Fruit Punch and Rum Cake



All day long the Love House shook with noise. Normally, Roxy Balsom Holden would have echoed a loud warning, but today, her rambunctious spirit left her. She sat in the foyer, listening to the kids' excitement. She was in it and not a part of it. Winter Break had come and soon Roxy would be alone.

Julie and Hudson chattered as they descended the staircase. They barely glanced Roxy's way. Their arms were loaded with moving boxes and their eyes were glued to each other. She suspected they would share some Yuletide joy together.

"Hmm…I wonder what Nigel is up to," she murmured. But she made no move to call him. Her fanny remained rooted to the chair with her gloom as sad as the Scrooge hanging over her.

A loud screech came from the kitchen. A second later, Jen with her blonde locks flying swept through the house with Riley fast on her heels. He carried mistletoe and wore a sexy little grin. Ha! Jennifer Rapport is no fool, Roxy thought, sooner or later, she'd let Riley catch her.

Ho hum. To be young and in love again.

Most of the time, Roxy maintained a youthful enthusiasm. But there was just something about Christmas…and being alone. She absolutely dreaded being alone for Christmas. The holiday was meant for lovers and for family. Granted, she was never the homebody type. Making rum punch was more her speed than baking turkeys and fruitcakes. Rex and Natalie could vouch for that. Listening to the kids' joy about spending time with their families and all of their traditions made Roxy suddenly long for what she missed and wonder if there was a way for her to create new, better holiday memories.

Never one to be down and out for long, Roxy jumped to her feet and after grabbing her stuff, flew out the door with the speed of Santa's reindeer on Christmas Eve.

A mental list played inside her head like a broken record stuck in the middle of a Janis Joplin tune. She couldn't shake it and as she reached Ultra Violet, she was in the middle of Bette Midler's version of "Beast of Burden."

"Rex!" She grabbed her son as he headed behind the bar of his recently reclaimed club. "We gotta talk."

"I don't have time right now. This invoice is messed up and half of the band has the flu. Or so they say," he grumbled. "I think they're angling for a Christmas bonus."

Her eyes narrowed. A dash of maternal instinct flared to life. "Of all the nerve!"

"Yeah." He ran a hand through his ash blonde hair and reached for the phone. "So you can see, I have a lot of calls to make and I'm short on time."

She grabbed the phone. "Don't worry. I'll take care of everything."

"Look, I appreciate the gesture." He pulled the phone from her. "But I can't afford any screw ups. The holidays can be iffy when it comes to club clientele. If word gets out that we're without live entertainment, I'll lose over half my business. It sucks but people are fickle that way."

"Don't I know it," she mumbled under breath. "Rex, you don't have to call around. You're looking at your live entertainment. I'm right here."

He folded his arms across his chest and gave her hard look. "Are you sure?"

"I'm here, ain't I?" She thumped his chest. "All I need is a piano player. If you can manage that, we're all set. If not, I have some tapes somewhere. I can do this."

"I don't know how much I can pay you."

She waved away his concerns. Already, she imagined the glare of the bright lights on her and standing in the spotlight. All eyes on her and loving every minute of it. This wasn't exactly what she'd planned for Christmas with her boy, but this wasn't a bad set-up. Not bad at all.

She headed for her next stop with a spring in her step. Viki had the place all spruced up. Roxy pulled into Llanfair with thoughts of gingerbread and sugar plum fairies in her mind. With the kind of dough the lady of the house had to spare, it was easy to get all decked out with the lights and families of snowpeople all over the lawn.

She marched to the door. Her finger hovered over the doorbell. Doubt made her hesitate. For years, she and Natalie made do at Christmas. Now, her little redhead baby had far more than Roxy ever provided. Maybe coming here had been a mistake. What could she offer the girl now? Comparing the two mothers, Roxy didn't like to admit it, but she knew she could never compete with Victoria Lord Davidson and win.

Feeling a little defeated, Roxy stepped back. Suddenly, the door burst open. Natalie stood in the doorway, all smiles. Seeing the kid's pearly whites flickered a spark of hope deep down inside Roxy.

"Hey! Where are you going?" Natalie asked. She opened the door wide and took Roxy's hand.

"I didn't think you were home, kid." The lie was useless, but it rolled easily off her tongue.

"Well, you could have knocked. I saw your car pull up. I thought you were busy at the Love House today."

"The kids don't need my help to pack and ship out. They're doing just dandy on their own."

Natalie arched an eyebrow. "You think so, huh?"

"I know so."

Roxy followed Natalie into the living room. Without waiting for an offer, she made a beeline to the bar. She poured two fingers of brandy into a glass and took a good swig. Ahhh… Viki always had the good stuff. And this certainly hit the spot.

"What are you doing Christmas Eve?" Roxy asked. "I'm singing for Rex at Ultra Violet. You and Cristian should come. Bring Viki and Jessica, too."

"Okay. We'll be there."

Roxy paused with the drink in hand in mid-air. Her eyebrows shot up. She hadn't expected this to be easy. A fancy lady like Viki Davidson already had her traditions in place. Natalie wanted desperately to be a major player in the family. Sharing Christmas with Roxy and Rex didn't seem to gel with that.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I think it will be fun. I can't say for sure about Mom and Jessica, but Cris and I will be there."

Days passed. One by one and a few in pairs, the Love House emptied until only Roxy remained. She hated goodbyes. They left a sour taste in her mouth. Kinda like when she had too much gin and not enough tonic to even it out. A few pesky tears threatened as she made a final walk through. She blinked and overcame the urge. Then, she piled her stuff into her car and headed across town to her digs at the Angel Square Hotel. Nigel marked the occasion with champagne and croissants. All in all, the welcome wasn't too shabby.

Finally, Christmas Eve came. Roxy's plans fell into place. Not everything turned out perfectly. The turkey baked too long and was dry as a brick. So, she grabbed a bucket of original recipe and extra crispy from Kentucky Fried as well as some mashed potatoes. The first go at fruitcake sat like a log in her gut. She tossed it and started over again. Making a few minor adjustments, like switching the dried pieces of fruit with healthy samples of rum, gave the final product the right amount of kick. The excess fruit was dumped into a punch that wasn't too bad despite the lack of alcohol.

The time neared for her first set. She packed the food and her slinky, festive red dress into the car. In on her surprise, Nigel agreed to meet her there. He promised to keep the secret to himself. Of all the losers she'd hooked up with over years, Nigel was one of the good ones. She trusted him.

She slipped into the back of Ultra Violet and decorated the table with food and holiday streamers. When she finished, everything looked great. Satisfied, she left to change into her dress and prepare her pipes for the night's performance.

"Jingle Bell Rock," "Santa, Baby," and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" wowed the packed house. She was on the chorus of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" when the crowd parted. Her voice vibrated with sudden emotion as the kids from the Love Crew pushed their way to the front row. Rex, Natalie and Cristian followed them. Nigel brought up the rear.

They all wore the biggest smiles and every one of them was beamed onto her like a zillion stars lighting the midnight sky.

After the set, they joined her in the back room. Her wild, jazzy decorations were still in place. But more than a bucket of chicken, mashed potatoes, rum cake and fruit punch covered the table. All her favorite healthy concoctions like tofu turkey, squash casserole and three bean medley had been added. She searched each face, looking for the guilty culprit. Each of them just smiled.

Rex and Natalie stepped forward, one on each side of her.

"Surprise," Natalie said.

"We wanted to make today special for you," Rex added.

Hudson left Julie's side to be spokesperson for the group. "And we wanted to thank you for driving us nuts all summer. You helped us get along and in the process, we made some pretty good friendships. You included."

"We're gonna miss you, Roxy," Mark said. "So we wanted to have at least one Christmas Eve with you."

Tears misted her eyes. Not usually the sentimental type, Roxy fought the urge to wipe them away. Instead, she let them fall and opened her arms.

She received hugs from everyone and had the merriest Christmas of her life.