After my Thanksgiving story, people started asking if something was wrong with me.
The answer is “Yes. There is a lot wrong with me.” But that is neither here nor there.
People were concerned that I am incapable of writing a story where nobody dies and nothing extremely tragic happens. I don’t know. We’ll have to see. Here’s my Christmas story:
Charlie Miller Hates Christmas
Charlie Miller hated Christmas. Every kid at William Howard Taft Middle school loved Christmas. It was their favorite holiday. But not Charlie Miller. Charlie Miller hated Christmas.
It had been that way since he was a little kid. Back then, his parents both worked second shift jobs, so he spent most of his Christmas Eves alone in his room, watching cartoons and eating too much candy. Just like he did every night.
Even in the years when his parents made a go of it, things turned out bad. There was the year a water pipe burst, flooding the living room, destroying the floor, all the presents, and the discount fake Christmas tree his parents bought at McAlpin’s department store the previous January.
“They were practically giving them away!” Charlie’s dad said, when he came home with not one but five fake trees. “I can sell them next year and make some money.” Charlie had to get rid of most of his Lego collection to make room for the trees, most of which finally sold around Thanksgiving.
Then there was the year all of Charlie’s aunts, uncles, and cousins drove to Tampa to visit Grandma Joan.
“I don’t wanna go!” Charlie said. “I can’t hang out with my friends, Florida is too hot, and who puts Christmas lights on palm trees? It’s just weird.”
“This is Grandma Joan’s last Christmas,” his mother said. “And anyway, wouldn’t you like to go swimming in the ocean on Christmas day?”
“And get all that sand in my pants? No way!”
They went anyway. Of course they did. Not only did they not get to go to the beach on Christmas Day – it rained the whole time – but Charlie had to sleep on his grandma’s brown, shag love seat.
“Thing looks like it’s straight out of a skin flick,” Charlie’s uncle said. Charlie didn’t know what that meant, but he was too tired to ask because he hadn’t slept in four days.
The worst Christmas, though, was the year his mother convinced him to be a part of Forrest Par Baptist church’s annual play. Charlie wanted a new bike, and his Mom said she’d get it as long as he played the part of Gabriel.
“Stand on a stage. Say a few lines. And BOOM! Free bike!” Charlie said to himself. “Easy peasy.”
One Christmas Eve, Charlie put on his white gowns and stood with the rest of the “actors” backstage. When it was his moment, he walked into the light to say his lines.
What Charlie was supposed to say was this: “His name will be Jesus Christ: the savior of all mankind.”
What Charlie actually said was this: “His name will be … Fudge, I forgot my line.”
Only Charlie didn’t say “Fudge.”
A wave of shock and disbelief swept through the audience. Parents covered their children’s ears. The blue-haired octogenarians grimaced from the back. An older gentleman in the second row burst out laughing, then stopped again after his wife hit him with her purse.
Two things never happened again that night. First: the play never started up again. In fact, it would take several years before the church elders would allow it.
The second: Charlie Miller was never welcomed back to Forrest Park Baptist Church again.
Which was fine by him, because he’d already been on the fence about the whole Christmas thing. This just solidified it for him.
From then on, Charlie’s hatred of Christmas grew to immense proportions.
First, it was just Christmas songs. Charlie had comebacks for each of them.
“If it’s supposed to be a Silent Night, why do I hear you singing?” And. “Who wants to ride in a one-horse open sleigh? The horses stink and it’s cold outside.” And. “Why does this ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ song feel like a couple of months?”
“If I hear someone scream ‘FIVE GOLDEN RINGS’ one more time, I’m just gonna lose it,” Charlie said.
In fact, the moment Christmas started rearing its ugly head – earlier and earlier each year, by Charlie’s estimation – Charlie would question loudly, “Why does Santa keep sticking his fat butt into other holidays? He’s got the whole month of December. Why must he take over Thanksgiving, Halloween, The Fourth of July? This keeps up, we might as well parachute him in during the Super bowl halftime show and start the whole mess over again.”
Yes. Charlie Miller hated Christmas. Charlie Miller hated Christmas very much.
But this year, the year Charlie Millr turned fourteen, was turning out to be the worst on record, and it had nothing to do with Santa or presents or Christmas Carols. This year, Charlie Miller hated Christmas because of Emily Campbell.
More specifically, Charlie hated Christmas because of what his friends said about him and Emily Campbell.
Charlie went to the middle school homecoming dance with his friends back in September. At first, they hung out together in a corner dancing and making jokes about how their principal, Dr. Rivera, looked like a Manatee. But when the DJ put on the first slow song of the evening and the dance floor split with boys on one side and girls on another, Charlie, in a moment of rare courage, stepped across the dance floor and asked Emily Campbell to dance.
She said yes, and they slow danced in the middle of the floor through three whole songs while every other kid at William Howard Taft Middle school looked on in jealousy and disbelief.
They were officially an item after that, whether they wanted to be or not. This, of course, meant that Charlie Miller’s friends constant hounded him.
“Did you kiss her yet?” they asked.
“Are you afraid?”
“Well, I’d be afraid, if I were you,” one of his friends said. “My brother went out with this girl once. He went in to kiss her at the end of the night and he said it smelled like Salt and Vinegar potato chips and rotten cheese.”
“What did he do?”
“He kept going. Had to at that point. It would have been rude not to.”
“True,” they all said.
“I’m sure it won’t be that bad, Charlie,” another kid said. “Just stick your tongue in her mouth the next time you see her. See how it goes.”
It was the same thing every time Charlie and Emily went anywhere or did anything.
After a date at the movies: “Did you kiss her?”
After going with Emily to see her older sister’s college play: “Come on! Kiss her!”
When Charlie walked her home from school just before Thanksgiving break: “Seriously, dude. Just stick that tongue in her mouth when she’s not looking. She’ll love it. Trust me.”
Charlie wanted to kiss her, but he never really had a chance to. Almost every time they went somewhere, it was with other people. The one time he took her to the movies, Emily’s Dad insisted on going with them. He sat two rows back, and Charlie could feel him staring daggers into the back of his head the whole time.
Other than that, they were usually with family or friends. The last thing Charlie wanted was for him to finally work up the nerve to try to kiss her, only to have one of his friends interrupt to say, “Dooooood. Toooongue!”
The truth, though, was that Charlie Miller was also a little afraid. He’d never kissed a girl before. What would she say if he did it wrong? He was the man in the relationship, Charlie told himself. He was supposed to know these things.
But he didn’t. That scared him.
When Emily asked him to join her family for Christmas Eve dinner, Charlie hoped maybe his parents would be up for another trip to Tampa to visit Grandma Joan – who STILL hadn’t died, even all these years later. They had their usual work shifts to contend with. He tried to get one of his friends to plan something, but they weren’t having any of that. He asked his friends at Forrest Park Baptist if maybe he could come to the play this year.
“Absolutely not!” they said. So Charlie reluctantly accepted Emily’s invitation.
Charlie’s friends sat him down for a talk.
“Look, dude. It’s now or never. You have to do it. You don’t have a choice.”
“Right, Charlie. It’s been months. People are starting to ask questions.”
“Who?” Charlie asked. “And what questions?”
“Nevermind. You need to focus. It’s the fourth quarter, your team’s down by three runs, and the shot clock is running out. But the goalie left an open net. All you have to do is slide that puck across the ice!”
“What?” Charlie said.
“Focus,” they said. “Complete the mission.”
“Okay,” Charlie said, resigning himself to the idea whatever happened at this Christmas dinner, it was going to be bad, because Christmas is bad and Charlie hated it. “I’ll do it.”
The night of the Christmas dinner came. As Charlie’s dad drove him there, he closed his eyes and made up his mind.
“Tonight’s the night,” he said to himself. ”We’ll find a moment alone, even if we have from her dad. I’ll kiss her, get it over with, and then all this insanity comes to an end.”
Emily opened the door to greet him and nearly thirty members of the Campbell family greeted him in unison.
“Merry Christmas, Charlie!” they said.
“I hate Christmas,” Charlie said, and stepped in site.
It was as awful as Charlie expected. There were songs and Christmas stories, little kids running around throwing toys every which way, and old men talking about politics and work while drinking too much wine. All of it gave Charlie a headache.
Just before dinner, Emily’s aunt Delia brought out a box and made an announcement. She’d found a treasure trove of Christmas sweaters in the discount bin at WalMart, and she brought one for everyone. Charlie’s had a reindeer dancing with what looked like a clown on the front of his. They took pictures and immediately posted them to social media, tagging everyone there, including Charlie.
“I can’t wait for this to show up next year,” Charlie said.
Seeing him in the reindeer and clown sweater made Emily laugh. That made Charlie smile just a bit, too.
“Wanna get out of here for a minute?” she asked.
“Um … Yeah. Sure”
She took his hand and led him to the steps leading to the second floor. After checking if the coast was clear, she led him upstairs.
“This is it,” Charlie told himself as he walked up the steps. “Do it, get it over with, and move on.”
Charlie could hear the family starting into “The Twelve Days of Christmas” from the dining room as they walked.
“As if this could get any worse,” he thought.
When they got upstairs, Emily led him into her room. Charlie had never been into a girl’s bedroom before. He was surprised to see that it was a lot like his. A desk. A bookshelf. A comfy chair next to the window. Her bed had a pink comforter, but that was to be expected.
Charlie didn’t want to appear over-eager, so he pretended to be interested in her books for a moment.
“Jane Austen,” he said. “Nice.” Personally, Charlie thought any collection that did not include Jane Austen was a good collection, even if had no other books. But even at fourteen, he knew better than to say that out loud.
“Charlie?” Emily asked from behind.
“This is it,” Charlie steeled himself. He closed his eyes, turned around, and prepared to make his move.
But before he could do that, Emily ran toward him, wrapped her arms around him, and gave him the biggest, wettest kiss he’d ever seen or heard of.
“Waaaa!” Charlie said.
Emily pulled back.
“What,”she said. “Did I do it wrong?”
“No,” Charlie said. “No. It’s just … I wasn’t expecting that.”
“I’m sorry. My friends keep pushing me. I shouldn’t have done that.”
Charlie laughed out loud, then he saw Emily lower her eyes, and he explained.
“My friends have been doing the same thing.”
“For months. They’re relentless.”
They shared stories of their friend’s antics. Emily laughed when he shared the part about the tongue guy.
“I think I might like that,” she said.
And for the second time since they’d met, he plucked up his courage, took her in his arms, and kissed her. Only this time, because they weren’t so nervous, it was wonderful and exhilarating, and beautiful all at the same time.
“Maybe Christmas isn’t so bad after all,” Charlie thought.
A few minutes later, Charlie and Emily walked downstairs. Emily’s Dad eyed them warily, but Charlie smiled back and asked if they were done singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
“We’re on the tenth day,” Emily’s mom said. “Join us.”
Charlie held hands with Emily and sang the Twelve days of Christmas with all his heart. He sang extra loud on the Five Golden Rings part. After that, he led the chorus on Jingle Bells, and smiled all the way through Silent Night.
Emily’s Dad drove Charlie home that night and Emily walked to the porch with him to say goodnight. He kissed her again, even though he knew her dad could see them from the car.
He watched her walk down the sidewalk to her car and step in. Charlie saluted her father as they drove away and went inside his house to wait for his parents to come home.
From that moment on, Charlie loved Christmas. Christmas was Charlie Miller’s favorite holiday.
*** *** *** ***
Thanks for visiting with us! While you’re at it, why not check out our new book of short stories. It’s called THE COVID QUARANTINE CANTINA, and it’s available in Paperback, Kindle, or Audiobook.
Thanks for checking out our stories. We have some Halloween and Thanksgiving stories as well, if you’re interested. Yours Truly will be with us tomorrow for another Christmas story. See you then. As always … Have fun, Stay healthy, and please don’t break anything.