“I am so excited for Christmas,” Cayden said out of nowhere. “Austin is really into it this year. It’s the first year that I’m excited, too. We’re going to see Santa this weekend. Austin has this long list of toys that he wants.”
I closed my eyes and smiled. I continued to listen to Cayden talk about Austin and Christmas. It was so cute how excited he was for his son to experience Christmas. I remembered when I was little. Christmas had been such a magical time up until I was a teenager. Then, my mother had managed to ruin every Christmas with her excessive drinking. Last year had been the worst by far.
“Christmas Day at my parents’ house is insane,” Cayden said. “My sister, Sarah, comes with her husband and their kids. Then, there are about six cousins who come over with their families. It’s so much fun, though, especially for the kids. My parents make this huge feast and we wrap it up with an assortment of homemade pies, every flavor imaginable. What’s Christmas like with your family?”
I opened my eyes and my smile faded. Christmas with my family was hell. I struggled with admitting that to him or lying. I didn’t want to lie with him, so I went with the truth.
“It’s awful,” I said. “It was bad when I was growing up, but now it’s even worse. My mom is a drunk. She is always yelling at me. I can’t do anything right in her eyes. I don’t think I’m going this year.”
Cayden sat up and looked at me.
“You’re not going?” he asked. “You have to go see your family on Christmas. Of all days of the year, Christmas is the most important.”
I shook my head. I wasn’t going to have this argument with him right now. We came from two completely different families. He would never understand what I dealt with, but I decided to share a story with him.
“I’ll tell you how last year went,” I said. “I got dressed up, only to have my mom call me a whale in front of my entire family. This was before she got drunk and told everyone that she didn’t blame Brad for dumping me. She said that I needed to lose a lot of weight before I became anyone’s wife. I cried myself to sleep that night and vowed never to have another Christmas with her again.”
“God, Tiffany, I am so sorry,” Cayden said. He rubbed my shoulders. I tried to compose myself. It wasn’t worth crying over, not in front of Cayden. I hadn’t wanted to tell him about my disdain for Christmas, but I couldn’t hide it anymore. My mother had made me hate the holidays.
“It’s fine,” I said. “I am used to that treatment. It got worse after my father died and she married Barry. My dad used to interfere, but now no one stops my mom when she goes off on me. My sister tried to get involved, but she’s no match for my mom, either. I don’t need a savior, I just need my mom to leave me alone.”
Cayden sighed. He looked both irritated and protective.
“I’m sorry, Tiffany. I wouldn’t have brought it up if I’d known any better.”
“It’s fine,” I said. “I’m actually looking forward to spending the day alone. I’m just going to watch movies all day and make myself something quick and easy. I’ll treat it like any other day. It hasn’t been the same since my dad died anyway.”
“Fuck that,” Cayden said, suddenly growing angry. “You’re not spending Christmas alone. I’ll make sure of it.”
While I appreciated his words, I didn’t want to go to his parents’ house, either. Things were growing serious between us, but I wasn’t ready to be introduced to his family, especially Austin.
“Let’s just drop it,” I said, pulling the comforter over our bodies. I knew Cayden wanted to protest, but he kept quiet.
“This bed is amazing,” he said, breaking the silence. “My mom has Austin for the night. Would you mind if I stayed here?”
“I don’t mind,” I said, getting closer to him. “But I’m too tired to talk anymore.”
“Me, too,” he said. He wrapped his arms around me and I started to drift off, forgetting all about the sadness that surrounded Christmas.
“Why does Santa like milk and cookies so much?” Austin asked me. I laughed. My son always had the craziest questions.
“Who doesn’t like milk and cookies?” I responded. “They’re the best, aren’t they?”
“What about the reindeer?” Austin asked. “What can we leave them?”
“Carrots,” I said, as I turned my car into Austin’s school parking lot.
“Carrots are gross,” Austin replied. “I’m going to leave them watermelon gummies. I like watermelon gummies, and I was a reindeer.”
I’d to admit, for a four-year-old, the kid had logic.
“Watermelon gummies it is,” I announced, pulling up at the drop off line. I preferred watermelon gummies over carrots, as well. The carrots that we had left out last year had quickly found their way to the bottom of my trash can.
I got out of the car and opened Austin’s door. After getting him out of his car seat, I helped him to the sidewalk. His teacher, Ms. Flowers, walked up to us.
“Hi, Austin!” she greeted him with a smile on her face. “Hello, Mr. Lewis.”
She didn’t try to hide the fact that she was checking me out from head to toe. I’d caught her checking me out before, but this time it was blatantly obvious. She was a good-looking woman, but she had nothing on Tiffany.
“Tomorrow is the last day before Christmas break!” Austin shouted, running circles around me and Ms. Flowers. His excitement for the holidays was infectious. I couldn’t wait to celebrate Christmas with him this year. I felt that it was the first year that we didn’t have a black cloud hanging over our heads.
“It is, buddy,” I said. Ms. Flowers laughed.
“Any plans over the break?” she asked me. I shook my head.
“Nothing special, just hanging out with my little man,” I told her.
“That will be nice,” she said. “After Christmas, I’m heading to the Caribbean with some of my girlfriends. I don’t have a boyfriend here, so I might as well have fun with my friends, right?”
She was really trying to turn on the charm. If she thought I was picturing her running around in a bikini, she was wrong. I could only picture Tiffany. After chit-chatting for a minute, I said goodbye to Austin and headed into the office. I was excited to see Tiffany. I’d spent the night at her house on Tuesday but hadn’t really seen her since. I was trying to give her space in the office. I respected the boundaries that she had set for us in the workplace. I didn’t want to jeopardize her job or our relationship.
I was still angry at what she had told me after our shower sex. Her mother sounded like an absolute bitch. I couldn’t believe that Tiffany was planning on spending Christmas Day alone. No one deserved to be alone on Christmas. She deserved to be surrounded by happy people, eating good food, and opening presents.
Christmas was such an important holiday for my family, despite everything we had been through with Layla’s death. I wanted Tiffany to see how great Christmas could be. I’d debated inviting her to my parents’ house. I wanted to, but I also knew that would be a serious step for us to take together, especially since it involved Austin. I would have to discuss it with her further.
One thing was for sure, though; I couldn’t get Tiffany out of my head. I was consumed by thoughts of her. Some could say that I was obsessed. All I knew is that I was happy for the first time in a very long time. Sure, the whole work situation put a damper on things, but I would not let that stop me from being with Tiffany.
I walked into the office building and nearly knocked into Tim.
“Cayden!” he exclaimed. “Just the man I was looking for. Do you have a minute?”
Great, I thought. Meeting with the boss first thing on a Monday morning. This can’t be good.
“Sure,” I said, following him to his office. He closed the door and told me to take a seat. I was nervous. Was I in trouble again? I hadn’t done anything wrong.
“We should talk about Tiffany,” Tim said, taking a seat.