Authors: Therese M. Travis
Tags: #christian Fiction
Perfumes, bath items, books, costume jewelryâthe kids proclaimed nearly everything they saw as perfect for Annabelle. By the time they'd gone through three stores, everyone had at least one package to tote.
Liam hesitated outside a jewelry store. “Can we afford to get her something real?”
The kids perched on a few empty benches and piled their remaining stashes onto Faith's lap. Joe straightened crumpled bills, Liam counted coins, and Faith kept a running total.
“Maybe something small,” she finally said. “A bracelet or a little necklace.”
Inside, the clerk's eyes widened when he saw the number of kids, but to Rick's surprise, they all behaved. Hands tucked behind their backs, they asked politely to be shown various items, discussed their merits like professional jewel traders, and to Rick's further astonishment, took a vote.
“What if it's a tie?” Brody asked.
Liam shrugged. “Rick can break it.”
But he didn't have to. While Faith paid for the delicate scrolled necklace, Matt tugged on Rick's arm.
“Look at that one.” He pointed to a display next to the engagement rings, marked “Promise Rings.” “That one looks like a snowflake.”
Rick leaned over the case. The ring just under Matt's finger was as small and delicate as the necklace, and a spray of diamond chips shone in the platinum setting.
“We should've got that,” Matt pouted.
“It's for people who are in love, silly.” Joe steered Matt away.
Matt craned his body around, trying to see what Rick was doing. “But it's a real snow angel ring. It's just right for Annabelle.”
“It's OK, Mattie. She'll love the necklace. I promise.” Joe took his little brother's hand.
Rick checked the time again, fighting down a thread of panic. So he was going to be a little late to the rehearsal. He could deal with that. But the kids were standing in front of the tiny bakery beside the jewelry store, staring at the display of treats as if their oldest sister wasn't a true wizard of sweets.
“OK,” he said, after a hurried text to Annabelle. “You guys were good. We can take five minutes to get a snack, all right?”
He got cheers, and then he got six orders of hot cocoa ice cream. When the kids had crowded around the table, Rick told the older ones, “I'll be right back. Don't anybody go anywhere.”
He made sure they couldn't see him from the table and hurried to the jewelry store. Even though he wasn't certain of Annabelle's ring size, he elected to take the ring with him, along with a guarantee that it could be sized later. He stowed it in his pocket and hoped Matt wasn't the kind of kid to search someone's clothing. Just because the kid had picked it out didn't mean Rick wanted him in on giving it to Annabelle.
Back in the food court, he found pandemonium building.
“Matt went to the bathroomâ” Faith began.
“Alone?” Rick glared at the two older boys.
“And when Liam checked, he wasn't there.”
Rick closed his eyes for a second of fighting off panic with a whisper of prayer. He'd taken one of Annabelle's precious brothers and lost him? He spun around, searching for a security officer, and instead saw Matt sprinting through the crowds.
Joe grabbed him. “You are so busted. Where were you?”
Yeah, looking guilty. Rick squatted in front of him. At least these kids were great exercise. “Didn't you know how much everyone would worry?”
Matt grimaced. “I thought I could get back before then. Anyway,
went somewhere without
“He's got something in his pocket,” Brody told Rick.
Everyone looked at Rick, and for the first time he felt the full impact of being regarded as the final authority. He shook his head. “OK, look, it's late. I should have been at rehearsal twenty minutes ago. We have to leave now.”
He took Matt's hand. “Are you sure you paid for whatever you've got there?”
“I don't steal!” Matt's bottom lip jutted out. “Faith gave everyone change from the necklace. That's what I spent.”
Dole out discipline where he wasn't sure it was needed and disappoint Annabelle orâ
Rick headed for the car.
Annabelle checked her phone, relieved to finally see a text from Rick. “He'll be here as soon as he drops my brothers and sisters off at home,” she told Mrs. Veragas.
She didn't miss the look the woman exchanged with one of the other dancers. And she didn't have to think hard to figure out what it was about. Rick, taking care of Annabelle's siblings, meantâwell, what did it mean? Annabelle knew what she wanted it to mean, which was exactly the same thing that look on Mrs. Veragas's face suggested, but whether it did mean that, she couldn't say.
Still, her heart was tiptoe-excited, and she vowed that she wasn't going to delete a single text from the man, unlessâwell, she wasn't. Ever. That was all there was to that.
“We'll practice curtsies and bows until he gets here. Oh and fans.” Mrs. Veragas picked up a huge, poinsettia-and-white-rose bedecked fan and passed similar ones to all the women. “Not only do the girls need to know this language, but the men do, as well. They need to know how to read it.”
“Huh?” Julie took the flowery fan and turned it front to back, peering at it. “These things have writing on them?”
“No, but the way a woman holds it means different things. Victorian women used them to flirt.”
Annabelle covered the bottom half of her face with her fan and fluttered her eyelashes.
When everyone stared at her, she raised her eyebrows. “What? I read a lot.”
Greg laughed. “Looks like I'm gonna have to start reading.”
Tom poked him. “Why? She's not gonna flirt with
.” He turned and winked at Annabelle.
She started to put her hand up to make sure her hair covered her cheek and forehead but made herself stop before she changed anything. No. She wouldn't hide any more. Maybe that had worked before. Maybe she'd needed it when she hadn't understood how precious a child of God she was. Now, she was who she was.
She turned to Mrs. Veragas. “I only know a few motions.” She touched the tip of her fan with her forefinger. “This means, I want to talk to you privately, right?”
Mrs. Veragas nodded. “Very good. Let's everyone practice that. I realized that if you are all dancing for three hours straight, you'll be exhausted. So we'll have a few tableaus to break it up. A good flirt is always interesting to watch.”
“Well, I know who's gonna be flirting with who.” Tom snorted with laughter.
Julie pushed his shoulder. “He won't know what she means unless he shows up pretty soon.”
“She can teachâ” Anson choked as Rick walked into the hall.
After all their hints and outright assurances, Annabelle felt the world would tilt and fall, bouncing across the universe if he didn't show some sign of his feelings. And if he didn'tâwell, she was used to letdowns, used to dreams that fizzled before she fully woke up. Only this time, she wasn't asleep.
He strode across the floor and took her free hand. “Sorry to be so late. We sort of lost Mattie, but we found him. Nothing to worry about. He was looking at something.”
He didn't let go of her hand.
Annabelle smiled up at him.
“All right,” Mrs. Veragas said, her tone arched. “Back to flirtingâwith the fans.”
Two hours later, Annabelle carried the roast her grandmother had cooked and glanced around the table to see what else needed to be done. Plates, silverware, glasses, napkins, condiments, and all the dishes her grandmother had made were on the table. What was wrong?
Then she realized. Liam and Faith had set an extra place. They'd taken to doing that lately. It certainly wasn't unusual to have one or four or more extra children. Everyone asked friends home to eat. But no one had asked anyone today. And still, an extra place was set next to hers.
“We asked Rick,” Faith said.
“He probably has other plans.” Annabelle remembered the last time she'd expected him to stay, and he hadn't. She set down the roast and wiped her hands on her hips.
“No, he's coming. He said he'd be here pretty soon.”
“When did he tell you that?”
“A couple minutes ago.” Then, at Annabelle's frown, Faith added, “He texted me.”
“Oh, right.” Funny to think of her Rickâbut he wasn't
, she had to remember thatâtexting her little sister.
She looked at Faith. Was her sister whyâ?
“And don't go getting any dumb ideas,” Faith said. “
in the family has his cellphone number.”
“Oh, right. No, I wasn't even thinking that.” Annabelle shook her head and adjusted the angle of a few forks. Everybody had his cell number? She couldn't even begin to think why they'd all need it.
Faith grabbed her wrist. “It looks fine. And he's here.”
The front doorbell rang.
Three kids tumbled down the stairs and toward the door. Matt and Brody scuffled while Victoria pulled on the doorknob, and then Rick was in the room, and Annabelle's heart was dancing and making it hard for her to breathe like a normal human.
“Hey.” He looked at her over the children's heads before his face disappeared behind Mattie's shock of dirty blond.
“Get off him!” Brody yelled. “Annabelle, Matt's monop'lizing Rick.”
“It's OK, Brody. He's just saying hi.” Rick wrangled Matt under one arm and grabbed Victoria's hand. “And it's not like I didn't see you guys just a couple hours ago.”
“Yeah, but that was shopping.”
“You took them
?” Annabelle asked. Why had she thought it was sport or church related?
Brody slapped his hand over his mouth, but Matt, facing the floor, squirmed until he could see Annabelle. “We had to get some fake snow. For the boutique, remember?”
“Oh, wait, no. It was for Rick.” Mattie laughed. “We had to get some fake snow to make Rick into a real snow angel.”
“You're nuts.” Joe, pounded down the stairs, pulled Matt from under Rick's arm and set Matt on his feet. “You don't make something real out of fake stuff.”
“'Thides, he'th already a real th'now angel.”
Everyone stared at Victoria.
“He is?” Annabelle asked, her voice faint. What was Victoria talking about?
“Yeah. We don't need fake stuff, 'member, Mattie? 'Cuz you uthed baby powder, and I uthed thugar, and those thingth didn't work. 'Cuz we're all th'now angels.” She held her arms out to Rick, who picked her up.
“You're right, kiddo,” he said. “We're all snow angels.” He nuzzled her hair.
Annabelle shook her head, unable to keep up. “I think all I am is confused.” And the room was spinning, and she had no idea where she was or where she belonged.
Rick laughed and set Victoria on her feet. “It won't last, I promise. It'll all come clear before long.”
Blinking, Annabelle followed the others into the dining room where her grandmother waited for them.
Grandma didn't comment on Rick's presence. Was he such a part of their family now? Accepted? More than that?
Oh, she hoped he was more.
And as for the whole snow angel business? Victoria had let it go. Let it go as though it had never been an obsession with her. It was over. In the past. Forgiven, if she needed anything absolved. Certainly ready to be forgotten. She didn't have to worry about making snow angels any more.
Annabelle didn't have to worry about scars, or what she was meant to do with her life. Not that her life was over, just the worry. All in the same way.
She hesitated as everyone finished saying grace. Then, as casually as she could, she tucked her hair behind her ears. She exposed the scars.
Rick, sitting on that side, glanced at her. He smiled. “I'm surprised you had time to cook this with dance practice and all.”
“Oh, I didn't. Grandma cooked tonight.”
He leaned past her to compliment her grandmother and took another bite.
He couldn't have missed the scars.
Annabelle's heart had stopped dancing and now performed flips and bounced off her chest walls.
If she weren't so stunned, she might do the same, right there in the dining room.
Before Rick finished horning his way into a new family, he had to do something about his original one. His hands shook as much as they did whenever he thought of presenting that ring to Annabelle, and this wasn't even close to face-to-face confrontation.
But he had to call his family. He had to make some sort of start to bringing peopleâ
peopleâtogether, and not allowing them all to drift apart.
An hour later, Rick put down his cellphone and rubbed his chin. His goatee had gotten too long. He needed a trim. He needed to think about his phone call to his parents. About the phone call to his grandfather. About how everyone said how good it was to hear from him, and they loved him, too, and Merry Christmas, Rick. Don't wait so long before you call again. And yes, maybe they'd all come out to California if there was a wedding to look forward to.
He needed to think about how, maybe, the rift in the family was mostly in his head.
And if it wasn't imaginary, well, it had mended in the last few years, or maybe God had filled it in with forgetfulness. Whatever had happened, it seemed to be gone.
He had to tell Annabelle. He grabbed a few things and ran to his car, imagining the joy on her face. When he'd told her about his family, up there in the snow, for a minute she'd looked as lost as he felt. But he didn't want to tell her the good news over the phone. He wanted to see her face. He had to.