I have spent most of this year working on a sweet YA (?) story (well, the characters are in their 20s, so I guess it would be NA, but there is no sex, so what do you call it then?) called Macchiatos, My Friends and Other Things I Can’t Live Without. It’s been an immense help for my mental well-being to hang out in the cosy board game café, Moonhares during the first (and the second) lockdown, to be among my imaginary friends while my real ones were out of reach.
The story is not finished yet, it’s at almost 75 000 words (all written this year, I’m pretty proud of that) and I keep pushing my target word count up because I can’t help adding sweet slices of life. Sue me.
I decided to share the Ugly Christmas Party scene with you because I love these characters so much and it’s always an immense effort not to talk too much about them. It’s going to be a bit chaotic and you’ll have many characters and even more ugly sweaters and bad puns, so enter at your own risk.
Let me show you the characters first, just so you know who to imagine.
Yet Christmas was approaching with steady strides and the last Saturday before the holiday we were invited to Tommy’s place to celebrate with friends.
His door was decorated with a wreath of dark branches that clawed into the air like skeletal fingers. In their clutches they held holy leaves that you would think would soften the impression a little, but their sharp edges just made it worse, especially with the crimson berries that glistened like drops of blood. It was really more folk horror than Christmas, which is also a very valid aesthetic, but seemed in stark contrast with Macy’s jumper that sported a baby penguin tangled in fairy lights. (Yes, the Christmas lights were real and they blinked in all the colours of the rainbow) I had never seen Macy wear something so fluffy and cute, but the season brings out everybody’s softer side.
Except for Tommy apparently, who decided to return to the pagan roots.
“His Goth teenage niece made it for him,” Macy said. “Your only possible reaction is wide-eyed praise.”
“Thanks for the heads up.”
“Nice wreath,” I said when Tommy opened the door. He beamed at me and was about to embark on a lengthy accolade, but Macy’s little scream made him stop.
“That’s extremely ugly! I don’t know what is worse the attempt at a joke or the drawing.” she said pointing at Tommy’s sweater. It was bright red with a panic-stricken Santa in a tiny elevator: Santa Claus-trophobia. Bad pun level 1000.
“I’m perfectly fulfilling the criteria to enter this party which is wearing an “UGLY Christmas sweater.” You on the other hand,” he gave a pensive look to Macy’s pastel penguin. “You’re just cute.” He grinned at her, a challenge sparkling in his eye.
“What did you call me?” Macy said very calmly and slowly. I shook my head, starting to understand why Kim always threw a figurative bucket of cold water on this two. Things had the tendency to spiral out of hand very quickly.
Speaking of Kim, where was she? Where was everyone else? I couldn’t believe we arrived first, with Macy who was the Queen of Arriving “Elegantly Late.” (Preceded only by her dear brother, Marcel, the Emperor of Arriving Too Late. Or Not At All.)
“You should know that with my refined, dark aesthetic this little creature is one of the ugliest things in the world…” Macy was explaining with wide gestures.
“I’ll go and say hello to Excel!” I interjected and hurried down the corridor in search of better company. I found Excel in the storage room, munching on one Tommy’s expensive ties, sitting in a ring of untouched chew toys.
I shook my head and launched into a long dance of negotiations and trickery to get the poor tie out of her mouth.
By the time I succeeded, Macy and Tommy had moved on to the living room and their fervent debate on the concept of “ugly” seemed to have calmed down, so I ventured out from my hiding place.
“Look, a visitor from Narnia!” Macy said when she saw me. It was of course her subtle attempt to reignite their verbal make-out session. Luckily, Tommy was more occupied with laying the table and positioning the gigantic bowls of punch and eggnog, so he didn’t take up on the challenge.
“What were you doing in my storage room?” he asked, sinking a shiny silver dipper in the punch bowl. Slices of orange and star anise swam to the surface.
“I rescued a piece of your equipment from the clutches of a ferocious beast.”
“Huh?” He looked up and when he saw the ill-fated tie in my hand, he sighed.
“Why do I even buy you all the expensive toys?”
“She clearly wants the one thing she can’t have,” Macy said, looking Tommy dead in the eye.
In a desperate attempt to occupy myself, I took one of the neatly portioned eggnogs and sent it down in one go.
The vanilla and cream did a fine job covering up the taste of the rum.
For about one moment.
Then my blood caught fire.
The sexual tension in the room was still on the rise and the heat from inside and outside was starting to get unbearable.
Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus, please send me a Christmas miracle to get me out of this crossfire of unspent desires. Goodness, is this how it feels like to be a supporting character in some cheap chic lit?
Divine intervention had never been this quick: The next moment the doorbell rang and I threw myself at the opportunity to leave the two turtle doves alone.
“What a complete failure to comply by the rules,” I told Isaac as he took of his coat. I found him a hanger and did my best to put it in a place where his scarf wouldn’t fall prey to Excel. Only as I spun to face the forest of coats and felt a bit dizzy did I realise that what I said probably came out completely wrong. I blamed the eggnog.
I turned back with an apologetic smile and met Isaac’s apprehensive gaze.
“Care to elaborate?” he asked, running his hand through his hair.
“Your sweater needs to be ugly! That’s the point!” I gestured towards the extremely kitsch angel on my own jumper. She was surrounded by fluorescent snowflakes and if you pushed her flaming heart, she sang “Silent Night,” in a creepy mechanical voice.
“I swear to god, Blue if I hear that bitch screech again, I’ll cut her into tiny pieces,” came Macy’s voice from the living room. Hm, all that pent up tension finding a new outlet… I decided to let it go and concentrate on the matter at hand.
“Anyhoo, your sweater is just too perfect. It should be banned.”
Isaac’s expression softened and melted into a smile.
“It’s cool, isn’t it? The winter constellations of the northern hemisphere.”
I reached out and ran my finger along the intricate needlework. The stars were tiny golden spots in a sea of soft indigo wool. Before I realised what I was actually doing I also said:
“Do you know what I want, what I really really want?” Echoing the Spice Girls song blasting in the living room. Macy must have got bored of the Mariah Carey & co and decided to channel her energies into DJ-ing. With dubious success.
Isaac leaned closer. He smelled like winter air and cinnamon.
“No, pray tell.”
“I want to jump headfirst into your wardrobe and look through your clothes because I need to know if they’re all so cool.”
“Definitely not the answer I expected,” he said with a chuckle. “You’re always welcome in my wardrobe.”
“Why are you talking about a wardrobe? In my storage room…” Tommy asked, peaking in behind Isaac. I was wondering if the word “wardrobe” was indeed his summoning spell.
“Would you want to also look through his underwear?” Marcel also appeared of thin air. I didn’t even hear him arrive. But it was his eerie ability to show up unexpectedly in the middle of conversations with the most inappropriate comments.
“I doubt his underwear has constellations, so no, thank you.”
“Actually…” Isaac began. It was so shocking that I sobered up with the speed of light and realised that: 1. my hand was still resting on his stomach, 2. we were in a closed place 3. standing very close to each other, 4. talking about his underwear, 5. while my ex-crush grins at us, swaying a branch of mistletoe and 6. the host is preparing to launch a semantic war because of his obsession with the term “storage room.”
“Hey, where has everybody gone?” howled Macy from the other room. “I’m boooored.”
“Let’s go and entertain Macy,” I said, wriggling my way out between the boys, carefully avoiding Marcel and his mistletoe. What the heck was he doing with it anyway?
“Blue, you’re redder than Thomas’s jumper. What have you been up to?” Macy asked, stirring his eggnog with a cinnamon stick.
Bugger. This was not the safe place I’d hoped for.
“She wants to have a look at Isaac’s pants,” Marcel said and swayed the mistletoe branch.
“That’s NOT what I said.”
Luckily Esther and Tara arrived and put an end to this conversation which was plummeting towards unknown abysses. I looked for something safe to occupy my mouth with and since the drinks were out of question, I settled for a d20 shaped gingerbread trying to soak up the remains of the knockout eggnog. Macy danced in the middle of the room to her own music while Tommy circled around us checking that everybody had their glass marker and everybody was fed and happy.
“Why do you have Arwen sitting on a bench?” Isaac asked, examining Esther’s sweater.
“Trust me, you don’t want to hear the answer, “Tara said. I pushed through to have a look.
I got it right away.
“It’s not a bench, it’s a shelf…” I corrected him, to Esther’s widening smile and Tara’s growing despair.
“Because she’s an elf on a shelf,” Esther and I said at the same time.
“Now that I think of it, it’s quite shelf-evident,” Isaac said with a straight face. Esther snorted into her punch.
“Not you too!” Tara sighed.“I don’t know how many more bad puns I can take.” She also grabbed a glass of eggnog, probably to soothe the pain.
“And you haven’t seen Tommy’s jumper yet,” I warned her.
“I can’t wait.” She took a sip and looked around for our host, but he was probably zapping around in the kitchen preparing more food and drink. I don’t know how he had the energy.
“Hey, why are you not wearing an ugly Christmas sweater?” Macy zoomed in on Tara’s plain crimson jumper. “I don’t know if I can allow you to stay like this.”
“I thought Tommy was the boss.”
“I’m sure he’s happy to share the responsibility.” Then she added after some reflection. “I’m his bouncer.”
“I see. If we’re talking about sharing responsibilities I thought Esther was kitsch enough for the two of us,” she nodded towards her girlfriend who was now trying to explain her sweater to Marcel.
“Nope. You’re individuals, there is no couple-blob-conglomerate.” Macy squatted down to scratch Excel’s ear who trotted out from her room to check on the party.
“Then I’ll need to go home,” Tara shrugged.
“What is this defeatism?” Macy asked.”We can always pop down to the shops, I’m sure you’ll find something nice in Tesco.”
Tara started to argue while I sashayed over to the printer, got a paper and pulling out the pen I always carried around in my pockets, I began to draw.
“What are you doing?” Isaac asked, peering over my shoulder.
“I’m resolving a diplomatic incident.” I took my lopsided Christmas tree and fixed in on the perplexed Tara’s jumper with one of my Dreamless pins.
“Christmas sweater. Undoubtedly ugly,” I said. That seemed to appease the tension. A Christmas miracle really.
“That was an elegant solution,” Isaac nodded. “Although I don’t think your tree is ugly.”
I gave him an incredulous look.
“Because you’re too nice. Or that’s a white lie for a white Christmas.” I motioned towards the window where the snow was falling in huge flakes.
“Do you think the bad puns will ever stop?” Isaac asked, smiling into his drink.
“Not as long as we’re drinking PUNch.” We laughed for a while then I saw Marcel wanting to sneak up on us with his bloody mistletoe and I basically run away.
By the end of the evening I smiled so much that my face got tired and laughed so much that my sides hurt. As I watched the Christmas lights rushing past from Ladybug’s window, (Macy kept her drinking under control this time,) I realised how for the first time at a party I had no wish to run and hide. I wanted to be there for every moment.