CHAPTER FOUR:

 

“Aunty Sara!  It’s me!” Unlike her father, this girl seemed far from shy. Pretty, honey-blonde curls and a gap-toothed grin sat bouncing in front of her on the bed.

“Careful, Tiffany. Aunty Sara is cranky when she gets woken up,” Ned’s voice chuckled.

“Ah. Hey there. Gosh, what time is it?” Sara groggily replied.

“Quarter to six! Grandma says to get you up cuz’ we’re goin’ to Boston Pizza.”

“Okay. I’m coming.”

 Tiffany scampered out of the room with Ned behind her. As they walked down the stairs she heard Tiffany mutter “Why is she stayin’ in my room?”

Sara headed into what was now mom’s bathroom and splashed some water on her face. She looked into the mirror and had to admit that yes, maybe her bangs were a bit too short. Still, she didn’t look half bad for thirty-five. The fine lines etched around her eyes didn’t bother her so much.

She walked down the stairs to a cacophony of discussions about who was riding with whom and where so-and-so’s boots were.

“Aunty Sara, you’re coming with me!”  A little arm latched up through Sara’s elbow. It wasn’t that she didn’t like kids, she’d actually taught at an English school in Osaka for a year. She just didn’t really know how to relate…hence the transfer to the publishing company in Tokyo.

They followed Ned out the door to the “lemon” truck.

“Where’s your toque?”

“I don’t need one,” Tiffany replied shaking her curls in the cool wind.

“It’s cold. You better get it.”

“I’m fine, dad! Plus we only have to walk from the truck when we get there.”

“Fine, but don’t come whinin’ to me when you catch the flu.”

“Aunty Sara, do you have a truck?”

“No.”

“A car?”

“No.”

“How do you get to work?”

“I take a subway.”

“Oh yeah, I never been on a subway.”

It took three tries to start the truck. “This thing is a piece of shit,” Ned muttered as they headed down the driveway.

“Dad!  You’re not supposed to say bad words.”

“Oops! Sorry. Put your seatbelt on. So I hear Herb had an accident last night,” Ned chuckled as the truck roared out on to the main road.

“Yep. Pretty funny.”

“Par for the course.”

“Yeah. Spent my day following him around to every last thrift store in town.”

“That house is so full of junk. I say we just throw a lit match at the place when those two kick the bucket.”

“Daddy, grandpa bought this really ugly, hippo, cookie jar.”

“Oh, did he? Bet grandma loves that.”

“No, she hates it. Says she’ll save it and use it as grandpa’s urn. What’s an urn?”

Sara and Ned laughed. “It’s a jar for special treats,” Ned explained.

“Well, then I don’t get what you guys are laughing about. That’s not so funny.”

“He’s been drivn’ Ryan nuts. Herb comes over to his new house, eh, and starts raggin’ on everything he sees. Says ‘for a guy who owns his own construction company you sure haven’t done much with the place.’ Course he’s right…but I don’t say nothin’ about it. Good entertainment, that’s for sure.”

“Oh yeah.”

“My daddy has a girlfriend.”

Sara smiled, ‘Oh yeah? What’s her name?”

“Allison.”

“Hey, you better stop telling daddy’s secrets.”

“It’s not a secret. And sometimes they drink wine on Friday nights.”

Ned blushed and rolled his eyes.

“What’s she like?” Sara prodded her niece further.

“She works with the critters.”

“Tiffany! You’re not supposed to say that!”

“You say it all the time!”

“She works up at the Pine Ridge Home in Armstrong. It’s some place for the, uh, well, the retards.”

“Critters!”

“Tiffany! That’s enough!”

 Tiffany cackled.

“Is she coming for Christmas?” Sara asked, while giving Tiffany a wink and a smile.

“Hell no. Not ready for her to meet those people quite yet” Ned replied before his daughter could answer.

They pulled up in front of a brightly lit restaurant. Christmas lights twinkled around the edges of the parking lot, hidden away in bushes.

“Guess you heard that Uncle Joe and his friend are staying at Ryan’s place,” Ned said with a smirk.

“No. Why?”

“Mom said they’re not allowed to share a bed. Says that nobody who wasn’t married has ever been allowed to share a bed in her house.  So Joe says ‘yeah, but we been together for six years’ and mom goes, ‘well, you guys can get married in Canada now, so there’s no excuse anymore.’”

“You’ve got to be kidding!”

“So Joe gets all in her face and says that he is a fifty year old man and she can’t treat him like that anymore.  Starts going on about how nobody in the family has any respect for him or his relationship.  So, mom’s all crying and Kat starts lecturing at him saying how Jesus says to love the sinner but hate the sin. That’s when I come by to drop off the air mattress. So I walk in, and I can see Joe is about to lose it, ya know, takin’ one of those deep breaths. So I take him out for a smoke and calm him down. So him and that Tak-Sin guy are gonna be stayin’ over at Ryan’s.”

As they walked into the waiting area of the Boston Pizza Sara noticed Joe and Tak-Sin standing off to the side. Mom sat on a bench with a scowl on her face. Kat smiled at Sara and walked over.

“Herb has just gone to use the restroom. Our table will be ready in ten minutes. Sara, do I smell smoke? Are you still doing that terrible habit? You know, I thought your mother taught you better than that.  You know that your body is the temple of God, don’t you?”

“Well, then I guess God must REALLY love onion rings and corndogs.” Ned had mumbled…but a bit too loudly.

“Ned! That’s enough!” Mom shot him an evil look.

“I’m just sayin’ that everyone has their bad habits.”

Sara could see Aunty Kat’s eyes already welling up. “Well, I’ll have you know, Ned Bell, that I have been on Jenny Craig for two months. I’ve done real good too! I have prayed for the Lord to give me the strength to lose these few extra pounds. But it is Christmas-time, and I think Jesus wouldn’t mind if I had a little extra in celebration of his birth!  I don’t know how you can say such hurtful things at Christmas.”

“I think you need to apologize to your Aunty!” Dad had suddenly reappeared, and put his arm around Aunty Kat’s quivering mass.

“I’m not going to apologize for nothin’! She’s a bloody hypocrite! Whatever. Come on Tiffany, we’re outta here!”

“But I don’t want to go daddy.”

“We’re leaving. NOW.”

“Well, that’s real mature, uh, huh…”

Ned glanced to Sara. “You comin’?”

Suddenly she was terrified. If she left then dad and Fat Kat would be mad. Not to mention mom. If she stayed, Ned would be furious. He had just stood up for her, after all.

Suddenly a gust of wind hit her full force as Uncle Wes walked in through the front doors.

“Now what the Hell has just gone down here? Ya’ll look like a buncha sorry-faced niggers whose watermelon patch got robbed.”

“Wesley!”

____________________________________________________

In the end, Kat got so wound up about Wes’s off-colour comment that the previous argument was forgotten. Ned and Tiffany stayed.

“Are you guys all ready to order?” A pudgy waitress wearing a Santa hat approached the table.

Herb looked to his wife. “What are you having?”

“The Alfredo.”

“Oh, uh yeah. I thought I would try this spicy chicken…uh…what does that come with?”

“Excuse me sir?” the waitress smiled.

“What does the spicy chicken pasta come with?”

“You can choose between the soup or salad.”

“What kind of soup is it?”

“Minestrone.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a vegetable soup, hon,” mom whispered in his ear.

“Oh. I don’t want that. What’s in the salad?”

The waitress, God love her, kept smiling. “Well, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives, feta and croutons.”

“Yeah, yeah. I want that. Could you put some extra feta on there? Lots of olives too.”

“Sure. Okay, and for you Ma’am?” She looked to Colleen.

“And lots of chicken in the pasta.” Herb again.

“Sure. Okay Ma’am, what would you like?”

“Do you have fo-ko-shu?” Herb again.

“Excuse me?”

“Fo-ko-shu, fo-ko-shu.”

“Focaccia bread? Yes, we do actually. Would you like that as well?”

“Does it come with the pasta?”

“No, sorry, just the soup or salad.”

“Oh. Well, can I have it instead of those?”

“Sorry, just the soup OR salad.  Alright, Ma’am, what would you like?”

After just three more interruptions from Herb, the waitress left with their orders. Kat sat pouting at one end of the table having ordered only a Caesar salad and water.

“Dad, can I have a Pepsi?” Tiffany asked, fluttering her eyes at Ned.

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

“You know why not. You can have 7-up or Crush.”

“But I want Pepsi. Mom let’s me have Pepsi.”

“You’ll be up all night if you drink Pepsi.”

“No, I won’t! I promise! I’ll drink just a little.”

“Well, you can have a little taste of mine.”

“No! I want my own.”

“Well, you’re not gettin’ it.”

Tiffany joined Aunty Kat in the pouty-face club. Mom tried starting a lively conversation about Christmases past, but failed miserably. Finally the food started to arrive.

“What did you get?” Dad asked Sara.

“Baked lasagne.”

“That looks real good. Oh, you got fo-ko-shu with yours?”

“Actually, I think it’s garl…”

“Hey, how come she got fo-ko-shu?” Herb demanded of the waitress who was trying to set down two dishes of Alfredo.

“Oh, that’s actually garl…”

“Well, you told me I couldn’t have it, but she got it.”

“Actually, all pasta dishes come with GARLIC BREAD. Yours does too.”

“Oh. Good. I’ll have an extra piece.”

The smiling waitress was no longer smiling. After everyone was given their meals she soon returned with a small dish with an extra piece of garlic bread.

“Here ya’ go sir.”

“Thanks. Anyone else want extra garlic bread?” Nobody said a word. The waitress turned to leave.

“You can fill up some of our drinks, though.”

“No problem. I’ll just take care of this other table and be right back.” From the daggers coming out of the waitress’s eyes, Sara was scared that Herb might get a cyanide cocktail. 

“Hey, you wanna split yours with me?” Herb poked at Colleen who was happily twirling fettuccini on her fork.

“No.”

Herb looked down at his spicy chicken pasta. Actually, it did not look that great.

“Sara? You wanna split yours with me?”

“I’m fine.”

“Anyone want to share?” Nobody answered. It seemed that nobody was in the mood for Christmas sharing.

“Well, I can’t eat this.” Herb grumbled.

“What’s wrong with it?” Colleen snapped.

“Looks terrible.”

“Well, you always have to order something weird and different.”

“I do not!”

“Of course you do. Everyone else gets something they like and you have to pick the strangest thing on the menu.”

“Well, I like to be adventurous!”

“Go ahead and be adventurous then! Honestly, you haven’t even tried it.” Herb joined his sister and granddaughter in a big pout, and frowningly started stabbing at a piece of overcooked chicken.

“Oh, mom?” Ned called from the other end of the table.

“Yeah?”

“Is it okay if Bernie comes over for Christmas? It’s just that he doesn’t really have anywhere to go.”

Sara vaguely remembered a native guy named Bernie who couldn’t stop staring at her chest when she was home a few years back.

“I guess so.”

“Oh! Colleen that reminds me that Landon called today and said he’s coming. He’s bringing his girlfriend Sherry,” Kat called from the other end of the table.

“Oh. Okay.”

“Don’t worry. She’s off the drugs now.”

“Mm-hm.”  Mom joined the pouters.

Sara stared straight down and ahead to avoid any eye contact and focused on her greasy supper.

“I see you’re looking at my ring!” Wes’s voice boomed from across the table. Sara suddenly realized he was speaking to her, mistakenly thinking that she was staring at a tacky, gold, pinky-ring with a big blue stone on his left hand.

“Uh, no, I was…”

“That there ring is from Bugsy Malone’s nephew.”

“Oh. Really?” Uncle Wes’s stories were legendary piles of crap…or so most of the family believed. Sara had come to the conclusion that there was a lot more truth in his tales than people tended to think.

“I used to be a lawyer, you know?”

“Yeah, you told me that before.”

“Yes, he did!” Kat piped in from her end of the table.

“Well, I had this client that I did some work for and he was so impressed that he gave me this ring as a parting gift. He says ‘Wes, if you are ever in Vegas all you gotta do is show this ring to any concierge and you will get the red carpet treatment wherever you go!’ And later I found out he was Bugsy Malone’s grandson.”

“I thought you said nephew?”

“No, grandson. So Kat and I use this ring every time we’re in Vegas. Always get free buffets, drinks and the whole nine yards. I just flash this ring to any concierge and say ‘you know who gave me this ring?’ and I don’t have to say another word!”

“Well, not THAT ring, actually. He lost the first one, and we got that one made…” Kat corrected.

“I did NOT lose it woman! It was stolen! I never take it off! Someone must have broken in one night and stolen it right off my finger. This ring is power, and someone in the know would have known how valuable it is.”

“Well, not THAT ring.”

“They KNOW it isn’t exactly THIS ring, woman! Shut your pie-hole.”

“Wesley! You cannot talk to me like that at Christmas!”

Uncle Wesley crossed his arms and pushed his chair back, joining the rest of the pouters. The meal continued in uncomfortable silence. They didn’t order dessert as mom said there were enough goodies at home to choke a horse. The waitress finally appeared with the bill and set it down next to Herb, who pushed it away to the middle of the table.

“Oh honestly,” Mom muttered as she grabbed the bill folder and slapped her credit card inside.

 Herb then reached into his pocket and pulled out a fistful of coins which he noisily dropped on the table. Sara watched as his sausage fingers picked out all the loonies and toonies, and then pushed the rest of the coins under the side of his plate. Uncle Joe, who had been quiet so far, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a ten dollar bill and added it to the coins.

“What’s that for?”

“The tip.”

“I already left one,” Herb replied, pushing the bill back across the table towards Joe.

“Herb, you can’t just leave a few coins for nine people.”

“The service was awful.”

“What? She was great!”

“Didn’t give me bread when I asked for it.”

“But you haven’t even left her a dollar!”  Joe started breathing deeply.

“I have too! Look…that’s a dollar and thirteen cents.”

Joe placed the ten-dollar bill under the side of his own plate. “Well, it’s my money and I’m leaving it.” He then stood and headed to the entrance, Tak-Sin sheepishly in tow.

“What’s his problem?” Herb muttered as he put on his coat.  Then before anyone could say a word, he snatched the ten dollars, stuffed it into his jeans’ pocket, and headed out. Ned laughed.  Wes even smirked. Kat started chuckling and soon even mom managed to crack a smile.

Sara waited around until everyone was headed toward the door, pulled a twenty out of her pocket and hid it under her own plate before following her now happy family out to the parking lot.

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