“All right, how about this?” I ask. “You look at recipes now and find some you think will be good. Send me the list of ingredients that you don’t already have. I’ll go to the grocery store tomorrow and get them all. And then I’ll come over and help you cook every last one of them.”
“You would really do that?”
“Are you kidding? Absolutely. Mom didn’t ask me to bring anything this year. I should pull my own weight.”
“Wow,” Rachel says, her voice lighter. “OK, thank you.” Then she adds, “You have to get to the store before five or six, I bet. Just letting you know. The stores are gonna close early for Christmas Eve.”
“I will. I promise.”
“And will you also get some of that fake snow stuff ?”
“What stuff ?”
“They have it at the grocery store sometimes in the Christmas aisle. The stuff that you spray on the windows and it looks like snow?”
I know what she’s talking about. Mom used to spray it on all the windows around the house when we were little. She’d light a candle that smelled like firewood and sing “Let It Snow.” My mother has always put a big emphasis on showing us a proper Christmas. One year, Charlie started crying because he’d never seen snow, so my mom put ice in a blender and then tried to sprinkle it on top of him. I wonder if Charlie remembers that. I wonder if he’s going to put ice in a blender for his own snow-deprived child.
“You got it. You just give me a list, and I’ll get it all,” I say.
I hang up and put the phone down.
I look around the house. I don’t have anything to do.
I decide to text David. I don’t know why. I guess because it is something to do. Someone to talk to.
Ever think that the real problem with living without your spouse is that you’re sometimes just really bored?
I figure he may not answer. Or he may not see it until later. But he texts me back right away: Soooooo bored. I underestimated how much time being married takes up in a day.
I text him back: It’s like I resent the lack of distraction now. And I hated how much he distracted me before.
He responds: The worst is at work! I used to IM with her when the kids were taking tests or watching a movie. Now I just read CNN.
Me: It’s Dullsville.
Him: Ha ha ha. Exactly.
And that’s it. That’s all we say to each other. But . . . I don’t know. I feel better.
Can you hand me that?” Rachel calls to me. She has on a polka-dot apron, her hair in a high bun. She has flour on her face. The pumpkin pie is in the oven.
Now she’s started on sugar-free sugar cookies. I made a joke earlier: “I guess they are just called cookies, then, huh?” She laughed, but I could tell her heart wasn’t in it. We’ve been at this since eight thirty this morning, when I showed up with everything on the list she sent me. I expected that list to include weird chemicals, but it was really just honey and Stevia.
“Hand you what?”
“That.” Rachel isn’t even looking at me. She’s not even pointing. “The . . .” She makes an empty gesture with her hand. “The . . .”
Somehow, with her waving hand and the large lump of dough she has in front of her, I figure out what she needs. “The rolling pin?” I pick it up and hand it to her. Its weight causes it to land with a thump in her hand.
She stops and pauses for a second. “Thank you,” she says. “Sorry, I’m doing too many things at once.”
She puts flour on the rolling pin and starts to roll. “Have you heard this thing about Charlie bringing a date to Christmas?”
“Hm?” I say. God, I’m bad at lying to my sister. We don’t keep secrets from each other. It’s not what this family does. So I don’t really know how to do it. What should I say, exactly? Should I be noncommittal? Like never really say anything either way? Plausible deniability? Or do I just outright lie to her face, say something entirely untrue with such conviction that I almost believe it myself ? This stuff is just not my strong suit.
“Charlie is bringing a date to Christmas,” she says. The dough is flat, and now Rachel is searching around her kitchen for something. Not in there, I guess. Or there. There she goes. She’s got it. “Check these out!” she says proudly. She pulls out cookie molds in the shapes of finely intricate snowflakes.
“Those are so cool!” I say. “But they look really difficult to use.”
Rachel shrugs. “I practiced last week. We’re good.”
I go to her refrigerator and grab a bottle of seltzer water. The cap won’t turn, I can’t get it to open, and so I hand it to her. She wordlessly cracks the seal and hands it back to me. “You should quit your job,” I say.
“What?” She’s only half paying attention. She’s starting to place the cookie molds on the dough.
“I’m serious. You are so good at this stuff. You make the most decadent desserts and awesome breakfasts. You should open a bakery.”
Rachel looks up at me. “I can’t do that.”
“With what money?”
“I don’t know.” I shrug. “How does anyone start a business? Business loan, right?”
Rachel puts the mold down. “It’s not realistic.”
“So you’ve thought about it?”
“I mean, sure. Everyone thinks about trying to make money doing the things they love.”
“Yeah, but not everyone has such a passion and talent for something you can really make money from,” I say. Rachel works in HR, which always struck me as an odd match. She’s a right-brained person. I always imagined her doing something more traditionally creative.
“There are way more talented bakers than me,” she says.
“I don’t know,” I say. I’m entirely serious. “You are really, really good. And look at you, you practice using snowflake cookie molds in your spare time. How many people can say that?”
“I’m not saying I don’t love it.”
“Think about it,” I say. “Just think about it.”
“It’s just not realistic.”
I put my hands up. “I’m just saying think about it.”
After a few hours, Rachel and I gather up the cookies and the pie. We gently move the gingerbread house she made last night into the back of my car. I grab the two cans of snow and throw them into my purse. As I get into the front, Rachel has the key in the ignition, but she is looking down, almost in a daze. I expect her to start the car, but she doesn’t.
“Yoo-hoo,” I say, as I wave my hand in the air to get her attention.
She looks up. “Sorry,” she says, turning the key. Then she looks at me. “You really think I’d be good at it, though? The bakery thing?”
I nod my head. “Better than good. Seriously.”
She doesn’t respond, but I can see she takes it to heart. “Merry Christmas, by the way!” she says as we hit the freeway. “I can’t believe I forgot to say that this morning.”
“Merry Christmas!” I say back to her. “I think it’s gonna be a good one.”
“Me, too,” she says. Her gaze is straight ahead at the road, but her mind isn’t on this freeway.
My phone buzzes, and I look down at it. I think, for a split second, that it might be Ryan. Maybe on Christmas, we can bend the rules.
But it’s not Ryan. Of course it’s not.
Merry Christmas, new friend.
I text back: Merry Christmas to you, too!
It’s not from Ryan, but I’m smiling nonetheless.
Merry Christmas!” my mother calls to us before she even opens the door. You can hear the thrill in her voice. This is always the happiest day of her year. Her children are home. She gets to give us presents. We’re all on our best behavior. In general, she gets to treat us as if we are still kids.
She opens the door wide, and Rachel and I both say “Merry Christmas!” in unison. When we get inside, Grandma Lois is sitting on the couch. She goes to get up, and I tell her she doesn’t have to.
“Nonsense,” she says. “I’m not an invalid.”