Susan surveyed the wreckage. The ceramic floor tile shone from the patina of spilled sugar crystals. Nearly empty tubes of frosting oozed colored gel, staining the festive paper tablecloths. Susan grasped a cloth at one corner, expertly enfolding decorating paraphernalia and gooey mess all in one deft movement. The crumbled bundle landed neatly in the trash bin. The rest could wait until morning. She was bone-aching tired but deeply satisfied with the evening.
Closing her eyes to the shambles, Susan inhaled the lingering aroma of baked cookies. The holiday cookie-decorating party had been a great idea—current disarray aside. Her friends even asked her to host another one next year. They were all so lighthearted this eveningz; rolling out dough and sharing favorite cookie cutters, joking as they passed bowls of colorful Royal Icing between tables. The finished cookies were gorgeous. Everyone filled tins to take home.
Even Paul’s grown-up daughters had shown up. Notorious holiday cynics, their enthusiastic participation surprised Susan. Their enjoyment in decorating the cookies seemed to be genuine. Heads almost touching, Julie’s blond hair entangled with Anna’s dark, they carefully shielded their handiwork from copycats. The artistic detail on their finished cookies was impressive. Her stepdaughters actually hugged her before they left. Susan smiled to herself. Finally, their coolness towards her was melting. She even heard them giggling as they got into their car. She stretched happily, contentment filling every pore.
Susan kicked her off her shoes and happy-danced towards the bedroom. It had been the perfect party. She had to admit to herself that she’d been eager for her stepdaughters to see her through her friends’ eyes, as someone generous and kind and warm. She was loved by her friends, adored by Paul, and wanted her stepdaughters to, at least, like her. Including them tonight with her friends was a public declaration that they were a family. She took the girls’ participation as their unspoken accord.
Loosening an earring one-handed, Susan reached towards her jewelry box. She froze, eyes widening with bewildered disbelief. The earring bounced off the carpet as her hands rose involuntarily to her mouth. She gasped for breath: gut-punched and nauseous. Embarrassment at her own naivety and stupid optimism flooded her face with hot color. Tears of humiliation blurred her vision. If this was the girls’ idea of a joke, it was cruel and cowardly. She envisioned them sniggering spitefully all the way home, imagining her reaction.
It was a cookie, hand-decorated especially for her and artfully placed where only she would find it, on top of the leather jewelry case. They must have used the Mrs. Claus cookie cutter. No attention to detail had been spared, from the softly curled hairdo and the naked breasts adorned with raisin nipples, down to the vulgar chocolate-frosting mat of pubic hair, enhanced with silver sugar crystals. This was more than a cynical mockery of her holiday celebration; it was a judgment.
Susan took a deep, shaking breath and sank into the bedroom chair. She leaned forward, her right arm protectively hugging her middle; her chin supported on the back of her left hand. She glanced pensively at her husband’s slumbering form. He was everything to her.
Newly resolute, Susan stood up and squared her shoulders. Okay. Now she understood the rules of the game, and she had the home court advantage. The girls were about to learn that she would not crumble as easily as this Christmas cookie. Neither was she as sweet. They had only won Round One.
© Copyright 2010 Lynn Nicholas. All rights reserved.
Lynn Nicholas, a LiveJournal blogger, is also active on FanStory.com as “allinmyhead,”where she posts work for critique and reviews other writers’ submissions. She is the author of “Jumping the Tracks,” which appeared on this blog in June 2009. An experienced technical editor, she is now enjoying honing her writing skills, specializing in humorous commentary. Lynn’s fiction and poetry are inspired by real-life experience. Motto: when life throws you curves, find a way to use it in your writing. She lives in Tucson, AZ.