Iggy and Miles were spending Christmas at her dad’s place with her step-mother and her three step-siblings. Her mother was on her annual Caribbean cruise, as she had been every Christmas for the past five years. She had started doing this two years after she and Iggy’s father had gotten divorced. Coincidentally, it coincided with the year that Iggy’s father got remarried. Her mother said it had nothing to do with that, but Iggy was fairly certain that was a lie. Iggy’s mother was a lot of things, but subtle wasn’t one of them.
Iggy was slightly concerned that it was too soon for her and Miles to be spending the holidays with each other’s families. She felt this way for a couple reasons, primarily because she wasn’t sure they had been together long enough to warrant that kind of involvement, but also largely because she was concerned about what effect prolonged exposure to her family would have on him and his level of commitment to her. She understood that a lot of people had weird family dynamics, but she felt that hers was specifically a lot to handle. Most of that was down to her step-mother Blythe.
Blythe was severe. She definitely wasn’t warm or fuzzy or at all sympathetic, even a little bit. Iggy’s father, Harold, was a meek gentleman with a penchant for crossword puzzles and knit sweaters. Blythe liked things that were sleek and metallic. When she and Harold had moved in together, she’d had the entire kitchen redone. Iggy was used to the pine wood cabinets of her childhood in the 90s, but all of that had been replaced with stainless steel and chrome finishes. It looked nice, but it just wasn’t what she was used to. Although, Blythe had also repainted Iggy’s childhood bedroom and guest bedroom alike a dark shade of grey that made it feel like a tomb.
Blythe’s children, meanwhile, weren’t remotely similar in any way. Iggy had no idea how they’d all spawned from the same two people. Actually, she had no idea how any of them had spawned from Blythe at all. She was half-convinced that all of them had been secretly adopted, like Blythe had disappeared for nine months at a time, possibly away at a convent in northern France, and reappeared with a baby that had probably belonged to the shamed daughter of a shepherd who was moonlighting as a nun.
“That’s a very elaborate theory,” Sybil told her at a meeting of the Blonde Bombshells and The Other One. This time, the Other One was Tallulah because Bernie was busy. Plus, they had added Suze to the blonde crew.
“That only happens in, like, soap operas or period dramas,” Jemima added, waving around her fork to emphasize her point. It still had pasta on it. Suze, who was sitting beside her, ducked so as to avoid getting smacked in the face with linguini.
“But do you guys think it’s too soon to start spending the holidays with each other’s families?” Iggy asked directly, getting back to the root of her issue.
“You’re going to be living together in two weeks,” Tallulah pointed out, which was true. “At this point, the only thing that’s too soon for you to do together is, like, buy joint burial plots and that’s only because you’re very young, but more importantly, because you’re poor.”
That was also true. It didn’t change the fact that Iggy didn’t really want Miles to meet her step-family. Although, to be fair, he did already know the oldest two of her step-siblings as they’d all gone to the same high school together. She was pretty sure he’d actually had a crush on her step-sister, which definitely wasn’t helping matters.
Despite all her worst fears, Iggy managed to put that all aside and brought Miles to her dad’s house for Christmas. They arrived on Christmas Eve to find the house neatly decorated with mostly silver ornaments. The artificial Christmas tree Blythe had put up in the living room was white and draped in silver ribbon with silver and white glass ornaments. All of the Christmas lights were white. Christmas had never looked so monochromatic.
Iggy’s three step-siblings were already there. The youngest, Bridget, lived there all the time, seeing as she was only fifteen years old. She had been a bonus baby, or so her siblings said. She was simultaneously the most complicated and simple person Iggy had ever known. The things she liked were definite; horses, Tiffany blue, and manicures. At the same time, however, she experienced more emotions in a span of minutes than Iggy experienced in months. Bridget was, as Blythe put it, in the middle of her difficult phase. It felt to Iggy like Bridget had been in this phase since she’d first met her five years ago, but she refrained from commenting.
Then there was Alicia. Alicia was the second oldest. She was genuinely pleasant to be around and quite pretty. She was also incredibly smart, and yet said some of the most accidentally stupid things. Priscilla had once said she was the dumbest smart person she’d ever known and Iggy was inclined to agree. Alicia was normal, though. She was easy to be around, she was an adult, and she had never once accused Iggy of trying to steal her mint green cardigan as Bridget once had. Iggy had most definitely not been trying to steal Bridget’s cardigan, not least of all because it was approximately two sizes too small.
The oldest of Blythe’s children was Derek, who spent at least eighty per cent of his time awake brooding. The other twenty per cent of the time, he spent in angst over the times he was accidentally happy. His parents’ divorce had hit him the hardest. They hadn’t even gotten divorced for any nefarious reason. They’d just fallen out of love gradually over the span of two decades and now Derek no longer believed in love. Or happiness.
Also in attendance was Bridget’s boyfriend Tyler. He appeared to be a point of contention amongst the family. For one thing, he was older than Bridget. For another, he seemed to be an idiot.
“I’m just in my second victory lap,” he explained to Iggy and Miles on Christmas Eve as they waited in the living room so that they could all head out to church. “But this is the final semester of my victory laps.”
“I don’t know that his sixth year of high school is so much a victory as it is a haunting example of the failure of the education system,” Miles whispered to Iggy under his breath. Upstairs, Iggy could hear Blythe and Bridget arguing about what was and what wasn’t an appropriate skirt length to wear to church, which made her think of the red dress Bernie had worn to her cousin’s church wedding the year before. Alicia was politely nodding along to what Tyler was saying, though he had actually stopped talking at that point, which was how Iggy knew Alicia wasn’t actually paying attention.
“Where’s your brother?” Iggy asked, hoping they could get this show on the road soon. She was wearing her nicest, but most uncomfortable dress. It was evergreen and she wore it to every Christmas and holiday party ever because it was expensive and she was aiming to get her money’s worth. She had worn it to Miles’ office Christmas party the week before. Incidentally, it was the only piece of clothing she’d ever owned that Blythe had ever complimented. Iggy was sure Blythe could tell that she wore it all the time for that express purpose, but Blythe was kind enough not to mention that. Instead, she merely complimented the dress and moved on. It was genuinely one of the nicest holiday traditions Iggy felt their blended family had.
“I don’t know,” Alicia answered Iggy’s question. “In his room being depressing and tragic probably. It’s his main shtick.”
She wasn’t wrong.
Eventually, Blythe, Bridget, and Derek surfaced. Bridget was wearing a dress that Iggy was certain Blythe had forced her to wear and Derek was brooding as per usual. The lot of them crammed themselves into Blythe’s white Nissan hatchback, the small one that got buffeted around on strong gusts of wind, and Iggy’s father’s minivan, which he had owned for a decade and a half. It had fake wood-panelling on the outside of it. Iggy and Miles ended up squished in the very backseat of the van while Derek took the passenger seat and Alicia sat in the middle. Bridget and Tyler went with Blythe, which was most definitely a mistake, especially since they all looked quite aggravated by the time they showed up at church. Iggy and Miles sat in a pew at the back of the church next to Alicia and Iggy’s father, who was blissfully ignoring his wife and step-daughter’s explosive, yet hushed argument beside him. Derek sat in the pew ahead, probably just to be physically left out, and sulked.
“Christ, he’s depressing,” Miles remarked to Iggy in a low voice, nodding discreetly to the back of Derek’s head. “How does he maintain that level of angst? It’s exhausting to me and I don’t have to bear the strain of such immense emotional turmoil.”
“He’s always been like that,” Alicia interjected, leaning over Iggy to speak to Miles as well, apparently having overhead his comment. “Even as a child. He used to have sombre funerals for his GI Joe action figures when they died in combat. And he would steal my Barbies to dress them as grieving widows. It was genuinely concerning for a while there, but I guess Mom decided it was fine.”
Alicia rolled her eyes at that.
“I thought he was upset over your parents’ divorce,” Iggy replied.
“He’s upset over everything,” Alicia returned. “I once saw him cry during a documentary about Irish dance competitions.”
Alicia sat back in her seat and they settled in to listen to the Christmas Eve service. Part way into the first hymn, Miles spoke again though.
“She’s totally the best one,” he nodded at Alicia. Iggy couldn’t even muster the strength to be jealous. Blythe and Bridget were silently fuming at one another, Tyler was openly checking his messages on his phone, and Derek was like a dark cloud in a sky of rainbows. Iggy also thought Alicia was the best one. Blythe couldn’t have chosen a better nunnery baby if she’d tried.