Standing in the living room of her childhood home for the first time in the two months since her fatherís death, Yvette listened to her Aunt Minaís voice on the phone.
"Please my dear, I donít think it is a good idea for you to be alone so soon after Philippe's passing. Especially at this time of year, itís just a few days to Christmas. You should have stayed here with us."
Yvette tried not to let the pain show in her voice. "No, really, Iím fine. I have too many thing to get straight before the end of the year Ė,"
"But, Yvette, I know that your father wouldnít want you to be alone," Yvette could hear that her aunt was off on one of her weeping fits. "Philippe loved you so, you know. You were his light, his Ė," her voice left off on a strangled note.
Yvette felt the weight of her sadness push down on her. "Please, Youíre going to make me cry again, and I canít stand crying anymore. Anyway, Iím not alone. I told you, my friend Elise is here with me, you remember Lissy." Yvette tried to keep her emotions in check. So much had happened in these past months. There was so much to try and take in.
"Iím sorry, I am not a help to you. I canít be brave about my big brother dying, and I know Philippe would not be happy with me for the way I am acting. I apologize, Yvette."
Frustration took over. "No, auntie, really, donít apologize. Youíve been wonderful to me. You always have." She could hear her aunt blowing her nose. Yvette had heard that enough over the past months to last a lifetime. "I really have to go, I have an appointment with Monsieur Arnolt, poppaís lawyer next week and I still have to find some of poppaís papers. Theyíre in his office someplace, but I have no idea where to look."
Yvette then noticed that a small Christmas tree had been set up in the living room. She supposed Lissy did it.
Her aunt sniffed a few more times. "Yes, dear, I know that you have a lot to do. Your father was always in charge of the familyís finances, and youíre so young - " her voice became strangled with tears again.
This conversation wasnít doing either of them any good.
"I must go now," Yvette said, "I got to the house a little while ago and Iím tired. Elise and I went shopping and weíre going to have some dinner now."
"Yes, dear," her aunt sniffed loudly, "Of course you should eat something and get your rest, but you must promise me that youíll call if you need anything. Anything at all, after all I am your aunt and I love you."
Yvette felt her throat close a little as she nearly started crying again. The truth was that she had no real aunt, and poppa wasnít really her poppa. She swallowed hard, "Yes, I love you too, and I promise I will call if I need anything. Goodbye."
Yvette set the phone down and stared at it. Tears started to slide down her face once again. She wiped them off with her fingers.
"Vette," Elise had come up behind her, and she felt her friendís hands patting her on the back, "Donít worry about crying in front of me, weíve done worse in front of each other."
It was so good to have Lissy with her again. Yvette turned to her friend, feeling a strange giggle start to rise in her chest. "Youíre not going to bring up that bad chili in camp story?"
Elise, all five foot ten of her, grinned down at Yvette. "Hey, you were the one to bring up the chili that time!"
Abruptly, Yvette felt tears start again. "You know, this is the first time I felt like laughing since this all happened. Bless you for that, Lissy. Maybe I should have come back to the house and started my life again sooner."
"Aw, Vette," Elise took yet another paper tissue from the pocket of her loose green sweater and handed it over. "Iím not going to tell you to stop crying, let it out if you want, but Iíve gotta tell you," she put an arm around Yvette shoulder, and Yvette felt like weeping at the gentle touch, "Your nose is bright red and you never did look real good when you cried."
Yvette smacked Lissyís arm away then and snorted a laugh, "You are so kind,"
"Yep, thatís me." She shook her head and Yvette noticed that Lissy had started to tear up too.
Immediately she began to feel bad, "Donít cry Lissy, Iíll stop weeping. Really, it wonít do any good for both of us to have stuffed noses."
Elise cleared her throat Ė loudly. "No, you let me wail away when my mother died last year, the least I can do is let you use up every box of tissues that I bought today. We can do a marathon cry later. You know I loved your poppa too. He was so good to me while we were growing up."
Yvette shook her head, "I know you cared about them both, like I cared about your parents. Letís not cry anymore today." Yvette stood up straighter, "Iíve got a better idea. Letís get some coffee or open a bottle of wine."
Lissy took her arm, "Sounds like the best idea youíve had all day. Anyway I want more information about this Robert McCall being your biological father. Itís not such a terrible thing, I suppose, you did tell me you liked him the last time you met. You really admired him as I recall."
Yvette felt a stab of anger. She pulled away from her friend. "I didnít know I was related to him last time, I didnít know that he was the one who made everything I knew about my life a lie!" she yelled so loudly she startled herself. Yvette glared at her friend, expecting an argument.
Lissy frowned, but her voice was gentle and calm, "Yes, I know. We both know that. I just thought we might talk about everything."
The anger was diminishing, but she still felt her viewpoint whirling. "God, Lissy! Look, I donít want to talk about him now. Iím still not sure how I feel. My poppa will always be my dad to me, but I know Robert is my father too. I canít control my feelings right now. I canít get my emotions straight! Iím angry with my parents for not telling me about me. Iím angry at my mother for . . ." Suddenly a longing erupted in her chest and it felt as if her heart had torn in half. A moan escaped and she bent over, crying hysterically.
"Oh my God," Yvette heard Lissyís voice rise in panic, "Whatís wrong? Vette, tell me!"
Feeling herself sink to the floor, Yvette heard herself give out great gulps of shuddering sobs. "My mom . . ."
Then she felt Lissyís arms around her, holding her tightly. "Vette, come on, get up. Letís go to the couch."
Yvette felt herself rise and Lissyís strong hands were guiding her across the room. She couldnít get her mouth to work; all she could do was moan.
"Take deep breaths!" Lissyís voice was harsh. "Listen to me. Take slow deep breaths or Iím going to have to hit you and I donít want to! The last time I did that you hit me back!"
Yvette felt a laugh rise in her body, and then it wasnít laughing. She couldnít stop herself. She felt a scream rip out of her that turned into tears. Lissy left her side for a moment and came back with a washcloth and shoved it on Yvetteís face. It was wet and very cold. Yvette felt her breath hitch and then she hiccupped and found she could quiet down.
She felt Lissyís arms around her, holding tightly. "What is it? Tell me. Is it that youíre angry with your parents for not telling you who your father really was? Is that it?"
"No. Yes. No. Iím angry but, but. . . " She wiped her face on the washcloth and noticed all the make-up that had come off her face. She didnít care, she felt like hell so she might as well look it.
"Lissy," Yvette took a very deep breath. "This is the first time Iíve let myself think about this. I couldnít tell my aunt what happened; I donít know what she knows about my paternity. I couldnít talk about what happened. Oh Lissy, my mom might still be alive!"
"What?" Lissyís eyes were wide open.
She nodded her head and couldnít stop herself from talking, faster and louder. "Yes! A woman in New York said she was my mother and she was with this madman named Trent who wanted to kill Robert and Ė," Yvette knew she wasnít making much sense, "Trent was the one who first contacted poppa and made him crazy, telling him that my mother was still alive and Ė,"
"Stop Vette, stop now!" Lissy shouted, "I canít understand you. Youíre saying your Mom is alive but she didnít come back with you?"
With great difficulty Yvette managed to inhale and calm down. "Yes, but Robert says it was all a setup and she wasnít my mom, but I think she might be." Yvette brought the washcloth to her face and rubbed it hard, then glanced at her friend to see if Lissy thought she was crazy.
Lissy was shaking her head, a confused expression on her face, "Did you see her?"
Yvette put the cloth down and a growing sense of depression filled her. "I saw her. It looked like mama; but older, tired and worn out," tears started to fill her eyes again. Yvette swiped at them, "But it really looked like my mama."
Lissy looked stricken. "What did she say to you?"
"I only spoke to her once. It was the only time I saw her. She was on a pay phone outside Robertís apartment, calling Robert for help. She didnít say anything to me, but I saw her out of the window. I called to her and I rushed out, but she was gone."
"Your mother heard your voice but didnít wait to talk to you?"
"No, Robert said the woman was brainwashed by Trent who took her prisoner in the Soviet Union." Yvette felt like laughing hysterically again. The story she had to tell was too strange. "My mom was a spy when she was young! Mama worked with Robert as a spy in the sixties and thatís how I was conceived. And she was going to help Robert five years ago when she went on that plane. The woman said that the Soviets shot it down and took her captive."
She looked at her friend, waiting to see her reaction. When Lissy just stared back, Yvette lost her energy again and hung her head. "Or that all could have been a lie and my mother really did die in the plane crash five years ago. It sounds like a bad novel, I know. Iím so tired Lissy, so confused and sad. So much happened, so many horrible things happened."
Lissy stood up, "Come on, lie down on the couch and then Iíll make us something to eat. Food calms a person down."
Yvette shook her head. "Iím OK, I donít need any food. Iíll be OK." But she started to shiver.
"Whoís talking about you? I need nourishment or Iíll fall into a faint! Come on; put your feet up, Vette. Iíll be right back from the kitchen and we can talk about Ė or not talk about Ė anything you want."
A weight seemed to lift off her chest, leave it to Lissy to see things clearly. She was the one person Yvette could trust with the full story. She still hadnít told her aunt what she found out about her poppa, much less anything else. "No, Iím fine. Letís get to the kitchen. I want hot coffee, then Iíll tell you everything."
They walked into the kitchen. Yvette saw that Lissy had unpacked and put away all of the groceries while she had been on the phone. Yvette looked around. Everything was clean. She guessed Lissy had been the one to put up the tree in the living room and to keep up the house after she had followed poppa to New York those months ago. Maybe her aunt had said something about Lissy looking after the house, but Yvette couldnít remember.
Yvette suddenly didnít have any energy to do more than sit down at the table.
Lissy patted her back. "Iíll get the coffee going. Do you want a salad or some of the roasted chicken we bought, or just some fruit?"
"Thank you for everything, I mean it Lissy. Youíre the one who closed up the house werenít you? And took care of all the bills?"
"Donít worry Hun," Lissy measured coffee into the filter basket, "Monsieur Arnolt made all the arrangements and signed off on everything. I just did the mail and stuff."
"And cleaned up? But you hate to clean."
Lissy laughed and finished with the coffee maker, "I didnít do a great
job, I just picked up the noticeable stuff. Youíre going to have to sweep
under the carpets to get it truly clean." She stopped for a moment, "I
thought you should have a Christmas tree. At first I didnít want one when my
mom died, but you insisted, remember?"
"And you were right, it made me feel better, and made it easier to have one this year.
Yvette looked around the brightly lit kitchen again. Everything felt off and strange. "It doesnít feel right at all. I feel as if Iíve been gone for years, not two months. Everything is changed." She felt a lump in her throat again, and tears filled her eyes, "It doesnít feel like home without either of my parents."
"Itís hard Vette. I know. After my mom died everything was strange. Oh I was depressed, her end was so bad you know, and nothing felt right for a while."
"This isnít home," Yvette felt hot tears inch down her cheeks and her nose started to run. She picked up a paper napkin and wiped at them. "I guess I donít have a real home anymore."
Lissy set a bowl of fruit down on the table. "Cry if you want to, but I have a trick I used when my parents were both gone and I felt all alone. Wanna hear it?"
"Itís probably not at all healthy, but it got me past all those bad nights when I couldnít sleep and could only feel as if I was falling into an abyss of despair." She sat down opposite Yvette. "I told myself that they had just gone on a trip for a while, and that theyíd be home soon."
Yvette thought about that idea.
Lissy pressed on, "Your parents traveled a lot, right?"
"Yes," Yvette managed to get the word out.
"The house also felt empty when they were traveling. Tell yourself that theyíre just on another trip and will get home soon. Think about it that way. Go ahead."
It was childish. It was trying to fool herself, and it wasnít the mature thing to do, but . . . "Just gone to France for the winter, right," she repeated out loud, "Just on a vacation, like every year since I became eighteen and they let me stay home alone when I wanted to."
The room seemed to come into focus and she felt better. Much better. The house almost felt right again.
Then reality forced its way back, the heaviness in her chest returned and the house felt strange again.
"Didnít work," Yvette said,
Lissy smiled. "Keep trying. Youíd be surprised. It helped me so much."
Yvette did feel a little better. "Itís a lie," she said aloud and the sharpness of the pain came back again.
"Itís a way to cope. And little by little youíll feel better without lying to yourself. Itís a way to get over the worst."
Fear suddenly clenched at Yvetteís stomach, "What if that woman actually was my mother and now sheís somewhere all alone too?" That was the first time she said that thought out loud.
"From what you told me Vette, it wasnít your mother."
"How can you be so sure? How can you know?" Yvette found she was shouting and hit her fist on the table. "You didnít see her. I did and . . ." suddenly she wasnít angry. She could hardly hold her head up. She put her arms on the table and set her face down on top of them, "Oh Lissy, Iím sorry. Iím all over the place."
"You have every right to be emotional, but like I said, my vote says itís not your mom."
Hope burst on Yvette. Lissy had a good head on her shoulders. "Are you just saying that? All I told you was that I saw her for a second and she didnít say anything to me at all."
Lissy nodded. "Thatís why I think sheís not your mom. I grew up with you; Iíve known your mother almost all my life. Your mom loved you fiercely, Iím telling you. No mind washing, no drugs, nothing would keep her away from you. If that woman were your mom, she would have fought Heaven and Hell to get to you." Lissyís eyes filed with tears, "Oh no, Iím crying now." She grabbed a paper napkin. "She loved you too much to ever have her connection with you cut, by anybody. I know that."
Yvette sat up in the chair, staring at her friendís face trying to read if she were telling the truth. "You really think so?"
"Yes, definitely," Lissy pushed a bowl of fruit toward her. "Eat something, Vette, and donít apologize to me when you get upset. I became a complete basket case when I had to cope with the death of my mother, I canít fathom what youíre going through with all the other stuff on top of what happened to your poppa."
"I just feel so alone. So horribly alone. Itís been two months. I should be feeling better. Doing better."
The doorbell rang and Yvette suddenly wished that her parents were at the door.
Lissy was looking at her, "Itís almost eight pm, are you expecting anybody?"
"No, but I bet itís Vivian from next door. She would have seen us come in."
"She helped me clean the house yesterday, getting it ready for you to come home," Lissy said, "Sheís probably going to want to offer her condolences."
"And probably ask me over to look at her Christmas decorations, the way I have every year since my family moved into this house." She felt so tired. "I canít, not right now. Can you get the door and tell her that Iím resting and will see her tomorrow? Maybe Iíll feel better then, not so unsteady."
Lissy was already walking out of the kitchen, "No problem. Sheís a sweet old lady. Sheíll understand."
When Lissy left the room, Yvette noticed the coffee was ready. She stood up and was amazed that her legs felt so heavy. Grabbing a mug from the cupboard, she thought she heard some talk from the entryway. Vivian might have brought a plate of her Christmas fudge over. Yvette made a mental note to see her neighbor the next day.
The door to the kitchen burst open.
"Vette, "Lissy said a little breathlessly, "Someoneís here to see you!"
Suddenly the doorway was filled with the tall and substantial form of Scott McCall!
Scott was carrying a pile of Christmas decorated and beribboned boxes. His face, beaming with a cheerful smile found her and its brightness seemed to shoot up another notch or two.
"Hi, Yvette! Merry Christmas!" Scottís voice rang out.
"Oh!" Yvette couldnít believe he was there. Her heart felt as if it would burst with gladness. "Scott!" Almost as if she was filled with bright lights herself, she ran towards him. Lissy rescued most of the packages he was carrying before Yvette threw her arms around him.
She buried her face in his broad chest and felt his big arms surround her in a bear hug.
"Merry Christmas, sis."
Yvette heard his voice through his chest; she was squeezing him so tightly. Her heart was full and she started to sob. Scott held her even tighter.
She heard Lissy laugh. "Heís really your brother?"
Yvette managed to lift her head back and smile at Scott. He was looking down at her with a sweet, goofy grin. "Yes, Lissy. I was going to tell you later, I was saving the best news for last."
Scott leaned his forehead on Yvetteís and his smile poured such warmth into her that her whole body filled up.
"You shouldnít leave your front door open," Yvette heard Robert McCallís cultured voice and she twisted around to see him walk in the kitchen door. "Just about any sort of person can walk in."
Dizziness hit Yvette with such a force that she could only hang on to Scott to stand upright.
With a small, almost embarrassed smile on his face, Robert shrugged. "I know you told me not to bother to come to see you for the holidays, but Ė,"
"I told him I was coming to see you no matter what." Scott broke in, "No way was I going to miss spending the first Christmas with my sister!" He hugged her tightly, "Get used to me, Yvette, I tend to act with my heart before I use my head," and then he kissed her cheek.
Robert shrugged, "We made motel reservations and drove to see you on Scottís whim. I hope we arenít interrupting your holiday," he said gently, as he held one hand out to her.
"Oh father!" Yvette sobbed, surprising herself that she called him that, then she flung herself into Robertís arms.
The moment she felt his hug engulf her, heard him murmur soothing sounds at her, smelled his light cologne and rested her head on his chest, a sense of peace and safety surrounded Yvette.
His arms felt like home.
She let herself luxuriate in that for a few long moments.
"Hi," She heard Lissyís voice, "Iím Vetteís oldest friend, Elise LaFont."
Without letting go, Yvette turned her head and looked at Lissy and Scott. "Sorry everybody, thatís Lissy, my best friend." She nodded at Scott, "And thatís my brother Scott and this is Robert McCall, my Ė," suddenly she felt shy at saying the word, father.
Lissy burst in, "Yes, Vette, I got the idea. Heís your father and this is your brother." Scott put his hand out to shake and Lissy took his arm instead. "They arenít going to stay at any motel, are they, Vette?"
"No, I insist," Robert said while holding on to Yvette, "I donít want to intrude. After all, we have invited ourselves."
"No need to argue about it just yet," Lissy was taking charge, Yvette recognized her purposeful tone, "Vette and I just made coffee and were about to eat something. We can have a nice dinner in the dining room and discuss it later." She looked at Yvette, "If youíll let go of Mr. McCall, the men can go and refresh themselves and then sit at the table. You and I can bring out something to eat."
Robert shook his head, "We donít want to put you to any bother."
"Yes thanks, Iím really hungry," Scott interrupted, "Dad wouldnít let me stop at any fast-food place on the road to get a quick bite. Iím famished!"
"Yes," Yvette finally found her voice. "I want you to stay and eat something, at least. Please."
"Iíll take your coats," Lissy was already pulling Scottís jacket off," Then you both can get comfy. Oh, are your bags in the car?"
Yvette noticed that the weight of Robertís arm felt wonderful on her shoulders as he spoke, "Iím afraid that Scott insisted we drive here before we got settled in at the motel. The bags are still in the car."
Lissy threw Scottís coat back at him. "You two go get the bags. Itís not a good idea to leave them outside."
Grinning, Scott winked at Yvette, "Sheís certainly bossy,"
Lissy laughed, "Yes I am and youíd better get used to me too! Vette and I are inseparable. Go get the bags!"
To Yvette, Robert looked as if he was going to protest, but Lissy was already pushing the men out of the kitchen.
Yvette heard them go out the front door when Lissy turned to her, "Iím going to forgive you for not telling about Scott. I forgive you because Iím accepting him as my Christmas present for this year. Heís gorgeous!"
"Lissy!" Yvette couldnít help but giggle at the high color and look of excitement on her friendís face, "Behave!"
Lissy grinned back at Yvette. "Iím so happy youíre smiling again. Anyway, havenít we always dreamed of being sisters? If I marry Scott we can be." Lissy made an exaggerated sigh, "If only to make you happy, Vette. Iíd force myself to accept being made love to by that big, blond, hunk of an Adonis."
Yvette giggled again. "You are so bad, Lissy."
Vamping dramatically, Lissy batted her eyelashes and primped her hair, "Just remember to tell Scott that." They heard the McCallís reenter the house. She faced Yvette. "And you are going to make them remain here for the holiday. Make sure they stay, Vette. After all, theyíre family." She pushed through the door.
Yvette got a glimpse at both men taking their coats off, standing in the front hallway surrounded by suitcases and more gifts.
Suddenly the house felt warm and full of the people she loved. She thought of her poppaís last few moments on earth, and how hard he fought to get the truth of her paternity to her. She realized that he wanted this. He wanted his daughter to know her real father and for them to become part of each otherís lives
"Yes, theyíre my family," she spoke the words out loud and knew it was true.
Once again, the house felt like home.