About three weeks ago, it all began to spiral down hill. I knew something was up, knew it, knew it, knew it! I'd imagined this pristine envisage of our yearly gathering where Granny and Grandpa joined us (Dad's Mum and Dad) and Great Uncle Simeon and Great Aunt Fliss came along (Grandpa's brother and his wife). We'd be joined by Auntie Marissa and Uncle Jacob and our cousins Nathaniel and Maddison and now, Maddison's baby ... 18 and pregnant (Now 19 and not so pregnant)! The rest of the family had other plans, such as going on exotic holidays to tropical islands and skiing in the snowy mountains of Switzerland.
To be truthful, at first, none of us were excited about Maddison's little addition to the family. For the first few weeks of the New Year, after it had been revealed that Maddison had indeed found herself in a bit of a sticky situation, well not so much as revealed, but let's just say by 15th January, a small round bump was completely visible on Maddison's stomach and it was far from eating way too much Christmas pudding; Mum found herself comforting Auntie Marissa almost on a daily basis. It's more than fair to say, Maddison had broken her Mother's heart and set up an invisible yet, contentious barrier between herself and her parents.
Mum's been bouncing around like a jumping bean with excitement about cuddling little Ava, says her maternal instincts have well and truly kicked in since Maddison's second trimester of being pregnant (by this time we'd all come round to the idea) thank The Lord Mum never gave in to her maternal instincts, otherwise we may well have had two screaming babies to enjoy on Christmas Day this year ... YIPPEE ...
Back to Christmas being duff. So Dad works as a lawyer, which explains our mega big and bright house, he works with case loads and case loads of well ... cases! Some of his customers are melodramatic, others are completely sincere and genuinely have a cause of concern. So with Dad being a lawyer, you'll never see him, or sometimes you just fancy placing a pin on a cushion just to get him out of the house for a few hours, hopefully days (usually when he takes a two week break, because he can!). He's usually a 9 - 6 worker, but occasionally he'll have to be at the office with clients on a 9 - 8, which we never ever question, never. Mum and I began to get suspicious when Dad was doing 9 - 6 shifts, then casually rolling in at 10pm, this is when we definitely begin to question him; though for a few weeks we sort of accepted it, it only happened once or twice a week.
By the beginning of November, Mum really began to panic. Between free periods at college, I'd abandon self study sessions to unite with Mum at the nearest Starbucks, where I'd console Mum and reassure her that Dad was probably genuinely working. Though admittedly, I did begin to wonder what was going on. Surely he wouldn't abandon his own wife and kids for another woman? He'd never hinted at being unhappy at home. Of course, we kept Eli out of this little equation, he wasn't old enough to understand what was going on, he probably hadn't thought anything of Dad's late returns anyway.
I remember it clearly, too clear. Around a week ago, Mum and Dad sat us down, Mum looked nervous.
"I haven't been having an affair" Dad began. A smile of relief swept across my Mother's face; her and Dad had obviously had a confrontation about this at some point though. Dad grabbed my hand "Emmy, I'd never ever ever betray the three of you. We're a unit" he turned to grab Mum's hand, who inched closer like we were officially closing my younger brother out. A tear strolled down Mum's face. Needless to say, Dad seemed pretty emotional too, he pulled me in for a hug, my head clashing against his chest. I was reluctant to give myself fully to him and so I didn't return the gesture. "Emmy, the reason I've been so late is because..." His eyes shifted up and down "I’ve..."
Mum placed her hand comfortingly on his forearm and prompted him, his face became flustered and red as he spoke, a shimmer of sweat surrounded his forehead “I’ve been volunteering at a homeless shelter” I frowned, creating little creases in the skin above my eyebrows, was that all?! Dad had just been lending a helping hand down at the homeless shelter? Why hadn’t he said? A smiled erupted across my face and I shot myself forwards, embracing him, though this time he didn’t return the hug and somewhat forced me back into the chair that I’d been sat in. “Emmy, about eight weeks ago I left my office to find two young kids, a young man a little older than yourself, Caleb and a young girl, Sophia, a couple of years younger than Eli holed up in the doorway entrance of David Peters’ building across the street. You know that David Peters’- a grumpy old so and so. If he’d found those two kids, he’d have turfed them out and probably sent them along to the police station. Anyway, there’d been rumours of two kids rummaging around in the industrial bins out the back and it’s true, it really is, the poor mites. That young girl was starving and frozen and you could tell her older brother was trying to keep it together for her sake. I saw them bundled up in two sleeping bags and I just couldn’t leave them, I had to do something.”
I couldn’t quite make out what he was getting at our why he’d become so panicked and felt that he’d needed to hide his heroic behaviour from us, but I was proud of him for doing something so brave and kind. Dad was right, if David Peters’, any of his associates or employees had found those kids using his property as a base, there’d have been trouble.
“I opened up the building and took them to the staff room, those kids, they were in awe, it was incredible; like they’d never seen a place so finely furnished. The girl looked gaunt, I could tell she was ravenous and by this time, for a kid her age, it’d’ve been way past bedtime and the boy, he just looked a mess, a real mess. Unshaven and unkempt. Holes in his jeans, dirt all over his coat, almost like he had no real personal identity. Like he’d been forced in to this figure just because of his misfortune. Anyway, I dug around in the cupboards for something, anything edible that the two of them could eat just until I could find something way more satisfying. I warmed up a tin of soup and made the boy a mug of tea and did some research, phoning around and googling on my tablet. I found a homeless shelter nearby where the kids could sleep for a few nights, at least and made a pact to help them, I had to do something.”
Truth be told, although I was proud of my Dad, I was beginning to get a little tired hearing about his prolonged efforts and hoped he was descending this crescendo.
“And that’s why I’ve been so enclosed about everything, I didn’t really want it interfering in my personal life and though it did, I didn’t want you guys to get the brunt end of it and so I kept it quiet, until last week.” I smiled and yawned wearily.
Rising to my feet, I embraced my Father once more, proud of his gratitude. “I’m so pleased Dad, I guess you’ve really made a difference. I really have to go to bed, you know, lectures and stuff in the morning. We could talk about this over coffee some time?”
That’s when Dad clearly realised that I had misjudged the whole scenario and he had more to it, he gently grabbed my by the wrist and pulled me down “Em, sit down, please. This is pretty important.”
“I know we like to celebrate Christmas in a personal way, but for just once. These kids have nothing and so I’ve invited them to spend Christmas with us.” Dad had royally dropped the ball. Was I hearing right? He’d actually had the gumption to invite two strangers to our house on Christmas day. No. He wouldn’t.
I let out a laugh “Good one Dad, but April Fools is a few months off yet.”
Mum swallowed hard “No, Emmy, your Father’s serious. We’ll be having Caleb and Sophia with us over the Christmas period.”
I felt anger surging around my veins, the blood vessels, my bones, my organs. My parents were serious, they really were serious about having these two homeless kids muscling in on our family occasion. “You’re actually serious?!” I began feeling somewhat hysterical, though somehow managing to keep it together. I paused for a moment of composure, ok, I wasn’t angry anymore, I was pretty sure my parents were making a rash decision though and that I would be able to talk some sense in to them. “But they have a celebration down at the centre anyway. You know, all those homeless people together, like a community. They’ll love it. You know, we don’t want a couple of scroungers sponging off us-”
“Jemima!” My mother cut me off, I knew she was disappointed and I didn’t care. I was disappointed in my parents for their betrayal. Had they ever even planned on revealing their intentions? I highly doubted it.
“They’ll only feel inadequate in their cheap clothing. Especially once they see us in our designer clothes and our lavish house. You wouldn’t be helping them” I pleaded. I wanted to cry, I wasn’t so much angry, but upset. Maybe the meaning of Christmas had been dissolved for my parents. But not for me.
“Oh Emmy, we don’t wear designer clothes at Christmas in this household. We chill out and relax a little.”
“You’re saying you’ll let two complete strangers who’ve probably sponged off the government their whole lives and probably will for the rest of their lives spend Christmas with us. Mum, come on. You’ll only have to hide your valuables. Maybe we’ll even have to rent a house for the occasion just so they don’t know where we actually live and take advantage of us for ever.”
Dad opened his mouth “Jemima!”
“Mum, tell me you honestly don’t think this is a ridiculous idea! You can’t want a couple of strangers roaming the house on any day of the year, never mind Christmas day.”
“Jemima, they aren’t strangers. I trust them.”
I let out a laugh of hysterity, was he really being serious? Eight weeks, ok he might have spent a considerable amount of time with them, but had he truly gotten to know them? If he was honest with himself. They mightn’t not have stolen from Dad’s prized property, but there were plenty of things to steal from our house. Our seven bedroomed, five bathroomed house.
“Emmy, they have nothing” he pleaded.
A tear escaped from my right eye “Exactly!” I cried “And all the more reason for them to have intentions of stealing! They’ve probably never even been near an iPad, probably don’t know what it is! You know, you’re wrong. They do have things. They have each other, that’s a great start! You know, some homeless people have nothing but a spare pair of underwear and the clothes they’re wearing! At least they’re that fortunate to have each other! They’ve presumably got a room to share and some sort of a wash basin and toilet, I don’t call that “nothing”. I call that the basics, the great foundations of life. They’re obviously getting at least one square meal a day, probably two with all that volunteering you do. Heck knows, maybe three if you’re taking them in to the office! I bet if you take a real close look they have something of great value, probably £500 worth. Probably a couple of stolen phones and what not. You name it. They’ll have it!”
“Jemima!” my Father was beginning to become angry and defensive towards the pair “Caleb and Sophia don’t steal for a ‘living’. I’ve solely chosen to spend time with them, they have no parents-”
“Well take them to their wider family” I commented, believing this was a fair suggestion “They’re not our responsibility!”
My Dad let out a grunt of disbelief “What family would I even take them to?! Their ‘family’ aren’t capable of taking care of them. Their father died in a gang fight and their mother works as a prostitute. If their ‘family’ couldn’t rescue them back then, then there’s no hope now!”
“Oh bleeding brilliant!” I shouted out “Well you know exactly what that Caleb’s getting his younger sister to do then don’t you! -”
My father twisted his face in fury “Don’t even think of such a ridiculous idea!” he snapped “Sophia is Caleb’s pride and joy. He’d rather put himself in jeopardy than let Sophia be taken advantage of!”