|Christmas Eve at the Rectory|
Despite the trauma of the whole Marzano incident, life at the rectory returned to normal fairly quickly. With Christmas only a week away, there was just too much to do to spend time contemplating their near death experience at the hands of the syndicate. Maureen seemed preoccupied and restless, and Kevin's antidote for her symptoms was work. Lots and lots of work. He assigned her the job of sorting, repairing and dividing up the pageant costumes. When that was finished, he put her on the task of unpacking and arranging the church's vintage creche scene. Upon discovering that the arm of Baby Jesus had somehow gone missing, Maureen, at her Pastor's request, was commissioned to create a new one out of paper mache and paint. And of course, there were several trees at both the church and the rectory that needed her decorating expertise.
Amid the chores, he had hoped that he'd be able to convince her to go back to Boston, and spend the holidays with the family. Take some time to visit their mother...see old friends...and maybe, just maybe... be homesick enough for her old life to stay on in the city. Kevin even promised to take the train and join her as soon as he finished his last Mass on Christmas day. But she wanted no part of the discussion, going as far as to ask him if he wanted her to move out of the rectory. So he dropped any mention of Boston, apologized for 'hurting' her feelings, and promised a quiet holiday, just the two of them.
That left him with the unsavory task of calling his eldest brother, Patrick, to explain that he and Maureen would not be joining the O'Kenney clan for the holiday season. Information he knew in advance would not go over well. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were command family performances. By his father's dictate, (and later Patrick's when his Pop was gone) there was never any discussion of compromise. Those who married into the group, the unsuspecting in-laws, were brainwashed into forgoing any chance of seeing their own parents or siblings on these two specific days. It was part of the whole marriage commitment. The family reluctantly accepted the fact that Kevin's vocation required his presence at Mass on both days, but he was fully expected to join them at his earliest possible leave. Deviating from the plan would make everyone unhappy, and it was with a sense of foreboding that Fr. Kevin made the call.
He decided to contact his brother at the office during the day, rather than in the evening at his home. He knew Patrick hated to be bothered at work, but figured he would be unable, or unwilling, to stay on the phone long. The secretary put him hold for several minutes, and when his brother finally came on the line, he already seemed annoyed.
"This better be an emergency, Kevin. I'm swamped here. Nothing wrong with Maureen, is there?"
"No, Pat. Mo's fine. We're both fine. Thanks for asking." The wedge of sarcasm was wasted, as he knew his brother would never feel the least bit embarrassed over his obvious lack of concern.
"So, what's so damn important that you're calling me at the Diocese?"
"I'm ...ah...am calling about the ...holidays."
"And it couldn't wait until later tonight? Damn, you have no common sense, Kevin. Most people have to actually work for a living, something I'm sure you don't get."
Kevin ignored the dig, and tapped down his less than brotherly feelings towards Patrick. "I'm sorry to bother you, Pat. I just wanted to give you a head's up about Christmas. Before you...went ahead with plans."
"Head's up about what? Spit it out, Kev. I don't have all day to play around."
"Um...Maureen and I won't be coming up to Boston this year. This is a new assignment for me, and I want to make a good impression. I figured I should stay around the parish this year. Be available...and all that." It wasn't a total lie. He was actually looking forward to presiding over his first big church holiday as Pastor. "With Christmas Eve on Thursday, and Christmas on a Friday this year, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense for me to travel to Boston, and then have to travel back here for Sunday Mass. I figured I'd just stay put. Get to know my parishoners."
"Well, I suppose I can see the logic of that. Although, it's unlike you to put your career before a good time."
Kevin grimaced at the suggestion that time spent with his family was "a good time". It was more like an ordeal that one needed to gear up for, but he didn't reply.
"So, why isn't Maureen coming by her self? She's perfectly capable of getting her ass on a train and coming home alone. She managed just fine when she slinked off in the first place. You tell that girl I expect to see her face at Midnight Mass with the rest of the family. She can stay with Jamie and his brood. They probably could use an extra hand with all those kids."
Bracing himself for the nastiness that was sure to come, Fr. Kevin tried to explain the situation.
"Well, she doesn't want me to be alone at Christmas. Plus, she's trying to make a life for herself down here, so we thought it best if she passed on the regular...festivities. At least this year."
"So your willing to ruin everyone's holiday on Maureen's account? You know, Kevin...this is all your fault. You have been spoiling that girl from the time she could crawl. Making excuses, bailing her out. Never made her take responsiblity for her own mistakes. Now look what you've created! A self-willed, selfish, little tramp, who can't get her shit together."
"Don't call her that, Patrick. I mean it."
"What? A tramp? I'm just using the same term I'm sure everyone else is whispering behind our backs. She brought this all on herself, Kevin. And if you had an ounce of brains, you'd see it for yourself. She never thinks before she does anything. But, then again, neither do you. The two of you are a matched set."
"This conversation is over, Patrick. Merry Christmas." And then he ended the call, angry at himself for being goaded into an arguement he desperately had wanted to avoid. Minutes later, his cell phone rang, this time with a call from his brother Jamie, followed by one from Sean, and later, Jamie's wife, Megan. He decided not to answer any of them. He'd eventually have to call them all back. Soothe hurt feelings, and explain his side. But not now, when he was so angry, and liable to lose his temper.
Throughout the day, Fr. Kevin had voice mail from practically every member of his family. Some siding with Patrick, others obviously jealous at his opportunity to spend a nice, quiet, adults-only Christmas with their sister. A few, mainly the in-laws, even called to thank him for standing up to the family bully. But, despite the constant barrage of phone calls and texts, he, oddly enough, had not heard a single word from their gun-toting guardian angel. The Sheriff had neither phoned, or stopped by, and for a reason he couldn't put into words, it made Kevin anxious.
After dropping them off at the rectory a week ago, Beckett had seemingly dropped out of sight. Maureen admitted that she had tried reaching him by both cell phone and email, but her texts and messages went unanswered. She seemed worried, and obviously very unhappy, about the lack of communication, and suggested that maybe Kevin should call the Sheriff's Office, and see what was up.
In one sense, Patrick was right. When it came to his baby sister, Kevin had a hard time saying no. It was rather silly to worry about the Sheriff, who seemed perfectly capable of taking care of himself. After all, the man drove around with a loaded semi-automatic on his back seat. But Maureen continued to pester him the way she always did, and he finally gave in, and dialed the number.
"Good Afternoon. Bristol County Sheriff's Office. How can I direct your call?"
"Hello. This is Fr. O'Kenney over at Holy Family Church. Is Sheriff Beckett in, please?"
"I'm sorry. Sheriff Beckett is off duty. Deputy Sykes is the acting Sheriff for the next few weeks. Would you like to speak with him."
"No, that's alright. It's of a personal nature. Do you know where I can reach Sheriff Beckett"
"I'm sorry. I do not. Did you try his cell?'
"Yes, but he's not picking up. Would you, by any chance, know where he might have gone."
"I'm sorry, Father. He didn't leave that information. We were told to call his cell if there was an emergency." The woman, trying to be helpful, added, "He took vacation time, so I'm guessing that he went to visit family for the holidays."
"Well, that makes sense, I guess. You wouldn't know where his family is from, would you?"
"No, Father, I'm afraid I wouldn't. The Sheriff doesn't discuss his personal business with us. I am very sorry I can't help you."
Fr. Kevin thanked the woman, and once he had ended the call, passed the information on to his sister, who had been standing next to him hanging on every word. Her face fell with the news, but she shrugged her shoulders, and went back to the kitchen to finish her baking for the Women's Guild Christmas party. He wished he could have eased her fears, given her something to be happy about after their experience the week before. But it appeared that no matter how hard he tried, he wasn't going to be able to make anybody happy today.
Christmas came a week later, as it always does, in spite of trials, tribulations and things left undone. The Christmas Eve pageant was a huge success, thanks in part to Maureen's genius ability to create something beautiful out of nothing. The Virgin Mary looked resplendent in her new mantle of blue silk, which Fr. Kevin had a sneaking suspicion started life as the old parlor drapes. And the children's choir, dressed in angel white with gossamer wings, gave the congregation the opportunity to snap several cell phone photos. Even the new prosthetic arm added to Baby Jesus, was discussed and admired.
The later Midnight Mass was a more subdued affair, but none the less beautiful in its own right. The harmonious music, the flicker of a multitude of candles, and the smell of fresh pine in the tiny church, made the experience a moving one, not only for Fr. Kevin, but for his small flock as well. Although he was exhausted after the long day, he returned to the rectory on a festive note. Even Maureen, who had said little the entire week, seemed to be in a brighter mood, chattering on about the compliments everyone was sending the new Pastor's way, and hinting at something special she had planned.
When they were growing up, it had always been a family custom to return from Midnight Mass to a traditional Irish breakfast, a treat Kevin had missed since the onset of his mother's Alzheimer's. It was therefore a special delight to find that Maureen had surprised him with such a meal. Where she had located Black and White pudding, rashers, and Irish sausage in Dollyville, he had no idea, but it was all there, lovingly prepared. The thoughtfulness of the gesture made him teary, and he wished he had been able to come up with a special gift to match hers. Alas, he had ended up settling for a Kindle Fire, which he had to purchase with his Master Card, being for all intensive purposes, totally broke.
After the leisurely meal, Kevin built a small fire in the parlor fireplace, and they finished their tea amidst the glow of the flames, and the twinkling lights of the tree. It was then he noticed the large shipping box stuck in the corner near the window.
"Where did the box come from? I didn't see it there earlier."
Maureen made a face. "It came after you left for the Family Mass. Around 3:30 PM...Fed Ex. It's stamped from Boston, and addressed to the both of us."
"Don't you want to open it? I can imagine the suspense is killing you."
"No, not at all. It's probably from someone in the family, and as far as I'm concerned, they can all keep their lousy gifts." She put the tea cup down with a bang, and the contents sloshed over the side, and onto the saucer.
"I know you're angry, Mo. Our brothers can be asses, especially the older ones. But it is Christmas morning, and in the spirit our Lord intended, I think we should at least attempt to be forgiving." When she said nothing, he got up off the sofa, and with a sigh, dragged the package over to where he was sitting. The outside packaging gave no indication of who sent it, so taking the letter opener from his desk, he slit the tape on the top. Nestled inside piles of packing material, were two gifts, carefully wrapped in holiday paper. Each package had a small card attached, the envelopes bearing their names. "That's odd," Kevin remarked, sliding the second package toward his sister.
"The envelopes are addressed to 'Fr. Kevin O'Kenney' and Miss Maureen O'Kenney'."
"So what's odd about that?"
"If someone in the family had sent this, they would have written 'Kevin'...not 'Fr. O'Kenney'." Intrigued, he tore open the envelope, and read the card inside. "Um...yeah. This isn't from our family, Maureen. It's from Sheriff Beckett."
Eyes wide, she lifted the gift into her lap. "You open yours first, Kev."
Tearing off the shiny paper, he lifted the lid. Inside was another box, this one wooden with a gold metal clasp. He pulled out the case, set it on his lap and undid the clasp. Inside, wrapped in layers of gold tissue, were six cut crystal, Waterford rock glasses, and a bottle of Jameson Golden Reserve whiskey. He held one of the glasses up to the light, the cuts catching the glow of the Christmas tree, and sending prisms of color across his face. "Wow. These are spectacular." He lifted out the bottle and hoisted it to show Maureen. "And something to toast the New Year, I expect."
"What a nice gift, Kevin. Very thoughtful." She fingered the card on the top of her own the box.
"Now you open yours, Mo."
She slid the card out the envelope, and as she read, the corners of her mouth turned up, and her ears turned pink, but she opted not to share what had been written inside. Carefully, she unwrapped the gift, saving the paper and ribbons, and putting them to the side. Her box was wider and longer than his, and Kevin was glad it most likely didn't contain another Kindle Fire. She raised the lid of the box, and pulling aside the tissue, she gasped.
From his perch on the sofa, he couldn't see what was inside the box, so she raised it up to show him. Glancing inside, he was confused, not understanding why Beckett would buy his sister a child's toy. "Is that a doll? The Sheriff gave you a doll for Christmas?"
"Not just any doll, Kev. It's...it's Betsy!"
It took a second or two before his brain could access the memory... and then he remembered.
She must have been only six years old... a few months shy of her 7th birthday. The whole family had gone downtown to buy new clothes for Easter Sunday, as was the tradition his mother kept to. They had stopped in at the Jordan Marsh to purchase dress shirts for their father and the older boys. Maureen, tired and hungry, had begun to get whiny. Hoping to finish her shopping in peace, his mother had ordered Kevin to take his sister to the toy department, and keep her occupied until the rest of the family was ready to leave.
They had only been in the toy section a few minutes, when she first saw the doll. It was a painted, china beauty, with a head full of dark curls, and round, friendly eyes. She wore a pale blue crocheted dress, the stitches tiny and perfect, and her feet were covered in white socks and patent leather, Mary Jane shoes. It was surely love at first sight, and right then and there, Maureen committed her heart to that doll. Unfortunately, the $50 price tag hanging from the toy's arm made owning it an improbability.
During the weeks leading up to her birthday, Maureen campaigned incessantly for the right to be the proud mama of the doll she had already named "Betsy". While Maureen petitioned, Kevin worried. He knew his father was frugal, and with eight children to feed, clothe and educate, there was no way he would agree to spend that amount of money on a toy. So it was a shock to see the said doll in his sister's arms on the morning of her 7th birthday. Unlike his jealous siblings, he was thrilled for her, and relieved that her special day was not a tearful one. He spent the rest of the day hiding out in the garage, making her a small doll bed out of old wood scraps, amid a torrent of constant teasing from his brothers.
Betsy was Maureen's constant companion, and when the family took a rare vacation to Niagara Falls, she took the doll along, despite suggestions from her mother to leave it safely at home.
They had stopped for gas and to use the restroom somewhere in upstate New York. Their father, in a generous mood, had allowed each child to pick out an ice cream treat from the station's large freezer, and at some point, Maureen must have laid the doll down to make her selection.
They had been almost to the Canadian border when Mo suddenly realized that Betsy was not with her, and probably abandoned at the gas station. She was in near hysterics, and convinced their exasperated father to go back to get her doll. Turning the car around, he headed back the way they had come, a whole 132 miles, only to find that the doll was already gone. Both of her parents had scolded her lack of responsibility, her mother reminding her that she had been told to leave the expensive toy at home. To make matters worse, the family had lost so much time on the road, that a much anticipated miniature golf outing was canceled, causing her brothers to bombard Maureen with additional grief.
She spent the rest of the trip wavering between tears and silence, and even Kevin could do little to cheer her up. The doll was never spoken of again, and the little bed was shoved in the back of the closet. But there was several times in the future when Kevin would catch her sitting alone in her room, the doll bed in her lap, and know she was grieving her missing companion.
And now, 17 years later, here the thing was. In his sister's lap, like some phantom memory made real. "You don't think this is the same exact doll, do you Mo?"
"Of course not, Kevin. I know it's not. My original one had a chipped right finger. I did that trying to stick her in the basket of my bike. But it looks exactly like Betsy did the first day I got her. Her dress is a tiny bit faded, but other than that, she's in perfect condition." With a gentle touch, she ran her fingers through the doll's curls. "I just can't believe it. After all these years."
"How did the Sheriff even know about Betsy? It's unbelievable he was able to get the same type of doll." For the life of him, he couldn't figure the whole thing out. Maureen had only been living in Dollyville for a little over two months, and her contact with Beckett had been infrequent. Or at least he thought it had.
"Do you remember when I first got here. The second day or so? Ted offered to drive me over to some markets he knew to buy groceries?" Kevin nodded, so she continued. "Well, while we were in the car, we were chatting about a lot of stuff, and he asked me about growing up in Boston. Somehow, the story of Betsy came up, and I told him how I lost her somewhere in New York."
" But how did he know what the doll looked like?"
"Oh that's easy. I showed him that snapshot I keep in my wallet. You know the one."
He absolutely knew the one she spoke of. He had a copy of it in the scrapbook of family photos she had made him for his Ordination. It was an old Polaroid of he and Maureen, sitting on their front steps. Their old dog, Bosco, sat between them, and the doll in question was firmly seated on his sister's lap.
"I wonder where he got her? Where do you find something like this? It's obviously vintage, but in such wonderful condition." She laid the doll across her lap, and carefully fingered the fine crochet of the doll's dress.
"Not sure. Maybe Ebay, or a vintage toy dealer. Probably took some heavy hunting to locate it." He put his mug down on the carpet, and reached for the doll to take a closer look. "It sure is in terrific shape. Got to admit, it's a pretty awesome gift, Momo."
"I know. I wish he were here so I could thank him in person. I can't remember ever getting a Christmas gift this...special." Realizing what she had implied, and not wanting to hurt her brother's feelings, she quickly added. "Oh, Kev, I'm sure your gift is wonderful too."
He laughed, happy to see her joyful. "Not to ruin the surprise or anything, but Beckett's gift trumps mine. Easily. And you know what? That's okay. You deserve something extra terrific after that awful episode last week."
She lifted herself off the floor, and came over to kiss his cheek. "Thanks, Kev. You're just about the best big brother ever. Merry Christmas. I so glad we got to spend it together, just you and me."
"Me too, Momo. Thank you for the breakfast. It was amazing."
"You're most certainly welcome. It was fun making it for you." She yawned the words out. "Well, I hate to break up the party, but I'm exhausted. I think I'm going to turn in." In her flannel pajamas and robe, her hair pulled up on the top of her head, and the doll in her arms, she looked so much younger than her 24 years. "You should probably get some rest too, Kevin. You have a few more Masses tomorrow."
"Yeah, I will. I want to make sure this fire is out, and then I'm going to turn in."
"Okay. Good night, Kevin."
"Night, Mo." He watched her pad up the stairs, and then used the poker to stir the embers. Satisfied that the fire would safely die out on its own, he pulled the grate shut, and reached over to turn out the lamp. Sitting on the table was Maureen's card from Beckett, carefully tucked inside the folded wrapping paper. He stopped for a moment and listened. There was no sound from upstairs, so he pulled the card out from under the paper. She was his responsibilty. And if there was going to be issues with the Sheriff, he needed to be prepared, He was her brother, after all.
He'd have to concede that the Sheriff's gift was exceptionally insightful of his sister's personality. She wasn't the type to be impressed with the usual trappings of romance. Expensive jewelry or pricey perfume wouldn't have made much of an impression. The man knew her, that was for sure. And whether that was a good thing or not was still open for discussion. There was no doubt Beckett had numerous good points. He was brave, charming, and obviously very intelligent. But there were just too many unanswered questions, and they left Kevin bothered.
He stood with the card in his hand, torn over what he should do. Then, shaking his head, he slipped the card, unread, back under the wrapping, and turned off the light.
|Beckett's special gift to Maureen|
Copyright 2013 Victoria T. Rocus
All Rights Reserved