Nick showered, shaved his stubble, put deodorant on, and picked a bottle of men’s cologne. He smelled it, and put it back. He never used cologne. The only reason he kept the bottle was that his aunt Carmela gave it to him last Christmas. He knew she and uncle Joe would be by tomorrow. He didn’t know if she would ask if he liked the cologne. He hoped she forgot, but he was taking no chances. He knew, she’d give him another gift he’d never use.
Nick dressed, he put on his best pants, a dress shirt and slipped on his favorite sweater over his shirt. He looked in the mirror and stared at himself, acting like a drill sergeant doing an inspection. He made one last run through his hair with a brush. He liked the look, he hoped Mary would like it too.
Nick walked into the living room. Uncle Tony said, “You look sharp, Nick.”
Stella chimed in, “He’s got a super crush on Mary.”
“No I don’t. She’s only a friend. I got dressed up because it’s Christmas Eve,” said Nick defensively to his young sister.
Nick’s dad laughed to himself and remembered how it was when he was Nick’s age. He knew all the signs, Nick was in love. His dad hoped Mary liked him too. Time would tell.
The doorbell rang. I’ll get it,” said Nick.
“No, I’ll get it,” said Laura who was already in the hallway. Before she got to the door, she turned back toward the living room and said to Nick, “I’ll escort your princes in.”
Uncle Tony and Nick’s dad laughed. From the kitchen came Anna’s voice, “Somebody get the door, I’m busy setting the table. I could use some help Stella and Laura.”
“Right away, Mom. I’ll be there as soon as I get the door,” said Laura. She opened the door and said, “Merry Christmas, I’m Laura.”
“I’m Mary and this is my mom, Louise.”
Nick was in the hallway, “Hi, Mary. Merry Christmas.”
Laura took Mary and Louise’s coats and hung them in the hallway closet. Then she looked at Nick and mouthed the words, “Here’s your girlfriend.”
Before Nick could say another word, he was joined by his dad and mom and Uncle Tony.
His dad said, “In behalf of the whole family, welcome to our house. Our home is your home. Buon Natale.”
“Buon Natale,” answered Louise and then she looked at Uncle Tony.
Uncle Tony, all five feet nine inches and one hundred eighty pounds of him stared at Louise. He stared at her brown eyes. He stared at her face, he thought he was looking at an angel. He stared at her hair, beautiful, black, and cut like a movie star’s hair.
Anna stepped in, Tony, this is Louise. Louise, this is my brother Tony.
“Pleased to meet you, Louise, I’m Tony. Opps, Anna just told you that.”
Nick’s mom said, “Have a seat in the living room, dinner will be ready in fifteen minutes.
“Can I help, Mrs. Moretti,” said Mary.
“You can call me Anna, Mary. I think we’re all set.
Nick sat on the sofa next to Mary. Mary was wearing a striped sweater and pleated skirt that dropped below her knees and touched the top of her tan calf length boots. She wore no makeup. She turned to Nick and said, “You look so handsome, Nick. Did you do something to your hair?”
“Uh, no this is the way I always do it,” said Nick feeling instantly stupid.
“I like it,” said Mary.
Nick and Mary chatted. Louis and Tony chatted. Nick’s dad went into the kitchen and helped Anna and the girls finish setting the table.
“How’s it going in the living room? Said Anna.
“How’s what going?” Said Nick’s dad laughing.
Anna and Nick’s dad laughed. Anna looked at Stella and said, “Stella tell everyone dinner is served and show our guests their seats.
Stella went to the living room, “Dinner is ready. I’ll show you your places,” said Stella acting as if she were a maitre d.
Nick’s dad stood by the chair at the head of the table. Anna stood behind a chair to Nick’s dad right. Stella took Uncle Tony and sat him next to Anna, and then pointed for Louise to sit next to Uncle Tony. Nick sat to his dad’s left and Mary sat next to Nick. Laura and Stella sat opposite each other at the table. There was an empty seat at the end of the table opposite Nick’s dad.
They all sat and Louise looked at the empty chair, “Are you expecting someone else?”
Anna said, “Oh no. It’s been our Christmas Eve tradition. We leave an empty chair for the Christ child. There is always room here.”
“That is a beautiful tradition, Anna.”
Nicks dad said grace before the meal. Anna began serving from a huge bowl of linguine with clam sauce. Uncle Tony reached for the plate of ricotta and spinach filled ravioli and placed two ravioli’s on Louise’s plate.
It was a typical Italian family style dinner, food and conversation. There was storytelling and lots of laughter. As the main course was finishing, Anna said, “I hope everyone saved room for dessert. It’s Christmas Eve, a special occasion.”
Everyone laughed. Anna got up, Laura and Stella rose to help their mom. The door bell rang.
Nick’s dad said, “I’ll get it.” He rose, placed his napkin on his chair and walked to the front door.
Everyone automatically followed him with their eyes. Nick could hear his dad’s voice, but he was speaking in a low tone and could not be understood. A moment later, Nick’s dad walked into the dinning room followed by a woman.
Nick and Uncle Tony stood. Nick’s dad said, “Please sit. This is Josephine, Johnny Balboni’s sister. She’s all alone and stopped by to wish us a merry Christmas. She’s going to stay and have dessert with us.” Nick’s dad introduced Josephine to Louise, Uncle Tony, and Laura and Stella.
When Josephine sat down, she said, “I don’t want to interfere with what’s going on. I wanted to stop by tonight of all nights. It’s Christmas Eve.”
“You’re no trouble, Josephine. We’re happy to have you,” said Anna.
“I have something I want to tell you. Thank you again for coming to Johnny’s funeral. I will never forget your kindness. Johnny loved Nick. He was always so kind to him. He always spoke to him. And, Nick honored Johnny in a special way when he let Johnny teach him calculus. You’ll never know how happy Johnny was for the last week of his life. It was the happiest I seen him in many years. Most people don’t know how wealthy Johnny was. His patents always earn money. Johnny just had no use for money. He asked me to set up a trust fund for Nick to go to college. There is enough money in the trust fund for Nick to go to any college in the country and not worry about anything. Johnny believes you will do great things with your life, Nick. He wanted to give you a chance. I ask you to honor Johnny by studying hard, working hard, and whatever God asks you to do, let it be for the good of mankind.”
Everyone was crying. Nick got up and walked to Josephine and hugged her. He couldn’t speak at the moment, he was overcome with emotions.
Nick’s dad broke the moment, when he raised his wine glass, and said, “A toast to Johnny’s Balboni, a great man. Buon Natale, Johnny,”