This is the first time I've ever written anything like this, so I hope you guys enjoy it. A friend of mine who read it already said it's her favorite thing I've ever written. It will probably be about 6-7 parts.
Nobody knocks anymore in this goddamn house.
They used to. Even when I was a teenager, people would tap on my closed bedroom door prior to barging in. Back then, they thought I could be doing something worth requiring privacy. Like maybe I had a girl in here. Or maybe I was relieving a little tension. But these days everyone just swings the door open to my room without knocking because they assume all I could possibly be doing in here is working on my computer or watching TV.
To be fair, they’re mostly right.
“Hey, Dean.” It’s my brother Rich barging in this time. Rich is the last person I want to see right now. “What’s going on?”
I lift my eyes to look at my little brother. Rich—three years younger than me. The pothead. The screw up. The one who would never amount to anything. Yet he’s got his own place, while I occupy our parents’ den. So who’s the screw up?
“Busy,” I mutter.
These days I only seem to have the energy for one-word sentences. Busy. Tired. Reading. Or sometimes two words, if I’m really motivated. Not hungry. I use that one a lot on my mother. Apparently, I’m “wasting away to nothing.”
Rich grins at me. “Busy looking at porn?”
I glare at him. He’s wearing badly ripped jeans that ride somewhere below where his butt crack probably starts. He’s got on a T-shirt with a picture of a girl holding a hoe on it, with the words, “Every farm boy needs a good hoe.” Even though I was always too polite to ever wear one, shirts like that used to get a laugh out of me. But not much gets a laugh out of me these days.
“Busy working,” I mutter, gracing him with one of my rare two-word sentences.
“Christ, do you ever take a break?”
I glare at him again. No, I don’t take a break. Because I’m broke and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life living in my parents’ den. That’s not my aspiration. I have a Master’s Degree in computer science and I intend to use it to haul myself out of this shitty situation.
“I got a question for you, Dean,” Rich says.
I don’t answer, having already used up my word allotment for this conversation.
“When’s the last time you’ve been out of the house?”
I’m not touching that one with a ten-foot pole.
Rich plows on, not seeming to care about my lack of response: “Mom says you haven’t left the house in ten days.”
Ten days? Is that right?
Yeah, sounds right. But so what? It’s cold out there. I don’t want to deal with it. Is that so crazy?
“Mom thinks you’re planning to stay indoors the rest of the winter,” he adds.
Congratulations, Rich, you’ve managed to break my concentration. I lift my hands off the keyboard, figuring it’s a lost cause to try to get any work done right now. It’s okay—I’ve got a week to get this code done. I’ve got time. It’s not like I need to clear my schedule for some hot date. Maybe I’ll start watching the new season of Stranger Things. I heard it was good.
“Dean? Is that your plan?”
I sigh and grab the wheels of my chair to push myself away from my desk. Even though it’s only me and Rich here, I have to admit I’m embarrassed when I look down and remember I’m wearing sweatpants. Rich made a joke a few weeks ago about how I live in sweatpants these days, and I can’t say he’s wrong. Sweatpants are comfortable. They’re easy to put on. They don’t have back pockets that will rub me in a place I can’t feel and make one of those pressure sores the docs at the hospital always used to scare me about. And let’s face it—it’s not like I’m trying to impress anyone.
“There’s nowhere I want to go,” I finally say.
Six words. He got six words out of me. I must be in a better mood than I thought.
“So let’s go out,” Rich says, his lips curling into a grin. “Let’s go hit O’Toole’s.”
I just shake my head no.
“C’mon, Dean.” He reaches out like he’s going to slug me in the shoulder, but he doesn’t at the last minute. Rich and I both use to do wrestling at the lightweight level in high school, so we practiced on each other as teenagers, even though he was smaller than me so I had to go easy on him. Even after we both stopped wrestling, we used to punch each other with alarming frequency. But now it’s like I’m made of glass. He never touches me except when he has to in order to help me. And then it’s so, so gently. “You’ve got to get out of the house. You’re getting weird and isolated.”
I glare at him again.
“It’s happy hour,” he adds.
On Rich’s twenty-first birthday, I took him out for drinks at O’Toole’s. That’s what you’re supposed to do for your little brother when he comes of age: get him plastered then make sure he arrives home safely. Now it’s three years later, and I’m worried if we went out, I’d be the one who’d end up drinking way too much and Rich would have to push my sorry ass home. Or worse, carry me. My life is too depressing to drink a responsible amount.
“No thanks,” I say, back in my two-word comfort zone.
Despite my refusal, Rich doesn’t budge. He just stands there, fidgeting with the hoop in his left ear. I remember how he agonized over which ear to get the earring in. Apparently, there’s one ear that’s the ear gay men get pierced and the other ear is the straight one. But he wasn’t sure which was which, and it varies region to region. I thought his whole dilemma was really funny at the time.
I never got an earring because I was the clean cut kid who got straight A’s and never broke curfew. I followed every rule. Yet look what happened to me.
Life’s a bitch.
“Do you want something?” I finally snap at him because he doesn’t appear to be leaving.
“Well…” Rich grins sheepishly. And here it is—the real reason he’s here. Not to rag on me for turning myself into a hermit or the fact that I haven’t showered in three days, but because he needs a favor. God knows what kind of favor I could do for him anymore though. “I sort of… need your help.”
I raise my eyebrows at him.
He sighs. “So… you know that Santa gig I’ve got going at the mall?”
“Yeah…” The only reason I could think of to leave this house would be to see Rich dressed up as Santa at the mall. It sounds like it would be hilarious.
But I’d never go to the mall. Too many people I know there. Too many chances to be forced to field questions like, “Dean, oh my God, what happened to you?” No thanks.
“It turns out I’ve overbooked myself for tomorrow.” He shrugs helplessly. “I’ve got the Santa gig all day, but I’m also supposed to drive for Mr. Hannigan doing deliveries. I’m stuck.”
Typical Rich dilemma. Can’t say no to anyone. Especially with the way jobs pay around the holidays.
“That sucks,” I say.
“So…” He flashes me a crooked grin. “I thought maybe you could help me out.”
“You want me to call Bill Hannigan and tell him you’re an idiot?”
“Actually,” Rich says, rubbing his hands together, “I was thinking maybe you could play Santa for a day.”
I laugh. It’s the first time I’ve laughed in ten days and it feels better than I expected. It’s funny how you can forget laughing is something that feels good.
“So is that a yes?”
I laugh again and tug at the leg of my classy sweatpants. “Rich, that’s a resounding no.”
“But Dean, I really need you to—”
“Don’t you think it would be fun to—”
“Come on, it would really help—”
“Am I saying ‘no’ in a language you don’t understand?”
Rich sighs and collapses onto my bed dramatically. Even though he’s in his mid-twenties, he looks five when he does that. It tugs at me, but not enough to get me to dress up in a Santa costume. What the hell is wrong with him? What made him think I’d even consider it?
“We could make a deal,” Rich says.
“You have nothing I want.”
My brother stares up at the ceiling thoughtfully. He scratches at his spikey brown hair, which is a hint at how “cool” my own hair could look if I gave two shits about it. Right now, I’m aiming for the “just rolled out of bed” look pretty much all the time. It’s surprisingly easy to achieve.
“I’ve got one thing,” he finally says.
I raise my eyebrows, waiting to hear it.
I laugh again. “That shithole? Try harder.”
“I’m serious.” Rich sits up in my bed to look me in the eyes. “You don’t have any place to hide over the holidays, do you?”
I cringe, aware of what he’s getting at.
“Grandma and Grandpa are coming…” Rich ticks them off on his fingers. “Aunt Sarah and Uncle Pete. Aunt Bernice. All our cousins. Great Uncle Joe. Oh, and that creepy friend of Mom’s from work—John.” His lips curl into a smile. “Think about it, Dean. All those people in the house. For days—you know Grandma and Grandpa are staying with us, right? Days and days of… well, you know.”
I do know. It’s not like I thought my first Christmas since landing my ass in a wheelchair for life was going to be any picnic, but Mom had to magnify the situation by inviting our entire extended family. When I protested, she cried. Cried. She said last year she wasn’t sure she’d have another Christmas with me, so this year is really important. I can’t argue with my mother when she’s crying. I’m not some kind of monster.
So it’s going to be days of everyone clapping me in the shoulder and telling me how good I look. Awkward conversations. Sympathetic looks when I admit I haven’t worked up the nerve to actually interview for any jobs. Patronizing comments when I say I’ve still managed to get some freelance work from people online who have no clue about my situation. There will definitely be the occasional inappropriate question. Mom’s friend John is sure to ask me how I manage to go to the bathroom. And of course, none of them will knock before barging into my room because why would a disabled person need privacy?
It’s going to be terrible.
“You do this for me,” Rich says, “and I’ll give you a set of keys to my place. You can stay there as much as you want until New Years. Sleep there if you want—I’ll take the couch and you can have my bed.”
Wow. I never thought it would be possible for Rich to offer me something that would make me considering putting on a red suit and fake beard, but here it is.
“Even if I theoretically were willing to do it,” I begin, “I can’t just show up at your job and pretend I’m you, right?”
He shrugs. “Why not? Nobody will know. You’ll be in costume. We look enough alike.”
We do. Or at least, we used to.
“Also,” I add, “I don’t think the kids are going to be excited about Santa in a wheelchair.”
Rich rolls his eyes. “Don’t worry, we’ve got a huge throne for you to sit in. You don’t have to budge from it. We can stash the chair out of the way.”
I can’t believe I’m considering this. “What would I do? I don’t have any experience with this.”
Rich laughs. “Dean, you’ve got an advanced degree—I think you can figure out how to play Santa.” Possibly. “It’s like the easiest job on the planet. You just sit there, ask kids what they want for Christmas, then tell them ‘Merry Christmas.’”
I know even before the word “yes” leaves my mouth that this will be a mistake.
This is the ugliest elf costume I’ve ever seen.
There are cute elf costumes. They exist. My friend Serena was a sexy elf for a Christmas costume party last year, and every guy at the party was trying to get a piece of that elf. It made me wonder what I’d be thinking when I decided to dress up as a very unsexy Mrs. Claus (only because I’m perpetually broke and was able to piece the costume together with items from my grandmother’s closet).
Anyway, back to the ugliest elf on the planet—i.e. me.
I’m wearing a baggy green shirt with a red star collar. It’s paired with red Capri pants that are also quite oversized, red-and-white striped stockings, and shoes that are a full five inches longer than my actual feet. Pair it with a green cap and my humiliation is complete.
My roommate Rhea catches me gazing miserably at myself in the hall mirror and stops to stare. I could be annoyed, but I can’t really blame her. I stop and stare when I see a horrible car crash. It’s human nature to stare at disasters.
“It’s awful,” I groan. “I can’t go out in public looking this way.”
“I like the hat,” Rhea says and plucks it off my head, depositing it on her own mane of blond hair.
Of course, she looks adorable in it. There are two kinds of women in this world—those who look good in hats and those who don’t. I am in the latter category: the hat-challenged. I won’t even put on a baseball cap because it makes me look like an idiot.
“I wish I weren’t so poor,” I mutter. “So I wouldn’t have to humiliate myself to have the money to buy Christmas gifts.”
Actually, I have already bought said Christmas gifts. This job is so that I can pay the credit card bill when it arrives in January. Or else face having the earrings I bought for my Aunt Sylvia repossessed.
Rhea grins at me and replaces the hat back on my head. “Think of it this way, Callie—this will give you a funny story to tell someday when you’re a rich and famous lawyer.”
Midway through my second year of law school, the dream of being a rich and famous lawyer seems as impossible as becoming a woman who looks good in hats.
“Do you need a ride to the mall?” Rhea asks me.
This is a very reasonable offer for her to make, despite the fact that I own a car. My car, Old Denty, has only a fifty-fifty shot of starting on any given day. If I have an exam that morning, the chances of her starting fall to a mere thirty-two percent. Which is coincidentally the same score I got on my constitutional law exam when I was forty-five minutes late thanks to my stupid car not starting. I wish I could afford a better car than Old Denty, but I can’t. Not if I want to eat and have a roof over my head that isn’t made of cardboard.
“I’ll let you know,” I tell Rhea. “Stand by.”
I grab my coat so I don’t have to be seen on the street in this ridiculous getup. It’s a one-week gig, and I’m not looking forward to it. I’ve never been an elf before but I’m guessing it’s going to involve a lot of screaming kids kicking me in the shins and an old guy in a Santa costume who will pinch my butt when nobody is looking. But it pays really well because nobody wants to spend their Christmas week standing at the mall, looking like an idiot in an elf costume.
The best thing about Old Denty is nobody breaks into her. The carjackers (rightfully) assume there could be nothing of value in a car that looks like that. Let me tell you, if you ever want to smuggle a million dollars in a car, borrow Old Denty. Nobody will suspect a thing. Also, breaking in to Old Denty would presumably involve getting one of the doors open, which is a challenge in itself, even when you’ve got a key.
As I turn my key in the engine and it reluctantly sputters to life, I think to myself that what I miss most about having a boyfriend is bumming rides off him.
That’s a joke, obviously. I miss other stuff about having a boyfriend. I miss making out. I miss a nice stubble grazing my chin. I miss Adam’s apples. They are so sexy. What are those things? Why do they stick out? Why don’t we women have them? They are such a mystery.
Also, sex. I miss sex. It just isn’t the same with my little rabbit vibrator, despite the raves on Amazon.
When I’m stopped at a red light, I tug at my oversized green elf shirt. Before I put this hideous costume on, I thought maybe this elf work would be an opportunity to meet someone. After all, I’ve already dated everyone in my law school class who seemed dateable and determined none of them were a match. (It didn’t take long.) Being an elf might sadly be my only opportunity to meet eligible guys. Older brothers. Cool uncles. Single dads.
Actually, I might be too immature to date a single dad. The thought of me being any sort of mother figure is slightly horrifying.
But as I pull into the mall parking lot, I look down at my striped stockings and let out a sigh. I will not be meeting any older brothers, cool uncles, single dads, or even spry grandpas today. Nobody in their right mind would hit on me while I’m wearing this elf costume. I’ll be lucky if they even recognize I’m female.
I swear to God, this better be worth the money.
To be continued...