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A Merry Little Christmas

By:Melanie Schuster

A Merry Little Christmas
Melanie Schuster

       Dedicated with Love

To all my readers and friends.

Thanks for being so patient;

God isn't finished with me yet!

May this holiday season be your very best.





Prologue

Angelique Deveraux drove slowly through the familiar streets of her  parents' neighborhood in Atlanta. She drove like a little old lady  because she was only truly comfortable in her own car, a Saab. But she  was very familiar with the area; she knew it like the back of her hand  and it felt safe. And she was also taking her own sweet time because she  didn't want to go back to her mother's house just yet. Everything there  was warm and wonderful with the sounds and smells of Christmas, and  Angelique had never felt less like celebrating. She'd have felt awkward  in any case as she was the proverbial black sheep of the Deveraux clan,  but the fact that she'd been living in Detroit for six months made her  feel even more like a stranger in her own family.

In a family full of tall, beautifully mannered, brilliant sons with  magnificent wives, Angelique was the only female and the oddball; the  "mean" Deveraux with the nasty temper and few redeeming social graces,  and, of course, no husband or children. Her exploits were the stuff of  community legend: she'd been known as a holy terror since kindergarten.  Being extremely beautiful served only to make her reputation worse;  people practically rubbed their hands in glee when recounting the latest  scandal in which Angelique was center stage. It didn't matter whether  the story had any basis in fact, any juicy tidbit that included her name  whipped through Atlanta and its suburbs like a flash flood. There was  no way Angelique could have lived down her reputation, even if she'd  wanted to. And that was one of the most confounding things about her, at  least to those who knew her best. She never attempted to deny any  accusation or give her side of any story. When confronted, which wasn't  often since most people feared her fiery temper, all she would do is  drawl, "So what else would you expect from me?"

The seasonably warm Atlanta weather was bothersome to Angelique. She had  gotten accustomed to the cool, brisk weather of Michigan and actually  longed for it. Somehow it had felt more Christmas-y in Michigan with the  periodic snow showers and the cold, windy nights. Now she was home in  seventy-degree weather, trying and failing to summon up a shred of  Christmas joy. When did it stop being fun and start feeling like a  horrid, gaudy farce? She sighed deeply and was about to turn into the  long drive of her mother and stepfather's home when she noticed a figure  some yards past the drive.

There at the foot of the next driveway was Bobby Foster. Bobby, who had  Down syndrome, was the adult child of the neighbors. He was wearing a  magnificently mismatched outfit of Christmas pajamas and a padded jacket  that was buttoned wrong. He also had on a shiny hat that looked like a  remnant from a birthday party and he was blissfully leading an imaginary  parade with masterful strokes of his makeshift baton, a wooden spoon.  Angelique stared at the improbable picture and her throat immediately  started to hurt from the huge lump that formed in it. She stopped the  car and covered her mouth with her hands, trying to stop the onslaught  of hot tears she felt coming.

She was gorgeous, wealthy, spoiled beyond reason and in excellent  health, but with all her heart she wished for the carefree joy Bobby had  in such abundance. Snap out of it, cow. Try to think of someone other  than yourself for a change, she chastised herself.

She got out of the car and waved at him. "That's a sporty outfit, Bobby, but I think you should be inside, don't you?"

Bobby's face lit up and he ran over to give her a hug. "Hello, Angel!  Come home with me," he said happily. "We have cookies, I helped make  them. And you can see what Santa brought me.

"I'd love to, but only if you let me give you a ride," she replied,  hugging his soft body that smelled like sugar cookies once more. They  got into the car and she rolled the car up the driveway to his house,  listening to his happy chatter all the way.

At least one of us still believes in Christmas.





Part One





Chapter One

"I still don't like the idea of you being so far away, Angelique. Isn't  it time for you to come home permanently?" The voice, full of concern,  belonged to Lillian Mercier Deveraux Williams. The expression on her  face was also deeply marked by worry. She was sitting in the living room  belonging to Angelique's brother Clay while various Deveraux children  and a very happy Golden Retriever named Patrick were racing around,  making the customary noises associated with holiday gatherings.

Angelique was busy clearing the room of any discarded wrappings, toys or  anything else that didn't belong there, but upon hearing the genuine  longing in her mother's voice, stopped what she was doing. Walking to  where her mother was seated in a big art-deco-style armchair, she leaned  over and kissed her on the cheek, then sank gracefully onto the  matching ottoman.                       
       
           



       

"Mama, I originally went to Detroit to help A.J. with his documentaries,  but I love living there, I really do. It's an exciting place to be.  There are so many cultures there, it's amazing. So many different kinds  of people and lifestyles and the architecture and the different  neighborhoods-it's just so fascinating!" Angelique took one of her  mother's hands and squeezed it gently. "And there's actually a lot of  interest in my work, too, Mama. The African-American museum is talking  to me about having an exhibition, can you imagine? I'm not just a  photographer's assistant anymore, I'm a real photographer, hard as that  is to believe," she added in satisfaction.

"Well, of course you are, Angel! A.J. knew you had talent from the very  beginning, that's why he was so glad to be working with you." The new  voice was that of Angelique's newest sister-in-law, Vera Clark Deveraux.  She had wandered into the room and curled up on one of the two big  leather sofas that faced each other in front of the huge fireplace wall.  She was as beautiful as the day she and Marcus Deveraux had met, but  she had an extra radiance that came from her recently announced  pregnancy. Angelique smiled broadly at Vera before replying.

"Vera, that's very sweet of you, but we both know that isn't quite true.  A.J. recognized the importance of his paycheck and when he was saddled  with me he just made the best of it, that's all. I'd been through every  other department at the Deveraux Group, and making me AJ.'s assistant  was just one more attempt to find me something to do. Now that's what  really happened, my dear sister." Angelique was laughing but no one else  joined in.

Vera rubbed her still-small tummy and yawned. "Angel, that sounds  dangerously close to you trying to disparage yourself my dear  sister-friend, and as I've told you before, I ain't having it. A.J.  really did recognize your talent very early on and he loved working with  you. Believe me, he'd have thrown you out on your F-stop if he hadn't,"  she said firmly. "So what if it took you a while to find your forte?  You found it, and that's all that matters. Every time I look at those  pictures you took for Christmas, I start bawling. They're the most  fabulous things I've ever seen."

Angelique blushed with pleasure and mumbled her thanks. She still wasn't  comfortable with praise over her work. She had taken pictures of each  brother's family and of her mother and stepfather as a Christmas  present. The background was off-white and everyone was dressed in casual  off-white clothing. Each portrait was a singular work of art, but they  were posed in such a way that if all the photographs were displayed  together, as they were at her mother's house, it would look like a giant  portrait of the whole family. The only person missing was Angelique,  something her mother had pointed out

"Angel, baby, this is a beautiful set, but it's not complete without  you. Anyone would think you weren't a member of the family," she'd said  indignantly. And she brought the subject up again as soon as Vera  mentioned the fantastic pictures.

"Mama, I promise, as soon as I get back to Detroit I'll get A.J. to take  a picture of me. I swear I will. Now, see, there's another reason for  me to go back to Detroit. You want your set complete, right? Well, this  is the only way it will happen. And besides, it's not like I'm all alone  up there," she said persuasively. "I've got the best roommate in the  world since Paris is still doing her internship at Cochran  Communications. I'm never lonely because Renee and Andrew have me over  all the time, and Paris and I even go up to Saginaw and see Vera's  parents. Mrs. Clark cooks as good as you do, Mama, and she always makes  us a feast. I'm doing just fine, I really am," she said, leaning  affectionately against her mother. "And you know A. J. would never let  anything happen to me."

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