My family is not very religious most of the time. We pray at Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving dinners, and my mom’s entire side of the family excluding her parents and siblings is hardcore religious so whenever we do anything with them it’s kind of religious.
But the point is, most of the time we aren’t, but every year at Christmas time, a church in the next town over puts on a Bethlehem and it’s kind of a tradition to go. They go all out. The building is massive, and they’ve got it all decked out. There’s animals and stalls and everyone is in costume and in character. When you get there, they give you some pennies and you can go and barter for cool little trinkets, and there’s other more expensive things you can buy with your own money. And they have the best apple cider. All in all, it’s pretty cool.
But anyway. We go every year, bundled up in hats and scarves and mittens, and have a good time. We’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember, and my mom talks about going when she was a kid.
I’m going to mention again that everyone is massively in character, especially the really super hardcore religious adults. Because this is an important fact.
Every year since I was about thirteen or so, there’s been this one lady who worked at a stall selling ponchos (I have, like, three. They’re really cool). She was probably there before that, but I was thirteen when she started trying to barter for me to marry her son, who was also about thirteen.
“What a pretty little thing. I think you’d make a very good wife for my son. These are your parents? I’ll give you six goats for your daughter’s marriage to my son.”
Her son, meanwhile, is in the “shop” behind her looking absolutely mortified and like he’d rather be anywhere else than there, and I’m pretty sure I probably looked just as embarrassed.
My parents gave her some sort of excuse, like it wasn’t enough goats or they weren’t ready to marry me off yet or something, and we moved on.
The next year we’re back again, and come up near to the same stall.
“Ah! You’re back again! Have you married your daughter off yet? I can up my offer to nine goats and three chickens for your daughter to marry my son.”
Somehow she remembered the exact people she’d tried to buy their daughter off of for an entire year? So my parents are refusing her offers again and me and the son are trading embarrassed looks and we go on our way.
And then it happens again. And again. And again. Each and every one of the last six years this lady has tried to buy me in goats to be her son’s wife.
A couple years ago when we were waiting in line to get inside my mom jokingly said that they should accept this year and see what she’d do and I completely refused because it was mortifying enough as it was.
One year we brought my friend with us and we’re waiting outside and my sister was like “Are you gonna sell Kee this year?” and my dad was like “Maybe if there’s enough goats” and my friend was confused as heck and I was like “This lady tries to buy me to marry her son every year. I told you that” and she’s like “Yeah but I didn’t think this was a thing that actually happened” and she was still skeptical and by the time my parents had finished refusing the lady’s offer, she’s killing herself laughing and then spent the next few months telling me I couldn’t look at guys because I already had a fiancée.
Anyway, it happened again this Christmas and the son has somehow gotten almost ridiculously attractive since last year. The speech this year had something to do with how I was far too old to not have a husband yet, and the son and I just rolled our eyes at each other as his mom tried to barter with my parents for me.
This year’s offer was twenty six goats and nine chickens. My sister looked up how much goats are worth, and was mad our parents didn’t sell me so she could have sold the goats and gotten $2000-$8000 for them. My dad says they’re waiting out on an offer of a camel. My brother thinks they should have it more than once a year so he can get more apple cider.
Now I’m back at uni, and in my first psych class of the semester the guy sitting beside me looked really familiar.
As in his-mom-tries-to-buy-me-with-goats-every-Christmas familiar.
That kind of familiar.
We introduced ourselves before class started and I sat there for a couple minutes readying to make a total fool of myself in case I was wrong before turning to him again.
“This is going to sound really weird if you aren’t who I think you are, but by any chance does your mom try to buy you a wife with goats every Christmas?”
His friend gives me a weird look as he walks past me to sit on the other side of him, but he’s definitely putting the pieces together.
“That’s you? Bethlehem in [city name], right? God, my mom is so mortifying.”
And we both kinda laugh and meanwhile his friend is giving us both weird looks now because apparently he didn’t know that his friend’s mom was trying to buy him a wife using livestock.
So he turns to his friend and is like
“Oh, I forgot to introduce you. Danny, this is my fiancée, Kee.”
And I kinda rolled my eyes and was like
“I’m not actually your fiancée. Your mom hasn’t offered my parents enough goats yet. But apparently my dad will sell me for a camel.”
And he laughed and shook his head like
“I am not telling my mom that. I don’t want to see what she has planned for if your parents ever accept.”
So yeah. His friend was really confused by that point and we explained it to him and it turns out he’s pretty cool and we’re Facebook friends now and hang out in psych classes. Apparently his mom only ever tries to buy me for him and she and my mom had gone to the same church growing up which is why she can always pick us out.
So yeah. That’s the story of how some lady tries to use goats to buy me to be her ridiculously attractive son’s wife every Christmas, and how he’s in my class and we’re friends now.
It was the 23rd of December, 2017, and my sister had convinced her friend to come with us this year.
“And that’s where Kee’s fiancé usually is,” Sam explained as we stood in the line waiting to get inside. Her friend gave her the same sceptical look she’d apparently been giving since Sam had first told her.
“He’s not my fiancé,” I pointed out, trying to rub some feeling back into my hands. The Goat Guy had been texting me updates since that morning. The organizers had discussed it at length, but apparently temperatures of negative eighteen, thirteen inches of snow, and a blizzard warning weren’t quite enough to have Bethlehem cancelled (or for my parents to decide to skip it this year). Hashtag Canada.
The line was long this year, and we’d already been standing out in the cold for the better part of half an hour. My brother was loudly lamenting the fact that we couldn’t get to the hot apple cider until we’d made it inside.
My phone buzzed in my pocket, and I braved taking off a glove to check it.
“Who do you keep texting?” my mom asked, not-so-subtly trying to peer over my shoulder at my phone.
“Gregory from psychology,” I told her, sending off a text informing him that we were still in line. It wasn’t technically a lie, since, you know, that was his actual name and he was in my psychology classes. It wasn’t my fault that my family only knew him as the Goat Guy.
“Ooo,” Sam teased, elbowing me in the ribs, her bony elbows hurting less than usual through all our layers. “I’m going to tell your fiancé he has competition, and then maybe they’ll offer us something useful. Like a car or a trip to Hawaii or something.”
I snorted again. “One, he’s still not my fiancé. Two, he doesn’t have competition, because I’m not interested in him or in Gregory. And, three, this isn’t a game show. If anything, his mom will just offer maybe a horse or something.”
“Can I have the horse?”
I rolled my eyes, glancing at my phone as another text came in. Hurry up. “Sure, Cole.”
My brother pumped his fist in the air. “Nice.”
It took another ten minutes or so to make it to the front of the line, and my family had placed their bets on the amount of farm animals that would be offered this year. My dad reminded me that he was selling me if they offered a camel, and I rolled my eyes, trying to act as reluctant to get to that part of the night as I usually was. Apparently I didn’t do as good a job as I thought I did, since Mom questioned me.
I shrugged, feeling my phone go off again. “I guess I’ve just decided to go with it.”
Sam rolled her eyes. “She thinks he’s hot,” she told her friend. Which, well, it wasn’t exactly untrue. Objectively the Goat Guy was ridiculously attractive, but that doesn’t mean I want to (or have time to) date him.
We’d reached the entrance by that point, and were given our little pouches of pennies to buy small trinkets and ducked into the (compared to outside, at least) warmth of Bethlehem.
Roman soldiers milled amongst the people, asking for taxes and wanting to see our papers. We didn’t have papers, obviously, but the soldier who checked us took an extra penny as a bribe.
“Wait,” Sam’s friend said, stopping in her tracks. “There’s a petting zoo?”
There was, in fact, a petting zoo. The petting zoo and the apple cider were there to keep us pacified as we waited for the soldiers to allow us entrance into Bethlehem, and Cole and our parents went off to get us something to drink while I followed Sam and her friend to see the animals.
“What is this?” Sam asked, frowning. “Where are all the animals?”
There were significantly less animals than usual. Two whole pens were empty, and I could see a few soldiers and townspeople whispering to each other in a panic.
“Maybe they were too cold,” I suggested, reaching out to pat a pig’s head. It snorted and turned away.
My parents and brother returned with our drinks, and I sighed into the bliss that is Bethlehem hot apple cider, and, by the time we made it to the gates to listen as the soldiers reminded us of laws that I don’t remember, I actually had a bit of feeling back in my fingers and face.
I pulled off a glove, typing up a quick text. We’re in.
The stalls were as neat as they always were. I bought a wooden hammer to add to my collection for a couple pennies. My mom dug out her wallet to buy a carved wooden bowl. Sam and her friend took selfies with a girl from their soccer team who was working in a bakery and she snuck them a free scone. Cole found another apple cider vendor and took three cups for himself.
“Look,” Sam said, grinning wickedly as she wrapped an arm around my shoulders. “There it is.”
And there it was. The Goat Guy’s mom was standing outside her shop, heckling with a couple over the price of a rug.
“That is a poncho,” I agreed, glancing at one hanging on the side of the shop and deciding I was going to buy it after this whole thing was over.
Sam rolled her eyes. “You know that’s not what I mean,” she pointed out, craning her neck. “I don’t see your fiancé, though.”
“That’s because I don’t have one,” I pointed out, stopping to look at the smithery so I didn’t look too eager to get there.
No one bought that I actually wanted to see some guy pound metal with a hammer (there wasn’t an actual fire or anything, so he was really just sitting there hitting it), so they dragged me across the hall, grins on their faces.
The Goat Guy’s mom, who we will henceforth refer to as the Goat Mom for sake of ease, perked up as she saw us heading towards them, finishing up her bartering and holding her arms out in greeting.
“Ah,” she called, grinning at us. “Back again, I see. Surely you must have found a suitable husband for your daughter by now.”
“Nope,” my mom said, giving me a pointed look. “She’s still single.”
(And, yeah, I was, and still am, but she doesn’t have to be so judgy about it)
The Goat Mom gasped, pressing a hand to her chest. “My dear, you’re far too old to be without a husband,” she cried, causing people to stop to watch. I could feel my face heating up, and glanced around wondering where the Goat Guy was at. We had agreed months ago that this was always far more embarrassing for me than it was for him, so why was he taking so long?
“You won’t be young forever,” the Goat Mom was continuing, grabbing my hands and forcing my to look at her. “You’re running out of time.” She glanced past me to my parents, a smug look on her face that said she got just as much enjoyment out of this as my family did. “My son is still in need of a wife. I’ll tell you what, I will give you thirty goats and ten chickens for your daughter. She—”
“Aww, Mom. You started negotiations without me? How are they supposed to know I’d be the perfect husband for Kee if they can’t see how hot I am?”
The Goat Mom froze for a moment, her grip on my hands loosening enough for me to pull away. I followed the shocked gazes of my family and his mom to the Goat Guy.
He was leaning casually against the shop, somehow managing to look good in clothes that were 2000 years out of fashion, a smirk on his face and a half dozen goats and a llama surrounding him.
“That’s Kee’s fiancé,” Sam whispered to her friend, as if there was any doubt about his identity.
His mom blinked out of her shock, narrowing her eyes at him. “Are you drunk?”
The Goat Guy looked offended, raising a hand to his chest. “What? No!”
Cole started cackling. I don’t think he had any more idea what was going on than the rest of them, but fifteen year old boys are weird.
His mom glanced back at us for a moment, and I had to look away to keep the grin off my face, and noticed quite the crowd had gathered.
She took a deep breath as she turned back to her son, pressing her fingers to her temples. “Then why do you have goats?”
I couldn’t keep myself from snorting then, but, thankfully, everyone seemed too distracted to notice.
The Goat Guy rolled his eyes, relaxing back against the shop once more. “I mean, you’ve been failing at bartering me a wife for eight years, Mom,” he pointed out. “I think they just don’t believe we really have as many goats as you say we have. So I brought goats!” He waved the ropes in his hands, and sent me a wink. “And a llama! Girls like llamas.”
“I think that’s actually an alpaca,” my brother helpfully pointed out, and the Goat Guy grinned.
“You’re probably right, my man,” he agreed and turned back to me. “I’m adding this alpaca onto the list of whatever my mom’s already offered. We can ride off on it into the sunset. What do you say?”
“I say it probably wouldn’t hold us.” I was grinning now, too, no longer able to hold it in.
The Goat Guy just shrugged and stayed silent, letting our families stew for a moment.
“Are you sure you aren’t drunk?” his mom finally asked, glancing between us in confusion. “Maybe you’ve been spending a little too much time at the, uh, tavern.” She glanced at the goats and the llama (alpaca?), realization dawning on her face. “Gregory, you had better not be the reason everyone is panicking about the animals going missing from the petting—trading post.”
“Not drunk,” he insisted, ignoring the part about him stealing the animals from the petting zoo as he thrust the leads of the animals into her hands before she had a chance to protest. “I’m just excited to see my future wife.” He crossed the distance between us, my family stepping back, still mostly in shock, and wrapped me up in his arms. “How’s it going, Kee?”
I laughed, hugging him back quickly before pulling away. “Hey, Gregory,” I echoed loudly, my grin growing at the gasp that came from someone in my family. “How’d you find the psych final?”
He groaned, burying his face in my neck. “Ugh, don’t even get me started,” he whined, an arm wrapping back around my shoulders. “I didn’t fail, but that’s about all I can say.”
I hummed in sympathy, watching our families try to piece together what was going on and the crowd that was wondering if this was supposed to be happening. His mom’s mouth was opening to say something as I caught sight of a couple of soldiers pushing through the crowd, and nudged him.
“You!” one yelled, and the Goat Guy’s head snapped of my shoulder, staring at the soldier in shock. “He stole the king’s animals!” One of the others came forward, pulling him away from me.
“You, uh, have the right to remain silent,” he started, fixing his grip on the Goat Guy’s arm. The soldier who grabbed his other arm rolled his eyes.
“He doesn’t have any rights.”
“Oh, right.” The second soldier nodded and turned back to the Goat Guy. “You don’t have the right to remain silent,” he amended.
“Take him to the king,” the first soldier ordered, taking the leads from the Goat Mom. “He should be tried at once.”
The Goat Guy regained his wits and started to struggle against their hold.
“Wait for me, Kee!” he cried as they dragged him back through the parted crowd. “I’ll come back for you!”
By the time he’d disappeared and the crowd had filled in their path, I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe. It’d gone better than either of us could’ve hoped.
I calmed down after a moment, and the Goat Mom was still staring in confusion in the direction her son had disappeared in. I stepped past her to the shop, pulling the poncho I’d noticed earlier off the wall.
“I’d like to buy this, please,” I said, and her eyes snapped back to me. I grinned and handed her the money, and she pocketed it without bartering, and I walked away, the crowd parting for me as I wandered towards the next stall.
My family joined me a few moments later, as I was browsing some blown glass ornaments and ignoring the fact that the shopkeepers were whispering about me.
“What was that?” my mom demanded.
I shrugged. “That was her bartering for me to marry the Goat Guy like every year.”
“Yeah, that was not like every year.” Sam snorted and I could practically hear her rolling her eyes. “Since when do you know the Goat Guy?”
“Since January?” I tried to look confused, but I’m pretty sure I was still grinning. “You knew that.”
“Yeah?” I countered. “Gregory from psychology?”
The stared at me for a long moment before any of them spoke. Sam’s friend was the only one who seemed more entertained than confused.
“That was Gregory from psychology?” my mom asked, and I shrugged, grinning wider. “You planned this, didn’t you? That’s why you kept texting him outside?”
I shrugged. “I mean, we didn’t plan him getting arrested,” I admitted. “But, yeah, we planned the rest.”
“How’d he steal the goats and the alpaca?” Cole wondered.
“He knows a guy.”
“Like that’s what’s important here.” Sam rolled her eyes.
“Why?” my dad asked, and I shrugged again.
“Seven years’ worth of revenge.”
“That’s not what’s important either,” Sam interjected, huffing loudly. “Kee’s totally dating the Goat Guy. I called it.”
“We’re not dating.” I rolled my eyes, pushing past them to continue through Bethlehem. There should’ve been another apple cider vendor coming up soon, and I’d lost all the heat from the last one.
My family did not drop it through the rest of Bethlehem, and neither did any of the vendors who, apparently, knew exactly who I was (my toque was kind of distinctive, so I guess I’ll give them that) and let me know how sorry they were to hear that my man had been locked up just for trying to provide for his family.
We also saw the Goat Guy again, who had been locked up with the prisoners in a large cage, guarded by a handful of soldiers.
He grinned as he saw us approaching, calling out for me and sticking his arms through the bars.
“Can I borrow your notes later?” he asked. “I’m in here for nineteen years, so I’ll be missing a bit of class.”
Sam and her friend posed for selfies with him, and then she made me pose for one with him that will definitely be used for blackmail at a later date.
And that was Bethlehem. No one shut up on the entire drive home, or for the rest of Christmas break, for that matter, about the fact that I’d been keeping my knowing the Goat Guy a secret for almost a year—which I hadn’t, as I pointed out multiple times. They all knew about Gregory from psychology, and he was literally in my phone as The Goat Guy. It wasn’t my fault they hadn’t put the pieces together.
My family is convinced the Goat Guy and I are meant to be and still not entirely convinced that we aren’t currently dating, and I’m kind of dreading what that might mean for Bethlehem 2k18. Honestly, I’d rather not have to deal with the fallout of my parents actually giving in and getting me a bartered husband, no matter how hot he might be. But I feel like they’re going to accept one year, especially after what we did this year.
The Goat Guy says his mom isn’t any better, and is already planning for next year but won’t let him know anything. Maybe I can convince my parents that I never have to go back ever again.
Two weeks later, I caught the Goat Guy’s eye from across the psychology lecture hall, waving him over.
“Hey,” I said, grinning at him as he slipped into the seat beside me. I turned to my friends. “Guys, this is Gregory the Goat Guy.”
“Her fiancé,” he added, and I snorted at my friends’ incredulous looks and punched him gently in the shoulder.
“Not my fiancé,” I corrected, and turned back to him. “The llama was impressive, but you know my dad’s expecting a camel.”
“Darn,” he said, laughing. “I could have sworn you said llama. I guess I’ll have to find a camel by next year if we ever want to get engaged.” He paused, raising an eyebrow. “But you know, I did get arrested before your parents had a chance to decline the offer this time. Maybe they were going to say yes to the llama.”
“Wait,” my friend said, leaning around me to give the Goat Guy a once over. “That story was real? The Goat Guy actually exists?”
Oh my god. I’d totally take the llama