December 29. Two days away from the Soiree. I went for a walk before going to the café in the morning. I was praying, mostly, although it didn’t feel like what I had imagined prayer was. It felt more like sharing what was on my heart with the God of the universe. Which was a little bit scary, very comforting, and immensely mind-blowing all at the same time. I was nervous. Nervous I’d let Clara down in the concert. Even more, nervous I wouldn’t be able to win her confidence – and her heart. I was relieved and overjoyed that Emily had called her parents. But I knew it wasn’t really because of anything I had done. Had I really grown in my understanding of how people “worked” and what relationships take? Or had God just used my bumbling to do something great?
Ema walked up to me with her finger on her lips when I entered the café.
“Mama says we can’t give anything away about the concert when other people are here,” she said.
“That’s a good plan,” I said. “Is Clara here yet?”
Ema shook her head. “Mama said after lunch. She said it would be a better time to do things in secret.” Her eyes grew wide when she said the word “secret,” and her face grew serious. “Especially Silent Night.”
“Will grandma and grandpa really come?” Ema asked.
“That’s the plan. And it’s also the plan that my mom and dad will be here.”
“It’s going to be a party! With lots of yummy food, and pretty music, and my favorite people!”
“Shhh!” I said. “Don’t let everyone know yet!”
Ema looked around at the customers in the café. “Oops. Did I ruin it?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think so. We’ll just have to be more careful and store up all of our excitement for New Years’ Eve.”
Ema nodded. “Okay. Then we can explode like fireworks!” She jumped up and down making popping noises. “Mama said we’ll see fireworks from the café! And I get to stay up to watch them!”
I smiled. In the mind of a four-almost-five-year old, it probably couldn’t get any better.
Emily had picked a good time for Clara to come. The café was empty when she arrived, and we got right to practicing.
“Keep it business,” Emily said. “It won’t be empty for long.”
We ran through everything, and then went over a few troublesome spots before we packed up our music.
“I can’t wait,” I said. “This is going to be even better than the last one.”
“I wish I had known about the last one,” Clara said. “I like this sort of thing. It’s wonderful to be a part of it.”
“And guess what?”
Clara shook her head.
“My parents said they’d come, and so did Emily’s.”
Clara’s eyebrows went up. “Really?”
“How did that happen?”
“A lot of God and not much of me.” I had thought about that answer on my walk. I knew she would ask, and as much as I wanted to win her over and convince her I was ready for a relationship, I didn’t want to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes – hers or mine. “Are yours still able to come?”
Then I paused. I realized I had never heard Clara talk about her mother. But I didn’t want to make anything worse by jumping to conclusions. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder.
“Which piece are you most excited for?” I asked, trying to change the subject.
“Silent Night!” Ema butted in.
Clara smiled, but it was a different smile than I’d seen before, and I couldn’t tell if she was smiling at Ema or about something else. “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” she said very quietly after a while. “It was my mother’s favorite.”
She looked up at me, and our eyes met.
“I’m sorry, Clara.”
She looked down again, shaking her head a little. “I was too little to remember much more.”
“Are you sure you still want to do that one?”
“It’s all the more reason to do it,” Clara said. “But it’s a good thing my father’s coming or I wouldn’t get through it. I’ll get through it for him.”
“Okay, if you’re sure.”
Ema slipped her hand into Clara’s, looking up at her. “Don’t be sad, Clara. It’s time to make cookies.”
I let Ema lead Clara away to the kitchen and I opened up the piano to search for a buzz we’d been hearing – and found a penny tucked near the pedals. I hammered around to make sure that was all, then closed it back up and slipped the penny into my pocket.
Emily and Clara’s laughter and Ema’s squeals drifted over from the kitchen and I smiled. Emily had changed so much. We had all changed so much. I couldn’t believe the café had only come into existence a short time before Thanksgiving. It seemed like I had known them forever.
“Walter, come help us decorate!” Clara called.
“Come on!” Ema echoed.
I was surprised Clara had invited me over first. I glanced at her when I stepped behind the counter, and we shared a smile.