Lyle’s family was scattered over the whole country, but every year the whole extended family gathered at his parents’ house in Colorado. December 31 was approaching too quickly in Lyle’s opinion. He hated the cold and couldn’t stand the snow, which is why he’d moved to Florida as soon as he got out of college.
When they received their yearly invitation in the mail, Lyle’s wife Courtney mentioned the benefits of this trip to Lyle. However, he didn’t want to listen to positive descriptors, and Courtney gave up trying to change his mind. She knew he’d go along with it, but he needed time to complain first, for whatever reason. They’d been going through this routine for years. Oftentimes it happened that Lyle bought their airline tickets way ahead of when Courtney would have ordered them.
The pandemic, now in its second year, derailed thousands of plans at Christmas. The new variant was so bad that airline pilots who were still healthy were hard to come by. Lyle might get his wish after all.
“I guess we should just show up at the airport plenty early and wait around. We may not be able to get to your folks’ this year,” Courtney said once the evening news on TV was finished on Christmas Eve.
“True. I’m glad we’ve had our vaccines and booster shots already. But I think I should buy a face shield to wear over my mask. I bought each of us a shield,” Lyle said.
Courtney didn’t say a word. She didn’t want to dissuade Lyle from taking an active part of the planning. The fact he was already thinking of flying was a good sign. Still, Courtney now walked on eggshells.
“I’m going to call Dad and ask if they’re still hosting this humongous party,” Lyle said. He looked over at Courtney who was now reading a book next to him.
“Court—did you hear me?” he said and poked her.
“Yup, you’re still coming in loud and clear,” she said. Lyle pulled the phone out of his pocket.
“Hey, Dad,” he said. He listened quite a while and didn’t say anything, so long that Courtney looked up from her book. She was ready to ask him about his dad, when Lyle put his phone back in his pocket.
“Dad said that all my brothers canceled already. Sue and her family are coming, though, and Shelley is still thinking it over,” he said.
“Well, people are still attending. A smaller group isn’t a problem, right?” Courtney said.
“Actually, it’s better this way with the pandemic.” He popped up and started pacing in the living room. How can I relax?
“I’m going for a run, Courtney. Wanna go with me?”
“No, thanks anyway. But when you come back, I’ll color or paint pictures with you if you’d like.” She thought the coloring books that even adults are using now would be a good stress reliever for Lyle.
“Maybe,” Lyle said on his way out the door. Once he got into the garage and before he was outside, he put his hands over his face and screamed into his hands. He didn’t want Courtney to hear or see him, but his frustration over the party invitation had increased in the last couple hours. He then went outside and began his jogging route.
“It’s almost like a religion, this party every year. If you’re not orthodox and you don’t show up, ooh, there’s a price to pay,” he mumbled under his breath. He hoped very strongly that he didn’t cross paths with anyone tonight. This meant he didn’t like how friendly people were in this little town. He just wanted to be left alone.
Lyle’s jog went well. Only a few cars passed him, and no one else was out walking or jogging. That’s funny. Kinda wished I could run across someone else…watch it, Lyle. Don’t give up your need for privacy, he thought.
While coloring after his jog, Courtney noticed something about her husband.
“Rebel much?” she said. At his look of confusion, she pointed at his coloring book. Every single thing on the page had margins that were colored over.
Lyle laughed, sort of, and he rubbed his hand over his five o’clock shadow.
“Guess so. But I feel better. Sorry for acting ornery before.”
Courtney reached across the table and squeezed his hand. “Does this mean you actually want to go to Colorado now?”
“Wow. Yes. You still want to go?”
“Of course. I love your family,” Courtney said.
When all was said and done, it was time to check with the airport about their upcoming flight. They could hardly believe that all systems were go.
On the familiar road on the Colorado hillside, Lyle drove their rental car slowly. This gave the greatest effect for seeing his parents’ home nestled far below toward the bottom of the valley. The huge house looked tiny from here.
When they arrived and parked on the driveway, bedlam ensued for a couple minutes. Sue and her family ran out to greet them along with his parents and even Michelle. Lyle’s nieces and nephews practically tackled Lyle and Courtney. It was like a hero’s welcome.
Much later in their bedroom, Courtney noticed Lyle’s expression and cocked her head. “You’re glad to be here, aren’t you?”
Lyle didn’t answer right away. Finally, he said, “Yeah. I’m glad you didn’t let me cancel.”
“What changed your mind, any ideas?”
“I think I was so glad no one held it against me that I moved you and I to the other side of the country. I guess I was expecting judgment when in reality, they just offered their unconditional love.”
Courtney kissed him. “That’s the best kind.”