Food, Cats, and Being in Love

I don't want to think about it
I don't want to talk about it
When I kiss your lips
I want to sink down to the bottom
Of the sea

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26. Chapter Twenty-Six

Thankfully the night ended without any more altercations with Jackass Mc Denver. They apparently had to leave early, so my mom said goodbye to them while I was hiding out in my room. And by the time I returned to the party, he was gone.

Once the Secret Santa gift exchange was done the party started to wind down. Most of my mom’s country club friends left, and that left the rest of us to hang out. Paige and her boyfriend were getting comfortable on the couch. My brother Phillip was sitting in an armchair by the tree playing on his phone. And my dad was busying himself with the TV as I helped my mom get the food away.

“I got you something special,” my mom was telling me as she loaded up the leftovers into containers. “I really think you’re going to like it.”

“You already got me something. You got me that smelly wax warmer thing,” I reminded her. She waved her hand and made a “psh” sound.

“That was just because I was your Secret Santa. You think I would only buy my daughter a Christmas present for a Secret Santa thing?”

“Well, I don’t know.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I hope you got Dad some cleaning supplies so he can get his ass in here and help.” She actually chuckled.

“He’s had a rough day.”

“So have you,” I pointed out. She sighed and snapped the lid on one of her containers.

“He’s actually been a big help around the house lately. He cut back on hours since it’s just Phillip and us now. Let me tell you. It’s been so great having him home again.” I nodded slowly. That was the worst part about my family. I didn’t really know my dad very well. He was always working.

“That’s good. I guess.”

“Well, we better go get those gifts handed out. I thought Paige was going to stay the night, so we were going to do it in the morning.”

“Oh, if Paige isn’t going to stay then I won’t stay either.”

“What? Why?”

“Oh, just. You know? Got stuff to do back home. I don’t like leaving Reg there by himself for so long. You know how he gets.” She put her hand on my shoulder, and we headed back out into the living room.

“But you’ll have to drive home in the dark. And you’ve been drinking.” I shook my head.

“I actually only had one drink. Like four hours ago. And I wasn’t even buzzed then.”

“Why didn’t you drink?”

“I wanted to make sure everyone else got some.”

“You should have told me. I would have gotten wine.”

“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.” We stopped in the living room, and she put her hands on her hips as she looked over our family. My dad looked up and gave us a smile. It was kind of weird. Not that my dad wasn’t a friendly guy. Just that he’d mostly just given the smile to my mom and his eyes lit up like she was the most beautiful creature in the world.

Almost the same way Paige’s boyfriend was looking at her on the couch.

Gross.

“Piper decided she’s not going to stay the night either,” my mom announced.

“What? Why?” my dad responded.

“She wants to get back home to the cat.”

“Or she’s got a boyfriend,” Paige said as she took a sip of the cranberry shit I made.

“You don’t have a boyfriend, do you?” my mom asked. I shook my head.

“No, no boyfriend. Sorry to burst your bubble.”

“That’s too bad.” She turned back to the group. “Well since our lovely daughters are going to ditch us.” She gave me a side eye. “We might as well open gifts now.”

“Works for me,” Paige declared. I don’t even think my brother noticed what was going on. He was busy texting.

My mom shuffled to her obnoxiously beautiful tree as I went to take a seat on the other side of Paige. My dad actually shut the TV off. He was usually pretty good on holidays. Just that he didn’t do a lot of talking and sometimes had to leave early to work in his office.

My mom handed out gifts. I’d gotten everyone something with what I could afford. They were basic things like a phone case for my brother, a tie for my dad, a scarf for my mom, and a cheap ring for my sister. But my mom’s gifts were always something elaborate. She was famous for getting things that you really didn’t like. I mean, Paige usually always liked what she got because my mom and Paige were on the same wavelength. But I always got like extra cooking supplies, obnoxious novelty aprons, or frumpy sweaters.

She got Paige a sweater. Granted, it was cashmere and probably expensive, but it was a sweater. Paige seemed to like it anyway. So when she handed me a box I got kind of nervous. I wasn’t sure how I was going to play off liking it. I pictured myself getting the exact same sweater that Paige got only in something like lime green or puce yellow. Paige always got the pretty colors, and the clothes always looked perfect on her with her slim waist and her naturally straight hair. Whereas it would probably hug all my squishy parts and I’d lose it in the back of my closet or donate it to Jaime’s mom’s thrift shop.

But when I opened the box, there wasn’t an ugly sweater or a novelty apron, or even cooking supplies or candles. It was a silver box. It had blue stars on it and said, “I love you to the moon and back.” I felt my heart grow three sizes like the Grinch.

“Aw, Mom. It’s beautiful,” I said.

“Open it,” she instructed. So I lifted the lid. It played a little classical song, and she had stuck a picture to the underside of the lid. It was a picture of us the night I’d gotten my acceptance letter, and we got drunk, and she got more affectionate. She was even kissing my cheek. My eyes were getting teary. I was going to cry.

“I love it so much,” I told her honestly. She sat back with her hands under her chin, looking at me expectantly. The same exact way I looked when I waited for people to try my food.

“Really?” she asked.

“Yes. It’s beautiful. It’s perfect. I’m going to cry.”

“I just want you to know how proud I am of you. I know you didn’t finish school, but you’ve come so far. You’ve got your own place and your whole future ahead of you. I’m just so proud.” Then I did sniffle. I’d never heard my mom say anything like that before.

“Gosh, I’m gonna cry. Thank you so much.”

“And it’s real silver,” she told me. “But the gems are just glass.”

“Jesus, Mom.”

“I spent the same amount on everyone. Like I always do.” I looked up at her in shock.

“How much was the sweater?” She glanced at Paige who was too busy trying on her new sweater to even care what we were doing. And I was right. She looked amazing in it. Like she could be in a catalog. My mom, noticing that Paige (and everyone else) was preoccupied, turned back to me.

“Alright, I splurged a little. Don’t tell them,” she said. Then my heart swelled again. My mom NEVER spoiled me.

“I love it, Mom. It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever gotten.”

“Don’t be so dramatic. It’s just a box.” She waved me away and went back to the tree, but I could see the proud smile on her face.

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