Chapter no 7

If He Had Been with Me

So why have you been wearing that tiara?” Finny says. The way he says it reminds me of the way he asked me why I dyed my hair, but for some reason it pisses me off this time.

“Because I like it,” I say. It is Christmas Eve, and we are setting the dining room table with my mother’s wedding china. My father is drinking scotch in front of the Christmas tree. The Mothers are in the kitchen.

“Okay, sorry,” he says. I glance over him. He’s wearing a red sweater that would look dorky on any other guy but makes him look like he should attend a private school on the East Coast and spend his summers rowing or something. He’s walking around the table laying a napkin at every place. I follow behind with the silverware.

“Sorry,” I say.

“It’s cool,” Finny says. It’s hard to make him angry. “It’s just that I get asked that enough at school.” “Then why do you wear it?”

“Because I like it,” I say, but this time I smile and he laughs.

At dinner, The Mothers let us have half a glass of wine each. I am secretly giddy to be treated like an adult, and the wine makes me sleepy. My father spends a lot of time talking to Finny about being the only freshman on the varsity team. He seems pleased to have something to talk about with one of us, as if Finny and I are interchangeable, as if his duty to either of us is the same. It’s easy to understand why he would think that way; the only time he is ever home for an extended amount of time is for

the holidays, and Finny and Aunt Angelina are always with us then. Perhaps he thinks Aunt Angelina is his other wife.

Mom and Aunt Angelina talk about every Christmas they can ever remember and compare them to this Christmas. This is what they do every year. Every year, it’s the best Christmas ever.

I wish I could always believe that it is the best Christmas ever, but I can’t, because I know when the best Christmas was. It was the Christmas when we were twelve, our last Christmas in elementary school.

It snowed the night before Christmas Eve that year. I had a new winter coat and mittens that matched my scarf. Finny and I walked down to the creek and stomped holes in the ice down to the shallow water. The Mothers made us hot chocolate and we played Monopoly until my dad came home from The Office and nothing mattered except that it was Christmas.

It hasn’t snowed for Christmas since then, and every year there has been more and more other things that matter, and it has felt less and less like Christmas.

Jamie is spending Christmas with his grandmother in Wisconsin, and I am pleased to be missing him. It is a dull ache that I enjoy prodding.

Jamie, I think, Jamie, Jamie, James, and I remember his tongue in my mouth. I don’t like it as much as I thought I would, but I’m getting used to it. I tell him that I love him all the time now, and he hasn’t said anything else about having sex. He gave me a new journal for Christmas, and even though I haven’t filled up my old one yet, I’m going to start it on New Year’s. He’ll be home by then and we’ll spend it together. Jamie, Jamie, Jamie.

“Autumn,” my father says, “are you the sugar plum fairy this year?” There is a silence at the table as I try to understand what he means. Then I see my mother bite her lip, and I realize he is talking about my tiara. He has not noticed that I have worn this tiara every day for the past three weeks. I take a breath.

“Yeah,” I say. “Just thought I’d make the dinner a little more festive.” He smiles at me and takes a bite of ham. He is pleased with himself. My

mother says something to Finny, and slowly the conversation at the table resumes. After a few minutes, I excuse myself and go to my room.

I’ve bought some posters: Jimi Hendrix rolling on stage with his guitar, Ophelia drowned and looking up at the sky, a black and white photo of a tree without leaves. I like the effect they have on the lavender and white room, like the corset and the cardigan, like my tiara with ripped jeans. I don’t look at the posters though. I lie down on the bed and look at the ceiling.

When someone knocks on my door, I pretend I’m asleep. A moment later, the door opens anyway and Finny sticks his head in.

“Hey,” he says. “They said to tell you that we’re done eating.”

“Okay,” I say, but I do not move. I am waiting for him to leave. He doesn’t though; he keeps standing there like I’m supposed to do something. I do nothing. I look at the ceiling until he speaks again.

“It really sucks that he hasn’t noticed,” Finny says.

“At least my father’s around for Christmas,” I say. His expression changes only for an instant. Then it is as if a door has closed again.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” I say.

“It’s fine,” he says. “Everybody is waiting downstairs.”

After he leaves, I lie in bed a little longer. I think about telling Finny how I don’t care, and how it hurts, and how it doesn’t really matter to me but I wish it mattered to my dad. I imagine that suddenly Finny is holding me and telling me it is okay, and he’s saying that you can feel more than one way about a person. We go downstairs and he holds my hand while we watch It’s a Wonderful Life together on the couch. When he and Aunt Angelina leave, he kisses me good night on the porch, and we see that it is starting to snow.

I swing my legs over the side of the bed, wipe my eyes, and go downstairs.

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