'Tis the Season
Scene 1 (Eva & Nadia)
Eva never got over how small the Gaines’ house was. It was her third official visit in the past year, and she still wasn’t used to the tiny-ass porch and the other single-family homes crammed on either side of property.
This house is smaller than the one she used to rent. Nadia’s old house in Savant’s Town was considered huge when it was built, but in the age of excess and capitalism run amok, the two-bedroom craftsman style house in a small Podunk town on the edge of Virginia was better described as a vacation bungalow than a permanent residence. Where did the housekeeper sleep?
Different world. That’s what Eva had to remind herself as she got out of the back of the cab and escorted her girlfriend up to her parents’ home. Just because Eva had her own wing in her family’s mansion and her own apartment in the downtown metro didn’t mean everyone else was so privileged.
Not even privileged enough to have a housekeeper. That was something she really had to get used to.
The front door opened. Out came a middle-aged woman wearing the tackiest Christmas sweater Eva had ever seen, and she hosted her fair share of tacky Christmas sweater parties over the years!
“My baby!” Mary Gaines barreled down the front steps and threw her arms around Nadia, currently buried in five layers of winter clothing. Not even her wavy red hair was noticeable beneath such a puffy, fur-lined hood. “You’re so late!”
Nadia returned her mother’s hug. The heater had been on in the cab from the local airstrip, and now that the cold settled into their bones, all the couple could think about was getting inside and warming up again. “Sorry, Mom. We were late flying out. Weather was bad.”
“I don’t understand why you didn’t just drive.” Mary opened her arms to Eva, who returned the hug at arm’s length. “Who flies on Christmas Eve?”
My family does? It’s not like Eva had commandeered the family jet for such a short flight. Her brother had insisted after postponing his own takeoff to finish up some work at the last minute. Henry, Monica, and little Abigail were on their way to Montana to have Christmas morning with Eva’s parents. Something she had politely declined joining when Nadia suggested they have Christmas with her parents. Anything was better than putting up with Eva’s mother’s homophobia on Christmas. In Montana. Especially in Montana!
Christmas on the Virginian border was much more acceptable. Besides, Eva liked her future in-laws well enough. Mary Gaines didn’t have a problem with her daughter’s sexuality and cooked some damn good food.
Too bad the place was so cramped.
They were only staying three days, but Eva and Nadia had managed to pack enough luggage to scare the shit out of the TSA – assuming they would ever fly commercial. (They would never.) The cab driver brought most of it to the door. Right. We don’t have servants to carry this shit for us. Nadia grabbed both of her suitcases and entered the house as if she lived there. Eva was left with four of her own and feeling quite silly.
“Is that my girl?” A man’s voice boomed from a lounge chair by the fireplace.
Nadia shed most of her coats on her way to her father’s embrace. There was no doubt that Nadia was Don’s daughter. They both had the same bold red hair that shocked people to learn was real. God knows it was the first thing to attract my attention. Nadia still worked as the receptionist in Ethan Cole’s office. There was a reason half the men to enter that office continued to hit on her, even though she now wore a blood red beryl ring on her left ring finger. Since when did that deter persistent assholes, though?
That ring glistened on her hand as she hugged her father. The smile on her face was real. The stern look coming toward Eva was also real.
“Eva,” the man said.
“Don.” Eva shook his hand. “Good to see you again. Merry Christmas.”
His demeanor did not change much. “Yes, very merry Christmas to you as well.”
Okay, so maybe Montana wouldn’t have been so bad. Mary entered the room with hot cocoa and a reindeer headband on her scalp. “You two must be freezing! Have a seat on the couch and relax for a few minutes. You can take the luggage into the guest room later.”
“But we brought presents! Let’s put them under the tree.”
How could Eva say no to that? Even though there was one small problem. “Where’s the tree?” Was it in the other room? Hm. Except the Gaines didn’t have a den or family room. As Eva recalled, the downstairs was just this small living room, a kitchen, dining room, and half-bath. The tiniest half-bath I’ve ever seen! The Gaines were short, although Nadia’s parents were a bit on the portlier side. But every time Eva used the downstairs bathroom, her six-foot-four body smacked into the doorway and struggled to fit between the sink and the wall. All she wanted to do was pee. Why did it have to be such an ordeal? Couldn’t they have just added some extra square footage to make it a proper bathroom? It couldn’t have cost that much. Maybe ten thousand. So what?
Nadia tugged on her girlfriend’s sleeve. “It’s right there.”
Jesus! It was only five-feet tall! Eva was taller than this thing! So was Nadia!
“Come on. They’re in here.” Nadia opened one of her suitcases and pulled out the carefully wrapped presents. “Let’s see if we can’t make some room with the other presents!”
Yes. Indeed. The presents only backed up against the wall and came dangerously close to the electric heater. No wonder Eva hadn’t seen the tree. It was surrounded by presents and drowning in too many ornaments. Eva was the kind of person who didn’t even know where her family’s tree came from. One day the foyer was empty, and the next? A twenty-foot-tall tree bedecked in golden garlands and white string lights blinded everyone coming through the main entrance.
Everything about the Gaines’ lifestyle was like a huge wakeup call to Evangeline Warren, a billionaire in her own right. Now I really feel bad about only getting them a Keurig! That’s what Nadia reported her parents wanted, so that’s what Eva had someone pick up from the local DeMarco’s Department Store. She never even saw the thing. She only knew it was small.
Sometimes small was better. Eva was now in the jewelry business and knew that well. But a Keurig was hardly a diamond-studded tiara! Or maybe I should get Mary a diamond-studded Christmas sweater. That was more her style, wasn’t it?
Eva was always convinced that these trips to the Gaines’ wouldn’t be a big deal. The novelty of their daughter dating a woman like her had worn off after two years, anyway. Not that the Gaines had any idea how much Eva was worth. All Nadia told them was that she was a “daughter of means” and now worked in the family’s jewelry and gemstone enterprise. Eva always made a conscious effort to dress down in jeans and subtle jewelry around the future in-laws, but the first time they met her, Mary exclaimed that she had “formidable hair.” Not Eva’s fault she had bright blond hair she often frosted to create a more striking look. Part of the heiress game was creating a unique style that everyone else hoped to copy but could never imitate. Between the designer pantsuits and fantastically styled hair, Eva had won that part of the game. Yet when she came down from Olympus and faced everyday people, she was quickly reminded that the rest of the world operated under less lofty standards.
Now that it was asserted that Eva was the weird one, she sank into the couch and tried to not look like someone so out of touch with reality that she became the biggest nuisance that side of the Virginian border.
Although the big Christmas party wasn’t until the next day, Mary still had prepared a full dinner of homemade lasagna and salad out of a bag. She insisted that the four of them sit at the dining room table like a family, and it took every ounce of Eva’s restraint to not enlist her finishing school training when presented with one fork for both the salad and the lasagna.
They didn’t even have wine. Christmas Eve Italian dinner with no wine? If Eva had known that, she would’ve brought something from her own collection as a present!
“So! Eva…” Mary cut her square of lasagna in half while her husband Don shoveled the whole thing into his mouth. “Nadia tells us that your family business is going quite well. Something about gemstones?”
Eva braced herself, because no matter how she replied, it was the wrong way to go about the conversation. Either she talked way above the Gaines’ level of understanding, or she made them feel more ignorant than they actually were. Fuck me. Why can’t we just talk about Nadia? Eva loved talking about her girlfriend! Look at her! She was a babe!
“Yes. It’s going well.”
“Eva graduated from grad school a little while ago, so she’s been working full time on the family business.”
“Oh! That’s wonderful. Always nice to hear that someone’s degree helps them make a living. So many horror stories out there right now.”
“Well, Eva has a leg up since her family already had a position open for her. Sometimes nepotism is great, huh?”
“Don’t know what being full of yourself has to do with getting a job,” Don said.
Nadia cleared her throat. “That’s narcissism, Daddy.”
“Oh. Well. I’m not the one who went to college.”
Don had the right idea. Time to start shoveling food like they ate out of a Chinese takeout box. “This food is delicious, Mary. Is that fresh oregano I taste?”
“Why, yes!” Mary patted her husband’s shoulder. “I told you people would notice it! Your dad said nobody can differentiate fresh from the plastic bottle. You know I’ve been growing those herbs in the front yard. You probably saw the planter on your way in.”
“Fresh is always best.”
Mary talked with a mouthful of salad. “They sure are! So what kind of work do you do? Inspecting gemstones? Sounds fancy.”
“I do some of that. It’s mostly quality control and approving designs the staff comes up with. I don’t do any of the actual designing myself.”
“Eva travels all over the world,” Nadia interjected. “She checks gems at their sources.”
“Really? Your family pays for that?”
If only you knew, Mary. “It’s an important part of the process. We don’t want the miners giving us imperfect products we can’t use. And I have to inspect the mining conditions themselves. We bought our mines from less than scrupulous enterprisers who were put in jail for human rights violations, so we’re trying to turn things around for the local workers.” If only Mary saw some of the deplorable conditions in the West African diamond mine. Eva hadn’t called her brother to start suing people so quickly before. I had some fresh material for my therapist. God help me.
“Your family actually owns the mines?”
“Yes. For a few years now. It was my brother’s idea to go into precious jewels.”
“What about your father?” Don asked.
Eva sucked in a deep breath. “He’s retired. My brother is head of the family now.”
Everyone, including Nadia, looked at her as if she were nuts. “Babe,” Nadia whispered, “watch the ‘head of the family’ stuff.” To her parents she said, “Henry is president of the company. Their parents retired to their ranch in Montana.”
“Oh, my. That’s really quite something,” Mary said.
“Mines and a ranch? Are you mining the ranch too?” Unfortunately, Don’s tone implied that was a serious question.”
Sad thing was, the Warrens owned way more than that, and that was before Eva took her sister-in-law’s properties into considerations. Never, ever tell these people that Monica is the madam of the most expensive brothel in America. Don would have a heart attack in front of her. “No, we’re not mining the ranch.”
Nadia changed the subject to her mother’s volunteer job at the library and Don’s career since getting laid off at a mill and transferring livelihoods to a lumber plant’s administrative office. Mary used to be a teacher before the commuting costs outweighed her lousy salary. That was back when they lived in Nadia’s hometown. Now they claimed this little piece of land in a small town. It’s not much to leave your daughter, that’s for sure. If Nadia received any kind of inheritance, it would be a miracle. Every time Eva’s accountant asked her if it was truly a good idea to give her girlfriend such a hefty allowance – that Nadia subsequently shoved into “mutual savings,” as she called them – Eva reminded the accountant that Nadia was worth about ten grand on her own. Deplorable.
“Mine the fucking ranch,” Eva muttered when they retired to the living room. She was lucky no one was around to hear her.
“…Eva’s family is pretty rich, Mom,” she overheard Nadia say in the kitchen. Don was in the tiny downstairs bathroom. “Honestly, I’m not sure what their actual roles are, but Eva had to prove herself worthy to head one of their subsidiaries, so I’m proud of her. She could’ve just been an heiress doing whatever she wanted, but she decided to work for the family. I guess her father almost bankrupted them a few years ago and it made her decide to go into business to help stem the bleeding, so to speak.”
“No better way to make money than in precious jewels and gold, I guess,” Mary said. “Everyone wants pretty things.”
It doesn’t work that way! The worldwide economy was so shit that it was a huge risk buying up discount mines and hoping to turn them around – especially since they lost money making them compliant and paying the workers their worth. The only real buyers came out of China and Southeast Asia those days, because that’s where the world’s money was. The growing middle and upper classes of modern China may have loved their precious gems, but how much were they really willing to pay for them? Not to mention, it was never good to put all of one’s buyers in one region…
Eva survived the rest of the night by keeping her mouth shut and ignoring the piercing springs threatening to jut out of the Gaines’ old couch. Mary spent every five minutes taking pictures on her phone, and Nadia subsequently spent her evening fixing her mother’s photos. Mrs. Gaines was in such a hurry to hit the button that she never held her camera phone steady. Every picture of Eva came out blurry. Including, mercifully, the one of her gaping at the camera because Mary had caught her by surprise.
Would rather be in Montana. At least there her own mother would be too sloshed on eggnog to bother her beyond saying the usual homophobic tripe. Who knew a girl was so accustomed to that kind of abuse that the mundane reality of the Gaines family was just so… so… mindnumbing!
Eva went to bed early. Nadia followed her, and Eva entertained for a few pathetic minutes that maybe her girlfriend wanted to fool around. Then she remembered how thin the walls were in old houses like these. Well, the in-laws were downstairs…
“Are you nuts?” Nadia hissed when her girlfriend started the come-hither-and-let-me-fuck-you ritual. “This is my parents’ house!”
“Not like it’s your childhood home.” Eva pulled her hand away from Nadia’s breast and flopped down onto the lumpy pillow. The old queen-sized mattress squeaked. Everything about this drafty, tiny room sucked. It didn’t even have its own bathroom! “Sorry. I’m dying over here, okay? It’s been like two weeks since we last did it.” Gone all the way, anyway. Nadia’s mouth had been more than generous two nights ago, but it wasn’t the same as getting that and ravishing her in return. Eva was only into one-sided games for herself when it was her idea. This past week had been an evil necessity – when Nadia’s period decided to fuck her up, it went for broke and left her a useless shell of bloat and blood. Eva was honestly concerned that her girlfriend would get fired from her high-profile job because she snapped at every other guest walking through the doors. Not exactly great receptionist material.
“See, I can survive a few more days. Unlike you, the incarnate of the most perverted old dudes I’ve ever known.” Nadia pulled the covers up with a huff. “That’s saying something, by the way. Sometimes I think God set me up with you because he knew I was the only one who could handle your relentless pursuits.”
“Runs in the blood, babe.” Eva folded her hands beneath her head. It was more comfortable than using the pillow. “Although all this Christmas stuff makes me nostalgic for the first time you finally responded to my pursuits, eh?”
“What are you… we already celebrated that!”
Yes, yes, the first time they had sex was a blustery December night that smelled of pine trees and pumpkin spiced romance. I’ll never forget it. That guest room had been much more comfortable than this one. Now that was the kind of room they could get freaky in.
“Stop thinking about it.”
Eva might as well have been commanded to chop off her nose. “Why? Is there a problem with fantasizing about fucking my girlfriend? Don’t tell me we’re entering the two-year slump.”
“It’s a problem because it’s going to make you horny and want to have sex in my parents’ house. Where they’ll totally hear us, by the way.”
Eva waggled her eyebrows. “Not if we’re really quiet.”
“That’s not quiet.”
“I swear to God, Eva…” Sighing, Nadia turned over, careful to keep her hair from tangling beneath her head. “You’re worse than a man most of the time.”
“I always strive to be better than men, and that includes beating them in the libido department.”
Eva slung a friendly arm around her girlfriend. Watch her take it the wrong way! 3… 2… 1…
“Evangeline Madeline Warren.”
“God damn. That sends chills down my spine. Just like my mother says it.”
“She would know, having dealt with you for so many years.”
Now I’m creeped out. Eva rolled back again and stared at the drab ceiling. Could use a mirror… maybe two. Anything was better than thinking about her mother chastising her.
A commotion erupted downstairs.
Nadia rushed out of bed while Eva remained lethargic, thanks to the promise of sleep that would probably never come now.
Once she realized that something was amiss, however, she dragged herself out of bed and threw on her sweater before following Nadia down the stairs. What had happened? Had Don fallen down? Had Mary started a kitchen fire? Or maybe the whole house was falling apart. It certainly seemed old enough to be a hazard on its own!
Both of Nadia’s parents were hale, however. Although they were certainly startled as they hovered around the front door, cracked open wide enough to let in a flurry of snow that covered the rug before the front door.
Mary turned, red from the cold outside. “It’s for you, Eva!”
“What?” Eva shoved her way forward, careful to not bump into anyone by the last name of Gaines. “Who the hell followed me all the way down here on Christmas Eve!
It was a courier, dressed in a thick coat, hat, and a scarf so poufy that it almost covered his entire face. A delivery truck remained idle on the curb, its hazard lights flashing, two yellow beacons in a frosty night.
“Are you Evangeline Warren?” the man asked from within his woolly confines.
He shoved a letter into her hand. “Merry Christmas!”
“Wait!” Mary called after the man as he hustled down the short walkway. “Can I at least get you some cocoa?”
Don shut the door before any more flurries could blow into the cozy house. “What kind of madman is working on tonight of all nights? And what kind of madman makes him?”
Nadia looked over her girlfriend’s arm. Eva turned the envelope over, unable to find any notes beside Evangeline Warren. A seal with the initials EM held the envelope closed.
“Guess I better read it now since that man went to all that trouble to deliver it tonight.” She broke the seal. “Hey, Mary, could I trouble you for some of that cocoa.” She faked a shiver to get her future mother-in-law hustling to the kitchen. It was best that the Gaines were not around to see what was probably confidential information.
“What is it?” Nadia asked.
“No idea.” The biggest question was how the sender knew she was here. Coming to the Gaines’ house was a last minute plan, and only Henry knew the details. Besides, there was nothing going on in Eva’s professional life that couldn’t wait for the 26th, let alone her own mailbox back home. “Looks like… an invitation?”
She flipped the single piece of paper over.
“Dear Ms. Evangeline Warren,
You are cordially invited to an exclusive New Year’s Eve party hosted by a peer who is very interested in meeting you under brand-new circumstances. Listed below are the details. Please RSVP to the private number listed below. Leave a voicemail stating if you will be attending, and if you will be bringing your significant other.”
It wasn’t signed. Nor were there any other details besides the location in California and the number to call.
“What is that? Is that normal?” Nadia asked.
“Sounds kinda sexy.”
Eva’s girlfriend rolled her eyes. “You would think that, wouldn’t you?”
The mysterious invitation was mulled upon throughout Christmas Day. By the end of their stay at the Gaines’, Eva knew two things: one, her girlfriend could totally be quiet enough to fool around in the guestroom, and two, they were going to this party. The mystery was too juicy to pass up.
|Eva & Nadia