The next morning we went to church. It was nice to see everybody again. And the looks on their faces when they found out that Yule and Noel were my brother and sister were priceless.
I looked out the window as I wondered when it was going to snow. It had snowed several weeks ago (yes, I check Florida’s weather), but it had melted. The ground looked dull and bare without snow on it. I tried to imagine the perfect snow day, but I kept thinking about the Marshmallow World Day. I guess that made sense since that was the perfect snow day.
Ms. Donna pulled out her keys, but when her hand touched the lock, the door opened.
“That’s odd,” Ms. Donna said. “I’m sure I locked the doors.”
“Does anyone else smell Beef Stew?” Cece Elizabeth asked.
Everyone ran into the house (I rolled). When no one was found in the living room or family room, we went to the restaurant.
A man was sitting down in one of the booths. A cane leaned upon his chair. He looked like Darcy only he had blonde hair. His hair was in a military cut. The man was eating Beef Carrot Stew and didn’t seem to notice all the people staring at him.
“Hello,” The man said. He went back to his stew.
“Bennet!” Darcy shouted. He hugged the man.
“Whoa, little brother,” The man, who I guess name was Bennet, said.
Wait…did he just call Darcy little brother?
“It really is you!” Daddy shouted. He shook Bennet’s hand.
“Wow,” Bennet said looking at Cece Elizabeth. He grabbed his cane and walked towards her.
“I’d know that voice anywhere!” Cece Elizabeth shouted. She jumped onto Bennet, and Bennet tumbled to the floor.
“You have pretty good aim for a blind person,” Bennet said out of breath. “But next time, please don’t jump on me.”
“Sorry,” Cece Elizabeth giggled. Bennet looked like he was in pain. Cece Elizabeth got up off of him, and Bennet struggled to get up.
“You all right?” Daddy asked helping Bennet up.
“Didn’t Mom tell you? I was shot in the back several times, lumber spinal nerve 5 to be specific,” Bennet said. “I just finished rehab in California last week.”
Everyone looked at Ms. Donna.
“She didn’t tell you?” Bennet said with sadness and surprise in his voice. “It happened almost a year ago…”
Bennet stopped talking when he noticed Noel standing off towards the side. I don’t know if Noel understood what was going on cause frankly I didn’t understand what was going on. Noel was more fascinated with the salt and pepper shakers than Bennet’s story.
Bennet looked at Noel with surprise at first. At first I thought it was because he was surprised to see a nine month pregnant stomach on a thirteen almost fourteen year old girl, but then a sweet soft smile crept onto his lips. I remembered that smile coming to my dad’s lips when he saw my mom. I’d seen the smile quite often on Daddy’s lips since I got out of rehab. Bennet was in love with Noel.
Nobody but me saw Bennet fall in love with Noel. Everyone else was too busy yelling and asking Ms. Donna questions. Momma and Grandma Shirley were asking the questions that were in my head (although Grandma Shirley was saying them rather rudely), and everybody else was asking questions like they knew Bennet personally. Cece Elizabeth stopped asking questions and then broke down crying.
When Bennet heard Cece Elizabeth’s cries, he stopped looking at Noel and turned to her.
“Don’t cry, Elizabeth,” Bennet said in a soothing voice. “I’m all right now.”
“I told you that joining the military was a dumb idea!” Cece Elizabeth cried. “And look at you know. Nineteen years old and paraplegic!”
That caught my attention. Bennet was paraplegic? I thought he spinal cord ended around L1 and L2, but I guess you’d still be called paraplegic. He could walk with the help of a cane, but he wasn’t wheelchair bound. Jealousy and anger arouse in me. I was an complete paraplegic, and most paraplegics were incomplete including Bennet. Why did this happen to me? Why did I have to completely break my back at L1?
“Lizzie,” Bennet said turning Cece Elizabeth towards him because she had been screaming at the wall, “Joining the military was something I always dreamed about. I’m not mad at God or anybody else about what happened…well not now.”
Of course he’s not. He can walk.
Then Bennet noticed me. I must have either been looking very spitefully at him or very angrily because he looked almost afraid of me, but nobody is truly afraid of a wheelchair bound girl.
“You must be Natalie,” Bennet said with a hint of something in his voice. “You look exactly like the picture Darcy sent me expect you looked a lot happier.”
Darcy sent Bennet a picture of me. My expression softened.
“I see you’re in a wheelchair,” Bennet said grabbing his cane. “I guess we have a lot in common. What type are you?”
“I can’t walk,” I sneered. Then I remembered Bennet’s question. “I’m L1.”
“L5,” Bennet said. “I’m only using a cane because I’m in the house. I use a wheelchair when I’m out and a bout because I can’t walk long distances and walking is painful at times.”
“Who’s that girl?” Bennet asked sneaking a glance at Noel.
“That’s my older sister Noel,” I said. I decided to let him be in love for a little longer and not tell him that Noel had autism.
“So what connection are you to Ms. Donna?” I asked.
“I’m her son. The older brother to her other son Darcy and the younger brother of her daughter Cece Elizabeth,” Bennet said.
Looks like Momma’s got some competition for the Most Secretive Award.
As I rolled into the North Adams Community Center, I was determined to find out more about Bennet, Cece Elizabeth, and Ms. Donna’s husband. Tonight was the night of the North Adams Christmas Ball and just about everyone in Florida and lots of people from surrounding Northern Berkshire County towns. So there was a pretty good chance that a lot of Stewarts’ and Chadwick’s would be there.
I wasn’t going to come tonight. Momma and Daddy had already had it set up with Yule and Noel for them to stay home with me, but after hearing that Bennet and Cece Elizabeth were Ms. Donna’s children, I had a really strong desire to go.
“This party is so much grander than our little school one last year,” Regina commented. I nodded. The room was large. It was in the same building where the Father-Daughter Dance is held, but the Christmas Ball is held in a different room and a much larger one.
“It sure is loud in here,” Yule said. Noel looked at him like he was crazy.
“Need to turn up music,” Noel said shaking her head. Bennet looked at her like she was crazy, while the Matthews family just shrugged that comment off.
When I saw the Rivers’ and Powers’ arrive I thought I’d start with them. Mrs. Rivers would surely know something since she’s lived in Florida her entire life.
“Bennet Chadwick Edwards!” Mrs. Rivers cried when she saw him. “You’re hurt!”
Bennet was getting out of his wheelchair at the moment. He stopped and smiled at Mrs. Rivers.
“Hi, Ms. Joan,” Bennet said.
“What happened to you?” Mrs. Rivers asked.
“Shot in the back,” Bennet said.
“You poor thing,” Mrs. Rivers said. “I’m just glad you didn’t meet your father’s fate.”
“Me too,” Bennet mumbled. He turned to Noel.
“Would you like to dance?” Bennet asked her. Noel shrugged.
“May I have this dance?” Daddy asked. Momma gave him a sad smile and nodded. The song Let it Snow! was playing.
I tried not to laugh at Noel’s idea of ‘dancing’. Noel didn’t want Bennet to touch her, which I understood but Bennet did not. It would be even harder for Bennet to dance with her since he couldn’t even try to lean on her. Since they were dancing close to the food table, which was where I was hanging out, I was able to hear their conversation.
“So when are you due?” Bennet asked.
“Soon,” was Noel’s reply. The truth was she was three days overdue.
“Well you look ready to pop any moment now,” Bennet said. I mentally slapped myself. Maybe I should have told him that Noel has autism. She was not going to like or understand that expression.
“Excuse me?” Noel asked furiously. She stopped ‘dancing’.
“Let me rephrase that,” Bennet said embarrassed. “You look like you’re ready to give birth any day now.”
Noel nodded but it was easy to see she was still mad.
“Three days overdue,” Noel said. Bennet nodded. Noel looked off to the side. It was obvious to me that she was no longer interested in the conversation or Bennet. But by the way Bennet looked, he thought she just didn’t like him.
“I have autism,” Noel said when saw that Bennet wasn’t giving up. Usually when Noel shows signs of being disinterested, we leave her alone or change the subject.
Realization and relief overcame Bennet’s face.
“I’m bothering you aren’t I?” Bennet asked. “Oh, and sorry about the popping comment.”
“Nope,” Noel said. “Think bout baby lot since three days overdue.”
Bennet laughed and smiled. Noel actually made eye contact with him. It was only for a second, but any eye contact from Noel is an honor. I had a sneaky suspicion that Noel had a little crush on Bennet.
“That looks utterly hopeless,” Virginia whispered walking up to me. Of course she noticed Bennet and Noel. Virginia is a farm girl and matchmaker at heart.
“I think Bennet is in love with Noel,” I whispered back.
“Oh, so that’s who that man is,” Virginia said. “When Aunt Jane saw him, she burst out crying.”
“Do you want to help me?” I whispered.
“With what?” I asked.
“I want to find out more about Bennet and Cece Elizabeth,” I whispered.
“Sure,” Virginia said in mischievous voice. “I may be a farm girl and a matchmaker, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a snoop.”
I laughed and Virginia pushed me over to where Mrs. Rivers was watching the twins and Mr. Rivers and Jessie-Maria dancing.
“Hello, girls,” Mrs. Rivers smiled. Mrs. Rivers looked over at Noel and Bennet.
“He’s in love with her,” Mrs. Rivers stated. Virginia and I laughed.
“That’s what Natalie just told me but I didn’t really believe her,” Virginia said.
“It’s that smile,” Mrs. Rivers said. “When I first saw Tom, he had that exact smile on his lips. I call it the love smile.”
“Did you have the love smile on your lips?” I asked.
“No,” Mrs. Rivers laughed. “I was scowling at the man who kept smiling and looking at me. It took me a little bit longer to fall in love. But six years later, we are happily married with three kids.”
“Noel doesn’t look interested in him,” Virginia said.
“I think she’s just not interested in the conversation,” I said. “And she doesn’t really know Bennet. Noel is very wary of strangers, but Bennet doesn’t seem to care about that or the fact that she’s autistic. And she made eye contact with him.”
“Love is patient. Love is kind,” Mrs. Rivers joked. I smiled.
“I’m surprised Donna didn’t talk your ear off about him,” Mrs. Rivers said. “I mean she had to of known that he was coming home.”
“I actually never heard of him until today,” I said.
“Me too,” Virginia said.
Mrs. Rivers looked shocked.
“Donna was so proud when Bennet joined the military. Cece Elizabeth and Darcy were furious but…,” Mrs. Rivers started.
“You knew about Cece Elizabeth!” Virginia and I interrupted. Mrs. Rivers looked surprised at our rude interruption.
“Yes, of course,” Mrs. Rivers said. “It’s not big secret.”
I felt like laughing.
“I tell you the truth, Mrs. Rivers. Ms. Donna never uttered a word about Bennet, Cece Elizabeth, or her husband,” I said. Mrs. Rivers sighed.
“I shouldn’t be doing this for Donna,” Mrs. Rivers said. “But since I have known her all my life and since she’s practically like a big sister to me, I will tell you what you want to know. Fire away.”
“What happened to Mr. Edwards?” Virginia asked. Tears mounted in Mrs. Rivers eyes.
“While Donna was pregnant with Darcy, there was a shooting,” Mrs. Rivers said very sadly. “It happened in a North Adams coffee shop. A Stewart went crazy. He went in there with a gun and shot everybody. Eleven people were seriously injured; two people died and one of them was Mr. Robert Edwards.”
“So Darcy never met his father,” I said sadly. At least I had memories of my father even though they were few. Darcy never even saw his father.
“Nobody in Florida or North Adams talks about the shooting much,” Mrs. Rivers said. “We knew it upset Donna to talk about it, and well nobody in Florida felt comfortable talking about it around Darcy.”
“What about Cece Elizabeth?” Virginia asked.
“Well, when Cece Elizabeth was born blind, Donna and Robert told everyone in Florida and close family. It was easy to see that Robert and Donna were a little embarrassed about having a blind daughter. Don’t get me wrong Donna loves Cece Elizabeth just as much as Darcy or Bennet and although I don’t like the fact that they hid Cece Elizabeth and never told new comers like Steve about her, I know that Donna loves Cece Elizabeth even though she’s a little ashamed of her,” Mrs. Rivers said.
“And Bennet?” I asked. “Bennet said his accident happened a year ago.”
“Donna is a very private person,” Mrs. Rivers said. “I’m extremely close to her and she has barely said a word about Bennet. Bennet was never far from anybody’s mind since he was deployed to Afghanistan. I’ve frequently asked Donna about Bennet and she always said something like ‘He’s fine.’ A year ago Donne might not have known how bad or stable Bennet was at the time, and Bennet might not have communicated with his mother quite often. I’m a little offended that she didn’t tell me, her closet friend, about Bennet’s injury, but I can think of a million excuses.”
Virginia and I walked away because Mr. Rivers came over to ask Mrs. Rivers to dance. Jessie-Maria was dancing with Yule, and surprisingly Bennet and Noel were still ‘dancing’. Bennet looked like he was in pain, but he also looked happy.
I looked over at Momma and Daddy, and Virginia looked too. They were now swaying to the same Christmas Song that played at their wedding.
Virginia looked at me and smiled.
“Look, I know your parents probably told you to keep it a secret until Christmas, but I have to know now. Is your mother having a baby?” Virginia asked.
“What?” I asked. I looked at Momma. Sure she had put on some extra weight and was tired a lot, but I just thought she had gained the weight because after the accident the family didn’t exactly eat healthy and I thought she was just tried because of the lack of sleep she was getting sleeping on a rehab couch.
“You can tell me,” Virginia said. “I promise not to tell anyone.”
“I would tell you if I knew,” I said. “But as far as I know my mother is not having a baby.”
Virginia’s shoulders slumped.
“Fine, don’t tell me,” Virginia huffed.
“Virginia, you know that you and Jessie-Maria would be the first ones I told,” I said. “Even before Darcy.”
“Really?” Virginia asked. “You’re not under some secret vow or anything?”
“Nope,” I shrugged.
“Well, she fooled me,” Virginia said. She spotted Leo and walked over to him.
I sighed and took a close look at my mother. I wonder…