I went for a long walk the next morning. I felt like I had to talk to God, and that outside, even in the cold, was the best place to do it. My mind was free outside, and I wasn’t distracted by anything, although I did have a stack of flyers I put up here and there. My thoughts were jumbled yet again, but they kept coming back to prayers for Emily. It was almost always the same prayer, though – “give her wisdom to know what to do, and then the courage to do it.”
I wondered if she was right about my parents. Unlike Emily’s struggle, there wasn’t any question in my mind of whether or not they wanted the best for me. But I still didn’t know how much they really loved me. After all, growing up it always felt like they wanted me busy and out of the house. I was always packed off to the best schools and the best extracurricular activities, and now the best college. Not that I didn’t want it – Julliard had been my dream since I was in junior high, and I had wanted to be a composer since I was in third grade.
But it was the rare occasions we did things as a family that I knew they loved me, not all the money they spent on me.
I stopped walking. I knew how much money and position meant to them, especially to my dad. And I knew how much money they had spent on me. Which meant that I meant enough to them to part with money. Putting it that way made them sounds so <<>> And it really wasn’t all that bad, but it was certainly important to them. And so giving it up for me wasn’t a little thing. I just had a different idea of what a parent’s love should look like – not giving out of what they had but giving themselves, like Emily was always doing things with Ema.
I’ve been so ungrateful, I thought. I had thought they always wanted me away, not that they wanted me to have the best and pursue my dreams. They were going to get the biggest thank-you ever at the soiree. I had been planning on mentioning them anyway, but I was going to be a lot more specific than that. And I was going to pray that my recognition of their love would be the first steps towards the kind of relationship Ema and Emily had.
The next day when I arrived at the café in the morning, I found Emily standing behind the counter staring at her phone. There were a handful of customers, but they had all received their orders and I knew we were entering the quietest part of the morning – after the morning rush but before lunch breaks began.
“I’m going to call, Walter,” she said, without saying hello.
“Go wherever you need to for however long you need to,” I said. “I’ll take care of any customers.”
She slipped out the back door and didn’t come back for three hours, but when she did, she was beaming.
“They’re coming,” she said.
“But it’s not like everything is fixed yet. We didn’t really talk about what happened.”
“Not fixed, remember? It has to heal. Like I’m learning, like Jerome taught me. It won’t happen in a day. But it’s a start. A good start.”
“Don’t give up, and don’t give up praying. God hears our prayers.”
Ema bounded into the café from their living quarters. “When is Clara coming again, Walter?”
“She said she’d call,” I said. But I hope you didn’t scare her off, Ema!
“Oh, I forgot to tell you. I got a call from her last night, in reply to a message I left her about coming over for baking,” Emily said. “She’s coming tomorrow, for practicing and preparing food.”
“Yay!” Ema cried. “It’s only three days until the concert!”
I sat down at the piano and began to play, and soon Ema sat down on the bench next to me and hummed along until we got to Silent Night.
“Mama?” she asked when we finished. “Will Mr. Jerome be here for the concert?”
“I don’t know, Ema. I don’t know how long they’ll keep him this time. I don’t think he was quite as sick, though.”
“He had better be here,” I said. “I’ll march over there right before if he’s not here and tell them to let him come.”
Emily laughed. “He seemed to think they’d release him in time, don’t worry.”
“We’d better reserve a seat for him, too,” I said. “He’s certainly a guest of honor.”
I had meant it in part as a joke, but to my surprise, Emily nodded. “A whole front row for guests of honor. Clara’s family, my parents, your parents, and Jerome.”
“Your parents, mama?” Ema asked.
“Yes, Ema, grandma and grandpa are coming.”
“I get to meet them?”
“Whoopee!” Ema jumped off of the piano bench and danced around the room. “What are they like, mama? Do they look like you?”
Emily sat down and pulled Ema onto her lap. “Well, grandma is about my height. Her hair is dark like Walter’s, though. She likes to sew, and she danced when she was a little girl, and makes the best food I’ve ever had. Grandpa is only a little bit taller than grandma, and his hair is light, like mine. He likes to make model airplanes and fly them in the park. And he’ll probably find many ways to tease you like he did me when I was your age.”
“Can’t they come before the soiree, mama?”
Emily shook her head. “Not before. But they’ll be here for it, and hopefully many, many times afterwards.”
“Now I really can’t wait.” She climbed out of Emily’s lap and began to dance around the room again. “Three more days! Three more days! Three more days!”
“And plenty of work to do in that time,” Emily said. I turned back to the piano, and she returned to the counter, going back and forth between serving customers, stirring bowls, and taking things in and out of the oven.
The next three days were going to be both very long and very short, and the soiree couldn’t come fast enough.