Ellowyne’s eyes darted nervously as she looked around the parlor, assessing the carefully planned preparations she’d made for the evening’s big Christmas party. She had worked for hours, determined to create the perfect evening and extinguish her ennui, if only for a few hours. The punch bowl was filled with a sparkly, ruby-hued concoction of cranberry juice, ginger ale, orange slices, and fresh mint. Snowflake shaped cookies that had been sprinkled with sugar crystals glistened like snowflakes on one of Grandmother’s china plates, while hunks of buttery shortbread and triple-chocolate brownies were nestled cozily in a nearby basket.
“Stop it! Those are for the party,” shouted Ellowyne as her little brother tried to sneak a piece of homemade fudge.
“What are you going to all this trouble for? It’s just a bunch of icky girls and Rufus the Doofus,” grumbled Freddy as he popped a piece of divinity into his mouth.
Ellowyne rolled her eyes. Little brothers! “Just don’t cause any trouble tonight!”
“Don’t worry. I won’t,” Freddy muttered as he slunk out of the parlor and back upstairs to his room, a stack of gingerbread men and frosted Santas in his hands.
Her brother safely sequestered upstairs, Ellowyne turned her attention to the meticulously wrapped macramé bracelets she made for her friends. She wondered if she was right to make one for Amber; she also hoped she hadn’t made a mistake by inviting her to the party. She then pressed the play button on her cell phone to immerse the parlor in the sounds of Christmas classics performed by Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Suddenly, the doorbell rang. Ellowyne quickly checked her appearance in the mirror, and, seeing that her hair and makeup were perfect, she opened the door to her first guests.
Prudence and Lizette were the first to arrive. They smelled like hot chocolate and carried shopping bags overflowing with brightly wrapped gifts for their friends. Ellowyne looked uneasily at the bags of gifts—-would her handmade bracelets be nice enough for everyone? Pru and Lizette meandered over to place their presents under the Christmas tree while Ellowyne ladled sparkly red punch into glasses.
Just as Ello took her first sip of punch, the doorbell rang again. Suddenly her throat felt dry as she realized that the guest at the door was either Rufus or Amber, and she gulped down the rest of her glass of punch. With a sense of relief, Ellowyne opened the door to Rufus, who was also laden with gifts. At least he didn’t make her nervous the way hypercritical Amber did, Ello thought to herself. Or did he? As they chatted, Ellowyne noticed her pulse quickening and an odd feeling of jitteriness that she’d never before felt around Rufus. Of course he looked nice —he had gotten a new haircut and was wearing a suit and tie instead of his favorite distressed jeans—-no wait—he wore the jeans instead of suit pants. But there was something else, something different about her old friend that particular evening. What was it?
The two became immersed in conversation and neither Ellowyne nor Rufus noticed Lizette and Prudence whispering and giggling as they hung a sprig of green on a hook in the corner of the frame of the door leading to the parlor.
“Maybe tonight someone will get a Christmas miracle,” Pru murmured.
Lizette shrugged. “He’s been crushing on her since, what, middle school? And he’s never made a move?”
“One of these days, she’s either going to break his heart and get involved with some other guy or he’ll give up and move on. And then her heart will be broken—if she even notices he’s gone.”
The party progressed uneventfully for the next ten or fifteen minutes as Ello and her guests munched on cookies, sipped punch, and admired the beautifully decorated Christmas tree. Rufus turned his attention away from the shortbread and gingersnaps when he spied the mistletoe, and he gently nudged Ellowyne in that direction, hoping beyond hope for just one brief, sweet Christmas kiss. Suddenly, the pine-scented peacefulness was shattered by the sight and sound of Amber bursting through the door.
“Well! Let’s get this lame-o party started!” she shouted. Amber flung off her coat, revealing a low-cut pink cocktail dress that most likely belonged to her mother. And then she saw Ellowyne and Rufus and the green leaves and red berries hanging over the heads. Amber shrieked, “MISTLETOE!” and dove into the two with the speed and precision of an NFL linebacker sacking the quarterback.
Rufus would later remark that the resulting chain reaction was something Rube Goldberg himself could not replicate. He staggered backwards while Ellowyne fell into her grandmother’s antique table, knocking over a plate of cookies, much to Sybil’s delight. Rufus, Pru, and Lizette rushed over to help Ellowyne get to her feet but one of them stepped on Sybil’s tail, causing the ferocious feline to yowl, hiss, and leap into the Christmas tree. Ellowyne grabbed Sybil just as the tree started to teeter but in the struggle, she knocked over the punch bowl and soaked all the presents lovingly put underneath the tree. Then, Ello and her friends looked on helplessly as the tree careened into a display case, on top of which sat a piece of pottery made by Ellowyne’s late mother. As Pavarotti warbled O Holy Night, the clay pot crashed to the floor and shattered. Ellowyne looked at the pieces and then began to sob.
“SHUT UP, LUCIANO!” Ellowyne screamed at her phone. Amber timidly crept over the phone and turned off the music.
Rufus tried to help Ellowyne stand up. “I think we can fix this, “he said quietly, looking at the pieces of pottery scattered on the floor.
Unexpectedly, Ellowyne snapped at him. “Stop it, Rufus! You’re always trying to fix everything! You try to fix me, too, and you can’t! No one can!” Rufus was stunned by the outburst and, red-faced and slack-jawed, he quietly retreated into the background near the fallen tree.
However, Rufus was not the only target of Ellowyne’s wrath that night. She glowered at Amber, not that her anger was misplaced. “You! You cause nothing but trouble for me! You’re always so mean and you pretend that you’re better than the rest of us. I don’t know why I even try to be friends with you!”
Amber’s lower lip trembled and her eyes filled with heartfelt tears. She knew what the bowl meant to Ellowyne and, for perhaps the first time in her life, she was genuinely remorseful. “Ellowyne, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to…”
“Don’t apologize, Amber! You’re a horrible person! I don’t know why I invited you tonight!”
Tears and mascara streaming down her face, Amber meekly sidled over to Rufus, crouched in the midst of Christmas debris.
Lizette spoke up. She wasn’t terribly fond of Amber and thought she could be a pretentious snob, but she truly felt sorry for Amber that night. “Ello, honey, I think you’re being a little tough on Amber…”
“Are you serious, Lizette?” Ellowyne howled. “You’re defending Amber?”
“But, but…oh, never mind,” Lizette sighed as she joined Amber and Rufus who were silently picking up the wreckage.
Prudence’s throat became dry and her stomach, filled with cookies, candy, and punch, began to churn. It was up to her to salvage everyone’s fragile feelings and the rest of the Christmas party. “Look, Ello, you worked so hard on this party and we all had fun. This was a great idea and I think it helped shake you out of your ennui for a little while.”
Ellowyne glared at her with the fierceness of an enraged bull. “I cannot believe you said that, Pru. I thought you were my best friend and now this? You know that I can’t control my ennui! It’s not like I can turn it on or off. I try! I really do! But you don’t get it! You think it’s a choice and it isn’t! If you don’t understand me, you are NOT my friend!”
With that, Ellowyne ran, crying hysterically, into the kitchen and grabbed a can of whipped cream. She stormed up the stairs to her room and slammed the door, leaving behind her bewildered friends and her brother, who cautiously poked his head out his bedroom door and silently and quickly withdrew.