It is their first Christmas as a married couple. They are spending it in Corpus Christi with the man’s parents. Stephen and Lydia are planning to stop by in another hour or so. The presents are all unwrapped, and everyone is now exhausted from the excitement wearing off.
Around 3 pm, Lauren says, “I’m supposed to call my family in a few minutes for Christmas.”
“Sure, babe,” he says. “If you need privacy, there’s a phone you can plug into a jack in the guest bedroom upstairs. It’s in the office on my mom’s desk.”
“Sounds good, thanks,” she says and gets up.
The house smells of ham and cheesy potato casserole. As she disappears, the man’s mother appears from the master bedroom.
“Smells like the food is ready,” she says, moving toward the kitchen.
Dad emerges from the bedroom as well. “Shall we put on It’s a Wonderful Life, then?”
Mom says, “Dinner is ready, so sure. I’ll leave it all on the counter, and you all can get it whenever you want.”
Ruthanne says, “I’ll have some in a while. I filled up too much on stocking candy.”
The man rises, “Well, I’m starving. So I’m getting some now.”
Soon after, he comes back with his plate of ham and potatoes. He eats while the movie plays. Dad eats also, while Mom plays on a Game Boy.
Twenty to thirty minutes after he has finished his food, Lauren returns from her call and sits next to him.
“Hey,” she says. “When are we eating?”
“There’s food in the kitchen. Ham. Cheesy potato casserole. My mom makes the best casserole. Help yourself.”
She pulls back from him. “Did you already eat?”
“I don’t know. Dad did. Ruthanne wasn’t hungry.”
“You all had Christmas dinner without me?”
“I mean, I guess I did. Why? What’s wrong?”
“Christmas dinner. You ate Christmas dinner without me. Your whole family got together and sat down and ate Christmas dinner. Without me.”
“Uh, we didn’t really get together. Mom got the food out, and we ate some.”
“I mean, you can eat whenever you want.”
“Am I not part of the family?”
“Of course, you are. Just eat whenever you want.”
“I can’t believe you would do this. You didn’t even think to call me down for dinner.”
“I really don’t understand. Christmas dinner is no big deal. We don’t sit down at the table. There’s no set time. Mom doesn’t want to work. She makes the casserole a day or two before. She throws a ham in and heats the casserole, and then she leaves it out on the counter, and we eat whenever. Sometimes Dad eats in the kitchen, sometimes in the front room. Sometimes we watch a movie. What am I missing here?”
She is quiet and looks at him. Then she smiles. “Oh. I thought you did it like my family. A big sitdown meal. And I thought you left me out.”
He laughs. “Do you even know me?”
“Shut up,” she says. “Where are the plates again?”
“Above the dishwasher.”