My mother was having everyone in the family over to her apartment for Christmas Eve. My wife and I were riding over with my old girlfriend and her boyfriend. We were all close friends. On the way we stopped off at a gas station for a case of beer. There was tinsel and lights strung up around the door and the clerk sat behind the lonely counter watching some televised Christmas pageant on a little portable TV, while the snow fell in thick wet flakes all around. My wife and I sat in the back seat of the car as we headed back out through the slushy streets. The boyfriend drove, silent and serious, trying to peer through the headlights past the falling snow. The old girlfriend was in the passenger seat and she turned back to us and laughed and snorted about some nickname I used to call her. I blushed. But everything was fine. We were all together.
We pulled up outside my mother’s apartment complex. We got out and stood around in the dim, yellowed lights and the falling snow, and the boyfriend said something about having to check the rear brakes on his car before we went in. I was about to get into a whole conversation with him about bleeding his brake lines, when I noticed that my old girlfriend was already starting down the walk towards my mother’s building. She didn’t feel like standing around and waiting for the rest of us. I wondered what my mother would think, having my old girlfriend show up on her doorstep, by herself and without any explanation. She had never liked the girl. She certainly wouldn’t start liking her now.
But when the rest of us got up to my mother’s apartment, we found my old girlfriend sitting in the corner of the living room in a plush chair beside the Christmas tree, sipping a cup of coffee. My mother had welcomed her warmly into her home, and she came and took the rest of our coats and we all settled in on the couches. There were carols playing on the radio and the tree flashed its scattered patterns of colored light. I got up and went to put the case of beer in the refrigerator. When I got back, the rest of the family had arrived, and everyone was packed into the small warm room. I saw that the chair in the corner was empty. I looked around. My old girlfriend had slipped out and she was gone. I knew I’d never see her again, and I knew it had to be that way. I sat down on the arm of the couch and watched as the kids crawled around under the tree looking for their presents.