Seriously, she never saw it coming. I should know, as I was there, and neither of us kids were paying much attention. After all, what was more important? Mom’s traditional day-before-Thanksgiving lasagna, or gramma’s story about the last time she saw our dad?
We were almost 11, my twin brother, Trev, and I, so mom shouldn’t have left us in charge of the lasagna. Besides, it was one of those store-bought ones rather than made from scratch. And on sale, too, probably. One of the off brands. Blech.
We missed mom’s homemade lasagna, but that’s not why we didn’t check on it. It’s not like we were passive-aggressive or anything. That was one of mom’s favorite terms. “You’re being passive-aggressive, momma,” to our dad’s mom, or “Why are you two boys always so passive-aggressive?! Is it a twin thing?”
Sometimes, Trev and I think she said it one too many times to dad, and that’s why he just disappeared a few years ago, but Trev always reminded me: “Trace, mom didn’t start saying it until AFTER dad left.”
Gramma would usually snort at that. We loved gramma more than anything. Yeah, even more than mom and dad sometimes, but don’t you dare tell our parents!
Furthermore, it wasn’t like gramma could check on the lasagna, either, what with her being in a wheelchair that doesn’t quite fit through the doorway leading into the kitchen. Besides, even though she sometimes used a walker, she’d already had her afternoon sherry, and maybe someone else’s afternoon sherry, too.
When things went missing, like the extra bottle of sherry or dad, gramma would often giggle, cover her mouth, then roll her eyes before announcing, “Why, it must be our unexpected guest.”
Mom didn’t like it when gramma talked like that to us. In fact, mom didn’t like it when gramma giggled, either, but it was gramma’s house and we lived by gramma’s rules, whether mom liked it or not.
Trev and I liked it just find. We did miss dad, though, but gramma always told us not to worry, that he’d turn up “right as rain.” She should know, as mothers are supposed to have that sixth sense about their children. Our mom didn’t, which was why we often hoped we were adopted, that she was our step-monster rather than our real mom.
Gramma would sigh when we shared this with her. “Trev, Trace,” she would say matter-of-factly, pulling us in close for a hug. I was there when you were born, so I know you’re my grandchildren and whose womb you practically walked out of.”
We couldn’t imagine seeing all that, and fortunately, gramma would spare us all the details which we had some idea of after watching part just a small part of a documentary on childbirth one night.
So, mom really didn’t see it coming when dad walked through the door just as the smoke alarm went off and the traditional day-before-Thanksgiving lasagna was practically scorched to a crisp. Mom was at the oven, mitts over her hands, yelling at us about not paying attention.
Well, neither was she, which dad pointed out, causing her to drop the flimsy lasagna pan. Scalding pasta sauce splattered all over mom’s pantsuit. Her mouth got stuck in that funny “O” shape that she got right before she yelled or laughed or was surprised or any one of a dozen other emotional outbursts. Which one would it be this time, though? We really had no clue.
Trev and I looked from mom to dad, to gramma to dad, back to mom and then to each other and then back to dad.
“Dad!” We squealed, running toward him, tumbling forward onto the linoleum. At first, we both thought it was because of all the splattered sauce. And then we thought it might be because gramma had spilled her sherry, and then we thought it was because mom tried to grab us and pushed us instead and then, as we’re on the floor looking up at everyone, it suddenly dawned on us.
“You’re the unexpected guest, dad!”
“That I am, son. That I am.”
“But that means . . .” I looked over at gramma, and she nodded, tears pooling in her eyes. Mom wasn’t crying, not one little bit, and the weird “O” shape of her mouth had gone horizontal, somewhere between a grimace and a smile.
“Harold, I told you not to come until Christmas eve. Remember that we promised to alternate holidays? It’s my turn to haunt the kids and your mom.”
Dad just stared at her, those little wrinkles still crinkling his eyes as he smiled. “You know me, Mr. Passive-Aggressive, just thought I’d stop by to see what the kids want.”
“Ahem,” gramma cleared her throat, getting up out of her chair and walking rather steadily toward the liquor cabinet.
“And to visit me, of course. Bought your favorite. Knew you’d be here.”
And then gramma set down a bottle of scotch, opened it with a slight twist, poured dad, mom, and herself each a double. They said, “Cheers!” in symphony, knocked them back, and then gramma poured again.
“You boys make some cocoa,” gramma said, sitting back in her chair, allowing dad to wheel it into the living room. “We have some grownup things to discuss.”
“But what about dinner?” Trev asked, his stomach rumbling.