Jenna stopped celebrating the Holidays years ago but her boyfriend Matt loved it. He was the type to wear a santa hat at Thanksgiving dinner and watch dozens of Christmas movies on cable. Jenna thought it was cute; however not cute enough to get her in the Holiday spirit.
“Come on, you’re meeting my family for the first time. Look alive!” Matt made jazz hands in front of Jenna.
“I am alive. You can’t expect me to have your energy.”
“No, I don’t. I wish you’d seem more excited.”
“I am.” She was lying. No part of her wanted to meet his family. “Family.” The word spun around in her head. After bouncing from foster home to foster home, then aging out of the system, she couldn’t tell you what family was.
“Ok, then shimmy shimmy into that closet, put on your best dress, and come out here with your game face on.”
Jenna smiled. “Ok, sir!”
Jenna loved Matt more than she could ever truly express. This was the first time she would be meeting the family of one of her boyfriends. She was a runner. She would find any reason to dump a guy just to avoid such a huge step.
“Lookie, lookie!” Matt said with a mischievous grin.
Jenna came out of the walk-in closet pulling down her halter top ruby-red dress. It hugged her body from neck to waist and flared at the bottom. “You like?” She spun around.
“Oh, me likie!” Matt said in a weird accent. He pushed hair away from her face, he was standing in front of her now. “You look beautiful baby.” He cupped her hands in his. He could feel her trembling . “Don’t worry, you’ll do fine. They’ll love you as much as I do.”
Jenna gave him a nervous smile.
Once they had finished getting ready they hopped in the car. Matt mad a quick call to his mother to let her know they were on their way,then he headed over.
Jenna answered questions about his family and asked some of her own. She matched names with faces from pictures in his phone. She was beyond nervous.
When they pulled up to his mother’s driveway Jenna’s stomach instantly grew knots. She wanted to push Matt out of the driver’s seat, start the car and drive off. She played that scene out in her head multiple times before telling Matt she was ready.
“Ok.” Matt said in a soft voice. He couldn’t help but admire his lady. She was amazing. For the first time he wasn’t afraid to bring a girlfriend home.
Matt made his way around the car and came to a stop at Jenna’s side. He took her hand and gave it a light kiss. They walked up to the front door and Matt rang the doorbell.
“Matt!” It was aunt Jackie who opened the door. She was loud and blunt and drank way more than she should for her size. “My gosh, Jenna you are a looker! Good job this time Matt.” She hit Matt on the arm as she gave Jenna a hug, who had to stoop down because Jackie was so short.
They followed Jackie into the living room. There was about 25 adults and children. Jenna again wanted to make a run for it.
“Look everyone its Matt and… JENNA!” Aunt Jackie stuck out her hands gesturing at Jenna.
Everyone got up to meet her. She was greeted by 23 hugs. The youngest members of the family, two month old twins girls, the just gave her gummy smiles.
“We were just talking about you two. I said to Jackie, ‘If Matt only knew the line up of baby pictures I’m going to show Jenna, he’d have hid them weeks ago.'” Matt’s mother chuckled.
Jenna smiled nervously, her hands were shaking. She hoped they wouldn’t ask about her baby pictures or her family. Telling people your mom was a druggie that sold you for some heroine, was a real conversation killer.
Matt had already briefed his mother about Jenna’s past and she relayed it to the rest of the family. They wanted to make her feel welcomed not uncomfortable.
“No pictures mother. And the ones with me in the buff need to be burned.” Matt joked.
“Not on your life. You two sit down, find a spot. I made some hot cocoa. Shelly, May, and David are giving cups out.”
Jenna sipped her hot cocoa, there was a hint of mint in it. “This is really good.” She said shyly.
“Thank you.” Matt’s mom replied.
Slowly Jenna came out of her shell. She helped decorate the Christmas tree, something Matt’s family always did on Christmas eve. She laughed and joked with everyone, she held the twins while their parents danced to “Santa baby”, she helped Matt’s mother in the kitchen. She felt good, she felt wanted, she felt like she belonged.
Matt watched as Jenna glowed with excitement. He had hoped she’d show this side of herself. He knew she was no longer afraid of being judged for her past. He could tell that she wasn’t focused on that anymore.
“You are awesome aunt Jenna!” One of Matt’s nieces said as she placed a butterfly clip in Jenna’s hair.
“Aunt?” Jenna played with the idea. No one corrected her, no one even batted an eye.
“Family picture time!” Jackie shouted.
“I’ll take it.” Jenna volunteered.
“Take it? Girl, that’s why we have timers. You’re part of the family too. How are we going to take a picture without one of the members?” Jackie starred at Jenna.
“Come on!” Matt’s mom took Jenna’s hand and led her in front of the fireplace.
Jenna stood next to Matt. He placed his arm around her and winked.
“Everybody say cheese in 5…4…3…” Jackie rushed over to everyone so she’d beat the timer.
Jenna had the biggest smile of them all. She imagined being rejected by Matt’s family. She thought they’d ask about her life. Nothing could have prepared her for this. She was treated like they knew her forever. This was a family. Now it was her family and it was the best Christmas gift she had ever received. Santa finally came through this year and she couldn’t be happier.