Sophie had just hung up her coat when she heard the front door open behind her. “Cassie, you’ve come!” she said, bending down to hug her little friend.
“It’s a Christmas miracle!” Ronnie said, throwing his arms around her as well. “Your dad let you come after all, huh?”
“What was your first clue, Genius?” Simon retorted, closing the door behind him before helping Cassandra out of her coat, hanging it up for her. As he did so he whispered in her ear, “You don’t have to tell them anything until you’re ready and only if you want to. ‘kay?”
She smiled her gratitude and nodded. “Merry Christmas, guys. I hope I’m not intruding on your family gathering,” she said nervously.
“What are ya talking about?” Ronnie said. “We invited you, remember?”
“I keep telling her that, but she won’t believe we actually want her here,” Simon said.
“Always playing the shy introvert…getting kinda lame, Cass,” Sophie said getting a good look at her friend. “Are you okay? You look a little…”
“Groggy…we saw you sleeping in the car,” Ronnie interjected quickly, placing a warning hand on Sophie’s back. “Simon puts everybody to sleep with his medical school talk…which reminds me. Simon, you gotta meet Benji Kruger. He’s…”
“Can you possibly mean Dr. Benjamin Kruger, the famous neurologist?” Simon said. “How in the world do you even know of his existence?”
Ronnie smirked and jerked his thumb toward the dining room. “Cuz I just met him. Freddy brought him and Grandma and Grandpa know him from way back and he’s here with his new patient, Harmony Norton.”
“Who?” Simon said, not understanding a word of this.
“Yup, Harmony Norton… she’s Violet’s long-lost mother and Sophie’s grandmother,” Ronnie said.
“What a pretty name….Harmony. Sophie, you never said you had a grandmother still living,” Cassandra said.
“Never said cuz I didn’t know!” Sophie said. “So, imagine my surprise.”
“She was in a coma and stuff and had an operation and…I don’t get most of it so…he’ll tell ya all about it if you ask him,” Ronnie said.
Simon gaped. “Have you been drinking Grandma’s mimosas again?”
Cassandra burst out laughing. “A mimosa sounds good. Can I have one? I could sure use it!”
“Good idea,” Sophie said, taking her hand, pulling her into the dining room. “Look who’s here, everybody!”
“Cassandra!” Victor shouted, putting down the champagne glass he held aloft in a toast. He swooped down to kiss her cheek and give her a quick squeeze. “Well done, Simon. We’re so happy you’re here, Sweetheart. We missed you last night, but you’re here now. Awesome Christmas surprise! Find a seat and join us. Ronnie, grab some chairs from the kitchen. We’ll have to squeeze in some more…but…so glad you’re here, Cassandra!”
Julian jumped onto his seat and said, “Hi, Cassie! You can sit next to me. Go sit somewhere else, Peter!” he said shooing his bewildered looking brother out of his seat.
Simon rolled his eye as she giggled. “She’s sitting by me, Jules,” he said. “She’s MY girlfriend, after all…try to remember that, ‘kay?”
“I’ll talk to you later, Julian, okay?” Cassandra said, as Simon pulled her along the big table.
Cassandra glowed as everyone at the table greeted her just like family…even those she didn’t know. Smiling people squeezed together to make room for her and extra chairs were brought in from the other room. Everyone offered her all manner of food and drink. She actually did get one of Marty’s famous mimosas and it was awesome. Nearly crushed by Ronnie on one side and practically on Simon’s lap-- which didn’t seem to bother either of them one bit-- Cassandra couldn’t be feeling more differently than she had less than an hour ago.
Leaving home had been the best idea she ever had. She was almost happy…no, she WAS happy now. How she wished she was part of this family, to always be welcomed like this, always wanted, perhaps truly loved for the first time ever.
As if reading her mind, Simon whispered in her ear,” See? You’re already part of the family. No worries, okay?”
She smiled then sighed. If that were only true, but she’d cherish that thought… for now.
“Now that we’re all here,” Victor said, raising his glass again and giving Cassandra a wink. “I just wanted to welcome everyone and to say how very happy I am that all of you are here to celebrate this most wonderful of days. A special welcome to Harmony and Dr. Kruger, but especially Cassandra whom we so wished she’d be able to join us. Merry Christmas to all!”
“And God bless us, every one,” Peter said.
Morris laughed. “Thank you, Tiny Tim,” he said.
Violet smiled and waved to Cassandra from across the table, but her attention was almost exclusively on her mother. Violet grew increasingly astonished and even slightly horrified at the extent of recall her mother had…extraordinary to say the least! Violet had used her mother as a teenager would use a diary…to tell her things she wouldn’t dare tell anyone else and Harmony, it seemed, remembered every word Violet ever told her…like EVERYTHING. Every argument Violet had with Richard, every time she had a problem with one of the kids, from Kenny’s colic to Sophie’s rebellious teen years, she had told Harmony, and now it was all coming back to bite her right in the butt.
Having had nothing other than silly game shows, inane morning talk shows, and reruns of I Love Lucy and Seinfeld to occupy her mind all those years, Harmony turned her attention to other things.
“Let me tell you, Violet,” Harmony said after a sip of her mimosa. “It was far more entertaining to listen to doctors flirt with the nurses, the nurses talking smack about that doctors, phone conversation the orderlies, custodial crew and volunteers had in my presence, wrongly assuming, of course, that I couldn’t hear any of it. Oh…the stories I’ve heard!” She giggled.
Violet discovered Harmony overheard so much gossip in the thirty-some years she was stuck at Mason that she was nearly all caught up with Catalpa Valley news. As a matter of fact, she was more in the know than Violet, who had always resisted listening to gossip since the time she and her family were the main topic of it.
“Imagine my surprise when Dearly John Yearly started dating Helen--the little tramp. So glad Victor did not get taken in by her. Yes, I know John and Judy have been on shaky ground for years and are divorced now, but …” Harmony said.
“Wait…what did you just say?” Violet said. "Dearly..."
“Oh, is that not her name? It’s Lizzy, isn’t it? Judy is their daughter. You only mentioned them once as I recall,” Harmony said, taking another sip of her mimosa.
“Me?” Violet said. “I never…”
Harmony laughed. “Don’t tell me you forgot the time you told me about the Fireman’s Carnival and that amazing dream you had! Exploding marzipan pineapples, female ex-military mercenaries and of course, Dearly John Yearly blown to smithereens. I just love that name! Victor's nickname for the hideous man. I used to love your stories. They kept me going,” she said before sighing deeply and shaking her head, tears filling her eyes. “I’ve missed that.”
“I… it wasn’t me that called him that. It was …” Violet started to say, but once again her mother would not let her get a word in edgewise.
“Victor, of course. Yes, I remember,” Harmony said, looking down the long table at the man in question, Peter on his lap as he spoke with the two new additions to the party. “You will introduce me to my savior soon, I hope.”
“I’m sorry…what?” Violet said.
Harmony looked at her daughter, her expression serious. “I should say the one who introduced me to my savior. If it hadn’t been for him…I’d still be locked away. I owe him so much.”
“Victor?” said Violet, eyes widened and she also looked down to the end of the table where Victor sat happily surrounded by his children. She should have known.
“You know, I’ve been wanting to tell you something for the longest time, since you first told me about Victor, and I may as well do it now,” Harmony said.
“I never…” Violet said, but here she stopped herself. She actually had told her mother about Victor….EVERYTHING and then some. Her cheeks glowed crimson because she could tell from the look on her mother’s face that she recalled it all, every juicy tid-bit.
“Don’t get fussed about it, Honey,” Harmony said. “It’s fine. I’m sure we would have spoken about him had I not been catatonic…wouldn’t we? You used to tell me everything, remember?”
“Telling your mother everything when you’re ten years old is a bit different than when you’re thirty-seven. I can’t believe I told you…” Violet said, shaking her head.
“Well, I’m glad you did,” Harmony said. “Because I know what you’ve been going through and only I can help you see clearly what is to be done. I feel duty bound to tell you what you must do, my love. I’m your mother, after all, so you have to do as I say.”
Violet waited with bated breath.
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