The freshly fallen snow crinkled under the tires as Pam's car pulled into its usual parking spot in the Praters' driveway. She had spent the previous night at her parents' house, though it felt like she had been gone much longer than a single day. A question of etiquette presented itself as she approached the house. Should she ring the doorbell or walk right in? Pam decided to err on the side of manners.
It felt strange to ring the doorbell to the Prater house. Pam couldn't remember the last time she had to do that. But since it was Christmas Eve and since her arrival was unannounced, it was probably best to ring the doorbell instead of strolling right in as she normally would. She shivered while waiting on the porch. Instead of her usual winter hat, she wore a classic red Santa Claus hat with white faux-fur trim and a matching ball at the tip. Though festive in appearance, it was nowhere near as warm as her regular hat. Even though it was just past noon, the sun was much closer to the horizon as compared to six months ago.
The front door opened. “Why hello there, Pam!” Kate said. “Cute Santa hat! What are you doing back so soon? Come on in. You really didn't have to ring the doorbell.”
“Hi Kate,” she answered as she crossed the threshold. Pam wriggled out of her winter coat. “My parents had an early Christmas Eve lunch, but then they had plans to visit a friend's house for dinner. That seemed kind of exhausting, so I decided to come back here. Hope that's okay.”
“Of course it's okay,” Kate said, taking her coat. Normally, Pam would have hung it up herself but the mere act of ringing the doorbell had thrust them into host and guest mode. “Jeremy will be happy to see you. I think. He's been in a weird mood all day.”
“Just a bit listless. Especially for Christmas Eve. Maybe he's missing all that Florida sun from last week. I asked him to help me bake some cookies and he turned me down. Then I asked if he wanted to set up the Christmas tree but he didn't want to do that either. He's been in his room since breakfast.”
Pam peeked down the hall at Jeremy's closed door. “I'll spread some holiday cheer,” she said, adjusting her Santa hat.
“Maybe you two could run an errand,” Kate said thoughtfully. “I still need to wrap some presents and I know he'll come running when he hears me open the basement cabinet with all the wrapping paper.”
Pam stroked her chin. “We could pick up a real tree,” she offered. “I just drove by the lot. There was a big sign that said they're now half price. Heck, maybe they'll pay us to take one.”
“That's a wonderful idea!” Kate said. A timer sounded from the kitchen. She called over her shoulder, “I wanted to get a real tree this year but things have been so busy.”
Pam knocked on Jeremy's door. “Come in,” he called from the other side.
She opened the door just enough to stick her head inside. “Hi there, Tiger J,” she said in a deep voice. “You been a good boy this year?”
He was seated in bed, looking out the window at the snow covered yard, but now his face changed to surprise. “What are you doing here?” Whiskers, poking out her feline head from under a pile of laundry, seemed to ask her the same question.
“I told you,” Pam said in her Santa voice. “I've got a special present, but only for good boys.”
“No, really,” Jeremy said. “I thought you said you were going to your parents' house.”
He was clearly not amused, so Pam dropped the Santa voice. It kind of hurt her throat to talk like that anyway. “I did go to my parents' house, but I came back because I'm your Christmas surprise." She paused a beat. "Surprise! Do you like my hat?” Jeremy just shrugged his shoulders. She sat down next to him on the bed and gave him a playful shove. “Come on, we have a job to do. We're going to find the best Christmas tree ever. Get dressed.”
“Do I hafta go?”
“Yes, you hafta,” Pam told him. “I'll need your artist's eye to pick out a good tree.”
He dawdled and she cajoled, but fifteen minutes later they were in the car and headed for the tree lot. Jeremy was uncharacteristically quiet. Pam turned on the radio and tried to get him to sing along with her, but he would have none of it. “You okay, Jeremy?” she asked, switching off the radio.
He mournfully stared out the window, not looking at her. “Yeah. I'm fine.”
“Aren't you kind of young to be this moody?”
“What's that supposed to mean?” Jeremy asked scornfully.
“Never mind.” She pulled into the Christmas tree lot. The piped-in sound of Christmas carols greeted them the moment they stepped out of the car. Despite the fact that it was December 24th, there were a surprising number of people shopping for trees. “I guess there's nothing like a 50% off sale to bring out the holiday spirit,” Pam observed.
Jeremy shuffled his feet in the snow. “Are you going to take off that hat?” he asked.
Pam realized what he really meant. “Is it embarrassing you that I'm wearing this Santa hat in public?”
“Yes,” he grumbled.
“Then no. I won't take it off.” She blew him a kiss. He responded by shaking his head and walking away.
“Hi there, folks!” saluted a bearded man in furry trapper hat. “If you see a tree you like, just let me know. And don't forget to have a complimentary hot drink and some refreshments!”
Pam was relieved to see Jeremy perk up a little as he beelined toward a table set with several large urns and a stack of styrofoam cups. In addition to the hot drinks, sugar cookies and candy canes were offered as well. They nibbled some cookies first, then chose their drinks. (Hot apple cider for her, hot cocoa for him.) Now properly fortified, they began wandering the tree lot, snow crunching underneath their feet. Hastily nailed two-by-fours served as stands for the forest of trees. They stopped to read a sign denoting aisles for spruce trees, balsam trees and frasier fir trees. “What's the difference, anyway?” Pam asked Jeremy.
“Eh, I don't know.”
They kept looking. “What do you think of this one?” Pam inquired, pointing at a stately specimen of a tree. “I think it's perfect. Pyramid shaped. Strong boughs.” She sniffed it. “Smells fresh. Should we get it?”
Pam took a deep breath. “If you say 'eh' one more time...” she warned.
“What?” Jeremy scowled. “What will you do?”
Pam serenely took a sip of apple cider, then set her styrofoam cup on the ground. He didn't notice her mittened hand scooping up the powdery snow until it was too late. Pam flung it at him, dusting him so completely in snow that even his eyebrows were tinged white. She burst into giggles.
“That does it!” Jeremy set down his cocoa and charged her. Shrieking, Pam dodged him by taking refuge behind a scrawny balsam. He chased her in a circle, pausing every so often to fling snow that burst into harmless clouds. It was far too cold and dry for real snowballs. Pam was successfully avoiding him until she slipped on an icy patch and landed on the ground. Seizing the moment, Jeremy leapt on top of her. Together, they rolled across the fluffy snow: him on top, then her, then finally him again.
Jeremy, straddling her midsection, threateningly gathered a large palmful of snow. Pam covered her face. Instead, he began tugging her coat open and she realized he meant to stuff snow down her shirt. There was a struggle as she frantically slapped at his hands. “Santa is watching!” she reminded him, laughing. He didn't believe in Santa anymore, but it was her only defense. “Jeremy, Santa is watching! Don't you dare!”
“Uh, you folks okay over here?” The man with the trapper hat peered at them through a wreath from the other aisle of trees.
Reluctantly, Jeremy tossed aside the snow and climbed off of Pam. Lurching to her feet, she dusted herself off with as much dignity as possible. In the tussle, her Santa hat had somehow gotten yanked past her eyebrows. “Ahem, yes,” she answered, fixing the hat so she could see properly. Pam pointed to the stately frasier fir. “We would like to purchase this tree, please.”
The skeptical expression on his face indicated that he had doubts about selling a tree to two people engaged in such horseplay. “Um, sure,” the man said. “I'll get it netted up and ready. Would you like a fresh cut on the tree?”
“Please,” Pam said. She retrieved her hot apple cider from its spot on the ground. Miraculously, it had not spilled a drop.
“You're such a brat,” Jeremy told her, taking a drink of his hot cocoa. He attempted to give her a dirty look, but Pam could tell he was trying not to smile.
“Oh, don't say that,” she said. Pam threw an arm around his shoulders. “I know you love me. Come on, let's go see if they have still have any sugar cookies.” There was only one left, so they had to share it. Jeremy compensated by pocketing a stash of candy canes. After paying for the tree, they watched as the man in the trapper hat tied it to the top of the car.
Once they were on the road, Pam kept nervously checking the twine that had been looped around the tree and then across the interior of the car. “Do you think he knew what he was doing? I wonder how often people lose trees on their way home. You know. Take a turn too fast and the tree will fly right off the car.”
“He looked very professional to me,” Jeremy said. He was eating a candy cane that filled the car with the delightful scent of peppermint.
“Hopefully we'll be able to untie this,” Pam said, running a finger along the twine as she drove.
“I have my Swiss Army knife right here,” Jeremy said, patting his pocket.
“I have an idea,” said Pam. “I'll get the car up to 55 miles per hour, even though it's a residential street, and aim the car straight at the living room window. When I say so, you cut the twine and then I'll slam on the brakes at the last second. The tree will fly off the roof and through the open window. Then we don't have to carry it into the house. We just need to call your mom and tell her to open the window.” Keeping one hand on the wheel, Pam reached into her coat pocket to retrieve her phone.
“Gosh!” Jeremy's eyes lit up. “You really think that will work? Why didn't I think of that?”
Pam's hand emerged from her pocket, empty. She patted his knee. “You're so gullible.”
Jeremy frowned at her. “Santa is watching.” Though he was annoyed, she could tell he had snapped out of his blue funk. At least he was chipper enough to surf radio stations instead of moodily stare out the window. Perhaps it was all the sugar from the candy canes, but Pam preferred to believe she had been the one to cheer him up.
Once they arrived home, it was something of a production to untie the tree from the car and carry it inside. “Hi mom, we're back,” Jeremy announced as they maneuvered their way to the living room.
“Wow, that's a big tree!” Kate called from the kitchen. “I got the tree stand ready for you. Ornaments are still in the basement, though.” As they passed, Pam saw she had her stand mixer on the counter as she studied a cookbook.
Their boots tracked a wet mess of melting snow on the floor. Whiskers emerged from Jeremy's bedroom to investigate the commotion. With great effort, they managed to tip the tree upright and position the trunk inside the stand. Pam lay on the floor, tightening the screws to hold the base in place while Jeremy hugged the tree to keep it from falling over.
“Are you almost done?” he asked.
Pam huffed and puffed under the tree. The screws were L shaped and meant to be turned by hand, but they were proving to be rather stubborn. It didn't help that Whiskers's tail kept brushing her in the face as the cat tentatively sniffed the tree. “Almost there,” she said. “Okay. Try letting go of the tree.” The moment he stopped holding it upright, the tree began tipping precariously. “Hold it up!” she yelled as pine boughs smashed against her face. Whiskers scuttled away, yowling in anger.
“Got it!” called Jeremy, lifting the tree off her.
“Everybody all right in there?” Kate asked from the kitchen.
“Everything's fine!” Jeremy shouted back. He peered down at Pam on the floor. “You have pine needles in your hair,” he informed her.
“Yes, I know,” sighed Pam. She began tightening the screws again.
“I wish I had yelled 'Timber!' when the tree started falling,” commented Jeremy.
“Yes, very amusing,” said Pam. “Okay, let go again. Slowly.” She held her breath as Jeremy took his hands away from the tree. It remained thankfully vertical.
“We did it!” Jeremy said, amazed.
Pam sat up and gave him a high five. “Let's go get the ornaments.” Even with the two of them, it required four round trips to retrieve the boxes of decorations from the basement. They took a short break on the couch. “Trimming the tree always sounds lovely, but it's really a lot of work,” Pam observed.
“Yeah,” agreed Jeremy. “And my jeans are all wet from rolling around in the snow.”
“I'm going to change into some sweats,” Pam decided.
“Same,” said Jeremy.
“Then we can decorate the tree.”
“But I'm not taking off my Santa hat,” Pam told him. She stuck her tongue out at him.
“I didn't say anything!”
They regrouped in front of the tree. Kate was still occupied in the kitchen so they commenced with decorating. The string lights were balled into a useless clump and unfortunately required several minutes of untangling. Yards of crinkly tinsel were applied next. Pam began hanging ornaments, fussily taking a step back after each placement to make sure they didn't clash with each other. Jeremy, however, preferred sitting on the couch and haphazardly tossing ornaments on the tree.
“It's better this way,” he insisted. “The tree will have a randomized decoration pattern. It'll look more natural.” Biting her tongue, Pam handed him the non-breakable ornaments.
The sun was setting by the time they were ready for the crowning touch: a star-shaped tree topper. Pam stood on a chair to affix it to the tallest bough while Jeremy held her in place by the waist of her sweatpants. “Now Jeremy... you're just securing me so I don't fall onto the tree,” Pam said as she strained to reach the prickly bough. “You're not actually supposed to pull my pants down.”
“Oh right.” He chuckled. “Ha. Your underwear has little snowmen on it. Is this a new pair? I've never seen them before.”
Pam cast a nervous glance in the direction of Kate in the kitchen. “Please, Jeremy.”
“Sorry,” he said, pulling her sweats up.
When they were finally done, Pam collapsed into an armchair and put her feet up. They were still surrounded by half-empty boxes and bags of unused decorations, but the Christmas tree shone like a glorious beacon among a sea of untidiness. Half-heartedly, Pam sifted through the remaining ornaments, making sure they didn't miss any good ones. At the bottom of one box, she found a photo album.
“What's this?” she asked, flipping it open.
“Um, wait, don't look at that...” Jeremy began.
But Pam was already paging through the album. There was a photo of an infant wearing holiday themed pajamas. Then a toddler. Then a pre-schooler. “Wait a minute. Is that you?” she asked, smiling. Jeremy tried to grab the photo album, but she placed a hand on his chest to hold him at arm's length. It wasn't until he was five years old that she could recognize the impish boy with unruly ginger hair.
Pam couldn't help from cooing. “Awww! Look how cute you were!” In each picture, Jeremy was wearing some version of holiday PJs: dancing reindeer, smiling snowmen, vintage ice skates. His expression changed too. He smiled when he was younger, but it disappeared by the time he was eight.
Last year's photo, when he was ten years old, was priceless. Jeremy grimaced at the camera, arms crossed in defiance, while wearing Little Drummer Boy pajamas. The bright red top had three horizontal white straps across the chest and a pair of fringed gold shoulder pads. The matching pajama bottoms were white at the thighs and then black from the knees down, creating the illusion of tall boots. A cylindrical top hat completed the look. Pam covered her mouth to hide her laughter.
“It's not funny!” Jeremy said, reaching for the album.
But Pam wouldn't let him take it. “Come on, I'm not laughing at you. I'm laughing with you.”
“I'm not laughing.” He tried to grab the album, unsuccessfully.
“Hold on,” Pam said, extracting the Little Drummer Boy picture from the album. “I just want to take a picture of this one and put it on Facebook. It's too cute.”
“Don't!” Jeremy yelled, grabbing the album. But it was too late. She already had the photo.
Pam stood up and held the photo above her head, where he couldn't reach it. Jeremy jumped up to grab it, but he wasn't quite tall enough so he climbed onto an armchair. She scurried away, but not before he leapt onto her back. “Eek, what are you doing?” Pam screamed, laughing. His arm pulled tight against her neck as he dangled several inches off the ground, clinging to her. He was so heavy that Pam was unable to support his weight and flopped onto the living room floor.
“Geez, how many bricks do you have in your pockets?” she huffed.
“Give me the picture!” Jeremy ordered. He was lying on top of her now, trying to crawl toward her outstretched hand. Pam tried to stand, but only managed to raise herself up on her hands and knees. He must have put on some weight in the past year because she didn't remember him being this heavy.
“Give it!” Jeremy was still draped on her back, trying to keep balance. She felt his knees bumping against her thighs and realized they were basically in a doggy-style position, except Jeremy wasn't quite the right height and was subsequently dangling from her upraised bum. Hopefully Kate was busy in the kitchen, she thought. When she tried to shake him off, Jeremy panicked and looped his arms underneath her body, across her midsection and chest.
Pam squeaked in surprise as he inadvertently grabbed a handful of breast. “Whoa, hands! Watch the hands!” Again, she glanced in the direction of the kitchen but only saw Kate's back. Jeremy, apparently having sensed an opening, squeezed both her breasts, eliciting a surprised shriek from Pam. Futilely, she tried to crawl away but instead landed on the floor with a loud thump.
“What are you two doing in there?” Kate called from the kitchen.
“Mom, help!” Jeremy shouted. “Pam has my pajama picture and she's going to put in on Facebook!”
“Just don't knock over the tree, okay? I haven't even seen it yet.”
They began wrestling in earnest as he tried to obtain the photo. Pam managed to roll over, but Jeremy was now straddling her, just like in the Christmas tree lot. The hardwood floor pressed painfully against her back. Desperately, she held the photo as far away from him as possible. That meant extending her arm over her head while pushing Jeremy away with her free hand. With surprising strength, the young boy powered past her grip and lunged at the photo in her outstretched fingers. Thinking quickly, Pam grabbed him by the waist of his sweatpants and held tight, preventing him from reaching those last few inches.
“I got you!” Pam crowed. “You're not going anywhere.”
He began wiggling his hips. “Ha ha!” Jeremy said, triumphantly slithering like an eel out of his sweats. He snatched the photo from her fingers. In his haste, however, Jeremy had also wriggled out of his underwear and his exposed penis was mere inches from Pam's face. From the kitchen, she heard the whirring sound of the mixer. Surely Kate wasn't the type to leave the mixer running unattended? Pam threw caution to the wind and took his penis in her mouth. Already half erect from all the rough-housing, he tasted like heaven. A pungently boy-ish heaven. Pam let her tongue caress the underside of his warm penis.
“Wait, what are you-- tickles!” It took him a moment to realize what she was doing. “Pam! Don't! Do! That! Tickles!” He tried to squirm away from her eager mouth but Pam held him in place by clamping two hands firmly around his hips. Jeremy yelped in hysterical fits as she teased him to a full erection that nevertheless still easily fit inside her mouth.
“Stop!” Jeremy wheezed, out of breath. He reached for the closest thing, a basket of cinnamon scented pine cones on the coffee table, and dumped the entire thing on Pam's face.
“Ack!” She was suddenly drowning in nubby pine cones that scraped her face. Bits of artificially sweet pine cone went up her nose. Temporarily defeated, she stopped sucking and let go of his hips. Jeremy scrambled off her face, yanking up his sweatpants as he retreated to the safety of the couch. They were both breathing heavily from all the exertion.
Pam sat on the floor, brushing pine cones off her face. “Okay,” she panted. “Truce?”
Jeremy nodded. “Truce.” Not trusting her completely though, he protectively held the photo to his chest.
“Can I please just take a pic of it with my phone?” Pam pleaded. “I was just joking about Facebook. It'll just be for my personal use. I swear I won't show it to anyone.”
“Promise?” he asked. “If you want to show it to someone, then you need to get my express, written consent.”
“Got it,” Pam agreed. He warily handed her the photo. She took a picture with her phone and gave it back. “So what's with that album anyway?”
“Oh, it's my aunt,” Jeremy grumbled. “She sends a pajama set every year and my mom always makes me put it on for a picture.”
“Did she send pajamas this year too?” Pam asked hopefully.
“Probably,” he said gloomily. “I don't think she'll ever stop.”
Kate appeared in the doorway. Her apron was covered with flour, but she seemed jubilant. “Hey, that is one nice looking tree!” she proclaimed. “Nice work, you two. Just a heads up that dinner will be ready soon.”
“I guess we should change out of sweatpants, huh?” Pam said to Jeremy.
“Oh, don't bother,” Kate said, waving a hand. “Christmas Eve dinner is always a low-key affair around here. Just soup, salad and cheese fondue tonight.”
“That sounds fancy to me,” Pam considered.
“The real feast comes tomorrow at brunch,” Kate assured her.
Despite Kate's promise of low-key, dinner was nevertheless delicious. It was Pam's first time having fondue. It was fun dipping bread and apple slices in the melted cheese. After dinner, the three of them retired to the living room to watch a movie. Jeremy chose “A Christmas Story”, which Pam hadn't seen since she was his age. When she took a seat on the couch, Pam had supposed that Jeremy would take the middle spot and Kate would sit on the other end. Instead, Jeremy stretched out on the couch, put his head in her lap, and unwrapped a candy cane.
Kate entered the living room with a tray of herbal tea. “Oh, I see how it is around here. Mom doesn't get love anymore.”
Pam started to get up. “You should take this spot,” she urged.
“I'm just joking,” Kate said. “I don't mind the armchair. It doesn't look like Jeremy is going to budge his head from your lap anyway.”
Pam self-consciously settled back onto the couch. As the movie began, Jeremy took her hand and guided it to his hair. It was his not-so-subtle request for a head rub. Pam felt a little embarrassed about doing it in front of Kate, particularly in light of her offhand joke, but she complied nonetheless. Pam was pleasantly surprised to find that “A Christmas Story” held up well over the years. When she watched it as a kid, she hadn't realized how the movie was crammed with wink-wink jokes for adults too. She and Kate chuckled at several parts whereas Jeremy lay wondering what was so funny.
When the movie ended, Kate yawned and began gathering the teacups. “It's nine-thirty, Jeremy. How late are you staying up?”
“Not too late,” he promised.
“Why don't you get ready for bed now,” Kate suggested. “Then you can just go to bed whenever you get tired.”
“I'm going to put on a record first,” Jeremy announced.
“Like a real record?” Pam asked. He disappeared into the basement and returned with an armful of vinyl records and what appeared to be a suitcase. He unsnapped the shiny metal latches. It was a vintage portable turntable in tweed, not one of those modern ones sold from Best Buy. Jeremy slid a black vinyl record from its sleeve.
“I'm surprised you know how to do this.” Pam watched him carefully drop the needle onto the spinning record.
“Of course I know how,” he said, annoyed. There was a pop as the needle landed, followed by the warm sound of crackling vinyl. A solemn drum beat filled the living room, followed by Johnny Cash's sonorous bass.
“Oh, this is the best version of The Little Drummer Boy,” Kate remarked.
Pam had a wonderful idea. “Jeremy, why don't you put on your Little Drummer Boy pajamas?” she suggested.
He scoffed at the idea. “No way.”
“Come on, please? It was so cute.”
“I'll give you ten dollars if you wear the pajamas,” Pam offered.
Kate added, “I'll chip in another ten.”
Jeremy considered the offer. “Well, okay. I'll do it. But you can't laugh and you can't take any pictures.” Once they agreed to his terms, Jeremy ran off to fetch both their purses. It wasn't until Pam and Kate each peeled off a ten dollar bill into his hand that he left to change into the pajamas. Pam heard the sound of water splashing in the sink as he got ready for bed, followed by multiple drawers opening and closing.
When he came back in the pajamas, Pam broke into a broad smile but was careful not to laugh. The Little Drummer Boy outfit was even cuter in person. He was clearly too old to be wearing such a thing, but that only made it more endearing to her.
“I couldn't find the hat,” he announced. Jeremy scrutinized her face for any sign of mockery.
“You look very nice,” Pam said.
“I wish you still fit the old ones,” Kate added. “Remember the pajamas that had elephants pulling Santa's sleigh instead of reindeer? That one was cute too.”
“Ugh.” Jeremy made a face. “Now what? Are you guys staying up too?”
“Oh, I don't know,” Pam yawned. “All that tree trimming wore me out. I'm already sleepy.”
“I'm not tired yet,” Kate mused. “We could stay up and-” She was interrupted by the sound of a ringing phone in her pocket. “Looks like David is calling to wish me a happy Christmas. Excuse me...” As she headed for her bedroom, Pam and Jeremy overheard the beginning of an animated conversation.
“That must be one handsome doctor if they talk that long on the phone,” Pam remarked. Kate seemed to hold calls with him every evening.
“Yeah.” Jeremy stopped the record player. “I guess I'll go to bed too.”
“Cheer up,” Pam told him as they walked down the hallway together. “It's Christmas Eve. You're not going to believe all the cool stuff I got you.”
"Let me think... the crossbow. The backyard catapault. Oh, do you have flame-retardant clothes? Because you'll need them tomorrow once we load up the flamethrower."
Jeremy didn't laugh. “Well, good night,” he said when they arrived at her room.
“Good night.” Despite her best efforts, his moodiness had apparently returned. Maybe the joy of Christmas morning would cheer him up tomorrow. Pam began unpacking the overnight bag she had brought to her parents' house. It didn't take long so she decided to retrieve the already-wrapped presents from her closet and place them under the tree. Surely she could manage that chore before going to bed. Too lazy to make two trips, she carefully stacked the boxes into a tall tower that reached her nose as she carried it.
Pam crept into the darkened living room, her arms full and her pockets bulging with stocking stuffers. To her surprise, she found Jeremy stretched out on the couch, lit only by the lights of the Christmas tree. A scratchy Bing Crosby record spun quietly on the turntable, the music accompanied by the sound of Whiskers's purring. “Hey. What are you doing out here? I thought you went to bed.”
“I wasn't sleepy yet,” Jeremy said. He was eating another candy cane, even though he had already brushed his teeth. Since it was Christmas Eve, Pam let it go.
“I have a few things to put in the stockings,” she said, approaching the mantel where they hung. “Promise not to look?'
As she emptied the contents of her pockets into the stockings, Pam noticed his sleeping bag unfurled on the floor. “Are you sleeping out here?”
There was that moodiness again. Pam frowned. He was only eleven. Surely that was too early for pubertal hormones? She would have to Google it later. Once she was done filling the stockings, Pam was about to return to her bedroom when she noticed Jeremy hastily wipe at his face. “Are you all right?” she asked.
He wiped at his other cheek. This time, she clearly saw the tear before he could it erase it with his sleeve. Concerned, Pam sat down next to him. “Jeremy, what's wrong?”
Instead of answering, he stared at his hands. Bing Crosby warbled away on the tinny turntable speakers. Beyond the darkened living room window panes, Pam saw fat snowflakes in the air. A swirling wind made it appear as if the snow was floating upward from the ground. It was beautiful, especially when combined with the reflected tree lights in the glass window. Jeremy finally cleared his throat. “It's just weird that, you know... it's Christmas and my dad isn't here.”
Pam consolingly wrapped an arm around him. “I'm sorry,” she said softly. “Have you been feeling this way all day?”
He nodded. “When we were in Florida, I asked him if he would come home for Christmas. But he said he would be too busy.” He glanced at his sleeping bag. “It was our tradition to sleep next to the tree on Christmas Eve.” He heaved a gusty sigh.
“I didn't know that.” His moodiness suddenly made sense. It wasn't because of impending hormonal changes. He hid his feelings so well that Pam sometimes forgot about the divorce. A nagging guilt tweaked her conscience. She had been living on cloud nine since moving in with the Praters, but had forgotten the painful circumstances that led to it in the first place.
“I could camp with you out here,” she offered.
“You would do that?”
“Sure. I'll need to borrow a sleeping bag though.” Jeremy went off in search for it while she got ready for bed. After brushing her teeth and changing into her pajamas, Pam returned to the living room. Jeremy was already tucked inside his blue sleeping bag. Hers lay waiting next to him.
Pam scooted into it and zipped it up. He had thoughtfully brought up the padded mats to cushion the sleeping bags from the hard wooden floor. The record player was now spinning a Nat King Cole record, filling the living room with his incandescent baritone. They lay side by side, silently listening, in the warm glow of the tree lights. Despite the music, the house felt especially still.
“Thanks for sleeping out here with me,” Jeremy said.
“You're welcome. It feels like a real sleepover now.”
“Did you notice it started snowing?”
“Yes. Isn't is pretty?” Pam glanced at him. His eyes were bright, innocent, and... sad. She scooted her sleeping bag a little closer to his.
They watched the falling snow. At first, it had been mere swirling flakes but now they coalesced into little white streaks as the snow intensified. Eventually, Pam said, “I know it's not the same, but this is my first Christmas without my parents too. It feels a little strange.”
Jeremy propped himself up on one elbow. “Why did you come back here?” he asked.
Pam smiled in the dim light. “Because I wanted to spend Christmas with you.” She reached out of her sleeping bag to touch his hand.
Parroting him, Pam propped herself up on an elbow as well. She could see the multi-colored Christmas lights twinkling in his eyes. “Because you're my guy.” Leaning in close, she meant to kiss him on the cheek but her lips somehow veered off course and instead planted one on his mouth. Her heart pounded loudly when she realized what she had done. He didn't kiss her back, but she could feel his lips twitch in surprise.
Drawing back, she saw Jeremy looking at her with an embarrassed expression. “What is it?” she asked.
“It's just... I've never kissed a girl before,” he admitted shyly.
Pam thought about everything else they had done together. “I guess we're doing things out of order,” she said sheepishly. Now she was embarrassed too.
“Do you think-” he spoke in halting tones. “Can we... do it again?” Her fingers were still grazing his hand, a physical connection underscoring the deeper one that magnified tenfold the longer she looked into his eyes. Pam leaned in, slowly this time, telegraphing her movement so he wouldn't be surprised. Her warm lips met his in a second kiss, a lingering one. This time, he kissed her back.
When she opened her eyes, Pam was charmed to see Jeremy with his eyes still closed. The Little Drummer Boy pajamas made him look so young that even Pam felt uneasy about what they were doing. He finally opened his eyes and they shared a conspiratorial smile. “Was that okay?” she asked.
“It was really, um, nice.” She could tell he wasn't sure how to describe it. “You taste like toothpaste.”
Pam giggled. “You taste like candy canes.” He was gazing into her eyes again, causing her heart to flutter like a butterfly. Why were they making so much meaningful eye contact? Uncertain of what to do, she said, “I guess we shouldn't stay up too late, huh?” Pam reluctantly lay back down in her sleeping bag.
“I guess not.” He paused a moment before re-zipping himself into the sleeping bag. “Good night, Pam.”
“Good night, Jeremy.” Despite her pledge to not stay up late, Pam felt nothing but sheer exhilaration from kissing Jeremy. She took deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling slowly to calm herself. The pleasantly astringent smell of the fresh Christmas tree made it feel as if they were really camping. Trying to forget what just happened, Pam admired the tree and the circle of warm light it cast on the living room ceiling. She managed to distract herself for about seventeen seconds before peeking at Jeremy. He was wide awake as well.
“Yes, Jeremy?” Inside her sleeping bag, she crossed her fingers.
“Can we play Call of Duty?”
“Of course.” Pam gave a silent cheer as the sound of unzipping sleeping bags filled the living room.
“I'll get the Coppertone,” Jeremy volunteered.
Pam stopped him. “Why don't you check my stocking? There's something for you in it.”
“Why is it in yours?”
“Um... well, I didn't want your mom to see it,” she confessed. “So I was going to hide it in mine and give it you when she wasn't looking.”
Jeremy eagerly reached into her stocking and pulled out a small bottle with a blue cap. “What is it?
“Don't you recognize it? It's that slippery stuff that you were using in Florida.”
He seemed less than enthused. “Oh right, that stuff. Does this mean we're playing Call of Duty the new way?”
Pam hid her disappointment. She had hoped using K-Y as a lubricant instead of Coppertone would open new doors. It had been breathlessly exciting for her to teach Jeremy how to masturbate with the traditional jacking off motion and she was dying to try it again. Nonetheless, his preferred open-palm technique would still do nicely. “I can do it the old-fashioned way,” she promised him.
“And can we snuggle together in your sleeping bag?” he asked hopefully.
Pam hesitated. “I don't know... that's probably a bad idea,” she said, hesitantly surrendering to common sense. The safest thing to do would have been to retreat to his bedroom, but the living room felt so cozy with the Christmas tree and the record player. “How about separate sleeping bags,” she proposed, “but you can be naked in yours?”
“Okay.” Getting out of his Little Drummer Boy pajamas was a complicated affair as it had a multitude of buttons and zippers. He fiddled with it for several minutes before triumphantly tossing the top across the room.
Pam shook her head. “You just can't wait to get out of those, can you?”
He paused a moment. Pam liked the way his bare chest contrasted with the child-like pajama bottoms. “Did you want your money back?” he asked.
“Oh, keep it.”
He yanked off the pajama bottoms, followed by his underwear. His exposed skin glowed in the tree light, making her want to pepper him everywhere with kisses. In particular, his hips looked especially tempting and eminently nibble-worthy. Pam was only able to briefly admire the naked eleven year old before he dove into his sleeping bag. Still ensconced in her own sleeping bag, she wriggled as close to him as possible.
“Aren't you getting undressed too?” he asked.
“May I remind you that we're in the living room?” she asked. “Too risky.”
His obvious disappointment made her relent, just a bit. “What if I undo a few buttons, like this?” she offered. She unbuttoned her pajama top, transforming it into a plunging (but not too plunging) v-neck.
“How about one more button?” Jeremy requested. She did as he asked. Had she been wearing a bra, there would have been ample cleavage to please him. Without it, there was merely the slightest hint of curves. “Maybe two more buttons?” he asked hopefully.
Males and their limitless obsession with breasts, Pam thought to herself. She unbuttoned two more buttons and parted her shirt some more. Jeremy watched her like an attentive schoolboy. “I hope this is enough,” she told him, “because it's all you're getting tonight.” It must have been sufficient because there was an erection waiting for her when she slid her hand under his sleeping bag. Pam took a moment to luxuriate in the feel of his penis, unencumbered by any added lubrication. She loved the interplay between the soft skin and the hardness underneath.
She folded back his sleeping bag, uncovering him because she wanted to see what she was touching. The Christmas tree and soft music made the moment seem like something out of an X-rated after-school special on TV. “Are you really going to use that stuff?” he asked. “Because I could still get the Coppertone.”
Pam shook her head. She squirted some K-Y into her palm and then dribbled some onto his erect penis that was currently pointed at his chin. “Aren't you getting tired of that Coppertone smell?” she asked. Forming a fist, she began masturbating the young boy using the jack-off technique she had taught him in Florida. “Let's try it this way for just a little bit,” she urged.
Jeremy shyly interrupted her after a minute of jacking. “Um, do you think you could switch to the other way now?” His hands were self-consciously knotted together under his chin as he lay in the sleeping bag.
She smiled ruefully, but did as he asked, opening her hand so that her palm pressed against the underside of his penis, mashing it onto the expanse of hairless skin between the root of his shaft and belly button. “You like it the old-fashioned way, huh?”
He nodded. Despite the countless times that they played Call of Duty together, Jeremy would still become inexplicably bashful from time to time. His intertwined fingers still fidgeted on his chest. Propped up on one elbow, Pam leaned in to kiss him. The feel of her lips touching his was positively electric.
She continued waving him off as they exchanged little kisses. It occurred to Pam that she hadn't kissed (or been kissed) like this since middle school. Which sort of made sense, she supposed, given Jeremy's age. His lips were delightfully warm and soft. She could tell he was enjoying it too because he would occasionally push his hips against her palm. They were in the middle of a prolonged kiss when Pam idly opened her mouth, letting her tongue caress the length of his lips. Following her lead, Jeremy opened his mouth too and they were suddenly French kissing.
It was amazing to feel his tongue darting tentatively against hers. Pam clenched her knees together to stem the warm surge from between her legs. It has been a long time since she became this aroused just from kissing. As she bent over the young boy in his sleeping bag, her breast slipped free from her unbuttoned shirt. Jeremy's hand gravitated to it like a bumblebee to a flower. She was still waving him off with her palm, but Pam temporarily lost her rhythm when his fingers closed on her nipple, kneading the hardened knob of flesh.
Sinking deeper into ecstasy, Pam was still kissing him when she suddenly realized he wasn't kissing her back anymore. Instead, she heard him murmur something unintelligible. It wasn't until he began quivering uncontrollably that she understood. Jeremy was having an orgasm. Pam was somewhat surprised; she hadn't made him come this fast in a long time.
“Mmm. Ahhh.” Jeremy's small sounds of pleasure were music to her ears. Her lips greedily kissed the gasping young boy, relishing the heat of his labored breathing. Teasingly, she lightened her touch just a bit. Immediately, his hips lifted off the ground as if she had a magnet in her hand, causing his stiff penis to press forcefully against her palm.
Expertly, Pam brought the eleven year old boy down for a soft landing as his orgasm subsided. Though his eyes were closed, his hand still gently cupped her breast. “I need to wash my hand,” she whispered softly. “Are you going to still be awake by the time I get back?”
Jeremy sighed contentedly. “No,” he murmured, not opening his eyes.
Pam giggled and kissed his forehead. “Well, at least you're honest.” And it was true. By the time she washed her hand and returned with a damp washcloth, Jeremy's breathing had become deep and even. Gently, she cleaned the sticky K-Y from his slumbering boy parts and then zipped up his sleeping bag. His discarded Little Drummer Boy pajamas lay in a pile so she neatly folded them. After returning the washcloth to the bathroom, Pam retired to her own sleeping bag. Her earlier fatigue caught up to her and she fell asleep in no time at all.
For being on the floor, she slept quite soundly. When she woke again, the sky outside had turned a rosy shade of pink. The bare trees, dusted with a coating of snow, were like a picture from a fairy-tale book. Jeremy was still snuggled into his sleeping bag, visible only from the neck up as he lightly snored. Whiskers lay curled on his head like a fur hat.
Jeremy stirred in his sleeping bag. She heard him mumble something in his sleep. Most of the words were unintelligible until he softly exclaimed, “Pam!” and then chuckled. Intrigued, Pam propped herself up on her elbow and peered at the young boy. He must have been dreaming. Curious, she waited a full minute until he laughed once more and murmured something she couldn't catch. The tone of his voice was clearly annoyed though. The only phrase she could comprehend was an emphatic, “I AM being gentle.”
This was getting interesting, Pam thought to herself. Jeremy was quiet for a moment before chuckling, “Don't! It tickles.” Unable to resist, Pam snuck a hand into his sleeping bag. The young boy was still naked from last night's activities and his skin was as warm as an incandescent bulb. Since he lay on his back, his penis was easy to locate and, as she expected, erect as a flagpole. Once her fingers made contact, Jeremy sleepily murmured, “Mmm!” as if she had presented him with a plate of chocolate chip cookies. She wondered what was happening in his dream now.
A devilish thought crossed her mind. Jeremy was usually a sound sleeper. Would he wake up if she gave him a little oral pleasure? Her mind recalled yesterday's wrestling match over the photo when she took him in her mouth for those glorious few seconds. Her mouth actually watered at the memory of his taste. Pam felt somewhat guilty for taking advantage of a sleeping boy. “This will be my Christmas present to myself,” she justified.
Zzzzrrp. The sound of the sleeping bag unzipping made her heart skip a beat. Pam had scarcely lifted the sleeping bag when Jeremy took a deep breath and rolled over to face her. “Hey,” he said, drowsily opening his eyes. “What's up?”
“Uh, hi,” said Pam. “I was just... making sure you were warm enough.” She made a show of tucking the sleeping bag around his body.
“Mmm, thanks.” The edges of his mouth curled up in a half-smile, making her feel even guiltier. His eyes suddenly snapped open. “Is it Christmas morning?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Oh sweet!” Jeremy rolled close to her, sleeping bag and all, disturbing Whiskers from her perch atop his head. She assumed Jeremy was coming in for a hug, but instead the young boy rolled straight over her, eagerly reaching for the Christmas presents on the other side of her sleeping bag.
“Hey!” Pam protested. “Did you just steamroll me to get to your presents?” He began tossing packages aside, sorting out which ones to open first. “You should really wait for your mom, you know.” When he didn't respond, Pam took him by the shoulders and performed a reverse steamroller, pulling him atop her and then rolling away from the tree.
“You're crushing me!” Jeremy howled when he was briefly underneath her body. Pam rolled over one more time so that he was lying on top with his back against her. They playfully wrestled despite the sleeping bags separating them. “I need my presents,” Jeremy insisted. “I've been so good for so long that it hurts.”
Pam held him immobile in a bear hug. “Does it hurt?” she asked sympathetically. “Want me to kiss it and make it better?” She slipped a hand inside his sleeping bag and rubbed his bare tummy. His squirming immediately stopped. Her fingers were inching past his belly button when she heard Kate's voice in the hallway.
“Hey, where is everyone?” she called. Pam hastily shoved Jeremy off. Perhaps too hastily because he let out a surprised, “Whoa!” as his sleeping bag slid off hers. The sound of Kate's footsteps approached the living room. “Good morning!” she said, surprised to find them on the floor next to the tree. “I didn't know you were planning to sleep out here.”
“Morning!” Pam said. “It was a last minute decision to sleep out here. We figured the Christmas tree was too nice to leave.” She spied the forgotten bottle of K-Y laying on the floor. Kate knelt down next to Jeremy as Pam grabbed it just in time, stashing the illicit contraband in her sleeping bag.
“Merry Christmas,” Kate said, giving her son a hug. Frowning, she peeked inside his sleeping bag. “Jeremy, are you naked?”
“Oh. Yeah,” he said, glancing at Pam. She pretended to be engrossed with petting Whiskers. “It was really hot in my sleeping bag.”
“Ah. Of course.” Kate had spotted his neatly folded pajamas and was eyeing them with a healthy degree of skepticism. Pam breathed a sigh of relief when Kate shrugged. “Well, you better get dressed if you want to open presents. I'm going to put a few things in the oven for breakfast so I'll be right back.”
Jeremy and Whiskers both yawned simultaneously, then stretched. The cat arched its back as it lifted itself up by its paws; Jeremy spread his arms out in a V, all skinny chest and angular shoulders as the sleeping bag rode past his scrawny ribs. “Could you get me some different pajamas?” he requested. “I don't really want to wear those Little Drummer Boy PJs anymore.”
“Um, sure. But I'm only doing it because you're cute, you know.” Pam wondered how his skin stayed so supple and creamy in the dead of winter. She applied moisturizer by the bucketful yet remained stubbornly itchy and dry. In his room, she grabbed the first pajamas in his dresser drawer. Returning to the living room, she tossed them to Jeremy who was still sprawled on the floor. Pam sat down on the couch as he burrowed deep into his sleeping bag to put on the PJs.
“It would probably be easier if you got dressed out here,” she remarked.
His disembodied voice floated out from under the sleeping bag. “Are you kidding? It's freezing out there.” Moments later, he emerged fully dressed.
“Does that feel better?” Pam asked. He was now wearing a dark navy pajama set that featured an astronaut carrying a boombox and spinning the moon on his finger like a basketball.
“Yup.” He began rooting under the tree again. Pam was surprised when he placed a present on her lap. It was a small box, wrapped in translucent and sparkly white paper, tied with a fat bow of red ribbon.
“From you?” she asked.
“From me,” Jeremy confirmed. He wrapped himself in a throw blanket and sat down next to her. “Well, I guess my mom paid for it. But I picked it out by myself. Open it.”
He shivered, even though he was under the blanket. Pam took off her Santa hat and put it on him. “Shouldn't we wait for your mom though?” she suggested.
“Mom! Hey mom!” Jeremy shouted. “Come to the living room so Pam can open her present!”
Kate appeared, holding a bowl and a whisk. “All right, I'm here.”
“I can wait if you're busy,” Pam said.
“No, you can't,” Jeremy contradicted.
“Go ahead, Pam,” Kate smiled. “I think this is the first year that Jeremy wants someone else to open a present instead of pleading for his own.”
Pam delicately pulled at the red ribbon as Jeremy bounced impatiently next to her. Underneath the wrapping paper was a thin clamshell case. It was a jewelry box, she realized. Opening it slowly, she found a dainty pearl necklace inside the velvet lined box. “Oh gosh,” Pam said, stunned. “It's beautiful.” And it must have cost a small fortune, she thought. She looked at Kate. “You shouldn't have...”
“Of course we should have,” Kate said, whisking the bowl. “Merry Christmas!”
“I picked it out,” Jeremy reminded Pam.
“He did,” Kate confirmed. “I asked him what he wanted to get you for Christmas and he just said, 'Something that will remind her of me.' Then we walked around the mall for an hour until he decided on this.”
“Want me to help put it on for you?” Jeremy asked. Feeling self-conscious to be the center of attention, Pam gathered her hair into a ponytail while he sat behind her with the necklace. The creamy and iridescent pearls felt cold against her neck. A towering giddiness filled her when his fingers touched her skin. She ascribed it to the thrill of Christmas Day. But maybe it was something else.
“I think it's beautiful,” Kate declared. A beeping timer sounded, summoning her back to the kitchen. “Excuse me.”
Pam fingered the smooth pearls. Unaccustomed to wearing such jewelry, the necklace felt completely foreign around her neck. She turned to face Jeremy and laughed when she saw how the Santa hat was too big for his head. Lifting her chin, she craned her neck to show off the necklace. “What do you think?” she asked him.
“It looks really pretty,” said Jeremy.
Pam blushed. That was high praise, coming from an eleven year old boy. She fussily straightened his hat before giving him a hug. “Thank you, Santa.”
“Merry Christmas, Pam.”