Priscilla left work early on Christmas Eve. Most of the office was already gone, celebrating the holidays with their loved ones. Priscilla had a fairly lonely Christmas with Tallulah to look forward to, since their parents had gone to Barbados to celebrate their thirtieth wedding anniversary. She supposed that was nice for them, but she would miss turkey and the shortbread cookies their mother always made. Bernie had already left for her parents’ for the holidays. She had a long five days of dodging her mother’s questions about Lawrence ahead of her, which Priscilla didn’t envy in the slightest.
Priscilla stepped onto the subway platform closest to her office building to find Oscar sitting on one of the benches looking unbelievably forlorn. The shoulders of his jacket were covered in melted snow and he was hunched over so far that his head was basically resting on his knees. She sat down next to him.
“All alone?” She asked unnecessarily. She could clearly see that he was alone. No one in the world had ever looked more alone than he did in that specific moment. She considered how it was probably unkind for her to point it out. He certainly didn’t look pleased about it. He grunted.
“Ramsay’s already gone home for the holidays,” he explained.
“Yeah, so has Bernie,” Priscilla returned, even though it was entirely likely that he didn’t care. They didn’t usually ride the subway home together at the end of the day. Usually, the four of them chatted about inane things on the way to their respective offices every morning and that was it. It must’ve been a collision of fate that had brought them together on their way home as well.
“Any holiday plans?” She asked, mostly to make conversation. He lifted his head slightly, sighed deeply, and turned to look at her.
“Not really, no,” he answered. “My mom’s gone to visit her sister in Moscow, so I’m staying at my apartment. Probably going to eat some canned tuna for dinner tomorrow night. I might buy a frozen pie if I can be bothered to leave my apartment. And then maybe the fruit flies will develop a taste for human flesh and devour me, thereby saving me from my own misery.”
Priscilla stared at him. She couldn’t think of a single thing to say.
“Holy Jesus,” she breathed after a moment. “That was grim as fuck.”
“Sorry,” he breathed slowly. “I’ve had a shitty few weeks.”
That seemed like it might have been the biggest understatement ever uttered.
“Uh huh,” Priscilla nodded as their train arrived. As they stood up and moved onto the train, neither of them said anything else. She’d never seen him look so sad in the entire time she’d known him. Granted, she had never known him all that well, despite the fact that one of his closest friends had married one of her closest friends. She figured they would’ve hung out more, brought together by Melly and David’s sweet, and vaguely nauseating, high school love, if it hadn’t been for Iggy and Miles’ blinding hatred of one another. That was bound to change soon, if Miles and Iggy managed to keep their tentative romance going. Priscilla would probably be headed toward seeing a lot more of Oscar, even outside of the subway.
“Well, my parents are celebrating their anniversary in Barbados this Christmas,” she informed him once the subway car had begun to move. “So you can spend some time with me and my sister Tallulah if you want. We’ll be ordering Chinese food tomorrow and probably listening to Boney M’s Christmas album an excessively high number of times.”
It was Tallulah’s favourite Christmas album. For whatever reason, she really enjoyed the flute section in Boney M’s rendition of “Feliz Navidad”. Oscar turned to look at her once again. If possible, he looked even sadder than before. He was the human embodiment of Eeyore. She wanted to ask what was wrong with him, whether or not it was just because he’d been left alone for the holidays, but she wasn’t sure they were close enough for that kind of sharing. On the other hand, she had just invited him to her apartment to spend Christmas with her and her sister. Tallulah would surely have some choice words about that. She had a thing about sharing egg rolls. She became extremely violent. They’d have to make sure to get an exact number of everything.
“You sure?” He asked. “I don’t want to intrude.”
He sounded like he didn’t want to exist, but Priscilla graciously let it slide.
“Absolutely,” she said, trying to mentally calculate how many orders of chicken balls they’d have to get.
They exchanged numbers before he got off at his stop. She messaged him her address and sent another message two hours later telling him to come over that night for a sleepover so that they could all be together on Christmas morning. Surprisingly, that had been at Tallulah’s direction, who had decided that it would be too unbearably sad for him to wake up on Christmas morning in an empty apartment.
“Jesus, he’s like a tiny orphaned field mouse,” Tallulah remarked as they waited for Oscar to come over later that evening. It hadn’t taken a lot of persuading to goad him into coming early, so Priscilla got the impression that he also felt like a tiny orphaned field mouse. There was also whatever was happening with the possibly carnivorous fruit flies.
“He looked so sad on the subway earlier,” Priscilla replied.
“Well, public transportation,” Tallulah shrugged one shoulder.
“No, he looked even sadder than people normally do when pressed up against strangers on a subway car,” she retorted. “It was alarming, to be honest.”
“I wonder why,” Tallulah mused. Priscilla had no idea, but she was going to ask. She may not have been his best friend in the world, but he was staying at her apartment for Christmas. Besides which, maybe it would be a good thing for someone to ask. She had horrible visions of him going around, being so sad without anybody bothering to ask if he was alright. She was going to ask. She spent a fair bit of time trying to work out what to say and how to bring it up without it seeming obvious or unnatural. In the end, all that planning was for nought because she asked pretty much as soon as he showed up at the apartment. He had stepped inside and was in the middle of untying his boots when it just slipped out. She couldn’t help it; he’d looked so sad when he’d handed over the frozen pie he’d bought. It was key lime and it was rapidly chilling Priscilla’s fingertips from where she held onto it.
“What’s wrong with you?” She blurted out. In all of the scenarios she’d worked out, she hadn’t sounded nearly as accusatory. Oscar looked up at her, clearly stunned, one hand stilled on his slush-wet boot laces. It wasn’t a good start.
“Sorry?” He replied. She couldn’t tell if he was asking for clarification or trying to apologize for whatever he’d possibly done to upset her. Neither were great, though the latter was definitely worse. Priscilla backtracked.
“No, no, I just meant that you seem really sad,” she attempted to restart, cringing at her own fumble.
“Uh…,” he stalled, obviously unsure how to respond. This was not at all how she’d wanted this to go. For one thing, she would’ve preferred if he was upright and not crouched over his own feet, staring up at her in shock and mild horror.
“This isn’t going well,” she said, though she definitely hadn’t needed to point that out. “I only wanted to ask if you were alright because you seem upset and this was obviously not the way to do it so I’m sorry.”
Now she was rambling. Oscar continued to stare at her, though his expression softened somewhat from shock and terror to something mostly resembling discomfort. She wouldn’t be surprised if he took his pie and ran.
“Oh,” he cleared his throat, finally finishing with his boot laces. He stood and kicked of his shoes, leaving him standing in her front hall in a pair of Christmas socks that had little cartoon Santa heads on them. The white beards were fuzzy. One of the socks had a hole at the third toe. Priscilla was still clutching onto the pie and telepathically willing Tallulah to make an appearance.
“I shouldn’t have said anything,” Priscilla continued attempting to backtrack. She could hear Tallulah humming to herself in the kitchen, which was exactly no help to her at all.
“No, it’s alright,” Oscar replied, clearing his throat again. “Uh, my girlfriend broke up with me a little while ago and now she’s dating some dude named Ezra.”
Priscilla knew Oscar’s ex-girlfriend Katy. She had gone on a couple cottage weekends with her and Oscar throughout university at the invitation of Melly. Melly had been delighted when Oscar and Katy had gotten together because it meant that she and David had couple friends to spend time with. Melly was weirdly fond of the idea of couple friends. Priscilla had no idea why because the only couple friends she and David essentially had were Danielle and Jake, two of the world’s worst people. From what Priscilla remembered, Katy was bubbly and cheery and, before she had dated Oscar for what Iggy referred to as a thousand years, she’d been dating some guy named Ezra.
“Her ex-boyfriend?” Priscilla asked, thinking that Katy had dumped Oscar for the one that got away, the original Ezra. The way Oscar’s mouth twisted, she assumed she was correct.
“I forgot about that jackass,” he grunted. “But no. It’s some other dude.”
“She’s dating another guy named Ezra?” Priscilla checked and he nodded solemnly. “Where is she finding all these guys named Ezra? She lives in Roehampton, not Brooklyn.”
Oscar snorted and Priscilla was more proud that she’d made him laugh than she cared to admit out loud.
The three of them had grilled cheese and key lime pie for dinner. Tallulah forced them to watch Footloose, her ultimate favourite movie of all time, followed by Centre Stage. Oscar was not impressed with either selection, but he sat through it like a champ. Actually, for most of Centre Stage, he laid through it like a champ, stretched out across their living room floor with his head propped up on a pillow high enough for him to see the TV, presumably so he could make scathing comments.
After the second movie, Priscilla got him set up in Bernie’s room. Bernie had not been informed that there would be someone sleeping in her room, largely because Priscilla hadn’t even know until well after Bernie had left for her parents’ house. It meant that there were piles of clothing on the floor in the corners of the bedrooms, like she was hoarding blouses. The bed itself had surprisingly been made, but there were about four cereal bowls sitting on the dresser next to the open closet.
“I’ll just take these,” Priscilla said, picking them up as she closed the closet door with her foot. Oscar raised an eyebrow at her.
“It’s like you think I give a shit whether or not there are dishes in here,” he remarked loftily. “When in reality I live with eight billion fruit flies in the lowest circle of hell.”
“And also Ramsay,” Priscilla added.
“Yes, and also Ramsay, a very hairy man who sweats a lot,” Oscar nodded.
“Disgusting,” Priscilla wrinkled her nose and stuck out her tongue.
“Yes,” Oscar nodded again.
“Well, good night,” Priscilla said, making for the door. “And merry Christmas!”
“Yeah, merry Christmas,” he returned, flashing her a small smile that made him look significantly less like Eeyore. It was nice.