Reason Enough

By: Megan Hart

I wanted to shake her then, I really did. Dan’s touch on my arm turned me toward him. His smile made me forget I had an evil side.

Dan looked at her. “Let’s go around back, okay?”

She nodded just once and moved forward with a series of jerky steps unlike her usual graceful ones. He shot me a glance over his shoulder as I followed. Dan touched my mother’s shoulder gently.

“Why don’t you let me take the tray?”

I thought she’d say no, but after a second she nodded. “Yes. I think…Ella, would you show me the restroom, please. I think I’d like to freshen up.”

Another look from Dan stayed my retort. “Sure. We’ll go in the front.”

Again, she nodded. Dan took the cookies and headed around the back while I took my mother through the front door and into the kitchen, where I dropped off the bowl of macaroni salad and showed her the powder room.

My brother’s house was newer than mine, and in a suburban neighborhood rather than in the heart of Harrisburg. The previous owner had been a big fan of country decor. The apple-and-rooster border on the walls of the kitchen and attached den didn’t quite match the modern leather and wood furniture Chad and Luke had brought from California. Toys had been tossed into a series of brightly colored plastic bins along the far wall, and those didn’t match, either.

Through the sliding glass doors I could see the deck where my brother’s partner reigned in his chef’s hat and apron over the grill. Dan was shaking Chad’s hand and taking a beer. A few women mingled, but mostly men chased after the hordes of children swarming the jungle gym and trampoline and wreaking havoc on the grass.

“Ella, my God,” my mother said as she came out of the bathroom. She’d refreshed her lipstick and powder and brushed her hair. I even caught the fresh scent of perfume. Any earlier hesitation had vanished beneath the cosmetics she wore as a shield. “Did you know there are…kittens…in that bathroom?”

She said it as though they’d decorated the bathroom with photographs of severed limbs. I’d seen that bathroom. Severed limbs would have been less disturbing. “Yes.”

“Kittens in a washtub!” Clearly, she was appalled.

“It came with the house, Mom.”

“Well,” she said with a familiar sniff, “I know your brother has better taste than that.”

The sliding glass door opened and Chad stepped through, blinking as he came from bright into dim. “Hey.”

Her chin lifted a bit. “Chad.”

Their embrace was so stiff I felt awkward just watching it. The hug he gave me was much more natural. I felt my mother watching us, but when I looked at her I couldn’t tell what she was thinking about the fact her children were more comfortable with each other than either of us was with her. Maybe she wasn’t thinking anything. Maybe I was the one who always thought too much.

The door slid open again, letting in the smell of grilling meat and the cries of children. Luke came in bearing a platter of burgers that he set on the counter. Dan followed on his heels, Leah a squirming bundle in his arms.

“Mrs. Kavanagh.” Luke, who stood over six feet tall and had arms the size of my thighs, made no move to hug her. “Glad you could come.”

The kitchen was suddenly much smaller than it had been five minutes before as we all eyed each other. Dan put Leah down and took a second to straighten her frilly white dress. She wore lacy socks, too, and white patent- leather shoes. Her daddies thought she was their princess and had dressed her as one.

My mother didn’t move. Didn’t look. Her expression remained rigid. Tension strangled us all into silence.

Leah toddled over to my mother and grabbed her around the knees. She tilted her little face up and up. She grinned. “Gammy.”

Nobody gasped, not physically, but I heard the sound of surprise echo through the kitchen just the same.

My mother looked down at the small girl clutching her legs and wrinkling her skirt.

“Gammy,” Leah said again. “Up, Gammy.”

She lifted her arms as if it were the most natural thing in the world to ask for and receive. And my mother, who hadn’t even yet told her friends about the child her son had adopted, bent and lifted her up as though she had no other choice. She had held all of us that way, I thought. My brothers and I. When we were small.

“She knows me?” my mother said.

“We’ve shown her your picture,” Chad said as though he were challenging her. “She’s very bright.”

For another instant we all hung there. Luke and Dan might have imagined they knew what they were waiting for, but they would never know my mother the way Chad and I did. I don’t know what my brother waited for, but I waited for her to ruin this.

“Well,” my mother said to Leah. “Aren’t you just the smartest girl? Aren’t you, just?”

If relief washed over me in a wave it must have been a veritable tsunami for my brother. After that, there were guests to feed, children to chase. Chad and Luke knew how to throw a party, and if it didn’t have the glitter of those long-ago Christmas galas, there was one major improvement in that I’d been invited to attend.

Later, Dan found me sitting in a lawn chair on a patch of grass as yet undiscovered by children. I had a plate overloaded with food but I’d already eaten myself full. He took it from me and sat in the empty chair next to mine to dig in.

“Great party, huh?” He waved his fork toward the house.

“Yes.” I watched him eat with the fondness women have for men whose manners on a stranger would have earned scorn. “You have schmutz all over your mouth.”

He leaned forward as though he meant to kiss me and laughed, withdrawing, when I wrinkled my nose. He wiped his mouth with a paper napkin. “Better?”

“Yes.” I looked toward the deck, where my mother sat with Leah sleeping on her lap.

Dan watched me looking. “Nice, huh?”


He put the plate on the grass and leaned back in his chair with a contented sigh, hands laced over his belly. “You don’t give her enough credit.”

I raised a brow at him. We’d had this discussion before. He was lucky that he couldn’t really imagine what it was like not to have a doting, affectionate mother. His own would have been a parody of sit-com moms if she hadn’t been so utterly sincere in her motherhood.

“Babies change people, Elle.”

“Uh-huh.” I swirled some ice in my plastic cup.

I watched my mother stare into the face of the sleeping child. Had she ever looked at me that way? Yes, I thought. Long ago, she had. No matter what had come between us, and it had been a lot of very awful things, she had looked at me like that. My mother had loved me.

“You ready to get out of here?” Dan stood and gathered up the garbage.

I was. As much as I loved my brother, the cacophony of the party had given me a headache. I hugged and kissed him and Luke goodbye. We said nothing about my mother with our voices, but our eyes said enough.

When I went to kiss my niece goodbye, she barely stirred.

“She’s worn out.” My mother stroked the soft black curls. “Too much party for a little girl.”

“We’re leaving, Mom.”

She looked up at me. Her face was softer than I’d ever seen it. “Your brother will drive me home. You go on ahead.”

“You’re sure?”

She looked again at Leah, whose small pink lips had pursed in sleep. “I can’t wake this baby, can I?”

It would have been too weird to hug or kiss her goodbye, so I didn’t. I left her holding the grandchild she’d been so sure she couldn’t love. In the car, I let out a laugh.

“Strange, strange, strange,” I said.

“You knew she’d be okay, Elle.” Dan had more faith in me than I had in myself, but that was only one of the many reasons I loved him.

At home, I groaned when he came up behind me to slip his arms around my waist as I stood in front of the full-length mirror in our bedroom. “I’m going to explode.”

He rubbed the taut curve of my too-full belly. “I can help you work it off.”

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