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The Literary Girlfriend: A Very Special Christmas Episode

December 19, 2013
Christmas in the post-War United States

“Very special Christmas” episodes usually suck, so I might have just jinxed my own story. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Daniella woke me up before dawn on Christmas Day to tell me that she was leaving.  I already knew she would.  After all, we had planned it out.  She was going to drive around the hills all day and blast non-Christmas music to make the day go away while I stayed at the family gathering at my mom and dad’s house.  Even though she had put up a good front on Christmas Eve with my family, she was the type of person who endured Christmas instead of enjoying it.  She wasn’t going to say anything before she left, not even a quick “Merry Christmas,” and I knew not to say it to her.

“How do I know you’re coming back?” I mumbled groggily.

“You haven’t made my January car payments yet,” she whispered, and then pecked me on the lips.

Yeah, that was enough to bring her back.  She might leave me after I paid those bills, but not before them.

I got up a couple hours later, before the rest of the family would pile in for presents and meals and hours of sitting around lazily.  As I watched everybody else open presents (I tried to act interested), I thought about what Daniella had told me before we left for this trip.  She had never had a Christmas like this growing up, had never had a big family with a pile of colorful gifts under the tree.  Christmas for Daniella (according to her) usually meant her mom drinking and Daniella wandering the neighborhood just to get away, including one Christmas she had spent at a convenience store watching zitty boys play arcade games. Daniella didn’t have the Christmas memories that I did.  Seeing somebody else’s family celebrate wouldn’t help with her own emotions.  So if driving around all day helped her get through the day, then that was better than drinking it away.

Of course, Daniella missed some more Christmas family drama (or my family’s version of drama).  There was some bickering, especially between the teenage niece and her mom (my sister-in-law).  My brother tried to stay out of it, but then his wife complained about him not supporting her.  There were also couple arguments between two nephews who both wanted to play different video games at the same time.  I helped out by throwing a football around outside in a nearby field, where I could stand in one place and let them run around to catch my passes. My arm would be sore the next day, but it took my mind off Daniella for a while, and the two boys got rid of some energy.  Later that day, I took a long walk around the neighborhood just to get away from the noise.

When I got back, I bumped into my other brother (not the one who flipped through Daniella’s fake Jane Eyre hardcover) while he was smoking a cigarette in the backyard.  He was as quiet as me sometimes, but a lot of it was because he was struggling with not drinking.  Smoking helped, but he had to spend a lot of time outside to do it.

“You got a minute?” he said.

I hadn’t talked to him much.  Actually, I had been avoiding his entire family because of all the arguing.  In my view, his wife was causing most of the tension in the house, and he wasn’t very good at refereeing.  Both he and his wife had tempers that made simple family disputes escalate, but I wasn’t a parent yet, so I didn’t know if I could do any better.  No wonder my mom thought Daniella was calm.  It was easy for her to be calm when she knew she could leave whenever she wanted.

“Yeah,” I said.  “How’ve things been going?”

“Better, but…”  He threw the cigarette to the ground and stepped on it. “Aw, Christ, I hate to do this, but… I gotta ask you for some money.”

It was the antique store, he explained, or as my dad called it (when my brother wasn’t around), “that pain-in-the-ass antique store.”  My brother had bought it about five years ago.  It had been his wife’s idea, he said, and she pushed him into it.  It was an expensive mistake.  The store was off a stretch of an old state highway, and it had been there for years, and everybody in town (we didn’t get many tourists) had been a customer at some point, but it was an antique store.  I didn’t even know why my brother’s wife had wanted it when it came up for sale.  The store drained money from my brother, and now his marriage was in trouble (of course!). The bank wanted its money back, and my brother had even asked our parents for a chunk of cash a year ago.  It was probably gone, but they had never asked for it back.

‘We’re finally making money,” my brother said.  “I’ve got inventory figured out. I changed the hours, fired a couple people, we’re making money.  It’s just the… debt.  We’re not paying it off fast enough.”

“How much do you need?” I asked.

The number was significant.  I had it, but it would wipe out my savings.  Now, I was only 25, so under normal circumstances losing a savings wouldn’t have been a big deal.  I’d make it up again in less than a year.  I had a good job, and I was cheap.  But even with my job, Daniella was an expensive girlfriend.  I needed that savings.  My monthly salary wasn’t enough to keep up with her bills and her tastes.  That savings gave me six months with Daniella, and then we’d have to call it off.  I wasn’t going to start using credit cards.

“Let me think about it,” I said, as I went inside.

“I’m sorry I had to ask you today,” he said.  “This was… I didn’t want to do it in front of them, or her.”

“I know how much the store means to you,” I said.

“Thanks,” he said.  He knew I hadn’t said “yes,” but he understood that I was seriously considering it.  “Your girlfriend’s great, you know.  She looks at you when you’re not paying attention.  You… should do whatever it takes to keep her.”

“Yeah,” I said and went inside.

This whole situation pissed me off.  I had worked hard to get through school without much debt.  I had paid cash for a cheap (but reliable) car.  Daniella was my reward for years of cheap bastardliness and good decisions.  Now my brother was asking me to pay for his irresponsibility.  That’s how it was, I thought.  The irresponsible always need the responsible to bail them out.  I was tempted to say no.

But what if my brother was right?  What if he really had figured out the store?  If he went bankrupt because I wanted a hot girlfriend who liked (or probably only pretended to like) me, I couldn’t live with that.  Yeah, I liked having Daniella for a girlfriend, but she was temporary.  My brother and his business, all of that was long-term, if he was lucky, but only if I helped him.

Shit, I thought.  I had to do it.  I had to give him the money.  And that meant I had to figure out what to do about Daniella.

The rest of the evening dragged on.  I was fidgety, had an even tougher time than usual making small talk, and was actually glad when my brothers’ families began leaving.  My niece hesitated before talking to me, and then asked, “Are you and Daniella going to be here tomorrow?”

“We’re flying out in the morning,” I said.

“Would you tell her I said bye?” she asked, and looked at the ground.

“Sure,” I said, and then I realized that was all we had said to each other during the whole two days.

Daniella drove up about 12:30 the next morning.  I had turned off all the Christmas lights for her (and I would turn them back on after she went to bed).  When I opened the door, she gave me a long, stand up hug.  After she took off her coat, she pulled me to the couch.

“Look at this,” she said, and pulled out a few instant camera snapshots of her standing under the St. Louis Gateway Arch.

“You drove to St. Louis and back?” I asked, exasperated.  That was around eight hours each way.

“I thought I might as well,” she said.  “It wasn’t as tall as I thought.  I couldn’t go in, but I got to walk around it.”

“Who took the pictures?”

“A homeless guy.”

What?  Daniella couldn’t stand the homeless, at least not the panhandlers.  The one time I saw a panhandler ask her for a dollar, she’d told him to fuck off so fiercely that the guy stepped back.  I could have sworn I’d seen fear in his eyes.  I always went for the soft approach when saying no to panhandlers, but Daniella couldn’t stand them.

“I gave him 20 bucks and drove him to a place to eat,,, but he probably got boozed up.”

I think my mouth hung open.  I was sure she was putting me on.

“I know,” she said.  “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“I’m just glad you’re back safely,” I said.

Then she sat against me with my arm around her for about ten minutes.  I wanted the moment to last, but I knew it wouldn’t.  Just having her next to me was calming (I wouldn’t admit that to my mom), and I tried not to think of my brother and the money, but I had to.  My time with Daniella was limited now, really limited, and I needed to enjoy every second.

Finally Daniella kissed me by my ear and said, “Thanks for not flippin’ me any shit about this.”

She squeezed my hand, I squeezed it back, and I tried to enjoy the feeling.  We’d leave tomorrow morning, and she was never coming back to this house.  I knew that. I’d come back, maybe even with another girlfriend or a wife and kids, but I’d never see Daniella again with my family.  Maybe with our kind of relationship, it shouldn’t have mattered, but it did.  I took a deep breath, angry at myself.  I was already doing countdowns.  It was going to be tough enjoying the final part of our relationship (whatever it was) if I was already doing countdowns.  I knew I had to figure out what we were going to do in this temporary relationship, if we were going to end it soon, or if I would try to prolong it for as long as I could.  I knew I had to figure it out.  But I didn’t have to figure it out at that moment.

*****

To be continued in… The Literary Girlfriend: Good Cop, Bad Cop .

And to read “The Literary Girlfriend” from the beginning, start here.  Or click on “The Literary Girlfriend” category to select a chapter.

6 Comments
  1. I was eagerly and hopefully waiting for this to hit my mailbox…:)

  2. I think I read this out of order seeing as how this was my first stop. But you write beautifully.

  3. Fantastic read. Look forward to next installment.

  4. I really enjoy the storyline, but I think you put a bit too much into brackets. I know you’re trying to write quickly and give as much information as fast as possible, but it comes across as patchy writing when you don’t go into details… I dunno, maybe it’s just my perception but I just thought I’d mention it!

    Can’t wait to read the next instalment – I enjoy reading these stories!

  5. I like the very realistic believable way you write your characters. They really come alive in the writing.

  6. Nice twist!

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