A Sprauling Family Saga

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Chapter 16

Madison met a man in May of 1981; he came from Manitoba and he worked in the woods. His name was Wayne Waggaman, and soon after serving him eggs over easy with four slices of bacon and hash browns at the diner in Ellsworth where she worked, she decided that she would break up with her current boyfriend. Wayne was well over six feet tall, bearded, long-haired, muscled. He worked for a lumber company that was clearing a piece of land in Washington County, but his job took him all over Maine and eastern Canada. The attraction was immediate. He came into the diner nearly every morning in May. Soon he was dining at Madison’s modest home most evenings, with her and Serena.

She’d done okay for herself in three years. She had parlayed some government assistance money and a string of low-paying jobs into a two-bedroom rental a mile from the center of town. She had a car. Serena went to preschool while she worked. Boyfriends came and went, but until Wayne she had maintained some distance, for Serena’s sake. By the end of June, Wayne was staying over so often that the child could have been forgiven for thinking he’d moved in.

The summer of 1981 began with John Lennon dead, Ronald Reagan in the White House, the two Voyager spacecraft on either side of Saturn, and the Sprauling family in flux. Jeremy was coming back to Maine to take some summer job teaching kids how to sail, on Islesboro, one of the large, populated islands in Penobscot Bay, a safe distance from Blue Hill. Gretchen planned a September wedding to her college sweetheart, which she still wanted to have at the point, even after Paul’s meltdown the previous Christmas. Annabelle had hired an architect to help design the house she and Paul wanted to build at the top of the hill, above the camp. After years of fantasizing aloud, Madison’s mother was finally moving on her dream. The property was Paul’s, but the idea of living on the coast at the end of the road was emphatically Annabelle’s. The inertia was her mother’s, too, Madison knew. All Paul had to do was approve.

But these events occupied the outer orbits of Madison’s solar system. Serena shone like the sun at the center of her days. Wayne phased through her nights like the moon. She was sick of working in the diner and wanted to live closer to the land. Wayne was several years older and had a piece of property in the Kennebec Valley, north of Skowhegan, smack dab in the center of the state. He’d built a little cabin on it, and sunk a well, but there was as yet no running water inside the dwelling. He did a bit of hunting and trapping and fishing, and had cleared some space on a south-facing slope for a vegetable garden. To Madison it seemed like paradise.

They took to going there on mutual days off, where Madison cooked on a woodstove and learned how to pluck wild turkeys and gut fish. He taught her how to fire a rifle and use a chainsaw, skills that had been absent from Elliott Sprauling’s repertoire. They traveled to yard sales in Wayne’s rusted Ford pickup, scavenging for items of furniture she liked that they would then drag back to the property over the old logging road and arrange in the cabin’s interior. She made and hung curtains. Slowly the place began to take on the feel of a home instead of a shack in the woods, and they began spending as much time there as they could.

Serena accompanied them on these trips, of course. From the start, Wayne was great with the kid. He took her out fishing in his canoe on a nearby lake, and built a tree house for her in the woods behind the cabin. He gave her piggyback rides and played hide-and-seek with her. Without any prompting from Madison, he threw up an interior wall so that Serena could have her own room and they could have privacy for intimate moments.

Wayne liked to smoke weed, and he seemed to have an endless supply of it. Madison had mostly gotten away from drugs since settling down with Serena, but she wasn’t averse to a toke or two. They smoked outside, away from the child; at her place in Ellsworth they didn’t smoke at all. But in back of the cabin Wayne erected a picnic table and built an outdoor fireplace, and at night this became their unofficial smoking area. Sometimes after Serena went to sleep, if the bugs weren’t too bad, they made love on top of the table, out underneath the stars.

Neither pavement or power lines reached the property, but Wayne found an old gas-powered generator and hauled it out in his pickup truck, and by July the cabin had electric lights and a makeshift stereo system that played FM radio and cassettes. She delighted in his refusal to hook up a television. He said there probably wouldn’t be any reception anyway, and she said that it reminded her of her grandparents’ place in East Blue Hill, only several orders of magnitude less fancy. (Now there was a Jeremy phrase, Madison thought: “orders of magnitude.”) She had loved living television-free in the summers of her childhood in East Blue Hill, and wanted a similar experience for Serena. The girl seemed to love it, too. Madison noticed that she was seldom cranky when the three of them spent time in the woods.

But there was always the job to go back to, and the little house in Ellsworth that she had once been proud to call her own. Now it depressed her. “What would it take to live out here all winter?” she asked Wayne as they were leaving in the first light of dawn one morning to get her to her job at six. Serena sat between them in the front seat of his pickup, wrapped in a light blanket, barely awake.

“A few sheets of insulation, and a high tolerance for isolation,” he replied. “That and a few cords of firewood put by the year before. And a snowmobile, since they don’t plow the road.”

“But it could be done,” she persisted.

“It could be done,” he agreed. “But Maddie, my job takes me all over the place, and I’m afraid there are no jobs for you out here at all.”

“I know,” she said. “I’m just dreaming. It’s okay to dream, isn’t it?”

“Sure,” he said, reaching over Serena with his long arm to caress the back of her neck. “But it isn’t really a place to spend the winter. It’s a summer camp.”

“My mom and stepfather have a summer camp,” Madison said. “It’s on the coast. But they’re going to build a bigger house on the same property, and when it’s finished, they’re going to move in.”

He smiled over at her. “Is that what you want me to do? Build you a house?” He glanced down at the snoozing Serena. “You might want to think about picking a place closer to a school.”

“I know.” She sighed and looked out the window. But the thought touched her. It told her that he was thinking of them as a unit, as she had been since the day they met. “It’s just that I hate Ellsworth. And I can’t see myself working as a waitress in a diner my whole life. I want to do something different. I want something different for her. I’m sure you’ve noticed how much she loves it out here.”

“Sure,” he said, stroking his beard with one hand and steering the truck around an outcrop of ledge with the other. “But winters are long and cold, and the two of you would be alone for weeks at a time while I’d be off working somewhere. That might be a little tough.”

“I’ve been alone with her for a long time,” Madison said. “I doubt I’d mind all that much. Ellsworth can be just as lonely as the woods.”

“What’s your mom’s camp like?” he asked. She had told him few details about her family, beyond the names of her siblings and the fact that her father was dead.

“It’s nice,” she said. “There’s a couple of islands you can row out to, and you can watch the lobster boats and the seals. It’s Paul’s place, really. But my mom always wanted to live right on the water. She never had that, not even when she was married to my father. Not year-round, anyway. Our house had a view, but no shore access.”

“Our house had a view, too,” he said. “Of a tanning factory. Both my parents worked there, like everybody else’s parents in the town. It wasn’t pretty.”

He had come from nothing and made his way in the world, and while he wasn’t rich, he owned a piece of the Maine woods before the age of thirty, and she admired that. He was an only child who had been working since he was sixteen, first in Canada, then Alaska, and finally Maine. When he found out that her parents and two older siblings were college graduates, he asked her if she regretted not continuing her education. She had nodded at Serena and said, “There’s my education right there. She teaches me something new every day.”

But in fact Madison was not yet twenty-one, still younger than many college students, far too young to traffic in regrets. She could go back to school if she wanted to. Perhaps she would someday. But always came the question: to do what? Jeremy had astronomy. Gretchen was vaguely interested in writing, though practicality had pushed her toward a degree in business administration. What did she want? She was happiest outside, cutting wood, planting something, working the land. Where did higher education fit into that picture, or the ongoing job of raising a daughter? The short answer was that it didn’t.

“Gretchen’s getting married in September,” she told Wayne as he rolled the pickup along the asphalt highway to civilization. “She wants to have the wedding down at the point, at Paul’s camp. So I guess you’ll get a chance to meet my family, if you want to come.”

Privately, she was glad to have a boyfriend who could kick Paul’s ass, if it came to that. If her stepfather put his hand on her butt again, she would be sure to let Wayne know. Wayne was a gentle giant, a pacifist hippie, really, but perhaps his imposing presence would be enough to keep Paul on his best behavior. She hoped so. She hoped he wouldn’t fuck up her sister’s wedding the way he’d ruined last Christmas.

They had all come home, to their mother’s downsized dwelling across from the cemetery. The weather sucked: day upon day of raw drizzle that stubbornly refused to coalesce into snow. Everett gave up his room for Maddie and Serena and bunked with Jeremy, who had arrived a week earlier, in the back room downstairs. Gretchen, home from college for Christmas break, slept in the room the two older sisters had once shared, and Joanie doubled up with Pilar. On South Street they could have gotten away from one another, but here there was no place to hide. No one wanted to go outside, not even for the ritual pilgrimage to Elliott Sprauling’s grave in the cemetery across the street.

Instead, Madison hung out with Gretchen and Jeremy in the back room, where they smoked dope and played Beatles records and mourned the murdered Lennon, still raw news to the three baby boomers in the family two weeks after the shooting. It was a downer of a Christmas season, and the weather only made it worse.

Annabelle insisted on waiting to make the trek down to Paul’s property on the point to cut the tree until all her children could participate. The Spraulings had a tradition of getting the tree in late, but Madison thought this was ridiculous. Every other family in Maine must have their tree up and decorated by now. But her family always trimmed the tree on Christmas Eve and kept it up through Twelfth Night (or Epiphany, as she had known it in the days of her childhood when they had attended holiday church services with her grandparents).

On the 23rd of December, after everyone had assembled, they set out for the point in three vehicles. Paul and Annabelle and Everett drove down in Paul’s pickup truck; Jeremy drove Joanie and Pilar down in Annabelle’s car, and Gretchen rode with Madison and Serena. Madison thought it was a bit pathetic to hold onto this ritual simply for the sake of family togetherness, especially now that they had to go fifteen miles to procure a tree instead of just out to the Sprauling property in East Blue Hill.

At the point, wet fog swirled between the trees, and the cold wind off the water made everyone miserable. They had to trudge out into the woods to find the tree that Paul had marked earlier with a red ribbon. Serena whined and Madison picked her up. Annabelle said she thought the tree was too tall, and Paul said, “God dammit, Annabelle, you were here when we picked it out.”

“I know,” Annabelle said. “But it looks too tall to me.”

“We’re taking it anyway,” Paul told her. “I’m not wandering around in the rain looking for another one. Where is Bing Crosby when you need him?”

“He’s got a couple more days yet,” Jeremy said. “It still might turn to snow.”

Paul grunted and pulled the cord on the chainsaw. It roared into life. He yelled for them all to stand back, and felled the tree in seconds. Serena started to cry. Madison picked her up again and held her close, kissed the child’s wet cheeks. Why had it been necessary for them all to come here on this rotten day? Paul and Jeremy loaded the tree into the back of the truck, and they all piled back into the three vehicles for the ride home.

They brought the tree into the living room that evening, still dripping. It was too big for the room, just as Annabelle had predicted. Paul cut a foot and a half off the bottom, and cursed as he urged it upright in its stand, as Annabelle called out directions from across the room. They had to move the couch against the short wall and take one of the overstuffed chairs out of the room entirely, but finally the tree was in, though its lower branches partially blocked the television.

On the day before Christmas, with no break in the miserable weather, all six siblings retreated to the back room for an eight-hour game of Monopoly. Jeremy won, of course, though Madison was sure he had cheated. His sisters knew better than to let him be the banker, because he liked to slip himself an extra $500 bill or two when no one was looking. But he still found ways: palming Community Chest and Chance cards, nudging houses and hotels from one property to another, shorting the pile in the middle of the board when he landed on Luxury Tax, cajoling other players into making bad real-estate swaps. She stuck up for Everett when Jeremy had him ready to trade Boardwalk for both utilities. “He’s already got Park Place,” Madison told her younger brother. “The most you can ever get out of Electric Company and Water Works is a hundred and twenty dollars. Boardwalk with a hotel is two thousand.”

“Let him make up his own mind, Maddie,” Jeremy said.

“It’s a complete rip off, Everett. Don’t do it. He’s taking advantage of you.”

“So what?” Jeremy argued. “It’s capitalism. Taking advantage of people is what the game’s all about.”

“Jeez, I hope you never own a business,” Gretchen quipped.

They ate Christmas Eve dinner elbow-to-elbow around the kitchen table, and that was where the trouble started. Annabelle had brought the boxes of decorations down from the attic and put on some Christmas music. She had made a big pot of chili and served it with salad and French bread. Afterwards, she brought out a plate of Christmas cookies, and poured eggnog, laced with bourbon, for Paul and herself and Jeremy, Gretchen and Maddie. This was served in holiday china cups that were as fragile as they were ornate, and in reaching for a cookie, Serena knocked one off the edge of the table. It smashed on the floor.

“Oh, my gosh, I’m sorry,” Madison said. She moved to pick up the large pieces. Joanie procured some paper towels, and Madison carefully cleaned up the spilled eggnog and the smaller shards swimming within it. Serena screwed up her face as if to cry. “It’s all right, sweetheart,” Madison said, reaching up from where she knelt to place a comforting hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “It’s just a cup.”

“Just a cup, is it?” Paul said, his voice tight.

Madison looked up at him. His face was a dark cloud. “Accidents happen,” she said.

“They seem to happen a lot around this family,” Paul said. “God forbid you people could ever be careful with things that aren’t yours.”

“Paul, she’s three,” Gretchen said quietly. “It was an accident.”

“That cup,” Paul said slowly, “belonged to my mother. It can’t be replaced.”

Annabelle looked at her husband. “Don’t get upset, dear,” she said. “We still have the rest of the set.”

“Don’t get upset? Don’t get upset? That’s one of a set of six cups. Six. Only six. And now there are five, thanks to your careless family.”

“Paul, it’s a cup. It’s broken. I’m sorry,” Madison said again. “But there’s nothing that can be done about it now.” She stood, the bundle of wadded-up paper towels in her hand.

He turned on her, his face full of fury. “And why should you care?” he said, his voice rising. “Don’t you get it? It was my mother’s china set, and my mother’s dead. Both my parents are dead. I don’t have a big family to gather around at the holidays. It may be just a cup to you, but you don’t care. Your mother’s sitting right there. I’ll never see my mother again. All I have of her are a few things she cherished. So don’t stand there and tell me it’s just a cup.”

Madison wanted to tell him that if his mother’s cups were so damn special to him, he shouldn’t have brought them out around a three-year-old. What she did say was: “You forget that we have a dead parent, too.”

It was the wrong thing to say. Paul slammed his fist down hard on the table, jangling the cups that remained. “How could I ever forget that?” he snarled. “Your precious father, who fell down the stairs.” He glared at Annabelle, whose eyes filled with tears; she looked quickly away. “Every single day I’m reminded that I’m not him.”

He pushed back from the table and stalked off into the other part of the house. When he returned to the kitchen, he had several tree ornaments in his hands. Madison recognized a crystal angel playing a crystal violin, one of a set comprising a five-piece heavenly orchestra that her mother and father had given them one Christmas a few years before Everett’s birth. The Sprauling family had a tradition that each child got a new ornament each year; they often came in sets, and it was Annabelle’s intention that as they moved away from home and started households of their own, they would take their ornaments with them. Madison’s small tree at her house in Ellsworth bore several of her own decorations, but Jeremy and Gretchen had not yet claimed theirs. The angel in Paul’s hand belonged to Gretchen; Jeremy’s was the cello. Madison’s trumpet player hung safely on her tree at home.

She could tell in an instant what Paul had in his head to do. “Paul, no!” Annabelle cried. Madison rose to stop him, but he hurled the angel at the wall above the table. It shattered into a thousand pieces.

“It’s just a Christmas tree ornament,” he sneered. “Nothing to get upset about.”

Madison looked at her older sister. Her face was ashen, her lips drawn into a thin line. Gretchen was slow to anger but also slow to forgiveness, and Madison saw in her eyes a new evaluation of her stepfather. She got up from the table and pushed past him. “You bastard,” she said, her voice acid. Madison knew she was going into the living room to protect the other ornaments.

Paul transferred a glass ball into his throwing hand. “Oh, here’s another one.” He threw it at the same spot, with the same result.

“Stop it, Paul,” Madison cried. But he took up a third ornament and threw it against the wall. Madison tried to grab his throwing arm, but he pushed her away with the other one. He took a wooden toy soldier, dashed it to the floor, and stepped on it. Serena was wailing by now, and everybody seemed to be yelling at once.

“Just ornaments,” Paul said again, glaring at her, his eyes wild in his bearded face. “It’s not like they mean anything to anyone. Oh, wait, but it’s different when it’s your own family, isn’t it? The exalted Sprauling family.”

He had one ornament left: a ceramic Santa Claus face that Everett had made in kindergarten. Moving quickly, Jeremy grabbed Paul’s wrist and wrested it from him. Paul cocked a fist, and for a terrible moment Madison thought that he might really punch out her older brother. But then Annabelle rose with her cup of eggnog and threw its contents in her husband’s face. Then she slapped him. His arms fell to his sides.

Had she not been so upset, Madison might have burst out laughing at the sight of Paul’s beard streaked with the yellow liquid. But this was a moment of real crisis. “You get out of here,” Annabelle said, her voice soft but vehement. “I don’t care where you go, as long as it’s not anywhere near my children.”

Serena was still wailing, and Madison moved to comfort her. Tears ran down Everett’s cheeks; wordlessly, Joanie grabbed his hand and held it. Pilar got up from the table and followed Gretchen into the other room. Jeremy stood next to Paul, still holding the handmade ornament Everett had made for Annabelle three years ago that he had saved from destruction. For a moment no one said anything.

Then Paul picked up a napkin and roughly wiped at his face. He stared hard at his wife. Madison tensed in fear of what might happen next. But Annabelle seemed to have slapped the violent edge of his anger out of him. “Fine,” he said finally. “I’ve never been part of this family anyway.”

He grabbed his keys from a hook above the counter and stalked into the mud room. A moment later, Madison heard the door slam and his truck start up. Then he was gone.

“I’m sorry, kids,” Annabelle said. “He’s had a little too much to drink. This weather’s no help, either, keeping us all inside like this. Christmas is hard for him.”

Madison thought her mother was a little too ready to make excuses for her husband’s bad behavior, though she gave her points for kicking him out of the house. Joanie found the broom and dustpan and cleaned up the broken ornaments. Madison helped her mother wash and put away the dishes, including the cups that had belonged to Paul’s mother, and though she was tempted to “accidentally” drop one, they all got returned to the cupboard intact. Afterwards, they decorated the tree. Though Madison distracted herself by helping Serena hang ornaments on the lowest branches, and despite the Christmas music and the eggnog that she and Gretchen and Jeremy and Annabelle sipped on, and the plate of Christmas cookies Annabelle brought out, it felt like they were all just going through the motions. All the joy had been sucked out of the evening. They hung stockings on a piece of clothesline strung over the fireplace, and then everybody went off to bed, Madison carrying the sleeping Serena over her shoulder.

She didn’t hear Paul’s truck pull in, but she did see that it was parked in the driveway when they got up to open their presents. He came downstairs an hour or so later and made a brief, apologetic speech. Madison saw that Gretchen wouldn’t look at him. Paul’s face was haggard with his holiday hangover, but to Madison he seemed genuinely contrite.

Pilar, the family diplomat, offered him a hug and said, “Merry Christmas, Paul. What you did was awful. But what is Christmas about, if not forgiveness?”

Annabelle seemed to have forgiven him already. She didn’t say another word about the previous evening as they opened presents and went through the rituals of Christmas. She served the holiday roast in mid-afternoon; Paul carved, and the sun peeked briefly through the clouds and into the dining room window. No one drank excessively or started an argument. But Madison felt the tension around the table nonetheless. Conversation stayed light, as though everyone feared saying something that might set Paul off again. The stepfather talked little, but Annabelle chatted away about things from the past: a summer trip they had taken through the Maritime Provinces; going sailing while pregnant with Jeremy; a Christmas blizzard that paralyzed Philadelphia. Madison noted that Elliott Sprauling played a prominent role in all of these stories. Perhaps it was part of Paul’s penance to sit at the family Christmas table and listen.

She thought about leaving that evening, but by the time Annabelle brought out the fruitcake and hard sauce it was already getting dark. “It’s still Christmas,” her mother said. “Stay the night. Drive home in the daylight, when the roads are clear and people are sober.”

Much as she wanted to distance herself from the family dynamics, Madison knew her mother was right. She put Serena to bed early, for the girl was exhausted from the excitement of Christmas and conflict. Eight-year old Everett didn’t last much longer, falling asleep on the floor in the living room where the family had gathered to watch “Christmas Around the World” on the public television channel through the tree branches. When the show ended, Paul got up from his chair and announced that he was turning in. He looked down at Everett’s prone form on the floor. “I guess I’d better carry him to his bed.”

“I’ll do it,” Jeremy said, jumping up. Everett was already growing tall, and made an unwieldy package, but Jeremy bent from the knees, and grunting, lifted his brother to waist height. He had one arm under the shoulders and the other around his knees. Everett’s skinny butt dipped in the middle and his head lolled back. Madison thought it a miracle that he didn’t wake up.

But Jeremy staggered with his burden toward the back room, and Paul dragged himself up the stairs, leaving the living room to Annabelle and her four daughters.

“Are you all right, Mom?” Madison asked, as soon as the men were out of earshot. Annabelle sat in her favorite armchair; the couch was wall-to-wall sisters, with Joanie on one end, Gretchen on the other, and Maddie in the middle. Petite Pilar perched on the armrest next to Joanie.

“I’m fine,” Annabelle replied, a little too automatically. “I’m sorry it hasn’t been a very good Christmas.”

“Mom, why do you put up with it?” Gretchen said. “Why do you put up with him?”

“He isn’t always like that,” Annabelle said. Madison heard the fatigue in her voice, and for the first time she found herself feeling sympathy for her mother in her self-imposed obligation to keep the family intact. “He’s rarely like that. Paul’s a good man. He doesn’t do well around the holidays. Bad memories, I guess.”

“I can’t imagine Dad flipping out like that,” Gretchen said. “He could be distant, but he wasn’t… violent. And all over a stupid cup.”

“Listen,” Annabelle said, sitting up taller in her chair, “Paul may have his faults – and a bad temper is certainly one of them – but don’t put your father on a pedestal. Don’t you think it hurts Paul to be compared to him all the time?”

“Mom, we’re not comparing,” Joanie said.

“Yes you are. All of you are. You may not verbalize it, though sometimes you do. But you’re making constant comparisons between him and a man you remember when you were starry-eyed kids, and of course Paul’s going to suffer by comparison. He knows it. And he knows there’s nothing he can do about it. But he loves you kids, in spite of the way you treat him.”

Madison was astonished at her mother’s impassioned outpouring on behalf of a man she’d kicked out of her house not twenty-four hours earlier. “Gretchen’s right,” she said. “Dad would never have smashed our Christmas decorations, just to get even about something. It was like a kid having a temper tantrum. It was scary.”

“I know,” Annabelle said. “And I’m sorry, and he’s sorry. But your father was no saint, either, girls. I don’t want you to have any delusions. He was a hard man to live with, to be married to. Do you know that he was unfaithful to me several times, with several different women? Paul isn’t perfect, but he’s loyal, and honest, and trustworthy, three things your father was not.”

Annabelle had never talked to them like this. Madison glanced at Gretchen. What had her older sister seen and heard, in the last years of their father’s life? They both remembered arguments, and their father’s easy charm with people, but Madison had never suspected him of having affairs. Then again, she had been young, perhaps too young to think about her parents as sexual beings. She had known, in some nebulous way, that all had not been perfect in their marriage. But now that she was a veteran of a marriage and divorce herself, she was more inclined to accept imperfection as the way of things.

Madison heard the door to the mudroom close; Jeremy must have finished putting Everett back to bed and was now returning to join them. “Mom, if you ever need anything – I mean, if something happens and you need help, promise you’ll call me.”

“I will, sweetheart. And thank you.”

“Me, too,” Gretchen said. Joanie and Pilar nodded and murmured their solidarity.

Madison heard Jeremy rumbling around in the kitchen. “Any eggnog left?” he called out.

“On the bottom shelf in the fridge,” Annabelle called back. “Might as well bring in the whole pitcher, and some cups.”

“Not those cups, though,” Pilar chimed in quickly.

“God forbid,” Madison said. She looked at Gretchen, and they both stifled laughter, not quite successfully. Madison saw that Annabelle was laughing, too, but she did not miss her mother’s furtive glance toward the stairs.

Madison left the next morning, slightly hung over but glad to get away. Gretchen went back to her senior year of college and the boyfriend she planned to marry in the fall; Jeremy went back to upstate New York and his graduate roommates and his part-time job and his uncommitted girlfriend. Joanie and Pilar went back to high school.

Not until Madison told Wayne about Gretchen’s forthcoming wedding during the summer truck ride back to Ellsworth did she realize that Christmas was the last time they had all been together. Six months had passed in which Madison had seen her mother and siblings only a handful of times, and never all assembled at once. She hadn’t seen Jeremy at all. That Christmas had been a breaking point. The family was fracturing. It happened to all families, she supposed. It had begun happening to hers when Jeremy had taken up with Bonnie and she had had Serena. But it had started before that, really. It had started with her father falling down the stairs on a cold October day, when she was eleven years old.

“It’s almost as much a family reunion as it is a wedding,” she told her new lover. “Everybody will be there. You’ll get a chance to meet them all at once.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” Wayne said.

“Don’t be so sure,” Madison warned him. “In the Sprauling family, anything can happen.”

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