Goodies in the Stocking

In the Frantz household, the holidays were a family one, bringing together the mass of children (five, not counting significant others) for food, gifts and good times. Marsha, the mother of the tribe, was well on her way to a full head of gray hair, but she carried it with style, looking classy, of course. She was always dressed in business-casual attire, normally black or gray slacks and a button down blouse, although for the holidays she switched to sweaters. She liked to give the impression that she was in absolute control of everything in her life because she was, at least of the important things.

Humphrey, her husband, was most often found in jeans and flannel shirts, having made his earnings (and paid for his children's college educations) with a construction company. It had done well and he was mostly retired, letting younger folk run his business while he kept an eye on things (in a vague sort of way). He was laid back and knew more of the going-ons of the family than his wife did. The events to follow would not surprise him.

The children were, from oldest to youngest, Kenneth, Robert, Terri, Nicholas, and Eva. Kenneth was married to Julia and worked in the stock market. His wife was well on her way to having a baby by the time of Christmas, although thankfully it wouldn't occur during this holiday event. Kenneth, although he preferred Ken, was big and burly, as football players tended to be, but witty and bright, as they were often told they weren't.

Robert (who did not go by Bobby) hadn't played sports, but was fit nonetheless and worked as a dietitian for a sports team that cannot be mentioned by name. He'd brought a different girl to each holiday event for the past three years and this year came with none, having just gotten out of his longest relationship (two months) and was decidedly single in the hopes of picking up something better at the large quantities of parties he'd be attending.

Terri was one year out of college, still chipper and hopeful for the future. She had a stable job in her field, although she was underpaid, underappreciated, and looking for a better place. Still, she was happy, and was even happier that Jordon, her boyfriend, had come to Christmas with her since his family was scattered around the world this year. She had caused quite the stir by dating Jordon, who was both black and British, but her family had settled in the two years they'd been together and he was quite welcome in the family now.

Nicholas, perfectly bred to be the black sheep of the family, was well loved by both his parents. He'd been born premature and underweight and had never gotten over this particular hump, leaving him tall and scrawny (not slender). Because of this he didn't play any sports, not even those that he would seem to be good at. His preference was reading, which he was very good at. He was two years younger than Terri but already beginning his Master's in Library Sciences. He didn't mind being called Nick, hated when Terri called him Nicki, and all his friends called him Nietzsche (Nick to Nicki to Nietzsche), because they thought it amusing. The fact that he had not brought someone to celebrate the holidays with his family did not go unnoticed, but will be the focus of this story.

Eva, cute, blonde and giddy, ended up being the black sheep. After graduating high school she ran off to Europe, where she vanished for a year, the family only following her trip through postcards. She returned with Antonio, her husband who was seven years her senior, and began working as a waitress while going to school to be a mechanic. The family ended up loving Antonio, who was just as charismatic as Eva and taught high school Spanish.

With everyone home, the children all reclaimed their old bedrooms, except Ken who wasn't staying the night, since Julia didn't like being too far from her hospital of choice for too long. Ken and Robert had shared a room, Terri and Eva had shared a room, and Nick had escaped to the attic as soon as he realized he could actually make his bedroom up there. No one else wanted it because it required climbing a ladder, which was why the basement was used for most of the storage space.

Even though Ken wasn't staying, Nick claimed his old bedroom. He liked his bedroom and his bed and the privacy it had since no one every came up, except sometimes Terri and Eva, so it didn't matter how messy it was (although it never was) or what personal things he left out (which he didn't, even though it didn't matter).

Nick was first up in the morning, showered and dressed, making coffee for the rest of the family while he downed some orange juice and a bagel. Although they were all grown now, there was still a "stay out of the family room" rule, so even though they'd all seen it the night before with all the presents and lit, he loitered in the kitchen.

He saw Julia and Ken making their way up the front path, so he rushed to the door and opened it for his swollen sister-in-law and his jovial brother, who smacked him on the back in a way that was meant to be friendly but tended to make his heart skip a beat. "Merry Christmas!"

"Merry Christmas, Ken," he smiled in an "I'm putting up with you" way and then gave a tender hug to his favorite sister-in-law. "Merry Christmas, Jules. How are you feeling?"

"Enormous. And hungry. You guys don't happen to have any Cheetos, do you?"

Ken laughed, "She's always craving Cheetos. She ate half a bag on the way here."

Nick checked, but was only able to find cheese curls, which were of much lower quality, but still satisfactory. Returning to his orange juice, he watched her eat more of the crunchy goods than her petite body could possibly handle. He was beginning to wonder if she didn't have a gigantic parasite growing in her when there was a squeal. It was unmistakably Eva and she darted past him to latch onto Julia and tell her the good news: she was pregnant.

The rest of the family had learned about this over dinner the night before. Humphrey had not been surprised (they were married after all), while Marsha choked on her ham and pretended like she was no more surprised than her husband and much more excited for the news. Nick was personally happy for his sister, but kept having weird images of her nine months along and in a mechanic's uniform.

Antonio was bleary-eyed following Eva into the kitchen, gave a wave to the new arrivals, and then collapsed at the table. Taking pity, Nick delivered a mug of coffee (two sugars) and wrapped Antonio's hand around it. His head lifted and life formed in those dark brown eyes, "Thanks, Nicholas."

Ken and Julia's arrival was a cue for everyone to be up and ready. Martha came down primped within an inch of her life, while Humphrey still had on his flannel pajamas and fluffy slippers that didn't seem to match his personality at all. Terri had bought them for him last Christmas and was thrilled that he actually wore them. He believed strongly in a waste-not, want-not mentality. Plus they were extremely comfortable.

Soon the kitchen was too crowded for everyone (Martha, Humphrey, Ken, Julia, Eva, Antonio, Terri, Jordon, Robert and Nick) so they began spilling into the living room. Nick took a spot on the couch and Terri frumped down beside him, with Jordon inspecting the tree quizzically. "How's my favorite baby brother doing?"

Terri and Nick had always been close, possibly because she'd been trapped among boys while he'd had been trapped among girls (and his older, more physical brothers). As middle children they blended together nicely. They were always in touch over the year and were "thick as thieves" (according to their mother) during holidays. This year they'd not yet spoken more than a few words to one another because of how busy everything was.

"Good. Finals are done and we have a month until classes start again," he fiddled with the ring on his left forefinger, which didn't escape Terri's attention, but she already knew what it was about, so said nothing. "I've been apartment and job hunting."

She nodded, giving him a tight hug and an encouraging smile, "Good luck."

The rest of the family eventually clambered into the living room, taking up every available space and being sure to leave the loveseat for the eldest couple and the lounge chair for Julia. Once they were all settled Eva claimed that it was her year to play Santa Claus (although she'd done it every year for the past six, since no one else wanted to do it). She was efficient and exuberant and secretly Antonio loved to see her in the Santa hat that the player had to wear. With everything handed out, they tore into the presents as if they were still all children (including the parents) and soon all the gifts were exposed and lying in pleasant little heaps around their respective owners.

Along with the presents, a stuffed stocking was waiting for each of the Frantz children, and Terri and Nick were making jokes as they poured the contents of their socks onto their laps. Their mother, ever the provider of the useful, had stuffed each with bathroom supplies: toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant. In Terri's pile was mascara and eyeliner, probably a hint that she should wear makeup. Jordon snickered, knowing it was a lost cause.

Martha, all her presents opened, watched as Terri gave the makeup to Nick, "Terri-dear, what are you doing?"

They both froze like deer in headlights, although they were staring at each other and not the oncoming traffic.

"Um, I have a friend who wears this brand, um," Nick stumbled out as he took the makeup and shoved it onto his lap among his other items, as if hiding them from view would make this any less awkward.

"Oh, you have a secret girl," his mother's face blossomed into a smile that would make orchids blush with shame.

Nick's face transformed into a well-if-I-don't-do-it-now expression. His grip on the products on his lap was strangling and it was a good thing he wasn't holding the toothpaste or it surely would have exploded. Of course, that could have lended some light humor to the situation, which at least Nick would have appreciated.

"I have a boyfriend." The speed at which he said it was similar to the high-speed railways of Japan and it was impressive that everyone in the room heard him clearly, those that were listen anyway. Antonio and Eva were horizontal on the floor under a pile of wrapping paper. Nothing too inappropriate was happening, but it would leave them both rather oblivious until about halfway through the conversation when the yelling started. But it hadn't, yet.

"Well, congratulations, son," was what the completely unsurprised Humphrey said just as his wife squeaked out, "What are you talking about?" Her face was pale (beneath the makeup) and her mouth and eyes both made big saucers. If it hadn't been such a serious situation, it would have been quite funny.

"I have a boyfriend," Nick said again after a long exhale, really wanting to watch his father and the relaxed acceptance there, but instead looking at his mother. His siblings were all staring at him in a range of surprise, not all of the surprise coming from the fact that he had a boyfriend (or was interested in boys) but from the fact that he'd actually told everyone.

"You do not," Martha's jaw snapped closed and began functioning again. Her lips were tight and her face severe as she pressed her hand against the thighs of her pants to rid herself of the imaginary wrinkles there.

"Yes, I do," Nick was frowning. "His name's Derek."

The family had actually met Derek two and a half ago years ago when he'd come to Nick's birthday party. They hadn't started dating then, but having met Nick's mother, Derek never pressured him to introduce him again, or to make the announcement he currently was making.

"Derek?" Martha squeaked. Putting a name to the boyfriend her son didn't have made the non-existent boyfriend a little more real. It wasn't pleasant. "You mean your friend, Derek? Oh. Oh, he's your friend and he's a boy, that's what you meant."

She did not actually believe the words coming out of her mouth and no one else did either. If Nick's grip on the makeup and toothbrush got any tighter the plastic was sure to snap. "No, I mean he's my boyfriend. We kiss, we hug, we," he was cut off simultaneously by Terri grabbing his arm, afraid of what he would say (for the curious, all he was going to say was "we love each other") and Martha's screaming.

"I will not stand for such words coming out of your mouth!"

"Dear, settle down, yelling isn't going to help." Humphrey knew it was a bad idea to interrupt his wife, but he wasn't going to let his son be thrown to the wolves.

She turned to him, "Did you know about this? How can you be so relaxed about your son being…being…" she never did find an acceptable term. "Have you no respect as a man?" Her words were only getting louder, but Humphrey wasn't fazed. He'd been married to her a long time.

"I did not know about this, but I'm just happy our son has found someone to share his love with. Can't you be too?"

"With another man?" she was nearing hysterical, partially because every moment that passed, the fact that her son liked boys became more of a reality, and partially because no one was backing her up.

"Yes, love is love," he stated bluntly, watching his wife's face as it fell. If her husband wasn't going to back her up, and obviously none of her children were saying anything, she would be fighting a lonely battle. She sat down, staring at her clenched hands. A long silence followed.

"How long have you been going out?" Robert asked from his spot on the floor. That his little brother was gay was not surprising. He'd often offered to share his girly mags with him when they were younger and it quickly had become apparent that no matter how interested Nicki pretended to be, it just wasn't doing anything for him.

"Two years," Nick mumbled, then cleared his throat and repeated himself more clearly.

"That long?" Ken asked, stunned. His reaction probably would have been more extreme if Julia wasn't more observant. On the car ride to his parents' house, he'd been saying that Nick never brought girls home for the holidays and he wondered if Nick thought the family wouldn't approve of whoever she was. Julia had merely said, "Maybe he's worried the family won't approve of whoever he is." So, he was still shocked, but he had at least a little preparation.

"Yeah," Nick swallowed. He'd actually started officially dating Derek about the same time Terri was getting serious with Jordon. They'd had a few double dates in the past years, which was why neither of those two were surprised in the least, except for the fact that he actually told his mother.

"When are we going to meet him officially?" Eva murmured from under Antonio and a pile of wrapping paper. She never really thought about things like other people's sex lives, since she was so very focused on her own, but Antonio had asked after one holiday event when Nick was going to invite a boyfriend over to which she'd said, "Oh, is he gay?" At that point Antonio was glad he'd not said anything to anyone else.

"I could invite him over after dinner." They already had a date planned, which Nick hadn't been sure how he was going to escape the house for, but he would have figured out a way. "If everyone is okay with that."

Everyone nodded, except Martha, who was sitting stiffly. Humphrey smiled at his son, trying to look supportive and comforting in light of his wife's disagreement. "Invite him over for some pie."

Using the escape, Nick was out of the room and dashing for the bathroom (the only other place to find privacy aside from his bedroom) to call Derek. He wouldn't appear for another half an hour as he described everything that happened and everything that could possibly happen when Derek came over, since he agreed to. This included what etiquette was okay and what not to say and not to be offended by Martha. Derek took it all in stride.

Meanwhile, Humphrey and Martha had moved into the kitchen where she began tending to the feast, partially because it was time, partially because she needed something to do. She was fuming, and if he hadn't known his wife better, he may have laughed. But he did know his wife, which was why once they were alone is asked, "So what's the matter? You've never had problems with homosexuality before." Humphrey didn't like the word homosexuality because it felt uptight and stuffy and he was, by nature, not an uptight and stuffy person. But 'gayness' was even less appropriate and sounded even stranger.

"He's our son! And he kept this a secret from us!" She slammed the turkey on the counter and began shoving herbed butter under its skin with so much force that it made Humphrey hurt a little.

His wife wasn't looking so she didn't see the "ah, so that's what this is about" look that crossed Humphrey's face. "But he's told us now, and if we don't be understanding, he'll feel the need to continue to keep secrets," he pointed out.

"Who knows what other secrets he's keeping from me," she ranted on. Humphrey wasn't really worried though, her volume had already dropped substantially and her violence upon the turkey was lessening. He figured another twenty minutes of listening and she'd be calmed down again.

When Nick returned from talking with Derek, he found his siblings in the living room still, all giving him the "we were talking about you" grin when he entered, except Robert who was playing a video game. His parents were still in the kitchen, his mother cooking and his father listening (the rant was taking a bit longer than he'd expected).

"Way to make a scene," Robert joked, his eyes barely lifting from his handheld system.

"I didn't want to," he plopped down beside Terri, who had fended off the space from the others for when he came back. She wrapped her arms around him.

"We know; Robby's just being an ass because he doesn't have a girlfriend to upstage you."

"Ouch, your arrow doth pierce my heart," Robert drawled, rolling over with his eyes.

"But why did you wait so long?" Antonio asked. "Did you not think your brothers and sisters would support you?"

"Yeah," Ken chipped in, "you know Mom's not even homophobic or anything, she's just, you know, Mom."

"Never seemed like the right time, and then we'd been together a year and I knew it'd be this big deal that I'd kept it secret."

"So why now?" Terri asked.

"We're moving in together, officially, and I guess now was as good a time as any."

"You're just moving in together now?" Eva's brow cranked up.

"Officially," Nick grinned. "Since I was a grad RA last semester they paid for my room and board and his place is too small for both of us to put all our stuff. But now his lease is up and I'm not being an RA, so the timing's right."

"Well," Julia sighed from her spot, rubbing her swollen belly and munching on the carrots that had been in Ken's stocking, "I'm glad you finally told us. And if you need help moving, I'm sure Ken would love to."

"Yes," his brother laughed, having already been prepared to offer, "as long as the baby isn't about to come. When are you moving?"

"Thursday." There was a moment of silence as everyone tried to recall what day that was and then a burst of talking.

"That's two days away!"

"I can help."

"Way to cut it short, bro."

"Do you need my truck?"

Nick raised a brow, glancing at all his eager siblings, and burst out in laughter.