Mara opened the door and her niece, nine-year-old Celeste, burst through with a big hug, her six-year-old brother Eric tackled her from the other side, and they all landed on the floor with two-year-old Leanne climbing on top of them.
“Mara! What did you do to your hair?” Lydia’s disapproval came through loud and clear.
“Donated it to Locks of Love,” She enjoyed the perplexed look on Lydia’s face, a mixture of irritation and amusement. However, she felt a little guilty for not having told her before she came.
Graham, Lydia’s husband was out of town for business, so he couldn’t make it. Lydia stood with her mouth open, not speaking while the rest untangled themselves and stood up. Lydia gave Mara a hug and said, “That’s so like you to help children. You can grow it out again.”
Mara shook her head, “Not on your life. I don’t have headaches any more. That alone is reason enough to keep it short.”
“But it’s so much a part of you.” Lydia reached out and stroked the ends of Mara’s shorter locks.
Mara stepped back, “Not anymore.”
Lydia glanced at her children. “Well, you sure look different.”
Celeste piped up, “I like it. You look prettier. Put on makeup so I can see how pretty you look.”
Mara gave her another hug, “I think you want me to put some on you, and paint your nails.”
Celeste looked at her nails, “Cool.”
“We’ll do that after dinner, but it’s time to make pizza.”
Lydia’s children loved coming over to Aunt Mara’s for pizza. She made individual sized crusts and baked them until they barely started to brown. She also made sauce from scratch. She kept left over crusts in her freezer, and made pizza for a quick meal more often than she wanted to admit.
She took the toppings out and set them on the table: pineapple, olives, onions, tomatoes, bell pepper, Canadian bacon, sausage, and pepperoni. Mozzarella cheese finished it off. Eric loaded his with pepperoni and added one olive in the middle. Celeste put on everything except the bell pepper. Lydia added pineapple to Leanne’s, and put everything on her own. Mara used pineapple and olives on one side with pineapple and Canadian bacon on the other.
The scent of pizza filled the room while the children ran around the cabin checking to see what Mara had saved from the fire. The deer were there along with the framed pictures including the large photo of the ocean her grandmother had taken that had hung over the fireplace.
Eric tugged on Mara’s hand. “I want to go see where the house burned down.”
“Me too,” Celeste chimed in.
Lydia gave them a mommy look. “I’m sure Mara’s seen it enough times. Besides, it’s going to be dark soon.”
“Maybe tomorrow?” Celeste had hope in her eyes.
Lydia and Mara glanced at each other before Lydia responded. “Maybe we could go help clean the property with Helping Hands, if it isn’t on a school day.”
Mara grabbed them into a big hug. “I’m glad you’re interested in my property, but I want to think about other things right now, okay?”
“Like eating pizza?” Eric pointed toward the oven.
Mara spread a beach towel under Leanne’s chair. The wooden high chair her grandfather had made out of scraps had gone up in smoke, but she was big enough to sit at the table on a phone book. That highchair was one more irreplaceable thing. It cost zero dollars, but was priceless.
After they finished the pizza, Mara turned to the children, “I bought a couple of games yesterday, who wants to break them in?”
Eric looked worried. “Why do you want to break new games?”
Lydia turned to him. “To break in is an expression that means to be the first to use something. You’ve heard about breaking in horses.”
Eric said, “Oh, that kind. I want to, if it isn’t a spelling game.”
Mara took the games out of a cupboard. “One rule, this evening’s for fun. No more mention of the fire. I want to think about other things.”
Celeste looked at Mara. “What about makeup and painting my nails?”
“Your mother and Eric can break in Bople while we do that.”
“Only four colors?” Celeste glanced at Mara. “Oh, I forgot.” Celeste’s eyes filled and she swallowed hard. “I like your whole bunch of eye shadows.”
“I forget sometimes too.” Mara picked out hot pink for her toenails, and Celeste chose the red. When the nails and makeup were finished, they joined the others in the living room.
Lydia turned to her children, “Why don’t you two have some cookies and watch Leanne while I look at Mara’s room.”
Mara knew why Lydia wanted to see her room without the children. She wanted to ignore the request, but knew Lydia meant well. She’d always looked up to her big sister, but her motherly attitude was getting worse since their grandparents’ death and becoming more and more aggravating. Sometimes she wanted Lydia’s suggestions, but not all the time, especially when she didn’t ask.
It’d been like that all of her life. She remembered their mom telling Lydia not to be so bossy when they were little. She’d been twelve and Lydia almost sixteen when their mother died of the flu. Their father had died six months before that of double pneumonia.
Their grandparents had finished raising them. Mara didn’t need mothering any more. She needed an equal sister to lean on, part of the time, but she wanted the support to be mutual, and Lydia never asked her for anything, not even a cup of sugar. They reached the bedroom door. Mara gripped the handle for a few moments before opening it.
Lydia looked around, “Your room’s cute.”
Mara closed the door and put her hands on her hips, “You didn’t bring me in here to look at my room. What is it? My hair cut or do you also want to know whether I’m going to sell or not like the rest of the world?”
Lydia brushed her fingers through her sister’s shorter hair, “You don’t look like yourself.”
Mara retorted, “I’m not the same. Running from a fire’ll do that to you. I thought a lot about my life while driving down that smoke-filled road even with a stranger in the car.”