“Why does she always have to come?”
“At least she came alone.”
“Imagine if she brought her husband.”
A collective shudder passed through those standing in line at the buffet line. The Charleston family reunion was in full swing, with soft summer wind tempering the afternoon sun and the large family scattered about the ancestral courtyard. The giant buffet table was filled to bursting with dishes from every single family member present and functioned as the highlight of the gathering.
“At least she came alone,” Marge repeated. She turned away, enough to keep from seeing Lorna with her head bowed over her plastic plate, whispering her thanks over the meal.
Tessa flashed a smile and nudged Marge further down the line. “Try the shortcake. It’s grandma’s.”
“Don’t touch that Jell-O stuff, it’s Angie’s,” Jasmine said. “If you’re still on that vegetarian kick.”
“It wasn’t a kick,” Marge muttered, but she studiously avoided the rainbow-colored bowl of dessert. The very thought made her stomach churn. She looked forward to a plateful of soft, tasty food. Two newly filled cavities left her mouth feeling like a blast mining site.
Her cousins ignored her as they shuffled through the line. This particular round of delicious memories only appeared once every five years. Any earlier would be impossible for some members to make the trip.
“Is Hester here yet?” Stella added a generous dollop of potato salad to her overflowing plate.
“Not yet, thank goodness,” Tessa said. “If she saw that, it wouldn’t be the end of things.”
Marge squirmed inside, but smiled as her sister automatically reached over and deposited a scoop of potato salad on her plate as well. “Thanks, Stel.”
“For what? If you don’t take any, Aunt Gin will remind everyone at Thanksgiving.”
“At least she’s too far away for that,” Jasmine murmured. She snuck another glance to where Lorna was feeding her six-year-old from the same full plate. “She could’ve taken another plate. What did she think we’d do? Poison her brat?”
“Don’t get me started,” Tessa grumbled. “I want one of those,” she pointed to a juicy buffalo wing. “At least it doesn’t do what she does.”
“You mean at least she didn’t force it.” Angie reappeared to take her place in line. Tessa scooted out of the way, as she’d been holding her cousin’s spot. “I heard her husband was going to come, but something came up at work.”
“They’re that bad he can’t afford the time off?” Stella frowned. “I didn’t think they were that bad off.” She turned with a smile as her own husband came to stand beside her, asking about how much longer until they could call the older children in for a turn at the buffet. “A few minutes, Warren. Can’t you let us old women finish first? You know those boys will eat everything in sight.”
“I’m more worried about the girls,” Angie sighed. “Did you see Lorna, Warren?” She smiled, pleasantly. “I think she rushed through the buffet. Give the rest of us a break, hm?”
Warren’s dark eyes narrowed, but he didn’t answer as he took the plate his wife offered. He followed her through the line, holding both her plate and his as she filled them in turn. When they reached the end, he took his own, kissed Stella’s cheek and headed off to the tables.
Angie huffed. “Really, you’d think I insulted his mother.”
“You insulted his Sister-In-Law,” Marge heard herself say. “What did you think he’d say?” She looked up from her place in line and looked down almost at once.
She didn’t dare draw attention to where Warren had gone and what he was doing.
Her own effort was futile though, because Stella looked up a half-second later and made a strangled sound in her throat.
“What is it Stel—oh my. Should you rescue him before she starts preaching too?”
Stella’s smile froze on her face. She mumbled something incomprehensible and fled in the opposite direction. The other women began to whisper. Marge stared after her sister’s retreating form, then back at Warren, sitting at Lorna’s table.
She’d seen him bow his head and give thanks. She’d seen Lorna’s little girl glow, eager for the chance to sit on her Uncle’s lap and listen to some story. She’d seen them all share a smile that spoke of more family heart between them than all of those present in line.
It made her heart ache.
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