Emmy spent most of the next two weeks sleeping. When they went for blood work on Monday she was anemic again. Brett had taken her today and it was a good thing, with the added infusion they were 30 minutes late getting back to practice. But Emmy had to admit that she felt much better because of it.
Since this week was Thanksgiving they were just having practice on Monday and Tuesday and then had the rest of the week off. Coach called it a recovery/reenergize week. A lot of the team was traveling to see family so it just made sense. They’d been going all out for three months now and deserved a basketball vacation before the big push to the state tournament in December.
Monday’s practice was a review of all the plays they had run throughout the year. Tuesday was a team scrimmage. The scrimmage went very good. Rick coached one team and Stephanie the other. Emmy was on her team and Stephanie asked Rick to throw everything he could at her. Each time she recognized the change in defense and she exploited it. Stephanie could only smile. She’d played with a lot of girls and coached and she’d never seen a player as good as Emmy.
It excited and scared her. Coach Miles could only hope that she would be a good enough coach to expand Emmy’s talent here in Middle School so that she’d be ready right when she entered High school to compete on that level. The girls’ games were not as bad as the boys but college coaches were looking at students younger and younger. Stephanie knew that a good college education was Emmy’s best shot.
If something happened and they couldn’t get the adoption pushed through Emmy would age out of the system at 18 and be on her own. A college scholarship, to a great university, would certainly make that easier. Stephanie knew that at least some of that responsibility fell on her. Coaches had to “sell” their players to universities. Emmy needed plays that would highlight her talents for others to see. Stephanie knew that several scouts from universities would be at the state tournament.
Emmy was scheduled to receive her final does of chemo the week before the state tournament. They both worried about the effect it would have just in time for the tournament. Dr. Hatcher hoped that a week before would give enough time for some of the side effects to pass. Dr. Hatcher’s real worry was that the last two doses would really affect her immune system. She would be basically running on empty and anything even a cold would seem like Ebola to her body in its weakened state.
The ride home from practice was always quiet. It was a good time to talk with Emmy. Well it was a good time to talk to Emmy. “So on Thursday we are going to go to Brett’s family’s for Thanksgiving. We’ve gone every year since we started dating. The whole family comes. Its really laid back and everyone just visits with each other. It will give you a chance to meet everyone. Does that sound OK?”
“Yes ma’am.” Stephanie knew that Emmy was nervous because she’d said ma’am. It was another Emmyism that she’d picked up in the past 3 months.
Emmy sat there for a moment then, “Coach, what about you’re family?” That was one of the first questions Emmy had ever asked. Maybe they were making progress.
“They’ve already passed away. My Mom and Dad were both busy with careers, and I was an only child. They were older when I was born so by the time I was in college my Dad was in his 70’s and my Mom her late 60’s. She had a stroke my sophomore year of college and died. My Dad had Alzheimer’s and was gone by my senior year.”
“Don’t be I had a great childhood. My parents were both professors at Butler University up in Indiana and we lived right off campus. I walked to any sporting event I wanted. There were always theatrical productions to attend and the library literally had a endless supply of books.”
“When I was little, there was a lady that was my babysitter who had a girl my age and we were best friends and her mom was kind of like a second Mom to me. So while they never got to meet Brett or my boys, or you. I had good parents and a great childhood.”
Emmy didn’t say anything and Stephanie wondered what she was thinking. After telling that story Stephanie realized that she and Emmy had completely different childhoods. Stephanie had never wanted for anything. With a Father who was an art history professor and a mother who taught Latin studies, she’d gotten to travel all over Europe. They worked, but were always there for her. While their health was good they attended every game she played in. Emmy’s mom had never gotten to see the amazing player she was.
Wednesday passed quickly. Stephanie and Emmy went to the grocery to purchase all the ingredients she needed for the food she was bringing to Thanksgiving. Stephanie was in charge of the pies. She tried to tell Emmy the names of everything she was making and most of them Emmy had never heard of. In fact she wasn’t sure that she’d ever had pie other than the pumpkin they served at the food bank and at school at Thanksgiving. She worked with Stephanie on a few of them until the boys came home from practice and Stephanie could tell that Emmy was tired. The boys took over and Emmy fell asleep in her room reading. The infusion had helped for a while but she still had this bone deep tiredness that just hit and she felt like she could sleep for days.
When it was time for dinner Brett opened the door and said her name but she didn’t stir. He pulled the cover over her and they just made her a plate for later. Only later never came. At 8:00 Stephanie checked on her and she was breathing but still out. So they let her sleep right through the night.
The next morning Emmy woke to the smell of something baking. It smelled really good and Emmy felt her stomach growl. Getting up she realized that it was almost nine o’clock. At the children’s home she never got to sleep that late on holidays or weekends because breakfast ended at 8:30 on the weekends and if you didn’t get there in time that was it until lunch at noon.
She dressed in a basketball shirt and some warm-up pants and then headed to the bathroom. Brushing her teeth washing her face and combing her hair she looked at her face in the mirror. She was nervous about today unsure of what Brett’s family knew about her. She’d been living with the Miles’ for months now and hadn’t met any of the extended family. Her biggest fear was that they’d talk sense into Stephanie and Brett and they’d send her back. She could hear them whispering, “Why would you take on such a responsibility now?” “Do you know how much trouble she’s going to be?” It was all stuff that Emmy had heard before.
“There she is.” Brett was the first person to see Emmy. “How are you feeling?”
“Good” He put his arm around her.
“Are you ready for today?”
“Yes sir.” Brett and Stephanie both looked at each other knowing what the sir meant.
“Emmy, we’ve talked about this before you don’t have to call me sir.”
“Sorry.” She went for the cereal boxes and picked out the plainest one she could find. Corn flakes. Then Brett watched as she ate them completely plain. Taylor and Tyler would have added a ton of sugar and still complained about not having a colored sugary cereal. He often had to remind himself of what Emmy was used to. She had learned to eat what she had, which wasn’t always good. In the last month or so the chemo had also changed the way food tasted.
“So today we are going to go to my family’s farm down in Kentucky. My parents are gone, but my oldest brother lives there with his two boys.” Emmy ate as she listened. “There are horses and cows, and all kinds of animals. It’s supposed to be nice today so we can walk around some.”
Emmy liked that idea. She could stay out of the way and maybe they forget she was there.
Stephanie hollered down the stairs for the boys to get up. “Guys time to get up. We’ve got to get going by 9:30. If you’re not in the car we leave without you.” Downstairs Emmy could hear shuffling and then the bathroom door slam followed by an evil laugh. A few minutes later Jake shuffled upstairs. “Can I use your bathroom?” He asked Brett.
“Its not really fair his bed is closer.”
“Go on but hurry.”
Emmy had showered last night so all she needed to do was change. After putting her breakfast dishes in the dishwasher she went into her room.
Opening the closet she suddenly realized that she didn’t have any clothes that weren’t uniforms for school. She peeked back out in the kitchen and Stephanie and Brett were wearing jeans with a dress shirt or nice sweater. Well at least Emmy had a pair of jeans. They were allowed to wear them on Fridays for school so the home allowed them to purchase two pairs each year.
Emmy chose the jeans and a black polo. At least black was supposed to look dressier. Smoothing her hair back down she slid on her tennis shoes and walked back to the kitchen.
“All ready?” Brett was sitting at the table reading the newspaper.
“I wish the boys were as fast as you.”
Stephanie turned from where she was washing up the dishes from making all the pies and she saw Emmy sitting there. She was immediately hit with another of those waves of grief that she’d felt lately.
This time it was her own doing. When Emmy had moved in she’d mentioned going shopping and getting Emmy some other clothes, but she’d never taken the time. Now Emmy was sitting there in a school uniform because it was all she had. If Emmy was the size of the other girls on the team she could have offered her something, but Emmy was so small and skinny she didn’t have anything that would fit. To top it all off her polo was short sleeved. Epic foster mom fail.
“Emmy, I forgot to take you shopping. I’m so sorry.”
“Its ok coach this is fine. Unless it isn’t nice enough? I can just stay here?” Emmy was worried that she was going to embarrass them with the way she was dressed.
“Oh no. Not at all. That shirt is absolutely fine.” She dried her hands and Emmy was saved by Tyler who came up the stairs wearing the exact same thing, a black polo. Everyone turned to look at him as he emerged up the stairs.
He saw everyone looking at him. “What?” then he looked at Emmy. “Oh man! I guess we shouldn’t look like we are dressed for a family photo.” He turned and went back downstairs.
“See told you it was fine.” Stephanie sat down beside Emmy. “I meant to take you and let you pick out some clothes that weren’t just for school. Especially now that it’s getting cooler we should probably get you some things with long sleeves.”
Brett added “And she’s going to need a bigger coat. That team one isn’t going to be enough soon.”
Jake and Tyler finally came up at 9:25. Emmy was glad they were both wearing polos. They all helped Stephanie load the pies in the car. Emmy counted and she had made 12, pumpkin, pecan, custard, banana cream and several others that Emmy couldn’t name. Stephanie must do this every year because they had it down to a science. There were boxes that fit two pies perfectly and then stacked in the back of the SUV. When they were all loaded Brett stretched a cargo net across the back. “So nothing slides out when we open it. Steph would kill me.” Emmy nodded agreeing.
Emmy always sat in the middle of the back seat with Jake and Tyler on each side. They both had iPhones and as soon as they began the drive the headphones went in. Jake looked over and handed Emmy one of his. She took it and slid the earbud into her ear. Brett saw them in the rearview mirror and couldn’t have been happier. It did make him realize that they needed to talk about Christmas. Emmy needed so much but he feared that she wouldn’t accept anything.
“So Emmy, I’ll give you a little Miles family history. We’ve always had Thanksgiving here at this farm. My great-great-great grandfather moved to Kentucky from Virginia and bought the farm and my family has been living there ever since. But not all the Thanksgivings have gone as planned.
One year when my grandfather was little he and his father went out looking for the turkey. They hunted for a full week and never found a turkey or anything so for Thanksgiving dinner they had all the vegetables and dressings and pies and deer jerky that my great grandmother had made in the summer. My granddad said from that year on his mother made his father buy a turkey in town.”
Jake and Tyler were listening intently. They didn’t think they’d ever heard that story. “Mom what do you remember most about Thanksgiving growing up?”
She thought for a minute. “Well several years I remember going to the President of the University for a big Thanksgiving dinner. I remember always watching the parade with my Dad.”
“What about you guys?”
Jake spoke first. “I remember the time someone pushed open the door right as Mary was coming in and she dropped the whole pan of macaroni and cheese. Remember how it ran down the storm door?” Tyler and their parents laughed.
Tyler added. “Or how about the time William was playing with those firecrackers and set the flowerbed in front of the house on fire.” Emmy gave him a weird look. “It was scary then but it wasn’t a big fire and its kind of funny now.”
“Emmy anything you remember about Thanksgiving?”
She took a deep breath. “We usually went to one of the soup kitchens. That’s where I met Margaret the lady that helped me after Mom was gone.” She smiled and continued. “I remember the last Thanksgiving Mom was here. She’d gotten a different job and we must have been doing better because we bought the ingredients and made a pumpkin pie ourselves. I remember it even had cool whip on it. We still had to go to the soup kitchen for dinner, but we came home and ate the pie together.” They loved to hear Emmy share but each time it broke their hearts a little more. Unable to continue after that the conversation lulled and the kids went back to listening to their music.
As they crossed a bridge Brett watched in the rear view mirror as Emmy smiled. “What are you smiling about little missy?”
“I’ve never been to another state before.” Bam, there was that grief Stephanie had been feeling. Brett got hit this time too, as did the boys.
Tyler was the first to speak “you’ve never left Ohio before?”
“I’ve never been out of Cincinnati.”
Jake asked, “So you’ve never seen a mountain or the ocean.”
“Well, I guess we’ve got a road trip to plan for this summer.” Brett and the boys began talking about all the places they’d like to take Emmy. Stephanie was lost in her thoughts about how a child in a country were transportation was so simple, could live for 12 years and never leave the city they were born in.
Before they knew it they were pulling off the main road. About a half mile down a black board fence began to line one side of the road. Emmy looked up in front of them and the fence ran as far as she could see. They turned left and drove through a big gate in the fence. The fencing ran down both sides of the drive as well. In front of them, behind a row of trees Emmy could see a beautiful white house. As they got closer Emmy was amazed at how pretty everything was.
Stepping out everyone went to the back and grabbed some pies. Before they could get them all out a whole bunch of people came out of the house to help. They all started saying “Hi.” Emmy just stepped a little closer to Brett almost hiding behind him. “And who is this?”
“This is Emmy. Emmy this is my older brother David.”
“Emmy it is very nice to meet you. I’ve heard quite a bit about your basketball skills.” Emmy just nodded and smiled.
He helped them grab the last two pies and they all walked up the steps to the front door. A tall boy was holding it open for everyone. Inside the house smelled amazing. Jake and Tyler were sitting together in the family room talking with their cousins. Jake motioned for Emmy. “Emmy come here.” She went to him and he pulled her down beside him on the floor. He tried to introduce her to everyone. They all talked about school and sports.
Brett had three siblings and there were 11 kids between them. Emmy was the youngest of them all. David had two boys and they were 24 and 22. Brett’s sister Mary had three girls, and the youngest sister, Brenda, had three kids, a boy and two girls. The youngest girl was 13 and an 8th grader. Emmy sat silently beside Jake while all the kids talked.
Before long a lady in a blue apron came in and told them it was time to eat. Tyler leaned down and whispered “That’s Kim, Uncle David’s wife and Michael and William’s mom.” Emmy nodded, not sure she’d remember all this but glad for the information.
As they walked out of the room and into the kitchen Emmy stayed with Tyler. Once in the kitchen she located Brett who motioned for her to get in line with him. He handed her a plate as she slipped in line in front of him. All the food was laid out along the counters and the island in the kitchen. They went through the line and he told her what everything was. She chose a little scoop of a few things.
Stephanie was filling drinks over by the refrigerator and watched as Brett shared this special moment with Emmy. He’d been so excited for Emmy to meet his family. Stephanie was nervous that it would be an overload for her, but so far she seemed to be doing great. She watched as Emmy’s skinny little arm reached out and got a big scoop of mashed potatoes. Steph would have to remember that. Of everything on her plate it the potatoes were the only thing more than a tiny spoonful. She remembered at the hospital too that was one of the things Emmy had eaten all of. Originally she thought maybe it was that the potatoes actually tasted good while the other food offered there was a little bland. Now she realized that mashed potatoes might be one of Emmy’s favorite foods. After getting their food they made their way to the table.
The house, which looked like one of the old plantation houses Emmy had seen in books, was made for entertaining. Through a door leading off the kitchen was a formal living and dining room. The two were separated by a huge set of doors. Doors big enough for a table to stretch through and plenty of room to walk by on each side. The tables were lined up down the center of the room. Everyone sat and chatted waiting for everyone to sit down. Finally Stephanie and Kim, the last two to get their plates joined them. “Let’s say grace.” David said and then everyone around the table joined hands. Emmy was sitting between Brett and Tyler and they reached for her hands.
“Dear Lord, thank you so much for the food that has been so lovingly prepared for us. Thank you for bringing all of us together today. Lord we are especially grateful for Emmy. Thank you for leading her into our family. Dear Lord we pray for health and happiness in the coming year. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.” Emmy sat there as the others began to eat. She was so surprised that he had mentioned her specifically in the prayer. She wasn’t sure that anyone had ever prayed to God about her. Family was a pretty neat thing.
She reached for her spoon and Stephanie watched as she went for the mashed potatoes first. Emmy watched and listened to all the conversations around her.
Brenda had married a heart surgeon and he was working on some new kind of procedure. Emmy had to look down at her food to keep from laughing when Tyler leaned over and told her that Brenda’s husband, the heart surgeon, had the last name of Hart. “Isn’t that funny?” Tyler was giggling himself. David told Emmy the story about the tables that they were sitting at and some of the history of the farm. Apparently the North had marched through the fields during the civil war.
As everyone finished Stephanie leaned over and asked if Emmy was feeling ok. “Yes ma’am.”
“Good. The mashed potatoes were good weren’t they?”
“The best I’ve ever had.” Kim made the greatest potatoes ever. A few years ago Stephanie had found out it was the whipping cream and butter that made them so rich, unhealthy, but rich. Now that she was thinking about it maybe she should be making those at home for Emmy. They might fatten her up a bit.
While the ladies were putting up the food the men washed all the dishes. Emmy helped Tyler throw away all the napkins and plastic glasses. While they were working Emmy excused herself. Tyler knew where she was going and glance up at his Mom who saw Emmy leave too. She mouthed “Its OK” to him.
Emmy ran upstairs to find the bathroom that Stephanie had shown her earlier. It had been a couple of days since she had been sick like that, but she also hadn’t eaten that much in months. As she was eating she knew it was a mistake, but it was just so good. When she finished she cleaned up and headed back downstairs.
Stephanie was at the bottom of the stairs waiting. “OK?”
“Yes ma’am I just ate too much.”
“Hard to resist isn’t it.”
Emmy didn’t answer but nodded. “Brett and the boys are outside. They wanted to show you some of the farm if you’re up to it.”
“Oh yes.” Emmy went to the closet where they’d hung their jackets and found hers. The day was cool and Stephanie wished that she’d had something a little warmer. Some of the other girls had scarves and gloves and there was Emmy in a short-sleeved polo and a light jacket. Stephanie was beating herself up for that still.
Back in the kitchen all the ladies were sitting around the table drinking some coffee and Stephanie joined them. “Stephanie, Emmy is wonderful.” Kim began as she poured her a cup.
“One of the most respectful kids I’ve seen lately. Its yes ma’am and yes sir everything.”
“She is. The only problem is she still calls us sir and ma’am. I’m not expecting ‘hey mom,’ but just ‘hey Stephanie’ would work. It’s always ma’am and occasionally coach.”
Mary asked, “How long have her parents been gone?” Stephanie told them as much as they knew. They were family and she was sure that they all wondered what she and Brett were thinking fostering an older child.
“So for now we are completing the foster care process and then we will work on adoption.”
“You all are doing a great thing.” Kim added.
Stephanie nodded “You know today on the way here she had the biggest smile on her face, we have to work at it to get a smile usually. Brett saw it and asked what was up” Stephanie paused and took a deep breath before continuing. “She said it was the first time she’d been to another state.”
Mary said, “Oh my.”
Brenda added, “Heartbreaking.”
“The boys asked her more and we found out that she’d never left the city of Cincinnati before today. She’s never seen a mountain or the ocean. So the boys spent the whole trip talking about all the places that they wanted to take her.”
“Oh Stephanie. What a difference you all can make in her life.” Kim placed her hand over hers. Stephanie wanted so bad to tell them that that was only half of it, but Emmy’s health situation wasn’t something she wanted to share so Stephanie wouldn’t break that trust.
Their conversation slowly moved to recipes and Christmas plans. Stephanie excused herself after a while to go check on Emmy and the boys.
Out back she found Emmy sitting on the ground near the fence petting Whiskey the border collie while Brett rode a horse through the field. Stephanie sat beside her. “He rides so well.” Stephanie had always loved the sight of Brett on a horse. The man had a way with them.
“Did you want to try?”
“With state coming up, I didn’t want to risk it.” Emmy didn’t say that really she was a bit afraid of the large animal. As they sat there some of the boys returned on 4-wheelers. Stephanie looked over at one. “How about a ride on that?”
Emmy’s eyes lit up. “You sure?”
“Get on!” Emmy took one of the helmets lying on the seat and put it on and then climbed on behind Stephanie. “Hold on!” Emmy slid her hands around coach’s waist and held on tight. Stephanie waited until she felt Emmy’s grip tighten and then she started the 4-wheeler.
Stephanie took off down the drive and turned off to the left. All the fields were divided with paths in between. They followed along one for a while and then through an open gate. They rode toward the woods at the back of the property. Stephanie certainly did seem to know what she was doing so Emmy relaxed and enjoyed the ride.
Along the woods the property rose and they followed that rise to the top. At the top was a tree that stood out from the wood line. It was a huge old tree with a massive trunk and low wide branches. As they approached Stephanie slowed and then stopped the 4-wheeler. She climbed off and Emmy followed. Removing her helmet she saw Stephanie looking at something. Emmy turned and saw what had Stephanie’s attention. They were standing on the highest point of the property. Looking over the fields they could see horses running along the fence. They could see back to the barn and all the cousins riding horses. Emmy was amazed at the beautiful old farmhouse with its windows glowing with the light from within. Then beyond the house was the most beautiful part of all. The sun was an orange ball setting just over the hill to the right of the house. Its last few rays of light casting an orange glow over the fields. The view took Emmy’s breath. “Its beautiful.”
“This might just be my favorite place on earth.” Stephanie leaned on one of the tree’s massive branches.
“I can see why.”
“This is where Brett proposed to me.”
“Yep and the sky looked a lot like this, but it was spring and everything had more of a yellow glow.”
As they stood there taking in the scenery they heard a bell. “That would make it time for dessert.”
“They have a dinner bell?”
“They do. I’m not sure they use it much anymore. I think Kim usually just calls David’s cell phone to tell him when dinner is ready. But on special occasions its nice.”
“You ready to ride back.”
“Yes.” Stephanie noted the absence of a Ma’am and took that to mean Emmy had liked the ride.