Being a novel, all characters, events, dialogue and representations are fictional ... and in no way are meant to represent any real or living persons or events... except the few annual events that are used to move me through time. The opinions expressed are my own, and not necessarily those of my author. And the story is copyrighted, by my author of course. Oh, and from time to time I may include some real time events to keep the blog more authentic. Comments and suggestions will be appreciated and seriously considered as the story moves along.

If you are just joining us, start with the Prologue and Chapter One on March 1, 2011, in the Archives.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Chapters 54 & 55

Amanda gratefully accepted the invitation from her mother-in-law’s friend, Sharon, for their annual Thanksgiving buffet in Lubbock, in part to be spared the task of cooking her first full holiday dinner, but mainly because she was dying to meet the man Maggie had “been seeing.” Maggie had refused to call it “dating,” saying she was too old for such nonsense — he was just a male friend she was “seeing.” “Ha,” thought Amanda. 
  And a trip to Lubbock would be good for Ben, who needed to see his mother was indeed settled and perhaps even happy. 
  Maggie’s other son, Michael, and his wife were flying in from the Northwest and would be housed in Sharon and Doug’s guest cottage, while Amanda and her brood would stay with Maggie. Although on visits to Dallas her mother-in-law had described how different her new house was from the old, until Amanda stepped inside she had no idea of the enormity of that difference. 
  The small foyer opened up to a large living area with a vaulted, beamed ceiling that had previously been attic space. Huge paintings in vivid colors graced the walls, most, it seems, done by Maggie’s hand. Amanda recognized the heirloom desk, but most of the other furniture was new ... or rather old. It was obvious Maggie had stayed away from the traditional chintz-fabric style of her Dallas home and instead furnished this house in a tasteful array of quality pieces from several different eras. Surprisingly warm and inviting, the eclectic style was at the same time stunning and tasteful in its arrangement. Amanda loved it and immediately began having quiet thoughts about how to achieve the same effect in her own home.
Maggie’s blog:
  Ben’s reaction upon entering had been a bit different. “Good grief, Mom. You live here? This is nothing like our old house in Dallas.” I raised my eyebrows. He continued, “This is not you!”
  Taking my youngest son gently by the arm as he continued to stare at my home, I quietly said, “Yes, Benjamin, it is me ... just not the me you’ve ever known. This is the me before I had a family, and now it is the me I’m comfortable with again.”
  Ben looked down at me and then over my head at Amanda, who was definitely giving him a look that said, “Remember what we talked about?” He sighed and gave me a hug. “Okay,” he said reluctantly. “I guess I can adjust to the new house, as long as you’re still the same mother I know and love.”
  “No problem there,” I said, returning the affection. “Now, let’s get you guys settled. We’re due at Sharon’s in less than an hour to help and I need to get changed.”
  “What about Michael and Karen?” Ben asked as I ushered him down the hallway to one of the guest rooms while Amanda took the girls into the one across the hall with twin beds.  
  “They arrived last night and are already at Sharon’s. They’re eager to see you. Oh, my pies!” I suddenly cried and hurried back to the kitchen to retrieve them from the oven. 

  Returning a minute later to the guest room, I found Ben standing exactly where I had left him, stiff, luggage still in his hand, staring at a huge painting over the bed. Oh, I thought smiling, I’d forgotten about that, as I surveyed the portrait of her granddaughters. She had painted them sitting in the grass, sun shining on their ribbon-tied hair, laughing and blowing bubbles.  Absorbed in their play and in each other, they were oblivious to any audience. I’d snapped a picture of them in that pose last summer and used it as my guide. Although impressionist in nature, there was no doubt as to their identities, especially to their stunned father. 
   Amanda walked in and stood between us, looking puzzled at her husband and mother-in-law standing silent as sentries, and followed our gaze. She gasped and reached for Ben, who dropped the luggage and put his arm around her, not taking his eyes off his little girls on the wall.
“Oh, Maggie,” Amanda finally said softly. She reached over to pull me into the embrace. 
  “Do you like it?” I whispered, asking them both. 
   They both answered with silent tears. 
   “Good,” I said, wiping away a tear myself. “It’s your Christmas present.”
  Since it had been smoking on the back patio grill since before the sun came up, the twenty-six-pound turkey gave off a delectable aroma that infiltrated the house and had mouths watering and stomachs rumbling. There was an equally large ham in the oven inside and Doug was dividing his time between his duties at the grill, the kitchen and the oversized den, setting up two big-screen televisions. Seems loyalties, and therefore opinions, were divided almost evenly between which of the two important football games should be watched later that afternoon, and Doug, being the ultimate host, had decided the only fair course of action was to watch them both. Hence, two giant screens.
Not having a particularly good season, again, the Dallas Cowboys were hosting the Green Bay Packers, and Notre Dame was set against dreaded college rival University of Southern California in a special holiday matchup. As he moved in more chairs, Doug told Sharon he thought it would make for an interesting afternoon of competition. Nothing better than turkey and pigskin ... or turkey, baked ham and pigskin.
  Until kickoff, the house was a beehive of activity, with guests arriving loaded with festive dishes of every kind from spinach artichoke dip to green bean casserole to candied yams with orange juice and brown-sugar-coated pecans. The buffet tables in the dining room were crowded with cornbread dressing, asparagus tips, chili-pepper gravy and cherry-Coke Jell-O salad. Doug had managed to mix a couple of Italian dishes in with the traditional Thanksgiving fare, and as familiar as the guests were with his culinary genius, no one objected to the foreign delights among the strictly American cuisine.   
  One entire table was dedicated to desserts, as if anyone would have room for them, and it was overflowing with mouthwatering cakes, cobblers and pies of every imaginable sort, including my two specialties–pear and blueberry, both crisscrossed with homemade pastry, plucked from the oven just in the nick of time. Even with the twenty-five to thirty guests expected today, there was so much bounty leftovers would be packaged up for everyone to carry home.
  I was a little concerned about Sharon, as the fire and her resulting injury had occurred only a few weeks earlier. Amanda, a registered nurse, had readily agreed to check Sharon’s burned arm to assure me it was healing properly, and Sharon consented only to avoid an argument. 
   “Yep,” Amanda said after a thorough check under the bandages and a redressing, “They did a great job. It seems to be healing nicely, Aunt Sharon.”
I was relieved, even as Sharon scolded me again for fussing. She was grateful, though, I could tell, for my help and concern, as she still tired more quickly than normal. But the annual Thanksgiving potluck dinner had to go on ... especially since my boys were here. 
  Childless herself, Sharon thinks of Michael and Ben as her adopted sons, while Carol and Robert’s two daughters hold the same level of affection. She loves them all as if they were blood relatives. In fact, she loves them more than her only brother’s three children, who lived in Kansas and never visited, which was just fine by her.  She often stated her brother may be her only brother, but he definitely was not her favorite brother. Carol and I are the sisters she never had. 
  Amanda was helping set out the dishes, keeping one eye on her girls and one eye open to be the first to spot Maggie’s new beau. She fairly bristled in anticipation as she stole frequent glances at the front door and at Maggie. Finally noting a distinct change in her mother-in-law’s expression, she turned to the door just as a tall dark-haired man entered the house ... followed by another tall dark-haired man. She had known this Colin Murphy had a twin, but these men were dead ringers for each other! And both drop-dead gorgeous. Well, in an older man, sophisticated Mark Harmon sort of way. 
  The one who entered first looked around, greeting Sharon, Doug and several other guests, handing over a bottle of wine while the second twin looked around until he spotted Maggie, and then had eyes only for her, making his way through the crowd toward her. Bending down, catching her elbow to pull her closer, he gave her a soft kiss on the cheek. Maggie blushed slightly, returned the light peck, her eyes twinkling, and began looking around for her boys while at the same time steering Colin into the dining room so he could add his avocado-deviled eggs to the banquet. Amanda wiped away a tear and went in search of her Ben.  
  Introductions were made to my family, with Colin being respectful of their scrutiny and of any possible resentment my sons might have toward him. Their father had been gone for less than two years, and I could tell he wanted to tread lightly. Just as he shook the last hand of the last grandchild, Sean walked up quietly beside him and introductions were repeated.
“It’s amazing, really,” Michael said as he looked from one Murphy brother to the other. “Did you guys ever switch places in school?”
  They laughed and looked at each other with knowing grins. “Every chance we got, and at home, too,” Sean said, unzipping his Notre Dame jacket and revealing his white priest’s collar. “Mom’s the only one who could ever tell us apart, but sometimes even she has to look twice just to be sure.”
  “Right,” Colin said. “Poor dad can’t tell one from the other even today unless Sean wears his priest’s collar. At Saint Thomas parish school, we gave the nuns fits, and more than one declared it a miracle that ‘Shameless Sean’ made it into the priesthood. But you boys look quite a bit alike, too.”
  “Yeah, it’s easy to see we’re brothers, but I’m taller than my big brother,” Ben said stretching up on his toes.
  “But I’m more handsome, and so much older and wiser,” Michael said.  
  “Eighteen months is not that much older,” Ben said. “And if I recall, I had more girls than you in college.”
  “That’s because I found Karen in my freshman year and didn’t need any more girls,” Michael said squeezing his smiling wife. “You didn’t find Amanda until you were a senior.”
  I stood slightly back and kept silent, immensely enjoying the banter of my “men.” 

  After the last plate was put away, the satisfied guests migrated either to the kitchen to pick at leftovers, to the patio out back to enjoy another glass of Doug’s carefully chosen wines, or to the den to cheer on their favorite teams. Although I do love football, I chatted in the kitchen populated mostly by women, nibbling on pumpkin pie, purposefully staying away from the guys. 
  Since Father Sean, Michael and Ben are all Notre Dame graduates, and Colin is a ravenous Fightin’ Irish fan even though he heralded from Harvard — which he admitted shouldn’t even attempt to field a team — the four of them formed an easy alliance against the two guests who favored USC. All guests agreed, however, that the Cowboys were the right team to cheer for. 
  Over the course of the next three hours of gridiron glory and gore, I could tell a bond was formed between the Murphys and the Grants, each pair silently analyzing and accepting the other side’s current place in my life. When both the Irish and the Cowboys were victorious, although it was by a hair for each team, the day was deemed a complete success by all except the stunned USC fans. 
  Turkey and ham sandwiches were put together for the few remaining guests, who settled down in front of the fireplace in the den, with televisions pushed back against the wall and at last silent. 
   Most of the guests had departed at the end of the games, some after just one more piece of pie. Father Sean had left after two pieces of pie, loaded down with leftovers to take to Monsignor Fitzpatrick, who had dined that day with the bishop, no doubt also happy with the outcome of the games. That left the hosts, my family, and Colin and me, all reluctant to end the happy day.
  “Ah,” said Doug sighing pleasantly. “Another great Thanksgiving with good friends–old,”  looking at Sharon, Maggie and her boys, and raising his wine glass to Colin “and new.”    
  “It has been a good day,” Sharon said. “And thanks to you all who came early to help and then helped all day long, even with the dishes. Now, isn’t it time for our traditional story telling?”
  “Oh, Aunt Sharon,” Ben groaned, “Don’t get Mom started.”
  “Yes, yes,” Michael said. “Colin hasn’t heard the costume story, has he? Tell it Mom. The girls love it ... at least I think they love it, don’t you girls?” He looked at his nieces, fast asleep in an armchair in the corner, books fallen in their laps, heads together. 
“Oh, well. Plenty of other Thanksgivings for them to hear it, but go ahead, Mom,” Michael said. Sharon, Amanda and I smiled. Ben looked stricken, and Doug and Colin looked puzzled.
  “What costume story? I don’t remember a costume story, do I?” Doug said while refilling wine glasses and turning to Sharon for help.
  “You’ll remember,” she said, smiling.
   Colin looked from one to the other, then back to me who was seated comfortably close to him on the couch. “Love to hear it,” he said. 
  I took another sip of wine, drew in a deep breath and then let it slowly out saying, “Okay, here goes ... again. When Benjamin was about three, he came home from Preschool and announced that the next day they were having a ‘tanksgivin’ fearst’ with ‘Pilgims an’ Injuns,’ and they had all made hats to wear at school. He needed a costume to go with his hat.”
   “Mom, please,” moaned Ben. “I didn’t talk like that!”
   “Yes, you did,” Michael said. “Now shut up. Go on, Mom.” 
  I continued, “We said fine, are you a Pilgrim or an Indian? ‘Pilgim’ was the reply, so Michael and I, and remember Michael was only five at the time, well, Michael and I found a black turtleneck sweater of mine, black pants and shoes, and pulled a pair of Jim’s white tube socks over the bottom of the pants up to Ben’s knees. We made aluminum foil buckles for his shoes and his belt. We used white construction paper for a big square collar and cone-shaped cuffs. He looked precious.”
    “Mom, please,” Ben interrupted again, embarrassed. 
    “You did! Just adorable!” I said, remembering my precious sons.
     “Just adorable,” Michael said sarcastically.
   I told my elder precious son to hush and continued, “So I got my camera out to take a picture of him. I said I wished he’d brought his Pilgrim hat home so we could include it in the photo and asked him what it looked like. He said, ‘Oh, it’s great, Mommy! It’s a big brown band goin’ round my head with a red feather sticking up real high.’”    
   “We started all over again.” 
Chapter 55    
   Friday and Saturday, I enjoyed my family and showed them around Lubbock with trips to the Buddy Holly Museum, the Tech campus and my office, the Wind Museum, the Ranching Heritage Museum and the cornfield maze out northwest of town where the girls ran through the corn, giggled while riding the small barrel train and posed for pictures standing next to giant circular hay bales painted to look like jack-o’-lanterns. 
   When the girls declared they had to come live with Grandma because this was the most fun they’d ever had in their whole long lives, Ben told them Dallas had just as many fun things to do and reminded them of the zoo they loved to visit back home. “Can we go to the zoo when we get home?” they asked brightly,  the day’s fun already forgotten.

   Colin stayed away to give them time alone but was surprised to find he wished he’d joined them. They’d asked, after all, but he didn’t want to interfere with family. He’d sincerely liked Maggie’s sons and gained an admiration for her late husband on how well he’d taught them to be men.  And the munchkin granddaughters were really cute.  
   Sunday morning he did meet them at Mass as Father Sean preached on giving thanks, and Colin generously picked up the tab for a final dinner at Orlando’s before they departed for the airport. 
  Asking if he could see her that night, he was surprised to feel genuinely rebuffed when Maggie politely declined, saying she had some work she had to get done before heading in to the office the next morning. He understood, he said, gave her a light kiss and left. But he didn’t like leaving. He hadn’t had her to himself since the previous weekend, and they hadn’t had a chance to talk about the final Bible study lessons on sexuality.*  He really wanted to see what she thought about that, even though he thought he could guess. She didn’t seem at all disapproving of Sharon and Doug’s relationship. Maybe it was safe to move in that direction. He went to his studio to brood. And brood he did. 
  “This is insane,” he told himself. “I’m not a family man. I’m a loner, a player. I like being on my own and being by myself. I like being with lots of women. But why am I always calling Maggie? Stop being such a chump, Murphy.” He picked up his tools and walked around the cabinet he was working on, looking for a place to use up his energy. He walked around again, thinking, looking, thinking and finally threw the tools down saying, “Damn you, Margaret Grant. I don’t want to want you.” But Colin did ... more than he’d wanted anything in a long time. 
 * (more on this in a later blog)

Maggie's blog again:
  Sunday night I was brooding, not knowing if he was or not. I went to my studio, picked up my paintbrush and then put it down. Back in the house, I opened my laptop, stared at the screen and then closed it.  Finally, as the sun went down and the air chilled, I lit a fire, made a cup of soup and sat in front of the blaze in flannel pajamas. 
  Both sons had called earlier to let me know they’d arrived home safely, and both, without any prompting from me, had broached the subject of Colin. Michael told me Colin seemed like a decent guy even if he was a Harvard man. And Ben, after admitting Lubbock wasn’t at all the barren wasteland he’d pictured, casually mentioned Amanda would welcome Colin in their home if I wanted to invite him for Christmas. Wow. Ben wouldn’t have even broached the subject it if he hadn’t agreed wholeheartedly.   
  So, in their own ways, each had given permission for me to be with him — to be more than friends, in fact. Well, damn. Double damn. I really didn’t expect this and wasn’t really prepared. 
  And why not, I asked myself in front of the fire. Did I want them to voice objections? To tell me it was too soon? That nobody could take their father’s place? Of course I would have argued with them and defended my right to a relationship, reiterating no one could or would ever take Jim’s place in any of our hearts.  
   That, I realize, is exactly what I’d expected my sons to say. Then it would be easy to tell Colin I simply couldn’t move the relationship any further because my family wasn’t ready. 
  Truth is, I’m not ready. Not ready to feel like this, looking for him in crowds, getting light-headed when he walks into the room. Missing him when I was with my family, and thinking about him late at night, all by myself in my lonely bed.  
  Miss Priss jumped up onto the hearth, sharing the warmth and emitting a loud purr of contentment. She flicked her ears toward me, so I asked the cat, “He’s a good man, isn’t he? He’s smart, creative, funny, interesting, isn’t he? There’s nothing wrong with having a casual relationship with another human being and enjoying his company, is there? We can be good friends, can’t we?” Miss Priss blinked knowingly. “Good friends, and nothing more ... and ... and ... and damn those green eyes.”   

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