“Where’s Auntie Willis?” Stephanie looked up from her book at one of her random cousins. Carlton or Charles or Isaac. One of the boys. She had a difficult time sorting out which one belonged to which family, and it hardly seemed like it was worth the effort since she only saw them once a year at Christmas and the irregular summer reunion.

“How should I know? Did you try the kitchen? Maybe she’s clarifying butter or something.” Stephanie didn’t know how to clarify butter, why one would do so, or even what it was, but she’d overheard the term once when she accidentally wandered into the kitchen in search of a snack. The warm and humid room had been filled with various aromas of cooking birds and pies all tended by tall women, theoretically her relatives by blood or by marriage. Stephanie had her doubts. They had all cooed over her and mistook her hunger for interest in joining their cabal. After a few minutes of delight on the part of the women creatures, and some strange attempts to inculcate her into their weird food traditions, Stephanie had snuck out to the laundry room to hide under a pile of sheets and towels until the clamoring quieted down and she could escape.

The boy continued to stand in front of her. “Yes? I’m busy. What do you want?”

“It’s just that. Well.” The boy looked down at his shoes, then over his shoulder at a group of giggling cousins huddled near the pile of wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree.

“Well what? I’m reading. You’re interrupting.” Stephanie’s great burden was to be born first. As eldest of the progeny of the clan, she suffered unreasonable expectations. Didn’t anyone understand that all these children were not her responsibility? Why was she always supposed to fix things?


“Get on with it.” Which he did. Quite unexpectedly, he shoved his face into hers and landed a tooth crashing kiss on her lips. “Ow! What was that for?” She’d managed to refrain from swearing at the pain of her split lip. At least she was mature enough to manage a little decorum.

“Mistletoe!” The boy pointed at something dangling from the ceiling above her chair and then ran from the room. The gaggle of cousins burst into hysterics.

She glared at the convulsing cousins and gave them her most mean expression. They stopped wriggling, let out a shriek and all ran from the room like a giant mutant zombie lizard was after them. She smiled at the temporary victory, the reprieve from so many relatives. “I hate this time of year,” Stephanie muttered under her breath.