Home > A Family for Christmas(8)

A Family for Christmas(8)
Mona Ingram

“I’m an orphan too.” She didn’t know where the words came from; they just popped out. She picked up her cup to cover her own confusion.

“You are?” Annie looked at her as though she didn’t quite believe her ears.

“Uh-huh. It was five years ago, so I was a lot older than you, but I don’t think it matters how old you are, it still hurts.”

Annie nodded in agreement, her eyes locked on Maddie’s. “My father died about two years ago in an accident on an oil rig. He was what’s called a trouble-shooter.” She had both hands on her cup of chai and rotated it back and forth between her palms. “My mom died eight months and twelve days later. I saw that in the paper, and for some reason it stuck in my head.” She inhaled slowly. “The newspaper said that the cancer hit her so quickly she didn’t get a chance to grieve.” She looked up. “That doesn’t seem fair, does it?”

Maddie could only shake her head.

She was still sitting, staring into her cup, when Annie’s small hand covered hers. “I’m sorry I brought this up. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

Maddie raised her head and looked into the amazing eyes of this woman/child. Most of the adults she knew would have crumpled when faced with the amount of grief this young girl had endured, and yet here she was, doing the comforting.

“I’m glad you told me,” she said with a soft smile. “Too many people refuse to acknowledge their grief, as though ignoring it will make it go away. They pack it up and shove it away in some dark corner, hoping that they never stumble on it again. But I think that’s wrong. I think you should remember your parents every day, and not be afraid to be sad when you think of them. You’ll always miss them, but in time it won’t hurt so much. One day, happy memories will come along, and eventually they will crowd out the unhappy ones.”

Annie looked at her quietly for a moment, as though trying to memorize her face.

“Can we be friends?” she asked finally.

Maddie opened her arms, and the child walked into them. “Absolutely,” she said. She looked over Annie’s shoulder and saw Lily approaching. “And here comes number three.”

Annie pulled back. “Number three?”

“Yes. Lily’s here. We’ll be a gang of three friends.”

Lily sat down with an exaggerated groan. She brought with her the fresh, crisp air of outside and her own personal scent, the ingredients of which she refused to divulge. “My feet are killing me.” She reached down and massaged her arches.

“Shall I get you something?” Annie rose, eager to be of assistance.

“That would be great,” Lily said. “I’d love some chai.”

“That’s what I had!” Annie squealed her approval and dashed off to the counter.

“You just made her day,” said Maddie, watching as Annie paid with a credit card. She brought the tea back, set it in front of Lily then turned to Maddie. “Did you tell Lily that she’s part of our gang?”

Lily rolled her eyes. “Gang? What is this, West Side Story?”

“No.” Maddie winked at Annie. “Just three girls supporting each other.” She changed the subject. “So how did the show go?”

“There was a buyer in the audience from a boutique in Edmonton. I didn’t know she was there, that’s what took me so long.”

“They don’t usually go to showings at retail outlets, do they?”

“No, but apparently she was in town and heard about the show and as they say, the rest is history.” She paused. “She wants an exclusive for Edmonton, and I’m thinking about giving it to her. My product would be lost in among all the designers in the large stores, and this would be a great way to experiment, for both of us.”

“Sounds like you’ve already decided.”

“Yes, I suppose I have.” She reached for her purse and turned to Annie, who had been hanging onto every word. “I forgot to pay you for the chai.”

“Oh, no. Please let it be my treat. Maddie paid for me.”

Lily grinned and saluted with her cup. “In that case, thanks!” She closed her eyes and took a sip. “So, Annie. What got you interested in fashion?”

The child thought for a moment. “I think it was when my parents used to go out for the evening. My mother always let me watch her get ready. She had a little makeup table in their bedroom with lights and everything. She’d sit there in her slip and put on her makeup and we’d talk about...oh, about everything. She always had her dress hanging up, and we’d decide what jewelry she was going to wear, and what shoes.” Her eyes took on a dreamy, far-away look. “My mom had a lot of her clothes made and she took me with her a few times when she went for fittings. I was just a kid then, and it seemed like a magical place to me, yet I understood what they were doing.”

Lily touched Annie’s silky hair. “Did you get this beautiful hair from your mother? You can do anything with hair like this.”

“Really? The kids at school make fun of it.”

Lily gave an unladylike snort. “Well they would, wouldn’t they? They’re jealous, that’s all it is.” She pointed to her hair, which was anchored by the ever-present chopsticks. “Can you imagine the ribbing I took with this? They were always telling me I should put it in a pigtail. Either that or they were calling me a Chink. I was born in Vancouver General Hospital for heaven’s sake.” She took a sip of chai. “People can be so stupid.”

“Can I touch it?” Annie edged closer, obviously fascinated by this exotic creature who spoke her mind so bluntly.

“Sure.” Lily reached up and pulled out the chopsticks. “As a matter of fact, it’s starting to feel heavy.” The mass of hair came free, and she rotated her neck, causing her hair to ripple down her back. “That feels so good,” she said, her voice low and throaty. “It feels almost as good as...well, hello there!”

Maddie had seen Lily in just about every situation imaginable, but she’d never seen her react the way she did when Chase Drummond walked into the coffee shop. Lily Hsu, who was accustomed to commanding the attention of every man with a pulse, was looking at Chase as though she’d never seen a member of the opposite sex before.

“Uncle Chase!” Unaware of the electric undercurrents zinging between her uncle and Lily, Annie jumped up, ran to him and threw her arms around his legs.

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