The son: "Mom, R. just called. She's waiting for you at the H.'s house."
Me, balancing a casserole with the wreckage of the artichoke dip: "Oh, for Pete's sake..."
The son: "She said she baked a cake just for you."
I silently roll my eyes and put away the stuff I'm carrying. The spouse and I head out to the last house. It's cold and breezy, with occasional spits of rain.
R. attacks me as I enter the house.
R.: "I called your house. You gotta try my cake! I made it for you. It's in the kitchen."
Me: "I know you called my house. Cripes, woman, give me a second!"
R.: "Your son sounded scared when I called."
Me: "Psychotic, cake-baking neighbors frighten him."
R.: "You're offending me."
I go into the kitchen where the desserts are arrayed, and take a slice of R.'s cake and a slice of something chocolate. This year, people have made more food than I have ever seen at this party.
The noise is deafening. When the spouse and I showed up, ten minutes late, to the first house several hours ago, about half the neighborhood had already set sail for the Island of Inebriation. By the last house, there were a lot of crossed eyes and loud, happy voices.
I scan the sideboard, looking for something stronger than coffee. R. has followed me into the kitchen.
R.: "What do you need?"
Me: "I need to get drunk."
R.: "What? You hardly even drink!"
Me: "I know."
R.: "How is my cake? I made it just for you!"
She didn't, of course, make it for me. She made it because it's good and showstopping and looks fabulous. But this is the game that R. and I play. It's a game of alternating compliment and insult. She loves me because I play along, because I call her beloved pug "little pig" in Hawaiian, and because I say completely outrageous things, usually about her dogs ("Why don't you make Kahlua Pug for the next party?").
I take a bite of the cake. It's good and very sweet.
Me: "It's good!"
R.'s face relaxes.
Me, taking another bite and talking, unforgiveably, with my mouth full: "But I can tell you didn't hand grate fresh coconut on it. This stuff is out of a bag."
R.: "I HATE you! Why am I even friends with you?"
Me, trying not to laugh coconut all over my plate: "Because I don't tell your husband that you let your dog poop all over my lawn in the middle of the night."
R.'s eyes get huge: "Omigod. Don't tell him that."
I take a bite of the chocolate cake. R. pulls the plate out of my hand.
R.: "You want to see my Christmas trees? Come look at my Christmas trees."
Me, plaintively: "Can I get a drink first?"
Go listen to some music: "Come Sail Away" from the album The Grand Illusion by Styx.