Diane Collins stepped into the cab which took her to her grandparents' house in Bedford, Texas.
The cab driver looked a bit too occupied to acknowledge her, but he still gave her a slight nod as a greeting. People in Texas were like that, as far as she could remember, you just knew what they were thinking without uttering a word. Diane didn't mind it either way. Where she came from, living in the Upper Westside of New York, people were always on, chatting away about something, or someone.
She hadn't been here since she was 16, now an adult of 30, graduated, self-sufficient, coming back felt bittersweet. She wasn't avoiding it, on the contrary. She wanted to come as often as she could, there wasn't enough time in the day. Living her life separately as a single woman in New York, writing for a publication that used her editorials for their weekly spreads, she was needed professionally speaking.
She phoned her father, checking in with him if had she made her flight safely and that she was on her way. She missed Thanksgiving, missed most holidays, but she swore this year was going to be different. Telling her chief editors she needed Christmas off was a stretch, even for her who tended to work most holidays and even on her birthday.
But family was the bottom line, they'd have to understand that, she wasn't getting any younger, time had flown before she had a chance to catch her breath. She looked at her ringless finger and sighed inwardly. Yes, coming to Texas was bittersweet, she admitted that silently. She had another 45 minutes until she arrived and the cab driver stepped on his petal-like he had somewhere to be.
She looked outside upon the frost-covered streets of the freeway. It wasn't too crowded for the morning, thankfully, Diane made sure to plan her flight so she would arrive late into the morning, before rush hour traffic of lunchtime hit hard. She knew she would be stuck, either way, she wanted to be on the safe side.
She took out her phone and logged into Facebook, looking at the pictures that adorned her Grandfather's page. Various pictures of nights out at his favorite pubs, family gatherings, and birthday parties. Seeing how things haven't changed much over the years made her wish she had that time back to spend with them. Not one for living in regret, but her heart squeezed when she saw the recent pictures of her Grandpa smiling like he didn't have a care in the world.
It wasn't like she never stayed in touch with him, she did, she always found some way to call him, especially on his birthday. But she knew it wasn't good enough, no matter what he told her. Having time was a luxury and this was a decision long in the making. She huddled her shoulders, crossing her arms over her chest for warmth. Another 20 minutes and she was there.
Why did this feel like the most nerve-racking thing she'd done since she had to make that presentation in front of news executives? It's only her Grandfather, she'd known him all her life. Maybe it was her father she was more tense about. They hadn't had the greatest relationship for a while. With Diane bouncing between different parental households, clashes over what was best for her career, they didn't always see eye to eye. She was happy to see his second wife, Sofia, though.
Maybe if Diane only spoke when she was spoken to, all will be well. Her father's side was the English part of her, that didn't know that much about, no one really talked of their family history. Her father, Edward Collins, wasn't a man of feelings, and when he expressed them, it was always in agitation. Perhaps if Diane handled him in the most mature way, speaking very little, keeping her own emotion and feelings at bay, they would be civil.
Her sister, Delilah was calling her, she and their father were very similar, she hoped this call wasn't going to end in another hang-up.
"Hey Sis, are you here yet? Dad just texted me."
"I'm close, is everyone there?"
"Just about, we're all waiting on you. It'll be good to see you."
Diane smiled, clutching her phone as she heard her sister say that, "Yeah, it would be."
Delilah sighed, "Okay, well, hopefully, you're pullin' up. Tommy and Brucie are asking about you."
Of course, their little nephews need someone to play with. Diane shook her head.
"That's nice, yeah, should be any minute now. We just exited off the turnpike." Diane said, looking out of the windshield. "I gotta get off, it's coming up."
"Later," Delilah said and clicked off the call.
Diane got ready to exit as soon as the driver pulled up to an empty parking space. She paid the driver, thanked him, opened the door, and went to the back to get her small suitcase and bag of gifts from the trunk. The driver offered to help her but the load wasn't heavy. She thanked him briefly and walked up slowly toward the front door. She looked around, noticing not much has changed. The Christmas lights were hanging along with the icicle lights all around the quaint home.
She lifted her hand to knock but the door flung open to reveal Sofia's smiling face. Diane smiled back and came forward to give her a hug.
"Welcome back, honey, good to see you again," Sofia said in her thick Italian accent, she hadn't changed a bit since she saw her. "Here, come inside, it's freezing."
Edward had been standing behind her, wearing a polite smile. Her father always had his poker face on, you could never tell what he was thinking, but at that moment, at the very least it wasn't negative thoughts. Diane made eye contact with him as he offered to take her suitcase and bag inside, shutting the door from the chill that wanted to breakthrough.
"Thanks, Dad," she smiled, giving him a quick hug as he carried her things into another room, disappearing.
Diane looked around and felt an amazing festive atmosphere smothering the house. She loved that feeling, it made her feel a little less lonely around the normal setting she had grown used to.
Suddenly, two tiny bodies came around the corner and crashed into her knee, hugging tightly.
"Hey, guys! Wow, you're so big! How old are you boys now?" Diane asked, crouching down to their eye level.
"We're five! You came!" Tommy said in his squeaky voice, but you could tell there was maturity somewhere in there.
"I did, wow, five, I remember when you guys were babies, isn't that crazy?!" She said, sticking her tongue out.
"Yeah, it's crazy alright," Edward came back in the hallway and stalked toward them, he picked up Brucie and held Tommy's hand. "Time flies, I guess."
Diane stood up and straightened herself out as she stared back at her father's serious face. She knew it all too well, but at least they weren't bickering...yet.
"It's true, so, where is everyone?"
"In the living room, the weather's a little off so we're mostly inside. Had you eaten anything?" Her father's Scouse accent was still there despite leaving when he was 10 years old.
Diane shook her head, her dark brunette hair swaying in her eyes.
"We have breakfast ready if you like some. Grandma Margaret made enough for everyone. I'll meet you in a few," He said, nodding at her nondescriptly.
Diane swung her hands, that was typical of him. But it seemed like he was purposely trying to avoid talking with her for fear of another altercation. Hopefully, those days are long gone and buried, she thought.
She made her way to the kitchen and gasped at all the food displayed, everything looked like a neat looking buffet you would find at some hotel, only this one was made with love. Nana Margaret knew how to cook to so nobody forgot her cooking. She had practically raised her as her own when Diane's mother passed away.
She was about to take a plate and get started when she heard a slight gasp, knowing that sound from anywhere. She could almost see her Grandma's hand over her chest.
"My dear! You've come! Oh, this is wonderful, I'm so happy to see you again. My Lord, you're grown," Grandma Margaret said in her Scouse accent as she came forward simply looking at Diane, "I'm so glad you are here, love."
Diane's face flushed, "Hi Nanny," she whispered with feeling and pulled her Grandma in a strong embrace, feeling her eyes water over. "I missed you so much. I missed everyone."
They pulled apart, Margaret moved away to allow Diane to properly serve herself the hot food. "I made plenty, just in case everyone wanted seconds. They told me you were going to come, I had my high hopes and my prayers were answered."
Diane knew her family was religious, and hearing it all over again brought her back to her childhood. She smiled at her Grandma, finished serving herself, and sat down at the kitchen table. Margaret brought her a mug and filled it with coffee, including the cream and sugar.
"Thanks, all this looks amazing and smells great too," she said, began eating, and closed her eyes at how incredible it tasted. Grandma always knew how to do it right. "This is perfect, just like you always used to cook it."
"Knew you would enjoy it." She said, taking a seat across from Diane, sipping her own coffee. "There's always more when you need it."
Diane nodded, taking a break to wipe her mouth calmly and sip her coffee. She looked around the kitchen, smiling at the instant warmth she felt in the past 40 minutes of being here.
"Has he spoken with you, your father?" Margaret asked her.
Diane sighed, shrugging, "We said hi, he took my bags and said something briefly. Not a full conversation."
"Oh, well, he'll come around. If my son is anything, he doesn't hold grudges anymore. He cares much more than he lets on. It's amazing how similar you both are."
"I don't see it, think I'm more like my mom, maybe he sees that."
"It's not the truth of it, dear," Margaret said, reaching out to cover Diane's hand.
Diane's lips pursed, they twitched as she stared down, "Maybe, I think I could see that. We'll see, I'm not going to push anything if he doesn't want to talk to me. I've grown since then, seen enough of my own life. Still...it would be nice to get to know him."
"I think he's ready, love. Just let him know you are, time is so precious, we need to make the most of it."
Diane pushed her nearly empty plate away from her, "Maybe you're right. I guess I'm just scared. Found it a little hard to look him in the eye. But I'll think about it, thank you, Nanna."
Margaret squeezed her hand and smiled as she took Diane's plate rinsing it off in the sink and placed away from the other dirty dishes inside. "Well, I think I'm off to the living room. You're welcome to join us whenever you want."
Diane smiled as she watched her Grandma leave, dropping the smile slightly as she thought over how she was going to approach her father. There wasn't any best way when it came to him, she always felt like she was a disappointment as a daughter, had things really changed like her Nanna said?
Only one way to find out. Diane stood up and went to the bathroom to wash her hands. She heard music playing, a guitar being strummed and piano played in rhythm with the live music that filled the air. Diane's heart warmed as she heard a chorus of voices harmonize together as they began singing traditional carols.
Her family was ostentatious when it came to singing and playing music. Two of her uncles were for roadies for indie bands that toured in the 70s and 80s, mainly for sport. The bands never went anywhere big on the charts. Music was a huge part of her family's lives.
Her Nanna had a lovely singing voice, you could clearly recognize it in a sea of voices. Now was no different, Diane covered her mouth as she heard her Nanna stealing the show at one point, she went closer to the living and her thoughts were proved right.
Of course, Grandma Margaret was front and center as she was born to be. She was a USO Girl back in the 1940s and hadn't lost her energy. Diane envied her Nan's confidence. Sometimes she thought she had a bit of Nanna's personality.
Diane entered the room and looked around at her immediate and distant family sitting on every corner immersed in the celebratory music. She took a seat in the open corner of the couch and just watched the performances of each family member belt out each traditional song.
One of Diane's Aunties, Charlotte, offered her a chocolate biscuit and she took one with a napkin, thanking her generously.
Just then, one of her older cousins, Tristan, came to sit down beside her.
"Hey, good to see you here, they told me you were coming. Had to see for myself," he said in his proud Scouse accent, Diane wondered if they all had taken bets on her showing up.
"Well, I'm glad I surprised everyone. Starting to think that maybe people thought I wasn't going to," she said, frowning slightly.
"Well, don't mean to start anything, but we haven't heard from you in years. I'm busy too, I don't know, it's tough out there, but you make time, I guess. Of course, I have a family too, make time for them no matter what. Are you married?"
Diane pursed her lips but still answered, "No, just been really busy."
Tristan coughed and stood up, "So have I, don't let it consume you though."
Diane nodded, feeling like Tristan hit a slight nerve with her. She watched him walk to the kitchen to get something to drink. Last she remembered, Tristan was living in England most of his life, visiting family occasionally in the states. He was taller the last she saw him and apparently already married with a family? Diane was beginning to think she missed more than just her immediate family.
She sipped her drink and leaned back as she watched her little cousins play with the family dog, Scout. Diane chuckled as she watched the beagle Scout become really aggressive with the two boys.
Tristan came back to the spot he previously sat, taking a seat, and lifted his stocky arms to rest behind the couch. He took a swig of his beer and scratched the back of his head.
Diane cleared her throat, sipping her drink, "How's England?"
Tristan scratched his chin, "Been alright. Pissed rain as it does, lovely otherwise. Mum couldn't come, she sends her love. We're gonna Skype her soon."
Diane always wondered about England, she'd never been outside of America, it was always in the back of her mind living in New York.
"Well, that's nice. It's kinda interesting that less than half of our family is living somewhere else. Feels like this whole other world."
Tristan gave her an amused smirk, "It's more than half. Me sister and her husband moved back home to Merseyside, so have our cousins. America's great, we love it here, but you can't beat home. It's a lovely place to raise a family."
Diane thought about what he said, having a relationship had to come first and she cursed in that area, let alone marriage and a family. "I suppose so."
Tristan drank the rest of his beer and laughed good-naturedly, "Chin up, Diane, everyone's having a good laugh here. You should loosen up, stop taking everything so seriously."
Diane shrugged, "Sorry, work in progress, I guess."
"I'll say," Tristan stood up and tapped his cousin's knee with the bottom of his empty bottle, "Movie time until the call to Mum, care to join?"
"Oh yeah? What are we watching?"
"Shit if I know, something festive. Meet ya out there?"
"Yeah, just gotta wash my hands first," she said, standing up to walk toward the bathroom.
After she washed her hands, she dried them on the soft, Christmasy hand towel hanging on the ring. She moved her hair behind her shoulders, looking up at her reflection in the mirror.
Under the fluorescent lighting, she saw every flaw on her adult face. "Where did the time go?" She asked herself aloud, touching her cheeks, and inspecting her eyes that had seen better days.
Shaking her head, she rinsed those thoughts away, being insecure wasn't getting her anywhere. She put on a strong, brave face since she left home. Perhaps she was looking at it the wrong way, being around family was supposed to be uplifting, not make her rethink her life choices. Why were these judgments suddenly appearing out of nowhere?
Diane forced herself out of the bathroom and crashed into someone abruptly.
"Oh, hi Dad, sorry, I wasn't looking, I didn't see you," she said, more rambled, feeling unsure in his presence.
Edward shook his head, "It's alright. We're all in the movie room, about ready to start. You're welcome to join us."
Diane looked up, seeing her father's ice blue eyes look at her differently, "Oh, I was j-just coming, thanks."
He nodded almost blankly and turned away without another word. Diane unwound her hands behind her back and took in a deep breath, she was going to get through this. She wasn't going to feel petrified whenever she was around her father. She tried to remember her Nanna's words from before. She considered them seriously and moved to walk to the movie room, taking an empty seat next to Tristan, who smiled her way.
Diane took a look around the room and her heart swelled at the sight. A room full of family members from all over, especially living in Merseyside, as she now knew. Who are these people? What was their story? Knowing her origins had always intrigued her, and naturally, she was an astute researcher. Coming here already made her feel more curious about who she was and where she came from.
Diane smiled, her cheeks flushing as Tristan offered to share his big bowl of butter popcorn with her. She grabbed a handful of and placed some in her mouth, chewing as she stared on the big screen playing the first Home Alone film.
"Sick flick," Tristan leaned over whispering to Diane.
She nodded, grabbing another handful of popcorn, getting more comfortable on the couch, "Yeah, I love this one a lot."
Edward came into the room and took a seat on the armchair on the opposite side of the room, his Mum called it his "favorite chair." He watched his grown-up daughter, Diane, from across the room, hoping their previous altercations wouldn't surface during her stay here. Maybe they could start the healing process with a hug, and then go from there; he hoped it would.