Snow was falling outside the kitchen windows, and the pines looked as pretty as those on a Christmas card. A perfect day for sledding! I smiled and was reaching for the juice glasses as Mom came into the kitchen.
“Morning, Jackie.” Mom gave me a big hug. “Kiley didn’t want to get dressed this morning,” she said with a happy chuckle. “She just stood in front of the window, watching the snow.”
“Is that what took you so long upstairs?” I asked.
“That, and I called Grandma. She has a cold, so Kiley and I won’t be taking her shopping today.”
“You mean Kiley is going to be here all day?” I moaned.
“She lives here, honey. Where else would she be?”
“Mom!” I groaned. “You know I invited Mary Alice over to go sledding!”
“Sure,” Mom said with a quick nod and a smile. “So?”
“So you know how Kiley always butts in when I have company! And besides, I haven’t told Mary Alice about …” I stopped and shook my head. “Oh, never mind!”
“You haven’t told her you have a retarded sister?” Mom said in a quiet voice. “Are you afraid it would make a difference to her?”
“No. It’s just that I hardly know Mary Alice yet.” I poured the juice and stared at the table.
“Honey, the fact that Kiley is retarded isn’t a crime, or a sin—it’s a fact. Jesus loves and accepts her the way she is, and you do too. Your only problem is how you feel about her when your friends are around. But don’t worry so much about it. Everything will work out.” Mom smiled and went over to the stove.
Maybe Mom wasn’t worried, but my day had suddenly turned rotten. Mary Alice probably could have gone a million places today! I thought. She’ll probably wish she had, now.
Kiley clumped into the kitchen with the toes of her slippers pointing in opposite directions and stood grinning. “Your slippers are on wrong,” I said as I knelt and picked up her right foot. I put each slipper onto the correct foot and stood with a frown. “Come on now and eat.”
Kiley went to the table and sat in her chair, then lifted her chin as I fastened a bib around her neck. “Dank you,” she said with a happy grin.
“You’re welcome,” I replied.
Mom slid eggs onto our plates, and we bowed our heads and asked a blessing. I dipped my toast into the yolk and glanced at the clock.
“What time is your friend coming?” Mom asked as she aimed a forkful of food at Kiley’s mouth.
“At 10:30. I’ll do the dishes, then get ready.”
Mom steadied a glass as Kiley raised it to her lips. “Good girl!” Mom said proudly.
Kiley replaced the glass on the table and pointed to the window. “No,” she said excitedly.
Mom smiled. “Yes, snow,” she repeated. “Good girl!”
I watched Kiley’s happy face, but crossed my fingers, hoping Mom wouldn’t ask me to take Kiley sledding. Why should I be stuck with her? I argued silently.
Mom didn’t ask me to take Kiley. Instead, when they were through eating, she and Kiley left the kitchen while I did the dishes. As I scoured the skillet, I thought, If Mary Alice wasn’t coming, I’d take Kiley sledding. I’d spend the whole day with her if she wanted. But today is different.
I was pulling a turtleneck sweater over my head when Mom called upstairs. “Jackie, a girl is coming up the lane with her sled.”
“OK!” Excited, I brushed back my hair and bounced down the stairs in time to answer Mary Alice’s knock. “Hi. Come on in,” I said as she stomped snow from her boots.
“Mom dropped me at the end of your lane,” she explained. “It sure is beautiful out here! I saw a hill on the way over. Is that where you go sledding?”
“That’s it. And wait till you see the view from the top!” I grabbed my jacket and called, “Mom, Mary Alice is here and we’re going now!”
Mom came from the kitchen with flour on her hands and a smile on her face.
“Mom,” I said, “this is Mary Alice Martin.”
“Glad to meet you, Mrs. Odgen,” Mary Alice said.
“I’m pleased to meet you, too, dear. When you two come back, I’ll have something ready for you to eat.” Then Mom returned to the kitchen.
Suddenly Kiley came into the hallway with a happy smile on her face. She went up to Mary Alice, grabbed her hand, shook it, and kept right on smiling.
“Hello,” Mary Alice said. “What’s your name?”
“She’s my sister, Kiley,” I put in quickly. “Well, let’s get to that hill.” As I zipped up my jacket, I had a hard time ignoring Kiley standing there, smiling.
“Sister,” she said, pointing to me. “Special sister.”
“Yeah, Kiley,” I replied impatiently. “We’ll see you later, OK?”
Kiley nodded. “Special sister,” she repeated proudly.
Mary Alice smiled at Kiley.
I wrapped my scarf around my neck and yanked a woolen cap down over my ears. “Come on, Mary Alice,” I said, “let’s go.”
Outside, I grabbed my sled. I could feel Kiley watching me through the window. I glanced at Mary Alice, who stood with her face turned skyward, catching fluffy snowflakes. She seems happy, I thought, and glad that she came. I looked back at Kiley. She was still smiling at me, even though I was leaving her behind. Mom was right, Jesus loves her the same as anyone else. Kiley loved me, too, no matter what I did. Did I love her as much—or did I just have time for her when no one else was around?
Mary Alice looked at me, and I gulped, “Do you mind if we take Kiley along?”
Mary Alice shook her head. “I was wondering why we weren’t. She looked like she wanted to go.”
I turned and tapped on the window, then opened the door. “Come on,” I said to Kiley. “I’ll get you dressed, and you can go too. Mom,” I called, “Kiley’s going with us.”
Mom came to the doorway of the kitchen and winked at me. “OK, honey. Have a good time.”
As I tugged at Kiley’s boots, her big grin seemed to disappear around both sides of her face. “Sister!” she announced as she banged me on the head. “Special sister!”
I just kept tugging at her boots and didn’t look up. After all, how could I explain to Kiley that tears don’t always mean that you’re sad? Maybe she would have understood; I don’t know. What I do know is that I have a special sister who thinks I’m special too.