ACT II, SCENE 1: “When Ye Were Gone Astray”

    “Let Nothing Ye Dismay” is fictional holiday tale. It tells the story of a group of Millenial 20-somethings trying to celebrate Christmas together, for the first time away from their parents, in a rented beach house. Various adventures, romantic and otherwise, ensue.


    “How about this one? It’s got a nice shape. Give it a turn.”

    Scoot Parsons dutifully rotated the eight-foot pine so his sister Belinda, hands on hips, face scrunched, could better assess its comeliness.

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    Next to her, Paul Flatley snorted: “C’mon, Beebs, you’ve got to be kidding. That’s twice as big as we need.”

    “What do you mean? The house has a cathedral ceiling!”

    “And a living room on the highest floor.  We’ve got to lug this behemoth all the way up.”

    Belinda turned to her best friend Steffi, who, bleary-eyed, greedily inhaled the vapors from her steaming coffee: “Stef, what do you think?”

    “Hell, Beebs, it’s our first Christmas as real adults. Let’s go big!”

    “Whatever,” Scoot said, “let’s pay for this thing and go.  Hey, Jeremy … where the heck does that yoyo go all the time? Paul, give me a hand with this monster?”

    Garden Gnome

    As Belinda paid for the tree, her brother and boyfriend wrestled it into the back of the rented SUV. Jeremy showed up from the inside of the garden store, grinning as he clutched an unspeakable red ceramic Santa gnome.

    “Jeremy, no,” Belinda said.

    “Oh, yes, oh, yes,” Jeremy replied.  “Gnarly St. Nick here is coming with us.” He looked at Belinda. “OK, he’ll stay with Scoot and me in our room.”

    The men wrestled the tree through the hatchback of the SUV. Settling into the front passenger seat, Belinda drank in the pine scent, hoping it might chase away some of the churning anxiety she’d felt since their plane touched down in the Carolinas yesterday. She’d staked so much on this Christmas trip to this island so full of golden memories.

    Maybe letting outsiders into their deeply knit little crew, with its beloved rituals and coded jokes, had been a mistake.  Maybe that’s why things so far had felt off-kilter, far from the balm Belinda had sought for the pain – chosen but fierce – of her first Christmas without her parents.

    The SUV engine’s stirred to life.  Belinda glanced over at Paul in the driver’s seat.  Up at Penn, where Belinda worked and Paul was a grad student mid-way through a dissertation on the Chartist movement, his quick, edgy wit enthralled her.  But under the  Southern sun, those edges seemed to poke at every tender spot in her psyche.


    Take the night before. Belinda had been bustling in the kitchen, making the dinner her mom had made every first night at the beach for 20 years.

    “Meatloaf?” Paul had scoffed, with the exact intonation Allen Iverson had once famously given the word “practice.”  “Meatloaf? We’re at the shore a hundred yards from an army of lobsters, a legion of crabs, and you’re makin’ meatloaf?”

    Only Steffi’s timely, boisterous arrival from the airport, via limo, had saved Belinda from tears.

    Then, the Wii Bowling.  As usual, they’d all cheered Stef’s supernatural incompetence (18, at Wii bowling?), mocked Jeremy’s arm-waving, hip-shaking form, and admired Scoot’s minimalist mastery of the virtual game.

    “How do you do that, Scoot?  Every shot tickles the gutter, then bends into the pocket. It’s uncanny!”

    “Skill, dude, skill.”

    The beach-house veterans knew any Wii game with Scoot playing was a battle for second place. But Paul had treated each loss as an insult ancestral

    “Dammit! New game, man, new game.  Gotta get a win here!  Gonna give you a beatdown, Mr. Scoot!””

    The brigade of empy Yuenglings standing on the coffee table had helped explain the volume of his vows.

    Belinda had gone to bed alone, long before this testosterone festival played itself out.

    She’d been up early this morning, soaking up sun with coffee and her Anita Shreve on the porch, taking a quick bike ride to chase the beer our of her pores, charging across the dune walkway to wiggle her toes in the surf. All that, yet only snores had greeted her at 10 a.m. when she returned to the house.

    She’d felt her mother stir inside her, the old urgings on her lips: “Get up, you slug-a-beds.  We’re at the ocean, the sun’s a-shining and you’re sleeping your lives away.”

    Pillowfaced, the others had grudgingly yielded to her call to tree-hunting. Dan, his taste trusted more than Jeremy’s, had been dispatched to Wal-Mart to buy ornaments.  The rest, save Carly, had gone with Belinda in search of the perfect pine.  Carly, burying her face in her pillow, had offered a hard-to-counter excuse: “I’m Jewish, you know.”  Belinda hadn’t thought to ask before.

    Now, back at the house, they discovered, the hard way, that their trophy tree was too big for the elevator.  The pine got wrestled up two flights of stairs, with much grunting, cursing and raking of branches across foreheads.

    The cousins and old friends decorated the tree in a happy burst, fueled by Christmas carols and mock arguments:.

    “You never put a red ornament next to a red light!”

    “Bull, that’s exactly what you do!”

    “Little ones near the top, big ones near the bottom.”

    “Wrong, wrong, exactly wrong. You ignore the vital issue of branch strength!”

    When the tree was well and truly trimmed, stubborn Jeremy slipped the Santa gnome into a position beneath the boughs.  Belinda shrugged, indulging the beloved pest who’d been underfoot at her house since he was 4.

    They’d been having so much fun Belinda barely noticed that Paul, after hanging an ornament or two,  had slipped silently out to the porch with a thick history tome. Carly had followed a few minutes later, two mugs of coffee in hand.

    Next scene: A shank, a guffaw and a bit of revenge. 

    Look for it Monday afternoon.

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