When she got home, another gift awaited Brenda. Opening the door, she saw a sparkling clean home. She walked around just taking it all in. Fritz found her standing in the bathroom looking at the gleaming fixtures. He put his arms around her and kissed her.
"Fritzi, did you do all this?" she asked in amazement.
"I've been at work all day. I hired a cleaning service that Ginny Martin recommended. As hard as we've worked, we deserve to just relax and enjoy ourselves this weekend so I gave both of us an early Christmas present. Doesn't the place look great?"
"It sure does! It's too bad we can't have them come every week."
"We could, if you wanted to."
"No, I'd rather not spend the money. But it'll be nice for Christmas. Thank you, honey." She punctuated her thanks with a big kiss and then remembered, "Did you bring dinner."
"No. I thought we could keep the place clean by eating out tonight."
"Ok, but nothin expensive. Besides, I had a huge meal at the office party. Wait until I tell you about it. You're gonna die with jealousy."
"Ok," Fritz said, "But I'm starved so let's get going."
At dinner, Brenda told him all about the gourmet dinner she'd had and showed him Steve's gift. "He gave one of these to all senior staff. That dinner and all these gifts must have cost him more than both of our salaries combined," she gushed.
Fritz read the certificate, then asked, "Do you want to use this for our fifth wedding anniversary?"
"We could, I suppose. But I kinda like the idea of the Bahamas for our fifth."
"Then maybe we can use it for Memorial weekend or the Fourth of July," Fritz nodded.
"Ok. I'll check and find out if there are any blackout dates," Brenda agreed.
When they got home, Fritz pulled her under the mistletoe and kissed her. "I've got a little early present for you," he whispered.
Brenda felt him as he pressed against her and smiled, "Oh? That's not a little present. When do I get to open it?"
"Right now," he said. They undressed each other and Fritz lowered her to the floor next to the Christmas tree.
Tuesday morning, Steve called all senior staff who were working on Christmas Eve and told them that the office would close at 2:00 and wished them all a Merry Christmas. So Brenda hurried to finish her paperwork and leave early.
When she arrived home she saw a blue Buick parked in front and knew that Jimmy and Frank had arrived. She opened the door and was immediately swept up into Jimmy's arms and twirled around.
"Jimmy, Jimmy! Put me down. You're makin me dizzy!" she laughed. Frank stepped forward and kissed her cheek. Then she noticed the aroma.
"What smells so good? Are you bakin? You remember that we're goin to my boss' house for dinner, right?"
"Oh, we know," Jimmy replied. "We just thought gays bearing gifts might be a good idea."
Frank nodded, "I believe they call it 'greasing the skids'."
"What are you bakin?"
"Christmas Stollen," Jimmy replied.
Brenda looked at him hopefully, "Nana's recipe?"
"Yes, probably. Since we didn't bring her cook book with us we're operating from memory."
"And we improvised just a bit," Frank added.
"And the best news of all is that we made two. So we have one for breakfast tomorrow."
"Oh, that's wonderful. I'm sure the Cornings and Dakins will love it."
"We really wanted to give them a bottle of wine. You know, to test how ecumenical they are. But we were afraid your job might be on the line and we didn't want you and Fritz to be forced to depend on us for your financial support."
"Good thinkin, Frank. I'm gonna grab a shower before Fritz gets home. Dinner is at 8:00 so we'll probably need to leave around 7:15. If you're hungry, there are snacks in the refrigerator and in the cupboard. Just help yourself."
"Say, Bindi, since this is probably a dry dinner, would you mind if we had a drink before we go?" Jimmy asked.
"All I have is wine since that's about the only thang I drink. The glasses are in the cabinet above the wine rack. Help yourselves."
As Fritz's car pulled up the Corning's long driveway, Frank said, "You weren't kidding when you said that they're richer than sin, were you?"
"Don't let all the trappins fool you. Underneath all their gold lie hearts of pure platinum."
They were met at the door by a smiling Leslie who offered to take their coats. Maddy appeared in the foyer and invited them into the living room where the rest of the family, except Becca, was waiting. As introductions were made, Brenda asked, "Where's Becca?"
"She's upstairs in her bathroom," Elizabeth explained. "She tried a new hairstyle this afternoon and it didn't turn out exactly as she hoped it would."
Caleb heard her approach, "Ah, here she comes now."
"Hello, Becca," Fritz said.
"Becca, I thought you were havin a bad hair day but I was wrong. It's lovely."
"Thanks, Brenda. I used Leslie's curling iron to rescue it."
"You did a good job, it looks great. I'd like to introduce you all to my brother Jimmy and his husband, Frank."
"Brenda said you're both good guys so I'm pleased to meet you," Becca said smiling broadly and shaking hands.
Frank leaned toward her, "She doesn't really know me all that well, but don't disillusion her," he whispered with a twinkle in his eye, causing Becca to giggle.
When they were all seated in the living room, Steve asked, "Jimmy and Frank, Brenda says you live in New York. What do you do there?"
"I'm a buyer for Langét Designs. And I've started designing occasionally, as well."
"Frank is going to have two of his designs featured in their men's spring catalog," Jimmy said proudly.
"I'm familiar with that label. I just love the fabrics and the clean lines," Maddy said. "Do you buy the all fabric?"
"Most of the fabric used in this country, as well as the trims. It's a lot of evaluating quality and negotiating prices with the manufacturers and middle men. It's not nearly as glamorous as it sounds, I'm afraid."
"I'm learning all about negotiating," Becca said proudly.
"That's a useful skill to have," Frank said.
Elizabeth smiled at her daughter and turned to Jimmy. "And what do you do?"
"I work for the Clausanne Auction House. I evaluate and catalog their art offerings," Jimmy replied.
"Wonderful," Maddy said. We enjoy art and have collected a few pieces."
"I can tell," Jimmy said. "I spotted that painting." He gestured at an oil painting on the far wall. "I don't know the artist but he has certainly mastered the cubist style."
"That's by a local artist named Louis Perano. I just recently discovered his work," Maddy explained.
"Well, he's very good. Do you have any other pieces of his work?"
"No, I'm afraid not."
"You said he's local. Does he have a gallery in LA?"
"Yes, he does," Steve said. "If you're interested I can give you the address."
"Thank you. I'd love to see more of his work while we're here."
"Since both Fritz and I are gonna be workin, Jimmy and Frank are gonna explore LA's art scene on their own," Brenda explained.
The housekeeper entered the room and announced that dinner was served so everyone adjourned to the dining room. As they took their seats Brenda noticed a bottle of Glenlivet on a side board and was thankful, for Fritz's sake, that it would stay there.
The meal consisted of lobster tails poached in butter, with snow peas and carrots julienne, tomato roses, and risotto.
"Maddy, this meal is divine," Brenda exclaimed as Fritz, his mouth full of lobster, nodded in agreement.
"It certainly is wonderful," Jimmy agreed, as well.
"Save room for dessert," Leslie said, "Becca and I made it.
"Dessert is my favorite part of the meal," Frank said. "And I'll bet you girls did a great job."
"We'll find out in a minute," Becca said as the housekeeper began clearing the table. "We followed the recipe so don't blame us if it didn't come out right."
"I'm sure it will be wonderful," Brenda said.
"I know that Elizabeth and Caleb would like some tea and Steve and I want coffee. What can we get for you?"
Brenda was relieved to smell the coffee brewing and both she and Fritz asked for a cup, along with Jimmy and Frank. The Utah contingent asked for herbal tea.
"Leslie and Becca, would you like to serve the dessert?" Maddy asked.
"Ok," Leslie said and she and Becca went into the kitchen to help the housekeeper.
While the girls were out of the room, Brenda observed, "Becca certainly looks happy. Both girls get along really well, don't they?"
"Leslie worships the ground Becca walks on," Steve said, "She's the big sister that Leslie missed out on since our other daughter, Carol, is eighteen years older."
"Oh, so you have other children besides Leslie?" Frank asked.
"Yes, we have three older children, all in their 30s, and seven grandchildren. They're all coming in tomorrow morning after the kids check out what Santa brought them."
"It's wonderful that you're all together for Christmas. My family lives in Florida and the rest of Jimmy's lives in Atlanta so our get togethers are rare," Frank said.
"Is Becca into winter sports? Because I know if it wasn't for my job, you'd have to drag me kicking and screaming to get me to leave the warm sunshine for the snow and cold," Jimmy observed.
"Don't believe him, folks," Frank laughed. "He loves the snow. I think he'd live in an igloo if he could."
"Yes, that's true," Jimmy confessed. "I probably would."
"She loves snowboarding," Caleb said. "I expect it won't be long before she's forgotten all about the palm trees. She'll be slamming down a mountain, happy as can be."
As the conversation progressed, the Cornings and Dakins realized that Brenda and Fritz hadn't told Jimmy and Frank anything about Becca's recent exploits.
Becca and Leslie returned with pie as the housekeeper served the hot beverages and refilled water glasses.
"It's Pecan Praline Pie and we both made it," Leslie said proudly.
"Well, it looks delicious, girls," Fritz said.
"You know, if you girls are up for a really tough challenge and a part time job, you could teach my sister how to cook. Bindi can round up criminals by the score and can squeeze a confession out of a slab of granite, but don't ever let her make a pie for you."
"Jimmy! Don't tell them that!" Then Brenda admitted the truth. "Actually, my pie crust is pretty bad. But this is excellent."
"Thanks, but why does your brother call you 'Bindi'?" Becca asked.
"It all started when she was a baby and I couldn't pronounce my Rs. And I like it so I've continued calling her that. Besides, she looks like a Bindi, don't you think?" Jimmy replied with a wink.
"Stop!" Brenda laughed.
At the end of the evening, everyone said their goodbyes. Becca hugged Brenda then took her aside. "Thank you for everything."
"You're welcome," Brenda said very softly. "It looks like thangs are goin pretty well."
"That negotiating tactic really works. My parents have agreed to let me apply to any college I want, and that I would have the final choice, since it's my life. Of course, I had to agree that one of them would be BYU. So we each gave up something to get something better, just like you said. Of course, I'll have to listen to a non-stop BYU commercial for the next year. But I can stand it because I get to choose."
"That's exactly how it's done. I'm proud of you."
"When I come back on vacation, can we get together?"
"Of course. I'd be hurt if I found out you were here and I didn't hear from you."
The next morning, Frank and Jimmy served breakfast to their hosts. The stollen melted in their mouths and Fritz was especially impressed.
"You know, my family is German. I remember having stollen for breakfast Christmas morning when I was a child. This is wonderful. And since we have a 1:00 reservation for dinner I'm going to have seconds," Fritz rationalized as he cut himself another slice.
"Well, I'm glad you like it. But hurry up. Bindi is going to spaz out if she can't start opening her presents soon," Jimmy laughed.
"Uh huh," Fritz nodded with his mouth full. "Don't I know it? This second helping is an attempt to get her to practice patience. It's character building."
"Ha! Ha! I'll show you character buildin," she retorted as she pinched off a large hunk of Fritz's second slice.
After breakfast was finished and the kitchen was once again clean, they headed in to the tree to begin opening presents.
When Frank handed Fritz a large, rectangular package, Brenda said, "Oh, I bet I know what this is." It was an oil painting of trees, flowers, and a pond with water lilies growing in it.
"Oh, my, it's BEAUTIFUL," she gushed, and forgot about the other packages while she looked at it and then looked around the room deciding where to hang it.
"It's by Ward Palmer Mann," Jimmy said.
"He was a New York regional artist. He died a few years ago and now his paintings are worth more money because there will never be any more. So, even if you don't like it, hang onto it. It will only go up in value," Frank explained.
"You bet we'll hang onto it. I love it. It's gorgeous. Thank you, both."
Then Fritz handed Jimmy and Frank their gifts. They each opened boxes with dress and polo shirts, ties and belts.
Brenda handed a similar box to Fritz and said, "You might as well open your gift now too." As he unwrapped the present, she said, "This will show you that I have no imagination and that I had no time to go shoppin. In fact, other than colors and sizes, the only difference is that Jimmy's and Frank's boxes have gift receipts in them so they can exchange them if they want."
"It's not that I don't like them," Frank said, "The fabric and workmanship are wonderful. I've admired Fred Segal's work for years now, but they don't have a presence in the New York market. Unfortunately, the size is wrong."
"I explained to the clerk that I wasn't sure about the sizes and she said you could exchange them any time within the next 90 days."
"Thanks, sweetie," Frank said and kissed her on the cheek. "We'll take care of it one day while we're here."
"So, did I get yours wrong, too?" Brenda asked her brother.
"Well, this belt is a little long. But the shirts should be fine. And I love the colors and the fabrics, just like Frank said."
"Good," Brenda smiled, thinking that she had pulled off at least one good present. Not wanting to push her luck, she handed a box to Fritz.
When he took it from her, he said, "Well it feels too heavy to be socks and underwear, unless you weighted it."
"How did you guess that I put rocks in the bottom?" Brenda grinned.
"While I'm opening this, why don't you open these?" Fritz said as he handed two boxes to Brenda.
She opened the smallest one and saw a jeweled and monogramed compact. "Fritzi, it's beautiful. Thank you."
Then she turned her attention to the other box. In it was a membership to a spa. "That's the same one I went to with Andrea Hobbs. I loved that place!"
"I know. I called Andrea to get the name of it." Fritz was proud that he got his wife something she really loved.
"I love both my gifts. Thank you, sweetheart," and she gave him a kiss. "Now, hurry up and open yours."
He turned his attention to his present. When he opened it, he pulled out a shadow box containing a pitcher's glove. He read the small bronze plaque and looked up at Brenda. "How did you know that Tug McGraw was my all-time favorite player when I was a kid?"
"So you were a Phillis fan, Fritz?" Jimmy asked.
"Actually, I was a Yankees fan. But I loved Tug, and I read all the books and stats I could get on him. He was larger than life to me." Then he turned to Brenda. "How did you know?"
"His autographed baseball was always on top of your pyramid. And it was the one you fingered all the time."
"Thank you, honey."
"But you haven't opened everythin yet. There's another one here for you." Brenda reached under the tree and pulled out another box and handed it to Fritz.
When he opened it, he saw another smaller box wrapped in a Dodger's T-shirt. "I love the Dodger's," Fritz grinned. "But did you run out of wrapping paper?"
"Yes, I did. And we were too poor to buy more," she replied dryly. "Are you gonna sit there and give me a hard time, or are you gonna open it?"
"He grinned at her and turned his attention to opening the box. When he saw the tickets, he looked up with a stunned expression. "Season skybox tickets? Brenda, we can't… how did…"
Brenda smiled at him. "Close your mouth, honey, or you're gonna catch a fly. Ball, that is."
That night, Brenda and Fritz were lying in bed talking quietly.
"Honey, why did you get me such an extravagant gift? Those tickets are just too expensive."
"No, they're not. They were on sale."
Fritz couldn't let that lie pass. "Brenda, I know that those tickets weren't on sale. So what's the deal?"
"Fritzi, I'm sure your parents must have taught you not to ask too many questions about a gift." He drew back and looked at her so she continued, "Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies."
"I think that ship has sailed."
"See? That's what you get for askin too many questions. Besides, I don't lie… all the time."
When Fritz heard that he couldn't suppress a laugh. But Brenda turned serious and rolled over and rested on his chest.
"I owe you so much. I feel like I made the first years of our marriage miserable for you. I was so self-centered and I put all my energy into my job. I didn't give you nearly as much attention as you deserved."
"No," Fritz said softly as he caressed Brenda's face, "Don't feel that everything was your fault. It wasn't."
"Most of it was, but you stuck with me when everythin in my life was spinnin out of control. You never let go of me, of us. Now, I'm startin to do better. And I want to make up for my shortcomins in any way that I can."
"Oh, sweetheart, you don't have to make up for anything. Especially not this way."
"I know I don't need to buy your forgiveness. No one can do that. Besides, you're a lovin, forgivin man. And I love you even more for bein that way. But when I have the chance to give you the best, I'm gonna do it."
"You know what?" Fritz asked.
"Even without the unexplained, extravagant gifts, I love you more tonight than I did this morning."
Brenda laid her head on his shoulder and nuzzled his neck. Her heart was too full to speak.
A/N: Merry Christmas to you all. And you can wish me a Merry Christmas by placing a review under my Fan Fiction tree.