Kevin looked around the kitchen nervously. His girlfriend, Chelsea, was helping her scary grandma finish the huge Christmas feast she had apparently been preparing for days. He’d brought two six packs of his favorite craft beer, an artisanal chocolate stout with a high ABV but delicious taste, intending to share. Instead he’d found that all of the relatives enjoyed their own highly specific alcoholic beverages, and he was nervously opening his third beer within an hour of arrival.
He was only here because Chelsea had begged him to come with. They’d been dating about five months; he was 23 to her freshly minted 21. They met through mutual college friends, and had bonded over a love of quirky movies and their odd families. Her parents had suddenly decided to go away for the holidays, leaving Chelsea with just her extended family for Christmas, and he’d felt super guilty and let her talk him into joining her for dinner and presents. Now here he was, standing awkwardly in the kitchen, frozen out of small talk and chugging craft beer in the corner. The swift realization that he was tipsier than planned hit him full in the face as he took the first swig of his third stout; damn it all. Too late to leave now.
It was at this precise moment that Chelsea’s grandfather, Marshall, came in, clapped him on the shoulder, and escorted Kevin out into the living room, where the two men sat and drank and made small talk while Christmas cartoons blared from the television in preparation for the arrival of the younger grandkids. Marshall sipped on his eggnog; Kevin sipped from his stout, and tried to learn more about the family history, but found Marshall to be a great talker of small things: the weather, sports, Christmas movies. Otherwise, they just sat in semi-comfortable silence, and listened to Constance’s cold disapproval of nearly everything Chelsea did in the kitchen. How did such an amenable, easy man wind up with a woman like that, Kevin wondered.
More family showed up, including an indeterminate amount of younger cousins (every time Kevin tried to count them, he seemed to be plus or minus one child, but maybe that was the stout interfering with his math skills) who wanted to open presents as soon as they arrived, and were placated with cup after cup of hot chocolate before and during dinner so the adults could have some semblance of peace. To be fair, though, Kevin was basically drinking hot chocolate that was alcoholic and also not hot at all. Close enough, he thought, taking another swig.
When the time came for dinner, Marshall had led him by the arm and sat Kevin directly next to him. This was when Kevin got a little more insight into how Marshall and Constance worked as a couple. Marshall was a bit tipsy on eggnog and caught Kevin looking down the table at Constance as she made a passive-aggressive remark at her own daughter. Kevin was appalled, but Marshall just quietly said, “That’s how she shows affection; she’s never been good at expressing tender emotions. Her own mother thought that made someone weak, and Constance just inherited that mindset.” Kevin looked at Marshall, slightly bewildered, and excused himself to the kitchen to get another beer.
Chelsea followed him in. “Kev, you okay? I know my family can be a lot; it’s kind of why I didn’t, like, want to be here alone, you know?” Her breath smelled vaguely of alcohol, what was that? Rum? Irish Cream? He hadn’t seen her drinking anything. He chugged half the bottle of chocolate stout, smiled at her. “Yeah, it’s okay. Families are tough. But if you’ve been drinking, you might want to stop; I’ve had like six of these beers already.” Chelsea furrowed her brows and looked stern for a moment. Then her facial expression softened and she nodded. “This has to be even harder for you than it is for me,” she acknowledged. “I’m just so pissed at my parents for leaving suddenly right before Christmas. I think they’re having serious marital issues and it freaks me out and yes I’ve had two drinks but I’ll stop. One of us needs to be sober enough to drive soon; I think we should take our presents to go and get out of here.” Kevin’s eyes lit up. “Well, that’s exactly the present I was hoping for.” Chelsea rolled her eyes. “Not like that, perv. I guarantee if you drink another one of those beers you’ll be sick soon and we’ll have to go.”
Turns out, she was right. Finishing that beer and opening another for dessert put Kevin over the edge. Picking out her presents (and the requisite generic gift card envelope with Kevin’s name on it) from under the tree, Chelsea apologized to everyone as they made their exit shortly after her aunt and uncle had left the table. Kevin slurred with sincerity how sorry he was to leave so soon, and headed out into the frigid night. The minute his head hit the headrest, he fell asleep.
Scent notes: Rich chocolatey stout, a comfy flannel shirt, allspice, sandalwood, vanilla bean