“Grandma’s here,” yelled Amy as she opened the front door and threw herself into Mary Louise’s arms. “This is the best Christmas yet! Want to see my presents? I got a….”
“Hey, Love,” said Mary Louise, laughing as she tried to land a kiss on top of Amy’s bouncing head. “I guess Santa was good to you.”
“Oh, Grandma, I don’t believe in Santa any more! Come, I want to….”
“Mary Louise,” yelled Carole from the kitchen, “I’m so glad you’re here. I need five minutes to finish tidying up. OK, kids, Grandma’s here. Time to get a move on. I mean it — now!”
“Need any help?” Mary Louise called down the hall as Amy tried to drag her into the living room.
Shaking free of Amy and noting the two boys sprawled like exhausted elves near the tree, Mary Louise walked to the kitchen.
“So where’s our diva?”
“In her room.” Carole shot Mary Louise a quick glance.
“Not feeling well this morning?”
“No, she’s not.” Carole’s tone could have sheared metal.
Something was wrong. Peering at her daughter-in-law, Mary Louise could see she’d been crying.
“What’s wrong? Is she sick again?”
“No.” Carole spat out the word as she poured soap powder into the dishwasher and shoved it closed.
Sprinkling cleanser in the sink, Carole scrubbed the porcelain.
Had they fought? Mary Louise found that hard to imagine. The mother and daughter usually got on so well. Christy was more likely to fight with Jimmy than with Carole. Whatever it was, Mary Louise knew not to press Carole. The two had a strong if silent connection that had only deepened over the past 18 years. Together, they’d brought Christy, Mary Louise’s first grandchild, home from the hospital. And the next year, after Carole’s mother had died of breast cancer, Mary Louise had stepped in to fill the gap.
“Merry Christmas, Grandma.”
Mary Louise whirled around.
“Hi there.” Mary Louise could see Christy had also been crying.
Walking over to hug her granddaughter, Mary Louise whispered, “What is it, honey?”
Christy didn’t say anything as she buried her face in her grandmother’s shoulder and sobbed.
“Go ahead, tell your grandmother.”
That only made Christy cry more.
Waving her hand at Carole to be still, Mary Louise stroked Christy’s hair, shushing her gently.
“Whatever it is,” Mary Louise whispered in her ear, “it can’t be that bad.”
“It’s…it’s pretty bad.” Christy gulped a couple of times to stop the tears. “It’s the…the…the family curse.” She started sobbing again.
Mary Louise looked over at Carole, who was still hunched over the sink. “Family curse? I don’t know what you mean.”
“I’m pregnant, Grandma.” Christy started sobbing again as she clung to her.
The words ricocheted through Mary Louise’s mind. Part of her wanted to scream it couldn’t be true. Christy couldn’t be pregnant. She was the shining light of the family. Still, another part of Mary Louise — the part that had learned to absorb the punches life had thrown at her — accepted the news with determined resignation.
“Shh, shh, shh,” Mary Louise whispered, stroking Christy’s hair.
“Ramon and I were going to keep it a secret and go about our business. I didn’t want anyone to know. But Mom figured it out because she heard me barfing in the bathroom.”
“Actually, your father’s the one who figured it out last week.” Carole spun around, resting against the sink.
“Dad?” Christy broke away from Mary Louise to look at her mother.
“How did Dad know?”
“Because I told him you looked tired and were peeing a lot. He said you might be pregnant.”
“So it wasn’t this morning?”
“Last week at the hospital you were running to the bathroom every three minutes. That was a sure sign something was up. And then when I heard you….”
Carole and Christy stared at each other, each filling in the blanks in the other’s scenario.
“So what are we doing?” asked Mary Louise.
“Christy’ll just have to drop out of Juilliard.” Carole’s words came out flat and cold as she struggled against her feelings.
“No, Mom, no,” yelled Christy. “That’s why I didn’t….”
“Keep your voice down, young lady. We don’t want to ruin Christmas for everybody if we can help it.”
Stepping between them, Mary Louise said firmly, “This is no time to discuss this. We have to go now. Jimmy’s waiting for us. We’ll talk about this with him.” Mary Louise turned and gently pushed Christy ahead of her toward the hallway.
“J.J., Matt, Amy, get ready,” yelled Carole. “Grandma wants to leave right now.”