Randie scraped her long, copper hair into a ponytail. Gram went into holiday mode every mid-November. Today, they’d go to the grocery store to buy the ingredients on her long list of supplies for cookies and candies. Then they’d buy all the ingredients for fruitcake. They’d stock up her cupboards, and next weekend, they’d start making cookie dough to freeze. But today would be all about the fruitcake.
Randie hated fruitcake.
She didn’t bother with makeup. By the time she loaded Gram’s grocery cart and carried lots of bags into the kitchen to put all of the ingredients away, eye liner would melt off anyway. She pulled on an old top, since she’d probably splatter it when she used the electric mixer.
Gram took fruitcake seriously. Instead of letting the diced, dried fruit sit in rum overnight, she microwaved it and let it steep for an hour. While the fruit soaked up booze, she and Randie made the batter and greased the pans. Once the loafs were baked, glazed, and cooled, Gram wrapped them in plastic wrap, put them in her pantry, and let them age for six weeks.
The sooner they got started, the sooner they’d finish, so Randie donned her long, heavy sweater and drove to Gram’s house. Gram waited at the door, dressed in her good slacks and a dressy top. She didn’t do any of the messy work, so she could look glamorous. Gram pushed her list at Randie. “I’m ready. Don’t have heart failure when you see the price at the cash register. It’s worth it.”
Baking was expensive, especially when you used lots of butter, dried fruits, and nuts. Randie helped Gram into the car and they set off. People with carts crammed every aisle. She was going to be in here a long time.
Randie’s thoughts turned to Thanksgiving, coming up soon. Gram always made turkey and prime rib. Randie reminded herself to start looking at grocery ads. She peeked in other peoples’ carts and saw bags of dried bread cubes and cans of pumpkin, evaporated milk, green beans and cream of mushroom soup. Yup, people were planning ahead.
She and Gram hovered at the dried fruit and nut exhibit in the produce aisle. They chose dried, diced pineapple; golden raisins; apricots, dates, and cherries; along with crystallized ginger. Gram decided to use pecans this year. And then they headed to buy the rum. They were in the baking aisle, stocking up on flour, sugars, and different kinds of nuts and chocolates when Lucas turned the corner with Jordy and Beth.
Jordy immediately ran to her. Lucas and Beth followed. Lucas grinned before they bumped carts. “I woke up this morning thinking about the supper you made us last night. It was wonderful.”
Gram broke into a smile that would rival the Cheshire cat’s. “It’s so nice to see you again, Mr. Cainer. Are these your niece and nephew?”
Lucas introduced them, then did a double take when he looked in their cart. “Are you cooking for an orphanage?” His gaze settled on the large bottle of rum. “Do you need fortification to get everything done?”
Gram laughed. “I’m making my famous fruitcake.”
He tried not to cringe, but Randie could tell he loved the stuff as much as she did. “That’s a lot of flour and sugar for a fruitcake.”
“We start cookie dough next week,” Gram said. “Three kinds every weekend until we start baking in the middle of December. And we make candy, too.”
“M&Ms?” Beth asked.
Gram shook her head. “Homemade caramels, brittle, fudge, and bark.”
Jordy frowned at that, but Lucas tilted his head, intrigued. “How many kinds of cookies do you make?”
“At least ten. More if I don’t wear out.” Gram concentrated on the kids. “What’s your favorite kind of cookie?”
Jordy didn’t hesitate. “Chocolate chip.”
Beth took a minute to go through her choices. “Peanut butter.”
Gram looked at Lucas.
Gram exchanged a glance with Randie. “We make all of those, along with sugar cookies and gingerbread men. I’ll make you up a plate and have Randie give them to you. It won’t be until close to Christmas, remember.”
Randie frowned at Lucas. “I thought the kids went to their grandmother’s on Saturdays.”
“She’s late again.” Jordy reached for Lucas’s hand. “So we get to spend more time with Uncle Lucas.”
Lucas tried to make the best of it. “It’s nice to have them shop with me. They keep current. I don’t.”
Beth tugged on his jeans. “Can we bake cookies, too?”
He looked at Randie. “Is there an easy kind I can’t mess up?”
“Chocolate chip are drop cookies. You mix them, put them on the baking sheet, and put them in the oven. There’s a recipe on the back of the chocolate chip package.” She reached for a bag from the shelf and showed it to him.
He scanned the ingredients. “We need almost everything. I might have enough eggs.”
“We’ll help you, Uncle Lucas.”
At the name uncle, a woman who’d been ogling Lucas reached in her purse, took out a business card, and pressed it into his hand. “Call me.” And she moved on.
Randie blinked. “Do women really do that?”
“One just did,” Gram told her.
Lucas stuffed it in his jeans pocket without glancing at it. “Well, if we’re going to bake cookies, we’d better get some flour and sugar.”
“Brown sugar, too,” Randie commented. “And you might as well get eggs, just in case.”
“Too bad you’re busy today. I’d ask you to come over and help us.”
She wanted to. What was wrong with her? “Gram and I will have half a dozen fruitcakes aging in the pantry by the end of the day.”
He wasn’t tempted, she could tell. “Good luck with those,” he said.
“Have fun,” she told him and the kids.
When they left the baking aisle, he turned right and she turned left, but if it weren’t for Gram, she’d follow him home and spend the day baking with him. She wondered where he lived, what his house was like. A bachelor pad? Did it have a big kitchen?
“We can make the fruitcakes tomorrow,” Gram said. “And you can go help that gorgeous man stir his batter.”
No, she’d geared up to make fruitcakes today, and by golly, she was going to get them done, “He’ll manage, but maybe I’ll offer to help him cook sometime. He can only manage a few things. He’s going above and beyond for those kids.”
Gram’s eyes sparkled. “Good deeds should be rewarded. You should give him a hand.”
Randie rolled her eyes. “We still have lots to do. Let’s finish this order and get out of here.”
For once, Gram didn’t push her. That just showed how important fruitcake was. They got everything on the list, and by the time Randie carried every bag into Gram’s kitchen, she needed a break. They stopped for a quick lunch, and then devoted themselves to the important business of rummed fruits and thick batters.