Still holding Joyce’s arm, Steve turned to Brian. “We’re not having Mom’s 80th Birthday ruined by a squabble between you two. Dad’s coming in a few minutes. Can you just cool it long enough for us to get his feelings on the matter.”
“They’re here,” Darryl announced.
The doorbell rang and Rick & Emily walked in, followed by Grandpa.
Rick waved. “Hi, everybody. We’ve brought Grandpa, so you’d better be on your best behavior now.”
Grandpa slowly walked into the room and Rick closed the door behind him. Then he stepped over to Uncle Steve, his father, and whispered something in his ear. Steve frowned.
Hugs and kisses were exchanged all around, but it seemed to Todd that Grandpa wasn’t his usual self. Had he caught wind of the argument, too? As Jim & Jenny hugged Grandpa, Todd caught the glimmer of a tear in the old man’s eye.
Then Grandpa looked toward Brian and Sylvie and smiled. “So, everything set for Mom’s birthday party? The Seniors Centre is spoken for, the cake’s ordered, the guests invited.”
Brian flushed. “Uh…we were just discussing that last part. Joyce was to invite the guests and she thinks…uh…she decided not to… ”
“Come, Dad.” Cassie took his arm and led him to the recliner. “Let’s all sit down and then we can discuss all these details. Let me get you some iced tea first.” She gave a sharp look at her brother-in-law in passing and he followed them into the living room.
Soon everyone was seated in the living room. Grandpa inspected his three children in turn as if picking up some bad vibes. “Now, what were you saying, Brian? Joyce decided what?”
Joyce started. “My brothers left it to me to put the announcement in the paper, but I feel strongly that we shouldn’t throw open the doors for everyone and his pup. You know there are always so many who come just because it’s a party and there’s free food. People Mom wouldn’t even know.”
“I wanted to spare her that, so I thought it best if we’d just phone the ones we want to come,” she said, leaning back into the sofa cushions. “But Brian doesn’t see it that way and he’s being so stubborn about it.”
Brian turned to his dad. “You and Mom are friends with half the people in town and goodness knows how many more out of it. We’ve already phoned all your special friends, but we’d decided an announcement in the paper would take care of letting everyone else know. That was to go in last week.” He gave Joyce a sharp look.
“So what if a few extras come,” he continued. “However… It’s almost too late now. But the thing is, Joyce went ahead and decided this all on her own.”
“It’s not such a big thing really,” Cassie said, handing Grandpa a glass of iced tea. “We’ll just phone a few more folks…”
Brian thumped the arm of his chair. “Which we wouldn’t have to do if Joyce had just done what she was supposed to in the first place! It IS a big thing! She can be so…so positive that she’s right. Nobody can tell her anything.”
Grandpa digested this for a moment to digest, then he laughed. “Say, this is just like old times. You two used to have some real rows when you were tikes. One would say ‘Yes’ and one would say ‘No!’ and you’d go at it for half an hour.”
He looked out the window as if gazing back over the years. “But you’d sure stick up for one another, too. Why, I remember the times, Brian, when you’d beg your big sister to take you to the park because you weren’t able to go there by yourself. Even if she had something else she wanted to do she’d take your hand and off you’d go together… You had complete faith in her back then; you knew she’d stand up to them if the big kids bullied you.”
Brian cleared his throat and looked at his shoes.
“Remember the time a stranger offered you a ride. He had this cute little pup in his car and he wanted you to come along home with him because he had a boy just your age. You two could play with the pup, he said. When Joyce saw you heading for that car she came running and dragged you back, screeching so much everyone on the block turned to look. That stranger laid quite a bit of rubber on the road getting out of there. Her being right paid off that day; if it wasn’t for her you might not be with us today.”
“I can dimly recall that,” said Brian softly.
“I remember.” Joyce chuckled. “You were furious when I wouldn’t let you go play with that boy and his puppy.”
“I guess you understood the situation a lot better than I did. Thank God.”
Their father nodded. “Yes, Thank God. And, Joyce, remember the time when you and Brian went swimming at the pond, then you got that cramp and went under. I don’t know how Brian managed to drag you out, being so scrawny at the time, but he saved your life.”
Joyce nodded soberly. “That’s right.”
“We thanked God many times over for that one, too.” Then Grandpa chuckled. “And when you were in grade eight you almost tore your hair out trying to pass geometry. Your brothers both patiently explained it many times until you finally got a handle on it.”
Brian grinned at her. “Pie are square.”
“And remember when we got our first computer, the year you started high school, and Brian figured the thing out lickety-split. So that’s who you called every time you crashed the thing. Now you work with one every day.”
“I still call on him when I have problems,” Joyce admitted, smiling at Brian.
“And Brian, I think Joyce gave you your love of good books, ’cause she was always reading to you once she learned how herself…though you probably don’t recall those times.”
“Yeah, some.” Brian nodded at Joyce. “I think you kept it up until I was in third grade or so. Then you helped me get my grammar straight.” He laughed. “You never dreamed I’d be an editor someday.”
“Well, enough reminiscing,” said Grandpa, setting his drink down. “We have a party to plan. And we want to make it the best one yet.”
He was quiet a moment. A tear trickled down his cheek. “Because this is going to be the last one.”
Joyce gasped. “Dad! What’s wrong?”
“We didn’t want to spoil the party, so we were planning to gather the family together afterward to tell you all together, but I just can’t hold it in anymore. Mom saw the doctor a few days ago. He says she has acute leukemia. He gives her about six more weeks in this old world.”
There was a collective gasp. Tiffany threw her arms around Todd. Brian, Joyce, and Steve embraced each other, all of them in tears. Then the cousins were all hugging one another and Grandpa, each other, their aunts and uncles.
Aunt Cassie squeezed Todd’s mother and whispered, “They say the family that plays together stays together. In this case it’s the family that weeps together.”
Sylvie nodded as they watched Brian, Steve, and Joyce hugging each other. “Thank God,” she murmured.