One late-December afternoon, Natalie Wilson was driving through a wintery scene in the mountains of Vermont. She smiled at the sign that read Welcome to Noel, excited to celebrate her cousin’s wedding and her favorite holiday all at the same time. In her opinion, Kerry and Mark, Natalie’s cousin, had picked the perfect time of year to get married.
“In 10 miles, turn right. The destination will be on your left,” her GPS read out. Just then, her phone rang and her sister’s face appeared. Natalie hit the green button.
“Hey Beck,” she said, waiting for her sister’s voice to come through her speakers.
“Hey, where are you?”
“Ten miles away according to my GPS. Am I the last one?” she asked.
“Nah, two of Kerry’s cousins aren’t here yet.”
“What’s the house like?”
“It’s huge. You’re gonna love it. It’s right up your alley. The sleeping situation is… not ideal,” Rebecca said and Natalie bit her lip.
“All the parents get a bedroom so four sets of parents equals four of the six bedrooms. Kerry and Mark insist Jake and I get a room because of my pregnancy,” Rebecca said and Natalie couldn’t help but smile at that fact.
“So that’s five. And leaves… ten people still?”
“Correct. So, the solution is you, Kerry, Jen, and Kerry’s cousin’s wife, Danielle, in the last bedroom, and David, Mark, and all four of Kerry’s cousins in the furnished basement.”
“For almost two weeks?”
“They swear it’s going to be comfortable. I’ve never seen so many air mattresses in one place in my life,” Rebecca said and Natalie laughed.
“Okay. I’ll be there in five.”
“See you soon,” Rebecca said, hanging up and the Christmas songs on her phone resumed.
As she drove, Natalie started to grow nervous. She always got this way when she would be around people she’d never met before. Kerry’s cousins couldn’t make it to the engagement party or bridal shower a few months back. Hell, she didn’t even know Kerry had cousins until this whole idea was brought up around Thanksgiving.
Her eyes widened as she pulled into the driveway of the rental home. A grand Victorian stood before her, the house of her dreams. It was decorated so beautifully that she could barely take her eyes off it as she unloaded her car.
“Hey!” Jake called, pulling his coat on as he rushed down the steps to help her. Natalie smiled at her brother-in-law as he wrapped an arm around her. “What can I take?”
“The luggage please, I’ll grab the groceries.”
“Good luck finding a place to put them. The fridge is stuffed.”
“It’s mostly cabinet stuff for baking. I got gingerbread house supplies,” she said with a smile.
“You know they make kits for that, right?’
“Yeah, but they don’t taste as good,” she said, letting out a gasp as Jake pushed the door open with his elbow and she saw the interior for the first time.
“There she is!” her Aunt Liz exclaimed, standing up to help.
“Hi honey,” her mother, Laura, said, kissing her cheek and taking some bags, handing a few to her father, Michael.
“Careful, there are eggs in one of those,” Natalie said as her aunt took the rest. She shrugged off her coat and started looking for where to put it when her step-uncle came over and took it for her.
“Coat closet is under the stairs, here,” he said, hanging her coat for her as she made a mental note.
“Thanks Andy,” she said, hugging him.
“Um, hello?” Rebecca said, appearing over Andy’s shoulder, her hand on her growing belly.
“Ah!” Natalie squealed, rushing over and enveloping her sister in a hug. “Look at you!”
“Six months as of yesterday,” she smiled, turning so her sister could see her in profile.
“Absolutely gorgeous,” Natalie said, placing her hands on her sister’s stomach, hoping to feel a kick.
“Well thank you.”
“So where are the boys?” Natalie asked, leading Rebecca to the couch and helping her sit down.
“As in our cousins or Kerry’s?”
“Liquor store to get supplies for all you bitches,” Rebecca pouted.
“Hey, finish growing the tiny human and then you and I can get wine drunk.”
“I don’t suppose you’ll stay sober in solidarity?” Rebecca asked, batting her eyelashes.
“At Christmastime? In my thirties? Surrounded by couples? One of whom is getting married in a week? Fat chance,” Natalie laughed and Rebecca rolled her eyes.
“You’re not surrounded by couples. Kerry told me three of her cousins are single.”
“What are her cousin’s names anyway?” Natalie asked.
“Well Kevin and Frankie are the ones who are here, and Kevin’s wife, Danielle, is the one I mentioned who will be in the room with you, Jen, and Kerry. But I don’t remember the names of the other brothers… baby brain and all,” she said, pointing to her stomach and Natalie laughed.
“Of course,” Natalie said, turning when she heard footsteps coming down the stairs.
“You made it!” Kerry cried, rushing over to hug her.
“I was wondering where you were,” Natalie said, letting go to embrace Jen, her cousin David’s wife.
“We were just making sure all the bedrooms are in order. Did Beck fill you in?” Kerry asked.
“Yes. I’m so ready for a good old-fashioned slumber party.”
“Absolutely! So, my two cousins aren’t here yet, but have you met everyone else?”
“No, not yet.”
“Come, I’ll introduce you,” Kerry said, leading Natalie into the kitchen where all the groceries she brought had already been put away. “You remember my parents, Angie and Carl?”
“Of course. Good to see you,” Natalie said as Angie stood and hugged her.
“This is my brother, Kevin Sr., and his wife, Denise,” Angie said. “This is Mark’s cousin, Natalie.”
“Hello,” Natalie said, her eyes resting on Kevin Sr. “Sorry have we met?”
“Not that I know of,” he said with a laugh.
“Something about you looks familiar,” she said, though she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.
“Beats me,” he said and Natalie shrugged.
“And these are my nephews Kevin and Frankie, and Kevin’s wife, Danielle,” Angie said and Natalie waved. “My other two nephews haven’t arrived yet, but they should be here shortly.”
“It’s nice to meet you all,” Natalie said, her eyes looking to Kevin Sr. again. He looked like someone she knew, but she couldn’t, for the life of her, figure it out.
“Can I get you anything to drink?” Jen asked, pulling Natalie away from her thoughts.
“No, I’m okay. I could use a bathroom though to freshen up.”
“I’ll show you to the one upstairs and we can also bring your luggage to our room on the way.”
“Great,” Natalie said with a smile, heading back to the front door to grab her bags.
“Want me to take any?” Jen asked.
“No, I got it, thanks,” she said, noting that the whole house was decorated except for one thing. “So, no Christmas tree?”
“Kerry and Mark specifically requested the owners not put one up so we could all do it together. That’s tomorrow’s activity.”
“Oh, that sounds like fun!” Natalie exclaimed.
“Yeah, apparently all the parents brought ornaments and Jake, Danielle, and I did too, so we’ll all have some from our family trees,” Jen explained, opening the second door on the right of the hallway.
“Okay, that’s too cute,” Natalie said, following her in and setting her bags down.
“I know, right? Well Kerry and Mark really value family. Kerry doesn’t have siblings and these are her only cousins. And obviously you, Rebecca, and the boys have always been close, so that’s why they wanted to do it this way.”
“It’s going to make next Saturday even more special,” Natalie said and Jen smiled.
“So, the bathroom is down the hall, second to last door on the left. There’s also one in the master, one in the basement, and a half bath on the first floor.”
“Twenty people, three showers. This will be interesting,” Natalie said and Jen laughed.
“Tell me about it. Kerry and her mom are thinking of making a schedule.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Natalie said with a laugh.
“Well, I’m going to head back down. Take your time.”
“Thanks Jen,” she said, and Jen smiled, taking a left out of the room. Natalie opened her bag to take out her toiletry kit in case she needed to touch up. She took a right and headed to the bathroom which was thankfully vacant.
The nerves had settled somewhat, but knowing there were still two more people to meet brought the butterflies back. She looked in the mirror and tucked some hair behind her ear as she studied her makeup. She deemed herself presentable and headed back to the room to put her things away. While there, she heard commotion downstairs and smiled to herself, believing it was Mark and David back from the store.
Quickly, she zipped her bag up and headed to the stairs. From the landing, she could see everyone gathered around two guys with coats and hats still on. She rushed down the last few steps and around the corner.
“There you…” she stopped, as the faces she saw didn’t belong to her cousins. Though she did recognize one of the two. “…are.”
“Nat?” asked the one she knew all too well, Joe.