A Dropped Stitches Christmas (4 page)

BOOK: A Dropped Stitches Christmas
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Becca nods and then looks up at me. “But that poor girl.”

I nod.

Becca continues, “She reminded me of Lizabett when she was so sick. Remember when we first knew her, how pale she looked? And, on top of that, I think this girl is homeless.”

“Surely, if the girl is sick someone’s taking care of her.”

“She was in county hospital for a bit, but I don’t think she has anyone. She told them she was eighteen, but she doesn’t look more than sixteen. She wasn’t even supposed to be there in the courthouse, but she came in when the judge was dismissing the charges and said it wasn’t fair. They made her leave, but I got to talk to her in the hallway.”

“The poor thing.”

“I told her that if she came by The Pews to eat, she could mention my name and I’d pay for her bill. I told Randy about it so he’s going to look for her.”

“That’s good.”

“She said the hospital shaved her head to put on a bandage.”

“Oh, dear.”

“But she didn’t have a bandage that I could see. I suppose she could have had a bad case of head lice, but I don’t think so.”

“Oh.”

Becca looks at me and I look at her. We are thinking the same thing. We know about baldness.

“I don’t think she’s on chemo,” Becca finally says. “The hospital wouldn’t let a person with cancer live on the streets, would they?”

“I don’t know.”

It’s not often I see Becca look defeated.

“Maybe she’ll come in here and we can find out more about her,” I say. I look out the glass in the French doors hoping for a glimpse of Marilee. Marilee and Lizabett should both be here by now.

I reach over and pat Becca on the shoulder. “Maybe she’s just got a flu bug or something. That can make a person’s face look drained and pale. And the bald head could be a fashion statement.”

“Her name’s Joy,” Becca says. “She told me that like it’s a joke.”

I look up at the French doors again. “Ah, here comes Marilee.”

I knew Marilee would know how to comfort Becca. Even though she had this yank-the-sliver-out philosophy, Becca had been just as scared as the rest of us when we had our cancers. Becca and I were the ones who didn’t like to show our emotions, though, especially not when we thought we might die. Marilee was the one who taught us both how to cry when we needed the tears.

No one can see it, but I’m crying now. All for a girl named Joy. I haven’t met her, but I feel like I know her. Both Becca and I know how cancer changes a person’s face. It is in the skin color and the eyes and, if there’s any left, in the hair.

I hope Joy does come into The Pews. As awful as it is to have cancer, it must be one hundred times worse to have cancer when you’re homeless.

Marilee has her arm around Becca now and I can see Becca relax.

I pick up my knitting, but I don’t have any heart for pushing a needle into yarn. I look through the glass in the French doors and see that people are starting to come in for lunch. I know they are short a waitress out front, so I decide to go out and help.

All of us in the Sisterhood know our way around The Pews and have filled in when Uncle Lou has needed extra help. The one waitress out front will probably be able to handle the customers, but I’d like to be busy for a while. Whenever I think about dying of cancer, I like to get up and move my body just to remind myself that I can.

I tell Marilee and Becca what I’m doing and stand up to walk through the doors.

I hope Joy comes in. That will make Becca feel better.

When I’m on the other side of the French doors, I turn around and see Marilee and Becca with their heads bowed. They must be praying for Joy. It’s the first time I’ve been on this side of the French doors, looking back, and I feel left out. We never used to pray in the Sisterhood, at least not together. It had never occurred to me when Marilee said she was a Christian that it might be something that could come between us in the Sisterhood. Are we going to have those who pray and those who can only look on in bewilderment? It might not just be my secrets that could pull us apart.

I’m still thinking about that when I wrap a dish towel around my waist and get ready to take orders. Uncle Lou has these giant white dish towels that everyone uses for aprons. They’re cotton so they wash up nice.

I wonder if Marilee will want to pray about my problems some day. If she asks me, I don’t know if I’ll say go ahead or not. I don’t think I’ve ever been prayed over before. I’m not sure how it would feel.

Chapter Four

“To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment.”

—Jane Austen

W
e were starting to recover from our chemo treatments when Lizabett brought this quote to the Sisterhood meeting. It reminded us of an exercise Rose had us do where we closed our eyes and pictured our perfect scene. We were all supposed to know our perfect scene well enough that we could put it into our minds when we felt sick.

Lizabett said her scene was a Jane Austen moment that she’d seen at Huntington Botanical Gardens one day. She had to explain to us that verdure meant lush green landscape and that she’d seen some ladies sitting on the lawn by the duck pond in old-fashioned hats. Someone was painting them and it all looked very English garden. That was Lizabett’s scene.

Becca pictured the ocean down at Crystal Cove; she used to go there and walk along the beach for hours. I’ve been there, too. Old cottages line that beach and remind you of the families who lived there years ago.

For her scene, Marilee saw her mother sitting beside the fireplace in their house in Pasadena. She said her mother was always reading a book and everything felt safe.

I, Carly, saw the night sky, looking straight up in the cloudless dark with the stars sprinkled around
.

 

Tonight, I see my night sky. It’s not always easy to see the stars in Pasadena, but sometimes in San Marino you can because there are fewer streetlights here. There’s a small balcony at the end of the hallway on the second floor of my uncle’s house and sometimes, if I can’t sleep, I will go sit on a chair on that balcony and look up at the sky. Tonight I brought the journal with me. It’s too dark to read anything, but I left the hall light on and I wrote anyway.

I just had to get down what happened. I only spent a few minutes waiting tables in The Pews before Becca and Marilee came out of the Sisterhood room and were ready to go to lunch. I wouldn’t think much could happen in a few minutes, but it did. I’d felt a little shy when I went into the kitchen because Randy was there and we’d kissed last night when he drove me home. Some people think I’ve kissed lots of guys, but I haven’t. Besides, Randy feels special to me and I was wondering if he’d give some sign that I was special to him.

I was thinking maybe he’d wink at me or give me a long, smoldering look. Or even come right out and just say that last night was very nice. But he didn’t do any of those things.

I sure wasn’t expecting what he did instead.

Randy asked me if I wanted to live in an apartment he has on top of his diner in West Hollywood.

“But I have a place,” I said without even thinking about it.

“I thought you might like to have your
own
place,” Randy said. He had a white chef’s cap on and he was grilling some of Uncle Lou’s famous hamburgers. He flipped a couple of buns and then looked at me. “You wouldn’t need to worry about rent. I wouldn’t charge anything. The place has been empty for a while. Of course, you’d have to like to watch sporting events on television.”

“Really, my uncle’s house isn’t bad.”

Randy flipped a hamburger. “Well, think about it. It’s there if you change your mind.”

I couldn’t wait to get my dish towel unwrapped from my waist so I could go out the door with Becca and Marilee. The day was gray and we started walking up Colorado Boulevard toward the Paseo mall. We like the Thai place that’s a couple of blocks away and that’s where we’d talked about going for Pad Thai noodles and lemongrass soup.

“Feeling better?” I ask Becca. She’s looking better, but I don’t want to just jump into my problems. We’re big on little courtesies like that in the Sisterhood.

Becca nods. “I just hope Joy goes by The Pews.”

We’re walking single file down the sidewalk so I can’t see Becca’s face.

“I bet she will,” I say.

We walk past a candle store and the air smells of a dozen kinds of musky scents.

“Guess what?” I say after a minute.

Both Marilee and Becca turn to look at me.

I am trying my best to let the Sisterhood see deeper into my life. “Randy offered me an apartment to stay in. Over his diner in West Hollywood.”

“With him?” Becca says and I have her full attention now. She’s stopped walking and is frowning. “I don’t know that—”

“I don’t think it’s with him,” I say. “He said it was empty and that, if I liked to watch sports on television, it could be mine.”

Marilee is standing still, too. “Well, if he cares about what you watch on television, he must live there, too. Why else would he ask about that? Maybe he means he has an empty
room
you could have.”

Marilee is shaking her head, but she doesn’t look jealous.

“Of course, it would be your decision,” Becca says a little stiffly.

“I told him no, anyway. He was only offering it so I could have a place of my own.”

“Why would you move?” Marilee says. “You’ve got that big house with your parents in San Marino. Who would leave that? You’ve got trees and everything.”

Here is the moment I’ve been waiting for. The moment when I tell the Sisterhood that I’m not the rich person they think I am. Which shouldn’t be so hard because I know they don’t care if I have a dollar to my name. It’s just that I haven’t told them for so long that I wonder what they will think of me for not telling them sooner.

Just then a woman comes up to us with bags swinging from both of her arms and we need to move so she can pass. After we move, we all start walking again and the moment to tell them about the house is gone. We have to sit at a long table in the Thai place so we aren’t even facing each other. It doesn’t feel like the time to announce I have been an imposter for years.

I wonder if I could tell everyone in an e-mail. I could say: “Hello, this is Carly. I know you don’t care where I live, but—” No, that isn’t right. I don’t want to imply that the Sisterhood doesn’t care. Even Randy cares. At least, I hope so, otherwise his offer of an apartment or room or whatever is not such a good one. I know most guys would make that kind of an offer because they expected you to live with them in the apartment. As in
live with them.
I don’t think that’s what Randy was thinking, though. Of course, it’s what the Sisterhood is thinking now and, unless I tell them what I told Randy about how it feels to live in my uncle’s house, they’ll continue to think that.

I really think Randy is just being kind.

I’ll definitely have to tell the Sisterhood about my uncle’s house. But after we split the check, Becca needs to go to a dental appointment and Marilee wants to stop and visit her dad at the auto dealership on Colorado. Now that she and her dad are getting along better, Marilee doesn’t need anyone with her for that visit. So I go back to The Pews and wait tables for a little longer before I go back home. All the time, I’m thinking about how I can word my confession to the Sisterhood.

That’s not the only reason I’m sitting out here on the balcony trying to find the stars in the night sky, though. It’s my mother. She found a flyer from the play I’m going to be working on. It’s called
The Dust Bowl Nativity
and I could see my mother frowning as she read about it. The flyer was printed on brown recycled paper with black ink. My mother likes her advertisements in full color on high-gloss paper.

“I was going to tell you,” I say to her. I’d set my books down on the table in the room my parents and I share as a living room. We have a burgundy leather sofa and chair set that was passed down to us after my aunt’s latest remodeling project downstairs. “It’s a play. I’m going to be Mary’s understudy.”

I had stopped at the refrigerator outside this room on my way in and I had a pear in my hand. It was an imported pear, of course. My mother will not buy any common fruit because she heard once that we are what we eat and she doesn’t want us to eat fruit that isn’t good enough for us.

“Mary, like in the Bible?” My mother’s frown clears. She sits down on the sofa, still holding the flyer in her hand.

I nod. “It’s only an understudy part, but I have tickets if you want to see the play. Maybe Dad will be home by then and he can go, too.”

I take a bite out of the pear and, once I break the skin, the air smells of the fruit.

“Of course I want to see the play. I always said you’d do well in Hollywood. Your aunt should see this, too. It’s not every day a Winston stars in a play.”

Part of me isn’t surprised she doesn’t mention my father. I can’t let her continue to think this play is bigger than it is though. “It’s a small production. Experimental theatre. And I won’t be starring.”

“Don’t let them kid you. If it’s any kind of a nativity play, Mary is the primary person. Without her, what do they have? Some man walking across a desert beside a donkey.”

“I’m the understudy. That means I only go onstage if the regular actress is sick or something.” I see my mother’s face. “Which won’t happen. The play isn’t going to be around long enough for someone to catch the flu or anything. The director already told me not to count on any stage time.”

“They didn’t choose you to be the lead?” My mother looks up at me as though she just now understands. “Who do they think they are?”

“You know how it is, Mom.”

I take another bite of pear.

“Are they blind?”

“It’s not easy to get a part in a play.”

“Did you tell them you were the Rose Parade Queen? You’re not just a beginner, you know.” My mother is frowning at me again. “Those are called fragrant pears. They’re grown to be particularly juicy.”

I take a tissue from the box on the table beside the sofa and hold it in my hand to catch some of the juice.

“Maybe next time I’ll have a better part,” I say as I take a final bite of the pear.

“I just wish—” my mother begins and then stops.

My mother doesn’t finish her sentence, but she doesn’t really need to. I know her wishes. She wishes that everything were perfect. Me. The role. The play. The way things were perfect before our problems started. The house, the cancer, my dad’s drinking.

None of it’s perfect anymore, especially me. Not that I was perfect before I had cancer, but my mother thought I was close enough that it kept her world balanced. When I was declared cancer-free, I thought my mother would mentally put me back on the pedestal she had me on before. I didn’t exactly want back on the pedestal, but some days now I think it would be easier than dealing with my mother’s continual disappointment in me.

My fall from grace was not gradual. It came the day I became sick.

I wrap the core of the pear in the tissue in my hand.

“How was your day?” I say to my mother, hoping to move her mind off of my imperfections and onto the routine imperfections of the rest of her day. “Did you talk to the man at the dry-cleaning place?”

My mother takes her dry cleaning to this place every Friday and picks it up every Saturday.

“He said my blue knit needs some repair.”

I nod. My mother has a series of suits that she wore to her last job, which was as a secretary. She hasn’t worked since we came to live in my uncle’s house. She makes a great show of examining the
Los Angeles Times
classified ads every Sunday afternoon, but none of the jobs meet her requirements. They don’t pay enough or sound important enough or have enough advancement possibilities. Still, even though she never applies for any of the jobs, she insists on keeping her suits ready. She rotates the suits for dry cleaning and, of late, the report from the cleaner has been that they need repair.

“The dry cleaners didn’t do a good job on the last bit of mending, though, so I don’t know. They didn’t even match the color right.”

For the first time in my life, I notice that my mother is looking old. She’s only in her mid-forties, but she has a look about her as she talks about her blue knit suit that makes me think of parchment in a museum. Her face has a frail look like she’s ninety. She has made a career out of being grateful to her brother for supporting all of us. He pays for our bills and my father’s rehab. I wonder if my mother would look younger if we didn’t rely on my uncle quite so much. That thought makes me feel disloyal, though. My mother has done everything she could for us all.

“Maybe I could fix it for you,” I say with a nod at the suit.

My mother looks at me as though I offered to fly to the moon and get her a hunk of green cheese for her dinner.

“You know I knit,” I remind her.

“Of course,” my mother says. “The group you have with those friends of yours.”

My mother gives a wave of her hand.

I nod. She never has learned to call us the Sisterhood of the Dropped Stitches. In the past, I’ve wondered if she has a block in her mind about the Sisterhood because it was part of my cancer days. She never liked anything that had to do with my cancer.

“I’m going to invite my Sisterhood friends to the play, too. I know they’d like to meet you and Dad.”

“Your dad won’t be back by then.”

“Oh.” I can’t remember the exact date when my dad left to go to the rehab place, but I miss him. “He must be still doing good there.”

My dad calls every week or so and talks to my mom. Usually, I’m not home when he calls, but I have managed to talk to him a couple of times and he sounds more sober than he has in years. When I miss the call, my mother tells me what my dad said.

“It would be lovely to see your friends,” my mother says, sounding like it would be anything but lovely.

Still, she should meet them. Judging by the look on her face, she might just back out of going. Then she asks me, “Are you going to invite that guy, too?”

“What guy?”

“The one who walked you to the door the other night,” my mother says. “I heard his voice when you were talking.”

Fortunately, I know my mother could hear the sounds of us talking, but there’s no way she could have heard the actual words we said. I’m glad of that.

“I’m not sure Randy can come.”

My mother didn’t press me on it, but it’s all enough to have me sitting up here on the balcony looking for the stars when I should be in bed sleeping. Everything around me feels like it’s going to change or has already changed and I just haven’t noticed until today. My mother isn’t seeing me clearly. Marilee is off talking to God somewhere. Becca, who never falters, is upset about justice.

BOOK: A Dropped Stitches Christmas
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