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“Thanks for letting me crash your Christmas Eve Party. Nice house you have,” I sat on the couch across from the hosts of the party and was on my third or fourth eggnog. It was ten-thirty at night and the other partygoers were long gone by this point. The same cheerful Christmas songs played over and over again.
“I was never one for Christmas,” I added one more eggnog to the count. “Always too cheerful. Maybe because I didn’t have a happy family like yours. I watched how you and your little girl get along. You love your daddy and mommy don’t you?” The little girl slowly nodded her head. Her innocent eyes stared at me. I walked closer to her, but she tried to hide behind her father. “I don’t blame you,” I took my seat back on the couch and addressed the girl, “I’m a stranger in your home. Let me introduce myself. My name is Luis Lake.” The girl now leaned on her mother’s arm. I shrugged my shoulders and smiled towards her father. He seemed like a good guy from all the family pictures in the room. I walked over to what I assumed was the newest picture. It was their Christmas card and read, “Happy Holidays from our happy family to yours. With lots of love, The Wilsons.”
“See, this is nice,” I held the picture and studied it.
“Father...mother...daughter. I was an only child too. At first, I thought being the only child would mean I would get more Christmas presents, but it didn’t. Christmas time was the worst growing up. My dad would work long hours and was always so stressed and tense. Sometimes he lashed out on me,” I rubbed my arm where he used to hit me. “My mom didn’t work. She was always too drunk to hold a job. One Christmas, I remember I was eight-years-old, probably little older than you are now,” I pointed at the girl. “All I wanted was a puppy. Every day, I would beg my father for a dog, promising to walk it and feed it and take good care of it. Weeks before Christmas, my dad worked extra hard. He got up early in the morning and didn’t see him till late at night. I knew he was working extra hard so he can get me what I wanted. With the little money I had saved, I bought a leash and a food bowl from the mini market on the corner of my street. I couldn’t wait till Christmas Day.” I placed the picture back and helped myself to another cup of eggnog. I think it was cup six, but after the first two large cups, I lost count.
“Christmas Day had finally arrived. My dad has only been asleep for a couple hours before I woke him up. I remember jumping on the bed. ‘It’s Christmas! It’s Christmas!’ I shouted. Mom grabbed her ‘too much to drink the night before’ cure, a glass of water and aspirin. I think I dragged them off the bed and pulled them to the living room. Our small tree was now hovering over a few gifts. I probably checked to see if Santa ate the cookies before rushing over to the tree. Mom added something special to her coffee, Dad was nodding off on the couch, and I tore open the gifts. Socks. Underwear. Toothbrush. Hair comb. Toy race car. Baseball cards. And one gift was left. I knew it had to be a dog. Carefully, I opened the box. You know what was inside it?” I waited for an answer, but their mouths were sealed shut. “A stuffed toy dog. A damn toy. I remember yelling and crying. ‘I wanted a real dog!’ I screamed over and over again. ‘Sweetie money is tight. You know your father works hard to pay the bills,’” I tried to mimic my mother’s voice. “I saw the rage in Dad’s eyes, but I insisted that all I wanted was a real dog. I will never forget what Dad did next.” I stood up taller and deepened my voice, “‘You want a real dog! Then you’ll get one,’” I sat back on the couch, “Dad left. He was gone for hours. Mom was sobbing and I don’t remember what I was doing. I was probably getting ready to meet my new friend. Hours went by and still no sign of Dad. Mom was yelling and crying and of course drinking. Within the next hour or so, Dad came home. ‘Here, I hit it with my car. Merry Freaking Christmas.’ In front of me was a dead dog.” I stood up and refilled my cup. I looked at Mrs. Wilson and noticed the horror in her eyes. “That was the last Christmas we celebrated as a family.”
I walked over to the mirror above the couch I was sitting on. After adjusting my red hat and fake white beard, I stood next to the fireplace. “Little Gracie,” I admired her sparkling purple stocking. “What a pretty name.” I noticed some desserts were left out. “It’s a quarter after eleven, almost Christmas and I am being all depressing.” I stuck my finger in the cheesecake and then in my mouth. “This is the best thing I have ever tried. Between this and the eggnog, you are the greatest cook. You are one lucky man!” I held my cup up. Mr. Wilson looked at me and nodded his head. “My old lady used to cook good for me, steak every Friday. She was the best. We met at a supermarket in the cheese aisle. I might have said a pun like ‘Is it too cheesy to say I believe in love at first slice.’” I paused. I wanted the pun to sit with them for a little while before continuing. “From that point on we were in love. We dated for three years and that was the best years of my life. When we met I was eighteen and I moved out of my parents’ home right away. She was the only family I needed. Can you believe our first Christmas together she bought me a dog? A freaking dog! I was beyond happy. Man! She was perfect... till she wasn’t. A month before we split she told me she was pregnant. I was going to be dad. I would have been the best god-damn dad ever.”
I walked around the room again and looked at the baby pictures of Gracie and what I thought were cousins of hers. I picked up the one of her and Mr. Wilson. “This could have been me with my kid. Anyway, back to the story. So she is pregnant and I wanted her to know that I would have supported her. I bought the best ring that I could afford and this Santa outfit. I made up some excuse for not being home for the holidays. Probably work related, but that’s not important. It was the middle of the night on Christmas Eve, well,” I placed the picture back down and walked over to the Wilsons, “I guess you can say it was Christmas.” The family were tied up in the story. They listened to every word I had to say, almost as if their lives depended on what I had to say next. “I was dressed like Old St. Nick and was going to ask her to be my Mrs. Claus,” I was the only one that laughed at my own joke. “That’s when I caught her in bed with another Santa. She told me she was not happy and some other bullshit. Blah... Blah... Blah. What really set me off was when she told me the baby wasn’t mine.” I throw my empty drinking glass into the fireplace. “That bitch! And I loved her you know. I was so pissed that when I pulled out of the driveway, I didn’t notice our dog.”
The hallway clocked chimed. “It’s twelve. You know what that means?” I looked at Gracie. “It’s Christmas. I guess it’s time to go.” Gracie muffled out a cry. “Oh don’t cry.” I pulled out a knife from my pocket and walked over to the Wilsons. Gracie’s parents tried to shield her, but their restraints made it hard. I stood behind them and placed my hands on the parents’ shoulders. I leaned down to whisper, “This won’t hurt one bit.”