Mashed potatoes. I jump up and check the pantry. I forgot to buy the potatoes. I got the whole milk and the butter and even the chives to put on top like Margot always does. But I forgot the actual potatoes. “Call Daddy and ask him to pick up Yukon gold potatoes on the way home,” I say, closing the pantry door.
“I can’t believe you forgot the potatoes,” Kitty says with a shake of her head.
I glare at her. “Just focus on your place mats.”
“No, because if I didn’t just ask about the mashed potatoes, the meal would have been ruined, so you should be thanking me.”
Kitty gets up to call Daddy, and I yell out, “By the way, those turkeys look more like the NBC peacock logo than actual turkeys, so!”
Kitty is unfazed, and I take another bite of the green beans. They do taste like an orange pickle.
It turns out I have cooked the turkey upside down. Also, Kitty kept hounding me about salmonella because she watched a video on it in science, so I wind up leaving the bird in too long. The mashed potatoes are fine, but there are some crunchy bits here and there because I rushed to boil them.
We are seated around the dining room table, and Kitty’s place mats really do add a certain something.
Grandma is eating a whole pile of green beans, and I shoot Kitty a triumphant look. See? Someone likes them.
There was a minute or two, after Mommy died, when Grandma moved in to help take care of us. There was even talk of her staying. She didn’t think Daddy could manage on his own.
“So, Danny,” Grandma begins. Kitty and I exchange a look across the table, because we know what’s coming. “Are you seeing anyone these days? Going on dates?”
My dad reddens. “Er . . . not so much. My work keeps me so busy . . .”
Grandma clucks. “It’s not good for a man to be alone, Danny.”
“I’ve got my girls to keep me company,” my dad says, trying to sound jovial and not tense.
Grandma fixes him with a cold stare. “That’s not what I mean.”
When we’re doing the dishes, Grandma asks me, “Lara Jean, would you mind if your daddy had a girlfriend?”
It’s something Margot and I have discussed at length over the years, most often in the dark, late at night. If Daddy absolutely had to date, what kind of woman would we like to see him with? Someone with a good sense of humor, kindhearted, all of the usual things. Someone who’d be firm with Kitty but not rein her in so much that it would squash all the special things about her. But also someone who wouldn’t try to be our mother; that’s what Margot is fiercest about. Kitty needs a mom, but we’re old enough to not need mothering, she says.
Of the three of us, Margot would be the most critical. She’s incredibly loyal to Mommy’s memory. Not that I’m not, but there have been times, over the years, where I’ve thought how it would be nice to have someone. Someone older, a lady, who knows about certain things, like the right way to put on blush, or how to flirt to get out of a speeding ticket. Things to know for the future. But then it never happened. Daddy’s been on some dates, but he hasn’t had a steady girlfriend he’s brought around. Which has always been sort of a relief, but now that I’m getting older, I keep thinking about what it will be like when I’m gone and it’s just Kitty and Daddy, and then before long it will just be Daddy. I don’t want him to be alone.
“No,” I say. “I wouldn’t mind at all.”
Grandma gives me an approving look. “Good girl,” she says, and I feel warm and cozy inside, like how I used to feel after a cup of the Night-Night tea Mommy used to make me when I couldn’t fall asleep at night. Daddy’s made it for me a few times since, but it never tasted the same, and I never had the heart to tell him.
THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE BONANZA STARTS December first. We drag out all of Mommy’s old cookbooks and cooking magazines and we spread them out on the living room floor and turn on the Charlie Brown Christmas album. No Christmas music is allowed in our house until December first. I don’t remember whose rule this is, but we abide by it. Kitty keeps a list of which cookies we’re definitely doing and which ones we’re maybe doing. There are a few perennials. My dad loves pecan crescents, so those are a must. Sugar cookies, because those are a given. Snickerdoodles for Kitty, molasses cookies for Margot, cowgirl cookies for me. White-chocolate cranberry are Josh’s favorite. I think this year, though, we should mix things up and do different cookies. Not entirely, but at least a few new ones.
Peter’s here; he stopped by after school to work on chem, and now it’s hours later and he’s still here. He and Kitty and I are in the living room going through the cookbooks. My dad’s in the kitchen listening to NPR and making tomorrow’s lunches.
“Please no more turkey sandwiches,” I call out.
Peter nudges my sock and mouths spoiled, and he points at me and Kitty, shaking his finger at us. “Whatever. Your mom makes your lunches every day, so shut it,” I whisper.
My dad calls back, “Hey, I’m sick of leftovers too, but what are we going to do? Throw it away?”
Kitty and I look at each other. “Pretty much exactly,” I say. My dad has a thing about wasting food. I wonder if I snuck down to the kitchen tonight and threw it out, if he’d notice. He probably would.
“If we had a dog,” Kitty pipes up loudly, “there wouldn’t be any more leftovers.” She winks at me.
“What kind of dog do you want?” Peter asks her.
“Don’t get her hopes up,” I tell him, but he waves me off.
Immediately Kitty says, “An Akita. Red fur with a cinnamon-bun tail. Or a German shepherd I can train to be a seeing-eye dog.”
“But you’re not blind,” Peter says.
“But I could be one day.”
Grinning, Peter shakes his head. He nudges me again and in an admiring voice he says, “Can’t argue with the kid.”
“It’s pretty much futile,” I agree. I hold up a magazine to show Kitty. “What do you think? Creamsicle cookies?” Kitty writes them down as a maybe.
“Hey, what about these?” Peter pushes a cookbook in my lap. It’s opened up to a fruitcake cookie recipe.
I gag. “Are you kidding? You’re kidding, right? Fruitcake cookies? That’s disgusting.”
“When done right, fruitcake can be really good,” Peter defends. “My great-aunt Trish used to make fruitcake, and she’d put ice cream on top and it was awesome.”
“If you put ice cream on anything, it’s good,” Kitty says.
“Can’t argue with the kid,” I say, and Peter and I exchange smiles over Kitty’s head.
“Point taken, but this isn’t your average fruitcake. It’s not, like, a wet loaf of neon jujubes. It’s got pecans and dried cherries and blueberries and good stuff. I think she called it Christmas Memory fruitcake.”
“I love that story!” I exclaim. “That’s my favorite. It’s so good but so sad.”
Peter looks puzzled and so does Kitty so I explain. “?‘A Christmas Memory’ is a short story by Truman Capote. It’s about a boy named Buddy and his older lady cousin who took care of him when he was little. They’d save up all year to buy ingredients for fruitcake and then they’d send them as presents to friends, but also to, like, the president.”
“Why is it so sad?” Kitty wants to know.
“Because they’re best friends and they love each other more than anybody, but they get separated in the end, because the family thinks she doesn’t take good enough care of him. And maybe she doesn’t, but maybe it doesn’t matter, because she was still his soul mate. In the end she dies, and Buddy doesn’t even get to say good-bye to her. And, it’s a true story.”
“That’s depressing,” Peter says. “Forget the fruitcake cookies.”
Kitty crosses out fruitcake cookies on her pad.
I’m thumbing through an old Good Housekeeping magazine when the doorbell rings. Kitty scrambles up and runs for the door. “Check who it is before you open it,” I call after her. She’s always forgetting to check first.
“Josh!” I hear her squeal.
Peter’s head jerks up.
“He’s here to see Kitty,” I tell him.
Josh walks into the living room with Kitty hanging around his neck like a monkey. “Hey,” he says, eyes flickering in Peter’s direction.
“What’s up, man,” Peter says, friendly as can be. “Have a seat.”
I give him a strange look. Just a second ago he was grousing, and now he’s happy as a clam. I don’t get boys.
Josh holds up a plastic bag. “I brought back your casserole dish.”
“Is that Josh?” my dad calls from the kitchen. “Josh, do you want a snack? Turkey sandwich?”
I’m positive he’s going to say no, because I’m sure he’s had as many leftover turkey sandwiches over at his house as we’ve been eating over here, but then he goes, “Sure!” Josh disentangles himself from Kitty and plops down on the couch. To me he says, “Christmas Cookie Bonanza?”
“Christmas Cookie Bonanza,” I confirm.
“You’re making my favorite, right?” Josh gives me puppy-dog eyes, which always makes me laugh, because it’s so un-Josh.
“You’re such a dork,” I say, shaking my head.
“What’s your favorite?” Peter asks him. “Because I think the list is pretty set.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s already on the list,” Josh says.
I look from Josh to Peter. I can’t tell if they’re kidding or not.
Peter reaches out and tickles Kitty’s feet. “Read us the list, Katherine.”
Kitty giggles and rolls over to her notepad. Then she stands up and grandly says, “M&M cookies are a yes, cappuccino cookies are a maybe, Creamsicle cookies are a maybe, fruitcake cookies are a no way—”
“Wait a minute, I’m a part of this council too,” Peter objects, “and you guys just turned down my fruitcake cookies without a second thought.”
“You said to forget the fruitcake cookies, like, five seconds ago!” I say.
“Well, now I want them back under consideration,” he says.
“I’m sorry, but you don’t have the votes,” I tell him. “Kitty and I both vote no, so that’s two against one.”
My dad pops his head into the living room. “Put me down as a yes vote for the fruitcake cookies.” His head disappears back into the kitchen.
“Thank you, Dr. Covey,” Peter crows. He drags me closer to him. “See, I knew your dad was on my side.”
I laugh. “You’re such a suck-up!”
And then I look over at Josh, and he is staring at us with a funny, left-out look on his face. It makes me feel bad, that look. I scoot away from Peter and start flipping through my books again. I tell him, “The list is still a work in progress. The cookie council will strongly consider your white-chocolate cranberry cookies.”
“Greatly appreciated,” Josh says. “Christmas isn’t Christmas without your white-chocolate cranberry cookies.”
Kitty pipes up, “Hey, Josh, you’re a suck-up too.” Josh grabs her and tickles her until she’s laughing so hard she has tears in her eyes.
After Josh leaves and Kitty goes upstairs to watch TV, I’m tidying up the living room and Peter’s sprawled out on the couch watching me. I keep thinking he’s about to leave, but then he keeps lingering.
Out of nowhere he says, “Remember back at Halloween how you were Cho Chang and Sanderson was Harry Potter? I bet you that wasn’t a coincidence. I bet you a million bucks he got Kitty to find out what your costume was and then he ran out and bought a Harry Potter costume. The kid is into you.”
I freeze. “No, he isn’t. He loves my sister. He always has and he always will.”
Peter waves this off. “Just you wait. As soon as you and I are done, he’s gonna pull some cheesy-ass move and, like, profess his love for you with a boom box. I’m telling you, I know how guys think.”
I yank away the pillow he’s got cushioning his back and put it on the recliner. “My sister will be home for winter break soon. I bet you a million dollars they get back together.”
Peter holds his hand out for me to shake on it, and when I take it, he pulls me onto the couch next to him. Our legs touch. He has a mischievous glint in his eye, and I think maybe he’s going to kiss me, and I’m scared, but I’m excited, too. But then I hear Kitty’s footsteps coming down the stairs, and the moment’s over.
“CAN WE PUT UP THE tree this weekend?” Kitty asks at breakfast.
My dad looks up from his bowl of oatmeal. Oatmeal, ugh. “I don’t see why not.”
Halfheartedly I say, “Margot might be mad if we do it without her.” Truth be told, I want to put up the tree too. It’s so cozy to do Christmas Cookie Bonanza and have the lights twinkling on the tree and Christmas music and the whole house smelling like sugar and butter.