|The Snowball Effect
Author: KeliSalazar PM
As if she didn't already have enough to worry about, Cadence's week is only further complicated by the return of her older brother and his best friends, including one she may or may not have had a relationship with behind her brother's back. And with Christmas just a week away, all Cadence wants this year is to make it through winter break with her sanity in tact.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Friendship - Chapters: 2 - Words: 7,911 - Reviews: 2 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 12-15-12 - Published: 12-12-12 - id: 3082495
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Home for the Holidays
It almost happens in slow motion, the way the little boy picks up the ceramic Rudolph off of the glass shelf. His fingers fumble with the weight of it, making me bite my lip nervously and take a step closer, stretching my hand in anticipation to catch it as soon as it slips from his already unstable grasp.
The little boy and I both jump at the sudden outburst, and he nearly drops Rudolph.
A woman that had been looking at the snow globes further down the aisle quickly walks over to the little boy, giving him a look that he just laughs at. I can't help but chuckle, too, but when his mother's eyes snap up to look at me, I'm worried that I've upset her. Most parents don't like it when strangers undermine their disciplining by finding it amusing.
But then she smiles at me and says, "That would've been a disaster!"
"Maybe just a little one," I reply.
She laughs whole-heartedly. "Trust me, he can be a real Tasmanian devil if you don't pay attention," she tells me, and I smile at her tone—slightly exasperated but still very loving; the way the old-school mothers I know sound like sometimes. Then she says, "Come on," to Cole and holds her hand out, and Cole sighs in that annoyed way only kids can make adorable before setting Rudolph in her palm.
I smile down at Cole. "You know, if you like Rudolph, we have some plush ones at the front of the store that'll probably be more fun to play with."
His eyes light up, and thankfully the smile his mother gives me seems grateful my help rather annoyed that I just sent her and her son in the direction of more toys. She thanks me and carefully stuffs the statue in my hands as Cole tugs her towards the stuffed animal section, and I smile at them before setting Rudolph back on the shelf with the others.
I really love working at The Card Stock, even if that is a cheesy name for a greeting card store.
And it's not like we sell just cards here.
We've got ribbon and balloons, gift bags and wrapping paper, decorative tissue, and party sets of paper plates that match the napkins that match the plastic utensils that match the tablecloths. There's a lot of little stuff, too, like stickers and key chains, stuffed animals, snow globes, ceramic statues, books filled with Bible passages or quotes or funny comics. Then, of course, the seasonal merchandise that The Card Stock is most famous for (other than our designer greeting cards, of course): plastic eggs for Easter, decorative chocolates for Valentine's Day, four-leaf clover bracelets for St. Patrick's Day, little flags for Fourth of July. If the holiday's ever been on the calendar, you can probably bet The Card Stock will have something related to it on our shelves.
Let's just say that it takes a pretty cheerful person to work at The Card Stock. You have to be willing to share the same level of enthusiasm as the customers that come in, because even if there isn't a holiday, there's always a birthday or graduation or a wedding or a baby shower.
Like I said, I love working here.
My only complaint is the uniform—or the lack of a uniform, I should say. There's a dress code, obviously, but it's not too strict, and the only thing that they require us to wear is our lanyard. It has the name of the store stitched into it and holds our employee ID, our keys to the store, and complimentary key chains that match the closest upcoming holiday. Every employee gets one of each kind of key chain that we sell when the first shipment of them comes in, and since I've been working here since freshman year (the youngest they've ever hired, even though I technically "volunteered" and got paid on the sly because I was always here and the manager, Chad, liked me enough to keep me around), I've acquired a pretty impressive collection of key chains in my room at home. More than half of them are from The Card Stock, and the others are ones I've bought myself or received as gifts from friends and family, and sometimes teachers.
Anyway, it's because of the fact we don't have uniforms that Chad likes to dress us up. I'm talking pilgrim and Native American costumes for Thanksgiving, armed forces outfits for Veteran's Day, bunny ears for Easter. We even have four different costumes for Halloween (one of each week of October).
And, of course, elf costumes for Christmas.
They're green with red trimming and a red belt, curly green shoes with bells, and a red skirt and candy cane striped leggings for the girls while the guys wear black tights. My hat—also green with red trimming and jingle bells—is secured to my hair with bobby pins. It's not exactly Christmas couture, but I suppose there are worst outfits he could've stuck us in.
"Cadence," a deep voice calls, grabbing my attention from the ceramic statues I've begun to straighten out.
"Hey, Daniel," I greet, stifling a giggle.
He smirks at me knowingly, shaking his head in amusement. I can't help it, though. He looks the most ridiculous in his elf costume out of all of us, with his broad shoulders and a build that only years of swimming could sculpt. And as silly as it sounds, he's just way too tall to make a believable elf since he towers almost a foot over my grand height of five feet.
"I'm going to grab food, so I'm taking everyone's orders now," he tells me, pulling off his hat and shaking his head a little until his dark hair falls in just the right way. I grin. It's kind of hard to believe that Daniel looks the way he does and I've never really thought of him as more than one of my best friends.
I guess it's impossible to picture him being with anyone other than Sienna.
"I have a sweet tooth right now," I say with a shrug. "I don't really know what I want, though."
"Maybe those mini cinnamon rolls from Baker's Dozen?" he suggests, holding his index finger and thumb an inch apart for emphasis. My mouth waters almost instantly. Anything from Baker's Dozen is like biting into heaven. I must look as excited as I feel at the thought of their desserts, because now he's laughing at me. "I'll take that as a yes."
He laughs again, handing me his hat. "I'll be back in twenty minutes," he promises.
I nod, watching him leave the store, and then head down the aisle and towards the registers.
Tia's ringing up a man in a crisp business suit, laughing (probably at her own joke) as she's punching in numbers and sliding the drawer out for the change. I notice the man crack a small smile, which, solely based on his perfect posture, I'm guessing is something rare for him to share, at least with a total stranger. But Tia has that effect on people. She's just naturally bright, not just in appearance—fair skin, light blue eyes, blindingly white teeth, blonde hair that flips out perfectly from underneath her elf hat—but also in personality—a cheerful, optimistic attitude and almost childlike (in the best way) quality to her. I suppose that's why it's easy to forget that she's older than me, a sophomore in college.
"…and your change is two-oh-five," Tia says, tucking the amount plus the receipt into the card, and then tucking the card into the envelope and handing it to him. "Have a nice rest-of-the-day, sir!"
"Thank you. You, too," he says, sounding sincere.
Tia waves at him as he's walking out, then pulls off her hat and pushes her fingers through her hair. She sees me as she does this, though, and flashes me a bright smile as she exclaims, "Cadence! You got a text earlier when I was ringing that man up. I put your phone on silence just in case you'd get more, because I thought it might not be such a good idea to have it going off during a sale, but I hope I wasn't wrong for doing that if it was important or something! I was going to call for you, but like I said, I had a customer and—"
It's really impressive, Tia's ability to speak without the need to breathe.
"—anyway, here you go," she continues, holding out my phone for me as I walk around the counter as she adds, "I didn't read it, if you were wondering."
I laugh. "Thanks, Tia."
She grins and pulls her hat back on, and I take my spot behind the register. I type my passcode into my phone and pull up my inbox, and the text from my mom reads:
Pick up dessert on your way home, please (:
Huh. I wonder what the occasion is.
Mom usually tries to keep things she deems as "too sweet" out of the house unless there's something happening: ice-cream and cake would only be allowed on birthdays or anniversaries, but the fridge is never without cookie dough because my mom is a total cookie monster. She claims this rule is because of my younger brothers, which it is considering that any sort of sugar gets them totally riled up. But I know that it's also for her sake, because she's convinced that she's gaining weight (even though every check-up at the doctor's tells her otherwise) and wants to avoid temptation.
I try to figure out what the occasion might be, but the closest family birthday isn't until January and, as far as I can remember, no one is getting married or graduating or just gave birth. She could very well be having holiday cravings, but somehow that doesn't seem likely.
"Is something the matter, Cades?"
"No," I tell Tia. "It's just a text from my mom. She wants me to pick up dessert on my way home and I'm trying to figure out why."
Tia opens her mouth to respond, but the chiming of the sensor interrupts her as more customers—two parents and their daughter—enter the store. I slip my phone into my pocket as Tia greets them with a smile and a cheerful, "Welcome to The Card Stock!"
… … …
The first thing I notice when Daniel turns onto my street is the fact that there's a car parked in our driveway, which is something I haven't come home to since my older brother, Nick, moved out for college. My mom always parks in the garage and Nick would park in the driveway since he'd had a job at the movie theater after school and didn't get home until after Mom got off of work. Because I take public transportation, get rides, or just walk everywhere rather than drive—because, frankly, driving still scares me, even after Mom eventually made me get my license—the driveway remained empty as soon as Nick left and took his car with him.
Daniel slows the car to a stop in front of my house, taking the warm box of mini cinnamon rolls (he paid for it when I asked if it was okay if we picked up dessert before he dropped me off) off of my lap so I can unbuckle myself.
"Do you want me to walk you in?" Daniel offers with one eyebrow arched in the direction of my mother's car.
"I doubt there's any danger."
"You never know!" I just laugh, shaking my head as I step out of his car. I grab my bag, hooking it over my shoulder so my hands are free when he hands me the cinnamon rolls. "So, do we have any plans this week or what?" he asks.
"You mean, other than finals and the Winter Festival?" He nods, and I shrug my shoulders. "I don't know. Sienna hasn't…"
I trail off, biting my lower lip and instantly regretting the words. Daniel's fingers tighten ever-so-slightly over the steering wheel, and I wonder if he knows that he's doing it.
"She's probably just forgotten," I tell him, trying to sound reassuring, but I know it's not convincing. We both know that Sienna doesn't forget things like this unless she's really stressed, which she very well could be—it's senior year and this last week seems to be the busiest ever. But it's highly unlikely that she did. She's always planned our group's get-togethers, worked with everyone's schedules so that we would have at least two or three hours over the weekend each week to be together. Even during the summer, when we only had summer jobs and summer homework on our schedules, it was kind of hard for her to go along with our spontaneous adventures. Not because she was a kill-joy or anything, but simply because she's just used to having to plan ahead for everything.
And honestly, I think summer was the last time our group of friends hung out together. I wince at the memory of that very last week before school started again, the last week that everything was the same, and when I look at Daniel again, I can tell that he's recalling the memory, too.
"I'll ask her about it tomorrow," I say, snapping him out of his thoughts. "I'll let you know what's going on."
He gives me a small smile. "Thanks, Cades."
I shut the door and smile, waving at him when he gives me a two-fingered salute before driving off, and I turn on my heels and dig in my bag with my free hand for my keys. Except, being that my purse is practically a black hole, I keep digging under all of the stuff I've crammed in there and can't seem to find them, and my arms are starting to hurt. I blow out a frustrated sigh. I really need to be more organized.
But just when I think my fingers brush the material of my lanyard, the door is yanked open.
"Do you not want to come in?" Mom asks, and though she sounds demanding, the smile on her face lets me know that she's teasing.
"I couldn't find my keys."
She rolls her eyes. "I should've known it was that when I heard Daniel's car drive off and you still weren't inside the house two minutes later." Then she notices what I'm holding and smiles at me. "Ooh, give me!" she says, snatching the box from my hand.
My parents both act young, but that's probably because they are young to be parents with children as old as Nick and I, having had us in their first two years out of high school. They still look young, too—I can't tell you how many times people thought my parents were actually my siblings or cousins or something—so I guess that makes sense. After the initial shock of realizing that they are our parents, many people always assume that Nick and I are embarrassed by them because of this; which, to a certain extent, we can be. I mean, it's not exactly comfortable to watch people not much older than me or Nick trying to hit on our parents when we happen to be out. But there are a lot of perks, too, like the fact that the four of us are particularly close, and me and Nick had a lot of freedom growing up.
Anyway, I follow Mom into the house, kicking the door closed and locking it behind me, and I pull off my shoes before stepping onto the carpet. (Mom's a neat-freak, which is kind of funny when you add my little brothers to the equation. It's like they're one big tornado that creates a mess, and after they've moved onto another room, Mom's another tornado that magically cleans everything.)
"Why did you want me to get dessert, anyway?" I raise my voice a little as I ask this, because I can hear my little brothers playing loudly in the den.
"I knew you'd forget," Mom answers over her shoulder. We walk into the kitchen and Mom slides the box onto the counter of the breakfast bar, already working to untie the ribbon that's keeping the box closed. I hop onto one of the barstools and drop my bag and shoes onto another.
"What did I forget?"
Mom grins to herself and pulls out a mini cinnamon roll, eating half of it in one bite. Then she shoves the other half in her mouth and licks the icing from her fingers, and though I'd already eaten about a dozen of the ones Daniel brought to the store, watching my mother eat makes me crave them all over again.
As I'm reaching for one, however, a booming voice exclaims, "Save me one!" from down the hallway, making me jump.
Holy crap, I know that voice.
I look up and, sure enough, Nick is standing there between the end of the hallway and the entrance into the kitchen. I almost don't recognize him, though. His shaggy hair that used to be long enough to get into his eyes is now cropped shorter and spiked a little bit so that it sticks up in all the right places, like how Dad used to style his hair when Nick was younger. He looks a little taller, too, a little leaner but also a little more muscular in a way that tells me that he's probably regularly using the refurbished gym on his campus. He's also dressed differently, in dark-washed jeans and a white tee somewhat visible underneath his black and gray striped long-sleeve. His look has definitely matured from the scrawnier, printed-tee-and-blue-jeans-wearing brother I'd had last year, when he was the senior about to graduate and I was just a junior.
"Nick!" I exclaim, nearly throwing myself off of the barstool as I run and throw my arms around him.
He seems to hesitate at first in surprise, but quickly hugs me back. My family isn't exactly too affectionate in the ways of hugging and saying I Love You regularly and all that, since our affection comes in the form of teasing and stealing food off of each other's plates and rolling our eyes as we pay for something someone wants. I like it this way, though, because it makes it feel like more "traditional" moments of affection like this one were more special. The hug is a little awkward, since the only people I'm used to really hugging are my friends, but it's still nice.
Then, of course, Nick has to add his own special touch to the moment my locking his arms around me tightly, lifting me a little as he crushes me against him so tightly that it starts to hurt to breathe. And it seems to hurt even more than when he used to do it before, which only confirms that he's been utilizing the on-campus gym.
"Let. Go," I hiss, glaring, and he laughs and releases me, dropping me back onto my feet. My socks slip against the tile of the kitchen floor, though, and definitely would've sent me onto my butt if Nick hadn't grasped me by my elbow to steady me.
"As graceful as ever, I see," he comments.
"You almost dropped me!"
"And as dramatic as ever, I see."
"Stop that!" I punch him, hard, on his gut, and fortunately for me, this knocks the air out of him just as effectively as it always has. "And stop adding 'I see' to the end of your sentences. It makes you sound pretentious."
"Still using fancy words to seem smart, I see." I raise my fist again, but he grasps my wrist. "I'm just messing with you, Cades."
"That's something I don't miss," I mutter.
"Oh, you know you do."
And I grin because we both know it's true. I miss him bugging me as much as I miss bugging him.
Then something dawns on me, and I punch him in the arm.
"Why didn't you tell me you were coming over for winter break?" I demand. "The last I'd heard from you, you weren't sure if you could get the time off at work."
"Well, I did."
I punch him again.
"Mom!" he yells.
"What are you, twelve?"
"Guys," Mom interrupts in her stern voice that's always effectively shut us up. "You've been reunited for all of thirty seconds and you're already arguing? I don't understand how you two ever lived under the same roof before." She grins at us to let us know that she's (mostly) teasing, though it's not like we couldn't tell for ourselves. Then she opens the cupboard overhead and starts pulling out plates, handing them to me as she tells Nick, "Tell everyone to come upstairs now if they plan on having any."
"Roger that," Nick says, ruffling my hair, and reflexively I try to slap him. Only I actually do hit him, which makes him wince, which makes me laugh. It has been a while since we've been together, or else he would've remembered to dodge that.
Then Nick disappears down the hallway again, and I set the stack of plates Mom's just given me onto the counter and start to spread them out. She grabs a serving spoon from the drawer and begins putting four on each plate. But as I'm watching her do this, I notice that she handed me more plates that was necessary. There're seven people in our family, but there are nine plates on the counter.
"Who's coming over?" I ask, since it was unlikely that Mom just miscounted.
"There are nine plates instead of seven," I explain. "Are Papa and Nana coming over or something?"
She pauses to stare at me like I've gone crazy.
But that's when I hear it, the muted pounding of people running up the carpeted stairs at the end of the hallway that lead into the den. I'd been accustomed to the sound since my little brothers were constantly running all over the house, up and down that staircase and the ones leaning to the next level where the bedrooms were. Except these footsteps are heavier, and I can tell be the jumbled noise that there are definitely more than just three little boys running up those stairs.
I hear the voices shortly after they've made it into the hallway. Amongst my little brother's higher-pitched, boyish laughs are the voices of my father, deep and booming, and of Nick, not as deep and not as booming. But I can also hear laughter of two more voices I, kind of deep like Nick's. And ones I recognized. I'd heard them constantly growing up, known them longer than any of my younger brothers' voices, and the sound of them has me whipping my head back around to look as they enter the kitchen—as he enters the kitchen.