What a wonderful day it turned out to be. Great food, lots of laughter and sharing memories of Thanksgivings past, when Dad stated as he did every year, "this was the best Thanksgiving of them all," I agreed.
Not waiting for me to answer, he continued “I had an early morning delivery and didn’t quite make it back in time to get the shop open; I was told you might be by!” Not wanting him to see the confused look on my face; I brushed past him into the main part of the store. After the lights were on, I made my way to my special section where I knew I would find something perfect for Mom and Grandma. Although I knew my Mom would say, “keep your hands to yourself”, I just had to touch each item ever so carefully.
Where is she I stuttered? “Why she’s out shopping, just like you”. Why didn’t I think of that, feeling foolish? “Do you have a moment he asked, I want to show you something.” I almost sprinted out the door, but something told me this man with the same gray eyes, was not going to harm me so I said sure. Reaching down under the counter he brought out an old leather photo album, rubbed smooth with age. The pages were hanging loosely once bound neatly in place.As he opened the book, I was mesmerized with the old photographs; while he told me who each one was.
That night I could barely sleep just thinking about lunch tomorrow. There was so much more to learn about Lucy Cole and I wanted to know everything. I haven’t mentioned any of this to my family yet, I thought it would be best since my Mom would probably say I was getting way in over my head or not allow me to ever step foot in the store again. I am a good judge of character I thought, so for now it would remain my little secret.
Lucy and I enjoyed our lunch, and afterwards made up stories about the people walking by imagining what they were thinking. It was fun to see this side of a woman I dreamed would ever be this delightful. After lunch, Lucy hurried back to her shop and as I busied myself, my mind was not on my work but on Lucy. I again wondered how such a drastic change came over her in one short week.
I was hesitant to bring it up with Mrs. Gambino since she seemed on very friendly terms with her, however when she asked how long I had known Lucy, it was my opening to get a few questions answered myself. I really haven't known her all that long, I said, but it has taken me quite sometime to get her to talk to me.
By this time Mrs. Gambino and I were sitting in the booth where just hours earlier I sat with Lucy Cole. "Katy you know I would not be telling you this if I didn't think you could keep it to yourself." I agreed and she continued "Lucy lost her husband when Bill was just a small boy; he was killed in the war." I did not let on that I knew this since I didn't want to interrupt her. "Shortly after his death, she discovered she was expecting a baby, this was something she was not ready for." "She had a real hard time through her pregnancy and it seemed her family just wanted her to move on and not live in the past. After the baby, a girl was born Lucy withdrew a little from her depression and focused all of her energy on her two children." When Bill was about three years old and Anna was one, she moved here to start a new life for herself." I quietly wondered why Bill did not tell me about a sister.
Francine hollered something from the back and Mrs. Gambino excused herself, waiting there, I was feeling very sad for Lucy, in my mind she was by far the nicest lady I had ever met starting this very day. Mrs. Gambino returned wiping her hands on her apron, "I swear you would think Francine would know the ingredients of the cupcake mix by now." We laughed because we both knew Francine was not going to follow in the family business for long.
She started again, "Lucy, Bill and Anna were on a trip back to North Carolina one summer to visit family. After a fun filled two week vacation, tragedy struck on the way home. It seems a car sideswiped Lucy's car and they careened off the road into some woods. When Lucy awakened in the hospital, her surroundings scared her and she immediately asked where her children were. She was reassured they were safe with family members, however she still insisted on seeing them for herself."
"After she was released from the hospital, she became very protective of Bill and Anna, not letting them out of her sight, unless they were attending school. After time, her obsession grew instead of diminish. Although Bill understood, Anna did not and grew to resent her mothers over protective nature. When Anna turned eighteen, she moved out." This turned Lucy's world upside down, since the last thing Anna said was "Get some help!" "Believe it or not, that was more then eight years ago and she never returned." I gasped when she told me this and felt sick knowing that Lucy had not seen her daughter for eight years. Did she keep in touch at least, I asked? "No, only Bill knew where she was and that she was well. Keeping his sisters whereabouts, was hard for him especially being so close to his mother."
"Many times Bill pleaded with Anna to come home, and although she came close several times, in the end she changed her mind saying it was too late." All of a sudden my mind started to reel, somehow I need to convince Bill to give it one more try and give his mother the one thing she has longed for all these years, her daughter back! Although Mrs. Gambino was hesitant to go along with my scheme, she agreed to call Bill for me.
I talked with Bill and although at first he claimed it could not be done, finally wearing him down, he said "well Katy if anyone can pull it off, it sounds like you can!" I was shocked to find out that Anna lived just one town away teaching at my best friend’s school. During my younger years, I never met a school teacher who was scary so how hard could this be? And in the end it was not hard at all. Anna was a very nice woman; she did not resemble Bill or Lucy that much so I decided she looked like her father. Bill met her for lunch on a Saturday afternoon at the bakery, Mrs. Gambino and I watched out for Lucy. Not really knowing what was about to hit her, Anna was very open talking about her mother with Bill although you could tell she was uncomfortable being that close to her shop.
That day Mrs. Gambino let me work the counter, Bill introduced me and later when I brought them their lunch, asked me to join them for a few minutes. Okay, this was my signal, as I sat down next to Bill, I immediately started telling Anna that I am a customer of her mothers store, I told her about meeting Bill there and what fun we had over Thanksgiving, talking excessively I saw a smile come to Anna's face, boy if I knew what she was thinking, it would be wonderful. As I chatted on, Anna glanced at Bill with a look that said "I think the time has finally come." Bill poked me in the leg which was my cue to pardon myself and get back to work. As I got up, I said with innocence, tell your mom I said hello, as if I assumed that’s where they were heading next.
Christmas was two days away and I was helping out at the bakery. I was anxious to hear what Anna had decided and was about to drive Mrs. Gambino crazy with my questions. She said "if it's going to happen it will if not there is nothing you can or should do about it."
The chime went off at the front door and since Francine was off, I ran out to help the customer. It was Lucy; she had a big grin on her face and greeted me with a cheery hello. Did she already see Anna, I wondered, did it happen liked we planned? She placed an order for some croissants and after bagging them, asked if I could stop by her store on the way home. Sure I said, and as she left she turned and winked at me. Oh gosh, I was in such a state I didn't even help the customer that walked in behind Lucy until the bell rang at the service counter.
As soon as I finished wiping down the front counter, Mrs. Gambino said get out of here before you explode and we have another mess to clean up. I ran and hugged her before heading out the door. I don't think my feet touched the ground all the way to Lucy's. As I walked through the door I saw Bill leaning over the counter and Lucy was sitting in her chair. "Aha Bill said when I came in, there she is, Santa's little helper!" What did he mean by that I wondered? Lucy stood up and motioned me to come around to her side and when I did, there sat Anna. I stood there, my eyes filling with tears, and put my arm around Lucy. For a moment, everyone was silent and then Anna spoke. Katy she said, “I have waited for years for this moment, and I thought it would never happen." She started to cry, "I missed my mother dearly but was so proud and scared, I wasted too many years not seeing her. If it weren't for you, I am sure this moment would have never come. After Bill told me how insistent you were to make friends with my mother I realized how petty and childish I was. I want to thank you for this gift you have given back to me and promise you I will never take it for granted.”
Lucy handed me a package wrapped in beautiful Christmas wrap with a big bow and card attached that read…To Katy, Merry Christmas to a wonderful caring friend, love Lucy, Bill and Anna. As I slowly un-wrapped the gift, the lump in my throat faded away. Inside was a framed picture of the three of them, arms around each other in a circle. A circle of love and friendship that would never end.