“Merry Christmas,” Cayden said, kissing me on my cheek.
“Merry Christmas,” I said. He came inside, and I shut the door. He thrust the gift box toward me.
“I got you a gift,” he said. I reluctantly took the box from his hands.
“I didn’t get you anything,” I told him. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t sure if we were exchanging gifts…”
“It’s fine,” Cayden interrupted me. “I swear, there’s nothing I want or need, other than to spend the holiday with you. I really wanted to get you something, though. Please don’t feel bad. Just open it.”
I smiled and thanked him for the gift. I opened the wrapping paper to reveal a black jewelry box. I opened the box to see a gorgeous silver necklace. It was a long necklace with silver triangles. It was gorgeous, and to my exact taste.
“Thank you,” I said. “I love it.”
“You’re welcome,” he said, kissing me. “It was actually my second choice. I found one that was just perfect for you, but some douchebag beat me to it.”
“This one is perfect,” I told him, immediately putting it on. “I love it.”
He smiled at me, pleased by his choice, even if it wasn’t his first choice.
“Are you ready to go?” he asked me. I nodded but walked to my kitchen to grab something. While I didn’t have a present for Cayden, I did have one for Austin.
“What’s this?” Cayden asked, as I handed him a bag.
“It’s for Austin,” I said.
“You didn’t have to,” Cayden said. “He got so much this morning.”
“I know,” I said. “But something tells me that he didn’t get this gift. You can peek in there if you want.”
Cayden was curious and moved the tissue paper around. His eyes grew big as he saw what was inside.
“The purple dinosaur!” he exclaimed. “How?”
I grinned. It really was a sort of Christmas miracle.
“I’ll spare you the long version, but my neighbor next door sells toys on eBay,” I told him. “After you told me the story about the dinosaur, I read a post about how there are two hot-selling dinosaurs. I messaged him last night and sure enough, he had an extra one. He owed me for getting him out of a jam last month, so it worked out for everyone.”
“Wow,” Cayden said. “Austin is going to lose his shit. He was so bummed that he didn’t get the purple dinosaur. I can’t wait to give this to him. Thank you so much.”
We walked out to Cayden’s car and he put the dinosaur in the backseat. As we got into the car, he leaned over the center console and kissed me.
“I can’t explain how cool your gift is,” Cayden told me. “I just want you to know that it’s much better than anything you could have gotten for me.”
We chatted about anything and everything as we drove to my mom’s house. As we got closer to her house, a knot began to form in my stomach. Although Cayden was going with me, I was still nervous. I wasn’t sure how my mom would react to Cayden. I called her earlier to tell her about him, but I couldn’t feel her out over the phone. I hoped that she would be on her best behavior.
“Hey, Mom,” I said, as my mom opened the door for us. I could tell by the look on her face that she had already hit the bottle. The stench of alcohol on her breath confirmed it.
“Honey,” she said, throwing her arms around me. She was obviously putting on a show for Cayden. As she broke her embrace with me, she turned to Cayden.
“Why, hello,” she said, checking him out from head to toe. It was a bit embarrassing how obvious she was being. We walked inside as Cayden greeted her.
“Where is everyone?” I asked my mom. She shrugged.
“Your sister left already,” my mom said, a sneer forming on her lips. “She got pissed off at me for something stupid.”
I was disappointed. My sister was the only reason that I’d wanted to come here today. I would have to text her later to see what happened. I was sure that my mom had done something wrong.
“Come sit down,” my mom said, leading us to the table. There was a meatloaf on the table with a bowl of mashed potatoes.
“Is this it?” I asked my mom, even though I knew it was. She was never one to make an extravagant meal, even for a holiday. My mom shot me a dirty look.
“I spent all day making this,” my mom said. She grabbed a nearly empty cup of scotch from the table and drank it. “You sure haven’t changed in the past year.”
I bit my tongue, not wanting to make a scene. I would eat some dinner, make small talk, and leave right afterwards. I knew coming here was a mistake.
“Thank you for having us over,” Cayden thanked my mom.
“Anytime, sweetheart,” my mom slurred. “My husband is already passed out in the living room, so it’s just us three for dinner. It will give us some time to get to know one another.”
I wanted to groan. This was more awkward than I ever could have imagined. My mom began to serve both Cayden and I dinner. She gave me a bit of meatloaf and a small amount of potatoes. I noticed that she gave Cayden a much larger serving.
“Is this all I’m getting?” I asked my mom. She looked at me.
“That’s all you need, honey,” she responded. “You need to lose weight for the New Year, not gain it.”
I felt my face burn with embarrassment. It was one thing if my mother said something about my weight, it was another thing if it was in front of Cayden.
“She’s been doing a great job with staying healthy,” Cayden said. My mom looked at him and smiled, but I could tell that she was irked that he was sticking up for me. She and Brad used to gang up on me to try and get me to lose weight.
Before my mom could reply to Cayden, her doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it,” I said, desperately wanting to leave the table. I hoped that maybe it was my sister returning. I opened the door to see Brad standing there.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. I shut the door behind me, so Cayden couldn’t hear my conversation.
“You weren’t returning my texts,” Brad said. “I called your mom this morning and she told me that you were coming for dinner. I need to talk to you, Tiffany.”
“No,” I said. “This is not the time, nor the place. There’s nothing to talk about anyway.”
“I don’t understand why you’re being like this,” Brad said. “You’re not even giving me a chance.”
I didn’t want to start this conversation with him. I knew it would only be a matter of time before either Cayden or my mom came to the door to see who was there.
“We’ll talk about this later,” I hissed at him.
“Tiffany, stop being so damn stubborn,” Brad said. “You know that you’ll never find someone as good as me. I have a future going for me. I’m a catch. Let’s stop wasting time by pretending that you’re mad at me and let’s just do this damn thing.”
“Hey, man, I think you need to leave,” a voice said from behind me. I turned around to see Cayden standing in the doorway. I wasn’t sure how long he had been there. I wondered how much he had heard.
“Who the hell are you?” Brad asked. “Wait, I know you. I saw you in that store last week. You were the little punk who was trying to be a hero.”
“I’m Tiffany’s boyfriend,” Cayden said. Brad let out a laugh.
“Her boyfriend?” Brad said. “Listen, I’m not sure who you think you are, but Tiffany’s with me. We’re getting back together. We went on a date last week.”
I watched Cayden’s face fall. He looked at me, at Brad, and back at me again. I could see the wheels starting to spin in his mind as the pieces fell into place. Suddenly, he realized what had happened and why I’d been acting the way that I was for the past several days. Despite being upset, he remained calm.
“Tiffany isn’t available,” Brad said. “She might think she is, but she is always going to have feelings for me. You might as well just leave now before you get in too deep with her.”
“I’m not leaving. You need to leave,” Cayden said, pointing to the driveway. Brad looked at him in disbelief.