She runs out of the room crying.
Let me start over.
My mom runs out of the room crying.
Um, let me start over.
My mom gets up from the couch, lets out a little gaspy sob, the kind that lets you know someone is crying even when they aren’t doing the big boo-hoo routine. She wipes her eyes, violently, like she’s going to fling the teardrops away, pushes her hair back from her tear-streaked face, looks at my father, looks at me, and then she exits the room.
My dad glares at me like I’m the Antichrist and gets up to follow her. Leaving me there on the couch holding my Christmas stocking, wearing my dorkariffic red pajamas, surrounded by wrapping paper and crisp white boxes with carefully folded sweaters in tissue paper.
The door doesn’t even slam. It makes a little dink-dink sound. Then it’s quiet except for the blam, blam, blam of the television as Miracle Child test-drives his new video game. Blam, blam, blam, ka-pow!
The key is still in my hand. I imagine throwing it across the room, breaking a window with the force of my rage and disappointment. I imagine letting it drop from my nerveless dead fingers with an anticlimactic clink as it hits the glass coffee table. I picture the guilt as my parents lean over my coffin and see that I am still clutching the key in a death grip, my fist wrapped around it, my fingernails painted to match the plush purple velour of the lining.
I am the one who should be crying. I am the one who should be running out of the room, with people chasing me and trying to console me. I am not a terrible ungrateful little bitch. Usually. In this case, I got set up.
Let me start over.
It really, actually happened like this.
“Look, look at all the presents!” Preston, my ultrahyper brother, sprinted down the hallway. The Christmas tree rocked back and forth as he dove headfirst into the heap of gifts.
We’ve done Christmas morning the exact same way forever and ever. The week before Christmas, the sibs and I put our gifts for Mom and Dad and for each other under the tree. I wasn’t truly expecting much from my brother and sister. Little brother shopped at the grocery store with a ten-dollar bill Dad gave him. That made my share of the loot two dollars and fifty cents’ worth of grocery store–bought lip gloss or Cheetos or whatever seemed like a good present to him. Now, my sister—well, let’s just say my birthday present still hasn’t been delivered. She thinks I’m dumb enough to wait patiently for my box from Amazon.com, and I have, but so far, nothing.
Christmas morning is supposed to be about wonder. After we go to sleep, my parents put out all the big presents, piles and piles of them in every shape and size. Even though we’re all too big to believe in Santa, and have been for years, my heart still missed a few beats when I went downstairs and saw the tree and all the glittering gifts underneath.
Even if we were still young enough to believe in magic, I doubt we could after the year we’ve had. Another reason Christmas now sucks is that sweaters and shoes aren’t really thrilling; it’s not like it was when I was little and I got a heap of toys that I’d been putting on my Amazon wish list since September. This year I was supposed to get a new computer, a gorgeous little refurbished notebook from Dad’s work. I guess that’s out of the question now that Dad no longer has a job. On top of all that, my sister didn’t show. I don’t like things to change. I like tradition. She won’t be coming over for dinner, either, because her rich in-laws guilted her into abandoning us. You’d think Mom would have cried about that, and you might imagine that Paige would be the official Christmas traitor, but no. Not quite.
“Parker, catch!” Preston lobbed a present right at my head.
“Honey, honey, some of these might be breakable.” Mom hadn’t put in her contacts, so she was squinting through this old pair of glasses that sit crooked on the end of her nose.
My brother stopped throwing the parcels and began to sort them, making neat piles in front of each of us, with a pile for Paige, too. Skipping out on Christmas does not mean you don’t get any gifts. No way.
The heaps weren’t as big as when we were kids and you could be buried under an avalanche of dolls and puzzles and games, but they weren’t shabby, either. We went back and forth opening, and it got weird taking turns because there are usually three of us in a circle.
Preston happily ripped into his video games and racked up an addition to his already-superb collection of athletic shoes. I got mostly clothes. Some I loved, some I would never wear. My mom thinks she gets my style, but she’s usually a few steps behind. She’s always trying to buy me things with plaid or flower prints. She says I should wear bright colors while I’m young. But I like basic jeans and solid- colored T-shirts and classic sweaters. Maybe a cute oxford with stripes. I mostly just like to blend in.
Some of the excitement disappears when you stop getting toys. And I’m not one for showing lots of emo- tion. Some people—well, mainly my sister—say I’m an ice princess. But my lack of visible excitement isn’t that terrible because my brother jumps up and down and makes enough noise for both of us. Still, I couldn’t keep from worrying that my parents, the way they were watching me, wanted something more.
Excerpted from Handcuffs by Bethany Griffin. Copyright © 2008 by Bethany Griffin. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.