"We're doing Christmas right this year."
"I don't get what was wrong with how we did it before."
"Just get home, Henry."
That was the last conversation he'd had with his mother before throwing his backpack over his shoulder and a leg over the black motorcycle that he'd spent all semester hiding the keys for from his Hall Monitor. Motorcycles weren't considered an acceptable mode of transportation? Bullshit. Bikes were for pussies and he couldn't afford a car. The cycle roared away from the school campus like a car never would and that noise was music to Henry Jones the Third's ears. It bespoke freedom, something he didn't have behind the brick and mortar of the Howard School.
Mutt wanted to kill the person who'd come up with the concept of the 'PG Year'—an extra year of high school behind elite brick walls for those who might not have dedicated the proper amount of time to their studies at other institutions (there was always, his mother often said, a better way of describing it aside from saying 'kicked out'). At least it was for those who could afford to pay for it, or who had friends in the right places. He wasn't quite sure which of those things his parents' embodied, but it didn't entirely matter. Either way, it still meant there was a whole semester of torture left after Christmas break. As if his first go-round at St. Paul's hadn't been bad enough.
At least Watertown was close enough to New Haven. The ride home for Christmas vacation would be long enough to clear his mind but not long enough so that he needed a hot bath for his aches by the time back home. It was, perhaps, the only kind thing that Mutt had to say about his new school.
Most boys' parents liked to call. The only got letters from their sweethearts. Mutt heard 'Jones!' called out from the operator's office once a semester if he was lucky. Letters, on the other hand, were almost daily. 'Greetings from Cairo!' 'Hola from Mexico City!' 'Howdy from South Dakota!' His parents were having the times of their lives and he was stuck in Watertown, Connecticut. Even as he changed gears on his bike he knew the freedom wasn't in full. This was a temporary return home and they would make him go back eventually. And from the PG Year it was off to college—it would be impossible for him not to go, what with who his parents were.
He wove in and out of traffic on Connecticut Route 8, attracting the glares and horns of each and every car and truck on the road until he ended up at the exit for New Haven and Yale. Yale. It was just before three thirty when he cut the motor. The bike silenced and the vibrations stopped running through his body. The ride seemed almost too short and in this house surrounded by the Ivy and gothic buildings of Yale he felt almost as out of place as he did at school.
Mutt nudged the kickstand with his foot and left his beloved bike sitting underneath the oak tree on the front lawn.
"Hey, I'm home!"
Their house was like one of the postcards always waiting for him in his school mailbox. He ran a hand through his hair as soon as he walked in and reached out to touch one of the African masks that decorated the walls.
"I said I'm home!" With all the fuss his mother had made over the phone he would have thought they'd be standing there to greet him with open arms. But no, he should have known better. He almost smiled at the site of the undecorated Christmas tree in the parlor. It wasn't even in its stand, but simply propped up against the wall. It was almost as if they'd brought it home one night and then simply forgot about it. Someone had dragged down a box of Christmas ornaments from the attic, and there was what looked like a new wreath sitting on the floor by the door, but no one had actually done anything with Christmas accoutrements. They just… were.
This was doing Christmas right? The nineteen year old had to laugh. While his mother having the ornaments out by December 21st was something of a miracle in and of itself, Mutt could hardly call the way they were just sitting around 'doing Christmas right'. Mutt smirked, shrugging off his leather jacket and hanging it ever so neatly on one of the tree's branches. The tree sagged to the left, closer to the floor. Really, what was the point? "I'm home!"
Still, nothing. As if he hadn't called them from school before he'd left to tell them that he was coming home. "Mom? Dad?" But then his stomach lurched and for a moment that took precedence. Mutt looked once more around the decoration riddled parlour before making for the kitchen. He nearly tripped over someone's boots on the way there. "God damnit…"
"Watch your mouth!"
Mutt couldn't have said where his mother's voice was coming from (he hadn't lived in the house long enough before being shipped off to 'finish' school to know the ins and outs of his new home), but he could hear her. "Should'a just cursed when I walked in the house, is that it? Then maybe someone would'a said hello…" Rolling his eyes, he pulled open the refrigerator only to be greeted by a sad sight of one bottle of milk, cheese, and a loaf of bread. "Bet your fridge in Cairo's got food in it. Jesus—"
"Could we stop playing hide and seek? Maybe?" But he couldn't resist, while he had a moment, grabbing the milk and taking several long gulps straight from the bottle. His mother would have killed him, and so of course he took the bottle with him as he went to look for his parents, wiping his chin with the back of his hand as he went.
It didn't take more than a bit of effort, searching from room to room. They weren't as far away as he'd thought and it was only because the house he'd shared with his mother for so many year was smaller than the one his father owed that he felt as if finding anything in this place took some inordinate amount of time. Really, all he'd had to do was push open the door to his father's study to find his parents.
The scene was typical. Mutt couldn't have told a soul what his mother and father were pouring over to save his life, but that was only to be expected. At least they were home.
It was just pottery as far a he could tell. Plain, clay pottery. It was in pieces and while there were painted symbols on those pieces they meant nothing to Mutt. Apparently, though, both his mother and father found them enthralling. Along with each other—but then that wasn't a surprise. It was a wonder, what with how close they were sitting, that they were getting any work done at all. Was it required for his mother's fingers to be in his father's hair in order for them to read hieroglyphs? Or whatever they were?
Mutt cleared his throat in the doorway and lifted the milk bottle to his lips. "I'm. Home."
"Shhh!" Marion held up a hand. "One second, we're… Mutt, are you drinking out of the bottle again? How many times have we gone through this?"
"Hello to you too, mom." He wiped his mouth again before walking over to kiss her on the cheek.
"If you yell at the kid the second he walks through the door he'll never want to come home," Indiana replied gruffly, still staring down at the pieces of pottery.
Marion put her hands on Mutt's shoulders and began to look him over as mothers were wont to do. "Yelling? Was that yelling? That wasn't yelling!"
"If that was your version of yelling I see why he didn't finish school the first time around." Getting up now, Indiana finally took Marion's place and wrapped his arms briefly around Mutt. After feeling around for a place to put his bottle down, Mutt returned the gesture (and Marion snatched the milk away from the ancient Mayan ruins on the shelf). "Good ride back up?"
"It was alright. Almost got hit on route eight 'cause Mom made it sound like if I didn't get home fast enough the house'd burn down."
"That isn't what I meant," Marion answered, rolling her eyes. "I just wanted to make sure you were coming home, since you didn't for your fall break or Thanksgiving—"
"Because the two of you were Israel for my fall break and Thanksgiving it was digging in Oaxaca, Mexico? I got the postcard."
"Kidnapped in Oaxaca," Indiana corrected. "And that wasn't a postcard. It was a ransom note."
Well, maybe that explained why even once he'd translated it from the miniscule bit of Zapotecan languages he'd learned over the summer, it hadn't made much sense as postcard. "Whatever. I'm just saying, 'doing Christmas right'? We've got a tree leaning against the wall in the other room." A well timed THUNK was heard, reverberating through the house. "We've got a tree on the floor in the other room. And, damn, my jacket…."
"That's what we get for waiting for you, sweetheart." And as she walked by him, heading for the study door Marion made sure to kiss his forehead and tweak his ear at the same time. "Don't curse in the house."
"Yes, ma'am. Waiting for me?" Mutt raised an eyebrow.
His father nodded and moved to follow his mother. "Your mom insisted on it. She wanted to do all this decorating stuff together."
"Your father promised not to go anywhere with 'natives', indigenous or otherwise, for the month of December," Marion called out. "That way we'd all be sure to be here."
"She acts like I enjoy kidnap and torture."
"Don't you?" Mutt couldn't help but retort with a grin.
"What was it this time?"
"You have to see it. I can show you tomorrow over in the museum, if you want."
It wasn't exactly what Mutt would have chosen to do with his Christmas break, but his father was smiling at him and it wasn't going to involve life threatening danger. It was a decent compromise. "Well, I'm here for two weeks." He wouldn't show too much enthusiasm, he was still a teenager.
Eventually the house was decorated. It took until they were each opening one present on Christmas Eve --as per tradition-- with Harold Oxley for the last ornament to actually be hung on the tree and the final garland to be stuck in place on the mantle. To be honest it had been waking up that morning and realizing that company was coming later that day that had sprung the house into action in the first place. With the tree up and off the floor and the wreath finally on the door and small, felt Santa hats hung on the African Masks and the tiny carved statues from various digs on the shelves (Mutt's idea which he'd accomplished while his father hadn't been looking, and Bing Crosby's White Christmas playing off a record, Christmas was going according to plan.
It was but by the miracle of Christmas that the phone in Indiana's study didn't ring until sometime around ten o'clock in the evening that night. By eleven it had been announced that they would all be leaving for Whiltshire via London on the next flight out. And by midnight they'd received a telegram detailing the discovery of a plaque at a dig less than a kilometer from the Stonehenge site. They wanted his father and Professor Oxley there immediately before word got out.
It was the last time they attempted to have a 'normal' Christmas.
As Mutt sat outside that next morning preparing his bike for the slog across the Atlantic and waiting for his parents to come out of the house he could only hope that this excursion would be anything like their last family 'outing'. While the prospects for danger and swashbuckling seemed poor for the English countryside, Mutt decided he would welcome the intrusion of the KGB or any other group who wanted to provide with some sort of adventure that would keep him outside the halls of the Howard School. Anytime cut short from a semester of ties, brick walls, and dorms would have him truly blessing the miracles of Father Christmas.