Winter Break Episode 1

On December 17th, in a loud mid-priced steakhouse in Naperville, Illinois, the Bagwell family was having dinner together for the first time since Thanksgiving. Taylor Bagwell, tall and perpetually dressed in business casual, had just flown in from Kansas City where she worked her first job as a copywriter for a marketing firm. This was her first Christmas out of school. Jonathan Bagwell, an average height and slightly pudgy young man with a preference for graphic t-shirts and hoodies, had been home for two weeks already, having finished his first semester at Illinois State University. Their parents, Terry and Christine Bagwell, both sweater-clad with the former’s doing the extra work to hide a beer-belly, had seen both of them individually a few times throughout the fall and early winter, but were now ecstatic to have them both at their home for the next ten days. In fact, Terry Bagwell was so happy, that he already had drank two beers without noticing. The conversation flowed accordingly.

“If I’m being honest,” Terry said, cutting into his rare cooked ribeye, “based on the two times I’ve been there, Kansas City is more fun than Chicago.”

“I don’t know about that,” Taylor said. “It depends on what you want in a city.”

“A little better weather and a lot better barbecue,” Terry said. “What more could you want?”

“Are you sure don’t want something more than a chicken Caesar salad?” Christine said.

“I’m fine,” Taylor said. “I have to go on all these business lunches and dinners where everyone orders a million things and it looks bad if I don’t eat. It’s nice to just eat something light.”

“I get that,” Terry said. “It’s the business world.”

“You really think it’s nice to eat just a salad sometimes, Dad?” Jonathan said. Terry frowned and, without thinking, moved his hand to his mildly protruding belly.

“Did he become more of a smart ass at college?” Terry said. “I swear, Taylor, every time I’ve turned around these last two weeks he’s had something to make fun of me about.”

“I don’t know,” Taylor said. “Maybe.”

“The other day I was working in the garage and I dropped a hammer on my foot and he called me ‘Tim the tool man failure’,” Terry said. The table laughed.

“I didn’t think it was funny,” Terry said. “He didn’t even ask me if my foot was okay.”

“Is your foot okay?” Jonathan said.

“Well, yes,” Terry said.

“Good,” Jonathan said.

“Do you want a drink, Taylor?” Christine said.

“No, thank you,” Taylor said. “I think I might do a little work later tonight.”

“What?” Terry said. “What’s the point of a ten day vacation if you have to work the whole time?”

“I don’t have to,” Taylor said. “I just don’t want to get too far behind.”

“What do you do for fun in Kansas City?” Jonathan said.

“Sometimes my co-workers and I go out for drinks,” Taylor said.

“Are you seeing anybody?” Christine said.

“I’m just focusing on my work,” Taylor said. “I’m still adjusting.”

“Nothing wrong with that,” Terry said. “Did you notice that while she was telling us that she didn’t insult me, the man who raised her, right to his face?”

“You love it,” Jonathan said.

The family attended to their meal for a bit. The restaurant was the right level of noisy, where conversation could be heard by everyone at the table, but not by anyone else.

“How was your first semester?” Taylor said.

Jonathan put down his knife and fork and strung together a series of emphatic gestures.

“I am in heaven,” Jonathan said. “No one told me what it was going to be. Classes only a couple hours a day, and then you can do whatever you want. Are you kidding me? Whatever I want? It’s a paradise I do not believe is real.”

“So you like it?” Taylor said.

“I’m missing school right now,” Jonathan said, looking around the table. “Do you understand what I’m saying? I, Jonathan, miss school.”

“I’m glad,” Taylor said. “That’s exciting. Have you thought about what you’re going to major in?”

“The million dollar question,” Terry said.

“Has this been discussed already?” Taylor said.

“Frequently,” Christine said. “With growing levels of frustration.”

“I like to consider myself a renaissance man,” Jonathan said. “I’m waiting for some sort of divine sign as to which way my studies should go?”

“Are you really?” Taylor said.

“No,” Jonathan said. “I’m just waiting for something that doesn’t bore me to death.”

“I thought you said you like school?” Taylor said.

“I do,” Jonathan said. “I’m bored to death only two hours a day. I used to be bored to death eight hours a day. I want to be careful so I don’t go back to that.”

“I don’t know where he got the idea that what major he chose is supposed to make him happy,” Terry said. “If that was the case he should major in video games and being disrespectful to his father.”

“I’d be in the honors program,” Jonathan said. “My thesis would be why your graying hair makes your head look like a bowl of skittles in a black and white movie.”

“Be careful what you say,” Christine said. “You’ll probably get his hair, too.”

“Then I have nothing to live for,” Jonathan said.

Taylor continued to eat her salad. She missed them more than she realized.

“How about you, Mom?” Taylor said. “How have you been?”

“Things at the school are going okay,” Christine said. “I had one kid who smoked some marijuana that older kids gave to him without knowing what it is. I left for a second and when I came back he had eaten all my cotton balls and had put bandages over his eyes.”

“What did you do?” Taylor said.

“Did you put on Pink Floyd?” Jonathan said.

“No, I didn’t put on Pink Floyd,” Christine said. “I just had him take a nap, and when he woke up I asked him if he felt better or if he wanted to go home.”

“If all it takes to go home is being high, half of the cross country team would have been home,” Jonathan said.

“I don’t know anything about that,” Christine said.

“How’s the monthly bridge game?” Taylor said.

“Oh, that’s been indefinitely postponed?” Christine said.

“What?” Taylor said. “Why?”

“Well, one of the ladies got over served and told us all she’s having an affair, and we all just felt too embarrassed to meet up again for now,” Christine said.

“Wow, who was it?” Taylor said.

“I don’t want to say,” Christine said.

“That means it was her,” Jonathan said.

“No, it was not me,” Christine said. “Your father and I are doing just fine.”

“You hear that, Dad,” Jonathan said. “Mom says your relationship is fine. Not a strong endorsement.”

“I would hope you had the decency to not cross every line,” Terry said. A strange but brief silence hit the table.

“Alright, I’m sorry,” Jonathan said.

“How about you, Dad?” Taylor said. “What have you been up to? How’s work?”

“Work’s fine,” Terry said.

“He got a nice promotion,” Christine said.

“Oh, that’s great,” Taylor said.

“Thank you,” Terry said. He cut a piece of steak for himself, and chewed it quietly for a little while. “I got a new documentary series on World War Two.”

“Another one?” Jonathan said. “What more do you want to know? Are you worried you’ll find one where Germany won?”

“No,” Terry said. “It’s important to understand that history. The America we know was shaped by that war. This documentary series is from the perspective of the Russians. As much as we hated those guys right after, what they did was nothing short of incredible. How many young men went out knowing death was all but guaranteed in order to defeat the Nazis? Incredible bravery.”

“Tell them about your kickboxing class,” Christine said.

“You’re taking a kick boxing class?” Taylor said.

“Twice a week,” Terry said. “A bunch of nice ladies and I work the bag while a very strong young man yells at us. I like it.”

“He’s already lost three pounds,” Christine said.

“Good for you, Dad,” Taylor said. “Maybe I’ll go with you once or twice. I could afford to burn some calories this holiday season.”

“I’d like that,” Terry said.

The family finished their meal, paid, and walked out into the cold night. Soon, they were filing into the house debating what was next on the agenda. Taylor was excited to be back in the house. She missed just being there. She missed sitting on the couch in the living room, talking to whoever was in the kitchen. She missed quiet walks up to bed when nothing good was on TV. She missed being in a home with other people.

“I think we have a game night,” Christine said. “It would be fun.”

“I don’t,” Jonathan said.

“You don’t think anything is fun,” Christine said.

“I do,” Jonathan said. “That’s why I can say with confidence that a family game night would not be fun.”

“You don’t even know what game we would play,” Christine said.

“What game?” Jonathan said.

“Mon-” Christine said before being interrupted.

“Not fun,” Jonathan.said.

“You didn’t even listen,” Christine said.

“I am on Jonathan’s side,” Taylor said. “I’m not in the mood for games.”

“What do you want to do then?” Christine said.

“Well, actually I was planning on going to Jim’s house,” Jonathan said.

“You’re leaving us?” Christine said. She turned to Terry sitting on the couch. “Did you hear that? He’s leaving us.”

“Good,” Terry said. “Finally some peace.”

“Fine,” Christine said. “It’s the first time we’re all together in a while, but go be with your friends.”

Jonathan put his coat back on and headed out the door. Christine looked at Taylor.

“What do you want to do?” Christine said. “Are you going to go hang out with your friends, too?”

“No, I’ll stay here tonight,” Taylor said. “We could watch a movie.”

The two women joined Terry in the living room. Both fell into the couch and were amazed at how badly they needed to sit down. Christine was still digesting her food and Taylor was still overwhelmed from travel.

“What’s the plan?” Terry said.

“We’re going to watch a movie,” Christine said.

“Which one?” Terry said.

“I have one that I’ve been meaning to watch,” Christine said. “If no one has any objections.”

“Will it bore me?” Terry said.

“Probably,” Christine said. “But it has some nudity.”

“Is it artsy nudity?” Terry said.

“Yes,” Christine said.

“Then even that will bore me,” Terry said.

“We don’t have to watch it,” Christine said.

“No, no,” Terry said. “Let’s watch the movie.”

Christine found the movie on Netflix and started it. The beginning was very strange. There was a man who appeared to be paralyzed for some reason, perhaps a stroke, lying in a hospital bed. His wife attempted to ask him questions, but they could only communicate through his blinking. Questions had to be reduced to yes or no. The wife had an urgency about the questions, suggesting the man did not have long to live. They were just questions about his life and what he thought about it. Finally, the man closed his eyes and soon he was dead. The wife walked out of the hospital and out to a beautiful day where she sobbed on a park bench. After, this scene Taylor turned to her parents to see that they both had already fallen asleep.

Jonathan sat in a worn out couch in the basement of his friend, Jim, from high school. His other friend Matt was also there. They had been catching up for about a half hour, but as is the usual case in suburban basements, they were growing bored.

“I wish we had weed,” Matt said.

“You smoke pot now?” Jim said.

“Of course,” Matt said. “Everyone does, right?”

“You just seemed very against it in high school,” Jim said.

“We weren’t cool enough to be offered weed in high school,” Matt said. “I was just protecting my ego.”

“Do either of you guys have fakes?” Jonathan said.

“No, do you?” Matt said.

“No,” Jonathan said. “It’s going to be a long month, if I can’t drink or get high.”

“Why don’t you ask your sister?” Jim said.

“What?” Jonathan said.

“Ask your sister to buy us alcohol,” Jim said. “She’s home isn’t she?”

“I guess I could,” Jonathan said. “I don’t know.”

“What’s not to know?” Matt said. “She’s your sister; not your mom.”

“Is she still that very serious career woman kind of hot?” Jim said.

“What?” Jonathan said. “I’m not answering that question.”

“Oh I know what you mean,” Matt said. “That’s my type.”

“Your type,” Jonathan said. “Type implies that you’ve keep dating that kind of person. To my knowledge you haven’t dated anyone. Have you had sex?”

“I have!” Matt said. “Have you?”

“I have,” Jonathan said.

“I have too,” Jim said.

“Wow, we’re cooler than I thought,” Jonathan said.

“How awesome was it? Jim said.

“Some days it’s all I think about,” Matt said. “I was thinking about it before we started talking about it.”

“We should try to get laid while we’re back,” Jonathan said.

“How?” Jim said. “We have no booze, no weed, and no friends.”

“Jonathan’s sister could get us booze,” Matt said.

“Fine,” Jonathan said. “I’ll talk to her.”

“What ladies are we going to ask to drink with us?” Jim said.

They sat in silence for a minute.

“You know what?” Jonathan said. “Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it. Booze first.”

Taylor sat at the kitchen table with her laptop, trying to think of a tag line for a print ad. It was for a sunscreen that was supposed to be less greasy. The photo was of people laughing and having fun at the beach. She had been stuck on it for a couple days. She looked out the window at the weather that Illinois made its residents suffer through. It made her anxious to know that she couldn’t comfortably walk outside. It made her feel worse to realize she wouldn’t know where to go. That feeling got worse every time she came back to her parents’ home. Gradually, the town she grew up in and the people she grew up with became strangers to her. Outside of the house, Naperville to her had become a unfamiliar place where she knew where every fast food restaurant and gas station was. This feeling was starting to become painful.

She picked up her phone and looked for someone who might also be in Naperville. She saw her friend Katie’s number. She typed out a brief message asking if she’d like to get a drink, but deleted it after remembering she saw Katie was spending the holidays in Europe. She typed out another message to Will, who she dated toward the end of senior year, to see if he wanted to get a drink. She worried about the implications of texting that this late in the evening. She wondered if she wanted what the implications would be. She deleted the message. She tried to go back to work.

Jonathan entered the house. Taylor was surprised. She was not expecting him home for a little while. He looked around.

“Are they both asleep on the couch?” Jonathan said.

“They have been for a while,” Taylor said.

“Should we wake them up?” Jonathan said.

“I will when I’m done with my work,” Taylor said.

“Working hard, huh?” Jonathan said.

“Yeah, I’m just stuck on this one thing so I wanted to give it a go here,” Taylor said.

“You’ll get it,” Jonathan said. “You’re very smart.”

“Thanks,” Taylor said.

“And hard working,” Jonathan said. “Everybody says so.”

“What do you want?” Taylor said.

“What do you mean?” Jonathan said.

“Why are you saying these things?” Taylor said.

“I’m offended,” Jonathan said. “Can’t I compliment the sister I love and haven’t seen in over a month without the baseless accusations of wanting something from my affection.”

“Alright, I’m sorry,” Taylor said.

“My heart is breaking,” Jonathan said. “It’s times like these that I could really use a drink, but it’s not to be while I’m here at home.”

“You could have just asked me to buy you booze,” Taylor said.

“Buy me booze?” Jonathan said. “I would never ask my dear sister to break the law on my behalf. It would never even cross my mind to ask you to buy the biggest container of cheap vodka wherever you go has so that my friends and I aren’t so bored here. Never would I suggest that I would even give you extra money for your trouble if you were to do that.”

“Alright, alright enough,” Taylor said. “I’ll get you some tomorrow.”

“Thanks,” Jonathan said. “I’ll give you thirty dollars.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Taylor said. “Think of it as my gift to you.”

“Thank you,” Jonathan said. “If you ever need a favor, let me know.”

“If I ever need you to buy me booze, I’ll let you know,” Taylor said.

“Or anything,” Jonathan said. “I’m a very powerful man, you know.”

“I forgot I was speaking to the king of Naperville,” Taylor said.

“A lot of people do,” Jonathan said. “I’m going to bed. I’m excited you got so much time off.”

“Good night,” Taylor said.

Jonathan marched up to his bedroom, leaving Taylor in the silence of the kitchen. She looked around, and wondered about what exactly was different. Why did she feel so remarkably dissimilar to when she was standing alone in her apartment in Kansas City? It wasn’t a lack or presence of loneliness, nor of boredom. Perhaps it was an issue of pace. A pace that did not fit her. It also might be that she was tired. It had been a long day.

She walked over to her sleeping parents. She shook Terry’s shoulder. He woke up in alarm.

“What’s wrong?” Terry said.

“Nothing,” Taylor said. “It’s just late and you both have been sleeping on the couch.”

“Oh, okay,” Terry said. “I was having a dream that I’ve been having a lot lately. You and your brother are little again, and there’s a fire in the house, and I’m the only one who can help.”

“Maybe you should try not to drink right before bed,” Taylor said.

“Why?” Terry said.

“It might be giving you that dream,” Taylor said.

“Oh, maybe,” Terry said. He stood up, woke up Christine, and they walked to bed. Taylor stood in the empty living room, and calmly looking over it all. She felt that something important had yet to be figured out, but gave up, and moved to her childhood bedroom.