We Haven’t Even Had Crab Puffs Yet – Christmas Party Part 6 – Short Story

*Juliette’s annual holiday party is back on after two years of missing out. New venue: rooftop plaza. Penelope and Jason are, somehow, not looking forward to it.*

Jason & Penelope get a special installment every single year since their first ever story way back in 2017. My wife hounds me for these every year so I hope you’re happy with this installment, B.

If you haven’t read the previous parts, you don’t have to but if you’d like to (or you’d like to re-read so you can remember what happened in the lead up to this)

Christmas Party – Short Story (part one, 2017)
Another Year Another Party – Christmas Party Sequel – Short Story (part two, 2018)
Not In The Middle Of Your Christmas Party – Christmas Party Part 3 – Short Story (part three 2019)
Virtual Christmas Party – Christmas Party 4 – Short Story (part four, 2020)
Can’t Believe There’s No Party Again – Christmas Party Part 5 – Short Story (part five, 2021)

“This is going to be a nightmare,” Penelope sighed, looking up at the new venue for her mother’s annual holiday party.

“It’ll be fine,” Jason protested, wrapping surprisingly warm fingers around Penelope’s.

She looked up at him. He was tucked into a pure white scarf he’d knitted for himself, his too-big nose turning red with the cold.

There were so many things she wanted to say. She wanted to complain about her mother’s expected overbearingness. The first holiday party in two years and in a new venue at that, she would be on her worst behaviour, Penelope just knew it.

And, while Penelope actually had something exciting to boast about this year – not that she’d told her mother yet – it hadn’t exactly come about the way Juliette would have wanted. Thus the not having told her yet.

“She’s gonna be pissed.”

“Or maybe she’ll be excited,” Jason said.

“Your dad is going to go nuts.”

That stumped Jason. His eyebrows drew together and he buried deeper into his scarf. “Yeah, well, there’s a reason we haven’t told him yet.”

Penelope bonked her head against Jason’s shoulder. “Sorry, that was inappropriate and unfair.”

“It’s just your anxiety talking.”

“I know, but I’m still sorry.”

Jason’s chin pressed into the top of Penelope’s head. His chest moved with a sigh.

They stayed pressed together long enough that Penelope’s fingers started to go numb. She pulled back, offered Jason a kiss that transferred only the tiniest shimmer of her lipstick onto him, and said, “Unto the breach?”

“As long as we’re together, we can manage anything.”

“Even the return of my mother’s annual holiday party.”

The party itself was a sparkling wonderland of twinkle lights and strategically placed heaters to try and keep the chill evening air at bay on the rooftop plaza that Juliette had rented.

“It’s not the same with everyone in coats, is it?” Luis’ unmistakeable voice murmured from Penelope’s left.

Something in her eased as his comfortable presence. Luis was always her most stanch supporter, always in her corner in a way Harry – the eldest – -never could be. Which was, of course, the reason she’d always recruited Luis to support her on this upcoming revelation.

He was right, the ballgowns and elegant dresses were hidden away under coats and jackets. Gloves, hats and scarves disguised perfectly coiffed hair and perfectly made up faces and perfectly manicured hands.

“Some people really went all out,” Jason murmured in return. “They got coats that match the rest of the outfit.”

Penelope and Luis snickered.

“Penelope, Jason!” Juliette called, sweeping over, silver skirts swirling around her feet. She, like a few of the more prominent attendees, wore a coat that matched the ballgown almost perfectly. A black wool coat that stopped just below the apex of her hip. It was her professional coat, the one she wore over her mayoral suits, but she’d replaced the belt with a silver sash that matched her gown.

Penelope bit the inside of her cheek to keep from grinning at the peeking of Juliette’s cosy black boots underneath her gown.

“Hi, mum,” Penelope greeted, letting herself get swept up into her mother’s arms.

“Let’s get you both drinks,” Juliette said, sweeping Jason into an equally quick hug before summoning over one of the well-bundled wait staff.

They poured both Jason and Penelope a mug of spiced, warmed apple juice.

Penelope took a deep breath, her ribcage shrinking around her chest, putting pressure on her heart and lungs. She wrapped her hands around the clear glass mug, letting the slim wedding band on her finger shine in the twinkling lights.

Juliette stopped in the middle of a sentence that Penelope hadn’t been listening to. She looked between Penelope’s hands cupped around the mug and  Jason’s hand wrapped around the handle. His matching band sat next to the engagement band Penelope had given him two years before.

“You…” she trailed off.

“In October,” Penelope agreed. “We eloped.”

Juliette’s face twisted, shifted, and formed into a beaming smile. She gripped Penelope’s hands, jostling the mug and making the liquid slosh dangerously close to the edge. A repressed squeal escaped her. “Why didn’t you tell me!?”

Penelope smiled sheepishly. “We couldn’t meet in person and I…”

“We wanted to see your face,” Jason cut in.

“Do you have pictures?”

“Of course.”

“And where are they?” Juliette demanded.

Jason laughed. “In an album that we didn’t bring to your party.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s not really appropriate to spend your entire party looking through our wedding album.”

“And we must keep up appearances,” Luis added, tone slightly mocking.

Juliette shot him a fond look. “Alright, but I expect you to appear at my house  with every piece of information a mother could possibly want from a wedding she wasn’t invited to.” And with that she disappeared to see to her other guests.

“I’ve scoped out a private spot if you want to hide now,” Luis offered.

Penelope nodded. She let Jason guide her after Luis. The spot he’d scoped out was behind the rear of the heater generator. The noise of it sounded like the static that filled Penelope’s head at the quiet disappointment her mum had expressed by such simple words as ‘wasn’t invited to’.

***

Jason left a hand on Penelope’s shoulder and turned to Luis. “How have you been since October?”

Luis shot a look at the very out of it Penelope.

Jason shook his head, hoping Luis would understand to just leave her to get back to them on her own. It was a lesson that had been hard for him to learn, harder to stick to. But it was how Penelope liked to handle it when she wasn’t hyperventilating with panic and was already in a safe spot to be distanced and dissociated from anxiety. He didn’t know if it was healthy, he didn’t know if it was the observably correct thing to do, but it was how Penn liked to deal with it, so it was what he did.

“Pants, actually,” Luis said. “That internship I got turned out to be garbage.”

“Garbage how?”

“The advert was misleading. I ended up back at the shoe shop I worked at before I graduated.”

“And now you’re working all the way through December?”

“Including new years, and I really wanted to spend that with…”

Jason raised an eyebrow. “With?” He drew the word out.

Luis’s cheeks flushed further than they had with the cold air, the pinkness spreading over his nose and up his forehead.

Jason tried to contain his smile. That was exactly how Penelope flushed too.

“Someone special.”

“Are you applying for other stuff?”

“Yeah,” Luis agreed. “But it’s slow going. It kind of feels like I’m never going to get anywhere.”

“Like you’ll be stuck doing something you’re not passionate about for the rest of your life?”

“Exactly.”

Jason nodded. He’d been feeling the same. As grateful as he was to Juliette for the opportunity, for giving him the chance to work and earn money and fill the ever widening gap in his CV as her temporary assistant. But neither of them had expected it to last this long.

Jason knew he was doing a good job, he knew he was filling the role the way Juliette wanted him to. But it had been hard. It had been harder still since officially marrying Penelope. Taking his wedding ring off every day to head into work. But he’d done it because that was what Penn needed and wanted him to do.

But he couldn’t tell Luis that, could he? He couldn’t complain about Luis’ mother right to his face. It would be different if he knew Luis better, but he didn’t, so he couldn’t.

“What is it you want to do?” He asked instead.

“Well, I did my degree in—”

“No,” Jason interrupted. “What do you want, not what you think you should want, what do you actually want?”

Luis’ attention caught on the main body of the party itself. “Oh, look. Crab puffs. I’ll be back.”

Jason leaned his forehead on Penelope’s shoulder. “You’re right, this is a nightmare,” he whispered, fully expecting Penelope not to register his words.

“You want to go home?” She asked.

“We haven’t even had crab puffs yet.”

“Grab some on the way out?”

“What about appearances?”

Penelope shrugged, dislodging Jason’s face.

“You always care about appearances.”

“Not today. We made our presence known. We would spend the rest of the evening in this corner anyway. You want to head out before your father gets here and we have to talk to him?”

“I’ve never heard a better suggestion.”

Penelope’s face lit with the mischief as she grabbed Jason’s hand in her own. They each abandoned their now chilled mugs on a random table. Penelope stuffed her coat pockets full of crab puffs with the abandon of her younger self and she and Jason made a dash for the lift to get them back down to the ground floor.

They were still waiting for their hastily called taxi, eating crab puffs out of Penelope’s pockets when Jason’s father arrived.

Jason choked on the pastry wrapped shellfish. “Father.”

“Jason.” He offered his hand to shake.

Jason traded the other half of the crab puff he’d just choked on into his other hand, and offered his right hand for his father to shake. The leather of his gloves was cold against Jason’s palm.

His father’s attention clung to the crab puff. Jason flipped it into his mouth. When his father’s attention didn’t shift, Jason looked down at his hand to see what had so thoroughly gripped his father’s attention.

The wedding band.

“You’re married?” His voice was as cold as his gloves.

“Yes.”

“To whom? When? For what reason have we not been introduced.”

“You know her.”

“Do I, indeed?”

“Mr Brande.” Penelope stepped up and offered her own hand.

“Juliette’s daughter?” Jason’s father snapped at Jason.

“Yes,” Jason answered.

“When?”

“When what?”

“When did this begin? When did the marriage occur?”

“We started dating six years ago. We got married in October.”

“Well,” his father cleared his throat. “I’m glad to see you’re settling down. You’ll have to let me send you a wedding gift. Let me know your preferences by email.” He nodded at Penelope. “Ms Smith.” And with that he strode toward the building, pausing only briefly to toss over his shoulder. “If you’d like to use the car I have it all night. Please ensure its back before midnight.”

Jason stared at Penelope.

She looked at the fancy black car and back as Jason. “You want to use the car?”

Jason tugged the passenger door open to find his father’s usual driver in the driver’s seat. “You fancy drive through? I’m buying.”

***

This will be my second to last short story of this year, since I’ll be taking a break for my birthday and hogmanay. It’s gonna be a roundup next , and then my year will start with my semi-annual tradition of Top Stories from the year just gone. See you next year.

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and I’ll see you all next week for another Short Story.

© nopoodles 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023

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