My mother and Mia are already at our table with a friend of Mia’s.
Grace welcomes Ana warmly. “Ana, how delightful to see you again! And looking so beautiful, too.”
“Mother.” I greet Grace and kiss her on both cheeks.
“Oh, Christian, so formal!” she chides.
My maternal grandparents join us, and after the obligatory hugs I introduce them both to Ana.
“Oh, he’s finally found someone, how wonderful, and so pretty! Well, I do hope you make an honest man of him,” my grandmother enthuses.
Fuck. I stare at my mother. Help. Mom. Stop her.
“Mother, don’t embarrass Ana,” Grace admonishes her mom.
“Ignore the silly old coot, m’dear. She thinks because she’s so old, she has a God-given right to say whatever nonsense pops into that woolly head of hers.” My grandfather gives me a wink.
Theodore Trevelyan is my hero. We have a special bond. This man has patiently taught me how to plant, cultivate, and graft apple trees, and in doing so has won my eternal affection. Quiet. Strong. Kind. Patient with me. Always.
“Here, kiddo,” Grandpa Trev-yan says. “You don’t talk much, do you?”
I shake my head. No. I don’t talk at all.
“That’s no problem. Folks around here talk too much anyway. Do you want to help me in the orchard?”
I nod. I like Grandpa Trev-yan. He has kind eyes and a loud laugh. He holds out his hand, but I tuck my hands under my arms.
“As you like, Christian. Let’s go make some green apple trees make red apples.”
I like red apples.
The orchard is big. There are trees. And trees. And trees. But they are small trees. Not big. And they have no leaves. And no apples. Because of winter. I have big boots on and a hat. I like my hat. I’m warm.
Grandpa Trev-yan looks at a tree.
“See this tree, Christian? It makes bitter green apples. But we can fool the tree to make sweet red apples for us. These twigs are from the red apple tree. And here are my pruning shears.”
Prew-nig sheers. They are sharp.
“Do you want to cut this one?”
I say yes with my head.
“We’re going to graft this twig you’ve cut. It’s called a scion.”
Si-yon. Si-yon. I say the word in my head. He takes a knife and makes one end of the twig sharp. And he cuts a branch on the tree and sticks the si-yon in the cut.
“Now we tape it up.”
He takes green tape and ties the twig to the branch.
“And we put melted beeswax on the wound. Here. You take this brush. Steady now. That’s right.”
We make many grafts.
“You know, Christian, apples are second only to oranges as the most valuable fruit grown in the U.S. of A. Here in Washington, though, there’s not really enough sun for oranges.”
“Tired? You want to head back to the house?”
I say yes with my head.
“We’ve done a lot of grafting. This tree will yield a huge crop of sweet red apples come autumn. You can help me pick them.”
He smiles and holds out a big hand and I take it. It’s big and rough but warm and gentle.
“Let’s go have some hot chocolate.”
Grandpa gives me a crinkled smile and I turn my attention to Mia’s date, who seems to be checking out mine. His name is Sean and I think he’s from Mia’s old high school. I shake his hand, squeezing hard.
Keep your eyes on your own date, Sean. And by the way, you’re with my sister. Treat her well or I will end you. I think I manage to convey all of that information in my pointed look and the tight grip I have on his hand.
He nods and swallows. “Mr. Grey.”
I pull out Ana’s chair and we sit.
My dad is standing on the stage. He taps the mic and rattles off a welcome and an introduction to the great and the good gathered before him. “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to our annual charity ball. I hope that you enjoy what we have laid out for you tonight and that you’ll dig deep into your pockets to support the fantastic work that our team does with Coping Together. As you know, it’s a cause that is very close to my wife’s heart, and mine.”
The plumes on Ana’s mask quiver as she turns to look at me, and I wonder if she’s thinking about my past. Should I answer her unspoken question?
Yes. This charity exists because of me.
My parents formed it because of my miserable start in life. And now they help hundreds of addicted parents and their kids by offering them refuge and rehabilitation.
But she says nothing and I remain impassive, as I’m not sure how I should feel about her curiosity.
“I’ll hand you over now to our master of ceremonies. Please be seated, and enjoy,” Dad says, and he hands the microphone to the MC, then wanders over to our table, making a beeline for Ana. He greets her with a kiss on each cheek. She blushes. “Good to see you again, Ana,” he says.