by MacKenzie Kennedy
Gene was sitting at the kitchen table when Seth walked in for his morning coffee and oatmeal. The oldest brother moved around the room without paying attention to Gene. When he sat down, he glanced at Gene. "What are you reading?"
Seth nodded and scooped up some oatmeal on his spoon. "Of what?"
Gene sighed. "We got away with Thanksgiving. Alice's family is mostly friends. Her parents live abroad. Megan went alone to her family's house. Heather avoided the mess by going out to dinner with her parents. You and Janice went out to her family's house the day after and ate leftovers. We'd just visited Jay's family so they didn't expect us and Lucy came here for the meal at lunchtime."
"Thanks for the recap."
Gene smiled knowingly at him. "But not with Christmas." He tapped the paper with a finger. "We've been invited to Jay's family, Janice's, and Megan's. Heather's parents want her there and there's the possibility of Alice's parents flying in. Plus Lucy." He sighed. "We've got the option of splitting off with each of us going different places."
Seth shook his head. "Or we can just stay home and decline all of them."
The corners of Gene's mouth twitched. "Not very diplomatic."
Seth looked up and caught Gene's eyes. "I've got the majority of the best part of my family in this house," he told him quietly. "That's all I care about."
Gene smiled. "Me, too," he said. He looked down at the list. "It's probably a good idea to talk about this after dinner."
"Which is a long time away, so stop stressing."
Gene sat down with his family that evening and outlined their family obligations. While they looked at each other and thought, Gene had a few thoughts of his own.
One was where was he supposed to go if they decided to separate? He didn't have any family home to visit. He could go talk to five graves, but that wasn't exactly a Christmas mood. He knew he'd be perfectly welcome at any of the houses of his family. He sighed. I just don't want to feel like the extra guest.
Alice raised her hand. "My parents decided that they'll visit in January. That's one less complication."
Gene smiled at her. "All right." Even his girlfriend had friends she could visit on Christmas day.
"I'm okay with visiting my parents on Christmas Eve or Christmas afternoon," Heather decided.
Janice nodded. "That would work with my family, too."
Megan shook her head. "Mine live too far away."
"Mine, too." Jay tilted his head in thought. "Could we visit the day after Christmas? Or the day before?"
Janice grimaced. "Traffic. And the day after Christmas sales."
"Traffic can be gotten around," Gene said. He was quiet for another moment. "What if we all stay home for Christmas morning and then go to other houses?"
Seth caught Gene's eye and shook his head. "Why don't we stay home for Christmas day? Then take two trips, one to Megan's and another to Jay's?"
"At the same time?" Drew asked.
"No," Seth told him. "Megan's family is four hours away. We get up early, visit, and come home to sleep. Then we get up and drive to Jay's."
"Lots of driving," Jay said with a grimace. "I could take off a few days before Christmas and visit my family. Everyone will be in town then."
It was decided after that. They'd go to Jay's almost a full week before Christmas. After Christmas, they'd visit Megan's family for the day. But on Christmas day, they'd spend the morning together, including Lucy, and then they'd split off. Alice would go with her friends, Janice would visit her family, and Heather would take Lily to see her grandparents. Drew would call his mom sometime that day.
"So," Drew said, glancing around at his collected family, "when are we bringing the tree downstairs from storage?"
Christmas afternoon, Gene put his scarf around his throat and put on his coat. "I'll be back soon," he promised.
"Where're you going?" Drew asked.
Gene smiled. "Just out for a walk." He slipped out the door and Drew exchanged a look with Seth.
I've got such a good family, Gene thought. He smiled at the thought of their Christmas activities. He and Alice had spent most of a day making cookies, cakes, and other sweets for their families, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. It hadn't been easy with everyone who was home coming into the kitchen to steal something.
Jay had picked Lily up so she could put the star on top of the tree. Gene had caught quite a few of his family members sneaking around with packages.
He chuckled. This morning had been something. With his three brothers, Heather, Janice, Alice, Megan, Lucy, and Lily there, the wrapping paper had flown. There had been gift bags with tissue paper and boxes wrapped in colorful paper. With calls to 'save the paper' flying unheeded, they unwrapped the packages.
Most of the presents had been thoughtful with a few funny things thrown in. Giftcards were added as extras and there was plenty to eat for breakfast.
Jay went with Heather and Lily to visit Heather's parents. Alice went to visit friends after breakfast. Megan hung around with Drew and played one of his new videogames with him.
Gene reached the cemetery and went right to his biological parents' graves. He spoke quietly to them before moving on to his adopted parents' graves. He walked away from them and came to a stop in front of Jane's grave.
He sighed and tried to give her a smile. "Hi, Jane," he said softly. "Another Christmas. You would really have enjoyed this one. It was our first one with Lily as our niece and we got to spoil her as much as we wanted. I thought Heather was going to have a fit when Lily unwrapped that ruby necklace. No, it wasn't all rubies. Just a pendant. She's almost twelve."
He looked at the ground and frowned. "I would have gotten you a wreath or flowers, but you didn't like wreaths and flowers would only die. Unless they were plastic and you hated those."
Gene told her about the family and what they were doing. He got to the last and his breath shuddered. "Oh, Jane. I was so scared. They've all got families by blood or marriage now and I didn't want to be left behind. Seth has Janice and Lucy. Drew got his mom back and he has Megan. Jay has Heather and Lily and a whole bunch of family that love him. Lucy only adopted me out of pity and Lily calls me uncle sometimes, but it's not the same. I keep waiting for one of them to tell me that they don't want me anymore "
He froze as he heard footsteps on the soft ground and tried to rub the tears away from his eyes. Anyone walking by would just think that he was crying because of the season anyway.
There was a familiar exasperated sigh and an arm over his shoulders. Gene looked at Jay, but his older brother was giving all his attention to the grave. "Jane," Jay said quietly, "how did you deal with a guy like this? Honestly."
"Jay," Gene started.
"If you were worried, you should have said something." Drew grinned at him and nodded to Jane's stone.
Seth gave Gene an annoyed look from his younger brother's other side. "You're missing a few screws if you think I don't want you in my family."
"Double," Drew said cheerfully.
"Triple." Jay gave Gene's shoulder a squeeze. "We're not leaving you. The house is a quarter yours. My family loves you and wants to adopt you, but I asked them to wait until you were more comfortable with them."
Drew nodded, agreeing with Jay's sentiment. "You could have told us," he said with a scowl in Gene's direction. "I thought you were acting down."
Seth sighed. "Jane, even if your brother didn't get you a present, we did." He pulled a pinwheel out of his jacket pocket and stabbed it into the ground. "It's got a butterfly on it."
Gene's chin wobbled at the sight and he put a hand over his eyes. Jay tugged at him until Gene's face was in his shoulder. "Geez, man," he told Gene. "It's just a pinwheel. Lily thought they were pretty and we bought one." Drew walked up and patted Gene's back while Seth nodded to his aunt who was out of earshot.
When Gene had himself under control, they walked toward the exit. Seth met his aunt's eyes and asked, "Why did you adopt Gene?"
She opened her mouth promptly. "Because he's cute, sweet, and takes care of you. Why?"
"Not out of pity?" Seth asked.
Lucy gave him a taken aback look. "Of course not. I'm not you, but I don't adopt people willy-nilly." Gene raised his head to look at her and her face grew sympathetic. "Oh, honey." She went over to him and he had to bend over for her to hug him. "You're not alone," she whispered in his ear. "Even if everyone in the house died, I'd bring you to come live with me. If I didn't, my cousins that you met at the reunion were taken with you. Jay's family would adopt you in a heartbeat if you let them."
She let him go and Gene nodded. "I know." He chuckled weakly. "I guess I'd better go pack for the trip, shouldn't I?"
Jay elbowed him gently. "You didn't pack? You were hassling us about packing every day for the past week and you didn't throw some clothes in a bag? Seth, what are we going to do with our younger brother?"
Seth snorted. "Take him with us and make him sit in the back with Drew. Let the fidgeting drive him nuts."
Gene smiled and let them carry him with them to the house. They were his family and he was grateful that they felt that they had the obligation to cheer him up.