Anise, Coriander, Cookies and Cream
or A Presidents's Guide to Spicing Up Christmas
Jed stood in the doorway and watched the two women in amazement. He'd never thought he would see his wife doing this with another woman. Abbey, who, despite her petite stature, was always so very much in control, was deferring to the other woman's wishes. And the tall gray-haired woman, whom Jed had always considered cold and gruff, was behaving with a warmth he would never have thought possible. Unaware of his presence, the two women moved together as smoothly as a well oiled machine, their voices soft in the warm, delightfully scented room. He could hear them praising each other's actions and offering little tips for improvement. Then he heard a little self-conscious laughter as their hips bumped in the confined space.
Interesting as the scene was, he had no choice but to interrupt.
"I'm hungry," Jed announced to the room at large.
Hey, he figured they could stop for a minute. After all, they were only cooking Christmas goodies, not having sex.
As Jed walked into the farmhouse kitchen, Abbey and the housekeeper, Mrs. Bishop, looked up from where they were standing next to each other at the counter, going over a recipe.
"It's past lunch time," he reminded them.
Abbey managed to look faintly harassed and apologetic at the same time. "Oh, Jed, I'm sorry, we've been so busy... Look, can you just get something from the fridge?"
"Just don't get anything that's in Tupperware or anything that hasn't been opened yet. Most of that stuff is for tomorrow."
Of course, he thought, the Christmas feast. Jed pawed through the contents of the refrigerator and couldn't find anything within the restrictions Abbey had named. Apparently, she thought it appropriate for him to starve on Christmas Eve. As if that wasn't bad enough, some of what he saw wasn't making him very happy about the preparations for tomorrow.
"Why isn't the turkey in the marinade yet?"
Abbey didn't even look up from measuring flour. "What?"
"The turkey...why isn't it in the marinade with the spices that I like to use?"
She kept scooping and measuring. "Oh, we're not going to do that this year."
"Excuse me?" Jed said, his voice a bit more forceful now, trying to get an explanation. Except he didn't really need an explanation. Abbey was going to do things the way she wanted, his preferences notwithstanding, and she wasn't even going to look him in the eye while she did it.
Abbey glanced up for just a moment and shrugged. "I thought it was time for a change. Everyone really liked the turkey at Thanksgiving, and it was just basted with butter and herbs. That's how we're having it for Christmas, too."
Jed shook his head and peered back into the refrigerator. "And I don't see any oysters or sausage for the stuffing."
"That's because there aren't any."
"Abbey..." his voice had been getting fractionally louder with each exchange, and now, as he addressed his wife in complete exasperation, it bordered dangerously on a shout.
"We're having cornbread dressing, without oysters or sausage, Jed. And you might as well know, it's going to be cooked in a baking dish, not stuffed in the bird."
"Well, isn't that just great... Are you going to do anything the way I like it?" He knew he was whining, but he didn't care. He lived here too and some things should be the way he wanted.
Abbey looked up and dusted the excess flour from her hands. "No, but you'll thank me tomorrow night when your stomach isn't upset."
Jed quickly realized Abbey's symbolic gesture of shaking the flour from her fingers was just a way of dismissing his complaints about the food preparations. She wasn't going to do a thing about it.
"Hell, Abbey, I'll just do it myself!" he shouted.
Jed started randomly opening cabinet doors, and, on the third try, he found the items he sought. Spices and seasonings sat in a regiment of small bottles on the shelf. He just needed to find the right ones.
"How do you know what's here, Mrs. Bishop?" he asked, his voice once again at a normal decibel level.
"They are in alphabetical order, Sir." The housekeeper looked up from her chopping board with a stare which dared him to criticize her organizational skills.
He started to read the little labels...allspice, basil, bay leaves, cinnamon, clove, cumin, dill... He stopped and shifted his eyes back to the first bottle, reading the labels again carefully. No, he hadn't missed anything; they simply weren't there.
"What kind of woman keeps a kitchen with no anise or coriander? Huh? Just answer me that!" Jed was shouting again. Was there some sort of conspiracy to keep him from having what he wanted on Christmas?
Mrs. Bishop pursed her lips, a stony look on her face. She didn't even acknowledge the President's complaint, but her voice was cold as she spoke, "Mrs. Bartlet, I don't think this is..."
Abbey interrupted, "Jed, we don't need those spices. Everything is under control."
"I have to have them for the turkey!"
Abbey pulled in a deep breath and spoke again. "Jed, two's company and three's a crowd, and, right now, you are definitely the third. Go find something else to do so Mrs. Bishop and I can work in peace."
He wanted to point out that she had always preferred his company to Mrs. Bishop's in the kitchen. A vague recollection of Abbey calling the gray-haired woman a despot during previous holiday cooking sessions crossed his mind, but, in view of the sharp knife the housekeeper was wielding on a pile of apples, he decided to keep that to himself. But he wasn't going to remain quiet about his original reason for venturing into the women's domain.
"I am still hungry," he hissed.
Abbey left her pie crust dough and crossed to the refrigerator, reaching in to yank a bag of carrots from the vegetable drawer.
"Here, you can have these," she said as she offered him the bag.
"No." The monosyllable was full of meaning. Jed did not intend to accept carrots. Or, for that matter, any other raw vegetable.
They squared off against each other in the middle of the kitchen, neither willing to give an inch. Jed realized he wasn't going to get the meal he wanted tomorrow, but he was certainly going to demand a decent lunch today. When Abbey turned and tossed the bag of carrots back into the refrigerator, he thought he had won.
She slammed the door and gave him a very direct look. "I guess you're not very hungry after all."
"For Heaven's sake, Abbey..."
Mrs. Bishop interrupted, "There are cookies in the cookie jar, Sir."
Jed hesitated. Knowing Abbey and Mrs. Bishop, the cookies were probably made of tofu and natural grains and two-year-old dried raisins, but he decided to check out the contents of the jar just the same.
As he removed the lid, he couldn't quite believe his eyes. There they were...black and white and round...and lots of them.
Jed gave a silent prayer of thanks that Mrs. Bishop did indeed have a heart buried somewhere under her cold exterior. And, apparently, she harbored an affinity for Oreos as well.
"May I have some milk, please?" he asked meekly.
"In the fridge," Abbey replied, once again at work on her pies.
He grabbed a glass and found the milk. He didn't even care that it was 2% milk; the cookies more than made up for the that.
When Jed turned back from replacing the milk carton, he noticed that both women had returned to their tasks and neither was paying him any attention. He had been debating over how many Oreos he could get past Abbey, but since she wasn't looking...
He grabbed the cookie jar and fled.
Abbey's voice followed him down the hall, "Don't leave crumbs on the furniture!"
Jed smiled to himself. There certainly wouldn't be any crumbs. All that chocolate goodness was going to find its way to his mouth.
Settled down on the sofa in the den, Jed couldn't believe how good the first one tasted as he crunched it. Then a swallow of nice cold milk. Yes, that was excellent. Just what the doctor ordered. Well, maybe not, but...
Then he realized something. With an entire cookie jar of Oreos and one glass of milk, he was going to have to pace himself or the milk would be gone too soon. Maybe he could conserve milk by dunking instead of drinking. Dipping the cookie into the glass, he watched as a few black flecks drifted away, then, at just the right moment, he pulled out the Oreo and plopped the entire thing in his mouth. Oh, yes, soggy was just as good as crunchy. Maybe even better.
Jed reached for another cookie and remembered yet another way to conserve milk. He pulled the top half of the Oreo away and surveyed the exposed cream filling. This was the way he had done it as a child. He stared at the football game on TV as he raked his teeth across the sugary white goo. The sensation was so good that he almost didn't mind that Notre Dame was losing.
He didn't hear Abbey's footsteps in the hall until it was too late. He momentarily froze, his hand poised over the cookie jar, ready to retrieve another morsel of unbelievable goodness.
"Really, Jed." Just two words and a look. Abbey had caught him dead to rights and she knew it. Of course, she had also seen him flicking his tongue across the cookie as he nibbled away the cream filling, and she had been reminded of his expertise at things other than consuming Oreos. But she couldn't dwell on that right now. She had too much to do in the kitchen.
"How many have you had?" she asked.
He swallowed the remaining evidence. "Three... or four..."
"Well, that's it." Abbey grabbed the cookie jar from the coffee table and turned to go back to the kitchen. She stopped as Jed suddenly roared at the TV, voicing his displeasure at the referees, the opposing team, and whatever idiot had invented the game of football in the first place.
"Is Notre Dame losing?" she asked.
"Yes, and it's getting worse by the minute."
She gave him a considered look, then placed a stack of three Oreos on the table in front of him. Then she patted his head lightly, as if he were a cranky little boy. "Drown your sorrows, Mr. President."
Considering everything that was going wrong, Jed didn't know whether to throw something at the TV or at his retreating wife. He settled for venting his frustration on the idiotic football players.
An hour later, Jed lay sprawled on the couch, contemplating a truly dreary afternoon. Notre Dame had lost. He had received no respectable lunch. His Oreos-not to mention his milk-were gone. His wife was ticked at him.
It was probably a good time to fix things. He groaned and got reluctantly to his feet. When he got to the kitchen, he found Abbey and Mrs. Bishop were still there, preparing food he wouldn't like but that he would have to eat if he wanted to survive until New Year's. No one spoke as he crossed the room and opened the refrigerator. He reached in for the despised bag of carrots and pulled it out.
He turned to find Abbey watching him.
"What are you going to do?" she asked.
"I'm hungry, so I'm going to eat carrots," he replied, careful to moderate his tone and keep his expression innocent. "I'm going to eat carrots and take a walk. Okay?"
Abbey seemed surprised, but she didn't question him. "Okay."
Jed grabbed his barn jacket from the hook by the door and flipped it on. He had to make it look good, this self-imposed exile, his penance for his angry words earlier in the afternoon. He decided he should offer one last act of repentance before he left the house.
He spoke quietly. "Sorry, Mrs. Bishop, about what I said earlier...I'm sure you run a great kitchen. And it's nice of you to give up your own holiday to help Abbey. I know she really appreciates it." He flashed the housekeeper his brightest political smile, the one CJ said could melt icebergs.
Jed didn't think it prudent to stay and see if any melting occurred; he turned and headed out the door, leaving the two women in shocked silence behind him. He started for the barn with Coop trailing behind him. Halfway there, he stopped suddenly and turned to his Secret Service agent.
"Hey, Coop, you like carrots, don't you?"
The agent's facial expression remained serious. "No, Sir."
"But you could help me eat these, right?" Jed waved the cellophane bag, looking with irritation at the large number of vegetables inside it. "It would fall under the category of protection, wouldn't it?"
"I can't protect you from carrots, Mr. President," Coop said with a completely straight face. "Carrots are not a threat."
Jed turned away and started walking toward the barn again. "It could have been your little Christmas gift to me," he muttered.
The agent followed him into the barn and stopped just inside. "I assumed you required something else from me, Sir," he said quietly as he reached into his pocket for his cigarette lighter.
Jed caught the metallic gleam of the silver lighter and he realized the man knew him entirely too well. "Not today, Coop." He watched as a confused look flashed across his agent's face. The man was right, of course. Jed had come down to the barn with every intention of smoking a forbidden cigarette, but he knew at a glance it wasn't going to be possible. He waved a hand in explanation. "Too much dry hay."
With nothing else to do, and the dubious pleasure of smoking out of the question, Jed spent the next half hour doling out the carrots as an unexpected treat to the livestock. He was more than happy to hand over carrot sticks to Tony and Tess, the pair of Welsh ponies that had been Annie's childhood pets. Likewise, he had no trouble waving a carrot in front of the donkey's nose, to have it gobbled up greedily. But he drew the line at Abbey's chestnut mare. Jed surveyed the huge, horsey teeth with dislike. He suspected that the mare, much like her owner, could nip painfully if she wasn't totally pleased. So he just tossed a couple of carrots into her stall and hoped she would appreciate the gift.
If his sniffing and shuffling were anything to go by, Coop seemed anxious to be out of the cold and smelly barn, so Jed finally decided to return to the house. He passed the kitchen door and, seeing that the women were still busy with their culinary pursuits, he didn't even try to get Abbey's attention. He sighed a little. Christmas Eve used to be such fun, enjoying a house full of kids, and, later in the evening, assembling toys for Santa Claus to leave. Those evenings had once had him willing to trade his Nobel prize in economics for just the most basic understanding of engineering. But they had been fun. He trudged up the stairs and remembered the books he had left in the bedroom. With the house so quiet, it was a perfect opportunity to read. Perfect, but hardly welcome. What a dull way to spend Christmas Eve.
Abbey saw him pass the door and thought he looked lonely. She had been busy all day, and, really, for quite a few of the preceding days as well. And he had been so unexpectedly kind and apologetic to Mrs. Bishop. Abbey smiled and decided she needed a break. But she had to be coy about it. Even though the majority of the food preparations were finished, there were still a few things to do and the kitchen had to be cleaned. She didn't want to be seen as avoiding her duties, but...
Mrs. Bishop's back was turned. Abbey, who have been filling the flour canister from a fresh bag, suddenly dropped the bag on the counter, letting the contents scatter. Billows of white dust rose to envelop her shoulders and rest like fresh snow on the front of her shirt. She dipped her hands in the flour and patted some on her jeans as well.
Abbey gave a fairly reasonable cry of aggravation and the housekeeper turned to see what had happened.
"Oh, damn! I made such a mess," Abbey said, her voice raised in obvious agitation.
Mrs. Bishop grabbed a damp cloth and started to wipe the flour from the countertop. She eyed the First Lady's disheveled appearance with disfavor. "Perhaps you should change, Ma'am. All that flour will just fall off everywhere."
Abbey seized on the suggestion, trying not to sound too happy that her subterfuge had worked. "I'll do that, Mrs. Bishop. Can you handle it alone for a while?"
The older woman nodded and Abbey, released at last from KP, headed for the stairs.
Jed, sitting on the side of the bed, heard footsteps and looked up from the book he was holding, wondering what had happened to send his wife upstairs. He couldn't conceal his grin when he came into the room, her face flushed and powdery white dust clinging to her shirt and jeans.
"What happened to you? Did you and Mrs. Bishop have a parting of the ways? A food fight, perhaps?"
"No. I just spilled some flour, and, luckily, most of it went on me rather than the floor."
Jed looked skeptical. "That's lucky?"
Abbey grinned. "I'm easier to clean up."
She went into the closet and, after a few moments of disembodied thumps and clatters, he heard her muffled voice. "So, Jed, what are you doing?"
"Nothing," he answered. "Just looking for something to read."
Abbey's voice floated from the closet again. "So, if I needed for you to do something, you're free for a little while?"
"Yeah. Whatcha need?"
She emerged from the closet in her short red bathrobe, carrying a fresh pair of jeans and a clean white shirt.
Jed grinned and joked, "You want me to help you dress?"
"No, but thanks anyway." Abbey walked across the room, the short hem of the robe flirting with her thighs. She dropped her clean jeans and shirt in a chair, then went to stand before her husband. "I want you to help me undress, and, from there, I imagine you can figure out something to do with your time."
Jed almost dropped his book. He certainly didn't need it now; he had something far better to do than read, but he hadn't forgotten how mean she had been about the turkey. Pulling his reluctant gaze away from her cleavage, he returned his attention to the book and turned a page thoughtfully. "I'll think about it."
"Jed!" Abbey stood there in exasperation, torn between anger at his stubbornness and guilty delight at the memory of his tongue trailing across the Oreo's cream filling. Encouraged by the sight of his eyes straying back to her bosom, she placed a hand on each of his shoulders and pushed him back against the bed, laughing as she fell on top of him.
"Hey, don't be in such a hurry. I said I'd think about it," he said with mock severity. However, his attempt to be strict was short lived as he rolled over and pinned Abbey under his body, his own laughter now drowning her squeals.
"Well, while you're thinking about it, why don't you consider kissing me and..." she rubbed her hands over his jean clad rear end, "think about getting rid of these."
"Abbey..." he lowered his head and she thought she was about to get the kiss she had requested, but he suddenly stopped a few inches above her lips and tilted his head as if listening.
"Hell, Abbey, we can't right now. A car just drove up. Liz and Annie are here."
She shook her head. "No, Jed, it's not them. Liz called a while ago to say that they got a late start and won't be here until 6:00. Maybe later."
"Well, someone's down there." He was still listening intently to the sound of wheels crunching on the gravel driveway.
She reached up to pull his head down. "It's probably the delivery truck from the market."
"Why?" he asked, narrowing his eyes and pulling away from her hands. "The refrigerator is stuffed. What else could you possibly need?"
He would find out anyway; she might as well tell him. "They're bringing oysters and sausage for your Christmas stuffing."
Abbey knew it was a vain hope to keep him on the bed after that. Jed moved quickly to the window and pulled back the curtains, peering down at the driveway below as if he expected to see Santa and his sleigh. But what he was looking for would be just as good. And, wonder of wonders, there it was. If he stretched he could just see the end of a white van and it was clearly marked "Manchester Market".
He turned around, grinning. "Thank you, my little cheese..."
His voice dwindled away, hissing slightly on the "s", turning it into a low whistle at the sight of Abbey lying there, the red robe still spread under her body. But now the belt was untied and the front edges were pulled apart, revealing...well...things that made his mouth water, to say the least. The crimson cloth made a fabulous background for her smooth, white skin and dark hair. She looked wonderful, except for the little scowl on her face.
"I am not a little cheese," she said coldly.
"Nope," Jed agreed with a smile. "You're not cheesy at all."
She was about to sit up and argue with him, but he lunged for the bed and stopped her before she could do more that lift herself up on her elbows.
"What made you decide to come up and play?" he asked softly.
"The Oreos? But you were mad at me for eating them," Jed said in bewilderment.
"You know you shouldn't eat too much sugar and fat," Abbey said in her 'doctor' voice.
"So, you really came up here to chastise me." A pout worthy of a little boy hovered around his mouth.
Abbey wanted to laugh, but she quickly relented. "It was the way you nibbled at them" she paused, remembering how she had watched him. "...and the way you used your tongue..."
The pout disappeared. "I'm very talented," he smirked.
"Are you?" she asked teasingly. "I'm not sure I remember."
Jed watched as she lowered her lids slightly and looked up at him through her lashes. She was still begging for the kiss she had requested earlier, but now she had abandoned words. As her eyes closed completely, he moved closer, his breath warm on her cheek. He started slowly, romancing her effortlessly, with nothing touching except their lips, and those only lightly. He pressed his mouth to hers gently, then moved away before she could capture his lips for a more sustained encounter.
The smooth column of her neck beckoned and, as he moved his lips against the warm skin, he found that she smelled of cinnamon and vanilla, homey scents of the holiday season that he knew would soon be erased by the musky overtones of two bodies celebrating each other. Anticipation began to fill him as he let his tongue graze a moist path up the side of her neck and flick softly at her earlobe.
"Ummm..." It was Abbey's voice, but not actually a word. Just a sigh, really. A sound so slight that it hovered only momentarily between them, but it was filled with pleasure, encouragement, longing, and promise.
Jed pushed the crimson robe farther apart and wrapped his arms around his wife. He thought she was about to sigh again, but he stopped the sound by placing his mouth warmly on hers. This time he didn't tease gently or nibble lightly. Now he was serious, his lips possessive as they parted hers and opened a pathway of exploration for his tongue. With one tiny part of his brain, he noticed that she tasted of celery and apple, probably from munching as she cooked. He could find no hint of chocolate, but he still flicked his tongue against hers as if he were licking the cream from the center of a cookie.
"Ummm..." This time it was his voice. Jed's rough sigh conveyed a lot...delight, desire, and the growing discomfort from the tightness of his jeans.
He pulled away and started tugging at his zipper.
"I believe I asked you to do that earlier," Abbey said in her 'I told you so' voice.
"Yeah." Jed was struggling. It felt as if he were mired in quicksand and his legs wouldn't move as quickly as he wanted. And there were so damn many clothes-shoes, socks, shirt, undershirt, belt, jeans-all finally off, leaving him standing by the bed in snug black briefs, their stretchy fabric tested to the limit by his swollen arousal.
Abbey turned her head and looked at him appraisingly. "Nice underwear." She reached out and ran her fingers teasingly over the bulge. "I thought you were only wearing boxers these days. What's up?"
Jed felt himself stiffen, making the bulge move a little higher, and he grinned at her double entendre. He smirked and wiggled his eyebrows. "If I have to explain that, my dear..."
"The underwear, Jethro, not your obvious attributes." Abbey narrowed her eyes. "You forgot to pack underwear, didn't you?"
He didn't confirm or deny his lapse, saying only, "I found these in the drawer and I like 'em. They're..." he paused and looked down at the straining black fabric. "...sexy."
"Fine. Take 'em off."
Even though he was Commander in Chief and the one accustomed to issuing orders, he saw no reason not to agree with her demand. With one swift move, the briefs hit the floor and Jed hit the mattress.
Abbey grinned at his excitement, shaking her head slightly. This was clearly the highlight of his day, and she had actually done so little. It was endearing that her attention could still make him so happy after all these years. She was glad now that she had given in and gotten the extra ingredients he had wanted for the stuffing.
"Do you want some oysters now?" she asked in a loud whisper, one hand slipping down his torso, her fingers teasing lightly as they drifted further downward, finally closing over his erection.
A groan was evident in his voice as he answered, "No, I don't see that an aphrodisiac will help now. That's pretty much been handled." The groan became more pronounced as her fingers curled around him more firmly, stroking up and down.
The ache in the pit of his stomach was growing to massive proportions and Jed knew without a doubt that he was close to succumbing to the stimulation Abbey offered. If this encounter was to be all he was hoping for, he had to distract her in some way.
And there was one tactic that always worked. His hands moved unerringly to her breasts, cupping the underside of each one gently, his thumbs moving back and forth over the hardening tips. He lowered his head to one taut peak and kissed it lightly, then he let his tongue flick over it, probing and moistening the rosy circle.
He felt her fingers sliding through his hair, pulling him even closer to her breast. His lips closed firmly around the peak and he began to suck gently. Abbey's body arched beneath his and he realized that, even though she had stopped stroking him, he was as dangerously close to fulfillment as before. Just touching her, knowing that she was ready for him, wanting him, was enough to arouse him completely.
Jed lifted his head. "Abbey..." The word was barely past his lips before she was gently pushing him back to her chest, her need and desire unmistakable. Her other breast rose invitingly, the nipple ripe for his attention. He couldn't deny her this. Or deny himself the pleasure of suckling the luscious, firm flesh. As he lowered his head, he settled his body more comfortably over hers, allowing his strong arousal to nestle in the warmth between her thighs.
The moments slipped away as he caressed her, finally letting one hand slip down to the triangle of silky hair, his fingers probing gently. She had to know that he was ready. Surely she was, too? Abbey arched against his hand, and he felt how hot and slick she was.
He moved his face back up to hers, kissing her deeply, then whispering, "Is this way okay with you?"
She nodded breathlessly. "Yeah, fine... Now..."
He silently added a heartfelt "good". Call him an old fashioned male chauvinist pig, but Jed liked to be on top. He didn't mind being on the bottom, and Abbey could certainly do some amazing things when they made love that way, but this was the best. He loved looking down into her face, watching her expression of concentrated pleasure as he moved into her, sometimes deep, sometimes shallow, with languorous slowness or dizzying fervor, melding his body with hers until they were both consumed in a spiral of heated delight.
As Abbey parted her thighs and lifted her hips, he was quick to accept her invitation. His body recognized hers as well-remembered territory. It was always the same, the hot, slick caress of one body meeting another, but it was always different depending on his state of mind. And today it promised to be incredibly good.
He began to thrust slowly, aware that the demands of his body would force him to pick up the pace very shortly. Abbey's moan of pure pleasure told him that his slow, shallow movements were exactly what she needed. But just for the moment. She, too, would demand a change of tempo very quickly.
It was a dance they had choreographed thousands of times, their bodies rising and falling in perfect rhythm. Now the beat was becoming hotter, more intense, and Jed thrust more deeply and quickly. He knew they could both be satisfied with this, but he wanted to do something else. Easing back a bit, he left just enough room between their bodies for his hand to slide downward. With the first flick of his fingertip against her, she gasped. He continued to stroke the warm knot of nerves as he thrust faster and faster. Abbey's gasp came again, this time accompanied by the tensing of her body in complete ecstasy.
Jed pulled his hand away and closed the infinitesimal gap between them. Abbey was pulling him closer, her hands on his hips, urging him on, but he needed no further urging. With a few swift, deep movements, he was lost in the indescribable bursts of almost painful pleasure ripping through him. The promise had been made real; their bodies and souls had come together on a frosty afternoon and it had been incredibly good.
Abbey pulled him down for a kiss, breaking it only to whisper "Merry Christmas" against his lips.
He smiled. He'd gotten just what he wanted.
Jed had been banished from the bedroom. He would have thought that, in light of his exceptional performance, Abbey wouldn't have let him out for a month. But, when he came out of the shower, he saw she had already straightened the sheets and comforter and was piling wrapping paper on the bed.
"Sorry, Jed, I've got a little last minute stuff to do," she said with a smile.
"Well, I'm just glad you could work me in," he replied.
She grabbed his arm and pulled him close. "I'm glad I worked you in, too," she said, punctuating her words with a kiss.
So now he was waiting downstairs for Liz and Annie while Abbey worked behind a closed bedroom door on some secret holiday project. He watched as twin specks of yellow light grew closer, following the road until they illuminated the gravel sweep before the house.
"They're here," he shouted.
Abbey ran down the stairs and Jed watched his daughter and granddaughter tumble out of the Jeep. In seconds, they were all together in the hall, a tangle of hugs and kisses. After the first outburst of greetings faded a bit, Abbey asked Annie if she were hungry.
Liz laughed as though her mother's question was totally ridiculous. "She's a teenager, Mom. She's always hungry."
"So is your father," Abbey said with a laugh, but her eyes met Jed's for a brief instant and he knew she thinking not of food, but remembering their hunger for each other, sated for the moment, but sure to revive again.
He smiled back, then picked up the conversational cue gamely. "Annie and I will check with Mrs. Bishop and see what she can give us," he said.
"While you do that, Liz and I are going to finish some secret stuff upstairs," Abbey replied.
Jed watched as Liz and Abbey went up the stairs, then he followed Annie down the hall.
"You know," he said conspiratorially, "I think they're probably doing something for us."
Her brown eyes flashed at him laughingly. "Well, no offense, Grandpa, but I'm hoping it's just for me. Besides, what do you need? You've already got about a million ties, don't you?"
He turned to her with mock severity. "Don't be impudent, young lady." Then he grinned. "And I only have half a million ties."
Mrs. Bishop was still in the kitchen, but now everything was neat and tidy, every surface gleaming from a spirited cleaning. The scents of lemon oil and pine hung in the air, a testament to the housekeeper's industry. The area was so spotless that Jed almost hated to ask for anything to eat, but it was, after all, his house.
"Mrs. Bishop, Annie's hungry and I am, too."
"I have some nice date bread," Mrs. Bishop offered.
Jed watched Annie's face. She was a nice, well-mannered child, and he was sure she would choke down the date bread with every indication of pleasure, but it just didn't sound like much of a Christmas treat to him.
"Perhaps you have something else?" Jed asked, and he was rewarded by the soft sigh of relief that escaped Annie's lips.
He walked across the kitchen and stopped next to the counter holding the cookie jar.
"I seem to recall..." he said as he lifted the lid with all the flair of a magician producing a rabbit out of a hat. He looked down to see only an empty piece of crockery. Not a single chocolate crumb remained.
"Where are the Oreos, Mrs. Bishop?"
The tall, stern faced woman looked from Annie's expectant smile to Jed's severe expression and back again to the girl.
"Third cabinet, top shelf, white container."
He knew then that he had been right before. Her grim New England demeanor hid a heart of true gold.
Jed reached up and lifted down the Tupperware container, the cookies giving a satisfying rattle as he placed it on the table. Surprisingly, two plates and two glasses of milk had been placed there as well. Jed hadn't really expected the housekeeper to give in to him. He looked at her and raised his eyebrows.
"You need to eat, Sir. You've used a lot of energy today."
He wasn't sure if she was being sarcastic about his total lack of activity or if she was referring to the squeals, laughter, and bedspring squeaks that must have carried through the thin walls of the old house. He decided it was probably best to just let it go.
He turned back to close the cupboard door and stopped. At first glance, the regiments of carefully aligned spice bottles looked the same, but something seemed different somehow. But surely that wasn't possible?
He began to read...allspice, anise, basil. His eyes backtracked to check. Yes, now there was a bottle of anise, followed down the row by basil, bay leaves, cinnamon, clove, coriander, and cumin. Picking up the anise bottle, he turned back to Mrs. Bishop.
"Do you know anything about this?" he asked, holding the spice container out for her inspection.
"And the coriander?" he probed.
"No, Sir. I never use it."
He studied her face carefully, letting his own features relax into a smile. And, suddenly, there it was, an answering smile, or what passed for a smile, from Mrs. Bishop. Her thin face creased as her lips made the unaccustomed curve upward.
Jed appreciated the effort and he said so. He remembered that, only a few short hours before, he had asked in irritation if anything was going to be the way he wanted it this Christmas. And now he knew that everything, for him, would be perfect. He had everything he wanted--Abbey, his daughters, Annie, and, now, the friendship of this formidable woman, who had unexpectedly supplied him with anise, coriander and Oreos.
As anticipation of a wonderful holiday filled him, his smile turned into a grin.
"I think it's going to be a good Christmas, Mrs. Bishop."
"Yes, Sir, I believe you're right."