Posted in Willowfield Falls

Willowfield Falls: All I Want For Christmas Part 5

Morning comes too soon. Before I know it, its Christmas and everyone is gathering around the tree. As everyone gets situated, I try to prepare myself to get much less presents than the rest. I spy a couple of presents with my name on it–more presents than I would have ever received at the foster home for sure. A smile floats to my face. It’s probably just clothes but unlike when I was five, clothes are a much appreciated gift.

“Shall I read?” Mr. Willow asks holding up a Bible. No one objects.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”

“And that,” Mr. Willow says with reverence, “is the true meaning of Christmas.”

Julie, the youngest Willow child, raises her hand. Mr. Willow looks at her, waiting for her answer.

“May we open presents now?” Julie asks. Mr. Willow laughs and gives permission to open the gifts.

All the kids make a mad dash for the tree but I linger behind. By the time I get to my first present, most of the group has already opened most of theirs.

“Let me get a picture,” Mrs. Willow says as I unwrap the flat package.

“A catalog?” I ask perplexed as I hold it up for the camera. My gift is a French furniture catalog. I flip through the pages wondering if possibly my gift was hidden inside. Nothing. Not what I had expected, but…whatever…?

I open my next gift. A bunch of pain swatches fall into my lap. I give an awkward laugh as I hold up the blue, purple, and pink swatches for the camera.

“No, open this one next,” Mrs. Willow says as I reach for Great-Aunt Birdie’s gift. I take the gift Mrs. Willow hands to me and tear it open.

Its another catalog, but this time its for lamps, sheets, comforters, and other bedroom things. I look oddly at the Willows wondering if its all a joke.

Mr.and Mrs. Willow give me a goofy grin and then hug me.

“We had a feeling you’d be pleased,” Mrs. Willow says.

“Um…,” I say startled.

“Pleased with a bunch of catalogs?” Lizzie asks. “I know taking Vera in for the holiday was last minute and all but they didn’t have any gifts for her age group at the store?”

“Lizzie, think,” Mr. Willow says. “You’re not getting the big picture.”

Well, neither am I.

“I also do not understand,” Jonathan says. “Why give Vera these ‘gifts’ unless…” A look of terror crosses Jonathan’s face.

“I thought you were kidding!” Jonathan shouts. “You’re seriously going to go through with it?”

“Go through with what? I am so confused here,” I say.

“All of these things,” Mr. Willow says pointing to the gifts scattered across the floor, “are things needed to plan a room.”

“Yes…”

“But not just any room. A teenage girl’s room.”

“Yes…OH!”

Everyone laughs as realization comes to my face. I feel slightly embarrassed and stupid for not catching it before.

“We’ve decided to prolong your stay with us, Vera,” Mrs. Willow says. “You are staying with us permanently at least until next Christmas.”

“Welcome to the family, Vera Fleming,” Aunt Sicily says. “Get ready for a bumpy ride.”

Her words startle me. What did she mean by ‘bumpy’ ride?

I guess I was about to find out.

Posted in Willowfield Falls

Willowfield Falls: All I Want For Christmas Part 4

I wake up before the sun comes up the next morning. The girls spent the rest of the night blabbing about their homework. As it turns out, The Willow family owns a private high school within the community’s premises. The girls described the school as more of a CO/OP since they don’t have to wear uniforms (something that had just been implemented this year), have short classes, do most of their work at home, and only have to be physically present one day a week if they get all their work done. Both Amelia and Phoebe had been homeschooled before and Jordan and her older siblings had gone to public school up until high school. Jordan explained to me that both Austin and Ben wanted to continue public school education, and that they’re parents had allowed it.

“I think they’re mad,” Jordan had said. “But they didn’t get bullied in middle school like I did. I’m rather eccentric as you probably have figured out by now and that made me an easy target. It didn’t help I come from a ‘wealthy’ neighborhood although we’re pretty far from rich. My friendship with Todd didn’t help much either. He was extremely popular and every girl wanted to be with him despite his hearing problems. They saw me as a threat and I got labeled. I think the only thing that kept me going was knowing that I’d be able to opt out of this in high school. And for some strange reason Todd suddenly wanted to go to Willow High too. I’m glad about it though since I’ve known Todd as long as I can remember. But wouldn’t you know the very year I start Willow High they open the school to eighth graders? But now Austin wants to transfer and so does Ben. Some altercation with a Stewart. So starting in January, I’ll be sharing a classroom with my twin. Can my life get any more worse and complicated?”

As I tip-toe down the stairs, it hits me. It’s Christmas Eve.

And that meant tomorrow would be Christmas.

“How did that happened?” I accidentally whispered out loud.

“I’m sorry. Where you talking to me?”

I scream and scan the area for the speaker.

“I’m terribly sorry,” Han says. He was sitting in the Richardson’s toy covered living room and sipping a cup of coffee. A Bible lay opened to Matthew on his lap.

“I didn’t know anyone else was up,” I say all of a sudden feeling shy.

“Would you like a cup?” Han asks motioning towards his coffee cup. “Mr. Richardson makes the best coffee. He was a barista in college. He can look at you and just now what kind of coffee you’d like. I think that’s how he and Mrs. Richardson met. He made a coffee she loved so much she ended up falling in love with the creator.”

I try not to stare at Han as he rambles on. When he finishes, it takes me a moment to find my voice.

“I’ve never had coffee before,” I stammer.

“Than we MUST have Mr. Richardson make you a cup!” Han shouts. He places his cup and Bible down. He grabs my arm and drags me into the kitchen where a man sits at the table pouring over some blue prints.

“Want another cup?” Mr. Richardson asks. He notices me and clams up.

“Mr. Richardson, this is Vera Fleming. She’s spending Christmas with the Willows,” Hans introduces. Mr. Richardson nods.

“And she’s never had coffee,” Han says.

“Then we must remedy that,” Mr. Richardson says. He takes a quick glance at me and gets up to make his concoction.

I hope he doesn’t base the taste solely on my look. I’m wearing a pair of Jordan’s old pajamas since I usually wore a T-shirt way too large for me to bed. The pajamas had a Christmas theme to me. The shirt was pink and had a picture of monkeys sitting around a Christmas three opening presents while the pants were green and had monkeys randomly place on them. Maybe he’d give me a Christmas themed sort of coffee.

“Here you go,” Mr. Richardson says handing me a cup of light colored coffee. “Tell me what you think.”

I sip the coffee and a blend of flavors delight my taste buds. I gulp down a swallow.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Mr. Richardson reluctantly smiles.

“What is it?” I ask.

“Hazel Peppermint Chestnut,” Mr. Richardson says. “It sounds gross, but its actually quite tasty.”

“I’ll say,” I gulp. “Thank you.”

All Mr. Richardson does is smile.

Han escorts me out the room and we return to the living room where we sip our coffee in silence.

“Do you have any siblings–besides Amelia and Phoebe?” I ask all of a sudden.

“Nope,” Han says. “How bout you?”

“I’m really not sure,” I say. “I have a little half-brother, Henry. He’s around three. We entered foster care together. My dad remarried after he divorced my mom but I haven’t spoken to him since I was ten. Back then he didn’t have any children but I don’t know about now.”

“I’m sorry,” Han says suddenly.

“Sorry about what?”

“That you’re parents are divorced,” Han says. “This is so rude, but may I inquire why?”

“My mom was cheating on my dad with my dad’s also married brother.”

“That’s…deep.”

“Crazy is the more appropriate word. My mom and my uncle divorced their spouses and got married to each other. But my uncle left us not long after Henry was conceived, which was about two years into their marriage. We had been living in Boston, as you can probably tell by my lingering accent. My mother was a Stewart so she moved us back to Berkshire County. We wound up living with my mother’s parents when she was eight months pregnant. But then my grandparents kicked us out of their home two months after Henry was born and we ended up living in our car–when we weren’t staying with one of my mother’s various boyfriends. By this point, my mother had resorted to stealing and it was only a matter of time before the law caught up with her.”

Han looks at me with pity. I slowly feel regret for telling him my story.

“I guess since you told me your story, I should tell mine,” Han says taking a deep breath. “My sisters and I were born in England. Amelia is the oldest–she’s also my twin sister. I’m the middle child and Phoebe’s the baby. My parents were rowers. Strange, I know. But they were both professors and rowers. They had moved to England just to have a better rowing experience. One day while they were practicing, the weather turned bad before they could make it back to shore. Their bodies were never found. Our parents had named our Godparents back in America as our guardians. So when Amelia and I were four and Phoebe was three, we moved to America. We had been born in England, but America’s all we know of now.”

“I guess we can kind of relate to each other,” I say. “We both know what its like not to have our biological parents in our life.”

“Vera, do you believe in Jesus?” Han blurts.

“I’m not exactly sure of what I believe,” I hesitate. “My father was a theologian, my mother was more on the side of new agey, and my uncle was an atheist.”

Han doesn’t say anything. I scoff on the inside. He probably thinks little of me now that he knows I’m not a Christian and I don’t come from a Christian home.

“Read this,” Han says. “I know its changed my life.”

I stare at the Bible he’s just thrust into my hands. He gets up and leaves with his empty coffee cup. I involuntarily sigh and start on the top of the page.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.

**

I spent the rest of my morning immersed in the book of Matthew. Jonathan was annoyed and kept telling me that we had a Bible at home, but I was too interested to succumb to him. I read a little bit faster than I would have liked to so when we returned to the Willow Estate I asked Mrs. Willow where I could find a Bible.

“Do you not have one of your own?” Mrs. Willow asked.

“No,” I shook my head.

“Despicable the system today,” Mrs. Willow grumbled as she went in search for a Bible. “They won’t even let a girl have a Bible.”

“I’m not a Christian,” I spoke up. “Han just suggested I read it and I speed read through Matthew this morning but I’d like to read it in more detail.”

“Oh,” Mrs. Willow says. She hands me a Bible. “Maybe you should talk to Mr. Willow about this stuff. He recently went back to school to study Divinity.”

“My dad was a theologian,” I say. “He didn’t necessarily believe in any one thing, but he found it all very interesting.”

“Do you believe in any of it?” Mrs. Willow asked.

“Well, after reading Matthew, I think I believe there is a god. I’m not entirely sure. I never really thought about it before.”

“You’ve never thought about your beliefs even though your father was a theologian?”

“My mother was very persistent in that my father didn’t try to ‘poison’ my mind. My parents wanted me to figure things out for myself. I’m not even sure my dad was sure of what he believed.”

Mrs. Willow says no more. I went to my room and careful re-read Matthew.

**

In the late afternoon, a several cars pull up into the driveway. I am halfway through Mark by now and more confused than ever. So Jesus was supposed to be the Son of God and the promised Savoir. Yet the way He saved was by dying on a cross? That didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. If He was God, why didn’t He strike down those stupid Pharisees? Why didn’t He stop the Roman’s oppression? Why didn’t He save Himself from such a horrible and cruel death?

“Come meet aunts and uncles!” Lizzie shouts bursting through my door. I place the Bible on my bed and walk down the hall with her.

“Just pray about it, ok?” Mrs. Willow’s voice says.

“It sounds like God is telling you to–,” Mr. Willow starts. But he stops when Lizzie and I appear in the foyer.

“They’re here!” Lizzie shouts. “JONNY! GET DOWN HERE! THEY’VE FINALLY COME!”

“Jonathan took Queen for a walk,” Mrs. Willow says.

“Who’s Queen?” I ask.

“Jonathan’s black lab,” Lizzie sighs. “She’s supposed to be the family pet but I wanted a cat and Jonny keeps her in his room most of the time so I never get to see her.”

Mr. Willow chuckles and Mrs. Willow rolls her eyes.

“I better go help the relatives,” Mrs. Willow says putting on her coat. Mr. Willow follows her.

“Oh, you’ll love everybody and everybody will love you,” Lizzie squeals. “Usually we all get along but sometimes Aunt Martha is cold to Aunt Brenda because Aunt Brenda married Aunt Martha’s high school boyfriend, Uncle Robert. And Aunt Gwen and Uncle Rhys have a bit of a sibling rivalry even though they’re in their forties. But things really get crazy when Great-Aunt Agatha and Great-Aunt Birdie are together, but Great-Aunt Agatha is spending Christmas with her son’s wife’s family. Great-Aunt Birdie is really nice and always brings the best presents. Although I wonder if Mom and Dad told her that you were going to be here. Never mind. Even if she hasn’t got a present for you, she’ll run out and buy the biggest and the bestest thing she can find. Beware of Great-Uncle Rory though. He always drinks just  little bit too much wine, and Uncle Rory, his son, takes after him. Aunt Sicily can be mean after a meal and a glass of wine. She’s normally bossy but something about alcohol makes her unbearable.”

I was in for a long Christmas weekend.

**

As it turns out Great-Aunt Birdie had a present for me and the uncle Rorys were kept from getting tipsy. Aunt Sicily was forced into solitude after being extremely snappish after a glass of wine. Most of the family was nice to me, but I found myself having to keep repeat my story to those that didn’t here it the first fifty times and I could barely take their looks of pity. Great-Uncle Rory gave me a twenty when I finished telling my story to him.

Then I had to explain everything to Aunt Sicily (the story of her name was rather interesting. Her parents went to Italy on vacationing and she was born in Sicily three weeks early. Sadly, she also named her eldest daughter Sicily much to her parents distress) when she got out of confinement. She commanded Mrs. Willow to give me some champagne (Mrs. Willow didn’t give me any of course). I withdrew to the empty family room when Great-Great-Aunt Mary, who was showing signs of Alzheimer’s, asked me what happened to my parents for the third time.

“Hey,” Jonathan says walking into the family room.

“What do you want?” I ask.

“I guess to say I’m sorry,” Jonathan says. “I judged you before I knew anything about you and I’m sorry.”

“Are you for real?” I ask.

“Yeah,” Jonathan says a little hurt. “I’m sincerely asking for your forgiveness.”

“People don’t just say sorry like that in real life,” I say.

“Well, I’m not just a person. I’m a Christian and apologizing is a very Christian thing to do.”

“Apology accepted,” I say after a few moments.

“You know what Vera Fleming?”

“What?”

“You just might be good for this family.”

“Just might be?” I tease. Jonathan hesitates and when he sees the twinkle in my eyes breaks out into a huge grin.

There is no score this Christmas Eve.

Posted in Willowfield Falls

Willowfield Falls: All I Want For Christmas Part 3

“STOP! AH!”

“Don’t aim that thing at me! OOFF!”

I stare longingly out the window. Some of the neighborhood kids are having a snowball fight in the middle of the street. A light sprinkling of snow fell last night temporarily hiding the dirty snow. Jonathan rushed through his breakfast this morning, and I had a feeling he didn’t want me out there playing with his friends.

One of the girls notices me standing in the window. She smiles to me and uses her hand to beckon me outside. I quickly pull the curtain in front of the window and run away from the window. Moments later I hear the doorbell ring.

“Hello, Phoebe,” I hear Mrs. Willow say when she opens the door, “what can I do for you?”

“I would like to ask that girl if she’d like to join our snowball fight.”

“Vera?”

“I don’t know her name. All I know is she sure wants to be out here with us and not cooped up inside.”

I hear Mrs. Willow laugh.

“You’re probably right. VERA!”

I take my sweet time walking to the door. The girl, Phoebe, smiles at me and pushes away a snow covered strand of her Chestnut colored hair.

“Hi, you must be Vera,” She smiles. She offers her hand. “I’m Phoebe Nelson. I was wondering if you’d like to join us? The boys would love to have another target to hit.”

I manage to chuckle at her joke. She smiles at me.

“So what do you say?” Phoebe asks. “Will you join us?”

I can practically feel Mrs. Willow nudge me to go outside.

“For a few mintues,” I answer.

“Awesome!” Phoebe smiles. “I’ll tell the rest you’re coming out. Everyone is curious about you. Jonny refuses to tell us anything about you.”

I feel a like I’m on display as I walk out of the house. All snowball throwing stops and everyone stares at me except Jonathan. He glowers at me.

A tall girl with wild red and green hair is the first to approach me.

“You must be Vera. We’ve heard nothing about you,” The girl says. She shots an angry look in Jonathan’s direction. “I’m Jordan Richardson.”

“SHE’S CRAZY!” All the boys shout.

Jordan sends a glare in the boys direction before turning her attention back to me. She holds her hand out for me to shake.

“Vera Fleming,” I smile as she gives me a strong handshake. I nearly fall into her.

“Sorry,” Jordan laughs. “I have seven brothers. Forgive me.”

Seven?” I blurt.

“Three older, three younger, and a fraternal twin, Austin,–nobody knows who’s older,” Jordan groans.

“How is that possible?”

“I’ve been asking that question for fourteen years,” One of the bus boys, Austin–I guess, says.

“You’re siblings?” I see Jonathan roll his eyes out of the corner of my eyes.

“Sadly,” Jordan and Austin say at the same time. They roll their eyes at each other.

“Ben is also my brother,” Jordan says pointing to the tallest boy in the group. “He’s crazy, too.”

Ben says nothing but smiles.

“How rude of me!” Phoebe shouts. “Vera, this is my older brother, Han, and my older sister, Amelia.”

Phoebe points to a tall boy with a snowball ready in his hands. Some blonde hair sticks out from under his cap. He smiles and nods at me. I nod back. Phoebe also wants to a girl with long, flowy blonde hair. She smiles and walks toward me.

“Hi,” Amelia says. “Welcome to the neighborhood.” I smile unsure what to say.

“HEY TODD!” Jordan screams all of a sudden. Austin shakes his head. I look to where Jordan is screaming. Jordan is screaming at the window of the only house on the street that’s not decorated. A boy stands in the window looking intensely at Jordan.

“COME ON OUT! WE’RE ABOUT TO HAVE A SNOWBALL FIGHT!” Jordan screams. The boy nods and disappears from the window.

“What’d you do that for?” Jonathan asks. Jordan smacks him.

“Todd’s nice. Not all Stewart’s are murders,” Jordan says.

“Jordan and Todd sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!” Austin teases.

“Oh, grow up,” Jordan says rolling her eyes. Todd emerges from his house and stares at me strangely.

“TODD, THIS IS VERA! SHE’S STAYING WITH THE WILLOW’S FOR CHRISTMAS!” Jordan yells. Todd nods. Only as he comes closer do I see a hearing aid popping out from his ear.

“Hello, Vera,” Todd says offering his hand. “I’m Todd–Stewart.”

I shake his hand and smile. Todd is surprised by this response.

“MILKSOP!” Jordan shouts throwing a snowball at Todd’s back. Todd is taken aback but quickly recovers by getting snow all over Jordan’s crazy hair.

Within seconds, the snowball fight is on. I get hit more times than I throw, and most of the balls come from Jordan trying to get Todd. Phoebe gets hit the least, but throws little. Jonathan vainly tries to hit me, but I miss him every time.

“I’VE PREPARED HOT CHOCOLATE!” A woman calls from the Richardson’s house. Everyone rushes over to their house and I follow.

“Hello,” Mrs. Richardson says when I sit down at her table. “I don’t believe you’ve met.”

“I’m Vera,” I say.

“She’s just here for Christmas,” Jonathan quickly adds.

“Oh, yes. That sure was nice of your parents to take Vera in. I would have done it, but I got eight of my own,” Mrs. Richardson says.

“It would have been cruel to put Vera through this rowdy bunch,” Jordan says. Just after she finishes, two boys run into the kitchen wearing nothing but their underwear.

“JOEY! SHAUN!” Mrs. Richardson shouts. She looks embarrassed at her sons lack of clothing.

“We wanted some hot chocolate,” A boy with red hair says. “But we weren’t cold. So we TOOK OFF OUR CLOTHING!”

I try to hide a snicker, but I can’t. The enter table burst out laughing.

“What?” The little boy asks–not getting that he’s what’s so funny.

“Baby, go put on some clothes,” Mrs. Richardson says. “Then you can have some coca. Ok?”

“All right,” The boy says sadly. He runs out of the kitchen with his brother not far behind.

“Please, excuse them,” Mrs. Richardson says shaking her head.

“We’re used to it,” Han laughs. These are the first words I’ve heard him say. His voice has a hint of British accent in it. He catches me looking at him and smiles.

“Well you SHOULDN’T,” Mrs. Richardson shouts.

“Now we know were Jordan gets her noise from,” Todd says under his breath.

“HEY!” Jordan shouts. She splashes some hot chocolate in his face. Todd smiles and licks his lips. Mrs. Richardson looks at the two of them for a couple seconds longer than the show before going back to preparing coca for the other boys.

“MOMMY!” A little red haired boy runs into the kitchen. I’m shocked he actually has clothes on.

“Yes, Levi?” Mrs. Richardson asks.

“Joey just told me that you made coca and that you weren’t going to give me any!” Levi cries.

“Oh, baby, Joey was just being a brother,” Mrs. Richardson says hugging Levi. “Brothers play lie with each other some time.”

“He shouldn’t get any hot chowote!” Levi shouts.

“Chocolate,” Mrs. Richardson corrects before going on. “He really shouldn’t. But neither do you. None of us deserve coca, but Mommy gives mercy and lets you have some any way. Give your brother some grace. Sit down.”

Levi sits down next to me smiles.

“Hi! I’m Levi!” He shouts. “Jordan says I’m the baby. I don’t know what that means, but I’m three and can brush my teeth by myself!”

“Hi, Levi,” I smile. “I’m Vera. And being the baby just means you’re the youngest.”

“Oh,” Levi says. “THANK YOU!” He shouts as Mrs. Richardson places a small cup of coca in front of him.

“BOYS!” Mrs. Richardson shouts as two tall boys run into the kitchen passing a basketball between them. “NO PLAYING BASKETBALL IN THE KITCHEN!”

“I must have learned to yell in the womb,” Jordan mumbles.

“We’re going to play Snow Ball,” The oldest looking says.

“Oh, no,” Mrs. Richardson says. “Not wearing that.” Both boys aren’t wearing coats.

“Mom, We;re in college now. We can take care of myself,” The boy says.

“You guys weren’t going to play ball without us?” Austin asks slurping his coca.

“Ya,” The other boy says. Austin steals the ball from his hand and runs out the door.

“COATS! BOYS! COATS!” Mrs. Richardson shouts running after them–without her coat.

The rest of the boys join them outside leaving us girls to stare at each other.

“SO….,” Jordan shouts. We burst out laughing.

“Vera, I’m having a sleepover tonight,” Jordan says. “Austin’s having the boys over just to drive me crazier, but whatever. What I’m trying to say is would you like to come?”

“I’d have to ask Mr. Willow,” I say cautiously, “but if he says, yes. Yes.”

“Just let me ask him,” Jordan says. “He can’t stand me. So every time he sees me he just says ‘YES’.”

This gets a laugh out of us and we giggle through the rest of our hot chocolates.

**

“Should I do my nails SILVER or RED and GREEN?” Jordan asks.

“SHOULD WE GO THROUGH WATER BALLOONS ALL OVER THE GIRLS!?” The boys shout from the room next door.

“NO!” We shout back.

“Is your life goal to annoy your brothers?” Amelia laughs.

“Tell the truth. You like to make Han go mad,” Jordan says.

“She actually doesn’t,” Phoebe says. “And that’s what drives me CRAZY!”

“YES, PHOEBE, YOU ARE CRAZY!” Han shouts back.

“LOOK WHO’S TALKING!” Phoebe shouts. Her voice slips into a strange short of British accent.

“AHA!” Han shouts bursting into the room.

“Get out!” Phoebe shouts. She starts throwing popcorn at him. We all pick up an object in Jordan’s room and throw it at him.

“Not you too, Vera!” Han shouts with fake hurt as he retreats back to the boys’ room.

“We need to play a prank on them,” Jordan says after she’s closed the door.

“What kind of prank?” Amelia asks. Jordan puts her finger over her mouth and leaves the room. Moments later she returns with silly string cans.

“Surprise attack,” She smiles. She hands one can to everybody and keeps two for herself.

“Let’s roll,” Jordan says like we’re in a movie.

We burst into the boys room and surprise them with string.

“AH!” Austin shouts as Jordan covers him in string.

“SERIOUSLY!” Ben shouts as Amelia makes a swirl on his hair.

I make Jonathan my target. He tries not to scream like a little girl, but he fails.

“MEN!” One of the older Richardson boys, Tyler–as I have learned, shouts. He throws whipped cream cans to each guy.

“STOP!” I scream as Han attacks me. I start to laugh as we just stand there repealing power at each other..

“WHAT IS GOING ON IN HERE?” Mrs. Richardson shouts. Everyone stops.

“It’s not what it looks like,” The other older Richardson boy, Josh, says.

“Wait…what does it look like?” Austin asks.

Mrs. Richardson shakes her head.

**

“So what should we talk about?” Jordan asks after we’ve cleaned up and Mrs. Richardson has turned off the lights.

“Boys,” Phoebe tries to whisper.

“Nah, we should play a game,” Amelia says.

“Destroy a Wish?” Phoebe asks.

“No, we should play Truth!” Jordan asks.

“Don’t you mean Truth or Date?” I interrupt.

“We’re not allowed to play Truth or Dare anymore,” Jordan says.

“Why not?” I ask.

“Let’s just say we were all grounded for a month,” Amelia says.

“All but you,” Phoebe huffs.

“What do you think we should play, Vera?” Jordan asks.

I’ve never played Destroy a Wish before so I opted to play Truth.

“All right,” Jordan says with mischief in her voice. “I get to ask the first question. Phoebe, who do you have a crush on?”

“No one,” Phoebe answers.

“Come on!” Jordan shouts. “None of my brothers impress you? Jonathan Willow doesn’t suite you’re fancy?”

The room is silent for a moment, before everyone, even me, is laughing.

“Phoebe doesn’t do ‘jerk’,” Amelia giggles.

“GO TO SLEEP!” One of the boys shouts.

“YOU GO TO SLEEP!” Jordan shouts back.

“WHY DON’T YOU ALL GO TO SLEEP?” Mrs. Richardson shouts.

“I’m not sure if I want to meet your dad,” I blurt. Jordan was the only one that went downstairs to greet him when he arrived him.

“Oh, my dad is really quiet,” Jordan says. “Seriously.”

I feel like headed.

“Now, I get to ask a question,” Phoebe says. “Jordan, do you like Todd Stewart?”

“Oh, not you too!”

“I think your mother thinks you like him,” Amelia says.

“Well, I don’t. Not like that anyway,” Jordan lies.

“Jordan?” I ask.

“Ya?”

“Are your pants on fire?”

“Why do you–HEY!”

We all burst out laughing.

“Just spill, girl,” Amelia says. “You like a Stewart.”

“I refuse to admit something that I haven’t done.”

“Face it,” Phoebe says. “She’s impossible.” I can just see her shake her head. “I’m pretty sure he likes you too.”

“And I’m pretty sure Austin likes you,” Jordan says. I can’t tell if she’s being sarcastic or not.

“You better be joking,” Phoebe says.

“Maybe, maybe not,” Jordan says mysteriously. “Since you countered by question, I get to ask a question. Amelia, do you like any of my brothers?

“Somebody’s determined to play matchmaker with her brothers,” Amelia says.

“Well?”

“If you must know,” Amelia sighs, “I like Tyler.”

“WHAT!” Jordan shouts.

“WHAT!” Someone from the other side mimics.

“BE QUIET!” Jordan screams.

“IF YOU KIDS DON’T GO TO SLEEP, YOU WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO HAVE ANOTHER SLEEPOVER AGAIN!”

“What!” Jordan whispers.

“What’s wrong with that?” Amelia asks. “He’s only nineteen.”

“Still! Nobody’s ever liked Tyler before!” Jordan shouts.

“YOU TALKING ABOUT ME?” Tyler shouts.

“MAYBE!” Jordan shouts back.

“STRIKE ONE!”

“It’s just…Tyler’s a genius. He started college at sixteen,” Jordan says.

“So I’m not smart enough for him?” Amelia asks.

“NO!” Jordan shouts. “It’s just…I like you better with Ben.”

“EW!” Amelia shouts.

“STRIKE TWO!”

“Ok, now its my turn to ask a question,” Amelia says. “Vera, what do you think of my brother?”

“I…I…don’t know,” I say. “I just met him like twelve hours ago!”

“Do you find him handsome?”

“Sure….”

“Stop teasing her!” Jordan laughs.

“Look, who’s TALKING!” Phoebe shouts.

“STRIKE TWO AND A HALF!”

“Look, what you’ve girls done!” Jordan whisper shouts. “We’re half a strike away from never ever having sleepovers again! Why are you guys so loud?”

This causes us to burst into laughter.

“STRIKE TWO AND THREE FOURTHS!”

“We better put duck tape on Jordan’s mouth,” Phoebe whispers.

 I smile. For the first time coming to Willowfield Falls, I’m happy. But it won’t last. Cause I can’t stay.

Posted in Willowfield Falls

Willowfield Falls: All I Want For Christmas Part 2

I have dreamed of this moment for years, and now that it’s finally here, I feel like puking.

The entire drive from the foster home to the Willow Estate, no one spoke a word. Jonathan did a lot of talking to me with his eyes, though. I knew his icy stares all too well. I’d heard it all before. I was unwanted. A pest. An intruder that didn’t deserve to even breathe the same air as him. Jerk. If I had known I’d have to spend two weeks with him (The Willow’s were keeping me until New Years), that stupid wish would have never even entered my mind.

Lizzie looked at me with interest the entire time, but she said nothing. I saw the words on her lips, but she swallowed them out of fear of something. Perhaps her brother’s wrath.

“Welcome to your home for the next two weeks,” Mrs. Willow breathes when her husband pulled into the garage. I smile at her before getting out of the car. The garage is huge and filled from several cars. I avoid looking at the car’s makers so I don’t feel even more out of place.

It doesn’t fully hit me that I’ve just entered the world of the ‘honest’ rich (The Stewart’s are considered the ‘dishonest’ rich’, at least that’s what I’ve heard people say) until I get my first glimpse inside the Willow Estate. It’s only the laundry room, but its even more covered in Christmas decorations than the outside of the house. The Elf on the Shelf sits on top of the washing room. His creepy smile sends involuntarily shivers down my spin. My grandmother had an Elf on the Shelf one year–every year until I threw it away when I woke up to find it sitting at the foot of my bed.

“As you will soon discover, Mom’s a little bit of a holiday decorating Nazi,” Jonathan smirks. His eyes tack more onto his criticism of his mother’s hobby. “Not that you’ll around long enough to see the house covered in red for Valentine’s Day or green for Saint Patrick’s Day.”

“I think it’s lovely,” I say just to be contrary.

“Wait until you see the Family Room,” Jonathan mumbles.

I follow Mrs. Willow through the house. I take a glimpse in the several rooms I pass. Even the kitchen is covered in Christmas decorations. I think I might have even saw some mistletoe in there.

“You might want to take note of where all the mistletoe is hung,” Mrs. Willow says as we climb the tinsel covered stairs. “It might be…awkward to be caught under it.”

I wonder if I should take offense in this, but it’s the truth. I’ve never been kissed (well on the cheek, but like twice), and that was defiantly not a gift I wanted to receive that gift from a Willow.

“I hope your room suites you,” Mrs. Willow says. “We’re expecting some company closer to Christmas, and this room was already prepared for my sister’s daughter. She’s half your age. We couldn’t completely get ride of the childish theme in so little time, but that can and will be fixed.”

You know how in every movie, TV show, and book when a character is suddenly thrust into a world much more wealthier than theirs and every time someone says their room is terrible, it turns out to be spectacular?

This time was no exception.

The room was covered in purple and pink, little girl colors that this little girl still loves. A white bookcase filled with everything from Nancy Drew to Jane Austen sat in the corner of the room. A 45” (I’m guessing) flat screen TV was mounted on the wall. A footstool to reach the side of the TV unintentionally poked fun at my small size. A shelf with several familiar movies was right underneath the television. There was one lonely stuffed animal, a Santa teddy bear, sitting on the King sized bed. The comforter had flowers on it, but that was ok. The room was huge and all mine.

Mrs. Willow shuffles to the bed and snatches the bear off it. She tries to hide it behind her back and puts an embarrassed grin on her face.

“He can stay,” I smile. Mrs. Willow looks shocked. She quickly recovers and holds him out to me. I take him and smile. I’ve never had a teddy bear before or even a real stuffed animal. I hug him to my chest.

“Dinner is at six o’clock sharp. You are free to explore the house, but if you encounter a closed door–knock.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I nod.

“Manners,” Mrs. Willow smiles. “I like that.”‘

And with that Mrs. Willow left me to squeal.

**

I decide to go exploring after not finding anything I wanted to watch on TV. Quite a few movies on the shelf had caught my eye, but so did several ares of the house we rushed past.

I start downstairs in the Family Room. It’s abandoned.  A TV that’s got to be larger than me is the room’s centerpiece. Modern furniture is covered in red and green stripes. A small Christmas tree with few decorations hides in the corner. The sight pulls at my heart-strings. Even the family room at the foster home is full of life.

I poke my head in the kitchen yet. A lady, who’s shouting in French at a young man that’s shouting French back at her, is furiously whisking away. My eyes float to where the young man is standing. His body is just shy of being under the mistletoe.

“NON!” The lady screams. She speaks rapidly in French. I have no idea what she said, but it sure rills the boy. He screams at her in French–calling her name in English I don’t feel comfortable repeating. The lady gasps after the word leaves his lips. He takes a step forward–putting his body right under the mistletoe.

“You despicable boy!” The woman screams in English. She walks to the young boy. “Vous êtes viré!”

Regardez!” The boy shouts. He points to the mistletoe above the two of them. The lady, quickly blushes while the boy smirks. The woman starts to give the boy a quick peck on the lips, but they end up kissing. I duck my head out–disgusted.

I walk into the foyer and crane my neck to look at the Christmas tree that’s about four–no seven–times my sizes.Every limb is covered with an ornament and my head hurts just looking at it. I feel an urge to take several of the ornaments and put them on the lonely tree in the family room. I shuffle into the next room before I can grab a handful of them.

I nearly faint when I enter a hallway that is not completely covered in Christmas decorations. You can’t even tell what season it is. Only a little sunlight lights the dark, dingy walkway.

“Can I help you?”

I scream. Mr. Willow stares at me strangely.

“Sorry,” I stutter.

“Nothing to be sorry about,” Mr. Willow says. He looks at me with squinted eyes.

“Did Mrs. Willow overlook this hallway?” I stutter.

“This is what the kids and I call a holiday free zone,” Mr. Willow says with a laugh in his throat. “It’s taken three years to get this place of safety, but a man’s got to have some time away from green, red, and decorations.”

I nod. Mr. Willow nods back and walks towards the end of the hallway. I stand in the hallway like a dork for several minutes before I move on.

I walk out of the holiday free zone and back into the Christmas madness. I explore all the rooms on the first floor to discover a spa, an indoor pool, and another family room like room.

I was just about to explore the top floor when the clock rung six o’clock. I ran towards the dinning room and fall flat on my face. I slam onto the floor and watch stars.

“Are you all right?” Mr. Willow asks as he helps me up.

“I’m all right now.The stars have stopped,” I say.

“Should we take her to the hospital?” Mrs. Willow asks.

“The food is getting cold,” Jonathan mutters,

“Jonny!” Mrs. Willow shouts. “Go to your room!”

“What! Why?” Jonathan–Jonny–yells.

“I will not tolerate that tone, young man,” Mr. Willow loudly says sternly. “Apologize to your mother.”

“But–” Jonathan protests.

“Jonathan Robert Willow the Second, apologize to your mother and do as she says,” Mr. Willow says raising voice even louder.

Jonathan looks at me. His eyes have turn from icy to deadly. He looks like he would like to make me see stars again–or worse.

“Sorry,” Jonathan sneers.

“Go upstairs,” Mr. Willow says. “We’ll talk later.”

Jonathan stomps up the stairs and slams the door.

Even though Lizzie and Mr. and Mrs. Willow were still standing by me, I broke down crying.

**

“Mademoiselle Vera?”

I groan as I wake up to someone knocking on my door.

“Mademoiselle?” The door opens and the French cooking lady peeks her head in.

“Mademoiselle,” The lady says walking closer to my bed. “I’ve brought you your dinner.”

I stare at the lady as she places the tray on my quilt covered lap.

“I can eat up here?” I ask.

Bien sûr!” The lady shouts. She walks towards the door.

“Excuse me,” I say. The lady stops.

“May I ask you a question?”

Je suppose,” The lady says with reluctance.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

Mon nom? Juliette Lefebvre.”

“I saw you in the kitchen this afternoon arguing with a young man. Is he your assistant?”

“That’s deux questions.”

“Sorry.”

Mais je vais répondre à la question,” Juliette says. “Jacques is my husband.”

“Do you fight like that all the time?”

Vous posez trop de questions,” Juliette says shaking her head. “You ask too many questions.”

“I guess. I do have another one.”

Qu’est-ce que c’est?”

“Could you maybe speak a little bit more in English? I can’t really understand you.”

Oui. Yes.”

By the time Juliette left me with many questions unsaid, my food was cold. I tried not to choke at the taste of stone cold meatloaf.

“Listen, brat.”

I look up and half expect to see Juliette standing there, but the voice is male and the speaker is Jonathan.

“What do you want?”

“I heard you put on quite a show this evening,” Jonathan says.

“And you had quite a performance also,” I snaps.

“At least I didn’t cry,” Jonathan says.

“At least I didn’t snap at my mother,” I say with a sad voice. “I’d take that over crying any day.”

“You think that you can just shed some tears and that you can fool everyone into think you’re some kind of broken angel, don’t ya?”

“Get out of my room,” I sneer.

“This isn’t your room. This is my house therefore my room,” Jonathan says. I snicker at the thought of this room being Jonathan’s room.

“It’s my room for two weeks so get out,” I say in a low voice.

“This isn’t over, Vera,” Jonathan says in a low, dangerous voice. “You will be out of here by Christmas.”

“How much do you want to bet?” I spit.

“I’m no Stewart,” Jonathan sneers.

“You fooled me.”

Jonathan let out a frustrated breath and stormed out of my room.

Score-Vera: 1, Jonny: -1

Posted in Willowfield Falls

Willowfield Falls: All I Want For Christmas Part 1

The song All I Want For Christmas blast through the foster home. Today is the day that the Berkshire County Christmas Committee comes by and asks every child what they want for Christmas. I’ve known what I’ve wanted for Christmas for months now but asking for it is a risk. I could get it but chances are that I probably won’t. I don’t want to be the only child without a present to open on Christmas morning.

I quickly dress. I only have one outfit. A black, knit-like shirt, black leggings, and an clear umbrella skirt is what I’ve warn everyday for the past year. The foster home has a closet full of new and used clothes, but almost none of them fit me. I’m much smaller than the rest of my peers. I’m the size of a ten year old at the age of fourteen.

“Morning, Vera,” Mother Jane says without looking my way.

“Morning, Mother Jane,” I say taking my place at the table.

Mother Jane is not my mother nor is she Catholic. I don’t know why everyone at the foster home calls her that and I’m too afraid to ask why. I do know that Mother Jane is also a social worker to some of the kids here so that could be the reason why she gets the title of mother.

“Do you know what you’re going to ask for?” Mother Jane asks as she flips pancakes.

“Yes…maybe…I don’t know.”

“That’s a very interesting answer,” Mother Jane chuckles. She places a plate of bacon and blueberry pancakes in front of me.

“I just don’t want to ask for too much and not get a present on Christmas,” I say.

“How big is it?” Mother Jane’s brow furies.

“Not big in cost, hypothetically, but big in meaning and size,” I say.

“Knowing you, Vera Fleming, I’m sure you’ll get whatever it is,” Mother Jane says. “BREAKFAST IS READY! IF YOU SNOOZE YOU LOSE!”

I say my prayers before anyone can make it downstairs and gobble my breakfast before anyone can try to steal a piece of bacon from my plate.

**

The bus ride back to the foster home is a long one. The foster home is the bus’s last stop. The bus goes through the historical and vast neighborhood of Willowfield Falls for the majority of the trip. On most days, and especially during the holiday season, I don’t mind spending almost an hour of my life looking at all the beautiful, old houses but today I just want to hurry up and get back to the foster home so I can put in my wish.

As we get deeper and deeper into the community, the houses get more festive but no house in the neighborhood could ever top the Willow Estate. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some kind of law against any house being more covered in lights and merry than the house of the founder of Willowfield Falls descendants. The house has everything from a manger scene to Santa’s sleigh on top of their house. I would take a picture of it if I had such a device.

The bus stops one house behind the Willow Estate. Two boys, one tall with curly, floppy hair and the other short with straight, floppy hair, always get off here. A boy with blonde hair and a black lab is usually waiting for them at the stop but the boy is absent today. I’ve always wondered who that blonde boy was. He didn’t look like their brother and he looked old enough to be in high school. Did he go to a different high school? Was he homeschooled? A lot of Willowfield Falls families taught their children at home. Did he live in the Willow Estate house?

I shook my head at my thoughts. I would never know who that boy was, where he went to school, and where he lived. It would be a miracle alone if I ever found out what his friends names were.

I try to focus on the less spectacular houses but I can’t get that blonde boy or his friends out of my mind. Maybe one day I’ll manage to muster the courage to talk to the two boys…when I’m ninety-five. I sigh. I’m short and shy, and I’ll probably stay that way until I die.

The bus turns out of Willowfield Falls and keeps going for a few blocks before it pulls into the driveway of the foster home. All the remaining kids stand up and get ready to dismount. I stay put in my seat because I just now if I stand I’ll get trampled. After everyone else exits the bus, I stand and slowly walk down the aisle.

“Today’s the day,” My bus driver, Sam, says.

“Yes, sir,” I say stopping in front of his seat.

“I pray you get everything you want for Christmas–even if it’s a million dollars!” Sam smiles.

“A million dollars wouldn’t be so bad to have,” I mutter as I walk down the steps. I decide to watch the bus leave today instead of running inside like an impatient child. Sam closes his doors, looks towards the sky, and starts to drive out of the driveway.

“God bless Sam,” I pray under my breath. I reach to open the door of the foster home, but someone on the inside beats me to it. Our eyes meet and I gasp. The boy that stares back at me is none other than the blonde boy with the black lab.

“Sorry,” He mutters. He brushes past me hastily and knocks me down.

“Rude!” I shout. That gets his attention. He turns around on his heals and looks at me with a look of distaste.

“I said sorry, little girl,” He grumbles.

“I will have you know that I am fourteen and in the ninth grade,” I said.

“Congratulations.” The boy rolled his eyes.

“I know where you live,” I say. That wasn’t exactly the whole truth. I speculated that he lived in Willowfield Falls. I just didn’t know the address.

“How do you know anything about me? I’ve never seen or met you in my entire life!” The boy shouts.

“I ride the bus with your friends, Curly and Floppy,” I say.

“Austin and Ben?” The boy asked. I only nod.

The boy stares at me for a second and then starks off to where ever he was going.

“Jerk,” I mumble as I walk through the front door.

“There you are Vera!” Mother Jane shouts. “No one saw you come in or recalled seeing you on the bus!”

“Sorry,” I say. “I just had an encounter with one of the rudest boys I’ve ever met.”

Mother Jane looks at me and then shakes her head.

“You’re up next to make a wish,” Mother Jane says.

My heart starts to pound. Can I do this? Can I ask for what I truly want for Christmas?

“Vera Fleming!” A young girl, who couldn’t have been more than twelve, shouts. I give her a quick stare before I walk into the main office where the head of the Berkshire County Christmas Committee awaits.

Make that heads. A man and a wife sat down behind the desk Mother Jane usually spent her days. They gave me one of those fake, practiced smiles that everyone who has to deal with foster children learns. In the two years, I’ve lived here I’ve learned to spot the smile well and every time I see it something inside of me cries.

“Hello, Vera,” The woman fake smiles. “My name is Mrs. Amy Willow. My husband and I are the co-heads of the Berkshire County Christmas Committee and every year we try our best to make children’s Christmas wishes come true. We can’t make any promises, but we do promise to try to help make your Christmas special.”

I had heard this speech this last year. I had been so scared that I blurted out that I wanted a Barbie doll. I got it too. I shutter at the thought of last years flub.

“Are you cold?” Mrs. Willow asks. “Do you need a blanket? A coat?”

“I’m fine.” My voice squeaks a little.

“So what would you like for Christmas?” The man, who I guess is Mr. Willow, asks. His voice is impatient and his eyes are focused on the clock.

“A family,” I blurt in one of the firmest tones that has ever been spoken.

They both look at me with shock, surprise, and disbelief.

“Let me rephrase that,” I say. “All I want for Christmas is to be able to spend the season with a family. Even spending it with a dysfunctional Stewart family would be better than spending it here at the home. I spent last Christmas curled up in a corner wishing for Christmas to end–and never come back again.”

Mr. and Mrs. Willow’s eyes stay glued on me. I’m surprised myself at my little speech.

“I..I…,” I stutter. Drat, I’m back to old, short, shy self.

“We’ll see what we can do,” Mrs. Willow says. I bolt from the chair and burst out of the room. I run into the bathroom, lock the door, and burst into tears.

I’ve ruined my one wish.

I’ve lost my one chance to actually have a good Christmas.

I’ve just done the bravest, dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

**

“CHRISTMAS BREAK!”

I push my way through the crowd of teens celebrating the start of Christmas break. I of course get shoved and pushed, but I don’t say anything. I take my punishment for being short and get on the bus.

“Excited about Christmas?” Sam asks as I get on the bus.

“Yes,” I lie. The truth is, I can’t wait for Christmas to be over. All week, presents have been mounting under the tree…and none of them had my name on it. That was understandable considering I didn’t even ask for something that could be wrapped and placed under the tree. I shake my head at my foolishness. Even wishing for a Barbie doll would be better than wishing for a ‘family’ for Christmas.

The bus pulls out of the school and soon starts its journey of dropping off the Willowfield Falls kids. I try to focus on the houses and gulp to keep tears from running down my face. I can feel people’s eyes staring at me, but I chose to ignore them.

It takes everything within me not to look and see if the boy with the black lab is waiting for his friends to dismount from the bus. The enjoyment I once experienced looking for him is now all gone. He’s a weird, ignorant jerk that not’s worth my eye time.

I do sneak a look at the Willow Estate. Nothing’s changed. It’s still as beautiful, magnificent, and festive as ever. I sigh at it’s beauty and reluctantly look at the other mediocre houses.

The bus pulled out of Willowfield Falls and within minutes pulled into the foster home’s driveway. Once again, I wait for everyone else to leave before I decide to make my exit.

“Merry Christmas, Vera,” Sam says. He hands me a clear, plastic bag filled with gummy bears.

“Thank you,” I smile. “Merry Christmas.”

“And a Happy New Year,” Sam says as I walk off the bus. I turn around and start to give him a smile. I soon find myself with my arms around Sam.

“You’re a good girl, Vera. Quiet but good,” Sam says.

That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said about me.

I run off the bus and burst through the door with one thing on my mind. Eating the gummy bears.

“Vera!” Mother Jane shouts. I stop, sure I’ve left skid marks on the floor.

“Vera, you’re Christmas present has arrived,” Mother Jane smiles.

“What?” I ask.

“Your Christmas break family awaits in the office,” Mother Jane says.

I run into the office and stop myself just before I burst through the door. I take a moment to pat down my hair and

“You!” The blonde boy shouts.

All I can do is stare at him. Mr. and Mrs. Willow and the girl who shouted my name stare back at me. Lord, this CAN’T be my temporary family!

“You’re Vera Fleming?!” The boy shouts.

“You’re the blonde with the black lab who’s friends are Austin and Ben!” I shout.

“I see you two have already met,” Mrs. Willow says.

“Barely,” The blonde boy. “This girl stalks me.”

“I do not!” I shout. “Noticing someone who waits for his friends every day is hardly stalking! I don’t even know your name!”

“Jonathan Willow the Second,” The blonde boy grumbles.

“And this is my daughter Lizzie,” Mrs. Willow says. “And you’re coming home with us for Christmas!”

I don’t know what’s worse. No presents under the tree or spending Christmas with Jonathan Willow the Second.