Episode 061

Melinda’s Journal

Sunday, November 26

We Wish You A Merry Christmas used to be my favorite Christmas song. I always loved the part about figgy pudding, although I’m not sure I ever figured out what exactly that was. Now, however, I cannot stand the song.

Last winter, my friend had a sleepover party a couple of weeks before Christmas. We watched a movie where the family had gone Christmas caroling, and someone got it into their head that we should all go. We borrowed hats and mittens from our friend, got permission from her mother, and starting going door to door. 

We went to the next door neighbor’s house, rang the bell, and started singing We Wish You A Merry Christmas. The neighbor opened the door and smiled at us, so we sang a second song before leaving. We visited the rest of the neighbors on her side of the street before turning around and making our way back. 

Most of the neighbors opened the door and smiled at us, in which case we would sing a second song. One of the neighbors invited us in for hot chocolate. However, this was the neighbor whom the previous summer we had decided was a wicked witch and we decided not to take anything she might offer us. (Looking back, I think she was just a lonely old widow.)

There were a couple dozen houses on my friend’s street, but we only knew a few songs. Eventually, we got cold and we when we passed my friend’s house, we decided to stop caroling and go inside. 

By the time we had gone to bed, I was sick of my favorite Christmas song. Although I had a little fun, I’m not sure it’s something I would ever volunteer to do again. 

Melinda’s Story

Sunday afternoon, I was helping my mother make lunch when my brother bounded into the room.

“Hey, Mom! Michael invited me over to play chess today. Can I?”

I raised my eyebrows at him. “Since when do you play chess?”

Joey shrugged. “Michael’s been teaching me. We joined this before school chess club that meets on Tuesdays.” He turned back to our mother. “So, can I go?”

She shook her head as she closed the microwave door. “No. Go tell your father it’s time to eat.”

“But why not?” 

“Get your father.”

Joey stomped to the kitchen door, then shouted loud enough for the neighbors on the next block to hear. “DAD! LUNCH!”

My mother sighed. “I could have done that. I wanted you to go get him. Sit.”

We sat at the table while my mother brought over the Thanksgiving leftovers Nonna had sent home with us. As soon as my father entered the kitchen, Joey started whining.

 “Mom said I can’t go to Michael’s today.”

My father nodded. “She’s right. The bus is leaving at five.”

Joey and I looked at each other before speaking in unison. “What bus?”

My mother shook her head. “I haven’t told them yet.”

Joey looked between my parents. “Told us what?” 

I looked at my mother. “Are we going somewhere?” 

“Yes. We are going Christmas caroling.” When she was met with blank stares, she sighed. “The Bridgewater Club decided to do a family caroling night at the area nursing homes. They rented a school bus, which is going to take us to a few different homes. It counts as community service hours for school.” She looked at me.

“I don’t need any. We have Service Day every term. And, those hours are probably more than what I need for Confirmation class.”

“Do we have to go?” Joey didn’t hide his whine.

My father sent him a stern look. “Yes. It’s a fun family activity. The only one we’ll probably have before Christmas. So, we’re going. You’ll have fun.”

I doubted that, but held my tongue. Joey also looked like he wanted to say something, but he remained silent as well.

For as long as I could remember, my father had been a member of the Bridgewater Club, an Italian-American men’s club that met monthly. Once or twice a year, they would hold family events, such as last summer, when my family joined some of the other families to attend some sort of dinner theater show. I thought back, but I couldn’t remember them ever doing a Christmas caroling evening before.

After an early supper, my father brought us to a commuter lot near the center of town. While he went to greet some of the other men from his club who had gathered in the center of the lot, my mother went over to talk to some of the wives she recognized.

Joey and I were left to our own devices. My father had locked us out of the car, so we were forced to mingle. Joey immediately found another boy around his age playing on his phone. The two began talking about how much they did not want to be there and bonded immediately. 

I looked around. There were only a few people close to my age. I recognized two of the girls. I had seen them at the dinner theater last summer. I hadn’t talked to them, but I remembered they weren’t that much older than me. I couldn’t recall if they were friendly, though, so I approached them hesitantly. 


They both smiled at me. That was a good sign. The taller girl looked comfortable in a red fleece jacket, her dark hair pulled back. She gave a small wave. “Hey. I’m Kayleigh. This is Bella.” She pointed to the girl beside her shivering slightly in a blue sweater dress and black leggings, her light brown hair falling in gentle waves halfway down her back.

Bella waved. “So, what school do you go to? Not West Shore, I hope.”

 Probably best not to mention that was the school I would be attending if I didn’t go to Hartfield. I shook my head. “No, I go to boarding school.”

Bella smiled sympathetically. “You caused that much trouble at home?”

I giggled. “Nah. My parents just thought I’d like it more, and I do.”

“What year are you? Frosh?” Kayleigh said the word in a friendly tone.

I nodded. “How ‘bout you guys?”

Bella pointed between herself and Kayleigh. “We’re both sophomores. We go to East Shore.”

I nodded. I had no clue what to say next. I glanced around the parking lot uneasily. 

“Hey!” Kayleigh exclaimed after a moment. “Maybe you can help us. Do you see the two cute guys standing behind me?”

I glanced over Kayleigh’s shoulder, but only saw Joey and his new friend. I raised my eyebrows.

“Not my little brother.”

Bella turned around. “No. Eww. That’s Kayleigh’s brother. No. The twins. Where’d they go?”

I saw the boys she meant. “Oh! Turn around! Yeah, I see them, and they’re looking at you. Don’t look!”

“Really?” Kayleigh beamed.

Bella’s eyes shone with excitement. “Which one’s cuter?”

I tried to look past the girls without the boys noticing that I was actually staring at them. The brothers were nearly identical, equally easy to look at. Not that I had any interest in either one.

Kayleigh explained who was who.  “Xander’s the one in the sweater. Xavier’s the one in the jacket.”

I shrugged. “Honestly, they’re both cute. But, they’re coming over here!”

Bella gasped, speaking in a loud whisper. “They are not!”

“Hey, Kayleigh.” The sweater twin was so hesitant, I thought it made him absolutely adorable.

“Hi, Bella.” Jacket twin sounded much more confident. “Did your dad drag you here, too?”

Bella seemed a little flustered. “Oh. Hey. Yeah. I told my dad I don’t sing, but he didn’t care. Threatened to take my phone away if I didn’t come.”

Jacket twin nodded. “That’s harsh. Xander lost his last month when he failed his history test.”

Sweater twin smiled. “My parents thought I failed because I spent too much time on my phone. When I failed the second test, they gave back my phone and got me a tutor.”

Everyone laughed, but Kayleigh giggled just a little longer than the rest of us.

Jacket twin turned to me. “I don’t think we’ve met. Xavier Porto.”

“Melinda Luzzelli.”

“That’s my brother, Xander.” He pointed with his head.

“I gathered.” I was saved from further awkwardness when a school bus lumbered into the lot, pulling to a stop behind the first row of cars.

The club president, Mr. Federico, clapped his hands for attention. “Alright. Let’s all get on the bus. I have music folders as you board. If you’re a soprano, please sit in the front right. If you’re an alto, front left. Tenors, you’re in the back right and bass, you’re in the back left.”

I waited a few moments to allow the adults onto the bus, eventually following my new friends on board. I glanced around. I was pretty certain the man in the second row on my right was not a soprano and the woman in the last seat on the left was not a bass. I had a feeling everyone had ignored Mr. Federico’s seating assignment.

Kayleigh and Bella sat near the middle of the bus, suggesting I sit in front of them. The twins sat in the seat beside the girls. A moment later, Joey and his friend sat across from me.

My brother passed me his phone. “Melinda. Look what Tony just showed me.”

I started at the image on the screen of two people kissing.

One of the girls behind me cooed. Bella must have been looking over my shoulder. “Patrick McGregor has a new girlfriend?”

“Is that Poppy Sommers?” I could hear skepticism in Kayleigh’s voice.

“She’s dating Jarrod Handy.”

“I don’t think they’re together anymore!” Kayleigh giggled.

“Everyone ready?” At the sound of Mr. Federico’s voice, I looked up. The bus was pulling out of the lot and the club president was standing between the two front seats, using an overhead speaker to be heard at the back of the bus. As we had boarded, Mr. Federico had handed us each a manila folder with photocopies of Christmas songs stapled into it to create a booklet. He now held one above his head as he continued.

“Let’s practice. Turn to page 1. Ready, One, two, Dashing through the snow . . .”

The forty people on the bus performed one of the dullest versions of Jingle Bells I had ever heard. It was followed by a very off-key Silent Night and a very unenthusiastic Deck the Halls. By the time we reached the first nursing home, I had the impression Mr. Federico was regretting bringing everyone caroling.

I had no energy to sing. After returning Joey’s phone, I spent the rest of the ride searching the internet, finding other images similar to the one Joey had shown me. Many accompanied articles about Hollywood’s latest couple: Poppy Sommers and Patrick McGregor. As we disembarked, I began to feel a little queasy. I wasn’t sure if it was from reading my phone while the bus was in motion, or what I had read.

Wandering the halls of the first nursing home, the carolers found a hidden energy reserve. They sang every song in the folder, which contained a mixture of traditional carols and newer songs. I couldn’t help but feed on the energy, especially when some of the residents joined us.

By the time we returned to the bus, the attitude of the carolers had definitely changed. This time, when Mr. Federico tried to get the bus to sing, everyone joined him joyfully. The girls behind me had split up, each sitting with one of the Porto brothers. I couldn’t hear their whispered conversations as the bus continued to sing. 

Seeing them together made me start thinking about Pat, which of course reminded me of the articles I had been reading. 

At the second nursing home, the residents were so excited to see us, they wouldn’t let us leave. We were ushered into the rec room and given coffee and hot cocoa and cookies. I found myself alone. Kayleigh and Bella were flirting with the Porto twins while Joey and his friend were playing some game on their phones. 

I was fixated on the article Joey had shown me. Bringing my cocoa to a chair in the corner, I checked all the social media outlets for the latest celebrity gossip updates. 

 Pat and Poppy Sommers had both been in Romeo and Juliet. Maybe the images I saw were from when they were shooting. Sure, that was four months ago, but I could hope.

I found an interview posted earlier today, where Poppy Sommers was talking about her next movie.

The peppy blonde host smiled. “Before we let you go, we have to talk about the rumors flying all over the internet. You and Patrick McGregor?”

Poppy smiled brightly, her blonde ringlets bouncing around her flawless face as she gave a practiced giggle. “Oh, I know. Isn’t it great? He is so fantastic.”

“When did this start?”  

“Well, we noticed we had some chemistry when we were shooting Romeo and Juliet, and we actually were together briefly during the summer. We just recently got back together.”

“Well, the two of you certainly do look great together,” proclaimed the announcer as the clip ended. 

I scanned the room, finding my mother speaking with one of the residents. I went to stand with her.

“Hey, Mom?” 

“Yes, sweetie? Oh, this is my daughter, Melinda. Melinda, this is Mrs. Reynolds. She was just telling me about when she used to go caroling as a girl.”

“Oh. That sounds like fun.”

The older woman nodded. “It was.”

I turned to my mother. “Um, Mom? I’m not feeling great.”

“Oh?” My mother put an arm around my shoulders, gently leading me away from the older woman. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m not sure. I think I got a little carsick. Bussick?”

My mother smiled. “There’s one more home. You think you can stick it out?”

I nodded, staying with my mother until we boarded the bus.

“Where’d you go?” Kayleigh asked me as Mr. Federico again had everyone sing to the next nursing home.

I shrugged. “I’m starting to feel sick. I don’t know if it’s the singing or the bus.”

Kayleigh smiled. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to sing Deck the Halls again after tonight.”

“Me neither.” Sweater Twin nodded beside her.

Unfortunately, the residents at the last home were a little less enthusiastic than our previous audiences. It was probably because by the time we got there, they were all getting ready for bed. We toured the halls, but very few residents joined us, and no one invited us for cocoa. A few residents actually shut their door when they heard the carolers coming down the hall.

On the trip back to the commuter lot, the bus continued to sing, but I overheard Sweater Twin ask Kayleigh to the movies after school tomorrow. Jacket Twin had probably invited Bella.

Kayleigh smiled at me as we disembarked in the commuter lot. “You should join us. Maybe we can even find you a date.”

“Actually, I have a boyfriend.” I tried to smile. Was that even true anymore?

“Even better. Bring him along.”

I thought about how Pat always bundled himself in scarves and a hat to avoid being recognized in town. It was one thing to be together at school, where everyone accepted Pat as a normal guy. How would it be at home, where everyone only saw him as a celebrity? 

I wasn’t embarrassed to have a famous boyfriend. But at the same time, I didn’t want to be the center of every gossip magazine. Like he and Poppy currently were. If the rumors about them were true, then I probably didn’t have anything to worry about.

I forced a smile. “Thanks, but I think I’m going to pass.”

Kayleigh shrugged. “Okay. Maybe next time.”

As confused and upset as I was, I waited until I got home before calling Pat. Locking myself in my room, I requested a video chat. When he didn’t accept, I sent him a text message with the link to one of the articles I had read earlier that evening. After scribbling my concerns in my journal, I cried myself to sleep.

Pat’s Story

Pat’s story will return in Episode 62. 

Melinda’s Journal

Sunday, November 26

Although Pat and I have been together for two weeks, I have been spending time with him since Long Weekend. I thought I knew who he was, but I am starting to wonder whether I have been lying to myself.

When my friends learned we were together, I explained that I was with Pat Evans and Patrick McGregor was just his Hollywood persona. The guy I saw in celebrity interviews wasn’t real.

But all this publicity surrounding Patrick McGregor and Poppy Sommers, has made me start to question whether I had it backwards. Maybe Patrick McGregor is real and the Pat Evans I thought I knew was just an act.

Maybe my boyfriend doesn’t really exist after all.

Attention Hammerheads

Melinda is always trying to build her vocabulary. What were some words in this episode that were new to you? She will add them to her vocabulary journal.