Little White Lies jumps from December 1st to New Year’s Eve, but for fun – and as a present for my beta readers – here’s the whole gang, university timeline, having Christmas dinner together before going home for the winter break. It’s spoiler free!
Sukie warily sniffed the air over the pan; the creamy liquid within was bubbling sluggishly.
“I think you’re meant to add the cinnamon after,” Nicky said slowly. “You know, dust it over the top?”
Leigha shrugged as she tapped another sprinkle of cinnamon powder into the saucepan. “I like cinnamon. It’s Christmassy.”
Sukie and Nicky exchanged a cautious look. From the adjacent worktop, Johnny yelped, ramming his finger into his mouth.
“Stop doing that!” Harriet admonished, quickly reaching to pick up the mini sausage that Johnny had dropped to the work surface. “I don’t recall ‘pigs in blankets with a side of slobber’ being on the menu today.”
“I don’t know how you do it so quickly,” Johnny mumbled through his finger, glaring at Harriet. He pulled the finger out and inspected its tip critically. “I keep skewering myself on the toothpick thing.”
Harriet sighed heavily. “Well, we’re almost done anyway,” she said. “I’ll finish up. Go see if anyone else needs some help.”
“After you’ve washed your hands!” Sukie called. Johnny shuffled towards the kitchen sink; whilst his back was turned, Harriet quickly unpinned the four or five sausages that he’d managed to clumsily wrap in bacon and re-did them, sliding the cocktail sticks neatly through to hold the construction in place.
“There.” Adam dropped the vegetable peeler and flexed his sore fingers. “Five hundred million potatoes, all peeled and ready to go.” Leigha glanced over at the two largest saucepans, each with its own mound of cleanly skinned potatoes.
“Are we sure two bags are going to be enough?” she asked, for the fourth time that day.
“Yes!” everyone answered in unison.
Miles stuck his head out of Nicky’s bedroom door. “I can’t find it pet!” he called. “You must be using it somewhere.”
“Oh, let me have a look,” Nicky said, moving across to the sink to quickly rinse granules from her hands. “I could have sworn I had a spare one.”
“Do you think the corner shop will do extension leads?” Sukie asked.
Johnny shrugged. “Yeah. Well, they do light bulbs.”
Sukie stared. “And that’s the same thing how?”
Johnny shrugged again. “Electrical, innit?”
Sukie rolled her eyes, turning her attention back to gently stirring the eggnog, which Leigha had temporarily abandoned.
“Great peeling,” Leigha said to Adam, as she collected one of the saucepans of potatoes from the floor in front of him. “When I peel veg I’ve got to take a break between each one. I’ve got some really nice hand cream, if your hands are feeling a little battered?”
“Er, cheers, but I think I’m good,” Adam replied, not doing a very good job at keeping alarm out of his voice or his face.
Leigha smiled. “I guess rose-scented hand cream is a little girly,” she conceded, before moving away towards the hob. Johnny brought up the rear, collecting the second saucepan.
“It makes her hands smell like Turkish Delight,” he informed Adam solemnly, before moving away again. Adam grimaced; he caught Harriet’s eye and they both smirked.
“Can’t find it,” Nicky announced, returning from her bedroom, Miles at her heels. “Oh, I really wanted to get that going whilst we ate. Do you think we can spare someone for a run to Tesco?”
“I think we can spare Johnny,” Harriet said, shooting him a sideways look.
Johnny frowned at her. “It’s cold. And I don’t want to walk all that way on my own anyway.”
“Go upstairs and take the one out from under my computer,” Sukie instructed, stirring the eggnog with one hand whilst sidestepping to allow Leigha access to the other hobs for the potatoes.
“How will you do any work?” Harriet asked.
“I won’t. It’s bloody Christmas anyway,” Sukie retorted. “I think we’re ready for the Kahlúa here, Ley.”
“Good timing,” Leigha smiled, fetching the bottle of liqueur from the cupboard. “Everything will be on soon and we can relax for a little while.” She poured a thick stream of the coffee-flavoured rum into the frothy egg-and-milk mixture. “I love this stuff.” She poured a little straight into her mouth. “Alcohol and caffeine together. It’s like your Saturday night out and your Sunday morning hangover all at once.” She went to pour more into the saucepan but Sukie held out her hand.
“That’s probably enough,” she said.
“Got it!” Miles came back through the kitchen, brandishing a white, four-socket extension lead. The instant Sukie was diverted, Leigha poured another slug of Kahlúa past her fingers and into the eggnog. Sukie glared at her; Leigha stuck her tongue out prettily.
“Anything else for me to do?” Adam asked, coming to stand by the girls congregated at the hob.
“Beep beep,” Harriet said, motioning them to the side so she could bend to slip the tray of pigs in blankets into the oven. “Wow,” she said as she straightened, catching a whiff of the eggnog, unmuted by the starchy smell of the potatoes boiling away in the adjacent hobs. “That smells…”
“Festive!” Leigha supplied.
“Disgusting?” Sukie suggested.
“Potent,” Harriet finished.
“You can get the glasses out, please,” Leigha told Adam, ignoring the other girls. “And the ladle.”
“Okay.” Harriet reviewed their cooking timetable that they had stuck to the fridge with a novelty magnet. “Meat is roasting, pigs are blanketed, potatoes boiling, veg is on, stuffing and gravy on standby—“
“Eggnog nogged!” Leigha announced, as she ladled the whitish mixture into the tumblers which Adam had fetched from the cupboard.
“Tree on!” Miles called from the corner, where he had stretched to plug the extension lead into the sockets behind the television. The foot tall fibre-optic Christmas tree suddenly blazed to life, the ends of the branches shining as it cycled through the whole spectrum of colours.
“Think we’re good for about half an hour,” Harriet deduced.
“Oh, guys,” Nicky said, as she helped Leigha hand out the glasses. “This is the last time we’re going to be all together until New Year’s Eve.”
“It’s going to be weird,” Johnny agreed, taking his glass. Sukie, who was flicking through the television channels to find appropriate music took her glass with a bit of a grimace. When she found the right channel she took a seat perched on the arm of one of the sofas, next to Harriet, who was sniffing her own drink rather suspiciously. The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York was on; it had proved a favourite in the house that December.
“You scumbag, you maggot! You cheap, lousy faggot!” everyone shouted along with Kirsty MacColl – the only lyrics that everyone knew.
“Eurgh, God!” Nicky interrupted the singing with her exclamation of disgust. She had been the first to try Leigha’s eggnog. “Leigha, I can’t drink this.”
Sukie took a sip, emboldened by Nicky having gone first. She screwed up her face in revulsion. “This doesn’t even taste remotely like eggnog!”
“Ew, no it doesn’t!” Adam wore a matching pinched expression. “What did you put in this?”
Leigha looked around, wide-eyed. “The usual.”
“What’s the usual?” Harriet asked; she still hadn’t been brave enough to take a sip herself. Miles and Johnny had rather hurriedly put their glasses down at Nicky’s first squeal.
“You know! Milk, sugar, eggs, cinnamon, Kahlúa,” Leigha counted off on her fingers, expression combative. “The usual,” she repeated.
Sukie regarded her dubiously. “Was the milk off?”
“No,” Leigha retorted. “Stop complaining. It’s fine.” To underline her point she took a large gulp from the glass, almost going cross-eyed with the effort of keeping a straight face and not spitting the nasty, curdled concoction straight back out. Sukie snickered.
“I’m going to check,” Nicky said, standing and moving across to the refrigerator. “There’s no milk in here,” she said, after a moment. “Ley, did you use all of it?” Nicky’s voice trailed off before she emerged from within the fridge holding a carton of something in her hand.
“Leigha, did you use soya milk?” she demanded.
Leigha winced. “Yeah?”
“Eurgh, no wonder it tastes funny.” Adam looked faintly sick as he too put his glass down.
“Really?” Harriet asked. “Soya milk? Well that was never going to work, was it?”
“I was just trying to save us all some calories,” Leigha snapped. “Milk is milk!”
“It’s made from beans…” Adam pointed out, looking sicker by the minute.
“Whatever,” Leigha rolled her eyes. Nicky placed the carton of offending soya milk back in the fridge, before moving across to the oven and fiddling with the knobs.
“What are you doing?” Leigha cried.
“Turning the temperature down,” Nicky replied. “I don’t think we’re all as hungry for our Christmas dinner as we were, I think we can give it a while longer.”
Leigha didn’t reply, but stood and gathered the seven glasses of failed ‘nog, ferrying them to the sink, pouring it away down the drain and sending the dregs from the saucepan down too for good measure. Reaching up to the top cupboard again she fetched down a large, green bottle of Gordon’s.
“Gin and juice, anyone?” she asked, receiving a universal cheer in response. On the television, the music channel’s countdown of the Top 20 Christmas songs had reached its crescendo and the familiar twinkle that heralded Mariah’s dulcet tones was filling the room.