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A Merry Little Christmas(8)

By:Melanie Schuster



"I understand what you're saying, but believe me, Adam, she gets me as  good as I get her. I admit it I used to like to get her going by calling  her Evilene, but she just turned the tables on me and started calling  me SpongeBob. And she doesn't just call me SpongeBob-I have a SpongeBob  bumper sticker on my Jag that I certainly didn't authorize, not to  mention about a thousand SpongeBob toys she gives to the kids to give to  me. She told them how much their Uncle Donnie loves that stupid  cartoon, and bless their little hearts, they believed her. She actually  sent a singing, dancing SpongeBob telegram to the office one day. That  was real jolly," he said with a laugh. "And on top of everything else,  she manages to put a SpongeBob sticker on me every time we're within  twenty feet of each other. As a matter of fact, check me out," he said,  jumping to his feet. He turned around slowly and heard Adam's shout of  laughter. There was indeed a small sticker, bearing the guilelessly  smiling cartoon character, stuck discreetly on his left shoulder.

"She's good, man. Really good," said Adam in a voice of admiration.  "Maybe you should think about getting with her since you both share the  same warped sense of humor."

Donnie reached for the sticker, and then looked at his brother as though  he'd lost his mind. Surveying the array of ingredients on the long  counter, he asked what Adam was preparing; Adam liked to cook, but he  generally didn't go for elaborate meals, and this one looked like it  required everything but the kitchen sink.

"Alicia's coming over and she's making paella. If you behave yourself  she might let you stay," Adam replied. Alicia Fuentes was Adam's  business partner and best friend. They were both architects who not only  designed new buildings, but had a passion for reclaiming neglected and  abandoned structures. They had been friends since college and enjoyed an  exceptionally close personal, as well as a working, relationship.

"So, Adam, when are you going to admit that Alicia is the only woman in  the world for you? When are y'all gonna take it to the next level?"  Donnie drawled.

Adam stroked his thick mustache with a forefinger and fixed his brother  with an icy stare. He was an extremely private person when it came to  his love life and he didn't appreciate inquisition, even from a family  member. "You're my brother and I love you. I may even like you, but  Alicia is not a topic for discussion now or ever. Got it?"

Donnie was saved from answering by three short chimes, which meant  Alicia was at the door; they didn't have to answer it, as she had her  own key, just like Adam had a key to her place. In seconds a tall,  shapely woman carrying two shopping bags joined the two men. Donnie took  her coat while Adam divested her of the bags. "Hi, Donnie!" she said  cheerfully. "Are you staying for dinner?" She accompanied the words with  a brief kiss on his cheek.

"Yes, if I'm invited. I love anything you cook, Alicia, you know that."  She'd learned to cook from her African-American mother and Cuban father.  Thanks to them, Alicia had a grasp of cooking that rivaled that of a  Cordon Bleu trained chef. While watching Alicia wash her hands and Adam  empty the shopping bags, Donnie remembered that Angelique hadn't given  him a gift from his sister; she had told him she'd planned to drop it  off at his house, but, since he was being snippy, he could instead pick  it up at the open house she and Paris were having the day after New  Year's.

Alicia looked up to find him with a dazed look on his face, and  playfully snapped a dish towel at him. "Hey, you. If you eat, you work.  Put on the Buena Vista Social Club CD and an apron. How are you at  scrubbing mussels?"

Soon the lilting sounds of Cuban music filled the loft and the three of  them were busy putting the savory paella together. All thoughts of  spurned engagements and feisty little women from Atlanta vanished and  Donnie once again felt like himself. Unfortunately, the effect didn't  last very long.


Paris and Angelique observed New Year's Eve very differently than most  people; they had evolved a unique way of celebrating over the past few  years. Neither one of them liked the idea of going out trying  desperately to have a good time, so when Paris moved to Atlanta, she and  Angelique began going to church to pray in the New Year with a quiet  family worship service, and then spent the evening with family, usually  at Bennie and Clay's home. The next day would be an open house at  Lillian and Bump's house where everyone wandered in and out and the men  congregated in front of the big-screen television for a football orgy.  This year would mark their first New Year's in Detroit, but their plans  were about the same.                       


"Paris, are you ready? We need to leave early so we can get a seat,"  Angelique called out. She was ready to go, sitting in the kitchen  watching CNN on the small television mounted under the cupboards. She  was dressed exquisitely as always, and warmly, too, in a simple black  skirt that buttoned all the way down one side, a pair of low-heeled  black boots and a cashmere sweater in a luscious shade of raspberry pink  that made her toffee skin glow. She wore a simple gold chain with a big  pearl dangling from it, and matching pearl studs in her ears.

The only jewelry on her hands was a dainty gold ring with a small pearl,  bordered by two tiny peridots, which were her birthstone. She also wore  two slender bangle bracelets, a silver one on one wrist and a gold one  on the other. The ring had been given to her as a child and she always  wore it on special occasions; she never took the bracelets off. Her  nails were short and neatly shaped with a clear polish as their only  adornment; Angelique used her hands too much to fuss with elaborate  manicures. Now her fingers anxiously stroked the soft leather of the  cashmere-lined kid gloves that lay on the table with her scarf, gloves  and purse. "Paris, what are you doing?" she called in exasperation.

It was ironic the way their roles had reversed over the years. A few  years ago Paris would have been cooling her heels while Angelique took  her own sweet time to make sure every hair was in place and her makeup  was perfect. Paris would have had her customary quick shower, thrown on  one of her oversized outfits, pulled her hair into a ponytail and been  ready to go while Angelique primped. It had never bothered Angelique one  bit to keep people waiting, as she liked making an entrance too much to  worry about being on time. But now it actually meant something to her  to be on time. A.J. had taught her the importance of being reliable in  business, and that meant always being prompt. Being prompt meant you  took your job seriously and you respected the people with whom you were  working. And it meant you respected yourself as well.

Paris appeared in the kitchen with an apology on her lips. "Sorry it  took so long. Let's go!" In short order the two women were on their way  to the A.M.E. church they attended with the Cochrans. The midnight watch  service was spiritually moving and uplifting, and also shorter than the  one that took place on Sunday mornings. Afterward everyone went over to  Andre's house for a midnight buffet and a quiet family celebration.  Andre and his twin brother, Alan, usually hosted the New Year's  festivities. There would be a traditional New Year's dinner at Alan's  the next day, with the usual attention to the various bowl games.

Even Donnie was less grumpy after the religious service; at least he was  until he caught a glimpse of Angelique. She was talking to his father  and stepmother and looked good enough to eat. And, he noticed for the  first time, she had more booty than he realized; he actually cocked his  head to one side and was staring at her high, tight derriere in the  slim-fitting black skirt like he'd never seen a fanny before.  Fortunately, only Adam caught him doing so. He had materialized next to  Donnie and seemed vastly amused at the look in Donnie's eyes.

"Stop staring, bro, you're beginning to drool," Adam said slyly.

Busted. There wasn't anything Donnie could say when he'd obviously been  caught doing exactly what Adam said he was doing. He narrowed his eyes  at his brother and slunk off to the buffet table, but it wasn't an  escape because Angelique was there, busily filling two plates with food.  He watched her in silence for about two seconds, then commented on her  gargantuan appetite.

"This is for Miss Martha and Mr. C," Angelique said, without looking at  him. "Older people don't like to mess around with buffets, you should  know that" She managed to take the two plates of food with napkins and  utensils to where his father and stepmother waited, all without looking  at him one time.