Carnival Lights: Chapter Four
Christina took care not to let her mind wander again. As conversation ebbed throughout the dinner table, she made haste to take an active interest.
Like when Mary continued to peer outside, her eyes growing anxious in her face. “It’s really coming down now,” she said worriedly, her eyes following the driving snow.
“Don’t worry,” Christina had comforted her, without bothering to glance outside. “We’re all seasoned drivers in this stuff.”
Or when Matthew and Jason had started in again on one of their favorite pastime arguments: the Packers versus the Vikings, Christina had glanced around the table teasingly, her lips pursed when she announced: “Honestly, I’m all for the Dallas Cowboys—” which had set the entire family off….
She even stooped to ask the family how the Easter service at their church went, which was unusual for her.
“Oh, you know,” Matthew grumbled good-naturedly, giving his wife a teasing wink. “The usual. A lot of singing and praising.”
“A lot of Alleluia’s,” Jason added drily.
Christina smiled vacantly. She hadn’t been raised in a very Christian household.
“You know, if you came with us, you wouldn’t have to ask,” Mary offered in her not-so-subtle way.
Christina shrugged uncomfortably. She should have seen that coming. Mary and never missed an opportunity to invite Christina to such things. “Yeah, well…”
Mary raised her eyebrows expectantly. “Yeah well, what?”
“Maybe sometime,” Christina grumbled at last, dropping her eyes demurely down to her plate.
“Yeah. I’ve heard that before.”
In hindsight, she wondered if being caught daydreaming hadn’t been such a bad situation, after all.
“What does your family do on Easter Sunday?”
Christina looked up sharply at the question. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mary swat at her son’s arm.
“What?” Jason asked his mother. “I mean, she always comes here. I just thought…”
Matthew cleared his throat loudly. “Christina was that dessert I saw you bringing into the house earlier?”
She sent him a grateful glance. “Yes. Would you like some?”
Rising eagerly from the table, Christina lost no time retrieving the pie pan. “Who wants some?” She asked, turning then to stare at the table—at least, she glanced at Mary and Matthew, her gaze only just skimming over Jason’s head.
It was then that she really took notice of the snow. Mary hadn’t been kidding earlier. It was accumulating out there. The roof of Christina’s car held at least an inch. And it’d only been an hour since the first fat, heavy flakes had fallen from the sky. And, from the looks of the frenzied white powder still scattering about, it didn’t look to be stopping any time soon.
Following Christina’s gaze, Mary frowned. “I told you,” she accused mildly. “I bet we’re in a storm watch.”
Matthew patted her hand. “It’s April. I bet it’ll all be gone before the kids leave. Don’t worry.”
“Yeah,” Jason said, but Christina could tell by the tone of his voice he was placating his mother. “Once it stops snowing, it’ll melt within an hour or so.”
“Humph,” Mary informed the table, crossing her arms over her chest. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
And, as so often turned out to be the case, Mary was right. By four o’clock, there was at least five inches of snow on the ground. Opening the weather app on her phone, Mary informed the table (perhaps a bit smugly, but that was to be expected) that they were, indeed, in the midst of a winter storm watch. According to the forecast, the cities were in for another three to six inches before all was said and done.
Christina wore her best poker face. While her car was front-wheel drive, the tires weren’t great and she lived almost half an hour from the Gordman’s house. But to give way to her nerves would only set Mary over the edge. So instead she laughed in that way Minnesotan’s have—as though driving through blizzardous conditions were a badge of honor to be worn on prominent display.
She waved away Mary’s deep frown. “I’m sure the plows will be out by now.”
But even Matthew looked concerned now, his gaze scowling over the oppressive whitewash gaining headway in the front yard. “You’re not thinking of driving home in this?” he asked—but it clearly wasn’t a question so much a statement of fact. Her car was barricaded on either side by drifting snow. Christina cringed inwardly.
But to the family, she played it cool. “I certainly wasn’t planning on walking in it.”
Matthew narrowed his eyes. “You know what I mean.”
Christina had a sinking feeling she knew where this was headed. “Now Matthew…”
“Don’t you ‘Now Matthew’ me…”
“Yeah, that’s my job,” Mary informed her, crossing her arms cozily over her chest.
“I think, all things considered, it would be best if you stayed the night,” Matthew informed her. He glanced outside. “I just wouldn’t be comfortable with you out on the roads.”
“It’s not my first snow,” Christina told him haughtily. She jutted her chin toward Jason, who’d remained silent through the conversation. “Besides, I don’t hear you telling him he can’t drive.”
Jason made a face. “Grow up Christina.”
She could’ve choked.
“Of course I didn’t,” Matthew answered her calmly enough.
“He doesn’t have to be told to know that he’s staying the night.”
Now it was Christina’s turn to smirk. “Didn’t see that coming, huh?”
“Shut up, Chrissy.”
That set her teeth on edge.
“Jason, it’s a blizzard outside.”
“That’s putting it strongly.”
“No, that’s pretty accurate,” Matthew said.
“I can’t stay,” Jason said in that infuriating way he had of sounding like the only rational person in the room. “I have school in the morning.”
Mary snorted. “Doubtful at that.”
Jason smiled tightly. “My house isn’t that far away,” he hedged.
“It’s not that close, either.”
“Mom…” It was the way he said her name; like a son.
“Jason Alexander Gordman…” but whatever Mary had been about to say was interrupted by the incessant beeping on her phone. Looking down, she read the alert which flashed across the screen.
Looking up then, she waved her phone at Christina and Jason gleefully. “Well, that settles it,” she announced. “According to the local police department, they’ve declared a state of emergency and are asking that only essential personnel be out on the roads.” She grinned with supreme satisfaction. “So it looks like you’re staying. The both of you.”
Christina couldn’t help the flutter of nervous anticipation that radiated throughout her body. She’d be spending the night under the same roof as Jason. He’d be just down the hall… She’d see him in the morning, across this same table, all disheveled and unkempt with sleep.
Her hands shook at the thought, at the delicious image—
“Dammit,” Jason muttered.
“Double damn,” Christina concurred, clasping her hands together tightly in her lap.
“Hey now,” Matthew said. “Talk like that is bound to hurt Mary and my feelings.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Christina scoffed, but she did so lightly. “Mr. Sensitivity over there.”
“I happen to think we’re pretty fun people,” Matthew said, with a look at his wife.
She clapped her hands. “It’ll be like a slumber party.”
“Mar,” Matthew grumbled. “You’re making us look uncool.”
“Oh shove it, Jas,” Mary told her son, batting him in the shoulder with the back of her hand again. “That’s no way to behave towards your mother, who only wants what’s best for you.”
“Sorry.” But he didn’t sound very repentant.
Christina sighed, her eyes traveling wearily once again at the blinding snow, the wiping winds slithering against the windows.
“Couple mopes, these two,” Matthew teased his wife.
Jason frowned—a line of irritation forming between his eyebrows.
“I know what’ll change those sour expressions,” Matthew continued in a sideline to his amused wife. Then, clearly his throat, he asked: “Who wants a scotch?”
Jason glowered. “Me.”
“Oh God, yes.” Christina nodded vehemently.
Rising to his feet, Matthew nodded. “Mary?”
“Oh, I’ll take a glass of wine, please.”
“Coming right up.” Whistling, he took himself toward the kitchen door. Stopping, he grinned back at Jason and Christina. “I mean, hey, if we’re going to be snow bound, we might as well take advantage of the right to get a little lousy.”
Christina smiled quietly.
Jason gave her a sidelong glance as Matthew disappeared through the doorway. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have whiskey, Chrissy?” He smiled mischievously. “If memory serves…”
Christina shot a quick glance at Mary, who had risen from the table and was now standing by the kitchen sink; humming softly to herself, the older woman seemed to be intent on getting the leftovers put away. “Shut up.”
“Look at the bright side,” he teased her quietly, careful to keep his voice low. “At least this time it’ll be a shorter commute. You just got to make it up the stairs and down the hall.”
She glared. “It’s a delightful kind of person who makes fun at someone else’s expense.”
“Oh come off it, Christina.” Jason gave her a look. “No one likes a priss.”
She sucked in a breath. “I am not!”
“Yeah? Well, you’re a child!”
Jason gave her a long scrutiny, his eyes traveling down her rigidly set back, her fingers clenched in her lap, her knees pressed tightly together. She felt that look all the way through her body, almost as if he were touching her—a livewire of electric shock.
He’d never seemed to look at her before.
“Maybe so, but you could use a little playfulness. A little fun.”