I wake up before the sun comes up the next morning. The girls spent the rest of the night blabbing about their homework. As it turns out, The Willow family owns a private high school within the community’s premises. The girls described the school as more of a CO/OP since they don’t have to wear uniforms (something that had just been implemented this year), have short classes, do most of their work at home, and only have to be physically present one day a week if they get all their work done. Both Amelia and Phoebe had been homeschooled before and Jordan and her older siblings had gone to public school up until high school. Jordan explained to me that both Austin and Ben wanted to continue public school education, and that they’re parents had allowed it.
“I think they’re mad,” Jordan had said. “But they didn’t get bullied in middle school like I did. I’m rather eccentric as you probably have figured out by now and that made me an easy target. It didn’t help I come from a ‘wealthy’ neighborhood although we’re pretty far from rich. My friendship with Todd didn’t help much either. He was extremely popular and every girl wanted to be with him despite his hearing problems. They saw me as a threat and I got labeled. I think the only thing that kept me going was knowing that I’d be able to opt out of this in high school. And for some strange reason Todd suddenly wanted to go to Willow High too. I’m glad about it though since I’ve known Todd as long as I can remember. But wouldn’t you know the very year I start Willow High they open the school to eighth graders? But now Austin wants to transfer and so does Ben. Some altercation with a Stewart. So starting in January, I’ll be sharing a classroom with my twin. Can my life get any more worse and complicated?”
As I tip-toe down the stairs, it hits me. It’s Christmas Eve.
And that meant tomorrow would be Christmas.
“How did that happened?” I accidentally whispered out loud.
“I’m sorry. Where you talking to me?”
I scream and scan the area for the speaker.
“I’m terribly sorry,” Han says. He was sitting in the Richardson’s toy covered living room and sipping a cup of coffee. A Bible lay opened to Matthew on his lap.
“I didn’t know anyone else was up,” I say all of a sudden feeling shy.
“Would you like a cup?” Han asks motioning towards his coffee cup. “Mr. Richardson makes the best coffee. He was a barista in college. He can look at you and just now what kind of coffee you’d like. I think that’s how he and Mrs. Richardson met. He made a coffee she loved so much she ended up falling in love with the creator.”
I try not to stare at Han as he rambles on. When he finishes, it takes me a moment to find my voice.
“I’ve never had coffee before,” I stammer.
“Than we MUST have Mr. Richardson make you a cup!” Han shouts. He places his cup and Bible down. He grabs my arm and drags me into the kitchen where a man sits at the table pouring over some blue prints.
“Want another cup?” Mr. Richardson asks. He notices me and clams up.
“Mr. Richardson, this is Vera Fleming. She’s spending Christmas with the Willows,” Hans introduces. Mr. Richardson nods.
“And she’s never had coffee,” Han says.
“Then we must remedy that,” Mr. Richardson says. He takes a quick glance at me and gets up to make his concoction.
I hope he doesn’t base the taste solely on my look. I’m wearing a pair of Jordan’s old pajamas since I usually wore a T-shirt way too large for me to bed. The pajamas had a Christmas theme to me. The shirt was pink and had a picture of monkeys sitting around a Christmas three opening presents while the pants were green and had monkeys randomly place on them. Maybe he’d give me a Christmas themed sort of coffee.
“Here you go,” Mr. Richardson says handing me a cup of light colored coffee. “Tell me what you think.”
I sip the coffee and a blend of flavors delight my taste buds. I gulp down a swallow.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Mr. Richardson reluctantly smiles.
“What is it?” I ask.
“Hazel Peppermint Chestnut,” Mr. Richardson says. “It sounds gross, but its actually quite tasty.”
“I’ll say,” I gulp. “Thank you.”
All Mr. Richardson does is smile.
Han escorts me out the room and we return to the living room where we sip our coffee in silence.
“Do you have any siblings–besides Amelia and Phoebe?” I ask all of a sudden.
“Nope,” Han says. “How bout you?”
“I’m really not sure,” I say. “I have a little half-brother, Henry. He’s around three. We entered foster care together. My dad remarried after he divorced my mom but I haven’t spoken to him since I was ten. Back then he didn’t have any children but I don’t know about now.”
“I’m sorry,” Han says suddenly.
“Sorry about what?”
“That you’re parents are divorced,” Han says. “This is so rude, but may I inquire why?”
“My mom was cheating on my dad with my dad’s also married brother.”
“Crazy is the more appropriate word. My mom and my uncle divorced their spouses and got married to each other. But my uncle left us not long after Henry was conceived, which was about two years into their marriage. We had been living in Boston, as you can probably tell by my lingering accent. My mother was a Stewart so she moved us back to Berkshire County. We wound up living with my mother’s parents when she was eight months pregnant. But then my grandparents kicked us out of their home two months after Henry was born and we ended up living in our car–when we weren’t staying with one of my mother’s various boyfriends. By this point, my mother had resorted to stealing and it was only a matter of time before the law caught up with her.”
Han looks at me with pity. I slowly feel regret for telling him my story.
“I guess since you told me your story, I should tell mine,” Han says taking a deep breath. “My sisters and I were born in England. Amelia is the oldest–she’s also my twin sister. I’m the middle child and Phoebe’s the baby. My parents were rowers. Strange, I know. But they were both professors and rowers. They had moved to England just to have a better rowing experience. One day while they were practicing, the weather turned bad before they could make it back to shore. Their bodies were never found. Our parents had named our Godparents back in America as our guardians. So when Amelia and I were four and Phoebe was three, we moved to America. We had been born in England, but America’s all we know of now.”
“I guess we can kind of relate to each other,” I say. “We both know what its like not to have our biological parents in our life.”
“Vera, do you believe in Jesus?” Han blurts.
“I’m not exactly sure of what I believe,” I hesitate. “My father was a theologian, my mother was more on the side of new agey, and my uncle was an atheist.”
Han doesn’t say anything. I scoff on the inside. He probably thinks little of me now that he knows I’m not a Christian and I don’t come from a Christian home.
“Read this,” Han says. “I know its changed my life.”
I stare at the Bible he’s just thrust into my hands. He gets up and leaves with his empty coffee cup. I involuntarily sigh and start on the top of the page.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.
I spent the rest of my morning immersed in the book of Matthew. Jonathan was annoyed and kept telling me that we had a Bible at home, but I was too interested to succumb to him. I read a little bit faster than I would have liked to so when we returned to the Willow Estate I asked Mrs. Willow where I could find a Bible.
“Do you not have one of your own?” Mrs. Willow asked.
“No,” I shook my head.
“Despicable the system today,” Mrs. Willow grumbled as she went in search for a Bible. “They won’t even let a girl have a Bible.”
“I’m not a Christian,” I spoke up. “Han just suggested I read it and I speed read through Matthew this morning but I’d like to read it in more detail.”
“Oh,” Mrs. Willow says. She hands me a Bible. “Maybe you should talk to Mr. Willow about this stuff. He recently went back to school to study Divinity.”
“My dad was a theologian,” I say. “He didn’t necessarily believe in any one thing, but he found it all very interesting.”
“Do you believe in any of it?” Mrs. Willow asked.
“Well, after reading Matthew, I think I believe there is a god. I’m not entirely sure. I never really thought about it before.”
“You’ve never thought about your beliefs even though your father was a theologian?”
“My mother was very persistent in that my father didn’t try to ‘poison’ my mind. My parents wanted me to figure things out for myself. I’m not even sure my dad was sure of what he believed.”
Mrs. Willow says no more. I went to my room and careful re-read Matthew.
In the late afternoon, a several cars pull up into the driveway. I am halfway through Mark by now and more confused than ever. So Jesus was supposed to be the Son of God and the promised Savoir. Yet the way He saved was by dying on a cross? That didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. If He was God, why didn’t He strike down those stupid Pharisees? Why didn’t He stop the Roman’s oppression? Why didn’t He save Himself from such a horrible and cruel death?
“Come meet aunts and uncles!” Lizzie shouts bursting through my door. I place the Bible on my bed and walk down the hall with her.
“Just pray about it, ok?” Mrs. Willow’s voice says.
“It sounds like God is telling you to–,” Mr. Willow starts. But he stops when Lizzie and I appear in the foyer.
“They’re here!” Lizzie shouts. “JONNY! GET DOWN HERE! THEY’VE FINALLY COME!”
“Jonathan took Queen for a walk,” Mrs. Willow says.
“Who’s Queen?” I ask.
“Jonathan’s black lab,” Lizzie sighs. “She’s supposed to be the family pet but I wanted a cat and Jonny keeps her in his room most of the time so I never get to see her.”
Mr. Willow chuckles and Mrs. Willow rolls her eyes.
“I better go help the relatives,” Mrs. Willow says putting on her coat. Mr. Willow follows her.
“Oh, you’ll love everybody and everybody will love you,” Lizzie squeals. “Usually we all get along but sometimes Aunt Martha is cold to Aunt Brenda because Aunt Brenda married Aunt Martha’s high school boyfriend, Uncle Robert. And Aunt Gwen and Uncle Rhys have a bit of a sibling rivalry even though they’re in their forties. But things really get crazy when Great-Aunt Agatha and Great-Aunt Birdie are together, but Great-Aunt Agatha is spending Christmas with her son’s wife’s family. Great-Aunt Birdie is really nice and always brings the best presents. Although I wonder if Mom and Dad told her that you were going to be here. Never mind. Even if she hasn’t got a present for you, she’ll run out and buy the biggest and the bestest thing she can find. Beware of Great-Uncle Rory though. He always drinks just little bit too much wine, and Uncle Rory, his son, takes after him. Aunt Sicily can be mean after a meal and a glass of wine. She’s normally bossy but something about alcohol makes her unbearable.”
I was in for a long Christmas weekend.
As it turns out Great-Aunt Birdie had a present for me and the uncle Rorys were kept from getting tipsy. Aunt Sicily was forced into solitude after being extremely snappish after a glass of wine. Most of the family was nice to me, but I found myself having to keep repeat my story to those that didn’t here it the first fifty times and I could barely take their looks of pity. Great-Uncle Rory gave me a twenty when I finished telling my story to him.
Then I had to explain everything to Aunt Sicily (the story of her name was rather interesting. Her parents went to Italy on vacationing and she was born in Sicily three weeks early. Sadly, she also named her eldest daughter Sicily much to her parents distress) when she got out of confinement. She commanded Mrs. Willow to give me some champagne (Mrs. Willow didn’t give me any of course). I withdrew to the empty family room when Great-Great-Aunt Mary, who was showing signs of Alzheimer’s, asked me what happened to my parents for the third time.
“Hey,” Jonathan says walking into the family room.
“What do you want?” I ask.
“I guess to say I’m sorry,” Jonathan says. “I judged you before I knew anything about you and I’m sorry.”
“Are you for real?” I ask.
“Yeah,” Jonathan says a little hurt. “I’m sincerely asking for your forgiveness.”
“People don’t just say sorry like that in real life,” I say.
“Well, I’m not just a person. I’m a Christian and apologizing is a very Christian thing to do.”
“Apology accepted,” I say after a few moments.
“You know what Vera Fleming?”
“You just might be good for this family.”
“Just might be?” I tease. Jonathan hesitates and when he sees the twinkle in my eyes breaks out into a huge grin.
There is no score this Christmas Eve.