Hope Idiotic | Part 11
Hope Idiotic is a serialized novel. Catch each new part every week on Monday and Thursday.
IT WAS CHRISTMAS NIGHT IN LAS VEGAS, and the Kaminski household was full of people, food and booze. Her mother loved to entertain, and having Michelle home always called for a celebration, especially at Christmas and even more so with her only child’s thirtieth birthday a few days away.
Where most of the partiers were friends of Lynn and Barry’s, the hosts were more than happy to have Chuck and Gina there, too. Gina had skipped Christmas in San Francisco with her family to be with Chuck, who skipped going back to Cayuga. He didn’t want to run into Lexi, and he didn’t want to deal with his family. Having just learned the truth about his parents selling off their life insurance and with his mother being so sick, there was just nothing he could find joyous about having Christmas back home. Besides, he couldn’t afford the flight.
Michelle didn’t like the idea of Chuck dating a new girl and at first didn’t want to invite Gina to her family’s soiree. But her mother reminded her it was Christmas and that everyone was welcome at Christmas. As it was, Gina was a delight.
“I like her,” Michelle whispered to Lou during dinner. “She’s not Lexi, but I like her. I didn’t think I would.”
Gina even helped Michelle’s mom with the dishes.
The benefit of being at a Kaminski household party was that Lynn was an amazing cook, and both she and Barry were big drinkers. No one ever went hungry or sober. After dessert, the adults gathered around the dining room table to play a drinking version of Apples to Apples.
“Hey, wait a second,” Chuck said to Lou and Michelle as they walked toward the dining room. “I want to give you your presents now.”
“What are you talking about?” Lou said. “We talked about this: Money’s tight, no presents.”
“Yeah, but it’s Christmas,” said Chuck.
Chuck retrieved a large Macy’s shopping bag from next to the couch in the living room. He reached in and pulled out Lou’s gift first. It was a pair of vintage-style highball glasses.
“Wow. These are sharp. I love them. Thanks, buddy.” Lou hugged him.
“I figured the scotch would taste better in cool-looking glasses like those,” said Chuck. “Here. Michelle gets two gifts.”
The first was a charcoal gray cotton and cashmere scarf with layered accents.
“Oh my God, Chuck,” Michelle said. “This is incredible. It’s so soft. Really, this is an amazing scarf. Perfect for Chicago winters. Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome. I actually spent more time shopping for you than I did for my own girlfriend,” Chuck said.
“Nice,” Gina said, nudging him.
“Well, it’s incredible,” said Michelle.
The second gift was a coffee-table book of Las Vegas history in photographs.
“I know how you get homesick sometimes,” Chuck said to Michelle. “I thought that this might be nice to have in cold and gray Chicago.”
Michelle became visibly choked up. That was happening a lot lately.
“Chuck, you’re too kind,” Lou said. “You really shouldn’t have.”
“Nah,” he replied.
Michelle hugged him. “Thank you,” she said. “Now I feel awful that we didn’t get you anything.”
“Stop it. I live in his house. You’ve welcomed Gina and me into your home for Christmas dinner. You look after my boy in Chicago. That’s all gift enough.”
In the dining room, the party was getting more and more raucous. Music was blaring as it competed for dominance over the laughter. One sixty-year-old woman referred to one of the women in her quilting group as “a total cunt.” Gifts set aside, Lou, Michelle, Chuck and Lexi joined in.
Because Michelle was an only child, her relationship with her parents was a close one. The three of them at times seemed like an exclusive gang, and to be in their presence was a luxury and a privilege. Yes, they were welcoming, but many conversations—even at large gatherings like Christmas—were dominated by their own stories and inside jokes. Lou admitted that he, in fact, felt privileged to be included in their little world. Lynn and Barry referred to him as family, and he felt the same way. He drank expensive scotch with her father. They’d traveled to Mexico as a foursome. They exchanged Christmas gifts. Sure, they were family.
And he liked being a part of it because the Kaminski family was something he didn’t have with his own blood relatives. The divorce prevented Michelle and him the possibility of ever traveling as a foursome with his parents. There would never be a big holiday party where Sarah sat on Benjamin’s lap and flirted with him in front of friends like Lynn was doing with Barry that night. Michelle’s parents were her best asset.
Chuck was doing his best to pace his drinking, but the Kaminskis kept serving him, even forcing him to chug the old beer if a new one was placed in front of him.
“You don’t want to cause a traffic jam,” Barry said. “Hate to get… bottlenecked!” He erupted in laughter. So did his wife. And his daughter.
Chuck turned to Lou and quietly said to him, “This is strange. Amazing really. Look at how this family is laughing together.”
“It’s nice, isn’t it.” said Lou.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. Hard to think that there are actually families like this.”
There was some sadness in Chuck’s voice when he said that. He missed his parents. He longed for his family to be like the Kaminskis. It broke his heart that they never could be.
“You’re a part of it now, man,” Lou said. “You’re good as family.”
“I’d like that.”
Lou patted his friend on the back and squeezed his shoulder to comfort him. They clinked beer bottles together, took a drink and rejoined the party.
“Drink up, girls!” Barry shouted at them. “You don’t want to get bottlenecked!”
Laughter, once again, erupted.
In the dining room, the party was getting more and more raucous. Music was blaring as it competed for dominance over the laughter. One sixty-year-old woman referred to one of the women in her quilting group as “a total cunt.”
THE PARTY CARRIED ON LATE INTO THE NIGHT. Everyone was drunk. Chuck and Lou entertained the guests by belting out the Christmas songs being played on the oldies radio station and regaling them with stories of their sillier alcoholic adventures. The woman who didn’t like the cunt in her quilting group said, “So you guys are best friends for a while, huh? That’s something special.”
“I tell you what,” Lou said. “I’d marry Chuck Keller if I could. I just have no desire to sleep with the guy.” The party roared with laughter.
The party had died down by two in the morning. Lynn and Barry were passed out on the love seat, both with drinks in their hands. Chuck was passed out, slumped next to them. Gina had fallen asleep on the toilet while peeing. Chuck and Michelle were the last two standing. Michelle woke Gina up and helped put her back together and drove Chuck and Gina back to Lou’s house in her dad’s Mercedes. Lou followed in Chuck’s car.
On the short drive back from Lou’s, Michelle said, “So, you want to marry Chuck?”
“What?” he said.
“You said you wanted to marry Chuck. Is that true?”
“Michelle, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Earlier tonight. You said you’d marry Chuck Keller, but you don’t want to have sex with him.”
Lou laughed. “Oh, yeah. Right.”
“I thought we were getting married?”
“You’ve lost me again.”
“You and I have talked about getting married. That’s our plan, right?”
“Yeah, yeah. That’s the plan.”
“Well, do you not want to marry me now? You’d rather marry Chuck?” She was visibly upset, and Lou recognized that she wasn’t trying to be funny, although there was still laughter in his voice as he explained.
“It was a joke. I was only saying how much I love the guy. He’s my best friend. That’s all.”
“I thought I was your best friend.”
“It’s different. Come on. I’m not the same kind of best friend to you as, say, Amanda.”
“Right. But I don’t want to marry her.”
“I don’t want to marry Chuck.”
“You said you did.”
“It was a joke.”
“I don’t want you to want to marry anyone else.”
“Okay. Then I won’t want to.”
LOU MADE A DRINK when they got back to her parents’ house.
“Aren’t you coming to bed?” Michelle asked him.
“I’ll finish this drink and be right up.”
He had three glasses of her dad’s good scotch before crawling into bed with her a little after five-thirty in the morning.