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.