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A Merry Little Christmas(2)

By:Melanie Schuster

Lillian made a little noise of grudging assent. She knew her only  daughter was perfectly safe in Detroit Her oldest son, Clay, was married  to Benita Cochran, whose family owned Cochran Communications. Benita's  family consisted of five brothers, all of whom lived in Detroit and  treated Angeique like family. And as for A.J., whose real name was Alan  Jandrewski, there was no question that he would protect Angelique to the  death. AJ. had been born and raised in the Polish enclave of Detroit  known as Hamtramck, son of a Polish steelworker father and an  African-American R.N. mother. Discovering that he had cancer had been  the impetus for A.J.'s decision to leave fashion photography. Upon his  recovery, he'd decided to start making documentaries, and took Angelique  with him to Michigan to assist with the first one. To everyone's  surprise, she took to her new environment like a baby duck to a pond of  fresh spring water and decided to stay.                       


It was ironic that Angelique would find success outside the family  business, the Deveraux Group. They owned and operated magazines, weekly  and daily newspapers and a cable network, yet Angelique's artistic  success had come on her own. Lillian shook her head and sighed. She  still wasn't thrilled that her only daughter had so completely left the  nest. She opened her mouth to express this thought when the entrance of  more relatives to the living room interrupted her.

First to join them was Benita Cochran Deveraux, still radiant after five  children. She and her beloved husband, Clay, absolutely thrived on  children. Both of them seemed to get more energy after a new arrival.  They had a son and two sets of twins; the older twins were rambunctious  boys and the younger were two adorable baby girls. Bennie, as Benita was  known, agreed with Angelique that she was a welcome guest in any  Cochran home.

"Lillian, I know you worry about her being so far away, but she's in  good hands in Detroit. She's well loved, don't you worry," Bennie said  warmly.

Angelique laughed at this last remark from her dearly loved  sister-in-law. "Bennie, not all the Cochrans love me, as you well know.  Adonis would just as soon drop me in the Detroit River as look at me,  and you know it."

Bennie joined in the laughter. It was true, her youngest brother,  Adonis, commonly called Donnie, had a volatile history with Angelique.  "Oh, you just get to him because you don't fall all over him like most  women do. Besides, Daddy is crazy about you and so are the kids," she  said confidently, referring to her many nieces and nephews. "Donnie will  just have to get over it, that's all."

Marcus, the youngest Deveraux son, joined the group, carrying little  Anastasia Angelique Deveraux, his first child and his pride and joy.  Angelique brightened and rose to take the baby from her brother. "Let me  hold her. I don't get to see her that often and we need to bond  together."

He handed her over and sat down with Vera, wrapping his arms around her.  "How's my bride doing? Is there anything I can do for you, baby?"

"I'm fine, Marcus. All I need is you." Vera smiled. Marcus was always a  doting husband, but when his wife was pregnant he went overboard with  affection and joy.

The relative quiet of the living room was shattered anew when Ceylon  Simmons Deveraux entered with Lillian's husband, Bill "Bump" Williams.  After being Ceylon's mentor in the music business for years, Bump had  found out that the two were actually father and daughter, something that  once had caused Angelique a great deal of jealousy. That was all in the  past now.

"There's my girls! Seems to me somebody owes me some sugar," Bump  declared as he held his arms out to Angelique and Anastasia. She and the  baby each gave Bump sloppy kisses of greeting and enjoyed his silly  expression as he pretended to wipe off their kisses with big swipes of  his hands. Angelique nuzzled her niece on her baby-sweet neck and  whispered, "Let's get out of here, Stasia. We need some quiet time."

They ended up sitting in Bennie's airy sunroom off her big,  well-appointed kitchen, admiring the lush poinsettias and small  Christmas tree that brightened the area. Angelique stretched out on the  loveseat with little Anastasia on her lap, while Aretha, Bennie's big,  black, longhaired cat, posed regally on the windowsill behind the  loveseat. Angelique was being a doting aunt and simply drinking in the  child's beauty, while the baby was coaxing Aretha down from her perch.

"Weefa, Weefa, come here," she crooned softly. When the stately cat  didn't move, Stasia turned her big eyes to her aunt "Angel, make Weefa  come down," she demanded. Angelique smiled at the little girl and ran a  finger along her incredibly soft skin. "No, sweetie-pie, let's leave  Aretha alone. She needs some peace and quiet too." She cuddled her niece  close to her bosom and was rewarded when the child nestled to her  shoulder and gave a big yawn. Aretha seemed grateful, too, as she  reached out a paw and patted Angelique on the cheek before curling up to  go to sleep. Angelique might have also drifted off to sleep, but her  cousin Paris Deveraux joined them in the sunroom. Paris had just come  back to Atlanta from Lafayette, Louisiana, where she'd spent the holiday  with her family. She and Angelique were heading back to Detroit the  next day. Paris smiled at the adorable picture they made.

"Aww, you look so pretty!" she exclaimed. "You look just like a  Christmas card," she added as she took a seat in a comfortable  overstuffed armchair. "I was wondering where you sneaked off to; now I  see you just kidnapped your namesake. God, the two of you look so much  alike, it's amazing. You would think she was your baby instead of your  niece."                       


Angelique looked down at her little treasure and had to agree that there  was a startling resemblance. They both had cafe au lait complexions,  thick, shiny black hair and thick eyebrows and lashes so long they  looked false. They also had deep dimples and even shared a tiny beauty  mark near the comer of their full, pouty lips. The resemblance was all  they shared, as far as Angelique was concerned. There was no way she  would ever let this precious little girl turn out like she had. You're  never, ever going to be anything like me, my sweetie. Never in a billion  years. But she didn't say it out loud, knowing how strongly Paris would  react. Instead she asked Paris the question that had been on her mind  ever since she'd come home to Atlanta for the holidays.

"Paris, remember when Christmas was like the most wonderful thing in the  entire world? Remember when it was the most exciting, the happiest time  of the entire year? Does it still feel like that to you?"

Paris was slightly taken aback by the utter sincerity with which  Angelique spoke. She sighed a little before answering. "Yes, of course I  do. I remember when Christmas meant something entirely different than  it does now. When the stores didn't start decorating the day after  Halloween, when everything was holy and magical at the same time and it  was really a season of miracles. And back when we still believed in  Santa Claus. Of course I remember. No, it's not quite that way anymore.  But it still feels nice; you've got to admit that, cousin. Being at home  with your family, with all the babies and the excitement, doesn't that  makes up for some of it?"

Angelique took her time about answering, rubbing her cheek against her  niece's soft, curly hair before speaking. "I don't know, Paris. I don't  exactly know when the feeling got away from me, but I just feel kinda  numb. I don't feel happy, I don't feel sad, I'm just here, going through  the motions," she said softly. "I'm glad to be home and see the family,  especially all the kids. I had a lot of fun buying Christmas gifts for  them and going to church, but it's just not the same. I just feel empty,  Paris, and I don't know why."

Now it was Paris's turn to pause before answering. She had a very good  idea of why Angelique was feeling so strange and an equally good idea of  what would cure her of her holiday malaise, but now was not the time to  bring it up.

Angelique roused Paris from her thoughts. "Can you take the baby for a  second so I can get up? She needs to be put down for a real nap and I  need to go play with the other kids. I really miss them when I'm away,"  she admitted.

Forgetting her decision to keep her mouth shut, Paris rose from her  chair and took the sleeping child from Angelique, who stood up and held  her arms out for the baby. Looking at the charming picture they made,  Paris said softly, "You're gonna be a great mommy one day, Angel."