Jerome and I were quiet the whole drive to his house. I had never seen where he lived, and it was surprising yet not entirely unexpected that he lived in a lower-income neighborhood. We stepped inside to a spotless and organized living room with minimal furnishings.
“Have a seat and make yourself at home,” Jerome said. “I’ll put on the kettle and get out some leftovers in a moment.”
I nodded and sat down across from a small bookshelf, tilting my head to read titles. Jerome passed through once or twice, and then to the left I heard the sounds of utensils on dishes.
“You’re supposed to be resting,” I said, joining him in the kitchen.
“That’s why we’re having leftovers,” he said. “Trust me; I feel fine. I’ll slow down if I feel anything coming on. Tea’s in the cupboard. Take your pick.”
I rummaged through a basket of tea bags before settling on lemon and ginger.
We took steaming mugs of tea and bowls of stir fry out to the living room and sat down again.
Jerome sat across from me and I could feel him watching me as I ate.
“You seem different, Walter,” he said at last.
“You’re freer. Less burdened.”
I nodded, putting the back of my hand over my mouth as I finished chewing and swallowed. “Two things. One, I decided I really do need God’s help. Two, I realized Emily thinks reconciling with her parents is admitting they were right about Ema.”
“That’s a lot of thinking for just a day.”
“But it’s nice to have a break now, some rest after figuring things out. Thank you for all you told me.”
Jerome nodded slowly. “Glad I could be of service.” He stretched his legs. “Man, is it good to be out of that hospital bed. I like some time to be quiet and think, but that was too much.” He shook his head.
“Ema said Emily has been dancing a lot again,” I said. “She’s bothered and thinking. I don’t think it’s just about money, either.”
“What do you think it is?”
“I want to hope it’s her parents. But maybe I’m just holding onto the café and refusing to admit the financial situation could be that bad.”
“Well, it’s not good,” Jerome said. “But I think she’ll pull through yet.”
“Do you think the soiree will make a difference?”
Jerome nodded. “It will help at least some. And she’ll have her regulars back after the holidays.”
We drifted in and out of conversation and second and third cups of tea in the next few hours. Then Jerome turned in and I paged through books here and there for a while before I stretched out on the couch and fell asleep.
Christmas Eve dawned with Jack Frost painting on the windows. I blinked slowly and stared at the ceiling as the smells of coffee and bacon wafted in from the kitchen.
“The slumberer wakes at last,” Jerome said as I stumbled into the kitchen.
“The scent of bacon is enough to pull even the sleepiest out of bed on Christmas Eve,” I said. “And I’m sure you cook it better than the cafeteria.”
“I’m no chef, but I’m sure I do, too. Help yourself.”
I slid four pieces of bacon onto a plate and shoveled some scrambled eggs on beside them.
“Will that be enough or should I whip up some pancakes?” Jerome asked.
“This should be plenty,” I said. “Besides, you need to take it easy.”
“Let’s head over to the café when we’re done,” Jerome said.
“Sounds like a good plan! Ema is going to be over the moon today with it being almost Christmas.”
“Then she’ll be over the Milky Way tomorrow,” laughed Jerome.
“It’s Christmas Eve, it’s Christmas Eve!” Ema shouted when the bell above the café door jingled. “Hi Mr. Jerome!” She clung to his leg. “Are you all better?”
“Getting there,” he said.
“Hi, Walter,” she said, hugging my leg for a moment before resuming her Christmas Eve glee. “Mama said that tomorrow morning we’ll have cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate and open presents, then make cookies and make snowflakes!”
I sat down at the piano and began hammering out Christmas carols, and heard Emily humming along behind the counter. A few customers darted in and out on their way to and from last-minute shopping. The streets outside seemed to be in a frenzy, complete with wild snowflakes, but inside the café it was relaxed and joyous, though not exactly calm with Ema’s “falalalalala” every few seconds.
“How does holly bow, Walter?” Ema asked me at the end of the song.
“Bough, like a tree branch,” I explained. “What should we sing next?”
“Silent Night, like for the concert.”
“But Clara’s not here.”
“We can just do our parts.”
“Alrighty, then. When you’re ready.”
Jerome clapped when we finished, and Ema bowed.
“Not like the holly bows,” she told me when she finished.
The sun went down, and I prepared to go back to Jerome’s with him for one more night. He protested and said he was fine, but Emily shook her head and demanded I stay with him again. Jerome conceded at last, saying that I did need to try his pancakes.
“If that’s what it takes, then so be it,” Emily said. “But you’re both more than welcome to join us for cinnamon rolls as a late brunch.”
“I don’t know about Jerome,” I said, “but I shall certainly be there.”
As Jerome and I sat in the living room again over more cups of tea, I thought about the next day, and the phone call I would make to my parents. Which then led me to think about Emily and her parents.
“Jerome, how do I help Emily see that reconnecting with her parents isn’t saying they were right about Ema?”
Jerome stared at the bottom of his tea cup and swirled the remains of his chamomile around. “It may not be something you can do. It’s a change in her attitude, not necessarily in how anything is done.”
I waited for Jerome to say more.
“But I think for that to happen, she has to have an alternate reason for calling them up. She needs to have something to say to them other than a simple hello, or they’re more likely to assume she’s coming back for help. And she may need their help still. But I think most of all she just needs to see that she needs them because of who they are and who she is, not because one of them was wrong or needs something from the other.”
I nodded, but didn’t say anything.
“I think you’ll be pleased to know you were right, Walter – Emily isn’t just dancing because of the financial situation. You may find her realizing all this sooner rather than later.” He turned his mug upside down over his mouth and swallowed one final sip. “But that’s for another day. It’s time to sleep ‘till Christmas. Sleep well, Walter.”