Within the hour, John's parents arrived. Not long after they'd said hello to everyone, I was surprised and elated when Andrew's sister, Rachel showed up with her family.
Rachel and I had been close, growing up, but she'd moved away years ago with her parents and then had gotten married. Since her parents died, she spent practically every holiday with her husband's family. Of course, Andrew and I were always visiting Julia and Daniel, so we hadn't seen Rachel in nearly three years.
Judging by Andrew's happy but not terribly surprised expression, he'd known she was coming and just hadn't told me. I attempted to scowl at him for his secrecy, but I was so happy to see Rachel that I couldn't hold onto it. Instead I answered his smile with one of my own before I threw my arms around Rachel and hugged her again, laughing.
After introducing Rachel's husband, Charles and their daughter, Elanor to everyone, and reacquainting them with Victoria who had been too young to remember anyone very much, we all made our way to the dining room.
Heading in, I'd wondered how in the world we would all fit. It was always a tight squeeze at the table, and now we were adding three more people. But as usual, Julia was prepared. She had a small table that could be pulled out easily, and placed against the wall for the younger children. It was still a little tight at the main table, since it wasn't meant to seat twelve adults, but it wasn't too uncomfortable.
I did feel bad for poor James though. He clearly wasn't thrilled about being placed at the children's table. Especially considering that the other children were all girls. He didn't complain, but I noticed him sending several longing looks toward Thomas and Matthew.
I spent the majority of dinner catching up with Rachel. We wrote letters, but not as often as either of us would have liked. We were both busy, and there were so many things you couldn't put in a letter. Things that didn't sound right unless you were actually talking to someone.
Once Rachel was engaged in a discussion with John's mother, I found myself watching Thomas with John at the other end of the table. It was so rare that they got to spend time together, but I loved it when they did.
As far as Thomas knew, John was his uncle. I'd never seen the need to tell him anything different. For all practical purposes, Andrew was his father, and he was a good one. But sometimes I wondered how Thomas didn't instinctively know the truth.
John was good to all of my children, but with Thomas it was just a little different. There was a natural bond between them that I hadn't noticed with any of the others. Not even as strongly with Matthew, Emily, or Ruby.
I don't think either of them really tried for that closeness, they'd just always had it. Although, maybe it was partially because John was aware of how valuable his limited time with Thomas was.
To my knowledge, though, Thomas didn't have any reason to think there was anything exceptional in his relationship with John. If he ever noticed the similarity in their eyes, he hadn't said anything. Which was another thing that I wondered how he could miss. My eyes were deep brown, and Andrew's were blue. Thomas and John shared the same light brown, almost golden eyes that couldn't be found in either Andrew's family or mine. Of course, my family was mostly gone now, so I suppose Thomas would have no way of knowing what attributes he could have inherited from them.
Thomas had always been easygoing and amiable, just as John was. He made friends easily, but he didn't truly open up to many of them. It always took time for him to trust people, and he'd never enjoyed being the center of attention. With John, though, he hardly stopped talking. He was like a different person. And he had never displayed that reservation about trusting John, the way he did with most people.
I think even Matthew noticed that something was different. He wasn't jealous. Like both John and Thomas, there wasn't a malicious bone in Matthew's body. But I knew that he looked up to Thomas as something of a hero, and I think a big part of that was the relationship he noticed between the two of them.
"Ruby, eat your vegetables." Julia's voice cut into my thoughts and I turned to see her shooting Ruby a stern look. I hadn't been paying attention to how many times Julia had said that already, but I knew it was more than a few.
Ruby looked at Julia petulantly before she went back to playing with the uneaten vegetables on her plate. She clearly had no intention of listening. She was just smart enough not to declare her defiance verbally.
Julia glanced at me, seeming tired but also determined.
She turned to Ruby again. "You clean your plate or no dessert, young lady."
I wanted to laugh and cry for Julia at the same time. She was completely out of her depth with this child. I could barely remember her ever getting truly upset when I was younger. She rarely scolded and never gave ultimatums, yet that seemed normal for her now. I knew she didn't like it either. She had always been the nurturing one, leaving the disciplining to Papa. It went against her nature to have to act this way.
I glanced down the table at John, and wondered how much weight Julia's threat of no dessert, would hold. As usual he was oblivious to the battle of wills taking place across the room.
I looked back to Ruby who was wearing an openly defiant expression now, and had to bite my tongue once again.
This isn't my place, I reminded myself, going back to my meal. John would eventually realize what was going on.
I truly hoped he would, anyway.
After dinner, the children went to play while the adults stayed at the table to talk for a while.
I made Julia stay put, and instead recruited Emily to help me clear the table. While my forceful insistence worked on Julia after a minute, Rachel refused to be persuaded to sit and relax while Emily and I did the work. The look in her eye reminded me of exactly how stubborn she could be, and so I gave up trying to convince her.
In no time, we had the left-over food put away, and the dishes washed.
As if by magic, the children had reappeared in the dining room by the time we brought in the desserts, and I was paying close attention to Ruby. As expected, she hadn't touched her vegetables during dinner, but was anxious about dessert like everyone else.
Julia began handing out slices of pie with ice cream on top, skipping over Ruby.
Ruby frowned for a minute before wiping the look from her face and crawling into John's lap.
"I can have pie too, right Daddy?" She asked sweetly, batting her eyes and pulling John's attention from the conversation he was having with Charles and Daniel.
He looked down at her and smiled, not seeming bothered by her interruption. "Of course, Honey." He took the plate that Julia had set in front of him and gave it to Ruby. "Here you go."
She grabbed the plate and happily took a big bite as John went back to his discussion.
I glanced at Julia who seemed as frustrated as I felt. But she also looked resigned.
My hands balled into fists. I know Julia didn't want to make a scene right now, but this was getting ridiculous. Ruby had absolutely no respect and she got rewarded for it!
I wasn't sure what exactly, but I had to say something. I took a step toward John, but was stopped when a pair of strong arms wrapped around my waist from behind.
"Relax, Kat," Andrew said in my ear before he kissed my cheek. "It's a holiday, after all."
I looked back at him. It didn't surprise me that he knew exactly what I was thinking. He'd always been extremely perceptive. More so where I was concerned.
Before I could say anything, Andrew pulled me through the doorway behind us, and led me down the hall a little ways. He spun me around so that my back was to the wall.
I was still outraged, but I couldn't help smiling a little at the playful glint in his eye.
"What are you doing?"
"Time for dessert." He grinned and pressed me against the wall, kissing me eagerly.
I allowed myself to get carried away for a few minutes before I realized we were getting a little too enthusiastic.
"Andrew." I pulled back. "Our entire family is in the next room."
"Are you worried that they might see you kissing your husband?" He smirked.
I smiled. "This is hardly appropriate behavior right now."
"I think it's very appropriate," he argued. "That's mistletoe over there." He nodded towards the little plant that we were most definitely not standing under.
"Across the room?" I raised my eyebrows.
"You didn't know?" he asked. "Only young, single people have to be directly under it. Old married people just have to be able to see it. It's the rules."
I laughed as he leaned in to kiss me again.
He pulled away, that mischievous look still in his eyes, and I tried to forget what I'd been thinking. It proved impossible though. Andrew's attempt at distraction had left me in a better mood, but my mind was still focused on the problem with Ruby.
I sighed. "Andrew, this is so...Ruby is-"
"Not your responsibility," he cut me off.
"I know, but Julia-"
"Julia can speak for herself." Again, he didn't let me finish.
I huffed, knowing he was right about both, but that didn't solve the problem.
"Ruby is John's daughter. He's capable of disciplining her when she needs it."
"But he isn't," I complained. "He doesn't even see the need."
Andrew smiled. "It's still not your responsibility. You have your own children to raise. Leave John to his."
I knew it wasn't my place. I'd been telling myself that for the last few days, but something needed to be done. John was totally blind to his daughter's behavior.
"I know you want to fix this." He tucked the piece of hair that had escaped from the rest, behind my ear. "You're such a good mother, you can't help it. But now isn't the time."
I just looked at him unhappily.
"What do you suppose it would help?" he asked. "It would only cause a scene and make things awkward for everyone. Besides, we'll be leaving in a few days. What about then?"
I nodded and looked away. He was right, of course, but I couldn't help feeling as if I was failing Jenny somehow. If it had been me who wasn't around for my children, I think I'd have wanted her to help fill that void for them as much as she could.
"Just try to relax and enjoy our time here, alright?" he said, pulling my attention back to him. "Right now, your children don't need any mothering, and personally, I could go for some more dessert." He grinned.
I laughed. Andrew had a way of blending practicality and silliness so that when he felt he needed to criticize me, he also made me laugh.
"I'll try," I finally conceded.
"Good." He kissed me softly, before he pulled me into his arms. I gladly rested my head against his chest and promised myself I really would relax and enjoy my time with everyone. It was certainly rare enough.