let them eat fruitcake
86 Bloomberg Place
By Melody Carlson
David C. Cook Copyright © 2008 Melody Carlson
All rights reserved.
"I am just back from the worst Thanksgiving ever!" declared Kendall. She peeled off her coat, discarding it on the sectional next to Megan.
"Too bad," said Megan with a speck of feigned interest. The truth was she really didn't want to hear about Kendall's day. It wasn't as if Megan's had been particularly good. Before Kendall came in, she'd been absently watching the 49ers annihilate the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks had been Megan's dad's favorite team, and she knew that if he were still alive, they'd be watching the fiasco together, commiserating. And this was the first Thanksgiving that she'd spent alone—at least until now.
To be fair, it was her choice. Several weeks ago, she'd encouraged her mom to join a friend on a Mexican cruise during Thanksgiving week. And then Megan had declined Marcus's invitation to spend the holiday at the beach with his family. She wasn't ready for that.
"I am utterly exhausted." Kendall flopped down in the club chair, leaned her head back, and sighed as if she'd just completed the Portland Marathon.
"And why is that?" asked Megan. She was trying not to be selfish, but it was hard to muster even a twinge of empathy for Kendall right now, perhaps because she'd been having her own little pity party. For a party of one.
"I don't know why I let Amelia talk me into coming to their place. It was bad enough that she was cooking dinner, since she barely knows how to make toast, but she didn't bother to warn me that her sister and brother-in-law were bringing both their newborn baby and a teething toddler along."
"Did you think her sister would leave her children home?" ventured Megan. She muted the Doritos commercial, although so far the ads had been more entertaining than the actual football game.
"No, of course not. But she might've considered hiring a babysitter to watch the little monsters in the other room so that the grown-ups could properly enjoy themselves. Or at least try. Not that we wouldn't have still heard the screaming brats. Who knew two small children could spoil things so badly?"
Megan nodded with sympathy that was about as genuine as Kendall's faux fur coat laying limply next to her like a slain polar bear. "So, it was a bit of a circus then?"
"It was like being held hostage at a screaming, pooping, puking, baby fest." Kendall rolled her eyes dramatically. "Note to self: Never have children."
"And never attend holiday dinners where other people's children are present?"
Kendall nodded. "Absolutely."
Megan was about to make some sort of excuse to exit but heard the front door opening. To her relief, Lelani came in.
"Hey, Lelani." Hopefully Lelani would join them, and Kendall could continue to pour out her troubles while Megan slipped off to her room.
"Hey, what's up?" Lelani took her time to remove and hang her navy wool coat on the hall tree, carefully unwinding her knitted scarf and hanging it neatly as well.
"Come tell us how your Thanksgiving went," urged Megan. "Poor Kendall's was a disaster."
Lelani sat down next to Megan. "It was okay," she said without much enthusiasm.
"So everything is smoothed out with your aunt and uncle now?" asked Megan.
"As smoothed out as it can be." Despite her weak smile, Lelani seemed discouraged.
Earlier in the fall, her aunt had accused Lelani of flirting with her overweight, middle-aged, and balding uncle, which seemed preposterous. Lelani was a beauty who could catch the eyes of most guys without even trying. Consequently, Lelani had avoided her relatives for more than a month. Finally, the aunt had come forward and apologized to Lelani. Apparently one of her aunt's friends had gently hinted that the problem lay with her husband and not her niece.
"Before I could get out of there, my aunt actually cornered me, begging me to move back in with them." Lelani sounded weary. "She wants me to help with the children in exchange for free rent."
"So you had to spend your day with children too?" asked Kendall with what seemed sincere compassion. "I am so sorry."
"Actually, the children were great."
Kendall blinked. "Really?"
"Yes. It was the adults who drove me nuts. Honestly, I couldn't get away from there fast enough."
"Did you tell your aunt you were tied into a yearlong lease?" asked Megan.
"I reminded her of that fact, but she seemed to think it was no big deal."
"No big deal to her," said Kendall with a sly grin. "But I plan to hold you to that lease."
Lelani sort of laughed. "That's sure not how you felt last month."
"Well, things change," said Kendall. "And I'm glad that you're both home. Now if we just had something good to eat." She glanced around. "Where's Anna, anyway?"
"Probably still with her family," said Lelani. "Come to think of it, I could probably still show up over there."
"Did Gil invite you?" asked Kendall.
Lelani nodded, then picked at the cuff of her silk blouse. "But I wasn't sure how his parents would react."
"They still don't know that you're dating?" asked Megan.
"We're not really dating," said Lelani quickly.
Kendall laughed. "If you're not dating, what do you call it?"
"Well, we can't call it dating," explained Lelani. "Not until I meet his parents."
"You have met his parents," pointed out Megan.
"I've only met them as Anna's friend and roommate," continued Lelani. "Not as their son's girlfriend—not that we're calling it that."
Kendall shook her head. "Methinks you protest too much."
"Out of respect for Mr. and Mrs. Mendez," said Lelani firmly, "we need to proceed slowly and carefully."
"But I've heard Anna say that her parents treat Gil differently from her. She said that Latinos aren't nearly as protective of sons as they are of daughters."
"Maybe so, but our age difference could be a concern."
Kendall laughed so loudly that she snorted. "You are like, what, a year older than him? That is so ridiculous, Lelani. They need to get over it."
"What they should be thinking about," said Megan, "is what perfectly gorgeous children you and Gil would have."
Lelani frowned. "That's getting the carriage way ahead of the horse."
"Ugh, children!" Kendall groaned, then stood. "Please, do not even use that horrid word in my presence today." She headed toward the dining room, then paused. "Hey, is anyone else hungry?"
"Is that a hint or what?" asked Megan quietly.
"Duh." Lelani stood now. "She obviously wants us to come fix something."
"And you're going to?"
Lelani shrugged. "I'm actually pretty hungry too. My aunt's turkey was a little on the underdone side, and eating pink turkey concerned me."
Megan stood as well. "Come to think of it, I'm kind of hungry too. I had a microwave meal that was a little on the overdone side. Think wooden turkey."
Soon the three of them were foraging together in the kitchen. Kendall opened a bottle of red wine and filled three glasses, her contribution to their meal. And Megan managed to put together a fairly decent-looking green salad, topping it with Gorgonzola and pine nuts. Lelani fixed a nice plate of crackers and cheese. Still, without a trip to the grocery store, this meal, skimpy as it seemed, was probably as good as it was going to get today.
"Hey, everyone," called Anna. She emerged through the garage door carrying two plastic bags, as if bearing gifts.
"Is that food?" asked Kendall hopefully.
"Yep. My mom insisted on sending home the leftovers. I didn't think anyone would complain."
"God bless your mom," said Megan eagerly.
They all chattered as they helped Anna unload the leftovers, heaping sliced turkey and candied yams, and even some pumpkin empanadas onto plates, then carrying them into the dining room, which Lelani had already set for three.
"We need another place setting," said Megan, quickly running to get it from the kitchen and thinking that this really wasn't halfbad for a Thanksgiving meal. And far better than moping around by herself.
Soon they were all seated around the table, their little makeshift family of four. And after Megan said a Thanksgiving prayer, Kendall held up her glass to make a toast. "Here's to holidays without children."
Anna frowned in a confused sort of way.
"Kendall had a bad day with Amelia's sister's kids," explained Megan.
Anna nodded. "Oh, right."
"And I want to propose a second toast," said Lelani. "Here's to good friends and happy times throughout the rest of the holiday season."
The response to this toast was much more enthusiastic.
"Speaking of holidays," said Megan. "Do you plan to go home to Hawaii to celebrate with your family, Lelani?"
"Yeah," said Kendall eagerly. "Maybe you'd like me to join you?"
"Why just you?" protested Anna. "I'd like to come too."
"Don't leave me out," said Megan quickly. "I'm the one who asked about it in the first place."
"Christmas in Hawaii," said Kendall dreamily. "I'll have to get in to the tanning salon and—"
"Don't book your flight yet," said Lelani calmly. "That is, unless you're going without me."
"Meaning you're not going home for Christmas?" Kendall frowned.
Lelani firmly shook her head. "No. I am definitely not. In fact, I'm sure I'll be working right through Christmas Eve and then again on returns day, since half the people at Nordstrom have already begged for time off."
"I would think you could talk Mr. Green into—"
"I already promised him that I'd be around," said Lelani.
Megan suspected that Lelani was still trying to make up for their misguided accusations against Lelani's supervisor when Kendall had gone missing and he somehow seemed implicated. Even now, the whole incident seemed more like something that Megan had imagined. Anyway, it was definitely an event that all four girls wanted to forget.
"Okay, so Hawaiian holidays are out," said Kendall with disappointment. "Anyone else have an exciting idea?"
"You could join me and my family," said Anna in a less than enthusiastic way. "Although I'd love to do something besides watch nieces and nephews breaking piñatas and fighting over candy."
"Count me out," said Kendall.
"That's right," said Anna. "You've decided you hate kids."
"Hate's a bit strong." Kendall narrowed her eyes. "As the late W. C. Fields used to say, I love children ... if they're cooked properly."
"Ugh," said Lelani. "That is disgusting."
"It's a joke," said Kendall.
"Since when did you become an expert on W. C. Fields?" asked Lelani.
"Since I did a paper on him in college."
"A paper on W. C. Fields?" queried Megan with skepticism. "What kind of class was it?"
"Filmography." Kendall grinned. "Here's another W. C. quote: 'I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.' "
"He said that?" asked Anna. "My mom has that on her fridge."
"Yep. That was old W. C. Want to know another interesting fact?"
"Sure," said Lelani.
Anna nodded, although she looked as wary as Megan felt.
"You're going to like this one, Megan."
Kendall nodded and continued. "Did you know that W. C. Fields was an agnostic his entire life?"
Megan shrugged. "Why should that surprise anyone?"
"And he was found reading a Bible on his deathbed."
"Seriously?" Megan peered curiously at Kendall now. Was she pulling their legs?
"Yep. He reportedly said that he was looking for a loophole."
"A loophole?" Lelani frowned like she didn't get it.
"You know," said Kendall. "So that he could get into heaven despite the kind of wild and crazy life he'd lived."
They all laughed, but even as she did, Megan wondered if Kendall was looking for a loophole too.
"Okay, as interesting as W. C. Fields is," said Lelani, "let's get back to Christmas. I just got a really great idea."
"What's that?" asked Anna.
"Well, since no one seems to have any really firm plans, how about if we have a big Christmas party right here?"
"What kind of Christmas party?" asked Anna.
"An old-fashioned one," said Lelani. "You know, on Christmas Eve."
"This would be a cool house for a party," said Megan. "Craftsman-style homes are great to decorate."
"And even better since you guys fixed it all up," added Kendall.
"And we could get a tree and bake goodies and put up lights and all sorts of fun things," said Lelani eagerly. "I've never had a real mainland Christmas before."
"That's right," said Anna. "That must've been weird, celebrating Christmas in eighty-degree weather."
"Oh ..." Kendall sighed dreamily. "A sunny beach and a cabana boy bringing me a mai tai sounds like a perfectly lovely Christmas to me." She gazed hopefully at Lelani. "Are you absolutely, positively sure you don't want to rethink going home for the holidays and taking me with you? I could buy your ticket."
"First of all, cabana boys are in Mexico, not Hawaii," said Lelani. "Second of all, no, I am not going home."
"Besides that," said Megan. "You can't afford even one ticket to Hawaii, Kendall. Remember, you're broke."
Kendall made a pouty face. "Thanks for reminding me." She pointed at Lelani. "Well, you did promise to go out with me sometime—are you backing out on that too?"
Lelani frowned. "All you want to do is go clubbing, Kendall. And I'm not into that. Thanks anyway."
"Count me out too," added Megan.
"Me too," said Anna.
Kendall leaned back in her chair. "What a bunch of party poopers."
"Hey, I'm the one trying to get a party off the ground," persisted Lelani. "How about it? Doesn't anyone want to host a Christmas party here?"
Anna and Megan both agreed it would be fun.
"Fine," said Kendall. "If Hawaii is out, and no one will go clubbing, I guess I'll agree to having a Christmas party here. And I might even help decorate, since that sounds sort of fun, but do not expect me to be involved in the baking. As you know, I'm fairly hopeless in the kitchen."
"Of course." Anna winked at Lelani and Megan.
"Well, that is, unless you make fruitcake." Kendall got a sly grin now. "I do know a thing or two about that."
"Meaning?" Megan waited for Kendall's predictable response.
"Meaning you guys make the fruitcake and I'll add the rum ... or brandy ... or whatever it is they soak that stuff in. Yum!"
"You mean you actually eat fruitcake?" said Megan.
"Eat it, drink it ... sure, whatever." Kendall laughed.
"You must be the only person I know who likes it."
"And you'd actually serve it at our Christmas party?" Lelani almost looked as if she was rethinking her idea.
"That's right." Kendall's eyes glinted with mischief. "And here's what I have to say to anyone who comes to our party—let them eat fruitcake!"
The other girls chuckled at this, but Megan got it. Somehow, she knew exactly what sort of party Kendall had in mind. Although Lelani was probably imagining a sweet, old-fashioned Christmas Eve celebration with good food and gifts and singing, Megan suspected that Kendall was envisioning a rock-out, drink-till-you-drop, party-hardy kind of Christmas Eve.
"Does it snow here for Christmas?" asked Lelani with wide eyes.
Kendall laughed. "Don't get your hopes up."
Megan wasn't about to say anything just now, but she knew that she wouldn't be getting her hopes up either.
"Honestly, Edmond," said Anna for the second time. "I cannot go out with you tomorrow night."
Edmond adjusted his glasses, then smiled hopefully as he leaned over her desk holding out a pair of tickets. "But I got these just for you."
"Tickets for what?" She knew Edmond was a Blazers fan. Hopefully he hadn't assumed she was into sports, since nothing could be further from the truth. But maybe it was too early for basketball. How would she know?
"For the ballet. They were supposedly sold out, and the seats are in the orchestra section."
Anna frowned and turned off her computer screen. Never mind that she was supposed to be editing a children's book that was due last week. But the Thanksgiving weekend had gotten in the way and now, a week later, she was really in a crunch. Even so, this was Edmond's family's publishing company. If he didn't care, why should she? "Why didn't you ask me first?"
"I wanted to surprise you. You said you loved the ballet, Anna." (Continues...)
Excerpted from let them eat fruitcake by Melody Carlson. Copyright © 2008 Melody Carlson. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.