“This is a dream,” I say, in a voice that can’t decide if it’s a question or a declaration. “I fell asleep at my desk and I’m dreaming right now.”
Funny. Usually my dreams are the more X-rated variety. Involving me and Kate in multiple porn-toned scenarios. Sometimes I’m a Roman emperor and she’s my toga-less slave girl who feeds me grapes and happily caters to my every whim. Sometimes I’m Han Solo and she’s Princess Leia, screwing our way across the galaxy. Other times she’s the powerful, ambitious businesswoman who lands a major client with me, then we fuck on the conference table until neither of us can walk.
Oh, wait—that last one actually happened.
The point is—out of all the dreams I remember having, my sweet niece sure as shit hasn’t featured in any of them. And not a single one took place in this place—an apartment I barely remember living in.
Mackenzie shrugs. “If it keeps you from wussing out on me, we’ll call it a dream. Do you know where we are?”
“This is the apartment we lived in when I was a kid, before we moved uptown.”
“That’s right. Do you know why we’re here?”
I try really hard. “Um . . . the sushi I ate for lunch was bad and the toxins have spread to my brain, causing some strange-ass hallucinations?”
Giggling, Mackenzie drags me forward. “Come on.”
We enter the kitchen. Sitting at a small round table is the preteen version of my sister, Alexandra. Around this time, she hadn’t yet grown into her nickname, “The Bitch,” but the early signs were there. She’s chewing gum and flipping through a Tiger Beat magazine with the New Kids on the Block on the cover. And her hair—Jesus Christ, she must’ve used a whole can of hair spray, because her bangs form a poof on top of her head, stiff and unnaturally high.
Sitting beside her, looking dapper in a long-sleeved Back to the Future T-shirt, is me. Five-year-old me. I’m kind of small for my age; the growth spurt won’t hit for another few years. But with my thick black hair brushed to the side, my deep blue eyes shining with youthful exuberance, I’m nothing short of fucking adorable.
There’s a plate of cookies in the middle of the table, with still-warm gooey chocolate chips. My mom’s homemade cookies. They’re indescribably awesome. But when young Drew reaches for one, Alexandra smacks his hand. “No more cookies, Drew. You’re going to give yourself a stomachache.”
“But they’re so good,” I whine. And I give her the puppy dog eyes. “Just one more? Please?”
At first Lexi’s expression is stern. But under the power of young Drew’s cuteness, she melts. “Okay. One more.”
Are you feeling the foreshadowing here?
He smiles his thanks and talks with a mouthful of cookie. “You’re the best sister ever, Lexi.”
She ruffles his hair.
I chuckle and tell Mackenzie, “How irresistible am I? Didn’t even have to work at it.”
Mackenzie laughs. “You were really cute. Watch—this part is important.”
My mother breezes into the kitchen, smooth skinned, blond, and beautiful—despite the atrocious Christmas tree sweater she’s sporting. In her hand she holds a cordless telephone.
A heavy, square cordless phone. With an antenna.
“Drew, guess who’s on the phone?” she asks.
“Is it Daddy?” he asks hopefully.
“No, darling—it’s Santa Claus! He took time out of his busy day-before-Christmas-Eve schedule just to talk to you.” She taps five-year-old Drew on the nose.
He flies off the chair, knocking it over behind him. Lexi, who by this time was old enough to know the truth, smiles at his excitement.
Young Drew brings the phone to his ear. “Hello?”
“Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!”
And it all comes back to me. Like a door opening to a dark room, finally letting the light in, I remember this.
“How do I know this is the real Santa?” My five-year-old self asks skeptically. Because even as a kid, I was damn sharp.
My father answers in a deep, bellowing, disguised voice, “Well, I’ve got the Christmas list you mailed to me here in my hand.”
Young Drew braces the phone on his shoulder and walks out to the living room. Mackenzie and I follow. “Okay, let’s hear it.”
Santa clears his throat. “A BMX bicycle, the new Sega system, GI Joe action figures, a Walkman.”
That’s right, a Walkman. Because this is the eighties, kiddies.
“Holy crap, it really is you!” five-year-old Drew yells.
“It really is. Now tell me, young man, have you been a good boy this year?”
His face scrunches up as he attempts to be honest. “I try. It’s hard to be good.”
Santa chuckles. “Do you do what your mother tells you?”
He nods. “Yes, sir.”
“And do you listen to your sister?”
He frowns. “Lexi’s bossy.”
“Yes, she is bossy. But she’s your big sister, Drew—she wants what’s best for you. You should always listen to her.”
Reluctantly, he nods. “Yes, sir.”