Chapter 30:

Blue Sky Christmas IV


December 25, 2022 AD. Dyson Household, California, USA, Earth

Christmas day arrived. For the Dyson household, according to Dinah, Christmas was usually a quiet affair: just the immediate family. However, with five guests, Dinah’s mother clearly wanted to do something a bit more extravagant. With Bekah’s eager help, she had hung decorations and prepared a tree for the past week.

That morning, Cam called his parents to wish them a Merry Christmas. His mother didn’t answer, so he tried his father’s phone. He did pick up, and Cam had a brief conversation with them about their business trip to New York. Cam really wanted to keep the conversation going, and from what he could tell so did his parents, but the conversation stalled. None of them could think of anything to say. After an awkward several seconds of silence, his father hung up with one final “Merry Christmas, son.”

Bekah had insisted on going to a church service at her church that morning. Nobody had seemed interested at first. However, when Cam decided to humor her by attending with her, Annette, Dinah, and Ella had all suddenly changed their mind and wanted to come as well. Bekah was thrilled to introduce them all to Paul, her friend that Cam had met once before. Annette had immediately began flirting with Paul, much to the horror of all, but she seemed less enthusiastic about it than normal. Combined with Paul’s apparent denseness, Annette gave up the attempt after a few minutes, freeing the rest of the friends from the awkwardness. Afterward, she simply ignored the man, which suited him just fine, since he had eyes only for Bekah.

After that, when they returned home, it was time for the gift exchange, an event about which Cam had stressed endlessly for the past week. He had spent hours staring at Amazon trying to find the perfect gifts, but he was finally satisfied. For Dinah’s family, he got a set of kitchen knives. For Annette, a new top that he was fairly confident was the right size; he had, feeling a bit embarrassed, asked Ella to determine Annette’s measurements, which she had reluctantly complied in doing. For Bekah, a nice leather cover for her Bible that he had noticed was looking worn. For Dinah, Cam had been the least sure, but he had finally decided on a cheery yellow hoodie, in the hopes that she would finally wear something other than grey and dark colors. And for Ella, he had purchased the English writing handbook Strunk’s The Elements of Style, which was, he admitted to himself, a selfish gift; he sincerely hoped Ella could use it to improve her writing even slightly before he had to read it. All four tore open their packages from him first, and as one, they seemed overjoyed at the gifts. Annette gave him a hug in thanks, which Ella copied. Bekah and Dinah weren’t as physical, but their heartfelt smiles were just as rewarding.

He reached a bit of a snag when it was his turn to open his presents. Before he began, Annette haughtily said “you should open mine first. I think it will set the tone.”

“No, start with mine!” insisted Dinah. “Please?”

“No, mine!” said Ingrid at practically the same time as her sister. I’m not even sure why Ingrid got me anything, he mused.

“Cam, don’t be silly,” Ella said. “We’ve shared something intimate in all those late nights together. That means you should open my gift first.” And there she goes with the probably accidental innuendo again, Cam thought, being smart enough to not say anything that could dig himself deeper.

Bekah didn’t verbally insist that she be first, but her soulful gaze said enough that Cam got the message. Bekah, too, wanted him to start with her gift.

Cam wasn’t certain why all five were so insistent, but the clamor of them arguing was getting annoying, so he spoke up. “Let’s resolve this like we would in D&M: with a dice roll.” He fished out one of the six-sided dice he always kept on his person for occasions like this, and, before anyone could protest, he rolled it. It came up 6, which was the number he had assigned for the gift from Dinah’s mother and father. With a smile of thanks to them, he opened it to reveal—socks. One by one, Cam opened the presents from the remaining five. With the exception of Ingrid, who gave him underwear for some unfathomable reason, all of them gave him D&M materials: fancy metal dice from Annette, a figurine to represent Cyton from Bekah, a different figurine to represent Cyton from Dinah, and a supplement book from Ella. Cam loved all of them—other than the underwear—as much as the girls had liked his gifts, although he wasn’t bold enough to thank them with an embrace.

The rest of the day passed pleasantly. Cam and Dinah played Fighting Fighters III for hours on the family TV, and the rest of the house members seemed to treat it like some sort of sporting event, taking sides and cheering for their person. Dinah’s family rooted for her, while Annette, Bekah, and Ella all rooted for Cam. It was a hard-fought battle, but in the end, Cam narrowly won, 21-19 in games. He tried to keep his gloating to a minimum but having three good-looking girls congratulating him did tend to inflate the head. Dinah seemed incredibly sulky, but she gave it up over a cup of eggnog.

Christmas dinner was the delicious meal he had come to expect from the tag team of Bekah and Dinah’s mother. Everyone else agreed, with Ella especially praising the perfectly cooked ham. After dinner was the immutable post-meal coffee and dessert, although tonight there was an array of dessert, befitting the holiday. Ella said she really shouldn’t eat this many sweets if she wanted to stay in shape as she stuffed her face with cake and pie. Annette had a good laugh at that contradiction.

After dessert, everyone was too stuffed to do anything but sit around. Ingrid and her father started a game of cards, while Cam, half-asleep, watched. Best he could tell, the father thought they were playing poker while Ingrid thought it was Go Fish. They both seemed too lethargic to care about the many rule disparities between their chosen games. Even in his half-asleep state, Cam did notice that the room was emptier than it should have been; Annette, Bekah, Dinah, and Ella were nowhere to be seen. Cam vaguely recalled seeing Annette gesture to the others earlier in the evening, but he was too full of good food to care.

Dinah’s mother sat next to Cam. When she started speaking, it took Cam a moment to realize she was speaking to him. “…man” he caught at the end of her sentence.

“I’m sorry, come again?” he asked.

“I said, you’re a very lucky young man,” she said with a smile, sipping a glass of wine.

“I’m pretty happy with my life, sure, but what in particular made you say that?”

She eyed him critically. “Lucky, but a bit dense, I see. Oh well, surrounded by young women like this, I’m sure you’ll figure it out sooner rather than later. Annette is so assertive.”

Cam recalled his encounter with her the time he had stayed at her house. “You have no idea.”

“As her mother, of course I want Dinah to be happy, but I suppose that’s up to you and her.”

That shook Cam awake. “Up to me and—sorry, what are you trying to say?”

“Come on. I know I’m her mother, so I know her best, but surely you can see the signs. She’s not exactly subtle about her emotions.”

Cam forced his over-fed brain to life to attempt to comprehend this conversation. It did, very slowly, as he seemed to think through a grey fog. Cam wasn’t totally stupid; although he wasn’t a huge fan of the genre, he had watched his fair share of romantic comedies. From the context of the conversation, there was only thing she could possibly mean: “are you trying to say that Dinah is—that she has feelings…for me?”


There was a moment of silence. Across the room, Ingrid yelled “bingo!” as she scooped a bunch of poker chips toward herself.

Cam shook his head. He tried to keep a red flush out of his face, but the heat of the stuffy room made that difficult. “She doesn’t like me like that at all. We’re just friends.”

“Really.” Dinah’s mother seemed supremely unconvinced as she took another sip of wine. “In that case, I’d like to ask you if you like her in that way.”

“I—” did he? He cared about Dinah—about all four of them—as friends, but anything more? Did it matter if he did, since there was no chance the feelings were reciprocated? He deflected both in his mind and in the conversation. “Respectfully, that’s not any of your business.”

“Ha!” She actually said the word, although it still sounded like she was amused. “Excellent point!” She drained the last drop of her wine. “Not that I have a right to give you permission, but you have my blessing, either way. But if you must break my daughter’s heart, please, do it gently. Lord knows that she’s shy enough already. I used to worry about her, that she would never make any real friends, but I can see that my fears were unfounded.”

Cam smiled back. “I bet being a parent involves a lot of worrying about your children.”

“That it does, that it does.” On the other side of the room, Ingrid shouted, apparently in victory, tossing her poker chips into the air and doing a little dance. Dinah’s mother continued “Although the worries are very different for the different children.” She set down her glass and walked over to the card table asking to be dealt into the next game.

Cam thought about joining her, but all this talk about Dinah made him realize he hadn’t seen her or any of the other girls in a while. What in the world could they be doing? He wasn’t exactly worried, but he was mildly concerned that something odd might have happened. He decided to find them.

The house wasn’t very large, so it didn’t take him long to hear female voices coming from Dinah’s room. The door was closed, but everything seemed normal. He was about to knock on the door and ask what they were doing when a voice stilled his hand. That voice was clearly Dinah’s, but she was talking loudly in a way he had only heard a few times before. He wanted to know what they were talking about, but at the same time, Cam did not want to get caught eavesdropping. Plus, listening in would be wrong, he told himself. He wrestled inwardly for a few moments, but curiosity won out. Assuring himself that he wasn’t doing anything too bad, he put his ear to the door to listen.

The voice coming through was unmistakably Dinah. She said “I told you, it is not like that between us! Get off my case, ok?”

“All right, Dinah, that’s enough. Chill,” came Ella’s voice. “We’re all a little tense, but it’s Christmas. Let’s just enjoy ourselves and relax.”

“No I will not relax!” Dinah again. “If this…woman…wants to keep prodding, and poking, and making little moves, I’m not going to take it!”

“Excuse me, but buzz off,” said a third voice that was clearly Annette. Cam shuddered so hard that he rattled the door a little bit at the icy anger in her voice. “I can do what I want. And don’t act like you haven’t had more than enough chances. Hell, I helped create some of them. And guess what? You did nothing.” Her voice dropped so low that Cam could barely hear it. “Little life lesson, Dinah. If you don’t make a grab for what you want, eventually it’ll be out of reach.”

“That’s going too far,” said Bekah’s voice. “We all came in here to talk. Insults aren’t going to get anywhere.”

“Oh that’s enough of the goody-two-shoes act!” said Annette. “You always hide behind that smiling mask, and the church, and ‘I’m such a pure sweet nice girl’ vibe. You don’t fool anyone, you know! We all know your motives are just as dirty as the rest of ours.”

“Oh!” Bekah said. She began to cry.

Ella spoke next. “What do you mean ‘rest of ours?’ Don’t drag me into this.”

“Uh, hello? I can tell you’re just as much part of this as Dinah or Bekah or me. Lie to yourself all you want, but you can’t lie to me!” Annette said.

“Don’t try to change the subject!” Dinah raged. “We are talking about your changed behavior, Annette!”

"I've been like this the whole time. You're the one who's been acting weird. How did the cute shy girl turn into such a bitch?" Annette said.

"I grew and matured, that's how, Annette! Maybe you should try it sometime."

All this time, Cam had listened with his ear pressed against the door, too shocked to move. He didn’t understand all the context for this argument, but an argument it definitely was. He leaned into the door, trying to hear more. After spending a moment shifting around to hear better, the first thing he heard was Annette saying “…and he’s right outside.”

He didn’t have any time to react. The door opened, causing him to tumble to the ground after his support unexpectedly disappeared. From the floor, he looked up at the confused and very angry faces of the four girls. Annette shook her head as she clicked her tongue. “Cam, Cam, Cam. Did you really think the Sherlock wouldn’t notice the door shifting slightly when you started leaning on it?”

“Um, I have an explanation,” he said weakly.

Crossing her arms, Ella said “Let’s hear it.”

“Er…I thought this was the bathroom?”

The next several hours passed in a painful blur of scoldings and ‘you are so messed up’ speeches from all four girls. Ingrid, who came up part way through to investigate the yelling, got in on the act as well, despite having no idea what was going on. All the time, as penance, they made him sit Japanese-style on his thighs; by the end of the reprimanding, his legs wanted to grow arms to strangle him. Still, despite the discomfort, Cam couldn’t help but feel a sense of relief. That heated argument had frightened him in a way he didn’t quite understand. He was so used to seeing all four of the girls in harmony around the D&M table, laughing and enjoying themselves, that this kind of fight seemed fundamentally wrong. He was almost happy that they had found an outlet for their anger by taking it out on him instead of each other. His thighs, on the other hand, were less happy.