I shivered in the light dusting of snow as I rang the doorbell and hugged my duffel to my chest. Heavenly Father, please let this be a good Christmas. The door opened and I was pulled inside.
“Alice!” Meeta crowed. She hugged me tight then held me at arm's length. “Oh you're late.” She spun me around. “And I told you not to dress up.”
I grabbed her arm, dizzily. “Actually, Mom had to um...you know.” I held up the duffel sheepishly. She didn't really care...as long as it's not with Dad and Gloria. As if Christmas with her and Pete is any different. I stifled a shudder, banishing the thoughts.
Meeta rolled her eyes. “You're fifteen. Never mind, I've got spares.” She bit her lip and then caught hold of my sleeve and the duffel. “Come quick.”
I was smuggled down the hallway and into her room. “Wow.” I stared in wonder at her gigantic bedroom. “Um, you guys are rich.”
Meeta was already pawing through a set of drawers, happily throwing things around. Her head popped up, surprised. “We work hard...here, wear these.”
“What for?” I gingerly slipped out of my holiday dress.
“We don't dress up until the afternoon, remember?” She frowned. “You might feel out of place anyway.” She ducked through into another room and reappeared a moment later with a soft blue armful. “You can wear this.” She spread it carefully on the bed. “Salwaar Kameez. We're the same size and it's new.”
I stared at the gorgeous two-piece. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, yes. Meeta danced impatiently from one foot to the other and the moment I'd changed, she towed me out of the room. “Remember to smile, okay?”
We rounded the corner and I was overwhelmed by the size of the cavernous kitchen. At present, it was filled to the brim with lovely women in sweat suits, their dark hair piled elaborately up on their heads and an ongoing stream of chatter in Hindi, seasoning the fragrant air.
“Mmm. That smells good.” I inched my way into the kitchen following Meeta who paused at the end of the counter.
She said a few words in Hindi, then gestured towards me. “This is Alice, remember?”
Heads turned in synchronization and polite smiles overtook each face. “Pleasure to meet you, Alice.” The woman closest to me offered a hug, stepping back in horror. “Oh your shirt!” She stared down at her apron. “I didn't mean to get flour on you.” She reached out to and stopped when she saw her dust-covered hands.
Meeta giggled. “Alice, this is Aunt Nazzy-I mean, Nazalia.”
“Nazzy.” The woman corrected. Her lips twitched. “Ready to help now?”
“Yes.” Meeta answered for us both. “Aprons first.”
I obediently followed after her, and was promptly given an apron. “Do you guys do everything on Christmas day?”
“Sort of. I mean, it's easier. Everyone comes to our house, we spend half the day cooking, it goes much faster. Then we all get dressed and Uncle Jay brings the Christmas tree.” Meeta shrugged. “Come on, or we'll miss the cake-making, it's the most fun!”
The day blurred by and I found myself immersed in a reality almost like a dream. I felt like one of them. Everyone knew how to cook or bake something special, trading words of advice as they worked, including me in everything.
We finished drizzling food coloring over pans of sponge cake batter, then there was a loud booming voice in the hallway. I didn't know Meeta could get any happier, but her smile grew even wider.
“The tree's here!” She squealed.
Laughter rose in the kitchen. “Off with you both!” Aunt Nazzy shooed us away with a smile.
Before I knew it, I was knee-deep in tinsel and ornaments, laughing my head off alongside them. This had been the best Christmas I could remember yet. There was so much happening, yet there was so much love in the air. I learned, how to to wear my new outfit, what a paratha was and how to be a part of their family.
“Thanks, Mets.” I hugged her as we stared up at the huge, newly-bejeweled tree. “Y'know, for inviting me.”
“Thanks for coming. Everyone's been so excited for you to be here. They've even got presents and stuff. Aunt Nazzy brought you something that's bigger than my box.” She grinned.
“Really?” I felt tears brimming in my eyes. Thanks...Daddy.
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