The Unexpected Christmas Guest.

When Christmas rolls around for Anna, the twenty-one year old black sheep of the Sloane family, a cord is struck when a long lost, yet handsome, family friend arrives unannounced six years after leaving town.

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1. The Yellow Dress

I have a chapter left in the novel I'm reading. My feet are wrapped in red and white Holiday socks. I'm tucked away in my childhood bedroom, watching the heavy snowflakes fall outside my two-story window. Encircling the window is the same light blue curtains I've had since I was sixteen. I hear my family bustling downstairs, cooking for the annual Christmas dinner and gift exchange we host for our family. They have traveled from many parts of Connecticut, where we live, and New York City, New York, where some of us managed to escape. They should be arriving in the next couple of hours. My eldest brothers, Ryan and Nick, escaped to New York.

My half sister, Marie, stayed in Connecticut simply because a week to ten days after she decided to move; she met the love of her life, Daniel, who refused to leave his family behind. Ryan is in Law School, Nick entered into the Police Academy in October, Marie is a musician and I'm... well... I don't have a job. I live with a friend across town, sadly living on his sofa for the time being.

It's not that I have no ambition, no dreams, no education to move forward with. I want to write. I want to be a Novelist. I want some other person lying in their bed, snuggled up with my work. That's the ultimate thing I'd like to accomplish. Someday, it will happen.

When I finish my book, I amble downstairs, into the kitchen where my mother stands, hands on her round hips. She is staring into the refrigerator, disgruntled, face-red, hair array. 

"What's wrong?" I wonder, approaching the counter to pour myself a cup of steaming coffee. She slams the door shut, opens the oven as the timer blares, cutting the silence in the kitchen. She pulls two pies from the top rack, leaving a tray of biscuits in to bake longer. 

"Nothing, nothing. I'm fine," she says. She is obviously stressed. She grabs a notebook sitting beside me on the counter, flips it open and begins scanning the things she has scribbled down. 

"Ham is done, tree is done, pies are done, the driveway is clear, the sidewalk is clear...." she trails off, murmuring under her breath. Then she smiles, looking relieved. "Everything is almost done. People should be arriving any minute."

"Aren't Marie and Daniel already here?" I thought I had heard them arrive a few moments earlier. 

"Yes. They are in the front yard with your father. I think Daniel is helping with Christmas lights," she tells me. "They are going to look so good for the party!" she exclaims. I sip my coffee, nodding. 

"Go get dressed. Make yourself presentable this year, Anna," she admonishes. "I'm not going to let you get away with sweat pants and a Christmas sweater like last year."

I resist the urge to roll my eyes. "I don't have any other clothes here, Mom," I remind her. She smirks. 

"I have a dress for you in your bedroom closet. Go try it on."

I nearly choke on my coffee. "A dress?" I growl. "Mom. No."

"Try it on before you say anything more!" she says, throwing up her hands, palms out, in defense. "I made sure it would be something you liked, Annabel."

I wrinkle my nose at my given name. 

I turn on my heel and head up the stairs, not saying another word. In my mind I think of different ways to get out of wearing whatever contraption my mother wasted good money on. She always goes all out when it comes to clothes.

I open the closet door in my bedroom and gaze at the flowing, deep yellow dress hanging there. I pull it from the closet and lay it across the foot of my bed. It looks too fancy and formal for a simple dinner party with my family, although it isn't as awful as I predicted on the stairs. I had remembered the ugly avocado-green mini dress she had presented to me two years ago. 

I decide to shower, anticipating a few guests will arrive earlier. When I'm finished, I blow dry my hair, rake and rip a brush through my dark, wavy hair. I stare at my features in the bathroom mirror, glancing back and forth between my hair and my eyes.

I decide to put on mascara. After that I apply golden, maple flavored lipstick to my full lips. I run my hands through my hair and fluff it around my face. I look like a young lady. Isn't that what everyone expects?

The moment of truth, I retrieve the dress from my bedroom, slipping it over my slim frame. The fabric is lace and feels nice against my flushed skin. I'm nervous about the party. I haven't worn a dress in four years. I haven't worn a dress in front of my family in seven. 

The bright, golden sleeves nearly touch my elbows. The lace barely touches my knees, but it flows elegantly. The flaxen lacework covers my back and shoulders. I smile at myself for a brief moment until I notice something that makes my heart drop. My eyes fall to my chest as I notice the bust is too big.

I groan loudly and decide, in a moment of desperation, to stuff tissues from under the sink into my dress. It's a juvenile thing to do, I know, but my mother will be heartbroken if I'm unable to wear the dress she picked out. I check myself in the mirror one more time. I fluff my hair again and clear my throat. 

I take a deep breath and march out of the bathroom as I hear the first guests arriving.

 

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