Dark. Darker. Darkest.
The thought struck me when I finally decided I was awake. My eyelids were stubbornly stuck together and I was temporarily trapped in a square of darkness.
Then my eyes opened.
For a moment, I couldn’t quite focus and then the shadowy surroundings of my bedroom slowly closed in. I rolled over for a moment, trying to reason why I ought to get out of bed to baby-sit a bunch of cousins I’d never met…on Christmas.
Children and chaotic holidays were something I dutifully avoided whenever possible. However, my dearest, darling of a mother, seems to think my natural aversion to such gatherings are unhealthy and at the very least, unnatural. I see no reason to witness forced displays of politeness and affection that are showered upon unsuspecting individuals when crammed under the same roof.
Of course, when your apartment is being steam-cleaned from some unmentionable adolescent prank, hiding out at your parent’s digs is a fairly logical rent-free choice.
I try not to thrust my company on my parents without warning, particularly to save them from my unending supply of sarcasm which, I fear, college has only made worse.
My feet were cold before they touched the carpet, so I leaned back to rummage under my pillow for the fuzzy socks I’d stashed there the night before. Another quick necessity was pulling some comfy sweats over my nightwear, in case of any company that had arrived between my two-in-the-morning bedtime and my awakening just eight hours later.
The moment I opened the bedroom door, I wished I’d stayed in bed. Chatter and light hit me full-force as I stumbled into the hallway.
My poor eyes struggled to adjust to the brightness, a horrible transition from the lovely dark cubicle I called my bedroom. The noise already triggered the headache I’d known would come, so I didn’t fight it as I crept into the kitchen.
It was overflowing with family members I hadn’t seen in years, along with a few who had a several words to say about my sloppy attire and late sleeping habits. I offered a few blank stares and hoped I could find a fresh cup of coffee before anyone discovered my morning breath.
“Layla, oh honey, you’re up!” Mom crushed me in a hug and then whirled around in the same stride. “Here, this should help.” She offered a steaming cup of energy. “Five creamer, two sugar?” Her smile trembled, hopeful, her eyes stressed as they roamed the tiny oval of my face.
I swallowed two scalding gulps, offering a weak smile in return. I could sniff out a bribe anywhere within a hundred-mile radius and this was a big one. Mom hated my coffee habit, but she knew when to pull on it too. “What?” I deadpanned.
Her shoulders hunched upwards. “The kids are in the family room.”
I bit back my groan and swallowed another throat-scorching mouthful instead. “Sure.” I shuffled out of the kitchen, with Mom’s promise of cinnamon rolls floating after me.
The moment I stepped into the family room, a stray Nerf dart bounced off my chest along with a Styrofoam football. “Hey!” My rusty voice croaked to life as I shielded my precious coffee.
The noise level plummeted to nothing.
Taking advantage of the momentary quiet, I headed for the only empty space on the sofa and promptly inserted myself beside a sleeping toddler and his red-faced sister.
“Are you the cousin babysitter?” The question came from a tween-aged gossip-girl-in-training who glowered up at me from under triple-coated mascara-laden eyelashes.
Her posy-pink pout appeared. “Answer this, okay? James-” She pointed towards a high-school goth type scowling from his corner. “Says the reason we celebrate Christmas is because we’re all into consumerism.”
I winced. “Right...Um…let’s see. We uh, celebrate Christmas because of faith, family and friends.” I took a swig of coffee to buy a few seconds of thought time. “Faith, because we believe in God and He sent His son to die for us and the whole way He engineered his plan of salvation-to save our souls, well, um, Christmas starts with the birth…it’s a beginning. It’s about family, because we all come together to celebrate Christmas and Christ and stuff. It’s about friends because they’re an extension of family. That’s why…I celebrate Christmas.” A tiny smile crept onto my face. “That’s my reason.”
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