Braelyn put on her skinny jeans and a flannel shirt, then went to dry her hair. She curled it and braided two pieces and pulled them back with bobby pins. She put on a little bit of makeup before pulling on her boots and heading downstairs. Back in the kitchen, she found the two brothers sitting at the kitchen, drinking coffee, and not strangling each other.
“I’m a little proud you two haven’t been fist fighting again.” Braelyn perched on Mikey’s lap.
“Well, we’ve been brothers for a long time. We used to fight all the time,” Mikey replied. “We got tired of it. If Gerard says he’s sorry, then he’s sorry.”
“Besides,” Gerard added, “It upsets mom when we fight.”
“Aww good boys.”
Just then the doorbell rang. Gerard groaned. “Time to face the masses.”
“Come on,” Mikey said, squeezing her lightly. “The sooner we start, the sooner they’re will all go home.”
“They cannot be that bad,” Braelyn said, standing.
Gerard and Mikey shared a look and an eye roll. Mikey took her hand and the three of them went to the living room.
It wasn’t terrible. Braelyn had a hard time remembering everyone’s name, but other than that, she enjoyed meeting Mikey’s cousins. Then there were the children. Elaine was the oldest and was falling all over herself to talk to Gerard and Mikey. Braelyn found that hilarious. Then there were the nine year old twins Mary and Robert. Robert just wanted to go play in the snow and Mary was obsessed with Braelyn’s hairstyle. The toddler, Johnny, was three and into everything. and the new baby, Mikayla, was absolutely precious.
Mary was sitting on Braelyn’s lap allowing her to braid her hair so it looked just like Braelyn’s while Braelyn answered the questions and chatted with the women among Mikey’s cousins and their wives. Elaine also seemed very interested in Braelyn, shyly admitting to having downloaded her songs and really liking them. Then it was time to help with dinner. It was clear that there was more than enough help in the kitchen and also, Robert was going to go crazy if he didn’t get to go outside. Braelyn and Mikey, with the help of Gerard and the guy cousins who weren’t cooking, organized a snowball fight. While it would have been enough fun for the adults to hurl frozen ice balls at each other, Robert was ready to go. Braelyn even managed to convince Elaine and Mary to participate.
They spent the hour and a half it took to get dinner ready building snow forts and chucking snow at each other. Braelyn noticed that Gerard and Mikey, who were on opposite teams, were throwing a little harder than necessary. But at least there were no rocks in the middle of the snowballs. The fight ended when Braelyn and Mary led a kamikaze attack, throwing their bodies through the other team’s snow fort, allowing their teammates to pull off the victory.
The win secured and dinner prepared, they helped brush the snow off of each other so they wouldn’t trail it inside. Donna shooed them all into the dining room that had two long tables crammed into it. Mary was insistent on sitting next to Braelyn and Elaine could not be pulled away from her two idols, so somehow, Mikey and Braelyn ended up at different tables. He looked apologetically over at her. She just shrugged with a grin as Mary towed her to her seat. Tabitha, Mikey’s cousin and Mary’s mom, took pity on Braelyn and sat on the girl’s other side to make sure she had an adult to talk to during dinner. The result, as usual with anyone that Braelyn met, was the fast friendship between the two women.
After dinner, they left the dishes and all sat in the living room. Braelyn was confused until the gifts started to be passed out. She leaned over to whisper in Mikey’s ear, “I didn’t know we were supposed to get gifts...”
He grinned and murmured back, “It’s family exchange. The adults all draw one name to buy for. The list came out in June, before we even could guess you’d be coming to Christmas. So don’t worry about it.”
Johnny came tottering forward to present Mikey with his gift from Johnny’s father, Joey. Mikey Grabbed the kid and pulled him into his laugh, causing a delighted shriek to escape the child. Mikey was allowing Johnny to ‘help’ open his gift when Braelyn was distracted by Elaine coming up to her.
“I didn’t want you to be the only one without a present to open,” she said offering a package.
Braelyn felt her chest tighten at the thoughtfulness of the younger girl. She managed to keep her voice steady as she answered taking the wrapped box, “Thank you so much, Elaine! That’s so sweet!”
Braelyn received a wide smile. “Open it.”
Braelyn did as she was bid. Inside the box were mittens and a scarf knitted out of soft, bright, blue yarn. Braelyn took them out and said, with awe in her voice, “Oh, these are so beautiful.”
“I made them myself,” Elaine said, proudly.
“No way! That’s so cool!” Braelyn looked at the girl in disbelief. “I wish I could make cool things like that.” She immediately twined the scarf around her neck before standing to hug Elaine. “Thank you so much!”
Elaine hugged her back. “You’re welcome.”
She returned to her seat and Braelyn’s focus shifted back to the wild chaos that was the gift exchange. Mikey showed her the gift Joey had gotten him: whiskey stones. Apparently, you froze the stone cubes and put them in the alcoholic beverage of your choice. They would keep your drink could and not watered down with ice melt. Braelyn nodded her approval. Mary came to show Braelyn her new Polly Pocket set. Eventually, things calmed down. The debris of wrappings were picked up and thrown away and the process of saying goodbye began.
Braelyn stood in the doorway with Donna, Donny, Mikey, and Gerard, waving as the others drove off into the night. Donna shooed them all inside, instructing, “Mikey and Gerard, you can do the dishes.”
“I’ll help,” Braelyn volunteered, following them into the kitchen.
Braelyn washed, Mikey dried, while Gerard put dishes away. They were halfway through the pile of dirty plates, pots, and pans when Gerard spoke. “I had a moment today.”
“Good for you?” Mikey answered, not knowing how to respond.
“What kind of moment?” Braelyn asked, dunking a crusty casserole dish into the soapy water.
“Like one of those clarifying moments. I realized just how stupid I’ve been.”
“So was it a long moment?” Mikey asked. “‘Cause you been a whole lot of stupid.” He laughed at his own joke. Braelyn elbowed him, laughing softly.
Gerard laughed a little bit too. “Ya. It was a pretty long moment.” All three of them burst into laughter. “Don’t you want to hear my realization?” Braelyn nodded, Mikey shrugged.”I love Quinn.”
“And you’re an idiot!” Braelyn almost shouted, exasperated.
“Woah kid,” Gerard said, taking a step back. That wasn’t exactly the response he expected.
“No.” Braylen let the dish splash in the water as she dropped it. “You love her? You ignored her and said really mean things, then let her walk out of your house, and NOW you realize you love her?! God, boys are stupid.”
Mikey hooked an arm around Braelyn’s waist. “She has a point.”
“I know.” There was misery in his voice. “And now I’ll never get her back...”
Braelyn couldn’t help herself. “Sorry. This just took a turn for ‘bad romance movie.’ I couldn’t help myself.”
“Sure, go ahead,” Gerard said, a wry smile on his face, “Mock my pain.”
“You got it, friend,” Braelyn said, enjoying their bickering. Things felt almost back to normal.
“So what are you going to do about it?” Mikey asked.
“I don’t know.” His voice was sad again.
Braelyn shrugged, “I don’t know if there’s anything he can do. Quinn was pretty upset when she left...”
“See? Hopeless.” Gerard put the last dish away. “I’m gonna go see Max. Maybe he’ll have an idea.” He grabbed his coat off the back of a kitchen chair where he had left it, and he was out the door.
Donna and Donny came into the kitchen and didn’t seem the least bit surprised that Gerard had gone out to see Max again. Instead, Donna beckoned them over to the table where Donny was already shuffling cards.
After Mikey and his mother had sufficiently beaten Donna and Braelyn at Canasta, they all said goodnight. Braelyn and Mikey went to watch television, finding, to their delight, that the Dark Knight was on. When it was over and something else was now playing Mikey asked her, “Are you sleeping by yourself tonight?”
“I mean, I’ll probably be fine,” she replied with a shrug.
“You know,” a voice said from the doorway, “Mom would probably allow you two sleeping in the same bed if she knew why it was so difficult for Braelyn to sleep alone.”
The two turned to see Gerard’s shadowy form leaning against the doorframe, slumped. I smiled, “That’s sweet, but I’ll be ok for just a couple of days. How was Max? Did he have any ideas?”
“Nope.” Gerard’s voice popped on the ‘p.’ “He did have gin though.”
“Well, that’s almost as good?” Mikey said, giving Braelyn a worried look. Their thoughts were the same. Gerard hadn’t been drunk since they had cleaned out the bus a few months ago. He had had a couple of drinks with everyone, but he hadn’t gotten hammered.
“Yup,” Gerard said. “I’m going to bed.”
“Goodnight,” the other two chorused. When he was gone, Braelyn observed, “We should keep an eye on that. I suspect it’s because he feels out of control with Quinn gone, but still. It’s not a habit he should get into...”
“How do we fix it?”
Braelyn had an idea, but before she could say it the words “It’s simple, we kill the Batman” popped out of her mouth. She laughed hysterically while Mikey sat there looking at her questioningly, smiling and shaking his head. She took a couple of deep breaths to get herself under control. “I meant, we go get Quinn. “
“Like drive to Connecticut?”
“Ya, it can’t be that far, right?”
“Would she even come with us?”
“I don’t know, but if she does, it would be the best Christmas gift of all time.”
Mikey was quiet for a second, thinking. Finally, he nodded. “Ya. Let’s go. We’ll drive up tomorrow morning. But it’s Christmas Eve, and mom will be really upset if we miss Christmas Eve mass.”
“What time is that? That way we can figure out when to leave in the morning.”
“Mom makes us go to midnight mass, we usually leave the house around eleven.”
“See! That gives us plenty of time.”
“Wanna leave around eight?” Braelyn nodded. Then MIkey asked, “Where are we sleeping tonight?”
Braelyn pulled a blanket over them and said “Here seems good.”
Before she fell asleep, Braelyn managed to fiddle with her phone enough to turn an alarm on for the morning.
When it went off in the morning, Braelyn and Mikey untangled themselves from the blankets. Braelyn went to change into her sweatpants and a hoodie she had stolen from Mikey. She hated to be uncomfortable on a long car ride. She really didn’t care if she looked like shit. She pulled her hair up into a sloppy bun before going to find Mikey. He was downstairs in the kitchen in jeans and a hoodie writing a note to his mother. She read it over his shoulder.
We went to go see if we could convince Quinn to come back. It’s a long story, but we’ll be back in time for church.
Braelyn suggested they shove the note under Donna and Donny’s bedroom door, so Gerard wouldn’t find it. A: she didn’t want to get his hopes up in case they couldn’t get Quinn to take him back and B: if they were able to talk her into coming back to Jersey, she didn’t want to ruin the surprise. Mikey nodded in agreement. They slid the piece of paper through the crack of the door before bundling up in coats and getting in the car.
They drove through Dunkin Donuts for coffee and bagels and then they started the three hour drive to Connecticut. Mikey drove as Braelyn propped her feet up on the dashboard and sang along to all the songs on the pandora. They had a rap battle with the song ‘Handlebars.’ Braelyn shocked even herself when she just kept saying the words. She didn’t even know that she knew all of them.
They pulled of I-84 around eleven and Braelyn pulled out her phone. To Mikey, she said, “Follow the signs to the University. Quinn said she lived ‘across the street.’ I’ll call her.”
She dialed the phone. Quinn answered on the second ring. “Hello?”
“Hi, Quinn! Merry Christmas Eve! How’s Connecticut?” Braelyn said into the phone.
“It’s alright. How is Jersey?”
“Well,” Braelyn said scrambling, she hadn’t exactly thought this all the way through, “We’re actually in Connecticut-me and Mikey-because...because of reasons.” She hurried on, “Anyway, before we head back to the Way house, we thought we’d come say hi to you!”
“Oh.” Quinn was confused, but her voice was bright when she continued, “That’s so sweet! Absolutely! Where are you?”
“Actually,” Braelyn looked around. She caught sight of a sign. “We’re driving past some dorms up at the school? It says Towers...”
Quinn laughed. “I’m just a few miles up that road. You’re going to keep going straight through campus, past the high school and through the light at 32. Then take your third left. I’ll go stand in my yard so you can see me.”
“Great! We’ll see you in a second!” Braelyn relayed the instructions to Mikey and soon they found themselves in Quinn’s driveway. Braelyn got out of the car and launched herself at Quinn, hugging her fiercely. “Hey, girl, hey!”
Quinn hugged her back. “This is such a cute surprise!” Quinn hugged Mikey. “Why are you guys here again?”
“Maybe we should go inside to talk?” Braelyn suggested. “It’s cold.”
Quinn looked a little skeptical, but said, “Ya. Of course.” She led them inside. Once they were all comfortable in the living room Quinn raised her eyebrows at Braelyn. “So?”
“Wellllllll, this thing happened.” Braelyn began the story of the last 72 hours, ending with the conversation they had had with Gerard over dishes the night before. “Now, I’m not saying that this little declaration makes up for what he did. He’s been a little bitch, but he did realize it. He thinks that there’s no way you’d ever take him back...”
“I don’t know if I can...” Quinn said.
“And we don’t expect you to make a decision right now, or even include us in that decision,” Mikey added. “But we were up here and we figured you should know what happened and that we’d offer you a lift back to Jersey if you wanted to go.”
“Just think about it for a bit,” Braelyn said when Quinn didn’t reply. “Let us take you out to lunch and then after, we’ll go back and you can come with us if you want.”
“Ok. I am starving,” Quinn agreed. They all got into Mikey’s car and Quinn instructed him to a place she affectionately called Willi Brew. They enjoyed the pub food and the brewed-on-site beer.
An hour later, the check was paid and the group was headed back to Mikey’s car when Braelyn asked, “So, Quinn. Want to come with us?”
A/N: So I got you an extra long chapter because I LOVE YOU. No, seriously, mad love. Shout outs to T and Izzy for reviews. Anywaysss hope ya like it. GO REVIEW! hearts, Corri