Authors: Christina A. Burke
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QUEENIE BABY: PASS THE EGGNOG
CHRISTINA A. BURKE
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Copyright Â© 2013 by Christina A. Burke
Cover Design by Lyndsey Lewellen
Gemma Halliday Publishing
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"Ho, ho, it's off to Christmas vacation we go!" called my sister as I pulled up to her over-sized doublewide on a couple of country acres outside Dover, Delaware. Her husband, Dan, and my nephews and niece were buzzing around the minivan. Pillows, blankets and an odd assortment of toys littered the snow-covered ground.
I rolled down my window, and my shih tzu-poodle, Max, sniffed appreciatively at the fresh, crisp air. "I'd rather just drive myself," I told her for the hundredth time.
"Nooo," Ashley whined, dumping a load of presents into the back of the van. She was wearing a reindeer hat over her long, blond hair and a red Christmas sweater with bells sewn into it. "It'll be more fun this way. We'll ride up together for a good old-fashioned family Christmas. We can sing Christmas carols on the way!" Every move was punctuated by a jingle from her sweater.
I cringed at the excitement in her voice. Try as I might, I just couldn't get into Christmas. I didn't see all that much to like, except Christmas cookies and maybe old holiday movies. Christmas carols ranked right up there with singing opera for me. Why did everyone assume just because I played a guitar and sang that I knew every Christmas song ever written?
Don't get me started about everything that sucked about Christmas. Shopping, decorating, arguing about where to have dinner. And for what? Christmas cards made me foam at the mouth. Who came up with this scam? It's a guilt-a-gram by mail, the whole 'they sent me a card, I need to send them back a card' thing, guaranteed to make the recipient feel inferior to the sender. I didn't have two children and one on the way for a perfect family portrait. Heck, I barely had a boyfriend this Christmas. Mark Greene was my current love interest, and he played secret agent when he wasn't working his day job as a real estate developer. He was currently off chasing "bad guys" again, with promises of spending New Year's at our favorite vacation spot in Puerto Rico as a consolation prize. I turned the car off with a sigh.
Max looked over at me. "You ready for this?" I asked him.
His fluffy white tail wagged slightly. Normally, he wasn't much of a tail wagger, but he was wearing his favorite red sweater. That always seemed to put a spring in his step. And I think he was looking forward to a houseful of people dropping food all over the place.
"Hey, there, Sis," my brother-in-law said, as he grabbed my bags out of the car. Dan put the "R" in redneck. I'm not sure how he talked my sister into marrying him right out of high school.
"Hi, Dan. How crazy is she?" I indicated my sister buckling the kids into the van.
He shrugged. "No more 'n normal. She's been talkin' about this trip all week."
I grabbed my guitar from the back and locked the car. I lived in Annapolis, Maryland and had worked as a full-time musician and a part-time temp for nearly five years. I'd worked the last three years almost exclusively for Carol at Greene's Staffing Services and had just recently become her partner in the business. Being a temp gave me the flexibility to schedule gigs, and it was rarely dull. The downside was my income was a little unpredictable. Christmas was the slowest week of the year for me.
Two more SUVs pulled up in the driveway. That would be The Parents and The Grands. This was going to be some caravan.
I walked over to my dad's vehicle.
"Ho, ho, ho!" he said, as he rolled down the window. He was wearing an elf hat. He looked a little like Bob Newhart from the movie
I rolled my eyes.
My stepmother, Anne, leaned forward. "He won't stop doing that. Even after I told him how annoying it is."
"Ashley's the same way," I replied.
"Hey there Queenie Baby!" Granddaddy Hacker called from the backseat. He insisted on using the nickname he'd given me years ago. Because of his attachment to it, my family and sometimes even complete strangers felt free to use it as well. "Hi, Granddaddy. How's it going?"
"Well, yer father wouldn't let me bring a nip for the ride," he complained.
"Open containers are against the law," Anne said patiently to her father.
"What the heck? I ain't drivin'," he grumbled.
"Thank the good Lord!" Uncle Grover cried from the seat next to him.
"Shut yer pie hole, Grover! I drive better 'n you. When I was a young feller I used to race cars at the dirt track in Harrin'ton," he added proudly.
"Stop fighting, you two! Or I'll turn this car around and take you right back to The Meadows," yelled my dad in the same voice he had used when Ashley and I were kids. "How's some canned turkey sound for Christmas dinner?"
Granddaddy and Uncle Grover leaned back in their seats and closed their mouths. They weren't risking a home-cooked turkey dinner. Plenty of time to fight once they got there.
A horn beeped impatiently behind us. My mom's frosted Farrah Fawcett hair popped out of the window. "Hippity-ho! If we don't get moving soon, they'll both be needing to go to the bathroom." She was referring to Aunt Pearl and Mammaw.
My stepfather, Dave, waved sheepishly from the passenger side. I don't think I'd ever seen him drive when my mom was in the car. He was a retired lawyer who was quite a bit older than my mom. Picture Erin Brockovich marrying her boss. She'd called him 'a real catch' when they first got together. I wondered how often he wished he'd kept swimming?
"Calm down, Brandy," my dad called back to her. "We're leaving right now."
"Don't tell me to calm down!" she yelled. "I've got the leaky ladies in the car. I'll be lucky to make it to the next corner without an accident." I heard her mumble something about sticking an antler up his butt.
My dad raised his eyes heavenward and rolled up the window. You heard right. My mom and dad had divorced when we were kids and married my stepparents not long after. It didn't seem strange to us anymore, but I guess to an outsider spending Christmas with your ex was weird.
Even stranger, they lived next door to each other in The Meadows, a 55+ golf community. They moved to The Meadows because each of The Parents has one parent of their own still living at 80+, aka "The Grands," and things would be easier to manage if everyone was in the same place, right? The reality was that The Parents took multiple vacations every year to get away from The Grands, and my sister and I had to pick up the slack when they were gone.
I jumped into my sister's van. Ick! It smelled like sour milk and dog, and the floor was littered with cereal and toys. Thankfully, their big, stupid Lab was staying with friends. No way I could've handled that nutty dog on a three-hour drive.
I strapped Max into the middle seat using his harness. My five year-old niece, Tiffany, gave him a pat him on the head and fed him a Cheerio. Looked like Max was going to be just fine on the ride. My nephews, nine year-old Jason and seven year-old Josh, were blissfully unaware of anything around them except for the electronic devices in front of their faces.
Being tall was more trouble than it was worth, I thought, as I wedged my knees against Dan's seat. People always commented on how Ashley and I, with our long blond hair and blue eyes, looked so much alike except for our builds. She barely came up to my shoulder and was plump in all the right places; I was tall and willowy bordering on skinny. When we were younger, other kids would call us Barbie and Skipper. Ashley had not been amused. She always wanted to be Barbie.
"All aboard that's comin' aboard," Dan called and guffawed at his joke.
Ashley turned around in her seat. "I know you haven't been that excited about the trip. But I'm sooo glad you came," she gushed. "I had the best idea!"
Uh-oh. Not a good sign. "What's that?"
"We're going to put on a Christmas play just like we used to do when we were kids!" She clapped her hands together.
I was speechless for a full ten seconds. No, it couldn't be. The humiliation of my petite, fairy princess sister making me be the man in every one of her big holiday productions was fresh in my mind. I'd played the Nutcracker, the Grinch, and Ebenezer Scrooge. No lie. There were pictures to prove it.
"No way," I said. "Not gonna happen."
She continued on like I hadn't said no. Just like she did when we were kids. "I thought we could put on a production of
'Twas the Night Before Christmas
"Oh, great," I said. "And I get to be the father just like old times."
"What are you talking about?" she asked. "Dan would be the father. I was thinking you could play the guitar and be the narrator."
"Whoa there, hon," said Dan. "I'm not exactly keen on gettin' up in front of people and makin' a fool of myself."
I looked up at Ashley. She was just staring at him like he was the biggest idiot in the world. It was on the tip of my tongue to say, "And how's that different from any other day?"
In the name of family peace, good will towards men, and all that jazz, I held my tongue.
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The ride up to Big Bear Mountain in the Poconos area of Pennsylvania was relatively uneventful. Of course, there were countless bathroom breaks and one barf break due to my niece's over zealous consumption of three hotdogs at lunch. Based on the perpetual frowns my mom and dad wore at lunch, it looked like riding in a car full of Grands was worse than riding in a car full of kids.
"I need a drink," my mom had whispered as we waited for the waitress at the diner to bring our food.
"I wouldn't mind a nip myself," chimed in Aunt Pearl. "Need to steel myself to be around that gypsy."
"Victoria isn't a gypsy, Aunt Pearl," my mom said with an edge in her voice. "She's from Romania, and she and Jake have been married for years. She's your daughter-in-law for cripe's sake. Give her a break."
"She talks like a gypsy an' looks like a gypsy. And you know same as I do that she put a hex on Jake. No way my handsome boy would've married a gypsy any other way." Aunt Pearl's voice rose, and she banged her hand down on the table.
Mammaw jumped. "Now, now Pearlie," she soothed, patting Aunt Pearl's hand.
"We've been through this before, Aunt Pearl," said my father. "You're not going to call Victoria a gypsy or ask her to read your palm, got it?" He gave her a stern look.
This wasn't my dad's first time with Aunt Pearl and her gypsy daughter-in-law. We had spent a few weeks over summer vacation when I was fifteen at Jake and Victoria's, shortly after they were married. I had thought twenty-two-year-old Victoria so exotic and beautiful. She was sweet-natured and kind. And she had turned a deaf ear to all of Aunt Pearl's ramblings. Jake and Victoria had never had any children, so they had spent their time and money restoring the old family homestead tucked high up in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. The house had been in Aunt Pearl's family since it was built in the mid-eighteen hundreds, though I personally thought it had a whole lot more spook factor than antique charm.
"So here's some big news," Ashley gushed. "Diana and I are going to put on one of our Christmas plays this year."