To read what happened earlier, click here.
Life goes on as usual around here, apart from the fact that Aunt Anne gets tired much more quickly, sleeps more and goes to town more often to visit the doctor, leaving Catherine and me in charge of the house. It does have its benefits – now I can skive off a boring history assignment, saying "I must hang the laundry" or "dinner is on the stove, I've got to check on it."
It doesn't mean, however, that Aunt Anne left us to ourselves when it comes to our education. On the contrary; she offered me a choice: cello lessons or learning a foreign language. She reckons that I still have too much time on my hands, you see. After much inner debate, I decided anything would be better than cello, and chose to begin studying Spanish. I also make sure to complain at least once a day about how busy I am, so that Aunt Anne won't make further claims on the little free time I have left.
Aunt Anne and Uncle Ben got a call from David yesterday. He said that he is simply thrilled about the prospective of having a new baby brother and sister, and cannot wait to come home for his winter vacation and meet us all, including "dear Becky, whom I don't know yet, but who will surely become another dear sister." The winter holidays are about to begin, and our neighbors are already getting into a festive atmosphere. We will celebrate Hanukkah on a much more modest scale.
This morning, C. woke me up at what felt like the middle of the night. It was still dark. C. was already wearing an apron over her dress, and there was a feather duster in her hand.
- Catherine, - I said, trying to keep indignation out of my voice, - are you out of your mind? It's only… - I looked briefly at the watch, - it's only five o'clock in the morning. Wake me up when breakfast is ready, - and I rolled over, attempting to get a bit more sleep.
- But Becky, David is coming today, and the house is a mess – we must tidy up, and prepare his room, and change the sheets on his bed, and I thought it would be nice to prepare something special for dinner. Mom isn't feeling well; you know she wasn't up to doing any housework yesterday.
- Alright, alright, - I grumbled, sitting up and trying to push my left foot into my right slipper.
By the time I washed my face, got dressed, ran a comb through my hair and went downstairs, there was more light outside and a smell of baking wafted from the kitchen. It turns out Catherine already put the first loaf of bread in the oven! We had a quick breakfast, just the two of us – it was only six o'clock in the morning, and the house was quiet and still. I nearly fell asleep again, chewing my toast, while Catherine already rolled up her sleeves and began to wash the dishes.
- So, - she said brightly when she finished, - now let's split up, Becky. I will take charge of the upper floor and clean up David's room, and you can sweep, mop and tidy downstairs, alright? I'll meet you in the kitchen at eleven o'clock, OK? Let's get a move on, otherwise we won't have time for all we need to do.
So I started walking slowly, sleepily, to get a broom, bucket and mop. Grumbling, I swept and mopped the living room, dining room, and Uncle Ben's office. At nine, the rest of the family started coming downstairs for breakfast. After another quick bite with everyone else, I got up again and proceeded to sweeping the downstairs corridor. Through the steady hum of the washing machine, I could faintly hear Catherine singing a cheerful tune from upstairs.
- Girls, you are so hard-working today, I'm impressed, - said Uncle Ben earnestly, - we'll get out of the kitchen now so you can clean up here too, Becky.
Thanks a lot.
Aunt Anne nodded approvingly and looked as though she wanted to say something too, but apparently she couldn't. Her face acquired a light green shade. The boys moved on to do their school work at the living room table; Aunt Anne went back upstairs, muttering about a shower. Rachel followed her, carrying an old rag doll. Uncle Ben shut himself up in his office, and I could hear him drumming on the keyboard.
I cleaned the kitchen, washed the dishes, and while everybody else was going about their business, swept the front porch and dusted and polished the furniture. Then I looked at the result of my work, surprised – when did I learn to do this, anyway?
By eleven, I was sweaty and thought longingly of a warm shower. It was clear that today, lunch will be whatever I can sneak out of the fridge and consume within five minutes. I tried to slip away unnoticed to avoid Catherine, but no – she got hold of me while I was tiptoeing upstairs, and together we prepared dinner: mushroom soup with herbs, oven-baked chicken with apple sauce, mashed potatoes, a dozen different salads, and a lemon pie for dessert. While I was cutting, peeling and grating, Catherine boiled, mixed, stirred and added spices. Finally, at a quarter past three, everything was ready, and the kitchen looked as though someone had a food fight in it.
- We should take a shower and wear something fresh, Becky, - said Catherine, wiping sweat from her brow with her apron. – You go first; go on, I'll clean up here real quick…
She didn't need to say it twice. Without looking backwards, I started towards the stairs. I took a long shower, washed my hair, and put on some fresh clothes – clean and tidy, but plain (like everything I own these days…). I thought of combing my hair again, but abandoned that thought and stretched out on my bed with a book. I spent an hour lazily reading and trying to keep myself from falling asleep. In the meantime, Catherine was enthusiastically ironing what she clearly thought to be a festive dress – a pathetic, high-collared, blue-and-white stripped piece. She brushed her hair and pinned it up. I reluctantly got up only when a car honked outside, and Catherine let out a delighted squeal and ran downstairs, shouting:
- It's him! It's him! David is here!