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“Hanny.” First spoken softly then more insistent. “Hanny!”
Her eyes slowly opened and she gasped as she recognized her younger sister. “Margaret!” Relief flooded haggard features as she clapped her hands in glee and gave into a wide and grateful smile. “You've come to spend Christmas Eve with me! How grand! It will be such fun. We'll have a party like always. Like we used to!”
“I really don't have time to stay,” Margaret began, unable to meet her sister’s eyes. “George is out in the car. We're on our way home from Cindy and Herb's. I tell you, that man our daughter married leaves a few things to be desired.”
“Would you like coffee? Hazelnut or plain?” As if she hadn’t heard this visit would be short, Hanny rose to head for the kitchen. Hands moving swiftly as the pain would allow, she laid out a package of cookies and set two plates on the table.
“Margaret, look at the tree.” The high pitch of excitement entered her voice as she lifted a thin arm toward the bare living room. “Isn’t it beautiful? Just like the ones Papa used to bring home.”
“That's nice, Hanny.” Margaret nodded automatically, though concern etched the corners of her eyes and drew down her mouth. “Now don't fuss on my account.” She watched her sister bustle around the large kitchen, but didn’t get up to stop her.
“It's no bother,” Hanny assured her. “Margaret,” she continued as she set a pot of coffee on the stove top to boil.
“I can't really stay, Hanny.” Margaret pulled her coat more tightly around her as she perched on the edge of a kitchen chair. “George is ready to go home. The children were particularly rambunctious tonight.”
Hanny set two spoons on the table then came to sit across from her, expectation lighting her gaze. “The children,” she said, a low reverence in her tone. “I haven’t seen them in a long time. I'll bet they've really grown.” She shook her head as if to ward off some distant sadness. “A very long time.”
Margaret averted her eyes. “Well, yes, they have all gotten bigger over the years. But, they're still just as difficult to handle as always.” She raised her voice as if that would give some authority to an argument she seemed to have with herself. “And loud. We'd have taken you with us, but I know how the children tend to upset you so. George can hardly stand it himself, and he’s their grandpa.”
Hanny grimaced in concentration as she listened very carefully to the lengthy explanation, remnants of a smile disappearing from her mouth. “You know best, Margaret,” she replied softly, reaching across the table to lay a hand on her sister’s arm. Then the smile returned and she leaned forward. “Do you remember years ago at Christmas, the time George and Franklin came calling? You were so taken with George, and so wanted me to meet his good friend Franklin. Mama and Papa had gone into town and we were home alone?”
“Land yes.” Margaret threw her head back then sat forward and nodded. “We had found all the presents Mama had hidden, and we were just peeking inside the wrappings when we heard the horses coming into the yard.”
Hanny picked up the story as she rose to walk over to the stove. “We put everything back and scrambled downstairs just as Papa brought the boys into the hall.” She set the coffee pot on a hot plate in the middle of the table and sat down again. “We acted as cool as you please, as if we'd been leisurely working on our samplers all afternoon.”
“Those were the days, weren't they, Hanny?” Margaret laughed.
“That was the day,” Hanny murmured, her voice trailing off as her mind made space for more memories of the very day she was first introduced to Franklin Cooper.
“You remember Franklin Cooper,” an animated Margaret had informed her older sister. “He was two years ahead of you in school.”
Though she would never, ever say such a thing out loud, and certainly not to Margaret or George, Hanny did well remember the young man her sister presented to her now. Though they’d never even said much to each other beyond hello, she’d harbored a crush on him from afar for more years than she cared to admit.
“How do you do, Miss Carlson? Hanny?” A warm hand had taken hold of the one she offered while kind eyes took possession of her heart. “It’s nice to finally, and officially, meet you.”
And, with those words and that touch, Hanny had fallen in love for sure. It had been that swift, and that easy, to begin her life-long romance with Franklin Cooper. Their nation had been at war then, the war to end all wars it was being called, and Army Staff Sargent Franklin Cooper was home on leave.
Never had a man been more handsome all spiffed up in his full dress uniform and hat. He carried himself with a distinctive pride and sense of purpose far beyond his twenty some years. Franklin told her he was proud to go to war, serve his country, and protect those who stayed home.
She’d been thrilled when he asked her over to his parents’ house for dinner the very next evening. His mother had cooked a full five course turkey dinner. Because, she said, Franklin had missed having Thanksgiving with his family the month before.
As it turned out, Franklin missed Christmas with his family that year too, having his leave cut short when he was called back early to his unit.
“But I need him too,” she’d softly wailed into her pillow, crying herself to sleep on Christmas Eve.
She was too heartbroken to even get up early as she always did, to share Christmas morning with her parents and younger sister. Franklin could get hurt fighting in the war, and might not come home to her again.
Even though he’d promised.
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