“Nothing like a year off hosting Christmas!” Dad announces as he pulls the lever on the passenger side seat and reclines back into my little brother, James.
“Dad! My legs are here!” James yells as he drags his legs up into his chest.
“Were, James. Correction. Your legs were there”. Dad responds with a grin on his face.
“Paul! Sit up and give the boy some space”. Mum is so good at telling Dad off like that. “Besides, everyChristmas is your year off. When was the last time you did anything to demonstrate you were hosting?” continued Mum, stumping Dad.
Their petty but playful quarrel continues like this for several minutes. Their voices filter out as I begin to daydream, looking out the window. If there’s one thing I dislike about not being host for Christmas it’s definitely the six-hour drive to Uncle Ben and Aunty Wendy’s place.
My family have always got along really well. My brother James and I get along, Mum and Aunty Sue are like blood sisters, even though Dad and Uncle Ben are their link.
“Sister from another Mr!” Mum and my aunt always say to each other in fun. Even my Gran and Grandad were still as happy as ever. “58 years…” Grandad would keep reminding everyone the whole week last Christmas. “58 years. You know how long that is Billy?” He would ask, though I didn’t really feel the need to answer as he had mentioned twice in the previous ten seconds. They are great, my family.
My cousins are really different to James and I yet we’re kind of complimentary. James and I can be a handful but our three cousins; Olive, Lily and Kevin, they were next level! I actually think they would drive anyone other than Uncle Ben and Aunty Wendy crazy! But they love them so much and rarely seem to have to tell them off. Uncle Ben calls them little monsters but he is probably more of a monster- it’s almost like he is one of the kids! Oh it’s so much fun having our family Christmas!
I awake to our car horn tooting. I sit up from my slump and rub my dazed eyes. “We’re here!” I spark up with excitement.
All the crew are waiting up on their newly renovated balcony!
“Whoa! There house has changed a whole heap, hasn’t it Dad?” My little brother James asks.
“He’s a real handy man, our Ben isn’t he?” Dad poses to everyone.
“Yep! Flat out like a lizard drinking, he is” Dad continues by answering his own question.
Mum pulls up and yanks the hand break locked. “Oh look at the girls. Aren’t they just gorgeous?” Asks Mum as she opens her door. “Yeah good to see they took after their mother and not Ben!” Dad loves teasing his brother. I think it’s where I get my sense of humour.
“Hey, Hey, Hey!” Booms Uncle Ben as he rushes over to us all.
Gran and Grandad have made their way out from inside onto the balcony. James runs straight through the lunging arms of Uncle Ben and into Grandad’s. He certainly loves Grandad, that’s for sure! I embrace Uncle Ben, then Aunty Wendy and Olive and Lily but there’s no sight of Kevin.
“Great to see you Billy” Aunty Wendy says, whilst pulling on earlobe. I smile back and turn to the girls. “How’s things, girls?” I ask. I really love being around my cousins, they’re awesome! “Fine” They start in unison. Twins. They do that a lot.
“Nice new haircut, Billy”. Lily makes an insightful, yet very true statement. “Thanks, I got it yesterday from the Market Place near home”. I reply. “So where’s Kevin?” I ask inquisitively. We’ve been out here for at least two minutes now and still no Kevin. Usually, he’d be swinging off Dad’s arm like a monkey by now.
“Oh.” Olive starts with a look of concern. “Kevin has…” she seems to be fumbling, trying to find the right words.
“Changed.” Lily finishes Olive’s sentence for her. At least that hasn’t changed. I screw my face up in confusion. The girls notice. “Oh, don’t worry, he’s inside hiding”. Lily reassures my worry. “He does that when he gets into trouble nowadays”. Olive confirms and takes my backpack. “Come on, let’s go upstairs and set up our fort for the next week”.
I give Gran and Grandad a huge hug each. “Thanks for the stamps!” I say as I head inside. Our Grandparents are really kind to all of us kids. They send parcels to all of us each month. Puzzles, games, pencils. You name it- they’re so thoughtful.
I make my way passed the lounge on the right and toward the staircase. I try pay extra attention to the corners of each room we pass and under table spaces. ‘Where could he be hiding?’ I think to myself. ‘And why is he hiding? And in trouble?’
“Kevin!” I hear Uncle Ben from down stairs. “He has lost it, I tell you.” He says to Dad. “Ever since he started on the sugar”.
“You give him sugar?” Dad gasps with disbelief.
“Well, it started off with one single sugar chew… then before we knew it, we had an addiction on our hands”. Uncle Ben sounded disappointed in himself. “We don’t even know where he’s getting it from”.
Before we continue any further, I feel like I should tell a little small flaw of my family. We’re a sugar free family. In case you are wondering, yes there’s such a thing. When my dad and uncle were boys, they were brought up on a farm. They drank milk from their cow, Bettsy, they bred a few chickens a year and raised beef cattle for meat. They had an orchard with cherries and apricots and apples and pears. They even had a paddock of row upon row of vegies. They certainly lived off the land, that’s for sure. How do I know, you ask? Every Christmas we get the same story from Grandad and Gran. “Those corporations handing out packeted foods are ruining our teeth.” They’d lecture. Now I’m not saying we don’t eat junkfood because… Well, we don’t eat junkfood. I eat dried fruit straps and nuts of all sorts. I eat yummy fruit fresh from the markets and often a variety of savoury goodies; including muffins, scones and pretzels. We just don’t eat sugar. It’s like a family tradition or something I guess. So the conversation going on downstairs is now not only more relative but quite a tense one too.
“Do Mum and Dad know about this yet?” Dad asks fearing that Gran might get narky.
“No, we told them he is just going through a ‘crazy phase’.” Uncle Ben answered.
“Hey Billy, do you want to try find Kevin with us? It’s fun” Lily asks. “Umm…” I start.
“Trust me, Kevin is no normal hide and seek player” Olive starts. “Last week, when he got into trouble off Mum, he hid in the sink cupboard for three hours. He only came out when Dad turned the hot water on and the pipes got too hot for him.” She finished.
“Ok. Sounds like an adventure”, I say. “It might give me an opportunity to see all of the renovations too!” I state. “Your dad has done a great job by the way”.
I start in Kevin’s room. “Kevin?” I query feeling like we’re hunting ghosts. I slump down on my hands and knees. I gaze across under his chest of draws first. Nothing. Next, I turn to his desk space. Not there either. I look under his bed for good measure. He is a little monster, you never know. I remember what the girls had said about his last hiding place. “In the cupboard!” I think out loud in a ‘light bulb’ moment.
“Aagh. Rats.” I say. Not literally. He’s just not in there. This kid is good. I decide to head into the bathroom for a look but as I leave Kevin’s room, a small silver piece of something flickers and glares of sunlight radiate into my eye. I stop, take a step backward and notice it on the floor behind Kevin’s bedroom door. I bend down to pick it up and investigate. It’s only small but I sit it in the palm of my hand and begin to decode the torn away writing. It is a lolly wrapper. ‘Gumm..’ it reads across one section. Then, ‘ears’ on the section below. I think about the portion of wrapper that may be missing. “Gumm ears?” I question myself.
“What are you doing?” James startles me as he enters the room.
“I’m looking for Kevin”. I reply, trying to hide that his entrance surprised me.
“What have you found? DNA?” James jokes, as he looks closer to the wrapper. “Yum, Gummy Bears!” He continues. Of course.
“One of the boys at school has them all the time. Where’d you get that?” James continues, like a real Sherlock.
“It was on the ground here. It must be Kevin’s.” I answer.
“But we’re not allowed junkfood. Gran will flip!” James warns as if I didn’t know.
“Yeah durrh! That’s why Kevin is in trouble” I state.
“Well let’s go get him. Let’s try the spare room”. James suggests with excitement.
“That’s Gran and Grandad’s room for the next week. We’ll stay well clear of that. Let’s go to the bathroom and check”. I overrule. Being the older sibling, albeit just by one year, I still hold the power.
As we make our way to the bathroom we double-check the linen closet just in case.
“OMG!” James and I hear an abrupt call. “OMG, OMG, OMG!” It goes again. We meet the girls in the hall. “Look what we found in the attic!” Lily broadcasts. I am in shock. There are ten, no fifteen lolly wrappers! It’s like we’ve been teleported to Willy Wonker’s Candy factory!
“Whatcha’ doing kidlings?” A voice behind us asks. It’s Aunty Wendy making her way up the stairs.
“Mum”. Olive exposes her hands. “Look what Kevin has been up to”.
At one sight of the handful of wrappers, Aunty Wendy’s mouth drops. “Kevin!” She shouts out to whoever can hear it. At the sound of panic in Aunty Wendy’s voice, Uncle Ben and Dad make their way upstairs, followed by Gran and Mum.
“What’s happened?” questions Uncle Ben with a worried tone in his voice. He takes one look down at the hands of Olive and Lily and shakes his head. There is silence amongst all of us. No-one says anything but we all feel we have the same thought in our head.
“He he he”. A distant chuckle projects from the opposite end of the passageway. “Kevin?” Aunty Wendy inquires in hope. Kevin has been missing for a good half hour now. “That sounds like Herb’s laugh.” Gran examined. “I’ve been hearing that for 59 years now and that can only mean one thing. He’s up to no good”. She reveals.
We all follow the giggles like a team of investigators on a squad mission. It leads us to the spare room that Gran and Grandad are using for the festive season.
“Well what do we have here?” Dad interrupts the circus that has been taking place. We all enter and cannot believe what our eyes are seeing.
“Herb!” Gran says in disbelief. Grandad turns to see nine sets of shocked eyes peering down at him like spotlights. “Ah…” He stammers. I focus on Kevin. He is sitting, crossed legged with a devious grin on his face.
“Umm…” Grandad continues. I guess he’s lost for words. Kevin just takes it all in, his pupils are huge! He seems to be in a continuous state of euphoria. He is having the time of his life, despite the trouble that’s about to bestow upon him.
There is a small mountain of treats piled on the floor. Kevin himself, is half buried under silver wrapping and his face is a sight to be seen. Chocolate smudged across his face like a pig in mud.
“Hmmm…” Grandad finally composes himself. “So, anyone for a treat?”
You can’t help but laugh at this occurrence. Grandad was feeding the sugary treats to Kevin the whole time. Whilst we had been receiving games and knick-knacks in the post from Gran and Grandad, Kevin was being gifted treats!
We all sat down by Kevin and Grandad on the rug. As the old saying goes, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’. So we nibbled at first then practically inhaled the rest of the treats.
So here we are, the last treat has been consumed and I can honestly say, sugar isn’t as bad as Gran had told us all. I mean, what harm can it do really? Just now, I look around at everyone. Our eyes are glowing. Our pupils are huge. I feel a rush come over me.
“What’s happening?” Lily asks. It’s hard to tell if she’s excited or scared but she bounces to her feet.
Grandad let’s out a huge “Yippee!” and begins jumping on the bed!
Something has come over everyone in the room. Everyone looks around. There’s no sign of Kevin. Just then we hear running in the hall.
“Come and find me!”