I sit back down and notice all ten heads of my family are watching us, examining me, waiting for the breakdown they all know is coming. I hold back the urge to roll my eyes at them.
“Did he really hit you?” My ten-year-old cousin, Molly, finally gets up the courage to ask.
“Yup.” I reply, picking at my nails.
Clucking of tongues and disapproving head shakes pass around the room.
“Wow, so the bruising on your cheek is from him?” Uncle Ned shoots Molly a warning glance to not be so nosy, while everyone else leans in with great interest. “What? We all want to know exactly what happened, I'm just the only one brave enough to ask.” Nobody disagrees.
“Yeah, it is,” I say, responding to her question. More tsks and frowns come from my family. “I'm going to see if my mom needs any help.”
They all nod in understanding, and I can tell they think I'm leaving to shed tears.
As soon as I leave their prying eyes I hear the soft whispers of their gossip.
“She's barely holding on.”
“Wouldn't you be? They were together for almost two years.”
“I never thought Will would be the type of guy to do something like that.”
I pick up my pace so I don't have to hear any more.
I let out a loud sigh and slump against the main wall of the kitchen. This evening has been the longest of my life and it's only thirty minutes in.
Ugh. Family is exhausting.
My mom's pulling out the ham when she starts to speak to me over her shoulder, “Everything alright?”
“Yeah, I just needed to get away from that room and everyone’s sympathetic faces.”
She closes the oven door and walks over to me, cupping her hand over my non-bruised cheek. Her honey-colored eyes (which are identical to my own) are wearing the same pity as the claustrophobic room I'd just left. “They love you and are concerned. It's barely been three weeks since it happened. How are you holding up?”
“I'm fine!” I throw my hands up in frustration, “I'm tired of everyone thinking I'm going to have a mental breakdown at any second.”
“No need to get snippy,” my mom huffs, resuming her cooking.
“Sorry. Can I help with anything?”
“Sure,” she walks over to the counter by the sink. “Can you please...” She trails off, frowning when something out the window catches her eye. She squints and leans over the sink to get a better view. “Oh, my. Taco Bell? On Christmas?” Her frown deepens and her eyebrows knit together in worriment.
“What?” I ask, coming closer to see out the window, scanning all around our quiet cul-de-sac.
“The new neighbor across the street came home with Taco Bell in his hand,” she breathes out, covering her mouth like this is the worst thing to ever happen on Christmas.
“So, it's Christmas. No one should be alone on Christmas. Go over there and invite him over.” She starts pushing me out of the kitchen, “Hurry, before he starts eating that garbage.”
“We had that garbage two nights ago,” I point out, firmly planting my feet to the floor.
“Well the other night wasn't Christmas. Now go!” She commands.
“We don't even know the guy,” I whine in protest. Knocking on a complete stranger's door to invite him over to share a holiday meal with my family does not sound like fun to me.
“Know who?” My thirteen year old brother, Seth, inquires, munching on a big bag of chips, placing his ever present skateboard on the kitchen wall.