I haven't spent a lot of time here talking about the people living my life and Harmon's, in part because I have a fair amount in front of me between me and him to deal with, and while Harmon spent a lot of time getting Coop ready for a conference in the past month, Debbie has been no trouble at all. I kind of left her a life at a loose end, recently graduated from college but still trying to get into law school, so she's been able to put the LSATs on hold. She's taken a job as an office assistant so that I don't have a glaring hole in my work history when I get back, and she and Coop have been paying down my student loans like crazy, making way more of a dent in the principle than I would have. Harmon and I initially felt kind of strange about it, since he'd never offered, but the way Debbie figured it, she and Coop were married, married couples shared the bills, and that my bills were now her bills doesn't change that.
You could do a lot worse than Debbie Cooper living your life, folks.
Perhaps because she and her husband are great people, though, the holidays were figuring to be tough on them; it would be the first one without the chance to spend any time with their kids, even though they're all adults now. Neither me nor Harmon has any sort of particular Christmas tradition that they had any need to maintain, but they weren't totally sold on the holidays being just the two of them. I said that I'd invite them if there were any room at the apartment, they said they appreciated the gesture, and that was it for a bit, because it's really awkward to invite someone to come but make them pay to stay at a hotel. Eventually, though, Harmon pointed out that they'd be spending his money, not their own, so just get a hotel room, though it's not like we'd be around for Christmas.
I relayed that, and Debbie said it was okay if we missed the day so long as we got to have a family dinner and exchange gifts. So they booked a trip, and I traded a shift so that I was working the terminal when their plane arrived on Christmas Eve, and spent the whole weekend feeling nervous about it because that meant that there would be no chance to duck seeing them if any of us realized this was a terrible idea. I was downright nervous as the board updated their flight information, and then it landed, taxied, and pulled in. Half-fortunately, I had to give a few people directions to baggage claim, so I couldn't just watch the people coming off and fret about it. I wound up just looking up, seeing Coop and Debbie, and raising a hand so they knew who I was. They stepped up the pace and soon found me. Debbie started to hug me, like with her arms already on either side, before pulling back and asking if it was too weird.
It was kind of strange, but maybe not as weird as it would have been a few months ago, although Skype and Facebook hadn't prepared me to be looking slightly upward toward my own eyes, even though I had an inch of heel and Debbie was wearing Keds. That almost made it easier, though, and I pulled her in. I did only extend a hand to Coop, though; as much as something inside me would have liked the guy with Harmon's shape holding me, it would have felt like taking something that wasn't his to give.
Instead, I stood back and looked at Debbie, half-amazed at the reminder that I'm really that young, with some of her choices really driving it home. "So, has anyone figured out that you're impostors yet because he doesn't freak out about you wearing workout pants in public?"
She laughed. "Oh, he does that, but if I'm only going to have your legs for a year, I'm getting the most out of 'em, and these leggings don't work unless your legs are actually sticks... Not that your legs - either set! --"
Coop laughed at that, and I joined in. "It's okay, Debbie - I've got more curves now than I had six months ago, and I'm okay with both situations, so long as you're not looking to take up permanent residence."
"Tempting as it may be, we're a package deal, and I don't think I could talk Coop into it, no matter how dapper he looks in a bow tie now."
We laughed again, and I told her I had about an hour left on my shift if they wanted to wait, or they could check into their hotel and maybe Harmon and I could meet them for dinner. They were happy to wait, although when I called Harmon, he said he had a lot to do before his red-eye. I put in a good word for the Coopers at the airline's VIP lounge, got a flight boarded, and then helped them get to the hotel on public transportation. I took them to a Thai place that wasn't closing early despite it being Christmas Eve, then left them to their jet lag.
Harmon was just leaving as I got home, and gave me a quick hug as we passed. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of things he'd left under the tree; maybe a few months as a woman has him enjoying shopping a little more.
The Coopers arrived early in the morning, and I spent the morning learning to make a few of Debbie's family recipes while Coop found some stuff to fix around the house until basketball started at 9am (East Coasters, especially guys, grumble about time zone stuff until they discover that you literally get sports and other stuff all day). It was a ton of fun, even if the press weren't quite done by the time I had to leave for work. Debbie promised they'd only sick around long enough to jet them out of the oven, and if you can't trust yourself, who can you trust?
I had the 26th off (yay inherited seniority!), so they were able to come back over and help me cook a ham. Coop got involved in the cooking, too, peeling and mashing potatoes, making a supply run or two. He was seeing the table when Harmon came in and saw his rightful face.
Nothing else was said, and Harmon retreated to his room to put away his work stuff and the grab some other clothes before heading to the bathroom and locking the door. Debbie looked way more upset at that exchange than the the words would seem to for. "We shouldn't have come. I knew he'd still be upset."
Coop looked pained and offered to go back to the hotel.
I surprised myself a bit by stepping in. "You'll do no such thing. You did the best you could at that presentation, and he had no business asking you to go through with it. He had two co-authors on that paper and could have just let them take the lead, but he can be so damn stubborn..."
Debbie put her hand on her husband's shoulder. "She's right, you know. Just as you have to accept that Shania can't do all your work, he should have made allowances. You did the best you can, and I'm sure that he's come to realize that over the last couple weeks!" I didn't contradict her, because I figured that Harmon not wanting to look bad by throwing a tantrum would have pretty much the same result.
I quickly ducked into my room to change out of my sweats, and Harmon had finished his shower by the time I came out. He was wearing slacks and a not-really-ugly sweater, and raised his eyes at me in the Santa dress and hat. "Looking to seduce Cooper?"
"No, I just want to try everything in Magda's closet and figured I wouldn't have another chance to wear this. I'll go change."
"You'll do no such thing, because if you have to, then I have to." Debbie was in the candy-cane tights again, with a pleated green skirt and a sparkly red top (she'd taken off her snowman sweater), while Coop looked very un-Harmon-like in jeans and at-shirt that looked like Santa's coat. "Let's embrace the weird Christmas!"
We sat down at the table, ate, and talked about all the funny things that had happened this year. I laughed a lot at Debbie's stories of my friends, while Coop nodded sagely at everything I could come up with about how airports and airlines have so many crazy layers of bureaucracy and security. He talked about how academia was proving similar. Eventually even Harmon joined in, talking about the "crash pad" apartments, guys who get hammered in first class, and the like. It was kind of funny, in that we didn't really talk about being changed by the Inn, but just told these stories with a little bit of extra amazement at how bizarre the world could be.
No avoiding Inn stuff when we sat around the tree and exchanged presents. I got Debbie and Coop a couple articles of clothing where she noted their size and said "I see what you're up to here", but mostly we tried to go for things that were either kind of silly or could work for us in both borrowed and real lives.
My big present for Harmon was a Kindle Fire preloaded with a few things that would make for bulky hardcovers. I told him I knew he thought reading on a tablet wasn't the same, but this fit in his travel bag a lot better, and it would be easy to switch to Candy Crush in case he was afraid of having to explain why "Alicia" was reading graduate-level economics texts in a crowded apartment.
He surprised me with a pair of gift cards for custom bra fittings, saying that a passenger on a flight from San Francisco to New York had noticed him adjusting his straps during a flight and figured a flight attendant could give really good word-of-mouth for her start-up. He said he was wearing one of his and was really amazed what a difference underwear that really fit could make in a woman's day, so he got me one for now and one for next summer. Debbie went aaawwww and said now she wished Coop had been able to spend some time as a woman.
Coop's other present arrived that afternoon; he apparently makes eggnog with, like, a lot of rum in it every year, and got a few bottles speed to us, warning Harmon that he'd made it for some other folks in the faculty, so he may be fielding requests for more next year.
The party broke up at around seven, with Coop saying he hoped his body didn't run down this early ten or fifteen years from now. It was the last time the four of us got to hang out together; with all the holiday travel, both Harmon and I were working a lot, and our shifts didn't really line up. I think Harmon meet up with the Coopers once while I was working, and I get it - not only has Coop not fit into his life quite so easily as Debbie has fit into mine, but he both hadn't been in the area as much to show them around and tends to stay home rather than venture out as Alicia anyway.
I had a good time with them, though. It's weird to say given all of our apparent ages and faces, but I felt kind of jealous of the folks who get to have the Coopers as their real full-time parents. They're experienced, wise, and kind, and watching Debbie look like she really is my age made me feel like she must never have been out of touch. She laughed at that - "you're not exactly the first generation to enjoy wearing short skirts, kid - you should have seen my older sisters in the 1970s!" - but I think she appreciated me saying so, even if I do look old enough to be her mother.
I made sure I worked the terminal when they flew out Sunday evening as well, and smiled as I watched them get on the plane holding hands and nobody seemed to be snickering about the age difference. Sometimes, I guess, no matter what the Inn might do, you can just spot the good people who belong together.