What's Christmas Without a Little Drama? (by Grant Bentley)

What's Christmas Without a Little Drama?

By Grant Bentley

If any nice person, nasty person, place, event, happening, thing, or sport, seems familiar, it is purely coincidental.

It was something we had done since the beginning of time…Christmas Eve and Christmas day…together as a family…my mom and dad, my sister Sharon, her husband Reg and their kids Joey, who’s thirteen, and Bobby, fifteen, my older brother Tim and his wife Sarah, my younger brother by less than a year, Jamie, and me, Scott. This year was to be no different. At least…that was our assumption. However, one should never make assumptions.

Now, we are not opposed to change. We have seen many changes over the years. But any changes to our little gathering had always come with lots of warning…a marriage, complete with dating, an engagement and a ceremony…a pregnancy, complete with getting larger, labour and apparently a significant amount of pain…there had always been lots of warning. This year, however, there was to be a completely unexpected change. We had never had a completely unexpected change at Christmas before. We had become predictable…all too predictable.

All of us, that is, except Jamie. Now, to describe Jamie as unpredictable would perhaps be a bit of an understatement. Mom described Jamie as a free spirit. If anything out of the ordinary was going to happen, Jamie would likely be the instigator. Like trying to fly by jumping off the roof of the house with kites tied to his arms when he was ten. He had to wear two casts for four months. Trying to ride the neighbour’s cow and coming home covered from head to toe in cow manure when he was eleven. He only needed to wear one cast for three months that time. Bringing home a live turkey another neighbour had given him for Thanksgiving and turning it loose in the kitchen when no one was home. He actually thought it would sit quietly on the kitchen table until Mom got home. No such luck. But, that was our Jamie: do it first and think about it later. Jamie was unpredictable.

If anyone was going to supply us with an unexpected change over Christmas, it would be Jamie. And this year, he did just that. Actually, I’m surprised it took him this long. Christmas Eve 2009 at 5:30 p.m. is a time that will be will be etched in my brain forever. You see, that was the exact time Jamie arrived home for Christmas. As usual, he was the last to arrive before Christmas Eve dinner which would be, predictably, at 6:00 p.m. sharp. There was the usual hand shaking, hugging, cacophony of “Hi”s, “How are you”s, “We’ve missed you”s, “I love you Uncle Jamie”s…and then silence.

Standing in the doorway, looking like a nervous, lost little puppy, was a young man…a very attractive and totally unexpected young man.

We had never had a totally unexpected guest for Christmas before. A totally unexpected guest meant…an extra place had to be made to fit into the already set dining room table, an extra chair had to be found, and an extra stocking had to be found, hung on the fireplace and filled, an extra bed had to be found and made up, and who knows what other adjustments.

Once Jamie had extricated himself from the arms of a slightly hyper young nephew, he turned to the young man, grabbed his hand and pulled him into the middle of the greeters. Jamie introduced him to us as Kale. Kale then spent the next five minutes shaking hands and, I’m sure, praying he would be able to remember everyone’s names. He looked like he would rather be anywhere else right now other than standing there facing my family. Even thought he was smiling, the poor guy seemed scared half to death, which definitely seemed unusual. Okay, he was unexpected, but that shouldn’t be a reason to be almost scared of us. Jamie, on the other hand, looked like he had already received the best Christmas present ever. Obviously Jamie had something going on; something unpredictable. Kale was part of it, but it seemed he wasn’t feeling quite as excited or positive about it as Jamie.

Also, during the entire introduction process, Jamie did not once release Kale’s hand. Something one doesn’t normally do when introducing another guy to the family, and something which I’m sure didn’t go unnoticed. I began to think there might be more to our unexpected guest than simply being unexpected. I wasn’t sure if anyone else had clued in at all yet, or that they would be all that ready for what I suspected might be the rest of Jamie’s surprise when they did. I know Sharon noticed. Once all the introductions were done, she gave me a look which quickly changed into a ‘this could get interesting’ kind of smirk. I just smiled and shrugged.

She then chased the boys off to play, grabbed my Mom and Sarah and dragged them off in the direction of the kitchen. Now there were just the six guys standing in silence and seemingly feeling somewhat awkward. That is, until Dad broke the silence by offering everyone a Christmas drink and we all moved into the living room. Once there, Dad asked Jamie to help with the drinks. I sat on one end of the sofa, Reg on the other, Tim sat in the rocking chair and Kale sat in the big easy chair as directed by my dad. Dad poured, and Jamie served. Once we had each received a rather large glass of eggnog, Dad sat in his recliner and…wait for it…Jamie sat on the floor in front of the easy chair between Kale’s legs, tilted his head back to look at Kale, gave him a big smile, and raised his glass to tap Kale’s.

I don’t think I’ve seen three men become more interested in the pattern changes of the Christmas tree lights than I did at that moment. If they hadn’t caught on before, I think they were starting to now. When I glanced over at Jamie and Kale, Kale looked like he was about to have a panic attack. Jamie, on the other hand, looked happier than hell and quite proud of himself. There didn’t appear to be a whole lot of doubt left; Kale was definitely more than just a college friend Jamie had invited home to share Christmas.

Now, to call my family liberal would not exactly be accurate. But, neither were they your typical hell-fire and brimstone rural conservatives. Either way, having your youngest son show up and disrupt everything with an unexpected guest is one thing. Having him show up and disrupt everything with his unexpected boyfriend, particularly considering he had never given any indication he was so inclined, was something else altogether.

Although there was our cousin Jeff, who came out several years ago in high school, it was never talked about. The topic of sexuality had simply never come up in any family discussions. No one had ever, to my knowledge, said anything negative, but neither had they said anything positive. So, where this evening was going to end up was anyone’s guess. Jamie had outdone himself this time. He had combined at least three unexpected events into one. This was even better than the Thanksgiving turkey. Hopefully the lamps and furniture would fare better this time around.

As the silence continued, I was afraid that Kale was going to come unglued if someone didn’t let him know they were on his side and soon. I also thought it might be a good idea to warn Jamie that he might want to tone things down a little…or a lot. I hoped everyone would be accepting, but there was the possibility that someone in the group might not be. Depending on how things were handled, this could be all it would take to create a very unpleasant Christmas. I got up and motioned for Jamie and Kale to join me out on the deck, announcing that I wanted to show them what Mom and Dad had done new this year in decorating the yard.

As soon as we were on the deck and out of earshot of everyone, I looked at Jamie and quietly asked, “What the fuck?”

Yeah, I know, not the best way to let Kale know I was on his side. I realized that as soon as I said it and quickly wrapped my arm around his shoulders, gave him a squeeze and said, “It’s okay man, I’m cool with you guys. Okay?”

He sniffled a couple of times and said, “Thanks.”

I turned to Jamie and asked, “What were you thinking?”

His response was a typical Jamie response. “I just thought it would be cool to surprise everyone,” he replied.

“Jamie, bringing home a puppy is a surprise. Bringing home a boyfriend is…I don’t know,” I said with an exasperated tone.

“Why are you making it out to be a big deal?” he asked, sounding surprised.

“I don’t know if it is, Bud,” I responded in a much more gentle tone, “but a warning of some kind might have been nice. Maybe a hint that you’re gay. But showing up out of the blue, on Christmas Eve, with your boyfriend?” Then, turning to Kale, I said, “Sorry Kale. I don’t want to seem like I’m talking about you as if you’re not here, but…”

“It’s okay,” Kale said through his sniffles, “I understand. I tried to warn him that this might not be the best way to come out to the family.”

“Thanks,” I said and gave him another squeeze.

Just then, Sharon came out onto the deck. She took one look at Kale, smiled and pulled him into a hug. “You okay, sweetie?” she asked.

“Not really,” he replied.

She gave him a squeeze and wiped his tears away with her thumb before turning to Jamie and giving him a slap on the arm. “You are such a shit,” she said. “What were you thinking?”

“I already asked him that,” I said.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t know why you’re making a big deal out of it. I never thought it would be an issue. Mom and Dad have always been totally cool with Jeff and they know he’s gay.”

“Jeff’s not their baby boy,” Sharon stated.

“Neither am I,” Jamie retorted.

“Look, we can’t change anything at this point. And maybe you’re right Jamie, maybe we’re over-reacting. I mean the surprise part worked real well,” I said with a chuckle.

“Okay, maybe we could cool it a little and act like we’re just really good friends. I’ll tell Mom and Dad that Kale had nowhere to go for Christmas so I invited him to spend Christmas with us. You know they’re real big on showing charity at Christmas,” Jamie said with a little sniffle.

“We could try that,” Kale said, “but I think the cat’s already out of the bag.”

“Dinner’s ready,” Mom’s voice rang out.

“Okay,” Sharon said. “Deep breaths boys,” she added as she handed them both some tissues.

“Maybe you should both go wash up so no one notices the tears,” I told them.

“Yeah, thanks guys,” Jamie said to us. “And I’m sorry. I didn’t think it would be a big deal.”

“Maybe it’s not,” Sharon responded.

The two of them made a beeline for the bathroom. “Gotta wash up,” Jamie called as they sped through the kitchen.

A few minutes later, they were seated at the table looking nice and refreshed.

“Welcome to our table, Kale,” my Mom said with a smile. “It’s not much, but I hope you enjoy it.”

“Thank you,” Kale responded. “It looks and smells absolutely amazing.”

“You haven’t tasted it yet,” Bobby said with a grin, earning him a light smack on the back of the head from Sharon.

“Another crack like that and you won’t be tasting it,” she said, laughing.

I smiled at him as I thought, ‘Thank you, Bobby, you just lightened the mood for all of us.’

Like every year, everything about the dinner was predictable. The meal was exquisite as usual. It was also enough to feed half a city as usual. The conversation was the same mundane family chatter as usual. Yep, all very predictable.

That is, until Mom looked at Jamie and asked, “So, how long have you and Kale been dating?”

Now we all know that mothers have a sixth sense when it comes to timing. I think nearly every person at the table was in the process of swallowing something at that precise moment. It’s a miracle she didn’t have to line us all up for a turn at the Heimlich manoeuvre. Instead, food was spraying in several directions and we were all reaching for a glass of water, a napkin, or both.

“I got juice up my nose,” Joey cried out. “It burns.”

Sharon quickly handed him a napkin and ordered him to, “Blow.”

The whole thing might have been funny if it weren’t for the reactions of Jamie and especially Kale.

After he finished nearly choking, Jamie glanced at Kale, who had gone ghostly white, then turned to Mom and stammered, “It’s just Kale had no where to go for Christmas. So rather than leave him to spend the holidays alone in the dorm, I thought it would be a nice gesture to invite him to spend Christmas with us. I mean, Christmas is a time of hospitality. Right?”

Mom just stared at him until he finally became uncomfortable enough to ask her, “What?”

“I’m just waiting for your nose to start getting longer,” she replied, which got a chuckle from the boys and, I think, Sharon and Sarah as well.

At this point, Kale excused himself, got up and almost ran out to the deck. I was about to run after him when Dad got up and started towards the deck. I got up and moved to the patio doors. Although deep down I knew better, I wanted to make sure that Dad wasn’t reading him the riot act or worse. When I got to the doors and looked out, Kale was wrapped in Dad’s arms and crying his heart out.

Jamie jumped up and started towards the deck as well. As he got to me, I reached out and grabbed his arm to stop him. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and then, when he saw Dad holding Kale, he smiled a very weak smile and collapsed into my arms. I just held him.

After a couple of minutes, he pulled back. We looked out and noticed that Dad was standing there, his arm around Kale, pointing to each of the Christmas ornaments in the yard and spinning some yarn about it’s unique origin or significance. I looked at Jamie and couldn’t help but smile as I gave him a little push towards the deck. A few seconds later, he was standing beside Kale, their fingers laced together, listening to Dad tell his stories.

A minute later, Mom was standing beside me. “Did you know?” she asked.

“I didn’t have a clue,” I replied.

“I always wondered,” she said.

“You did?” I asked.

“Yes…I guess maybe it’s a ‘mother’ thing, you know?” she said thoughtfully.

After several seconds, she looked at me, smiled and gave me a kiss on the cheek. “So how’s Brett these days?” she asked.

“Brett?” I queried as I felt the blood drain from my face.

She just patted my cheek. “Yes,” she replied with a grin. “Brett.”

A very special thanks to Azy for his time and hard work editing this story for me.