“How long’s it been, anyway?” Aunt Maggie asked.
Cathy knew everyone would ask that. She still hadn’t decided what to say.
It had been years. Since Barb and Jonah’s wedding? Not since Sam left. Long before Dad was sick. When Grandma died? Anyway, a while.
“Always good to see home,” she said.
“Oh, honey, it’s so good to see you! Been too long! All you kids always stay away too long. We miss ya!” Aunt Maggie gave Cathy a long hug.
“Where’s Uncle Walt?” Cathy asked.
“He’ll be back sooner or later. He went up to Cody Hills with a friend of his. Help him with something-or-other, I forget. Anyway, he’ll be here shortly. I told him you and the kids would be here ‘bout now.” Aunt Maggie continued, “Now, why don’t you bring your things in and I’ll show you what rooms we’ve put you in.”
Cathy stepped back out on the front porch and scanned the horizon for her children. Distant laughter and squeals gave away their location.
“Cooper!” she called out. “Both you, come here please!”
Her son and daughter emerged from over the ridge, running like a couple of silly clowns. They had wide goofy smiles and bright eyes. Cathy couldn’t help but smile in return. She was suddenly very glad she decided to make the trip.
Breathless, her son bounded up the stairs of the porch, “Mom! There’s this totally cool rope swing down there! So cool! It goes way out, like, almost all the way to the river and back!”
“Sounds fun. Coop, you and Ash go get your things out of the car and then come say hello to Auntie Maggie.”
Cooper gestured to his sister to follow. He ran to the car and opened the hatch back. Ashleigh stopped and watched as her brother crawled in and pulled out a large duffle bag. He waved her to him again. She followed suit, pulling out a giant pink suitcase with a handle and wheels. The children hauled along their oversized luggage as best they could across the lawn and up the porch stairs.
Aunt Maggie shook her head. “Those bags ‘s nearly as big as the both of you put together!” she laughed.
“Guys,” Cathy said, turning to face her children, “this is my Auntie Maggie. Papa’s sister. That makes her and Uncle Walt your Great Aunt and Uncle.” Ashleigh stared intently at Cathy as she spoke.
Aunt Maggie gave Cooper a big hug and the boy shyly hugged back. She turned to Ashleigh and held the girl’s face up to hers. “I am very glad to meet you, Ashleigh,” she said, carefully articulating every word, and gave the girl a hug. Ashleigh gave Aunt Maggie a hug in return and signed, “I love you.”
Aunt Maggie looked at Cathy, but Cooper answered. “She’s sayin, ‘I love you.’”
“Oh, well,” Aunt Maggie said, turning back to Ashleigh and again, speaking very slowly, said, “I love you, too, sweetheart!”
“It’s OK, Aunt Maggie,” Cathy said. “You don’t need to talk any differently to Ashleigh than you do to anyone else. She can follow pretty well.”
Aunt Maggie flushed a little. “Oh, that’s wonderful! Kids learn everything so fast, don’t they?”
“She practices reading lips with me an’ mom all the time,” Cooper said. “And I’m real good at sign, too.”
“Of course you are, darling,” Aunt Maggie said, “and maybe you can teach me while you’re here, OK?”
Ashleigh let out an UH as she tapped Aunt Maggie’s arm. Her hands moved quickly as she mouthed dull tones, all the while tapping her great Aunt’s arm when Maggie’s imploring attention started to turn toward Cooper and Cathy.
Cathy interrupted her daughter with a wave of a hand. She said, while signing, “Honey, I am sure Auntie Maggie will be very happy to have you teach her, but Cooper and I will teach her, too, OK?”
Ashleigh shrugged and signed, “Whatever. But you guys suck. I am a better teacher.”
“What’d she say?” Aunt Maggie asked.
“Nothing. Just…Well, just know you are going to be very well versed in sign language by the time we leave,” Cathy said.
Aunt Maggie instructed the children to pick up their bags and follow her. Cathy laughed to herself as her Aunt gestured to Ashleigh in an exaggerated fashion to pick up her suitcase.
As Cathy followed everyone into the house, she realized she’d not stopped smiling for the last several minutes. Ashleigh was not ever this forward with new people, she thought. Yes. Coming here was a very, very good idea.