An Extraordinary Family
“Honey, no!” The anguished cry of a young boy made Sophia wince.
The sound of shattering bone china made her close her eyes and sigh.
Opening her eyes and taking a deep breath, she turned to her husband, Chris, and whispered, “This could be pricey.”
“Oh dear God, not the Royal Albert. Gabriel, you were supposed to watch her.”
“I’m sorry, mama,”
Chris cut his eyes to his wife and shrugged.
“You kids help me clean this up.”
Sophia stared at the sign over the aisle that read The Finer Things but kept herself anchored with a firm hand on the store’s front counter. Chris returned to reading the Eugene Register-Guard that was waiting every morning when he came downstairs to open the store. Sophia studied him for a moment before she nodded and refocused her energies on the computerized mailing list for Sophie’s Cove.
A few moments later, a young girl of about five appeared at the end of the aisle. Behind her came two older boys followed by a woman of smooth clear skin and short curly hair. The child carried a tray holding shards of broken china. With tears in her eyes she started to place the tray upon the counter. Noticing she was too small, the taller of the two boys helped her lest any pieces should slide off the tray onto the floor.
“Thank you, Gabie,” the little girl said. With fear and regret filled eyes, she held herself erect and the voice, though subdued, was steady. With head bowed, she took a breath before raising her eyes to look directly at Sophia. “I’m sorry, ma’am. Even if it takes a million years, I’ll pay for the cup out of my chore money.”
“Fair enough.” Sophia said, stifling a smile.
“I’ll help too, ma’am,” said the taller boy. “I was supposed to be watching her. I’m as much to blame as my little sister.”
Sophia winced at the surprise she felt at the use of the word sister but steeled herself and said, “We’ll work something out. No sense crying over spilt milk.”
“Actually, ma’am,” the woman said. “I’ll be paying today and my daughter will be paying me for the next million years. And to be honest, I must admit my own culpability. I was distracted by how many fine pieces you have here and there throughout your store. I was especially captivated by the Josiah Wedgewood 1765 Colonial Protest pot you have locked in the display case. That’s when our little miss here developed butter fingers.”
The girl's eyes, full of remorse, looked up at the woman. “I’m sorry, Mama. I thought it would be a nice cup to have for our tea times together.” Looking back down at the floor, she shrugged and continued, “I guess I’m not ready for big cups after all.”
The woman’s voice gentled as she looked at the girl and said, “Like the lady said, honey, there’s no use crying over spilt milk.” Reaching into her purse, the woman took out a credit card and handed it to Sophia. “I was going to buy the Royal Albert Alpha Foodie three piece set anyway. Now my daughter will be buying me the two piece set instead.”
As she took the card, Sophia noticed the young girl stand a half inch more erect, her eyes now dry and clear. Tapping the card on the counter for a moment, Sophia handed the card back to the woman and said, “Let’s have a cup of tea first.”
Now it was the woman’s turn to stand more erect. Her head pulled back a fraction. “Ma’am?”
Holding out her hand to the woman, Sophia said, “You can call me Sophie or Sophia or, if we become friends, as I hope we shall, you can even call me Soph like my husband and other friends do. However, let’s dispense with the ma’am, shall we? I have an Assam green tea that is to die for. You’re going to love it.”
“Ma’am,” said the woman without taking Sophia’s hand, “while I appreciate the offer of the tea, as I am quite familiar with how delicious Assam can be, I’m afraid I don’t understand the offer itself to complete strangers.”
“Okay then,” Sophia said as she put her hand down, “I’ll choose for you. Call me Sophia. For now.” Turning to the little girl, she said, “Would you like to help me make the tea?”
The girl's eyes grew wide, “Oh yes. Mama and I used to sit and have tea every day. Since we started traveling, we haven’t been able to and I miss it so much.”
“I totally understand that,” Sophia said, holding out her hand to the girl. “I’m Sophia.”
Taking the hand, the girl shook it firmly up and down once.”It’s my pleasure Ma’am, I mean Sophia.” Turning to look up at her mother, the girl said, “Mama is it okay if I call Sophia, Sophia?”
Nodding, the woman said, “If she gives you permission.”
“Good,” the girl said with another up and down shake. “I’m Alexandra, like my mama. People call her Alex but they call me Honey. You can too, ma’am. I mean, Sophia.”
The younger boy held out his hand. “I’m Adam. May I help too?”
“Of course you can, Adam,” Sophia said, shaking his hand. “Why don’t the two of you go back and pick out cups and saucers enough for everyone like that set you were looking at and bring them to me to the little room in the back where the beads are hanging like a curtain. Can you do that for me?”
“Yes, ma’am, Sophia.”
“I’ll go with them, Mama,” the older boy said. He took a step away from the counter before stopping and turning to Sophia. He stuck out his hand and said, “Sorry, Ma’am, I’m Gabriel.”
Taking the hand, Sophia said, “A pleasure, Gabriel.”
“Thank you, Gabriel,” his mother said. “Go keep an eye on your brother and sister.”
When the children were gone, the woman leaned on the counter and said, “Ma’am, forgive me but are you out of your mind? I’m not going to pay for anymore broken Royal Albert or anything else.”
“No worries, there won’t be any other broken pieces.” Sophia again offered the woman her hand. “I’m Sophia.”
“Putting the credit card back down in front of Sophia with a snap, the woman paused a moment before taking the offered hand. “Alexandra Williams.”
Before the woman could let go, Sophia grasped the woman’s hand in both of hers and said, “It is such a pleasure to meet you, Alexandra. You seem to know a thing or two about fine china.”
Taking a deep breath, the woman let it out with a laugh. “Okay, fine. Call me Alex, Sophia. Yes, you have many interesting pieces in here. I love this place.”
Giving the back of Alex’s had a final pat, Sophia released it and said, “Now, about that tea.”
Alexandra leaned back in one of a pair of plush chairs in the back room that, given the presence of other chairs squeezed into the small area, made her wonder why Sophia had even bothered to hang a sign over the door that said Staff Only.
“You seem, perplexed, Alex,” said Sophia. “What’s on your mind.”
“With all the seating in here, it’s obviously used by more than staff. And it’s such a small room. Won’t it be a little tight with the kids in here?”
“Well, the sign is a way of saying by invitation only. And, as for fitting everyone in, the men will be joining us too. I intend to meet the whole family.”
Alex’s eyebrows went up nearly to her hairline.
“I think the word for you’re looking for, Alex,” Sophia said, “is cozy.”
Casting a skeptical eye about the room, Alex said, “Uh huh.”
Gabriel and Adam came through the doorway and parted the beaded strands that served as a door. Walking at a snail's pace, Honey walked between them watching every cup and saucer on the tray. At the tiniest wobble, Gabriel would hold out a cautionary hand but Adam never budged from leaning on the inside edge of his side of the door jam.
Sophia’s voice froze Alex in her chair when she made a move to rise and help her daughter. “Thank you, Honey. If you’ll just put the tray on the table there beside your mother, that would be nice. Have you ever brewed green Assam, Alex?”
With her fingers gripping the arm of the chair like a vice, Alex never took her eyes from her daughter as she slid the tray onto the table. “I’ve had Assam black tea many times, Sophia. Never green. And I’ve never given Honey anything but herbal teas.”
“Well,” Sophia said, “Honey is such a big girl that I think she might be ready for something new, if it’s alright with you. It’s very low in caffeine. Thank you boys, for helping your sister. Would you go see if my husband and your father have found one another yet? By now they should be in the far back of the store looking at tools.”
Honey slid the last bit of the tray onto the table and stood back, her face alight with pride and looked at her mother who fell back into the chair, her face a darker mirror of her daughter’s pride.
Taking the lid from a jar and holding it for the girl to see, Sophia said, “What do you think of that, Honey?”
“Eww, It doesn’t look like tea. It looks like whitey type worms.”
“That’s because it’s a very rare and special tea for special ladies, like you. You want to try some??
Honey shrugged. “I guess so.”
“You’ll be using one of the big cups,” Sophia said.
“Oh, yes!” Honey said. “It looks delicious.”
Sophia cocked her head and narrowed her eyes at the girl. “Uh huh. I’d better keep an eye on you.”
Alex watched as Honey backed her way back out through the doorway with the tray of newly washed and dried cups and saucers. Gabriel and Adam held the strands of beads back. “Be careful, Honey.”
“I am, Mama.”
“And put them back on the shelf just as Sophia had them all nice and pretty.”
“I will, Mama.”
After the children had gone, Alex hung the dish towel through a ring on the wall, and collapsed in one of the overstuffed chairs. “Sophia, how could you stay so calm. My little girl had hundreds of dollars of china on that tray. And with every sip she took I was sure there would be another accident.”
“Children that are that conscientious need to be trusted, Alex. We must show them we have faith in them. And all three stepped up and behaved splendidly. You’ve done well, Mother.”
“But that’s a lot of faith with Royal Albert $9090 dollar three-3 piece settings.? Especially with people you just met.”
“Well, we started with the Royal Albert. We couldn’t very well go backward could we, if we were to convince them we trusted them?”
“And if she’d have dropped them all?”
Sophia took the other chair and, leaning forward, placed her hand on Alex’s knee. “Then I’d have ordered more. So now tell it.”
Sophia’s shoulders dropped and her face said, oh please!
“About our white child?”
“Of course. We are not advanced enough yet as a society, and I frankly despair we ever will be, when such a sight doesn’t raise an eyebrow in some, disapproval in others and curiosity in me. I don’t expect to live long enough to see things as they should be, Alex. So, yes. How did Honey come to be your daughter? For your daughter she is in every meaningful sense of the word.”
“You don’t know how much it means to me to hear you say that. It’s true. I love all my children dearly. Honey . . .” Stopping a moment, Alex shrunk into the chair as she studied the floor.
“I wish you’d have had a chance to meet her,” Alex continued. “Her name was Deborah Maines but we called her, Honey. My family was one of the only two black families in that county. Mine and David’s father’s were stubborn, some would say radical, to have moved into such a county but the white sheriff, Ben Stills had served with David’s father in Vietnam. His department was mainly vets who, although all white, had also formed blood ties under impossible circumstances and felt the time had come for some changes to be made. It was made clear to one and all that Sheriff Stills and his boys would hunt down anyone who harmed a hair on our heads. But, believe me, it wasn’t an easy place to live.
“Being friends from before, David tugged my braid in first grade class the first day of school and this little white girl about half my size came to my aid. After that, well, have you ever had one of those moments in your life, Sophia, where you and someone else just clicked into place?”
“Once, with Chris.”
“Well, for me, I developed that feeling over time with David. But with Honey, it was like something I’ve never experienced before or since. It was an instant, lifelong connection that has continued on even after . . . “
Sophia waited for some minutes moments as Alex’s eyes roved about the room looking for words that would in some way adequately describe what she was feeling. Finally, taking in a long, shaky breath, she continued.
“It was either her or the baby. We had different beliefs. We fought over it but Honey had always wanted to be a mother and she was determined that she would be, even if it cost her her life.
“I knew what she was going to say when I went to the hospital that last night. My answer was going to be no. I was not going to adopt the baby that was going to kill it’s own mother. But she trapped me. She held out her hand to me and I drew close to her to comfort her as she lay on the bed. I took her hand in both of mine and she quickly placed them on her swollen belly. That child . . . that little girl reacted to me in an instant. I wanted to pull away but Honey had the strength of ten. She was using the last of the life to hold me to that baby and then, all the resistance drained from me and I knew Honey and I were going to both be that baby’s mothers.
“She’d hid it from me that it was a little girl and that her name was Alexandra.” The sob Alex tried to hold in wracked her frame but she managed to blink back the tears as her eyes burned with a fierce intensity. “And Honey is still with me in my heart and in my daughter. And just like the Honey that grew up with me and stood by me to face down every dirty look and every unkind remark thrown at me in the remote county, that little girl out there shines as bright as ever did her mother.”
“And you’re not going back.”
Cocking her head to one side, Alex said, “You a mind reader too, Sophia?”
“This isn’t just a vacation, Alex. You’re too far from home.”
Alex nodded. “There’s too much hate to overcome, Sophia. Sheriff Stills gave us a heads up more than a year ago that he had cancer. The whole department told no one because if people had known what was going to happen, they would have waited to buy us out when the lid was off and it would be open season on us. David got a fair price for his furniture making business. We’re looking for a new place to call home.”
“Well,” said Sophia, “I have a thought about that.”