Read Christmas Cake Online

Authors: Lynne Hinton

Christmas Cake (6 page)

BOOK: Christmas Cake
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Ambrosia Cake

2 cups sour cream

2 cups white sugar

1 12-ounce package of frozen coconut

1½ cups Cool Whip

3 oranges, peeled and chopped

1 box Duncan Hines butter or yellow cake mix orange juice

 

Combine sour cream, sugar, and coconut and let set overnight. Blend 1 cup of the mixture with Cool Whip. To the remainder of the sour cream mixture add oranges. Prepare cake mix according to package directions in 2 9-inch pans, using orange juice instead of water. Cut 2 layers into 4 layers. Put the sour cream mixture between layers. Frost cake with Cool Whip mixture. Keep in refrigerator at least overnight.

I
think you should just tell the hospital to keep this girl another day. We've got no room for her here. And with the injuries they said that she has, you can't take care of her here. You try to do too much, Charlotte.”

Charlotte knew that part of what Maria was saying was true. She wasn't able to take care of someone who had a lot of physical needs, but she was not about to turn someone away, especially a young girl being released from the hospital. “We will make room for her, Maria. Just put the mattress in the front bedroom. There's space next to the closet. We'll figure this out. Everything will be fine.”

Maria sighed and walked down the hall to do what was asked, and Charlotte sat at her desk thinking about the phone call she had just had with Margaret. She just couldn't think about the new client; she was still too upset about her friend.

She knew that the recurrence of cancer, and in the liver, was a terrible report. She recalled from her time as a pastor and visiting so many sick people in the hospital that liver metastasis was never a good
sign of things to come. There wasn't usually any surgery performed to remove the cancerous part. It was usually a sign that cancer was winning in a body and there was nothing more that could be done.

The fact that Margaret was having treatments meant that the doctor hadn't given up on her, and Charlotte knew that sometimes chemotherapy could wipe out the disease or at least add a few years to a person's life.

She tried to think hopeful thoughts, tried to imagine that this was nothing more than just a little setback for Margaret, but she could not push from her mind the idea that Margaret, her dear sweet friend Margaret, was dying.

She thought about the others, about Louise and Jessie and Beatrice, and wondered how they would handle the situation, how they were handling it even now. She knew they would have a very difficult time if Margaret died soon. None of them would be able to face such a death. Margaret was everything to them.

She considered the cookbook scheme of Beatrice's and wondered if that was helping things even a little. Charlotte smiled when she recalled the last cookbook, all the meetings, all the conversations about the recipes and what should and shouldn't go into the book. She knew the church had lost money on the project, that there were still cookbooks sitting in the storage room at the church; but she also knew that it had been a good idea and that it had completed what Beatrice had set out to do. The project had brought them closer. It had helped make the women, the entire church, more of a community than it had ever been. She assumed that was the reason that no one had complained about the lost income. The church members were glad for what had come from the project.

She jotted herself a note to get the recipe for the cake she had told
Margaret about and then looked at her calendar, trying to see if there was any time that she could get back to North Carolina before the end of the year. Every day was filled with meetings and court appearances and fund-raisers; she didn't see how she would be able to leave any time soon.

Charlotte shook aside the thoughts of Margaret and a full calendar when she heard the car in the driveway. A few minutes passed and then there was a knock at the door. When she got up from her desk and walked toward the entryway, she saw first a figure shadowed by the sun, then the face of the newest resident of St. Mary's House.

“Is this the shelter?” A timid voice spoke through the screened-in door.

“Hello, and yes,” Charlotte replied, opening the door and standing aside so that the woman could walk in. She watched the taxi pull out of the driveway, knowing that the hospital had paid the fare.

The person at the door was petite, shorter than Charlotte, and carried a very small frame. She was still a teenager, her hair long and black and pulled tightly away from her face into a ponytail. There were bruises under both of her eyes, and she would not look directly at Charlotte. She walked in on crutches, with a plastic bag held under her right arm.

The absence of direct eye contact was familiar to Charlotte. She had grown accustomed to the shy ways that women greeted her when they came to the only place they had to stay. There was shame and embarrassment and sorrow and pain and lots of other things that Charlotte was never able to name. She just recognized it all when they all made those same first steps through the door and into their new lives.

“Welcome to St. Mary's,” Charlotte said, smiling. She reached out to take the plastic bag from the woman.

“Rachel,” the girl replied. “I'm Rachel.” She handed over the bag immediately as if it had been required of her.

“I'm Charlotte,” came the response. “Please come in and have a seat.”

The young woman nodded and moved slowly into the living area and gingerly took a seat on the sofa. She sat toward the front of the cushions, appearing as if she was uncomfortable in a seated position. She held the crutches out beside her. Charlotte took them and placed them at her feet. Then she went over to a chair across from the sofa and sat down.

“Can I get you anything?” she asked.

Rachel shook her head.

“Have you had anything to eat today?”

She shook her head again. “I'm not so hungry.”

Charlotte nodded. “Well, that's fine. But we do have some cake that someone made. I think it has fruit in it, creamy, very tasty. Maybe you'll like a piece later.”

Rachel nodded in reply. She raised her eyes only enough to glance around the room.

“Is New Mexico your home, or did you move here from somewhere else?” Charlotte didn't want to ask too many questions to begin, but she thought some conversation might help ease the tension for the young woman.

“I'm from Texas.” She hesitated. “I lived in Childress with my grandmother.”

Charlotte nodded. She wasn't sure what to ask next. She thought about,
How did you get to Gallup and get tangled up in a violent relationship when you are so young?
or
How did you end up with bruises on your face and walking on crutches and moving to a women's shelter?
And
yet she knew that wasn't really the best way to begin a relationship. She knew that Rachel's story would eventually come out. Charlotte was sure that once their newest client became comfortable in her surroundings, she would open up a little more.

“Well, why don't I round up some of the others so that you can meet your housemates?” Charlotte asked, sounding as cheerful as she was able.

Rachel dropped her face again, and Charlotte got up and headed toward the back of the house. She found Maria, Loretta, and Loretta's youngest child in the rear bedroom. Sophia and Victoria were still working in the yard. She found Tempest on the phone in the kitchen. She gathered them all to tell them about Rachel and then asked them to join her in the introductions. She knew that Peggy, Lucille, and Anita were working and would meet their newest roommate at dinner.

The group of women walked into the living area and stood around Rachel. Each of them introduced themselves while Charlotte went into the bedroom that was being set up for Rachel. She saw the blowup mattress on the floor and knew it was a terrible way to offer hospitality to someone looking for shelter.

She walked back to the living room and motioned for Loretta. When she explained the situation, the mother of three was more than willing to help. Loretta would have one of her children sleep on the mattress and give the cot to the young woman.

Together the two women fixed the situation, and by the time Rachel was escorted to the room she would share with Sophia and Anita and Lucille, the middle bedroom, it looked as if they had been expecting her for weeks. The cot was situated in the corner with the other three single beds lined up beside it. It was tight conditions but it was certainly not unbearable.

After showing her around the house and the yard, the women left Rachel alone in the room to settle and to rest. Charlotte watched as they gathered in her office near the kitchen.

“How does somebody so young get beat up so bad?” Maria asked. She was in her sixties and had been volunteering at St. Mary's for almost three years. Her daughter had died from domestic violence, and she had vowed to work on her behalf, to help others who suffered the way her daughter and grandchildren had suffered.

“Don't she have family?” Loretta asked. “Is she even sixteen?” She was holding her baby in her arms.

“I think she's nineteen,” Charlotte replied. “And no, I don't think there's any family. I'm sure she'll tell us about herself later.”

“This a cruel world for a girl,” Sophia noted, shaking her head. She had been in the shelter only a couple of weeks, but her injuries had not been quite as severe as Rachel's. She was one of the lucky ones.

There had been only one attack by her husband of five years. There had been several hard blows, directly across the face, but she had left him after that first time. Most women waited until there were three or four violent episodes. They didn't seek help until there were broken bones and medical interventions. Sophia was scared, just twenty-five, and didn't want to leave her husband. But she was smart and she had gotten out of the violent cycle early. She was at the shelter only until her sister could make room for her in California.

“We all attest to that fact,” Victoria noted. She was the oldest of the residents, in her fifties, and she had been at St. Mary's the longest. She had run away from her husband in the middle of the night after a violent rape and beating. She had tried several times to leave him
but always went back. She had all the scars to prove it. Finally, this last time she knew he would kill her, and she had decided that living without him was the only way she was going to live.

“You ain't never too young to be hit,” Tempest responded. She was rubbing her neck, the scar from her boyfriend's knife still swollen and red on her narrow, brown neck.

Charlotte looked around at the women standing in her office and knew their stories. She knew their fear and their courage and their fierce loyalty to one another. She knew that she had not expected to find such a community for herself when she left North Carolina five years earlier.

She had only been a pastor in her professional career, and although she had loved being in that kind of community, it was nothing like the women's shelter. The closest she had come was the Hope Springs Cookbook Committee.

Beatrice, Margaret, Louise, and Jessie had been her teachers. They had taught her how to open her heart, how to share of herself, how to love deeply, how to be a friend. And that's how she thought of her work at the shelter, as being a friend. She glanced around at the women standing around her: Victoria, a sweet, unassuming housewife; Loretta, a loving mother; Sophia, a proud and strong young woman; and Tempest, the toughest of the group, the streetwise twenty-year-old, and Charlotte knew she was where she was meant to be.

“Well, let's go finish the yard work while it's still warm outside,” Sophia said to Victoria.

“I can help,” Tempest offered.

The older woman nodded and the three of them left. They all walked quietly by the room where Rachel was resting.

“I'm sorry we take up so much space and beds,” Loretta said softly to Charlotte and Maria as she glanced down at the baby sleeping in her arms.

“Loretta, don't be crazy. This house would be so empty without Carmichael and Natasha and little Henry. We love that you are all here.” Charlotte had sat down behind her desk.

Loretta glanced over to Maria. It appeared as if she needed more consolation.

“I'll get us another cot this evening. I know somebody who has one they don't use.” Maria smiled and reached out and slid a finger across the baby's face. “I'm sorry if you heard me complaining. I have no right to say anything. I just…” She hesitated. “I just want everybody to have a good place to sleep and sometimes I just get overwhelmed here.” She looked away.
“Señor, ten piedad,”
she said in her native Spanish. “Father, have mercy.”

Loretta nodded. “I know. I get overwhelmed too. And we really appreciate everything you do for us.”

“I don't do anything,” Maria confessed.

“Hey, you found the mattress, didn't you?” Charlotte said.

“And you brought us cake,” Loretta added.

Maria smiled. “Has anybody even eaten any of it?” she asked.

Loretta glanced toward the kitchen. “I think I'll have a piece now.” She nodded toward Charlotte. “Thanks for everything,” she said.

Charlotte smiled as the woman and her baby left the office. She figured that Maria would join her but the other woman stood across from the desk.

“You okay?” Maria asked.

Charlotte didn't answer. She knew that Maria had a very sensitive side and was able to tell when someone was not feeling quite right.

“You had a phone call,” Maria noted. “Is there something wrong at home?”

Charlotte blew out a breath. She knew that Maria would pester her until she told her the truth. “It's one of my former parishioners. Margaret.” She had mentioned the cookbook committee to Maria in previous conversations.

“The one who had breast cancer not too long ago?” Maria asked.

Maria had filled in for Charlotte during that hospitalization. Maria remembered how much the woman had meant to the executive director. She knew they were close.

Charlotte nodded.

“Is she okay?” Maria asked.

Charlotte waited and then shook her head. She glanced away, and Maria reached out and placed her hand on top of Charlotte's.

“Do you need to go back to North Carolina?” she asked, crossing herself. Maria was Catholic.

“No,” Charlotte answered. “Not yet.” She paused. “I mean, there's no real reason to at this point. She's going to start chemo next week. I'll go later.”

Maria nodded. “We did fine without you last time,” she noted, and winked when Charlotte looked up at her.

BOOK: Christmas Cake
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