It was Christmas time, which meant one of many things at the Harding house; red and blue lights neatly decorated the shutters hiding the dead leaves of fall.
Scot Harding, twenty seven, dressed warmly and with a multicolored scarf wrapped around his neck, stood on the front porch holding two large bags of presents. He was motionless, letting the snow puddle on his recently cleaned jacket as he simply stared to the front door.
“It’s your house,” Ruth said. “You going to knock, or go in?” Scott turned. Ruth stood two feet behind him. Her face was wrapped up in a scarf, a solid black, and her jacket was so thick it made it difficult to see what she actually looked like. Scott then smiled and kissed the top of Ruth’s left cheek, the only exposed skin he could find. He knocked on the door.
Inside, three small children ran to Scott and grabbed hold of his legs.
“Uncle Scott!” they all said, and they jumped up and down, trying to reach the bags of presents now held high above their heads.
“Not until tomorrow, little munchkins,” Scott said. And they laughed and yelled and continued to run in circles. One of the children, a little girl who was clearly the oldest, slowly walked to Ruth, one tiny step after the other.
“Hi, Ruth,” the little girl said. And there was silence. Ruth unwrapped her scarf, exposing her tanned skin and sharp features. She then bent down and lifted the little girl up into her arms.
“Well, the prince is home!” Scott's father said, now walking to the front door. He was bald, with a similar figure to Scott, once you added thirty pounds. He hugged Scott, and then kissed Ruth on her left cheek.
“You’re the last ones,” the father said. He then patted his round belly, covered with a red sweater, the same sweater he wore every Christmas.
In the living room, more people spread out on fluffy couches and chairs, forming a neat circle around a large Christmas tree and fire place. When Scott and Ruth entered, however, everyone stood. They clapped, smiled, and gave either a handshake or kiss.
“The artist is home!” Scott’s older brother said, and he patted Scott’s back. He too wore a red sweater.
With that, babies cried, children laughed, and adults talked, forming a cloud of sound that settled on top of the room. Scott simply smiled and looked all around. A fire blazed, giving warmth to the house, the Christmas tree flickered, and over a dozen handmade stockings covered with intricate designs of stars and snowflakes hung from a nearby shelf. On top of the shelf were pictures, all of which were of the family in this room. Some of the pictures were from Christmas’s before this, with the same people smiling and kissing and shaking hands like they were doing today.
A camera flash went off in the background.
“Is that my baby?” a voice said. Scott turned and saw his mother standing in the doorway of the kitchen. He had seen her in this exact position so many times in his life; only her age kept changing.
Scott walked to her. The room became quiet, and even the babies knew to stop crying. Ruth stood next to Scott’s father, watching every move.
“Hi, Mom,” Scott said, and they slowly hugged. The mother’s face now rested against Scott’s chest, for she was more than a foot shorter than him. She then looked up, smiled, and wiped a tear from her right cheek.
“I knew you’d be wearing the scarf I made,” she said.
Dinner was served in the dining room, which was reserved for occasion only such as this. Christmas plates and Christmas cups were at each place setting, filled with beautiful food and drinks enjoyed by the entire family, tightly packed into the large room.
Scott sat next to Ruth in the middle of the table, surrounded by children. Scott’s mother sat directly across from Scott, smiling, silently listening to the conversations. And Scott’s father was at the head, continually chewing his food and nodding his bald head.
“They just don’t understand the process,” Scott’s brother said, sitting just to the right of his father. “Brokers and agents do the same type of work, but brokers are licensed, they manage their own estates. Agents have to work with brokers. They provide their services on a contract.”
Scott’s father chewed his food and nodded his bald head.
“So the broker pays the agent a portion of the commission earned from the sale,” Scott’s sister in-law said. She had a baby on her lap, which she fed with a bottle as she occasionally ate and added sporadic bits of a dialogue.
“Just move back from across town,” Scott’s sister said. “That’s all we care about real estate.” She too had a baby on her lap.
“We’re only 50 minutes away,” Scott’s brother said.
“Yeah, but that baby is going to need cousins to play with soon,” Scott’s sister said. “You want to drive 50 minutes back and forth for play dates?” The children then laughed and made messes of their food, while Scott’s mother smiled and stared all around the table, at each of her children and grandchildren.
“I want more monster paintings!” one of Scott’s nephews said, covered with red spaghetti sauce. Turkey was served for dinner, but the children each had special meals based on their very specific taste restrictions.
“A monster painting?” Scott’s sister said.
“Like the one Uncle Scott made!” Scott’s nephew said. “I want a new one with new monsters!”
And the children laughed louder. They raised their arms, yelled, and a baby started to cry.
“Well, Uncle,” Scott’s sister said. “Could we get another masterpiece?”
“Of course,” Scott’s mother said. “Scott can paint anything! It’s always perfect.” She smiled, blushed, and Ruth took hold of Scott’s hand.
“How’s all that stuff going, anyway,” Scott’s brother said. “The…painting?”
“Wonderful, I’m sure,” Scott’s mother said. “Every time people come over they say how amazing your work is.”
Scott’s brother smiled. He looked at his wife and nodded his head, which was beginning to bald just like his fathers. Everyone was now quiet, waiting for Scott to speak, who took a large sip of water from his Christmas cup and awkwardly smiled.
“Everything is the best it’s ever been,” Scott said. The mother sighed, and Scott moved Ruth’s hand up to the table, showing everyone that he was holding it.
“Well, I was going to wait for tomorrow,” Scott said. “But…” And there was a long pause. He stared at Ruth. Scott’s mother closed her eyes.
“I’m pregnant,” Ruth said, and after the shortest pause imaginable, everyone cheered. More handshakes and more kisses. The women, still holding their babies, quickly moved to Ruth and began asking dozens of questions and staring at her belly, one of the few appropriate times to ever do this. And the men all moved to Scott and firmly shook his hand, which is what men always did in situations like this.
“When did you find out?” Scott’s father said to the room.
“Just three weeks ago,” Ruth said. “We wanted to tell everyone together.” And there was more celebrating. The long table was now empty, covered with half eaten food.
“Good for you, little brother,” Scott’s brother said. “This is what you needed.” He patted Scott’s back and then walked over to Ruth. Everyone now surrounded her, allowing Scott to stare at his entire family, at all the familiar faces he had watched age over the years. And it was then he noticed his mother was gone, the only person not celebrating. Scott slowly backed away from the room, letting the cheers echo behind him, until he reached the living room and saw his mother sitting alone on a fluffy couch. She wasn’t staring at the Christmas tree or fire place, however, but at a large painting Scott had given her six years earlier, which hung on a side wall.
“Mom?” Scott said.
And she was silent, completely still, continuing to look up at the painting.
“Are you okay, Mom?” More silence. Scott moved to her side and saw her face, expressionless like the dead.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Scott said. He paused. He stared back and forth between his mother and the hallway leading back to the dining room. “But I’m going to start taking classes again,” Scott said. “I’ll find something better to take care of us.”
Scott moved closer, though he never sat down. “And I’ve already been saving for a ring.”
Scott’s mother suddenly sighed. She smiled, but kept facing the painting, listening to the familiar cheers still playing in the background.
“You were supposed to be different,” the mother said.
And there was a pause. Scott opened his mouth, but only exhaled. He then stared out of a side window, at another house in the distance with blue and red lights neatly decorating its shutters.