“Do you think she suspects?” Tim whispered to Carol.
“No,” Carol dipped a finger in the mashed potatoes and took a taste. “I’ve kept Mom busy all day. Don’t worry.”
Madeline sidled up to grab the green beans. “Well, you know she has eyes in the back of her head and super human hearing!” She hissed.
Carol snorted. “You’re twenty years old and you still believe that?”
“So she doesn’t know?” Tim insisted on getting an answer.
“No!” Carol shoved him. “Get ready!”
Mom bustled around the kitchen, and handed out dishes to take to the dining room. She seemed oblivious to the conversation.
“What are you children whispering about?” Mom asked as she pulled the rolls out of the oven.
“Nothing, Mom!” They chorused.
“I’ll take the rolls.” Tim volunteered and made a hasty exit. He bumped into Julia on the way out. “Excuse me!”
“Carol, are the places set?” Mom looked around to find her daughter whispering to Madeline in the corner.
“Yes, ma’am!” Carol found the cranberry sauce and dashed into the dining room.
“Can I do anything else to help you, Mom?” Julia asked. She was the only non-relative in the house and felt out of place.
“No, it’s almost done.” Mom looked around. All the dishes were on the dining table. She checked on the turkey.
“Thank you, for inviting me here.” Julia said shyly.
“Oh, honey!” Mom straightened up and searched for some potholders. “You are so welcome! You know, this is my favorite time of the year. All the family gets together for Christmas.”
A shadow crossed Mom’s face. “Well, almost everybody.”
Julia nodded solemnly. “I miss Dillon, too. It’s been almost three years since he was deployed.”
Mom pulled Julia into an embrace. “I miss him, so much! My little boy, all grown up and off to war.”
“Do you think he’ll be home soon?” Julia whispered into Mom’s shoulder. “It’s been so long since we had a letter from him.”
They talked for a few more minutes and wished the war to be over soon.
“What do you think you will do when he comes home again?” Julia asked.
“I’m not sure if I’ll cry, faint, jump and down, or all three!” Mom blew her nose and looked off into the distance. “Child,” Mom finally said, “When Dillon gets back from deployment, I hope the two of you get married. I’d love to have another daughter.”
“And I’d love to be a part of this family, too!” Julia wiped her eyes and smiled.
“Woman!” A stern voice called from the dining room. “Its five o’clock! Time to eat!”
Mom grimaced and opened the oven. “Be a dear and tell that old man that I’m married to it will be right out.”
Julia laughed and went to do just that.
As Mom carefully pulled the turkey out of the oven, she heard Julia squeal in the dining room.
Too focused on not dropping the bird, Mom dismissed the sound and concentrated on the task at hand.
Garnish done, Mom picked up the heavy tray and pushed open the swinging door with her shoulder.
Mom anticipated the ooh’s and aah’s as she carefully set the golden brown turkey on the table.
Her ears pricked up at the silence.
She looked around the table. All the side dishes were in place, candles lit. Every plate had its spoons, knives and forks, and glasses filled with tea. The tablecloth shone snowy white and spotless. The centerpiece looked lovely with the fall colors and pinecones. All the chairs filled with smiling faces.
Mom did a double take.
Dillon, with his lopsided smile and ginger-red hair, sat in his chair! Julia beamed with joy beside him.
Dad and all the other children grinned in conspiracy.
Mom burst into tears.
Now all her children were home for Christmas.
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