Grieving Before ChristmasbyJ_R_Ashunwhy©
Flour, sugar, eggs...check...I still need milk...and vanilla. I must have repeated that to myself three times already, but as I stood staring at the hand-written recipe in front of me, I found it difficult to make myself move to retrieve the needed items from the refrigerator. The recipe itself was not at all difficult to make, and I enjoy rolling out the dough to cut out various holiday shapes from the vast amount of cookie cutters handed down to me from my grandmother, but this year was different.
My boyfriend Sam, obviously distraught, had called me while I was at work to inform me that he had spoken to his mother, and that she had made the ominous decision to call off cookie day. Though Sam had no plans to drive the three and half hours home to participate in the annual family tradition, just the thought of his family forgoing the day, and the imagined repercussions of having no Christmas cookies, shook him to his core. One could easily shrug off the idea of not baking for a year, and some may even find it a welcomed reprieve, but I understood wholly what it meant to give up a family tradition—even if just for a year—because the family member who was responsible for hosting that tradition had passed away. The matriarch of their family had passed that summer, and though she left behind three capable daughters, all in their forties, not one of them was ready to take charge of such a cherished memory and make it their own.
I had comforted Sam as best as I could while trying not to speak too much on the phone; I go out of my way to keep my work and personal lives separate. Several of my employees kept watching me while I was on the phone, and kept making faces at me as though to ask for information of what was wrong while I reminded Sam that I had already made fruitcake, and was planning to make date crumbles and fudge. Glaring at my employees, I said little more to Sam on the subject, and insisted he go out with some of his guy friends for drinks after work to distract his mind for a while. He agreed, and I made plans to go shopping after work to load up on baking supplies to surprise him with a cookie day of my own.
Sam and I would be traveling to his parent's house the day before Christmas, and then to my parent's the morning of Christmas for my mother's annual Christmas breakfast, so all of my time off that week was spoken for. Taking any additional time off would be out of the question; already having received an email from human resources about the 'expectations' that the company had in regards to anyone using personal or sick time we may have available to us as 'unacceptable except in extreme circumstances.' So, thanks to my retail schedule, that meant baking for a few hours every night after work, and freezing cookies while I went, to make sure I could bring a significant amount with Sam and I to substitute an entire family's worth of baking for a day.
I was not, by any means, trying to replace his tradition for him, or for anyone else in his family for that matter, and this was in no way my claim to taking over that holiday moment. I debated the idea for some time, wanting to make sure I did not over step my place as a girlfriend of one of the matriarch's many grandchildren, but my own memories forced me to conclude I had made the correct decision.
Growing up, I had been raised more by my mother's parents more than my own, and as a result, our family always went to their house, and honored their traditions for the holidays before our own. I would help my grandmother bake for days after school, and then would help her set a huge Christmas spread across her table for people to pick at while they came and went for the family party hosted annually on Christmas Eve. We never had a proper dinner Christmas Eve, but would instead, gorge ourselves on the sweets my grandmother and I had toiled over. I no longer remember why Christmas Eve was more important to my grandparents than Christmas day, but they always insisted on a party at their house then, for presents to all be open then, and then for everyone to go to midnight mass together.
A staple at the table—believe or not—was my grandmother's fruitcake above all else. The recipe called for only two gillies of brandy to soak the candied fruit and raisins in over night before adding the rest of the ingredients and baking. My grandmother would follow her instructions carefully, but then once she left the fruit to soak in a large jelly pot, my grandfather would sneak into the kitchen and add several more cups of brandy to the mix. By the time I would arrive to their house the next day to help make the cake, their whole house would wreak of blackberry brandy, and my grandmother would always insist that she and I would each need to take a shot of brandy before we began. As a child, I used to think that pre-baking brandy shot was such a wicked treat that only a grandparent would allow me to get away with, but as an adult now myself, I laugh at the thought of having that much patience to wait for another to drink with after smelling the sweet, fruity alcohol for so long.
My grandfather passed away just before I graduated high-school, and when I returned home from college during my freshman year for our first Christmas without him, my distraught grandmother wanted nothing to do with making any Christmas treats; her specialty fruitcake included. There was no way the tradition could ever be the same for her without her husband there to sneak into the kitchen and dump extra brandy into her fruit mix for her, and grieving still myself, I thought she was right in her decision. She swore she would continue the traditions the following year, and when I returned home during my sophomore year, she and I baked only the essentials. She refused to allow me to alter her fruitcake recipe though—that had been a prank from her husband that I was not allowed to replicate—and everyone commented on how the cake did not taste right. Our tradition was still wrong, and would never be corrected. She passed away just a few months later.
When I came home for the holidays during my junior year, my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all looked to me to try to resurrect our Christmas Eve. I had been the one that had helped my grandmother prepare her party for all those years; no one else had been as dedicated as I, and so they all thought it was only right that the responsibility of continuing the traditions be forced to me. I refused. My grandmother and I had tried, and that attempt had failed to appease them all; what chance did I have of making anything the same on my own without her.
For months I heard what a shame it was that I consciously dishonored our traditions, and snubbed the memory of my own grandparents; the people responsible for raising me. I decided I had had enough, and the following year, I mixed different concoctions of various alcohols together—all with the blackberry brandy used as a base—until I found a combination that I liked. Yes the damned fruitcake was going to be different that year because I was making it by myself for the first time, but it was not going to be different because of who was not there, or because of what the cake was missing. I made sure it was different because of the additions I made to the recipe, and anytime any member of the family asked why the cake did not taste the same, I could give that reason for them. The damned cake was never going to taste the same again. Since that year, I continued to make the treat annually, and have changed the soaking cocktail every year for everyone's surprise and pleasure. Apparently, the cake was missing all of the extra alcohol all these years because I have never received a complaint since.
The first time Sam brought me home to his parents to spend a Christmas Eve with them, I received quite a bit of teasing for bringing fruitcake with me along with a small plate of other treats. I did not need to bring such a loathsome dessert to show them I hated them, or was intimidated by them after all, they teased me, but all the harassment stopped once Sam's grandmother sampled the cake. I never understood why she did it—why she would extend such an olive branch of compassion for one of her grandson's girlfriends—but regardless of what had compelled her, she loved it, and asked for more. After everyone had sampled the cake, I was told the dessert needed to be brought with me from then on, anytime I visited again for Christmas, and if I did not visit, that I would need to ship several loaves in my place.
It was so odd to me to find acceptance over such a commonly joked about item. I had thought one of the cookies would have been received better, but Sam's family had their own holiday traditions. I was introduced to the idea of cookie day, and was informed that to them, cookie day was sacred. Much like my grandmother, Sam's grandmother would host a day at her house where she would bake from sun-up to sundown, and anyone who wanted to bake cookies with her, was welcomed to join. No one would complement me on any of the cookies I had brought with me, because none of them came from Cookie Day, and understanding the power of a grandparent's tradition, I took no offence.
It was that same understanding of a grandparent's tradition, which compelled me bake now. I had regretted not making my grandmother bake her foolish fruitcake that first year after losing my grandfather, and I had regretted not dumping the bottle of brandy into her fruit mix the year after. Curtain that Sam's family would equally regret not having their own cookie day, I reserved myself in the idea to have one for them.
I regretted my decision when I had to carry several large bags up the multiple flights of stairs to our apartment. How ridiculous I must have looked to the neighbors hauling a fifteen pound bag of sugar in one arm, and a twenty five pound bag of flour in the other. "Starting a bakery upstairs, are you?" One of the older ladies living on the basement floor had teased me on my return trip the car to fetch more groceries. "Are you taking orders for the holidays?" She kept at me with a gloating kind of air about her when I simply smiled and shrugged as my answer. "Snickerdoodles for me, if you are! Oh, and if you're making pie, I'll have a cherry one, please."
Had I have been more myself, I would have made some wisecrack about how inappropriate it was for her to ask for a younger woman's cherry pie, but I was in no mood for games. I had a rather daunting task ahead of me if I was actually going to accomplish my plan.
Milk...and vanilla. Oh, for fuck sake. I took a deep breath, and allowed for my eyes to skim over my grandmother's hand writing. There was a note scribbled in the top corner of the page in a different color ink than the recipe: blue ribbon winner at the state fair three years in a row for Denice, one blue ribbon for Molly, and two blue ribbons for Morgan. Funny, I had not entered anything into any fairs—county or state—in over ten years, and I did not remember the accomplishment of earning any kind of reward for this particular item. Feeling a momentary boost of confidence, I sighed.
"Thanks, Gram, I needed that."
It took me a second to register what I had said, but once the words sunk in, I felt my eyes start to swell. I swallowed hard, and blinked back the tears until they subsided, and then angry at myself for the brief slip, I forced myself to move toward the refrigerator. Sam could be home at any minute, and the last thing I needed was for him to walk into me having a breakdown over fucking cookies. His family was already having their own cookie related sorrows, and honestly, that was more than enough grieving for me to handle for one holiday.
I continued on, from recipe to recipe, dough after dough, until Sam came home. I felt my body tense up, not knowing what to expect for his reaction, when I heard his key in the lock. My body refused to relax when I heard the door open, and I was grateful to be at the counter facing away from the door, so I did not have to see if Sam had an adverse reaction. I heard the door close, heard Sam's exaggerated sniffing at the air to smell what I was baking, and then heard only silence. I thought to turn around, hoping to minimize any damage potentially done by my rather rash decision, but before I could move, I felt Sam's much larger frame wrap itself around my shoulders from behind me.
I relaxed when I felt Sam's stubble laced face, still bitterly cold from the outside air, nestle into the side of my neck. From how cold his face was, I was glad he had removed his coat and outerwear, less he would have chilled me completely with his touch. He did not say a word, but instead, gave me a gentle squeeze, and kissed my cheek. I found it hard to breathe regularly while we stood there, silent, but after a while I was able to calm myself again. Sam was the more emotional between us; he was the one who found it acceptable to cry in front of others when I could not fathom to do so, and he was the one who could talk though his feelings, and make me do the same. If he could not force himself to speak or act because of what he was feeling, I honestly had no idea how to even begin to try to help.
Ashamed of my shortcomings, I held up a cookie cutter and offered it to my boyfriend still wrapped tightly around me, and I felt his whole body stiffen behind me. Terrified I had messed up, I stood silent while Sam released me, but I was relieved to hear him walk to the kitchen sink to wash his hands. I slid the rolled dough on parchment paper down along the counter toward Sam, and then began prepping for the next batch of cookies.
Sam walked back to the dough, and stood staring at it for a long time before he actually allowed himself to pick up one of the cookie cutters. I was almost done mixing another dough when I noticed Sam finally dip his metal outline of a Germanic style Saint Nicolaus into a pile of flour left out on the counter, and then press it into the dough. Though I watched him work out of the corner of my eyes, I said nothing of how he was not utilizing the space on the dough to maximize the amount of cookies he could produce, and I did not comment when he did the same while transferring his doughy shapes to the waiting cookie tray beside him. He filled—kind of—one tray, cleared his throat, nodded to me, and then solemnly left our tiny kitchen.
I let him go, glad that he had at least been able to complete that much on his own, and glad to have the full use of the kitchen back, as space to move was rather tight. Not at all upset for his minimal efforts, I rearranged the cookies on his tray, cut a few more shapes, properly filled his tray, and then placed it into the oven when it was time to remove the batch already baking. I continued through the doughs already made, but did not make any additional doughs that night; I still had a few evenings to crank out the rest of my planned desserts. I packed up and froze the cookies that had cooled by the time I cleaned up all of my messes throughout the kitchen, and then went to look for Sam.
Being our first apartment together, it was not very large, and I quickly located him laying out on his stomach on the comforters of our bed and playing on his phone. Forgetting the atmosphere that had surrounded us in the kitchen, I threw myself onto the bed beside Sam, causing him to bounce with me while I smirked to myself. Sam turned his head over his shoulder to look at me. His grim expression forced the smile from my face, but after a moment, he sighed, and smiled for me.
"Have I told you today how awesome you are?" He breathed, turning his phone off and placing it on the bed side table. I made a show of trying to remember whether he had or not, and then shook my head. "Well then, I promise I will make that up to you."
He pushed his upper body up from the bed beneath him until he was in a kneeling position. Hoping he meant to give me a massage after a fourteen hour work day followed by several more hours of baking, I shimmed sideways across the bed until I was laying out over the middle portion of the bed, and then bent my arms under my head. Sam chuckled to himself while he watched me, and once I was settled, he gently straddled the back of my upper thighs, and then started to knead my hips with his massive, powerful hands.
"And...have I told you today how much I love you?" Sam sighed, moving his hands up the length of my back to my shoulders.
I nodded into my crooked elbow. "Once this morning while I was dressing after my shower, and you were still half asleep." I confirmed while he rolled his large knuckles in circles along either side of my spine. "Once when you stumbled out of bed while I was heading out the door, and you realized that I had made coffee and breakfast for you when I had made my own." Sam hummed to himself while his fingertips gently traced the curve of my lower back. "And once this afternoon while on the phone."
"Only three times today?" Sam asked playfully aghast while cupping his hands around my ass, and squeezing either cheek repeatedly. "I'm slacking...that's not nearly enough times for you to hear how much I love you."
"Sap!" I laughed, rocking my hips from side to side to tease him.
My family never spoke of our feelings like Sam's did. No one was ever allowed to cry in front of anyone else—that went for both the girls as well as the boys—and public affection was frowned upon. As a result, I did not know how to console my grieving boyfriend when he was distraught or melancholy, but I was more than willing to help alleviate the random flashes of uncontrollable lust that seemed to plague him. I could not completely understand how he could be so ridiculously horny when he was upset, but seeming how I was awful at finding the right things to say, and did not really know how to support him emotionally, being able to strengthen our sexual bond seemed like an easy out.
"I'm a sap for loving my awesome girlfriend who is willing to work herself half to death over Christmas cookies?" Sam smirked while giving my ass a playful slap.
"Yup. You look all big and tough and bear-like...but you're all teddy-bear."
Sam laughed, and gave my ass another playful slap before he leaned over me and gently bit the top of my shoulder through my sweatshirt. I sighed to myself while enjoying his tease; a bite to the shoulder or to the side of my neck meant Sam was looking for more of a dominating role, but even when I allowed for that, I always topped from the bottom. I wiggled my ass back and forth under the weight of his body, and thought through my options quickly.
Of course I did not like to see Sam upset, but it was for selfish reasons that I preferred him to be in a more organized headspace. I needed Sam to be strong, and secure in himself; I did not know how to process his actions otherwise, and if a bit of domination would get him to perk up, then some full on domination should surely do more for him. I lifted my head, and stretched my arms to reach for the edge of the mattress.
Some time ago, Sam had woven several lengths of rope under the mattress and around the bed frame to allow for a multitude of restraint positions. I had noticed a pair of cuffs were added to the cord tied to the top of the bed frame that would allow for the retrained to be pulled down the mattress, and away from the solid wooden headboard. I felt for the cuffs, and when I found them, I pulled them up over our pillows until the cord binding them to the bed was pulled taught. Sam groaned softly, and then nibbled my ear when he saw what I had discovered.
"Are you sure?" Sam asked lovingly, and I nodded. I held the cuffs until Sam grabbed hold of them, and then I moved my arms together and lifted them so Sam would have easy access to my wrists. He smiled broadly while he bound my wrists together, and then kissed the side of my neck. "What else am I allowed to play with?" He breathed greedily, and I laughed.