IT WAS two days before Christmas, and against my better judgment, I was in downtown Bakersville. My sister, Erin, was having a party for her friends and insisted that my attendance was not optional. I had told her I’d see her both of the next two days. Our parents had been separated for almost a decade, and we’d fallen into the tradition of spending Christmas Eve at Dad’s and Christmas at Mom’s. All five siblings and our various families tried to make it to both, so I wasn’t sure why I had to go to yet another party. I was not a party person. But still, I guessed it was nice that Erin considered me a friend and not just a brother.

Jake, Mark, and Chrissy weren’t invited to this party. It had always been like we five were two separate families, even though we were full biological siblings. The older three were all within five years of each other. Then came Erin ten years later and me a year after that. So it’s always been Erin and me… and then everyone else. Then again, the fact that I was invited and they weren’t might just be because Erin and I were the only two who remained single and didn’t have kids, and Erin didn’t want to deal with kids at a friends-only party. She didn’t really want to deal with kids at all. She vowed that she would never have any and always said that was one good thing about me being gay. I wouldn’t have kids. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that if I ever found “the one” and settled down, I’d love to adopt. But that was so far down the road, if it was even on the map, that I didn’t have to worry about it right then. Besides, I think she secretly knew.

But whatever the reason for the invitation, and whatever my feeling about having to go to yet another party, I was downtown, in the snow, getting last-minute gifts. I had no one to blame but myself, but that didn’t make me any less surly. I’d known I needed a generic gift for Erin’s party for months now, and of course I always needed presents for all three million family members. But every year I waited until the last minute to even start shopping, because as much as I hated crowded get-togethers, I hated shopping even more.