“He fired you?”
Arms crossed, Miranda stood at her cash register in the bake shop, fuming. “That rat bastard…I oughtta clock him good, right in his mouth.”
“It’s hopeless,” Kate wailed. “I am officially having the worst year of my life.”
“Can you take it to the labour board? There must be something you can do.” Miranda stirred the espresso in the china mug, added frothy topping and cinnamon, then handed it to her cousin.
“I doubt it. Besides, why would I want to? The job was killing me, the pay was lousy, and I never got any real credibility.” Kate took a seat on the comfy black sofa in the window, sipping her hot brew.
Things had died down, it was 3 p.m., and she’d shown up early to pick up Miranda, and deliver the news of her permanent layoff.
“I’m in total shock, Kate. How dare this man do this to you at Christmas!”
“Yeah…well…tis the season for assholes.”
Miranda laughed. “I like your attitude. You get fired and you shrug it off like nothing happened.”
“Ha. Who am I trying to kid? I’ll probably go home and raid your liquor cabinet, and fall asleep on the couch in a drunken stupor.”
“That actually sounds like a good plan. I’ll join you.” Winking at her, Miranda drank her hot cinnamon cider, her choice drink during the holidays. The bell rang on the door and old Mrs. Mitchell came in, smiling cheerily.
“Good afternoon, ladies.” She was a petite woman with short grey hair done in a bob, and glasses and kind blue eyes.
“Winnifred, tell your husband to come by the shop tomorrow, and I’ll have his pay ready for the plowing job.”
“Ok, dear.” Mrs Mitchell perused the glass showcase, eyeing the butter tarts. “I’ll take half a dozen of those, and some cherry cheesecake.”
“Coming right up.” Miranda got a pretty silver cake box ready, adding the desserts to it, and popping in a little something extra. “I’ve given you some extra treats for Bob. I know he loves the cherry cheese Danish.”
“Oh, fantastic, dear. I’m sure he’ll enjoy them tonight watching the hockey game.”
“Is he rooting for the Leafs again?” Miranda flashed her a cynical grin.
“Yes, he is…but why? I do not know. They’re playing just awful this season.”
“Doesn’t shock me. Forty-odd years without a Stanley Cup, it’s pitiful.” Miranda shook her head.
“Tell him that.” Winnifred smiled. “I’ll take a hot apple cider too, please.”
“Absolutely.” She got her a tall paper cup and poured the cider from a silver carafe. “Here you are, enjoy.”
The blue and white snowman jar on the counter that said TIPS was empty today, with barely any customers from the heavy snowfall, but Mrs. Mitchell dropped a toonie in it as she was leaving with her baked treasures.
“Thank you, Winnie…that’s so kind of you. Let me grab the door.” Hurrying ahead of her, Miranda opened it, feeling a gust of arctic air come rushing in, and she shivered. “Whew, it’s a cold one today. You take care now.”
Back in the bake shop, the ladies enjoyed the quiet afternoon, rocking the Christmas carols and drinking most of the spiced apple cider.
Kate was pensive, looking out the window at the newly fallen snow that had started at 4:00 p.m., and she was hesitant to tell Miranda about the big delivery from the handsome Fed Ex manager, because she didn’t want her cover blown. Somehow, strangely, he was getting to her.
“Grant came by today. He delivered half a truckful of boxes.” Rolling her eyes, Kate grinned.
“What? You saw him again?” Miranda lit up like a strand of tree lights.
“Did you invite him in for a tea?”
“Now why would I do a thing like that?” Kate hoped her white lie would go unnoticed. But Miranda had a sixth sense.
“Coz you’re both single, and he’s fine as hell…and you’d be off your rocker to turn down a sexy man like Grant Michaels.”
“Pfft…spare me the song and dance.”
“If you know what’s good for you, it will be more than a dance.” Miranda smiled with a wicked look in her eye. “I’m thinking a little horizontal mambo.”
“You’re sick, just sick.” Kate got up, heading for the counter and a refill on a latte.
“Have you turned lesbian or something? What the hell has gotten into you?” Miranda followed her to the counter.
“Please, cousin, I just want to be alone right now. My heart’s in shambles, and I don’t think I have it in me to entertain men like Grant, or any man for that matter.”
“Okay okay, I’ll lay off…but please don’t ignore him forever.”
“Do you know what he told me today? That the employee whose route he is covering…the one who fell and got injured…was named Jimmy.”
Miranda’s eyes grew huge. “Why do I get the chills when you tell me that?”
“Because you’re psychic and you know where this is going…”
“Don’t even get me going, woman. I’m liable to crack more than one man across the face today. Grant excepted though.” She giggled, cradling her china mug.
“Then why the hell don’t you date him, if you’re so gung-ho about him? Geesh.”
“Ummm, no. Not exactly my type. I like them rugged, long haired and into emo music.”
Kate stared. “You’re joking.”
“You saw the type I go for. Davey Havok….ahhh.”
Shaking her head at Miranda’s rock star celebrity crush, she sipped a gingerbread latte and looked over the collection of squares in the glass case. “I’m feeling so lousy today, I think I’ll take one of each.”
“Help yourself. Just you being here to keep me company has been a godsend. I think John Marshall letting you go was the smartest thing he ever did.”
“Wait a minute…are you in cahoots with that viper?”
“I’ll never tell…” Miranda teasingly waved a finger at her, sauntering away to the cozy sofa with a plate of goodies and a china mug.
“Tell me if you are. Spill the beans, Panda.” Kate glared at her.
“Do you seriously think I would sabotage my own cousin’s career? I don’t think so.”
“Why do you think all these bad things keep happening to me, cousin?” Kate took a bite of her chocolate marshmallow square, looking depressed.
“Because the gods heard my secret plea to have you here with me this Christmas, and besides, you never liked the guy and the job was a dud.”
“Now, wait a minute, that’s not true. I enjoyed interviewing the towns folk and covering the Santa Claus Parade, and I adored covering the music scene.”
“Yeah, yeah I know honey…but sometimes doors close so windows can open. It’s all part of moving forward.”
“You think so?”
“Definitely. You need to read some Eckhart Tolle. He tells us to live in the present and to never think of the past or future, because the here and now is all we really have.”
“So what's next for me? I take a job in the city? Journalist?”
“Would you really be able to handle that commute? I’m not so sure. It’s a bitch.”
Kate pondered what she’d said. The city meant a good hour drive each way, and in rush hour, that meant sometimes double the time it took to go there and back.
“I’ll get on the job sites this weekend. For tonight, we’re going to relax by the fire and have some chardonnay.”
“My, aren’t we fancy?” Miranda lifted a brow, sipping her coffee.
“Hell, yes, dahling. I wouldn’t miss our quality cousin time for anything in the world.”
“That reminds me, did you manage to get all of the vegan stuff on that grocery list?”
“I sure did. And then some.”
“Oh, please don’t tell me you bought out the whole health food section.”
“Nope, but I spoiled myself with some Turtles chocolates and a few bottles of Girls Night Out.”
“What did you spoil your lovely cousin with?”
“Just you wait and see. Don’t be a spoiler.” They laughed at the irony of that comment, and Miranda picked up the empty mugs. “Honey, let’s lock up and get the hell out of Dodge. I’m tired and I need a hot bath.”
“I second that.” Kate cleared the two plates away and together, they cleaned up the shop.
Snow was falling at a record speed, with the wind whipping at their faces, and they drove to the mechanic shop to get Kate’s car. She followed her back to the big charming house with the cats and the coz fireplace.
Supper was simmering in the crockpot when they got in, making the entire house smell so incredibly divine, so Kate went to get the bucket of ice and chardonnay, and Miranda kicked off her boots and headed straight to the master bedroom to soak in the tub.
It was going to be another splendid night of girl talk, gourmet food and wine.
Kate checked her cell phone as she warmed up some biscuits to go with the vegetarian goulash she had made, and she stood there, puzzled, seeing a missed call from her big brother Ron.
Dialing him back, she got him on the first ring.
“Kate, I’m so glad you called.” He was panting and frantic.
“Ronnie, what’s wrong? Why are you so panicked?”
“Sis, come quick. It’s Dad. He’s had a heart attack.”
“What? Where are you?”
“Grace Hospital. Hurry, we don’t know how long he will last. They’ve got him on I.V.”
“I’m coming. Hang in there.”
Kate left a note on the counter for Miranda and grabbed her car keys, stepping cautiously into the heavy snow drifts and starting the engine. Mr. Mitchell would have to come back tonight and plow, because it was going to be a gangbuster of a storm. It was a cyclone out there, with drifts of six feet in some parts of the town. Grace Hospital was a good half hour away, and she drove carefully to avoid any accidents. Her car, she decided, had reached its limit of drama for one week; she knew she certainly had.
Kate found a spot in the expensive parking lot that she detested, and bundled her scarf close to her mouth as the wind had a field day with her hair and pulled her along fiercely. She found Ronnie and her middle brother, Josh, in a room with Dad, looking panicked. There was a doctor and several nurses buzzing around, and the commotion was making her head ache.
“What’s going on?” she whispered, choking on the emotions of fear and shock.
“He had a heart attack, and they’re going to operate. Triple by-pass.”
“Oh my God, that’s awful.” Kate inched her way toward her dad, who looked haggard and exhausted in the bed, wires and gadgets stuck to him.
“Thanks for coming, sis.” Ronnie hugged her, and the tears formed in her eyes just then.
“No problem. It’s been a shitty week.”
“Tell me about it,” Josh chimed, his blue eyes tense with worry. “My car broke down and the wife got pneumonia.”
“Sorry to hear that.” Kate hugged him. He was taller than them both, with wavy brown hair and he looked the most like Kate, minus the hazel eyes.
Their whole family had been tight growing up, and when a crisis hit, they would all band together and be a fortress of support.
“Where’s James?” She scanned the hallway, hoping to see her youngest brother, but he was not around.
“He had a family Christmas party in the city with Amber, and his cell is off.”
“Figures.” Kate frowned. “I’ll try him in a bit.” She leaned forward to squeeze her dad’s hand, and he gave her a pained look.
“Katie..” His voice was hoarse.
"It's okay, Dad...I'm here."
She couldn’t stand seeing him this way. Kate was emotional tonight, thinking of how things had gone terribly wrong in her life, and hot tears blinded her eyes. All I want for Christmas this year is for Dad to make it, okay God? Take back all the trinkets and fancy things...they don’t matter.
The doctor came in again, checked on Kate's Dad, and noticed his heart rate was dropping at record speed.
"I need help here!" he shouted with a booming voice. The machine was beeping like crazy.
"He's going into cardiac arrest again."
The nurse ushered Kate and her brothers out of the room and wheeled Mr Shannon to the operating room.
Crying, Kate sat in the lobby outside the room where they'd taken her Dad. Hugging her, Ronnie stayed by her side.
"I can't take it anymore, Ronnie. God must have it in for me...nothing's working out."
Sobbing into his chest, she let herself go. There was no use holding back, not now. Things were falling apart and she had no shame; she would have to bring the release, there was nothing left to lose.
The crew worked on Dad and tried to revive him for a solid hour, but it was no use. At 8:01 p.m, Nick Shannon lost his battle. Beyond devastated, Kate cried uncontrollably.
"Come with me," Ronnie said, arm around her. He took her to the cafeteria and bought her a coffee, and they spent a good half hour just mulling over things.
The doc was upstairs talking to Josh about the details on the death. Ron assured him they would be back soon. They made plans to spend the evening together at Ron's place.
"Kate, I know how you must be feeling. It's been a very unfair year for you, but I assure you it will soon be over."
Wiping her tears, Kate frowned. "Why, Ronnie? Why does all this have to happen at once? Jimmy leaving, me getting fired from the paper, and now Dad...it's awful."
Tears were coursing heavily, and she didn’t know if she could pull herself together.
"Part of life is loving and letting go. It's the life cycle. And I know it sucks, but it's something we have to come to terms with." He squeezed her hand across the table.
"How are you holding it together so well right now, Ronnie?"
"Cause I'm the strong one, remember? And the oldest...and a Taurus. So I have no excuse to fall apart."
"I'm gonna miss him so much."
"I know, sis, I know....me too. But he's in a much better place now."
Kate studied his face, admiring how he remained solid as a rock, despite some of life's storms. Ronnie had been her hero growing up, and she'd been that tomboy sister, two years younger, chasing him around the farm, jumping off the hayloft when his friends dare her to, riding bikes in the trails, playing baseball in the farmer's fields, fixing greasy cars. It was a wonder any men ever found her romantically attractive, she mused, since most of her life, she'd concealed her feminine power by wanting to be rough and tumble like her brothers. But there was never a shortage of guys to date, because Ronnie and Josh always had house parties and bonfires in the summers, so Kate was not sheltered. As she got older, she discovered makeup and her friends would give her pointers on dressing more girlie. It was a good thing she'd taken their advice, because it had been a definite asset. Getting hired at the newspaper had happened mostly because she had dressed sharp in a nice blazer, skirt, and heels. Kate realized part of growing up meant leaving the childish ways behind, and when Mom passed, she became even more serious about life.
Now with Dad gone too, Christmas was going to be like a ghost town. How she would miss his boisterous laugh and Irish brogue, and the finest Scotch on Christmas Eve and the countless tales from back home in Banbridge. The holidays in the Shannon residence meant feasting around the table and a huge roaring fire, with the laughter endless and the drinks flowing all night. Plenty of friends coming and going all week long, from Christmas Eve till New Year's. Her family certainly knew how to entertain. But this year would be somber and so horribly quiet, she groaned.
"Let's go find Josh and get out of here," Ronnie said, standing from the table in the cafeteria.
"Where are we going?"
"I was gonna offer a stiff drink and a spot at my place, if you wanted?"
Kate shrugged. "Well, I'm staying with Miranda for the holidays and we had a girl's night planned, so I suppose I should get back there."
"Okay." Ronnie led the way up the stairs and the long grey corridor to where Josh was.
"I'll call the funeral home tomorrow and make the arrangements," he offered. "how are you holding up, sis?"
"Not good." Kate felt like a truck had run over her. It was officially the worst Christmas of her life.
"Are you okay to drive?"
"Yes, I'll be fine." She looked forward to the time alone to bawl her eyes out and ache for her dad.
Checking her cell, she saw a missed call from Miranda. She made a note to call her as soon as she left the hospital. Everything was just a horrible blur, and she felt numb from it all.
The three of them left the hospital together, and Ronnie walked her to her car so she wouldn’t be alone in that cold desolate parking lot.
"Sure you're going to be okay, sis? Call me if you need me. I'm up late tonight."
"Will do." She hugged him again, getting in her car and turning the heat on.
She drove in silence for a bit, then broke down crying on the rest of the drive back to Miranda's.
Snow was falling heavy, and she could barely see. Had she been out of her mind to drive in this weather? All she wanted was to curl up by the fire and have a strong drink and a good cry. Miranda always had a way of cheering her up.
Dragging her feet up the steps to Miranda's cozy house, she paused on the verandah, watching the snow coming down like ribbons of white powder. There was a rhythmic, poetic cascade about it, like gentle currents of sugar coming down from the angels. It was the only thing making her grateful to be alive right now. Well, that and Miranda's offer to keep her here for the holidays.
Coming in the front hall, she stomped her boots in the hallway, letting the snow drop to the mat. Her cousin was particular about people dragging mud, snow and other things in her ever-clean house. She was severely OCD with things like that.
"Kate! You're back. How did it go?" Cocktail in both hands, she handed one to her cousin. The glimmering gold frosted rim had fine sugar; inside the glass was cherry, orange and spices like nutmeg and cloves. It smelled heavenly, and looked like a glass of deep wine-coloured liquid.
Lip trembling, Kate could barely sip it before the tears formed in her eyes.
"Honey, what happened? Is your dad okay?'
"He's gone, Panda."
"No!!!" Miranda shouted and the rafters quaked from her fury. "He can't be!!! This isn't fair!"
Tears fell heavily over her favourite uncle's passing, and she ran down the hallway like a banshee wailing.
"There was nothing they could do...he had another heart attack when I arrived." Kate bawled, watching her pour another drink.
"Screw you, God. You're an evil, evil bastard." She yelled it to the roof, as if God was going to come down and defend himself.
"We have to make a toast to him. He was my favourite man in the whole world." Miranda couldn’t stop sobbing. Kate swore she was going to hyperventilate.
"Calm down, cousin..." Kate rubbed her back.
"It's not fair. He didn’t deserve to die. He was the only man left in this world that I cared for."
"What about Grant?"
They were both a mess, with Kate and her raccoon eyes and smudged mascara. Miranda was a wreck, shaking and crying.
"I am sooo sorry for this shit year, Kitten. I am so deeply sorry." Hugging her, Miranda led the way to the living room and the newly-stoked fire. She had a bucket of ice and fresh chardonnay for them.
"Here. You get comfy, I will get the snacks. Stay put."
It was a long ten minutes before Miranda came back, and she was in the powder room crying uncontrollably. What the hell was wrong with God anyways? First Kate losing her job, now her Dad passing? No one deserved as much bad karma as that. And she was the kindest, hardest working girl around. Kate Shannon wore her heart on her sleeve. Miranda was furious with God and demanded he come up with a clear explanation ASAP. Or she was going to give it to Him good.
Wallowing in their self pity, the two cousins sat by the fire all night and watched the magnificent ferocious storm go on half the night, with heavy gusts of wind shaking the foundation and whistling coming through the front window. The only cure for a broken heart was more wine, Miranda said, and that was exactly what they did, till the last embers died.