“If your name’s Mackenzie, then I’d say this present is for you.”
His daughter didn’t need a second invitation. She hurried over to Santa, as eager as Doug had been.
Philip’s questioning gaze sought out Carrie’s. “I’m sure my mother’s responsible for this,” she told him.
“I met her,” he said. “We talked briefly.”
Carrie’s eyes widened. “What did she have to say?”
“She was very pleasant. It was your stepfather who put the fear of God into me.”
“Jason? Oh, dear. Listen, whatever he said, disregard it. He means well and I love him to death, but half the time he’s thinking about sports statistics and he doesn’t know what he’s saying.”
Philip smiled. He’d never seen Carrie more unnerved. Even when they were trapped in the elevator, she’d displayed more composure than this.
“Carrie, good grief, what do you think he said?”
She clamped her mouth shut. “I—I’m not sure, but it would be just like him to suggest you take the plunge and marry me.”
“Oh, that, well…..”
“Are you telling me he actually—”
Philip had to make an effort not to laugh out loud. “He didn’t, so don’t worry about it.”
Mackenzie had claimed her gift and was walking back, clutching the package in both hands.
“You can open it,” Carrie assured her.
“Now?” She tore into the wrapping as though she couldn’t wait a second longer. Inside was an elegant vanity mirror with a brush and comb set. “It’s perfect,” she whispered, holding the brush and comb against her. “I’ve always wanted one of these sets. It’s so…..so feminine.”
“How’d your family know?” Philip asked. He’d never have thought to buy something like this for his daughter.
“I have one,” Carrie whispered. “She’s used it a number of times.”
“Oh.” More and more he felt inadequate when it came to understanding his daughter. She was in that awkward stage, and it was difficult to know exactly where her interests lay. Half the time she talked about wanting a horse and ballet lessons; the rest of the time she listened to music he’d never heard before and gossiped about celebrities who seemed completely irrelevant to him. Part girl, part woman, Mackenzie traveled uneasily from one desire to the next. It wasn’t just her interests that confused him, either. One minute she’d be her lighthearted self and the next she’d be in tears over something he considered trivial. He wished Laura had taken more interest in her. Often he felt at a loss in dealing with Mackenzie’s frequent mood swings.
Philip had enjoyed himself, but he was exhausted and felt relieved when the party ended. He thanked the elder Mannings for having him and Mackenzie.
“You’re welcome anytime,” Elizabeth Manning said, clasping his hand between both of her own. In what seemed an impulsive gesture, she leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “You’d be a welcome addition to our family,” she whispered in his ear. “Just promise me one thing?”
“What’s that?” he asked.
“I want a nice, big wedding,” she said, this time loudly enough for half the room to hear.
Philip heard a murmur of approval behind him. “Ah…..”
“Thanks again, Grandma,” Carrie said, saving him from having to come up with a response.
Carrie hugged the older couple and led the way outside. Jason, Charlotte, Doug and Dillon followed them to the driveway for a second round of hugs and farewells. This had to be one of the most outwardly affectionate families Philip had ever met, but it didn’t bother him. The opposite, in fact. He liked everything about them. These were good people, hardworking and family-oriented. He’d never seen himself in that light, although it was what he wanted to be. However, neither he nor Laura had been raised that way.
They sang Christmas carols on the drive home. Carrie’s voice blended smoothly with that of his daughter. His own was a bit rough from disuse and slightly off-key, but no one seemed to mind, least of all Mackenzie, whose happiness spilled over like fizz in a soda bottle. He parked in the garage and they walked across the street to the apartment building, still laughing and chattering excitedly.
“I had a wonderful time,” his daughter told Carrie, hugging her close as they waited for the elevator.
“I did, too.”
“I’m so glad your family get-together was tonight instead of tomorrow. I’ll be with my mother, you know.”
“I do,” Carrie said. “You’ll miss the party here, but I’ll tell you all about it.”
“Do you think Madame Frederick will made a prediction for me, even if I’m not there?”
“I’m sure she will,” Carrie answered.
“She’ll have to make one for me in absentia, as well,” Philip said.
You aren’t coming? This news appeared to catch Carrie by surprise. She’d asked him about the Christmas party earlier and he’d managed to avoid answering one way or the other.
“No,” he said, pushing the button to close the elevator door.
“But I thought…..I hoped…..” Her disappointment was evident.
Philip didn’t want to say anything negative, but as far as he was concerned, the majority of people living in the building complex were oddballs and eccentrics. He didn’t have anything against them, but he didn’t want to socialize with them, either.
“Talk him into it,” Mackenzie said when the elevator stopped on Carrie’s floor.
He wished now that he hadn’t said anything. “Would you like a cup of coffee?” Carrie asked.