By the time I woke up Uncle Frank was home from work, and Aunt Lucy was getting out of the shower. She had not described him to me, and I was a bit shocked to see him.
“You must be Mary Jeanette,” a stoutly bald man said as I scuffled from my room. “I’m Frank, your Aunt Lucy’s husband. I’m glad to meet you. It’s nice to have you here.”
“You’re Uncle Frank?” I blurted, then felt my face turn red. “I’m Jennie,” I said. “Only Mama called me Mary Jeanette.”
“That’s right. Your Daddy came through here last year on his way hunting. He always referred to you as Jennie.”
“So, you’re an artist,” I said, trying to distract myself from what was going through my head. He was so old! Aunt Lucy was only twenty-six. I was surprised Mama never mentioned it. Uncle Frank must be close to forty, I thought. Maybe she never knew. Uncle Frank and Aunt Lucy had only been married about three years, and Mama had never met him. I’d never known married people to be so far apart in age before. Most of the married people in Leifton met each other in High School. Something seemed “off” to me, but I managed to bite my tongue. I didn’t know what The Good Lord would say about it.
“I’m forty-three,” Uncle Frank said as Aunt Lucy walked into the room drying her hair.
“Is Jennie grilling you?” she asked suspiciously.
“No,” I said.
“She didn’t say anything,” Uncle Frank defended, and I started to like him a little bit.
“You never tell people I’m older than you, and then they meet me and they’re shocked. It’s only natural that they’re going to wonder, Lucy. People are curious, especially children.”
I liked the way Uncle Frank referred to me as a person first, and then a child.
“You are a little old,” I told him.
Aunt Lucy looked at me in a way Mama used to sometimes, and it scared me. I realized her eyes were just like Mama’s-and just like mine.
“Are you hungry?” Uncle Frank asked. “I brought some Chinese food home. It probably needs a little heating, but I can do that. You want to help me set the table? I’ll show you where we keep the dishes.”
Aunt Lucy sat in the living room and rummaged through a magazine while Uncle Frank and I put dinner together. It was chicken chow mien, and it tasted okay-except for the celery. I picked it out with my fork and hid it in my napkin. Mama would’ve caught me if she were here, I thought. She would’ve made me say ten Hail Mary’s for disrespecting my elders. Aunt Lucy and Uncle Frank didn’t even mention it.
“Did you get a chance to talk to Ryan while I was in Leifton?” Aunt Lucy asked Uncle Frank. “Is he coming for Christmas this year?”
“I talked to him, “Frank said. “He started a new job. He doesn’t know if he can get the time off. I might fly out to Denver for a few days, stay in a hotel.”
“So, you’d be missing Christmas again? It’s Jennie’s first year with us.”
“Lucy, don’t start,” he said. “It’s not the time.”
“So, I should wait until later, when you’ve locked yourself in that room.”
“Don’t be like that,” Uncle Frank said. “I don’t bother you while you’re dancing.”
“I don’t use dancing as an excuse to avoid you.” She told him.
Uncle Frank laughed to himself and took a bite of chow mien.
“What?” Aunt Lucy asked as she glared at him the entire time he was chewing. He seemed to take his time.
“You’re such a child,” he said. Aunt Lucy stared at her plate and stirred her chow mien with her fork.
“You’re not a parent, Lucy,” Uncle Frank reminded. “I don’t expect you to understand what it’s like to be separated from your child so much.”
Aunt Lucy got up to get herself a glass of water, and asked me if I wanted one too. She wiped the bridge of her nose while she waited for the running water to get cold. She came back to the table with both glasses of water and handed mine to me without looking up.
“I wanted to spend Christmas with my husband,” she told him. “Is that so terrible?”
“Of course not, “Uncle Frank said. “But I see you every day, Lucy. Ryan’s my son, and he’s fifteen. If I don’t see him on a regular basis he’s not going to want to see me.”
“Maybe we can all go to Denver,” Aunt Lucy suggested.
“No,” Uncle Frank said. “That won’t work. I’ll have to find a place to stay with a fax machine, so I can work from the hotel. It would be a waste of money for you to go. I’m not going to have time for anybody but Ryan.”
“Just like home,” Aunt Lucy mumbled. She got up and started to scrape her food into the garbage.
“I’m trying to talk Ryan into coming out here over Spring Break; maybe look at colleges,” he told her.
“Whatever,” Aunt Lucy said. “Do what you want.”
She rinsed off her plate, put it in the dishwasher, and left the room.
Uncle Frank rolled his eyes and took a deep breath. “I hope Ryan can come out for Spring Break. It’s not until March, so we should be a regular family by then. It’ll be like having a brother for you, Jennie,” he said cheerfully.
“My brother is dead,” I told him, and I got up to find Aunt Lucy.
I went to wash up and heard Aunt Lucy crying in her bedroom. I had planned to go into my own room and draw or something, maybe write a letter to Taffy. I got outside Aunt Lucy’s door and saw where it had bounced back open a few inches. I froze. Aunt Lucy looked up from her box of tissues and met my eyes.
“Are you okay?” I asked. I shook a little as I asked it, and I heard my voice quiver a bit. I started to realize if I was going to be okay, Aunt Lucy had to be okay.
“I’m fine, Jennie,” she said. “I’m just sad. Everyone gets sad sometimes. It’s nothing for you to worry about.”
“Can I come in?”
“Sure,” she smiled as she scooted over to one side of the bed. She’d taken her robe off and her nightgown lay a little above her knee. Her legs were like a fashion doll’s, only stronger. I was only starting to sense how much they had to carry.
“I’m glad someone wants to see me,” she said.
I sat on the edge of the bed and reached to hold her hand. It was as if suddenly I was big, and she was small. I only remembered feeling like that once before, right after Mama brought Paul Martin home. He was lying in the
bassinet, and while Mama fixed his bottle. She told me to calm him down. I reached down and he grabbed my finger so tight I didn’t know if I’d ever get free. He looked up into my eyes and I knew whatever was wrong, he expected me to make it better.
Aunt Lucy slipped from the support of the headboard and laid her head on her pillow. I lay beside her, on Uncle Frank’s pillow and I felt my face get warm and wet with tears of my own. Her long blonde hair mixed with mine and I could barely tell whose was whose. There were still strands that were wet, and I couldn’t tell how much was from Aunt Lucy’s shower, and how much was from tears.
“Taffy said I look like you,” I told Aunt Lucy.
“Did he?” she asked. “When did he say that?”
“Right before you got to Leifton,” I told her. “But he thought I was sleeping.”
“Well, that was quite a compliment,” she told me. “I’ll have to thank him when I get the chance.”
I heard a noise from outside and looked up to see Uncle Frank’s car pulling out of the driveway. I stayed with Aunt Lucy until she fell asleep.
I got up to my room to write a letter to Taffy. Aunt Lucy had been right about the room having a peaceful feel to it. I opened the desk drawer and saw a pack of envelopes with matching stationery. It was the same stationery
Aunt Lucy had used to write many of her letters to Mama. I closed the drawer and went to look in my own bag for a notebook.
End of Chapter Three
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