“I have to ask you a question,” Holly warned him after taking a long sip of her coffee to warm up on a chilly November morning. “I think I already know the answer, but I’m going to ask anyway…”
Aaron gave her a funny look as he sipped his Snapple.
They were seated on their usual bench overlooking the river. It was a gray, overcast morning and there was no one else around.
“I know what you’re going to ask,” he assured her. “You want to know how I got to be this handsome. To be honest, genetics deserves most of the credit, but I do have a daily moisturizing routine that keeps my skin feeling soft and looking young.”
She giggled and punched him in the shoulder.
“Goober! Someone’s feeling cocky and confident today,” she observed with a smile.
Aaron shrugged. “I was just giving you an honest answer to what I was so sure that was going to be your question.”
She rolled her eyes, and he smiled. Holly took a moment to savor that smile because she didn’t think her best friend smiled enough. Which was a shame because he looked so handsome when he did so.
Perhaps that was the true secret to his good looks…
“My actual question was if you’d like to join me at my parents’ for Thanksgiving,” she asked shyly because she knew he was going to say no, but she still held out hope that he’d surprise her.
Aaron chuckled. “That’s sweet, but you know I can’t do that.”
“Can’t or won’t?” she challenged.
“You know my introvert’s survival instinct prohibits me from attending any large gathering, especially one that puts my social awkwardness on display,” he reminded her.
“If you don’t start hanging around people, you’re going to become feral,” Holly warned. “When that couple passed us on the path earlier, you were about one second away from hissing at them.”
“Well, thank you for scratching me under my chin at the exact right moment to prevent me from committing that faux pas.”
He laughed, but she did not. She loved Aaron’s quirks, but hated that he had become so much more anti-social since the start of the pandemic.
“This is my family,” she reminded him. “Not a bunch of strangers.”
“Do you know what the Introverts’ Code says about the holidays?” he asked as he took another sip of his iced tea.
She sighed. “There’s a code?”
He nodded. “The Code says that holidays are stressful enough for an introvert, but become exponentially more so when you add people to the equation.”
“Put that on a tee shirt, and it will be a best seller for Christmas,” she quipped.
“Don’t think I haven’t already suggested that on numerous occasions,” he replied without hesitation. “As for your family, they all think I’m weird and only tolerate me because they assume you’ve taken me in like some stray dog. What was it that your Aunt Gina, the lover of The Big Bang Theory, said to me the last time I attended one of your family’s holiday gatherings?”
“She said you kind of reminded her of Sheldon,” she said softly. “Because you had all his weird quirks, but weren’t nearly as intelligent.”
“Bazinga!” Aaron declared and slammed his hand down on the bench to emphasize his point.
“What if I were to promise that Aunt Gina would be on her best behavior?” Holly persisted because she really wanted to spend the holiday with him, and hated the idea of his being all alone.
“You can’t deliver on that promise,” he pointed out. “Just like you wouldn’t be able to promise your family that I wouldn’t be a socially awkward weirdo who’d hide in the shadows, avoid any interaction, and spend all his time plotting his escape.”
Holly sighed again. “You’re right. I’m stupid for trying to force you kicking and screaming out of your comfort zone.”
“There would be biting as well,” he added. “Look, if I were to go to your folks’, I’d have to worry about what to wear, having to drive there and find a place to park, trying to make small talk, not offending anyone, and basically not embarrassing you.”
“If I stay home, I can wear sweats, sit on the couch all day watching football, and eat whenever the hell the mood hits. There’s no stress involved, no forced awkward interactions, and I don’t have to worry about using my outside personality. Everyone wins when you think about it.”
Holly pouted. “Not me. I have to put up with my family without my best friend there to distract me and make me smile…”
He didn’t like to see her pout, so he reached out and put a comforting hand on her leg.
“I promise to text you random, snarky comments about your family and the world in general.”
A smile formed on her beautiful face.
“That’s sweet,” she admitted. “And you can make up all the excuses you want, but I know why you really don’t want to attend my family’s Thanksgiving.”
Aaron raised an eyebrow again. He knew her too well. This definitely was a set up for a joke made at his expense. But he owed her that much because he knew he was disappointing her for turning down her well-intended invitation. So he played straight man for the person he cared about most.
“And what’s that, smart ass?” he asked.
“Because you don’t want to have to share the stuffing.”
They both laughed because it was totally true.