Why Me?

Chapter Fifty-Four

Mom's Christmas breakfast was as memorable as any of her other meals. There were waffles, swimming in cherry syrup, and with a big dab of fresh whipped cream, there were eggs, cooked to order, sausage patties, bacon, and ham slices, cut into smaller pieces. We all ate and ate, as if this might be our last meal!

When we dragged ourselves away from the table, Mom, Annie and Trisha began the cleanup, and we herded the kids into the living room. Tom hunted on the TV and found 'Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer' just starting. The kids settled on the carpet to watch it, and we just sat there looking at each other. I couldn't speak for anyone else, but I was stuffed, and I was getting drowsy.

Apparently, I wasn't the only one. Mike poked me and pointed toward his Dad. Tom's head was drooping forward, and he was slumped in his chair. In a couple of minutes he was snoring gently. Mike and Milo were grinning.

Mike chuckled. "Every Christmas! Mom's breakfast always gets to him!" Milo just grinned and nodded. As soon as Annie and Trisha appeared, we got up, ready to leave. The kids, intent on their TV show, just waved and wished us a merry Christmas, before returning to Rudolph's adventures. Tom was still snoring gently.

We went out to the kitchen. Annie and Trisha went in and got the twins dressed to go, then came out and handed them to Milo and Mark, while they got their own jackets. We all thanked Mom for breakfast, hugged her and wished her a merry Christmas. We grabbed our jackets and headed out into the cold. Milo and Trisha were carrying the twins. He would come back later to pick up the older kids. We said our goodbyes and set off through the sparkling landscape on our way home.

I had been sleepy in the house, especially after the big breakfast we had eaten, but the chill woke me up quickly. By the time we got home, I was starting to shiver. Mike looked at me.

"I think we need to get you to bed and warm you up!" We hung up our coats and went straight to the bedroom. When we got there, he undressed me and pushed me into bed. Then he dropped his own clothes, slipped in beside me and began tickling me.

" I guess I'm not as sleepy as I thought! How about you?" I just grinned at him.

When we finally got to sleep, I slept warm, snuggled against Mike. We slept until late afternoon. It was getting dark, the winter sunset already past. We yawned and stretched. Then Mike turned to me.

"Merry Christmas, Davie. This is the best Christmas of my life, because I'm spending it with you." He kissed me gently. I couldn't answer him; the lump in my throat was too big. I just hugged him close and kissed him back. I had to agree with him though; this was the best Christmas of my life.

We got up and dressed. Then we went out to the kitchen and rummaged through the fridge to find something for supper. While I was heating it up in the microwave, Mike put on the coffee pot. When dinner was ready, we sat down and ate quickly. Then I got up to clear the table, and Mike went in to the living room. There were a couple of minutes of silence before I heard Christmas music drifting out, as I washed the few dishes we had used and cleaned up the kitchen. I refilled our coffee cups and took them into the living room. Mike was sitting on the couch with a big grin on his face.

"I thought you'd never get in here!" He patted the couch next to him.

"I'll be right there, Mike. I've got to do something first." I went into the bedroom and pawed around in my underwear drawer until I found the little jeweler's box wrapped in pretty Christmas paper. I slipped it into my pocket and went back to the living room. I sat down next to Mike, and he slipped his arm around my shoulders.

"This is a really special Christmas for me, Davie. Are you feeling better about the whole idea of Christmas now?" His smile was warm and loving.

Yes, I have to admit that my attitude has changed a lot in the last few days. It really is a special Christmas, being here with you." I fished around in my pocket and pulled out the jeweler's box. "I happened to be in the jewelry store the other day, and I saw this. I hope you like it." (I happened to be in the jewelry store, because I was hunting for something special for Mike!) "Merry Christmas, Mike!"

He was grinning, but he had tears in his eyes. "Thank you, Davie!" He tore off the wrapping paper and tossed it on the coffee table. I had to grin, thinking of Peter opening his presents. When Mike opened the box, he gasped.

"How did you know, Davie? I've wanted one of these for ages, but just never got around to getting one." He lifted a small, sterling silver crucifix on a silver chain from the box, kissed the crucifix, and clutched it in his hand. He leaned over and gave me a long, tender kiss. As he did, he was fishing in his pocket.

When he broke the kiss, he handed me a box that was almost the twin of the one I had given him. "Funny that you should mention it! I just happened to be in the jewelry store a few days ago, and I saw this. I hope you'll like it, even half as much as I like my crucifix!"

I grinned and ripped off the paper. What the hell! Peter had the right idea! I opened the box and found an ID bracelet with 'Davie' engraved on the the silver center plate, flanked by heavy links of silver chains. Mike chuckled.

"You should have seen the jeweler's face when I told him what I wanted on the back! He almost swallowed his tongue, but he engraved it!"

I turned the bracelet over. 'All my love. Mike.' I burst into tears. He held me and stroked my back, as I cried. I don't think I've ever been so happy in my life. Mike took my hand and clasped the bracelet around my wrist. I picked up the crucifix and hooked the chain around his neck. We just snuggled on the couch and listened to Christmas music until bedtime. Then we cuddled close and 'slept in heavenly peace.'

A pale sun was peeking into our window, when I woke up. As I moved my hand, I felt a strange weight on my wrist and looked down at the shining silver bracelet there. I turned toward Mike and saw the silver crucifix gleaming against the tan of his chest. I smiled; it was a perfect Christmas—and it wasn't over yet! Little Christmas, dinner with the family. Boy, the Dorczeks really know how to celebrate Christmas!

Mike was still sleeping soundly, so I went into the bathroom. I took off my new bracelet and laid it on the edge of the sink before I stepped into the shower. I didn't think the shower would hurt it, but I wasn't taking any chances with my precious new gift. When I finished in the bathroom, I went back into the bedroom. Mike was still asleep, so I got dressed and went to the kitchen to make coffee.

When the coffee was ready, I poured myself a cup and sat down. I had just taken a couple of sips, when there was a knock on the front door. It was Tom, looking cold and disgusted.

"I'll sure be glad, when you guys get your phone in! It's colder than a brass monkey out here!"

"Come on in, Tom! Have a cup of coffee to warm yourself up!"

"I probably shouldn't, but what the hell! It's really cold out there today!" He stomped the snow off his shoes and came in. I poured him a cup of coffee, and we sat down at the kitchen table. We were on our second cup, when Mike came mumbling into the kitchen, still naked. Tom chuckled.

"Good thing I talked your mother out of coming over here to get you guys!"

Mike suddenly realized that his Dad was in the room, talking to him. "Oh, Lord! I'm sorry, Dad!" He scurried into the bedroom and returned a few minutes later, decently clothed. Tom was still chuckling. I didn't want to laugh at Mike's embarrassment, but it was a real struggle not to laugh! I got up and poured him a cup of coffee, and he sat down to join us.

Tom turned to me. "When are you guys going to get a phone?"

"They promised that someone would be here this coming Monday to install it. We're going to have to stick around the house until they get here."

Well, give us a call, when you've got phone service. And are you keeping the same number?"

"That's what the lady told me, but we'll know for sure when they come to install it."

"Well, that'll be good. Just let us know, OK?" He finished his coffee and got up to leave. He was almost to the door, when he stopped suddenly and turned around.

"I was so surprised at seeing my son so...uh, exposed...that I almost forgot to tell you why I came over. Mom wants you to come over for breakfast. There's a whole bunch of waffle batter left over from yesterday that she wants to use up. She already called Milo's family and Annie and Mark. They'll be there, too. And, Mike, please be sure you're dressed before you leave the house! It's damn cold out there this morning!" He was still chuckling, as he went out and closed the door.

Mike just sat there, shaking his head. "I'm never going to live this down, you know." I couldn't hold it any longer; I burst out laughing.

I don't know which of you had the more surprised look on your face!" He gave me a dirty look.

"Thanks, pal. I knew I could count on you for sympathy." I finally stopped laughing enough so I could talk.

"But you never come out like that! Why this morning, of all times?"

"I was still half asleep, OK?" He just wasn't seeing the humor in the situation.

"Well, you're dressed now, and you seem to be awake. Should we get ready and go over to the house for breakfast?" He just grunted, as I got up to turn off the coffee pot and put our cups into the sink.

We were glad for our warm jackets, when we went outside. It was a beautiful morning, but our breath was curling around our heads, and the snow crunched under our feet. I was really thankful that Mike had cleaned the walks yesterday.

We stomped the snow off our feet and went in, kicking our shoes off and into the corner behind the door. Mom looked up from the sink, where she was washing vegetables and gave us a big grin. From the twinkle in her eyes, I was sure that Tom had told her what happened, but she never said a word about it. She greeted us both with big hugs and sent us in to keep Tom company. He was still grinning, as we walked in. He looked Mike up and down, but didn't say anything further on the subject. Mike's face was really red!

Tom had apparently been watching a talk show on TV, but he shut it off. "I get so sick of listening to these people who have all the answers, when they don't have a clue what the questions are!"

We talked about work for a few minutes. Then Mark came in and joined us. "I came to join the exiles. Men are banished from the kitchen!" As we talked, I noticed that he was wearing a ring I had never seen him wear before. I had to comment on it.

"New ring, Mark?" He grinned and blushed.

"Yeah, it's a Christmas present from Annie. She saw it and decided I needed it."

Mike looked at the ring. "Yeah, and what did you see that she needed?"

Mark's blush was deeper now. "Um, well...she had been looking at some really fancy underwear, so I got her some."

Mike looked at me. "Do you think this marriage can be saved?" Poor Mark would have crawled under the carpet, if he could. Tom was chuckling now.

"I've learned a lot more about some of the members of my family than I really wanted to know, this morning!" He shook his head. "I think I need a little more coffee." He got up and went out to the kitchen. Mike and Mark were studying the carpet. Both of them had red faces. I tried to think of something to say.

Just as Tom returned, we heard the thunder of the kids' feet on the back steps. The back door burst open, and we could hear Trisha: "Shoes!" There was a pause and Milo's "Hey, hang up your....!" The three kids burst into the living room and rushed over to hug Grandpa. Then they came over to give all the uncles hugs, all the while bubbling over with the fun they were having with their new Christmas toys. Terry slipped up next to me, waiting for me to pick her up. I did, and she nestled in my lap with a happy sigh.

"Hi, Uncle Davie. I loved the things you gave me. How did you know that yellow is my favorite color?" I realized that she was wearing the yellow blouse that Annie had bought, and I had wrapped. She hugged me quickly. "I really love it!"

I hugged her back. "Yellow is sunshine, isn't it? And sunshine makes us happy. You have a sunshine smile, so you needed a yellow blouse. Your smile makes me happy, makes everyone happy around you." I hugged her again and kissed her cheek. She blushed and snuggled closer to me. Mom walked into the room just then and looked around. Noticing Terry on my lap, she smiled.

"I've got the girls slaving in the kitchen, so I thought I'd come in and warn everyone that you've got just time to wash your hands. Breakfast is about ready." She turned and disappeared into the kitchen again.

Milo took the little ones to the downstairs bathroom to wash. Mark and Mike headed upstairs. Tom looked over at me with a big grin on his face.

"Quite a motley crew we've got here, don't you think? I hope that you and Annie realize that you've been adopted into the family. And I think Mark's going to be a good addition to the family." He leaned forward with a conspiratorial look on his face.

"I never got to know that guy she was married to before, but I wasn't very impressed with him."

I wasn't feeling too charitable toward Paul at the moment. "You're lucky you didn't get to know him. You'd have been even less impressed!"

He nodded. "That's what I thought. But let's get out there, before Sofia comes looking for us again. When she says a meal is ready, she means now!" He grinned, as he got up and headed toward the bathroom, which the kids had now emptied. I followed him.

Breakfast was a re-run of yesterday, too much food, and all of it delicious. I had to keep reminding myself that we had a big dinner coming up, so that I wouldn't overeat. When we finished breakfast, Milo invited Mark, Mike and me over to their house. We could talk upstairs, while the kids were down in the playroom. Mike and I looked at each other and grinned, remembering the last time we were there. Tom was invited, too, but he decided to stay home with the TV (and, if yesterday was any example, maybe a nap, too).

When we got to the house, the kids walked quietly up the back steps, in contrast to their noisy rush up the steps at Grandpa's house. We went in, and they slipped off their shoes and set them in a neat row in the corner. The girls took off their coats and hung them on hooks above their shoes. Peter ripped his jacket off and tossed it, inside out, on the floor by the shoes, but a loud clearing of his Dad's throat stopped him in his headlong rush toward the stairs, and he came back with a resigned sigh, picked up his coat and turned it right-side out, then hung it on a hook above his shoes. He looked at his Dad, who smiled and nodded. The girls were already on their way down to the playroom, so he joined them. Milo grinned at us and shrugged.

"They're learning, but Peter sometimes forgets the rules." Mike and I just looked at each other and grinned. Mike said, "I'm amazed. They're so different here than they are at Mom's and Dad's house."

Milo sighed. "We try, but the folks spoil them outrageously. We've tried to talk to them, but Mom just tells us that it's their right, as grandparents, and Dad just grins and nods. I don't know how we're going to teach them better manners, when they let them get away with murder!"

Mike chuckled. "You seem to have forgotten how it was, when we were growing up. Mom and Dad were the same way with us, but Grandfather and Grandmother let us get away with a lot of things, too. And I'm surprised that both of us don't weigh five hundred pounds, the way Grandmother stuffed us with cookies and stuff, when Mom and Dad weren't looking!"

Milo sighed. "I really don't remember Grandmother all that well. I was so young when she died."

"Well, I was only eleven. I've forgotten a lot, but I remember her always having cookies and hugs to pass out, whenever we showed up. Mom and Dad could never understand why we always wanted to go over to their house after school."

Mark was listening, a big smile on his face. "My grandmother was like that, too. Mom used to holler at us about eating between meals, but Grandma always had cookies and milk for us, when we came over to her house. Of course, we didn't live right next door, so we didn't see her as often as you guys saw your Grandma."

Milo corrected him with a grin. "We were never allowed to call her Grandma. It was always 'Grandmother' and 'Grandfather.' That was the old, formal, European way. You had to show proper manners and politeness to older people. Our parents always insisted on it. But, you've noticed that they both encourage our kids to call them 'Grandma' and 'Grandpa.' Hey, anyone want a cup of coffee?"

Mike chuckled. "I thought you'd never ask!"

Milo put the coffee pot on to brew, and we sat down around the table. Mark was looking a little sad.

"You know, Christmas is the time I miss my brother, Jimmy, most. It was always such a special time for us, and we had fun playing with our new toys together. We were really close, closer, I think, than a lot of the brothers we knew. They seemed to fight all the time, but we never fought with each other. He was always the quiet one, a little shy, and some of the bigger kids used to pick on him. I got in a lot of fights, protecting him from the bullies in school. He was my brother, and I loved him. I never minded all the punishment I got for fighting, both at school and at home. It was for Jimmy, and that was all I cared about. He's my brother, and I had to protect him." He sighed, and a few tears forced their way under his eyelids. "It broke my heart, when he went away and cut off contact with us. I understood, but I thought he knew how I felt, and I kept hoping that he'd at least call me, or write me, to let me know that he was OK." He turned away and wiped his eyes.

Milo got up, got cups from the cupboard and poured our coffee. He brought the cups to the table and set them in front of us. The pause gave Mark a chance to recover, and we continued our chat, talking about the plans for the wedding. Mark was visibly excited, but he was nervous, too. I guess, having been hurt so badly by his first wife, he was a little afraid to try again. I could sympathize with him; Annie was in much the same state. After the fiasco with Paul, she wasn't as sure of herself as the Annie I had known growing up had been. But even I could see the differences. Where Paul seemed to think only of himself and the impression he made on others, Mark's concern was for making Annie happy. It looked like a great change for both of them, and I was really happy for them.

We were in the middle of our second—or was it third?--cup of coffee, when the phone rang. Milo answered it, and when he came back to the kitchen, he called downstairs to the kids, "OK, guys, get the toys picked up. We've got to get ready to go to Grandma's house for dinner." He came back and joined us at the table. We could hear the hushed voices and the sounds of toys being dropped into the toy box, as the kids hurried to obey their Dad. Mike and I looked at each other. He chuckled.

"I guess we just didn't have the right tone of authority, Davie!"

When they were finished downstairs, the three little ones came up and went to get their shoes. They sat down on the floor to put them on, then stood up and got their coats. We all got up and put our cups in the sink. Then we got our jackets, too, and we were ready to go. We herded the kids across the lawn to Tom's house. Milo reminded them about taking off their shoes in Grandma's house, and we went inside.

Trisha and Annie were bustling back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room, carrying dishes of food. Mom was at the counter, adding some last-minute touches to a cold plate of sliced, raw vegetables. She looked up.

"Go on in, guys. Tom's all ready to carve the meat, and everything else is ready, so we can eat."

When I walked into the dining room, I stopped so suddenly that Mike ran into me. We just stood there, looking at the table. It was set with Mom's best china and silver, and there were linen napkins at each place, even for the kids. There were filled water goblets and wine glasses at every place that looked familiar. Annie giggled behind me.

"I told Mom about your new stemware, and Trish and I went over and borrowed it for dinner. Looks nice, don't you think?" It did look nice.

Grandfather's place was set, as always, but his water glass and wine glass were empty. In the middle of his plate stood a bud vase, with two perfect, white rose buds in it. Tom was standing at his usual place. There were a turkey carcass and a ham in front of him. The turkey was already carved, and the meat lay in piles on plates. The ham was still waiting to be carved, and there was a plate for the slices. Tom grinned at us.

"I figured I'd better get a head start, so we can eat before everything gets cold!" He motioned for us to come on in. I looked at the table, every square inch covered with dishes of food. I understood now why the table was so massive. It had to be, or it might have collapsed under the weight of the dinner spread out before us.

Mike leaned forward and whispered in my ear, "I told ya so!" I just shook my head in disbelief. We took our places at the table, and Mom, Annie and Trisha joined us.

Tom stood and offered the Czech blessing. His words went on longer than usual. It seemed that he was asking blessing on our family, as well as on the food. Then he picked up the carving knife and fork and began slicing the ham. I glanced over at Mark. He was as amazed and interested as I was at Tom's skill and technique. The slices fell away from the ham, and he lifted them onto the serving plate. When the pile of ham slices on the plate threatened to slip off, he laid down the knife and fork on the edge of the ham platter and sat down. Trisha quickly filled plates for the little ones. The twins were sleeping in their beds behind their parents. When she finished and sat down, it seemed to be a signal. Everyone reached for the nearest dish, took a serving, and passed the dish on. The Dorczek family Christmas dinner had begun.

Editor's Notes:

I am sure that everyone will be totally amazed, but I am having to wipe my eyes. It must be my allergies. Yeah, that's it; Men don't cry. Bull Twinkies. That was a very powerful chapter. All I can say about that is that Arli really knows how to tell a story.

I hope that somehow, Mark's little brother finds out about the wedding and manages to get there. I bet he misses Mark as much as Mark misses him.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher.