“I keep forgetting,” Emily said while I was on my way out the door that night. “There’s a packet for you that Jerome left the night we went to Central Park.” She ducked behind the counter and pulled it out.
I took it from her. “Ah, I know what this is. Thank you for delivering it, Emily.”
I pulled the brown paper off of the packet as I walked home. Sure enough, it was the Bible Jerome had promised me. I leafed through it. We’d had a Bible at home when I was a boy, but it stayed on the shelf almost all the time. My mother looked through it occasionally, but it was mostly there for when my grandfather came to visit. He often talked to me about the Bible or explained why he thought a certain way by quoting from it. I usually found myself agreeing with him, not because I thought the Bible was the best authority, but because what he said made sense and seemed right. As memories of times with my grandfather resurfaced, I realized that my views about Kate, Jake, and the baby were probably influenced the most by him.
He would have had answers to all my questions, I thought. But he had died during finals week of my freshman year at Julliard.
When I got back to my flat, I turned on the light and opened to the first page of the Bible. The book felt thick and intimidating and I realized I hadn’t asked Jerome where I should start.
Tomorrow, I thought, and turned out the light.
When I rounded the corner the next morning, the first thing I saw was Ema’s face pressed up against the front window of the Café. She ran to the door and clambered all over me as I entered.
“Guess what, Walter?” She cried.
“It’s only ten days until Christmas!”
“But you’re not excited at all, are you?”
“Only grown-ups aren’t excited about Christmas.”
I laughed. “Am I a grown-up, Ema?”
“Only if you’re not excited about Christmas.”
“Well, I’m certainly excited about our concert.”
“But that’s not until New Years’, Walter. It doesn’t count for Christmas.” Ema said.
I spun her around. “Hmm… does being excited by the lights at the park count?”
“Yes.” Ema wrinkled her nose and poked my chest. “But I still don’t know if you’re an adult or a kid.”
“I guess I’m somewhere in between.”
“What did you do for Christmas when you were little, like me?” Ema asked.
I stopped waltzing around the tables, not wanting to annoy any customers there for pre-work coffee. We sat down at an empty table near the counter.
“We always had lots of relatives over. There were lots of presents, lots of people laughing and singing – we always went caroling – and then we’d eat and eat and eat.”
“What’d you eat?”
“Oh, everything. Bacon, cookies, great big hams, cinnamon rolls, cheese fondue – but do you know what the best part was?”
“My grandmother always made a coffee cake that was like a giant cinnamon roll full of chocolate and pecans. It was so good you couldn’t stop eating it until it was all gone.”
“Can you make it?”
“No, but I’ll bet your mama could if I got her the recipe.”
“Then get it!”
“Tell you what, you go help her and I’ll call mine right now.”
Ema scampered off to the kitchen, already chattering to Emily about the coffee cake. I shook my head. Did that girl ever run out of people-energy?
I pulled out my phone and dialed home. My mother picked up.
“Everything alright over there?”
I winced. I really needed to call home more, but that was kind of what our relationship was like – they took care of me and I let them know if I needed anything. “I was calling about two things – can you email me the recipe for Grandmom’s coffee cake?”
“Of course! What do you need it for?”
“The Café I help out with. I was telling the owner’s daughter about it and she wants her mom to make it.”
“I’ll get started on that right away. But don’t spend too much time down at that café. You need to focus on school –”
“I’m on break right now; it’s fine.”
“I know, but just remember you can’t go getting tangled up in relationships –”
“It’s not like that, mom,” I said, but did feel a twinge when I thought about Clara. “And don’t worry, when school’s in session I only come when I’m done with studying or can do it at the café. My education’s as important to me as it is to you.”
“What else where you calling about?”
“We’re having a concert at the café on New Years’ Day at 8 – and wanted to invite you. I’m playing and a lot of the pieces are arrangements or compositions of mine.”
“I’ll put it on the calendar and talk to your father and we’ll see if we can make it or not. It is a long drive but I’ll let you know.”
“Great! I- I’d really like it if you could meet my friends here sometime. And we’ve had one other concert like this before – it’s a great outlet for my music,” I said, trying to throw in something about how it all fit together with the education they were paying for.
“Anything else you were calling about?” She asked.
“No, that’s all,” I said. “I’ll call again on Christmas.”
“Okay, talk to you then. Bye, Walter.”
I hung up. It suddenly seemed painful how distant our relationship was compared to how Ema and Emily interacted. But we were also in different seasons of life. I went over to the counter.
“My mom’s emailing the recipe to me now,” I told Ema.
“What’s this recipe for?” Emily asked. “All I could understand from Ema was ‘cake,’ and ‘chocolate.’”
“It’s a coffee cake my grandmother made at Christmas time that Ema wants you to make.”
“I can certainly try,” Emily said. “And you’re a good judge of food, Walter, so if you like it that much then it must be good.”
I laughed. “I don’t know if I’m a good judge of food or just a good eater of food.”
“Mama,” Ema said. “Do I have a grandmother?”
Emily glared at me.
“She asked what we did for Christmas when I was little,” I said. “I didn’t bring it up.”
“Good, because I’m tired of you trying to fix us, because it’s not broken.” Her voice was quiet, but I could tell she wanted to shout and was holding herself back because of Ema and the customers.
“Emily – ”
“And we don’t need their help, which is all they’d see me contacting them was. That they were right and I was wrong and I shouldn’t have kept Ema.”
“Emily!” I said. “Ema’s right there,” I hissed.
“I need to make more coffee,” Emily said.
I grabbed the stack of fliers that was behind the counter. “I’ll go put these up.”
Emily grabbed my wrist. “No. Not now.”
I released them and she let go.
I nodded and returned to my seat. For a few minutes, I watched Emily behind the counter. She kept her head down and her hands busy with food, coffee, or customers’ payment. Whenever she looked up, her gaze was clearly focused elsewhere with no intent to venture a look into the side of the café where I was sitting.
I thought back over the last half-hour. What had I done to set Emily off? And why did she not want me putting up the flyers? Had I made her so angry that she wanted to cancel the soiree? Or was there something bigger going on?
But I couldn’t think, not with Emily in my line of vision, so I grabbed my things and slipped out the door.