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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.”