by Swordnquill and BrightSword

swordnquil@aol.com and ebth@bellsouth.net

Staring at her wavery reflection in the cracked and pitted mirror of the ladies’ room, the young woman emphatically shoved a lank strand of hair back under the supposedly protective yellow-and-tan-checked head kerchief which was currently perched at a somewhat rakish tilt on her head. "I swear, Verna Lee," she said in an uncannily accurate imitation of her blessed, dearly (and recently) departed Mama (though, to be perfectly honest, Mama would have sounded more like "Ah swar, Verna Lay". Mama never was too good on her diction.). "Your hair looks like a winter wonderland what with all that bakin’ soda ya done dumped all over it. You’ll never catch yourself a husband lookin’ like that!"

If money was the root of all evil to Mama (and, frankly, having none made it an easy sin to pick), husbands were the cure-all. Why, Mama herself had buried five, and praised the good Lord with every one, though none of them ever left her so much as a plugged nickel, thank you very much.

Verna Lee was truly her mother’s cross to bear, and bear it she did, loudly and often, right up until that little problem with the outhouse that caused her untimely demise. "Do you hear what I hear?" had been the last words her blessed Mama ever said before that freak tornado took her up, outhouse and all. The county sheriff and those nice Boy Scouts what met up at the Grange had done a county-wide search, but Mama, and the outhouse, had never been seen again.

Verna Lee liked to imagine that that tornado had whipped Mama right up to heaven, where she was still sitting on her throne (gold now, instead of that scratchy pine that always gave her the nastiest splinters) right next to Lord God and Sonny Jesus. That thought always made her smile, and to Verna Lee’s way of thinking, a smile was the Lord’s way of saying "howdy!"

At the ripe old age of twenty five and still unmarried, young Verna Lee inspired ‘talk’ among the bean supper set, what with her high-falutin manners and fancy job as a waitress. Why, the girl had, at one time, even aspired to go to college, if one could believe that. Thank the good Lord that Mama had cracked the whip on that particular dream.

Still, working at the Waffle House did have its advantages when it came to potential suitors. Eligible bachelors (or ones who said they were, anyway) came in by the dozen, all more than happy to leer at her comely figure, packed as it was in the attractive, if grease-splattered, rayon uniform, pinch her cheeks (both sets), and call her ‘the purdiest li’l Gawja peach there ever was’.

Yes, there were some fine men who came to her workplace in their time of need, lookin’ for some down home cookin’ served up just right. Not bad looking, either, if you counted up the number of their remaining teeth, divided it by the number of wheels on their truck, added points for the inventiveness of the logo on their stained ball-caps, and squinted real hard.

Bright prospects or no, Verna Lee had never felt ‘that way’ about even a one, though, to be sure, she had more phone numbers than there were corn cobs in her long departed outhouse. Every night, she prayed to the Almighty God to send her that ‘special someone’ who would make her heart go ‘pitter patter’ and her knees play the drum solo to ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’.

So far, however, God seemed to have more important things to see to than a poor Waffle House waitress’ love life, or lack thereof.

But Verna Lee was nothing if not an eternal optimist (and, some might say, she gave Hallmark a run for their money). If ‘into every life a little rain must fall’, that was only because ‘every cloud had a silver lining’.

Her musings were interrupted by the locomotion of severe pounding on the cheap plywood door, causing several rolls of single ply toilet paper and one industrial sized can of "Stink Eze" to jump off the narrow shelf and form a Baptist Revival meeting on the floor at her feet.

"Verna Lee!" called Clem, the short order cook and erstwhile evening shift manager, "Git that cute lil butt of yours out here. We’ve got customers that need smotherin’, coverin’ and chunkin’."

"Keep your britches on, Clem. I’ll be out in two shakes of a bunny’s tail." Pretty paper, she thought to herself as she scooped up the rolls and can. Not a wood chunk in the bunch. Not like the scratchy stuff Mama used to buy down to the Dollar Store, warning her that the new fangled two ply quilted stuff was just the Devil’s path to self abuse.

"I don’t give two shits about no bunnies, Verna Lee. Jest git yer ass out here afore I come in and drag it out myself!"

Sighing and screwing on her brightest smile, the young waitress straightened her kerchief, pinched her cheeks to give them a rosy glow, nodded once at her reflection, and went back out into the world of short order cuisine.


It came upon a midnight clear in late December when Lily found herself cruising over the river and through the woods, carving a sleek path through the dark Georgia night. It had been unusually humid for this time of year but a recent blast of cold, Northern air up the Chattahoochee brought freezing rain that threatened to turn to snow. That was the thing about anything from the North trying to invade the South — not much was allowed in, even to let it snow.

Lily cruised along a stretch of highway that ran through a series of small towns on the outskirts of Atlanta. She hummed along to her favorite Wynona Judd CD - the one that always made her feel a little... racy. Gliding long, expensive-looking fingers across the length of her longer than long thigh, she decided she'd ease the particular little personal ache that had been troubling her all day.

Lily was fairly certain that she deserved it after dealing her excessively wealthy, equally drunken mother all day. Kitty Smytheson Tolliver Montreaux, legacy Atlanta socialite and royal sot, had decided to deck the halls of the family manse herself this year … which led her up on the housetop, and led Lily to an all day coaxing session to get the old, surgically enhanced bag back down again. "Silver bells, my ass," Lily had grumbled.

Things had only worsened when Magnolia, Lily's much younger, change-of-life and none too brilliant sister came rushing up to her in that vapid way of hers, mewling "Lily! Lily, sister! I…why I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus!" Which wouldn't have been too terribly bad, had the Santa Claus in question not been nailed to the roof, plastic, and lit from within by a bulb bright enough to fully illuminate Turner Field all the way to the cheap seats. As it was, people were beginning to talk, and in polite, genteel, and filthy rich Southern Society, perpetuating 'talk' was a definite no-no. Lily simply had to detach Kitty's lips from jolly ol' St. Nicholas and soon.

"Come on, Maggie Mae," Lily finally growled, trying to be somewhat affectionate with the nickname. She reached for the extension ladder the roofer had left out the day before. "Let's get the drunken bitch off the roof before she takes it into her head she's Mary Poppins and presents the neighborhood with some unfortunate view while trying to fly."

Laughing sweetly, if a bit vacantly, Maggie had immediately followed the sister she adored.

The adventure had also caused Lily to miss her chance at a little lovin’ from a sweet young thing on the outskirts of town; a dental hygienist, if she remembered correctly. And I was so looking forward to her oral skills, Lily mused.

People often wondered how she could ever dread going home for the holidays. After all, she was incredibly beautiful, and her family was incredibly wealthy. The problem was, however, that it was the same old lang syne year after year - Lily’s mother turned the twelve days of Christmas into a personalized step program to gain invited residency to the Betty Ford clinic. The clinic’s annual holiday card was lovely, though.

Lily turned Wynonna up a notch then began to ease her designer jeans open. She continued to hum along, her voice like smooth honey. Her hips began to pick up the gentle rhythm of the bass.

She began to think of the girl she’d tried to see that night and the real reason she’d had to travel so far out of the city to see her. See, despite her debutante upbringing, Lily harbored a deep secret from the world in general. ‘Cheap' made her hot in a deep, sensual, wet way. In fact, Lily's preference toward the liquored up and lacquered down led her to the frequent, hidden trysts with working class girls she’d never socialize with in the light of day. Lily's mind flashed across her last dangerously scandalous encounter, effectively kindling the heat in her jeans. She thought of a sweet, thick Georgia accent … and big hair ... and airbrushed nails ... and cowboy boots with tight jeans ... and ... and a leopard print thong hanging from the ceiling fan.

Fatefully, a tough button on her fly distracted her long enough to not notice the mama possum that was relocating her eight little ones to the other side of the road.

"Shit!" Lily yelled as she wrestled the sleek BMW around the little family, causing the mother to hiss violently, Lily's left rear tire to blow and Virgil, the youngest and last possum in line, to need extensive therapy and forever to refer to that particular moment as "The Great Pissing Incident." (Little Virgil was not having a very holly jolly Christmas . Just the day before, at this very crossing, his Grandma got run over by a reindeer.)

Lily managed to stop the car after a brief wrestling match for control. She smacked her steering wheel with the flat of her elegant, tapered hand. She angrily poked the stop button on the CD player and fished for her cell phone.

"Shuddup, Wynona. If I'm not getting any, neither are you. AH! Damn phone!"

She slammed the phone with its dead battery into the passenger floorboard, becoming more agitated by the moment.

Then she saw it. A beacon in dark night: a yellow, block-letter sign proclaiming "_affle Hous_."

Lily sighed and unfolded her tall frame from the shiny black car, smirking slightly.

"Affle Hous it is, then. A least they have coffee."

Resigned to her fate, she began the trudge toward the all-night diner, gathering the silent night around her like a cloak as the sleet still refused to give full quarter to the snowfall. Lily, thus, blew into the Waffle House like a queen panther who’d been left in the rain a little too long — a man eater.


As Lily blew into the Waffle House, three heads turned to stare and the tall, expensive-looking woman whose jet-black hair and ice-blue eyes glimmered even in the overhead fluorescent lighting. One stare belonged to Clem, one to Verna Lee and another to a trucker on a caffeine high who liked to be referred to as Captain Dickie on his CB radio. The good Captain was in the process of trying to charm Verna Lee with a story from one of his boyhood Christmases.

" … so we had us some chestnuts roasting on an open fire. They’s real good too, ‘til that gas can in the middle blew up. Blew them nuts sky high! But hey, we didn’t start the fire, so we didn’t know the whole center of our fire was Donny Ray’s daddy’s old trash pile. So I start hollerin,’ ‘Somebody bring me some water’ and Donny Ray was a dancin’ around ‘cause on a them chestnuts came back down an slid riiiiight down that boy’s overhauls and … oh … my …."

The trucker dropped his retelling to gawk at the elegant, irritated, dark lady in the doorway.

Verna Lee recovered more quickly than the gawking men, though, and slipped easily into her friendly greeter mode, always happy to be of service. (Mama had always told her even an angry pole cat will climb out the tree for a biscuit ifn’ you offer sweet-like.) She reached inside for that magic place of sunshine the Sweet Lord planted in her soul so she could bring joy to the world and plastered on a bright smile made especially for the she-demon in the doorway.

"Hey thar! Oomph...!" Verna Lee was suddenly shoved aside by a now amorous Clem who slicked one industrial butter-covered hand through what was left of his hair. Tilting his head, he attempted his best Clarke Gable imitation. Lily noted his smirk might have been more dashing if his teeth weren’t …that …color.

"I got you, babe. What kin I get fer you? Waffle? Omelet? I been told I make the best cheeseburger in paradise too," Clem schmoozed.

"Ah, no, that isn’t necessary, I shan’t be eating ... anything ... here," Lily said as she cast her eyes about the diner, marveling at the layers of grime. "I just need to use a ...."

Her request was cut short by a yelp from Verna Lee who was now struggling with a burning ring of fire around what used to be the Dickie’s omelet. Clem quickly began his own strange safety dance comprised of a heavy round of stomping, beating, cursing and a liberal shower of baking soda.

"I’m sorry ‘bout that ma’am. What can I do for you," Verna Lee said as Clem busied himself with the last of the flames. For the first time, Verna Lee was able to stare into the true blue eyes in front of her as she looked up at the much taller Lily. For a brief moment, her beloved Mama’s teachings left her. Sweet Jesus, she looks like all seven of the deadly sins and a broken commandment or two thrown in for good measure, Verna Lee thought.

Blinking a bit, one more thought also occurred to the waitress.

"Say, don’t I know you from somewheres? Oh, hey, are you someone famous?" A bright grin shot across Verna Lee’s face at the thought.

Lily became very still for the briefest of seconds. "N-no. You can’t have possibly seen me before. Look, I have a flat tire on my car. I just need to use your phone to call someone. "

Captain Dickie and Clem nearly collided as they raced to jockey for position be of manly aid.

"I can ... umph ... dammit ... fix that for you. Where’s your ... stop it ... jack?"

"No jack," Lily deadpanned.

"Wull, I got a good jack right here, baby," the trucker leered suggestively, hooking his thumbs in his belt. Lily couldn’t hide her incredulous amusement as she swept her eyes up and down Dickie’s scruffy form. She nearly chuckled outloud when she stopped to read his t-shirt, proclaiming ‘She thinks my tractor’s sexy’ across his scrawny chest.

"Your jack was not built to handle precision European equipment," Lily shot back. She leveled a cold gaze at the trucker made him crawl away and Clem’s hopes of a chance with her soar.

Verna Lee interrupted the men’s advances. "We got a phone right yonder, but company policy states that you gotta be a customer to use it," the waitress said as she scooped up a water glass, paper place mat and paper wrapped silverware set in her wake, setting all of it in front of Lily as she the woman took a reluctant seat. "Now then, tell me what you want," the waitress plowed on, disregarding the socialite’s attempt do wave off an order.

Now quite close to the girl, Lily realized the waitress had some of the most vivid green eyes she’d ever seen and a nicely rounded curve to the little bit of cleavage that peeked from the V of zippered polyester uniform blouse. Honey, honey, lay all your love on me, she thought. Verna Lee leaned forward a bit, drawing Lily’s eyes even more deeply to the waitresses’ soft, rounded cleavage and sweet neck. Good teeth too, she mused. Might clean up just fine. I’ll bet she’s really cute under that checkered head rag ... and after a shower, Lily thought. That sunny thing has to go though. Who in the hell is that perky all the damn time? Hmmm perky ... yeah they are. Batteries. Need batteries on the way home.

"No, really I’m not hungry for ... that," the designer replied, her voice taking on a deeper timbre. "Couldn’t I just pay you to use the phone? That would make me a customer, wouldn’t it?"

Verna Lee chewed on her bottom lip a bit as she decided how to answer. Clem would be sure to fire her for breaking company policy after setting the grill on fire again. She just couldn’t take this job and shove it, though, ‘cause the Wal-Mart greeter position wouldn’t cover the vet bills, tornado insurance on the house and Mama’s monthly memorial tithe to the Holly Church of the First Immaculate Son and Special Needs School. (Mama always believed in helpin’ out the crazy folk what needed extra care.) She took a breath and decided to follow her true colors and be honest.

"Um, listen, you gotta order somethin’ before you use the phone or Clem will can me, after he gits done beatin’ the fire outta Dickie fur bein’ rude with you. Aint there nothin’ we got that might tempt you?" The waitress stared straight into a pair of now very interested, very blue eyes. "Please?"

The socialite opened her mouth to give the waitress a saucy reply, but caved under the weight of the earnest, pleading look on the girl’s face.

"Oh, fine, whatever. I’ll take a coffee. Black," Lily decided, not trusting the freshness of anything added to the beverage.

Verna Lee grinned again and spun on a non-skid heel. "Comin’ right up!"

Lily watched the gentle sway of Verna Lee’s Dacron-covered hips as the waitress sauntered away to fetch her beverage. After a moment, Lily stood and strolled to the phone the girl had pointed out. The designer also started calculating the time it might actually take her swishy little assistant to extract himself from his evening’s activities, properly attire himself, and collect her from her current nightmare. She dialed the familiar number and received a response that clarified it must be British Invasion night on TV at dearest Charlton "Sissy" Wainright’s house.

"Mm good evening, men’s wear, finery and trousers. Mr. Humphries speaking, how may I serve you?" A husky giggle in the background indicated that Sissy was not alone. Good. That meant Buzz was there to help. Buzz was a huge wall of a man deeply into both leather and Sissy. Sissy in turn, was deeply smitten with Buzz’s affinity toward silently working with his hands and giving the Village People a run for their fashion money. In short, they were the original over-the-top queer couple who’d never failed to be there for Lily.

"Sissy, it’s Lily. I’m ... oh, someplace on the backside of Gwinnett with a blown tire and no jack. Come get me, will you? And bring the big stud to help."

"Lily, honey! Are you all right?" Sissy muffled the phone briefly to relay details to Buzz.

"Her majesty’s been out scromping in Pig Holler again. Seems she’s thrown a heel." Returning to the phone, Sissy started his usual clucking rant.

"I keep telling you to stop trolling along those back roads like that! A woman of your breeding is not meant to be caught on common ground, darling. Angel, we can buy you something more convenient right here in town, with a full medical history and just as tacky as you crave."

"Sissy ..."

"We do worry so when you’re out like ..."


A moment of phone silence was followed by a brief, injured sniff. "You know I hate that name, Lily."

"Listen, Snippy, just come get me and save the lecture. It’s holiday time - do a good deed! Unglue yourself from your nutcracker suite, Jingle Bells, and bring your little drummer boy with you."

"Snippy!?! I’m not the harlot here." Lily could hear Buzz begin to giggle harder. He always enjoyed their sparring. Lily grinned and rose to the challenge.




"Gilded lily."

Lily had to grin and concede to Sissy’s win in the name war. She knew they would both disregard any ill feelings over the wicked game, the way old friends do.

The conversation ended finally with an exchange of directions, a decision to have a tow truck pick up the Beamer, and to have Buzz fire up her prized vintage Bentley.

Almost an hour later, Lily spied the arrival of a classic, pristine, silver car carefully crossing the cracked, cheap pavement of the parking lot. Stepping gratefully out into the cool, night air and now falling snow, Lily took a deep, cleansing breath, smirking slightly as she realized her friend had indeed been putting on the ritz just to pick her up. An unamused Sissy, dressed in an impeccable rendition of a 1920’s driving suit; white scarf, goggles and all, was tapping his fingers on the highly polished hood of the vintage Bentley.

"Now listen to me, Lily, darling. You really need to stop trolling for trollops on the wrong side of the tracks. What if that blown tire had caused you to get into an accident? In front of an … oh my god, an Affle Hous, no less. What would Kitty think?" His face positively paled at the thought.

"Leave my mother the hell out of this, Sissy. She’s been enough trouble today," Lily grumbled as Buzz opened the Bentley’s rear door and offered her a hand. She began to massage the bridge of her nose, holding back the impending headache by sheer force of her implacable will.

The diner’s door swung open then, expelling an out of breath Verna Lee, waving a grease-spattered green paper ticket in one hand. "Miss? Excuse me, Miss?"

Suppressing an irritated sigh, Lily poked her head back out of the car, giving the harried waitress her patented raised eyebrow stare. "Yes?" she drawled.

The young woman skidded to a stop beside the huge car, blushing slightly as the Lily’s voice caused a tingle in places she didn’t know she had. "I . . .um . . .you . . .well, what I mean to say is . . .."

Lily arched an eyebrow at the rambling waitress, waiting for her to get to the point.

"You . . .well . . .you forgot to pay for your coffee. Now, I know it’s only eighty five cents and all, but if you don’t pay for it, it comes out of my check and, well, I rightly can’t afford to lose even a dollar." A deeper blush suffused her face and she looked down with embarrassment at the cracked pavement, taking in the expensive leather of the tall woman’s boots as they swung back out of the expensive car.

Slipping from the Bentley, Lily dug into the pocket of her tight jeans and pulled out the first bill she could find, which happened to be a $20. "Keep the change," she purred with a sexy smile as she lifted Verna Lee’s chin back up with an elegant finger.

Verna Lee looked back at Lily, a little star struck until she noticed which president graced the face of the bill she’d been handed. "O, holy night! I can’t accept this, Miss!"

"Think nothing of it …" Lily leaned closer, peering at the name tag pinned just above the swell of one ample breast. "… Verna Lee. It’s my pleasure. Really. Happy Christmas."

"I -I. . .If you’re sure, Miss," she said, finally, wondering why her mouth had gotten so dry all of the sudden and why her stomach felt funny. Right then and there, she promised the Prince of Peace above she would read an extra seven chapters of The Good Book just to make up for the images that were running rampant through her mind like a tornado through a trailer park.

Lily’s smile broadened still further, her perfectly straight white teeth gleaming in the parking lot’s buzzing lighting. "Oh, I’m very sure, Verna Lee. And the name’s Lily"

The smile sent the waitress’ stomach on another trip on the Tilt-a-Whirl. She swallowed hard, thinking the gorgeous woman in front of her had a name sweeter than Gabriel’s message about the birth of Christ to the Holy Mother Mary herself.

"Well, then I thank ya right kindly … Lily. I do hope you’ll come back and see us again real soon."

"Oh, I plan . . . ."

"Oh, would you just look at how late it’s gotten?" Sissy’s interjected. "Come, Lily, darling. We simply must dash off. People to do, things to see, and all that. You have yourself a merry little Christmas, dear . . .waitress . . .we must be off now."

Giving Sissy a smile that made Buzz cringe, Lily turned back to the comely waitress. "Good night, Verna Lee. Thanks for the . . .service. It was much appreciated." Suck on that, you overstuffed little pansy, she thought.

Verna Lee waived cheerfully as the Bentley pulled back out into the dark night. She sighed like a teenager who’d seen a movie star, then stared in wonder again at the $20 in her hand.

"It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, I do believe. We got snow and angels ta boot," she said wistfully to no one in particular. "And here I was, thinkin’ I was getting nuttin’ for Christmas. Yep, a really wonderful Christmastime it is."


Ensconced safely within the luxuriously roomy confines of the Bentley, the three friends were quiet as the huge engine purred to life.

"Don’t say it, Sissy," Lily warned, shooting daggers at her friend through the rearview mirror as Buzz smoothly pulled the car onto the mostly deserted street.

"Well somebody has to, Lily. A Waffle House waitress? That’s a step below even your standards, darling. And Lord knows they’re at the bottom of the Chattahoochie as it is! I didn’t think it was physically possible to get any lower than that." Sissy furiously fanned his face with an ever-present perfectly starched linen hanky with lace edging.

"You’d know about that, wouldn’t you," Lily returned, her voice stony.

In the driver’s seat, Buzz chuckled, earning a biting glare from his lover.

"Just take me home and have the BMW sent to the house when the tire gets replaced, alright? And let me stop for some batteries on the way home. I’m going to need them, " Lilly muttered, feeling frustrated.

Sissy sighed. "Oh, alright."


Lily stepped into her house with a decided sense of relief, shedding expensive clothing as she went. Slipping the straps of her lace bra down her arms, she came to a slow halt, noticing something–or rather someone–amiss. "Oh Rudy," she called out in a sing-song voice, knowing how intensely her ‘butler’ detested that name. "Come out, come out wherever you are, dear Rudy." Sharp ears primed, she cocked her head, and smiled a predatory little grin as she heard soft scuffling coming from the direction of her bedroom. Tossing her bra away for the shock value, she waltzed topless into the room, planting her hands on her hips as the runty little weasel leaning over her antique armoire stood straight up as if someone had shoved a Yule Log up his chimney. "Rudy, Rudy, Rudy," Lily tsked, shaking her head and causing her long dark hair to fan across her shoulders and chest, obscuring the perfect view. "I thought we’d come to an understanding about your presence in my boudoir?"

"I–I--," he stammered to her chest, almost fainting as she casually flicked her hair back over her shoulder and grinned at him, showing all nine thousand of her snowy white teeth.

"I have a piece of advice for you, little man," she replied, eyes narrowing and growing cold as Frosty, the Snowman. Her voice was as quiet as a silent night.

"Run, Rudolph. Run."

Tearing his eyes away from the vision of paradise, he did as commanded, feet barely touching the plush carpet until he was safely down the stairs and out of the house, the door slamming loudly behind him.

Shaking her head, she walked over to her phone, and dialed up her mother.

"Montreaux residence," came the cultured voice of Roland, the butler.

"Roland, this is Lily. Is Mother still upright?"

"Yes, Ma’am. Shall I retrieve her for you?"


"Just a moment, Ma’am."

Several moments later, the voice of Catherine Smytheson Tolliver Montreaux, known to friends as Kitty, came over the line. "Lily, darling! Where have you been? I’ve been worried sick! Sick, I tell you! Why, I even rang that dear sweet boy Charlton, but there was no answer!"

Yes, Kitty was positively pickled. Her words slurred together worse than a dental patient with a lip full of Novocain. Counting slowly to ten to cool her temper, Lily squeezed her eyes shut and bit down on the inside of her cheek to keep the invectives deep down inside, where they belonged. Mother and Daddy still held the purse strings to the trust fund, after all. It wouldn’t do to throw it all away just yet. Still . . . . "Mother, I’m thirty one years old. Surely the time when you needed to keep tabs on my every breath has passed, don’t you think?" Stopping a second to let her mother’s jellified synapses process the mild insult, she then continued on. "Besides, why didn’t you just call your spy? I’m sure he would have been happy to make up something decadent just to please you. It’s what you pay him for, after all."

A sniff. "I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking ab--."

"Rudolph, Mother. You do remember Rudolph–the red nosed reindeer who was apparently lighting Santa’s way to my underwear drawer this evening? Really, Mother, do you really think it’s proper form to pick the help from among the denizens of your group therapy sessions?"

On the other end, Kitty sighed. It was the sigh of a mother who wielded her only weapon, guilt, better than a Japanese chef wielded his Ginsus.

Lily winced, awaiting the inevitable drunken tirade, complete with manufactured tears.

"What child is this? Lily? My dear, sweet, only daughter, for whom I went through forty eight hours of labor before your father even made it home from his latest hussy du jour to take me to the hospital . . . ."

The young socialite sighed. Her mother’s labor just kept getting longer and longer with each telling. And God knew, if she had a nickel for each time she had to sit through this particular chestnut, she could tell Mommie Dearest to shove her trust fund where the sun didn’t dare to shine.

" . . . .and you know, darling, how fearfully important our family name is here in the South. Why, it’s your legacy, bought and paid for with the blood of our dear fallen boys in that sham the Yankees call a war. And if it hadn’t been for your Father and I, why, our good name would have been dragged through the very mud during your little ‘incident’ . . . ."

"Mother, that ‘little incident’ happened over ten years ago, and anyone privy to it is either dead or so far up Daddy’s ass they’ll never see the light of day again. Can’t we just let it drop the damn little secret already?"

"Lily Cecelia Annalisa Tolliver Montreaux, you watch that mouth. A lady of breeding never speaks like a common gutter snipe. Now do you understand why I worry so?"

Once again biting back invectives that threatened to spew from her mouth like sewage from a tenement project, Lily carefully schooled her beautiful features into studied nonchalance. "Yes, Mother. I’m sorry."

"That’s better, dear. Now, I simply must tell you what I heard from Dale Carruthers today at the Club . . . ."

Rolling her eyes, Lily tuned out her mother’s drunken ramblings and shifted on her feet. Her mind insisted on slipping off into tangents of the blonde, green-eyed, curvaceous variety.

"Damn it!" she hissed, not realizing she was speaking aloud. "I forgot the goddamned batteries!"

" . . .and then Dale said . . . . What was that dear?"

Lily paled. "Nothing, Mother. Please go on."

"I could have sworn I heard you say something about batteries?"

"No, Mother. It must be a bad connection. Do continue."

There was a long moment of hesitation on the other end. And then came the muffled voice of her Mother, ordering Roland to fetch her another bottle of scotch and be quick about it. When she came back on the line, Kitty sounded vaguely confused. "Oh dear, I’ve forgotten what I was saying, dear."

Lily grinned and pumped a triumphant fist into the air. "It happens to the best of us, Mother. Now, if there’s nothing else, I need to bathe and get to bed. The morning comes early, you know."

"I suppose it does, dear." This was said in a faintly condescending tone. Kitty Montreaux would never understand why an uptown girl of privilege, a woman of breeding, would debase herself in the working world. Why, in her day, that simply wasn’t done. And to have that woman be her very own daughter . . . . Well, some crosses were heavier than others.

"Will there be anything else, Mother?"

"Not that I can think of, dear. Now you . . .wait! Yes, there is! I have the most delightful news for you, my darling daughter."

Lily’s stomach plummeted to her toes at the tone in her mother’s voice. Visions of eligible bachelors or somesuch other nonsense flitted through her head like a silent movie with a bad reel. "What, Mother."

"Well, as you know, today is the day that all the Daughters of the Confederacy meet down at the Club. And for next month’s charity work, we all decided to help those poor, dear wretched people to whom life has given a bitter pill to swallow."

"And what does this have to do with me?"

"Why, it has everything to do with you, darling! You see, I volunteered your little boutique for the cause, my dear."

"You what?!?"

"You heard me, dear. We’re going to have a drawing. Whichever poor soul wins will receive, perfectly free of charge, a home redecoration from you! Isn’t that simply grand?"

"Mother . . . ."

"Say nothing more on the subject, Lily. It’s been decided, and your father agrees with me. You’ll simply set up those little plastic boxes in the area Wall . . .Wall . . .somethings . . . ."

"Wal-Marts?" Lily asked, shuddering inwardly at the thought of setting foot in such a place.

"Exactly! Celeste’s maid has a brother-in-law who’s in the printing industry and has agreed to make up the fliers for us. They’ll be ready tomorrow afternoon. Just send that big hunk o’ love, Biff . . . ."

"It’s Buzz, Mother."

"Buzz, right. Send him round after three to pick them up. I want you to see to their placement in those stores personally, Lily. Personally. I want you to understand how dreadfully important this is to me."

Lily sighed again, knowing she had no choice but to accede to her mother’s demands. "Yes, Mother."

"There’s a good dear. You’ve made your mother very happy."

Lily’s smile was that of a constipated serial killer. "I’m glad, Mother. Will there be anything else?"

"No, dear. That will do for this evening. Sleep well, darling. Mother loves you."

"I love you too, Mother."

That last was said to an empty line.

"Drunken bitch," Lily muttered, slamming the phone back down on the hook. "Have another bottle of scotch, Mother dear. Maybe tomorrow will be the day your liver finally decides that you’re too much of a lost cause to bother with anymore."

With that charming little fantasy running through her head, Lily made her careful way to the master bath with its marble and gold fixtures and Roman tub. Perhaps the jaccuzzi jets would serve in lieu of the forgotten batteries.


Pulling her no-color Datsun pick-up–yet another of her blessed Mama’s hand-me-downs--onto the weed-eaten lawn, Verna Lee carefully set the parking brake and turned off the ignition, then waited patiently until the muffler stopped doing its imitation of the VFW hall after Bean Supper Night.

"I guess I shoulda used that twenty dollars what that sweet woman Lily gave me ta put to charity, like Mama woulda wanted," she said softly as she stepped from the truck, "but if’n it means Clem’ll fix it so I’ll be home for Christmas, I s’ppose Mama won’t be all that mad." Crossing her fingers, she looked up into the starlit sky, half expecting a lightning bolt to come winging its way down from Heaven. When nothing happened, she breathed a sigh of relief, and continued to look up at the constellations, her expression a bit perplexed. "Huh. Coulda swore I saw three ships last night. Guess God took the Santa Maria out for a spin or somethin’." With a little shrug, she gathered up her Waffle House bags and crossed what was left of the lawn.

‘Home’, such as it was, was little more than a shotgun shack sinking slowly, but surely, into the swampland that Verna Lee’s mother chose to build it on. The window glass had long ago been replaced by plastic and duck tape, both of which flapped forlornly in the chilly breeze.

The door, splintered and pockmarked by buck-shot, hung on one hinge. Slipping her key into the ancient, rusting lock, she jiggled the handle, murmured entreaties, begged, pled, and finally just heaved back and kicked the damn thing open in a veritable shower of rust and squealing metal.

Once inside the house, Verna Lee’s senses were overwhelmed by "eau de litter box" and the yowling of impatient, hungry felines, eleven in all. Dropping her Waffle House leftovers on a three legged table near the door, she immediately squatted down and accepted the ravenous kitties into her all-encompassing embrace. "Oh come, little children!" she cooed, calling each by name and bestowing every fuzzy head with a kiss, exactly as Mama used to do. "Hello, Maury. Looking good, Montel. Oprah, aren’t you the pretty one this evening. Have you lost weight again? Ricky and Jenny, you two stop competing over everything. Mama’s got enough love for all of you. Hello Regis and Kathy Lee. Jerry, I swear, all you wanna do is cause fights! Awww…come to Mama, you precious triples. Hello, Sally, Jessy and Raphael. Mama wuvs you. Yes she does. She just wuvs you to itty bitty pieces!"

Yes, Mama, God rest her soul, had a talk show fetish. And though Verna Lee, like her blessed mother before her, loved all animals, eleven cats was a bit much, even for her. Still, because she knew her Mama loved those cats as much, if not more, than her own daughter, Verna Lee could no more think of taking them in for the big needle than she could think of cutting off her own arm.

"What were my sweetums doing while Mommy was out earning her daily bread?" Standing, she looked over at the small table crowded into one corner of the kitchen/living-room/den. "Ah. Rocking around the Christmas tree, I see." As Christmas trees went, it wasn’t much. It hadn’t been much even when the needles were still on it. Now it looked like a vaguely tree-shaped bundle of dry sticks with one limp piece of tinsel draped over it along with the one ball the cats wouldn’t touch–oddly enough, it was the one with Mama’s face painted on it in loving colors. The lone ball weighed the top down so much that it appeared as if the poor denuded tree was bowing in the direction of Mama’s special Velvet Last Supper paint by numbers masterpiece that hung in the place of honor above the twelve inch black and white TV set with the tinfoil rabbit ears. Verna Lee always thought that picture was kind of creepy, what with Jesus’ and all his Apostles’ eyes following her everywhere she went, but it was Mama’s pride and joy and so it hung there…watching…waiting….

‘Kittie wuvvie time’ over for another day, Verna Lee dumped Cat Chow ™ into the assorted plastic take-out containers that pulled double duty as cat bowls, pulled on her Playtex Living Gloves ™, and cleaned out the six litter boxes.

That odious task complete, she drew a bath, let Calgon ™ take her away, and finally reappeared in the living room/dining room/den/kitchen/office in a tattered periwinkle robe and pink bunny slippers. She set her eyes on Mama’s Nativity set, sitting on the shelf above the tree. Verna Lee had had to replace a few of the pieces on account of the cats, but she thought Mama would have been pleased with the result, nonetheless.

Away in a manger, Baby Jesus–who in his real life was Tom the Dump truck Driver from an old Playskool ™ set, lay under a tiny, tattered blue Christmas blanket. He was watched over attentively by Mary and Joseph, in reality a couple of Barbie and Ken knockoffs that Mama had won in a cover-all Bingo game up to the Chapel of the Holy Sepulcher and Shooting Range. A purple Barney the Dinosaur ™ grinned idiotically over ‘Mary’s’ left shoulder, filling in for all the animals, and a truly putrid hand-made Elvis mug (him being the ‘real’ King, in Mama’s esteemed and oft-voiced opinion) rounded out the set, pulling triple duty as Gaspar, Melchior, Balthasar.

"Sleep well, Baby Jesus," Verna Lee whispered, kissing the tip of her finger and pressing it gently against Tom the Dump Truck Driver’s wide-staring eyes. "If’n we’re lucky, maybe it’ll be a White Christmas fer your birthday, huh?" Giving a little sigh, she turned away, refusing to let her tears fall. It would be the first Noel without Mama, but she’d just have to make the best of it. Somehow.

Turning on the tiny black and white television, the young woman played with the rabbit ears, adjusting their aluminum foil tips until only two Dan Rather’s solemnly reported the news to her.

Settling back in the threadbare Lazy Boy ™, her eyes slowly drifted closed as Sally Struthers asked her if she knew how many children were starving in darkest Borneo or if she knew that she too could be an electrical repairman in her spare time for the price of one cup of coffee per day.

By the time the Star Spangled Banner issued forth from the tinny speaker, Verna Lee was snoring softly, wrapped in a mass of living, purring fur and dreaming of a goddess with black hair and blue eyes.

And in a shotgun shack in a small down in the deep south, another day ended.


Lily woke at dawn, but then again, she always did. Her family, Kitty in particular, did not believe in something so esoteric as an alarm clock. No, that’s what the butler was for. And if the butler fell down on his job, the maids would be happy to make up one’s bed with one still in it.

Grumbling and shaking out her sleep-tousled hair with one slim hand, Lily stepped out of bed, briefly considering a run through the back woods of her property. A moment later, she discarded the notion, leering into the full-length mirror as she planned another exercise, somewhat along the lines of horizontal aerobics, for later on in the evening.

With that thought spinning pleasantly through her wakening mind and body, the young heiress slipped on a set of Vanderbilt sweats, the sleeves fashionably removed so as to display her well-toned shoulders and arms to their best advantage. "Vanderbilt Diving Team" was emblazoned in white lettering across the front of the shirt, while "Dive In and Get Wet" was boldly stamped across the back.

Yes, the class of ’89 was a bit naughty.

And that, along with Lily’s undeniable, long-limbed, wild haired, blue eyed beauty, accounted for the ‘the incident’ of which no one but Kitty ever dared speak.

"Let’s get started then, shall we?" she asked her reflection, giving her belly a firm slap to check the jiggle. There was none and she smiled with pleasure. Still solid as a rock and ready for action.

She stepped out of her bedroom, barefoot. Her feet sank deep into the plush carpeting of the hallway, already preparing themselves for that first step on the highly polished wood flooring at the beginning of the spiral staircase.

Normally, Lily Montreaux wouldn’t be caught dead walking down into her living room looking like anything less than complete, stunning perfection. The reason was simple. The area in question was arguably the most photographed living room in the entire southeast. Even, some said, the entire United States. Scandal waggers and gossip folks, of course, stated with some assurance that while the above might be true, Lily’s bedroom was what the most women guests saw. Up close and personal, that is. The ceiling being the most viewed part of the whole ensemble.

Lily thought, privately, of course, that they were probably quite close to being correct. After all, her living room had only been in House Beautiful fourteen times, all tolled. A far lesser number of times in other magazines. The number of blondes-on-the-hoof passing through the gates of her boudoir, however, approached truly astronomical proportions.

Coming to the bottom of the stairway, she paused, taking in a deep breath of cool, vaguely hyacinth-scented air (it had always been one of her favorite smells), before turning to the Chippendale that formed her secretary’s desk. She picked up the jumble of handwritten notes left by said secretary, a middle-aged African American woman with the unfortunate moniker of Chlamydia Pontoon.

Chlamydia would have been an absolutely stellar assistant except for one . . .minor . . .fault. She hated, loathed and absolutely detested rich people. Black, white, purple or green, it didn’t matter to Chlamydia. Not in the slightest. If they had money, they were on her permanent shit list, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. She’d practically eat the rich for lunch. Sionara, senorita.

Unfortunately, since fully one hundred percent of Lily’s clientele were filthy stinking rich, that made for a great deal of lost business. Indeed, Chlamydia’s gutter-mouthed tirades and subsequent hang-ups (or, to be more accurate, ‘slam downs’), were somewhat legendary in Lily’s design firm. Sissy, was even known to go into fainting spells over them. Chlamydia simply kept smelling salts in one of the drawers for just such an occasion, as well as a scorecard where she would gleefully record the date and time of the event.

Still, for all that, Lily couldn’t bring herself to fire the woman, for she harbored some of the same feelings, albeit secretly, of the gentrified, even if she was ‘one of the already damned’, as Chlamydia put it.

For some reason, though, Chlamydia doted on Lily. Maybe it was because she saw a kindred spirit beneath the lacquered veneer that was the young socialite’s public persona. Or maybe it could have been any one of a thousand other reasons. Chlamydia was never one to talk about her feelings to anyone except the good Lord, and that was said through closed lips.

Chuckling softly to herself and shaking her head over memories of her secretary’s antics, Lily grabbed the small pile of papers and took them with her as she made her way to the kitchen, its door tucked innocuously against a far wall and partially hidden by a fully stocked (and often used) wet bar. The wet bar, of course, was more a housing area for her mother’s favorite scotch, gin and juice.

More than anywhere else in the mansion, the kitchen was Lily’s ‘place’. It was where she came to escape the stresses of the day, or, in some cases, the evenings as well. She always entered the sunny room with a distinct sense of privacy and pleasure.

Few were ever allowed back there, including her assignations, who were politely sent off very early the morning after through the back door, usually escorted by a jovially smiling Buzz and clucked at by a pale and frenetically fanning Sissy, who was always asking the time honored question of the very, very rich: "What will the neighbors think?"

Pouring freshly ground and aromatic beans into her custom espresso maker, Lily turned the little machine on and walked over to the table to study her messages. As she read through them, she sorted the thin sheets of creamy, scented paper into three piles: "When Hell opens up a Good Humor franchise", "If I’m down to my last dollar", and "Maybe".

Into the first pile went most of the notes from out of town, like the one from a couple in Indiana, asking her to redo the hallways of their two-bedroom colonial so that "the crayon marks wouldn’t show anymore.". Aside from the fact that she wouldn’t be caught dead in a two-bedroom colonial, Lily’s consulting fee alone would be more than the whole house, if one could rightly term it that, was worth, crayola’d hallways and all. Even if the kid was the next Picasso (and by the fax that had come along with the message, he most certainly wasn’t, though he did have a good knowledge of anatomical correctness.).

The second pile was reserved for people who, though they had money absolutely dripping from the holes in their posteriors, obviously hadn’t thought to use any of their vast wealth to buy something even remotely resembling a personality. Examples of people who fell into this particular category were Harcourt and Dale Carruthers, Mother and Father’s best, dearest, friends, and the current chairpeople of the "Keep the Stars and Bars Flying Over Our State" committee.

Lily had what she considered to be the great misfortune of growing up in close personal contact with the Clan Carruthers. A more inbred lot it had never been her misfortune to see.

And into the third pile went the queries of people who either she’d dealt with before or who, through their questions of her, sparked her interest, which was, lately, getting harder and harder to do.

"Well look what da cat done dragged in!" Chlamydia Pontoon’s voice was loud in the large confines of the kitchen. The large, brightly dressed woman sailed in like a schooner in a stiff wind and peered at the closed door closely. "Got yer latest hoochie mama sent off already?"

"No such luck," Lily drawled, biting back a smirk as the woman turned slowly in her direction, goggle eyed.

"She ain’t still here, is she?"

"Nope." The smirk peeped through. "I went solo last night."

Chlamydia shook her head in amazement, bejeweled hands resting on abundant hips. "Remind me ta get some o’ that ‘stock’ stuff you’re always yammerin’ on about, girl."

"Oh? In what?"

"Ever-Ready. Duracell. Whatever. You been havin’ a lot a them lonely nights. I swear one of these nights you gonna break your own cootchie if you don’t stop abusin’ it."

At Lily’s elegantly hiked eyebrow, the older woman burst out laughing.


Lily fumed as she drove her BMW across the cracked, weathered surface of the Wal-Mart parking lot. Mother, Mother, I owe you for this one. Charity is fine, but MUST you send me out to Podunkville? On Christmas Eve in the snow, no less! She spied perhaps the 100th Jesus fish she’d seen pasted proudly next to a decal of a cartoon boy peeing on the head of Saddam Hussein. The truck it was pasted to was large enough to carry a small nation and sported enough lights to save Turner Field during a power outtage.

 Indeed, the designer harbored a fetish for rural women but had little patience for rural men. Unless he has daughters, she thought. A wave of unexpected lust swept over the wealthy woman. An image quickly formed in her mind of a simple country girl in thin, cheap clothing with a small gold cross glittering in the hollow of her throat. Mmmm … oh yeah. With a name like Brandy or Amanda …or what was that waitresses’ name again?

A loud horn blast from yet another truck broke the designer from her reverie. After finding a suitable spot, Lily exited the car and opened the trunk to retrieve the giveaway drawing box. She briefly hoped that Brandy or Amanda would win the home makeover. Or just one hot mama, Lily thought as a sly grin bloomed on her face. The chirp of her cell phone broke yet another dreamy reverie.

"Lily Montreaux," she answered, sounding more sex kitten than savvy businesswoman.

"Precious, are you still knocked out from your hanky panky last night? It’s getting late! We have clients to intimidate! Where ARE you, love," Sissy’s voice chimed through her phone.

"Attempted hanky panky," the designer growled back. "Let’s not forget that. And now I find myself conned into one of Mother’s causes. I’m delivering the last drawing box out in East Bumblefart."

"Ah, yes, yeeeeees, and our delicate flower is still all hormonally a-twitter, I see. Angel, please do us all a favor and purchase some batteries and a toy, NOT a cheap tartlett off the rack! I know you’re a little lonely, but please remember you are haute coutoure!"

Glancing up at the gloomy sky above, Lily admitted that her twittery little assistant was mostly correct. Most of her problem was that she was feeling lonely. Still, she had a job to do, so she pushed aside her desires in favor of her business for the moment. "I’ll be in shortly. So what’s happening at the office?"

"Well, Mrs. Nelson-Fortenbush has some sort of emergency with her entryway decorations. Seems our origami turtledoves met a tragic, wet end. Her caterers brought in the ice sculpture too early and it’s been melting all afternoon," Sissy dutifully reported. With an agrieved sigh, he added, "I’m headed there now to finish the re-festoon the main banister."

Elvira Nelson-Fortenbush had more money than good King Wenceslas and few on whom to spend it. Her Christmas Eve celebration was always a large, lavish specatacle of light and wonder with a guest list to match. Elvira also seemed to harbor some odd little crush on dearest Charlton. Hence, Sissy’s attempts at avoiding the wanton advances of Mrs. Nelson-Fortenbush tended to look like the dance of the sugar plum fairy.

"OK," Lily sighed, knowing she needed to be at the party soon. "I’ll be in as soon as I wade through the Mississippi Squirrel Revival here. At least I am guessing that is what’s happening inside. They seem quite fond of the Jesus fish on their vehicles."

"It’s not the the squirrels that concern me, darling! Just please don’t come home with Wynona’s big brown beaver," Sissy shot at her. "Lily, if the carpet doesn’t match the drapes, just say no!"

"Now Charlton," she began with an innocent-sounding tone in her voice. "You know I prefer hardwood over carpeting. All that smooth, warm, sweet …"

"HUSSY! If I didn’t know you were Kitty’s Montreaux’s daughter, I’d swear you were a half-breed mongrel. Does your mother know you speak that way?" The designer was fairly certain she could hear the noise of Sissy’s handkerchief as he fanned his face in shock. "You do this just to give me the vapors!"

Her spirits greatly lifted, Lily closed the conversation and gathered her things and headed for her adventure in discount shopping.


"Hey thar. Welcome to Wal-Mart." Verna Lee tried to greet the customers in her cheerful voice, but it wasn’t working. Between ill-tempered last-minute Christmas shoppers, the coming snow storm, the occaisional security issues and many misbehaving children, the greeter’s day had steadily gone from bad to worse. Case in point, an angry man was coming through the door hauling a scared young boy by the arm while he held a baby in a Santa suit with the other arm. The santa baby was screaming. The trio was followed by a bellringing charity Santa who was clutching his forhead and bleeding.

"Jingle bell, rock, I don’t give a damn! You don’t throw NOTHIN’ ya hear me, boy! Santa Claus is coming to town for someone else, not you," the father was raging at the boy.

To top everything off, Verna Lee had been distracted all day. She couldn’t seem to get her mind off visions of her angel of the morning. As the sun was coming up, she’d awakened from a sultry dream that shocked her right into a high-speed knee skid toward her Mama’s prayer corner. Images from her dream of the gorgeous, elegant woman draped in angelic white had haunted her all day. Her mama would have called her nothing but a sinfull dreamweaver, a … a … filthy daydream believer, but Verna Lee was drawn to the memory of artcic blue eyes and a heavenly smile. Verna Lee was also tortured by the sweet ache of desire she felt for the angel.

"I am goin’ straight ta hell," the greeter muttered to herself once again. "These dreams gotta stop."

The greeter’s grumblings caused her to miss the approach of her very colorful shift manager, Carmen. The Latina’s array of large plastic jewelry usually announced her presence, even before the loud colors of her clothing below the official Wal-Mart vest did.

"Chiquitita, why you no so happy today, hm? Ohhhh, ees your mama not here at Christmas, I know." Carmen had hundreds of stories and usually tried to relate. She too had lost her mama a few years ago. "Like the other night me and Julio we was rockin’ around the Christmas tree, putting up the lights, having a little egg nog and then I bust out crying when I see my mama’s little baby Jesus balls, you know the one I tell you about with ‘Feliz Navidad’ hand painted across his little diaper? Madre, she love those balls …"

Verna Lee thought Carmen was truly lucky to still have her mama’s Jesus balls, but she also felt a big pang of guilt over the true reason for her lack of cheerfulness on Christmas Eve.

"Naw, it aint little squirt’s mama this year," her co-worker Tonesha chimed in. Tonesha was a large, burly black woman whose past was up to some store-wide speculation, as was her choice in the romance department. "She’s in looooove. Aint nobody getting’ THAT blue over they mama. It’s somebody. At least, that’s what Christmas means to me - when you got someone beggin’ ya, saying ‘baby, please come home for Christmas.’" The large woman mimicked a pining, pleading lover, nearly coaxing a genuine laugh from Verna Lee.

A sudden crash of boxes caused the women to turn quickly. Bucky, the stockboy who was covered in a layer of storeroom dirt, looked extremely distraught and rather ill over their conversation. His attraction to the greeter was as badly hidden as Tonesha’s past. It hadn’t helped that he had also been caught composing a moonlight serenade to her in the still of the night outside Verna Lee’s mama’s house. The stockboy turned and fled. Carmen and Tonesha snickered.

"Yall quit torturin’ that boy," Verna Lee scolded gently.

"Aye, ees cute that he’s sweet on you. But what is this love anyway? Give it up, querrida, who makes your heart sing?"

The women looked on expectantly as the greeter searched for a suitable response. Just as she opened her mouth and said a little prayer for the lie she was about to tell, the electric doors slid open emitting a cold blast of wintry air and person obsured by a large box. Ever mindful of her duties, Verna Lee reached inside for her happy spot and did her job.

"Hey thar! Welcome to … oh … oomph! …"

Feeling the connection with something solid, the person halted. A pair of very blue eyes peered over the edge of the box and into the stunned faces of Carmen, Tonesha and the recently returned Bucky. They were gawping interminently at her and something on the floor in front of her.

"Oh, hello. I am here to drop off this drawing for the Daughters of the Confederacy giveaway. I … um … oh my, is that a real tube top on that rack??"

Another moment of silence followed as Lily moved the box she carried and finally saw the little greeter at her feet. Having never seen her, Lily had plowed into Verna Lee and knocked her over. The greeter was currently sprawled on the linoleum and was out cold. Looking back up at the girl’s co-workers, Lily swore she heard a pair of dueling banjos warming up.

The silence broke in a flurry of movement as Lily stepped back and fairly dropped the heavy box she was carrying. Carmen flew to hover over the fallen greeter as both Tonesha and Bucky fairly launched themselves the designer. The dirty white boy didn’t scare Lily much, but the barracuda in her face gave her pause.

"BITCH! Who the hell you think you is," Tonesha yelled in Lily’s face. "I’m that girl’s mama since she aint got none, and mama said knock you out!" The large woman raised a balled fist to take aim at the designer’s jaw. A low moan from the greeter on the floor kept the woman from landing her punch.

"Dios mio! We got to help the little chica!" Carmen wailed, fanning her hand frantically over Verna Lee’s face.

Lily gently pushed the woman aside gently but with enough force to let her know the designer could hold her own. Kneeling over the prone woman, Lily was amazed as what she saw. Oh my, she thougt. The cute little waitress moonlighting at Wal-Mart. Well now, she works hard for the money.

The socialite slipped her hand into the greeter’s hair and briefly enjoyed the fine, silken texture as she felt the area where the girl’s head had connected with the linoleum. The movement caused the girl to moan again as her eyes started to flutter open. Lily smiled down at the green-eyed lady, again thinking her lovely.

Verna Lee opened her eyes slightly to see the angel eyes she’d been dreaming of. For a moment, she floated in a brilliant azure gaze staring back at her. Quickly, though, her peace crumbled into shock at having her heart’s yearning very real and very close.

The girl screamed and passed back out.

"Witchy woman! You give the chica the evil eye!" Carmen frantically made the sign of the cross over herself and kissed the small crucifix around her neck. Lily looked up to realize a crowd was beginning to form around them. A hefty man bearing a fierce scowl and a clipboard was also bearing down the main entry aisle toward them. His clipboard was marked ‘LB - Manager’ on the back in what appeared to be White-Out.

"Oh shit. Here come bad, bad Leroy Brown. Badest manger in the whole damn town. We gotta get her outta here. He gonna fire her ass if he see she screwed up again," Tonesha said. The large woman’s tone had shifted from outrage to nervousness.

"Seems a little bit of a recurrent theme with this one," Lily commented wryly.

Just as she was about to look back down at the prone woman, the designer noticed the boy that threw the rock-loaded jingle bell earlier. As she was kneeling, she could clearly see the short little boy’s t-shirt emblazoned with ‘WWF’ made of lightening bolts. He, in turn, could see her quite well too. As the boy stood there twisting the hem of his t-shirt, Lily saw a brief light of recognition begin to dawn in his eyes. Quicker than a fast car, Lily hefty the limp blonde’s body and stood.

"Damn. You strong for a skinny white girl," Tonesha said in some wonder.

"Admiration can wait. We need to get her someplace mister macho man won’t see her and I can call for some medical attention. Suggestions?" Lily’s tone was authoritative and usually spurred people into the action she wanted. In this case, Bucky managed to speak up.

"Thar’s the back breakroom," he sqeaked in his adolescent, breaking voice. "The one behind the overstocked ‘L’s’ aint used as much. No microwave."

"Overstocked ‘L’s’?" Lily asked in couristy.

"Ladieswear and lawnmowers," three diligents employees anaswered. Verna Lee moaned a little.

The designer smiled a bit wryly. "But of course. Lead the way, junior." Bucky began to scury down a side aisle, followed closely by Lily still carrying Verna Lee. Tonesha followed closely behind them while Carmen stayed to offer an explanation to Leroy.


Once they reached the rear breakroom, Lily carefully laid Verna Lee on the long, sturdy, industrial table in the center of the room. The designer made a few phone calls, including one to her personal physician. Doctor Robert Jackson, MD, did not make housecalls … except for Lily. But then, the designer had taken care of the handsome doctor on more than a few drunken college nights.

"Call me. Let me know how the old girl’s soire is going," Lily instructed Sissy over the phone. "I’ll be there later. Yes. No, she’d rather you be at hand anway!" She closed the slender cell phone and turned to stare at the slumbering woman on the table.

Lily took advantage of the quiet moment to stare. She took in the girl’s youthful face, the sweet pink hue of her lips, the gentle curve of her face, the sweet slope of her neck. Isn’t she lovely, the designer thought, feeling drawn to the blonde. Her thoughts were interrupted just as a large man with beautiful ebony skin darkened the breakroom’s doorway.

"Petunia, just WHAT have you done this time?" The handsome doctor stepped fully into the room. "I knew there were reasons to listen when my mom said, ‘Son, be a dentist.’ They aren’t out on nights like this! Let’s see … cute blonde, out cold. But she’s still dressed. Oh, Lily, you’re losing your touch. The spike in her drink kicked in too quickly."

The designer flashed him a brilliant, albeit wicked grin. Bobby was of few people allowed to use a pet name with her. "Ah, Bobby boy, I never needed to drug them. But this one seems rather fond of passing out all on her own."

Bobby leaned over his new patient and began his initial examination. He needed some assitance, however, and asked Lily to hold the girl more upright so he could check the bump on the back of her head. The position left Verna Lee more or less slumped against Lily’s shoulder and breast.

"OK, sleeping beauty, time to start waking up," the doctor said as he began to examine Verna Lee’s pupils with a small pen light. She stirred and sighed contentedly in her comfortable position. Opening her eyes, the greeter blinked slowly a few times before she looked up at the person that held her. At the sight of the blue eyes above her, Verna Lee screamed and passed right back out.

"I … see," Bobby said, his eyes wide with couriosty. "Well, this one should be hard to chase, then."

"She’s just someone I met by coincidence," Lily spat back a bit too defensively. " Work your magic, man so that I leave this nightmare. I left the little queen in charge of the Nelson-Fortenbush celebration. "

The doctor chuckled and completed his examination. As he packed to leave, he instructed Lily to ice the lump on the back of the girl’s head and wake her again soon but gently. He also cautioned Lily about the worsening weather conditions outside.

"Lil, you need to get out of here before you can’t. It’s snowing like crazy and the roads are getting pretty bad. Looks like the rest of the staff has gone home a little early too."

The designer looked at the unconscious woman on her shoulder and felt a pang of guilt. "I have to stay until I know she’s OK, even if that means riding the storm out here."

After the doctor left, the tall woman had climbed up on the table and used her long body to cradle her charge. The novelty of staring at the girl quickly wore off so Lily fished for the remote to the somewhat fuzzy television mounted on a large bracket in one corner of the room. The news of the increasing snow storm outside concerned her greatly.

"Whoa, baby, it’s cold outside," she muttered to herself. Her comment, spoken close to Verna Lee’s delicate ear, caused the woman in her arms to stir. Lily realized she needed to gentle her back into awareness or face another scream. Her mind raced to think of some way to let the girl know she was OK.

Verna Lee in turn began to become aware of a few things she rather liked in her rise toward consciousness. First, she was warm. Warmth was a precious thing as most of her clothing leaned toward being a little thin. And that cling wrap on the windows of her mama’s house only went so far in keeping out the cold Yankee wind from blowing right up her gowntail. Next, Verna Lee became aware of the amazing softness under her head. It felt like snuggling against a pillow filled with down from angel’s wings. Finally, Verna Lee felt both charmed and strangely stimulated by soft singing. The singer’s voice was low and velvety though decidedly female. Sweet Jesus, I done died and the angels are a singin’ me home, the greeter thought. Mama, I’m coming home!

Lily stopped singing in hopes of talking the girl back into awareness. The gentle motion of her fingers along Verna Lee’s back never ceased, though. "Shhh. Everything’s alright. You had an accident and you need to take it easy. I’ve been taking care of you. Now, don’t scream again, OK?"

The greeter opened her eyes in some confusion. Instead of St. Peter and the pearly gates, she saw the somewhat dingy breakroom walls. But looking up, she saw an angel smiling at her. Verna Lee squeaked a little and tried to sit upright. A strong arm prevented her.

"Easy now, not so fast. You have to get up slowly. Let me get you some water."

Lily eased Verna Lee into an upright position and scooted off the table. Standing, she turned to the greeter for a moment. The blonde was looking at her now with an open, shyly courious expression.

"Yeeeeees?" Lily drawled with slightly cocked eyebrow.

"You … you’re that expesive woman what broke down by the restaurant the other night. Um … Daisy … no, that aint it … wait, flowers, li … lilac … no! Lily! It’s Lily."

The designer smiled, charmed by Verna Lee’s forthrightness. "That would be me, yes. Lily Montreaux," she said, extending her hand.

Verna Lee took her hand, finding it warm and inviting. She felt the long fingers wrap snuggly yet gently around her smaller hand. The greeter felt her breathing catch a little as she realized that she was holding the living, very real hand of her dream angel. Dang, she even smells heavenly. Like one a them candy perfume girls, she thought now that she was close enough to catch the complex scent of Lily’s perfume. Then Verna Lee remembered her Mama again.

"Help me, Lord. I am goin’ straight ta hell."

Lily recovered quickly from the shock of the girl’s words. Feeling somewhat challenged, the tall woman leaned in a little closer and dropped and wreckless, careless whisper in the greeter’s pink ear. "That’s your take on me? And what makes you so certain it’s not heaven?"

The designer stood and flashed a 1,000-watt saucy grin at Verna Lee. Feeling cocky, Lily turned to swagger to the sink to get the girl a Styrofoam cup of cool water. Both women could feel the sparks of attraction between them.

Lily turned back to Verna Lee with the cup in her hand. She was about to continue the game she’d started with the blonde when Bucky burst through the breakroom door announcing his daddy was here with the big truck and did anyone need a ride.

Verna Lee watched in some helplessness as the door slammed squarely into Lily’s back, sending her sprawling forward. With a thunk, Lily’s forehead connected with the edge of the table, sending her to the dingy linoleum … out cold.


Lily knew she was dreaming. And she saw no reason to leave it.

They were moving slowly toward one another across Elvira’s marble dance floor. A few couples swirled throught the mist rolling off the enourmous ice scultpture that glowed in the center of the room. Sissy was the leader of the band that was stationed in the corner. He conducted them through a slow, liltling Christmas song. Unsurprisingly, his outfit made him look like the bastard love child of Elton John and Sgt. Pepper. Along the stage end of the ballroom, Lily’s somewhat soused mother held court on a raised dais alongside Elvira. For some strange reason, Buzz worked the room with a tray of canepes. He was dressed in a french maid’s apron … and little else.

The dream’s oddities, however, faded to the background as her attention became focused solely on the beautiful little blonde waitress advancing toward her. She looked elegant in a fitting gown of deep burgundy cut in a clssic style that left her creamy shoulders and throat bare. Lily felt the heat of desire spark to life in her own body, making her skin tingle. I’m on fire, she thought.

The two stopped in the center of the floor, standing toe-to-toe. Timidly, the blonde looked up through her lashes at the taller woman. Her words came at first softly and gained confident momentum as she spoke.

"The very thought of you," she began. "The…the very thought of you and I forget to do those little ordinary things that everyone ought to do." Verna Lee glanced down at her hands, seeming extremely bashful.

Somewhere the resonant bonging of a large bell clock announced the hour had turned to midnight, making it offically Christmas. "Look. Christmastime is here again." A tinge of excitement colored her voice. "What did you ask for this year?"

Lily gazed heatedly into Verna Lee’s sparkling green eyes. Deciding to be a little bold, the designer closed the small distance between them and gently cupped the face of the little waitress to whom she was growing quite attached. Lily realized there was truly just one thing on her Christmas wish list.

"All I want for Christmas is you," she husked, her voice dropping to a sexy timbre. The warm, sweet kiss Lily placed on Verna Lee’s inviting lips was as gentle as the landing of a snowflake. Both women felt overwhelmed by the soft, lush heat of eachother

"Merry Christmas, baby," Lily whipered to the stunned girl.

From somewhere far away, Lily heard an angel call to her through the veil of her dream.

She thought it odd that the angel’s accent was as thick as the Mississippi.

To be continued …



Dixie Fried Christmas Song list:

  1. winter wonderland (List #25)
  2. Do you hear what I hear? (List #5)
  3. Onward Christian Soldiers (various — old gospel)
  4. Locomotion (Kylie Minogue)
  5. Pretty paper (List #16)
  6. It came upon a midnight clear (List #10)
  7. over the river and through the woods (List #15)
  8. Chattahoochee (Alan Jackson)
  9. let it snow (List #13)
  10. deck the halls (List #4)
  11. up on the housetop (List #23)
  12. Silver bells (List #21)
  13. I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus (List #9)
  14. jolly ol' St. Nicholas (various — old Christmas song)
  15. Maggie Mae (Rod Stewart)
  16. home for the holidays (List #8)
  17. same old lang syne (Dan Fogelberg)
  18. the twelve days of Christmas (List #22)
  19. liquored up and lacquered down (Southern Culture on the Skids)
  20. holly jolly Christmas (various — old Christmas song (Burl Ives))
  21. Grandma got run over by a reindeer ((List #7)
  22. silent night (List #20)
  23. man eater (Hall & Oats)
  24. chestnuts roasting on an open fire (List # 3)
  25. we didn’t start the fire (Billy Joel)
  26. Somebody bring me some water (Melissa Etheridge)
  27. dark lady (Cher)
  28. joy to the world (various — old Christmas/church song)
  29. I got you, babe (Sonny and Cher)
  30. cheeseburger in paradise (Jimmy Buffet)
  31. burning ring of fire (Johnny Cash)
  32. safety dance (Men Without Hats)
  33. true blue (Madonna)
  34. She thinks my tractor’s sexy (Kenny Chesney)
  35. Honey, honey (Abba)
  36. lay all your love on me (Abba)
  37. take this job and shove it (David Allan Coe)
  38. true colors (Cydi Lauper)
  39. nutcracker suite (Tchaikovsky)
  40. Jingle Bells (List #11)
  41. little drummer boy (List #14)
  42. wicked game (Chris Isaak)
  43. the way old friends do (Abba)
  44. putting on the ritz (Irving Berlin, Paco)
  45. O, holy night (various — old Christmas/church song)
  46. Happy Christmas (John Lennon)
  47. the Prince of Peace (various — old Christmas/church song)
  48. Gabriel’s message (various — old Christmas/church song, Sting)
  49. the birth of Christ (various — old Christmas/church song)
  50. have yourself a merry little Christmas (Bing Crosby)
  51. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas (various — old Christmas/church song)
  52. nuttin’ for Christmas ((various — old Christmas/church song), Smash Mouth)
  53. wonderful Christmastime (Paul McCartney)
  54. Frosty, the Snowman ((various — old Christmas/church song), Burl Ives)
  55. Run, Rudolph. Run (List #18)
  56. Rudolph–the red nosed reindeer (List #17)
  57. What child is this (various — old Christmas/church song)
  58. little secret (Melissa Etheridge)
  59. uptown girl (Billy Joel)
  60. big hunk o’ love (Elvis Presley)
  61. I’ll be home for Christmas ((various — old Christmas song), Elvis, The Carpenters, Bing Crosby)
  62. I saw three ships ((various — old Christmas song), Cyndi Lauper, Shelly Marsh)
  63. Oh come, little children (various — old Christmas/church song)
  64. Blue Christmas (List #2)
  65. White Christmas (List #24)
  66. The First Noel (List #6)
  67. Rocking around the Christmas tree ((various — old Christmas song), Brenda Lee)
  68. Away in a manger (various — old Christmas song)
  69. solid as a rock (Ashford and Simpson)
  70. barefoot (kd Lang)
  71. gossip folks (Missy Elliot)
  72. eat the rich (Aerosmith)
  73. gin and juice (Snoop Dogg)
  74. lonely nights (Paul McCartney)
  75. one of these nights (Eagles)
  76. Mother, Mother (Tracy Bonham)
  77. Good Christian men rejoice (various — old Christmas song)
  78. Brandy (Looking Glass)
  79. Amanda (Boston)
  80. one hot mama (Trace Adkins)
  81. hanky panky (Madonna)
  82. good King Wenceslas (various — old Christmas song)
  83. Elvira (Oakridge Boys)
  84. dance of the sugar plum fairy (Tchaikovsky)
  85. Mississippi Squirrel Revival (Ray Stevens)
  86. Wynona’s big brown beaver (Primus)
  87. half-breed (Cher)
  88. Does your mother know (Abba)
  89. santa baby ((various — old Christmas song), Madonna)
  90. Jingle bell rock - (List #12)
  91. Santa Claus is coming to town (List #19)
  92. angel of the morning (Juice Newton)
  93. dreamweaver (Gary Wright)
  94. daydream believer (The Monkees)
  95. I am goin’ straight ta hell (Drivin N Cryin)
  96. These dreams (Heart)
  97. Chiquitita (Abba)
  98. Feliz Navidad ((various — old Christmas song), Jose Feliciano, Celine Dion, etc.)
  99. that’s what Christmas means to me (various — old Christmas song)
  100. baby, please come home for Christmas ((various — old Christmas song) Glen Frye)
  101. moonlight serenade (Frank Sinatra)
  102. in the still of the night (Cole Porter)
  103. what is this love anyway (Frank Sinatra, etc.)
  104. dueling banjos (Eric Weissberg)
  105. dirty white boy (Foreigner)
  106. barracuda (Heart)
  107. mama said knock you out (LL Cool J)
  108. she works hard for the money (Donna Summer)
  109. green-eyed lady (Sugarloaf)
  110. angel eyes (Abba)
  111. bad, bad Leroy Brown (Jim Croce)
  112. fast car (Tracy Chapman)
  113. macho man (Village People)
  114. Doctor Robert (The Beatles)
  115. Call me (Blondie)
  116. Isn’t she lovely (Stevie Wonder)
  117. Son, Be a Dentist (Little Shop of Horrors soundtrack (Steve Martin))
  118. magic man (Heart)
  119. little queen (Heart)
  120. celebration (Kool & The Gang)
  121. riding the storm out (REO Speedwagon)
  122. baby, it’s cold outside (Frank Loesser, Barry Manilow)
  123. Sweet Jesus (various — old church song)
  124. Mama, I’m coming home (Ozzy Osbourne)
  125. candy perfume girl (Madonna)
  126. careless whisper (Wham)
  127. take on me (Ah-ha)
  128. leader of the band (Dan Fogelberg)
  129. I’m on fire (Bruce Springsteen)
  130. The very thought of you (Nat King Cole)
  131. Christmastime is here again ((various — old Christmas song))
  132. All I want for Christmas is you (List #1)
  133. Merry Christmas, baby (various — old Christmas song)

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