The big letters begin to bleed into one single red blur as he stares at the black screen. Trying to not feel discouraged, Nick turns to face Gretchen.
“Well, it looks like we won’t be making it to Christmas with your family.” She comments, turning her back to the screen and clearly making an escape plan to the nearest exit.
“Don’t say that. I am sure that if the snow stops, they will get the flights going again and we’ll be able to catch a flight in time.” Nick replies, chiding her slightly.
Grabbing his hands, she pleads. “Ok, but can we please leave the airport? There really isn’t any point in sitting here waiting for the snow to stop.”
Laughing at her, he starts heading for the airport exit. “I guess you’re right. Besides, I think I have an idea.”
“Why do I feel like this is going to another one of your over-the-top attempts to get me into the Christmas Spirit?” Gretchen suspiciously asks, raising an eyebrow at him.
Ignoring her apprehension, Nick leads her out the airport and through the parking lot to his car. Once, they are on the road, she questions, “Where are we going?”
“I figured we could just hang out and watch movies at my apartment.” He answers, watching the road intently.
Gretchen grimaces as she glances out the window at the snowy scenery passing by. She knew that hanging out at Nick’s apartment would mean being overwhelmed with seasonal cheer, which she was not in the mood for. Not that she ever really seemed to be. As they rode in silence, she tried to brace herself mentally.
Opening the door to his apartment, Nick motions Gretchen in with a warm smile. However, as soon as she steps through the door, her stomach turns slightly sour. The decorations on the outside of the apartment were setup by the landlord, so they were minimal and simple. In contrast, the inside of Nick’s apartment seems to be decorated in the same overpowering manner that she figures the North Pole would be.
The walls are covered with hanging Christmas decorations, from Christmas movie quotes to Santa’s silhouette. Then, all kinds of Christmas figurines spread on furniture throughout the room, from Rudolph the Reindeer to the wooden on nativity on the mantle under the tv. Along with the decorations, it seemed that even the snacks and food in the kitchen fit the theme of the holiday with canisters of different flavored hot cocoa, candy canes and an assortment of Christmas cookies.
As if the scene itself was not unbearable enough for Gretchen, Nick didn’t delay in turning on the Christmas tunes with Mariah Carey’s familiar voice ringing throughout the apartment.
Slowly, she walked around the living room and tried to find one piece of furniture without a decoration of some kind, but quickly gave up.
“Go ahead and sit down. I’m fixing us something warm to drink.” He says, winking at her.
“You know I think this place could be a Christmas museum.” She comments, throwing her head back against the couch as she gets comfortable.
Coming into the room, Nick smiles proudly placing two Santa Claus mugs on the table, “You really think so?”
She nods in response, bringing one of the mugs closer to her nose and inhaling the sweet scent of cinnamon. “Most of this stuff is too much, but I have to admit your Snickerdoodle hot cocoa really is delicious.”
“What do you mean this is too much? I hope you know that my sister’s house will be even more decorated than this and that’s an accomplishment, considering she has a whole house to decorate.” He responds, glancing around the room.
Gretchen uncomfortably shifts on the couch next to him and tries to change the subject, “So, what do you want to watch? I think they just released a new season of that crime show I’ve been watching.”
Noticing the silence, she glances over to see Nick staring at her in horror, “A crime show, really?” he questions.
“Well, what were you thinking?” she counters.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because it’s Christmas Eve, we could watch Christmas movies.” He replies, giving a quizzical look.
Burying her face in one of the couch pillows, she softly lets out a muffled groan. Then, she lifts up her head and beggingly asks, “Do we really have to do that?”
He doesn’t answer, but rather crosses his arms over his chest and looks at her disapprovingly.
“Fine. Fine. I’m sorry I said anything. What Christmas movie do you want to watch for the umpteenth time? I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, even though you already know almost every word by heart.”
Even though, he was getting his way, Nick’s disappointment lingers on his features as he looks through his collection of Holiday films.
“We could watch this one. It’s basically your biography.” He jokes, pulling out the Grinch DVD.
Smirking at him, she responds, “Very funny. It’ll be fun to compare your decorations to the people in the town’s competition and see if they could beat you.”
Opening the DVD player, he puts in the movie before returning to the couch and settling in beside Gretchen. Reaching over, Nick grabs his mug and takes a long drag of the warm cocoa, inhaling in the sweet scent simultaneously.
Almost immediately, his attention is fully engaged in the opening scene until he glances over and sees Gretchen putting in her earbuds as she pulls out her phone.
“Are you seriously about to put in your earbuds right now?” Nick questions, turning to face her.
“You know I don’t like watching these kinds of movies. I’ll stay in here with you, but I’m going to watch something else on my phone. I’m not leaving.” She answers.
“I realize that you’re not leaving the room, but the whole point of doing this was to spend time with each other and celebrate Christmas together.” Nick comments clearly agitated with her actions.
“Look I get that Christmas is a big deal for you and your family, but it’s not the same for me, Nick. Christmas isn’t some special holiday for me. If anything, I find Christmas to be one of the most annoying times of the year.” She replies.
“Why? What about Christmas could be so aggravating for you? It’s not like you grew up not getting anything for Christmas. I mean I know you come from wealthy parents, so I assume that you got whatever you wanted for Christmas.” He counters.
“Yeah, anything that I wanted that they could buy, I did have. But that didn’t make Christmas special for me.” Her voice begins to quiver slightly as her emotions begin to rise.
Throwing up his hands, Nick tries not to raise his voice as he continues, “I understand that I tend to take Christmas to the extreme in your opinion, but it’s not like you just find my behavior over-the-top. You seem to hate every little thing that reminds you of Christmas. You’re even bothered when you see red bows decorating doors when the season begins. That’s not normal.”
“Normal?! You know what, I don’t want to talk anymore! Just drop it, Nick!” she shouts, jumping up from the couch.
“Where are you going?” he asks, watching her as she stomps off.
“I’m going to go watch something decent in your office, if that’s allowed.” She snaps.
“What do you mean if it’s allowed?”
Pausing in the hallway, she spins around and replies, “Well, I don’t know if I’m allowed to watch anything that isn’t Christmas related in this apartment.”
“Do whatever you want, Gretchen. I’m staying right here.” Nick huffs, falling back against the couch.
“By the way, your obsession with Christmas isn’t normal either!” Gretchen adds, storming off into Nick’s office and plopping herself down in his desk chair. However, she can’t seem to bring herself to watch anything. Instead, she simply leans back and focuses on her brewing mind.
Back in the living room, Nick glances down the empty hallway and sighs to himself, “Why does she have to be so difficult? I mean who hates Christmas? Although, she doesn’t seem to be very fond of any holiday.”
Looking back at the movie still playing, he hits the pause on the remote and simply leans back against the couch pillows. Despite her clearly hating the movie, it felt wrong to watch it without her. She was right. Even if she stayed on her phone the whole time, Nick just wanted her there with him.
Realizing that he went too far, Nick decides to apologize and bring her back. Quietly, he walks down the hallway and goes to knock on the door of the office, when it suddenly opens.
“Oh! I-I…I was coming back.” Gretchen states, standing in the doorway.
“I wanted to apologize for pushing you and basically trying to make you feel guilty for not liking Christmas.” He whispers solemnly.
Wrapping her arms around him in a hug, Gretchen replies, “I forgive you.”
Keeping his arm around her shoulders, Nick guides her back into the living room and onto the couch. “By the way, I don’t care if you watch something else. I understand that Christmas just isn’t your thing.”
Snuggling into his arms, she replies, “I do have my reasons for not liking Christmas.”
“I know. I just…I just wish I understood where you are coming from, because Christmas is such a special time for me and my family and really everyone I know. Besides you, of course. But I also understand that you aren’t ready to talk about it.” He comments.
For a moment, they sit in silence, just holding one another, when suddenly, Gretchen speaks up. “You know I really want to like Christmas. It’s just really hard when this time of the year stirs up so many bad memories and emotions.”
“It does? I didn’t realize that’s why you were struggling so much.”
Sighing, Gretchen decides to be open, “Holidays have always been an opportunity for my parents to make up for not being there and Christmas seemed to be their most extravagant holiday of choice. When they divorced, they basically started competing to give me the best or most expensive present. Mom tried to make up for working and traveling all the time while Dad tried to make up for spending all of his free time with his new family.”
Squeezing her cozily, he leans his head against hers. “Go ahead. I’m listening.” He reaffirms.
Leaning her head against his chest, she continues, “For me, Christmas is just a reminder that my parents were never really there, and they thought that their money could simply replace that time. So, when you talk about how your family takes celebrating Christmas to another extreme, it is really intimidating and overwhelming at times. It’s bad enough that I can’t escape the memories outside this time of year, but I can’t even get any peace when I visit you here.”
For a minute, they are quiet as Nick holds her close and reflects on her words.
“But we don’t celebrate Christmas big, because we want to outperform each other. We just really love celebrating this time of year, because it’s the one time of the year that growing up, we spent the most time together. For us, Christmas has always been about being with the ones you love. We just do the decorating and cooking and watching Christmas movies, because it’s an excuse to be together.” He states, looking down at her.
“Well, you certainly celebrate the holiday to the max. I mean how did you afford all these decorations, anyway?” she comments, glancing around the room.
“I actually didn’t buy most of them. I’ve added a few here and there, but they are mostly my parents’ old decorations.” He replies.
“Why do you have your parents’ decorations? Doesn’t your dad need them?” Gretchen asks, her forehead creasing in question.
“Not exactly. Christmas was my mom’s favorite holiday, so she always went above and beyond when it came to this time of year. So, when she passed away a few years ago, my dad couldn’t bring himself to celebrate, and he was going to get rid of all her decorations. My sister and I didn’t want to lose this stuff though, because it was like a piece of Mom that we got to keep, so we split everything between the two of us. So, decorating is kind of like a way for my sister and me to remember Mom.”
“But what about your Dad? Isn’t it hard for him to see all the decorations when you get together for Christmas? Aren’t they just a reminder for him?” Gretchen asks, concern lacing her voice.
“Not anymore. The first two Christmases were hard for him, but he has learned to heal. Now, he looks forward to seeing how we decorate for Christmas, because he doesn’t look at it as a reminder of losing Mom, but rather he sees it as an opportunity and time to celebrate her life, what she loved and mostly importantly, who she loved…Us.” Nick answers thoughtfully.
Suddenly, a light seemed to go off in both of their minds as they began to see each other’s different perspective.
“So, is that why you were nervous to come home with me and meet my family? Did you think it was going to be a replay of your childhood?” he asks.
“Well, I’ve been nervous about meeting your family, because I knew that if you said your family does Christmas bigger than you. Though, I’m not so sure.”
Laughing, he counters, “I know it’s hard to believe, but they really do.”
Glancing up at him, Gretchen comments, “So, are you doing to be disappointed if you don’t get to spend Christmas with your family this year? Do you think that’ll ruin Christmas?”
“Well, I’ll be a little disappointed if I don’t get to see them, just because I haven’t seen them in so long and I really wanted everyone to meet you. But that won’t ruin Christmas.” He replies.
“But you just said that Christmas is about spending time with the ones that you love? And a time to remember your mom.”
“Exactly. So, my Christmas won’t be ruined, because I have you. As long as I get to spend Christmas with you, then I will be spending time with the one I love. Even if that means, I have to give up watching my Christmas movies. Celebrating in small ways is just as special as long as I have you.” He teases.
“And I know my mom would have loved you, so it feels right spending Christmas with you. She would have been proud to share her love for this holiday with you too, but since she can’t, I’ll share my love for it instead.” He adds.
Oddly enough, Gretchen felt a warmth in her heart, in the same way she assumed the Grinch did when his heart grew three sizes.
“Do you think spending Christmas with a Scrooge like me will be enough?” she asks, smiling up at him.
“It maybe be a little cliché, but all I want for Christmas is you.” He replies.
Cringing at his response, she shakes her head and comments, “Listen, I am going to try to give Christmas a chance and try to see it in a new light, but baby steps.”
“You sure you really want to do this. I mean I understand now that Christmas stirs bad memories for you.” Nick comments, looking at her with concern in his eyes.
“Well, your Dad changed his perspective on Christmas from the memory of losing your Mom into memories of all the good times you shared as a family. I figure that if he can do that with the memory of his loss, I can do the same with the memory of my childhood. And I have a feeling that I will be making a lot of good Christmas memories from here on out with you.” She replies, warmly smiling at him.
Then, she picks up the remote from the table, hits play and cuddles up next to Nick again. “I still can’t believe that you just played a Christmas movie.” He remarks, focusing on the tv screen.
“Well, if I want to learn how to like Christmas, I should probably start with the movie that is almost like an instructional video for that.” She counters, smirking up at him.
As the movie progresses, Gretchen seems to slowly gain more and more interest until she is intently watching. “Oh my gosh! What if he doesn’t save the sled?! What about Cindy Lou!” she exclaims, sitting on the edge of the couch.
Nick watches Gretchen with contentment as she slowly relaxes, seeing that the Grinch saves Cindy Lou, and the movie comes to a close.
Suddenly, his phone screen lights up with a message. Giving him time enough to read it, Gretchen asks, “What’s that?”
“It’s the airport. Apparently, the snow has stopped, and they have a few seats available on a flight in about two hours.” He replies, sitting his phone back on the table and getting comfortable again.
“What are you doing? We need to get back to the airport, so we don’t miss that flight.” Gretchen states, grabbing her phone and standing.
“Well, I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed, so we can just have Christmas with me and you this year. My family will understand.” He says, still sitting back.
“How am I ever going to experience what Christmas is like when you spend it with family, if we don’t go?” she counters, pulling on her winter coat.
“Are you sure about this? I mean this is a pretty drastic change, compared to your view a few hours ago.”
Crossing her arms over her chest, she fixes him with a scowl, “Cindy Lou didn’t question the Grinch when he decided to give Christmas a chance.”
Slowly, getting up from the couch and walking over to Gretchen, he says, “So, are you trying to say that I’m supposed to be like Cindy Lou now?”
“She kind of is my new standard for what a true lover of Christmas is supposed to be like.” She replies.
Raising an eyebrow, Nick comments, “That’s a pretty high standard to live up to.”
Gretchen grabs his coat and throws it at him as she opens the door, stepping into the doorway, “Yes, it is, but I believe in you.”
“Well, since you are starting to change your perspective on Christmas, how do feel about mistletoe then?” Nick questions, pointing to the little green decoration hanging just over the door entrance.
“You’ll have to catch me to find out.”
And with that, Gretchen takes off down the hallway, leaving Nick scrabbling to follow.
Summerlyn G. Cannady is a senior Business Administration major with a minor in Economics from Clinton.