After her morning of sledding, Leah had barely enough time to remove her winter wear and hang her mittens up to dry before the rest of the family arrived at her grandparents' house. She had hoped to get in a little time to observe the dynamics between her mom and Grandpa Lowell after her odd conversation with him at the park, but she was bombarded by attention from her little cousins.

Carrie's 4-year-old twin boys, Hayden and Logan, each tugged a hand and attempted to pull her to the kitchen where their grandma was putting the finishing touches on lunch. Leah managed to coax them to a stack of board games in the living room. The boys rifled through the choices, finally settling on a picture matching game for ages 3 plus, much to Leah's dismay.

Luke's 3-year-old daughter, Jasmine, hid behind her mom's legs. The little girl had been very shy the first day when the Coopers had visited over the summer but had proved to be just as chatty and rambunctious as the twins. Leah called her to join them but wasn't surprised when her littlest cousin shook her head and stayed close to her parents. It would most likely take her a little time to warm up to them again.

Leah secretly watched her own mom out of the corner of her eye. She was busy talking and laughing with her sister and sister-in-law while the men engaged in a conversation of their own. Logan tugged on her sleeve to call her attention back to them. She sighed inwardly and helped them set up the game.

"Youngest goes first!" Hayden shouted.

"You're only 5 minutes younger," Logan grumbled.

"Fine, then the oldest goes first."

Leah flipped over a card with a cow and another with a cat. No match, but she would remember where they were when she found the others. She flipped them face down again then watched as Logan flipped over a cow card. She expected him to flip the cow card she had found moments earlier, but he went for another card and found a dog. How did he already forget where the match was? Sure, he was only 4 years old, but not only had she had aced memory games at that age, she was also solving simple math problems.

"Lunch is ready!" Annette called from the doorway.

"But I didn't get my turn yet," Hayden whined.

"There will be plenty of time for games later," Annette promised.

Leah followed her parents into the dining room and took a seat next to her dad.

Annette gestured to a card table decorated with festive paper plates and plastic cups. "Hun, there's a spot for you here at the kiddie table."

Leah glanced at the little table in the corner. Uncle Luke peeled his daughter off her mother's legs and set her into one of the four chairs. Though Leah wasn't thrilled about the prospect of engaging in more kid speak, the chair facing the adult table was still free. She would have a better vantage point to view the action than her current spot. She claimed the seat just as Carrie and her husband Matt entered the room with their boys, who were still complaining about finishing the game they had barely started.

When everyone had filled their plates, Lowell stood to give a toast. "Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays, and this year is particularly special because I get to spend it with all of my children." He smiled at each of the three of them in turn, his gaze resting on Amy's the longest. "To family!"

"To family!" The adults repeated, as they all clinked wine glasses.

Leah held her punch-filled red cup in the air, but her table mates stared at her puzzled. She quickly took a sip then set it down.

"Leah, how come you don't visit?" Hayden asked with a mouthful of turkey.

"I was here in June."

"We come here all the time," Logan revealed. "You must not love Grandma and Grandpa as much as we do."

"That's not true. I can't come here much because I live in California."

"What's California?" Jasmine asked.

Leah blinked in surprise at the first words the little girl had uttered. "California is a state on the other side of the country. It's almost 3000 miles away, which is really far," she explained. "That's why we only visit once every summer and every third Christmas."

"Are you coming next Christmas?" The little girl asked.

"No. Every third means one in three. We take turns spending time with all my grandparents. Next year I'm going to Texas, another far away state, to see my Meemaw Mary. She's my dad's mom. The year after that, I'm staying in California with my Grandma Joan. I'll be here again the year after that."

Hayden tilted his head to the side. "How many grandmas you have?"

"Three."

"Mama, why does Leah have three grandmas, and I only have two?" Hayden shouted.

The conversation at the adult table came to an abrupt halt. Leah observed the odd array of reactions, from Grandma Annette's pinched face to Grandpa Lowell's embarrassed expression to her mom's look of guilt. Carrie and Matt began speaking in hushed tones, occasionally stealing glances at their boys, who continued to look at them expectantly. Jasmine stuffed a glazed carrot in her mouth, totally oblivious to the tension in the room.

After what felt like an eternity, but was really only a few minutes, Carrie came over to the card table and crouched down between her sons. "Leah has three grandmas because she had a bigger family."

"Okay," The twins replied simultaneously.

Carrie patted their shoulders then returned to her spot at the big table. Leah slowly chewed a bite of mashed potato. That was it? Her cousins were just going to accept that answer? Where was their curiosity? She studied their movements and expressions. They continued eating and talking as if nothing had happened.

She observed everyone at the other table, where the conversation had resumed. Uncle Luke praised Grandma's cooking, and her grandma admitted she had some help from her mom. On the surface it appeared as if everyone was having a wonderful time, but she could spot the subtle differences. The most obvious was the forced smiles, especially Grandma Annette's. Her mom still looked slightly guilty. She also noticed her dad trying, and failing miserably, to eat with his left hand. His right was out of her view, but she was almost positive it was under the table holding her mom's.

"Leah?"

She turned her attention back to her own table to find all three of her cousins looking at her expectantly. "I'm sorry. What?"

"What did you ask Santa to bring you?" Jasmine asked.

"Oh, um, I didn't ask for anything."

Three little mouths dropped open. "But how will he know what to bring you?" Logan asked.

Leah shrugged. "I'm happy with whatever I get in my stocking," she replied. She was relieved that the other children accepted her answer and quickly moved on. She was proud of herself for expertly skirting around the issue without lying.

Her mom had made it perfectly clear not to let on that Santa wasn't real, that it was for the children's parents to decide when to tell them the truth. If only other parents were as straightforward with their children as hers were. She had been brought up knowing of the lore of Santa, a silly tradition many families took part in. Her dad had some especially ludicrous stories from his childhood that Meemaw Mary had used to try to make him believe.

She chuckled to herself at the ridiculousness of it. How could anyone, even a young child, believe that a man in a red suit delivered presents to millions of children in one night by flying around on a sleigh led by reindeer? Her parents were right not to take part in such nonsense. She loved how logical and honest they were.

Then she thought back to Hayden's question minutes earlier. Why did she have three grandmas? Of course she knew only two of them were biological, but what was the whole story? While her parents weren't exactly lying to her, they were keeping something from her. As her cousins were busy listing all the presents they hoped to receive, she directed her attention back to the adult table. The underlying tension was still there. For now all she could do was observe, but she was determined to discover the truth.

xxx

The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent decorating the tree, playing games, singing Christmas carols, eating until the whole family was stuffed, then story time before the children hung their stockings and left milk and cookies out for Santa.

It was much more activity than Leah was used to, and she was grateful for the quiet solitude of her borrowed room. She lay back against the pillow and stared at the ceiling. It was late, and she knew she should just try sleeping, but she needed a quiet activity to get in the right frame of mind. Reading would be perfect. She reached under the pillow and extracted the diary. Maybe if she was lucky, there would be some insight into her mom's birth story, maybe a parallel to hers. Maybe.

November 19, 2018

It's official. We just returned from the clinic where they confirmed I'm pregnant. Sheldon squeezed my hand as we watched the tiny being we created on the monitor. The tech emailed us a file of some images and gave us a printout too. Our very first pictures of our child. I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it. Sheldon insisted we stop for magnets on the way home. The moment we got back, he carefully removed the image from of the envelope and hung it on the fridge. He's already a proud daddy.

I had the urge to run across the hall and tell Penny but thought better of it after remembering the babysitting fiasco. We also decided not to tell our other friends yet, not until we summoned the courage to tell Leonard and Penny. They're our best friends and deserve to be the first to know.

Instead we called Mary. I wish I could have seen her face when we told her the news, but I am grateful for speakerphone. She sounded more excited than I've ever heard her. The mood changed briefly when she said we'd been blessed with a gift from God, and Sheldon corrected her by saying it was a gift from our genitals.

We decided to tell my mom in person rather than over the phone. I called to invite her for dinner this week. She was understandably skeptical, as we rarely invite her over. She has to work late tomorrow but suggested Wednesday. I'm honestly not sure how she will take the news. I'm envisioning her being excited but a little sad because of the situation surrounding my conception, but I could be wrong.

Leah used a corner of her pillowcase as a bookmark then sat back against the headboard. What situation surrounding her mom's conception? Did it have something to do with Grandpa Lowell's question evasion? Now she had even more questions than answers. She decided to make a list of all the facts and see if she could piece the mystery together. She just needed paper and a pen.

She rummaged through her suitcase, which she still had not unpacked, and pulled out a pen and her rainbow diary. She had planned on writing her first entry on January 1, the logical starting point, and didn't want to mark it before then. Maybe she could just rip out one sheet. She pinched the top corner of the first page between her thumb and forefinger then quickly released her grip, leaving the page intact. There must be something else she could write on.

She didn't have to shine her booklight at the nightstand to know there was nothing of use there, but what about the drawer? As much as her fingers itched to open it and reveal its contents, she knew it was wrong to snoop through her grandparents' belongings. She racked her brain for another option.

She remembered seeing a notepad on the kitchen counter next to the old landline phone. Grandma Annette preferred it over the cell phone Uncle Luke gave her when he upgraded to a newer model.

She cautiously opened the bedroom door and looked down the hall. No one. She tiptoed to the kitchen, looking over her shoulder periodically. When she reached the counter, she hesitated. Dare she tear off a sheet? It was only one little piece of paper, and the notepad's purpose was to take notes. Plus it was sitting there in plain site, not hidden in a drawer. She looked over her shoulder again. The coast was clear, so she stretched her fingers out and pulled the little book closer to the counter's edge.

The sound of footsteps nearing froze her on the spot. It wasn't like she was doing anything wrong, but the thought of being caught sneaking around when she was supposed to be sleeping was terrifying.

The lights clicked on, and there stood her mom in a long flannel nightgown, her hand at her heart. "Leah! What are you doing up?" She stage whispered.

"I need paper."

Amy glanced at the stove clock. "At 11 p.m.?"

Leah looked at her slippered feet and nodded. "What are you doing, Mommy?"

"Getting a glass of water." She retrieved a glass from the cupboard and turned the faucet just far enough to get a small stream. When the glass was full, she turned back to her daughter. "Why do you need paper?"

Leah squirmed under her mom's watchful gaze. "I'm making a list."

"And this list is so important that it can't wait until morning?"

Leah nodded again. "It will help me sleep if I can write it tonight. Otherwise, I'll be worried I might forget something." She tried controlling her body language. She blinked at a normal rate and kept her hands from shaking while her mom studied her.

"Okay, but please get some sleep after that." Amy ripped the top piece of paper off the pad and handed it over.

"I will."

Leah took her mom's outstretched hand and allowed her to lead her back to her room. She panicked briefly when she remembered the diary was sitting out in plain sight then relaxed when her mom bent down to kiss her forehead and retreated to her own room.

Back in bed, Leah quickly shoved the diary back to its hiding spot. Pen poised above the paper, she pondered the best way to compile the information. She started by writing what she knew prior to the visit, then the little info she had gleaned from her grandpa, followed by her observations. She read and reread her brief notes and sighed. This must be how detectives felt when they were working on a cold case. She read through the page again. There must be something she was missing. Perhaps a good night's sleep was what she needed to recharge her brain.

Leah tucked the note paper in the rainbow diary and zipped it in her suitcase then lay down and closed her eyes. Visions of her grandparents continued to invade her thoughts. That night she dreamed she was a brilliant scientist who had previously won the Nobel prize for chemistry and was now struggling to solve the simplest equations.