The church was practically deserted. The candlelight service had ended almost an hour ago, but Ryan couldn't quite bring himself to leave.
He loved Chrismukkah with the Cohens; it was everything that every Atwood holiday had never been. But their holidays were definitely light on the religion, and after three years, he finally felt comfortable enough to confess to Kirsten that he missed the Christmas Mass. He loved the quiet buzz of the church - all the happy people and squirming kids, all the butchering of the carols and the shifting in the holiday sweaters. He and Trey used to go with Theresa and her family every Christmas Eve - it was the only part of the holiday he'd ever loved.
So tonight, after they'd lit the candles and played another endless round of dreidel, after Seth had slipped off to the party that Dr. Roberts was throwing, and after Kirsten pressed the Rover keys into his hands and whispered, "Are you sure you don't want company?" before curling up on the couch to watch It's a Wonderful Life with Sandy, Ryan had driven all the way to the edge of Newport, to a little seaside church he'd noticed on a bike ride long ago.
It turned out that the church was actually a chapel - a offshoot of a much larger congregation with a large, modern church up the hill in the heart of Newport Beach. The decorations were fussy and old-fashioned - leaning more towards floppy red-velvet bows on tired wreaths than the intricate, silvery baubles he'd come to expect for an Orange County Christmas. The congregation was mostly families and older people who lived within walking distance, and there was no choir in the loft, even for the candlelight service. It felt more like Chino than chic, and tonight that what he was seeking.
The church he'd attended back home - no, not back home any more - had been a magnificent old wreck. Beneath the scaffolding holding up the leaning columns and the blue tarps holding back the leaking roof had been the bones of an awe-inspiring house of worship. At Christmas, the congregation did its best to keep up, smothering the altar with greenery and pulling the old decorations - an intricate Nativity with delicate china figures - out of storage to stand proudly at the front of the nave astride Our Lady's altar.
Here, in keeping with the more modest, almost Mission-era, trappings of the chapel, the nativity was tucked into a corner of the vestibule. It was much larger - nearly life-sized - and rough-hewn. In fact, it looked far more like a real stable, Ryan imagined, than the creche Theresa's mother and the other Altar Society ladies had spent so much time polishing and caring for. The figures within it were nearly life-sized as well, also made from wood - roughly representational, with their paint long faded to a dull, resonant patina.
He had slipped into a back pew moments before the priest made his way down the aisle, preceded by two slightly scruffy kids in too-long albs belted up so their sneakers showed beneath them. One carried the staff and the other the swung the censer, which clanked rhythmically against the chain that held it as the boy walked carefully in front of the priest, his eyes locked on the floor.
The sharp, tangy smell of the incense, the rhythmic noise and the approximately four pounds of General Tsao's chicken he and Seth had had for dinner had all conspired against him - he was sliding into a torpor before the first hymn had even begun - but the old woman beside him had simply poked him in the side gently with a bony elbow and offered to share her missal with him.
The service had been simple, different from the St. John Mission, with its massive organ and its fervent congregation. He had stumbled over the Christmas carols - familiar by osmosis, but different than the Spanish verses he'd grown accustomed to singing in church - but his neighbor had simply pointed to the place on the page when he faltered. He'd stood up to allow her access to the communion line, and when she'd returned, she'd simply pushed him further into the pew. To his surprise, at the end of the service, she'd turned to him, and patted his cheek fondly before kissing him lightly on the forehead.
"Merry Christmas, young man," she said, "Your parents must be so proud."
He had smiled crookedly and shrugged, but it had shocked him - to be taken for a good boy for once, in Newport. By the time they'd finished speaking, the aisle was a crush of happy, gossiping worshippers heading for the exits, and he'd offered to take her home, worried that she'd walked on her own in the dark.
"Oh, aren't you a gentleman," she said with a twinkle before turning him down flat. Her son - no fan of organized religion, apparently - was picking her up outside to spend the night with her grandchildren.
She joined the wave of departing parishioners with a backwards wave and disappeared.
He didn't know why he'd stayed. It wasn't late enough for the Cohens to worry, but he had no real reason to avoid going home. He'd thought at first to wait for the crowd to thin, but as the church emptied of everyone but the altar boys snuffing out candles and the last few women fussing over the altar flowers, he'd simply remained in his seat, watching. The church still smelled of incense and pine boughs, and he felt a rare sense of absolute peace that he was reluctant to break.
This had been a wonderful Chrismukkah in many ways, even though Kirsten was brittle and sad without her father for the first time; even though he and Marissa were fighting again. There was no unexpected drama, and he'd been made an honorary Cohen at his very own (honorary) Bar Mitzvah. Okay, that probably wasn't the best road to go down at this particular moment.
But the holidays, however much they'd sucked in Chino, always made him homesick for a home he no longer had. And as great as the Cohens were, he knew it made them uncomfortable, so he thought he'd just take an hour and be, well, sad, before heading home for the last day of Chrismukkah and its many, many presents.
The sexton was turning out the overhead lights, row by row, as the last of the women gathered missals and straightened flowers. He didn't even recognize her at first, as she startled at the end of his pew - surprised to see a worshipper left behind.
"Ryan!" she said finally, in a second it clicked -- it was Taylor Townsend, erstwhile social chair of the Harbor school. He hadn't really thought much about her - aside from thinking that she was a bitch, frankly - since he'd been readmitted to Harbor. She had mostly been a bit of background to the whole situation with Dean Hess, and he'd mostly thought of her as his evil henchpiece, but after seeing her with her mother at the Bar Mitzvakkuh he was reassessing.
"Hi, Taylor," he answered slowly, peering over her shoulder into the gloom of the now-darkened church. The only strip of lights left on where right above their heads, above his pew in the back of the church. At some point in the last few minutes, the rest of the stragglers had disappeared, and only the sexton remained, cloaked in gloom beside the light panel next to the side doors closest to the altar.
"Where's your family?"
She straightened her shoulders as though he'd slapped her, and he realized a second too late that it was the worst possible question. Her wide smile froze into an almost maniacal grimace on her face, and he noticed - incongruously - that she has a spot of shiny, pink gloss on her left front tooth.
"Oh, you know," she said in a high, tight voice that reminded Ryan of the way that Seth had sounded that first night in Newport, trapped at the kids table at the fashion show, which made his stomach ache in a way he found hard to define. "Mom's at her company Christmas party. My sister's at her boyfriend's family. I - we used to come here, on Christmas Eve before my parents split up. I just figured - why not tonight?"
"Sorry," he muttered, shifting, "I shouldn't have - it was none of my business."
"No, no, that's fine," she said, still brightly, and she reached out to pat him on the shoulder. Her hand was ice-cold even through his dress shirt, and was shaking very slightly. The angle between them was awkward, and as he tilted his head to indicate the forgotten sexton at the front of the church, his cheek brushed against the side seam of her
sweater and released a cloud of soft, expensive scent that was nearly as intoxicating as the incense had been earlier.
"Is Seth here? I mean, are the Cohens here?" she asked, as she turned and waved into the gloom.
"It's okay, Charlie, he's a friend. I'll lock up when we're done, if that's okay?" she called, seemingly not worried that her voice had broken the hushed stillness of the church.
The sexton raised a hand in goodbye, and called out what sounded like "Merry Christmas," before slipping out, the door locking behind him.
So, it was more than just Christmas, then, that Taylor came to this church alone - at least he was assuming so - if she had her own key, and a was on a first-name basis with the custodian. He wondered if Veronica was aware that her daughter was defying her to slip off to church. He wondered if Taylor had been less of a partner in Dean Hess's evil plan and more of a tool - a uniquely competent and unusually effective tool, granted, but then - wasn't that Taylor Townsend in a nutshell?
He also wondered, absently, if her obvious daddy issues made her better in bed - that drive to please did, sometimes, he'd noticed. But mostly, he wondered why she had left them all alone in the silent church on Christmas Eve.
He made a move as if to get up, but to his surprise, she shimmied into the pew and slumped down beside him.
"So, you're here all alone?" she asked, tipping her head back onto the edge of the pew to stare at the dark beams overhead, decorated with swags of pine boughs.
"Yes," he answered, "But, I was just sort of wasting some time. We can go. I don't want to keep you."
He felt bad. It wasn't like even churches didn't have to lock up in this day and age - he hadn't really thought about that. And the Cohens would miss him, eventually. Even though It's a Wonderful Life was a really long movie.
"It's okay. I don't really have anywhere to go. And you look like you were in the middle of thinking, or something. This place is really good for that."
He liked the way she refused to meet his eyes - giving him a little emotional distance, if not actually physical space. He liked how she was willing to just let him be. It was a rare and refreshing relief - even if it was coming from his ex-girlfriend's worst enemy.
"I was just - remembering, I guess."
She nodded, still staring at the ceiling.
"Your - other - family?"
He must have reacted in some way - startled or moved, or tensed, because she turned her head towards him suddenly, with a hesitant grin.
"Seth said, I mean, he mentioned - you don't live with your family anymore. You must miss them."
"Not really." The words were out of his mouth before he'd really thought about them, but they were true. He wasn't missing his family - at least, not the reality of his last Christmases in Chino. He was missing the memory of them, the idea of them. And he could never go home again.
"Me neither," she answered. "I mean - I miss Christmas when we were all together. My dad's grandfather built this church - well, not by himself, but still. And we used to come every Christmas Eve. Now, we don't even know where my dad is, and my mom throws a big party for her clients every year."
"I know where my dad is. Prison. So maybe you're better off, not knowing."
To his surprise, Taylor didn't react to that at all. Usually, Newpsies were either all over him for the details, or edging carefully for the exits, at this point. She just nodded, and went back to staring at the ceiling.
They settled into a comfortable silence for a few moments, until Taylor broke it again, still speaking in her normal voice, not the whispers that Ryan always thought were necessary in a church.
"I guess you're right. At least I can think he's happy somewhere. I mean, if you want him to be happy," she said.
Ryan wasn't sure what he wanted his father to be. It had been so long since he'd seen him that he was mostly a figure of myth and memory - a giant who loomed large in both his best and worst memories of childhood.
"Although, you sort of look like you're happy with the Cohens," she added, and at last her voice had dropped to a whisper.
"I am," Ryan answered, staring straight at the altar through the gloom. Sometimes he was afraid to say it out loud, for fear that it could all be gone in an instant. "I really am."
Just as he finished speaking, the bells rang out far above them, chiming eleven. He could feel Taylor startle beside him, even as he tensed himself.
"Speaking of, I should go," he said, almost reluctant to leave the quiet sanctuary they'd created.
"Me too," Taylor agreed, but that too-bright note was back in her voice again. She slid out of the pew ahead of him, and walked to the back without another glance at him. He stood at the edge of the aisle for a moment, watching her grey flannel skirt sway around her knees as it caught against the rough texture of her thick grey tights.
When he joined her at the back doors, she smiled again without meeting his eyes, and closed the doors to the sanctuary, locking them with an audible click. She fumbled for a moment at the light switch, and they were suddenly plunged into gloom. In the corner of the vestibule, the creche loomed grotesque and suddenly creepy.
"You know," he said on impulse, the darkness making him a little reckless, remembering her too-wide smile and her near-panic at the party the other night at her mother's hands, "The Cohens kind of have an open-door policy for Chrismukkah. It's not a big deal - Chinese food and bad movies, mostly - but everyone's welcome. The Coopers are coming, and Summer and her dad. If you're not busy, you could come, too. If you wanted.
He was unprepared for the weight of her as her launched herself at him.
"Seriously? A glimpse into the inner circle of the Core Four? I'd be thrilled!"
She accepted with an alacrity that made him think that her mother's Christmas party tonight might be the closest the Townsend family itself came to celebrating the holidays, but he didn't have much time to think about anything much at all. In the dim light, filtered through the stained-glass windows, his other senses were heightened. He caught another whiff of her expensive perfume, soft and sharp all at once, and felt the solid weight of her against him. It had been months since Marissa, since anyone, had touched him so intimately, and his body suddenly didn't care that it was Christmas Eve, that she was Taylor Townsend. It was reacting with a mind of its own.
He tightened his grip on her shoulders involuntarily, feeling her muscles tighten in response beneath the soft wool of her twinset. She felt real and solid in his arms, unlike Marissa's fragile, birdlike arms.
"Ryan!" she breathed, and he dropped his arms, taking a step back.
"I'm so sorry!" he said, mortified. She must have felt his sudden hardness against her leg. In the vestibule of a church. On Christmas Eve. He was going straight to the special hell.
To his utter shock, she reached out and touched his face unerringly in the dark.
"No, no. It's fine. I - I was just surprised, is all," she said.
"Yeah, me too," he muttered, but he made no move to jerk out from her soft grip.
"What about Marissa?"
He shook his head, biting down on his lip, and catching the brief pressure of a well-manicured nail as he did.
"There is no Marissa. Not with me, anyway. She's been too busy, with Johnny, and with Newport Union. It's been - months," he admitted.
He could feel her smile in the dark.
"Which also accounts for the, um, unexpected reaction," he added.
Her exhalation was so soft he almost missed it, but he realized just in time what she thought he was saying. He caught her hand before she could slip it away, and kissed it lightly before bringing their joined hands down to rest on his chest.
"Hey! I didn't mean it like that. I just meant, I usually have better control around a pretty girl than that."
"You, you think I'm pretty?"
From almost any other female in a twenty-mile radius of Newport, he would have assumed that was a come-on, or a shameless bid for a compliment, but he could hear that odd note of honest vulnerability in her voice again.
"Taylor, you're beautiful. You must know that - it's not like you don't look in the mirror every morning," he said.
She laughed, suddenly, at that - a little startled bark - and he felt her relax against him.
"Well, I am my mother's daughter. I know I'm presentable. But it's not, like, the first thing anyone ever notices about me."
He laughed in return. That was certainly true. It had taken him weeks to realize that Taylor was a girl, let alone a pretty one. Her personality tended to keep people a little off-balance.
"That's just because they're sort of bowled over by you in general, I think," he said, as diplomatically as he could.
Before he could follow that up, she had closed the small distance between them, capturing his lips in a kiss. For a moment, reflexively, he started to pull back, but her lips tasted faintly like a candy cane, and her tongue was demanding entrance. Without thinking, he responded, returning the kiss and deepening it. Oh yes, the special hell indeed.
"I'm sorry," she apologized when they finally broke for air, minutes later. "I'm not usually like thi - you know what? I'm totally like this, but not usually in church, at least. Usually, I'd at least pretend there was mistletoe. Or something."
He laughed again. Her verbal tics reminded him of Seth, and her blunt opinions of Summer. It was like someone had combined the two of them in one very driven, scary package.
"It's okay, Taylor. A nice surprise, even. Even without the mistletoe."
That was apparently all she needed to hear. She launched herself at him again, and after a moment, he was happy to let her take the lead. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a girl take charge, and it was kind of a refreshing change.
It took a few minutes, but it wasn't long before his body had kicked in, muscle memory taking over. He pulled back slightly to separate them enough to allow him to cup her breast, snaking a hand under her layers of sweater. He couldn't see her bra, but it was lacy and delicate, and he was careful as he pushed it aside to take an already-erect nipple between his thumb and forefinger. He rolled it carefully, feeling her moan against his mouth even as her own hand fumbled at his waistband. She couldn't seem to work his belt, and settled for pawing him through the front of his Chinos, her cold hands warming as she rubbed the mound of his rock-hard cock.
He pulled her closer, taking a moment to reach around and unclasp her bra to allow his left hand better access to her breast, even as his right was blindly searching for the hem of her flippy skirt, and better access.
He wondered briefly if it counted as a prayer or a blasphemy to utter the Lord's name, even mentally, as you made out in the back of a darkened Church on Christmas Eve. Oh, even Eva and all her prayers to St. Jude, patron saint of hopeless cases, wasn't getting him out of this one unscathed. Still, Taylor had shifted so that she was rubbing against him right as he finally located her hem, and frankly, he was pretty sure that the eternal punishment would be worth it.
He was careful not to hurt her as he tugged her tights down her thighs, then found the elastic edge of her panties. They felt as delicate as her bra had, and were already wet with her juices. He slid a careful finger under her seam, and was enveloped almost immediately but her velvety warmth. To his surprise, she didn't sport the neat landing-strip of hair that nearly all Newport women seemed to, but was incongruously natural - the luxuriant growth a marked contrast to her buttoned-down attire.
She was bucking harder against him, and he was contemplating taking a moment to undo his own belt before he lost complete control and stained his nicest pair of khakis when she abruptly withdrew, panting.
"Do you have anything on you? I want you to fuck me," she stated baldly, and Ryan, to his shock and embarrassment, actually blushed. He was hoping it was too dark for her to see.
"Here? Now? In church? You want me to fuck you in the back of the church?" he babbled.
"Well, it's not like your having a hard time feeling me up," Taylor pointed out, ever practical.
"Well, okay - yes, that's true. But, I mean, really?"
"Yes, really. I'm getting tired, though, so we're going to have to find a better position than this. Maybe against the wall or - ooh! I know, much easier."
Without another word, she slipped over to the corner of the vestibule. As Ryan watched, dumbfounded, she slipped out of her black Mary-Jane heels, and slid her tights and panties down before stepping out of them with ease. She stepped up one step into the creche area, and slid a wise man - or maybe a shepherd - to the side.
"This'll work great. It's just the right height."
Ryan couldn't move.
"You, you want me to fuck you in the Nativity scene?"
He couldn't see the expression on her face, but her voice was amused when she answered.
"Unh-huh. The manger's just the right height. I'll bend over, you can just fit behind me, it'll work out fine. What?" she said, taking in Ryan's silence, "Too much?"
"I'm just trying to decide," he finally said, as he moved over to join her, unbuckling his stubborn belt as he did, "Whether that's the hottest thing I've ever heard, or the sickest."
"It's really easier if you think of it as hot," she answered, and reached out to touch him once again. She pushed his pants down around his ankles, and groped him for a moment in a clumsy, friendly way. His cock, already straining at the sheer, strange wonder of the situation, jumped in her hands, and she backed away again with a sharp squeeze to the tip. He was beginning to see what Dean Hess had seen in her; sex was obviously not such a scary idea in her part of Newport. Or at least in her sharp, savvy mind.
"Okay, Big Boy, let's slow down a minute. I'd like a chance to at least enjoy the main course. You, uh, you don't have a condom on you, do you?"
He felt himself soften slightly as his stomach knotted. Dammit. Of course not. Not the one and only time he'd ever actually need one. No, that night, he'd - of course - leave his wallet at home, figuring he'd only be at church for a few hours.
"No," he finally admitted, and reached for his pants. Taylor stopped him with a manicured hand, and another soft kiss at the corner of his mouth.
"Oh, well, it's still okay. I'm totally on the pill - my mother would kill me of I got pregnant - and if you're pretty sure you're clean, I know I am."
Good Lord. What would Theresa think? He was contemplating not just church sex, not just - Oh, God - Nativity sex, but bareback Nativity sex. In church. On Christmas Eve. They might even have to event an extra-special hell, just for him.
"I'm clean," he answered, "I was tested before -- well, it doesn't matter, but it was recently. And I've only been with Marissa in the past year - and that was only a few times."
"Okay, then. We're good to go."
He was half-amused, half-appalled at her nonchalant demeanor. He wasn't exactly a romantic, but this seemed a little transactional, even for him. He wasn't above testing out a girl's daddy issues, but he liked to think he wouldn't actually take advantage of someone using sex for all the wrong reasons.
As though she'd read his mind, Taylor leaned up and kissed him again, this time slow and languid, stroking him lazily until he returned to full hardness.
"Sorry," she murmured finally against his chin, "I can be a little goal-oriented."
Feeling better about the situation, if not the circumstances, Ryan let Taylor take the lead once more. She bent over, grasping the side of the manger loosely as her shoulders dropped below her welcoming as. At some point, she'd shrugged off her bra and dropped it with her tights and panties, but she was still wearing her skirt and her sweater set. Ryan stepped out of his own tangled pants, leaving his own shirt in place, and stepped up behind her.
With a soft sigh of appreciation, he slid the flannel fabric of her skirt over her pale, welcoming roundness, leaving her exposed. He leaned over her, bunching her sweaters under her arms so that her small, firm, heavy breasts swung free. He tried not to think about where they were as he bent down to lay a kiss at the base of her neck, under her ponytail, as he reached out to her once more, fingering her again until her found her center, moving lightly over her clit until she was quivering beneath him, her knuckles white as she gasped and moaned, shuddering to completion.
When she was done, panting, her head buried against her arm, he stepped up behind her again, now leading the way. With a long exhalation, he entered her fully with one stroke, surprising her languid body. He waited, unmoving, for a minute, letting her recover, letting her adjust, before beginning to thrust against her. After only a few moments, her hips began to snap back against his, riding out his rhythm, surrendering to his pace.
He bent over her again, redoubling his efforts. Once hand covered hers on the manger's edge, offering him some leverage to change his angle, to go deeper, and longer, while the other found a hanging breast, tugging and pulling lightly as he tried not to remember that his fingers were brushing the top of the Baby Jesus' head. Beneath him, he felt her break once more as a second orgasm rippled through her, and his own movements became erratic, slowing, then jerking faster, as he sought his own completion.
At the last moment, she pushed back against him, pushing him almost upright, and he almost howled with pain and displeasure as he slipped out of her. He was throwing up prayers, left and right, begging God to wait until afterwards, dammit, before condemning him right to hell. She spun around suddenly, dropping to her knees, and enveloped him into her mouth without missing a step. Suddenly, he was asking that God not strike him with lightning, at least not yet, not until her talented tongue finished its work.
His own orgasm, when it came, was almost unbearably intense. He resisted the urge to grab fistfuls of Taylor's hair, but she didn't seem inclined to let him go, swallowing without a sound of protest even as his semen hit the back of her throat.
He sank down to his knees next to her, gathering her up in another kiss. He could taste himself on her, and sweat, and the sharp smell of the hay was in his nostrils along with her perfume. When they parted, he kept his arms around her, both of them breathing heavily, half-laughing in the darkness. He reached out and smoothed her crumpled sweaters over her pale, luminous breasts, and she covered his hands with hers again, nuzzling into his neck.
"That," he murmured as he licked the soft spot behind her ear, "was the greatest Christmas present ever. Even if the floor's going to open up and swallow us whole any minute."
He was rewarded with her sharp, barking laugh again, and a kiss to his temple.
"I agree. So much better than an iPod. You're not going to get all Catholic and guilty about this now, are you?" she asked, and he smiled at her abrupt phrasing.
"I'm pretty sure no sex in the manger is a universal Christian taboo, but no. I'm not going to get all Catholic and guilty. At least anymore than I already am."
"Good. I'd hate to spoil such a nice night. We should get going, though. It's nearly midnight, and the Cohens will wonder where you are."
He noticed that she didn't mention her own family.
He moved a moment later, locating his discarded pants, and shucking them on without a moment's thought. He wouldn't be wearing them again tomorrow, but they didn't look too bad.
Taylor was another story. Even in the darkened church, he could see her twinset was crumpled almost beyond repair. He found her missing tights, and underthings, and re-dressed her carefully, sliding the tights on and over her still-sticky thighs before allowing her to stand up on her own. She turned away from him to replace her bra, however, and by the time she turned back, whatever magic she possessed had smoothed the whole outfit back into a modicum of order.
"So, we should go," she said finally, after they stood side by side for a moment, watching each other surreptitiously.
He nodded, and took a moment to re-position the figures around the Nativity scene in their original places. With luck, no one would ever know what had happened here.
"Look, Taylor," he started to say, but she was already at the back door, her Newpsie smile back in place.
"I know, Ryan. It was a one-time thing. Caught up in the moment. I won't tell. Who would I tell, anyway?"
He crossed over and took her in his arms again, kissing her temple, her nose, her quivering lips.
"What I was going to say, Taylor, before I was so rudely interrupted, was that it's been a while for me - Marissa still has me pretty messed up. But let's try to be friends, at least. I like you. Even before the manger sex, I did. And we'll see how the - other stuff - goes from here. But maybe we could keep it to ourselves, at least tomorrow."
"Yes, when you come over for the last night of Chrismmukah. I thought we already talked about it."
He didn't miss the sudden smile that blazed across her face.
"Oh! I'm still invited? That's so great. Mum's the word. I'll bring my spinach dip - everyone loves that! Can Jews eat spinach? Never mind. I'll look it up online. Or, do you guys even keep Kosher? Is that a thing?"
She was still talking as they locked the church up behind them, and he walked her across the deserted parking lot to her car, and he finally silenced her with a kiss.
"Merry Christmas, Taylor. See you tomorrow."
She took off with smile and a wave, Christmas carols blaring from her car's stereo. Ryan walked back across the lot to the Rover, head tilted back to the blanket of stars above. It was a cool, pretty evening, and he was humming a snatch of whatever song had been playing when Taylor left when the Cohens called his cell phone.
He answered as he swung himself into the driver's seat, still humming.
"Nope. I just left church. I'm on my way now. No, it was actually a great experience. No, I miss you guys, too. I'll be home by midnight."
As he ended the call and put the car into gear, he was actually seeking out the Christmas carol station on the radio. If God didn't smite him into the extra special hell before tomorrow morning, this might turn out to be the best Atwood Christmas on record.
As long as he remembered to change his pants.