He always felt so awkwardly uncomfortable at friends' Christmas parties. He had no idea how to act, what songs to sing, or whether or not Secret Santa was actually meant to be a secret or a tasteless attempt at getting the party going.
After all, he spent his eight days of holidays sitting in front of a menorah and a box of matches. Whilst the other kids were tearing open shiny boxes and drinking eggnog on Christmas day, Gabe Gold was picking at eggrolls and Kung Pao chicken with wooden chopsticks.
When everyone else was running to sit on Santa's lap, Gabe had been the kid left behind, sighing, unnoticed, and curling up on a nearby bench to wait. When all the other families were buying ornaments and playing hide-and-go-seek in the tree lots, the Gold family was balancing the checkbook.
Being one of the only Jewish families in his wealthy suburban East Coast community, Gabe had always felt mildly out of place, with his dark features and inheritance of a somewhat stereotypical Jewish nose (luckily, it had only been a mild case).
He had always been, to some extent, a cynic. But it wasn't until the holidays came around—when Victoria's Secret starting stocking "Santa's Little Helper" pajamas (if you wanted to call a slip of lace pajamas, that is), when the trees outside his window began to light up, preventing him from falling to sleep at a normal hour—that he got grouchy.
It drove him crazy to see stores head-to-toe in blinding amounts of red, green, and white lights, or to hear the same catchy jingle song on every single radio station over and over again.
Everywhere he went, there Christmas was! And they didn't even bother waiting until after Thanksgiving like they used to. Now, they jumped right into a pre-Black Friday the day after Halloween. It was like the jolly old fat man himself had made Gabe—and all the other good little kids of different religions—his personal victim.
It haunted every single dark corner of his mind, lurking around every single street corner with a piteous face and cowbell, begging for money for this or that charity, flashing across the silver screen on trailers in freaking July…
It was just too much. By eighteen, Gabe had, mostly, long since gotten over it; by the time he hit puberty, Christmas was so commercialized that he had simply accepted his fate as a bitter soul, tortured over his lonely holiday childhood.
"Gabriel!" His mother called just as he was out the doorway. "When will you be home? I need your help making latkes."
He shot her a confused look. "Hanukkah isn't for another week, Mom. Besides, what do you need my help for? It's not that hard. Walk to the grocery store, pluck a box out of the frozen foods aisle, nuke it in the microwave for a bit; cover it in packaged apple sauce and whip out the brisket Mrs. Shirley sends over each year. Voila: Hanukkah."
Mrs. Gold hesitated. "We're doing it a bit differently this year."
"Mom," he said slowly, adjusting his school bag over his shoulder. "Since when do we ever make latkes? What happened to the microwaveable, frozen ones?"
His mother, an aging woman who had taken to dyeing her hair in order to hide her graying roots, shifted uneasily. "Oh… Right; I forgot to tell you, Aunt Esther and Uncle Abe are coming this year. And…well, you know how they are with their traditions."
Gabe grunted primitively, blowing a dark curl out of his eye. "How could I forget? They were the one that shoved a million hamentashens down my throat last time we saw them." Gabe paused to wrinkle his nose, shuddering at the memory. "Can't you get Greg to help you, or something? I'm sure he has no plans."
Mrs. Gold frowned. "Your brother is helping; and you will be too. He didn't put up a fight when I asked him."
"Whatever," he muttered under his breath. "That's only because Greg doesn't have a life outside his stupid theater projects." His eyes shifted over to the street outside, to where snow softly on their driveway (and his beloved SUV).
He sighed, hoping his mother had employed the kid across the street for shoveling; or else it would be his job. Greg always slid out of all the work and Gabe wasn't buying the Golden Boy act.
Her eyes narrowed. "He needs the credits," Mrs. Gold pointed out.
Gabe just looked at her. Uncomfortable, his mother glanced at the clock for the sake of a distraction. "But you need to get to school, now. I'll see you at four, on the dot. Don't be late." That was always the way with his mother; she, despite the fact she could never be prompt, always expected everyone to follow her schedule.
Gabe's father had no qualms about agreeing to her agenda—but when it came time for Mrs. Gold to follow his, you could count on at least a fifteen minute delay. "Got it," he called back, knowing his grace period. He hurried down the steps as he tugged a gray beanie over his ears.
Gabe couldn't help but curl his lip as he strode to his car, glaring at the moving truck that had been parked in his designated spot since last Friday. When were they going to unpack and move along? He was sick of parking across the street. He scowled at the houses surrounding his, brightly lit or adorned with cheesy decorations, as he pulled out, a seemingly permanent frown etched into otherwise handsome features.
Even his school, in its conformist hierarchy and budding socialites, which had so valiantly exclaimed its passion for driving the student's ambitions to success, was decked out in Christmas gear. It was sickening, really. Had they no respect?
He hastily parked his car in the student lot and brushed past his peers. He stomped his way into the school building, making it in just after the final bell rang. He slid into the first desk he could find, barely acknowledging the unfamiliar face a seat over.
"Class," his teacher said, "I hope you all had a good weekend." She began to ask students about their weekend, if they had done the homework, and just when he thought he had cut it smooth, the teacher, Mrs. Norton, shot a glance in Gabe's direction.
Uh-oh; so much for sliding in unnoticed, he thought. Then he noticed she wasn't even looking at him, but rather, the girl in the seat next to him. "We have a new student joining us today, everyone. Say hello to Delia Keeton."
Heads turned to face them as the girl next to him stood, waving a petite hand. She was tiny, especially compared to his six feet, with a choppy blonde cut and big, blue-gray eyes. "Hi," she chirped.
"Would you like to tell the class something about yourself?" Mrs. Norton asked, though Gabe was sure little room was left to object.
"Um," the girl, Delia, rocked on her heels. "I'm from California, and I have six brothers and sisters. I like peppermint." Cheeks considerably pinker, she sunk back next to Gabe, shooting him a friendly, if embarrassed, smile.
Unsure how exactly respond to her rapid speech or smile, he hesitantly curved his lips up in a 'you were fine' sort of way. Moments later, the class, and Mrs. Norton, had forgotten Delia and enveloped in a particularly one-sided discussion about Shakespeare.
"Hey," she whispered. When he didn't reply, debating on whether to pretend he didn't hear her or just unsure if she was talking to him (who else, though?), she repeated herself. Finally, he looked at her, eyebrows drawn together.
"I'm Delia," she said undertones.
"I know," he muttered, sounding far more condescending than he had intended.
Perhaps it was time to admit that Gabe's memories of holiday youth always dampened his spirit the minute the calendars were moved to December. He couldn't help but be an asshole to everyone he talked to; by now, his friends knew what topics were all right to discuss and which were to be avoided.
After realizing his tone rude, he added, "I'm Gabe." He sent a fleeting glance at Mrs. Norton, who, like most teachers, had preferred to ignore the texting students in the back of the class and teach in chosen ignorance. "Gabe Gold."
Her pink lips curved upwards. "Your parents have a thing for alliteration?"
He sighed, rubbing his cheek tiredly. "Maybe. More so, they're just after torturing me," he murmured, recalling the sudden news of his visiting (and crazy) relatives. He was glad they were relatively in the back so he could dismiss the whispering. Surprisingly, Delia's eyes rolled, albeit playfully.
"Oh, yes; quite the tormented soul you are," she quipped, her giggle giving her away. "I can tell by your prep school uniform and Rolex." That caught him off guard, having not suspected that sort of remark from such a bubbly, apple-cheeked girl.
"Touché," he admitted. He twirled his pen, sighing at Mrs. Norton's back, which was turned to them as she scribbled something on the blackboard.
The girl, however, seemed unable to take his hint that the conversation was over. "You know, this is my first white Christmas," she said.
He cast a blank glance in her direction, but the lack of interest was lost on her. "Really," he deadpanned.
A grin sparked across her round face. "You bet. I'm so excited; just think, driving into New York to go ice-skating at Rockefeller center…snow! Oh, God. I'll have snow!" She exclaimed, surprised at this reality.
His mood, which had been slightly improving since talking to her, immediately soured. "Oh. Yeah," he muttered dryly, opening up his binder. Before he dipped his head into his notes, he added, "It's a blast."
Brow furrowing at his sudden mood swing, she pressed her chin into her palm and narrowed her eyes at him. "I sense insincerity," she observed lightly.
"You don't say," he grit out, tightening his grip on his pen.
Amusement flashed in her eyes as she sighed. Surprisingly, she was already feeling as though she could declare him a friend for a good playful tease. "Somebody's a Scrooge," she hummed, deliberately looking anywhere but him.
He narrowed his dark eyes at her, absently brushing another curl from his eyes. (Stupid mop he called a haircut; he needed a trim.) "Not a scrooge," he said finally, turning away. "Just a Jew."
Her expression dimmed only slightly. "Oh. Well, if it's any consolation, I'm totally used to your kind of behavior. I can handle any bitchy remark you throw at me; I've dealt with your type before."
From what Gabe had judged of her character, he had pegged her as one of those Christmas Freaks—the kind who loves songs likes Jingle Bell Rock and lives for the moment where they can run to the movie theater the weekend after Thanksgiving and see the next holiday flick.
But unlike his previous interactions with the dubbed "Christmas Freaks", she had bounced right back, not pouncing into a long tirade about the goods of Christmas like he had expected. So, while he was admittedly intrigued, he kept an apathetic face. "Oh?"
She nodded, smiling to herself when she knew she had him hooked. "Yeah, my brother. He's the biggest Scrooge ever; hates Christmas. By his sixth Christmas, he had looked our parents right in the eye and plainly said, 'Who are you kidding?' It was great."
My kind of guy, Gabe thought dryly. Aloud, he said, "And with good reason, I'm sure."
Delia flicked a hand, as if to dismiss the thought. "Nah; Neil just hates the world—it just gets worse this time of year. It comes from being born named Cornelius, I think. People just don't get over that."
"How did your parents take it?"
She snorted, a particularly unladylike gesture. Oddly, he appreciated it; it was a nice breather from the WASP-raised girls he was used to. "Aside from my youngest siblings, I'm the only Christmas freak in the house, actually. Sometimes I can bribe a few into decorating the house with me, but usually I end up doing all the work. I don't know what went wrong that made me the black sheep. Neil calls it a TCCFD."
Gabe blinked. "TCCFD?"
"'Terminal Case of Christmas Freak Disease,'" Delia elaborated, eyes rolling. "He's convinced one day I'll die falling off the roof from hanging lights or I'll give mall Santa's a stroke because I'm ten times heavier than the usual."
Despite his mood, he had to grin. They both grew quiet, and just as she was about to turn back to the board, satisfied with their conversation, he quickly blurted, "I'm sorry, but. Why?"
"Why? I mean, why do you love Christmas so much? It's just one day a year that's completely overly commercialized. How can you not get sick of it?"
Delia sighed wistfully. "I don't think you'd understand. Let's just settle with the fact I'm just a freak, all right?"
"All right," he agreed, doing his best to keep the playful tone out of his voice, though admittedly somewhat unsuccessfully. "Hold on. Did you say you have six brothers and sisters?"
She wrinkled her nose in mock-disgust. "My parents are eco-freaks. We have a reusable tree because my mom once tied herself to a Christmas tree that was slated to be placed in a home by the twenty-fifth. My dad wears Crocs and knits us all our stockings and hats. My father knits. Up until the last bun in the oven popped out, Evan, my parents didn't even believe in contraception—at least that's what they say."
Delia shook her head slowly. "Mom finally got her tubes tied after Evan, who's around eight now. I'm the second-to-oldest, but with Jen out of the house, I've become the designated babysitter, professional bed-tucker—and for a while, I was part of Older Keeton & Co., a non-profit, rather, no profit organization that changed diapers or slipped the kids junk food when the 'rents weren't looking." She turned to him. "What about you? Any siblings?"
He opened his mouth to reply, but before he could get a word out, the bell rang in his ears, shrilly reminding him of reality. They stood, both wearing slight faces of surprise as they realized the height difference. At six feet, he towered over her her five foot two.
"Well," Delia said slowly, watching the other students file out. Using one hand to hold up her books, she clutched a wrinkled schedule in the other. "I'll see you later?"
Despite the mood he had woken up with and entered the classroom carrying on his shoulders, he smiled and nodded. It was the polite thing to do, after all.
By the end of the day, Delia Keeton had left his thoughts. They didn't have any other classes together, and while he had seen her in the halls once or twice, she had been staring up at her new surroundings with such awe he didn't want to disturb her.
It wasn't until he had pulled out of the school parking lot and was on his way home that he saw her again, a knit hat tugged over her ears and a hoodie zipped up as far as it could, shivering against the light, falling snow. In spite of his better judgment, he rolled down his window and leaned out it. "Hey!" He called. When she didn't turn around, he called her name. "Do you need a ride?"
She glanced at his large SUV, slowly crunching over snow on the street as it kept pace with her steps, skeptically. "Did I not tell you anything about my parents?"
His nose wrinkled in confusion. "What?"
"My parents are one protest short of demanding all their kids go vegetarian while we build a wood cabin and 'rough it' for a year. They would flip to know I had ridden in one of the Devil's contraptions."
Despite the serious tone in her voice, he had to laugh at her expression. "I'm sorry—devil's contraptions?"
"Your car," Delia clarified, giving into a grin.
"Well," Gabe said slowly, feeling uncharacteristically not himself, "you can either conform to my satanic ways…or freeze. It's your choice." The grin widening, Delia shook her head as she hurried to the passenger seat.
"Thanks," she mumbled, immediately reaching to turn up the heat. He frowned; Gabe didn't like it when people touched his car settings without asking. However, he didn't stop her. "I live down…Chestnut, I think. Something like that."
"That's good. I'm going in that direction." He was about to ask on which division, seeing how there were two different forks leading from Chestnut Street, when his phone rang. Delia stifled a laugh at the gruff hello and the muffled, frustrated conversation he was having with the person on the other line.
"What? You're not serious," he growled into the phone, eyes rolling. "Ugh, fine, fine, I'll go out of my way to pick him up." He tore the phone away from his ear, glaring down at it. Before slamming the flip-phone shut, he barked into it, "But he's helping!"
"Who was that?"
"My mother," Gabe sighed, making a sharp U-turn. "I have to go pick up my little brother from some rehearsal," he said, twisting his voice to mock the word rehearsal. "Sorry about this; you don't have to be home immediately, do you?"
She grinned. "What, and miss out on unpacking the silverware?"
He looked over to her, eyebrow raised. He turned again, eyeing the road that led to his brother's rehearsal theater. "Right then," he mumbled, pretending he wasn't amused by almost everything she said. (Whatever happened to being the sarcastic cynic most people grew accustomed to avoiding this time of year, anyway?)
They didn't talk as he pulled up to the theater, where a boy who looked as though he was a younger version of Gabe was waiting, foot tapping. When the SUV came to a full stop, the boy looked surprised at the girl in the front seat and climbed into the back, eyebrows hitched. "Who's she?" He asked, jerking his thumb in Delia's direction.
"Delia," Gabe said, "I'm giving her a ride home."
"Why is this the first I've heard of her?" He wanted to know.
"Because, Greg, this is the first time I've heard of her too. Now shut up and put on your seatbelt," Gabe snapped. If he didn't have any patience for the holidays, he certainly didn't have any to deal with his fourteen year old brother.
"Greg and Gabe," Delia said—more to herself than either brother—smiling over at Greg, who already looked far taller than she. "Your parents do like alliteration."
Ignoring the warning to be quiet from his brother, Greg pressed his arms into Delia's seat and leaned forward to talk to her. "So, how do you know my brother?" He asked, smiling. She must've been new to town or she wouldn't have said that—all of Gabe's friends knew his boundaries, one of them being mentioning their parents.
Delia sent a fleeting glance towards Gabe, who was pointedly ignoring both them as he turned on the street leading to Chestnut. "I needed a ride home. I'm in his first period."
"Are you new to town?"
She nodded, pulling off the knit beanie and fixing her jagged, shiny bangs. "I moved here last Friday. My dad got relocated; somebody on the committee in a nearby city is trying to cut down a forest near here for lumber, and my dad was assigned to put an end to it."
Both brothers chuckled. The rest of the car ride was spent listening to Delia animatedly ramble on about her environmental-crazy parents. Gabe was listening with a carefully controlled look of indifference on his face, while Greg had broken out in a grin, big and wide, and for a brief moment, Delia wondered what Gabe would look like if he smiled that earnestly.
As it turned out, it had been the Keeton's moving truck that had been squatting on Gabe's parking space. After learning that they were neighbors, Delia found herself popping over for nightly latkes on Hanukkah, and even withstood the amount of brisket shoved at her face by Abe and Esther, politely saying no, her vegetarian parents wouldn't approve.
Gabe and Delia began carpooling, a suggestion from the car-less Delia—and oddly, Gabe didn't protest, using the excuse that she made good conversation; and none of it had to do with her smile, laugh, or occasionally tongue-in-cheek comments.
He met Delia's parents and family—as Delia had predicted, her younger brother Neil and Gabe had gotten along amazingly, spending an evening launching political or consumerism debates at one another—and Delia's father had even promised to knit him an alpaca blanket.
Hanukkah had been early in December that year, and by the time Christmas rolled around, the two spent so much time together it was reasonable of third-party observers to question the nature of their relationship. Friends of Gabe's hounded him about it, and Delia was certain some sort of bet had been placed, a fact she intended on keeping to herself.
"What do you want for Christmas?" Delia asked one day in the car, out of the blue. They had just taken their last final, driving home from school for the last time for the next two and a half weeks. "I mean, I know you don't celebrate-slash-hate it, but whether you like it or not, I'm getting you something—especially since you wouldn't let me get you anything for Hanukkah."
Gabe wrinkled his nose. "Don't," he said plainly, hoping to end her train of thought there. He didn't want to talk about the holidays.
"Fine," Delia sniffed, folding her arms. "Then I'll just ask Greg."
He shot her a look. She pretended not to see it; Delia didn't care how much he protested, he was getting something. He was her friend, after all; even if they only had known each other for a few weeks, he was the closest thing she had ever had to a best friend, a gift that was incomparable.
She had to get him back for that, somehow, even if he didn't know what an influence he had on her. "Like I said," he said slowly, "don't."
"I want to."
"Does it look like I care? I don't want anything for that stupid, commercialistic, Hallmark-created holiday. It's not even part of my religion," he snapped, shaking his head. He made the mistake of looking over at her, frowning at her widened eyes and slightly bigger bottom lip. Damn her, he thought, but maintained a stony face.
"Christmas isn't even a religious holiday anymore. It's not like I'm an avid churchgoer or anything," she pointed out.
When he refused to cave, she pulled back her pouting lip and crossed her arms, pointedly looking out the passenger window. "Whatever," she said finally, an obvious eye-roll in her tone, "I'm still getting you something. You can either pout and throw a tantrum, or suck it up. It's not like your penis is going to shrivel up and die because your pride was offended."
The car momentarily screeched to a halt as Gabe forcefully hit the breaks, glaring daggers at her. She blinked back at him, clearly not put off. "Like I said," she continued, tone patient, "you can either throw a tantrum or suck it up. It's your choice, Gabriel."
Still forcing the scowl on his face, he refused to look at her on the off chance he gave in and apologized. That off chance shouldn't even exist; what had this girl done to him?
"Gabe, come on!" Greg shouted in his ear, shaking him roughly. Gabe responded by rolling the other way and tugging a pillow over his head. He had heard his brother running around the hall for the past twenty minutes. It wasn't even nine AM yet—what the hell was his brother doing?
"Go away," he mumbled from underneath the pillow. "I'm sleeping."
"I promised Delia we'd be there by now; get up!" Greg shouted from his brother's closet, grabbing a few things on hangers and throwing them at his bed. Gabe's attention grabbed, he shot up straight, eyes bleary and pissed.
"I'm sorry, the fact that it's—" he glanced at the clock, "—eight am on a school vacation morning must have affected my hearing. I thought I heard you mention Delia or even the prospect of getting up this early."
"I did," Greg said, throwing a shirt in his brother's face, "and we can't be late."
"What the hell are you talking about?" He hissed. "Delia knows I'm not a morning person."
"She also knows you're not a holiday person, but she still wants you there. Just get dressed; I'm Jewish and going. There's going to be free food, even if it's a bunch of healthy stuff. It's still better than Mom's microwave cooking." When Gabe made no acknowledgement that he knew what he was talking about, Greg clarified, "Hello? It's Christmas day, numb-nuts. Delia has been bugging you—and me, for getting you—to come over for the past few days."
"Numb-nuts?" Gabe echoed, amusement apparent. Greg, however, was already out the bedroom door, telling him to get dressed and meet him at the Keeton's after he had showered. The older Gold brother just rolled his eyes, fell back into his pillow, and ignored the guilt that washed over him.
He had a sense of dignity to uphold, after all. And Delia would understand. Right?
"You ass," a familiar, female voice hissed into his ear. "I was waiting for you."
Recognizing the voice immediately, Gabe put down his chopsticks and twisted in his seat to face the agitated Delia, arms folded and looking cross. He immediately paled; small as she may be, she was not a force to be reckoned with. Buying his time, he swallowed his Kung Pao chicken slowly.
So much for understanding.
She turned on her heel, motioning for him to follow. Mumbling a quick "be right back" to his parents and the smirking Greg, he pushed back his chair and followed her out the Chinese restaurant. "What are you doing here?" He asked hesitantly.
She waved a hand dismissively, looking anywhere but him. "What is here, anyway? Isn't it just there without a 't'?"
He snorted, but otherwise ignored the remark. "Really, Delia; shouldn't you be at home drinking eggnog or opening presents, or something?"
"I've been all over every Chinese restaurant in town, looking for you," she said, ignoring him, "You could've had the decency to reply to my text messages."
He shrugged, though whether it was to dismiss her comment or guilt, he wasn't sure. "Sorry," he said, genuinely looking apologetic. "My mom doesn't allow us to use our cell phones in restaurants or while we're eating. I thought you'd want to be with your family or something, anyway."
"Well, yes, but I had set aside all day for that. I was expecting you to come this morning."
"I told you: I don't celebrate Christmas. It's meaningless," he drawled, rolling his eyes.
That was it. Delia couldn't take it anymore.
"You're just so bitter about being the odd one out growing up, that you don't even see the point of Christmas or the holidays," she snapped suddenly, voice rising. Surprised and temper flaring, he opened his mouth to protest. Swiftly, before he could even get a word in edgewise, she cut him off, driving her index finger into his chest.
"I have had it with your condescending attitude towards Christmas. I put up with it for a while because I like you, and you're probably the closest friend I've ever had—especially in such a short amount of time—but honestly Gabe…grow up and get over it. I had a nice, carefully thought out present in mind for you, but if you're going to be such a douchebag about Christmas, I don't think you deserve it!" She yelled, attracting a few wary gazes from onlookers.
His expression softened slightly. Grumpily, he opened his mouth, "Delia, I—"
"Don't even," she interrupted snippily, turning away from him. "It's too late to apologize."
He bit his tongue, realizing his mistake. He let her blow off her steam for a moment; if there was one thing Delia had taught him, it was patience (he often just chose to ignore his lessons), and this was as good a time as any to practice. "You know, I never even told you why it was that I loved Christmas," she said finally, sounding calmer, though not by much.
"Why's that?" He asked, turning her towards him.
"When I was growing up, we were always strapped for cash. Being so environmentally sound and having a big family was costly, and Dad didn't get promoted until I was around fifteen, so money was tight. As one of the oldest, I started working by the time I was twelve, doing odd jobs around the neighborhood or babysitting. But despite all that, everyone always pulled through. And that was what made the holidays—Christmas—special; the people around me."
Gabe did his best to look her in the eye, but he found himself shying away. "Look, I didn't—"
"No," she cut off, "you didn't know. It isn't about the commercialism or consumerism, when it comes down to it; it's about being with the people you care about. Like, my older sister Jen is home from college and you have no idea how happy that makes me. She practically raised us all when my parents were working double shifts."
He rubbed his cheek, carefully choosing his words. "I can't make up for this at all, can I?"
Delia considered this. "You can," she said slowly, relaxing, "If you let me give you your present."
"Deal," he agreed immediately. Beaming, she shrugged the drawstring tote bag off her shoulder, shifting it into her hands. He stared down at it. "A drawstring bag? I pegged you as more of a wrapping-style girl."
"My parents don't believe in wrapping paper. This is reusable, like everything else in our house, and therefore our equivalent." He smiled, shaking his head in an amused way, and reached out to take it form her. She quickly jerked it away. "Not so fast! I want to put it on you."
Now Gabe was wary. "You didn't get me a makeup set, or something, did you? I'm not sure I want to be your Barbie doll."
"Oh, I think you'll like it. No need to be suspicious," Delia laughed.
His frown deepened. "You realize saying that only makes me more suspicious, right?"
"Just close your eyes," she ordered, rolling her eyes.
"Look, do you want it or not?"
"I'm not sure anymore," he mumbled to himself, though his smile gave him away. Despite his better judgment, he let his eyelids drop.
"Good," he heard her saying, "now, bend down."
"Do I have to?" His tone was borderline whining, to Delia's delight. Scolding him, she told him that yes, he had to, or he wouldn't be getting diddly-squat. Finally, he obeyed, hunching over considerably to meet her level. After a moment of rustling with the drawstring bag, he felt something—was that a headband?—slide over his curls.
"Okay, open them," she said finally, blue-gray eyes sparkling devilishly. Still leaning over, his eyes fluttered open. They immediately shot upwards, surprised to see some sort of plant dangling over his head.
"What did you—" he was cut off as she flung her arms around his neck, pulling him even lower as her lips pressed against his in a warm, oddly enjoyable feeling.
The sudden tug off set his balance, however, and he lost his footing, sending both of them to the ground. When Delia finally pulled away, snow was sliding down their pants, both shivering.
But surprisingly, Gabe didn't care. And even more surprisingly, he laughed as he reached up to grab the present from his head. Holding up the plastic headband, complete with a bouncy spring with a plant attached to it, he laughed even harder. "What the hell is this?" He asked.
Cheeks flushed from the cold, or perhaps the kiss, Delia bit her lip. "Mistletoe," she admitted shyly, hiding her smile behind a gloved hand. "I know it's not an Xbox or gift card, but I think this is better. I've sort of wanted to do that since our first latke together."
He looked at her, surprised. That had been nearly two weeks ago. "Really?"
Unable to form words, she just nodded. He sent one last glance at the mistletoe headband before scrambling to his feet. "We should get off the ground. There's snow in my pants," he said, offering her his hand.
"Was it too sudden?" She asked. "I know we only met a few weeks ago, but—and I'm sorry this is so cheesy—even from day one, I felt like we were close. And…I might have figured if we made Christmas our anniversary, you'd be forced to go gift shopping and face the cold reality that is Black Friday."
Cradling his forehead, he sent one last prayer towards the heavens, hoping acting on his feelings for once wouldn't come around and bite him in the butt. "You planned that all out?" He paused, sighing playfully. "How do you know I'll even ask you to be my girlfriend, anyway?"
She bit down her smile unsuccessfully. "Because you're not that stupid."
"Luckily," he agreed, smiling. Looking down at her, bundled up in her father's knit beanie and heavy coat (which probably weighed more than she did), he knew taking this leap was the right thing. He stole a glance behind him, where his parents and brother were watching them with little surprise, Greg looking particularly smug.
"Now," she said, tearing him away, "I'm hungry and craving something unhealthy. Nothing says Merry Christmas like greasy MSG; let's go eat."
With no room left for protest, Gabe led her back to his parents table. With snow gently beginning to fall outside and the dim light illuminated from the paper lanterns of the restaurant as his backdrop, Gabriel Gold, for the first time in his life, could acknowledge the magic of the holidays.
Or, at least, that's what Delia says. Gabe prefers the story where he, with his testosterone surging, single-handedly carried home their first Christmas tree as a couple moved in together. Or the time Delia accidentally set off the smoke alarm trying to light the menorah.
No matter who tells the story, the moral stays the same. So, perhaps the next time you come across a Scrooge sort, or maybe you're not the type to want to deal with a case of TCCFD (Terminal Case of Christmas Freak Disease), don't be so quick to judge; perhaps there is more to them than a mug of eggnog or box of matches.
So, yes, Gabe was spawned from my memories of a bitter Jewish childhood. I've gotten over it with help from some friends, who indeed suffer from TCCFD, and I wanted a little bit of Judaism to hit the pages of FP...so I wrote this weird little oneshot.
Not particularly pleased with the ending, nor do I think this is my best
writing, but the message was conveyed well enough. If you feel up to it, drop me
a review; I'd really appreciate it. :) Sorry if I offended anyone by saying Christmas wasn't religious anymore...but you have to admit, it kind of isn't.