Walking home from school in the autumn rain, I sloshed through every puddle. Little rivulets of cold water drizzled down my head and plopped to the hood of my blue jacket. I usually forgot to tie the hood over my head, so it just hung over my shoulders, catching raindrops.
“Hi, Mrs. Carver,” I called as I neared the small yellow house down the street from ours.
“Darcy, just look at you—you’re soaking wet!”
Mrs. Carver closed the mailbox and peered at me from under her plaid umbrella. Juggling the umbrella and a little stack of envelopes with one hand, she reached for my arm with the other. “Come on in and get dried off.”
I followed her as she shuffled up the concrete walk to her front door. When she opened it, a fragrant warmth met my face. She smiled. “I just baked some gingerbread. Would you like a piece?”
As I nodded eagerly and stepped inside, she reminded me to wipe my feet. Then she hung my dripping jacket on the back of a kitchen chair.
“Land’s sake, girl,” she said, passing me a hunk of warm gingerbread, “I hope you didn’t catch cold out there in that freezing rain.”
“Not me. I like rain. This is the best time of the year. Next week is Thanksgiving, you know. Wow—this gingerbread sure is good!”
“I’m glad you like it, Darcy. I used to make goodies for my son when he was your age.”
Adjusting her glasses, Mrs. Carver thumbed through the little pile of envelopes. I glanced up between bites of gingerbread, wondering if she’d found anything interesting in her mailbox.
“I’m waiting to hear from my son,” she told me. “He’s coming home for Thanksgiving.” A hopeful smile creased her face.
“We’re going to my grandma’s house,” I said, wiping my hands on a paper napkin. “My cousins will be there, too—I can’t wait! Well, thanks for the gingerbread. I’d better get home.”
I grabbed my jacket and headed for the door. Mrs. Carver sat still in her kitchen and watched me go out into the rain.
“When are we leaving for Grandma’s house?” I asked Mom a few days later. I hadn’t seen my cousins since last summer. My favorite cousin, Trevor, was in the fourth grade too.
“Very early Thanksgiving morning. It’s a long drive.”
“What if there’s a lot of snow in the mountains?” Amy wanted to know. My younger sister didn’t like long car trips, especially in the winter.
“Dad will just stop and put chains on the tires—no problem,” I assured her.
Curling up in the window seat in the family room, I watched dozens of raindrops drip from a branch of a cedar tree. They splattered on the yellow and brown leaves that layered the ground. A squirrel skittered across the branch and up the tree to the roof of our house.
I wonder what he’s doing for Thanksgiving. I grinned at the thought of a squirrel family gathered around a Thanksgiving feast. Then I daydreamed about Grandma’s cheery smile and Trevor’s dumb jokes. Just four more days until we’d sit down to a big turkey dinner at Grandma’s house! Mashed potatoes with her good gravy, pumpkin pie . … My mouth began to water.
Every day after school, I passed Mrs. Carver with her plaid umbrella, checking her mail. I could tell by the look on her face that there was still no letter from her son.
The day before Thanksgiving, she called to me. I liked her smile. In a lot of ways, she reminded me of my grandma.
“Hi, Mrs. Carver,” I said, wiping a strand of wet hair from my forehead.
“Oh, Darcy, why do you think that jacket of yours has a hood? It’s supposed to keep your head dry.”
She bent down, holding her umbrella over both of us. “Come on in. A letter came from my son.”
I followed Mrs. Carver up the walk to her door. She stepped a little faster than usual, even though she was trying to keep the umbrella over my head. Inside her warm kitchen, she handed me a yellow towel and a freshly-baked chocolate chip cookie. “Here,” she said. “Dry that wet hair. Then you can eat that cookie. Chocolate chip was always my son’s favorite.”
I rubbed the dampness out of my hair and sat at the table to eat my cookie. Mrs. Carver opened an envelope and pulled out a single sheet of white paper. As she read the letter, her smile faded. “He’s not coming! My son’s not coming home for Thanksgiving, after all.”
Mrs. Carver seemed so surprised and hurt that I didn’t know what to say. I just watched her take off her glasses and wipe her eyes. Then she turned and gazed out the window. “When is it ever going to stop raining?”
“Uh, maybe your son is just too busy,” I suggested.
“Yes,” Mrs. Carver said, almost in a whisper. “He’s too busy.”
I had the feeling she wanted to be alone, so I muttered a thanks for the cookie and crept quietly out of the house.
On the way home, the gray, swollen sky seemed to close in around me. Whipping down the street, a sudden wind picked up some damp leaves and slapped them against my shoulder.
“Don’t forget to wipe your feet, Darcy,” I heard Mom say as I took off my jacket in the hallway. She was sitting on the couch in the family room, thumbing through a magazine without looking at the pages. Amy was slumped next to her. It seemed like a long time before anyone said anything. That was pretty unusual at home. Finally Mom set down the magazine and turned to me with her serious look.
“Darcy, we can’t go to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving. There’s a blizzard raging in the mountains. Your dad says it’s too dangerous to drive through the pass when the weather’s this bad.”
I just stared at her. No Thanksgiving at Grandma’s! I crawled up on the window seat and tried to keep from crying. Some Thanksgiving we’d have with no cousins and no Grandma! Even though I figured my sister was just trying to cheer me up, it bothered me when she came over, chattering on about some silly thing. Then she scolded me for getting home late from school. “I’ve been home for ages. What took you so long?”
“I stopped to see Mrs. Carver.”
“Oh?” Mom asked. “How is she?”
I sat quietly for a long time, thinking. “Mrs. Carver is going to be all alone for Thanksgiving. …”
Mom came over and put her hands on my shoulders. “Not if I know my Darcy, she won’t. Don’t forget to put your hood up when you go to invite her.”
Picking up her notepad and a pencil, Mom started making plans for Thanksgiving at our house. I looked out into the backyard. It had finally stopped raining.