In honor of the holiday and in order to force myself to work on brevity I’ll be posting 12 stories of Christmas, all at 1000 words or less this season. Enjoy!

 

“All you have to do is be nice.”

Bilal’s eyebrows rise and fall in that way that makes it look like a caterpillar is writhing across his forehead. It’s weird. I should tell him he can’t do that. Later.

“Nice? I’ve met your brother. He isn’t nice.”

I flip the collar on his polo shirt up and then down again. Up, he looks like he’s trying to impress and down, he looks like he’s going to a job interview.

“ I didn’t promise they’d be nice to you. I just need you to be nice to them. An hour and a half is all I ask. After that, I’ll make some excuse and we can go get Chinese food or something.”

“Oh, you mean like a date?”

I roll my eyes and hope I look convincing.

“This isn’t a date. It’s a transaction. You pretend to be my boyfriend for 90 minutes and I…introduce you to Sherrilyn.”

I wince when I hear the hissing “yes” escape through his teeth. Yes, I know that Sherrilyn is a living goddess that anyone would want to know and be known by, but it’s kind of hard not to feel a way about every guy you meet being soooo impressed by your best friend from middle school.

“Are there like hymns or something I’m supposed to know? We’re Jehovah’s Witnesses. We don’t do Christmas.”

I roll my eyes again.

“Hymns? Really?

He shrugs. “I don’t know. Christians are weird. You like, fake drink blood and stuff.”

“Well, when you put it that way. No, no hymns.”

I turn him to the floor length mirror and take a good look at our color coordinated outfits. We look…perfect.

“Hey, why are you doing this?” he asks. He’s serious because he’s got that puppy dog look on his face.

“Because, I’ve never brought anyone home and my mom will think that I’m depressed if it happens again. I’m half afraid she’ll start slipping Zoloft into the cookies she bakes me when I visit.”

“Tell her to make chocolate chip. Real chocolate boosts your dopamine levels.”

It’s a short drive to the house and I purposely park across the street so we can make a clean getaway, but as soon as we get out of the car my heart sinks. A caravan of three-black SUV’s with tinted windows slows and parks in front of the house. Two giants with impossibly tiny sunglasses emerge from the middle car before Sherrilyn, resplendent in an ugly green Christmas sweater, skinny jeans and red sequined mules, pops out.

***

Sherrilyn is in rare form today. She kisses and hugs every family member in the house, including Uncle June who’s a notorious booty hound. She even pops open some fancy German wine and pours my grandmother a glass which blows my mind because no one under sixty takes a drink in Meemaw’s presence without serious blowback. James Brown’s Funky Christmas is blaring on the radio and something is burning but no one notices because the glare from Sherrilyn’s internal light is so blinding.

I need air.

“Is Sherrilyn always like that?” Bilal asks. He’s trying to sound nonchalant, but I can catch the judgment there and I don’t know whether to be relieved or protective.

“Like what?” Be careful, she’s my friend.

“I mean, it just seems like she sucks up all the air in the room like, like… a black hole bent on the destruction.”

“That was mean.”

“I know, but woooow.”

His eyes go wide and I turn to look through the sliding glass door and see Sherrilyn on top of the coffee table doing a Holiday appropriate twerk along with my Aunt Carolyn.

“It’s the holidays….” I offer weakly and take a look at my watch. “If you want to stay I can probably get us an invite to whatever swanky stop Sherri’s got next. She’s different one on one.”

What am I doing? Why am I giving her the biggest bite of the cookie?

Bilal cocks his head to the side and gives me an inscrutable look, his locs are pulled back into a fishtail braid and I have to give myself credit. His usual Brooklyn starving artist look morphs into leading actor on the verge in the right clothes.

“What if, we stay here?”

“Why?”

“Because, you met your end of the bargain. I didn’t meet your mom yet and I haven’t declared myself as your boyfriend.”

I shake my head. “You don’t have to do that. It’s too late now anyway.”

“Why?”

“We’ve been outshined. Besides, once Mommy comes back around to noticing me I can still say, you know, you remember that guy at the party? And she’ll say, “ahhhh yes I do”. He was cute. Is he from Trinidad?”

The door slides open and Sherrilyn spills out. She’s got a silver tray full of gingerbread cookies in one hand a fistful of mistletoe in the other.

“Bestie, what are you doing out here. This pool is gross. It’s time for a kiss.”

She gives me a peck on the cheek and I brace myself for what comes next, but when she makes her way to Bilal he surprises all of us by chucking the mistletoe into the pool.

“Hey!”

He grabs a gingerbread cookie, bites the head off  and makes a beeline to me.

“I don’t want anyone using that mistletoe to sneak kisses with my girl. That stuff’s dangerous.”

I’m about to say something when he leans down and kisses me so deeply he has to put his arm around me so I don’t fall and crack my head on the concrete. When we finally come up from air and my eyes focus, all I can see is Sherri throwing the door open and declaring how awesome my new boyfriend is to my family.

Applause erupts like I’ve just won the spelling bee.

“You didn’t have to do that,” I whisper as we make our way back in.

“No, I think I did.”

 

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