Carnival Lights: Chapter Twenty-Nine
Mary’s lips trembled just slightly as they split into a hesitant, tentative grin. Then, before Christina had time to realize what she was doing, Mary’s hand had let go of the door her arms swinging open wide as she charged forward, practically throwing herself on Christina.
Shocked into the hug, Christina only had the senses left to feel Mary’s arms twining themselves forcefully around her person, to hear the gentle whoosh of Mary’s breath at the impact.
“Oh!” Mary cried, and her arms squeezed even tighter. “I’ve missed you,” she whispered into Christina’s ear, the words chocked, wet and watery.
And at the sound, Christina let herself go. Falling into the embrace, she felt her own hands pressing tightly against the older woman’s back, her chin jutting into the crook above her shoulder. “I’ve missed you, too,” she returned fiercely. Leaning forward just slightly, she bent her head forward so that one of her fingers could just reach up to wipe away an unexpected tear across her cheek.
“Don’t ever do that again,” Mary threatened, breaking away to dab at her own eyes. She glared lovingly at Christina. “Never again.”
Christina swallowed thickly. “I’m sorry.”
“And stop that, too!” Mary insisted, shooing at Christina’s words with an impatient flap of her hand.
Christina laughed roughly. “Okay.”
“You can be mad at me, or embarrassed or just plain hurt,” Mary continued, her breath coming as fast as the words. “But never stop talking to me.”
Christina’s chin wobbled. “I won’t.”
Reaching forward, Mary laid her palm against the side of her face. “Don’t you know—you’re family. That’s forever.”
“Yeah?” Christina smiled unamusedly, her eyes skipping away to the large staircase set in the middle of the foyer. “Well, I’m living proof that that’s not always true,” she said, feeling compelled to argue even as she pressed her face more fully into Mary’s hand.
“Well, it’s true in this family,” Mary insisted, her brow line creasing with the words. “And you are as much a Gordman as anyone else here.”
That’s when Christina did something completely out of character. In a rush of gratitude, she plucked the small woman close to her chest for a second embrace. Bending her head over Mary’s dark hair, she breathed deeply. “I love you, Mar,” she said, closing her eyes.
Mary patted her back. “I know, baby. I know.”
“Ah, my girls are back together again—” At the sound of Matthew’s voice, coming from the doorway to the kitchen, Christina slowly let Mary go. Sauntering into the room, he raised an eyebrow. “I think this calls for a celebratory drink, don’t you agree?”
Christina rolled her eyes.
Mary swatted at his arm. “Way to ruin a moment.”
He grinned, unrepentant as ever. “Thought I’d spare both of you another application of mascara.”
“My hero,” Christina muttered even as she ran a finger under her eyes, brushing away any telltale makeup smudges.
Mary smiled. “Yes.”
“Scotch?” Christina asked.
“Of course, of course,” Matthew said, picking up his steps toward the den. “Follow me.”
“And I don’t want to hear any nonsense about us weeping women, either,” Mary started, picking up alongside him. She shot a wink at Christina. “He’s been as mopey without you as I have.”
Matthew glowered down at his wife.
“Well, you have.” She made a face at Christina. “He has. He kept going on about how he missed you at work, which was ludicrous because you were right outside his do—”
“I’ll open the most expense bottle of wine we’ve got if you’ll shut your yapper—what about it?” Matthew said, his voice at its most pleasant when he turned to his wife.
Christina smothered a giggle.
Mary only smiled wider. “Deal.”
His look of relief was so utterly genuine Christina could do nothing but laugh, and with it she felt the last of her tension and nerves leave her.
Of course, she knew the conversation would get brought up at some point. Sure enough, as they sat down to the meatloaf and mashed potatoes that Mary set lovingly on the table, Christina was proven correct.
Pushing her chair in tight to the table, she’d only just reached for her fork when Mary asked, oh-so-casually: “So…? How are things with you and Jason?”
“Mary.” There was no mistaking the warning note in Matthew’s voice, his eyes flicking worriedly over to Christina’s face, gauging her reaction.
But there was also no denying the pure delight on Mary’s countenance, her hopeful expectation. Seeing it, Christina found herself smiling shyly in response. Her fork skimmed over the creamy mashed potatoes, her eyes dropping to watch the action intently.
“Good,” she offered. “They’re, ah, they’re good.”
“Yeah?” Leaning forward, Mary all but chirped across the table at her. Reaching forward, her hand patted Christina’s wrist. “I’m so glad.”
Christina’s mouth quivered into an even bigger smile.
“And?” Mary asked conversationally as she spread butter on her side dish. “What did you do?”
“What?” She asked artlessly, turning toward her husband. She raised one plucky eyebrow.
“Perhaps Christina doesn’t want to talk about that?” He said pointedly.
“Oh pooh,” she insisted. “Just look at her face. She’s dying to tell someone about it.”
“His parents may not be her first choice.”
Mary chewed on that for a second, but then she was shaking her head again. “Well she’s going to have to get over it. I won’t be shut out of her life again. Period. And she promised me—”
Unable to take it anymore, Christina heard herself talking: “We went to a lacrosse game.” At the words, all conversation died. Shifting eagerly back in her direction, Mary pressed her fingers together in anticipation.
Christina felt her face heating up. It was unnerving, being watched that way. “And it was nice. We, ah, we had a good time.”
“He was a gentleman?”
“Oh Mary!” Christina laughed. “Of course he was.”
Mary narrowed her eyes. “Don’t hold out on me, girl!”
In answer, Christina speared her fork into the meatloaf. Bringing a bite up to her mouth, she took her time chewing it.
“Pert little thing, isn’t she?” Mary asked her husband.
“Don’t tell me you’ve never noticed before?”
“Fine, whatever,” Mary said then. “Have your privacy.”
“Thank you.” Christina’s voice could have hardly been drier.
“But at least tell me this—”
Matthew made a face.
“Are there future plans in the works?”
Biting down on her lip did absolutely nothing to stem the smile blossoming across Christina’s features. Which, really, was all the answer that anyone needed, anyway.
Leaning back in her chair, Mary sighed, a look of utter conceit on her face. Reaching for her glass of wine, she smirked “So that’s a yes?”
“Yes,” Christina said with exaggerated patience. “That’s a yes.”
“I told you,” Mary said to her husband with smug satisfaction.
He raised his hands. “I never disagreed with you.”
“You told him what?” Christina asked, eyes narrowed suspiciously.
Mary was all innocence. “What? Oh nothing…”
Matthew hitched a thumb toward his wife. “Don’t pay her any attention. That’s been my motto sinc—”
“And that’ll be enough out of you,” Mary assured him.
“You told Matthew what?” Christina insisted.
This time it was Mary who couldn’t quite seem to make eye contact. “Just that I had a feeling. You know, about the two of you.”
Christina felt the first stirrings of unease roll through her person. “It was just a date, Mary.”
Mary nodded quickly. Her mouth thinned out. “No, I know.”
“Anything could happen. Or not happen.” Christina wasn’t entirely sure who she was trying to convince—herself or Mary. Don’t get your hopes up. Don’t read into anything. The fantasy was all good, but the reality could hurt.