Shannon hates Christmas. Mostly because Christmas hates him. It sure seems like it, anyway: every crummy thing that’s happened to him since high school has befallen him at the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Every humiliating break-up, every high-rise hotel fire—heck, a few years back, one guy he had the hots for up and died. Which goes a long way toward explaining why he’s a whimpering mess when he meets Ben the barista one Christmas morning at his neighborhood coffee house. It doesn’t completely excuse his using Ben’s T-shirt as a handkerchief—while Ben’s still in it—but Ben’s nothing if not a good sport. Ben’s such a bright spot that after a while Shannon wonders if maybe his Christmas Curse hasn’t been lifted. And what better place to test this theory than at Ben’s family festivities? It’s not like Christmas is actually cursed.
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“What kind of person dumps you on Christmas?!”
“Only the worst kind,” I assure him. “A heartless monster. An evil queen. Maybe a serial killer…?”
“He waited until I gave him his present.”
“He did not.”
Must not have been a very good one, I am careful not to say. But he sees it on my face.
“It was a scarf. A really nice one. Long and soft, his favorite colors. I made it for him.”
“And do you know how to make scarves…?” I ask.
He laughs in spite of himself. “It was gorgeous, thank you for asking. Gorgeous enough—he took it with him.”
“And what did he get you?”
“I don’t know. He took that with him, too. He said seeing as how we were through, there was no reason Bed Bath and Beyond shouldn’t give him a refund.”
“You’re kidding, of course.”
He sniffles, shaking his head. “He even took the sweet potatoes I made. We were gonna go to his mom’s house? That’s the reason he came over, was to get me to go over there? I gave him the scarf, he put it on, said ‘There’s someone else,’ then took the sweet potatoes. ‘I mean, you did make them for her, right?’”
“’There’s someone else?’” I mimic.
“He wants to be exclusive, right, this other guy? ‘Otherwise, you know, we could totally stay together.’ I’m like, wait, we haven’t been exclusive? He goes, ‘I don’t know about you, but I sure haven’t.’ He actually laughed, then he said ‘Thanks for the scarf’ and he walked out.”
“With the sweet potatoes?”
“With the sweet potatoes.”
“And this was when?”
He shrugs. “I don’t know, maybe two hours ago.”
“Well I’d say you’re holding up remarkably well,” I commend him. “I feel like sacrificing a shirt is the least I can do for a guy when he’s that down on his luck.”
“Yeah, well, thanks. Just another Christmas. I fuckin’ hate this holiday.”
I gasp, only partly in fun. “You hate Christmas? Who hates Christmas?” He looks at me like Am I gonna need to tell that story again?, and I hasten to commiserate. “Okay, yeah, I get that today might not be Santa’s best work.”
“It’s always something.”
“Just the last three years, okay? Let’s see… last year my boyfriend got arrested going through airport security. We were going to Mexico, you know, spend Christmas sipping margaritas by the pool? He dumped me when I wouldn’t tell the TSA all the heroin in his bag was prescribed by my doctor for my ‘brain pain.’ Fine. Year before that, my boyfriend takes me home to Philadelphia to meet his family. His parents come to the airport to pick us up, his mom gets one look at me and asks me, ‘Are you trying to make a fool of me? Shannon is a woman’s name.’ Then she says to him, ‘You’re not bringing any sexual deviant into my house.’ He tells her, ‘Mom, I’m gay,’ and she says ‘Not if you want the trip to Europe we got you for Christmas you’re not.’ Thirty-one years old, he goes, ‘I’ll send you a postcard’ and leaves me standing in the Philadelphia airport.”
He’s kind of crying, but he’s kind of laughing, too. Probably because I’m cracking up. I can’t stop saying, “No he didn’t.”
“Year before that? Straight up and died on me, December 20th.”
“What?!” I swear I try to stop laughing.
“Okay, we might not have been technically boyfriends,” he allows. “But we were friends—well, our sisters were friends—and I wanted to be boyfriends.”
“That is quite a track record.”
“Don’t get me started.”
“This is just a preview of your beef with Christmas?”
“It’s like I said, I hate this holiday.”