Alien Scrooge by Zara Zenia

1

Cara Mathison stood in her living room listening to the warm voice of her mother over the phone. Her eyes passed over her luggage, partially packed for the trip home to Big Sur, California.

"I'm sorry, dear," her mother chimed, "I'm going on and on about my work—"

"That's okay, Mom!" Cara interrupted, deliberately reaching for the pile of clothes she'd been neglecting and folding them to put in her suitcase. "I'm just packing and listening to you talk, so you can keep going. You're helping me stay busy." She spoke reassuringly as she admired the little red dress she had bought for Christmas dinner that year.

"Well then, I will keep up my yammering." Bonnie Mathison laughed to herself before diving back into the conversation. "What time are you planning to get here, sweetheart?"

"Oh," Cara checked the time, "I'm a little behind schedule. Getting the studio cleaned and locked up took a bit longer than expected, but I hope to be leaving here in about an hour."

"Oh no, I thought you'd cleaned up last night when we were on the phone?"

"Yeah, I did some cleaning last night." Cara grabbed a stack of photos from her coffee table, sorting them in her hands. "I left a few photographs to dry overnight since it was so late, so I had to finish up in the dark room this morning."

"Does that mean you have pictures for us?" her mother asked excitedly.

Cara giggled, delighted at her enthusiasm. "Yeah I'm bringing some shots from a project I've been doing on the side."

"How exciting! I always love seeing your work darling." Bonnie beamed. "I just can't wait for you to get here." She lowered her voice suddenly, nearly to a whisper. "You aren't bringing any other surprises for me? Someone tall, dark, and handsome perhaps?"

"Mom! Not again! We almost made it through the whole conversation without you bringing up my love life." Cara spoke exasperatedly, her eyebrows knitting together, but she understood where her mom was coming from. "I just don't know if I'm ready yet. It hasn't even been a year since Oscar—"

"That's why you should get out there!" her mom cut in at the mention of Cara's former boyfriend. "He was horrible, and you deserve so much better. You can't let that awful man keep you from something really wonderful."

Cara stayed silent, not knowing what to say to her mom's assertion. She did want to find someone, but she never had any luck with guys. Oscar had only been the most recent failure in a long list of shady men who had left Cara feeling unsure about the whole gender.

"Not every guy you meet is going to take advantage of you, pumpkin. Oscar was a freeloader, and he did a lot of damage. Your dad and I are still furious with the way he treated you and the stunt he pulled last year. For him to manipulate you like that, then try to steal grandma's jewelry was despicable. Still, honey, you can't just live with that. The pain will only fester and grow. You need to heal; to find someone who can help you heal. You have every reason to be worried, but you also deserve to be happy. Your dad and I — we want to see you happy."

Cara stared out her little living room window into the gray winter sky as her mother spoke. She stayed silent for a few seconds, thinking about what to say before turning her gaze back into the apartment at her packed bags.

"Yeah, I know, Mom." She grew quiet again, walking over to her suitcase and zipping it closed as she tried to think of the right words. "Umm, I just finished packing, so I should probably go load up the car. If I hurry, I can still make it to you guys before noon."

"Sweetie, I know you feel responsible for how Oscar acted last Christmas, but you shouldn't. That was all on him. I truly wish I could take that fear you have from you."

"I know, Mom. Thanks," Cara said with a sigh. She really had become sort of afraid of people and their secrets since leaving Oscar. What if every man she met was like him? That was her biggest worry.

"Okay, sweetheart. Call me when you're close so we can help with your bags. I love you, darling. Get here quickly so I can squeeze you!"

"I will, Mom. I love you too. See you soon."

A pleasant Christmas melody flowed from the radio as Cara drove alongside the Pacific Ocean. The cool sea breeze drifted in through the open windows, gently lifting the loose hair that had fallen from Cara's braid. She hummed along to the music while taking quick glances at the distant, glistening waters beyond the ridge of the road that reminded her of the beaches she had grown up on. The sun sat high over her now reflecting off of the hood of her dark green Jeep and her dashboard told her it was eleven. She had been on the road for two hours and her anticipation grew as she entered the last stretch of her journey.

"I've made great time." She spoke to her hands that gripped the steering wheel tightly. "Just a little bit longer."

Thoughts of Oscar and her conversation with her mom paced through her mind as she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. She remembered the uncomfortable ride back to Oakland, California the year before, glancing at the empty seat next to her. She could picture him in it, leaned back, his brown curls falling haphazardly over his head, lounging casually in her Jeep as if he hadn't tried to rob her parents. She felt the same rage bubbling inside her and the cold speech she gave flashed through her mind.

"When we get back to Oakland, you need to pack your things. We're done. If you aren't gone before the night is over, I'm pressing charges."She had broken the silence abruptly, her cheeks flushed with anger and embarrassment and her eyes fixed firmly to the road in front of her. When no response came she peeked from the corner of her eye at the passenger that had pulled so much resentment from her overnight and she could have sworn Oscar was grinning.

The radio cut into her thoughts as her Christmas tunes faded to static. She turned the dial, scanning for a new station in the white noise. A clear, male voice broke through, informing her of the weather forecast for Big Sur in the weeks leading up to Christmas. He promised a light chill in the air, but nothing that would stop visitors from exploring the picturesque beaches and scenic mountain trails in the area. Cara remembered fondly the landscapes that inspired her to become a photographer. She couldn't wait to get home and light that spark again. The weather man turned the segment over to the news anchor to begin her broadcast.

"Hello and welcome, I'm Nancy Blake. As Christmas creeps closer, many people are making plans with friends and family for the holiday. This time of year is a joyous one for most, who join their loved ones in festivities and celebrations. For others, though, reports show this season is one of suffering and loss. Studies chart the increase in suicide rates around the holiday season marking an important time for communities and individuals to come together in support of one another. For the next few moments, the station will broadcast the numbers of several suicide prevention resources as we ask listeners to take a moment and mourn the loss—"

Cara turned the radio off and put her full attention to the road, trying to empty her mind of the bad news that permeated her Christmas holiday. She picked up her phone to call her parents as she left the highway behind her, doing her best to abandon the sad thoughts with it.

She turned her Jeep onto the long driveway to her family home and let out a heavy breath as a feeling of relief fell over her. Her parents stood at the top of the yard waiting for her. Cara was swept up in the excitement and lightly tapped on the horn to greet her parents as she rolled up the asphalt toward them. The two animatedly waved at their daughter as she pulled up next to them and put her car in park. She jumped from her Wrangler and dove into her parent's arms in the cool mountain air, letting their warmth wash over her.