HOME WITH MY SISTERS by Mary Carter
Faith, Hope, and Joy. As children, the Garland sisters seemed to fit together as seamlessly as their names. Banding together helped them survive their free-spirited parents, who moved from place to place and whim to whim, until their father took off for good. But as the girls grew up, they became virtual strangers.
This Christmas, they intend to spend the holidays in their usual way: far apart. But their ailing grandmother wants her girls around her once more, and Hope, always the peacemaker, convinces her reluctant sisters to travel to Leavenworth, Washington. Hope is immediately charmed by the unique setting, modeled on a Bavarian village, and by her grandmother’s handsome, mysterious neighbor. Still, there’s scant trace of celebration within the Garland family. Joy’s main motivation for visiting is to secure start-up funds for a coffee shop. Faith, oblivious to her children’s unhappiness, is waiting until the holidays are over to announce that her marriage is over and she has a new love. With a festive schedule of candy-cane martinis, hot tubs, and snowball fights, Hope tries to expose and heal old resentments, but moving forward as a family will take more than a little seasonal goodwill.
Bells jangled as Austin Rhodes held open the door to the bustling Winter Biergarten. The scent of bratwursts sizzling on the grill leapt out to greet him, and he could already taste the first tangy sip of his India Pale Ale. Add a heaping scoop of German potato salad and these simple pleasures would go a long way to soothe him when he lost yet another Scrabble game to Yvette Garland. “Silent Night” rose above the chatter of customers, and Christmas lights strung about the room cast everyone in a cheery glow. A giant wreath topped with a big red bow hung above the stone fireplace already crackling and popping with a roaring fire even though it was just a little after noon. Snow was predicted later on and folks were hunkering down as if it had already arrived and making a festive day out of it. Winter was the busiest season of all for this Bavarian town nestled in the Cascade Mountains, thanks in part to the many festivities designed to charm the snow pants off the tourists. Yes, indeed, there was no better place to celebrate the holiday season than Leavenworth, Washington. Even a Scrooge like him could feel a little bit of magic in a day like today. Austin tucked the Scrabble board under his left armpit and extended a hand to his elderly neighbor who was taking her time coming up the walk. “No ice or snow yet,” she said, ignoring his hand and instead grabbing the doorframe and hoisting herself up into the space.
“Maybe I just wanted to hold your hand,” he said with a wink.
“Stop grinning and winking. People are going to think we’re Harold and Maude.”
Austin raised an eyebrow. “Who are they?” She waved him off and headed for their usual booth along the window. Besides walking slower than usual, when she lowered herself into the booth, she failed to disguise a wince. Austin immediately looked away. Yvette Garland was not only a fiercely proud woman, she could also strike like a rattlesnake if you were foolish enough to irritate her. Austin was reminded of something his grandfather always said about getting old: It’s a hell of a time of life and I’d avoid it if I were you. At least they had a good meal coming and undeniably the best view in the house.
From here they could see the Cascade Mountains framing the background, and all along the base towering pines colored the landscape with emerald green, striking a vibrant contrast with the gunmetal gray sky. Austin had lived here for ten years and hadn’t once tired of the view.
However—if one was to tire of the mountains, and sky, and the towering emerald pines, a simple shift of the gaze was all it took and one could absorb the sights and sounds out the window. Boutiques, and pubs, and restaurants spilled out on either side of them, drawing tourists and locals alike. It was a shifting panorama of people, shopping bags, children, ice skates, and careening sleds. Teams of horse and carriages were making pilgrimages around the town, their drivers suited up in traditional Bavarian garb: suspenders, flowing shirts, and hats adorned with decorative plumes. A young mother walked by with a child tugging on each gloved hand, a bounce in their step as they eagerly awaited the first few flakes to fall. You could smell snow in the air. Austin loved that smell. Heck, he loved everything about Leavenworth, and nothing had surprised him more. He always thought he’d be a wanderer, yet here he was, a homebody.
Austin set up the board as the waitress brought their tea and pint. She set the tea in front of Austin, and the Pale Ale in front of Yvette. Yvette waited for her to leave before rolling her eyes and switching their drinks. “She’s horrendous,” Yvette said in a loud voice. “She didn’t even take our order.”
“She’s new,” Austin whispered.
“She doesn’t care, and that’s horrendous.”
“You never know what a person is dealing with,” Austin said.
“You’re bringing your work home with you again,” Yvette chided.
Austin laughed. He was a manager at a suicide prevention hotline center. Sadly, this was one of their busiest times of year. “I’m too caring?” he said.
“Exactly. She doesn’t care, so why should I?”
Austin shook his head. Yvette said whatever was on her mind. And there was a chance she was right. Maybe the waitress wasn’t carrying around a world of ennui, maybe she just didn’t care. Austin would rather live his life erring on the side of caution, but he wasn’t going to antagonize Yvette with his philosophies.
Yvette glanced in the direction of the waitress again. She was standing by the register painting her nails. Yvette turned back and treated Austin to a long look. He laughed. “In my day, jobs were scarce. When you got one, you appreciated it.” Yvette removed a flask from her purse and added whiskey to her tea. “Fights off colds,” she said when Austin gave her a look.
“Uh-huh.” Austin knew the doctor had told her to stop drinking—it wasn’t a good mix with chemo—but she wouldn’t hear a word of it. He knew she had just gotten her latest scan results, but so far she hadn’t said a word about them. He wouldn’t push. He set up the Scrabble board as the waitress finally caught on to Yvette’s glares and sauntered over to take their order. Austin ordered his usual, a cheeseburger and fries.
Yvette, who usually devoured a bratwurst and sweet potato fries, and apple pie à la mode, shook her head. “I’m not hungry.”
Austin knew it would happen, but he loathed watching this powerhouse of a woman lose her appetite. “Maybe some soup?” Austin suggested. He looked at the waitress. “What’s the Soup of the Day?”
The waitress looked at Austin as if she wanted to stab him in the eye with a fork. “I don’t think there is one.”
Yvette shook her head and threw up her arms. “There’s always a Soup of the Day.”
“Is that what you want, then?” The waitress smacked her lips.
“How should I know until I know what it is?” Yvette barked. The waitress simply stood and stared.
“Maybe you should go ask another waitress, or one of the cooks,” Austin said gently. The waitress flounced away. Yvette shook her head until she returned.
“There’s no Soup of the Day,” the waitress announced in a smug tone. “There are soups. More than one.” Austin and Yvette waited, the waitressed simply stared.
“Why don’t you tell us what they are?” Austin prodded.
“Broccoli and cheese, or lentil.” The waitress twisted her pencil in a strand of her hair, snapping her gum as if to keep her from dying of boredom.
Yvette gingerly lifted her tea and stuck out her pinky. “This will do.”
“That will do what?” the waitress asked, staring at Yvette’s pinky as if expecting it to perform tricks.
“Bring us a bowl of the broccoli and cheese, and extra crackers,” Austin said before the waitress could flee. “I’ll eat it if you don’t,” he added as he doled out their tiles. “Ladies first.”
Yvette began to hum along with the Christmas carol playing in the background as she placed her first word on the board. There it was, her tongue poking out of the side of her mouth that always showed up when she was thrilled with her word. He stared at it for a long while before challenging her. “Glitty?” She smiled and nodded. “What the hell is ‘Glitty’?”
“Language!” She smiled nonetheless, then gestured around the restaurant. “All the Christmas lights and sparkling snow makes Leavenworth all glitty,” she said. “Triple score.”
“Uh-huh,” he said. He stared at his letters, then at the board. Outside the sun struck an icicle hanging from an eave outside. It was kind of glitty.
“Hurry up. I don’t have much time left.”
Austin played Gulp. Yvette played Stay. Austin played Hope. Yvette gasped and threw open her arms just as the waitress arrived with the soup. Austin reached across the table the second he registered the impending collision, but it was too late. Yvette smacked the bowl, and cheese soup splattered all over the waitress. She screamed.
“Oh no.” Austin was on his feet, thrusting his napkin into the waitress’s hand.
“Look what you did,” she wailed at Yvette. “This is the worst thing that could have happened.”
“That’s the worst thing that could have happened?” Yvette asked.
“You could have scalded me!”
“But I didn’t. You know how I know? Because that soup has been sitting in the window for ten minutes. It’s probably not even warm, let alone scalding.”
“Lucky for you or I could have sued you!”
One of the older waitresses scurried over. “Is everything all right?”
“She poured soup all over me,” the waitress cried.
“It was an accident,” Austin said to the waitress. “I’d give you some water, but—”
“She didn’t bring any,” Yvette finished for him.
“Go get cleaned up, these things happen,” the older waitress said. The younger one stomped off. The older waitress sighed. “Sorry. She’s new.”
“The worst thing that could have happened,” Yvette muttered. “Charmed life, that one.”
“No worries,” Austin said with a nod to the older waitress, who finally took off. He looked at Yvette. “What’s going on?”
“I told you I wasn’t hungry.” Yvette pushed the board away and tears came into her eyes.
“It was an accident,” Austin said as he reached to touch her hand across the table. “She’ll be fine.”
“Of course she will,” Yvette said. “She’s young and healthy, isn’t she? The worst thing that’s ever happened to her is some old lady spilled cheese soup on her.” She jerked her hand away and took out her flask. Her hand was shaking. Austin had never seen her this upset.
“What is it?” he asked again.
“Put it away.” She eyed the board as if it were her mortal enemy, then turned her head and refused to look at it. Austin quickly ditched his joke about winning by default and put away the board.
“What about apple pie à la mode?” he said. She shook her head. “Yvette, what is it?”
She stared out the window. “I know I’m an old lady and this is what happens when you’re old, so I can’t believe how utterly shocked I feel.” She turned to look at Austin. “My cancer has spread.” She ran a shaky hand along the tabletop. “They’re stopping chemo. He said I probably won’t see more than a few days into the new year.” Austin stared at her, mouth open, searching for something, anything to say. When he couldn’t think of a single darn thing, he reached for her flask and helped himself to a generous swig. They sat in silence as “Frosty the Snowman” began to play and lights twinkled, and outside the first few flakes of the winter storm began to fall. Yvette tilted her head in the direction of the music. “At least it isn’t ‘Silent Night’ again.” She glared in the direction of the speakers. “That’s just the song a dying woman wants to hear.”
Austin leaned forward. “Doctors are wrong all the time.”
“Can it. I’m dying. And that’s the least of my worries.”
Austin took the bait. “That’s the least of your worries?” Yvette nodded. “What then?”
She reached across the table, grabbed Austin’s hand, and squeezed it hard. “What are we going to do about Roger?”
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About the Author:
Mary Carter is a freelance writer and a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. After five years of acting, temping and waiting tables in Manhattan, she was given a scholarship to the Rochester Institute of Technology where she earned her second degree in Sign Language Interpreting. Through the years she has also penned several one act and full length plays including a one act comedy, Kissing Frogs, which was given a staged reading at Geva Theater in Rochester, New York. She currently lives in Wilmington, NC. Visit Mary online at: