Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Spiking the Eggnog

Renee’s kitchen smells just like Christmas. If she knew fresh cloves and nutmeg made that much of a difference, she would have bought them whole years ago. There’s no telling how old the store-bought, ground varieties are anyway.

She usually buys her eggnog from the store too, but this year, she’s trying a recipe she found online. How often does your best friend get married on your favorite holiday? She has to make it special, memorable. There’s nothing worse than a beautiful wedding that’s ruined by terrible refreshments.

Of course, as soon as she mentioned eggnog to Rita, they had to take a detour to the ABC store so she could by a bottle of Brandy to go with it. The cashier called Rita’s name as soon as they walked in. It didn’t surprise Renee one bit that this was Rita’s second visit today.

“You’re definitely fasting alcohol the first of the year,” Renee said.

“Come one. Whoever heard of eggnog without booze? Even grandma was sippin’ in that ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer’ song.”

Rita’s been listening to Christmas music all afternoon, currently singing “Let It Snow!” to Melody and the twins in the den. Renee put her on babysitting duty as soon as they got to the house, couldn’t risk her sneaking a splash of the heavy stuff into her simmer on the stove. Rita’s surprisingly good with the kids. It comes naturally to her–that is, when she’s sober, which, thank God, she is today.

Maybe this is the way to keep Rita clean. Then Renee can finally fire the neighbor’s absent-minded daughter, especially since, according to Melody the tattletale, she had her much older boyfriend over as soon as Renee and Bryan left. That kind of behavior will not be tolerated in her house, by anyone. And she’ll definitely be telling the hussy’s parents too.

Listen to her, Renee chuckles, she sounds just like her own mother.

The cinnamon stick stands up in the pot of nog like a straw, which gives Renee an idea as she whisks the liquid, tests for thickness, turns off the heat.

“Hey, Rita,” she calls. “How would you feel about drinking eggnog through a cinnamon stick?”

“I think I’d choke on the cinnamon.”

Oh, that’s right, Renee says to herself. Not everyone’s a fan of cinnamon. Oh well. Maybe as a garnish, then? With some of it grated on the frothy top, along with a bit of nutmeg?

She strains the eggnog into a bowl on the kitchen table. The recipe says to let it cool for an hour. That should give her enough time to wrap up the poinsettia centerpieces for the rehearsal dinner, finish printing off the name cards to place at everyone’s assigned seat, and fold the napkins into the Nativity scene napkin rings she bought on her most recent Christmas shopping spree. Bryan doesn’t know about that one. If he did, he’d probably take her credit card, but she bought his Christmas present on this particular run, so maybe he’ll overlook the fact that she went over budget . . . again.

When Renee looks up from her steaming bowl, Rita is standing at the door to the kitchen, balancing Aiden and Blake on both hips, while Melody sits on her left ankle hugging her shin.

“You know what would take that eggnog from like an eight point five to a ten?” Rita nods her head toward the brown paper bag on the counter next to the sink.

“You know Mitchell and Tash don’t drink.” Though it’s hard to say that convincingly when Natasha was clearly hungover at the bridal shop this morning, almost throwing up when they tried to zip her into her dress. And she flaked on the cake tasting, leaving Renee alone with Mitchell and Rita, who spent twenty minutes arguing over whether or not red velvet was really just chocolate with red food coloring.

“Come on,” Rita says. “We’ll split it up and spike the second bowl. I really don’t won’t Hank to think all my friends are uptight.”

“Who on earth is Hank?”

“Her boyfriend!” Melody sings, sticking her tongue through the hole left behind by her last fallen tooth.

“He’s not my boyfriend. He’s just this guy.” Rita tries to say nonchalantly, but her face, rosy as Santa’s big red suit, gives it away.

“Well, boyfriend or not, this guy’s clearly had an effect on you,” Renee says as she notices how Rita keeps the twins close her chest, leans at an angle so that their heads lie on her instead of tilt back, especially since Aiden is still a little top-heavy.

Motherhood definitely suits Rita, and with a new man in the picture, Renee wonders if more wedding bells could be in the near future. And children? Renee always wanted to be an Auntie. She doesn’t have any siblings, so she would spoil Rita’s kids to their heart’s content, and even more!

But she quickly comes back to reality. “Don’t you think it’s moving a little fast to invite him to the wedding?”

“Oh, god no! He’s not coming to the wedding. I don’t want to scare him away. But I did want to bring him to our little get-together after the rehearsal dinner. You said we could bring a plus one, right?” Rita says.

“Just curious. When did you meet him?” Renee asks. She talks to Rita nearly every day, and the only men she’s ever heard Rita mention were the work crush who’s having a baby, and the weed dealer she’s been dodging. Though she never told Renee his name. He was always “weed man.” Renee shakes her head. Please don’t let Hank be the weed man. She’d never get Rita off of drugs then.

“Would you judge me if I said last night?” Rita says.

If ever there was an answer worse than weed man. Renee drops her shoulders and rolls her head, annoyed at herself for thinking that Rita has changed one bit. “Lord, Rita. You didn’t sleep with him, did you?”

“Shhh.” Rita turns to shield the babies from what she calls Renee’s foul language.

They’ve heard worse come out of Bryan’s mouth.

“And for your information . . .” Rita says, “. . . maybe.”

“Oh, Rita. No man is gonna stay when you keep giving him the best of you on the first night.”

“Ok, I get that,” Rita answers, “but this guy’s different, and he wants to come.”

Renee sighs, looks down on Melody, still on the floor. “What do you think, honeybun?”

“Is he cute?” she asks Rita.

Rita winks. “Oh, yes.”

“Then I say bring him!” Melody hops in the air, coming out of frog stance, waving her arms, and she slaps the eggnog right off the table.

Renee saw it happen, even before it actually did. She saw it and was still too slow to save all her hard work. The glass bowl shatters on the floor. The eggnog that doesn’t get her own shoes, completely drenches Melody head to toe.

“Dang it, Melody!” Renee screams.

“‘Dang it,’ Renee?” Rita says. “Really? Not even a little slip of the tongue?”

Renee ignores her, scolds her daughter, who licks around her lips.

“Mmm, Mommy. This is good,” she says.

At least it’s not hot anymore.

“Make yourself useful and get the mop out of the pantry to clean this mess,” Renee says to Melody.

“Yes, Mommy,” Melody says, hopping away.

Renee rubs her head across her forehead. “This is gonna put me behind schedule.” At least she thought ahead and bought double the milk and eggs. She won’t have to make another trip to the grocery store, which is always a warzone right before the holidays, not to mention all the con-people following everyone around, asking for money. She feels like she needs a drink now. She swipes the paper bag off the counter, twists the top and takes a swig straight from the bottle while Rita watches with her jaw dropped like a cartoon character.

Fine, Renee will spike the eggnog just this once, for Rita, but this Hank guy better be as cute as she says.

—Nortina


Part of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans
——
Previous: Welcome to the Club
Next: Bottom of the Pits

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Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Welcome to the Club

“Ugh! Why is the sun so bright?” Antonio groans from the passenger seat of Bryan’s car.

“Bro,” Bryan says laughing, “it’s four o’clock. The sun is going down.”

“Not fast enough.” Antonio says. He takes off his coat, puts it over his head and reclines the seat all the way to the back, stretching his legs on the dashboard.

“Please, make yourself comfortable,” Bryan jokes.

“Thanks for the ride, man. I owe you one,” Antonio’s muffled voice comes from underneath the coat.

“You’re lucky Elise didn’t call the police on you. I’d be bailing you out of jail right now.”

“I’m just glad she didn’t call Mitchell. She would do some shit like that, you know. Just to make me feel like a disappointment. She knows I’m tryna get my life together.”

“Oh, nah man. She called Mitchell.”

“Damn.” Antonio slams his coat down on his lap.

“She actually called him first. But he was . . . preoccupied.” Bryan drops the hint slowly, hoping Antonio will catch it.

“Doing what? He was just with me at the bar?”

Ok, he doesn’t know, Bryan concludes. That or he’s too hungover to figure it out, but Bryan doubts Mitchell said anything, so he’ll tell Antonio for him. “Tash. Doing Tash.”

“What?”

“Yep.” Bryan wasn’t sure of it himself, at first. Natasha could’ve just been wet and naked from a cold shower when she answered the door last night, since she was apparently soo drunk. But when they got home, Renee told him all the dirty details, the real reason Tash had called her out to Mother Goose’s to “talk.”

He has to hand it to Mitchell. Not even he was able to get into Renee’s pants before saying those fateful words, “I do.” But it was well worth the wait. Right now he’s on his way to give Mitchell a firm slap on the back and a congratulatory “Atta boy! Welcome to the club! How does it feel to be a man now?” Because he’s sure Natasha was Mitchell’s first.

“Oh,” Antonio says.

“Oh?” Bryan expected a little more excitement in Antonio’s response, or at least shock—Bryan was shocked. Scratch that; no he wasn’t. As godly as Mitchell thinks he is, every man has a weakness. And if Natasha is any bit as frisky as Renee is when she’s drunk, not even Mitchell could resist that temptation.

But Antonio did just get saved, and Mitchell is his Christian mentor. “They’re getting married,” Bryan tries to justify, “so I guess it’s ok.”

“It’s not that.” Antonio massages the center of his eyebrows as a car with too bright LED headlights passes. “I just– From how she looked at the bar, I thought there might a little trouble in paradise.”

“Far from it.” Bryan rounds the corner into Mitchell’s neighborhood.

“You’re not taking me home?” Antonio asks.

“Nah, we gotta celebrate!”

“Celebrate what?”

“Well, for one, you not getting your butt whipped by Elise’s brother.” Butt? Bryan says to himself. Did he really just say butt? Ass, Bryan, he corrects himself. Getting his ass whipped. Damn Renee and her stupid curse word fast. It’s like she’s in his head now!

“What are you talking about? Elise doesn’t have a brother.” Antonio is saying.

“Oh, but she does.”

“I’ve known her for seven years. I ain’t never heard of no brother.”

“Well, she got one. Fresh outta fifteen year lockup too. And those J’s you threw up all over, were custom made.”

“Fuck.” Antonio slaps his forehead. Groans again at what Bryan can only assume is the resulting headache.

“Yep. Be glad Ryder didn’t see any of it.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’ll never get him back now.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure.” Bryan says. “You’ll get him. Elise isn’t that cruel. Remember she could’ve called the cops on you, but she didn’t.”

When he pulls into the driveway, Mitchell is outside throwing net lights over the bushes in front of his house. Bryan puts the car in park, leans back, rubs his hands together, looks at Antonio with a smile that’s full of trouble. “But first, we give Mitchell a little going away present.”

Antonio stares at him. “You’re taking him to a strip club, aren’t you?”

“Correction. We are.”

“You’re like the serpent in the garden, man.”

“First of all, I’m surprised you even know that.”

“That’s the one Bible story everyone should know.”

“Maybe, but Mitchell’s my boy. And I’ll be damned if I don’t give my boy the rite of passage deserving of every man before he gets married . . . Breasts and booty!”

At least now Bryan is confident Mitchell knows where they are.

—Nortina


Part of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans
——
Previous: Not Gonna Fit
Next: Spiking the Eggnog

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Not Gonna Fit

I’m fat. I’m fatter than fat. I’ve gained nine pounds since Mitchell proposed, and with the camera already fabled to add ten, I’ll be nineteen pounds heavier in all my wedding photos. Not to mention I won’t fit in my dress!

I should call Renee and tell her I’m not coming. But then, how would that look? The bride a no show to her own dress fitting. I was supposed to be there an hour ago, but Mitchell, he was so patient, attentive, smooth, gentle deliberate. He made love to me with such care, never rushing, always giving me exactly what I needed first, which satisfied him beyond a quick orgasm, just to hear me exhale and lie back, having had my fill.

God, I love that man. Who cares if I never put on the dress, as long as I’m at that altar Christmas day to say, “I do,” now and forever.

I wish he was still here as I stand naked on the scale, wet from the shower, and touch myself. As much as he wanted to stay and spend this day lost underneath the sheets, he had to get home—which in eight days will be our home, he reminded me—he needed to straighten things up for his family, who would be coming down to stay with him until the wedding, supposedly to make sure we don’t consummate too soon.

I laugh at this. If only they knew. I can already feel his seed germinating inside me. It makes me want him even more. I suck in my stomach and look down at the digital number displayed on the screen between my two big toes. Is there any way I can get this down between now and Christmas? Not with a bridal shower and rehearsal dinner still to come. Oh! And the cake tasting with the caterer! I completely forgot! They’ll definitely have to sew me into my dress after that—I can’t rely on a single bite to make my decision. Mitchell will just have to go by himself. I can trust him to choose the right cake. He remembers I’m allergic to strawberries, right?

My skin has managed to dry without a towel. I step off the scale with a sigh, conclude that it’s just lying to me. After this morning’s “workout,” I should have lost something. Sex burns calories, they say. And since I only had eggs for breakfast—the bacon burnt to a crisp—I should see some results.

But I can’t hide the fact that my stomach is looking fuller than usual, and the added girth isn’t fat that I can pinch, but solid and firm, bloated. Water weight, maybe? I pull my jeans over my hips. It’s a snug fit and my sides spill out over the top. I’ll have to stick to the stairs for the rest of this week. And avoid the carbs, which means no bread, no pasta. That’ll be hard with Renee planning the menus for all our wedding events. She doesn’t believe a meal’s balanced unless it has at least two starches— beans and rice, beans and potatoes, two kinds of potatoes, mac and cheese and potatoes. Did I mention potatoes?

But I remember that I also put on extra pounds just before my period starts. It’s close to that time, right? Though, I thought it was due to come last week. As long as it’s not next Saturday, because Mitchell and I have plans.

When I walk through the doors of Marinette’s Parisian Bridal Shop, I think Renee’s head just might literally explode. Her face as red as the quarter Cherokee blood she claims runs through her veins.

“Where the heck have you been!” As mad as she is, she still doesn’t curse. I have to admire that. I’m not always able to stay in character, but then she wouldn’t be setting a good example for Bryan if she couldn’t bite her own tongue.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I lost track of time.”

“Doing what?” Rita asks. I’m surprised to see her here, that she actually beat me, and that she looks half-way decent before noon. Her skin is glowing, actually glowing, not dark and burnt from all the weed she smokes. This fast is doing her good. The teal blue jumpsuit she wears, accessorized with a large fuzzy white wool shawl, reminds me of freshly fallen snow. Her hair even seems to be sprinkled with a dusting of something white and sparkly. And is that makeup she’s wearing? The blue eyeshadow she repeatedly tells me is so middle school whenever I wear it? What has gotten into her? Or should I say, who?

“The next wedding party will be here in ten minutes. The coffee is cold. The macaroons are hard. Your mom and I called you twenty times. Where were you?” Renee is saying, practically shouting, almost crying.

I put my hands on her shoulders and shake her back into reality. “Renee, breathe. I’m the one getting married here. I can’t have you freaking out on me.”

“Never mind that,” Renee says, waving her arms around her head as if swatting away flies. “Now I have to find your mom. She’s trying to buy another dress last minute, and we’ve got to get you in yours before they kick us out.” She rushes off to the back of the store, disappears behind the fitting room curtains.

When we’re alone, Rita turns to me, folds her arms over her chest. Looking down on me—she has me beat by five or so inches—she says with a smirk, “So what were you really doing?”

“What do you mean?”

“Tash, you’re glowing, girl.”

“I could say the same about you.”

“Ok. You don’t want to tell me.” She shrugs, doesn’t acknowledge that I’ve noticed a difference in her too. She picks up a blue macaroon from the snack tray. It breaks apart and crumbles around her lips as she sinks her teeth into it. Chewing with her mouth full she says, “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were pregnant.”

My stomach drops in my gut.

“Tash, today!” I hear Renee yell. “We still have to see the caterer!”

God, I hope this dress fits.

—Nortina


Part of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans
——
Previous: Snowflakes Have Always Been Blue
Next: Welcome to the Club

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Snowflakes Have Always Been Blue

Snowflakes are blue. In Rita’s mind, they’ve always been blue.

Ever since she was a child, and she traded in her ice white crayons for a combination of navy, aqua, and baby blue to trace the snowflake designs on her Christmas wish lists to Santa, snowflakes have been blue. And Christmas was her favorite holiday of the year until she was eleven, when her mom banned the holiday because her deadbeat dad stopped paying child support.

“No money, no presents.” Her excuse.

But Rita still dreamt of blue snowflakes piling high in her front yard on Christmas morning—even though she grew up in southern Georgia, and the coldest temperatures she ever experienced were still in the upper 40s. When she peeked out of her bedroom window every Christmas, squeezed her eyes shut and wished for a foot or more of densely packed, blue snow—an hombre effect developing the deeper you went, from white on the top layer to an almost cobalt at the very bottom—she knew one day it would happen, all her letters to Santa would be answered. One day she would wake up to jingle bells, a front lawn covered in a blanket of blue, and her father standing on the porch, carrying a gift box, wrapped in red and gold paper, almost as big as he, with the oversized bow to match.

This was what Rita thought about as Hank’s head lay in her lap, his tongue in her flesh.

It wasn’t right. She didn’t want to take him home. Well, she did, but Renee’s voice in her head nagged her of her missed appointment with Jesus—prayer and fasting more important.

But he didn’t have  a ride when the store closed—she the last customer to leave. It was too easy. And with an unannounced visit from Jerome still a possibility, she felt safer having Hank there.

Plus she needed someone to carry all the paint she bought. She couldn’t remember what colors she picked; she just grabbed the closet can and slug it in her basket, kept it moving.

Hank’s tongue fluttered inside her, like a swimmer kicking the water as he paddled down stream. She went loose, tensed up to hold it a second longer, went loose again.

Hank looked up. “You good?”

She pressed his head back down. Less talk, more . . . mmmm . . . She twirled her hips underneath him, rolled her eyes to the back of her head as he drank her up, slurped her as if finishing off the end of an icie, and when he hit that spot, she screamed, “Oh, god,” and then, “Jesus Christ,” and then, “Stop.”

It wasn’t right. But she still waited until she came before she finally pushed him off of her.

And she didn’t want him to leave, not yet. Not while her walls were still white. She crawled over to the paint cans lined up by her door, examined the labels. Merlot red? No, that color pallet was too close to hell. She figured when she died, she’d probably end up there anyway; she didn’t need the reminder. Canary yellow? Hell no. Not even if she had a cat. It made her think of the short story she read back in high school. If white was driving her crazy, yellow just might make her kill herself.

With a sigh—she probably should have put more thought into making her selections—she spun the third can around, tilted it back and looked at it under the white moonlight coming through her window.

Cerulean. Blue. Perfect.

“Let’s paint these walls,” she said, a chipperness in her voice.

“Now?”

“Why else do you think you’re here?”

He shook his head. Maybe to get blue balls. To tease him even more, Rita jumped at him, fell on top of him back on the bed. She sat up on his lap, felt him lift through his boxers. His hand trailed down to the pocket and pulled out what she’d been craving, so she could see it, so she could go ahead and sit on it. She wanted to. She really wanted to.

And she did. But first, they painted.

Her room is brighter this morning. Brighter even than when the walls were white. It reminds her of Christmas, and she can’t remember a Christmas when the sunlight didn’t fill her whole room back home, as it does right now.

The paint still smells. They probably shouldn’t have slept in it. But when she considers how much sleep they actually got, she thinks they’ll be ok. She looks up at the walls. Horny and half-naked, they still managed to coat them evenly, and they didn’t get a single drop on the floor. But that may be because they spread and entire box of black heavy duty trash bags over every inch of the plush white carpet.

Under the suns rays shinning through her window, her walls are the perfect snowflake blue she always imagined as a kid. If the paint is still wet, she’ll straighten out a paper clip, or maybe just use the tip of her fingernail, to carve in the skeletal snowflake designs, like on her wish lists to Santa.

On the floor, one trash bag is smeared with paint from end to end like the frantic brushstrokes of an improvisational painter receiving his dose of inspiration in that very moment. This was where they collapsed, after laying the final coating, and then finished each other off in the leftover blue paint poured from the can.

She can’t remember how exactly she ended up back in her bed, however.

She hears a swishing to her right, looks over to see the blue shadow of Hank’s body printed in the sheets next to her, and Hank standing by the window, his pants already on, buttoning his shirt.

“You’re leaving.” She says it more like a statement than a question. She should be used to this. What’s to stay for? He’s gotten what he was after, even though it took all night to get it.

He spins around, surprised, almost frightened, by her voice. Who else would it be? She wonders. This is her apartment.

“Oh, I didn’t want to wake you.”

Too late.

He stands there, as if caught with his hand somewhere it shouldn’t be, not sure what to do or how to explain himself. His eyes shift from her to his shoes on the floor at the foot of her bed.

“Just go.” she closes her eyes. It would’ve been better if he’d left last night. Before the sun came in and brightened her day, filled her with a false hope that things would be different now, that she could be different. That her dreams as a child would finally come true, and it would snow on Christmas the color of the Disney castle in the opening credits of her favorite princess movies, and her prince charming would finally come, and stay forever.

“I’m sorry,” he stammers. “I just– I thought you would want–”

He rushes back to the bed, his shirt half unbuttoned, his skin hot when she touches his abdomen. It warms her through, and she leans in to kiss his navel, dip her tongue inside like it’s morning coffee and she’s testing the temperature. He sinks his hands into her hair, pulls her up, sticks his whole tongue in her mouth.

This is all she wants for this whole day. Him filling her every opening. She’s supposed to be meeting Tash and Renee for a dress fitting. How late is it? Is there enough time to slide him into her for a few minutes more? She’d promised Renee she wouldn’t be late, and she would help her set up for the rehearsal dinner afterward. But then, did Renee really expect Rita to keep her word?

Not when this man is giving her everything she thinks she needs.

—Nortina


Part of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans
——
Previous: Every Morning
Next: Not Gonna Fit

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Every Morning

Bacon sizzles in the pan. Mitchell opens the refrigerator, gets out three eggs, cracks them against the counter, scrambles them in a bowl. He turns back to the stove, flips the bacon. Grease pops his skin, and he slaps his wrist, brings it up to his mouth, sucks on the burn, the way she sucked on every part of Natasha last night, and before he realizes, his tongue is doing a somersault dance.

He shakes his head, returns to the eggs, adds salt, pepper, scrambles them until the yolks blend with the whites into a pale yellow liquid. He goes back to the refrigerator for cheese. He likes sharp cheddar, but Natasha only buys Parmesan, prefers the saltiness to it, that it melts better, but is lower in fat. So health conscious. He sprinkles a handful from the bag. He guesses he should get used to compromising now. A pang in his heart tells him he already has.

He returns the cheese, closes the refrigerator and notices the calendar on the door. Red and green X’s counting down to the 25th, which is double circled in yellow rings. Eight more days and this will be his life forever.

When he turns around, he finds that his bride-to-be has emerged from the bedroom, rubbing her eyes. She wears his wrinkled t-shirt, which looks ten times better on her than it ever did on him last night. The creases and ripples in the cotton fabric dip and stretch over the curves of her body at just the right angles, shaping her figure like how water surrounds and compliments an object partially submerged on its surface.

She slowly walks over to him, sliding her bare feet across the floor. She wraps her thin arms around his waist, lays her head on his chest, looks up with that smile, that same beautiful smile that made his whole world stand still the first time he laid eyes on it. Her cheeks radiate like the sun. He kisses them both, and she in turn kisses him where his heart stutters to beat.

“I love you,” she says softly, cooing like a dove.

Oh, god. He loves her too. He scoops her into his embrace. He kisses her neck, and up her neck, and along her jawline, and to her lips, lingers there, then back down to her neck, and her collarbone, and across her shoulder, and further down. He can’t stop kissing her.

He pulls his shirt up over her head. She’s naked underneath, and this only arouses him more. She rushes in, curls her fingers over the top and inside his slacks, drops them to the floor, hooks her arm around his neck, pulls him down to her, inhales his scent, laps him up. He cups his hands around the backs of her thighs, lifts her with a grunt, sits her on his hip.

Bacon in the pan getting crispier by the second. He’s cooked too.

“Tell me you love me,” she whines, desperate, like she’s pleading with him, like she’s in physical agony not to hear him say it.

“I love you,” he whispers, lips tracing the curve of her ear, and he can feel her smile, can feel her hold her breath and let it release.

And he releases all of him inside her. His insecurities about them, his hesitations to move too fast, his worries and cares. She accepts all of it and more, assures him with every kiss, every moan, that this is right, that to deny themselves this moment would be like death, the one needing the other just to breathe.

Oh God, If every morning is like this for the rest of his life, he will be complete, he prays.

But a faint voice in the back of his mind tells him he should have waited.

—Nortina


Part of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans
——
Previous: Not Drunk
Next: Snowflakes Have Always Been Blue

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Not Drunk

“This is a stupid idea,” Antonio mumbles, again and again, trying to will himself to turn the car around, go home, or at least back to the bar. Get another drink.

He’s not drunk. Nope, not at all, he tells himself. The speedometer needle teeters between 85 and 90 as he flies through the residential area. Lights whiz by him in a blur. One of them might have been red—he can’t tell, he can’t really see.

But he’s not drunk.

This is Renee’s fault, really. He should have left Mother Goose’s when Mitchell carried Natasha’s drunk ass out of there. But Renee lured him in with that “concerned Christian” act, even offered him the rest of her hot wings.

Antonio sucks on his tongue, smacks his teeth against the insides of his cheeks. He can still taste the cayenne, the smell of smoke flavor on his breath. It agitates the back of his throat, as if he’s just inhaled a huge helping of finely ground pepper. He coughs, heaves, feels like he’s choking, like his throat is constricting in a delayed allergic reaction to whatever that was he ate off of Renee’s plate. Those weren’t hot wings, more like hell fire on a bone. Tears start to stream down from the corners of his eyes. The glide across his face at diagonal angles to moisten his ear lobes. He’s not crying. It’s just the leftover burn from the food, like slicing a yellow onion or a jalapeño pepper.

He rolls down the window for a rush of cold air to cool him off. Maybe it’ll alleviate the headache that’s also been building since he stormed out of the bar after Renee took her “You’ve been on my heart. How can I pray for you?” speech a step to far by mentioning Elise.

“Fucking bitch. I hate her!” he screams at the top of his lungs. Not Renee. He knows she means well, but she’s gotta learn when she’s overstepped her boundaries. And quoting James 1:19 isn’t going to make his situation any easier. He should know; he’s read it ten times today.

…quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…

Easy for James to say. He’s never had to deal with a spitfire like Elise. There’s no listening to her. She’ll make your ears literally bleed, the way she runs at the mouth. And she always shoots below the belt. Antonio has no doubt in his mind that she can make a cold-hearted gangster—with two first-degree murders and assault with intention to kill topping his long rap sheet—cry. And not just cry, but ugly cry. Snot running down his face, nose so red it lights its way through the fog like Rudolph leading Santa’s sleigh, eyes so puffy from all the waterworks it looks like a nigga broke out into hives.

Antonio has ugly cried twice for Elise. The first time was Thanksgiving of 2013, when she casually told his sister and brother-in-law at the dinner table, loud enough for everyone—who was still eating—to hear that he licked her ass and that she was a little suspicious about why he would go for the back  and not the front, like most men do—most straight men. He could have punched her right there in the neck. And of course she decided to omit the fact that she had asked for it, that he only did it once, that it would never happen again because the bitch farted in his face.

You don’t say that shit to a man’s family. You just don’t. They already knew he wasn’t a saint. And they’ve seen the ass on her, that it’s easier on the eyes than her actual face, even more so when she opens her mouth because she talks like she has a second grader’s education and a dukes of hazard upbringing. Clearly their relationship was primarily sexual, but she didn’t have to spell it out for them! And then to question his masculinity on top of that! Who does that? Who fucking does that!

But that’s Elise. She’s not her unless she’s bringing a nigga down to his knees. The second time was when he begged her not to leave him. He begged her. After he’d caught her cheating. After she’d told him there was a possibility that Ryder wasn’t his. After she’d called off the wedding, having cheated again with his best man. He still wanted that bitch!

“Sometimes we think that’s what we deserve,” Renee said at the bar. “We’re so deep in our sin and our mess that we think we’re not worthy, that God won’t forgive us. So we dig deeper into the darkness, instead of crawling out into the light. But God has bigger and better plans for you.”

He can’t see those plans right now, although the tears blot his eyes like cloudy fish scales. But he’s not crying, won’t give Elise the satisfaction of making him ugly cry a third time. And he can see enough to pull into the drive way of the condo she’s renting.

He stumbles out, the car still running, but he’s pretty sure he put it in park. He knocks on the door, bangs on it. He knows she’s still up. That bitch doesn’t sleep unless it’s with another nigga, usually to spite Antonio. Who is she with this time?

He knocks harder, kicks the door with all his strength but stops after the second time when he looses his balance. His knocks become more frantic, allowing less and less time between knuckle meeting wood. He leans all his weight into it, calls her name into the peep hole. When she finally opens the door, he nearly topples over at her feet, but he catches himself on the jamb, reflexes still working.

“Who the fuck you think this is? The police?”

“I want to see Ryder.”

“He in the bed. And you’re drunk.”

He’s not drunk. He’s not crying. He blows past her. There’s some nigga on the couch, probably was fucking her. Right there where his son lives. Where is Ryder?

“Yo,” dude says.

His voice sounds familiar. The same guy she cheated with? Not the best man—Antonio whipped his ass. He’ll beat this nigga too if he thinks he’s going to take his son from him like he stole his woman.

Antonio throws a punch, hits only air. This time there’s nothing to break his fall. He belly flops onto the carpet, arms flailing. The last thing he sees before he passes out is the skimpy Christmas tree, barely enough ornaments on it to fill in the empty spaces between branches.

Then he throws up. All over homeboy’s kicks. He thinks they might be the new Jordan’s.

—Nortina


Part of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans
——
Previous: Anything but White
Next: Every Morning

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Anything but White

The cashier is giving her the stink face. Rita checks the time on her phone. Screw you, bitch, she wants to say. Home Depot closes at ten, it ain’t ten yet. She flashes her a fake, “I wasn’t aware of the time. I promise I’ll be quick,” smile, but the woman’s not buying it one bit.

“Painting supplies?” Rita asks in her sincerest dumb blonde voice. She was blond once, for a season. Dated a blond too, for a few seasons.

The cashier points to her left behind her. “Aisle nine,” she says in a low, heavy accent. It comes out like a wet burp. Rita curls her upper lip. No wonder she has an attitude.

And her directions are of no help. Paint is all the way in the back corner of the store, hidden behind Home and Décor. She almost missed it for the bright ass brass light fixtures in the aisle ahead of it. She wonders how high their electric bill must be to keep an aisle full of lights on. And do they stay on over night? No workers around to start cutting them off, and it’s ten minutes til closing.

Standing in front of the rows of paint cans, she flips through the paint chart for the perfect color. Nothing white, or off-white. She won’t even look a beige, or pink, which is what she calls her co-workers in the office. Not to their faces of course, racial slur and all, and she needs her job, even though she hates it.

“Can I help you?” It’s the first face she’s seen since walking in and being rudely greeted by the woman up front. At least this one has a smile. It’s a cute smile too, revealing a pair of diamond-shaped dimples at the bottom corner of his cheeks between his nose and mouth.

And his mouth is the shape of a perfectly quartered melon, though not in a way that it’s tragically comical, like a minstrel performance, or that it pains him. His teeth are perfectly straight, too straight. Probably wore braces as a teenager. They’re a pearly white, not a yellow stain in sight. Rita likes this; it shows that he takes care of himself, believes in proper hygiene. At the very least, his breath smells fresh, and Rita finds herself leaning in a little closer to catch a hint of mint when he speaks.

She likes the fullness in his lips. Most guys she dates are flat. It feels too much like their knocking teeth when they kiss, like she’s swallowing their faces whole when she opens her mouth for something deeper. It makes her self-conscious, the big-lipped black girl sucking face with the poor, defenseless white boys. Duck-bill bandit, they used to call her in grade school. Kids are fucking assholes.

His upper lip rolls back slightly to show a sliver of gum. A plush pink. His gums, not his lips. His lips are brown. Brown like her. A light brown, but brown all the same.

She exhales a sigh. “I need to paint my room.”

“Okay–”

“Tonight.”

“Tonight? So soon?”

He stares at her, flashes that signature grin again, this time from the side. Dammit, he really is attractive . . . for a black guy.

“Just sick of the sight of it.” Rita’s eyes drift down to the name tag attached to his orange apron. “Hank,” she adds. Such an old name for someone who looks barely out of college. His eyes so wide and innocent, like those of a new born baby seeing the world for the first time. The thin strip of hair that curves down from his sideburns, across the bottom of his chin is perfectly trim. She’s not one for facial hair, prefers the smooth, razor bump-free skin, but this suits him. It outlines his structured jawline just right. Rita imagines how his face would fit in the crook of her neck.

She shakes her head. No, Rita, she reminds herself. You’ll just corrupt his innocence with all your baggage.

“Well, we have a lot of colors to choose from. I could even mix something up for you. But you seem like the type to just grab a can and go.”

Rita cringes at the type. She doesn’t want to be the type anymore. The smash and dash kind of type. The side chick kind of type. The type that’ll let a man swing by and hit, no strings, on his way home to the wife and kids. The type that’s never good enough to be a wife, to have kids with, because she’s too unstable, too crazy, good enough to brag about to the guys but not enough to introduce to the family, the 20 but not the 80, not the . . . type

But she’s so used to the label, so she shrugs her shoulders and says, “It is close to closing time.”

“We can stay open a little longer for you.”

Is he flirting with me? Rita wonders. Please don’t. I’m already lonely. I just might let you in. 

“What do you want?” His lips pucker when he asks. He says it like it’s pillow talk, like he’s already made love to her and now he wants to give her the world. It makes her want to stick around. She can see herself ten minutes from now, waiting in the dark parking lot after having made her purchase, watching for him to come out, to find her car, to get in the passenger seat and reach across the dash, cup her face in his hand, touch his lips against hers, the perfect ratio, pull her over onto his lap, not to take her clothes off for a cramped quickie, but to swallow her face whole, to touch and reawaken her numb body parts worn from abuse, from being prodded by the hands of too many eager men, to breath deep into her lungs and ignite a passion that has long lain dormant.

“What do you want?” he repeats. He’s nearly on top her her. They stand side by side, shoulders touching. She feels the heat coming from his flannel shirt. She glances down at his lips again. Full. Firm. Brown.

Like her.

“Anything but white.”

—Nortina


Part of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans
——
Previous: Freaky, Freaky
Next: Not Drunk

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Freaky, Freaky

Bryan glances in the rearview mirror as he turns the van out of the neighborhood. He watches Melody’s head lean to the right and stay there, hanging over her shoulder, as he straightens and continues down the road. Strapped in their carseats in the back seat, the twins share a similar position, necks hidden behind their chins sunken into their chubby chests. Bryan catches a glistening on the corner of Aiden’s mouth. The boy even has the nerve to be drooling.

Two minutes. They’re not in the car two minutes before the children are knocked out like light bulbs. Bryan cuts his eyes at Renee. “We could’ve left them.”

“It’s just the motion of the car. Trust me.”

She’s probably right. And the sizable knot on Melody’s forehead from running into the bathroom doorknob because Renee told her not to touch anything is all the evidence they need to tell them that another visit from the police department will surely land them both in jail for child endangerment. Last time, they got lucky, snuck in the back while the cops knocked on the front. But Melody’s older now, and the girl doesn’t know how to keep certain things to herself. Like the whole A-word business. What’s the point of paying her to be quiet with pizza if she still snitches? Lord only knows what will happen once the twins start talking. He’ll never be able to hide anything ever again. At least not for the next decade.

Bryan doesn’t know how he ended up with three kids. Well, he knows. Do-good-Christian that she is, Renee is still a freak in the bedroom, and she leaves him spent and drained every time. Had Melody gotten home from school just five minutes earlier, she would’ve caught them in a compromising position in the living room under the naked Christmas tree. They never made it to decorating it. One pinch on the left butt cheek from Renee as he bent over to plug in a string of multicolor lights, and that was it. Their naked bodies were entangled in the wire so fast, Bryan got rope burns on his back, and they broke more mini bulbs than there were replacements in the package.

But they have to be careful, because with Renee still nursing the twins, she can’t take birth control, and Bryan will be damned if she ever asks him to get snipped. The doctors said the chance of the next pregnancy being multiples again jumps fifty percent after twins. That’s enough to scare Bryan into pulling out just before he comes. He only hopes Melody doesn’t ask about the white stain on the carpet on Christmas day, when she’s crawling under the tree looking for hidden presents forgotten. But one can never be too careful, so he’ll make sure to tie the skirt around the base when they get back home, and maybe stop by the convenience store on the way to buy some condoms. Always magnum, the golden ticket. Renee should call herself lucky.

When Bryan turns into Mother Goose’s parking lot, the place is packed. A line of co-eds stand outside the doors, IDs in hand, waiting to be permitted in.

“Memories,” Bryan says and winks. “We should go in, take a shot, for old time’s sake.”

“With the kids in the car?” Renee says shaking her head. She bends over and take Natasha’s car keys out of her purse between her knees.

“Well, if Tash can do it.” Though it’s still hard for him to picture Natasha actually drunk, Mitchell having to carry her out and drive her home. Never had he seen someone do a complete 180 as fast as Natasha did after meeting Mitchell. Before Mitchell, her drinking was almost as bad as Rita’s smoking. Not that he judged her.

He actually admired that she could throw back shot after shot and still be able to hold her liquor, maintaining an essence of class. In the years that he’s known her, she’s never thrown up, never passed out, never slurred her words or made bad decisions. Even while drunk she was a good “church girl,” an honest woman. His grandpa would’ve liked her, probably would’ve convinced him to marry her over Renee, Renee being too “all about Jesus” for a man who never stepped foot inside a church until the day of his funeral.

But despite having the ability the chug down alcohol quickly will little to no effects—at least visually—Natasha truly is boring. She and Mitchell are made for each other. Besides, Bryan and Renee didn’t end up with three kids just sitting around reading the Bible.

Bryan immediately finds Natasha’s Hyundai in a sea of black cars. Maybe it’s true what they say about birds shitting on red cars the most. They’re easier to see, and from an areal view, Bryan imagines they look like moving targets for the birds to practice their aim on.

He climbs in. Temporarily sitting knees to chest, pressed against the steering wheel, until he can slide the seat back as far as it goes. Damn, is Natasha so short that she has to sit that close? Hasn’t she ever heard of people getting killed by the force of the airbags?

He follows Renee in the Sienna out of the parking lot, taking the long way around South Tatum. Apparently she saw a man dressed in a makeshift Frosty the Snowman costume earlier in the evening. And the demographics only get worse as the night wears on.

He turns up the radio, surprised to hear 90’s R&B hits instead of Kirk Franklin or Tamela Mann. “Say what, Tash? Liquor and R. Kelly? Mitchell just might get lucky tonight!”

He’s only kidding himself. When it comes to “living for God,” Mitchell is worse than Renee, always has to do things strictly by the holy book, no room for any mistakes. He probably never even kissed a girl before Natasha. Not that any of that is really a bad thing. In fact you probably should be trying to walk on the straight path if you’re saved. But living a little won’t automatically send you to hell, would it?

Narrow, narrow, narrow. The word rings in his ear. Fine, fine. He’ll stick to the narrow path, stay out of other people’s business, rely on Renee to keep him in check. She hears the Holy Spirit more clearly anyway. Sometimes he’s not sure if it’s God speaking or his own subconscious thinking a little too loudly. Maybe they’re the same. He shakes his head. Too confusing, too many spirits in his head. “One thing at a time, Bryan,” he tells himself. Focus on not cursing for the rest of the year, work you way up to the more spiritual matters.

They turn into Natasha’s apartment complex, and Bryan follows closely behind Renee, driving through the maze of high-rises. Renee pulls off to the side and flashes her blinker, directing Bryan to park in the empty space next to what he recognizes as Mitchell’s car.

As soon as he gets out of the car, Bryan stretches his legs, as if he’s just gotten off a four-hour road trip, when in reality, Natasha only lives five minutes from the bar. He takes long strides around the car to Renee’s window. “Should I leave the keys in her mailbox or something?” he asks.

“Just knock on the door. I’m sure they’re up.”

He really doesn’t want to, in case they invite him in, in case Mitchell needs a witness to whatever long-winded speech he’s currently giving Natasha about being a “kingdom woman” and abstaining from drunkenness.

He lets out a yawn reminiscent of a howling walrus. He really is tired. The second his head hits the pillow, he’s sure he can pass out like the kids. What all has he done today? Carried that heavy ass tree for Renee, which wasn’t so bad since she rewarded him with two rounds on the carpet that definitely needs cleaning now. But then he got stuck with babysitting the kids, having to answer Melody’s 21,000 questions, cleaning the kitchen and airing out the oven before Renee got home—he could have sworn the cooking directions on the box said heat the oven for 425—and she still smelled it anyway. He could’ve saved that elbow grease for later, for something a little more satisfying. Unless Renee has enough energy for a third round before bed.

He should ask if Renee had a little sip of whatever Tash was drinking on. Back in college, she always got a little aggressive when drunk, having her way with him, whether he wanted to or not. Sometimes he would just lie there and let her take it. Those were the times when she was really drunk and would pass out right on top of him. That would be the perfect way to end this night—ride him right on to sleep.

He lightly taps on the door. If no one answers after the second knock, at least he can tell Renee he tried. But just as he’s turning for the mailbox, he hears a jingling on the other side. The door cracks open, and Natasha pokes her head out just into view.

“Hey,” she says in a rushed voice.

“Brought your keys.” He twirls the chain around his index finger, and Natasha reaches out a bare arm to quickly snatch them back behind the door.

“Thanks,” she grunts.

“Everything ok?” Bryan steps closer. It’s dark inside the apartment. Not a single light on, as if she’d just walked in a few minutes prior and hadn’t yet turned everything on. But he and Renee live farther away, and it took them at least twenty minutes to gather all the kids and put them in the car.

And her hair—he has only the moon and the lamps from the parking lot to go by, but if he didn’t know any better he’d think she’d just woken up—all of her thick, wool-like hair matted down and pushed up to the top of her head, like she’s been tossing and turning on the pillow for the last hour. He catches a glimpse of her bare shoulder, the glistening of sweat on her forehead. Maybe she has.

But then it clicks.

“Where’s Mitchell?” he asks, almost teasing, biting his bottom lip, holding his breath, his abdomen flexing and contracting, all to keep from laughing.

She hesitates to answer, then narrows her eyes, says, “Mind your own marriage, Bryan,” and slams the door right in his face.

Mitchell might want to try again. She’s still a little tense.

He skips back to the Sienna. Renee has since moved over to the passenger seat. He can feel her staring as he puts the car in reverse, wondering what’s with the big goofy grin, so he comes out and says it.

“I think Tash and Mitch are in there gettin’ freaky, freaky.”

He gives himself a mental pat on the back for not saying what he really wants to say: fucking. Wouldn’t be a good look to drop the F bomb in front of the kids, although they’re sleep. They might not hear the word, but they’d definitely hear Renee’s clean slap across the back of his head. He waits to receive his commendation for keeping it PG, but when he looks over, Renee has just as wide a smile on her face as his, nothing but dirty secrets behind it, dying to be spilled.

“What? What did I miss?”

“You don’t even know the half of it.” she says.

—Nortina


Part of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans
——
Previous: Mommy’s Home
Next: Anything but White

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Mommy’s Home

“Jesus, what did he burn?” Renee says with an exasperated sigh as she slams the front door behind her.

Pepperoni, garlic, and tomato sauce couldn’t cover the terrible smell of burnt toast that fills the whole front of the house. She hears the oven fan and the floor flan humming in unison in the kitchen, but the constant spinning only spreads the smell from one end of the house to the other. It does no good if the smell doesn’t have a route of escape.

She opens the door again, the security alarm chiming in her ear. She cracks the screen door and props it open using one of Bryan’s boots that can never make it back to the closet. A gust of winter air rushes inside, pierces through her coat and waters her eyes, but she breathes it in like a fresh scent hanging from the rearview mirror in her car.

She inhales deeply, holds her breath and stomps down the carpet in her heels to the kitchen, annoyed that no one’s bothered to come to the door, having heard it open twice now. But her march doesn’t have the desired effect until she steps onto the hardwood floor of the kitchen and nearly buckles at her ankles from the force of her entry. She quickly regains her balance and looks at her daughter and husband sitting at the table, two large open pizza boxes between them. One pizza, a thick crust double pepperoni, is half gone. The other, clearly Melody’s, is missing two slices and has enough cheese to choke a cow.

Her daughter gives her a wide-eyed grin. “Mommy!” she sings in that shrill little voice of hers, on another octave. The whole bottom half of her face is smeared with marinara sauce, her teeth stained red. And were those crumbs in her hair behind her ear? It amazes Renee how children can get food everywhere but in their mouths.

Melody drops her breadstick, seasoning still caked on her palms, and jumps up to hug Renee. Mommy reflexes kicking in, Renee scoops her up under her armpits, and holds her up and out at arm’s length. “Hello, baby.” She brings her in for a quick peck on the cheek, licking her lips of dinner’s residue, then sits Melody back in the chair. Behind her, Bryan wraps his arms around her neck and drags her into his body, but the weight of his arm and her imbalance on the heels sends her toppling, forehead first right into his steel-like collarbone.

“Clumsy girl,” he jokes and kisses the throbbing area at her temple, his lips moist and smooth. She melts under him, briefly distracted from the fact that her kitchen currently looks like a pothead’s fortress.

“How was girl talk with Tash?” he asks.

“Interesting,” Renee says. She watches as her daughter takes a bite into her pizza and laps up the strings of cheese dangling off her chin.

“Can I get a little more than interesting?” Bryan says.

“I’ll tell you in the car.”

“Are we going somewhere?”

“Mother Goose’s.”

“Why are we going there?” The tone in his voice makes him sound like he can’t be bothered, as if he can think of ten better things to do, which is ironic given that before they had kids, Renee had to bribe him with sex just to get him out of the sticky, beer soaked cushions, and away from the wide, flat screen televisions that lined the walls of the bar, showing whatever game that was on in clear HD.

“To pick up Tash’s car,” Renee says, and she laughs when Bryan gives her an even more confused look.

“Why can’t Tash drive?”

“What’s with all the questions?”

Bryan shrugs, turns back to his pizza and swipes up a flimsy slice. He stuffs more than half of it in his mouth, and says in a muffled voice, spitting out bits of pepperoni, “What do you expect when you leave me alone with this one all evening?” He drops the half-eaten pizza on Melody’s plate and sticks out his tongue at her, moving all the food in his mouth to one side so that his left cheek doubles in size.

Melody cocks her head to the side, and Renee quells a laugh behind her hand at how her spunky daughter looks like the opening frame to a clapback meme gone viral on social media. “What happened to the pot pie we were supposed to have for dinner, Daddy?” she says.

“Is that what I smell?” Renee bends over to open the oven, but Bryan is on top of her in two strides, slamming the door shut with his hip. His face winces at the obvious pain from the door handle hitting nothing but bone. Despite all the food he can wolf down in one sitting, Bryan is as skinny as a light pole. Renee pokes out her bottom lip at him and playfully slaps his jaw.

“You know, kids and their imaginations,” he says with that innocent, I-did-nothing-wrong smile. It didn’t work on her in high school, and it won’t work now.

“I’m not imagining that smell,” Renee says.

“I don’t smell anything.”

“You’ve been sitting in it so long, you don’t even smell it!” It’s like Rita and her weed infused clothes. She smokes so much, she steeps in it, the reek escaping through her pores. Her entire body smokes, gets high. It’s unladylike. and she doesn’t seem to care that everyone notices. If Rita isn’t going to enjoy this fast, Renee surely is. Her nose needs the relief, which is why walking into a smoke-filled house adds another layer to her annoyance.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Bryan says, his shifting eyes, his lips not knowing if they want to curl up into a full, cheesy grin, or slip down into a side smirk. The facial expressions always give him away.

“God doesn’t like liars, honey.”

“You said I couldn’t curse.”

“He did that too, Mommy,” Melody interjects. “He said the A-word.” That’s twice now Melody has ratted him out. The girl was on a roll.

Renee gives Bryan a side glance. Anything else he wants to fess up to before their six-year-old daughter beats him to it? But he flares up his nostrils, points toward the hall and says, “Melody, go to your room?” Even in his deep commanding voice, they don’t take him seriously. Renee doubles over in a fit of laughter, and Melody gets out of her chair, mockingly marches in place, and with both hands on her hips, she juts out her chin and says, “That’s why you’re in trouble!” Then she spins around and scurries up the stairs to her room.

“Don’t you touch anything before you go in that bathroom and wash your hands!” Renee yells, but she knows she’ll have to go up after her to make sure she doesn’t. Children and their selective hearing.

She kicks off her heels and hooks them up by the backs with her index and middle fingers. She turns for the hall, but Bryan loops his arm through hers.

“So what’s going on with Tash?” he asks.

She shakes her head. “Nothing, just pre-wedding jitters,” she says. More like the wedding can’t get here fast enough, but she stops short of telling Bryan too much, because she knows he’ll just blabber it to Rita and Antonio, the last people who need to know about Natasha and Mitchell’s… indiscretion.

“We should probably call a sitter,” she says to change the subject.

“What for? The kids are fine by themselves.”

“Are you kidding? The last time we left Melody home alone, she called 9-1-1 after clogging the toilet.” There wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell she was leaving her to care for two eighteen-month-olds. She could barely keep her father from burning down the house.

“By the time a sitter gets here, we would’ve been to Mother Goose’s and back,” Bryan protests. “Plus, you don’t want to wake the twins.”

As if on cue, a loud bang comes from the ceiling just above their heads, Melody’s low moan drifting down the hall, and a single whine and then its louder echo over the baby monitor sitting on the kitchen counter.

“Damn, looks like we’re taking them with us,” Bryan says, and Renee decides to ignore the slip up as she follows him up the stairs, climbing two at a time to tend to the kids.

—Nortina


Part of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans
——
Previous: Rendezvous
Next: Freaky, Freaky

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Rendezvous

We ride together in silence. Mitchell glances at me but says nothing. I wish he would speak to me. Open his mouth and say something, anything, even if it’s to curse me for relapsing back into the binge drinking habit I’d promised to give up for him, for God.

Nothing good ever happens when you drink, he always says. Noah cursed his own son for not looking away from his father’s naked drunkenness, and the brothers have been warring ever since. According to the New Testament, drinking only leads to wild orgies. Hell, Lot slept with both his daughters! I wonder how that conversation played out—his daughters pregnant after both his sons-in-law were already dead—when he learned that his grandchildren were also his sons.

The way Mitchell explains biblical stories to me is the way I want for him to talk to me now. I know one day he’ll become a minister. He has that calling over his life. I sensed it the day he recounted his own salvation to me, with such vigor and enthusiasm, remembering ever detail, despite his youthful age of seven years old at the time. Reverend Murphy has already taken him under his wing, inviting him to the bi-weekly ministers classes he holds at the church on Thursday nights. He practices his sermons on me, speaking with boldness, his speech seasoned with salt. I love that part of him, but is it selfish of me to, every now and again, remove his cloth and ask him to just be Mitchell, my fiancé, my husband, the man I fell in love with?

He stops the car, and the glare from the red light illuminate’s his face. Every feature enhanced, from the natural arch in his eyebrows I’ve often envied, to the downward curve of his eyes and the puffiness of his skin around them that often causes people to mistake him for Pacific Islander. I look down at his nose, his tiny little rabbit’s nose. While mine curls up, the tip of his nose dips down toward the center of his upper lip, his nostrils slanting inward. His nose quivers when he breathes, like a little bunny sniffing the freshly cut grass in the spring air, and I remember how I nibbled on his nose last night as I lay on top of him, joking that a wet nose meant you were happy and that all my slobber signified he was the happiest man in the world.

And when I said that, as if in confirmation, I felt him rise and harden inside of me after momentarily going limp, and it was so gratifying that I dropped my jaw and released a slow and steady exhale as I rocked my hips back and forth in a rotational push and pull like rowing a boat, as we drew nearer to the both of us letting all our liquids flow.

The light turns green, and I grab the steering wheel. “Do you love me?” I ask.

“Of course I do.”

“I want to hear you say it.”

“I love you.”

I shake my head. “That’s not good enough.” A car behind us honks the horn, and he presses his foot down on the gas lurching us forward as the light turns yellow and then red again. “Pull over,” I tell him, and I am surprised when he does so, without question or complaint, just stops the car on the curb, shifts the gear into park, and rests all his attention on me, staring deeply into my eyes. If he were searching my soul, he would find himself, my mate, my second half, I the very rib missing from his side.

“I want to hear you say it, and mean it.” I close my eyes and bite my bottom lip as I prepare for his words.

He sighs, and I’m so deflated that he sighs. Was our night of lovemaking so disgraceful, so scandalous, that he can’t bring himself to say the one thing that keeps me breathing? But just as I am about to lose hope, he opens his mouth, and I am pulled in by his words.

“I love you, Natasha. You know that. I’ve love you for so long. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. That’s why I want to fix this wedge between us, bring us back to where we were, before we— I want to start fresh.”

While he speaks, I’m drawn to his lips. Full, glistening like a moist brick of melting fudge in the night light of the Christmas street decorations. I long to feel them pressed against my neck as they were the night before. How intoxicating they were, caressing my weakest points, until my knees gave way, and I collapsed into his arms and allowed him to lay me on the bed and continue with his kisses, his smooches, his wet pecks of love, marking his territory down my spine, and on my thighs, and when he flipped me over, both breasts, and on my stomach, and around my navel, and below my navel, and oh, how my gut did a somersaulting dance to have his face in such close proximity to where my legs parted.

“Kiss me,” I say.

“What?”

“Don’t think, do.”

And he swoops in and kisses me, the urgency in his lips pressed firmly against mine, and I graciously accept him, open my mouth and let his tongue flood in. He briefly tries to break away, I assume, because he tastes the liquor lingering on my breath, but I take him by the neck and pull him closer, and he doesn’t relent. We stay like that for what feels like an eternity, until I can contain myself no longer, and I climb over the armrest and straddle his lap. We separate for air, breathing heavily, and I watch him for hesitation, wait for him to protest that we can’t do this again, that this is how it started last night, that we’ll hate ourselves after—I wouldn’t; I could never hate him.

But he surprises me by initiating contact. Our lips meet again and he wraps his arms around my waist, pulls me deeper into his lap, my bent knees hanging off the edges of his seat awkwardly. We sit like that, kissing, lapping up the taste of each other, and I savor every moment, not wanting him to break away and come to his senses that everything we’re doing is wrong, when everything feels so right. I slip my hand underneath his coat and pull it off over his shoulders. He follows suit, yanking his arms out and lifting my sweater over my head. We continue to undress each other until we are both naked from the waist up, and the chill inside the car draws us closer together like magnets. Without the barriers of clothing our movements become more animated, generating heat. We cling to each other, as if to let go meant to lose the other forever. The sweat on his chest moistens my breasts against it, and out hearts beat in synchronization.

I run my hand along his belt buckled and wonder if he will stop me, but he beats me to the top button of my own jeans, and before I know it his hand is inside and his fingers inside of me. And I let out a breathy moan, dig my nails into his shoulders, lean back against the steering wheel, and I wish I was wearing anything but pants because it would be so much easier just to hike up a skirt, give him less time to change his mind. But when I open my eyes and look at his face, he’s considering options too, and finally he tells me to lean over the armrest. So I do as I’m told, even more aroused at the sound of his commands, no hesitation or fear in his voice, only brash determination.

I sit up, pull my leg closest to the door in, and bend over the armrest, my elbows planted firmly in the passenger seat, my stomach pressed against the cushioned hump in the middle, my knees sunken in the space between the cup holders and the driver’s seat, and my behind arched in the air. He positions himself between my legs behind me and slowly pulls my jeans and panties down together over my hips. Again his fingers slip between my most delicate places. They’re cool to the touch, refreshing like quenching one’s thirst on a hot summer day. It makes me crave for him even more.

“I love you,” I whisper, but with my face down in the seat, I don’t think he can hear me. And it doesn’t matter because soon after, there is a tap on the window, and my pants are being forcibly dragged up over my hips, my sweater shoved in my face. I inadvertently kick the steering wheel and honk the horn trying to climb back over to my side of the car, and when he rolls down the window, we are both greeted by a blinding light.

“Is there a reason why you’re pulled over to the side of the road?”

“No problem, officer.”

“I’ll say. Looks like I interrupted a party!” I can’t see him for the bright flashlight he shines in our eyes, but I suspect there’s a mischievous smirk on his face. He sticks his hand inside, curls his arm around the driver’s side door and slides his index finger down the glass of the back window to show us how much we’ve fogged the windows.

“She’s my fiancé,” Mitchell says.

“For the night, right?” There’s a chuckle in his voice, and Mitchell and I exchange worried glances at how this may look, especially on South Tatum, where there’s a hooker on ever corner.

“Can I see your license, please?”

“It’s in my back pocket.” Mitchell leans to the side toward me to retrieve his wallet from his left back pocket. He holds it open to slide his license from the clear sleeve, but the officer reaches in, snatches the entire wallet and bolts behind the car, down a darkened side street and into the trees.

“Hey!” Mitchell screams. He opens the door and sprints after him. He is halfway down the street before I can call him back.

“Just let it go, baby. They could jump you. You don’t know who is with him.”

He hesitates, as if considering his options—to risk our lives chasing after the cop impersonator for an ID and a couple bucks, or to get back in the car? I sit anxiously as he stands balling and unballing his fists. The street lamp and the snowflake decoration attached to it hang over him, casting a blue spotlight, as if he were about to perform a solo in an urban musical. As if the fake police officer and his posse would soon emerge from the woods snapping their fingers and beatboxing.

Finally logic wins out and he reluctantly returns to the car, slamming the door.

“I hate South Tatum,” he growls.

I reach up and squeeze his arm. “At least you have your life. We’ll go home, call the real police, and cancel your card before they can take anything.” Thankfully, Mitchell doesn’t believe in credit cards—what’s appealing about going into debt with money you never had, his reasoning—so there’s only the one debit card to worry about.

He nods and merges back onto the road. I keep my hands on his arm, curling one under his armpit and massaging tenderly. Selfishly my mind drifts to the night’s possibilities, what still remains of our activities interrupted. As if reading my mind, at the next light he turns to look at me, his eyelids hanging low. He dips his head down and kisses me, soft as a breeze, our lips barely touching, and I squeeze him tighter, eager to get home.

—Nortina


Part of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans
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