On Christmas morning I awoke, and emptied my stocking. Out poured the Horrible Histories annual, the gifts from Hawkins Bazaar, the Beano, the Toblerone, the mini Lego kit, the Maltesers box, the fruit pastilles, and then the satsuma at the very bottom. I ate that orange ball of vitamins first.
Two hours later, at 8am, I galloped downstairs. I could hear strange breathing. My uncle Max was sat on the white sofa, lean and wiry as always, wearing his leather jacket. What was he doing here? I smiled anyway; he was still family. I looked to my left, and saw my little sister, Josie, sat wearing her pink PJs, hunched up in the corner of the grey sofa with her arms around her legs.
“Hey, Josie,” I said. “Are you okay?”
“She’s just tired. Aren’t you, sweetie?” Max said. Josie nodded. Then she pressed her face against her knees, and brushed a veil of hair over her eyes.
“What are you doing here?” I asked Max.
“Your Mum invited me. Stayed the night here.” He stared at me with wide eyes. “You got a problem with that?”
I shook my head.
Following a minute of silence, I heard the familiar creaking of floorboards, then Mum’s slippers shuffle-clopping down the stairs. She gave a weary smile as she trailed through the doorway, and said, “Merry Christmas!”
“Happy Christmas,” Max replied, standing up. He walked over to her with his arms out, but Mum took a step back. He raised his eyebrows. Then we heard more creaking, and Max spread his arms out wide and cried, ‘Ryan!’, and Dad cheered as he walked in. They hugged, and the two of them put their arms over each other’s shoulders.
“So are we ready?” Max asked.
Josie still wouldn’t budge, so I handed her her presents. She put on a grin at the sight of a Queen Elsa rucksack, then put it on the floor and wrapped her arms around her knees.
“Sure you’re okay?” I asked. She squeezed her knees tighter. Maybe she was cold? I got to my feet and shuffled into the hallway to check the thermostat. It was fine.
I headed back to the living room, when Max walked through the doorway straight towards me. I felt a cold shiver down my arms. ‘Tim,’ he said. ‘You got a second?’
“Come on, let’s go up to your room.” I nodded again. I didn’t think to tell him: ‘No. You have no right to be in there.’
He stomped upstairs in his heavy boots, and I followed.
He sat on my bed, and I perched on the edge of my desk. The house was unusually quiet, except for the laboured sound of Max breathing. It was as if the air turned to sand every time it went up his nostrils.
“I must say I’m disappointed in you, Patrick,” Max said. My mind went blank, and I looked down at my feet. Anywhere but his eyes. “You seem to be making everyone miserable.”
I didn’t think to say: “I’ve done nothing wrong. You have with what you said to Mum. I overheard.”
“What you’re doing to your sister. You’ve not asked if she’s okay, when her mother is letting everyone down. She needs her older brother; not some small boy who only cares about himself.’”
Mum must have followed me upstairs, for I heard from the landing, “You okay, Patrick?”
“We’re fine!” Max shouted. “Go away!”
I looked up. This was the Max I remembered. Shouting the last time he was here. Shouting every Christmas before. I stood up. Forget reconciliation. This guy is a dickwad.
“Get out.” I said.
Max whirled, his face broiling with anger. “Excuse me?”
“You’re not welcome here. Get out.” “Who are you to tell me that?”
I did think to say: “Someone who’s not a child anymore.”
“I never even invited you,” Mum added, opening the door.
“Well of course you didn’t. My brother did. Isn’t that right, Ryan!”
Light feet galloped up the stairs, and Dad walked over to Mum’s side. He looked at her. Then at Max. And the face he pulled, he seemed to have made a decision.
“I think it’s best you leave,” Dad said.
Max’s jaw dropped. Then snapped shut. He stormed past them without looking back.
No more shouting. No more drama. And though he was still family, that Christmas Day, our first without Uncle Max, soon became the best Christmas ever.