their presents. Granted, she had raised them with good manners, and they dutifully hugged their grandparents after opening each gift. Excessive, maybe, but she noticed Eric’s four children, only a few years older than her own, were not nearly as polite or affectionate. She made a mental tally in the “good parenting” column in her mind, along with a tally in the “better than my older brother, for once” column. She took a sip on her amaretto and cream, a drink she only had on the holidays at her parents house because it’s the one day of the year she really needed it.
Growing up the youngest of four siblings, she had basically raised herself. She’d never had a curfew, but also never had an allowance; she was allowed to date at a younger age, but at that time she’d had acne and braces and wasn’t getting dates anyway; she got her license at 16 but inherited the car that had become the family beater that barely lasted a year, and then didn’t have a car until she could buy one herself with the help of student loans in college (and that was barely better than the car she inherited). In short, she was used to getting the short end of the proverbial stick, which is probably why she constantly kept running tallies in her head of the victories and injustices she endured in her daily life.
Wrapping paper flew through the air. She checked her watch, debated on having another drink, decided against it. They had to leave soon; the kids had been dropped off by their father earlier this morning so she could have Christmas with them before the two hour drive to her parents house for this Christmas celebration. Yes, theoretically, they could have stayed over, but her bedroom no longer existed (having been turned into a kind of overflow/random junk room), and she knew Linda well enough to know that the likelihood of her or her husband Steve getting drunk and passing out before presents were opened was all but assured.
And, adding another tally to that column, she had gone upstairs at the tail end of the meal, at her mother’s request, to check on her sister, and found her completely passed out on her childhood bed. But Gayle wasn’t totally heartless; after an attempt to wake up Linda, she placed the water and the ibuprofen in her line of vision for when she woke up, brought the trash can next to the bed (just in case), took off Linda’s shoes, and then covered her snoring sister with a blanket. Let her sleep for a while longer. The imminent commotion of children screaming and opening presents might wake her anyway.
And now the chaos was in full swing, the kids hyped up from hot cocoa and on the general excitement of Christmas. She was grateful, though. She’d only been separated from her husband for a few months, and she was finding this holiday season to be tough in ways both financial and emotional. It sucked to have multiple separate Christmases. It sucked that she couldn’t afford all the gifts she wanted for her kids. It sucked that her ex could, and did, and that her children weren’t old enough to understand that this didn’t make him the better parent because Santa could buy them all the cheap plastic shit they wanted. But at least her parents could help; at least she could give her kids some kind of family time, even if it wasn’t her little family, as that family no longer existed. Gayle sighed. Okay, maybe a half a drink after a few glasses of water.
Escaping the hectic scene in the living room, Gayle filled a large glass with tap water, chugged it, and repeated that two more times, before finally mixing another amaretto and cream. Worst case scenario, she’d drink some of the leftover coffee from earlier before driving home. She was putting the cream back in the fridge when she heard someone walk into the kitchen. She turned and, surprisingly, saw Linda standing in the doorway, rubbing her temples and looking as if she might vomit at any moment.
“Hey Lin, how’re you feeling?”
Linda shook her head. “Not great, Gayle. Not great. How’s it going down here?”
Gayle smirked. “Oh, first Christmas without my husband but surrounded by family who don’t seem to care how I’m doing, so, peachy keen in these parts, thanks!”
Linda grimaced. “Did you bring me water and ibuprofen? Thank you. I needed those. Is there any coffee still?”
Gayle nodded, and poured her a lukewarm cup. They sat down together at the table, sipping their drinks, listening to the commotion in the living room. They didn’t talk for a while.
Then, Linda slowly reached her hand across the table, and beckoned Gayle to take it. They’d been close when they were younger, but had drifted apart over the years. They were just very different people: Linda was vain and cared deeply about her weight, her looks, and what other people thought of her. Gayle didn’t care about any of that, and especially not over the last few months, when she was just trying to survive the day-to-day tasks of living and raising children. But in this moment, they were simply sisters. Gayle took Linda’s hand and squeezed it, and they sat there in comfortable, understanding silence, while the happy noises of Christmas carried on around them.
Scent notes: Amaretto, vanilla cream, a sprinkle of nutmeg