Sunday, December 24
My family has many Christmas traditions, including our holiday dinners. Every year, we attend the Christmas Eve pageant Mass, even though both my brother and I are too old to participate.
After church, we have dinner at Nonna and Papa’s house with my mother’s brothers and their families. Lots of food and we all get to open presents. Even though my cousins should be in bed early, my uncles usually stay late, going directly from Nonna’s house to midnight mass. Meanwhile, we go back to our house to get ready for Christmas day.
After breakfast, my Luzzelli grandparents always arrive in their RV. After dinner and presents, they spend the night in the driveway, although they are always welcome in the house. The following morning, they head to their next destination.
Despite my broken ankle, I cannot wait for Christmas this year.
“Santa came!” Joey yelled into my room on Christmas morning. While I had always been an early riser, my eleven-year-old brother tended to sleep late. He was usually late for the school bus in the morning. Yet, every year, he was always the first one up on Christmas morning, sometimes before dawn. I was never sure, but I suspected Joey may set his alarm clock each Christmas Eve.
Even though Joey and I no longer believed in Santa, there were always presents under the tree on Christmas morning. I followed my brother downstairs, sliding on my butt with my crutches in my hand, and joined him in the living room. Joey inspected each box, trying to determine which held the snowboard he had requested, since none of the packages were large oblong shapes. Santa had been known to conceal presents, however, and I had a feeling the large rectangle in the corner, which Joey continuously overlooked, was the snowboard.
We waited for our parents to appear, sleepy-eyed in their bathrobes, each holding steaming mugs of coffee, before opening our presents. While Joey sat on the floor, I sat on a couch so I could prop up my ankle. He was thoughtful enough to pass me a present every time he opened a new one.
Santa had left me some pretty new clothes, some accessories for my phone, a beautiful pair of winter boots that would be great for walking around school in the snow, and a nice new backpack. After Joey found his snowboard—I had been right about the box in the corner—everyone passed out the presents we had gotten each other.
My family loved the gifts I had selected. My mother even had to threaten Joey several times that he was not allowed to start building his model until after dinner with Grandma and Grandpa Luzzelli that afternoon.
Joey had given me a gorgeous new leotard and skirt I knew my mother had picked out, while my parents had given me a pair of pointe shoes. As Joey began examining the directions for his model and my father began flipping through his new calendar, my mother pointed to the new shoes.
“You don’t have to open those yet. The day you told me about the new dance class, I happened to run into Donna in the grocery store. After I told her about your new classes, she told me the shop was having a 50% off sale, so of course I went and bought you shoes. Jenny told me I could exchange them if they don’t fit.”
I had taken dance classes with Miss Donna, my mother’s childhood friend, for years. Donna’s sister, Jenny, owned a dancing boutique called Center Stage, which is where I usually shopped. I opened the box carefully and fingered the shoes. They were gorgeous, and I wanted to try them on immediately.
Carefully, I slipped the shoe on my right foot. When it fit perfectly, I immediately tried the other shoe, being even more cautious. They fit like they were made for me. Of course they did; Miss Jenny always knew my size. I wished I could stand on my toes, just once, but I knew better. Even if my ankle were not broken, the shoes didn’t have the ribbons sewn in yet and without them, I would surely injure myself. I looked at my mother.
“I love them. Thank you. I can’t wait until April!”
Joey looked up. “Really? The doctor said you have to wear that cast till April?”
“No. Probably late January or early February. But then there’s Spring Break, so I won’t be able to dance until April.”
“Bummer,” was Joey’s sympathetic response as he went back to his model.
After everyone had opened presents and had breakfast, I sat in the kitchen, offering to help my mother prepare dinner. However, there was little to do, especially on crutches, so I ended up just texting my friends.
Walter had been told about his visit to my house and was willing to babysit with me. We spent our morning planning some other activities we could do during his visit. I wished I could take him snow tubing, as I had wanted to do over Thanksgiving break, but I didn’t think it was a smart idea with my broken ankle.
I was scooting down the stairs, having changed into my holiday dress, when the doorbell rang. Getting to my feet, I yelled out to no one in particular.
“I got it!”
I propped one crutch near the door and leaned on the other as I opened the door and greeted my grandparents with warm hugs. It took them a moment to realize I wasn’t standing on my left foot.
“What happened, dear?” asked Grandma.
Grandpa shook his head. “It was dancing, wasn’t it?”
I smiled. “Actually, it was CCD.”
Grandma smiled. “Now, that sounds like quite a story. I can’t wait to hear about it. For now, where is your father? I need help with the presents.”
“I’ll help you, Grandma!” Joey bounded down the stairs. He remembered to hug each of the grandparents before heading outside. When he reached the top step, he seemed to remember he was barefoot.
“Oh! Forgot my shoes!” He ran back inside. After retrieving plastic slip-on clogs from a hall closet, he followed Grandpa to the RV to retrieve the presents.
“Mom! How was your drive?” My father entered the hall and took his mother’s coat, hanging it in the same closet where Joey had retrieved his shoes.
“Snowy. It was really coming down as we passed through Springfield. But the RV has great snow tires.”
My family and I enjoyed a pleasant Christmas dinner, during which Grandma and Grandpa told stories about their summer and fall traveling through Eastern Canada. After my mother and grandmother cleared the dinner plates, everyone went into the living room to exchange presents. My grandparents loved the calendar, excited to recognize some of the national parks and declared they would use it to plan next summer’s adventures.
Soon, my father went to the family room with Grandpa to watch their favorite Christmas movie, a tradition that dated back to my father’s childhood. Joey, meanwhile, raced out of the room, excited that he could finally build his new model. I followed my mother and grandmother into the kitchen for a cup of hot chocolate. My grandmother took a sip of her coffee before turning to me.
“So, Melinda. How’s school?”
My mother smiled over her mug of coffee. “She made Dean’s List last term.”
“That’s excellent. Tell me about your friends.”
“Well, my roommate Sarah is really cool. She knows literally everyone in our form and she almost made Dean’s list. She had the right average, but she got a B-minus in German and you can’t have any grade below a B. But she’s determined to do better this term.”
I took a sip of cocoa before continuing. “Then, there’s my best friend, Walter. He’s super smart, and he helps me in most of my classes. And he’s my CCD mentor and figured out how to get me to church when I broke my ankle.”
Grandma sent me a quizzical look over her mug. “Come again?”
“Well, normally, I just walk to town. But, when I broke my ankle, I didn’t want to have to hopple to town every Sunday morning for mass. Not to mention CCD, although it turns out I can’t do that now. Anyway, Walter found a program that would let his brother have his car on campus and drive me into town.”
“Well, that was very nice of Walter’s brother.”
“He’s her boyfriend.” My mother still had that slight tone of disapproval whenever she said the word.
“No. Patrick. His brother. His much older brother.”
“He’s sixteen.” I turned to my mother. “And you like him. You said he was a good boy.”
My mother scoffed, but Grandma seemed to want to learn more. “Tell me about your boyfriend.”
“There’s this program in town. Not here, up in Oakville. It’s kinda like a taxi service for stranded teens. Like, this one time? There was a girl about my age who had been babysitting. The dad was supposed to drive her home, but she was pretty sure he had been drinking, so she called us to come get her instead.”
My mother sent me a pointed look. “I think your grandmother wanted to know about Patrick.”
If she hadn’t interrupted, I could get there. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. “Sooo, when I broke my foot, Walter told Pat about this program, and Pat and I signed up. Because he enjoys helping people.”
Grandma smiled. “He’s sixteen? Is he planning on going to college?”
“He’s still trying to figure out what he wants to study. He still needs to talk to his parents, but he’s toying with the idea of taking some time off while he figures it out.”
“Like his sister?” my mother asked.
“Not exactly. Meghan took a break from both school and work while she figured stuff out. Pat wants to keep working.”
Grandma beamed. “Oh? He has a job? What does he do?”
I sighed. “He’s an actor.”
“How sweet. Has he been in anything I’ve seen?”
“Of course he has,” Joey said as he entered the room. “She’s with Patrick McGregor. His movies are everywhere. Hey, Mom? Can I borrow your nail polish remover? I accidentally glued my fingers together again.”
My mother pursed her lips. “I warned you to be more careful.”
She rose from the table with a sigh and led Joey out of the room. Grandma turned back to me.
“Do you have a picture of him?”
I searched through my phone, finding a picture I had taken in the library a few days before break. Pat was reading in one of the leather chairs and I wasn’t sure he even knew I had taken it.
“Joey’s right. This boy does sort of look like Patrick McGregor, although his hair is a little too long.”
“He grew it out for his last couple of movies. Says it makes it harder for people to recognize him, so he’s not ready to cut it yet.”
Grandma sent me a curious look. “You’re serious?”
“Yes, she’s serious.” As my mother returned to the table, I escaped, leaving her to answer any more questions Grandma might have.
“Oh! I missed you boys!” Mom exclaimed as we walked into the kitchen. She embraced both of us in turn before turning back to the stove.
Walter smiled. “Smells good. What’s for dinner?”
Walter and I exchanged looks. Mom’s last meatloaf had been disgusting.
“Real meatloaf or Meghan-friendly meatloaf?” I asked warily.
“Oh, the real one. Your sister is still in New York. That low fat one was awful! Anyway,” Mom wiped her hands on a towel as she turned to face us. “I need to talk to you boys about Chicago.”
I groaned. Walter whined. “Aren’t we old enough to stay home alone?”
Mom ignored him. “Pat, Dave called. One of the morning shows in LA–don’t ask, I already forgot which one–they’re trying to schedule you four kids from Tomodachi. You’re on New Year’s Eve.”
“So, we’re flying from Florida to LA to Chicago?” I asked.
“No. Because we’re stopping here to bring Meghan back. Plus, I’ve also been talking to Christina—”
“Who?” Walter and I asked at the same time.
“Melinda’s mother. She invited you boys to stay with her for New Year’s.”
I put my hands together as if in prayer. “Please tell me you said yes.”
“Pat, I’m sorry. You have to be in LA and your father has to get to Chicago right after that. There’s simply no time to bring you home in between.”
Walter pouted. “So, we have to babysit?”
“No. Your aunts are going to work out their own babysitting fiasco. Pat, you can come to the ball drop with me. Walter, you can go to Melinda’s.”
I was speechless. I think Walter was, too. When I finally found my voice, it wasn’t polite. “That’s just not fair!” I stormed up to my room.
A little while later, there was a knock on my door. Technically, I didn’t invite anyone in, but Walter straddled my desk chair, anyway.
“Want me to come to Chicago with you? Mom said I could come to the ball drop and not have to babysit.”
“Why would you pass up time with your best friend? You hate the camera. If you come to Chicago, you’ll be on tv. Hang out with Melinda.”
“Are you sure?” I could see the excitement in his eyes.
“Yeah. Have her teach you some card games.”
Christmas was long and loud. After attending the Christmas Eve mass, we went home. All of Mom’s siblings and their kids and grandkids joined us, along with Granny and Pop-Pop. Luckily, Uncle Vinny had already gone to Florida and Uncle Colin went to Chicago, so it wasn’t as bad as it had been at Thanksgiving.
The day after Christmas, we flew to Florida to visit Dad’s parents. They lived in a retirement community, so we ended up staying at a hotel.
The trip was boring. Walter, Meghan, and I completely ignored our younger cousins. We holed ourselves away in the kitchen playing our favorite vocabulary game, Weddas, all day. Since we didn’t have the actual game, we used paper to play the travel edition Walter had invented when he left it at school during our last break.
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.