Chapter Eleven

The rest of the week went by in a blur. Deet took Eric and Jane to a local tree lot and purchased two Christmas trees. The largest, a ten foot blue spruce was going to be used as the formal tree for the Christmas tour. Deet had moved into a second floor bedroom and the tree was set up in the parlor. Jane and Eric became frustrated when they were helping put on the decorations because Deet suddenly became a perfectionist. The lights looked like candles and had to be placed in perfect symmetry. The ornaments were delicate glass, etched or hand painted, and almost a hundred years old. Deidre made popcorn for Eric and Jane so string together, alternating the fully popped kernels with cranberries.

Jane grumbled about wanting to help more with the tree until Deet finally said, “This is a very formal tree, Jane. It has to be done to match the era of this house. Watch how I fix it this year and then next year you and Eric can help more.”

The children decided to forgive Deet when he moved the other tree, a six foot Douglas fir to the second floor and put it in front of the window at the end of the hallway – just outside the three occupied bedrooms.

“This is our family tree,” Deet told them. “You may decorate it however you wish. Our presents will go here until Christmas Eve. Then you may take them down to the other tree if you wish. Or, we can all just sit on the floor here and open the gifts. The decision is yours.”

Deet lost his balance and ended up on the floor with the impact of two young bodies hitting him at the same time.

. . .

The Graschel house was one of the favorites on the tour and Deet received many compliments and whispers of gratitude for opening the house again. Benji was permanently banned from the parlor and confined to the family floor during the hours the house was viewed. Eric and Jane joined Deet in greeting the visitors. Deet was bursting with pride at the two who, with a few quick lessons from Deidre, comported themselves as if they were entertaining heads of state.

Deet planned a small party for the evening of the twenty-third. The guest list included Angela and Tom Solari, Herbert and Betty Milhauser, the Fuentes family, Ramon Martinez and Rick Jordan, and Dr. Tran.

Deet and Deidre spent the day preparing a buffet meal with several different types of meat, assorted vegetables, a variety of potato dishes with suitable sauces, and plenty of desserts. Eric, because he was the oldest of the children, was put in charge of the cookies. He measured the ingredients from the recipes and helped Jane mix them. Jane put them on the baking stone and Eric took them out of the oven. Before they were finished they had worked out a perfect rhythm and announced they would do the Christmas cookies every year.

As the guests arrived they were given tours of the entire house. Jorge and Connie, who seemed to spend as much time in the King William District as they did the Dominion, asked if they could show their parents and sisters through the upstairs rooms.

Jane insisted that she be allowed to do the honors for Judge Solari and her husband. Angelina Solari had to hold back tears at the joy and pride she saw in this little girl.

“And this is Miracle,” Jane said when she opened her bedroom door and was greeted by a mewling kitten. “Her momma’s dead and Daddy said I could keep her if I took real good care of her. I feed her a bottle and everything. She eats a little canned cat food now so I only give her a bottle at night. She sleeps in a box but Eric helped me pick a real nice little house that’s gonna be her Christmas present. And I got her some toys for when she’s big enough to play.”

The judge was quick to notice that Jane Doe was now referring to her foster parent as her daddy.

“My turn!” Eric exclaimed when Herbert and his wife arrived. “This place is totally rad!,” he said in his excitement. “My room is huge. Dad gave me one of the bookcases and let me bring all the books down from his old room. I’ve got a brand new computer with lots of games and Mr. Musselman, that’s our tutor, linked me to some websites I can use for school. Dad said he’d get me new furniture if I wanted but I kind of like this old stuff.”

Herbert thought his wife would go into shock when she saw the furniture. “There’s more in the attic if you’d like to see it sometime,” Deet told her when Eric escorted them back to the parlor. “I don’t think any of my family could ever bear to part with anything and there are generations of stuff up there. Herbert told me you have an antique store. Jane and Eric get first choice at anything they like but I’m open to discussion if you find pieces you’d like.” They drifted to one of the room discussing antiques when several other items caught her attention.

“These crystal angels are absolutely beautiful!” she exclaimed. “Where did you get them?”

“Those are my contribution,” Deidre said. “I purchased them in Europe several years ago.”

The two women drifted into talk of European crystal work as opposed to American and Deet went to answer the doorbell.

“I hope I’m not late,” Dr. Tran said when Deet opened the door. “I had a hard time finding a place to park. I think everyone on Guenther Street is entertaining tonight and it’s like a mall parking lot out there.”

“Oh no, you’re not late at all,” Deet replied. “We’re still waiting for another couple. Please, come in. Eric and Jane were hoping you’d come.”

“Dr. Tran!” Eric exclaimed, “me and Jane … oops, that’s Jane and I, decided we want to show you the house together. You know, ‘cause you’re our doctor. Well, one of our doctors.”

“One of them?” the psychiatrist asked.

“Yeah,” Jane said grasping one of his hands. “We’ve got a bunch. Dad took us to a dentist. I have to go back ‘cause he says I’ve got some bad teeth. And we went to see a patrician. He’s ok but he gave us shots.”

“He’s a pediatrician, Jane,” Eric corrected.

“Whatever, he still made us get shots. And I already know my alphabet. And I get to have dance lessons. And riding lessons.”

“Riding lessons?” Dr. Tran asked.

“Yeah,” Eric said. “Dad bought us horses. Well, Jane’s is still a pony but big enough for her to ride. But Dad says you have to learn to ride a horse just like a bicycle only it’s a little harder ‘cause you have to let the horse know what you want it to do.”

The man listened as the children gave him their private tour of the house, including their bedrooms. He noticed two things he hadn’t noticed before during their sessions with him. Jane’s vocabulary and grammar were improving … and Eric no longer referred to Deet as Daddy. They were both beginning to approach their normal age levels.

The doorbell rang again and Deet opened the door.

“It’s about time you two got here,” he said as Ramon and Rick greeted him. “The food’s getting cold and I’m starving.”

“You said eight,” Rick told him.

“And it’s eight-thirty,” Deet responded.

“I’m an artist, love. I’m always fashionably late.”

“You’re a pain in the ass, Rick,” Deet laughed, “and I don’t know why Ramon puts up with you.”

“For that very reason,” Rick whispered.

With all the guests present, the buffet was opened and dinner began. Conversation was light and easy with discussions of the Riverwalk, museum exhibits, whether there would be snow for Christmas.

“It never snows here at Christmas,” Manuel said. “Never has, never will.”

“Well I wish it would just once,” Jorge replied. “I don’t know why we can’t have a white Christmas.”

“Because we’re too far south and the weather systems never make it down this far,” Ramon answered.

“Well, we watched an old movie the other night about these guys who thought they’d have snow. Only it didn’t snow and they decided to put on a musical and then it snowed,” Hope Fuentes said.

Rick put down his glass of wine and stared at her before he started to laugh. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard ‘White Christmas’ described quite like that before,” he said. “Do you think that if we all stood on the front porch and sang ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas’ that we’d get snow?”

“Don’t even suggest it,” Consuela said. “You’ve never heard Manuel try to sing. He’d probably scare the snow away forever.”

“Well, I don’t know about the rest of you but I feel a little dancing is in order to work down that meal and make room for some of those delicious looking pies and cookies,” Rick said as he pushed back from the table. “Have you finished, Jane?”

“Uh-huh,” she replied.

“Then take your plate to the kitchen, rinse it and put it in the dishwasher. I’d like to talk to you while everyone else finishes making pigs of themselves.”

Jane excused herself as Deidre had taught her and obediently rinsed her plate and utensils.

“Now, Jane,” Rick said when she joined him in the parlor, “I was thinking about some things I’d like for you to practice. Take your shoes off, honey.”

Jane removed her shoes and put them out of the way. “What now?” she asked.

“I want you to stand on your tip-toes, stretch up as far as you can, and lean backward. I’ll support your back so you don’t fall. Good, now raise your arms up over your head and arch backward.”

Jane did as requested and Rick supported her as he’d promised.

“I want you to practice that with your dad or Deidre to help you. It’s going to strengthen the muscles in your back until you’re able to balance by yourself. Now, I have a tape of some of the music they use for the Silver Dancers and we’ll practice until everyone else is finished eating. We’ll do it slowly because we just ate ourselves and I don’t want you to get sick. Okay?”

Jane agreed and was caught up in the simple steps Rick was teaching her so she didn’t notice when everyone else entered the room and watched. She was surprised when they finished and were greeted with a round of applause.

“You really are good,” Rick said when Jane blushed at the attention.

“Well,” Deet said, “unless you kids are in the mood for some old folks dancing, you can go upstairs and do your own thing. Us grownups will probably spend the rest of the evening being choreographed by Rick.”

Only two people caught the subtle bitterness of Deet’s words.

“Why do you dislike me so intensely?” Rick asked Deet later as they stepped to the back patio for a little cool air.

“Because you knew how much I loved Ramon and you didn’t care. You wanted him and took him away from me.”

“Did you ever once tell Ramon how you felt? No, you didn’t, because you were terrified of the world learning you were gay. Ramon wasn’t willing to hide in dark corners with secret kisses. I’ve never been afraid for the world to know who I am, Deet. You know that. So did he. I offered Ramon something you wouldn’t. That’s years behind us and time for you to get over it. There’s a man sitting in your parlor who’s tearing himself apart because he wants to tell you that he loves you and can’t. And don’t try to tell me that you haven’t noticed. Hell, everyone here can see it except you. You’ve got a chance, man, a real chance with someone who makes me want to cry when I see how much he loves you. Put all the correct bullshit aside and go back in there and ask Nam if he’d like to dance. And use his name, not that doctor shit. Look, if you really want to help Eric and Jane get past whatever happened to them you’ve got to open yourself up to love and show them that it doesn’t have to hurt.”

“If Jane didn’t think you walk on water I’d …”

“Kiss me? I appreciate your gratitude but Jane’s got a natural gift,” Rick suddenly said as he noticed Jane and Eric coming toward them. “Ask Eric what he thinks, about everything,” he added as he turned Deet toward the children.


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