It’s Christmas, y’all. I love Christmas. But then, who doesn’t? My favorite Christmases are the ones where it’s still sunny and sixty-five degrees out. Those are the Christmases where the kids can actually go outside and play with their toys and leave Mom and Dad to rest in peace and quiet.
Every year Chase and I host a party we call “Tacky Tinsel” where we invite pretty much all of Bellamy to our house and encourage them to wear their craziest Christmas get up and bring the tackiest gift they can find for an exchange. It’s amazing.
This year my baby sister, Bess, is coming in for the party and to visit our parents in their new tiny house. Guess where she’s staying? Right. With me. Because there’s no room in the tiny house for her.
But I love Bess. She just turned twenty-three, has the same brunette curls I have, and a bubbly personality to boot. She’s a nurse at a pediatrician’s office, which suits her perfectly. I hated that I missed so much of her growing up, but I was fourteen when she was born and had left home before she even started school. But I have adored her my whole life.
Bess arrived the day before the party to help me set up. We laughed about Mom and Dad’s minuscule house, complained about Josh living so far away, and compared notes on how things where when we were growing up.
The night of the party, I got the kids dressed up in their holiday tackiest and helped Chase assemble his clown-like Christmas tie that was wider than his body. I donned the most hideous red and pink Christmas leggings speckled with snowflakes, topped with an over-sized light-up snowman sweater and bobble-head snowman headband. I also may have done my makeup like an over-zealous pop singer from the 1980s. It was amazing.
My Baby Bess, as I used to call her, came downstairs dressed like a Christmasy school marm from the Edwardian Age. Her ankle-length skirt was actually knitted, complete with knit Santa faces and baby Jesuses in mangers. She wore a turtleneck that featured a star on one shoulder shining down over Bethlehem. She had even decided to wear her over-sized glasses instead of her contacts to complete the look.
“You look horrid, Elizabessy,” I teased.
“Almost as bad as you Katrinka,” she shot back.
“Well, don’t worry about snagging a date or anything tonight. You will repel every man within ten miles,” I told her.
“What? You don’t think the turtleneck hugging my double chin will get me some attention?” She pretended to look aghast and smooshed her chin into her neckline.
Savannah came in the room with us and looked startled, “Aunt Bess, really? I thought you were a little more socially aware than this.”
I laughed. “That means she thought you were cool.”
“Oh? You mean off the chain?” Bess tried to make a gangster pose. It didn’t work.
Savannah looked puzzled. “What chain?”
The doorbell rang in that moment and we were ready to greet guests. Chase opened the door and people began to pour through. Some people only stayed at the Tacky Tinsel party for the food and gift exchange, while others practically stayed all night. I did my best to greet everyone, trying to talk to as many people as possible. Chase and I knew how to work a room, and Delia and Frankie Ann were always demi-hosts as well, refilling glasses of tea and putting out more crackers for the pimento cheese ball.
Over the course of the night, people would be able to nominate others for tackiest outfit by putting their name into a box. About an hour after the party starts, Chase announces the top five people nominated. They all come forward for a final vote by applause.
This year the people nominated were Bess, Chase’s coworker Fred Meyers, Bellamy mayor Carolann Crandall, fireman Brad Collins, and a young man I did not know named Preston Gibbes.
“Gibbes?” I asked. I looked to Delia. Gibbes was her maiden name.
“Preston is my cousin. He’s here for the weekend,” Delia explained.
Preston, a tall, young drink of water with bleached blond hair, smiled. Lord have mercy, he had dimples. “I hope you don’t mind I’m here,” he said with a deep southern drawl. “I’m interviewing with a company up here and Delia said you wouldn’t mind.”
I blushed. I couldn’t help it. “Of course not. I’m thrilled you’re here.” I turned my attention back to the matter at hand. “Let’s see who wins this year’s award!”
After a round of applause, Bess was declared the winner. She accepted her bottle of sparkling cider and fruit cake quite graciously. We were chatting in the time before the gift exchange when Preston Gibbes approached us.
“I do hope it’s okay that Delia brought me. She’s spoken of your gatherings often,” he said. There were those dimples again.
I smiled. “Delia’s family is my family, Mr. Gibbes. Have you met my sister, Bess Jameson?”
Bess, raised in a proper Southern family, extended her right hand, palm down. Those cotillion classes Momma made us take had taught us something at least. Preston, for his part, knew exactly what to do. He gently took and lifted her hand, pressing it lightly to his lips.
“It’s an honor Miss Jameson,” he said. Their eyes met. It was like a romance movie.
I watched as my baby sister blushed bright pink in her marmish outfit. “Please call me Bess.”
Anyone could see the sparks flying from between them. They almost blinded me. I quickly chimed in, “You’re interviewing for a job? What is it you do?”
“I’m a computer engineer. I graduated from Clemson three years ago and have been working with a small company in Beaufort, but I want to come back to the Upstate,” Preston told us. “How about you, Bess?”
He didn’t ask me what I did for a living. I raise four little people is what I do, but still, he didn’t ask.
“I’m a pediatric nurse in Columbia,” she said. “I also went to Clemson. I graduated two years ago.”
That began a whole new conversation and I excused myself to set up for the gift exchange. Delia came over to help me.
“They look happy.”
I giggled. “They are falling all over each other,” I said, stealing a glance. “How old is Preston?”
“He’ll be twenty-five in the spring. And it looks like this company really wants him,” she replied.
“Bess just turned twenty-three. But I got married at twenty-two.”
Frankie Ann joined us. “Married? Let them find out each other’s favorite food before you have them walking down the aisle.” She popped an olive in her mouth.
“I know, but look at them,” I shrugged.
“Let’s get this gift exchange over. I gotta get my rowdy kids home. My parents are coming in tomorrow with my sister and brother,“ Frankie Ann sighed. “Tony has been in Italy for the past six months.”
“Is he back home? I know you miss him.” Delia asked.
“I do. I miss all of them. But with Angelia getting married next year, I know things will change again, like when I got married and moved away. So I’m happy for this Christmas with just us.”
I finally had the gift exchange ready, so I called everyone over to get started.
“When it’s your turn, you can choose an unopened gift or steal a gift. The rules are, you can steal a gift, but you can’t steal it back. After two steals, a gift stays where it is,” I explained. I looked to my oldest child, who was handling the kids’ exchange. She nodded that she was ready. “Okay then! Everyone has a number on the bottom of their glass. Who’s number one?”
People laughed and chattered as the gifts were opened and stolen. Giggles arose when old Mr. Gaston opened a box that contained a calendar of firemen with puppies. And even more giggles erupted when Mayor Crandall stole it from him.
From the corner of my eye, I watched Bess and Preston Gibbes sit knee to knee. They were watching the festivities, but were obviously talking in their own world. I sighed. Those days of puppy love were so intense for Chase and me – I missed them sometimes.
When my turn came I slowly perused the opened gifts and decided to steal a lovely little angel figurine. As I was the second to steal it, it was now mine for good. I knew exactly where she would go in Magnolia’s room.
The evening wound down and people began to leave. Frankie Ann and her brood made a hasty exit after the exchange. Most of the families with young children opted to leave at that time, with just the childless or lucky ones with babysitters staying to chat and eat more food. Someone had found the piano in the dining room and was playing a soft and slow rendition of Silent Night.
I coaxed Caroline and Magnolia up to bed with promises of making gingerbread houses the next day. I told Jace and Savannah they got to stay up another hour then they had to go to bed as well.
Oh my way back down to the kitchen, I overheard two voices whispering. One sounded like Bess. Heaven help me, I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but I didn’t exactly turn away either.
“I’ve never felt like this before,” Bess admitted.
I wished I could see them. What were they doing? Momma would kill me if she knew Bess was canoodling in my house.
The low Southern drawl came forward then, “It’s like we’ve known each other for ages, Bess.”
I rolled my eyes. It was like a Hallmark movie in my corridor. I snuck forward a little so I could see them. They were standing close together, but I couldn’t get a good look. I think Preston had a hand on Bess’s cheek. Bless their hearts.
Next thing I know, their heads come together and they kiss. It was light and quick, but still. I looked away before clearing my throat and calling out, “Bess? Are you in the kitchen, sweetie?”
It took a second, but she replied as I came into the corridor myself. “Oh, hi, Kate.” She fumbled over her words. “Did you need something?”
I smiled at them. Both red-cheeked. Caught you, I thought. “I think we’re out of tea in the front. But I’ll grab it.” I winked at her as I went by.
Back in the living room with the tea, Delia said they were leaving. Nathan rounded the kids up and ushered them to the door.
“Preston is in the corridor with Bess,” I told her.
“Should I cover my eyes when I approach?”
“Give a warning signal at least,” I advised with a laugh.
“Oh boy. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, Kate. Lovely party.”
I nodded. “Thanks, Delia. Goodnight.”
When the party was over, Bess told Chase and me that Preston had asked her to dinner for the following night. She was giddy with excitement. Chase rubbed my shoulder and winked at me as my sister’s heart did back flips.
After Bess went upstairs, Chase looked at me and said, “You know, Kate, I still feel that excited when I see you.”
I nestled into his shoulder. “Do you?”
“You know it. You’re my everything. I love you.”
I smiled and breathed him in. “I love you, too.” And I prayed my sister would find the same kind of love I had.