A Dropped Stitches Christmas (10 page)

BOOK: A Dropped Stitches Christmas
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Chapter Ten

“Things do not change; we change.”

—Henry David Thoreau

I
brought this quote to a Sisterhood meeting one summer. I had pulled it out of an old book of my father’s. I even brought the book with me to the meeting with a slip of paper marking the page that had the quote. My dad had underlined the words at some point. I thought of all of the times he had tried to change his drinking behavior and failed.

I remember Becca didn’t like this quote. She thought we should be able to change things, not just ourselves. None of the rest of us felt we had lived long enough to have an opinion; we had never tried to make big changes. I never told the Sisterhood that the book belonged to my father or that he lived most of his life refusing to change.

 

The church is decorated for Christmas. Not with the gold garlands that my aunt uses in her house, but with real pine boughs and velvet burgundy ribbons. Because of the pine, everything smells like the outdoors. If I went by scent, I would say I was in a damp morning forest because the air also smells a little from the rain that is now falling steady.

There are rows and rows of oak pews on each side of a center aisle; the pews face a raised platform in the front. There’s a pulpit on the platform and some rows of benches behind it that must be for the choir. Gleaming brass organ pipes line one side of the platform and the sound of organ music is soft in the background.

It’s a very comfortable place.

There have to be a couple of hundred people in the church. Some of them are sitting in the pews and some of them are standing in the aisle talking with each other. There is lots of chatter and it seems like happy chatter. I always thought churches were more silent and somber and I’m glad to be proved wrong in this at least.

I see Marilee about the same time as she sees Randy and me. She gives us a little wave and starts walking toward us. I note with some satisfaction that she is wearing a dress much like mine.

I let go of Randy’s hand and give Marilee a hug.

“You really came,” Marilee says when we part. She is beaming.

“I said I would.” Just because I didn’t tell everyone all of my business years ago, it doesn’t mean I lie. If I say I’ll do something, I do it.

If Marilee hears the edge to my voice, she doesn’t pay any attention to it. She motions for Randy and me to follow her. “Quinn is saving seats for us.”

We barely get settled on the pew before the whole thing begins. We stand and sing a song. I’m pleased that I know the words. I didn’t think I would know any of the songs, but I hadn’t thought about it being Christmas. They are singing Christmas carols.

Some of the songs tell about Mary and her new baby so I think right away of the play. After today, there are only three more full days until Thursday when we have an afternoon dress rehearsal and then our opening-night performance. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone in costume.

There’s a final song about the bright star that led the wise men to Jesus and then the pastor of the church gets up to the front and starts to talk. I had been hoping he would talk about Mary and I am not disappointed.

I had never thought about Mary’s relationship to God before she was chosen. I know after she was chosen she had to know He was up to something in her life. But I had never thought about how she would have felt about God had He not chosen her at all. The pastor said he thought Mary would have accepted God’s will even if He had decided she would be barren instead of being the mother of Jesus. Mary was not negotiating with God for a better position in the world; she only wanted to do what He wanted.

Of course, I already knew Mary wouldn’t do well in my world. For the first time, though, I am beginning to wonder if I would have been able to cope in her world. As much as I chaff at my mother’s insistence that I be treated like a princess, I have to say I can handle being treated as a princess much better than I could deal with being passed over altogether. Being barren for a woman in Mary’s world would mean being almost invisible and without power. It could be cause for a divorce, for ridicule, for pity.

This is when I think back to the quote by Thoreau about change. I would have to change the inside of me to be like Mary and I don’t know how to do that. I can change the outside of me a hundred different ways. But the inside? That seems beyond me.

The church service ends with a prayer.

Pastor Engstrom walks out and stands on the steps when church is over. People come up and greet Marilee and Quinn and then turn to meet Randy and me. The names of all of the people come and go fast, but the smiles are all sincere.

People line up to shake hands with Pastor Engstrom.

“Thanks for talking about Mary,” I say when I reach the pastor.

He shakes my hand. “She’s one of my favorite people in the Bible.”

“Mine, too,” I say.

“Carly’s an understudy in a play about Mary,” Marilee says from behind me. “She’s been reading everything she can about her.”

“Well, if I can answer any questions, let me know,” the pastor says. “Marilee knows I have a question and answer group every Wednesday morning. You’re more than welcome to come.”

“Thanks. I might do that.”

“It’s at nine o’clock, the room’s right through the side door on your left.”

I nod and leave the church. Randy is beside me.

“Well, that was painless,” Randy says as we walk toward his Jeep. “I was expecting some pressure to join up or something.”

“I liked it.”

Randy nods. “Me, too.”

He sounds surprised and I can fully understand.

“It’s not like the church I went to when I was a kid,” he says as he opens the passenger side door. “I never did feel welcome in that church, but my mother insisted we go.”

“You must have been young then, if it was while your mother was still alive.” I climb up into the passenger seat.

Randy nods and closes the door.

I wait for him to walk around to the driver’s door. I’m starting to get a new picture of Randy.

“Why weren’t you welcome in the church?” I ask when he’s settled.

He looks over at me as he starts the ignition. “We were poor, even for Fontana. And there were lots of us kids. I think people just saw us as an untidy jumble.”

His childhood had been very different than mine. He’d grown up as a weed and I’d been pruned to within an inch of my life. I could see though why a woman with the San Marino look would appeal to him now. I suppose we all need to make our peace with our childhood in some way.

Randy suggested we go to brunch at the Ritz-Carlton and he was so proud when he offered that I told him it would be my pleasure.

The Ritz-Carlton brunch was elegant as usual. Because it was so close to Christmas, they had garlands of pine looping along the wide staircase that led to the downstairs dining room and the outdoor terrace where the brunch was served. A woman was playing carols on a harp in a corner and an ice sculpture of a reindeer stood on the round table that had the sushi bar.

I figured my mother told Randy to take me here. It is a beautiful place, though, and they have these little desserts that are so puffy and filled with such smooth crèmes that they could have come from a real French bakery.

By the time he takes me home, I’m exhausted. I like Randy. He’s easy to be with. My fatigue isn’t about him; it’s all me.

 

I couldn’t wait to write in the journal and, now that I am, I’m just letting it all out.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It’s like it’s getting harder and harder to pretend to be the person people see when they look at me. I’ve been trying to convince myself that the outside shell doesn’t matter, but I’m beginning to think I’m all wrong. The outside shell
does
matter when it doesn’t match who you are inside.

I blame it on Mary. Not the actress who’s playing Mary, but the real one who lived thousands of years ago.

She was quiet, but I can tell from the reading I’ve done that she was who she was. She wasn’t a dressed-up doll pretending to be a princess. She didn’t expect special treatment or try to be a blonde when she was a brunette. I know they didn’t have designer brands back then, but I don’t think she would have looked at them anyway.

Mary had better things to do than to try and become a star. She had a baby to raise and a God to please.

After I’ve written everything out in the journal, I sit for a while on the balcony and think about Mary and that Thoreau quote. I need to make some changes in my life and I’m wondering how I can do it.

I have the journal still on my lap and I think about adding an addendum to what I have said because I don’t want anyone to feel bad if they care about designer labels. That life may be the right one for some people; it’s just that it doesn’t fit me anymore.

I miss myself. The person I used to be before I was the Rose Queen and then got cancer was different than the person I am today. I think my mother and I got so caught up in the Rose Queen business that we took everything too far.

We changed my hair. We changed my walk. We changed my wardrobe.

And then, when I had cancer, none of it mattered to me so it was easier just to keep the Rose Queen fantasy going in my mother’s mind than to revert back to being me. I realize now I should have made some changes anyway.

My mother has grown accustomed to the new me. I don’t know how she will react if I change myself now. I love my mother. I know she drives me nuts. But I want her to be happy with me.

Once Christmas is over, though, I’m going to dye my hair back to my normal color. I might get a few clothes that aren’t designer labels, too. I’ll need them to do what I’m thinking I might do.

When Uncle Lou gets back from Italy, I’m going to ask him for a job waitressing at The Pews. I should have done it sooner. They always hire college students and I know one of the waitresses is going to quit in January. I can rent a small apartment or even a room somewhere in Pasadena and continue on with my classes until I get my degree. I’ve been taking lots of literature classes, but next semester I think I’ll change to an education major and work on becoming an English teacher.

I know it might not seem like a lot, but if I am able to make all of these changes, I might feel back on the right track to being me.

Lizabett will be disappointed that I don’t want to be a movie star and my mother will be disappointed that I’m not her blond creation. Randy will be—

Ah, I stop for a moment. I don’t want to disappoint Randy. Now that I know more about his background, I really wonder if he’ll like me when I’ve given up the San Marino look. It might be important to Randy to impress his friends with a girlfriend who looks like she’s not just from the right side of the tracks but from the top of the hill as well.

Not that I plan to be ugly. Or plain.

Oh, dear, the more I think about this the more I think I better sleep on it before I make any firm decisions. One thing I am doing, though, is I am going to leave these pages in the journal right open. If anyone in the Sisterhood wants to see what I’m thinking, they are welcome to go right ahead and look.

And, if Becca ever reads it, I want to say I’m not holding anything back. There are no secrets here. I’ve learned my lesson. Please, forgive me.

I sit for a while longer on the balcony. A few days ago I strung some red and green Christmas lights around the railing here. No one can see this balcony from the street, so I don’t clash with my aunt’s gold and white Christmas fantasy out front. I guess I’ve always been more traditional than stylish when it comes right down to it. No one who’s stylish does multicolor lights anymore. It’s old-fashioned.

I have a few presents, wrapped and tucked away in my bedroom. I bought my mother a handblown glass Christmas ornament from Germany. She doesn’t have this one in her collection and I know she’ll be happy with it. I bought books for everyone else. Lizabett’s present is a biography of Lucille Ball. I got a devotional book for Marilee that she had mentioned some time ago and I have a new mystery novel for Becca from her favorite author.

My mother and I always get my aunt a gift certificate to a spa and give my uncle a gift certificate for the golf course he uses. This year I’ve also knitted them both scarves.

I’ve knitted my dad a sweater and my mother mailed it to him a week or so ago.

I’m going to miss my dad at Christmas this year. I keep expecting him to be able to come home. I know his addiction is severe, but he can’t stay in that treatment center forever. We need him back with us.

There’s a knock on the doors leading out to this balcony and I turn to see my mother coming out with a couple of cups on a tray.

“Cocoa?” she asks.

“Thanks, Mom.”

I take one cup of cocoa and motion to the other chair on the balcony. My mother sits down with her own cocoa and we watch the sunset together.

Chapter Eleven

“A book holds a house of gold.”

—Chinese proverb

R
ose brought this quote to us. She was determined that we all learn to enjoy reading. I think she had this vision of us reading through our chemo treatments. It didn’t work like that, but we appreciated the thought anyway. Rose was always trying to think of things that would take our minds off of what we were going through even though she realized nothing could.

 

I don’t have classes this week, so I head down to The Pews around ten o’clock on Monday morning. I want to be there in plenty of time for the lunch crowd so I can help. There’s always more people coming into the diner during the week of Christmas and, since I’m hoping Randy will have some time to practice my lines with me, I should help out. It’s only fair.

Even though I’m very comfortable now with the fact that I won’t be onstage as Mary, I still want to learn the lines perfectly, just for myself. I have a feeling that’s what Mary would do if she were in my place. Something can be good to do even if no one else ever sees it to applaud the fact. That’s a very different concept than I’ve learned so far in my life. I no longer want to do things just because someone notices and applauds. I’m not sure how well I can manage with this new approach to life, but I want to try.

I wrap a dish towel around my waist shortly after I arrive at The Pews. One of the waitresses has called in sick and Randy is getting everything ready for the lunch crowd. It’s a good thing I came down and I like feeling needed. I’m going to stand at the steel counter in the kitchen and slice tomatoes.

First, though, I need to get ready. I don’t have a hairnet so I wrap a bandana around my head like a turban. We’re very conscious of health codes at The Pews and everyone always has their hair covered when they’re near the food.

“Ah,” Randy says when he turns and sees me with my hair covered. “I guess it’s necessary, but it’s a pity. I love your hair.”

“Oh.” I pause and then step over to the sink to wash my hands. “You know blond isn’t my natural color, don’t you?”

“Well, whatever you do to your hair, you look great.”

“I’m thinking of changing it,” I say as I scrub my hands, but Randy is already back over at the grill flipping the chicken breasts he’s cooking for the Chinese chicken salad.

“Sounds good,” he says.

Just then I hear the bell on the outside door ring and I know a customer has arrived. I look out into the dining room and I see that six people have just seated themselves at a table. I dry my hands and go out to get their orders.

That starts the lunch rush.

A couple of hours later, the hungry hordes are gone and Randy and I have a chance to go into the Sisterhood room so that I can practice my lines. We’ve gone over my lines together enough that we only need the script here and there as a reminder.

It’s fun to practice with Randy. The script is a little offbeat and he gives himself to the role of Joseph with grand flourishes and enthusiasm.

“I had a dream,” he says dramatically.

We’re sitting on the edge of the table, waiting for the place in the script where we’ll be pretending the table is the back of the pickup truck. Randy sets a couple of plastic pitchers around us to represent the chickens that will also be riding in the back of the old pickup.

The Depression-era play does pick up a lot of the flavor of the times.

We pick up the script from the beginning and run through the main scenes several times before we’re interrupted.

I hear a knock on the French doors and I look up to see Lizabett.

“Hey,” I say as I slide off the table.

Lizabett comes into the room. “I thought you’d be here practicing.”

Ordinarily, Lizabett and I would both be here about this time, but since we’re out of school for Christmas break and not keeping to our usual schedule, I’m surprised to see her.

“I was doing some last-minute shopping,” Lizabett says as she holds up a red bag she’s carrying. “I have everybody’s gift except the ones for my brothers. I never know what to get them.”

“Socks,” Randy says. “Guys always need more socks.”

Lizabett wrinkles up her nose. “That’s not very exciting.”

Randy shrugs. “It’s either socks or expensive electronics. Or maybe season tickets to the Lakers. Or sporting equipment. Do any of them golf?”

“No,” Lizabett says and then grins. “But they used to love to play horse basketball with the hoop at my mother’s house. There aren’t any balls left there anymore, but if my brothers had one, they’d love to play. They’re so competitive.”

“Still?” Randy asks slowly. “I mean now that Quinn’s—well, is he allowed to be competitive since he’s become a Christian?”

“Oh.” Lizabett stops and thinks. “I don’t know.” Lizabett looks at me.

I shrug. “I wonder, too. All I can say is that Mary wouldn’t take any pleasure in beating her brothers at basketball.”

Randy is frowning by now. “That kind of takes all of the joy out of life.”

The three of us stand there for a minute or two thinking about the ramifications of being a Christian.

“Quinn still watches television,” Lizabett finally offers. “I think it must be okay to do things. He’s not like a monk or anything.”

“I’ll have to ask him,” Randy says. “I’ve been thinking about what it’d be like since I went to church yesterday. I just can’t picture giving up sports.”

“Not all sports are competitive, are they?” I ask.

“If they’re not competitive, they’re just exercise like walking around the block,” Randy says firmly. “I like to keep score. It pushes me to do better. I like playing against my friends that have turned pro even though I lose.”

I hadn’t realized Randy was seriously thinking about our visit to church just like I had been.

“It might say something in those books we borrowed from Quinn,” I say as I point to the bookshelf behind us.

There are a dozen books on that shelf now. Lizabett has brought them here one book at a time over the past couple of weeks.

“If we don’t find something there, I’m planning to go to Pastor Engstrom’s group on Wednesday morning. I could ask him,” I offer.

Randy nods. “If I can’t figure it out, maybe I’ll go with you.”

“Good.”

Lizabett looks at us. “If everybody is going, let me know. I don’t want to be left out.”

“You won’t be,” I assure her with a smile.

When Marilee comes out of her office to join us, no one says anything about our questions. I notice we’re all looking at her though to see if she seems to be doing anything different than she used to do.

I clean off some of the tables in the diner and Lizabett refills some of the condiment holders. We serve the dinner crowd and wait for it to grow quiet again.

“Still watching those baseball games?” I finally ask Marilee when we are leaning on the counter in the main part of the diner.

The Pews will be closing in half an hour. Lizabett is also at the counter and Randy is restocking the glasses in the rack over the counter.

I notice Randy stops working with the glasses when I ask my question.

“Well, not now,” Marilee says.

“I knew it,” Lizabett says with a snap of her fingers. “Too competitive.”

“No, that’s not it,” Marilee says slowly as she looks at Lizabett a little strangely. “It’s just not baseball season right now.”

“Oh,” Lizabett says.

Marilee looks at me. “What’s this about baseball all of a sudden?”

I can’t think of anything to say before Marilee answers her own question. “Sorry I asked—it’s Christmas. No one should ask questions like that at Christmas.”

“Oh, yeah,” Lizabett agrees.

“So.” Randy leans against the counter. “You don’t have a problem with competition now that you’re a Christian?”

“Oh, no,” Marilee says. She sounds a little startled. “I mean if it’s a fair competition and all. Why?”

“I just wanted to be sure,” Randy says as he turns back to the glasses.

“I would have a problem with making fun of someone who lost,” Marilee adds. “And being compulsive about a sport—you know, to where you didn’t think of anything else ever and neglected your kids or your friends or your
life.

“Well, of course,” Randy agrees. “That’s only common sense.”

“What’s all this about competition? You’re not planning to try to get on that new reality show, are you?” Marilee looks at Randy with a frown. “Because I’m not sure that they play fair at all. Carly was telling me about it and—”

Randy holds up his hands. “I don’t even know anything about a reality show.”

Now, everyone’s looking at me.

“All I know is what I told Marilee,” I say to Randy. “There’s supposed to be a producer coming to one of the performances for the play to look people over to be in this new reality show they’re going to film in Cancún.”

“You’re not hoping to be on that, are you?” Randy asks, looking at me. “Those new shows are ruthless. I’d rather play football with the Mafia.”

In the play, Joseph makes a reference to the Mafia. They’re the ones out to get the three wise men instead of King Herod so they’re on our minds.

“Don’t worry,” I say. “I’m not going to be on the stage so the producer won’t even see me. Besides, I think I could handle a reality show.”

All three of my friends just look at me. Marilee, Lizabett and Randy. None of them look like they agree.

“Really,” I add. “I’m tougher than I look.”

“You’re a cream puff,” Lizabett says.

“Not that you’re not tough inside,” Marilee adds loyally. “And that’s where it counts.”

I wonder if they’d say something like that if I’d gotten my black belt in karate instead of that crown in the beauty pageant.

“At least, I’d get a trip to Cancún,” I persist just to show them I’m made of stern stuff and am not afraid of what a reality show could do to me.

“If you want to go to Cancún, I’ll take you,” Randy says.

Well, that takes the attention off of me. Marilee and Lizabett stop to stare at Randy.

“Really?” Lizabett says. “Cancún is halfway around the world.”

“And expensive,” Marilee adds.

Randy shrugs. “Carly’s worth it.”

“Well, of course, she’s
worth
it,” Marilee agrees. “But—”

“No one’s really thinking about going to Cancún,” I say. “It’s just a for instance. Like a maybe if—”

People start talking about places they’d like to vacation and we get talking about European river cruises and African safaris. It all makes the Cancún trip sound pretty tame. I would imagine that the reality show has something else in mind besides a beach vacation in the sun, but that’s what I think of when I think of Cancún.

Randy is locking the back doors to the diner when it occurs to me.

“Nobody would think Becca couldn’t do a reality show,” I say.

Lizabett nods. “She’d tear the heart out of her competition.”

“Well, she’d at least hold her own,” Marilee adds.

“I miss her,” I say and we all nod.

“Her e-mail said she’ll be back in touch soon,” Marilee says.

“She better be,” I say. Becca might be able to tear the heart out of her competition, but I’ll stand firm with her if I have to. I’m not willing to lose her friendship.

Randy drives me home and I find I like riding along in his Jeep in the dark. The Jeep rides rougher than my parents’ car, but there’s a sense of adventure from riding up a little higher. Besides, Randy is here.

“Are you really thinking about this Christian stuff?” I ask.

He nods in the dark. “Trying to figure it out. That Joseph was some guy, you know.”

“Yeah,” I say. It makes me feel good that Randy is learning from Joseph and I am learning from Mary. Even if we’re not really in the play, I feel like we have the parts down.

It’s not late when we get to my house, so Randy parks on the street and we walk up the drive to my uncle’s house.

“Want to come in and say hello to my mother?” I ask as we get to the back steps. “It’ll make her day.”

“Sure,” Randy says.

He doesn’t stay long, but he gives my mother enough to talk about for days. I know it’s going to be coming. All the talk about how handsome he is and how polite and how everything that is wonderful. Surprisingly enough, though, it doesn’t matter. If it makes my mother happy, I’m glad. My mother has been looking a little depressed lately and I’m worried about her.

I walk Randy back down the stairs and we share a goodbye kiss just outside the door.

“Thanks for helping me with my lines,” I say after a kiss or two.

Um, make that three kisses.

Randy smiles. “And thanks for sharing your mother with me.”

I grin. “My pleasure.”

I don’t even need a kiss to make that one sweet.

After Randy leaves, I take the journal out onto the balcony and sit for a while writing about the events of the day. I realize that I forgot to ask Randy some probing questions to figure out what to get him for Christmas. I don’t know for sure if he’s getting me a present, but I think he might and I want to be ready. I was thinking about giving him the scarf I’m knitting, but it’s not a scarf I started with him in mind. If I do give him something, I want it to be more personal.

Randy had mentioned that guys like socks, but I hope I can do better than that since he sort of offered me a trip to Cancún. I mean, I know we’re not going, but still I think he was half-sincere. An offer like that deserves at least a tie.

There are only two more days until Thursday. That’s the day when we have the the opening performance for the play and the party afterwards at my uncle’s house.

That reminds me. I definitely need to find a time to talk with my aunt tomorrow and find out what she needs me to do for the party.

I close the journal and sit for a few minutes in the quiet dark of the night. Since no one’s watching, I look up and give God a little wave good-night. A slight breeze blows by me suddenly and I wonder if He’s waving back at me. I kind of hope He is. Wouldn’t that be something?

BOOK: A Dropped Stitches Christmas
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