Guess Who's Coming to Christmas Dinner

The soft, white flakes blanketed the land, giving the impression that the carpeted land, covered with smooth fleece, had frozen in time. I anxiously watched the windows frost up, gleaming with the gentle warmth of the street lamps, as I set out the hot plates of turkey and veal, cornbread and bread pudding on the woven lace-covered table. Almost everything was ready. I hoped our guests would be able to put aside their differences long enough to come together this time. Gazing around the decorated room, I once again asked myself why I was hosting a Christmas party for these people. Oh, that's right. I had let Mark talk me into it. My mind went back to our meeting.

I had just sat down at the table when he sprung the question on me.

"So, do you think we should do the Christmas party for them again?" He asked with a knowing smile on his face. I sighed.

"No."

"Well, you know they're expecting it. Remember we told them we'd be back 'next year?'"

"But-but that was horrible, the worst Christmas I've ever had! Can't they find other ways to celebrate? After all, they're-" Mark put his finger to my mouth, shushing me as he leaned close to me and whispered.

"We can't tell anyone who they are. We don't a mob scene, now do we?" he replied. I sighed again. Ever since we had found that troublesome machine...

"So, since I hosted it last time, you'll host it this time," Mark stated. I blanched, imagining the destruction they would likely wreak upon my home, oh my house!

"You know, Janette, you really make it hard to have a Christmas party. But how about we collaborate-We host the party at your house, but I help you set it up and feed the guests," he offered. I shook my head.

"You know my parents will flip when they see the house looking like a tornado ripped through it," I responded.

"Yeah, but we have to host it somewhere. And besides, we'll get them to help this time," he reasoned. I rolled my eyes at him.

"Half of them don't even speak English. How are we going to employ their help?"

"We'll figure it out."

"Oh, fine! We'll do it at my house. But you'd better keep your word!"

"I will." He replied.

Thus ended that conversation. Now I had helped my parents decorate the house, and they knew I had invited some friends over. Still gazing out the window, I saw Mark's big van pull in the driveway. No doubt he was crammed in there with them. I had advised my parents to stay back until I could introduce the guests to them, so Mom and Dad stood in the family room next to the tall, dark spruce Christmas tree. I heard the van door slam shut, and some shouts from outside, then the doorbell...

I opened the door to see the whole troupe-all six including Mark-waiting behind the door, each holding a gift. Greeting each one, I made a mental checklist and checked them off one by one. All present.

"Okay, that's everyone," I said, relieved that we had lessened the number from last time. Mark grinned at me as he walked in.

"So, a disaster yet?" he laughed. I chuckled nervously, watching the group gaze around the place in a satisfied awe.

I stepped in front of them, surprised at how they seemed to stick together. Maybe we would survive this after all.

"Hi, welcome to the Marten Family Christmas party. I'm glad you all could come. Now please, follow me. Thomas, please don't touch that picture frame. Thank you." I beckoned to them, and they slowly followed me-almost like sheep-to the living room. However, I knew them better. My parents' excited expressions turned to shock as they saw the conspicuous clothes and the confused but eager faces. I stood beside my Dad and gestured at the bunch.

"Mom, Dad, here are my friends." I then pointed to a short man in a general's uniform. "This is Napoleon." He walked forward and gazed up at them, just...studying them. Finally he said, with a tone of shock and disgust,

"Faisans?" Instantly my smile fell off my face and crashed to the floor. Mom tried her best to smile at him, though she looked unnerved. Dad gritted his teeth and shook Napoleon's hand.

"Pleasure to meet you," he responded. Napoleon nodded slightly and walked off to examine the tree and place his gift underneath it. I led an old lady with a neutral-expression and glasses forward.

"This is Susan."

"Pleasure to meet you." Dad shook her hand and smiled at her. She did not return the smile, but rather went to the tree.

"And this is MLK." I led a tall, dark-skinned man to them. Dad shook his hand.

"Pleasure to meet you." MLK smiled and returned the greeting, then went to the tree.

"This is Thomas," I said as a man with glasses and wispy gray hair came forward.

"Pleasure to meet you," Dad said as he shook his hand. Thomas returned the greeting and went to the tree. A broad-shouldered, kingly man, wearing a tunic with a cape and a round hat trimmed with lace strode forward.

"This is Henry." Dad went to shake his hand, but with a disapproving glance from the man, inclined his head instead. Henry nodded and went to the tree.

"And lastly, this is Harriet," I said as I led an old, gaunt lady in an old-fashioned dress forward. She smiled and inclined her head to them.

"Pleasure to meet you," she said as my parents shook her hand, and then she went off in the direction of the tree.

Looking back at Mark, I spotted someone peeking out from behind him.

"Did you invite another person, Mark?" I inquired, trying to see behind him. He smiled sheepishly and shrugged, beckoning at the person. She stepped out from behind him, showing that her head only came to his shoulders. She held in her hands a small box. Glancing around at everything, she appeared curious and a little confused. Mark brought her up to my parents.

"Her name is Joan. I, uh...I found her while I was gathering the guests," he explained. I blinked, looking back down at her. She appeared so innocent, so childish. Maybe one extra guest wouldn't be so bad. Dad towered above her, so he knelt down and shook her hand.

"Hello. Welcome to the party," he greeted. She smiled and bowed, then shook his hand gently.

"Bonjour," she replied in a soft yet almost mature voice that surprised us all. Then she saw the tree and went to put her gift under. My parents watched her with interest.

"Well, that's all of them," I said as I took Mark aside. "Mark, let's go over the seating so we don't have the same disaster befall us as before. Let's put Harriet and Susan next to each other, since they are both pioneers they will have a lot to talk about." Mark nodded.

"I think we'd better put Henry between two men and across from a man-you know how he is with the ladies," he said thoughtfully, motioning across his neck. "And we could put Thomas next to Henry, but not across from Harriet. He had that fit last year that he had to sit at the same table as her."

"Napoleon could be next to Susan, since she won't put up with his nonsense. You know...we could put MLK in between Henry and Napoleon, they could both use one of his lectures on dreaming," I added. "But where could we put Joan...?" At that moment Napoleon, who had been eavesdropping said, "Why, put her at the children's table, of course." Mark and I jumped. I didn't know he could speak English.

"Oh...I totally forgot. He can speak...English. Uh..." Mark scanned the dinner table for a free place. Then he snapped his fingers. "Aha! She could be across from Napoleon, since they both speak French," he said in a voice loud enough for Napoleon to hear. "And if Thomas tries to wander off again..."

"All right, all right. Let's get them situated."

I scanned the full table. Across from me were Susan and Harriet. Between Mark and me sat Joan. Across from Mark, Thomas sat next to Henry. Henry sat by MLK, who sat across from Joan. Mom and Dad sat at the ends of the table. Napoleon doggedly insisted on being at the head of the table, so my father had to add an extra chair and let him sit by him.

When dinner had ended without any major incident, Mom corralled everyone into the family room around the tree.

"Okay, everyone, while the coffee is brewing we can begin our Mystery Christmas. Janette, would you please pass out the numbers. Everyone take one number from the basket. Number one will go first and choose a gift from under the tree. The numbers will go in succession. The person with the number after one and so on will be allowed to either take a gift from someone that has been opened or unwrap one from under the tree. A gift may only be taken twice, after that it will remain in the possession of the last person to take it. Once all the gifts are unwrapped, number one will be allowed to exchange their gift only once," she instructed. I passed out the numbers. Napoleon peeked and grabbed number one, much to the annoyance of everyone else. Soon everyone had a number, and Napoleon rose triumphantly and strode over to the tree, studying the gifts with a curious eye. He chose the largest box. As soon as he unwrapped it he smirked and showed everyone his new deed to land in Virginia. Thomas paled slightly but tried to smile. No one else smiled except Henry.

Harriet was next. She picked up a package that was suspiciously shaped. As she sat down in her chair, she unwrapped it, staring in horror at her new, shiny ax. Mom looked appalled, but Dad tried to reassure her it was likely a fake made to look real. Henry smiled at Harriet. The women looked less than happy.

Thomas went next. He found a rectangular package and eagerly tore it open. His excitement turned to horror as he saw the title "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Placing the book in front of his chair, he looked around, very discontented. Harriet smiled almost imperceptibly.

Henry was next. He strode over to Napoleon, took the deed right out of his hands, then sashayed right back to his chair. Napoleon was furious, but for once there was nothing he could do about the theft but mutter under his breath.

MLK went next. Finding a small box, he opened it. Inside was a Susan B. Anthony coin, which he examined closely, then smiled at Susan. She returned the smile.

I hardly noticed Joan getting up for her turn. She quietly walked over to the tree, glancing at the different presents. Then she picked a rolled up piece of paper. She unfolded it and smiled warmly, glancing about for the giver. MLK smiled at her, and she grinned. I glanced over at the paper. It was titled "I Have a Dream." At least someone got the right gift.

Susan went next. She found, to her disgust, a small statue of Napoleon mounted on a rearing horse. She turned to look at him, and he proudly smiled back. No one else smiled.

Napoleon was now the only one without a present. The last present was a small plain box. He unwrapped it, keeping up an arrogant air, until he saw what was in it. Then his expression turned to a frown as he got a pair of shoe lifts. He looked out of the corner of his eye at Joan, who sheepishly smiled. Slowly getting up, he pulled the deed out of Henry's hand and gave him the footwear. Henry narrowed his eyes at Napoleon and made motions across his neck. Napoleon smirked as though to say, I dare you.

Suffice to say, the night went rather well. Aside from the place becoming a wreck, multiple fights ensuing, and various guests becoming ill, I'd have to say it was a good Christmas for all involved. Mostly.

"Janette..." Mark ran up to me, out of breath, just as I was cleaning up the food.

"What is it, Mark?"

"Napoleon hijacked the time machine."

Merry Christmas