Once and Again...Once Again
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Summary of The Gingerbread House
by Angela Stockton
edited by Larramie Kertis
To the strains of "Winter" by Tori Amos on the background sound track, Lily descends the stairs of her home. She has somewhere to go and someone to meet, but even as she glances at her wristwatch and hurries to get ready, she seems to be dreading the encounter.
Picking up her muffler, she wraps it around her neck, then collects her purse and a paper bag. She pauses at the coat pegs by the front door, selects a jacket, puts it on, takes it off, and puts on a down vest. She selects a hat and puts that on. Before the mirror in her foyer, she turns up the brim and smoothes her hair. As she's applying lipstick, she suddenly breaks down in loud, racking sobs, burying her face in her hands.
[To the camera, she says, "You'd think that if a person had been lied to and deceived and just hated that feeling of betrayal -- you'd think that person would find a way never, ever to do that to another human being. You'd think that, wouldn't you?" In the harsh black and white lighting, she seems weighed down by guilt and shame.]
Rick is on the second floor of a mall which is crowded with shoppers and gaily decked out in Christmas decorations. He glances at his watch, then smiles fondly when Lily waves at him from the glassed-in elevator.
The minute she steps off the elevator, Lily apologizes for being late. "Was it just traffic, or are you trying to avoid me?" Rick asks lightly -- and is surprised when his question, which he meant as a joke, makes her jump.
"I just should have left the house earlier," she apologizes again. He shrugs it off, reminding her that they still have 42 minutes together. As they stroll the aisles and discuss their Christmas preparations, she confesses that she has no idea what to give him. "See if you can guess what I want," he suggests, smiling. "World peace?" she banters. As he moves to kiss her, she notices that the mall's Santa Claus is watching them. He shakes a corn dog at them, as if to say "not in front of the children."
Rick tells her he's missed her and asks if she's still coming over tomorrow night. "Of course," she replies, staring at the floor. Because Rick is looking at the other shoppers, he doesn't notice how tense Lily is.
Back at her house, Lily is visited by Naomi, bearing utensils and an instruction book for baking a gingerbread house. Lily turns the pages, eager to start the project she has long dreamed of. Naomi tries to temper her enthusiasm, warning, "We're not talking about muffins here, it's hard. You remember childbirth? This is harder."
Naomi asks if she plans to give the finished house to Rick. Although Lily cracks a joke -- "He'd probably just renovate it" -- she seems tired. Naomi asks what's wrong. "I just haven't had enough sleep lately," Lily answers, rubbing her eyes.
Before Naomi can probe further, they're interrupted by the arrival of Jake, Grace and Zoe. Lily scrambles to hide a roll of "Santa paper," gift wrap which, she tells Naomi, is for wrapping Santa's presents to Zoe.
Prompted by his excited daughters, Jake tells Lily that a friend will let them use his condo in Wisconsin for the holidays. The girls plead with Lily to accept, Zoe saying that all she wants for Christmas is snow and lingerie. Lily can't bring herself to utter a flat No and says instead that this year she thought they'd have a big Christmas at home: making the gingerbread house, buying a tree, building a fire in the fireplace on Christmas Eve--
She doesn't fool the girls, whose disappointment is crushing. "Mom, you don't even know how to build a fire," Grace scoffs, adding, "So is Daddy part of this really great stay-at-home Christmas?" Lily has no answer.
Once Grace and Zoe have left the room, Lily and Jake wrap presents and Lily clarifies why she won't go to Wisconsin: at home, while Jake can spend Christmas Eve with Lily and the girls, he has an apartment to return to at night, but he doesn't have an apartment in Wisconsin. "No sleeping here?" Jake asks.
"No sleeping here," Lily repeats.
"Can you see why there might be just some confusion on my part, in light of recent events, regarding where exactly I'm supposed to sleep?" Jake asks peevishly.
"Yeah," Lily concedes.
At his home, Rick is discussing with Karen the holiday custody schedule for Eli and Jessie. When Rick asks if they can keep the arrangements open, Karen guesses that he is planning on going away with Lily. She is annoyed, but before an argument can erupt, Eli and Jessie remind her that Eli is late for his shift at the charity Christmas-tree sale. To Rick, Eli mentions that he has "volunteered" his father for cleanup duty at the tree lot on Christmas night.
Four days before Christmas, Lily comes to Rick's for dinner. Afterward, he hands her a small package, brushing aside her chagrin at having no present for him. "You still have four days -- but no pressure," he quips. The box contains a brochure for a vacation lodge, "voted the romantic getaway in the Midwest two years in a row," Rick points out. He wants to take Lily there for two days and two nights, the sooner the better.
Lily is uncomfortable with this gift, even after Rick suggests that Jake could keep the girls and they'd benefit from the father-daughter time. Rick insists that he and Lily need time to themselves. With his arm around her, he murmurs, "I keep picturing you in one of those ski outfits."
"It's come to this -- you're picturing me in clothes?" she jokes.
As Rick kisses Lily, she surprises him by pulling away, explaining that she has to go home and start working on her gingerbread house. "Sounds extremely urgent," he comments ironically. He reminds her that for purposes of paying a deposit, he needs her decision about the lodge by next day.
It occurs to Lily that it's the first time she has visited his apartment without having stayed to make love, but "it doesn't mean we actually have to, necessarily have to have sex every time -- it shouldn't be an obligation," she stammers.
"I didn't think it was an obligation," Rick answers with a trace of pique.
Belatedly realizing that she has hurt his feelings, Lily gives Rick a big kiss and apologizes again for leaving. He hands her the brochure, and she promises to talk to Jake. "Good luck," he says and, noticing her confusion, adds, "with your gingerbread house."
Next day at the bookstore, Lily complains to Judy that she has no idea what to give Rick. "Get him an emotion, since he has just the one," Judy cracks. Examining the brochure, Judy comments that Rick's gift to Lily seems more for him than for her.
After sloppily giftwrapping a customer's book, Lily prowls the store, picking up items and immediately putting them back down, slumping onto a stool at the coffee bar and covering her face with her hands. Judy asks her what's wrong.
"I slept with Jake," Lily confesses. Appalled, Judy sinks onto an adjacent stool.
Lily starts to recount how it happened, but is interrupted by Judy, who doesn't want to hear the details. Judy asks if Rick knows and, assured by Lily that he doesn't, insists, "You cannot tell him."
She asks if Lily is reconciling with Jake. "Lord, no!" Lily exclaims, with a revulsion which Judy understands perfectly (because she shares it), but which she knows Jake won't. "Lily, this is Jake!" Judy warns. "He'll assume that your having sex with him again rocked your world. You have to tell him it's over."
"I practically have," Lily replies. "Practically, what's practically?" Judy scoffs. "He's a man! You have to draw him a diagram -- with stick figures."
Lily insists that she has to wait until after Christmas because she's already disappointed the girls by turning down the Wisconsin trip. Judy is still worried, and asks again if Lily is sure that Rick doesn't know.
At the Christmas tree lot, Eli sees Jake, Lily and the girls shopping for a tree. Later, when he offhandedly mentions this at home, Rick immediately calls Lily to ask whether Jake has agreed to keep Grace and Zoe. When Lily replies, "I haven't seen him," Rick is taken aback by her lie. "I guess that answers my question," he says coolly.
Next day, Rick paces his office and fumes that Lily has been making a fool of him, and he's been blind about it. Thoughts of Jake fixing the wiring, sharing her Thanksgiving dinner, and buying her Christmas tree gnaw at him: "He's always there, only she never sees him!" Cynical David is less surprised that Lily lied than that Rick is so naive. With no useful advice to offer, he informs Rick that a plan checker named Shawna is coming to the office Christmas party. "Guess what she used to do before plan checking?" David leers.
That night, Grace and Zoe keep Lily company in the kitchen while she works on her gingerbread house. When Lily asks Grace to fetch her parchment paper, Grace teasingly pulls out the Santa paper instead. Lily manages to steer Zoe upstairs before she sees it, and threatens Grace with unspecified repercussions if she destroys Zoe's belief in Santa.
Grace needles her mother by asking why she keeps looking at the clock. "Maybe he calls around this time every night and he hasn't called yet," she answers her own question. "I'm surprised he's still calling at all."
When Lily looks at her quizzically, Grace continues, "Mom, I'm not stupid and I'm not Zoe. I know what's going on. You and Dad are getting back together."
Ignoring Lily's flustered denial, Grace relates what she saw during the night Jake stayed over. With the "reconciliation" clearly underway, Grace can't understand why Rick is still calling, and why Lily won't let Jake take them to Wisconsin. "He's really trying. Even you should be able to see that," she insists petulantly, and stalks out of the kitchen when Lily doesn't answer. As Lily lifts her eyes toward the ceiling, her kitchen timer rings. She runs to the oven, to pull out an overbaked slab of gingerbread.
Unable to stand the silent phone any longer, Lily calls Rick, explaining, "I couldn't go to sleep without hearing your voice. I got used to hearing it every night."
"Well, it doesn't have to be every night -- like an obligation," he answers coldly. He cuts short the stilted conversation, leaving Lily to wonder why he sounded so distant.
When she visits Rick's office the next day, just after he's told Karen he won't be leaving town over the holidays, he confronts Lily with her lie. Awkwardly, she explains that "technically" she saw Jake, but that she didn't bring up the lodge outing because it wasn't a good time. "I haven't seen him" was, she insists, just another way of saying the same thing.
When Rick testily asks why she wasn't honest with him, she admits, "I'm embarrassed. I'm dealing with somebody who doesn't knock. He just walks in."
"Shouldn't you be telling him to knock?" Rick counters. Though not satisfied, he declares that he doesn't want to make too much of the incident and changes the subject.
Lily and Judy revisit the mall two days before Christmas, Judy wondering aloud, "If you were a present for Rick, where would you be?" When Lily complains that Judy has dragged her there, Judy knows why Lily can't decide on a present: she has buried resentment because Rick is pressuring her. Judy becomes alarmed when Lily suddenly bends double, hyperventilating, in the grip of an anxiety attack. "The way I looked at Jake when I first found out he was cheating on me," Lily gasps, "that's the look that'll be on Rick's face if he ever--"
"You're not gonna see that look, because he's not gonna find out -- because you're never, ever gonna tell him," Judy orders her.
That night, while Lily continues to labor over her gingerbread house, Rick drops by. When she complains that making the house hasn't gone as she expected, and she can't get the pastry bag to work, Rick takes over and expertly draws icing snowdrifts on the roof piece. At his side, Lily watches, admiring his deft touch.
"I don't want to do this," he says suddenly, laying down the pastry bag. Lily moves to the end of the kitchen island. By "this" he means second-guessing Lily and looking for hidden meanings in whatever she does or says. "I trust you," he says softly, "I'm glad I trust you, and I can't be angry at you. That's all I came to say." He takes a step toward her.
"I slept with Jake."
Lily's matter-of-fact statement lands in the quiet kitchen with the impact of an explosion. Rick freezes, uncomprehending.
"Once--one time--a few weeks ago. I don't--I don't know how it happened, and I'm not sure that I even think it was completely wrong," Lily explains clumsily, even as she sees the shock on Rick's face and tears welling in his eyes, sees him swallow hard and bite his lip.
"But I know that keeping it from you is just hurting my heart, and I can't be like that. I can't be like him and keep secrets, I can't," Lily blunders on. "I mean, apparently I can, but I don't want to do that, not ever again. And I'm sorry because I know that I've hurt you, and I know that this is the last thing you expected to hear, and you may choose not to forgive me."
"Well, you're right," Rick replies bitterly, and walks out of the kitchen. Rooted to the kitchen island, Lily hears him slam the front door.
On Christmas Eve, Rick again waits inside the mall, looking drained and preoccupied. He manages an indulgent smile as Eli and Jessie emerge from the movie theater, playfully arguing the merits of the movie they've just seen.
That night, Jake and Lily put the final touches on the Christmas decorations, which include a tray of milk and sugar cookies that Zoe set out for Santa before going to bed. Playing along, Jake drinks some of the milk and takes a few bites of the cookies. When powdered sugar sticks to his fingers, he wipes them on his sweatshirt.
In the coziness of the decorated living room, Jake is emboldened to bring up "that night," which he and Lily haven't talked about since it happened. He tells Lily that he "felt something" and asks her if she felt something also.
She did. Urged by Jake to elaborate, "I felt that night that I knew, I really knew, that I didn't hate you," she replies evenly. "And I knew that our marriage was over, and that I wanted a divorce."
Jake is devastated. "Man, you're cold," he whispers. "When did you become so cold?"
Why did he ask, Lily counters, if he didn't want to know. "It's Christmas Eve!" he protests. She says that she wanted to wait -- until after Christmas, until the girls were older, until she lost weight, until Jake was less angry, "until the dream becomes a reality--"
"Then what am I doing here, what am I doing all this for?" he shouts.
"I don't know. It's a dream, it's a fantasy, and I can't live it any longer!" she shouts back.
In the midst of their argument, Zoe comes downstairs in her pajamas. She sees the powdered sugar on Jake's sweatshirt and her tray with its half-empty glass and nibbled cookies, and grasps the truth about Santa Claus. Without a word, she runs back upstairs, passing Grace who's on her way down.
Grace stares at her parents and sees the death of her own illusion. "You're getting a divorce, aren't you," she says in a stunned monotone.
"Yes," Lily answers with finality.
Jake stumbles backward, knocking over the tray and spilling the milk and cookies across the floor. As Grace futilely calls "Daddy!" he bolts out the front door, slamming it behind him. Grace stoops to pick up the glass and cookies, but Lily tells her to leave the mess for her to clean up later.
"Daddy shouldn't be alone. It's Christmas Eve!" Grace pleads.
Lily holds Grace's hands and sadly agrees that Jake shouldn't be alone but he is, that she should have waited but she didn't. She sends Grace back upstairs, promising to come up in a few minutes.
Grace goes to Zoe's room, where Zoe is in bed, her face turned to the wall. "They made it all up, didn't they," she mutters.
"The part about the cookies, anyway," Grace admits. When Zoe berates herself for believing in Santa, Grace confesses that she believed too, "way longer than you." She urges Zoe to still believe in Santa a little bit: "That's what I did -- for a while."
"I might do that," Zoe decides, drying her tears.
Grace looks out the window and calls to Zoe. To a reprise of "Winter," the sisters cling to each other and watch the snow fall. At the same time, in his car, Jake is slumped over the steering wheel, weeping, compelled to move on by the green light but with nowhere to go; and Rick and his children open presents at his apartment. Later, Grace tucks in a sleeping Zoe, and Lily trims her tree with a tiny gingerbread-house ornament.
On Christmas morning, the girls discover their mother's handmade gingerbread house fully assembled but marred by a vertical crack down one wall. Reading from the instruction book, Lily reassures her daughters that it can be repaired, and that cracks and imperfections are what make a gingerbread house unique.
Judy arrives to take her nieces to a movie. Along with hugs, Judy and Lily exchange the Christmas presents they had assured each other they didn't have to buy. As Judy admires the gingerbread house, Lily confesses, "I told Rick."
"You idiot!" Judy breathes. Peering at the house, she continues, "There's a tiny little gingerbread woman in there, putting a teeny-tiny gumdrop gun to her head because she didn't listen to her sister." She "sees" the little gingerbread woman "swallowing her gingerbread pride and going after him."
Lily builds a fire in her fireplace and, as night falls, she sits pensively before the flames. Later, at the tree lot, Rick is atop a ladder, taking down a sign; when he turns around, he sees Lily below him. "Stop pressuring me," she greets him.
Even as he says he doesn't want an apology, Rick becomes indignant when she refuses to offer one. "Oh, I get it. This is something I did, by 'pressuring' you," he snarls.
"We both did it. You've been divorced three years, I've been separated for eleven months. I got into this too soon, before my marriage was really over, and that's both our faults," she defends herself.
"Well, I have nothing to say," Rick responds, and starts to walk away. Following him, Lily retorts, "No, because you prefer silent judgment. You have everything to say -- you're furious, hurt, confused. I want you to let it out, say it, say what you're thinking!"
When he won't face her, she blurts out, "I told Jake I want a divorce, and I told the girls, and I'll tell anyone you want me to tell."
This stops him. He turns and stares at her incredulously. "Rick," Lily cries, "I'm in love with you!"
"Why? Why did I have to fall in love with you?" he asks in despair. "Why did you have to ruin everything?"
"I had a moment of weakness -- I'm not perfect! My marriage failed, my store's failing, my life is a big mess right now and it's about to get worse," Lily answers heatedly. "And I looked, and I looked, and I couldn't find you the right present. And now I know why: because all I can give you right now is the truth." Tears fill her eyes. "I just hope that's not the last thing you let me give you, but I guess that's up to you. Merry Christmas!"
Rick meets Lily's gaze, his shoulders sagging, his expression a mixture of love and hurt pride. Then he straightens, abruptly turns his back on her again, and walks away.
"Rick?" she calls anxiously.
The yearning in her voice stops him, but only for a moment. Without looking back, he continues to walk away.
"Rick?" Lily calls again, her voice cracking. But Rick ignores her and vanishes inside a shelter made of plastic sheeting.
With head bowed and snowflakes in her hair, Lily turns and walks off the deserted lot. Rick does not emerge from the shelter. One by one, the lights strung across the lot are extinguished.
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