Epilogue – Gratitude
"Do we have to wait until six? I'm starving."
"Greg, you married a vampire. You know my family can't get here any earlier so why do you always ask that?"
He grinned, "Because I know it pisses you off."
"I'm so glad that your Mom is here. The kids love her. Do you think she's okay outside? It's pretty chilly."
"She's bundled up like an eskimo, so don't worry. Thank God Jack finally woke up. I thought Mom was going to implode if she didn't get to hold him."
I went over to the window and looked out. Blythe was kneeling on the brown grass tying Jack's hood around his neck and talking to him. She pulled him to her and gave him a kiss and then let him go play on the playset with his sister.
Riane was getting prettier every day. She was also the brightest kid in her nursery class, having mastered her numbers to tweny-five, her colors, her alphabet and her house/tree/family portrait which currently hung on our cork board (damn magnets wouldn't hold it to the Stainless Steel refrigerator.) I was very proud.
Jack on the other hand was a lazy sod, letting his sister do all the talking for him. He'd mumble and we'd try to figure out what he was saying. Before we could get him to repeat it, his sister would promptly interpret for us. I started to rely on Riane to do Jack's talking even though I knew I wasn't doing Jack any good by doing so. It was just so expedient. Jack was brilliant and charming. He knew just when to smile and just when to pout. He was wonderful at getting his own way. But, he wasn't a bad kid, he was just a brilliant manipulator like his father. Still, he made all of us laugh with his antics. He'd make funny faces at the table, dance his toddler butt off and try desperately to sing for us although it sounded a lot more like donkeys braying.
Blythe came in with the kids just as I put the turkey in for roasting. We were having Thanksgiving for the first time at our house rather than have the servants make it at Daddy's. I didn't want Blythe to think I was a spoiled brat that didn't know how to peel a potato or bake a pumpkin pie. My father had grumbled, upset that he was going to have to 'age' himself. But, I think he was secretly excited about having a 'real' American Thanksgiving where his extended family gathered around a much smaller table and ate food cooked by the family (me) themselves. In his mind, it was going to be a Norman Rockwell painting with him at the head of the table as the patriarch cutting the turkey.
Everyone had migrated into the kitchen, which happened to be one of the larger rooms in the house. Greg was opening a bottle of wine. Jim was sitting at the island waiting for House to pour the wine. I was peeling the sweet potatoes and Blythe was rolling the dough for the pies.
"Ow!" I cried out. Blood started pouring profusely from the cut in my knuckle caused by my daydreaming while peeling the sweet potatoes. I grabbed a towel to put around it.
Jack came over to me and pulled on my pants to get my attention. Looking up with his big blue eyes, he grinned and chirped, "Blood, Mommy?"
"What did he say? Did he say blood?" Blythe asked, her brows knitted together in bewilderment.
"Oh, yes, he sees that I've cut myself."
"Let me see that." Greg unwrapped the knuckle. It was still bleeding.
I leaned forward. "I'm going to go into the bathroom and let Jack feed off of it. I'm sure he's hungry."
"Come on Jack, come help Mommy bandage her knuckle."
Jack happily followed me, running to catch up. He kept opening his mouth wide like a little chick waiting to be fed by its mother.
"Wait, honey. Wait until we get into the bathroom."
Once inside the bathroom, I let him suck off my knuckle. It was already starting to heal, but he seemed to be satisfied with the few ounces he got. I turned to look for a band aid in the medicine cabinet when Jack escaped out the door. I thought nothing of it until I realized that he probably had blood on his chin and lips. Blythe would have a heart attack if she saw him.
"Greg!" I yelled.
"What?" He yelled back from the kitchen.
"Jack…he, uh…he needs to be cleaned up a little."
"Yeah, we know. Wilson's wiping his mouth right now."
I put the band aid on as quickly as possible and then ran into the kitchen. Blythe was cutting the dough for the pies and Jim had a wet paper towel and was wiping Jack's face.
When Jim's eyes met mine he sighed deeply and shook his head, "There Jack, I got that Koolaid off your chin. Now go play."
"Thank you, Uncle Jim."
Jim tweaked Jack's nose and let him run off.
Greg handed Jim his glass of wine and grabbed his guitar, entertaining us with several songs. Jim took over the peeling and I went and took my shower. When I returned, the pies were ready to put into the oven and the sweet potatoes were cooking along side the Yukon Gold potatoes.
Blythe, Greg and Jim were sitting around the kitchen island talking when I went over and poured myself a glass of sherry.
"Where is your father coming from Kiara?" Blythe asked
"Uh, he's just fifteen miles away, but he has to pick up Caleb from the airport." (Lie, lie.) "Caleb gets in around four. They'll drop off the luggage and let Caleb get a shower before coming over. I suspect they'll be here around five to five thirty."
"Caleb seems to be a very nice and very generous man. I can't believe the trust fund he gave to Riane and Jack."
"He spoils them rotten." I said truthfully.
Greg moaned, "Yeah, he gets to play Mr. Nice Guy and we get to be the terrible ogres that tell the kids when to go to bed and to brush their teeth."
Jim snorted. "Well, that's the difference between being an 'Uncle' versus a parent."
"Yeah, well I guess being a parent has its perks. I get the peanut butter and jelly kisses and the leg across my throat in bed."
I laughed along with Blythe. Just as I sat down I heard screaming break out in the next room. Riane was definitely not happy with something Jack had done.
"Give it back! Give it back!"
I ran out and saw Jack dragging the doll Caleb gave Riane around the room by the hair. He was giggling and tormenting his sister.
"Caleb Sean!" I used my 'mother is mad' voice.
Jack stopped in his tracks and looked over at me, his eyes wide and lips turned down in fright.
"Caleb Sean, you give your sister back her doll and I never want to see you doing this again. That doll is very special and is not meant to be thrown around." I said it through my clenched jaw, giving him the distinct impression that he was within an inch of losing his life.
He broke out into tears. Riane walked over, grabbed her doll and slapped Jack upside the head. Jack's wailing hit a crescendo.
I heard laughter behind me. It was Greg. I turned and glared at him.
"Hey, he deserved it."
"Greg! Stop encouraging her." I went over and took the doll away from Riane. "For hitting your brother you don't get your doll back until tomorrow."
Now both kids were crying, tears streaming down their little cheeks.
I put the doll up on top of the television armoire and motioned to Greg, "You calm them down; I'm going back to my sherry."
Within a few minutes there was peace in the valley and Greg made an appearance back in the kitchen.
"You're on Riane's shit-list." Greg said triumphantly.
"Because she wanted to show Caleb her doll's new dress."
I rolled my eyes. "She'll live. More importantly, she'll think twice when she goes to hit her brother."
"He deserved it."
"House! You don't want your kids hitting each other." Jim said.
Blythe shook her head at her son. "You see, this is the problem with you being an only child. You never learned how angry your siblings could make you. If you let Riane start hitting her brother every time Jack does something to her, he's going to be perpetually bruised."
Greg shrugged. "I suspect he'd learn to hit back."
"Yeah, just what we want." I said sarcastically.
The lull in preparation was over and we were back in the thick of the final preparations of the dinner when the front door opened and in walked the conquering heroes and Sophia.
Kisses were exchanged and large brightly wrapped presents were given to the children by Caleb and my father.
"You two have to stop giving them things. They're going to think that every time someone walks through that door they'll get a present."
Caleb chuckled. "They're good kids, Kiara, stop worrying."
"Uncle Caleb, Uncle Caleb!"
"Yes, yes, Riane?" Caleb said, sweeping her up into his arms and giving her a big kiss. Her arms automatically wrapped around his neck as she smothered his face with little girl kisses. Riane and Jack were so fond of Caleb that I almost felt sorry for Greg. He was right in many ways. It seemed unfair that Caleb and my father received so much adoration for simply walking through a door when Greg was their teacher, doctor, parent, disciplinarian and wage earner, receiving nothing more than a quick kiss when he walked through the door at the end of the day.
Taking off their coats, my Dad and Caleb both carried a child around with them while sharing greetings with the adults. My father now had Riane while Caleb was holding Jack. It was funny how both of the men had favorites. Oh, you'd never know it unless you knew them intimately. They gave both kids a lot of affection and genuinely loved them the same. But they each related in a special way to one of the kids. Riane had that bond with her grandfather. She still liked to take her naps in his coffin with him when we went over to the manor. Caleb and Jack spoke the same language. Caleb didn't need Riane's interpretation to understand him.
"Presents?" Riane asked, clearly wanting to open the gifts brought by Caleb and her grandfather.
"In a minute." I responded. "Let your Grandfather and Caleb get settled."
After we managed to get Daddy and Caleb a glass of wine, we all wandered out to the library, which was more like our family room, to watch the kids open their gifts.
Riane was quicker than her brother, having had a good year of experience on him. She managed to pull the gown and tiara from the box within seconds. The gown wasn't a Disney costume package, it was a hand sewn replica of a dress I once had and which I wore for a portrait that hung in our estate in Ireland. I wasn't the only one flabbergasted by the gift.
Blythe quickly recognized the quality of the dress and shook her head. "That's meant for her to play dress up in?"
Caleb smiled and nodded.
"It's such a beautiful dress for her to use at playtime."Blythe's voice gave us no doubt that she disaproved.
Caleb laughed, probably because he was remembering me as a child running around the manor in dresses just like this, playing with my friends and getting into trouble. "Oh, I'm sure she'll take care of it. Besides, if she doesn't take care of it, it's her loss and she'll be the one to suffer."
Riane, who loved dresses and costumes, held the dress to her body and twirled. Putting the dress down, she ran to Caleb and threw her body at him to smother him with more kisses which Caleb pretended to be trying to get away from, but was obviously enjoying.
Jack, in the meantime, had brought his gift to me for assistance in opening. We opened it to find a pirate's outfit, including a wooden saber, professionally carved and painted. I slipped the pirate's patch over my eye to Jack's delight. He reached up for it with his little fingers. I took it off and put it over his eye. Parading around the room he stopped for each adult to make a comment.
"Arrrrg." Greg growled. "You have to learn to talk like a pirate!"
Caleb motioned for Jack to come to him. "Come here, mate, let me put your swash-buckle on."
Jack carried his costume to Caleb, who helped dress him. He looked so cute that I ran and grabbed the camera to take a photo of the two of them in their costumes.
"You know Acushla, seeing Riane in that dress makes me realize that she does have some of your looks. I remember that summer when there was an outbreak of smallpox—"
"Yes, Daddy, she looks like I did in my Halloween costume you bought me when I was a little girl."
Daddy quickly realized that he had almost blown it. Smiling and nodding he sat down on the leather wingback chair. "Okay, you two. Do you want to open my gifts?"
They ran to Daddy and grabbed them from him with lots of squealing. Riane was given a beautiful vanity set of solid silver. I quickly recognized it as my Grandmother's set, meaning that it must have been made sometime in the early 19th, possibly late 18th Century and worth an absolute fortune.
Blythe gasped. "Oh, Riane, that's very pretty. You must take great care of that because it's very easy to break if you're not careful honey." Blythe looked up at her son as if she couldn't believe that a small girl would be given such a valuable gift.
I wanted to tell her that these were the things I was surrounded with as a child. They didn't seem like antiques to us, they were simply the vanity set that sat on my Grandmother's dresser until she died and then were put unceremoniously away. We saw them as everyday items.
Riane looked at it and brought the horse-hair brush over to me to use on her hair. I brushed her hair and then held up the silver mirror so she could see her lovely hair set off by the pretty tiara. I made a mental note to ask Caleb later if the jewels in the tiara were real or paste. I didn't want Riane giving away a diamond tiara to a friend in exchange for a Barbie doll.
Jack was given a small train set. It was 'N' scale, fairly small. It was made in the fifties. Collecting model train sets had been my father's passion for a decade back in the fifties.
My father smiled at Jack, "I'll give you more pieces as you get older, Jack rabbit."
Jack took the set to his Dad, who sat down in the middle of the floor putting it together.
I could see that Blythe disapproved of this over-generous gift giving. She had no idea that she was sitting in the company of two men who had amassed huge fortunes over decades and centuries of living. They had no idea that they could simply buy Riane a new Barbie and Jack a K-mart cowboy outfit and they'd be just as happy. I had to laugh, it all seem so absurd.
"Well, now that the wealth has been redistributed to the young, is there any chance we might get fed?" Greg asked.
I jumped up and went to the kitchen to check on the food. Taking the turkey out, the Butterball instructions said to wait twenty minutes before carving. I divested the turkey of his stuffing and then began mashing the potatoes. Within half an hour the pies were in the oven baking as Sophia, Blythe and myself, shuttled the food to the table. It took everything in me not to tell Sophia to sit down. It felt strange having a queen wait on mortals and my family. But Sophia didn't seem to mind at all and I think, from the happy smile on her face, she was enjoying it.
We sat down at the table and I looked around at my family. Jack was between Dad and Caleb. Riane was between her father an Blythe. Sophia was on the other side of my father and next to me. Blythe reached up and grabbed my hand and Riane's, bowing her head. Somewhat surprised, everyone else did the same. Sophia, my father and I all made the sign of the cross as Blythe gave the blessing.
"Dear Lord, thank you for the gifts you have bestowed on me and my family and our friends. We are all grateful for the food on our table and the love in our hearts. Amen."
It was simple, but rather moving. I was indeed grateful for the love in our hearts. I grabbed a bowl and started passing. Platters were passed, butter was spread, the turkey and ham were carved. As the sweet potatoes passed through Caleb's hands he looked at me and gave me a loving wink. I smiled back.
Caleb cut up Jack's food for him. Riane insisted on trying to do it herself. She was pretty good at it, but I could tell that both Blythe and Greg were nervous watching her with a knife. By the time the food was eaten and the pies served, we were all moaning from being so full. I gave the kids a bath while two kings, a queen and two mortal doctors, cleared the table and washed the dishes. Blythe was ordered to go put her feet up.
We put Riane down to sleep and let Jack come back downstairs to watch a DVD while the adults went into the living room and played Trivial Pursuit. I had purchased numerous boxes of trivial pursuit cards and we allowed each person to pick their question from whichever box they preferred. Greg liked general knowledge. I chose the Silver Screen box and the vampires chose various periods of the twentieth century. Surprisingly, Wilson won because he was picking from the Star Wars cards and seemed to know everything there was about the Star Wars saga.
It was a lovely night. Blythe excused herself around ten and went to bed. Greg fell off at one am. I managed to get Jack down at four am just before the vampires went home to crawl into their coffins.
Caleb insisted on taking some of my stuffing home, reminding me that it had always been his favorite. As I gave them all kisses and closed the door behind them, I felt a lump in my throat. If someone had told me four years ago that this would be my life I would have given them a psychotropic drug.
But it was my life. I stopped in the middle of the living room, surveying the Trivial Pursuit boxes and wine glasses, chuckling at all the teasing and joking that had been bantered around during the evening. It had been a fun night with family and friends, a night I knew would be repeated at the holidays for years to come. I swallowed back tears of contentment, looked up to the ceiling and said a silent prayer of thanks.
The End (really)
Dear Readers: This is it. Thank you for reading and I sincerely hope that you enjoyed this story. If you like the occult or sci-fi type story, you may want to start with my time travel House fic, Breeder. Or you may want to read about the psychic and House in the story, Intuitive and its sequel, Betazed. Thanks again and please leave a review (plus your location!) Bye! Kim