Rhianna spent the remainder of the evening with Jerrick and enjoyed a couple more dances with him. As far as dancing couples, they were the talk of the evening and even now, two days later, Rhianna smiled at the thought as she rolled over in bed. Jerrick helped her discover a portion of herself that she’d lost over the last year, but she knew she had a long way yet to go.
Lark came into Rhianna’s bedroom early the next morning and breaking through her thoughts.
“Lavender woke up and needs her britches changed.”
Lark wore her favorite pink sweats and her straight, dark brown hair stuck up in the back from twisting in her sleep all night. Her long black eye lashes framed her eyes and Rhianna wished she could look half so good in the morning. Lark’s appearance contrasted dramatically with Lavender’s. Lavender’s hair was very curly and a silvery blond color; almost an ash blond but it shone like buried treasure in the sun. Her eyes lashes were blond too but her smile was her crowning glory. Knowing that getting the two year old dressed would undoubtedly be a struggle again this morning, Rhianna groaned and felt grateful that Lark was old enough to dress herself with little to no encouraging.
“Did you wake her up?” Rhianna asked groggily.
“No. I woke up by myself and got dressed. I want to put up the stickers.”
“What stickers, honey?” Rhianna yawned.
“The ones for the windows.” Lark stamped her foot with exasperation.
The window decals for Thanksgiving! It couldn’t be. Could this be starting already? Rhianna knew it would come, but it caught her by surprise. “Can you give Mommy a couple minutes, honey? I’ll be in to change Lavender’s diaper and get her dressed in just a bit.”
Lark bounced out of the room, no doubt with the intent to tell her little sister to be patient. As soon as she was gone, Rhianna rolled over and allowed the tears to fall onto her pillow. How would she make it through this holiday season? Last year had been miserable and she had hoped this year would be better. However, the thought of doing anything to prepare for the holidays frightened her. She had hoped that each year would become easier and easier to endure without Scott, but as she lay in bed this morning, the tears that saturated her pillow testified that the next couple months would indeed be very trying.
Telling herself to deal with it because it was happening, she rolled out of bed and went to get Lavender ready for the day.
An hour, the girls were dressed, fed, and had their hair fixed. Putting on a movie for the girls, Rhianna stepped into the shower and allowed the water to burn her flesh as she soaked. Tears flowed down her face as her mind ran over the things she would undoubtedly be required to do for the holidays. The parties that Nicole would insist they attend, the cards, the cookies, the presents, the shopping, the sledding…. No. No sledding. Rhianna drew the line there. The thought of letting her girls go sledding made her physically ill.
She had no desire to go to parties, so she wouldn’t. She mentally checked it off her list. There was no need to send cards and make cookies for the neighbors, so she wouldn’t. As for the presents, she would get a few things for her girls, but there was no reason to get too extreme. She would provide the minimal things to make Christmas and Thanksgiving what the girls expected, but nothing more. With a sigh of relief and a newly restored vision of how she would endure the next two months, she rinsed her face, turned off the water and reached for her towel.
~ * ~
“Do I get to wash the windows, Mommy?”
“Sure, honey. But, Lark, only use a couple squirts.” Rhianna went in search of the window stickers. Washing windows would keep the girls busy for a few minutes and postpone the inevitable just a little longer.
By the time Rhianna found the window stickers and made her way back to the living room, she gasped at the site that met her. The middle of the window looked like it had been turned to water with little bubbles floating on the top and pooling on the window sill. The saturated rag was being swished around in a dancing fashion by Lark and a puddle stood under the chair on the hardwood floor. Only an inch of blue liquid remained in the bottle of glass cleaner that Rhianna had bought last week. Lavender stood beside her sister, rubbing her hands through the mess on the window.
“Lark, I thought I told you only a couple squirts.” Rhianna tried to keep her voice level and calm.
“It just wasn’t coming clean, Mommy. So I used more,” Lark said cheerfully.
Rhianna sighed and shook her head. She took the rag and cleaner to the kitchen where she rung it in the sink. Then, grabbing several clean towels, she gave one to each girl and attempted to clean the mess. When they finally got it cleaned up, Rhianna took the girls to the kitchen. Spraying the window herself and then placing the bottle back in the cupboard, she allowed the girls to stand on the table to clean the window. The girls eagerly obliged and began singing princess songs as they cleaned. Rhianna couldn’t help but smile. The girls’ happy, carefree manner really did help to lighten her heart. If only a little.
With the windows clean, they began putting up the decals. Lavender did the kitchen because she was shorter and the window was easier to reach from the table. She eagerly placed the stickers on the window as soon as Rhianna could hand them to her. There was no form or layout to the stickers. Some even were placed on top of each other. But she giggled continuously and was finished within minutes.
Lark was old enough to be able to peel the stickers off herself and put them on the windows. She did the living room window and Rhianna could hear her signing to herself. After Lavender was through, they went to see Lark’s progress.
“Don’t touch, Lavy. I’m not done.” Lark carefully removed another sticker and stood back before she placed it on the window. Each sticker had its own little home and particular place on the window. “Lavy don’t! That sticker doesn’t go there! You’ll mess it all up! Mommy!”
“Lavender, this is her window, honey. Let her do it.”
Rhianna watched and her heart pricked with pain. This was just one more thing that Scott would never be able to share in. Lark sang and Lavender danced and Rhianna stood back and attempted to withhold her tears.
Ten minutes later, Lark declared her window done. Though it was a masterpiece of plastic decals, she smiled proudly as she admired her display.
“All right girls,” Rhianna sighed. “What should we do for lunch?”
“Hot dogs,” Lavender cried.
“Macaroni and cheese,” Lark said at the same time.
As Lark and Lavender both expressed their desired lunch, the doorbell rang.
“Run into the kitchen and I’ll be there is a minute.”
To her surprise, when Rhianna opened the door, Jerrick Mason stood on the other side. Her eyes refused to blink as she stared at him, dumbfounded. What on earth could he possibly be doing here?
“May I come in for a minute?” He shifted awkwardly.
“Of course.” She shook her head back and forth, humiliated at her lack of hospitality. Her eyes darted around the front room. It was a mess, as usual. Toys strewn from one end to the other, but mostly clean otherwise. “Can I get you anything?” She closed the door behind him. “We were just about to make some lunch.”
“No, thank you. I really only stopped by to see if you and your daughters would mind joining me for lunch at the diner down the street.”
“Ooooh, yes! Yes, yes! The diner’s my favorite!” Lark jumped up and down as she entered the room and saw the visitor. She stopped and stared.
“What? What?” Lavender asked, coming up behind her sister.
“Put your shoes on Lavender,” Lark commanded in her best big sister voice. “We’re going to lunch with Mommy and the handsome man!”
“Yay!” the two year old cheered. But upon seeing the stranger standing in the doorway, she quieted down and clung to her mother’s leg. “Mommy, who’s that?”
“This is Jerrick Mason. He’s a friend of Mommy’s.” Rhianna looked to Jerrick who grinned at the scene he had caused.
“Lunch, Mommy?” Lavender asked, skeptically looking up at him.
“Daddy takes me to the diner for lunch! It’s my favorite!” Lark said.
Rhianna looked to Lark who already had her shoes on and was looking for her coat and hat. Looking back to Jerrick, she smiled reluctantly. “It appears that we will be taking you up on your offer.”
Jerrick stooped down so that he was eye level with Lavender. “Can I help you with your shoes, little lady?”
Lavender looked up to her mother for permission, and when she received it, she cautiously walked over to Jerrick. Putting her hands on either side of his face, she examined him for several moments. “You nice?” she asked.
“You smell like candy cane.” She took a deep breath and he chuckled. “I get nuggets.”
“Whatever you want, little lady.”
“Okay,” she said, taking her hands away from his face. “I like you. You handsome.”
“Why thank you.” Jerrick smiled.
“Daddy handsome. You know Daddy?”
Jerrick glanced at Rhianna, who was not surprised by the comment. She knew her girls thought their father was handsome because Rhianna always told them he was. And every time they looked at pictures of Scott, Rhianna always commented on his handsome features. So it was only natural for the girls to judge someone’s looks according to the image of their father.
Turning his attention back to the child, Jerrick said, “I didn’t know him, little lady. But I’m sure he was the best daddy a girl could want.” Lavender seemed satisfied with that comment and took hold of Jerrick’s hand as he stood. She led him to where her shoes were kept in the closet.
Rhianna quickly went to the bathroom, claiming the need to freshen up. Within ten minutes, she and Jerrick had the girls loaded into her car and heading down the street to the little diner. The girls asked him questions on end and Rhianna had a difficult time suppressing the joy she found from the situation.
“Are you a daddy?” Lark asked, once they pulled into the parking lot and started to get out of the car.
“No, angel. I’m not.”
“Well, I can’t be a daddy without a mommy.”
“What ‘bout Mommy?” Lavender asked. “You be a daddy with Mommy.”
Jerrick chuckled but Rhianna looked over at Lark and felt concerned. The look on her oldest daughter’s face told her that a confrontation was soon at hand. Lark’s eyes were shooting daggers into the back of Jerrick’s head. Rhianna changed the subject.
“What do you girls want for lunch?”
The subject was seemingly forgotten until after the waitress had taken their orders and the girls sat coloring some pictures. Lark looked up and glared at Jerrick for a few minutes. Rhianna, discussing the progress of her latest book, did not see her daughter and was caught off guard when the girl spoke.
“We already have a daddy!”
“Lark, honey.” Rhianna knew where the conversation was sure to go from here. “We’ve talked about this.”
“But I already have a daddy. I don’t want another one.”
“That’s fine, honey. No one said they wanted to take Daddy’s place.”
“But he said….” Lark pointed to Jerrick and her eyes filled with tears.
“I said that I’m not a daddy, angel. That’s all,” Jerrick said understandingly. “I do have some little nieces and a nephew. I think one of them may be about your age.”
“My age?” Lark asked with skepticism. “Are they my friends?”
Jerrick shrugged. “I suppose if you met them and liked them, they would be your friends.”
Rhianna gave him a smile, relieved that he had so elegantly changed the subject and they had not created a big scene.
“Can we, Mommy? Can we play with my new friends?” Lark asked excitedly, for she called every young child her friend.
Rhianna looked first to Lark’s eager face, then to Lavender who seemed oblivious to the conversation and finally to Jerrick who looked completely amused. “I don’t know, honey.”
“Actually,” Jerrick interrupted, “perhaps I should reveal my secret motive behind asking you girls to lunch.”
“A secret motive?” Rhianna eyed him warily.
Jerrick squirmed in his seat but gained composure quickly. “Well, kitten,” he began.
“Mommy’s not a kitten.” Lark wrinkled her nose.
Jerrick chuckled. “No, she’s not.” Turning his attention back to Rhianna he said, “Anna, I hesitate to bring this up because I know it’s a delicate subject.” He hesitated and Rhianna wondered what he might possibly say.
He sighed. “This is the thing. My family has been hounding me incessantly about not having a wife or even a girlfriend.” Rhianna nodded, unsure of his venue for conversation. “I was wondering, if you didn’t have other plans, if you and your girls would like to accompany me to my parent’s cabin for Thanksgiving?”
“Spend Thanksgiving with you?” Rhianna pressed her back into her chair and let out a slow breath of air.
“Me and my family, yes. Everyone is planning to be there; Joey’s family and Andy and his roommate. And I was hoping that maybe you would enjoy role playing with me. Just for the weekend. You know, to get them off my back for a while.”
“I wanna go!” Lavender smiled.
Rhianna thought for a moment. She had no family, outside of her great-aunt Sophie who was in a nursing home. Her mother-in-law lived in another state, and given Rhianna’s current mood toward the approaching holidays, she had no desire to entertain visiting her in-laws. The proposition Jerrick made was enticing. Her girls would receive a good Thanksgiving memory, and she could sit back and ignore her surroundings. Plus, she would have Jerrick to help keep her mind off past memories and the loss of her husband.
“There will be kids for the girls to play with and Joey’s wife, Mindy, will be there.”
“You want me to pretend to be your girlfriend for the weekend?”
“Yeah. Crazy idea, huh?” He shook his head and took a sip of his soda. “I just get so tired of my mother harping on me all the time. Last night as I was laying in bed, this crazy idea came to me.”
“It is crazy, I’ll give you that.” She took a drink of her lemonade. Thinking on it a little longer, she wondered if this was too far out of her comfort zone. Several years ago, this would have been right up her alley but now? “When will you be leaving?”
“On Wednesday and then I’ll come back sometime Sunday.”
“Are you sure your parents have the room?”
“You mean you’ll do it?”
Rhianna hesitated for only a minute before she nodded her head slowly.
“Oh, thank you!” he said with a sigh of relief. “If I had to endure another holiday with my mother nagging me about my lack of prospects, I would go crazy!”
“Why does she do that?” Rhianna thought it odd that a mother had the prerogative to inflict that kind of situation on her child.
“She wants me to find someone I can share my life with.”
“Why does she push the issue? Aren’t you happy now?”
“Yes, but she thinks I’m missing out on so much. I’ve dated a few girls since college but they were like leeches. I can’t seem to get rid of them. I need a little space on occasion. They latch on and won’t let go.”
“Sounds like a problem.”
“Um hmm. But this thing with you and Thanksgiving might work out better than I anticipated.”
“There’s this girl who has been chasing me for the last six months. Misty Gibbons, is her name. Anyway, with you coming with me for Thanksgiving, maybe that will discourage her and she’ll leave me alone.”
“So I’m a pawn?”
“Not intentionally.” Jerrick smiled. “But I wouldn’t mind if you helped to clear the air too.”
Rhianna laughed. She felt excited about the prospect of a trip for Thanksgiving and though Lavender expressed enthusiasm, Rhianna doubted she understood what was to come. She did, however, worry about Lark who had suddenly become grumpy and was violently coloring her picture. She made a mental note to talk with her later.